Podcast: How to Roll Out Pipeline Acceleration

Shahin Hoda 25  mins read Updated: January 9th, 2024

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Podcast: How to rollout pipeline acceleration

Episode topic: How to Roll Out Pipeline Acceleration

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Christopher Willis, Chief Marketing Officer at Acrolinx, about how B2B marketers should think about pipeline acceleration and how they can execute it successfully. 

During the conversation, Chris emphasises the importance of having consistent meetings with sales and revenue executives about their pipeline for future quarters. He also talks about the marketing team’s role in removing any risks concerning the deals in the sales pipeline. Chris advises marketers to centralise their reporting function and shares exciting stories from his more than 20 years of industry experience.

This episode’s guest

211202_P Christopher Willis - Headshot

Christopher Willis, Chief Marketing Officer & Chief Pipeline Officer at Acrolinx

Christopher Willis is Acrolinx’s Chief Marketing Officer, responsible for all aspects of the company’s marketing strategy. He is a specialist in Content Governance, AI, and pipeline management with over 20 years of experience growing companies in the technology sector. 

Before joining Acrolinx, Christopher held leadership roles in marketing, creative, technical, and business development at global organisations such as Perfecto, Pyxis Mobile, KPMG-CT, ModelGolf, and Cambridge Technology Group. 

He is a recognised thought leader in the areas of AI, DEI, and Content Governance. Some of his thoughts on the importance of content governance and brand alignment today are incredibly valuable and actionable for a range of audiences in tech, operations, leadership, and brand development strategy. Chris is also a CrossFit coach and passionate about physical health.

Connect with him on LinkedIn

Conversation segments on this episode:

  • [01:37] Defining pipeline acceleration
  • [04:11] Measuring the time frame and putting SLAs in place for each stage of the pipeline 
  • [05:30] What prompted increased focus on pipeline acceleration at Acrolinx?
  • [09:55] Operate today and look at tomorrow - Sales is focussed on the current quarter; marketing looks at future quarters
  • [10:26] Things to do to increase pipeline velocity
  • [10:37] Monthly sync with revenue and sales executives to discuss future quarters.
  • [13:16] How can marketing help address the risks that sales teams face concerning deals in their pipeline 
  • [19:01] Delegate all the reporting work to a central agency
  • [20:01] Ownership of the continuity of the deal from stage to stage will lie with the BDR/
  • [30:12] Story of Jon Spoelstra
  • [32:31] Advice for B2B marketers- don’t be one! Focus on people more than the business 

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast

On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Produced by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

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Episode Full Transcript:

[00:37] Shahin Hoda   Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth. And today, I'm talking to Christopher Willis, Chief Marketing and Pipeline Officer at Acrolinx about how B2B marketers, think about pipeline acceleration, and start strategically rolling it out in their organisation. On that note, let's dive in. Chris, thanks for joining us.

[00:58] Christopher Willis   Thanks for having me. I'm very excited to be here.

[01:00] Shahin Hoda   I'm super excited as well, especially around the topic of pipeline exploration. I think this is a conversation or this is a topic that a lot of people, a lot of marketers, a lot of B2B marketers talk about. It sounds cool to talk about pipeline acceleration. But I feel like in a lot of conversation, it doesn't have much context or definition around it. Like people are like, you know, I'm trying to yeah, accelerate the deal. And but then when you ask how they're trying to do that, it becomes very vague and fuzzy. So first of all, I want to ask you, how do you define pipeline acceleration?

[01:39] Christopher Willis   So we've, I mean, we like everybody, we have a sales cycle with multiple stages, right? So it starts with interest confirmed means that we've identified that there's interest and we move into the discovery stage. And then we do some business alignment to make sure that we're building out a business case, we validate that, we move into consensus, and then into negotiation. First things first, understanding that full state in the cycle, how long does it take to go from first stage to the end stage, but then ripping into that and looking at every individual stage inside there? 

