Carlos Hidalgo: B2B change management and the danger of ‘shiny new toys’ in marketing tech
Marketing speaks with Carlos Hidalgo, CEO and principal of Annuitas, about demand generation and change management in the B2B marketing and sales space, and why tech vendors aren’t doing a great job.
Carlos Hidalgo is a thought leader and innovator with 20 years experience as a B2B marketing practitioner. He is CEO and principal of Annuitas, a demand generation strategy and change management firm. Based on the vast changes in the way B2B buying works today, Hidalgo believes organisations need to re-tool and transform the way they’re generating demand.
This change, says Hidalgo, must start at a cultural level and work through an organisation to become more strategic and buyer-centric. He believes content must be more relevant, so such a large percentage of marketing content doesn’t go unused, and that technology must be treated as an enablement strategy to be applied to well thought out strategies, and not a stand-alone solution.
Marketing caught up with Hidalgo ahead of his keynote speech at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum in Sydney on 25-27 May.
Marketing: What is it about corporate culture that isn’t right for the modern B2B buyer or seller?
What I see across the globe – I don’t think it’s in any one market – is, first and foremost, many sales organisations still use the moniker ‘marketing’s customer,’ which is not true anymore. The customer is marketing’s customer.
I think marketing sometimes still think sales is our customer because we’ve got to produce all these quality leads for them.
We have to change that cultural mindset.
I also get a sense from a lot of marketers that they’re under-appreciated, still being asked to do things we’ve never done before, in record time. It’s almost, kind of, like a throwing of the hands up in the air: ‘I can’t work fast enough, or hard enough, to please everybody.’
Culturally, what needs to happen is marketers need to start to understand that they are a strategic cog in the business wheel, and that without marketing, our insights into the consumer, our insights into how they buy, our insights into producing ROI and truly generating revenue for an organisation, companies aren’t going to grow.
That’s the cultural mindset that marketing needs to embrace is we are no longer a ‘necessary evil’ as I was told once by a boss. We are a strategic group in the company that can actually fuel growth in an organisation.
M: And on the sales side?
CH: Sales needs to really understand that they are no longer the kings, that’s a hard pill to swallow. I straddle both, I’m a B2B marketer, but I also do a lot of selling for our company.
Back when I was at McAfee, a long time ago, it was all about enabling sales. Giving sales the data sheets, sales was the one leading the customer through the process, and now, the consumer, the buyer’s not as reliant on a sales person because all they have to do is pick up their smartphone to get as much information on your product, your company, your customers, as they want.
They don’t need sales to shepherd them through the process. That’s a huge change, for a B2B salesperson, who, not too long ago, not fifteen years ago was king of the castle, leading the charge, now they’re the ones who are trying to adapt to this new buying process. They have to change the mindset from selling, to actually educating their buyers, which is a huge switch for a lot of salespeople out there.
M: We’re speaking about this as a division between marketing and sales, but is that part of the problem, structurally?
CH: I think it is. More on the marketing side, I think, a lot of the ways that marketing organisations are set up today, it’s all around tactics, so, you have social media teams, web teams, email teams, whatever tactic is there, we’ve created a very siloed organisation that is very choppy.
The other thing I’ve seen is organisations that break down the proverbial buyers funnel, and say ‘we’re going to have a team responsible for top of the funnel, we’re going to have a team responsible for middle of the funnel, and then a team responsible for sales enablement. What that does is really truncate the buyer’s journey, and oftentimes those teams have not visibility into what the other one’s doing.
Putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes trying to consume that kind of content gets real choppy, real fast.
It’s not a good buying experience so I think, organisationally, that’s part of the change as well, companies need to re-think how they structure their marketing organisation, and structure it according to a buyer’s journey.
M: How does that work? My next question was going to be, ‘Is there an ideal structure for a marketing department’? How do you mean structure around the buyer’s journey practically?
CH: We’re going to look at three major stages of any kind of buyer journey, with a lot of sub-stages underneath. We talk about engage, nurture and convert.
‘Engage’ is when you’re first interacting with a buyer, and their out there trying to find solutions to their problems. So, they’re typing in questions into google, or whatever search engine if they’re using the web, to say ‘how do I solve for this? how do I do this?’
