Joseph Lee, who recently joined Checkr as Head of Demand Generation, has spent his career implementing the best growth marketing strategies into B2B contexts. With more than ten years of experience building B2B marketing programs at early-stage startups to large global enterprises, he has developed a unified framework for implementing, optimizing, and automating demand generation programs that drive revenue and growth.
In our interview, we talk about the future of B2B marketing technology, agile growth processes, and building your marketing technology stack the right way from the start.
Before joining Checkr, you had just finished building a demand generation program and technology stack at Sutherland Global Services, what did the journey look like for scaling this program?
Sutherland is a 30 year old global enterprise that had an “old school” approach to lead generation involving primarily cold calls and emails. When I first started there, I quickly saw an opportunity to utilize digital tactics and automations to quickly scale and optimize the efforts of our BDR team. The challenge was this: with a martech landscape of literally thousands of tools, how could we quickly experiment with, implement, and optimize the right tools for our stack?
The framework I’ve developed over the years to tackle this challenge isn’t revolutionary. Quite simply, I start with defining the primary objective of what i’m trying to accomplish. I then determine what tactics or tools I’m going to use to fulfill this objective and summarize this into a strategic initiative. Finally, I break up the implementation of this initiative into a road map categorized by “crawl, walk, and run.”
For example, at Sutherland I discovered an immediate need to generate low-cost lead volume to fuel the existing BDR outreach—this was my objective. I decided to leverage digital paid media (eg. Google Ads, paid social, etc.) to generate these leads. I named this strategic initiative “Launch Paid Advertising.” Finally, I broke out the build out of this initiative into three stages.
The crawl stage involved signing up for all the paid digital channels I wanted to implement and launching pilots on them. The walk stage was operationalizing the various channels into ongoing programs, setting up cross-channel attribution, and beginning to optimize baseline CPL (cost-per-lead) metrics. The run stage involved experimenting with less common paid strategies, such as content syndication, and utilizing 3rd party intent data to do better targeting to make sure we were truly hitting the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
Developing a loose implementation road map like this did two vital things. One, it helped focus our resources and energy into the tasks most relevant to the implementation stage we were in. For example, every time I was tempted to explore 3rd party intent vendors during the crawl stage, I was able to resist, because I knew it wasn’t time for that yet. Two, it enabled me to communicate to my leadership not only what I would accomplish but the timeline required to be able to accomplish it. Whenever an executive would begin to ask me when the massive influx of leads were going to start coming in, I had a timeline to show them to ensure expectations were aligned.
What advice do you have for building strong marketing technology infrastructure?
It’s important for marketing leaders to build scalable infrastructure, not only from a size point of view, but from the point of view that you can easily plug in new tools in the future.
I recently heard about a mid-sized B2B company that had built their own proprietary CRM. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult this must be for their demand generation leader, as it means that they need custom development work any time they want to implement a new tool or process. This completely strips a demand generation team of the ability to experiment and quickly implement the latest technologies to drive grow, and is the exact opposite of scalable infrastructure.
If you choose core technology from the beginning that can’t easily integrate with other technologies, in the future, when your needs expand, you’re going to be limited by your core technology stack. So consider what you may need in the future and make that a part of today’s conversation when purchasing or building new technology.
Aside from getting the technology right, what have you found as vital for driving growth?
I’ve already alluded to this, but you need a growth process that’s nimble, quick, and encourages experimentation. My benchmark for success in this is whether or not I’ve set up a growth process where I never have to say “no” to any type of growth idea. My team should feel comfortable to present any idea to me, because they know that we have a rational process to determine the viability of the idea and test it.
Simply put, all performance-based marketing organizations, whether in growth or demand gen, need a process to ideate, experiment, prioritize, and implement new ideas quickly.
For example, someone from my team once approached me with a new ABM ads platform to test, but the initial pilot was costly and spanned over three months. I asked them, “how can we do this experiment in two weeks instead of three months?” We decided to test the viability of ABM advertising on LinkedIn instead, where we could launch a two week experiment. Once we demonstrated positive ROI on LinkedIn, I decided to move forward with a 3 month pilot on the new platform.
A lot of times as leaders we’re tempted to say “no” to new ideas because they’re costly or time intensive, but I always try to break down my experiments into short one to two week sprints to quickly validate ideas at a minimal cost. This kind of agile thinking is the basis for being able to never say “no” to any new idea.
What’s your experience with ABM and what kind of advice do you have for those just getting started?
