Ep. 125 – How to Optimize the Digital Buying Experience in B2B w/ Matt Bell

How to Optimize the Digital Buying Experience in B2B

As the B2B landscape continues to evolve, having a seamless buying experience is no longer a “nice to have”. Rather, it is something that is imperative for industries serving digital-first B2B customers.

How can B2B companies adapt accordingly? How can B2B marketers work in tandem with sales and other teams to deliver a better experience for customers? 

Join us as we chat with B2B marketing expert Matt Bell (Founder & Principal ConsultantMessageUp) about how B2B companies can optimize the B2B buying experience. During our conversation, Matt discussed some recent trends that B2B marketers should be aware of and what pitfalls to avoid. He also provides actionable tips on how the digital buying experience can be improved.

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Topics discussed in episode

  • Matt talks about why optimizing the buying experience for digital-first B2B customers is so important in today’s ecosystem [2:14]
  • Why B2B has lagged behind in the digital domain [5:26]
  • Some pitfalls to avoid when improving the buying experience for digital-first customers [8:43]
  • The role of marketing research and having the right strategy in improving the B2B buying experience [18:21]
  • Matt shares the recent trends in the buying experience that B2B marketers should be aware of [22:10]
    • The role of AI on the buying side and vendor side
    • The decentralized groups of buyers
    • Digital buyers are willing and able to spend online without meeting the company
  • Matt’s take on the need for ‘a human touch’ vs. AI in the buying experience [27:42]
  • Matt’s actionable tips: [32:47]
    • Identify the gaps
    • Be realistic about how much resources (time and energy) can be put into marketing
    • Explain how digital marketing works to the organization
  • A status quo that Matt passionately disagrees with [39:06]

Companies and links mentioned



Matt Bell, Christian Klepp

Christian Klepp  00:03

Welcome to B2B Marketers on a Mission, a podcast for changemakers, where we question the conventional, debunk marketing myths, provide actionable tips, think differently, disrupt the industries, and take your marketing to a new level, from improving your campaigns to making you a better marketer. These are the inspirational stories that will help us change the way we think and approach B2B marketing, one conversation at a time. This podcast is brought to you by EINBLICK Consulting, helping you to stand out in the market and drive revenue to your B2B business. And now your host, Christian Klepp.

Okay, welcome, everyone to this episode of B2B Marketers on a Mission. This is the show where we help you to question the conventional, think differently, disrupt your industry and take your marketing to new heights. This is your host, Christian Klepp. And today I am joined by someone on a mission to differentiate successful B2B companies from the rest as we operate in an increasingly digital-first world. So coming to us from Houston, Texas, Matt Bell, welcome to the show, sir.

Matt Bell  01:12

Hi, Christian, thank you for having me. I love the idea that marketers are on a mission. Absolutely mission critical.

Christian Klepp  01:18

Indeed, we are on a mission to continuously improve ourselves to initiate those conversations, those much needed conversations within organizations to change, right, to give marketing that strategic importance and that airtime slash limelight that it rightfully deserves, right. So let’s dive into this conversation, Matt, I mean, it might be occupational hazard, but you’ve been a person that has always found ways to improve things, be they systems, businesses, people, right. But for this conversation, let’s focus on a topic that I believe has become part of your professional mission. And that is okay. Get ready for it – how to optimize the buying experience for digital-first B2B customers. So let’s kick off this conversation with the question: Why do you feel that’s such a crucial component in today’s ecosystem?

Matt Bell  02:14

I think you know, you can look back several years, even before the pandemic, and we were already starting to see a new generation of B2B buyers coming into the workplace, right. It’s sort of crew change, the boomers are retiring out, the millennials and the Gen Z’s are coming in. And not just joining but moving into those positions of authority where they’re actually doing the buying. And these particularly Gen Z, it’s a digital native generation. That means they’ve grown up with technology in their hands, we sort of.. I’m an Xer right. So I’m just before that. I got to technology a little late. I’ve been playing catch up ever since. So they’ve grown up with technology in their hands. So their expectation for everything in life is it’s digital first. And like a lot of things in B2B, you know, B2B buying lagged a bit behind. B2B tends to move a bit more slowly. You know, we all know B2C buying. Let’s call it personal shopping raced ahead and into the digital domain, thanks to Amazon and others like them. But B2B was already starting to catch up in like the late 20 teens, so 2017, 18, 19, and then the pandemic hit and just accelerated everything tremendously. We were all forced to do things digitally, whether we liked it or not. And so you know, what we have today, I think, is an increasing majority, actually, of B2B buyers who are younger, they’re tech native, and so they expect to do every aspect of their job online. So when it comes to finding product, finding vendors, they’re doing their research, they’re doing their evaluation, and if they can, they’re making those purchases online without necessarily visiting or you know, interacting with, with the selling business with the vendors in person at all. So, as a vendor, what that means is, it’s absolutely essential that your buying experience caters for these digital-first buyers. If your company your brand, your products aren’t easily findable and understandable online. Basically, you don’t exist. So I would say that’s pretty important.

