What would happen if marketers forgot about leads and demo requests, and focused solely on pipeline and revenue?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Refine Labs founder and CEO Chris Walker breaks down his unorthodox approach to B2B marketing and explains why he believes most marketers are doing it wrong.
Refine Labs hasn't been around long (it was founded in early 2019), but in the few short years since Chris launched the company, it has experienced what most would term hypergrowth and now boasts more than 30 enterprise SaaS brands as clients.
At the same time, Chris has become somewhat of a household name in marketing circles due to his consistent content creation on LinkedIn and his often contrarian, but always thought-provoking takes on B2B marketing best practices.
In this episode, Chris breaks down his approach to marketing and shares insights on why B2B companies should rethink how they approach lead gen. Check out the full episode to get the details. (Transcript has been edited for clarity.)
Kathleen (00:00): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth, and my guest today is Chris Walker who's the CEO of Refine Labs. Welcome to the podcast, Chris.
Chris (00:32): Great to be on here. It feels like just recently you were on our podcast and looking forward to diving into some topics today.
Kathleen (00:39): I love the podcast guest swap. No, I'm really excited to talk to you because your name comes up a lot. LinkedIn is my favorite platform these days. It's the one I'm the most active on. I really enjoy it. And I hear your name all the time and I'm so glad we're finally getting a chance to get to know each other. So before we jump in too deeply to our topic, for those who maybe haven't heard of you, or don't know you, can you just give a brief synopsis of who you are, what you do, and how you came to be doing what you're doing today?
Chris (01:19): For sure. Yeah. Hey everyone. My name is Chris Walker. I've been in B2B marketing for almost a decade now and have done almost all types of marketing for product marketing, field marketing, demand gen, and brand. And I use them all together in a lot of different venture-funded companies, both as an employee and now as a consultant or business owner. At the moment I run a company called Refine Labs. We've been growing rather quickly and we currently work with about 30 enterprise SaaS organizations throughout the U.S., EMEA, and APAC to transform their demand-generation programs with the core understanding or belief that the marketing game has changed dramatically, or the go-to marketing game has changed dramatically from lead gen, high-volume lead generation to feed sales with people that don't want to buy right now, to marketing, executing demand generation, to generate high-intent leads that want to buy for sales at a lower volume.
Chris (02:12): And that is the core thesis about how we operate, which requires a lot of different changes inside of companies, changing your metrics, changing tactically what you're doing, changing what success looks like at a campaign level, from leads or conversions to something that matters a little bit more deeply, like qualified pipeline or revenue. And so that is what we do. I've been operating in this sort of demand gen framework for the past five years, both as an employee and now as a business owner with a lot of different companies, and just find that, objectively, the way we work works way better.
Kathleen (02:46): Love it. And what I think is really interesting about your journey is — so my background is I used to own a marketing agency for 11 years — and marketing marketing agencies is challenging, right? Because you're trying to stand out in a very crowded field of all people who are good at marketing, right? And it's an interesting challenge. And that is why I think when we talk about the inbound success podcast and my profiling people who are doing inbound really well, you really stand out to me because you're — when did you start Refine Labs?
Chris (03:24): April of 2019.
Kathleen (03:26): Oh, okay. So this is not a company that's been around for 10 years. This is a relatively new company that came out of nowhere. And in just a very few short years, it has a ton of buzz. As you said, you've got 30 clients.
Kathleen (03:39): Your name is getting talked about a lot throughout the industry. So I feel like, if you can, in two years manage to do what you've done and stand out in arguably one of the most competitive industries in which to try and stand out against, a playing field of people who know by and large, what they're doing. If you can do this, then there are massive lessons to be learned for anybody. So I want to talk about how you've done it. And then, at some point, dive into what you do with your clients, which I suspect is...
Chris (04:13): Sorry to interrupt you, but I actually don't find it to be competitive, which I think is the challenge. Like, I don't think that marketing agencies are very good at marketing themselves. And a lot of ones [are] not very good in operating for their clients because they execute a service that gets measured on top of funnel metrics that don't matter to a business, which is why the agency doesn't do it for themselves to grow their company. And so I think it's pretty easy when you start scoring on pipeline and revenue and looking at it that way and then reversing back to the activities that are required. One, it creates a massive product development pipeline for our company. And two, we know very clearly it's driving the business because we can measure it in our own revenue. And so it's weird. Like a lot of people say that it's competitive, but I think that, for the most part, marketing agencies are actually quite poor at marketing themselves.
Kathleen (05:04): So let's break this down. You say that the problem has been a focus on top-of-funnel metrics. And so I'm assuming you're referring to, you know, website, visitor traffic, and then just leads like in a broad category. Is that accurate?
Chris (05:19): Yeah. Marketers tend to not spend time in the CRM where actual business data gets generated and tracked. And so anything pre-CRM is what I'm talking about.
Kathleen (05:30): So what does that look like? You're focused on the CRM. You're focused on pipeline opportunities, revenue. What does that look like in terms of how you then market differently?
Chris (05:42): So by focusing on pipeline and revenue in the CRM, it actually frees marketers from optimizing for top-of-funnel metrics. You can get scored later [in the] funnel, which gives you a lot more flexibility on what to do. If you're a marketer and you come into a company and they say, we need 3000 MQLs this month, and here's your budget and we're projecting, it's going to cost $30 per lead. Then you actually have no money to do anything else, no money, no time, no mindshare to actually go and figure out how to do a podcast or figure out how to do LinkedIn by scoring on a metric that actually matters to a business. You give your marketers a lot more flexibility to do things that could actually work better from an experimentation standpoint. I think you also free marketers from channel attribution performance marketing, which has really I think hurt marketers over the past decade to a level where it's highly transactional and easy to track.
