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Audience-First

Join these tech marketing leaders, as we discuss the importance of understanding your audience. What being audience-centric means to each guest and how they work to truely know their customers.

Speakers

Dani Woolf

Matt Hathaway

Naz Ekim

Sekou White

Transcript

36 minutes to read

Transcript

Opening

Hello. I'm Kerry Guard, CEO of MKG Marketing, and welcome to this Live Round Table where we discuss what it means to be audience-first. There’s a shift in how buyers, especially B2B tech buyers, are wanting to engage with marketing. We'll dig into what all that means here today with our panelists.

Before we get there and launch into introductions and questions, some quick housekeeping. This is our promise to you as our listeners, and what we hope in return is:

There'll be some discussion, conversation, and questions that we can answer throughout and at the end. And our promise back to you is that we will keep on point in regards to being and talking about the audience first and not derailing into anything salesy or aren't authentic.

This is about what it means to be an audience first, and we want to help you all out in pivoting your marketing towards that direction, as well. Load up the comments! We got Mike Krass, and Andrae Jones over there to hang out with you all and to feel those questions over to us so we can be engaged in the conversation as well.

Let's kick off with introductions. Why don't we go one by one here and just say your name and your title and define what the audience first means to you. We'll start with Dani.

Conversation

Dani Woolf: Thanks, Kerry, for inviting me to the show. It's great to be here. My name is Dani Woolf. I'm currently the Director of Demand Generation at Cybersixgill and Threat Intelligence Company. I've been into digital marketing and demand generation since 2011 and have been passionate about how user experience ties back to technology and how we do things as marketers.

What does it mean to be an audience first?

As a digital marketer, I got into tech in 2011, and I've been stuck on the lead generation hamster wheel trying to persuade audiences and push audiences to come to me for revenue. I spent quite a few years focusing on trivial tasks based on assumptions. I felt deflated with a lot of superficial data, inaccurate dashboards, and tasks that had no impact on revenue and what was important to my business. The companies I worked for were expecting exponential growth, and that 20 to 30% increase in pipeline year over year just didn't cut it for them. I was overwhelmed, anxious, and burnt out doing what I was doing. It wasn't until I moved into the cybersecurity space that I realized we got to do things differently. And that's where I just made it my mission to focus on the first layer. If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I look at it as a growth hierarchy of needs.

The first thing you need to do to reach the ultimate goal is to understand your audience. Every day I talked to my customers and listened to them, took a look at LinkedIn, read Salesforce, talked to stakeholders to learn what makes them tick their pains and motivations, and don't buy strategies and tactics based on that.

Kerry Guard: Awesome! I can't wait to dig more into that. Naz, why don't you introduce yourself and what audience first means to you?

Naz Ekim: Thanks for having me on this show. My name is Naz, and I've been doing PR and comms for over 15 years. I work with B2B tech companies to help elevate their brands and put them in the news. So what audience first but PR has evolved. The audience first means that when you're pitching a story to a publication or a journalist, you got to know what they're writing about and your topic. It's also going back to what Dani said: talk to them, understand their needs, what they're missing, and what they want. Because at the end of the day, or you're trying to sell, and if you cast a wide net, it's like whoever you catch, but if you apply a more ABM approach, you can go vertical and then catch those companies or vendors that are looking for what you're offering. Listen to your customer.

Kerry Guard: How about you, Sekou? Tell us about what you do and what the audience first means to you.

Sekou White: Sure! Kerry, thank you for the invitation. I am excited to have this conversation. My name is Sekou White. I'm the VP of brand and developer marketing at Turing. As a marketer for many years, I have primarily worked in tech. The audience first, for me, is understanding what problems your audience has and being able to articulate how your service solution solves those problems. If you could do that, you're in a good place.

Kerry Guard: Alright, Matt, bring us home.

Matt Hathaway: Thanks for having me. I'm Matt Hathaway, Chief Marketing Officer of TrueFort. We’re a startup primarily in micro-segmentation. I'm probably the strangest of the group. I got dragged into marketing because I was obsessed with the audience first. I was in product management for years and spent most of my time talking with customers. At that time, I had many questions about positioning our company, why messaging was framed the way it was, and how we got into the marketing plans. It just seemed like we were not thinking about the problems they had to set and whose point. It wasn't focused on their pains and what they saw as the reality of their job, what are their goals, what are they trying to do, and how are they trying to slot various products and not just going out with the same pitch to every single person in pitching it like a consumer good.