Christian Klepp  04:22

Absolutely, absolutely. So I had two things for you based on what you’ve just said, Matt. The first one is, I think you’ve read the report by Gartner. Right? It was about the state of the B2B buying journey, and this is most likely post COVID. But it was… it said something to the effect of I can’t remember the exact statistic but it was something from 70% to about 80% of B2B buyers prefer to do their own independent online research. They don’t reach out to the sales representative off said vendor or service provider because they just want to… they want to have that… for the most part, say sales-free buying experience, right? And there’s certainly like many reasons behind that. I have one follow up question for you. So why, why do you think that B2B has lagged behind so much? In this digital domain? Is it, Is it a combination of factors? Is it the organizational culture? The nature of the beast, in terms of the industry they’re in? Is that there was resistance to change? Is it all of the above and more?

Matt Bell  05:26

I love multi choice questions. That’s good. I don’t try to have to think of an answer. I’m gonna go with D, all of the above. I think, you know, when we talk about B2B, I think there’s a mindset, it’s always industrial, it’s heavy industry. You know, it’s manufacturing businesses. And they inherently are slow to change, because they’re capital intensive change costs money. And there’s been a lot of optimization over the years to make things as efficient and repeatable as possible. And so when you introduce a completely new way of doing things, that sort of hiatus throwing everything up in the air is, is very unwelcome. But we also have B2B Tech, right. So there’s plenty of companies developing software for other businesses, that’s B2B as well, so that you don’t have the same excuse there. They don’t have to… themselves disrupt, but they’re disrupting the customer. So when you digitalize the way a customer is doing something that is pretty slow going. So I think there is just a, an ethos around B2B, that is, everything takes time. The other thing I would point to is, when you’re in the consumer space, usually the person you’re talking to is the customer, right, they’re buying for themselves. So it’s a one to one or a company to one transaction. When you’re in the B2B space, it’s very unusual that one person has that buying authority, it’s usually a committee of people, a group of people, technical experts, financial people, frontline users, whoever they represent, you know, you’ve got a group of people that need to get convinced. And if the dollar value, the monetary value is high enough, then there might even be a tender board or an approval’s committee. That group has to submit its decisions to get them blessed. So that inherently leads to this really sort of slow cycle time for B2B sales. So everything in B2B moves a bit more slowly, it’s a little bit harder to affect change, it’s on a large scale, you’re not just asking one person to buy a new iPhone and start using an app, you’re actually asking an organization to change the way it does business. And so I think B2B lags inherently for that, until you shut it down till it to go home and work remotely and figure it out. And then oh, my gosh, can it catch up quickly? And I think what the pandemic showed people, much to some of their maybe concern is when B2B wants to change quickly. it can, but it has to have an impetus, it has to have a need, the this sort of momentum, it’s people talk about turning around the big ship, right? It’s, there’s not a little sailboat where you can just flip the boom over go the other direction. This is a big supertanker that takes a few days and months, you know, whatever to turn around. So, but I think we can change quicker when we want to, but this is one where consumer was just so much easier to go digital.

Christian Klepp  08:08

Yeah, and the less absolutely right, I think short of stating the obvious, I think the pandemic and everything around that, whether that left in its wake it expedited and accelerated that process in the world of B2B. Exactly. I’m going to move us on to the next question, which I’m sure you will have no problem answering, mistakes and misconceptions that you’ve seen out there. Especially when it comes to B2B marketers who are working to improve that buying experience for digital-first customers. So some of the mistakes you’ve seen out there, and what B2B marketers should do to address them.

Matt Bell  08:43

So I think I would put almost all of them under one big heading, which is the temptation to try to replicate what you’ve been doing, but in a digital way, right. So a prime example would be if you look at a lot of B2B websites, company websites, they’re basically a digital catalog, there are features and benefits and a list of what we do. And here’s the salesman’s phone number at the bottom, you know, email to give them a call. They’re not speaking to the customer’s needs, or how the customer should try to evaluate these products. They presume the customer either knows what they want, or that they’re going to reach out to that salesperson to have the discussion about how to pick the right thing for them. And as you absolutely correctly pointed out, low low down on the totem pole of people that, you know, people want to work without salespeople, right. They’re down there with lawyers and you know, other undesirables that we would rather only speak to if we have to. So the reality is, we said these, these digital buyers want to work by themselves online. And so the information we’re putting out there needs to cater to that. It needs to support them in finding out what’s out there. And he’s in understanding their own challenge and how to how to assess it, how to evaluate it, how to compare these different solutions, how to make a good buying decision. So I think a second group of mistakes is trying to move the customer or the prospect from the online domain into the offline domain to then deal with them the old way, then you see that in, you know, somebody has clicked on your ad and immediately says, Would you like to schedule a meeting? Well, no, they wouldn’t. They’re clicking on your stuff because they want to evaluate it online, they don’t want to talk to you. So let them choose a meeting if they want, but don’t push the conversation, you know, into an offline or even a digital interaction, an in-person interaction straightaway. And I think this all comes from a bit of a mindset, where traditionally organizations was sales lead, the mantra was always be closing it, sell, sell, sell. In the digital domain, where you can’t necessarily get to that buyer. But what you can do is make information available to them, their mindset needs to be always be helping. And if you help them, and you are seen as a source of relevant, helpful information, and you guide them through that decision, if your solution is right for them, they will pick it, they will come to you because you’ve built a trusted relationship, even mindshare with them.

