Dan: Welcome to today’s Boss to Boss podcast. In our interviews we feature remarkable people doing imaginative things in often unimaginative markets, usually from the world of B2B.
Today we’re joined by Marcus, international keynote speaker, digital marketing mastermind and bestselling author of what Mashable described as the number one book on marketing managers.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Marcus: Dan, it’s great to be here. I think we’re gonna have a great conversation today.
Dan: I Think so, I think so.
So, let’s get straight to it. I’d really like to ask a few questions about e-commerce in B2B, because it’s something that I’ve spoken to a number of people about over the last couple of years, and I’ve gotta be honest, I get it to a degree. I’ve seen some nice examples myself where companies that maybe have historically specialised in service offerings have seen great benefit by productising those offerings, but I just wonder are there certain criteria that a B2B organisation needs to satisfy in order to be in the right position to benefit from that shift into e-commerce?
Marcus: Well I think it’s more inclined obviously towards those that sell a product, but I think there are potentially bigger opportunities for those that sell a service because it’s going to be so atypical, probably for quite some time. I mean, if you look at really what’s happening with e-commerce and B2B it starts with probably the most fundamental shift in buying we’ve seen in the last decade, which is 33% of all buyers today say they would prefer to have a seller-free sales experience. For millennials that number is 44%.
So we’re getting close to where half of our buyers are saying, “Yeah, I don’t really want to talk to a salesperson.” That’s what they’re saying. Now, you can accept that or not as a company but what’s interesting is the marketplace doesn’t really care about our opinions. It’s just going to do what it does, right? So I can wail and have gnashing of teeth but it’s not going to change the fact that B2B buyers as a whole do not want to talk to a salesperson until they absolutely have to, and of course, covid escalated this entire process and we’ve seen further studies on this that there’s a total misconception of how much money B2B buyers will spend without talking to a salesperson, because the numbers are are phenomenal. I mean, I think the number is something like 35% of B2B buyers say they would absolutely spend over $500,000 without talking to a person.
If you are world-class with your content and your experience that you’re offering to people, they don’t really need it anymore because you’ve addressed every concern, every issue, every question, every problem that they have, every doubt that they’re thinking. This is what’s possible for the companies that get it. And so this is why also if a company starts from a place of okay, so if we did want to do some type of e-commerce – and the way I’m going to define e-commerce for this conversation is the ability to make the transaction for the product or service online without talking to a human – okay, that’s how I’m going to define it for this conversation. And the reality is, if a company lives in a place of okay, there’s no way we could do this because it’s not easy, that’s so lazy and uncreative, right? But the person that’s coming from the place of okay, nobody’s doing this great, awesome. That means there’s opportunity. So if we did do this, how could we do it? And that’s where creativity and innovation start to collide together and you see somebody that’s in the B2B space that’s now offering a product or service online as a straight e-commerce play that we’ve never seen anybody else do.
Dan: So perhaps you could just expand for me on some of the benefits of doing that particularly in a space where maybe it’s not perceived as really the done way currently?
Marcus: Well, you have to say, “Do I want to meet my buyers, my potential customers where they are or do I expect them to meet me where I am?” That sounds easier said than done. Most B2B sales processes are hard headed and do not want to change and so they’re asking the buyer to meet me where I am, and that is the ultimate recipe for failure today. Whereas, if we say okay, “How can I meet them where they are? Are there elements that we could do on our website?”
Let me give you an example of something that is what I would consider e-commerce-ish but it’s not even a straight purchase, and what I mean by that is the precursor to great e-commerce is replicating the traditional sales process with tools on your website that are essentially interactive with a buyer. So let’s take my agency as an example. I’ve got a lot of things that I’m cooking up, a lot of things that I’m thinking about that we’re in the process of doing. There’s an order of let’s say operations that every B2B should be doing especially if you’re a service based B2B. Number one, you need to be talking about cost and price and teaching about cost and price on your website right now. In other words, what drives the cost up for that product or service? What drives the cost down? Why are some companies so expensive? Why are some companies so cheap? And roughly where do you fall? There’s the 5 elements of a really strong educational cost article or video or whatever the thing is.
Now, everybody should do that as the minimum standard in the B2B space, especially service. That’s the minimum standard. I’m not going to debate on that because people can’t sit there and try to debate me on it. They’re going to lose because I’ve got all the data and those that want to debate don’t have the data I’ve got. The buyers want it. The companies that understand how to do it appropriately and effectively crush it – especially when others in your industry aren’t talking about cost and price.
