By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.
We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg. Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise. Recent Guests: Jim Keenan; Joanne Black; Aaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.
We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
Our guest this time was Ryan Bonnici, CMO at G2 Crowd.
I’m super impressed with how effective G2 Crowd lists have been, both the overall top XXX lists by segment as well as the metro area lists. We’ll talk about Ryan’s approach to B2B PR, how that impacts sales pipeline (directly and indirectly). Check it out and learn more about G2 Crowd here (Top 100 Best Software Companies for 2018).
More about Ryan:
► Incredibly passionate, self-directed and confident senior executive leader with fortified marketing, management and organizational skills evidenced by ongoing customer, partner and team success.
► Extensive experience across B2B and B2C marketing and sales development has led to a strong understanding of the processes behind the job, refined interpersonal skills and an advanced understanding and track record in achieving strong positive return-on-marketing-investment and business growth.
Matt: This is our last episode of January. I can’t believe we’re already getting into February. Best laid plans at the beginning of the month, at the beginning of the quarter, beginning of the year are now facing reality. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s a challenge. Wherever you are in your journey for 2018, thanks for joining us here at Sales Pipeline Radio. For those of you joining us live, as you do every week at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern, thank you for joining us. We’ll make this worth your while. For those of you that are subscribed on the podcast, thank you for listening to another episode. You can always find us on the iTunes store and on Google Play. And every episode past, present, and future of Sales Pipeline Radio always available at SalesPipelineRadio.com.
Every week we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is no different. I’m very, very excited to feature with us today, Ryan Bonnici. He is the new CMO at G2 Crowd. Boy, do we have a lot of talk to talk about. A lot of different ground to cover. But Ryan, first of all, thank you so much for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio today.
Ryan Bonnici: Hey, Matt. Thanks so much for having me. It’s exciting to be here.
Matt: Awesome. Well, I appreciate you taking time. I know the beginning of the year for you guys you are new in your role, it’s new in the year. You guys have a ton of stuff going on. I appreciate you taking a little time out to talk to us. Suffice it to say your background and reputation certainly precedes you. You have been at Microsoft, at Exact Target, at Salesforce, at HubSpot. You have made the rounds in a fairly short amount of time. Very impressive. What have you, as you come into this new role at G2 Crowd, what are some of the things you bring with you in terms of assumptions around how B2B marketing is working today?
Ryan Bonnici: Well, look, Matt, I think it’s really interesting actually. At the G2 Crowd space what’s excited me about the company and about the opportunity and I think what I’m bringing to it is that unlike, I think, a lot of software businesses which is where I’ve worked in a lot of my past companies, G2 Crowd’s quite unique in the sense that we’ve got this double-sided market place similar to, say, an Airbnb or a Yelp or a Glass Door. We’ve got millions of consumers, I mean, business consumers you might want to call them that are coming to our site every month that are looking and learning about different software tools. They’re rating and comparing them. And then they’re choosing to buy certain ones of them. That’s a big part of our business, right, is ensuring that we’re creating content that helps them find the best software for their business.
Then on the other side of the marketplace, we’ve got vendors that we work with to help them find the best users and leads for their software as well. It’s a really unique opportunity in my mind to lean into my B2B marketing skill set. It’s more enterprise focused from Salesforce and Exec Target and Microsoft on the vendor side of the house. And also then, I guess, lean in a bit more to my hottest spot skill set which was much more focused on content marketing and inbound marketing to attract more of those business consumers and users to our site so that they’re learning about software and leaving more reviews about the software that they use. I don’t know. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity and I feel really grateful and lucky as a marketer to be able to lean into both B2B and B2C skill sets. It’s quite fun.