Matt Bell  08:54

So I think the last part of your question, the fixes. I think the first one is understanding who you’re selling to. So you have to do your research. Who is your ideal customer? Who’s on that buying committee that needs to be informed and convinced? Who are those buyer personas, what does their buying journey look like? And then you can use your properties, your digital properties, primarily your website, social channels, to share that relevant, helpful information that those digital first customers are looking for. And then they can evaluate their options and make the right choice. So moving away from just digitizing the old way to actually working in a digital manner.

Christian Klepp  11:29

That’s absolutely right. I mean, you brought up so many great points. And I wanted to go back to some of them. Like, for example, it’s so true. The whole trying to replicate what you’ve already been doing, but trying to digitize it, I think is the word right? Like just trying to like, you know, it’s the whole…

Matt Bell  11:45

I’m never sure if it’s digitized or digitalized…

Christian Klepp  11:49

Let’s use both like, loosely, interchangeably. It’s this old like style of selling, but then they’re just trying to do it via the website. And I’ll give you an example. And this happened to me about back in 2018. So I was looking for something online as you do like researching for, for a project. And I found an eBook. And I looked at it. And, you know, they asked…  this particular company as asked me to fill out a form, and I looked at the form, and I’m like, Oh, 18 the fields. I guess I really wanted the book badly, though. So I said, alright, I’ll fill it out. And I’m not even joking. Within 20 minutes of me filling out the form and actually downloading the eBook. I got a call on my phone, saying, Hi, I’m so and so from this company. And you’ve just downloaded our eBook, Christian, I am literally 15 minutes’ walk from your office. Let’s have a coffee and talk about what we can do for you. And I, I was, well, first of all, I was completely taken aback because, you know, my first reaction was, wait, who are you? Yeah. And secondly, I mean, this is almost like me saying to, you know, if back in the days when we were all like, Young, Wild and Free. And you know, I would go up to somebody in a bar or approach a girl in the bar and say, Would you, I’m so and so. Will you marry me? Not quite yet. Right. So, fantastic. I have. I did have one follow up question for you, Matt. You know, if we’re already talking about what we’re doing digitally. And there’s a lot of people online, and there’s two camps here. But if you’re producing content for a B2B audience, and you’re putting it on platforms, or like, the websites of the companies, for example, gated or ungated, and why.

Matt Bell  13:46

Yeah, it’s interesting. I wrote a I think LinkedIn posts about this not very long ago, I think there are several categories. In fact, I think it was a blog post, I have to look up, I’ll have to look at my own blog and see what I wrote about it. But I remember the conclusions, which was, you know, there are reasons to do gated content, obviously, it’s a lead generation tactic, right? So you’re trying to capture the person’s information so that you can then follow up and have an ongoing engagement with that person. So the question is, to your audience, what is sufficiently valuable that they’re willing to give up their privacy and trade their contact information for your content? I think there are those that would say nothing, right? Nothing is valuable enough these days for my contact information. So all your information should be free. So you publish your content ungated, and then you wait, and you have to keep doing that. And you can’t predict the lead generation cycle. At that point, you’ve got to wait for your content to have effect. And for some of those prospects to go, I need to reach out to this company and interact with them further. The other end of the spectrum is you do gate your content. You accept that a lot of people are allergic to filling in forms, never hopefully one with 18 fields. Actually a first name and an email address is usually enough but okay, you put some sort of gates on there. But in which case, you have to be damn sure that the value of that content is high enough that they won’t feel shortchanged. Because if they feel they gave something up on the promise of a great piece of content, but got something that was pretty lame, then you’re going to damage your reputation. And you’re going to lose that prospect for sure. And your brand reputation go down. There are some sort of bits in the middle, which is where you ungate your content, but you ask them to sign up. So you as part of the you know, here’s the piece of content, would you like to join our newsletter? Would you like to join our mailing list? Can we reach out to you about other stuff, you ask them to opt in, so you still have that option, even if they’re past the gate. And I think there are other sort of hybrid stuff where instead of just gating content, come up with something that’s more valuable than that, give them a calculator, give them you know, some unique research that your company has done, you know, that really then allows them to engage differently. But so I think it is a bit horses for courses, I prefer ungated content, I think it should be up to the prospect to decide for themselves after multiple touchpoints, that you’re the right vendor for them to interact with. And if they don’t want to interact with you at all, but they still end up buying your thing. If that’s possible. If you’ve got online, you know, ecommerce, great. If they have to interact with you to buy your product, then they’re going to if it’s the right product for them, and your content should be enough to get them across that line. So I’ll err on the side of ungated. But I understand why in certain circumstances. It works.

