Hello, I’m Kerry Guard and welcome to Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.
Welcome back to season 11!
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Dani Woolf. If you haven't had a chance to listen to my conversation with Dani, jump back in. It’s super important to understand your audience and how we can better pick up the phone and figure out how best to serve our customers' audience first. I'm with you, Dani.
Speaking of best serving our customers, I chat with Chris Spellman in this episode. Chris is a Senior Demand Generation Manager at Offensive Security. He is a marketing leader with over a decade of experience helping organizations grow. He is dedicated to leading organizations to drive brand, demand, and revenue.
Chris and I talk about what it means to be a mission-driven organization to have a real message about creating a real difference in the world, then backing it up through all your marketing efforts. He breaks it down. He brings to life exactly how we all can do this and where we really need to.
Thank you, Chris, and let's take a listen.
Kerry Guard: Hello, Chris. Thank you for joining me on Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.
Chris Spellman: Yes, thanks so much for having me.
Kerry Guard: I'm excited to have you. It's going to be a good conversation. Before we kick-off, I always like to start with this question, so people get to know you beyond our topic today. What do you do, Chris? How did you get there?
Chris Spellman: Yes, good question. I am a Sr. Demand Generation Manager at Offensive Security, a cybersecurity training company. We offer many online training opportunities for people looking to deepen their skills in this area. To answer the other part of your question, I took a bit of a circuitous path to get where I am today. I studied majoring in philosophy in college. I did take some business and psychology courses, which have helped with marketing. After a couple of years after graduation, I got into SEO blogging for small businesses back then kind of parlayed that into working for a software company, doing marketing, and working for a marketing agency for a while. And then Fortune 500 manufacturing company, and most recently, I've worked for two cybersecurity companies. I've been doing cybersecurity marketing since 2017. I've been in the marketing manager role, I've been in the marketing operations manager role, and now I'm in demand generation, as I mentioned. A key part of my journey is transitioning from a MarTech heavy focus on clinical lead generation to a holistic approach to demand generation where brand drives demand. Marketers need to know their customers and use tactics to educate and help them, such as this podcast, rather than always having the goal of collecting email addresses and driving leads. It's been a great journey to answer that today.
Kerry Guard: I have so many questions. I want to dive in because I can't help myself. The SEO journey from lead generation to demand generation is such an interesting one. In terms of SEO, how does that fit into today? Are you still invested in SEO place? Or is it just all-encompassing, and you rely on other people? Is SEO still a part of what you do?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, so for my role right now, we target a B2B audience and a B2C audience. It’s an interesting mix of individual students taking our courses and businesses buying it for their employees or people. Given that we invest in SEO, it’s still on the B2C side, and I'm personally more involved with the B2B side. It's an interesting mix. I'm not doing as much SEO for my own B2B demand generation, but I see the value, and we are doing it at my company for B2C.
Kerry Guard: That's the mindset. Demand generation is a role now. I see a lot of people with roles and so making the lead from lead generation. I love how you said that. It's more about knowing your audience and encompassing what they need. Did you make that leap, or was it just a natural progression from lead generation to demand generation? What was the journey, specifically how you went about that?
Chris Spellman: Yeah. I have worked in B2B marketing roles for several years. I worked in manufacturing, which tends to be on lead generation, maybe even today. It is brought up in marketing doing lead generation tactics and not focused on the more progressive demand generation tactics that we have today, such as podcasts and paid socialists. By just listening to podcasts and on LinkedIn myself, I get into different luminaries in demand generation, whether it's Chris Walker or Dave Gearhart, and there are a lot of them out there. But those two, in particular, have been very influential for me. But I found Chris Walker randomly in 2018 on LinkedIn and have been following him ever since I got into his podcast. It wasn't that pretty much all every day, more or less so. It's great to educate myself on these things and recover lead generation, which becomes a true demand generation.
