How To Be a B2B Marketing Leader With Dave Gerhardt

Dave Gerhardt
Founder & CEO
DGMG
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How To Be a B2B Marketing Leader With Dave Gerhardt
What follows is an article based on his appearance on the Techie Talkie podcast.

Sell Dreams, Not Products

My all time favorite brand is Nike. They have never led with  “Buy our new shoes.” They never talk about specs and features. It's always been, “Do you want to be like Michael Jordan?”

That's the ultimate measure of a brand - can you give somebody a superpower? And that's the feeling that Nike gives you.

I love them also just from a design perspective. The font and the brand are very clean. They always use real people, very colorful images, and every couple of months they have an ad that just punches you in the gut.

The other brand I love is Shopify.

Their messaging is not, “Use our website to sell more things online.” Their whole story is, “Use our website to sell things online, so you can quit your job that you don't like, so you can get the freedom of being an entrepreneur.”

They have that messaging, but also if you ever listen to their president, he’s always talking about “arming the rebels.”

They have a great mission as a brand, but also they have this big 'Screw you' to Amazon, and they've named an enemy, which I think is the most powerful thing you can do from a brand perspective.

And so I think they're one to watch, and obviously over the last year they've grown like crazy.

Your Story is Your Strategy  

Here's an example.

I'm not an engineer, and so I shouldn't go start a company about helping engineers do their job better. I should start a company about marketing, because I know marketing. I'm an expert in marketing.

I think to me it all comes back to the founder. It all starts with the founder story, and for me as a marketer, the number one ingredient that I'm looking at is, what is the founder's story?

At Privy, our story is that we are the all in one platform for small brands who want to grow on Shopify. But that’s also our strategy. Because if you make that clear, that then dictates what decisions you make as a business, who you partner with, which campaigns you run, right?

At Drift, once we nailed down conversational marketing, that then dictated how we positioned our other products and the types of things that we needed to build.

HubSpot’s story is inbound marketing, so that’s also their strategy. They're going to have to create content teaching you how to do it. You're not going to see them partnering with companies that do heavy outbound because that's not in their brand.

I think that's so important to nail, because it dictates all of the other decisions that you're going to make.

Too many people get so caught up in positioning docks, and they think, “Oh well, I’ve got this great Google doc, I’ve got this great template and I'm going to fill it out and the template is what's going to give me the messaging.” That’s all wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I went and bought a new pair of skis. I'm an average skier and I haven't bought skis in 20 years, but I went into the store, and the guy was clearly an expert in skiing, and it was an amazing experience.

I didn't want to talk about features. I said, “Here's my height, here's my weight, here's my ability”. This guy immediately responded, “Alright, cool, come with me, get these, you don't need this, try this one, this one's a little bit more expensive but you don't need that, so why don't you get this?”

I think that's what we all want, there is so much noise and information that comes with brands that it makes everyone skeptical.

The opportunity for you to win as a brand is to be an expert.

That's what we did at Drift. Our messaging was about these two founders who spent the last 20 years building sales and marketing software together, and through that experience they learnt that things were broken, and so they started this company to create the new way. You don't need to know anything about us, but we've already created credibility by telling you that story

I would then find a channel to share that story directly to the world. That's why I love podcasting,

I think every founder should have a podcast. I think every founder should be on social media, solely to tell their story to the world.

The founder doesn't have to know how to do all that, they should have someone like me, a marketing person who can help get that story out of them.

Today people want to work with brands they feel are credible, they want to work with people that they know and like and trust, so the best way to do that is to make the founder's brand the centerpiece of your brand.

Going back to the ski shop, my strategy would be “Who owns the ski shop? What's her story? She started her story because she's been skiing for 30 years, she's a former Olympic skier, now she's started a ski store.” The best angle is tapping into that story.

If you’re crazy enough to start a company in the first place, there’s usually a reason. Whether you had a huge problem, or a big epiphany, or even if you started this company in your dorm room and have been doing it for ten years. There’s always a unique story that I would try to lead with. Especially with a new brand, people want to work with a person.

As a personal example, with DGMG, my group for B2B marketers, I had this epiphany after a few months; “Oh! Here's the mission'. Nobody went to school for B2B marketing!”

That's the mission that DGMG exists to solve, and that’s my positioning.

Create a Movement

One of the most meaningful moments I've had in my career was when I was at Drift and we did our event called 'Hypergrowth'.

We were an early stage company at that time, this was almost pre conversational marketing. I got a challenge from the CEO, David. He said "Let's do an event. We've been in business for a year now, we have enough customers; let's do our first user conference".

Like most marketing managers I said, "Great! Let's do a user conference, 75 people, what do you think?”

"No."

"Alright cool, how about 250?"

"No. I want a 1,000 people, I want a 1,000 people there in the first year".

And we probably had an email list of like 6,000 people at the time, it was insane but we did it.

Over a 1,000 came. They had to call the fire marshal.

So much of marketing is online but there was something about standing on this stage, looking out at literally faces of a 1,000 people who said, “You know, I'm going to take a day out of my week to come and hang out with this company”.

That was the moment where I realised that there was something much bigger here than a technology company. And that was something I'll always think back to and build on.

I think that ultimately the reason that they came was because we created a connection with people that went beyond us selling marketing tools.

They didn't come because they wanted to learn new ways to optimize their Facebook ads. We didn’t even publish the agenda.