So level two is when you come up with assessment tools that traditionally would have been a conversation with the salesperson that now can be done through a tool. So let me give you an example with my agency. We’re a HubSpot partner, so businesses come to us and they want to do some type of content campaign or they want to use some type of marketing automation or CRM. So if I’m smart I say, “Okay, one of the questions everybody’s going to ask us is what level of HubSpot should I be using? In the past they had to talk to a salesperson to get that information. Well now we can replicate that on our website.
So in other words, if I created a tool on my website, a self-service, self-selection tool that says “What’s the best level or tier of HubSpot for me?” Then you get to interact with the tool and the tool says, “Okay, so which of the following things would you like to be able to do with HubSpot?” And you check the boxes and so on, just like I would ask you in person, I’m now asking you with a simple interactive tool on my website and then at the end of this experience – let’s say it’s 10 questions or so – you say, “Okay, so based on what you’ve just explained to me, it sounds like your best fit is such and such and you give pricing with it. Some type of pricing calculator where we give you a price range. You might say, “Hey, at that point I want to get an actual quote.”
The point is, I’ve given you more than most companies out there. That’s all e-commerce now. There’s always going to be hidden costs there which we need to understand, but when we start thinking in terms of what’s possible, it’s amazing what we can do. So a little bit of a long-winded answer but those are the different levels of how you do it. But the final level is to allow the actual transaction. Those are the 5 levels of e-commerce right there.
Dan: That’s awesome.
Is there sometimes a bit of an organisational structure barrier whereby in a lot of B2B organisations, sales will have historically led marketing or been more likely to have a seat at the table strategically? Is there ever an element of that where what you’re describing is not necessarily aligned with the perceived interests of some of those within the organisation?
Marcus: Of course. They’re worried that their jobs are going to get replaced by what is essentially Ai on a website. So yeah, that’s a big concern and also naive because what happens when companies do these types of self-service tools on a website, they get dramatically more leads, so I had to hire way more salespeople because I got way more leads. My salespeople have an easier job than everybody else in our industry because our leads are dramatically more qualified. It’s the biggest no-brainer in the history of earth, yet people still make excuses as to why it can’t happen.
Dan: So differentiation is obviously all about looking at what the market’s doing and going the other way and I guess therefore there’s probably no better time to do it than when nobody else is doing it? If you’re in a market where everybody is currently depending entirely on human interaction than actually, containing the experience to more of a digital dimension I guess enables you to really position yourself in a very distinct place.
Marcus: Well, yeah. The thing about it is, if you’re doing this now you’re going to be dramatically more evolved than everybody else. Let’s go back to my manufacturing company. I have written books teaching my competitors how to be dramatically more successful and I’ve shown them the blueprint and do you think they followed it? You can take a horse to water, you can shove its face in the water and you still can’t make it drink. This is like this is the story of humanity here and that’s because the leaders of previous generations are the slowest to adapt to the changes.
So yeah, eventually they’re gonna start doing what I’m doing but by that point I’m gonna be way ahead. Still again because I’m going to be doing something even more immersive, even more informative. Salespeople will eventually get replaced, so maybe the way we define sales is going to be dramatically different in 30 years because everything is so digital and it could very well get to that place. But today’s not that day.
Dan: Yeah, and just playing Devil’s advocate then I’ll move on to some slightly different questions.
Rather than it being an endless shift towards ever more digital, I wonder if it’s actually about a blend?
Marcus: I don’t agree. What you’re doing is you’re assuming that digital doesn’t mean human and that’s an error of thinking. You have to say as we become more digital we’re gonna find better ways to become more human, not less. And the same thing has happened over the course of covid. Now I may have trained a lot of sales teams on virtual sales practices b ut since the beginning of covid certain sales teams have said we have more of a human-to-human relationship than ever. Others have said we have less of a human-to human relationship than we’ve ever had. So what’s the difference between the 2? Some of them are using the tools appropriately, some of them are not.
So for example, if you and I do a Zoom call 4 times this year and it’s a 30 minute Zoom call and I see your face and we have this fun conversation, we really just enjoy ourselves. Or, I might see you in person 1 time next year, which 1 leads to a better relationship? Well, that’s the debate.
Dan: You’re the one armed with all the data, right? But I did an interview a year or two ago with a chap called Rory Sutherland and one of his big topics which I find fascinating is this thing around costly signalling and how actually, in a digital sphere you can potentially strip away some of the meaning and impact precisely because of its efficiency and scalability.
