Episode #022: Justin Keller, VP of Marketing at Terminus
Marketing isn’t about optimizing paid ads, sending emails, etc. Marketing is no longer a volume game and the old marketing tactics that we’ve used in the past don't work anymore. It’s about passionately believing in your company’s message and getting others to believe in it too.
In this episode, we chat with Justin Keller, Vice President of Marketing at Terminus. He has more than 15 years of marketing experience and previously held marketing leadership roles at Sigstr, Whil Concepts, Jazz.co, Visage, and ChaCha Search.
We’re talking about why focusing on leads drives the wrong behavior for marketers, how to think about brand marketing, why shitty marketing needs to stop, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsessed about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola. I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guest and I will push boundaries, share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. Sh*tty marketing, we've all seen it. And if we're being really honest, we've all done it at some point in our career. You know what I'm talking about. When you're being measured on leads and you're not close to hitting your target for the quarter so your immediate reaction is to send more emails, run more ads, you get the picture. For years B2B marketers have seemed to think that they can create boring marketing that is focused on volume to drive leads rather than spending time creating, engaging marketing experiences for specific accounts. That's exactly what we're talking about with today's guest. In this episode, we chat with Justin Keller VP of marketing at Terminus. He has more than 15 years of marketing experience. And we're talking about why focusing on leads drives the wrong behaviors for marketers? How to think about brand marketing today? Why sh*tty marketing needs to stop? And so much more. I don't know why I haven't had you on the show until now. It feels like a huge miss on my part but super excited to chat with you today. And before we dive into... I think what will be a really great conversation around marketing, would love for you to tell the audience what's one thing about you that few people know.
Justin Keller: Sure. When I'm not marketing, which seems like all the time, I'm a musician. I grew up always wanting to be in a band but I moved around a lot when I was a kid so I never had the chance to start a little garage band. I just wanted to play all the instruments myself and I learned how to record all of the tracks myself. So I do a lot of that on the side, it's just my little passion project. And it's everything from jazz to... I'm actually working, not kidding on a little death metal album all about marketing right now. So it's all over the place. But that's kind of my fun weekend activity.
Stephanie Cox: That is definitely unusual. I don't think I've met someone else that has that big of an interest in the music. That's cool. Any favorite musicians or anything that inspires you?
Justin Keller: Yeah. Gosh, I mean, favorite musicians. That's one of the things like picking a favorite kid. I don't think I can do it. I really, really look to other people to do the same thing like solo musicians that are actually entire band. So like Nine Inch Nails, for example, it's just one guy for a long time was just one guy. And that's where I got the idea that I could do all this stuff on my own. So people that do it like that, that are kind of like the entire band themselves I think is super cool.
Stephanie Cox: Awesome. So we talked a little about music but let's talk about your other passion marketing. I think one of the things that I am really excited to start chatting about is this idea of marketing and bad marketing and how many of us have made such horrible marketing decisions in our career and then sometimes continue to do that. So maybe let's start with, it's 2021, what do you think marketing is doing well in general? And where are we really kind of like screwing it all up?
Justin Keller: Yeah. I think first of all, it's a fun time to be a marketer right now just because it's more difficult than ever because technology so advanced, we have so much data at our fingertips. It is kind of like a lot more scientific but at the same time, I think the good thing about it is I think really good marketers are very left brain, right brain oriented. And the ability to fuse a lot of all the technology and data that we've got at our fingertips but then turning that into really good experiences for people that's magical. That's what gets me really enthused about what's going on right now. But like on the flip side, I think we may have even lost an entire generation of marketers because of all that technology and because all of a sudden... Like for the last 20 years where marketers measured on it's pretty much leads for the most part, right? And-
Stephanie Cox: Oh, don't get me started on leads.
Justin Keller: Let's get started on leads, Stephanie.
Stephanie Cox: Oh my gosh. Oh, you go first.