Kerry Guard: Why is it important to you all? When I first met Dani, she was very clear on why it was important to her. As I’m having more conversations, it also popped up for the three of you, and I know why it's important to you all, but once you share with our audience, you share a bit about what the audience first means. But let's dig into why it's personally important to you. Sekou, want to kick off?

Sekou White: I spent many years as a product marketer, and I think you care about your target audience, but only about selling your particular product. I've been a market developer for the last five years or a little bit more. And orientation had to change a little bit. You still care about this product or service, and revenue is important. But I focused on developers specifically, and I quickly realized it's an audience that is not necessarily too open to obvious marketing and advertising. They tend to be more skeptical than the broader audience or market. The step back that we had to make, and I had to make as a marketer, was to start thinking about what we can do for them, how we help developers, and how could frame it in the ways that our products and services can help them.

What are they trying to do? They're trying to build skills, foster community, meet people, and help others. They're trying to make a name for themselves and build their career. How can you help them as an organization that cares about developers? How can you help them do some of those things? If you can do that first, some other things, whether selling a product, are easier. It's been super interesting to me because it's taken me out of the sell fast sell now mode into trying to key in on who they are, what gets them going, what drives them, and what their pain points are. A few people have asked, what are their problems and major problems? How do we fix that? How do we try to help there? And it's just an interesting way to approach marketing. I have to admit, I've enjoyed that a lot, and I love being a product marketer. I would say that aspect of audience marketing is a little bit more interesting to me than being a product marketer.

Kerry Guard: How bout you, Matt? You were a product marketer and now your CMO. Why is this important for you?

Matt Hathaway: In the security space, marketing has been 20 years of telling people where a silver bullet. This product is all you need. It's given all of our audience a reason to be cynical. They can't trust anything vendors say anymore, so they go to a conference. It's important to just speak to them about what you are, what you can do for them, and what you can't. And that way, they'll trust you and believe what you're saying. You have some credibility, and you're not just trying to trick them into purchasing something. It's much more valuable to the audience if they can have a real conversation and say, “Okay, I slot you in over here. We have a budget next year, but not this year” That situation where you're not the enemy as a vendor. They need vendors. They know that but don't make it something that I have to suffer through.

Dani Woolf: Yeah, I'll chime in. I love that. I am just echoing what Matt's saying. As much as we preach a lot a semester, we preach putting the customer first. We don't do it and subject our buyers to noisy ads and overused marketing phrases. I'm security and insecurity—ridiculous acronyms, buzzwords, useless swag. The big one that I love is bribes for meetings, overpromises, under-delivering, and insecurity. We're dealing with some pretty scary things and huge challenges, and we, as marketers, vendors, and salespeople, need to arm our buyers with the right tools and make their lives a little bit easier.

We need to be building trust, empathy, and loyalty with them versus pushing more noise at them and frustrating them. My issue with why I'm doing what I'm doing today, with all of the side stuff apart from cybersecurity skills, is why we choose to listen and conform to what everyone else is saying except for our audiences. They're on LinkedIn talking to us. Why don't we talk to them to understand what their challenges are? How do we do things a little bit better? You're saying you don't like this outreach, so what's the alternative? And that's my goal to extract that so we're doing things more authentically, morally, and ethically for them to help protect us. It may sound utopian, but that's my goal these days. And so that, to me, is why its audience must come first. Your buyers must come before anything, before persuasion, data and analytics, and accessibility and function on your website. You must understand who they are; it has to be our mandate. We need to shift from those random and trivial tasks, which sucked up five to six years of my time in my career and get comfortable talking with buyers and understanding them to help them make their life easier.

Kerry Guard: Naz, why is it important to you to think audience first?