Kerry Guard: I love that. Yes, the world is shifting away from needing these leads to a more holistic approach that's more audience-focused. The audience has changed, and we need to change with them. Before we get into our topic, which I can wait to dig into, let's talk about what you know as a demand generation marketer working in cybersecurity. I’m so curious, and it’s interesting to know more about the training materials for cybersecurity and what that means. This is going to be an interesting question for you. Specifically, what's one challenge you're currently facing in this unique position?
Chris Spellman: I think it goes back to what we just talked about: mindset and approach, rather than specific tactical challenges. Although the tactics flow from the mindset, I believe I mentioned very MarTech heavy. It was a marketing operations person, nothing wrong with that and it's a great important role. But sometimes, people can be too overly invested and dependent on marketing technology, specifically when doing marketing. It is a crotch or a way to overly rely and not do the fundamentals, which I was guilty of. A couple of years ago, I transitioned to a mission more than the contemporary dimension role. I found this a challenge for me, and it's such a huge mindset shift. And just seeing that reading on LinkedIn, watching videos, and listening to podcasts helped me adapt. This new mindset is based on today's B2B buyer.
Kerry Guard: Have you been doing the demand generation mindset?
Chris Spellman: Sorry, how long have I?
Kerry Guard: Yeah, how long have you been? I feel like this is relatively new.
Chris Spellman: I was doing marketing operations in early 2020, and that's when I started to shift about two years ago. It was a full shift for me, but I had inklings of it, maybe the year before.
Kerry Guard: Was it a huge learning curve? Do you feel it is natural? What was it? What was the experience for you?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, it was both. It made so much sense to me, and they were like, why? Why was I doing this? Put your email address here, get an e-book, and nurture emails. Why was I doing something? Somebody was so overly simple that’s not effective at the end. It was very natural but challenging to overcome those prejudices that I had built up for my whole career.
Kerry Guard: I totally agree. It's a mind shift, and when you're taught one way for so long, which is all about the sales team, getting them the right leads, they can make calls and bottom of the funnel to pull up again. I can feel my brain working and getting blood pressure. It leads naturally and beautifully into our conversation today, where we connected around what you were calling mission first. What does that mean to you?
Chris Spellman: The mission first is just adopting a mind shift again, based on your organization's mission that has a legitimate, authentic, and good mission. That's not just making money; essentially, at least more than that. I've loved working in cybersecurity for these past five years because we are mission-first, and it’s obvious because we're trying to secure the world from cyber-attacks, which is an important and timely thing right now.
Every organization can and should have a firm mission. It needs to be something more than just making money and can't be something fluffy. An example was a MarTech vendor, and their mission could help marketers do a better job of demand generation, or whatever area they're supporting in their tool, and reach their goals to help their customers. It’s about helping your customers; that should be your mission. Obviously, there's more than that, but you've been focused on helping your customers, meaning helping those end-users and someone who will benefit from that.
Kerry Guard: It’s all about you, and in some ways, it's not even about your client. It's about who your clients are trying to serve. As an advertising agency, we're even trying to think about them. It's about the marketing person we're trying to help and the problems that the marketing person is trying to solve, ultimately for the end-user. It's a lot to figure out, but so important because people will naturally come on board if you can figure that out. That's the whole point of admission, right? It's to bring people in without selling for you.
Chris Spellman: Exactly. In some ways, essentially, it goes back to what we're talking about with demand generation. You're creating demand for your product because you have a mission that people believe in something. Building a brand, not just collecting email addresses and building this brand that people want to stand behind and be a part of. It's almost a movement that good brands do and make a real affiliation for that specific brand. Rather than being this commodity product that they're trying to edge out a million competitors they have and seem the same thing
Kerry Guard: It almost makes your mission. We’re not like NASA trying to travel the moon or anything, but mission-critical, right? If you're doing demand generation having a very clear outcome, what makes up a mission?