Matt: Yeah. You guys are in a really fun space. I think if you’re not familiar, definitely go check out G2crowd.com. It is an online review marketplace for technology. It is very much in a disrupt the gardeners and the foresters of the world space. And they’re doing some really, really interesting things. You reference the supply and demand side of the business where you’ve got reviewers. You’ve got suppliers. Fascinating for me is the marketing implications of having content as the product and the product being in the manufacturing side of the business is really both, it is product. It is something that is monetizable. It is also very much part of the content that you can use to market the business, to drive additional viewers, to drive repeat users, to drive word of mouth. You reference the work that you guys did at HubSpot. How is that different now at G2 Crowd where you do have a greater overlap between product and, I guess, marketing?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah. It’s really interesting, I guess. The thing that was quite different at HubSpot and, I mean, at any software company that I’ve worked at is that the product typically can’t be used until someone buys the product. Right? Further down the sales cycle. The product itself and the content within it and how great it is almost is less influential in those situations because, yeah, it doesn’t have that same lever that it can pull for you. I guess what’s cool about our website and having this content that’s so available to everyone online is that it drives a lot of SEO and a lot of our traffic is just coming in organically. Actually the majority of our traffic, sorry, is coming in organically to all of those product pages, those category pages, as comparison pages. And the crazy thing, I think, to me and I think it’s really unique is that all of that content we haven’t actually created.
That’s the most fascinating thing to me. There’s been over, I think, we just broke the 340 or 350,000 review mark on our website just last week. Almost half a million people have come to our site and left a review on the software that they’re using, the software that they love, the software that they dislike. And the things that they love and the things that they dislike. The momentum and the pace of the business is just accelerating faster and faster not only as the traffic increases to people that are learning about different software, but the same people that are leaving reviews too. It’s pretty interesting to be in this side of the business where content is still so important and it’s driving so many business outcomes for us. But it’s almost that content is out of our hands in some degree, which I love. Having that ability to be a bit distant from the content, I think, provides us with a little bit more objectivity. I think that’s why it’s been super-easy for us to generate a lot of press and to generate a lot of interest in journalists and T1 publications because we’re not saying that we’re this analyst on a high mountain that has decided who should be on this list. We’re actually, in fact, letting real users of the software decide and tell us what does work and doesn’t work.
Matt: I think you’re right. The fact that you don’t have full control over the content, I mean, look, it presents its challenges for sure, but I also think it lends an element of authenticity that a lot of other companies just don’t have access to in the same way. And another thing I want to spend some time talking about today is just how G2 Crowd has been really, really smart about leveraging some of that content for PR purposes. It is hard to navigate the B2B content world, the B2B marketing, the news sites and LinkedIn feeds without seeing some of the lists that you guys have recreated. I think because you have directories of companies in various geographies and various segments, you’re able to build some rankings of those and build some listical, so to speak, of those companies. And you’ve been getting a lot of PR for that. It’s been written up. You’ve got companies that are high up on those list of top tech companies in Boston, top tech companies in Austin, top tech companies in the mid-market space, or certain industries and verticals. The PR’s been great. Talk a little bit about that campaign.
I think, not only the results and success that it’s had, but it seems like a lot of companies have that opportunity to take some of their own data, some of their own content and repurpose it into formats that can drive a lot more virility.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah. I think it’s a unique kind of challenge that other companies face a little bit more significantly than we do here. I think for us we’re creating these lists, like for example the B2B tech scene in San Francisco or Boston or Seattle or any of these big cities. Not so that we’re functioning as a curation and we’re positioning it in a different kind of segment than it would normally be on our site. But again, we’re still going back to all our user generated data in the first place and then just reorganizing that and showcasing it in different ways. In some ways, it makes our job a little easier because when we are going to market and when we are talking to journalists and when they’re reaching out to us, which more so the case, we’re not talking about ourselves. We’re talking about their industry or their city, if they’re a journalist in a certain city, or what they care about. I think that’s where so many B2B marketing executives and CMOs and heads of PR go wrong is that they just have a tendency to focus on themselves and only create content and only create, sorry, attempt to create news about themselves. Insert company name X did Y. We did this thing.
I think the challenge when you are going to market and just talking about yourself is that no one wants to talk to or listen to someone that only wants to talk to themselves and talk about themselves. If you just think of yourself at a party, I mean, the person that asks you questions about you and talks about things that you’re interested in is the person that you want to be around, not the person that just talks about how great they are and boasts. I think B2B PR is no different there. However, I think CEOs potentially don’t understand how to leverage their CMO and their director of Coms or the director of PR properly. I think oftentimes, they try and leverage PR for something that it might not be built for. A good example where I think a lot of CEOs try and force their PR teams to focus on is generating links because it helps with their CO. But journalists and publications are less and less likely today to include links, especially on those keywords and things that you want for.