[02:10] Christopher Willis What's the average stay in discovery, like, if your discovery stage is 180 days, the only thing you've discovered is that you're not going to sell any software, that was too long. They're not interested if it takes 180 days to find out what their problem is, they've solved their problem. So being able to identify where those problems are in the process. I know right now that if we can get through business alignment, so from interest confirmed discovery into business alignment, and get out of that our chances of closing business are much greater, like much greater, like 50% more than when it was in business alignment. 

[02:47] Christopher Willis And so how do we now drive through that process? How do we shrink that time? And it's a full front office approach, actually more than front office to understand do we have a product problem? Are we just unable to effectively demo the product? Or does the product not do what we want it to do? Do we have an information problem and enablement problem with a sales organisation? Do they not have the materials they need? Do they not have the business case that they need? Do we have just an individual problem? 

[03:15] Christopher Willis We're not telling the story correctly, we started wrong, or we're talking to the wrong people. And looking at all aspects of the way that we sell in this 360-degree view, finding ways to shrink each one of those stages, bring them back down to a reasonable amount of time, start setting some SLAs around those stages and then measuring and amplifying that measurement. 

[03:35] Christopher Willis So for instance, if you spent longer than 45 days in discovery in my organisation, I get an email. But it's not just me, it's me, it's the chief revenue officer, the CEO, and we're not going to do anything about it, other than in your ongoing pipeline meetings, but we're going to know it. And that helps us to coach, that helps us to, you know, small talk in between meetings, how can we help these deals move forward versus not really having any idea where things are in the process until something is either open or closed? 

[04:06] Shahin Hoda   Got it. Got it. Yes. So defining very clearly those stages of the pipeline, and then measuring the the timeframe and then putting SLAs and benchmarks in place to kind of reduce those.

[04:18] Christopher Willis   Exactly. So like, for instance, knowing that my interest confirm to later stage, let's say interesting from discovery. Where's my conversion rate for that? What's the average time that takes each stage through? I need to understand that. There's a couple of reasons why and we'll talk about several of them probably in more detail, but it's also about identifying the value of your overall pipeline. Again, I think we'll get to that in a bit. But understand those conversion rates and understand the time spent so that you can impact a.) the conversion rate and b.) the time you spend on stage. 

[04:52] Christopher Willis If we don't know that if the only answer is our sales cycle is nine months.Well okay, I want to shrink nine months. But I've no idea where or why. If you have a sales process in place, if you have entrance and exit criteria for each one of those stages and expectation of how long you should spend there, if you've enabled the sales rep to move through the process, it makes it a lot easier to talk about accelerating individual stages than saying I want nine months to get eight months because i want it. That doesn't necessarily work that way.

[05:27] Shahin Hoda   Why did this become a focus point at Acrolinx? Like what was the issue? Why did you start focusing on it?

[05:37] Christopher Willis   We were seeing a large amount of pipeline created across the front office coming in from marketing, coming in from our customer success team, coming in from the sales organisation. And we were starting to see, effectively a bottleneck at that early stage. There was so much coming in that it was difficult for the sales organisation to push the right opportunities through. So this, the genesis of this was really about identifying things like the amount of volume that we can pass through helping to harden the leads that are leaving marketing, going through the BDRs, the product from the BDR to the seller, so that what we're passing on is the best quality the most likely to close. 

[06:23] Christopher Willis  As we did that we saw some of those conversion rates start to go up. So a lead is turning into interest-confirmed at a higher rate, interest-confirmed is moving to discovery at a higher rate, because the products are getting better. That also has a downstream effect on the budget. Because as we improve those conversion rates, we don't need to fill the engine with as much. So just throwing wood on the fire and watching it burn in a lot of cases, it would be a lot more interesting to put the right fuel on the fire had the fire burn longer, brighter, without having to put as much on. And so that was the initial impetus of this was let's find the right stuff, move that into the process. and see if we can get it back out the other end in a reasonable amount of time. 