Chris Spellman: Our mission is to try to or not try but to succeed in educating people who are looking to secure the world from cyber-attacks. It's just a quick way of saying it. I didn't think about a fancy way of putting it, but our mission is to educate these people and train them in ways that they will be able to secure the world from these attacks. You're helping your customers. These students are these people we'll take the training, but then their customer is the company they're working for. They're working for these big enterprises, securing them from attacks. They're working for the government, educational institutions, or whatever it happens; they're their customers and are being secured. Our mission is ultimately through our students who take our courses; we're enabling security throughout the world.
Kerry Guard: The keyword there is education, which I don't feel like you hear a lot in a mission statement unless you're in education. That's really powerful in and of itself when you're talking about enabling. What's so powerful about it is that you are essentially changing the world in what you're doing and not solely reliant. There are many scary tactics in cybersecurity, like, you better secure your data and information quickly before you will be hacked and everything is closed. The direction you're coming from and the mission you are and your company are after are how can we all work together to create this a safer space and give you the right tools to do that.
Chris Spellman: Yeah, exactly.
Kerry Guard: In your experience in the last five years in cybersecurity, I don't know the last company you worked for. Maybe this is a good comparison because you are so mission-focused. Did you jump from that company to this company because you believe more in this mission? Or did the other company have a good mission as well? What takes in being able to have the luxury of comparing two different ideas?
Chris Spellman: The other firm I work for was a nonprofit, very mission-focused. When I left that, we had about 250 employees. It was fairly large and operated by me. We had a marketing team, sales, and many functions that you would find in a profit company. We didn't do fundraising, and it was formed through different people who had been involved in government and wanted to create this organization that was going to be a neutral or not-for-profit company, essentially. It was extremely mission-focused, which inspired me to be where I am today. I have a passion for education, just from my history and background. I was really attracted to that aspect and focused on where I am today, but the previous one was also just as mission-focused, if not more, and it is impressive. To work for that organization, they would produce benchmarks, which would help people secure systems, and it helps. Cybersecurity is very community-focused, and another aspect of it is not only the mission but also the community. People are just looking to share knowledge to succeed in their goals, not just trying to grab information for themselves and profit from your office. It's extremely mission and community-focused as well.
Kerry Guard: We're all after the same mission of ensuring that every individual's information is secure, and how we all go about that's a little bit different in terms of the problems we're solving. And from an educational piece, there's community-based because you're just giving people the right tools to take that and then teach. Then it just perpetuates, which is beautiful in terms of the messaging, in your marketing tactics to bring your mission to life. How are you approaching that? We talked about demand generation but let's break that down a little bit. How are you getting people to care about your mission?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, what helps us already is that we have a very strong brand from being in the industry for quite a long time. And people have heard of us and that sort of thing, which helps us. We started a podcast back in March of 2021; since then, we've been building up the frequency of episodes, content, and variety. It’s something that community has responded very positively to. It builds the brand even more and communicates this information that you can't always do with blog posts and our social posts. Podcast has been really essential, and as I mentioned, non-direct response, paid social is just another tactic that enables us to get our story and mission to an audience that may not have heard of us and may not or may not be familiar with us. Still, we can reach the job titles that make sense or the personas we want, even if they're not already following us on LinkedIn or Facebook. Those are two examples real quick that I mentioned earlier, as well.
Kerry Guard: I’m ridiculously meta right now because I'm a big fan of podcasts. I’m having you on and hosting one myself, but I think there's incredible power. The reason why I do a podcast is from a connection standpoint. I want to be connected to the community of what's going on and what matters to you all and be able to share that and create this essence of I'm not alone, especially being isolated and COVID—and just working remotely. There’s this sense of feeling alone and the challenges we're facing, so that's my mission with having a podcast. Obviously, there are repercussions on how that impacts my brand, but that's not why I created it. So, for your business and from an education standpoint, that makes a ton of sense. What's the premise of your podcast? Do you do interviews? Is it just people talking up your company? How did you get started? What was the basis for you guys creating a podcast? What was your mission?
