Insights from a B2B Marketing Leader

Episode #039: Sangram Vajre, Chief Evangelist and Co-founder at Terminus

Most of the episodes on Mobile Matters so far have been focused on hearing from B2C marketing and tech leaders so it was time we hear from a few B2B marketing rockstars. And Sangram Vajre is the definition of a B2B marketing rockstar. He’s not only the co-founder of a B2B martech company, but he’s also the founder of the Flip My Funnel and ABM movement that has dominated the conversation in B2B marketing over the last few years. In this episode of Mobile Matters, we talk to the Chief Evangelist and Co-founder at Terminus, Sangram Vajre, about why ABM is really B2B marketing, why authenticity is essential in marketing, how marketing to a small number of target accounts is more impactful than targeting 10,000 people, and what it was like for him to help start an entire movement around Flip My Funnel and ABM. 

If you’re interested in hearing more from Sangram, check him out at Twitter or at #FlipMyFunnel.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Account-based marketing (ABM) is really how B2B marketing should be done. We need to stop trying to market to 10,000 people and focus on marketing to the top accounts that we really want to land for our business.
  2. It’s a privilege to earn a customer’s mobile number. Use it wisely.
  3. A lot of today’s marketing is boring. We need to all strive to bring true creativity and innovation to our marketing efforts so we can WOW our customers.

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Episode Transcription

Stephanie Cox: I’m Stephanie Cox and this is mobile matters. Today, I’m joined by Sangram Vajre. Sangram is the chief of Evangelist and co-founder at Terminus. He’s also the author of two account based marketing books, one which is coming out very soon, a keynote speaker, three times CMO, the host of The Daily Flip My Funnel podcast, and honestly the founder of the flipmyfunnel movement. Really this category creator for ABM marketing and in this episode Sangram and I are talking a lot about what it was like to create that flip my funnel account-based marketing movement. Why you don’t need to market to 10,000 people. And what the importance of authenticity in your marketing really is. And make sure you’re sticking around to the end. Where I’ll give my top takeaways and recap and so you can think about marketing differently and implement it effectively. Welcome to the show Sangram.

So before we kind of dive into talking about B2B marketing, account based marketing, and a whole host of marketing related topics, one of the things that I think is really interesting is you’re, I know, a co-founder at Terminus and you have a title of Chief Evangelist, and I think you oftentimes refer to yourself as an “Accidental Evangelist”. How did that happen? What does it all mean?

Sangram Vajre Well you know it’s really an accident. So as a founder I think your number one job is to just get everybody excited about whatever idea you have and you want to start building a community around that. And in many ways that’s exactly what I ended up doing and became the face of the movement more so than just the company. And that was really exciting because one on one of the articles I read was like, “Hey, Sangram is the godfather of ABM”. I’m like wow that just makes me sound so old. But it also reminded me of the fact when you put so much hard time in creating value out there you actually do accidentally become an evangelist of it even before you know it. And then I just changed my role from a lot of operational things, to be just out there writing books and speaking around this problem and solution around that. It just became obvious. So I changed my title as chief evangelist and everybody is like, “Dude you were an evangelist from day one. There’s nothing new in this title.” So I think it was it was really favorably received by the market and I feel I just fell in love with this idea. But I do feel like it was an accident because it wasn’t something I was trying to be. I was just trying to share the word and that actually is the role now.

Stephanie Cox Yeah. I see that we’re finding more and more people that tend to have that role. I talked to someone recently on the show who is the chief evangelist for Alexa at Amazon, and it was a similar situation, he kind of fell into that role as well.

Sangram Vajre Yeah it is. It is really a DNA on the Flip My Funnel podcast. We interviewed Guy Kawasaki who actually was the first evangelist, if you will, on a role perspective for Apple, and in his definition, it is the purest form of sales. And that was really interesting for me because I don’t even talk about Terminus the majority of the times I talk about ABM, I just talk about the best practices and things you should do. And his point was like, “Hey look, when you do that, when you don’t overtly talk about your product and people already know which company you represent, when you overtly don’t make it about yourself or your company, then people actually appreciate that. ‘Hey, look, they really genuinely want to help me.'” And that in a way is the purest form of sales without having a sales quota or a sales commission or a sales pipeline to work for. His role was created just to do that for Macintosh back in the day with Steve Jobs. So I feel like hearing him say that, I think it was really interesting and encouraging for for some of us who are trying to do that.

