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By: Rhoan Morgan on July 9th, 2020

Why Relationship Building Is Key To Driving Marketing Success During A Crisis

There are two pillars of marketing: success and engagement. Success is typically measured by revenue growth and business goal attainment. Engagement is focused on building relationships with your audience, proving value, and establishing lasting connections.

This month’s guest, Joe Folan, VP Marketing at The Center for Leadership Studies, shares how marketers can pivot from being selling-centered to relationship-centered to drive success.

No time to listen? See the full transcript below:

Rhoan Morgan (00:01):

Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Revenue Rebels, the podcast that brings marketing and sales rebels together to share their stories and thinking on all topics related to accelerating revenue, generating activities in the B2B world. On this show, we talk about the strategic vision of marketing-led customer experience that unleashes the combined power of technology, content, and data. Are you ready to rebel? Let’s get into the show.

Rhoan Morgan (00:35):

Hey listeners. Thanks for joining us on today’s show. Really excited that we a have fantastic Revenue Rebel with us today, the Vice President of Marketing for The Center for Leadership Studies. He has over 19 years of marketing experience having helped companies in tons of industries, including technology, healthcare nonprofits, something near and dear to my heart, and B2B companies. So working with them through developing and evolving their brand and offering so that they can stay competitive and innovative in their respective spaces. So really excited to have Joe Folan joining us today. Welcome to the show.

Joe Folan (01:18):

Hey, thanks, Rhoan. Glad to be here.

Rhoan Morgan (01:20):

So, for our audience, as you know, today, we’re really going to discuss some topics that are, I think have become more and more common and what we’re hearing quite a lot about in today’s environment, right? How can marketers pivot from what may have seemed and in fact, they should have already been pivoting from this, but anyway, in any case from maybe pushing products and services to becoming much more customer-centric and focused on building relationships. So I’m really excited to be able to go over that topic with you today but to kick things off, I’d love to start with our Rebel segment. And that’s where I’m just going to ask you to share a rebel act from your marketing journey, from your professional experience. So why don’t we start off, if you can share with us a little bit about a rebel act that led to a shift into a more customer-centric approach to marketing?

Joe Folan (02:16):

Yeah, sure. That sounds great. You know, I always kind of throughout my career you know, what I like about marketing is that you do have the opportunity to kind of rock the boat and shake things up. Even from the very beginning early on in my career, we, this is going to sound old hat, but you know, this is probably around the 2005 era when I was running a job board, and, we just had job postings of people applied. And instead of just connecting those two audiences, what we decided to do, was actually to create a content hub. And so that was kind of very early on in the game, that whole content marketing approach, where you’re actually helping folks you’re entertaining folks while actually getting your name out there while generating revenue, and while furthering your business.

Joe Folan (03:16):

I do just marketing as a whole. I enjoy the ability to kind of again, think outside the box. In terms of a rebel act, right? I mean, I think, I think overall what some companies make the mistake of doing is looking at marketing is just lead gen. All right. And so when your CEO or whoever comes up to you and says, well, how many leads did you get this month? You know, that’s part of it, but it’s not everything. You know, marketing encompasses, branding awareness, engagement, enablement, and feedback, competitive research, market research. I mean, the list goes on and on. And so when you start to kind of widen that view a little bit, it’s clear that customer market-centric, positioning and relationships are really the only option. And so when you ask about the kind of rebel act, you know, given the kind of state of the state right now with this kind of global pandemic and everybody kind of realizing this overused phrase of the “new normal I sat down with my executive team and I said, look in our specific industry, no one is going to be looking for anything that we offer today, right?

Joe Folan (04:41):

Because Center for Leadership Studies, what we do is we, we do in-person training right around leadership topics. So all of a sudden you can’t meet in person. What do you do as a company? So my proposal was, look if we have to pivot for anything, what we need to do is help folks through this time and not look at revenue, not look at how many people are looking into these events or whatnot. It’s just, this is our time to shine. Just say, look, we understand what you’re going through. We want to help you navigate this and we’re your source for that ability to do that. And so, you know, initially, it’s like, “Oh my God, you cannot focus on revenue.” And there is some truth to that, right? I mean, you gotta keep the lights on, you gotta keep people employed.

Joe Folan (05:38):

But at the end of the day, if you say, okay, “let’s engage with all these folks, let’s meet them where they are, let’s help them through these challenges,” they’re going to look to you and you form that relationship as a resource so that when things do kind of get into a steady pace or whatever, that looks like, you’re there for them, you’ve made that impression. And so that I think is really one of the most timely and obviously recent, kind of shifts to that customer-centric approach that we did within marketing.