Naz Ekim: I’m just following up on what Dani said. From my perspective, it's important to not focus on what you're selling and what product you have rather than how you can solve someone's problems. You have to understand your audience. I deal with many journalists who'll never forgive me if I send them the wrong pictures. You have to understand your buyer. You have to understand what they need instead of saying, “Here's what our product does.” An approach like, “Here's how we can solve it, and here's how we can make things easier for you.” The way I approach that is basically by thought leadership and a lot of data. There is a lot of data out there. I'm also in cybersecurity, but unearthing those crucial points, especially when the pandemic and the remote work. A lot of new attacks have come forward, for example. Having those personas, who are you selling to? And what are you selling? You can be talking to the CTO of IBM, who might not be the right person you shouldn't be selling to. It comes back to understanding who's the right person and what are you offering? Why should they work with you, and then you build a relationship? It's a small world, it's a big world, but it's a small world. So once you build that trust, then the next time, they will come to you either for advice or for another solution that they need. I tried to do that by implementing many surveys, thought leadership, and working with many industry leaders so that it's not too self-promotional for whatever company I work for.

Kerry Guard: Anything to add, just from hearing from one another?

Dani Woolf: I would add to Naz's point that relationship is critical. We have goals we need to execute, and we need to bring in income for the company. But you never know where those relationships will take you, not just from a career perspective but from a buying perspective. Turnover exists. People move from company to company, and you might not hit that transaction with that specific account, but that person will remember you if you have that relationship and may take you elsewhere to another organization or an account. We can dig into that all day. But I'll leave it to you to go to the next question.

Naz Ekim: When you solve someone's problems, they don't forget you. You have to understand who your audience is.

Kerry Guard: And I love what Jenna said because I agree with the comments. It's all well, and good to think we know what our customers need. To understand their needs, and that's what I want to get into next is how. Because you're all talking about understanding your audience, and that's all well and good. But how do you understand your audience? Naz, as you touched on it a little bit in terms of some of the surveys and things you send out? Does anybody else want to chime on how you get in front of your audience to understand what they need?

Sekou White: I can jump in quickly. Outside of research, and whether it's third-party or first-party research, I think that's important. But the second way is talking to the customers or your audience. If somebody is buying, like a customer, working with sales, going on those types of calls, and engaging in that type of hearing their pain points. On the developer side, it's where developers are, whether it's conferences. You have to engage with people, and you have to have dialogue. You have to have a conversation. I don't mean just sort of the folks on the ground. I mean, all the way up through senior leadership, and that's how you truly, as an organization, understand the needs and wants of clients. The third thing I'd say is social after research, meetings, and talking to people in person. Any social or community your organization fosters should be a hotbed for feedback. Sometimes it's constructive, sometimes not, but it's a great place to have a dialogue and understand what folks are saying and what they care about.

Naz Ekim: Following up on that. I work with companies that spend too much time creating personas and trying to understand their customers, and they missed the day Mr. Point, and you spend a whole year building spreadsheets and presentations and who the personas are, and you still missed the mark. So there's a fine line between digging into the data and sometimes, literally picking up the phone and having a chat. Creating personas is important. But, there's a fine line between that we shouldn't spend too much time figuring out how to create this persona, what they look like, and what we name them. And maybe it's better to go after companies that are talking on LinkedIn or other platforms about their problems so that you can reach out to them directly.

Dani Woolf: Yeah, I love that you mentioned that.c This is a nice segue to what I'd like to say. For Jenna's question, how do you ensure you're talking to yourself. You need to know who you are going to talk to. Identify who you're going to talk to, and for me, what works before even building up personas because we can get lost in building up personas to your point. Identify your ideal customer profile and how I do that: talking to sales, identifying who brought us the most revenue, and which segments brought the most revenue in Salesforce. And then that's how I start building out the customer profile and identifying who I will talk to next and who I will listen to on LinkedIn. Who will I probe into with my stakeholder interviews internally, with my sales engineers with customer success? It's critical for you to pinpoint the exact person to help you drive your end goal for the business before you start targeting people who may not give you the right pull, pulling the right insights for what you're trying to achieve.