Account-based marketing (ABM) is great because it aligns your tactics and goals as a marketer to the tactics and goals that sales teams have always been using. Generally, when sales teams hear marketing terms like unique visitors and MQLs, their eyes glaze over. However, an account-based marketing strategy requires marketing teams to think more in terms of account planning and pipeline generation, two concepts that sales teams are already very familiar with.
At Sutherland, I built my tech stack using an ABM-first approach because we had a focused target account list of 2,000 large companies. We worked with Demandbase on an initial 6 month pilot. Then we partnered with the sales team to pick 300 target accounts from the 2,000 and split them into an experimental and control group. At the end of the six month pilot, our experimental group out performed our control group on a handful of KPIs including level of account-level website engagement, opportunity stage conversion rates, and sales velocity. This initial success led to more buy-in from sales and allowed us to continue doubling down on on ABM strategy.
Combining ABM and more traditional inbound tactics make a powerful combination. Once you’ve built out an automated and predictable inbound machine, account-based tactics enable you to focus your inbound tactics, such as advertising, content, and email, on the accounts of highest value. The account-level firmographic and intent data gathered through ABM tools also enable you to provide an even more targeted and personalized inbound experience to any lead that engages with your marketing.
What will next wave of B2B marketing technology look like?
I see the holy grail of the marketer as being able to present a product or service to a prospect the moment before they even realize that they want to buy. B2C marketers have been using strategies like this for years. When I was in the market for a condo last year, I was amazed to see the number of furniture ads on my Instagram account skyrocket over night. I hadn’t even signed the papers yet, and the algorithms already knew that i would soon be in the market for furniture.
I’ve already started to allude to this in the last question, but I believe that the next wave of B2B technology will borrow from B2C to get us closer to this goal of hyper-targeted, hyper-personalized marketing to prospects before they even know that they want to buy. There are already a few B2B vendors, such as Bombora and 6sense, that enable the use of third party intent data to serve ads based on a prospect’s browsing history all over the web. With technologies like these, you no longer have to wait for a prospect to interact with your own digital properties to know they are interested in what you have to offer.
Any other last words of wisdom from your experience as a leader in digital transformation on marketing teams?
When I interview for senior marketers on my team, I look for one telltale sign of seniority. When answering open-ended questions, do they lead with suggestions on tactics and tools or do they talk about first trying to understand the buyer.
To me, it all really starts with knowing your customer, and in the case of most B2B sales cycles, understanding the various personas that make up the buying committee. What is their motivation for buying? What are their ultimate goals? Where do they do their research? Even, whether or not they tend to be a morning person or night person. After that, it’s vital to understand the process the overall buying committee takes in discovering, researching, and eventually purchasing the types of products you’re trying to sell.
Great demand generation strategies are built on top of a well-defined customer lifecycle. Once you have your funnel defined, it becomes easier to choose the right tactics and tools to drive prospects through each stage of the funnel.
Furthermore, at Sutherland I used an attract, nurture, convert, delight, and upsell framework to organize marketing tactics around the customer lifecycle and guide the process of digital transformation that I led.
For example, when considering the attract stage, I asked: How do I broaden the reach of my BDRs beyond their rolodex of known contacts? The answer was to utilize paid and organic digital channels to reach as many prospects in target accounts as possible. For the nurture stage, I asked: How do I exponentially scale one-to-one cold calls and emails? The answer was implementing a world-class marketing automation program. Understanding the customer lifecycle and typing my tactics to that lifecycle ultimately helped me focus what it was I needed to build to achieve maximum return.
The landscape of marketing technology and tactics is vast and grows exponentially every year. It’s impossible for even the most talented of marketers to keep up with it all, and if marketers fall into the trap of trying to do it all or chasing the next shiney new tool, they will ultimately fail. However, when you start with the customer journey, the right tools and tactics to drive prospects through that journey will naturally emerge.
Furthermore, growth frameworks, such as a “crawl, walk, run” technology roadmap, as well as cultivating a culture of experimentation, enable B2B marketing teams to build incrementally and experiment widely to ensure they’re focusing their efforts on the most effective and innovative tactics. These practices ensure that your marketing strategy is not only effective in the short-term but will scale with your successes long into the future.
Joseph Lee is a B2B growth marketer and Head of Demand Generation for Checkr, the leading provider of modern and compliant background checks. He’s spent over ten years helping organizations of all sizes implement the strategies, technologies, and teams they need for targeted, automated, and exponential growth.