Stephanie Cox So really one of the things that you’re out there talking all about all the time is account based marketing. So how would you define ABM today? What does that mean to you?

Sangram Vajre Oh, to me, ABM is B2B, and that kind of falls into the book that we wrote. So here is what really happened, in 2016 we wrote the very first book in Account Based Marketing, And that was great at that time. Few people were talking about it. We started doing this conference, it’s called Flip My Funnel, and now we do it yearly because it’s gotten within a thousand people who attend that conference and stuff. We started doing the podcast, all these things to just build the community and excitement around it. But after that what we really realized that, Oh my goodness, it’s not just acquisition. People are running ABM campaigns to accelerate their pipeline. People are running ABM campaigns to increase their deal size. That expansion there is up selling and cross-selling happening essentially across the entire customer journey from from acquisition to expansion. People are actually using ABM as a strategy because they know which accounts to go after. They now know that there’s more leverage there, especially imagine this whenever a deal comes in and, lets say it’s an opportunity. Typically what happens in most organizations is, “Oh, marketing, stop communicating to my deal! You need to stop your newsletter and nurtures. I got this.” That’s what the salesperson says. And as a matter of fact what we realized and found in the study and in the last four years of thousands of companies who we have been working with is this idea that, oh my goodness, that’s exactly when you should double down as a marketer which means you should be doing ads or direct mail and get all the other people involved in the decision making process aware of your brand. Because guess what? That company who’s in your pipeline, raised their hand and said that they’re in market and they’re ready to buy and they’re going to buy from you or your competitor. There’s no better time for you as an organization to jump all in with that and do whatever it takes to help the salespeople close the deal. So that became a really interesting use case. And then the other use case that became really, really cool, was this idea of expansion, you already know the customers that you want to go after that that are your customers. You already know what works and what doesn’t. Let’s say you have a new product line or your marketing needs to be involved in it. And we have of one of the folks that we work with, Gillian Gardner. Her win rate for those deals are about 95 percent. Let me say for people who may have just tuned in just now. Ninety five percent win rate! So in that scenario that’s why we ended up writing the second book, it’s like no, ABM is not just this amazing idea to just being from the right people at the right time, you actually can use ABM across the entire B2B go-to-market strategy and that became a thing for us.

Stephanie Cox So I want to dive into your comment around, you know, air cover for your sales team because I’ve heard that before as a marketer, where, you know, the opportunity has been created and they’re like, “please stop talking to them, marketing.” How have you seen organizations kind of work in tandem with their sales team to change that mindset that’s really been ingrained in them for so long?

Sangram Vajre Oh it’s a great it’s a fantastic question, Stephanie, because I think it is exactly the root cause. And then I think the root cause if people really went down there is this word we try to use which is trust between sales and marketing. I think it is the first indicator, if not of many, that there is no trust between marketing and sales. There is this lack of faith that marketing is going to do anything to help them. And I as a marketer have said this, you probably heard me say that and I get criticized for this but just fine. I think the value of marketing is defined by sales, and I say that with a lot of heart and a lot of therapy in the last 15 years of me being in a marketing career at Salesforce and Pardot and going through the acquisitions, starting Terminus. I’m a marketer at heart. And it took me a lot of courage to accept this, but I think in B2B if you’re a marketer, you will need to accept the fact that we exist. We absolutely exist because we are there to help incrementally or exponentially grow the business and the business is through sales and then sales not just sales customer success. So to go to market teams. So if they say, “We don’t think marketing can help me”, that just means that they’re saying that we don’t trust what you do, and I think that’s why marketing rules change. So the way to overcome that–once you fully recognize that, hey look, your job is to help them, that’s really why you’re there and they close more deals you get more bonus. I mean, it’s really going to work that way. So the way I’ve seen some companies do it and we can just use the example of Gillian from tons of writers, literally they found a few sales people that they have a really good relationship with and they are they are like, they’re ready to do new things, they’re OK to try new things. So they didn’t go into the entire organization, but, hey, we’re going to do this. They just got a few reps and said, here’s what we’re gonna test. Let’s start experimenting. And that’s a key phrase. I think if you say, “We have a new program we’re going to launch, a new campaign we’re going to launch,” I think it freaks people out, especially sales teams. So instead say really, just do this experiment and in this experiment you don’t have to do anything. Here’s what we’re going to do, and we’ll have your input. This is OK. We want to make sure that every one of your decision makers that are part of your buying committee, they’re starting going to see these type of ads or they’re going to get this type of direct mail or because all of these deals that you’re closing on there in Boston. So how about we do a dinner or an event in Boston? You go with that level of intentionality to a sales rep once you know what they are working on, they will love you. They will hug you. They will open up and tell you what they need to help, so I think it really starts with marketing giving the salesperson some thoughts an idea of like, hey look ,I really care and I have these information data points that I can use to help you. And I won’t do anything unless you want me to do it. But here are the five things I can do. But that conversation doesn’t happen, Stephanie, in most organization.