[07:10] Christopher Willis   Where that went to was, okay, so we've ironed out a lot of the process. Our CRO has spent a huge amount of time hardening his sales process throughout the stages. And we've worked as a group to identify the materials and the enablement that's necessary to go through each one of those stages and try and institutionalise that across all sellers so that we're comparing apples to apples. But where we are now is really just in the day to day of understanding the ongoing health of the business. So the question that I get a lot is, why is there a CMO, me, a CRO Shane Cumming, and then this pipeline officer role? 

[07:52] Christopher Willis  And it's, in my words, I think everybody in our company might see it, just a slightly different shade of gray. But for me, Shane, we're here in Q4. And the most important thing that we're going to do as a company is close at really positive Q4, it's going to be the best sales quarter we've ever had. And as the CRO, Shane is heads down, making sure Q4 goes as we expect it. The problem though, is it is a sales team, and my job is to look for Q plus one Q plus two. So in this case, for Q1 2022, Q2 2022. What's going to happen? Are we going to be in a position to be healthier? Are we going to have our best quarter ever? Heads down, go close all that business and then move into Q1 and have nothing. 

[08:41] Christopher Willis  Because that's not the business that we're building? We're building a high growth accelerating organisation, are we in a position to be that? So while he's heads down, closing his quarter, getting the salespeople to get all the businesses it's going to happen, I'm working with them all the way back in creation. Are they getting the right amount of meetings from the BDR's? Is the partner channel operational? Are they generating their own meetings? Are they doing their prospecting? Are they progressing their deals? So looking at, you know, for instance, where we sit today, we have a large number of opportunities for Q1 with Q1 close dates in business alignment right now.

[09:20] Christopher Willis  What I know from doing this for a little bit is that it is unlikely that if the end of the year comes we're sitting here on New Year's Eve, and those deals are still in business alignment, they're not going to close in Q1. So are we looking at them? Are we paying attention to these opportunities and moving them forward into closing positions so that as we get into the beginning of Q1, we're in negotiation, we're going to close it in that quarter. 

[09:44] Shahin Hoda   You hit the revenue 

[09:45] Christopher Willis   If you don't you're not going to go anywhere. And that's the challenge that we deal with. So all of these things are what led us to where we are today in a operate today but look at tomorrow's environment.

[09:57] Shahin Hoda   That makes sense. That makes sense and yeah, I love that approach that you have that, hey, sales is focused on this quarter, I need to focus on Q plus one Q plus two empower even q plus three, depending on the sales cycle. So that's a very, very interesting and succinct way of looking at it. What are some of the tactics and activities that you've introduced to kind of increase that pipeline velocity?

[10:24] Christopher Willis   So I mean, one of the things, there's some things that are obvious or things that aren't as obvious. Let's start with the obvious. So I have a monthly meeting with each and every sales rep. And our CRO is on call as well, if it's in Europe, our head of European sales is on the call. And we work through the things that I care about. I don't care at all about your current quarters. So the fact that you're killing it right now is largely irrelevant to me. That's your one-on-one with your direct manager. Right now, I want to talk about starting back at creation. 

[10:57] Christopher Willis  How many meetings have you been involved in this quarter? How many of those meetings have turned into something? Now let's move right into your pipeline? What have you created? What new dollars have you put into your pipeline for future quarters? What did you close last and can you give me a reason why this should be moving back and be reactivated by your BDRs or is it really dead? Then we move into looking across all the stages of their pipeline, identifying risk. So it's fantastic Bill, that you have a million dollars in the pipeline for Q1 against your goal of having about 800,000 in pipeline. 

[11:36] Christopher Willis  But that million has a very low value, because most of it is in the discovery stage, which represents roughly 20% of the total value of your unweighted pipeline. So your weighted pipeline right now on that million is 200,000, it's unlikely you're going to hit your quota for two reasons. One, because your weighted pipeline is under your quota. And two, because as we just discussed, we're sitting on December 1, and all of your next quarter opportunities are in the earliest stage of our pipeline. Which means that eyeballs, I discount those, they don't exist, you have zero pipeline. The fact that you have waited in a pipeline is only a function of math is not a function of where you're actually going to be, it is very unlikely to close any business. 