Christian Klepp  16:32

Yeah, no, absolutely. I tend to agree. And it’s going back to a point you raised earlier on in the conversation where it’s about building that trust, credibility, especially if they don’t know who you are. And, again, back to another point that you mentioned, you’re appealing to a group, right, like a buying committee. So it’s most likely going to be a group of people, unlike in B2C, where you’re generally like, you know, targeting that individual consumer, per se.

Matt Bell  16:59

Yeah, yeah. And I’ll go with the salesperson story, rather than necessarily you talking to girls in a bar. But, you know, if a salesperson, in person and even in the old days was trying to sell to you, they spent time building the relationship before they asked for your business. And so they would get to know you and play golf with you and take you out for lunch and come and visit your business and spend some time and then eventually say, so what is it going to take for me to win your business? They wouldn’t jump straight from may I have your card, please. I’m going to mail you something tomorrow. Hopefully we’re doing business by next week. I mean, it’s just that you do business with companies that you trust. That’s true at the B2B level to right? Those individuals. It’s still a human to human transaction. Well, it could be an AI to human transaction, we might talk about that later. But, you know, on the buying end, at the moment, at least, it’s humans, and they have a very good sense, an innate sense for authenticity. And so inauthentic communication, communication that’s not trusted yet where that relationship isn’t there. Yeah, you’re not gonna get them to buy like that. You’ve got to get the emotional side sorted out first. And the logic and the data and the features and benefits can all come late.

Christian Klepp  18:07

Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s absolutely right. Moving on to the next question, talk to us about the role that you believe that market research and having the right strategy play in improving the B2B Buying Experience.

Matt Bell  18:21

Yeah, I could talk for a long time about this. That’s because I’m a strategic bargain. It’s I mean, let’s just start by acknowledging that random acts of marketing are a waste of time, right? I mean, social media is just flooded with bogus ads for shortcuts and hacks. And you know, I’ll fill your calendar with appointments, and I’ll fill your funnel with leads, and it’ll be overnight and you’ll basically won’t pay a penny. And that’s just total nonsense, of course, right? So marketing takes effort, it costs money, it takes time, it’s actually so if you’re going to spend that marketing time and effort and budget efficiently, effectively, you have to have a strategy. You can’t market to everybody all the time on every channel, that would be impossible. So you’ve got to know where you’re going, what message you’re going with why? And we’re doing all of that in a thoughtful way. So I think we’ve already said we need to be focusing on information that’s relevant, helpful to your target audience. How do you know what that is? You got to do your homework. Market research is going to let you understand the buyer that your solution is ideal for. What are their needs? How does your solution create value for them and then you can communicate that in your content marketing and well all aspects of your marketing strategy. So I guess you know, it’s a bit school teacher-ish, but please do your homework, right? Define a strategy, implement it carefully, measure what’s working, what isn’t. And then you can go from there. So intentionality really, and market research is a part of constructing an accurate picture of your audience of your customer, so that you can most effectively deliver them the information that they need, and that then they’re going to latch on have that and say, Wow, these people really get me. This is exactly the information I’ve been looking for. I should probably do business with them.

Christian Klepp  20:05

Absolutely, absolutely. And to the point you just raised that mean, it’s generally an evidence based approach, right? That helps to take all that guesswork out, not just the content strategy and the content marketing, but every marketing endeavor moving forward, right.

Matt Bell  20:22

Yeah, and you can’t predict everything, right? I mean, there’s no way. Everything is constantly changing, for a starter, buyer preferences are changing, the market is shifting, your competitors are responding, the macroeconomics are changing, whatever, right, so this, it’s moving goalposts and to maintain an accurate understanding of that you’ve got to go and look. And usually your frontline people, the people that are out there in the market, that are interacting with your customers, are in a very good position to feedback, you know, create the feedback loop that says, hey, here’s what I see going on out in the market is where I think it’s heading. Obviously, a visionary leadership will help you decide, this is the direction we’re going to take the market, we’re actually going to steer the market in this direction with our solutions. But in terms of responding to the market, yeah, you have to research that somehow. And you need a mechanism for sort of accumulating and analyzing and synthesizing that information in the middle. I like buyers journey maps, I think they’re a great framework for capturing what prospects and customers are looking for at different stages as they evaluate and select and implement solutions. And what channels, very importantly, what channels do they turn to when they are seeking information? It’s not where you want to publish, it’s where they go to read. And if you’re not meeting them there, well, you’re publishing into the abyss.

Christian Klepp  21:44

I think you really hit the nail on the head there. That’s one of the my favorite reasons for using a buyer’s journey map. Because you see the critical touch points from the customer’s point of view, not the company’s. We’ve all been in that situation where you’re sitting in a boardroom internally, and everybody’s saying like, Oh, we have to, we have to, you know, focus our investment on this channel and that channel and, and then you always, it always begs the question, well, what? Based on what?

