B2B Values to Solve Any Marketing Challenge
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When do company values matter? Just ask today’s guest Peter Finter, the SVP and CMO at Couchbase: “It’s when you have to make a hard decision, that’s when values matter.” Speaking with conviction, Peter knows what it takes to prepare a business to take on any challenge. This conviction was made clear in Couchbase’s nearly seamless response to the COVID pandemic and how it took care of employees, customers, and prospects.
In this week’s interview, Peter shares the six unique values of the open-source cloud database company that they’ve brought to life in the recent months across the spectrum of their ecosystem, starting with “Be a good human always.” With a commitment to personalizing marketing through things like employee talent showcases on Zoom and a free community edition of their software, Couchbase’s priorities are evidence that the human, purpose-driven B2B brand will always outlast the two-dimensional, poster board one (and they’ll probably see higher demand generation, faster once things start picking up again).
Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Peter Finter
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers. One advantage of being a “seasoned,” yeah, I’m putting that in quotes, “seasoned” marketing professional—I’ve got four decades in this game—is that you can say with confidence: “This too shall pass.” That yes, at some point we’ll be brainstorming together at our offices, traveling for business, convening at conferences, cheering in stadiums, and celebrating at restaurants.
But that some point may not be in 2020 and there’s some question about how far this will go into 2021, so, until then, we marketers need to adapt to our current reality, and better yet, help lead our organizations through these unprecedented and perilous times. We need to face and conquer the challenges of motivating a remote and anxious workforce. We need to find substantive ways to help our current customers survive, if not thrive, in the economic downturn. And we need to figure out how to attract prospective customers without seeming like an insensitive pariah.
It’s a tall order, but I know you all are up for it. My guest today is Peter Finter, who has spent the last four years as CMO at Couchbase, a fast-growing cloud-based, data-based provider. Peter has a long track record of success at tech companies like Gigamon, Juniper Networks, and Nortel. Peter is also a native of the UK, which gives him a competitive advantage on this podcast because his voice just sounds smarter than mine. So, Peter, welcome to the show.
Peter Finter: Thank you very much, Drew. It’s a pleasure to be with you and all your listeners today.
Drew Neisser: For those who are listening, the funniest part of this for me is that Peter, who is a native of the UK, has a backdrop of a baseball stadium. And moi, who is not a native of the UK, has a backdrop of Star Trek Enterprise. Peter, just for the folks, where are you hunkered down right now? I know you’re not at a stadium.
Peter Finter: I’m dreaming of being at a stadium again, Drew. I am right now hunkered down in my home office, although I will confess that I have also been working from my RV parked in the parking lot during this period. We’re all making do.
Drew Neisser: Yes. In fact, one of my recent guests actually recorded a podcast from his RV because that was the only quiet place he could find, so I totally get that. How has the quarantine affected you personally in regard to your routine and your family? How’s that worked out?
Peter Finter: Well, I guess everyone has been trying to figure out our new lifestyle and if you didn’t plan ahead for it—let’s face it, who did—then you’ve had to make it up on the fly. I think that’s been a familiar experience for me and my colleagues. For me personally, my kids are adults, so they’re out of the home. It’s my wife and I in an apartment designed for me to be at work and for my wife to be at home, so that doesn’t work out so great, but I think the weirdest thing about it is that we’re in a space and time where we have no real sense of how it will end, we’re in this almost suspended disbelief moment.
I think, for all of us it’s, what is normality? What routines do we continue with, and how do we create new routines to replace the ones we lost? For those of us that want to stay fit and healthy, that’s been frustrating. For those of us that are sociable—and I bet many of the people on your podcast are extremely social folks—it’s been challenging to do every part of your life by Zoom. And here we are, Drew.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, I know. They’re calling it “Zoom burnout.” It’s like, “Oh, can we just talk on the phone, please?” It’s funny, I was having a conversation with a group of CMOs and I said, “Four out of five days, my routine is saving me.” It’s grounded. I do exercises in the morning with my dog, I take him out. I work pretty much a full day, then I take an hour-long walk to Central Park with my wife and our dog, and it’s really actually amazing because we never did that before. I’ve shifted work hours a little bit. But on the fifth day, somehow or other, the overall anxiety of the world that we live in, I have to admit, gets me. So, you know, the routine can only get you so far. Anyway, enough about me.