Rhoan Morgan (06:16):

As you’re talking through that, you know, I take notes as I’m listening to my guests because I take notes about maybe something I want to go back to, or whatever thought kind of comes to mind. And to me, I feel like the marketing leaders and other CMOs that I’m talking with are looking to do the same thing. I think it’s a really brave move and it’s not an easy conversation to have. Right. I mean, in most cases anyway. Was there any resistance to that sort of shift? And not that that, I mean, resistance, it doesn’t mean that they’re making a mistake or doing anything wrong, but there has to be, and there is an, in many companies, some trepidation around this, or some concern like “Whoa, wait a second. We can’t stop thinking about, you know, revenue and lead gen and all this other stuff that we’re supposed to be doing.” So was there or how did you manage through that, or have that conversation?

Joe Folan (07:14):

Yeah, it’s a great question. So of course, when you’re looking at the horizon of your business situation, you have to factor in a lot of different things in terms of: Can you generate revenue? What departments do we have? What is our current product development cycle looking like? Where are we at with delivering what could be needed right now? And where could revenue be attained? And, you know, I like this viewpoint of how do you look at both internal within companies in terms of your staff but it’s also applied externally in terms of your market and how you position. And there’s two kinds of pillars there, and one is success and one is engagement. And so, if your, and I’ll stick with just the internal example for the moment, then I’ll apply it externally. So if you look across your staff, you kind of have two competing, let’s just call them wells, right?

Joe Folan (08:16):

So if you’re looking at like an equalizer on your stereo, and you’ve got the two things bumping from green to orange, to red, and success is you’re accomplishing your financial goals, you’re accomplishing whatever those, those goals. You could be putting on a trade show and everybody’s working long hours and you’re accomplishing that goal, but it drops your engagement because people are burned out and people are just working their butts off. And then you have the times where you know it may be the end of the year, and you’re on a down cycle, just cyclical, the cyclicality of your business is low. So that’s when you have an office party. And so your revenue may drop at that point, but you’ve planned for it. But your engagement is super high because everybody’s like really glad and glad to work there and culture and positivity are very high. So you have to balance those two things.

Joe Folan (09:12):

And often if you balance correctly with the engagement you’re successful will follow, right? Because if people are happy to work there when the times get tough, they know they just got to knuckle down and do it. And so the same thing, the same concept can be applied externally, right? So as marketers general day to day, really all businesses, you have to focus on success, but you also want your market to be engaged. That’s the whole reason for content marketing and social media presence and our relationships with our clients. And if engagement leads to success, and you’re looking at it during an absolutely unprecedented crisis, and you know, that your success is going to drop, what better time then to turn up the dial on engagement. And so with that kind of frame, you kind of talk about that with the executive team and you lay all of that out, and then you figure out, okay, what can you be doing from a product development from an operations perspective?

Joe Folan (10:22):

That we can eventually get to success or right now, let marketing run engagements, and let’s get everybody bought in. Let’s provide some value to the market. Let’s position ourselves as a valuable resource that can help them without any kind of sales tactics or anything. It’s purely just, “Hey, we’re your friend. We’re here for you.” And then ultimately what you’ll do as things start to shift back, you can pivot those new relationships that you’ve created, and that trust that you gained and pivot that into success. So just as an example, with the quarantine and after we’ve done this, well, like I said, the company I’m at now, we were traditionally an in-person training company. And so nobody’s searching for in-person training right now. So our SEM and SEO has dropped off significantly. But as we put all these content pieces out, these useful things, and we started to help the market, we’ve actually grown our database by almost 20% in a time when nobody would be searching for our company at all.

Rhoan Morgan (11:23):

That’s awesome. Yeah. That’s really exciting. That’s very cool.

Joe Folan (11:27):

Yeah. And then, so what do you do with that? So when everything starts to shift back to normal, or we’ve created a product that can be served to our market during this time, all of a sudden we’ve grown our database and we have more people to talk to and better relationships to talk to folks with.

Rhoan Morgan (11:42):

Yep. That’s a great example. I was actually just about to ask you for an example. So I love that. And I think that that is, you know, sort of leading with a more altruistic perspective and frame. And anybody out there listening to this, it has to have that conversation with our executive team, I love that the way that that was framed up, and I think it would be hard to say, “Oh, no, we don’t want to do that.” You know, so it’s a good place to start. I really like that. Let’s talk about team for a minute. I actually have a question to ask and it’s regarding how we’re as marketers, we’re working with who I call “our partners in sales.” But if you could describe your relationship with your sales team in one word, what word would it be? And, and tell us why.

