My name is Jon Russo. I’m the founder of B2B Fusion. I founded the business seven years ago as a sales and marketing performance firm. The analogy I use is one of a gym membership actually, where a lot of these companies buy software like salesforce.com and their marketing automation system and, just like a gym membership, buying that software doesn’t get you in revenue shape.
We’re the certified personal trainers that will accelerate your progress in those systems to go quicker, to get the results that are measurable, and, typically, that’s what a CMO or a head of marketing really wants as measurable results. That’s what we deliver on. It’s almost like a hybrid of both strategy and system level execution, so it’s a very unique blend. Usually, you find companies that either focus on one end of the spectrum, strategy-only disconnected from the systems, or systems-only. We’re right in that hash of both of those.
What are some tactics to help drive growth for your clients?
We typically do a bunch of different engagements for our clients in financial services, healthcare, high technology. Usually, there’s no one silver bullet in any one of those. If there was a silver bullet, we wouldn’t be talking today. Typically, it’s spreading your bets and placing them very wisely, depending on what your buyer and the buyer cycle is, who you’re going after and what that committee looks like, so there are tactics that we’re finding that are effective, tactics that include video, tactics that include direct mail, if you can believe, but, unless they’re integrated and synthesized with how your buyer buys, they’re really meaningless, so really understanding that buyer’s journey to start with and then working your way back is what we find with our clients the most successful in layering in the right tactics to get to them.
Do you use any offline strategies?
I’ve been a CMO for… a chief marketing officer for 10 years prior to doing this in both public and private companies. One of those companies focused on the email deliverability platform, so I watched the email trends very carefully, and what I’ve noticed is exactly what you just said is it’s way oversaturated and, consequently, the open rates are going down. It’s getting more and more challenging to get even into the inbox.
Some dynamics that are happening behind the scenes with Outlook 365, for example, make it very challenging for marketers to reach their intended audience, so, consequently, they have to do creative things, whether it be going offline that we talked about earlier through direct mail or through targeting off their site, so retargeting ads for example that, when that person leaves that site, that it follows their trail as they go to other sites. Those types of things definitely we see in conjunction with email. I haven’t seen anybody abandon email, but I definitely have not seen the success that maybe 10 years ago that we saw within email.
What trends are you noticing in establishing connections?
We were students of the game. Our team averages 15-plus years of business experience per member, but, as you mentioned, LinkedIn is another great destination which we do spend a lot of time trying to optimize and bring into our tactics to reach that buyer, and like I said, we’ve seen pretty dramatic changes in LinkedIn probably over the last year. I’ve done a lot of experimentation on my own with video, for example, on LinkedIn.
A year ago, I was able to propagate cell phone video very aggressively, and we’d get a large, broad audience even with no likes and no engagement. About August, September, that dropped off precipitously. They changed their algorithm, but, more recently, as I’ve been testing, as I’ve been getting that engagement, I’m finding about 10 to 20% of my LinkedIn network actually sees my video and, when it’s actually engaged, then it propagates across, so, whether we’re using it for my company or recommending it to other companies, we’ve definitely seen LinkedIn as a destination, but really trying to watch and learn what’s happening there because it’s super important for our prospects and our customers.
What are some key lessons from this year for B2B growth?
I’m amazed when I look back maybe a year or two ago in terms of the notes, and that LinkedIn algorithm would be definitely one example. If we double click a little bit even into the LinkedIn and the production of that video, what we also find is, typically, users there are on mobile devices, so, having embedded captions that are part of the… what’s called an SRT file that’s embedded into the video is helpful so that your users, if they’re mobile and they don’t have a speaker, they can actually scroll through and listen or watch the text and not necessarily listen, so we’ve definitely learned that.
I think the other thing that we’ve learned over time is a big challenge that B2B companies have right now is they bought all these technologies, and I was looking at a Morgan Stanley report recently that pulled CMOs of B2B companies. About 35% complained that the biggest issue was synthesizing all these different datasets, so, here, we’re talking about LinkedIn, which is an island of information. You’ve got email that’s an island of information. You’ve got Web and that retargeting, which is an island of information. Bringing all those islands together in one reporting interface is a real big challenge that we’ve… I don’t want to say we’ve learned or we’ve mastered. I think it’s a continuous improvement, but, definitely, a lesson that I’ve learned over the last year is you’re trying to bring technologies together that can work with one another as opposed to buying all these disparate sets of technologies that don’t communicate because then you can’t get the reporting. You can’t improve on what you really want to do from a marketing viewpoint, so that’s probably been another big lesson learned in addition to the LinkedIn video that we spoke of.