Chris Spellman: There are two answers to that question because we started it in March 2021 and it was community-focused. We would interview a couple of our community managers, product managers, or community members who were interested in or relevant to different topics, even if it wasn't directly relevant to what courses we’re offering. But just to give a platform for different committee members within our space, so that's where it started. Since then, it's evolved to have additional episodes beginning this year, which is more focused on content coming directly from us. We have someone who just started with our company recently. She has a Ph.D., and she's very active and involved in these topics. She was just giving information that will be helpful to our listeners related to cybersecurity training, etc. The last piece that we just started is interviews with our content developers and the content developers of those who write the courses. Again, this is something that we thought people would be very interested to hear. People are devoted to our courses, and they like them, so let's hear directly from the people writing and producing them.
Kerry Guard: How's it going?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, good. We had some great responses. We had one episode that did very well, in particular. All the episodes have been pretty well received, both in terms of metrics and just qualitative data on social media and other places.
Kerry Guard: What's one fun fact that you picked up from listening to all these episodes as a collective? What's one moment you've had?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, that's a good question. Again, that's how important community is, especially in this cybersecurity industry, but it's important in marketing, industrial engineers, or software. Everything is very important. In terms of cybersecurity, we can have people who are tangentially related to what we're doing. It works in a very interesting way for people, relevant and exciting for our listeners to learn about different experiences and how they got into it. It's just cybersecurity, their struggles, and the personal side behind these people who are well known based on their screen name, their Twitter handler, or whatever you want to call it
Kerry Guard: It really humanizes it, doesn't it? I found the same thing. It's been awesome, and I'm totally empowered by doing these, and it's just like we talk a lot about the things that bring you energy during the day. What are the things that keep you going? What are the things that drain your energy? And this is something for me that is really powerful. It just lives on. I find episodes from six seasons ago that people listen to, once you hook someone, and they're really like, oh, that was interesting, and then they go on this journey of navigating your content. They went out of style, but they heard something, and they'll listen to the next one. It's cool to see that. It isn't a moment where this is only relevant right now. There are episodes from two years ago that people are still finding really relevant. With cybersecurity being such a hot topic, a hard challenge to crack to content and educational content that you all are producing is something that will live on. So you’re producing it, and it's a lot of work. You've used it sounds like three avenues of how you're navigating the types of episodes. What are you doing with it?
Chris Spellman: We put it on all the major platforms. We feature an email newsletter every month, telling the new episodes that came out in the past month or highlighting certain ones. We also have a very large following on social media organically. We regularly post about something when there's a new episode, which gets people excited. We're going to start doing something that we haven't done yet, to take little segments, where we're sending video versions of some of these episodes as well, which we hadn't done before. And then just taking a micro of three or four-minute segment from the episode, drop the video on YouTube and LinkedIn or some other platforms depending on the length. You have a little description of some posts about the topic we're talking about, or the guests' are talking about. You spread the word about what we're doing in our podcasts.
Kerry Guard: It's pretty amazing how one piece of content, especially if you're doing video, that's so brave. I have not cracked that code yet. It's from a visual standpoint. Social stories and being able to do videos are incredibly powerful. Do you guys dabble with that at all? Stories are new, but not really. If you can do them right, they work well.
Chris Spellman: We're just beginning to get into that. It hasn't been something we've done historically, but it would be worthwhile.
Kerry Guard: It's one of those with too many options.
Chris Spellman: Yes, of course.
Kerry Guard: You're doing SEO, right?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, exactly.
Kerry Guard: The beauty of a podcast is this never-ending content that's always refreshing your website. You publish this thing over here, which publishes eight platforms and links back to your website. It's magic.
Chris Spellman: That's a good point. It's kind of the newer way of doing it, I suppose. But it's a very good way.
Kerry Guard: It’s very efficient. We're just starting to dabble like what I just asked my team, “What does this mean? I've been doing this for two years. I never thought about the SEO question. What does it mean?” You're like, oh, let me investigate. They're digging into the data to uncover how the podcast has impacted our website, which was fun. We're like doing SEO.