Stephanie Cox Well that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s so important for sales and marketing–I know SaaStr says this, right? You should be the mom and dad of revenue. Like, how closely do you work together? How much are you aligned? Because I think that’s one thing I know I’ve tried to do in my career in B2B is really become very aligned with the sales organization, and really see it as a team which builds that trust which I think helps overcome some of the challenges you can face as you want to help market more during actual sales process.

Sangram Vajre Yeah. And I look at this as not an alignment. I feel like alignment almost is a bad word. Because alignment means rules. Using that family analogy from SaaStr is like, I don’t want to be aligned with my wife just for the sake of it. I want to be one team. I want to feel like we are on the same team. I know that somebody has my back, right? It’s a different level of trust when you use the right words. I even say that you should use the words like prospecting, for example, should be should be completely avoided because when you say prospecting–let me ask you this straight up, Stephanie: Do you like to be prospected by anybody?

Stephanie Cox Absolutely not. Everyone hates to be marketed to, especially marketers!

Sangram Vajre Right. So people hate that and we use that word so openly and easy like, yeah, we have like 50 prospects. Well you just told me that they have no value to you because they’re not your customer. And here’s where it hopefully will give some people some chills and some reality check: The email that you send out to your customers that are 5, 10 people looking at those making sure everything is right and that we should not over send emails we should not do this. Let’s provide value, let’s make sure it’s given to our customers. We take so much care in the e-mails that go out to the customer newsletter the customer list. How much time do we really think about ,and how much time do we really care about e-mails that we send to our prospects”, and I call them future customers? And the reality is, zero in many ways. We just keep sending e-mails over e-mails. Oh, we have an event! We have a webinar! We have an e-book! We just keep sending in hopes that somebody would bite and then we would take care of them and they become a customer. This is the exact opposite with ABM. It’s like, No. Because you’re account based, which means you should have a list of accounts to go after. So the e-mails that you’re gonna send to are the people that you care about. And if you care about those people you’re not going to spam them. You’re going to send them very relevant, very specific, way personalized content that matters.

Stephanie Cox Well that’s a great point because that’s something I know I do at Lumavate here. We do only ABM and everything that we send out to future customers, as you’re saying, is highly personalized. It’s specific to who they are, not just to their company but even to the role that they play, conversations, things that we know that interest to them. And one of the things that we hear back is, 1.) I think to your point about air cover, “I see you guys everywhere.” And we’re a startup, so we’re really not everywhere, we’re just everywhere they are. And the other part is they just I can’t tell you how many times they say, like, “The way you’ve reached out to me is so personalized”, and how different that is and how many times we’ve been able to get meetings with really senior level people are really large enterprise organizations because what we’re doing is so different than kind of the constant spamming about webinars and e-books that you were talking about earlier. [46.6s]

Sangram Vajre Yeah it is. So here’s a quick look at a conference I speaking recently, I said, how many of you send a newsletter? And almost you can imagine like everyone every one of them raise their hands, I’m like perfect. Awesome. Now raise your hand if you think that when you don’t send the newsletter, somebody will e-mail you back and say I’ll miss your newsletter? And guess what? Nodoby raised their hands. Nobody. That should just tell us like, oh, OK. So we’re sending e-mail because it is a list of things to do and nobody’s ever going to say we miss your e-mail. But we keep sending them this newsletter because it is my job to send a newsletter. And that should just tell the plight of our B2B marketing. And we a lot of times say that B2B stands for “boring to boring”, right now. For both organizations. And we need to change that! To like, you know, become brave and amazing and I think it takes courage to do some of those things. Until we do that. We’re going to be just checking the box and doing the status quo things.