Justin Keller: Look at marketing in a vacuum, if your job is to generate leads and that's all you're caring about you probably make so many stupid regrettable decisions if you're look at yourself from a neutral standpoint. If sales isn't getting enough leads, what do you do? You start spamming harder, you try and yell louder. You just start panicking almost. And I think you make really bad decisions because you're oriented around hitting a number and you're not considering that leads or people in real life. Like that email address isn't someone that your sales team can spam. Like that's a human being that cares about things and is interested in and has a sense of humor. And I think that because we think about them as a line on a spreadsheet, we kind of de- humanize them. And that shows up in so many negative ways around creating a really fun customer experience. But it's hard. I think every marketer would love to make cool stuff all day, every day if they could. But because they have all these competing priorities, they've got a sales person yelling at them. They end up making really poor decisions. And I think it's just poison for the well for the rest of the marketers. It makes marketing seem really kind of slimy sometimes. And I hate that. I hate marketing a lot of the time for that reason.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and you're so right. And here's what's crazy is I think you and I both probably been in that situation where sales is yelling at us," We need more leads, we need more leads." And then we get them more leads because we do these horrible things to get the leads. And then they're like," These are crappy leads, give me better leads." And it's this vicious cycle that never stops. So how do you think about... Like that's a problem you're being... Which I think marketers should not be measured on leads. But what do you think you do if you're in a situation where you're a marketing leader who's being measured on leads and it's almost incentivizing you to do this bad behavior, how do you break away from that?
Justin Keller: That's the million dollar question. And I'll try not to get too so boxy here because I work at an ABM company but I think that's the solution. And I think people misunderstand ABM thinking that it is this really wonky term and it's not. It's really just like if you're trying to drive leads, you're trying to market to the entire world and just be really loud and you're playing a volume game and that prohibits you from doing really fun, really interesting, really creative stuff. When you're focusing on account, when you're focusing on, call it 50 companies and that's all you care about in the world, and if you can generate opportunities with 10 of them, then you're probably going to hit your quarter. It frees you up to do so much more fun stuff because you're not trying to grind through as many leads as you can. You can spend that time that you would have been putting together a nurture tracks and trying to optimize your click- through rates on your ads to do really cool things like," Hey, this important customer cares about these things. How can we tell them our story in a way they would be really interested in?" And that's always the way marketing used to be, like I mean, I don't know, 70 years ago. And so it's kind of like we're back there but we've got a lot more data and technology to make cool experiences now.
Stephanie Cox: No, I completely on board with that whole concept. I think for me, the part that's so difficult about it is getting people, especially when you have, to your point around these generations of marketers or even business leaders who for so long... When I came into marketing, gosh like or 15 years ago, leads us all anyone cared about. And you have a lot of management layers where that's still what they hear about. So part of the challenge is, how do you get them to say like," You really don't want leads." I think I say this all the time to people, if you want leads, I could get you 10, 000 leads like in a week. I mean, they're not going to convert and they're not going to do anything. But if you just need email addresses," Okay." But how do you get them to understand, there's more value to kind of this idea of what you're talking about, which is this highly personalized marketing experience to a smaller number of people versus quantity, quantity, quantity.
Justin Keller: At the end of the day, a sales person doesn't want leads. They want revenue, they want to hit their quarter, they want to get their bonus. And if you can convince them that, you know what? You're going to make their life easier by giving them a smaller barrel of fish tissue, that you'll still get there. It's just a different way of looking at it. And then I think it snowballs from there. If you start building a reputation of having a really great buying experience that builds on itself and it makes it easier for you to do more of it. So it's one of those things where I think it hurts to rip the bandaid off a lot and to stop caring about leads as much. I've done it before a couple of times. And it is an uncomfortable, very tense couple of months as you start to reorient the things that you and your sales counterparts are looking at. But as soon as the numbers start showing up in the pipeline, you get that trust back and you start to work together in a new way because that's the other thing, it's not just marketing anymore if you're trying to create a really great buying experiences, marketing and sales working together to create that. And all of a sudden you can start having... I don't know if it's fun, but you start working together. You're pulling in the same direction and it feels a lot better. And you do get a deeper level of trust with your sales team when you do it.