Matt Hathaway: Yeah, I would add to that. It is important to define these personas because many people tend to get too obsessed with little cutesy things. Sometimes you get like, “Oh, well, what are they doing their time off that?” And that's not going to help you speak to them for the most part, but also their role is. I've worked in six different parts of the security market. Sometimes you're never going to talk to a C-level executive, and you're not going to talk to and sell to them. They're just the approver. Don't waste your time obsessing over, “Hey, how do the C-level executives talk to the board for other products?” That's not the case. Is it a generalist? Or are you focusing on somebody who is completely swamped with their time and just wants to spend one minute on the product, get an answer and move on to the next part of their day? It depends on the product you're selling and the market's maturity. It's never the same. And that's where you have to go back to whose point around the developer space and security are similar. Don't just when you hear about conferences or regional meetups, don't just go as how do I get leads. Go and hear what they're complaining about, what they're challenged with, what are they getting, advice from their peers, and how are you dealing with insurance risks. It's not going to be, “Hey, how do you buy a SIM”? They're not going to talk. Nobody thinks that way.

Kerry Guard: Anything else to add regarding how you get in front of the audience? I think I love what you all said in terms of events. I've heard that, Matt. I think that's such a great point. Surveys, Naz, and to both Naz and Dani in terms of picking up the phone. It sounds like these audiences your audiences are willing to tell you their problems. Is that true? They're happy to go on the phone with you and tell you all the things that bother them regarding how marketing is working or not.

Dani Woolf: I wouldn't say it's immediate. But I've had a pretty high success rate in initiating conversations with my ideal customer profile just to get feedback on messaging, positioning, or even design or campaign ideas. LinkedIn has been great for me. And then having a nice zoom call after that. The way I go about it is I do a little bit of legwork and research to see who they are, their interests, and what they do. Do we have any mutual connections? Do we have any mutual interests? I start with a connection request. If they connect with me, I just pop a message in thanking them for my request, and maybe personalize it with some icebreaker or interest comment, and then invite them to maybe a discussion in my roundtables or my podcasts or provide them with some cool piece of content. And then I asked for the transaction: Hey, I have some things I'd love to run by you. Do you have 15 minutes? Which doesn't take 15 minutes. It's seven to nine minutes because I know they're super busy. And then I can ask for more aggressive or heavier transactions, if you will, which is more feedback down the line, “Oh, hey, can I give you a list of questions? Can I give you a survey? Can you take a look at this? “ And that’s how it works out for me.

LinkedIn has been wonderful in connecting with my audience because they also see a face before anything. They see a profile. They see posts and content, so they know I'm not trying to sell them. And I always say, "I'm just trying to do my job a little bit better, so I can help you.” Those are the exact words I say every single time. It helps break the ice because they're used to the sales pitch on LinkedIn.

Naz Ekim: Yeah, exactly. And following up on that, especially in cybersecurity, there are a lot of big companies. There are also a lot of small shops, and they don't even know where to begin to buy, who to go to, and what to buy first. Do we buy an anti-virus software or whatever it is? If you win an award, work with analysts, or like a third party, appreciation goes a long way. Because then, they know that you are someone legitimate and that the industry cares about you. And that's a good way of communicating with the audience or your potential audience. Internal and external surveys are great.

Kerry Guard: There's an interesting question here from Margie. She asked about the sales team. This does feel a little bit of overlap between the outreach. Some of you are doing what the sales team essentially should be doing. Do you find that there is an overlap? Do you find pushback? When there is this deliberate one-on-one outreach, are there challenges with coordinating with the sales team?

Naz Ekim: Well, the point is, from my perspective and comms perspective, my job is to create content and put the companies in the news. If we're in the news, and if I send that to my salespeople, or if a piece of content or research, they can run with that, and they love it. When you try to get in between, that’s when they get annoyed. But if you give them the ammunition to close the sale, your best friend will be there.

Sekou White: I'd add that it depends on what discovery you're trying to do, especially about the sort of slow or blocker. There are always potential customers if you're trying to discover your existing customer base. No one can stop you from speaking of the potential customer. So to the extent that you understand your current customer's profile, and if you're just trying to replicate that, you can go out and find a panel of prospective customers and get a lot of the same perspective as talking to an existing customer.

Kerry Guard: Good point. Yeah, current customers. Jenna asked a data question, which is great, especially when figuring out your ideal customer profile and who you want to be talking to. For you all, what data do you find most helpful if you're starting? And understanding who your customers are and what they need? You did mention data a little bit earlier. But what data are you looking at?