Matt Bell  22:10

Yeah, intuition, right, gut feel. We’re very good at trusting gut feel. But we get we have a horrible overconfidence in that. And I think you see it a lot where members of the team have been on the buying side. Yeah. And they say, Well, when I was a buyer, I used to go here, okay, great. If you’ve recently been a buyer, and if you are representative of a large group of your audience, that’s fine. But if you’re remotely obsolete, you know, 10 years ago, I was a buyer, cross that off, ignore, that’s gonna get ignored completely. Because as we’re talking about, it’s a new generation of digital first buyers, they go to different places. I don’t think anybody who’s been in the business more than 10 years used to use Tik Tok to find information about B2B products. But some B2B buyers are seeing things on Tik Tok, and Snapchat and Instagram these sort of second, what we might consider second tier platforms from a B2B point of view. So yeah, it takes, it takes, it takes a lot of understanding, actually, to figure out, you know, if you’ve got quite a broad audience, they’re not all going to the same places. And that then leads to some very tricky decisions about well, do I try to be in all these places? Or do I focus on a subset of the audience, and be really good in one or two places, my guidance would always be pick two or three channels, do those really, really, really well. Once you’ve got that down, if you’ve got the resources, then you can try to expand and cover off more of your audience.

Christian Klepp  23:32

What are some of the recent trends and just name two or three, if you will, what are some of the recent trends in the B2B Buying Experience space that marketers should be aware of? I mean, if we’re if we’re on the topic of how things have changed, right?

Matt Bell  23:44

Yeah. Well, I think I did drop it into conversation a minute ago, but you know, congratulations, we got I don’t know how many minutes into this without saying AI you know, you can’t, you can’t say trend or change without saying AI. Yeah, it’s really changing the way work is done especially information work. So it’s playing its part on the buying side, helping buyers find and evaluate solutions. It’s playing its part on the vendor side, for example, you know, in content creation. I think when we’re talking about the digital buying experience, I foresee AI becoming the research assistant to those buyers and the buyer just saying go out and find the vendors that sell X. What that means of course is it just reinforces the fact that if you are not, if that information isn’t visible online, AI can’t find it, AI cannot look in your, you know, salesman’s toolbox, tool bag of brochures and find that information. It has to be digital. So it just reinforces the fact that digital information is going to be important. It brings up an issue which you know, we’ll get deep into here is should you put your pricing on your website, you know, a classic marketing question and one of the answers for yes is I think we’re gonna see RFQs and RFIs is replaced by we’re about to launch our AI bot, and it’s gonna go hoover up all the information that can find on potential vendors, including pricing. And if you’re in the running, you’re in it. If you’re not, you’re not, we’re not even gonna come and ask you, we’re going to expect it to be out that maybe that’s, you know, that’s out there on a limb, whether we’ll ever get to that we’ll see. The other, the next trend, I think it’s somewhat related, which is, and we saw this explode in the pandemic, but it still matters, which is we used to have centralized groups of buyers sitting on one floor in a headquarters building somewhere and you could go knock on the door and sweet talk your way past the receptionist, and you could go meet buyers. And once you knew where they were, and they knew you, you could take them doughnuts, and you know, all was well. That’s gone, right buyers have scattered to the winds, they can be in literally Timbuktu or the Philippines or Ukraine or maybe like Ukraine right now. But you know, anywhere on the planet, not in headquarters. But the only place that they not going to be is in some central office because buyers don’t need to be. So there really impacts how you get information to them. You can’t find them a knock on the door, you have to use digital means. It’s got to be… it’s online or not at all. And then I think the third trend that I think it’s surprises some business leaders in B2B companies is the amount of money that B2B buyers, digital buyers are willing and able to spend online without ever meeting, you know, the company, right, they can do their research, and they can fire off a PO. You know, I think McKinsey published some data last year, I’m sure there’s… they’ve either updated it or there’ll be more recent studies. But you know, a lot of buyers willing to make a half a million dollar, a million dollar purchase entirely online, end to end online transaction. So you know, it’s not, it’s not just buying pencils, and printer paper from Staples, you know, digital first applies to those bigger and bigger purchases as well. So B2B companies that sell a few very large things, are also needing to get into this digital buying experience. It’s not just the ones that sell consumable widgets that can be more easily ordered online.

Christian Klepp  26:59

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, all three of them, like great insights. I mean, yeah, I have to agree. I’m kind of surprised myself that we got this far in the conversation without even touching, without even broaching the topic of AI. But on that topic, like to dig into that a little bit further if you if I can, Matt. In terms of AI, and when it comes to the buying experience. And I know there might not be necessarily a one sentence answer for this. But how far do you think companies should take it? And what I mean by that is, like, at what point should AI stop? And, and the human touch or the, you know, the human intervention come in?