Peter Finter: We have each other, Drew.
Drew Neisser: That’s why we have each other. I have definitely found that a lot of conversations are very therapeutic, and these group Zooms can be that way. Anyway, I mentioned upfront the three key challenges for CMOS: engaging their employee base, engaging customers, and acquiring new ones—or at least getting some in the pipeline for B2B folks. Let’s start with employees and your team. How big is your team?
Peter Finter: For the company as a whole, we’re just about 450 employees as a company, which means you can almost get everyone on a Zoom, nearly get all those Brady Bunch panels up there and we’ve done a bunch of those. In fact, we’ve been very regularly in front of all our employees and giving lots of different ways to engage, which we can chat more about, but there are about 450 of us in the company and in the marketing team we’re about 25 at this point, just to give you some reference.
Drew Neisser: Are there some things that you’ve done with your team, specifically those 25, to adjust and adapt to the work-from-home world?
Peter Finter: We have actually. One of the things that we put in place is what we call our COVID stand-ups. We’re actually meeting frequently and as a member of the executive team, we’ve been doing daily stand-ups on COVID so that we’re on top of all the aspects relating to our business.
We’ve created three work streams that we as a team have been focused on. One being around employees, the second being around our customers and partners, and the third being around our operational infrastructure—what we’re doing to adapt and adjust to ensure that we’re supporting all of those other stakeholders appropriately during this COVID period and beyond. We’re already planning for that return, that great return which we’re all anticipating, which is a positive thing to focus on.
It’s also an indicator that we’ve got on top of the issues that were initially so challenging to us and we have now put ourselves in a place where we’re able to focus on taking care of those customers, winning new ones, as well as supporting our employees through some personally challenging situations. Of course, being a global enterprise with a significant footprint in Europe, we’ve had quite a lot of exposure to COVID related issues from not just employees directly, but their nearest and dearest, as well as offices that are shared spaces and so forth.
There are a variety of approaches but essentially, it’s been about creating more different ways to engage, from Friday Fun Days to Virtual Coffee Hours to Cocktail Hours. We’ve just created lots of different ways for our teams to reconvene on a regular basis and it’s helped.
Drew Neisser: Even on the show, we’ve talked a lot about happy hour ideas and cocktails and sharing shows and so forth. I’m curious about what fun days are.
Peter Finter: Oh, well, fun days for us can take many different forms but they are largely comprised of employees demonstrating hidden talents to one another. I am super impressed at the creativity that folks have—one of my very favorites is one of our French sales leaders who decided to show us how to cook. He created a three-minute cooking demonstration of how to create his favorite French dish. I think everyone else on the call was just in awe at the quality of the video production.
Drew Neisser: That’s super fun. And I bet everybody was salivating. That’s a very good one. Any other hidden talent? I mean, here we are, it’s Couchbase’s Got Talent.
Peter Finter: Oh my gosh, it’s been amazing what people will come out with. We’ve done everything from air guitar displays from families with young kids, who apparently the biggest challenge for them is to stop them actually singing along, all the way through to songwriters we didn’t know had played the ukulele. One of our UX designers demonstrated that he has a lot more talent than just UX design and it’s been fun to see how people have responded. It’s bringing out the best. It’s fantastic.
Drew Neisser: Well, I think one thing that has definitely happened is that the wall between work and home just doesn’t exist anymore. There are really some very good things about it. Everybody sees the kids in the background and they’re interrupting the calls, and I’ve had a couple of times where parents have made points because of the Star Trek background, but I think it also creates some management challenges. I’m wondering, particularly for folks who are now suddenly challenged with teaching at home, it’s really hard—what adjustments have you all been able to make to help those folks? Let’s face it, having kids at home is another job.
Peter Finter: You’re absolutely right and it’s really affected people differently depending on their life stage, so we see that manifesting. One of my team members is frequently on a call with her six-month-old baby on the hip. What’s so fantastic to see is how the baby is interested in what’s going on, then falls asleep during the boring parts the meeting, then wakes up again, and still the baby is there throughout the 30 minutes, which I find absolutely amazing. But I think the key to it is flexibility and actually giving people grace in the midst of all of this, recognizing that they still want to do a good job. They still want to get their job done and unfortunately, in company like ours, we seem to be busier than ever, but we’re recognizing that this creates significant challenges. People want to do the right thing, but it’s about how you help them do that and still feel part of the team.