Chris (06:32): And therefore they love doing it because they can track it. But if they actually looked at the stuff that they're tracking, they would realize that they shouldn't be doing it that way. I do that with enough companies and analyze the data of performance marketing lead gen campaigns and how bad it is at a customer acquisition cost payback standpoint period. And I don't — people love to do those things because they can say we got a bunch of leads from LinkedIn, but they never look at how much that customer costs that we got from LinkedIn with all those leads. And that's what I'm suggesting that people do. And so once you get over that path and you're measuring on qualified pipeline, for instance, one, the numbers get smaller, right? So I don't need to go out and generate 3,000 leads. I actually just need to generate 10 leads that convert to a two qualified pipeline. And so it changed. Once you change the volume metric, you can actually change the tactical level things to having high-intent buyers that convert to qualified opposite 80% versus low-intent leads that convert at 1%. And that's what I'm suggesting people do.
Kathleen (07:33): So when you come in, and I'm assuming you've done this with your own business as well, but when you look at a company and you take this approach, you — I'm guessing — you start by looking at the deals. They have to try to look at what has driven those. Is that where it starts?
Chris (07:54): Yeah. So most of the companies that are operating today from a SaaS standpoint because they get measured on top of funnel and they are obsessed with attribution, everything is tracked. And so it's very, very simple to go into the CRM and track all the different lead sources, all the way to revenue and then calculate things like sales-cycle length, lead-to-win rate, average-deal size, different things like that. That gives you a sense about what is the efficiency of that lead source. Should we even start, keep doing that? You could, if you're doing advertising, you could do direct customer acquisition costs on those things. And what we find is that almost everything that a company is doing from a paid standpoint or a lead-gen standpoint is not generating a customer acquisition cost that's anywhere near acceptable. And so once we present that data, it allows executives to help change away from this lead-gen mindset.
Chris (08:41): And when you look at where the actual revenue came from, which from a marketing source revenue, or however you want to say it, inbound revenue, it's very clear the way that people come in to you to buy stuff, it's they come there on their own to your website. And they ask for a demo or ask to talk to a sales rep, or they have to get pricing if you don't publish your pricing. And I would say almost any company could do that analysis and at least 70% of their revenue comes through that way. And so it's — how do you use all of the wasted money in advertising? That's happening over here to collect leads and change how that's being used to influence more people to come through your website and ask for a demo or to talk to a sales rep and is ready to qualify and ready to buy? And that's what we're focused on.
Kathleen (09:22): And I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that you call this the revenue growth optimization framework.
Chris (09:28): We call that part of the process, split the funnel. So what I find is that companies build their demand waterfall from serious decisions in 2009 and put together one spreadsheet and say, we have to get 30,000 leeds and have blanket conversion rates across the whole funnel. Not respecting that different conversion sources have dramatically different intent levels from buyers and therefore convert at significantly different rates. And so by splitting it out by lead source, it helps you identify what are the actual winners here.
Kathleen (09:55): So what has worked really well for your — how you market your business because you're drinking your own champagne? I don't like to say Kool-Aid. It's sort of a dark metaphor. What's working for you guys?
Chris (10:11): Podcasts, LinkedIn events, influencers, organic social.
Kathleen (10:16): So dig into that a little bit for me. Let's start with podcasts.
Chris (10:20): There's a couple of things that work for us here. And I think that what people miss is I just laid out tactics. And I think that people miss on the strategy side — we have air quotes for the listeners here of "marketing agency" with a highly differentiated product, sold to a very specific niche that I know needs it, that's strategy, right? And so if you don't have a differentiated product and you don't identify your ICP and you start doing these tactics, they may not work as well for you. Strategy first, right? And so we have that strategy walked in on who we're selling to, why they need us, why we're uniquely differentiated amongst their alternatives, and different things like that. And then we think about it, just content marketing with effective distribution across the channels where people pay attention.
Chris (11:08): It's like basically what it comes down to. And so while other agencies continue to write blogs for SEO and spend a hundred dollars a click on marketing agency pricing and all the tactics that people have been doing for 10 years that are mature, expensive, and flooded, we continue to do marketing on LinkedIn, and still, I don't see any marketing agencies executing well on it. Linkedin and podcasts have been a gold mine for us over the past two years and will continue to be because companies are very slow to react to new opportunities and they have the wrong mindset when it comes to content marketing, which creates a huge opportunity for people that do like our content marketing. I'm not measuring on how many leads that I got. I'm not measuring it on transactional. And so just the mindset about how we approach content marketing is the secret advantage for us.
Kathleen (12:01): There are a lot of marketing agencies with podcasts. What makes yours different?
Chris (12:07): It actually makes an impact for the people that listen to it. I think it's way more actionable, distributed at a much higher frequency from people that actually do progressive stuff. And I think that's why people tune in to it. And we get plenty of notes. I would say probably at this point 20 a week from people [that] said, “Hey, I listened to your podcast at the beginning. I thought you were full of ---. And then six months later, I started doing those things and we stopped running ebook downloads on LinkedIn. And we started doing it more like the way that you said, and our pipeline went up by 300% this quarter, the first quarter of this year.” And that's what people say. And so I know that it's making an impact. I'm not sure that you get that on other podcasts. So,
Kathleen (12:49): So for those who haven't heard of it, the name of the podcast [is] State of Demand Gen, and it's published how often? Three times a week, and it is available in video and audio video.