Matt Bell  27:41

So we already said the word authenticity a couple of times. And I think, to me, that’s the key if, if you’re, if the piece of the process that you’re thinking about depends on authenticity depends on trust, depends on believing what you’re hearing, eventually a human has to be involved in that. So I think transactional information, you know, where can I get the spare part for this thing that I bought from you, an AI chatbot can handle that. You don’t need a human being. And knowledge base can be paused through a chatbot that has natural language capabilities, that’s extremely efficient, that’s allowing the customer to get to information that’s just in a database somewhere and can be you know, it connecting them to the right dots. When it comes to making a purchase, and deciding if your solution is the right one, compared to a competitors solution, there comes a point where some human authenticity has to come into it so that the buyer goes, Yeah, I think you really know what you’re talking about, I think you actually have my best interests at heart, I think you are going the extra mile to service me. And so there’s a point where that crosses over. I focus a lot on content marketing, in its broadest sense, which is, you know, demonstrating and putting out this relevant, helpful information, but also demonstrating domain expertise, showing that your company understands what is needed in the market, what the market is going to need next. So you’re working towards what’s next. And communicating that requires vision, it requires having an opinion, these are things that AI currently at least doesn’t have, right? We call it generative AI, it’s generating things, but what is generating a combinations of existing information that it can already see in its training data. So AI is great for adding color to things, doing research around things, you know, telling me the history of this from, you know, wherever it started to where we are now so that I don’t have to go to the library or to Google and find that information. It’s good at you know, building a nice document out of some information that you’ve gathered. It’s great, by the way, at improving writing. And I think one of the biggest mistakes that that I see companies making isn’t not taking advantage of those writing tools. I mean, you know, the grammar police. If you’ve got a fantastic, qualified editor in your organization, lucky you, most B2B companies don’t right, that’s not a core competency that most companies have is that you know, as an English major, even in there somewhere. So use the tools. I mean, the AI writing tools are transformative for turning really dull, badly constructed prose into something that is very readable. And what that does is it engages your audience better, you know, they’re looking at the same information, but they’re able to absorb it, they’re engrossed in it, they read it more easily. And so you get through. Your message gets across better. So I think that’s a place where AI needs to be used. But it should stop short of saying, I want to generate a blog post on you know, marketing on a mission. Tell me that what the 10 headings should be. Write the thing for me 1500 words published, that’s, that’s silly, because anybody can do that. Where’s the differentiation in that? How do I understand your point of view, and it’s just not authentic? It’s not authentically you, even though you can tell AI to write in your voice, which it is scarily good at, here’s a little humorous aside. Take a piece of prose that you’ve written, maybe it’s a blog post, and ask ChatGPT 4 or one of those tools, rewrite this in iambic pentameter. And for those that may not know, iambic pentameter is how Shakespeare wrote, I did this for part of a blog post recently. And it is frightening. I mean, it is just it’s perfect. It is it is a Shakespeare sonnet that accurately captures a B2B marketing blog. It’s nuts. So I mean, goodness, I could tell it write this like Christian Klepp. And it would, it would be perfect. So you know, anyway, that’s taking it a little too far. Don’t do this to all of your material. I don’t think most B2B buyers want to read in rhyming couplets. But yeah, it’s a supremely capable tool. It accelerates things tremendously,  great time saver, but use it for what it’s good for. And don’t lose the human element maintain the authenticity.

Christian Klepp  32:02

To be or not to be? That is the question.

Matt Bell  32:05

Well, it is no longer to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous marketing, or have a strategy and be intentional instead. There we go. Fantastic. That’s drunk Shakespeare. That’s the stage.

Christian Klepp  32:20

Points for the effort. Points for effort. Matt, we get to the part of the show where we’re talking about actionable tips. But you know, let’s appreciate that you can’t do all of this in a day. Right? But what are some things if somebody were listening to this conversation? What are 3 to 5 things that a B2B marketer can do? Probably in tandem with other teams to help improve the buying experience for their customers?

Matt Bell  32:47

Yeah, I think I think you phrased that question very interestingly, in tandem with other teams, successful B2B marketing in this domain, right. So in the digital domain, the content domain, it depends on you’re working with the whole team, and practically your entire organization actually, because it’s only through marketing, that buyers will discover the information that’s in those people’s heads, right, whether it’s your CEO, or your subject matter experts, or in fact, now your sales organization, you know, marketing is the precursor to all of that. So that information needs to be transposed from that what would have been in person, let’s have a meeting with these people into content that can be discovered by the buyer. So ideally, you want the whole organization working on content marketing all the time, the simple reality is the rest of the organization doesn’t have time. They’re already busy with their own stuff, right. So I think the first actionable thing is to, is to take on the responsibility of understanding what is most important right now for improving that digital buying experience. So again, it’s about doing the homework, to find the customer, understand the needs, then you can kind of run a gap analysis, if you will, to see which of those needs you’re not really addressing. And you can prioritize those even. And now you’ve got a shopping list of things as a marketer, that’s like where I need to get some content generated on these to cover these gaps, because these are places where we’re losing our customers right now. And then focus on that. So that’s an actionable thing where you’ve taken what could be this enormous mountain of stuff to do and distilled it down to a few. Now your organization can support that.