Some of that is actually about encouraging people to take time off. It sounds a bit strange when everyone’s at home all the time, but we have an unlimited discretionary time off policy, which means that under normal circumstances you can take as much time off as you want. In fact, what’s interesting is that people rarely take off as much time as some people think they will.
Drew Neisser: That’s a problematic policy, I really want to talk about that. My understanding is the cliché that with unlimited time off, nobody takes any time off, and that’s worse in my mind than saying, “You know what, it’s two weeks or three weeks or four weeks, and it’s use it or lose it.”
Peter Finter: You’re raising a great point. One of the jobs that managers have to do is encourage folks to take the time off that they should take off. Something that I’ve been encouraging my team to do is to book time off and they’ll say, initially, “Well, what am I going to do? I’m already home. I can’t go anywhere. I can’t have a vacation.”
So, I say, “Well look, don’t you think a day without scheduled meetings would be a good experience for you and your family?” and invariably they try it. Then, they’re like, “Oh yeah. Can I have another day off?” Yes, they can, because one of our core principles at Couchbase is “Serve your family as you define it.” That’s one of our six core values in the company, so we are very oriented around employee’s situations, what they’re dealing with on the home front, knowing that when their home front is in good shape, they are in much better shape from a work point of view as well.
Of course, that requires a level of trust and, as you rightly say, when people are working remotely, you have to reestablish that confidence that the communication is still there, that people are actually focused and working. What we’re finding is that these Zoom meetings, these video conferences, are a really good way to help people stay connected and feel that they’re not as remote as they otherwise would feel.
Drew Neisser: It’s great. And I completely agree that it’s like a staycation. I think that that’s it, and we’re going to get to that point, because it looks like in New York we may be here until mid-May to the end of May in this same sort of scenario, so suggesting some staycations is good. It also was interesting to me, of course, that this was values-driven, so it made some of these decisions easier. I want to take a quick break and then we’ll come back and explore those values.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. You mentioned “serve your family.” Can you list the six values that you mentioned, or a couple of them?
Peter Finter: As a CMO, one of my responsibilities is to help the company think about how to express our brand, our promise of value, to our stakeholders, both external and internal. One of my most fun jobs, frankly, is new hire onboarding. I absolutely love it. It’s an opportunity to engage people in the mission, what we’re about, what we’re trying to accomplish as a company, and how we do it. I spent some time last year with our Chief People Officer, Chris Galy, and our CEO, Matt Cain, specifically to talk on our core values. Many companies give lip service to values or they become a poster on the wall, the cliché, and we recognized that. We all knew values can be a throwaway but for us as we wanted it to have—the word I was using with the team was—high utility. So, when do values matter? It’s when you have to make a hard decision, that’s when values matter.
We thought through what we believe are important for our sales and our team and what we would want to espouse, what type of company we want to be part of. Actually, the very first value might be a bit surprising. It’s “be a good human always.” Before we worry about what we’re trying to accomplish as a company, who our customers are, and what we do with them, we really wanted to say it doesn’t cost you anything to be a good human, and part of being a good human is to do with how we think about each other. One of the things that we wanted to call out was this idea of “Assume positive intent, act with positive intent.” We call that out because, as you know, Drew, one of the issues that we have inside organizations is this kind of jockeying, this kind of “I’m not sure what you’re really going after. What’s your hidden agenda? Where’s this really coming from?”
In this world of remote working and Zoom conferencing, this issue of intent is more important than ever because our communication is more limited. That’s the first one. I mentioned already “Serve your family as defined by you,” but we actually sandwich one in between those two, which is “Act with uncompromised integrity.” This idea of uncompromised integrity we feel needs to go alongside acting as a good human because we want to ensure that we are consistent in the way that we behave towards each other, and we recognize that there’s a tradeoff. As I mentioned already, serving your family might involve you taking time off work. Well, we do have an unlimited discretionary time off policy, but if we really mean unlimited, if people decided they were going to take advantage of that, that would actually cause a problem for their colleagues who will then have to carry more of the weight.