Joe Folan (12:33):

So I’m sure there’s a lot of different perspectives on marketing and sales relationships out there. I would definitely say that my current relationship and what I always strive to, that word would be “circular.” Where, you know, I see that sales and marketing are kind of two sides of the same coin.

Joe Folan (12:59):

We both have the same goals. We each enable success and we’re dependent on one another, right? So if you look at it from a lead gen, a branding, a sales enablement perspective, you know, marketing exists to empower, and we do that through competitive analysis or creating collateral through generating at least the seedlings of relationships and providing value on Moss. And once people engage, you know, that’s when the sales team steps in and continues that relationship building. But what marketers need to know is that information back from sales, right? So how are these conversations going? Where are you getting objections from? What can we create that helps you overcome these objections? And so from a problem-solving perspective, that information flow, that kind of circular communication is absolutely key to success of any commercial organization. You can also capitalize on that too. Right?

Joe Folan (14:06):

So as sales leaders and representatives and executives get further along, a better relationship with clients or prospects, they can identify, “Hey, look, we’ve got a raving fan over here. You should go talk to this person” and you can create more sales enablement tools, case studies. It’s success breeds success. And it ultimately helps with that communication between the teams to know where to focus and where to help out. Now, I’ve been in lots of scenarios where it’s toxic and there’s finger-pointing and it’s, “Hey, marketing is not bringing in leads” and “Sales isn’t following up on the stuff that we brought in.” What I’ve always done is, I mean, every place I’ve gone, the first thing you do is you set a weekly or monthly or whatever cadence makes sense for your company. Set a standup where the entire marketing team is together with the entire sales team and you just have open dialogue. Have a very loose straw, man, of an agenda. And just, “what are you hearing from the market? What do you need out there? What is marketing doing that’s working? What are these from this source? Looking like, how was the follow up going from trade shows?” I mean, any number of different things, but communication is absolutely key there.

Rhoan Morgan (15:31):

Oh, completely, completely agree. When I think about the ideal relationship to me, I think about a positive feedback loop, you know, where it’s just success breeds success, and you just have this, you’ve got feedback coming from both organizations to the point where it’s, you know, really unified. And so I love circular. I completely relate to that. And I would also say that what’s, for us anyway, it’s really cool because you know, in our space, we deal a lot with martech and CRM and the relationship between what marketing is doing, using technology and what sales is doing. We really focus on the sharing of the data and the insights that sort of help that relationship and even support something like the standup that you’re talking about where there’s info, there’s actual data that says, well, actually we, you know, we sent over a thousand people into the sales engagement stream, whatever it’s called at any particular company.

Rhoan Morgan (16:43):

And it looks like 40 people were actually reviewed by sales. So we should take a look at that process a little bit. Or looks like 999 of them were reviewed and 900 of them were accepted and that’s like, you know, utopia. Really being able to pull in the different systems, and also to help us support the relationship is critical. I’d love to know how have you seen sales get involved in this approach? You know, what’s, what’s one example of sort of a shining moment in your experience?

Joe Folan (17:22):

You know, marketing by nature, the market is savvy, right. I mean, you know, as a consumer, when you’re just being put into an automated email stream. I mean, even if it looks like it’s coming from somebody, you can tell, right. I mean, just as it has John Smith over at the company you were talking with. So I would say as marketers, because we’re mass market in a lot of cases and things are getting better, right. And we can get more savvy and we are getting more savvy, in terms of having individual conversations, but as a whole, nothing replaces the individual communication between folks. So without that, we can only go so far in my mind. And so our role is to tee up the initial conversation but to prepare the sales team for what that looks like once the ball is handed to them.

Joe Folan (18:24):

So just thinking right now through, through an example of how that’s worked well, it’s, we’re in the middle of this crisis. We send ou some resources, by the way, I’m a firm believer in the challenger sale model where consumers gain more value by learning something they didn’t know or disproving something they believe to be true. And they start to look at you as a company, or you as a salesperson or you as a marketer differently, as a result of that. When we’re distributing information, we tell the sales team every time before we send something out “hey look, we’ve got this out soaking in the market. You may be getting inquiries about this, that or the other. If one of your clients hasn’t seen this or you think it could be valuable, send this to them with these kind of talking points. And so you get the sales team educated and familiar with the concept, they’re prepared to have those conversations.