Chris Spellman: If you have the transcripts of the episodes, which you do, then that's another avenue of doing it.
Kerry Guard: You guys have the transcripts?
Chris Spellman: We don't have it, but it's a good idea to do that.
Kerry Guard: Otter.ai. It's not perfect. You'll need somebody to sit there and clean it up a bit, but it gets 85% of the way there, and that's a good point because you have the transcripts live. It was accessible. It's important because audio is taken off and creates accessibility for different audiences. We also want not to leave the other audience behind.
Chris Spellman: It’s exactly a good mix.
Kerry Guard: Definitely. Have you thought of ways how you monetize the podcast? You talked a lot about sharing and cutting it, which is great. I'm dabbling right now. I don't know how this will pan out, but I'm dabbling with pay when we talk about demand generation and awareness. Have you played around with paid at all when it comes to sharing the podcast?
Chris Spellman: Not yet. It's relatively new, as I mentioned, the podcast that we have. We're thinking primarily about having these content pillars that we can repurpose in a million different ways in different avenues.
Kerry Guard: I talked about this all day, and I just had a conversation with a friend who's also thinking about starting. I don't call it a podcast because he's making a very different approach—this idea of audio is powerful. You mentioned the podcast and newsletters; how else are you getting your mission out there? What other avenues are you using to help bring this to life?
Chris Spellman: Our organic social following is very substantial because the brand has been so well-known over the years. We have 300,000 followers on LinkedIn, we just passed that mark last week, and Twitter is very active, following Facebook. We’re just starting to build YouTube. As I mentioned with podcast episodes, we do walkthroughs of a hacking machine, show how it works, and how-to video for our audience. We have those done live, record them, and upload them. All these different content avenues that we're trying to do that way, especially this year, our goal is video. We haven't had as many videos on YouTube available. It's just finding ways to produce that, maybe even TikTok. Who knows what?
Kerry Guard: If you're doing videos, that makes a ton of sense. Video is a harder medium because of the production quality it takes. I want to go back to the social for a second because 300,000 followers are no small feat. Hats off to your team! How?
Chris Spellman: Well, it's two things. It's the brand's strength because people are very loyal and know about us. We're the Harvard of penetration testing in this particular space because most people consider us very prestigious. If you get our certification, you can just walk into any job. It's very easy to get a job because people will either require the certification or the habit, which puts you at the front of the line. So, because of the brand and prestige of our certifications, that's part of it. We’ve also had very talented people, not just myself. I haven't been doing day-to-day social media management for us. We've had very talented people over the years manage the social and have interesting posts every day and engagement. We even have one of our C-level executives who actively manages part of the Twitter aspect of it to keep the message consistent with who we are as a brand because he's been with the company forever. He's really active too. It's interesting because the community is tight-knit, and people know us so well. We're active on it, and that’s a good combination to get there.
Kerry Guard: It sounds consistency with multiple activities, meanings and people involved.
Chris Spellman: Yeah, exactly.
Kerry Guard: It’s so hard to be consistent with social.
Chris Spellman: I'm impressed by Sam, who manages our social primarily. She does an amazing job of planning it all out, having a post every day, having interesting and engaging content, maybe something a little wacky on Fridays, and all kinds of stuff that keeps it interesting. She does an amazing job.
Kerry Guard: All the content you all produce is really helpful because that's where the big struggle with social is. If you don't have good, compelling content, your social target is off the ground. Is that a good observation in your experience?
Chris Spellman: Because of the podcast, blog posts that we're publishing or other content that we have available to the community, or videos, that helps us to both have something to promote, or in social, but also the content that we can draw from to do micro-posts versions of the content within social as well. It’s a mix of all of that.
Kerry Guard: Your team and company are a prime example of the power of useful content. Who you are at your core is so interesting, and many brands are trying to catch up to that and being a product first, and then trying to be useful to the community afterward to bring them in and have them care. Your point of being mission first is being useful.