We wanted to balance this idea of uncompromised integrity with this idea of being human and serving your family. If we think about why people come to work, it’s all of those things above, I’m sure, but actually, many of our engineers are motivated by something else, which is solving hard problems. Our fourth value is “Solving hard problems driven by customer outcomes.” We are very focused on this idea that it actually matters what we do, we care about what we do, and we do things that are harder because they are more rewarding. That means we are willing to work harder to drive better outcomes, and the outcome itself is driven by the people that we’re here to serve, which is our customers.
The fifth value is to do with teaming: “Play to win together.” This idea says it does matter, we are in a competitive environment, we do want to be successful, but we’re not going to do that at the expense of one another. There’s another side to that which is “Never lose alone.” We don’t want people to be heroes and then fall on their face in front of a customer because they got too far ahead of the rest of the team. We actually want them to be part of it. So that’s just a flavor of the values.
Drew Neisser: In this segment, as we migrate from employees to customers, obviously this is a hard time for some. I think you mentioned on our pre-call that you have customers in the travel and hospitality area. I’m curious—right now, given your set of values and their challenges, how has that informed the actions that you’ve taken during this crisis?
Peter Finter: Really great question, Drew, and it is exactly to your point, especially at times like these when values are put to the test. Let me focus in on that one I mentioned, which was “Solving hard problems driven by customer outcomes.” Some of our customers are facing unprecedented challenges, as you rightly say, when you’re in the travel and hospitality industry right now your revenue has dropped precipitously. You’re in a situation where you’re potentially furloughing workers, and you’re looking very, very hard at every aspect of your business.
One of the things that we can do to help our customers is in terms of giving them the ability to leverage our product without having to increase their expenses in the short term. For example, as a software-based company, we’ve been able to give some of our customers the ability to expand the use of the product without paying for it right now. We want to help them through this transitional period the best way that we can.
In some cases, it’s about helping them accelerate projects that they were already working on because those projects were designed to reduce the total cost to their business. If they’re moving from a legacy database environment into the cloud or into an SQL database such as ours, what that helps them do is scale at lower costs and, in some cases, offload expensive mainframes and legacy database usage by using it more efficiently. Depending on the customer, we’ve tried to think about what it is that they most need, we talked to them about where we can help them the most, and we try to come up with a solution which will be most useful to them during this transitional period.
And we do believe it’s a transition. We do think there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Clearly that time will come. It’s not clear how long it will take until we get there, but we want to take the pressure off our customers. We can be there for them through it and be creative in the way that we stand with them and we believe that that will build stronger relationships. In the end, that’s what all good business is really predicated on. Those stronger relationships.
Drew Neisser: Well, what I thought was so interesting about that…by the way, I don’t have a kid at home, but I do have a dog at home, and he has decided to join the show at this very second.
Peter Finter: Welcome.
Drew Neisser: This is Louie, and this is his witching hour. It’s at this point where he’s about an hour from a big walk and he just has to be in my lap or in my wife’s lap. There’s just no fighting it. My blood pressure goes down when he’s around for the most part. Anyway, what I think is interesting, it’s almost like you have to look at this as if you have your own Cares Act, your own PPP, where the government is offering loans to small businesses. associations offering to small businesses. But in some ways, your clients that are really suffering really need a break and they’re going to try to get it anywhere they can.
One of the things that you also mentioned that I thought was interesting is that while you’re looking at their cost situation, there are also challenges that you could help them deal with during this slow period that they might not have thought of. I think you referenced an example of that in our pre-call too, so helping them think about projects like that would be good to get done. This is a rainy day for them.
Peter Finter: Yes, you’re raising a very interesting point, which is what we’ve been surprised about in some cases. Even the companies that are in the sectors where we’re experiencing significant challenges right now are still being very creative and innovative about how to use the resources that they already have, meaning their people, the time that they have, and some of the opportunities that they have during this period of time to accelerate the digital transformation that they’re undertaking as part of their business. One of the things that I think we chatted about last time was that, for some of them, actually getting access to the physical environment where they need to make those changes happen is normally difficult and they have to schedule months or years ahead. Well, suddenly those assets are no longer being used in the same way that they were previously, which means that they have this unique opportunity.