Chris (13:03): On YouTube, micro video, on LinkedIn and long-form audio on Apple, Spotify, and all those other different channels. A key thing for people to think about there. And I've been talking about, we consult for a lot of people that are doing a podcast, and I hear this thing a lot. We need to make it short because people's attention spans are slowing down or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So we want to do the seven-minute podcasts. We, our average podcast length of somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes. Yeah. And so it has nothing to do with the length. It has all to do with, is your content good enough to justify someone listening to it for that long? And I want people to think about that if they're getting ready to start a podcast as well.
Kathleen (13:42): You're preaching to the choir on that one, cause I, mine are usually 45 to 60 minutes, and I always tell people it's going to be as long as it needs to be. Yeah. It's the boring guests that would be a really short interview. Try to avoid getting those lines.
Chris (13:59):Okay. We'll try and get the 60 minutes that are misaligned. Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.
Kathleen (14:04): So, okay, so that's the podcast. Now I want to talk about LinkedIn because that is such a core part of your strategy. That's where I, at least to me, I feel like you've been very visible and very successful. So can you kind of break down how you think about LinkedIn and how you advise others to think about LinkedIn?
Chris (14:22): So when it comes to LinkedIn, I consider it a highly effective content distribution medium, and by acknowledging and understanding how dynamics of social platforms work, it can give you an advantage on how to use them. And so I'll give you a couple of examples about, and people think that if you execute on LinkedIn, that you might miss on something else But what they understand is that you build skills that you take with you to new platforms, right? And so, in 2014, I spent time on Instagram. One of the most important things was trying to build an audience on Instagram. I figured out how to do that. And in 2019, when I saw LinkedIn working, I knew how to take the learnings of how to build an audience and move that over there, which is to not just wait for people to follow you.
Chris (15:10): It's having a proactive strategy to get more people into your community audience. And so one of the things that we started doing probably in maybe the past two years, is 30 people a day and connect with people that are active on the platform [and] have posted in the last 30 days liked content. That is, like the stuff that we publish, that's one, one consideration. The next consideration that we see across a lot of different channels is that I try and do all of the work in the feed, meaning that I'm not looking for someone to click on a link. I'm not looking for someone to comment. They're like, blah, blah, blah, like some algorithm hack to make a comment so that you can send them an email with a PDF. I'm trying to get to places where people consume and anyone that's listening to this you'll know that you're much more likely to consume something that's in the feed versus a link that moves off the platform.
Chris (15:59): And it's also better for LinkedIn. And so inside of the feed and the last one is 100% selfless, just giving away the best stuff that we do. I publish stuff that people pay us a lot of money for. And I publish it on the internet because I know that it creates a huge inbound interest for us because we are considered the best, the smartest, the most forward-thinking because of the content that we produce. And so we publish that. I also know that a majority of people will never use it. And so those are a couple of key pillars in how we operate LinkedIn. And then the last one is just pure consistency. I don't think that marketers really understand. I think maybe they get bored of doing the same thing. I've been posting videos on LinkedIn almost every day for 18 to 24 months.
Chris (16:46): And I'm not, I'm not bored of it at all. It's pure marketing. It’s about finding something that works and then being incredibly consistent at delivering it while also innovating on a micro level. So you'll notice that we've changed up how we actually do the videos and how we film them and what quality it's in and how we cut them, and different things like that. But we're still leaning into video, mainly because a lot of people don't do it. And so I think it's just a huge, huge white space as a marketer on LinkedIn. It might feel like a lot of people are using LinkedIn and publishing content. They're good, but go look at other channels. Go look at how competitive it is on SEO. Go look at how competitive it is and Google search ads for a trade show booth. Like all the places where you spend money are way more competitive from a cost of maturity standpoint than places like LinkedIn or a podcast.
Kathleen (17:33): So I'm interested to know how you work with clients on this, because I think as marketers, in many cases, we are naturally more comfortable putting ourselves forward on a platform like LinkedIn. But I do hear from a lot of executives, a lot of subject matter experts, this reluctance, and sometimes it's driven by, I think, fear that they don't have enough to say. I think somebody can be an expert in something, but still have that almost imposter syndrome of, “Well, am I — do I know enough to really put it out there?” And then sometimes it's also driven by, “I can't come up with something every day. How do you do that?” So how do you counsel somebody who doesn't come from a marketing background to develop this muscle memory, to be able to do this regularly?
Chris (18:24): Yeah. So I know how to do this because I've done it before at a company, as an employee. In 2017, we were selling into hospitals and we had our subject matter expert VP of medical education that was a practicing physician. That was our subject matter expert that people in the community found credible, that had was an evangelist, that had used the technology as a physician for more than 10 years. And then became an employee of our company afterwards. And so we had that person. And the way that you figure this out is, instead of trying to have forced that person to create information every day, where they have to think about it, it's a marketer shop to put them in situations where they're going to demonstrate expertise anyway, create a fireside chat, do a round table, have them present on a webinar, on a new clinical trial, whatever those things are.