I don’t know. I feel like when you’re trying to use that PR function in the incorrect way, it just ends in that team not being satisfied and the CEO not being satisfied with PR. I don’t know. Does that kind of give you a high level in terms of my thoughts there? I can go into more detail into any aspect of that. But just want to stop there and give you a chance now.
Matt: Yeah. I think it’s a great place to start on that. I think you can definitely if you go to G2Crowd.com if you check out Ryan’s Twitter handle @RyanBonnici, you can see some examples of some of those lists. And I think your caution for companies around PR is certainly important. I think that there are certain channels that you really can’t ask to do more than it’s capable of doing. And I think when you take something like PR and to a certain extent content marketing and try to make it too much like a direct response channel, you’re trying to create value and you slip in a demo request at the end, it can neuter the impact and the authenticity of the entire piece.
We’re going to have to take a break here in a couple of seconds. But, can you give a quick comment on how do you think about PR? And how do you justify PR, especially to an executive team in the age of the growth hacker? In the age of every single, little thing that marketing does has to have some kind of an immediate ROI or be measurable to revenue? As much as I like revenue responsible marketing, sometimes PR’s a different animal.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah. 100% with you there. I think with PR, if you want to do it properly in the B2B space, I think that you need to focus much more on relationship building and truly getting to know some key journalists, the key publications that you care about. That could be any publication ultimately. It will be different for each company. But I think once you start to build those relationships and take those people out to lunch and educate them on the industry and help them learn things that they might not already know, just naturally they’re going to start to learn more about you, more about your company. I think over time, then, that helps you create some of that. I think of it as company culture/pillar content for a business. It might be the New York Times or Wall Street Journal kind of column all about your CEO or your CMO or about your culture as a business. Those kinds of pieces don’t often come from PR people sending out pitches. They come from a lot of relationship building.
But then also actually having a great product that you’re pitching. In PR you’re pitching your company, you’re pitching your culture, you’re pitching your product. If those things are best practice or better than best practice, then why on earth would a journalist want to cover it in the first place? We were chatting with our PR agency yesterday and talking about areas where we could further develop our company culture so that we were not only creating buzz-worthy content that the media would be interested in, but also creating content that would push our culture forward as a company. Focusing on important values to us. I think there’s an interesting opportunity for PR people to actually sit a little bit more in the driver’s seat and be a little bit more involved in company strategy if they work with their PR teams to truly understand how can we differentiate in our marketplace?
You know, you’re going to just install a nap room. That’s not going to work in terms of the PR strategy because there’s a lot of companies, Hub Stop was one of them, that kind of pioneered that nap room, the sleeping pod thing that Google did. And now it’s no longer news worthy. I think it’s a really interesting space. But there’s definitely a lot of strategies and tactics that are still very applicable today.
Matt: Awesome. And we’re going to get more of that after the break. We got Ryan Bonnici today. He is the new CMO at G2 Crowd. After the break, we’re going to pay a couple of bills. We’ll be back. We’re going to talk more about B2B reviews and the state of B2B reviews amongst the buying cycle and amongst buyers today on B2B. Talk a little bit more about the mix of PR in a revenue responsible marketing world. We’re going to pay a couple of bills. You’re listening Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: All right. Back to Matt and his guest.
Matt: All right. Paul, we kind of forgot to reference this at the beginning of the call, but I think a couple weeks ago we talked about we were coming up on our 100th episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: I know. Blew right through it.
Matt: It was last week. It didn’t do anything. We didn’t celebrate. There was no confetti.
Matt: We had no sound effects. Honestly, I think it’s kind of representative of the show. We put our heads down. We do the work. We bring on good guests. We let them take the spotlight and that’s just kind of how we do.
Paul: I think people really appreciate that.