Stephanie Cox Well it’s funny that you mentioned that I actually this morning–so one of things that we do before we send direct mail is we actually do these personalized videos, so we’ll send you an e-mail and say, you know, we’ve been talking to you or reaching out. And we’ll say we’re sending a package and we do like an unboxing video of what’s in the package that you’re gonna get. And we had a future customer this morning actually e-mail us because it had been a couple days and he had gotten this package and he was like waiting for it to come and it turned out that like for some reason the address was wrong. So he reached out to our SDR and said, “Look I haven’t gotten the package like I was really looking forward to this. I do know where it’s at.” And so you’re like, oh it looks like you know like there must’ve been something wrong with the address that we had. It was undeliverable so it’s coming back to us. We’ll send you another one now. He’s like, great, send me another one out. He’s like, as soon as I get it like let’s schedule a meeting. And it was to your point around, like, no one misses the e-mail newsletter, but this guy was like literally waiting for the package we were gonna send him because everything we do has been super personalized to him. He knew what he was going to get. And it’s just a different way of thinking about stuff and it’s been cool to see that type of stuff happen and when you’re doing stuff that really matters to that company and that person.

Sangram Vajre Yeah. You connected with them at the human level on the things that matters to them. And it has a lasting impression more than any other thing that you can do. So love that, hats off to you guys. And that is how we need to spend more time thinking about what we need to do before we go to do it. In these cases, because we do not treat our future customers the same way as we treat our customers. And if there was one takeaway from this whole conversation so far I think I would say that’s what I implore people to think about. Think about every one you’re connecting with as a human as a person not on the list, not a number. You don’t need 10,000 people to sell. Chances are if you’re in B2B today you probably can’t even handle 10,000 customers if they came in tomorrow to service them and sell them and price them and do all that stuff. And the reality is if you close a hundred, two hundred, five hundred deals this year, you would be growing like 100 percent or more. So the question is not that you need ten thousand people, You need a hundred great customers. And to get a hundred great customers, the idea that you need to go after a hundred thousand people is absolutely false. That’s where it flips the funnel in a way. And it says no no, find the 200 or 300 companies you want to sell to, focus on them, personalize the experience from direct mail to direct ads to landing pages to experiences online,, offline whatever makes sense for your audience, whatever that works for them. Once you do that you’ll win rate and this is the kicker. This is why this story of Gillian is so interesting. Your win rate is going to be phenomenal. So it’s not just a nice thing to do or a good marketing. It actually has business outcomes and business results which is why this whole topic has been so hot because the results are real.

Stephanie Cox So when you think about ABM, you, I mean, honestly helped create the category for account based marketing. Is that something you set out to do? Or how did that kind of come about? And did you know that this was going to be like a new category and what’s happening?