Chris (19:11): And then you record that event. And so I liked that also from the subject matter experts side, those people prefer that than recording a podcast in a zoom on their own. They want to be out and engaging with people and talking with people. We had some of the most success, cause I heard people say, “Hey, this isn't worth my time to write this blog.” But then when you say, “Hey, we actually got you a spot to talk about the same thing that — I didn't say this, but — the same thing that we were going to write the blog about, but we're actually going to do it in Tulsa, Oklahoma with 12, you know, the best physicians in Oklahoma. And you're going to be speaking at that dinner and then we're going to record it.” And it's a completely different story. And so people need to, I think, change the way that they set up their subject matter expert to allow it to work.
Kathleen (20:00): That's interesting. And then are you publishing those recordings through that person's profile?
Chris (20:09): It was mostly through the brand in 2017. I think dynamics have changed quite a bit since then. But we could go just straight brand on Facebook, organic, and a crushed back then. And it's just not like that anymore. And so the distribution mechanisms over the past almost five years now have changed a lot. And I would at this point switch to some combination of brand and personal, depending on the platform. Yeah.
Kathleen (20:33): I mean, I really feel like today the power, the real potential is in marketing through personal brands. I mean, you can just, from my company, we publish a lot of stuff through our company LinkedIn page, but I find it gets just dramatically less traction than anything put out by our CEO or head of product. So one thing is, how do you get the content out of them, what you just addressed. But then the interesting challenge that introduces, if you are going through the personal brand, is how do you then make sure there's engagement on the backend, right? Because a great post with really good content is going to get engagement. It's going to get responses and questions. And so it's one thing if you, as the marketer, are going in through the company page and engaging with comments, but then when it's on your CEO's personal profile, are you training that CEO to engage? Are you somehow gaining access to their account so that you can engage on their behalf? How do you think that should work?
Chris (21:34): So I'll talk about the ideal way and then maybe a different [way]. The ideal way is that whoever it is — it could be the CEO, It could be another person in your company — recognizes how important this is and does all of it, right? Like I've never had someone else leave a comment for me or answer a message or anything. That's all me. The reason is because I recognize how valuable it is. I recognize that at the moment I can have a thousand touch points with different potential buyers in the market on my own by myself, and have 50 conversations this morning through comments on a LinkedIn post that I made versus what other CEOs might do, which is like go to a dinner once every couple of weeks to meet with one person. And it just gets way more scalability of interaction this way.
Chris (22:20): I wish people would understand that. And so presenting that to people, because I did this as an employee in 2007, around the same timeframe as I would run Facebook ads of the content that this person was creating. And then I would engage in the comments and I recognize, “Hey, I'm having a hundred conversations a day with buyers. Our sales team gets three connections when they go outbound in a day. What's going on here? Why doesn't the company recognize that this is a way better way to do what we're business development. What we're trying to do is connect with buyers in a way that they want.”
Kathleen (22:57): I think it's really interesting to me because I don't think you can underestimate the importance of engaging. What I always say is, you might get comments, you could have a great post and you might get comments, but people aren't going to continue coming back to comment and engage with you. If you don't respond to them, it's like a one-way conversation at that point.
Chris (23:18): Yeah, because people think that social media is about pushing out, not, you know, being social.
Kathleen (23:26): Yeah. so we've talked about the podcast. We've talked about LinkedIn. I'm curious to know how you approach written content on your website. What are your thoughts around the classic kind of written blog? Are you doing much of that, or is most of it like repurposed podcasts content?
Chris (23:50): We don't even repurpose podcast content on the website. It's just like I believe that the idea of what a website is for, for companies should change and we're trying to pave the way on it. And I'm also interested because I'm very interested. It'll probably be within the next — it'll be soon where we can say that we hit 10 million ARR and we didn't spend a second on SEO and companies can understand that there's a different way than writing long-form blogs and different stuff like that. I'm interested in proving some points there. And so, no, we haven't done almost anything from a written blog content standpoint. Because I just feel like the way that people discover and research products has changed and they're doing it in specific places that are different than Google in 2009. And so our website and what I think companies should consider for their website is buyer enablement and a path to a high-intent conversion. And that's it. And so, if we're serving those two things on our website, publishing pricing, case studies, messaging about what we do, how we work, and a way to get in touch with us to start a scale sales conversation and everything else that we're doing is in places where people actually are.
Kathleen (25:00): So you talked about how the way people buy has changed. How would you describe the modern customer journey?
Chris (25:08): I think the key that people need to understand is the difference is the access to trusted peers that B2B professionals have, that they didn't have 5-7 years ago. And so I can interact with 30 marketers and understand what tool they use and what tactics they're doing in different things like that on LinkedIn and on Twitter in revenue collective, through a text message, through a private slack message, through call, through a Zoom, all those different things that were much more difficult to do in 2014 as a B2B professional, that you didn't interact with your peers in the way that you do today in 2014. And because you didn't have access to trusted peers, you trusted a couple of sources. You trusted analyst firms, you trusted conferences, and you trusted Google search because you didn't have access to people. And that's the major change that's going on here is that now people get their information through their peers that they trust. And so leaning into that as the core shift is what I'm talking about, which I think would be very heavy on customer success and very heavy on effective content marketing and what I would consider the dark funnel, a.k.a social and other places that are difficult to track in attribution.
Kathleen (26:27): Where do you [think] review sites fit into all this? Because that is sort of a way people get peer feedback, but it's not the same as your connections on LinkedIn or the people in the Slack channel. I know there's a lot of companies, especially in the software space, that spend a lot of money on peer review sites. I'm curious what your take is, B2B.