Sekou White: This might be specific to developers, but I want to understand how they consume media. That's one of the bigger things I'm trying to understand, like, where are they because a big part of the strategy, at least in developer marketing, is, you have to meet them where they are. Understanding how they're consuming media, where they're spending time, and where they are, even if it's outside the professional realm. I think just getting a 360-degree picture of what they're interested in, what they're doing, what they're talking about. I think that's key because from there, we can listen, engage, and start building campaigns that use those channels. And so that's typically one of the first things we're looking for depending on the product and product adoption. There are some data around actual product usage that all of us depend on where we're selling. I wouldn't be interested in knowing, but media consumption is outside for me.

Matt Hathaway: I also think when you're talking about early on when you're just trying to define the audience fully, and you're trying to figure out what they're interested in, people undervalue SEO data. What are they searching for? What is XYZ? What questions are being asked heavily?

You're not going to have the traffic on your site. To start, look at competitor sites; what are the most common ways they reach your site? What are they searching for? What questions do they have? I think data is immensely valuable before you've optimized your website. What are people struggling with? Whether it's a feature of a competitor or something much larger of even understanding. We have many acronyms not mentioned before in our space, and these unknown terms get invented seemingly every year. What are they looking for? That data is rich, and there are millions of searches every day in your space. It's not just a way to bring them to your site but also to understand them.

Dani Woolf: Yeah, that's a great way to gauge intent. It's undervalued and a powerful tool—a great way to look into and identify your audience. And what helps me is to have a set of questions based on phases of the buying journey, identify who's sitting in each phase, look at the data in Salesforce one, and validate through stakeholder interviews with sales or sales engineers. So I generally like to see who's typically sitting in on product demos, one who initiates like an RFP in the buying process, who's part of the POC or POV, who's using the product, who signed the check for the product in the last six to nine months, and then who's also expanding or renewing the product. And that will give you a holistic overview buying committee. And then from there, I generally like to go into general interviews first before probing into specific topics like, “Okay, what messaging is working, what website, and where do they search. I like to understand when I have the buying committee. What is their one bleeding challenge? What is their motivation or goal? And then I want also to understand the buying journey. If you're evaluating a tool or solution, how do you go about doing that, and why didn't you do it sooner? And then there's always that fourth question: are there any differences or anomalies in the market that we could take advantage of as a marketer or vendor? And that's a great question to gauge what could be a potential differentiator for you. It starts from the top, identifying the ideal customer profile, then doing a general interview, building the relationship, and then starting to probe deeper through more discovery calls with them down the line.

Naz Ekim: Do you still think Salesforce is the best platform for that?

Dani Woolf: Do you want to go down that rabbit hole?

Kerry Guard: Well, somebody's asking the question. Jennifer has asked the question, what tools are you using? You did mention some. Our customers were listening to our audience here. They're asking what tools you are using. Is it Salesforce? What else?

Dani Woolf: I will answer this one question. I'll shut up to let everybody else talk. A tool is a tool, and it's the strategy and how you use it that's important. People are notoriously bad at updating the salesforce. Other tools are cheaper and could do the same job at salesforce. But we use salesforce to gather data as a startup to do customer or buyer interviews.

Zoom is enough because you can record and save it in the cloud or on your desktop and a spreadsheet with your fields of who you're talking to. The questions that you're asking them, and then you can take a look at the general trends between each of the buyers you're speaking to. I don't purchase anything apart from maybe descript to transcribe and promote those interviews to the world.

Kerry Guard: Does anybody else use specific tools? And some of the data you mentioned SEO? Are there any specific tools you use to figure out what those keywords are?

Matt Hathaway: I'm not here to promote any specific tools. There are various competitors, and SEMrush is one that I've recently used that is a great one. I'm not going to say it's better than a competitor, but one thing mentioned in the question that was interesting was the non-invasive recording. We have tools that our salesforce uses to read that records and transcribes every conversation they have. And that's quite useful to improve training and enablement for sales because we want them to be saying similar to what we're using. I see somebody else with a question just came in with the same thing. And it's specific, what we're using is called Gong, but it's got its value. It's something that we can also use to hear what they want without having the luxury of that one on one conversations with buyers and customers. It is a way to see what questions they're asking the salesforce and the BDR is and everybody else to say, “This is what we care about. These are our problems.” It's a way to try and harvest from that and find those patterns before you make that initial first attempt that you're going to throw away later, but the first attempt to message what you do.