Stephanie Cox: So how do you start those conversations? Like in the past, how have you went to the head of sales and been like," Listen, you don't want leads. I don't want to give you leads. I want to come up with a list of 50 accounts and I want to do these highly personalized experiences for them to drive your pipeline." How do you get them on board with that?
Justin Keller: So the way I did it and this is not the best way to do it. I'll tell you how I did it and then I'll tell you what I learned from it. So it was one of these things where it was steps like we... And to be clear, hot leads are great. People that come in saying," Yeah, I'm ready to buy." Those are fantastic. But I consider that different from like a list of leads that you get from an email campaign or something like that. But it was one of the things where I said," Hey, we're going to stop caring about leads as much. We'll keep an eye on it but that's not going to be the first dashboard when we log in in the morning. Instead, we're going to look at these 100 accounts." And what I did was it just... The map worked out great. We had 10 sales people. Each of them got 10 accounts. And I just put a list of 100 accounts on a wall in the office and said," Okay, these are the ones that we care most about. I'm going to do everything in my power to help. Each of you generate as many opportunities with theses companies as we can." And it was tough, because you're trying to get 10 people to start thinking differently. The sales reps used to emailing and calling so many times a day and when all of a sudden they only care about 10 accounts. They've got a lot more time in the day. And so getting them to break the habits of volume and start thinking more thoughtfully about like," Okay, who are the people I need to be reaching out to this company? Who's the human that's going to be on the other end of the phone when I eventually make this call? And what do I talk to them about to get them interested in, to let them know I really care?" Was tough. And so we kind of tried to boil the ocean right off the bat and that was the wrong thing to do. I think if I were to do it all over again, I do one of two things. One, I would start with one rep and one account and say," You and me are going to team up and we're going to figure this out together. Like if all we do this quarter is create an opportunity with this account, let's figure out what we need to do so that we can scale it from there." Because there's a lot of things, like it's just such a different experience that you don't know what to expect, you don't know what you don't know. Or I would have started with our customers because like they are already our ICP, they already understand the value we're trying to provide. It's easier to build a list of target accounts when they're your customers and could have learned a lot of the mistakes that I made the first time around without compromising pipeline because it already exists. It was really just focusing on expanding these customers. And that's another thing I think marketers are not focusing on their customers nearly as much as they need to. And I think 2020 forced that conversation to happen, which is great. But that's your customers or another marketing channel in a lot of ways, if you can get them to be raving fans like that's free marketing.
Stephanie Cox: Exactly. Let's go to the first thing that you learned around starting with one account, one rep, what advice would you give for like what kind of rep do you pay? Because I think a lot of times when... I've done this in the past, where I've said," Okay, I'm going to partner with this one rep." And sometimes I partner with the one that everyone else looks up to, right? Because I know if I get them on board, everyone else comes. I've also partnered with the one that's going to be the most skeptical because I know if I get them on board, everyone else will be," Oh, this is a good idea." How would you recommend? Who do you target? For if you're going to test this out to help really build momentum and build advocacy for it internally what's the ideal overall personality of that rep?
Justin Keller: I think it's a really good question. I hadn't really thought about trying to like start with a skeptic. I think that's doing it in a hard mode, but I think the results would be really good. I'd start with a sales person that thinks most a marketer. And working with someone that's got a really high EQ like emotional intelligence. Someone that is really good with people because at the end of the day that's what it's about. If you were playing a volume game, you don't care about people. I'm going to go ahead and say it, period. If you're doing a volume game, you don't care about people. If you really care about people, then you care about the experience they're having. And so partnering up with someone that feels the same way as you do about that. And someone that you get along with because you're going in this together and they should be on board with it because you're really trying to help them crack open a big account. But it requires that partnership. And that's, I think one of the toughest things to scale. I think that's why I'm doing it right off the bat with every rep was hard because there were 10 different personalities and we hadn't really set an example of what this looks like yet.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and when you can't prove exactly what works and what doesn't work, everyone has their own ideas and opinions, which makes it harder to figure out what does work and what doesn't work when everyone wants to try 20 different ideas?