Chris Spellman: If you're not being useful to your customers and your customers' customers, your competitors are outbidding you, and it's a bidding war. It's not a race to the bottom when you're a commodity. You have to be seen as prestigious or a brand with a lot of affinity in people's minds where you and people care.
Kerry Guard: This was so helpful. Brands are trying to figure out how to be useful and give back to their community. Podcasting is an amazing way to do that. Having a mission first is critical, but how you build content around that mission to get it out into the world and what you're doing in your company is a great example. Thank you for joining me and sharing. Before we close out, I have my people's first questions. We're all humans here more than marketers, and connecting beyond that is nice. Are you ready?
Chris Spellman: Yeah, sure.
Kerry Guard: Okay, my first question is, have you picked up any new hobbies in these last two years since COVID changed things, and we've all gotten into something a little different. Has that happened to you?
Chris Spellman: In 2021, my wife and I published a dystopian novel that we co-authored. The writing of it was not new within the last few years, but marketing is something new for me because I’m the primary one being a marketer. The marketing of a B2B cybersecurity brand versus a novel is quite different. The fundamentals are the same, but there are many different tactics and all that sort of thing. People are interested in spellmanbooks.com, our site where we have some more information about it.
Kerry Guard: Your wife wrote a book. That's amazing. I've heard more couples struggle partnering on really cool projects, so that's inspiring. It's been tough to hear positivity and that's awesome. Okay, second question for you. We're all remote now, upstate New York, and your team is sporadic. If you could be with your team, whether getting together for all-hands or coming together periodically, or whether because you're supposed to be there in person and haven't gotten there yet, whatever the case, if you were with your people, and you were walking down the floor saying “hi” and connecting, what song would you want playing overhead?
Chris Spellman: It's a good question because we are a distributed company, and we haven't gotten together too much in the last couple of years because of COVID. But that is something high-energy, eclectic, and interesting for me. I'm not sure if they're a little bit lesser-known, but I think they consider themselves eclectic folk-rock. I listened to their music when I was writing the fiction series, and my wife does as well. It sparks creativity and energy. They have a song called Trees, my favorite, which is very high-energy.
Kerry Guard: That will be our Spotify playlist for season 11. Be sure to tune in! Last question for you, Chris. If you could travel anywhere in the world without any roadblocks in your way, where would you get online?
Chris Spellman: It's a tough question because I would like to go to many places and new places, but I think I would go with Rome because I went there. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon, and I've always wanted to go back. I haven't been back since then. I love the history, beauty, architecture, and gelato. We throw our coins in the Trevi Fountain, which means we'll be going back.
Kerry Guard: It's been a while, but it's on my list. Rome, Florence, and PISA. I fell out of this world with these places. It's beautiful! Thank you so much, Chris. It was so good to see you, hear your story and share the power of being mission-focused and learning how you bring that to life. Thank you.
Chris Spellman: It’s my pleasure, Kerry.
That was my conversation with Chris Spellman. If you'd like to connect with Chris, you can find him on LinkedIn. His profile is in the show notes. You should also head over to Offensive Security and dig into their content. They are becoming a publisher in the cybersecurity space, and there's a lot we can learn from what Chris and Offensive Security are doing in terms of leading with a clear mission. The link is in the show notes.
In the next episode, I chat with Kaya Adams and Alexandra McWethy. As the demand generation team, they built a BDR team. The marketing department built a sales extension, and it has exploded in terms of revenue for Watchguard. Stay on and the autoplay will take you there.
Thank you for tuning in to season 11!
This episode is brought to you by MKG Marketing, our digital marketing agency of Agile experts who specialize in SEO, digital advertising, and analytics.
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 visit mkgmarketinginc.com to apply.
Chris Spellman is the Senior Demand Generation Manager at Offensive Security. He is also a marketing leader with expertise in demand generation strategy, HubSpot and Salesforce, paid social (LinkedIn and Facebook Ads), podcast strategy and production, email marketing, reporting and analytics, and WordPress/HTML.