Chris (26:46): Companies love every channel that is lower funnel filled with intent. So because they can easily track it, the person's in buy mode and they can run performance marketing against it, which is why review sites, Google paid search. I don't even think content indication fits into there because there's no intent, but review sites and Google paid search are lowest funnel, high intent. And that's where people are going to do things. What I think is actually more impactful is getting to the people before they have intent. And then they're not looking for a review site. They're just going to Google and searching your brand. And that's what I think people need to think about. People fight, companies fight, over the small amount of buyers that are actively buying that have no preferred brand. So you're just competing with three vendors for somebody that doesn't care. It's going to be shopping on price. Doesn't have certain features, you're going to win some of them, but you're gonna lose a lot of them too, as opposed to figuring out what you need to do at the top of the funnel so that people don't even compare other vendors. And that's what we do.
Kathleen (27:44): Yeah. You gave me the perfect segue into my next question. Cause you talked about people going on to Google and searching for your brand for refined labs. What percentage of your traffic is direct?
Chris (27:56): I don't know. And I don't care.
Kathleen (27:59): I have a theory. I'm so curious to know if it's true. And that's something that I've seen. It's really interesting, even just with the company I'm at, that the percentage of direct traffic as a part of the overall mix, is growing. And I would think that yours would be a very large percentage direct
Chris (28:18): Or direct organic search. Yeah. I'm not sure how Google chucks it up. I honestly like that what I'm looking at is something that's way further down the funnel than where it's being sourced from. Cause it's weird as a marketer, when you get to this level, it's just you. I don't need data. I can, you can just feel what's going on at qualitative insights. What's happening in the CRM, inbound volume qualified pipeline where our conversations are starting, we have conversations started in LinkedIn, DM through our website revenue collective, through a text message, through inbound emails from buyers. And so you can just feel where this stuff is coming from, why, what's going on. And I love being in that spot. Of course we use data. But nowhere near to the level that marketers obsess about it today.
Kathleen (29:04): Yeah. I feel like we spend a lot of time and waste a lot of time just on tracking and reporting. And a lot of times we're tracking and reporting on metrics that even by traditional marketing logic are a waste of time. So that's really interesting. You talked earlier about having started out on Instagram and then moved to LinkedIn and I sort of put a mental pin in that, and I wanted to come back, because I do feel like marketers by and large suffer from shiny penny syndrome, where a new channel is hot. In the last year it's Tik Tok, and it's Clubhouse, and this and that. And all of a sudden everybody's like, “we have to be there,” right? Because everybody's talking about it. I have really strong opinions on that, but I'm really curious to know what your take is.
Chris (29:56): So I think what people obsess about is, they look at a channel or tactical level, not looking deeply at whether their content strategy was working. If you can't produce content that people like on LinkedIn, you have no business trying to go to Tik Tok right now, at least for B2B marketing. And so I think people should think about those different things. When I mentioned being on Instagram, it was Instagram in 2014, selling a $60 product, organic, yeah. Influencer marketing, posting every day, building an audience, engaging with the community, and watching sales grow. And so I just had a clear understanding of what that dynamic was in that channel. And LinkedIn's no different, right? And so once you understand the dynamics of one platform, you can move them to another one, which leads me to a place, like if Tik Tok does become a place where it's important for B2B to go, we have a content strategy, we have the operational infrastructure and capabilities to support it. And we know how social networks work and we're going to be able to win there. And so that's the way that I look at it. But I think the companies look at it too, at a channel level, and not holistically at their organizational capabilities.
Kathleen (31:03): Yeah. Amen. I mean, that's my whole thing. Somebody asked me when Clubhouse first came out, what my thoughts on it were. And my thing was like, it's not for me, right? It could be for somebody else, but I'm all in on LinkedIn. I know I don't have the bandwidth to do two channels really well. I think you gotta kind of pick your channels and it doesn't have to just be one for other people. It could be more, but you have to understand your bandwidth and your ability to really dominate and master the channels that you've chosen before you start to spread yourself.
Chris (31:37): Yeah. And it was just clear, I'll find the clip. I think it was late 2020 where I said this, where it was very obvious that other platforms would copy the Clubhouse feature because that's the same thing that happened with Snapchat, right? Instagram and Facebook and all of the other platforms now have stories and clubhouses, Audio Thing is now already getting rolled out in Twitter and it's coming out on LinkedIn. And it was very obvious that that was going to happen from that standpoint and other people that don't understand those dynamics, stop doing everything else. And when all pot committed on Clubhouse and now you watch your user growth fall to the floor because it's available and put channels that are far more popular. And that's what I think that people need to think about. I think that the scariest part is that companies stopped doing things that are working in order to chase something else.
Kathleen (32:31): There seems to be this weird feeling that you have to be in the early adopter crowd. Of all things. I don't know if you, if you know...
Chris (32:41): That it's gonna work. Then being an early adopter is when I would consider myself an early adopter on LinkedIn, at least from a high activity standpoint. And it certainly benefited me. The algorithm reaches nowhere near what it was two years ago. And so if you know that it's going to work, then I think it's a good move to be early. But I think a lot of marketers just read a report orsee some ad or see some content about a new platform without knowing whether or not it's going to work or how it's going to work for them and then just try and do stuff. I think that the difference is having the experience to really know how it's going to work. Yeah. And you...
