On Episode 70, Elle Woulfe joins us to dig into data and B2B marketing. Elle is VP of Marketing at PathFactory. You may remember the chat we had about six months ago about her rebrand. Elle did some special work with that and we got lots of reaction to it. But Elle has a lot of knowledge about using data as a marketer. What’s behind the data we collect and how should we use it? We get into that and more in part one of our chat.

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Mark: Elle Woulfe, welcome back to Confessions of a Marketer.

Elle: Thank you for having me.

Mark: It's great to have you here. Last time we had you on, you discussed your rebrand, which was a great couple of episodes. This time, I hope the rebrand is going well, but we're going to discuss data and B2B marketing and probably lots of other stuff, too, so let's get to it I guess.

Elle: One of my favorite topics. I can't wait.

Mark: We can drown in data that marketing throws off, so what data do you pay attention to every day as VP of marketing?

Elle: I love this question because I think you're right. I mean, we are collecting mountains of data, and not all of it is really helpful in guiding decisions, and so it's easy to get paralysis when you start to try to look at too much of it. The things that I look at all the time are really the KPIs, that sort of indicator, help us to predict revenue outcomes, so this is the standard stuff, funnel dynamics and progression and demand volumes and things like that. We're also looking at the basics, to be honest with you, of just campaign performance, and that's really with a mind to improving results and delivering better programs and better experiences for the buyer. I mean, you have to be looking at some of that more tactical stuff to understand are people engaging with it, are we delivering the kind of things that are important to people, and how can we course correct in real time to do better stuff?

Elle: We have some interesting metrics that are pretty unique to us and to the [inaudible 00:04:10] our platform around how people are consuming information, how much time they spend with individual content assets. We have a metric that we call binge rate, which is how many prospects come in and consume multiple assets at one time. These are really helpful in understanding, again, are we creating the kind of content that our buyer needs? Are we connecting with them at the right time? I am a data-driven marketer, my background's in demand gen, I worked at Eloqua for a long time, I've worked in predictive analytics. So I do have an appetite for data, and for the CSI part of marketing, the investigation part, understand well, why did something happen? Or why did velocity slow down here? Or why are we having a tough quarter on converting things to opportunities? I love to use data as a way to answer questions.

Elle: But on a daily basis, we keep it pretty basic, and then once a quarter, we take all of this data and we look for trends and we look for things that will help us to improve on an ongoing basis. But I think the focus on being data-driven in B2B marketing has become such that people think if they're not doing some wildly sophisticated thing with data, then they're not doing it right. I think a lot of the kind of standard ways that we look at campaign and program performance are still very important for helping us deliver good marketing.

Mark: Yeah, and that kind of leads me into my next question. Often, when, as marketers, we talk about data, the conversation focuses on what's good for the market or the company, and not the customer or prospect. How do you ensure the opposite? Because it feels like PathFactory is very focused on the users.

Elle: It's true. I mean, our whole focus is on how do you deliver a better experience for the buyer? How do you enable the buyer to actually find and consume the things they're looking for as they try to make a decision. I think part of the challenge in B2B marketing is that we've been painted into a corner for a long time, and it was in large part due to the types of metrics that were available to us. Most of this data we've been collecting for a long time is pretty binary, right? Did they click on the thing? Did they fill out the form? What do our page visits look like? Those kinds of things. Those don't tell you much about the quality of those interactions.

Elle: Did they or didn't they take that action doesn't tell you did they or did they not get value, and that's really the important thing, right? If you want to understand what your buyer is interested in, make sure you're delivering the kinds of things they need, you need to understand how much time they're spending. Did they take a standard offer that you might deliver an ebook or something and you look at 10 people who click through and that click looks the same, right? Really, it's what happened after they clicked. Did they come, did they spend five minutes looking at that? Did they then go on to look at a video and another asset? What does that journey look like?

Elle: So I think a lot of times, when we aren't as focused on the buyer as we should be, it's not necessarily our fault. We have these somewhat misleading metrics. I think it can't always be about the things that we care about, or even about the things that necessarily predict success for the business. I mean, everything I talked about initially, you know, funnel dynamics and conversion rates and velocity and all that, those are important to the business, right? But our buyer doesn't care about our funnel conversion or where they sit in the funnel or all those things.

Elle: So I think we need to ask ourselves is what we're doing inherently helpful to the buyer? I think there are ways to do that and engagement is a big part of it. Again, if you're delivering stuff and people aren't really spending meaningful time, they aren't engaging in meaningful ways, then it's probably not useful or helpful to that buyer. That's the question you have to, I think, constantly be asking yourself.

Mark: Yeah, and does it come down to good content?

Elle: I think that has a lot to do with it, but I mean, I think a lot of vendors are creating good content. What they're struggling to do is connecting their buyer to it at the moment when they need it. It's not surprising, right? There's an infinite number of buyer journeys out there. Even if you look at it on a committee-based purchase, where there might be in a large organization 10, 15, 20 people sometimes involved in a single purchase of an expensive piece of technology, let's say. Each one of those people has an individual journey. They care about different things.

Elle: Now, there may be some things in common, "Well, we all want to see what the ROI of this tool is, we all want to see great customer references." But some of them may be looking for really technical information, some of them may be looking for [inaudible 00:08:50] more qualitative stuff. So it's really hard as a marketer to try to orchestrate that. You may have all the right content somewhere, but how do you make sure that that buyer who needs it in that moment is delivered that asset? That's the hard part. So good content is inherently, yes, it is really important, but it's more than just creating great content, it's like, how do you deliver it in a way that makes sure you're getting the coverage that you need? I think that's the biggest challenge.