[12:17] Christopher Willis Now, let's talk about what we have to do. And that's where now the marketing aspect of me comes in. Who, how do we help you? And so the unintuitive aspect of what I'm doing is things like my product marketing team, has MBO associated with acceleration and weighted pipeline. Why do they have anything to do with pipeline acceleration? Well, because if the seller is having difficulty selling, we can't get out of discovery for whatever reason, then this becomes a bigger issue than one person. I'm betting that we can do something to solve that. And I want my product marketing organisation to feel that I want them to understand that when we're struggling in discovery or business alignment, you need to help, you need to give something. 

[13:04] Christopher Willis  What is it? Are we missing a demo or missing a video? Is there a piece of content that we're not offering? Is it business case week? Do we need a better ROI tool? What can be driving this process? So we're constantly looking and talking with individual sales reps about the things that they need to move these deals forward. There's this constant focus on creating that acceleration inside each stage, to get them further and further towards the position of being ready to close the deal.

[13:33] Shahin Hoda  Has there been low hanging assets that you created that had a big impact? I mean, it could could have been asset, it could be like content, could have been, you know, whatever but like, does anything come to mind that you and the team created that had a quite substantial impact on the exploration of some stage of the pipeline?

[13:54] Christopher Willis  Yes, so I mean, fun story. But one of our value drivers, one of the reasons that people buy our product is the efficiency that comes from it. We can help you reduce the overall cost of content in your organisation. And that makes a lot of sense when you say it out loud. Like we're helping you eliminate huge parts of your editorial process. So it goes to show that you would spend less money unless you work at a fortune 2000 company. And we tell you that you can save millions and millions of dollars. And you say well, that's awesome, and I'd love to do that. But show me, show me my budget, where I have a line item for content creation. 

[14:36] Christopher Willis  And unless they outsource everything to an agency, they don't because content is a byproduct of people coming to work. You are a content creator, I am a content creator. We all create content. And you're not in your budget as content. You're in your budget as headcount. So we had to and this was an initiative that started with our CRO. He's really thought through this really well and then became a full organisational approach to the value of content in the organisation and content is an asset. And helping businesses to understand that regardless of how you paid for it, you have this asset. Many of our customers have, for instance, a support site with a million pages, and what's the cost of an individual page? 

[15:27] Christopher Willis  On that website, we can argue all day about what we think it is, and what you think it is, as the customer, it doesn't matter. Name, your dollar amount, because the result of this is you have a very expensive asset, which is super valuable to you. And then the question becomes, how often do you maintain this? How do you maximise the value of this and that type of initiative helped to drive that middle of the funnel and get us from business alignment, through to validation and consensus, because a couple things happened, one, when you show somebody a potential billion dollar asset and their business that they don't even think about, if you're talking to the wrong person, that person's gonna get out of your way. 

[16:08] Christopher Willis  Like, I am not a billion dollar value person, I need you to talk to my manager's manager and that accelerates us to somebody that can actually buy software. And then the next thing is, we are showing them something that again, argue with me tell me that you don't think it's 500 bucks a page, tell me that you think it's 200? Is it less important, if it's a half a billion dollar asset versus a billion dollar asset, it's still a huge asset for your business no matter who you are. And now let's talk about maximizing the value of that, let's talk about the reduction of costs associated building it being able to source other projects using internal funds that you didn't even know you had. Like, all of that made it really easy for us to drive through that particular problem in our sales cycle. And that was an exciting one.

[16:53] Shahin Hoda   Got it? Got it. That's an awesome story. Chris, what are some of the mistakes you've made along the way of implementing the system?

[17:01] Christopher Willis   I think that, I mean, first and foremost, I'm not a math guy, I have a liberal arts background. And my reporting requirements are huge. I am very lucky that there are people in my company that are good at Power BI and understand data tables. But the first thing is that this is super data intensive. I'm looking at dashboards that look at every piece of the data that we collect inside Salesforce. So from a high level model standpoint, I care about from a velocity equation standpoint, number of opportunities, times the average deal size times win rate, over average sales cycle length, that how we measure velocity. 

