In this episode of the Rethink Podcast, Act-On CMO Michelle Huff interviews Jill Rowley as they discuss what it means to be an advocate marketer.
Jill is a social selling evangelist and start-up advisor. She describes herself as “a sales professional trapped in a marketer’s body.” For much of her sales career, she says, she sold to marketers. And being a great sales professional, she became an expert at knowing her buyer. She got to know them at a human level, at a company level, and at that buyer’s industry level.
Over her career, Jill’s been a top sales rep at Eloqua and a sales consultant at Oracle. She and now runs her own consulting business advising GE, among other organizations. She also has a portfolio of tech companies in which she is an investor and advisor.
“I’m a busy woman,” she says.
Enjoy the conversation, and we hope you can get one or two takeaways that you can bring to your business.
The first problem that we normally see when companies are investing in advocate marketing is they’re so focused on how do we get something out of our advocates, not how do we be the best advocate of and for our customer.
This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.
What is Social Selling?
I think people today are still learning a lot about what does social really mean from their point of view, from the companies, from the marketers? But what do you think the difference is from a sales point of view? Because people think of social and are like, you know, I’ll tweet and take pictures of what food I’m eating for dinner. How does that help me in my job?
Social media is marketing, and that’s really about reach. Social selling is about networks, and it’s about relationships. When I work with sales and talk about social, I never talk about social media. Because really they think of social media as a marketing job. And that is quite true. I teach them about social networks. And networks layer on three different things to media. One, they layer on someone’s identity. So Michelle Huff, for example. Who is she? Where has she worked? Where did she go to university? Where does she live? What’s her experience? What skills does she have? One, identity.
Two, relationships. Who are our mutual connections? Who do we have in common? What groups are you a member of? And then three, interests. What does Michelle care about? What does she like? What makes her tick? And that’s what I get from social networks as a sales professional, because social selling is about using these networks to do research on your buyers, to be relevant to your buyers, to build relationships with your buyers.
How Do You Use Your Network?
If you put it into practice, where do you start? Where do you first go specifically? And then with that tidbit of information, how do you actually use it in a conversation so that you don’t seem like you’re just name dropping random facts?
I go to my best friend Google. And I search Michelle Huff. And it gives me all sorts of options to then click on. Usually, I go to LinkedIn. I don’t hear a name without wanting to go to LinkedIn to get context of who Michelle Huff is. I’m just looking for the dot to connect. Or multiple dots to connect. Because I’m trying to break through to you, and I want it to be about you, not about me. Not about I’m Jill Rowley, I have 52 quarters on quota, I this, I that. No. I want it to be about what we have in common, and the people that we know who are in the same universe, and the things that we care about.
So I go and I look at LinkedIn. I look at things like have people written recommendations for you. And I try to pull from that. Sometimes I’ll find even unique words, like this guy is a mathmologist. I look for things that then I can quote or cite. So I do all the LinkedIn scanning. If you’re on Twitter, oh my, I go look at you on Twitter, and when I follow you on Twitter, it then makes some recommendations of other people I might want to follow. And that’s how I found your husband. So all of a sudden we go from professional to a little bit personal. And then I look at who you’re following. And I start to understand who influences you. Who do you trust? Who do you learn from?
Then beyond that, I’ll look to see if you’ve been quoted in an article. I’ll look to see if you’ve been interviewed, and if you’ve spoken at events. I do a ton of research at that individual Michelle Huff level so that I can really understand who you are and what you care about.
How much time do you dedicate to that for each person?
It depends. It depends on my role as a sales professional and what I’m trying to accomplish, the outcome that I’m trying to get to. So if I’m an SDR and I’m trying to get a meeting, I will do the level of research that I need to secure that meeting. If I’m an enterprise field rep and I’m going in for my 9th meeting with GE, I’m going to do a whole lot more research. For example, I do a ton of work with GE, as I mentioned, and any time that Beth Comstock ‒ their chief of growth and innovation, and their former CMO ‒ any time Beth sends a tweet, I’m notified in real time. So it really depends on my role in sales, how deeply am I building a relationship and how “real time” do I need the information.