Naz Ekim: My audience is slightly different because it's journalists. There are a few tools out there platforms that give you the home address of the journalists you want to reach. Most of my research is combined with that, googling what they've written about what they're interested in and then trying to create that personal relationship without being too creepy.

Dani Woolf: I'd like to go back to a previous question. That was an interesting one because it's a challenge that I've experienced. It's a challenge that others have experienced as well. I think Margie had asked, “How do you approach the challenges of finding customers to interview when sales teams are a blocker?” And that's a big one because I've been denied access to customers regularly and how I will do my job if I don't understand what's ticking for the customer and I don't have access to them. And I think if to bypass that, and you got to get your stakeholders on board. You have to interview your stakeholders first to sell your strategy and educate them on why you're doing customer research. You need to identify why you are doing this, what goals you are trying to achieve, what questions you will ask, how you will approach the customer, and how long the interview will be. This is important, especially in the security space. How are you going to be treating those very valuable and confidential insights? Once you educate them, reassure them that this is your goal and your strategy. And even on top of that, what would you like to know as a salesperson in this process from these insights? How will those insights help you achieve your goal? Once you have that, it'll be much easier to access customers. Because if you're blind, you don't know, “Well, what I'm going to do here is wishy-washy,” then that will be felt. But who wouldn't want you on their side and doing this work for you if you have it all planned out?

Naz Ekim: I feel like this all goes back to creating and building relationships and trust, especially in our fields. No matter how many data tools or platforms we use, people will want to talk to you and want to believe you, they will want to be educated, and it has to make sense to them. You have to offer a solution. How can we help you? How can we save you? And if you have that figured out, you’ll have a customer or that person. Not maybe now, but in the future and your other career opportunities.

Kerry Guard: It's what I wanted to get into next, considering you all have done customer research at length, and I know this is specific to your customers. And I think that's fine because, to Knauss's point, it's all connected and related at the end of the day. What are some high-level themes you have found through your research that customers and potential clients are asking for in terms of the kind of relationship they want from vendors and brands?

Naz Ekim: They want to know that you care about them, that you're not just trying to sell and close a sale. Even if you have closed the sale, just check in once in a while, "Hey, how's it going? Let's go out for coffee. Let's chit-chat.” Even if it's not business, that goes a long way. It's all about communication. It's all about continuing that relationship and then figuring out and learning their challenges.

Sekou White: Yeah, and not all will say anything along those lines. Customers generally want to feel that they're being listened to. This is to learn throughout this conversation. We get information by having a dialogue and speaking to customers, which helps us in our personal lives. People appreciate just being asked for their opinion and having it acted upon. Suppose there's anything I've learned just from speaking to customers. In that case, it's like they just want to be they want to be listened to, not just listened to for the sake of listening to. They also want to see that the organization of a company does something about whatever they've communicated. I think that's dependent, and I've worked on many different types of audiences, but I've noticed consistent through-line.

Kerry Guard: Dani, anything to add?

Dani Woolf: I hear three core themes consistently in my discussions: Relationship capital will always generate more financial capital. If you build those authentic connections, transparency and ethically approaching them will move the needle. Teach me something that I didn't know, a value. Has been consistently saying in conversations that if you want to get my attention, okay, one house will help me. But, is this something new that maybe I didn't know? This is interesting to me. Let's dig in deeper. That's another core theme, and the third is just to speak human to me. I don't need geekspeak. Clarity and conciseness will give you credibility and trust. You don't need to impress anybody with geekspeak or jargon. Just tell them clearly and concisely what it is you're trying to achieve, what it is that you do and how it will help them. That will go a long way.