So the second actionable thing, I think, is to figure out who in your organization you really need to be contributing, and how much time and energy can they realistically contribute? I see too many marketing strategies that are great on paper. But they’re underperforming horribly, because they’re totally unrealistic about the level of contribution that people can make, you know, especially in smaller growing businesses. You’re inherently under resourced the whole time. Everybody’s wearing multiple hats. They’re too busy. So you have to establish what I would call a production cadence. How fast can you turn out content, how many pieces a month you know, it’s great if it says online then you should be blogging three times a week. If your company can only write one blog a week, you can only publish one blog a week, otherwise, there’s just going to be a fire drill and it’s, you’re gonna get hated out of town.

Then I think the third thing, which sort of these all fit with each other, you need to explain to the organization, how marketing works, especially digital marketing, and why it’s so important, why it’s become mission critical. And then that helps you to explain why those individuals play an important role, why they’ve got information, it needs to make it into this process and out into the content. And then kind of what it’s going to take to win, right. How you as an organization are going to compete with your competitors, the other organizations in your market so that you’re winning the mind share of those prospects, and they’re becoming your customers? Because I think there’s a big, a lot of misunderstandings, misconceptions about how marketing works. You know, a lot of people still think it’s creating brochures and banners and sponsorships and swag, you know, T shirts, whatever it is. And digital marketing, obviously, is not that, content marketing is not that. And then I think the last one I’ll throw out is marketing needs to be sitting at the at the C suite level, or at least connected to it. So I think it’s important as a marketer to work closely with the leadership team, with the CEO, or whatever the head person is called. Because they’re going to be the ones that are defining the foundation of the business, the purpose, the mission, the vision, you know, the direction that the company is taking, that needs, those are anchors for content marketing, that information has to make it in, that’s number one. Secondly, they need to be championing this initiative, because it is a burden on the organization. And so you’re competing for resources, like, you know, with other initiatives going on. So if the CEO is championing this thing and saying, This is critical to our business, I need you all to support this, then that’s giving those other contributors permission to do so. And if they’re not, you can go kind of grab the CEO and say, Hey, can you push these people. I need, I need them to spend some time on marketing rather than the 1000 other things that they have on their plate. So I guess in summary, prioritize what you asked for, be realistic about who you ask, how much you ask for, that somebody that can support, explain to everybody why it’s important, why their role is important, how it works, and then get your senior leadership on board to, you know, to give it the priority that it needs, and then content marketing can succeed.

Christian Klepp  37:24

Absolutely, absolutely great advice. I would say not always very easy to implement, especially that piece, were getting marketing to sit at the table with the C suite, and getting the buy in from the CEO, because we’ve all been in those situations where that hasn’t quite worked out. Right,

Matt Bell  37:43

We’re gonna talk about a really good book called Content Marketing Mission Critical written by this guy Matt Bell. It’s written to CEOs. And if you buy a copy and give it to your CEO, and they actually read it, they might get it. It’ll make it easier. We’ll come back to that.

Christian Klepp  37:57

Maybe, maybe. (laugh)

Matt Bell  37:59

It’s the reason I wrote the book. I was a CEO, I understood marketing. But I had shareholders in particular, were like, why are you wasting your time on this? Why are you spending so much money on this? I’m like, God, you guys just don’t get it. This is mission critical. This is top tier stuff. And so I had to I had to sit down and actually figure out how to write it down.

Christian Klepp  38:18

Good on you for doing that. Because you know, a lot of it in my experience is out of sight, out of mind. And because they don’t really know what it is marketing does. And because they don’t know, they feel it’s not that important. And that’s why…

Matt Bell  38:29

And marketing budgets get cut. Every time there’s a pinch. One of the first things is oh, we don’t need marketing, we can live without marketing. That used to be true. I, you know, I don’t really have an issue with it in the past, when, at the end of the day, the sales team could just keep dialing and knocking on doors and driving from customer to customer, but now that they have to access customers through marketing, now it is mission critical. I keep coming back to that expression. I can’t think of a better one for it.

Christian Klepp  38:54

No, absolutely. Absolutely. We’re done with the last two questions, Matt. Yes, yes. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Matt Bell  39:04

There you go.

Christian Klepp  39:06

A status quo in your area of expertise that passionately disagree with and why.

Matt Bell  39:13

Excellent. Get on the soapbox at the end.