Marcus: I don’t disagree with that at all. I think that’s absolutely true and let me say even though I’m a big believer that we’re going to a place where we can have unbelievable face-to-face, human experiences over digital realms and mediums, it doesn’t take away skin to skin.
And it’s okay for someone to feel like they can coexist. I don’t believe that technology dehumanises. I think it’s the way we use technology that dehumanises and unfortunately, most people use technology wrong now.
Dan: Dan: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
I mean this is a bit of an oversimplification, but as a rule, the consumer space is generally a pretty good indicator for where the B2B space is likely to arrive five or ten years later and I guess e-commerce is an example of that, right?
Marcus: I think the gap is getting smaller because I think more companies are talking about a shift that’s happening. That gap’s going to close with time. They’ll be forced to.
Dan: Yeah, no I think you’re right. I just wonder if there are other ways of maybe embracing some of the consumer principles today?
Marcus: I’m a firm believer in you’ve got to be a prolific teacher on your website and answer all the questions and stop pretending that you should save questions for the sales process. That’s a really dumb naive move considering that the majority of buyers in the B2B space are roughly 80% through the buying cycle before they reach out to the company. So you’ve got to become the Wikipedia of your space and you should have an incredible learning centre on your website that addresses all the questions worries fears issues concerns. You should have a full time content writer, a full time video videographer in-house. You get 1 videographer and that’s going to make the job of your sales team so much easier and they’re going to be so much more effective. You could probably have 5 salespeople and get done the same thing you’re doing with 7 if you have a videographer.
Dan: Let’s do that quickly. Let’s imagine we’ve got this fictitious team of you know 6 or 7 sales and marketing people. What would that be if you were building that team from scratch?
Marcus: So if I was building a team from scratch and I was looking at a business from a generic standpoint to your point, you’ve got a head of marketing who is really focused on leading the strategy and managing their team and they’re also the one that it’s most involved with the analytics. Now that person’s ahead of 2 people which is the content writer for the company who’s producing at least 3 educational articles a week and a videographer producing at least 2 educational videos per week. Those 2 people are meeting with the sales team often. The sales team consists of 1 head of sales that’s obviously just managing the team and then you’ve got 3 main salespeople. You’ve got 7 right there and that’s what perfect looks like today.
Dan: Sounds like a pretty solid team to me.
I mean you just mentioned analytics briefly there. The big challenge with analytics is knowing what to focus on and not getting caught up. If you were to narrow it down to three digital metrics that a B2B organisation should really laser in on on a regular basis, what might those 3 KPIs be?
Marcus: Well, the one that I am pretty obsessive about is what would be considered profit per piece of content. So let me give an example, we are the first company to ever produce a cost article, and because we use tools like HubSpot I can track how many leads came to the website originally through that article. Now those leads that filled out a form, that got an appointment, bought, I know the value of each one of their sales and so therefore I can put a total value on top of that 1 original cost piece that I wrote in 2009.
So revenue attribution per page or per piece of content is a really big deal to me and that’s one that I obsess about all the time.
Dan: Is there a danger though – and it might be that this is now covered by some of the other metrics you mention – that by making it all about direct attribution, because I guess different pieces of content serve different roles at different stages in the buyer journey, is there a danger that if we obsess over the revenue generation that we might miss broader considerations?
Marcus: I like the question. I think with anything we can’t be too latched on to 1 thing or another, but I think too often marketers actually use what you just said as an excuse for underperforming content. And they like to justify it. It was blah blah blah I’m like yeah but can’t argue with the actual numbers, right? So the revenue per piece of content, that’s probably my number one by far.
Number two metric that companies don’t pay attention to that I’m pretty obsessed with is the average page views per customer versus average page views per leads that don’t turn into a customer.
So let me give you an example, I was looking at 2 groups of people on my website, both groups had filled out a form. The first group filled out a form and bought a pool. The second group found out a form and didn’t buy a pool and the form was to get a quote on a pool. So I said what is the difference from a behavioural perspective from the ones that did buy versus the ones that just dipped their toes in the water? I kept seeing the number 30, and this number 30 represented the total pages viewed. Now here’s where it gets really interesting. We found that if somebody read 30 or more pages of the website before the initial sales appointment they would buy 80% of the time. If they didn’t hit that magic number 30, closing rates were around 25%.