Matt: Thank you for the canned applause. Well, and thank you everyone for joining us. If you have listened to all 100 and now 101 episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio, please let me know. We will send you a sticker or something that would be really impressive. If you send me a tweet and tell me who our very first guest was without looking at it, I’ll send you two stickers. Thank you everyone for joining us as we continue this interesting journey. A little bit more with Ryan Bonnici, the CMO at G2 Crowd. Coming up next couple of weeks, next week we will be featuring Eric Spatzer. He is the senior manager of sales enablement for Citrix. We’re going to be talking about how to launch sales enablement at enterprise scale and how that can impact any business that want to improve the efficacy of their sales team. Week after that we’ve got Manny Medina. He is the CEO of Outreach.IO. They are a sales acceleration company. We’re going to be talking about how to trust your sales team with technology to help them be more successful. And then into the rest of February we’ve got the CMO for RingCentral, the CMO for On24. We are just CMO-centric over the next couple weeks on Sales Pipeline Radio including today’s guest, Ryan Bonnici, the CMO of G2 Crowd.
Ryan, before the break we were talking about the importance and value of PR. I want to go a little further into that and talk about the right mix of PR and really brand in a startup organization. I think a lot of companies when they think about marketing, they equate it to acquisition. There’s a lot of focus on driving demand and driving leads and feeding the sales team. Sometimes brand is an afterthought. Sometimes PR is reactive. Talk about the importance of having good balance between feeding the acquisition and growth end of the business but doing that by also building a foundation of a strong brand and PR strategy as well.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, it really depends on, I think, the type of business you’re in. If you’re selling a product to SMB’s and/or it has a freemium component to it whereby people can start using it immediately for free. And then as they start to use it more and more, they then potentially move into being paying customers. I think there’s definitely more flexibility for those kinds of companies to actually go directly to PR as an avenue to gain awareness for their free product, assuming that it is in a space where maybe there was only pay products before and that can then become news.
I’d probably say for most B2B companies, they’re typically more focused on the enterprise, in my experience. I think because they’re focused on the enterprise, they don’t often have free products or free trials that are available. That makes the go to market a little bit more difficult. I think in those instances it’s really hard to actually connect PR to the demand-gen machine in a more basic way in the sense of lead-gen or MQL-gen. But I think where PR can be incredibly useful is actually in terms of creating opportunities or accelerating opportunities for a B2B sales team. What I mean by that is if a publication creates content about your culture or anything like that, obviously going to help you get in front of new prospects that might then go to your website a little bit later, Google it or go directly to it. And then learn a little bit more about you.
But typically, I think, where it’s most useful is actually allowing sales reps to send some of those articles to people that they’re in an active sales cycle with. It functions similar to a case study or a customer success study. But it’s just that other social proof point that allows a sales team to help, I guess, satisfy a potential buyer’s concern about buying a new piece of software. I think that’s where it can be really valuable. That’s why I think it’s important to focus on higher level topic that are more aligned with thought leadership or culture or strategy versus trying to focus your PR efforts specifically on your products or features. When I saw feature-style PR it won’t get coverage by the main and bigger publications.
Also, that’s not really the kind of article that you can then email to a CEO or a CMO or whoever your senior executive is that you’re trying to sell to kind of nurture them along in the sales process. It’s just like, again, talking about yourself. However, if you can post them an article that talks from yourself or from your CEO or CMO, about unique strategy that they’re applying to the way that we hire or the way that we do our marketing, then it’s more thought leadership. Then, I actually think that senior buyer that you’re trying to sell to as a sales person actually truly appreciates the content because it is interesting. It is educational. I think that there are some of those ways that you can do that.
I think in general a lot of people don’t take the opportunity in B2B businesses to actually start to build their own personal brand. I think that’s one of the biggest things and biggest pieces of feedback that I would give to any person that’s currently working in a B2B business today, whether they’re a sales person, a marketing coordinator, a customer success person, anything. I would tell them to go and speak to whoever it is that runs their company blog and ask them what are some topics that they need content for that you can create. That way you can start to build your personal brand on your company blog in a certain niche or whatever it is that you specialize in. And either use that kind of content to then place myself in other publications. You start to leverage your company blog as social proof for you as a thought leader in your own right. And then you reach out to maybe tier four, tier five publications and have them contribute some content there. And then once you’ve done that, maybe email a tier three or a tier two publication with an offer to as a guest repeat the content to them.