Kathleen (33:18): Talked about that when we spoke on your podcast about [how] you test things on yourself and on your own marketing, kind of you use yourself as a Guinea pig, if you will, before you roll things out to clients, can you talk a little bit about that?
Chris (33:34): So at the moment we have a system where we can experiment more with a lot of things underneath the Refine Labs brand. Test, measure, characterize. Show companies what good looks like. And basically it becomes an R&D arm for our company to roll in new quote unquote products for our customers, which bleeds into our idea of just continuous innovation, which is not something that marketing agencies do. Marketing agencies get married to one channel and then try and make it as profitable as possible, which is why you see SEO agencies that still don't do anything else. And so we are trying to constantly disrupt ourselves when there's a day where Facebook ads don't work anymore. Then I'm going to be pumped to have six more things that we can roll into the mix. Other companies aren't. So they're going to keep telling their clients to run Facebook ads along the lines of why there's a lot of agencies that still tell their customers to run display ads.
Chris (34:26): And so we have tested a lot of different things from the beginning. The reason that I know is because people told me that they weren't going to work. So podcasts, LinkedIn, the way that we execute events, the way that our top level content strategy with a subject matter expert works, influencer marketing, both for other, with other people, with us and myself, with other brands, direct mail, account-based marketing in a thoughtful way, not the way — basically it's a sales-driven way the companies execute it today. There's a million different things that we're incubating and testing here, and then we'll eventually productize.
Kathleen (35:05): So let's talk about a couple of those. You talked about events, the way you run them. So what makes it different?
Chris (35:13): It's driven on in-person experiential combined with digital amplification to create reach and awareness of a content strategy versus collecting leads to try and sell people. And so B2B companies run events to have people register so that they can do sales to those people versus having people register to create an experience for them so that they can participate in content creation, so that you're creating content that other people want, so that you can amplify it on the internet and then more people see it. And that's the core difference about the way that we look at events. And I would say that a lot of companies don't even execute events at all. They're too busy building trade shows. At least events in the way that I've stated them, and have been doing that since 2017 as well, just looking at our trade show booth expenditures and saying, how else can we spend this money to get a dramatically better return?
Chris (36:08): And I think the key is creating real-life experiences that then get amplified digitally. And then once they get amplified digitally, it can feed the future in-person experiences.
Kathleen (36:20): Give me an example of what that looks like.
Chris (36:24): Back in the day, in like February to February 2020, we were heavy on these. We were going to do one a month, the whole year of 2020. Obviously we couldn't do that, but we did one in January and February. At that point, Justin Welsh was operating as CRO at a high growth SaaS company. He and I got together and I invited him to do a fireside chat. We handled the event, you know, 40, 50 CEO, CRO, CMOs were there. We presented in person. How to scale out your revenue team to $50 million like what Justin did.
Chris (36:59): We talked through different things between sales and marketing, and what's changed since he started there in 2015 to 2020. And if he could change things, what he would do? We went to Q and A for 30 minutes. We had high production film and audio there. We created a nice video with B roll. We created the whole long-form interview. It became a podcast. We had people come inbound to us five months later that were attending that event, but we didn't try and sell them right there. And doing that at a specific cadence to feed your top level content strategy, I think is a really smart idea.
Kathleen (37:34): Does that only work if you are, well let me rephrase that. So you're in Boston, correct?
Chris (37:43): Yeah.
Kathleen (37:44): Did you hold the event in Boston?
Chris (37:46): No.
Kathleen (37:47): Okay. So the, where I'm going with this as, if you're somebody who's in some small market where 50 of your ICPs are not within 50 miles — I'm assuming you need to hold these events in a location where it's pretty easy to get folks, because generally they're not traveling for this. I would assume.
Chris (38:08): I would say that generally people aren't traveling for them, but you should travel to them. You're traveling to a trade show booth and spending $150,000 to build a structure that gets torn down three days later. And so what's a flight to LA to put on an event? And so that's what I'm thinking is you go to the places where you think that there's a high density of potential people and the — you mentioned 50 — I think these can be properly executed [with] 12. I think that people get caught up in numbers a lot as well. Yeah.
Kathleen (38:39): That makes sense. A couple other things you mentioned. So you've talked a few times about influencers and I think a lot of times when marketers hear the phrase influencer marketing, they have a very rigid, traditional definition for that, right? They think about, well, a lot of people think Kardashians. But they think about traditional paid influencer partnerships, which I think is only one subset. How do you look at influencer as part of your mix?
Chris (39:06): I want every B2B company to listen to this real quick, to understand that they all do influencer marketing right now. And the way that B2B companies do it right now is analyst relations. And an analyst firm is an influencer. They just had a lot more influence 10 years ago than they do right now. And so what I'm suggesting is if you were going to have what I would consider a brand collaboration or a sponsorship with somebody else that wasn't an analyst firm, that you actually consider structuring it like you do with an analyst firm where they make a video and content about how to use your product, they review it, they interact with people. They maybe take a couple of calls with people that are interested in purchasing it. That's an interesting thing to do with 20 people that influence buying decisions in your market.