Sangram Vajre It’s all accidental. Let me be honest. Like I don’t think most companies go out there and say, All right we’re going to create a category. I get it. I don’t think it works that way because it creates a level of ego and a lack of humility when you start thinking like, we are category leaders. I think that we really just care about the problem and the problem was less than 1 percent of the leads were turning to customers. We are based in Atlanta at that time we didn’t really have a whole lot of funding. This was something not talked about a whole lot. And I honestly wanted to do an event called Terminus to bring people together and talk about it. And I couldn’t find sponsors. That’s just a true story! To do this nobody really knew us. Nobody really cared about us, and we were based in Atlanta. First time founders, like, nobody really cared. And then we said, All right, what if we call it Flip My Funnel. This is an idea. I didn’t even, I didn’t even have a domain. I had just started a blog, which means me and my mom and two friends read it. So you know, so people say, yeah, we would sponsor an event called Flip My Funnel for all about challenging the status quo of marketing and sales. And all of a sudden we ended up having five events where we didn’t have to pay a single dime as an organization and 300, 400, 500, now a thousand people started to show up to that event, paying like none and all with tickets, and we’re like, wait a minute. That’s something. So in a sense It came out of a entrepreneurial necessity and the lesson I think we learn in that process, Stephanie, quite honestly is that when you’re focused on the problem so much that you stop talking about your product but focus on people’s problems and help them together to find a solution, people will come along people will follow you. People would stand by you. People will wait for you outside the door like they do for Apple and stuff. And I think that’s what we learn in this, that this is possible in B2B. It’s possible for you to be so excited and passionate about the problem that you would almost forget mentioning your own company and people would remind you like, Hey, can you tell us more about this. Can you do this. And that’s honestly became a thing for us. So even today when we do a Flip My Funnel conference, Stephanie, we are a booth just like every other booth. We don’t talk. We don’t have a product keynote. We say, if you want to learn more about product go and talk to the people at the booth and we have a product room where we talk about product and demos and stuff like that. But at the conference it’s all about changing the status quo it’s all about bringing amazing stories to life it’s all about showing how practitioners do it. And we haven’t broken that tradition yet.

Stephanie Cox I think that’s really important. It’s just such a key difference because to your point, like, I now trust you more as a marketer because you’re not selling to me when you’re talking about, like, Flip My Funnel, but because I find value in your content. That immediately also helps me trust your brand and being intrigued enough to go learn more and to see if it can help me with my problem.

Sangram Vajre Exactly. I think I think trust is the foundation of all relationships. It goes back to the very first few minutes we talked about the sales and marketing, it’s trust. A business selling to another business. It is trust at heart. I don’t know if people have read a book, but a good friend of mine called Todd Caponi, he wrote a book on transparency sale and he said hey look, people buy from companies that may not have five star reviews because they believe that they are genuine about it, or people on Amazon or stuff like that. So he was used trying to demystify this whole idea that openly you tell about what you’re good at, but more importantly what you’re not good at. The more you would actually sell. So it’s really interesting how that comes around.

Stephanie Cox No, that’s a great book to read I completely agree with that as well. So one of the things that I think has been really interesting around B2B marketing is this idea of mobile and where mobile fits in. So in the B2C world, it’s not uncommon to have native mobile apps, have you know text messaging programs, and things like that. And I’ve started to see it come into B2B a little bit where you know like SDRs or sales reps are starting to play around with texting future customers and things like that. How do you think about the role of mobile can play in B2B? Because even though you’re selling to a business you’re really selling to a human who is connected to their mobile device all the time.

Sangram Vajre Absolutely. I think the closer you can get to the customer or future customer the better it is in terms of conversations. I remember the days that a lot of people have a ton of forms to do anything and what that’s doing less and less people are filling them the forms. So it’s driving less and less leads which is increasing the cost of the lead and people are spending more money and you get leads and it’s just it’s this battle that some people are starting to recognize that it’s a never ending spiral. Now the mobile aspect of it is is very interesting because I’ve seen it over and over again and I’ve seen it with our sales team over here at Terminus. The people that they are working with now actually have their cell phones. And Jim told you, one of our sales repss one of the best sales reps that I work with, he has cell phones of public companies CMOs and he’s texting with them as he’s talking through the deal and stuff like that. Beyond emails and stuff and I’m like dude how are you able to get that? I am a founder and chief evangelist of a company I think I’ve done a couple of good things to hopefully have a cell phone number of some person like that. But I don’t even have that! Like how do you have that? And he’s like, No, you just build a relationship where they would say, you know what, just text me this, or he would just say, hey, here’s my text number. Can you tell me if you’re going through. And he just builds so much trust with that person that the CMO of a public company or a CMO fast food company would say,, Yeah here’s my text just text me whenever you can. And that to me is a game changer.

Stephanie Cox It is. But I think what’s really interesting goes back to trust, right? Like I’ve done that with reps or even with my account managers once I’ve become a customer. Because it honestly sometimes, especially as a leader, you’re really busy and sometimes the fastest way for me to respond to you is text. If you need a quick answer and we’re in the middle of a deal or we’re having an issue or something like that. But I also know that when I give my number to those people I trust that they’re not going to abuse it and they’re not going to send me a bunch of stuff that’s not really informational or helpful to the situation. And also it’s always appropriate for something via text. 