[17:45] Christopher Willis  The result of it comes out in a dollar amount per day, I don't really care about the dollar amount as much as I care about the direction that we're going. It should be getting bigger. And so the first thing was just being able to collect this data singularly aligned across the organisation because to the question at hand, what mistake did we make, I'm off trying to build stuff like this by myself, or on an island with my data person that I work with offshore. And my data looks different than my CEO's data, who is also doing things like this. And it looks different than our CRO's data. And so it makes it very difficult to go to a meeting. 

[18:28] Christopher Willis  And that continues, I mean, to be the case, even as we get better, we still have because we're using Power BI to run some reports and Salesforce to run some reports, we still end up with  different timing. And when we got ready for a board meeting last week, we literally had to say at this hour, right now we stop, nobody updates a number yet, don't touch anything. These are the numbers that we use, we're all aligned, don't move and if you haven't in 15 minutes, is the whole world of difference. So the first thing that I would suggest going into this is delegating all of your reporting work to a central organisation and getting out of the way. The CMO, the CRO and the CEO should not have their own reporting. 

[19:10] Shahin Hoda   Oh really interesting. Got it.

[19:13] Christopher Willis   You can't, right? I mean, one set of data, one view, one way to build a report is very important. And when everybody has their own way of running the same report, you're going to get different results. And nothing kills the importance of metrics faster than misaligned ones. So that was an early thing that we learned. We really do now rely on our central sales operations team to be able to manage a lot of these numbers and validate the things that we're doing.

[19:42] Shahin Hoda   Got it. Got it. Anything else that comes to mind, any other mistakes, I mean, you talked about measurements as well, but yeah, anything else?

[19:52] Christopher Willis   I mean, I think I don't know if it's a mistake yet. But I think another less than intuitive change that we made, was pushing groups like the BDR organisation further into the sales cycle than you would find in other businesses. Let me explain why. And I mean, people listening can tell me why this is a bad idea or you could believe that it might be a good idea and you could try it. But what I feel as a buyer, so as a marketing person, who is an executive who is an executive sponsor of projects, and buy software, somebody calls me, and they want to sell me something. 

[20:32] Christopher Willis  First thing is good luck getting me but if you do, or better, if I call you, fill out a form and say that I want to buy your product. I'm going to give somebody a name, Mary calls me and Mary's the first person I talked to, and maybe Mary calls me a bunch of times, and I blow her off. And so I've heard her name a lot. And finally we talk and she schedules a meeting. And I think I'm meeting with Mary. Mary's in the meeting but so is John and Bill and Martha and I don't really know who all these people are, I just know the person that I built a relationship with. At the end of that first meeting, I get an incoming email from Bill. I don't know who he is, I don't remember what his role was in the meeting, there is no more Mary. And I don't really understand what just happened. 

[21:19] Christopher Willis  And I attribute a lot of the early stage slowness to that to the fact that the BDR built a relationship with the prospect. And then they bait and switch. Like they're out, I don't know who's a BDR, who's a seller, and I don't really care. I just, I'm interested in your product and I know you and we're having a conversation, and now you just drop somebody else in it. And that's going to slow the process down. So what I have done is pushed the BDRs further into that equation, both from an operational standpoint, and from a compensation standpoint. So if there is an issue at the handoff, so the BDR gets us to the interest confirm stage, and the rep picks it up and runs it through discovery and on through. 

[22:05] Christopher Willis If the sales rep can't get that person back after that first meeting it's incumbent on the BDR to do that. That's how they're gonna get the rest of their comp. And same thing like if it moves forward, I don't care how far but let's say that it gets into business alignment, and then the person ghosts us. Send it back to your BDR because they're not going to get the rest of their compensation in till this progresses. And I don't know yet. I mean, it doesn't, it's not working in every situation with every individual that does it. And every salesperson manages this differently. So it's hard to institutionalise, it's hard to make a hard and solid rule. 