Justin Keller: Exactly. Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: So the other thing I want to kindly dive into tied to this subject is let's say, you get people on board with this new approach. How do you prevent them when... Because obviously I think you mentioned that, right? It's going to take time to figure this out. How do you get them to not want to default back to doing it the old way? Like the volume play. I know my team has heard me say this before, if you're focused on volume that's the definition of sh*tty marketing. So how do you think about almost like... Because I think that's everyone's like natural reaction is like," Oh, maybe this isn't as going as fast as we like." Or," it's not building pipe as fast as we like. Like let's just do more ads and more email and let's go back to like..." I think of email marketing in the old days like the batch and blast like," Look, let's just do more."
Justin Keller: Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: How do you get people not to want to go back to that and to stay focused on the path that you're trying to really build for them. And what are the metrics that you want them to start thinking about now instead of how many leads did we generate today?
Justin Keller: I think without sounding too pie in the sky, I think it comes down to values. If your sales team doesn't share the same values you do... And maybe this even boils down to like the brand experience. If they don't share the same values around trying to create a really good experience for a customer, I don't know if it'll ever work. I think it might be one of those things where you do have to initiate a shifting culture around that because there are a ton of competitors out there, no matter who your business is. And the one who starts acting like a leader in the category because their brand is great, because they're buying experiences are good, because their people are so great, they're going to start to run away with it. I think it's you got to get them thinking about the long game. Like," Sure if we run a really spammy email campaign it will result in leads right now?" But that is short- term thinking and it's toxic. And if you're thinking long- term strategically about the importance of the brand and what it means in the marketplace, that's kind of everyone that's customer facing's job.
Stephanie Cox: Obviously, you're in charge of brand at Terminus and I know you kind of grew up in the demand gen world like I did where, very numbers focused. How do you think about brand marketing today then in 2021 and how you evaluate that you are doing the right things for your brand?
Justin Keller: It's such a good question and I don't know the answer but here's what I think. I think things are changing a lot. I think brand used to be about consistency and locking things down so things felt familiar across the board and I bet that's still true in a lot of places. But I think millennials are now the largest buying group that exists. And the way they interact with the world is so different than their antecedents that I think brands need to respond to that. I don't have the stat in front of me but I think it was something. And maybe I'll put this in the show notes, like millennial B2B buyers are 70% more influenced by their consumer purchasing behavior than... What's the brand of the generation before us? Gen X. And if you think about the ways that millennials act on the internet, they are used to doing everything on the internet, they do all their research online, they don't like to talk to people as much. They are very much more susceptible to, I think, flash in the pan pop culture trends. And I think brands need to start acting more like that. Like they need to act younger and more like a human being that is fun to, someone that you'd follow around on Twitter or Instagram. And not saying that you need to orient all your marketing around Twitter and Instagram. But the brand experience and the way you express it needs to feel a little more like a peer or a cool person at a party. And less around is this the right Pantone for our brand? And this copy doesn't match the brand Bible or whatever?
Stephanie Cox: You're preaching to the choir because I agree. Like brand used to be like," Do not use the wrong font. Did you use the right PowerPoint template?" And all that stuff still important. But now I feel it's more about your messaging and the overall emotion that you create for people. One of the things that you said that I think is really important to kind of talk more about is around how millennials expect their buying behavior even in B2B, to be more consumer- like. So how do you start to tie a consumer marketing approach into B2B when so many people for so long have said," Oh, well, B2B and B2C are different." Which I personally believe is complete bullsh*t and it's not the case.
Justin Keller: Yeah. It does not. And I think that's one of the coolest things about being in marketing right now is that you see marketing has always been cool. B2B marketing has been, I wouldn't say it's been-
Stephanie Cox: Boring.