Joe Folan (19:28):

And then they have them both with their clients and with new prospects that are coming in, you arm them with enough information to say, “Let me show you what we’re talking about here. Let me bring you some value.” And then they in turn give that information back to us: “Well here was some of the pushback we got…” “Well, actually they agreed with this and this helps a lot.” I do believe that without a direct contact organization there to take the ball from marketing, you can’t fully execute on a value add engagement program that eventually drives success. Now, obviously in a retail environment or more of a B2C that changes for sure. I’m a big believer that there is no B2B, there is no B2C, it’s really business to people, right?

Joe Folan (20:28):

Because when you think about it, if you’re buying a new TV for your house, or you’re looking at an enterprise-wide software across a global organization, that buying cycle is going to be very, very similar, right? So you’ve identified an issue, you think of, let’s just call it eight to 10 or companies that you know of just within your purview. And so you start to ask friends, you do some internet research to see what’s out there, and you educate yourself a little bit. And that’s, what’s the stat, that’s 60% of the buying cycle before anybody ever even walks on or fills out a form on your site or engages with you. So the content that you’re putting out there, the relationships that you’ve built over time, they all build towards that portion of the sales cycle. So that once they do reach out, the sales team is empowered and enabled to be able to have an intelligent and worthwhile conversation with that prospect and then feed that information back, marketing.

Rhoan Morgan (21:33):

Perfect. I think that’s a fantastic sort example of the journey in a way, right? So where is, where are we sort of really being able to connect and work together? I know that you’re really passionate about customer experience, and it’s funny, I read an article, well, I’ll be honest, I actually read the title and like the first paragraph, and then I saved it. So I’ll go back to it. But the title of the article was like, “50% of customer experience is now going to be taken over by marketing” or something like this. And I thought to myself, wait, what? In my mind, we’ve been involved in customer experience from day one. But I also get that there’s IT involved and there’s oftentimes product development, product management and that sort of thing. So there are other organizations, but it’s interesting that we’re just starting to hear about this sort of like as a quote-unquote “shift,” and I’d love for you to from your experience, tell us what you think about marketing’s role in customer experience today and, and has it shifted from what you’ve seen?

Joe Folan (22:53):

Yeah. I think that’s a good point because I’m gonna take the same perspective, right? Marketing has always been involved in customer experience. I think the increase in use of technology and touchpoints certainly shines a spotlight on marketing’s influence on that customer experience, just through automated responses and whatnot. That’s kind of that other side to marketing we’ve been talking about, a huge portion of that, which is your brand strategy. And so if marketing creates your brand strategy, and you have organizational alignment on who you are as a company, who you want to be, and how you want to be perceived, you have to pull that through every single touchpoint that your company has with your clients and the market. And that’s everything from the message and the look and feel of your site to when they reach out, what is your thank you for contacting us.

Joe Folan (23:50):

Say, if you’ve got a broken link on your website, and it’s just not “404 this page doesn’t exist,” you can add your personality in there in a number of different ways. I remember when I was working for a job board way, way back, we took branding very seriously, and it permeated every single thing we did. From the hold music that we had when people called in to, when we would send out handwritten letters to folks that we had placed within organizations. And we had custom stamps made, right? So every little thing that we do, it all contributes to that brand. And that begins to create that overall customer experience.

Joe Folan (24:34):

If you are in an organization where you’re fortunate enough to be able to say, “hey, look, I’d love to write some of the intro scripts for our IT department when people call in for support” or being able to influence any of those touchpoints, I would certainly take that into account. But I absolutely believe that marketing has always been there. Like I said, with marketing automation functionality and social media, it allows us to be able to kind of flex a little more and that’s probably why we’re getting more of the spotlight.

Rhoan Morgan (25:10):

Yeah. You know, I was just talking with somebody on the team here and we were talking about one of our engagements with a client that is actually working around tagging and it’s not an insignificant job. Right. So it’s tagging within a product. But he was saying, well, how… You know, this is great. It’s an established client that we’ve worked with for a long time and worked in other business units and teams for some of the other tagging work, but he’s like, okay, “So how are we going to really work this into what we do for all of our clients?” And I said, I actually think, I see this as yet another sort of spoke to what we do centrally, which is marketing, but we’re reaching in, in terms of the customer experience into, exactly as you put it, Joe into other areas because of how technology is now enabling everything that we do. And so not only are we supporting this product team now with this company, but our goal is to be able to pull that data back over into marketing, not just to support usage information and retention, et cetera, et cetera, but also deeper engagement, what’s working for the customer, et cetera. And to me, it is driven a lot by the technology that we’re able to tap into that sort of creates that hub and spoke sort of environment.