[22:47] Christopher Willis But it's interesting to think about that ownership of the continuity of the early stage. Not the selling, the BDR is not going to do the selling. The BDR is not going to run the discovery, they're not going to build out the business case, but they're going to create that continuity that makes it partially sales assistant, partially relationship owner, that just allows you to move more smoothly from stage to stage. And I don't know if it's a mistake, it seems to be interesting at best. That's the only word that I can think of that really encapsulates where we are with it. But it's something that I wanted to try. And we'll have results soon to talk about, hopefully shortly.

[23:27] Shahin Hoda   That brings up an interesting point, do BDRs report to sales at Acrolinx? Or do they report marketing?

[23:35] Christopher Willis   They report to marketing. For the first several years, they were reporting directly on demand gen. And that made sense because the BDR is essentially the lens through which we measure all of our spending. So we can develop a bazillion leads, but if none of them turn into opportunities, they aren't any good. So it made sense that demand gen own this part of the business because that's their litmus test. This year, brought in a real BDR manager. And technically, org chart wise, they are part of the pipeline organisation, which is a separate part of the business and sales or marketing, their manager, the BDR manager reports directly to me and the me that's the pipeline person.

[24:20] Shahin Hoda   Got it. Got it, got it. Okay, how does, probably the last question I want to ask is, from our conversation, you have a very interesting and connected relationship with sales. Can you can you paint us a little bit of a picture of like, how does that relationship with sales look like? I mean, we talked about how BDR is reporting on you. You talked about you having a regular meeting with every salesperson, I mean, you know, I know it's amazing practice, but it doesn't happen very often. So how does that work at the organisation?

[24:56] Christopher Willis   So one of the things that  I say every time talk about this is this relationship is not for everybody like this role would not work in any other company I've ever worked in, we are very lucky at Acrolinx that we have the relationship between sales and marketing that we have, and it starts at the top, Shane and I are aligned on what we're here to do as a front office. And neither one of us wants the other's job, there aren't rooms full of ego. We both have a lot of confidence in what we bring to the table. And that's super important. Because if you start to get, if you start to lose confidence, then you could very easily think that one or the other of us is coming for the other one. And that's not, that would not allow this to work. 

[24:45] Christopher Willis  He's amazing at his part. He's been transformative to the business. When we brought Shane into the business, this is, been the thing that's really driven a lot of our acceleration from a growth standpoint. So he's great at what he does. And by allowing him to really focus on the things that are most important to the success of the business at this very moment, it's helped to drive our sales numbers in ways that we didn't expect we're ahead of schedule from a growth standpoint. I on the other hand, I mean, it's weird having marketing, talk to sales the way that it does. So I have to understand what my goal is. 

[26:31] Christopher Willis  And my goal, you know, as I said, I don't want to talk to you about your Q4, like, that's not my job, none of my business. What my business is, is that my marketing team is creating things for you that are going to get you Q1, Q2 or Q3 opportunities. And I want to make sure that we're paying attention to those, and that we're moving those through the cycle in the right way so that we're healthy. And that combination of the two things and understanding of what we're both here to do, and then the individual personalities at play. 

[27:02] Christopher Willis  I have the personality for what I do, he has the personality for what he does, it just happens to match up allows us to do this in a way that, like I said, wouldn't have worked in my past experiences. It's really, it's a special environment. And I think that when it was originally set up, it was set up to increase the friction because Shane and I got along so well. And it didn't work. We still don't have that friction, because we are both. I mean, it's incented to drive the business. Like we're here to grow a big, valuable business, and it starts and ends with the ability to sell. 

[27:37] Shahin Hoda   Got it. Got it. I love it. Chris, I want to ask you a couple of rapid fire questions. But before I can get there. Is there anything regarding pipeline acceleration, velocity, and everything that we've talked about that you think it's valuable to cover that I didn't ask?