Justin Keller: Kind of reigning for a long time. Yeah, and now we get a lot of the same technology and we have a similar audience that a B2C company does. And so I think it boils down to if you're... This might work for some people but super corporate sounding messaging. I don't think is as important anymore, especially with as much noise as there is now. It's so easy to get spammed on LinkedIn and email. The only way you're going to really crack through is if you're entertaining and you're engaging and there's like a fun aspect to it. And this is certainly not for everyone. We do a lot of this at Terminus and invariably. We get a lot of raving fans about something we did and there's always some like sticking them up. It's like," I don't have time for this. I need more facts. I'm busy and I don't have time to read through or listen to this cool webinar." And that's great. I think that you should be totally happy making some people unhappy because that's going to happen. But for the most part, people are people. They're human beings and they want to be talked to like that.
Stephanie Cox: I love what you just said around," It's okay to make some people unhappy." Because I feel there's a generation of marketers who've been scared to piss people off and they're like," Well, I can't I can't say this because..." I'll give you like a example, for me, we market to marketers and sometimes IT uses our platform. And I think we've had these conversations in the past where it's like" Well, don't say anything negative about IT." And I'm like," Well, I mean, yeah." But marketers hate IT. We don't want to work with them and IT doesn't want to do the things that I care about. So what happens if you piss people off? I mean, so what? You can't market to everyone. But I think there's this perception that like in B2B you have to make sure that you don't offend anyone. Anyone that could potentially ever buy your product would be happy with it versus saying," No, this is who we are and we're not for everyone." And that's okay. How do you get, one, your C- suite on board with that idea? But then two, how do your team to understand that that is maybe against everything that they've been taught and have ever done in their career, but it's also the most freeing moment in marketing ever?
Justin Keller: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. You said, if you're trying to market everyone, you're not really doing a good job of it. And if you're not pissing... You shouldn't piss everyone off to be clear. If you're not pissing off 10% of people, then you're not edgy enough. And I think a good way to kind of look at that is if you're pissing a few people off it's because your messaging was out there and edgy enough that it would crack through on other people. I think that because people are afraid of pissing people off, everything comes out beige and that does not work anymore especially with as much white noise exists out there. You need to be a little bit spicy in one way or another. Whether you're being provocative or you're being kind of friendly and cute and kind, you do need to kind of have a personality to it. Otherwise, it won't work. You might piss 10% of the people off but the other 90% of the people will be really thrilled versus no one really giving a sh*t because everything you do is so boring and safe.
Stephanie Cox: And it's exactly what everyone else does.
Justin Keller: Exactly. Yeah.
Stephanie Cox: Which is another like complaint I have about B2B marketers in general. Is I think so many of us say like," Oh, well, this company is doing this. I'm just going to do what they do." Instead of saying," Is that the right tactic or strategy or channel for my audience? Is that where my brand should be?" Instead they're just like," Oh." Like Clubhouse is the latest thing. Clubhouse is blowing up, I feel like in the last couple of weeks. And everyone's like," Well, everyone should get on clubhouse." I'm like," But why? Like what is your reason?" And maybe it makes sense for your brand but also maybe it doesn't. So how do you think as being in charge of brand, how to figure out what works for Terminus and what doesn't? And what feels authentic and what is totally outside your lane?