Christian Klepp  39:15

If you haven’t been on it already, like…

Matt Bell  39:17

Oh, you’ve seen nothing yet. You want passionate disagreement? I want to start pounding… Yeah, look, I’ve spent, you know, the big chunk of my career working at different stages, but a lot with sort of early stage and growth stage companies in the B2B, all in the B2B domain. You know, they’ve either been bootstrapped, or they’ve got some venture capital. But in general, marketing is grossly underfunded. We’ve just touched on it right. It’s undervalued, therefore, it is underfunded. And related to that, as we just discussed, and some of this is a legacy thing that we’re gradually growing out of. Sales is always prioritized over marketing, right? That’s kind of the status quo. Sale is here. Marketing, if it doesn’t even report to the sales guys, at least the smaller thing, and the relative budgets, that marketing gets are low, you know, marketing budget needs to be… go read the statistics online, these are not mass numbers 12-15% of your new revenue target even more if you’re a tech company, or you’re in some sort of land grab market. And marketing, as we said, should have that equal seat at the table alongside sales, this is a CMO thing or even maybe have a CRO that’s refereeing both of them. But you know, they need to be of equal stature. It’s a marketing lead business, more than a sales lead business these days. You know, today, your business is not going to grow without marketing doesn’t matter how great your sales team is. So marketing needs that status. So I guess you asked me for one status quo. And I’ve kind of given you two right. So I think I’ll go with the budget side. The underfunding of marketing is horrendous. And I fundamentally disagree with it. And I’ve gone to battle with my own investors and shareholders over this many times. Without money, it doesn’t really matter where marketing sits in the organization, whether it’s at the C suite or in the basement, you’ve got to have the funding. First of all go with that. Marketing is hard. Marketing takes time. It costs real money, if you want to stand out online and earn the mind share of your target audience. So stop penny pinching marketing.

Christian Klepp  41:20

Amen to that.

Matt Bell  41:21

So box off. I can’t drop my mic. It’s on a stand. But I will.

Christian Klepp  41:27

Please don’t drop that one. No, thank you so much. This was such a great conversation today. And please, quick introduce yourself and how people out there can get in touch with you. And rumor has it you are a voice actor.

Matt Bell  41:41

Ah ah! The voice actor. Alright, I’ll put that on the end. First of all, I love the way you leave the intros to the ends of these podcasts so that people don’t like to now during the intro, we have to get to the meat and potatoes. So hopefully a few of your listeners have stayed tuned all the way to the end, that would be great. Obviously, we can put this information in the show notes. Who am I? I’m Matt Bell, I’m a recovering engineer, I spent the first half of my career at a major oil company. Then I moved into new technology development, ended up in corporate venture capital. So that was kind of my springboard into growing businesses. I joined one of our portfolio companies at that time. I ran a manufacturing business, I ran a software business, later ran a service business, all B2B. And all at some point either owned by or invested in by venture capital, private equity shareholders. Eventually decided look, I want to work for myself because I want to focus on the things that I really love most about early stage business, which is the growth strategy and the marketing pieces. Hence, we’re having this conversation today. I run a B2B in strategy and marketing business called Strategic Piece together with my wife. She is a marketer and a marketing technologist by trade. And yes, I work for my wife. That’s a whole other episode. And then I founded MessageUp, which is really the primary company for me at the moment in 2021, focusing on B2B content marketing, which as we have said, ad nauseam, I believe is mission critical for today’s B2B businesses. That’s a nice segue to the books, I set out to write one book, long story, it became two. The first one is content marketing, mission critical. And that is a guide for B2B CEOs, who are tasked with designing and championing content marketing. And then the second one is content marketing, making the magic happen, which is for the B2B marketing leader who’s challenged with operationalizing that their companion set. Ideally, the marketing manager reads, its green, the one with the green cover, CEOs read the one with the blue cover. And then you can have an effective conversation and make magic happen together, loads more information about MessageUp and links to buy the books and some discount codes on the books or on the website, messageup.com. And please connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s my primary social media channel. And I guess my email is Matt@messageup.com. If you’d like to reach out directly, please don’t spam me now that I’ve said that on a podcast.

Christian Klepp  44:01

Fantastic. And the voice actor, please, please.

Matt Bell  44:03

Oh, yeah. Well see, you can probably tell I’m not from America. Originally. I was born and raised in England, travelled around the world. I’ve been in the US since 2001. But I have this accent thing that people keep telling me, hey, you should use that. You should do voiceover work. People love, love that accent. So I’ve done a couple of video voiceovers, things like that. I’ve just finished recording the audiobook versions of the two books that we just mentioned. So those should be out. Fingers crossed on Audible in about the next 10 days or so if I can get my act together and get them properly finished and loaded. But yeah, if you would, if anybody on the podcast would like my accent on your video or your training material, it’s very popular for training. Apparently people respect instructions with a British accent in industrial training more than they do an American accent. Yeah, happy to help so there’s lots of AI out there. You can get a lot of things done now with these fake AI voices. I think they still sound fake. I will bring a level of authenticity to your product that you can’t get anywhere else.

Christian Klepp  45:07

Fantastic. Fantastic. Matt. Once again, this has been a fantastic conversation, a great conversation, I should say. Thanks again for your time. Take care. Stay safe, and I’ll talk to you soon.

Matt Bell  45:18

Thank you, Christian. Appreciate the opportunity. Look forward to the next one.

Christian Klepp  45:20

Thank you. Bye for now.


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