[27:55] Christopher Willis  I mean, I think we're still, you know, we're learning more and more every day about what we need to know to be more effective. It's great that we've solved some problems. It's great that we've seen acceleration and, and we have. So over the last five quarters, we've seen sales velocity for expansion opportunities more than double. We've seen sales velocity for new logo opportunities triple. So it's working. It's having an impact. But how do we continue to improve because this trajectory that we're on, it's going to head further up. And so this isn't a just sit here and watch this thing get slightly better, this is find the hockey stick and and write it up. And so continually evolving the data that we're looking at and thinking about how our production impacts marketing production specifically impacts pipeline over time. 

[28:53] Christopher Willis  So not just, I'm going to create an opportunity over here, and it's going to be closable in three quarters. But like this lead is going to result in an interest confirmed when. And then if we follow the SLA when is the discovery opportunity can be created and how many of them based on the amount that we put into the pipeline, understanding the timeframes associated with each one of those, the conversion rates associated with each one of those. so that we can individually impact those conversion rates. And once we can do that, then we have a really tuneable machine. Again, it's just twisting dials as we scale to get tighter and tighter and tighter until something goes in, something comes out on a consistent basis. That's really what we're trying to drive towards.

[29:34] Shahin Hoda   I love that structure. I mean, that's it. That's the structure, I think it's hard to find in a lot of organisations and it's just hard to dig up that information as well. But that sounds  quite exciting. Quite exciting. Okay. Let's get to those rapid fire questions. Let me ask the first one. The first one is what is one resource, it could be a book, a blog, podcast, whatever it is, that's fundamentally changed the way you either work or live, but has had a big impact on you?

[30:05] Christopher Willis   So many years ago, I could never get the name of the guy right. There is a sports owner, Jon Spoelstra, I believe is how you pronounce his name and marketer and I believe he owned the Portland Trail Blazers, you can fact check me on this. I'm probably wrong. It was literally 27 years ago that he wrote a book. And the story in the book was that the team that he owned, let's say that it was the Portland Trail Blazers was crappy. And he was losing all of his season ticket holders. And he believed that people liked stuff in FedEx boxes, and they would open it. So he took a rubber chicken and put a basketball jersey on the rubber chicken on the front and said don't f0wl out, f-o-w-l, instead of f-o-u-l, like a chicken and then had a note on his ankle talking about season ticket renewal.

[30:57] Christopher Willis  And he shoved in the FedEx box, sent it out to all his non-subscribed or renewed season ticket holders and got some exorbitant return on that huge conversion rate. And at the time that the book came out, we were launching a company around the first mobile mobile packaged application. We had an application that was perfectly suited to mutual fund wholesalers at large institutional investment firms. Fantastic. So I believed him. And I bought a box, custom made boxes and a little pillow and a mobile device. It was a palm pilot at the time, and built a demo using fake PowerPoint on this thing, and hand delivered it to all of these heads of sales at mutual fund companies. That $1,000 investment resulted in 4.3 million in lifetime value, American Express Platinum pioneer funds. That book, I was not even a marketing person when I read that book 20 something years ago, that's the book that sent me towards marketing. So that.

[32:04] Shahin Hoda   I love that. And you know, direct mail is, is a big thing. I love it. We've run it in a lot of our campaigns as well. And it has amazing results, so I am a big fan of it as well. Question number 2

[32:19] Christopher Willis   20 years, though I've never had as effective-

[32:24] Shahin Hoda   Fair enough, fair enough. Question number two, if you could give one advice to B2B marketers, what would it be?

[32:30] Christopher Willis   Don't be a B2B marketer, don't act like a B2B marketer. The people that buy our products are people. And I think that's the thing that we tend to forget, is that we're selling to the enterprise. And we need to have enterprise messaging that resonates with enterprise buyers in our enterprise personas. It's okay to know the people. And I think we've been super successful over time going above and beyond to know the individuals that we're trying to market to, because I don't want to talk to everybody in your marketing department, if I'm trying to sell you marketing software. 

[33:04] Christopher Willis  I know who the people are that are likely to buy it. So if I can know that, like, there's plenty of tools out there that will tell me who that exact person is. But that's not enough, really, because that person is a person. So it's nice that you can figure out the demographic of the vice president of demand gen inside an organisation. But that doesn't really tell you what the person, "Marianna," who is that person that sits in that desk, cares about and what they think about when they go home at night, whatever, whatever. So we've taken extra steps to try and understand the individuals. 