We have to produce that kind of content, so what we work at is having global program managers that are now responsible, and underneath that, having content teams that are responsible for engage stage content, another team responsible for nurture stage content, which are two very different types of content, but you’ve got that focus, and you’ve got one layer that’s responsible for the entirety of that program, focussed on that audience.
It really changes the dynamic. What it also does is puts you, as the marketer, to say ‘what is the message I need to get to my buyer first?’ and then think about ‘what are the tactics I need to use, the media I need to use, the channel, the channel, to reach that buyer?’
Typically, most organisations start with the channel first, and think message second.
M: How does that approach differ to what you mentioned before around breaking up the funnel?
CH: I was just with a company the other day that was talking about responsibility for the middle of the funnel. When I think about that, you’re really creating three different, or however many teams you’re aligning to the funnel, where, when you think about demand generation, it should be done perpetually.
A perpetual engine is always on, you’re not just saying ‘hey, we’re just going to address top of the funnel, and once we get their marketing qualified lead, another team’s now going to responsible for creating more content that is going to address middle of the funnel.’
The difference in what I described to that funnel approach, is you have a global manager that’s responsible for all the different stages. Your content teams are more specific, but you don’t have entire marketing groups that are just responsible for one segment.
We call it a ‘demand-gen centre of excellence,’ that you set up, that manages an entire buyer’s journey.
M: Is that focus on content the key change that’s happening today?
CH: There’s a huge focus on content. Nobody can argue that. I was just preparing my deck for my keynote there in Sydney. I think it was like 81% of people are doing content marketing, it does beg the question, what are the other 19% doing.
But, I think the problem is we’re creating content for content’s sake. What we need to think about is, we don’t need to create more content – and I keep seeing stats that our budgets are increasing, we’re creating more content, we’re doing this, we’re doing that… I just want to say: everybody stop. And let’s start creating relevant content.
What we have to do first is really understand and dissect how the buyer buys, the committee in which they’re a part of, the roles everybody needs to play, the process they take to purchase, then we can start to create content that’s going to align to every stage.
Just creating content because we have to or have more budget, it’s no good running after that. This is where you see stats where 70-80% of marketing content goes unused.
If I’m a CFO and I’m seeing that, I’m starting to ask my CMO, ‘What are we doing? Why are we spending this money?’ On top of that, you can’t even prove the ROI from this spend.
So, stop creating all this content and create better content.
M: In marketing technology in general, do you think the tech vendors are doing a good job servicing the needs of modern B2B marketers?
CH: No. I think the tech vendors are doing what tech vendors do: they’re selling a lot of software. As a matter of fact I was on the phone today with a tech vendor, and I said to them, ‘A lot of people own your product, but it’s also a shiny new toy that they’re running after, when they buy it, they say ‘how am I going to effectively use this?”
I don’t necessarily begrudge or have a bias against the tech vendors, they’re doing exactly what I would do if I owned a tech company. But I think what they need to understand is, ‘My customer would get greater value out of my technology if I push my customer to buy this in order to support and enable a strategy.’
Technology alone is hardly ever the answer. It has to be an enablement factor of a strategy that is well defined and documented.
M: Do you then have a recommendation at which point the decision maker in an organisation actually speak to vendors?
CH: Once you have real clear vision of who your buyers are, again, that committee, that consensus – we’re in that consensus age now where very rarely is it one person where very rarely is it one person doing the searching and making a decision.
Once you understand the purchase path, and how you’re going to speak to them, and the dialogue that you’re going to create with them, then you can start to say ‘alright, what technologies do we need to enable this? What does the marketing tech stack look like? How does that connect with the sales tech stack, because it is and end-to-end journey.
I think what a lot of CMOs should do is better connect with their CIOs to better have that discussion. I think they’ll also be surprised to find out they really don’t need this huge tech stack to at least get started and be pretty sophisticated.
They don’t need to spend a lot of money on technology. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there that we would all love to play with, but the question is, ‘How does it better enable what I’m trying to do with my customers?’