The Buyers’ Evolution
You mention real-time notifications. How much do you think technology has really transformed the modern buyer? Are buyers different now? Is technology changing things?
Oh, the buyer has changed more in the past 10 years than the past 100. And more in the past five years than the past 50. And marketing’s been evolving. I’ve been part of that. And that’s what’s been so fun about my career. I’ve been part of driving transformation in marketing, from being data-centric, being automation, nurturing further down in the funnel, being analytical, being revenue-minded, bringing technology into the marketing organization to be more sophisticated. And so everything that I’ve – I say I’ve seen this movie before – because the buyer has evolved, marketing’s had to evolve faster and sooner than sales, because they’re earlier in the buyer’s journey. So marketing’s had to adapt much faster.
Now sales is starting to get that the buyer has changed and they have to change. Sales is starting to get their “aha” or “oh shit” moment that the old way of doing things, the “more” strategy, hire more salespeople, to make more calls, and send more emails, is not getting the job done. And so they’re starting to now look at instead of the more, they’re saying how can we do things more efficiently and effectively. And that means process and technology to transform the sales organization. We’re at the beginning stage of the transformation now.
What do you see changing? Is it just using the technology to be more efficient? But there’s also relationship building and understanding the buyer. How much do you think this is going to evolve from that aspect? We’re trying to have a more authentic conversation, which is ultimately what we all want, right?
I think even more than an authentic conversation, we’re trying to deliver value. I used to say people buy from people they know, they like, they trust. It’s not enough. It isn’t enough anymore. No, like and trust doesn’t cut it anymore. There has to be a value exchange. And the sales rep has to lead with value, not lead to value. Oftentimes in the past, the salesperson would not give the value away up front. Because that’s what they were holding on to. But to be able to even initiate, to get the potential buyer’s attention, you have to lead with value. And value means it’s about them, not you. So the old way of leading with you, your company, your customers, your NASCAR logo slide, doesn’t work anymore.
I think the sales professional today has to be smarter, has to have more business acumen, has to have more customer acumen.
How do you think that is impacting the sales and marketing relationship? Because in some sense, you think about the old school way of marketing is the one that gets the lead, and it goes through this linear path, and then we flip it over to the sales rep, and then the sales rep is the one that has the conversation. In some sense, the way I hear you talk, deliver value first, it’s like you almost need someone to reach out first with something that’s applicable, with the value first. How does that then have the handoff between sales and marketing? How can that relationship be different and improved?
I almost don’t think of it as a handoff anymore. Although we want things to be neat and clean and in their nice little bucket, I just don’t think that that’s the way buyers buy. I’m going to make a bold statement – if you look at the role of marketing and the changing role of marketing in facilitating the buyer’s journey, and if you believe any of the stats, let’s just go with the 57 percent of the buying process is done before the buyer engages with sales, if marketing’s facilitating that first 57 percent, and marketing still does a lot to help facilitate the remaining 43 percent through content, through customer testimonials, through helping with objection handling and competitive intel, marketing really is end to end, from the potential customer being unaware that they have a problem, unaware that you exist, unaware that you can solve their problems, all the way to they’re a customer, they’re deliriously happy because you’ve generated massive value, you’ve helped them get a promotion, they won awards, they’ve been able to do amazing stuff leveraging your technology and your partnership, so marketing plays a role in the entire process. Why is it that sales is still getting the fat commission checks? Why?
There’re definitely things we’ve been talking a lot to our customers around leads, about the whole life cycle. We call it from brand, through demand generation, all the way through expand. And marketing does need to play a larger part in the journey and be best friends with their customer success officer, as well as their head of sales, as well as the head of people and the lead for the brand. I think there is a need to rethink in some sense a lot of the metrics to drive, as you say, compensation drives behavior, metrics drives behavior, how do we think things a little bit differently in light of this.
What Is Advocacy Marketing?