Matt Hathaway: You made two points, Dani, to which I want to add. In my opinion, one is the geekspeak and the jargon. I've met many people in marketing who think marketing is inventing words and is coining new phrases. There's no better way to lose your audience than using a bunch of words they've never heard before because they don't tie that back to the problems they have. Don't go out there and say, “We're the only company in the world that does XYZ.” Well, that's cool. You'll stay that way because I don't have that problem. I've never heard of it before. I think that's important for people to know, not only messaging to it and writing as if you're talking to a 10th grader who's just trying to understand your space but also what the terms are and the words they would use to describe it every day. Don't invent new acronyms. Nobody needs more acronyms. Please don't create an acronym for your products. I've been through that before and seen that happen. Your engineers may use that daily when writing code, which is cool. Use that inside your company, but don't put it on your website and expect people to learn your terminology. And the other thing I think that was important to me that you said Dani is the financial capital. I've seen a website before. I don't remember who, but the company said, “We're the company that raised $500 million.” And it's like, what? What do you do? Nobody wants to know, nobody cares. They're not going to buy your product because you fleeced some VCs and got half a billion dollars in investment. They just want to know what you do. Are you trying to solve actual security problems? Because there are startups out there that identify a market category in Gartner, and Forrester and say, “Hello. There's a lot of money in that space. Let's build a product.” Nobody wants to buy that product. They want to know what problem you're trying to solve. What got you started? Why is there credibility that you will have a long-term value add and continue to give them value and address new challenges with what they're trying to do?

Dani Woolf: Speaking of financial capital, these buyers know that we're all fueled by investor profits and stressed about hitting our revenue goals. And so, with that comes a lot of shady tactics. But these buyers know when your heart is in the right place when you inquire about the problems they're trying to solve versus just pitching them a solution and creating a problem for them when they're trying to solve other serious issues.

We can go down. We can squirrel about investor problems. That's a huge issue for us because some of us are fueled by that. I'd even say focus on the mission before money. That's another core theme for my buyers, at least for security buyers. When you focus on the mission, the money will come. Keep that in mind.

Naz Ekim: And back to what Matt said, I agree. Sometimes companies are so much within their heads that they speak in it, but the general audience has no idea what you're talking about. Know your audience, which is the general public mostly because a lot of these decision-makers, decision buyers, SEO, etc.. they could be from beginner prices, or they're taking money from small businesses that can bring you millions of dollars over the years. You never know. I think, just being dragged being, how can I help, how can I solve your problem, what do you need, and if you don't have the product to solve that problem, that's cool. If you just go along with it and be direct and honest, instead of trying to talk in acronyms, as Matt said, no one will understand.

Kerry Guard: I have two final questions. One is from me and one of our guests who asked it a while ago, but I have just been holding on to it. It's a good last question. My question is just in wrapping this up; we've heard a lot about how to get in front of the customer, ask the right questions, learn what they need, and learn what you all have learned. How are you applying that to your actual marketing plans? What are some of the things you're doing to change the way you market regarding what your customers are asking for?

Dani Woolf: I've been optimizing messaging, taking out a lot of jargon, spelling out acronyms. Because sometimes people, even if it's a well-known acronym, just be clear and concise and spell it out. We've been changing the way we approach prospects, from a nurturing perspective, based on feedback on how to engage audiences, optimizing conversion funnels, specifically our demo request funnel. And I would say tightening up segments because we've done the ICP project, which is our audience and our customer fit. I think those are some of the immediate ones we've done. I have a list on LinkedIn that we've done more, but those that pop in my head that impacted us.

Sekou White: I can jump in. On our side, we're speaking more to a developer audience, but the developer audience is not necessarily buying anything. And that's important, but I think it's impacted everything from messaging to the channels we were using to reach that audience. Still, it also pushed us to invest in areas that wouldn't typically be associated with marketing. Whether that's skill-building, how do you up-level developers and give them opportunities to uplevel their talent, not selling anything but just how you give them opportunities to get better. I think that's something we've invested in big time. Communities, whether offline or online, invest in getting out with the audience and engaging with them not in an ad hoc way but in a systematic way. And then lastly, how do we use of developers as advocates. We know developers tend to listen to other developers, especially ones in their field or tech stack.

How do you align yourselves with those developers and those associations that have credibility with your audience, and how do you do that in an organic way? How do you do that in a systemic and Demmick way? And so those are things we, as a marketer, are not necessarily thinking about marketing. You can typically add events, but these are some areas that we've invested in because we've heard from our audience that they want to learn something valuable to them. They like being able to interact with other developers, and they listen to other developers. And that's how we address those insights.