Chris (39:57): The people look at it and say, it's influencer marketing and blah, blah, blah, blah. And we haven't even gotten to the measurement point, which is another reason why companies don't do it, but I would challenge them to try and quantify the impact of their relationship with Gartner. I'd never said that clearly before, but a lot of companies just look at it in I think in the wrong way. And so from an influencer standpoint, yes, there is the strict paid paid promotion, post type of thing, which I don't think is the way that this is going to play out. I think there's this analyst firm relationship with people that are smart, that can, that I just laid out that I think is a very open area, collaborating on content, whether that be an in-person physical event, digital content on a podcast, you know, whatever, from that standpoint, there's an interesting one with evangelists that I think companies consider, which is like basically making a VIP customer list with people that are influential.
Chris (40:52: )Some people call it a customer advisory board, whatever you want to do, where these people get more stuff. Maybe they get flown out to a specific event that's hosted by your company, that they get a lot of different stuff. They already love your products. Why don't you just do surprise and delight so that they're more likely to tell people how great your stuff is. And so those are some of the potential open opportunities that I see there. And again, when it comes to measurement, companies won't do this because they can't track attributable ROI. They want to have affiliate marketing, not influencer marketing. And that's the part.
Kathleen (41:31): You talked about direct mail and piqued my interest. Tell me your thoughts about direct mail. What's the way to do it right?
Chris (41:41): I think that companies and people listening to this should consider the differences between direct mail and gifting. I think that most companies that are executing what they think is direct mail are actually doing gifting, which is just sending a gift to someone either to say, thank you, but most likely just to bribe them into having a meeting. And I think there's a different way to run direct mail where it's more experiential and actual marketing that can still be driven toward conversion. That's more easily measurable. And that's what I would consider what would be an example of that. So let's see here, let me try and figure out one that we're not actively running. So you're a company that sells to massive banks. And at the moment you have Bank of America and Chase, and you're trying to get whoever the other six top banks are.
Chris (42:38): And so you put together a package that has a thing, maybe a nice bottle of wine, a QR code on that thing, somebody who receives it scans the QR code, there's a video of how Bank of America implemented your product and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they have an opportunity to book a meeting there. And I think that there's some micro then companies go for such scale and not thoughtfulness that they wouldn't do something that can only send to six people, even though those accounts are million-dollar accounts. And so I think that that's an interesting one. I think that you also could go for scale as a different conversion mechanism than outbound sales that might work better too.
Kathleen (43:15): So are you suggesting then that gifting is the way to look at it?
Chris (43:22): No, I'm suggesting that companies consider a different way of running direct mail, which I would say is more marketing than gifting.
Kathleen (43:30): Okay. Yeah. It's interesting that you mentioned the smaller scale because — and this was one of the reasons I wanted to ask you about direct mail — when I had my agency one half of what we did had to do with promotional products, which I hate calling it that because it sounds super cheap, but my husband became really, really good at what you're describing. We called it dimensional mail, but I'm sending to small lists, like really curated packages and like tying what was in the package in with the messaging. And it was amazing how he was able to get meetings for people with that approach. And I think part of it is nobody likes to throw away a box, right? If you get a box, even if you have a gatekeeper, like a secretary, generally you're opening that box to see what's inside.
Chris (44:15): And I think from a direct mail standpoint, what companies need to look at is not the conversion to a meeting, but the conversion after that, I think it's pretty easy to get a meeting. I think it's really hard to get a meeting with somebody that wants to buy and actually bought. And I think specifically on direct mail, companies will optimize to the meeting by giving people a hundred dollar gift card to sit on it or to do all the other dumb stuff that they asked to do. And all those people move immediately to close loss and it does the business no good. And so I think companies should just think about when — I mean when we're doing our tests with direct mail over the next three to six months, it's not about the meeting conversion rate. It's about the the meeting to proposal, we're meeting the closed won rate that I care about.
Kathleen (44:58): Right. you just said a word that I'm really interested to probe a little bit more on, which is gift cards.
Kathleen (45:08): This is another one that I have a lot of strong feelings about, but I want to hear what you have to say. Cause there seems to be this movement that has happened, especially during COVID, it's gotten much more widespread — get a gift card for sitting through a demo of something. What do you think about that?
Chris (45:23): It's companies optimizing for a metric that doesn't matter and building it into their customer acquisition costs and considering it, and probably not looking at it afterwards and just measuring it on demos. And what I've always been interested in for a very long time is instead of having to bribe someone with a gift card to sit in on a demo, how do we do great marketing so that they want that demo? And that the difference between giving away a gift card and doing marketing. I don't consider giving away a gift card doing marketing. I consider it a way to do sales, buying a lead or doing sales.
Kathleen (46:04): Yeah. I feel like there's also a perverse incentive there where people are doing your demo because they want the gift card.
Chris (46:10): I know I've audited enough Salesforce instances to do this. All of them go to closed lost after the demo. Your sales team hates it. I don't know why. I don't know why people still do this, but in the only place that I've seen it or heard about it work is in MarTech and that's great. But when you're selling to it or finance or HR or any of the other functions that are not revenue generating, I think that you're going to struggle, and the data that I've seen shows that.
Kathleen (46:38): Yeah, I would agree. I always feel like it attracts the wrong kind of buyer. And it sort of cheapens what you're doing. It is very like transparently pay to play.
Chris (46:54): No, but, and again,I think that when a lot of companies move on dumb stuff like this, it creates a massive opportunity. I just don't think that people consider the opportunity of going in a different direction. Whereas I want, I'm going to earn my demos. When people sit on those demos, I'm going to earn them. And so in the future, I'm not going to need to give away gift cards, and more people are going to do that. And so companies don't look at that. They look at the hack to get to the next round versus building something that's sustainable with IP and talent and operational infrastructure to actually execute on that long term and continue to build on it. And that's the way I think companies should look at it.