It’s a bit like a maintenance window suddenly opened up in the sky, and now they’ve got the ability to do all kinds of upgrades and expansions and implementations that they would not otherwise be doing. That was unexpected, but we pride ourselves on our flexibility and agility. That’s what we offer to our customers and we want to be agile and flexible for them as well. We’re trying to find ways to help them exploit their opportunities whatever they may be without increasing the burden on them in the short term. Obviously, they want to true that up in due course, but in the short term, it’s about finding ways to work together in this moment, believing that that is for the good of everyone the longer term.
Drew Neisser: One thing is for certain. If you didn’t have digital transformation in your plan of operation, this is the moment where every company is going, “What were we thinking? Why aren’t we in the cloud 100%?” That’s certainly got to favor you all in where you are, relative to, say, your larger, less digitally transformed competitors.
Peter Finter: I think that’s a fair statement, Drew. Obviously, we are very conscious of the fact that the transitions that our customers are going through are very large scale in nature. When we talk about legacy databases, we mean the technologies that have been in place for decades, which have been very robust and very reliable, and they’ve been the backbone of businesses for years. But they are limited by their ability to scale cost effectively and the agility that they need to be able to turn on a dime to address changing situations, new sources of data, unstructured data, leveraging those for the benefit of their customers through new applications like Web, Mobile IoT, and being able to do that quickly. That’s why they’ve been constrained by this legacy, but it’s very hard to leave something that you’ve been so reliant upon for so long.
Drew Neisser: Unless you have to.
Peter Finter: Unless you have to. And sometimes we do have to be compelled to make changes in our lives. It’s no different for organizations and corporations. I think what we’re seeing is that a compelling event just arrived, and it became so transparently obvious who could handle it and who couldn’t. Now what we’re seeing is people who are saying, “Oh my goodness, I have left it too long. I’ve got to do it right now. How can you help?”
This idea of transitioning in the seamless and non-disruptive way is, I think, going to give companies the edge. When you come along and say, “Let me throw out everything you had, here’s something brand new,” it’s extremely hard to adopt those technologies. But when you give them a path to say, “Bring with you the expertise that you’ve gained over the years and now apply that in this new environment,” we think that’s going to make it successful.
The parallel that comes to mind is actually Tesla. When Tesla built a new type of car, they didn’t change the steering wheel out for a joystick, because they knew we’re drivers, we need it to feel like a car. We need to get in it and it’s a car. It doesn’t matter that everything under the covers went away and was replaced by something completely different. We didn’t need to know that or worry about it, we just needed it to feel like a car. In some ways, it’s the model for how to help people adopt new technology. Make it familiar enough that they’ll bring it in, but give them the underpinnings, the new architecture, if you will, to allow them to do things they could never do before.
That’s the approach we’ve tried to take for our customers, and I think everyone who’s trying to leverage the cloud to give people more flexibility and agility is well positioned at this time to help their customers through this transition.
Drew Neisser: Amazing. Let’s take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. I’m wondering, as we wrap up this section on customers, is there anything that surprised you that you did for your customers or anything that happened in this period where you went, “Oh my god, I didn’t see that coming” or “That worked better than we expected”? Any lessons learned from the customer side of things?
Peter Finter: That’s a super good question, and I guess more will manifest over the next few weeks and months as we see that impact, but one of the things that I’ve noticed is just how much people want to be involved in solving the bigger problems, and the creativity and innovation that people are willing to put into it is tremendous. As it happens, we are in the data and analytic space and that is really helping in this area of dealing with new healthcare information, understanding the COVID pieces, and just seeing the ways that people are really creatively trying to solve things like supply chain problems over in Switzerland.
These things are popping up onto my radar every single day, and these are not intentional. We didn’t go to our customers and say, “Hey, have you thought about using our technology to do something?” No, they are leveraging it on their own and they’re sharing some of the results. That’s super exciting because you realize that the success of any organization is whether what you do is something that other people value.
As CMOs, our job is always trying to help point people to the value that we create. It’s extremely rewarding when you see people discovering that value for themselves and then telling you what value you create for them. That’s the virtuous cycle that I think we all aspire to as CMOs and it’s really been amazing to see some of that starting to happen during this time. I don’t know whether you would agree with this, Drew, but it sometimes seems to me that it takes the really challenging situations to reveal some of the amazing things that would otherwise have gone unnoticed or maybe never even have happened. I am a silver lining guy.