[33:41] Christopher Willis  And I mean, a very simple example, we said at the beginning, that I am a CrossFit coach. And that's a cult in the world that, you know, if you do CrossFit and I do CrossFit, it's likely we're friends. So if I can find out that a head of marketing at one of our prospects is involved in CrossFit in some way, I'm gonna go to the crossfit.com game site and find their games account, because everybody that does the CrossFit open, which is available to everybody has an account on that page. I'm gonna find them, I'm gonna send them their page, I'm going to send them my page. 

[34:13] Christopher Willis  And now that we've identified that, that's you, and this is me, then we're friends. And if we're friends, I want to tell you about what we do at my company. And just those little things increase your hit rate so dramatically, by not thinking about, like, I got to send out a form letter with my name and my company and my logo and some pithy thing at the bottom of it. Know, to send an email to a person, like, treat your prospects like people and you're going to get results. If you treat everybody like a business buyer, your conversion rate is going to be less than 1%.

[34:46] Shahin Hoda   Love it. Love it. Question number three, who are some of the influencers you follow in the sales and marketing space?

[34:54] Christopher Willis   So I think you know, most identifiably Mike Volpe is a great example. Mike was the CMO at HubSpot, when HubSpot exploded. And I have the benefit of knowing Mike. And he just, he says great things. And I've always had a history of creating very actionable content marketing. I don't need my content marketing to be about us and our product and our company, I don't think that people go out and search for a company or a product to solve their problems when they're sitting at their desk at work. 

[35:06] Christopher Willis  I think they're looking for a solution to their specific problem. And his belief was always I'm going to create marketing and events and content for people that are never going to be our customer. Because I want to build this huge community. Because I don't know where we're gonna go in the future. And I don't know what the value of that community will be. But I want that community to be there. Because if it's there, nothing bad is gonna happen. It's not going to hurt us that we have a huge community and as we saw with the explosion of HubSpot, that community was what he grew into. 

[35:58] Christopher Willis  They were coming to conferences, people that would, that had never bought his product that had no money to buy the product would come to the HubSpot conference, because there was so much leadership in what they were delivering. And I've always thought that was a really good approach. And I reference him a lot with that. My sort of secret influencer is a guy named Doug Kessler, who is a I think he's a managing partner at an agency in London called Velocity. Who just does amazing things with very clear, easy to read, lively content. Just a great strategist of content creation. His organisations' fantastic, but he's the best.

[36:41] Shahin Hoda   Got it. Got it. Awesome insights. Last question is, what's something that excites you about B2B today?

[36:48] Christopher Willis   The mystery of the unknown of what's coming next, I think, is really what it is. I mean, we spent most of the day-to-day in an office with people, which is crazy, talking about next year, and how to break through in ways that we've never broken through before. A lot of the tools and tactics that were available to us that were useful to us in past years, aren't useful right now, aren't available to us. So how do we reinvent everything that we know, to be better, to go beyond just what we would have had with our old results but actually to take that to the next level and just jump all the steps in the middle. And that's what I'm excited about. I think that's what the people that work on my team are excited about is the ability to do new things to find that new thing, not be afraid to fail or make a mistake, and just go after what the next big thing is. Find it, identify it, define the next big thing.

[37:48] Shahin Hoda   Love it. Love it, Chris, this has been an awesome conversation. I took a lot out of it. And I'm very sure that a lot of our listeners are gonna take a lot out of it as well. There's been a lot of golden nuggets that you've dropped throughout the podcast. I really appreciate you coming on and thanks for your time.

[38:07] Christopher Willis   Awesome. Thanks very much for having me. This is awesome.

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xGrowth brings a very structured approach to ABM. It’s been amazing working with you.

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When I think ABM, I think xGrowth. xGrowth were 100% committed, the whole team was just like our business partner. I would say you are not a business vendor; you are our business partner.
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Reena Misra
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