Kathleen (47:31): All right. We are rapidly coming up on our 60 minute mark. So we're going to go rapid fire for the next few questions. And on time the first one is you talked about getting companies to shift the way they think about marketing and to focus on pipeline generation, or revenue generation really is a better way to put it. I would assume in the short term, then that there's, while that shift is happening how can I put this? It might make a lot of people very uncomfortable because many of their leading indicators, if they're changing the way they're doing marketing and they're doing some of the things you suggest, many of what they think of as leading indicators to pipeline are going to start to dry up. And so how do you handle that panic that I have to believe sets in initially and convince people to stick it out, to see the results?
Chris (48:23): First showing the company that what they're doing right now and what they're measuring doesn't align to what they're trying to accomplish. So getting aligned. That I get that you're hitting your MQL target. I've had these conversations 50 times. Marketing continues to hit their MQL target. We continue to miss our qualified pipeline and revenue targets on the sales side. And just by surfacing that information and then knowing why that's happening. I think the key is that a lot of people keep doing that because they don't know why, or they don't know what to change. And so by first showing them that what they're doing right now isn't working. And second centering on salesqualified opportunities, because when you center on sales-qualified opportunities at a stage that matters, not only do you advance with an SDR and book the meeting, but the AEA had the meeting, there's still an amount attached to it and that's qualified. And so in that case, and you sent her on that, that number should never go down. When you change your marketing model, when you shut off your performance marketing, it will have no impact on that number. And that's why if you center on sales-qualified opportunities, there's nothing to be afraid of.
Kathleen (49:22): Yeah, that's interesting that you said that because my next question was going to be, and I assume one of the people that panics the most is the sales leader, because they want to keep their sales team busy. But if you're focused on SQLs that...
Chris (49:33): Right? The wrong sales leader, the sales leader with the 2011 mindset would panic that way. The smart sales leaders that I interact with are pumped that their SDRs don't have to follow up with 3,000 leads a month that don't close and they can do strategic outbound using intent data or a million other higher productivity activities than following up with content downloads that don't want to talk to you. And so smart sales leaders should appreciate this, should enjoy it. It's like a path to building a better company. Yeah.
Kathleen (50:00): All right. Shifting gears. I always ask my guests two questions at the end of the interview. So I want to hear what you have to say. This podcast is all about inbound marketing, which I define kind of loosely. It's not the traditional, put an ebook up and wait for leads to come in. It's basically pretty much what you're talking about, which is doing your marketing in a way that your ideal customer seeks you out and comes to you. When you think about inbound marketing defined in that way, other than Refine Labs or yourself, who is doing it really well right now? It can be a company or it can be an individual person.
Chris (50:47): I'm trying to think. Hmm. I don't really have a lot, and honestly, I don't want to shout someone out as like an endorsement of someone that I don't think is doing an awesome job. And so I'm going to pass on this one.
Chris (51:04): Yeah. I could shout out a customer.
Kathleen (51:08): You're the first person I've interviewed who hasn't given me a name. I don't know how I feel about that.
Chris (51:15): I definitely don't follow the grain, so I get it.
Kathleen (51:19): Alright. Second question. I hear marketers say all the time that one of the biggest challenges they have is just staying up to date on everything that's changing with the world of digital marketing. How do you personally stay up to date and keep yourself educated by doing it?
Chris (51:39): And so by consistently pushing boundaries in places where I don't need a report to tell me what to do, that I went and did it. And then I would be the one that publishes the report on what to do. That's where I think marketers should strive for. I think that a lot of marketers just get information and copy tactics from people. Like I imagine that there's plenty of people that take B2B enterprise, SaaS marketing, and copy what's happening with ClickFunnels to sell a $60, $99 course, and then try and sell that, do that, to sell a 100K ACV SaaS and fail. And so I think the company people should really look deeply at what they're doing. And the reason that I know something's working, something's noticed, is because I've tried them. And then I understand the dynamics from the buyer standpoint. And I know, and so, and it builds experience to know in the future, if you're thinking about something, whether or not something's going to work based on past experiences. And so I would encourage people to listen to customers and then start executing and testing new things for themselves. All right. So learn by doing yeah.
Kathleen (52:45): Well this has been great. I can't believe 60 minutes has passed so quickly. I feel like we could have definitely gone longer, but I have another five minutes that we're going to wrap up. So if somebody is listening to this and they want to learn more about you or connect with you or ask you a question, what's the best way for them to do that?
Chris (53:04): So you can connect with me on LinkedIn, Chris Walker, and then questions, feel free to shoot them in the LinkedIn DM. And we will cover them on a future episode, or I'll just answer you there.
Kathleen (53:15): And definitely check out the podcast as well for lots of really interesting conversations. And if you're listening to this episode and you liked what you heard or you're learning something new, and I hope you did, cause I sure did, please take a moment and head to Apple Podcasts or the platform of your choice and leave the podcast a review so other folks can find us. And if you know somebody else who's doing amazing inbound marketing work, Tweet me at @workmommywork, which is my Twitter handle, as bizarre as that is. And I would love to make them my next guest. That is it for this week. Thanks for joining me, Chris.
Chris (53:50): Nice. Thank you, Kathleen. This was a blast.
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