Joe Folan (26:48):

Yeah, it’s great. And super fun to capitalize on because for folks that have been in the industry for a long time, it’s exciting to be able to kind of influence other areas of the organization that may not, or have been kind of giving you the Heisman for a while because you can make a case for an overall better relationship with your clients.

Rhoan Morgan (27:10):

Yeah. Well, and I think most marketers are, you know, just chomping at the bit to write IT support intro scripts. I mean, I say that a little facetiously, but I do think that we would love to write all of that stuff, you know because we care so deeply about the customer. And so those that are really passionate, they’re listening to this and they’re like, “yep” or “yeah and I’ve written them.” So I wonder something, we also find though that there are still some marketers or teams or companies where there is a bit of a disconnect and I’d love for you to share maybe what you think about that disconnect. Why are there still some marketers that are missing the mark when it comes to prioritizing customer experience and relationship building?

Joe Folan (28:00):

That’s interesting. In fact, I think one of your past guests had written a book, “Fuck content marketing.” Right. I thought it was very interesting, but there’s a lot of truth in that. I think where marketers can end up missing the mark, is kind of a variety of different ways. So we talked about pushing product down and focusing on relationship. Too often, companies and as a result, the marketing team is being pushed to focus on short term without that long term kind of setup and agreement on a strategy. So they’ll want to put out content, but then it’s like, “Hey, you got to throw in some product placements.” And once you push this a little harder, it’s that whole make the logo bigger nonsense that we’ve been dealing about since day one. Right? And so I think if you’re, if you don’t have enough integrity, if you come across as being not transparent if you’re not providing true value because you haven’t really pulsed the market on what they need, what their problems are, you’re going to come across as false and people aren’t going to engage with you.

Joe Folan (29:17):

You know, I started off by saying that too often marketing departments get holed into this whole lead gen capacity. And if you don’t have the ability to expand or you’re in a smaller or less sophisticated company, you’re not given the opportunity to do that. So it’s really all about making the case and staying true to the strategy of “look, let’s listen to our folks, let’s give them value, let’s not push our stuff.” And let’s just make those relationships and be honest and good things will come. Trying to continue that kind of, “Hey, look, this is super valuable, but buy our stuff at the same time,” it just doesn’t resonate with people. Again, shoppers are savvy. I mean the market’s savvy and nobody likes to be sold to, but everybody likes value. Yeah. I guess that’s the biggest thing from my perspective.

Rhoan Morgan (30:18):

Sure. Yeah. Well, and it sounds like it’s a culture thing at a company, you know, and what you’ve gone back to a few times kind of makes me think about culture and it is setting the tone, so what are the priorities for the business and businesses are going to be at different stages in terms of growth. Different priorities are going to be set based on those stages, based on the needs, based on the environment, the industry, everything. So I do think that marketers need to be really empathetic towards the business on a whole, but I also think that the executive level is setting that culture and that tone and what we have seen in terms of the work with our clients is that they’re much more successful if they’re sort of, if they are leading from the perspective of prioritizing customer experience, relationship building and not, I mean, numbers matter, don’t get me wrong, but if that’s the sole focus, it’s felt, you know, it’s definitely felt by the audience.

Joe Folan (31:27):

Yes, that’s absolutely correct.

Rhoan Morgan (31:28):

Yeah. And the competitors will outpace them. By doing it better. So do you guys have a customer experience team in place or is this something across the entire organization?

Joe Folan (31:41):

We don’t have a dedicated team, no. Right now we’re a pretty small company and so it’s fairly easy to align around a message and a position and really just the internal culture is of caring for our clients and super-high customer service and all of that. So it really does permeate literally every corner of our organization.

Rhoan Morgan (32:04):

Cool. Yeah. I think that’s great. That’s really great. All right. So, you know, this has been an awesome conversation. I have a million other questions, but we’re going to head into our next segment of the show, which is what we’re calling the “Lightning Round.” You can guess what that is! Before we end, we’re just going to do this lightning round segment where we’re going to ask you five questions and you’re not in a psychotherapist’s seat or anything like that, so not to worry, you won’t be judged. But if you can respond as quickly as you can with kind of the first answer that c