Mark: Yeah. I want to expand on something you mentioned in your answer to my first question. That is how do you keep your team focused on your long term goals when there are so many short term data points that keep popping up. Shiny objects, you know, how do you avoid shiny object syndrome?

Elle: Yeah, it's tough, too, because I think it's got to be tied together. People need to be able to see the connective tissue between the things they are doing in their jobs day to day and the longterm outcomes that you're trying to drive. Right? It's easy for people to feel divorced from that, so like, "Well, I'm here, I'm building this campaign, I'm tactically executing on this thing," and it feels really abstract and kind of divorced from the big goals you're trying to drive. You don't just will something like strong funnel performance into existence, it's the product of everything we do in marketing. Every campaign, every touch, every process optimization, every asset and great piece of content. All of that comes to bear on how you drive great outcomes.

Elle: It's important to make sure that ... I mean, I think in large part, it starts with real relentless focus on very specific goals and then mapping all the things you're doing. The plans and programs and investments and the tactics to those goals. If people can draw a straight line from, "Hey, we're trying to achieve this outcome at the corporate level and this is how we're going to do it in marketing, and these are the ways that we're going to accomplish it," it's easier to keep them focused on that long term stuff.

Mark: Right, but it's a challenge.

Elle: It is. I mean, like is said, look, and at parts of my career, I've been faulted with almost being too tactical. Like, "Oh, you're so good at executing on things," and I don't think that's an insult, because I think a great strategy gets you nowhere if you can't translate it into action. I actually, I've seen really great brilliant people who are great big thinkers but can't necessarily take the big idea, the big objective, the big goal, and break it down into little pieces so that people know how to actually execute on it. So great tactical execution is what makes marketing happen.

Elle: So you know, if you're ... for my team, we're trying to drive a certain amount of qualified opportunities, as an example, and we're going to do a million things to accomplish that. Some of it's optimization and some of it is channel level stuff or program level stuff, and some of it is process stuff and content stuff. All of these various things, you need to be able to really understand how these things roll up and get you back to that big goal you're trying to achieve. It can feel abstract, it really can.

Elle: One of the things that I do is just relentless over-communication, and going ... pointing back to those, "Remember guys, this is the thing we're trying to do." I think it's got to cascade. You can't just go from big strategic objective to marketing plan, there's steps in between there that you've got to map it to to make it relevant for the people who are going to work on that stuff every day. But it is hard, yeah.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. Well, and that's why you get the big bucks, right, Elle?

Elle: That's the idea.

Mark: So I'd like to chat a bit about B2B marketing. When we discussed your rebrand back several months ago, I thought you had a really fresh point of view on how to brand a B2B company. First of all, how has that progressed, and how do you view B2B marketing now? Is it still a thing?

Elle: That's a good question. I mean, it is still a thing, because I do think B2B buying is very different than say, B2C buying, which often is more transactional and faster and it's just a different animal. But I do think there's a huge convergence happening. It's largely because our B2B buyer lives a B2C life. I mean, you're in the minority if you're not engaging on sometimes a daily basis with on-demand services. Right? Buying stuff on Amazon, watching shows on Netflix. We've come to expect this level of just frictionless, whether it's purchasing or consumption, in our B2C lives, and I think we bring some of those expectations to the B2B side. So I think B2B is having a moment right now, where it's trying to adapt to that new reality.

Elle: I think you're seeing more ... B2B marketing is trying to co-opt some of what you see on the B2C side. I think that's all good stuff, because I think that ultimately does mean a better experience for the buyer, something that has less friction, that is easier, that is less complicated. Hopefully that's a big more fun, and interesting. But I do think B2B is its own animal. You typically are talking about considered purchases that are long, you're talking about potentially buying committees. When I want to make a decision in my household about something expensive, the buying committee is usually myself and my husband. Right? Or sometimes just me. So that's an easier thing to navigate.

Elle: When you're talking about buying a hundred thousand dollar software system or infrastructure, whatever, in your B2B life, chances are there is involvement from several people in your own department and probably across various departments. So it's inherently a more complex thing to navigate. As I said before, I think that's part of the challenge for B2B, is how do you orchestrate all that, for all those different people and across all the touches and channels and all these things, right? It's hard, but I do think that the way that the on-demand economy has shaped our lives, it can't help but have an impact on B2B because the buyer just wants something different.

Elle: They demand ... and we're seeing this with the emergence of things like ABM, personalization, these are all attempts at driving this kind of relevance and speed and convenience, and I think there's still a long way for that to go before it gets to a point where it really is the type of joyful experience that I have when I go to Amazon and it's saying, "Hey, did you want to buy this again?" And "Here's where you left off last time." And that ability to pick me up and take me right where I'm going. B2B has a long way to go, but I think we're making some steps.

Mark: Thanks to Elle for being here. Next time, we delve more into data and chat about how B2B marketing has evolved and where it might be headed. This episode of Confessions of a Marketer was written, produced, and edited by yours truly. T. Jordan of AClass Productions wrote the theme music. Confessions of a Marketer is a trademark of Reed-Edwards Global, Inc, and this episode is copyright 2019. I'm Mark Reed-Edwards. See you next time.