It’s very easy for a chief marketing officer, and I was one of them at the time, where it’s easy to point the finger at the vendor and say, hey, the vendor is all screwed up when, in reality, many times it can be the user not really understanding the capabilities and making what may have been a bad decision on bringing those integration together, so you’ve got to be super thoughtful and doing a lot of checking and a lot of referencing to figure out how to synthesize all those pieces together, and that’s what we specialize in as well.
For B2B growth, I think, without question, what we’re doing here with video is definitely the trend. I think it represents a new opportunity for B2B brands to be more personable, to really get their message out, to share what their people do and give their customers more texture to their business. We certainly see a rise of that even in prospecting now where people are sending out personalized video.
I would say the personalized video on prospecting was probably a very strong trend at the beginning of 2018. It’s probably become a little bit challenging here going into 2019 because it is hard to scale, but companies making videos I think are definitely the way to go particularly, with YouTube and the search algorithms now. What we’re seeing is a lot of people spending time online trying to do some searches, so I definitely think that’s one major trend.
Another major trend that we’re seeing is peer reviews or usergroup information, so companies like G2 Crowd or TrustRadius where users are giving their feedback on software and, in some cases, while they don’t directly sell that user data, they’re selling the metadata or the intent data behind the reviews, and so companies that get reviewed actually could get value from getting exposure to the G2.
Basically, it’s just, again, more online activity than ever before, so, whether it’s the videos that we talked about at first or these peer reviews that you can get that information online, the trend is everything is merging online, so the more information you can either put out there or get out and target, the more effective growth can be for companies going into 2019 and beyond.
One major trend that we’re also seeing is a lot of companies are now starting to do this, on the B2B side, this hybrid. They’ve grown up on the lead generation model, a demand generation model, and that’s like the ’80s or ’90s version, but it’s not going away. It’s still staying in place. Companies now are starting to put an oar in the water on this thing called account-based approach, so, whether you’re sales or a marketer, there’s a bunch of different names that it’s being called, account-based marketing, account-based everything. All it means is, instead of going from a person-centric view, companies now have the intelligence to go after an account and really look at account engagement like what’s happening within the account overall as opposed to any one person, and why this is advantageous is what we’re seeing with companies, particular clients, they’re focusing more and more on a very limited number of accounts, and just like anything in life, when you focus you get great results.
We’re seeing clients that are seeing 40 to 60% uplift in the target accounts that they go after by focusing their account-based sales and marketing approach and unifying that and going after these target markets. Still, a lot of companies are experimenting with it. I don’t think any one company has solved for it. A lot of people go to all the conferences. A lot of people are very proud as they present, but the vibe that I get right now is, a lot of people, it’s a work in progress, but definitely a trend that we’ve seen is companies are starting to do this hybrid demand gen, lead gen and account based marketing and trying to figure it out as they go along.
How important is trust in today’s marketing strategies?
In an environment where trust is lacking across the board, it is super challenging to get that trust and establish that relationship very, very quickly, so making sure that you’re watching what’s happening in the peer reviews becomes increasingly more important.
One of the things that we like to say is we’re a veteran-owned business. I’m a former veteran. It doesn’t mean that I’m any better or different from other companies, but one of the things that we do is we say we deliver on our promise, but it all goes against that trust, and in an environment that we’re all facing right now, quite frankly, on a macro and global level of a lack of trust, the transparency becomes super important in the buying process. That’s for sure.
One thing that I think we do is… or particularly well is we probably go above and beyond in terms of over-delivering to our clients because we want to make sure… We’ve all been operators before and we’ve all been burnt on the other side by agencies, and so one of the challenges that I found in starting this business was I want to remove that element altogether and really be on the side as a trusted advisor, earn the right to be a trusted advisor, my people and myself, and once we get in that role, we can really strategically help the company, whether it’s myself or I’ve got extremely talented people that can execute on a number of different fronts, so I think you’re right. I haven’t really thought about it, but you’re right, it probably does lend itself to some of that structure.
How does being veteran owned affect company culture?
guess the only other thing, too, on that is being a veteran in business or starting my career in the service, I was used to taking a situation that had not a lot of structure and bringing structure to it, almost bringing order to chaos, and that being a startup business, as you know, you own your own business here, you almost have to have that mantra and that discipline of taking something that’s very, very chaotic and putting some structure and order around it to get it to grow, so I think that’s where we really accelerate or what we do best.