Drew Neisser: It’s true. I’ve been having a number of CMO conversations and we start with the silver linings and there are a lot. But there is one silver lining that people are struggling with, and that’s filling the pipeline. That’s not a silver lining, that’s a challenge.
The CMOs that I’m talking to in the B2B world are saying, “Hey, our pipeline was really full going through March, but as those folks convert or don’t, they are not sure where the next set of quality leads will come from, particularly the ones that were dependent on events or face-to-face follow up. Even some kind of ABM program that involved high impact direct mail that went to the office or other things like that. Suddenly, the toolkit has reduced and there’s only so many webinars that the prospects can take.
We’ve all gotten our COVID-19 letters, we’ve all gotten our business continuity stuff in place, and that work has been done. Now, one thing that’s helping is for those brands that have a freemium free product, because the risk of trial is so small. I’ve been talking a lot about that, and you have that advantage—you have a freemium product.
Peter Finter: Yes, we do. We’re an open-source database company, so our community edition is widely available at no cost and for perpetual use. The good news is people can get started and they can get started now. Even if it is in the education phase, that’s great. We want people to be learning about new technologies and we’ve got more opportunities to educate now than we had previously because people have more time now; they’re not commuting to and from work. With more time, it seems like they want to consume more educational content to smarten themselves up, and I think part of that is just because we all want to be on our game when the job market is in transition. We want to know that we have skills that are highly valued, that we want to be ready for the worst-case scenario and get ahead of it. I think that’s just a personal point of view; it’s not something our company is asking us to do, but I think it is interesting that it’s opening up that new door.
Now, that being said, I totally resonate with the prospecting challenge that you’ve articulated. I think it’s an absolute obvious statement that when you lose one of the most effective tools in the toolbox to generate new quality leads, it’s a real challenge. Let’s face it, anyone who shows up at a physical event is by definition a quality lead. It’s hard to get people to give their time to events, so it was a great filter to say, “Is it really worth pursuing?” If we met with them and we had the conversation, they’re the best prospect we can have. That suddenly went away overnight, so we are all finding ourselves trying to figure out how to reproduce that experience without the ability to have the physical event.
We’re experimenting. I’m sure everyone on this call is experimenting like crazy to figure out the package that works. Do you suddenly become a Netflix for your users where you have channels of content with seasons and episodes? Do you do convert your annual conference into something that’s much more akin to launching a new season, and then allow them to binge watch all the content you’ve pre-prepared? Do we try a different approach in terms of how we leverage our educational assets to generate more interest and more leads?
I think all of us are going through that transitional planning activity right now, but what’s at the heart of it for me is, do you really understand your target customer? Down to the persona level, what are the challenges that they are now facing? It may be different from what it was just a month or six weeks ago, but what are the things that they are now seeking to deal with, what problems are they now being expected to solve, and where is your relevance in that?
Ultimately, pushing a product onto somebody whose world has been turned upside down is not going to be effective. It’ll actually be offensive. It will be seen to be the totally out of touch organization that none of us wants to represent.
Drew Neisser: The tone-deaf brand, yes.
Peter Finter: Right, so how do you create that? What is the relevance? Relevance, in some respects—and I’ve talked to a lot of other CMOs now about the same thing—it’s not about trying to join that line from COVID-19 to your product. That’s a mistake. That’s not where people are going to respond. What people are going to respond to is evidence that you are understanding and empathetic to the situation that they’re in. What they are recognizing is that they’re still trying to solve the same business problems that they had in the past. Let’s call it innovation, let’s call it digital transformation, but now they’re having to do that in a very different way. So how can you reproduce the approach that they would have taken or give them a smarter, faster way to get to the answer in their new remote situation?
I think the more we can think like the very people that we want to engage, the better, so one of the actions we’ve taken is to flip our model a little bit. We’ve gone internal and we’ve asked our own developers to tell us how developers like them are experiencing this transition because developers are key influencers to the purchase of our product. We wanted to walk in the shoes of the developers, and we’ve given them free rein to an extent that my marketing team are extremely anxious about it. We’ve given them access to the underlying code for our website and said, “Go rewrite the website for a developer-centric experience based on where you are right now and what you are thinking about right now.”
It’s an unprecedented step for us, so we’re taking a bit of a risk here, but we are really trying to align with our target audiences better than ever before. I think that is the advice I would recommend to your listeners today: Now is the time to really dig deep on your understanding of the personas that are the key influencers and decision-makers for your products and how they are responding to the change in their situation.