You slowly work your way up the ladder and then before you know it, after a couple of years you’re creating content as a guest contributor at Entrepreneur or Inc.Com or Forbes. That’s truly all I did actually over the last five or 10 years is just slowly create more and more content and then slowly, as I got more confident, reached out to bigger and bigger publications. I think more and more people should be doing that, but they’re not.
Matt: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think it’s important. And I think that when you can create content that isn’t about you, but is about the people you care about that addresses their challenges, helps make them better, helps give them insights, it serves both purposes. You don’t have to toot your own horn to create content that makes you more valuable, that makes you more authentic, that makes you someone that people want to increasingly listen to more.
I think your advice on PR is important. I think that too often, I mean, we use the phrase all the time here even for demand-gen purposes. “You can’t buy a beer with a marketing qualified lead.” While that is true, you also can’t buy a beer with a press clipping. The goal of generating more press clippings in and of itself is not necessarily the right goal. But I think if you can think about the buying journey, if you can think about what instigates interest among your prospects. I think SiriusDecisions calls it the “challenging of the status quo.” If you can get your prospects to think differently about their current problem, to quantify the problem that they did or didn’t know that they had, anybody in the organization can do that. Your demand-gen programs can do that. Your sales team can do that. I think that is a great focus for PR and it’s a great way to make PR a strategic component of manufacturing and building demand.
Wrapping up here with Ryan Bonnici. He’s the CMO of G2 Crowd. Ryan, just one more question for you that we ask a lot of people. Looking through your content and your Twitter feed, it’s clear that you are a voracious reader, what Reed Hoffman often calls the infinite learner. Who are some of the people that have been the most valuable to you as you’ve grown in your career whether they are writers, speakers? They can be dead or alive. Who are some of the people you recommend other marketing leaders and aspiring marketing leaders pay attention to and listen to and learn from?
Ryan Bonnici: That’s a really interesting question. I’m trying to think about it. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I’d say, over my career. Part of it, I think, also is I’ve been really selective about who I work with. When I’m trying to get a job if I’m thinking about moving to another company, it’s not just for the company. It’s not just for the role. It’s for who am I going to be surrounded by and who am I going to learn from? I’d say that I think I’ve been really freaking lucky in some of my past companies to work for really incredible bosses. At Exact Target I worked for an amazing leader there who taught me so much about field marketing that I probably couldn’t have learned online. And then in my last company, at HubSpot, our CMO, so my boss at the time, his name is Kip Bodnar, and he’s just an incredible marketer, someone that totally understands demand-gen, understands how to build a funnel. But then also understands PR. He understands product marketing. He’s just incredibly well-rounded human.
I feel like I’ve learned 85% of everything I know about marketing from him and from the HubSpot marketing team from when I was there. I feel super grateful for working for them. I think through the years as well I started to reach out to more and more people and start to make connections with people that I really respect and think are fascinating. I was just chatting over email earlier today with Eric Yuan, who’s the CEO at Zoom, which is an incredible conferencing software solution. Just reached out to him and said, “I would love to sync up with you. I know you guys are on the G2 Crowd grid. I want to get some feedback from you about G2 Crowd and what you love and what you want to change.” I’m just always trying to connect with new people.
I think the maybe really tactical feedback I could give for aspiring entrepreneurs or aspiring marketers that want to move up into marketing leadership roles is once you can identify a few really smart people, it’s a little scary, I start to stalk them on the interweb, not in real life. Just let me put that out there. What I would do is, “Who do they follow on Twitter? Who do they follow in Instagram?” And I start to peruse some of those different people and start to see who they follow. It starts to build this spider web. What’s crazy is over time you start to realize that the A players that are out there, the women, the men that are out there that are doing really incredible things, they’re all connected in different ways. You start to realize there are patterns and there are people that have connected between these people.
Matt: That’s awesome. We are going to have to wrap up, but I really appreciate Ryan Bonnici, the CMO at G2 Crowd joining us today. We covered a lot of ground, a lot of great ideas here. If you want to share this episodes with your peers, listen to it again, you’ll be able to find it on salespipelineradio.com here in a couple of days. We will also have a summary of this conversation up on HeinzMarketing.com. You can join us next week and every week 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. For more great conversations with B2B sales marketing leaders. On behalf of my amazing producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us for another week. Sales Pipeline Radio.
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