So I said oh my gosh. All I’ve got to do is get someone to consume 30 pieces of our content. They’re gonna be so in love with us that they’re gonna buy 4 out of 5 times and so we designed an entire sales process around that and that’s where I came up with the innovation that’s called assignment selling. But the point is we have to be intentional with our content in the sales process. Most sales teams are not, they haven’t been taught how to do it. In fact, they’re not even informed as to what content is available to them. And so we want to eliminate that but it starts with the why and the why is that when they hit that tipping point threshold, that closing rate just goes through the roof. So the comparison between the content consumption page views per customer versus page use per lead is incredibly telling.
Dan: And how much data do you need in order to start drawing those conclusions?
Marcus: They should have a lot more data if they’re working with a high value product. They should have a lot more data. You take a swimming pool, right? Could be easily £100,000 and so I mean really, we find that the amount of content somebody will consume online correlates on 1 sole factor and it’s actually not how much it costs as much as it is the fear of making the wrong decision. In other words, if somebody’s got a tonne of money they might not actually care, they might not put as much time into it. But if they feel like oh I could screw this up or if I’m wrong, my boss is going to be pissed, that’s when they start to go on overdrive with how much they’ll consume.
And so that’s what we find over and over again. What’s interesting about that is you could be buying something for a loved one that’s less than £50 and because it’s such a big deal, like this gift you’re getting for a loved one, people will view a hundred different pages online just to make sure they chose the right gift. You know, you realise what you’re doing but you just spent 3 hours for something that costs you £50, but it’s because sentimentally it mattered to you. That being said, the more expensive, the more average page views do go up, but it’s not always like that. For example, cell phone research is extremely high because we value cell phones and we don’t want to screw up our choice but yet you know they’re only a thousand bucks or whatever the number is.
Dan: That’s fascinating, really, really interesting. That’s probably the most, I won’t say unusual, but distinctive answer I’ve ever had to a question of that nature. A couple of those metrics are just so, so different. It’s fascinating but makes so much sense.
Marcus: Yeah I mean I’m a different dude brother.
Dan: Certainly, I Love it.
So just finally then, you talk quite a bit about the importance of the power of honesty and transparency within content. I wonder if you have seen a bit of a shift since the pandemic. So are you seeing greater adoption of that mindset? Because it feels to me like quite a lot has changed culturally. Or are there a lot of B2B brands still really kind of struggling with that?
Marcus: Oh yeah. Reality though did sink in for a lot of B2B’s over these last two years, right. I’ll never forget this financial wellness CEO, he’s got a big financial wellness company, he reached out to me six months after covid started and he said, “Well, my team has finally realised that we don’t have to use a golf course to close deals” and I thought that just about summed up the entire B2B experience, right? Because this is a man that thought – and his sales team thought – that all the deals had to be done on a golf course or something similar and suddenly they’re closing multi million dollar deals on freaking Zoom calls, right? Like how does that happen.
So another thing I’m seeing and I’m going to write about this today in fact, on LinkedIn – which by the way if you’re listening to this and you’re not following me on LinkedIn, you’re missing out because that’s where from a social media perspective I live. That’s where my best stuff is – what I’m seeing is more and more companies debate on LinkedIn is there’s a million different routes to success when it comes to discussing costs and price on your website. So whereas before it wasn’t as much of a debate what you’re now seeing is people saying, “You know what? I really think I need to do this”. What’s funny about this though is our gut is telling each one of us you probably should. I mean that’s what you would want if you were the buyer. Eventually, we’re going to have to accept the golden rule that actually works and that hey, if we would like the seller to do that for us, well then we would probably like it and our customers would probably like it if we did it for them, right? And that’s where we’re headed.
So everybody is having this internal civil war right now as to what their conscience says like yeah ding dong you should do this. You would want them to do this. Versus no, that’s not the way we’ve done it. And we have a very customised solution, right? These are the stories that we’re telling ourselves and we’ve got a voice on each shoulder that is trying to convince us but I can tell you who wins, the marketplace always wins. I’ve never seen a situation where the marketplace didn’t win. You have to adjust your business model accordingly.
Dan: Yeah, you certainly do and it certainly does. You are absolutely correct.
Marcus, I’ve absolutely loved this, it’s actually really challenged a few of my preconceptions. I’m a little bit concerned about what you said about the golf course because currently my only opportunity to get on the golf course is to basically to wrap it up in a sort of business disguise. But the rest of it I’m fully on board with.
Marcus: Ah, you keep doing your thing, you got a chance to go out there and play at St Andrews, so you keep doing your thing brother.
Dan: Yeah, yeah I certainly will.
Look, really appreciate it. I’ve absolutely loved it. Thank you so much.