Justin Keller: Yeah. You said earlier, this is my first brand job. I think I've been kind a closeted brand marketer my whole life because I didn't really know it was a thing. I thought, I got to be a super numbers oriented marketer to prove my value so I can keep my job, so I can get a better job one day. And I think that's a losing game these days, everyone's got access to numbers. And it's like, how do you really express the personality of the brand? And so one of the first things I did when I joined Terminus was I sat the whole marketing team down in a room and we went through a bunch of really fluffy exercises. And I was so uncomfortable at the time being a fluffy marketer but it shows up in a lot of different ways. And so what we did was we went through a lot of brand exercises. If Terminus was a car, what kind of car would it be? We talked a lot about... There's a great book called The Hero and the Outlaw and it's basically saying that there are, I think, 12 archetypes that exist for every business in the world. And invariably, you are one of them. And the more you embrace that, the stronger your brand voice comes through. We even personified who Terminus was like, if Terminus was a person, she'd be a mid 30's female who lives in Chicago, who has a very monochromatic wardrobe, who listens to a lot of like Alternative R& B and gets a lot of music advice from Pitchfork. And really maybe it's true or not, but if we say, this is who Terminus is, she is this lady, her name is Tess. Then it makes it easier for your entire team to start to think about how they're creating content or messages or what should our content calendar look like? Because it's from the point of view of a human being. And so little fluffy things like that, if you can enshrine them and make them part of the marketing culture, it begins to snowball to the point where other people in the company start noticing it and they start following your example and start to trying to act a little like more the brand's personality.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think that's such a great point. What's funny too, I noticed you were saying," Oh, it's fluffy marketing." Which I think is why so many of us gravitate towards the only way to do marketing is with numbers otherwise, we're called fluffy. How do you even get away from using that terminology, to get people to say like," No, I know this feels fluffy but it's so important to the core of who we are and the core of what the company does?" Like why I can't measure some of these things, it really is what's going to drive longevity for our business. It's what's going to drive true, true fans and advocates for us. How do you get the sales team? How do you get the CFO around these ideas? Or how have you tried to in the past?
Justin Keller: I think that's such a good question. I think it is kind a fake it till you make it thing. First, let's stop saying the word fluffy. Let's like take back marketing and be really confident about like, no, this is what marketing is. Marketing is not me being really good at optimizing a cost per click campaign. Marketing is about making people believe in what we're doing and that we've got a very strong point of view. And I think if you're listening to this, that is what marketing is. Like if you believed your car, that your point of view is correct, and that the messages you're putting out in the market are the winners. People, it comes down to them questioning you as a person and that's a different conversation. But I think just acting like," This is marketing. This is what I'm hired to do. If you want me to optimize a CPC campaign, I can do it." But that's not what marketing is. Marketing is telling a really strong story. And if people don't get behind it then... I think if you believe really down to your core, people will get behind it. And if they don't then, I think there's a bigger philosophical question that you need to ask yourself.
Stephanie Cox: That's also why I tell marketers you should never go work for a company that you don't believe in your core what they're doing. Because if you don't believe it, you just default to, I think the bad marketing habits, which are like," Oh, I'm just going to optimize CPC campaigns. We're just going to send more email. We're just going to do all these things to generate these numbers so I hit my goals." Versus truly creating a... I think great marketing is a movement. A company where they have a position and they create these fans and followers that love everything about them and start to like almost market for you. That to me is that's where we all should go.
Justin Keller: Exactly. And you know what? If you don't care about what you're doing, I think it's another reason that people make bad decisions and have really crappy marketing and that's unfortunate. Not everyone can have their dream job but you're absolutely right. You need to find a reason to really believe and fall in love with your company. Otherwise, it won't show up as authentic.
Stephanie Cox: We just spent the last 30 minutes really talking about sh*tty marketing. And I want to leave you with something to really think about today. What great marketing looks like. Great marketing, doesn't make everyone happy. Great marketing causes people to complain about it. Why? Because you stand for something. You stand for something that's different than everyone else. You have a clear voice in the market and you stick to it. And everyone that works for you is super passionate. And it really does echo throughout every level of the organization. That is great marketing. That's a great brand. And when you do that your marketing tactics that you implement are so much more fun and they're no longer boring. So I think all of us need to spend some time thinking about, what do we stand for as a company? What does our brand stand for? And is that something we're super passionate about? If not, what the hell are you doing there? And if you do love your job, how can you think about amping it up? And amping up what you stand for so it is disruptive, it is unique in the market. That's when marketing gets to be really great and really fun. You've been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast and don't forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing goodness, shouldn't be kept a secret.