Your best sales people aren’t on your payroll. They’re your customers who are willing to advocate for your brand, your company, your solution, your people.
I had lunch with Laura Ramos, she’s the VP of research, analyst at Forrester. And she wrote a research report on advocate marketing. And we had a real blunt conversation. I’m a huge believer in advocate marketing. And I don’t think enough companies are investing in it at all. But the first problem that we normally see when companies are investing in advocate marketing is they’re so focused on how do we get something out of our advocates, not how do we be the best advocate of and for our customer.
And that’s how you earn advocacy. And I think that starts all the way from you can’t have crappy products, you can’t have false advertising in marketing, you can’t have reps selling bad deals to bad-fit customers. One of the things I think salespeople don’t do enough of is building relationships based on what I call a “give to give” mindset, a cultural value system, if you will, of “I’m going to give value without any expectation in return of getting anything.” And the excessive generosity of giving value is not really understood by sales professionals because we’re often a victim of the quarterly number.
And I think it’s a widespread problem at a rep level and at a leadership level, of being accountable for a number, and not thinking enough in investing in that longer-term relationship, and giving value regardless. I’m not saying a rep gives value to anybody and everybody. It really needs to be in that here’s my ideal customer, I understand it so well that I’m giving value to anybody who fits that ideal customer profile. It isn’t just everybody in the whole world.
It’s alignment. It’s marketing focusing on the same person that sales is focusing on, and the product team building for that person too. And that’s how you make sure your promise to the market, what you’re fulfilling, that relationship is kind of consistent from end to end.
And understanding all the way to the expand and the advocacy, who are we as a company delivering the most value to. Who are we delivering the most value to, and understanding why we’re delivering the most value to them, and how we’re delivering the most value to them, and then feeding that into your marketing strategy, and into your sales strategy. You might have a new vertical industry that starts to emerge based on understanding from the customer success team, that this is a new area that we don’t have many customers like this, but we’re delivering so much value for this customer, we should go get more of these. And that’s where technology can help, too, with predictive, and lookalikes, and stuff like that.
The Role of Marketing Automation
I guess since we talked technology and given my space, how do you see marketing automation playing in all of this?
I think it’s the foundation. I mean I absolutely think marketing automation has that customer data. And ensuring that your marketing automation system is well-coordinated with your CRM system, so that you do have that closed loop in understanding from brand to demand to expand to advocacy, that you can analyze those metrics. It still baffles me how few companies – how there are so many companies who haven’t even invested [in marketing automation].
There was a recent Forrester report that revealed 25 percent of non-high tech companies have even implemented marketing automation. And then I think Sirius just recently said of the people who purchased, 50 percent are rethinking their existing implementation. I think a lot of it does come back to what’s the plan for it, how are they wanting to use it.
Same thing with what I’m trying to do in sales, and trying to drive from analog to digital, trying to drive from steak dinners and golf to social networks and such, to drive from social selling as something that an individual does to something that an organization does, and coordinates it with marketing and sales, and training and enablement. It takes functional discipline and it takes individuals who have the skillset of bringing process, bringing data, bringing infrastructure, and bringing cross-functional collaboration into the organization. It all comes back down to people, not technology.
To wrap up, one final question. What are three things we should know? This could be B2B, sales, marketing related, anything that you want to discuss.
I think the most successful people, whether you’re in sales or marketing, whether you’re the president of the PTA, whether you’re raising money for art, the most successful people, they share their knowledge with others. They share their network with others. And they care. They truly care about helping other people. And it’s amazing when you focus on how you can help, versus how you can market, how you can sell the results that you’ll achieve. I would say in anything you do, figure out how you share your knowledge ‒ because knowledge is power ‒ how you share your network, how you be a resource, a connector, and truly caring. If you’re in sales and you don’t care about how you help customers and you’re doing it for the money, get out. The world doesn’t need you in that capacity.
Find something you care about. And I think that’s applicable above and beyond just the work. It’s great advice. And thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I really enjoyed our conversation.
It was so fun, Michelle.