Sangram, is such a great example of being both a leader who’s accomplished so much in his career yet also being humble at the same time. It’s always a pleasure to chat with him and get his perspective on how companies can think differently about their marketing and what’s just happening in the industry overall. Now, let’s get to my favorite part of the show, where we take the education and apply it’s your business. 

There are so many great insights from my conversation was Sangram, that can really help transform how you think about marketing. Let’s dive into my top three takeaways. First, we can’t underestimate the value of someone giving us their mobile number. I can’t repeat that enough you guys. It doesn’t matter if your B2B or B2C or B2B2C, it’s one of the most personal ways to connect with someone and minus the annoying robocalls we get a little bit on our cell phones today. It’s one of the few channels that really hasn’t been overrun with Spam yet. So when our future customer which Sangram likes to call them which I think is a really great way to think about what we typically call prospects in the past gives you actually permission to communicate with them on their mobile device. You’ve got to honor it which means don’t call them incessantly at the last thing I want to see my mobile phone is a vendor who’s tried to call me 10 times in a row. Don’t overly text me give me time to respond be respectful. You’ve done something right to earn that privilege. Don’t abuse it. It’s the same thing when I give up a B2C brand my mobile number for texting. Don’t text me all the time. Tell me how many things you’re going to send me and then do that. I know that I give my most trusted vendors… brands… that I really enjoy hearing from my mobile number so they can easily call or text me and I’ve said this before but as marketers with a lot of privilege comes responsibility and it’s so important for us to use it the correct way and don’t abuse it and don’t require the government to come in and start regulating even more. 

Next, if you’re not being authentic in your marketing efforts, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. One references that Sangram and I talked about was this book called The Transparency Sell it was written by Taka Pony who Sangram and I both have the pleasure of working with and one of them things that he talks about in this book, which I think is really really insightful is this idea of being honest and transparent throughout your sales process and how people buy from companies that don’t have five star reviews. So if your company has you know a 4.2 star review that’s okay because that feels more real and authentic. So if you haven’t checked out his book, you definitely should it’s a great read. I think anyone can learn a lot from it and the same thing needs to be taken into account for your marketing efforts. If you’re not being true to your brand and it doesn’t come across as who you are people can tell. The same thing goes for your content. I can’t tell you how many times I see content created were they portrayed as being something helpful and then once you dive into it you realize this is nothing more than just a promotion for that brand everyone calls BS on that stuff. That’s whey I love what Sangram and his team are doing at the Flip My Funnel conference. It’s not really tied to their company. It’s about the movement and then you Turmis does have a booth, it’s like everyone else. I wish more companies would market that way and try and be helpful to you and really provide you with the information guidance that you need because that’s the someone I want to partner with.

Finally, I loved how Sangram said, B2B marketing… Sometimes should be called boring too boring because let’s be honest. It’s so true. I’ve seen a ton of boring marketing and both B2B but also B2C lately and we all know that everyone hates to be marketed to right? We don’t love it as marketers. Consumers don’t love it. Yet, I see so many of us doing the same tactics over and over again. Where’s the Innovation? Where’s the creativity? We can all do better to engage our future and current customers. Let’s make a real effort to try and wow them.

Now, here’s my marketing challenge for the week, ask yourself… First, Do you send out an email news letter? Chances are the answers yes. If you stopped, would anyone notice? Would any subscriber actually reach out to you and ask you where it’s at? If not, that should actually probably tell you something. You’re probably just spending time working on something that people don’t really care a ton about. So are you spending your time doing the right things? I’m just picking on email news lletters as an example, but are you doing things and going through motions with your marketing? Because that’s what you’ve always done? Or are you constantly iterating your marketing efforts and spending time thinking about what strategies and tactics actually drive engagement and results. That’s what we all need to be doing. I’m Stephanie Cox and you’ve been listening to mobile matters. If you haven’t yet be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast until then be sure to visit lumavate.com and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders best practices and all things mobile.