Drew Neisser: Here’s a proposition that we’ve seen seem to work—let’s just say for a moment that no deals are going to close in the next two months because the CFO and CEO are thinking about furloughs, they’re thinking about long term impact, they’re trying to figure out what fourth-quarter revenue is. It’s very difficult. If in these two months no deals are going to be done, conversations can still happen, education can happen, learning can happen, helpfulness can happen.
So, rather than thinking of this the way it was three months ago—we got to get leads, it’s top of the funnel, we’re going to move them in—what we’re going to think about is: What can we do to help anybody that might have an influence in this world? It was interesting, in this one group of CMOs, one woman mentioned that they just started putting incredibly helpful content up on their website that they thought was amazingly relevant and, as she described it, there wasn’t even 1/100th of a pitch in it anywhere. You couldn’t find it. What was remarkable is that she said it was the most effective content they ever had. The less hard they sold, the more they actually sold.
This is the moment to think about what we used to call “marketing as service,” which asks, Can you do something that is of meaningful value? In your case, you talked about helping customers defray costs or work on development that they might not have. What can we do for our customers, and the same thing for prospects, that they’ll remember in this moment? There might not be deals, but there are relationships that can be built. Does that resonate with you?
Peter Finter: It does very strongly, and it is interesting. I think people are more sensitive to motivation with their vendors and suppliers probably now more than ever because everyone is sensitized to this issue that times are hard. People are trying to get an angle, trying to get a piece of business to secure themselves, so there’s a risk of every man for himself. In that context, prospects are even more sensitive than ever as to the approach that the vendors are taking.
I know that you, me, and everyone else on this call gets an incredible amount of inbound communication from people who think they have a product or service that’s going to help us, and I’ve noticed the difference between the people that are actually offering something of value and the people that are just being annoying and trying to wedge their way in the door regardless. I think we all have that filter, so I think the test for all of us is: Are we actually able to show up in a way that says here’s something that is going to give you some value without expecting anything in the short term in return?
People understand the transaction, the balance of value, but if you can defer the expectation of return on that investment in a way that they appreciate—and it could be as a deferral of payments, it could be a free use for a period, or it could be something that actually doesn’t cost you a lot but they might value highly. Education is a great example of that. We’ve made all our training for free during this period as a way of saying, “Look, we care about you and what you’re doing. We understand you aren’t going to be able to pay for this, but we want to make an investment together so that when you come out the other side of it, you’re in a better position to move forwards and we have hopefully helped use your time well.”
People are responding well to that, there is something about that. Now, as with anything, it’s all well and good, but if everyone does the same thing, we’re back to square one. But you asked a great question, which is, “What are you doing that is memorable?”
I think what makes things memorable for people is when you demonstrate that you’ve thought more deeply about their situation than the other guy. When you’ve done something that they didn’t expect you to do. They might have an expectation right now that says, “Of course you’re going to give me a break,” but if you can do something that they didn’t expect that’s certainly a way to stick in their memories. That may be different for everyone.
We used to talk about ABM as the future. Well, I’m very much a believer that it’s actually PBM. It’s personal-based marketing. Marketing is personal. Of course, it’s extremely hard for us to customize everything we do, that’s why we segment things, that’s why we think about personas rather than people. But if you think about it, what makes things matter to you is the level of personal connection that you have with another individual. That’s a good challenge for us as we think about how we should respond. What can we be doing that demonstrates that we’re actually treating people as people through this process?
Drew Neisser: I love it. I could circle those back and wrap the conversation up really well just looking at your organizational values. For “Be a good human always,” you could say, “Be a good brand always.” “Act with positive intent” as a brand. “Act with uncompromising integrity” as a brand. “Serve your family” as a brand. All of those things really could inform a very positive approach to marketing.
Peter, I’ve enjoyed this conversation a lot. One thing I have noticed is, and I’ll apologize to the listeners, they’re not working out as much and they’re not commuting so they prefer shorter shows. We’ve gone a little bit over time, but you had a lot of great things to say. I so appreciate you spending time with our listeners today.
Peter Finter: My pleasure. Thank you, Drew.
Drew Neisser: Thank you. And to all of you, I hope you are good and are in good health. Until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.