Matt Hathaway: I agree on the community aspect. When I've worked at companies, and we've built or become a part of or built our own, either way, been a part of the community. It just leads to a lot better—overall conversations and trust. And the shifting to a very traditional marketing aspect when you mentioned carrying marketing plans. I think one thing I witnessed earlier in my career was when campaigns and themes for a quarter we're not tied relevant things to the audience. They just fell flat, “Oh, it's summer. Let's talk about summer in our camp.” Nobody cares. Is there a new regulation out there trying to understand? Is there some major market event? A lot of M&A is happening, and how do they deal with it to ensure that your campaigns are tied to their problems, as opposed to just “Oh, Summer. Let's make it fun and talk about the beach.”

Naz Ekim: Following up on what Matt said, relate to what's happening in the world. If something's happening in the news, and if you publish something right away that hits the spot, you might get some demand. But, as Matt said, if you're talking about something that's completely irrelevant, at the time, especially in this weird world we live in right now. No one's going to care. Education is very important.

Dani Woolf: I love that point. Things happen fast these days, and we're dealing with security practitioners. They got to be on top of what's going on, and that could be a great insight knot. Because if you know what the challenges are for your audience and customer, and you see what's going on in the news, you'll be able to tie that pain to what's going on the news to potential solutions, product, tool, or story, research and report that will help them deal with that challenge going on in the world, from a press perspective. So that's cool. Think about that one.

Naz Ekim: Thank you.

Kerry Guard: The last question is from Darren. Dani had made a comment about doing tasks that aren't leading to productivity. I want to know how you decide what is productive and not, and audience first marketing?

Dani Woolf: Are those tasks helping me hit my objectives and key results (OKRs)? Are they helping me drive opportunities? Are those tasks helping me generate revenue? If they're not, then they can wait. They are not the top priority. If they're sucking the time out of doing audience research out of pursuing projects and programs and campaigns that are helping my customer, they can wait or die on the hill by themselves. I would say be selective of your tasks, cut out all trivial tasks that have no direct impact on your business goal to your OKRs, and focus on what's helping your customer.

Matt Hathaway: To tie that back, make sure that also you have the right KPIs and OKRs. If the task is just to create more leads, you're not thinking about it the right way. It leads to opportunities for sales or awareness, and not everything becomes sales oriented. But getting a lead for lead's sake because you had a great charge key is not helping anybody. I would argue that we shouldn't even be collecting people's information if all they're doing is stopping by a booth to get a t-shirt. Because that's probably going to waste a BDRs time or a salesperson's time somebody's because that person isn't interested in what you do. Great, you had something they thought was a cool t-shirt that gets your brand out there. You've achieved a goal. Don't spend time chasing them and emailing them and doing everything necessary to try and trick them into getting on a demo where they can tell you, “Cool. This is interesting, but this isn't relevant to me.”

Sekou White: Just a piggyback of Matt's point. B2B, a performance-based lens, the brand has objectives that exist outside of just a conversion. Even though we all know that's the most important thing, that's how we get paid. But the upper funnel is also important if you think about things in a full-funnel way. Sometimes things might be great for just brand awareness and reach purposes. I implore everyone to also think through to Matt's point. Don't force-fit something just because you want to add a qualified lead OKR. Something is just good for brand sake, andt you have to be okay with that.

Naz Ekim: Yeah, exactly. From my perspective, you can be on any public you shouldn't want, but being on Forbes will probably not bring you leads. Having a technical byline on a trade publication is you might get a couple of phone calls or emails. It depends on what's expected, and if you do not appear in the news, then that means I'm not doing my job well.

It's really important to figure out where you want your company to be. It's not just to get on the news or just to get on the Wall Street Journal. But it might be more important to be on ZDNet or Dark Reading, which gives you much more credibility. You have to know your audience and who you're selling to.

Outro

What a perfect ending! Thank you to all of you. It’s a great conversation between the four of you. Amazing! Thank you to the audience who dropped in some questions. We appreciate some amazing questions that got some really good conversations going.

To our audience, if you'd like to connect with our panelists, the links are below. Be sure to reach out to them and connect.

Thank you again for joining us on this Tech Marketing Leader Roundtable. We'll be hosting this once a quarter so be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss the next one.

This roundtable was brought to you by MKG Marketing - the digital marketing agency that helps cyber security and data management platforms get found via transparent, measurable digital marketing.

It’s hosted by me, Kerry Guard - CEO and co-founder of MKG

Music, mix, and mastering done by Austin Ellis.

If you’d like to be a guest, please email me at kerry@mkg.marketing to apply.

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