They came because they said, “I like this brand, I like what they stand for”.

We created this movement which was all about doing marketing differently, treating customers like people.

What happened when we put these messages out in the world was that all these marketers from all of these other companies kind of raised their hands and said, “Yes, take me!”

Be First, or Create Your Own Race

One of the most powerful lessons in marketing is from the book ‘22 Immutable Laws of Marketing’.

Law number one is the Law of Leadership. It’s better to be first than to be better. For example, I can talk about DGMG as the first community built for B2B marketers, and that’s going to work for a lot of people.

I also felt this in the early days of my Tech in Boston podcast. Whenever I talked about it, people asked, “Do you have any creativity?” But 60 episodes later people are calling it their favorite podcast.

Law number two is the Law of the Category; if you can’t be first in something, create a new category you can be first in. At Drift, there were 7,000 other tools in sales and marketing, so we knew we weren’t going to get any traction if we said, “We’re just like everybody else, only our product works a bit better.”

We felt like the category was there before we gave it a name. The responses to our product were so good that we felt there was clearly something there. That’s when he had the power of naming it ‘Conversational Marketing’.

I think it’s important not to get too caught up in the name, though. I remember at Drift, we didn’t like the name so much but it came to such a boiling point that we had to just pick a name and go. Now, looking back, nobody hates the name. You have to pick a lane, commit to something, and go.

Even if you’re the best, most game-changing product in the world, people are going to be skeptical. The key thing with Drift was that the founders started the company because they wanted to create a new way. That’s not marketing buzz; it’s built into the DNA of the company.

Write Your Way to Better Writing

I’m good at copywriting now, but I wasn’t five or six years ago.

I’ve written thousands of emails, thousands of headlines, thousands of blog posts, and now I can write a great sales email for you guys in ten minutes.

The most important thing is that you have to do it.

One of the best things about social media is that it forces you to become a copywriter. A couple of years ago I made a decision to post every day on LinkedIn, not to build an audience, but to find my voice.  It forced me to become a better writer, and now I can spit stuff out on demand.

So just do it, open up a Google Doc (or open up Chrome and type in docs.new) and once a day just write something. That’s the easiest way to do it.

I would also recommend finding brands that you think do copywriting well. For me that was Apple and Nike. I would read press releases and ad copy from both companies and figure out how they talk, the words they use or don’t use, and try and extract that.

You might not be an athletic apparel company, but I bet you can write a headline for your website that’s inspired by Nike. Try to find the patterns.

In the end, you’re writing to one person. I try to write in a very informal style, like myself. I try to use very choppy short copy that has a rhythm to it. The goal of your first line is to get somebody to read the second line, and so on.

It doesn't mean you have to write a one-word, one-line LinkedIn post, but instead of starting, “Hello, tomorrow at 14:00 eastern time, we are hosting a webinar with my friends at Gong, IO,” I would write that email like this:

“So this morning I was dropping my daughter off at school, and I had this idea which is 'Huh, how come we've never done a webinar with our friends at Gong', so tomorrow at 14:00…”

It’s the same message but it's completely different. I've hooked you right away. I’ve built a connection with you right away, because I wrote like a person.

The last thing is that you have to know who you are as a writer. I know marketing, and I’m comfortable positioning myself as an expert on marketing, so the way I write is, “I’m the expert, and I’m here to teach you.”

Let’s say I was working at a cyber security company, where I’m not the expert. I would take a different approach. I would say, “I’m not the expert, I’m the guide. Our CTO is the expert, and here’s an interview with him.”

You have to decide who you are and then use that as an angle for your copy.

One of the biggest things that’s broken in the world of marketing and sales is that we expect a 23-year-old BDR to cold email a CMO of a billion-dollar company, positioning themselves as the expert, and get them to book a meeting.

There’s no way they’ll know more than the CMO, so they need to come from a place of “I’m not the expert, I’m the guide.” That way, they’ll have much more success.

Build Your Team According to Your Needs

I think the first thing you need to do when building your team is assess the skillset that you already have, and what you need to complete it.

At Drift, my background was in writing, communication, and product marketing. So I needed to focus on those aspects myself and hire around me.

On the other hand, if you come in with a demand generation background, your first hire shouldn’t be another demand gen person. You should probably be looking for a designer or content writer.

You also need to think about the goals of the company. Do you need to grow leads really quickly? Don’t hire a content person, but bring an SEO expert on board to quickly get that traction.

A lot of it is nuance, but I usually recommend three people as your first marketing hires: a promoter, a designer, and a writer. Product marketing, demand generation, SEO - they come later.

Somebody has to own the process of getting the word out. You need the designer because design is the backbone of everything; landing pages, graphics, social media images. Every time I’ve not had a designer on board it’s been a problem.

You need the writer because the sales team is going to need copy for their emails, and your ads will need copy. Everything has writing on it.

Listening to Your Customers has Never Been Easier...or More Important

When I started at Privy, I was new to E-commerce, new the whole Shopify ecosystem, and I needed to just learn about the market and get up to speed, and no sales rep likes when you go sit at their desk and you listen to calls.

So instead, I got the Gong app on my phone, and for the first two weeks at the company, I just stopped listening to podcasts and stopped listening to music, and I just listened to Gong calls while I went for a walk, while I worked out. And I was able to just drink from the fire hose and learn.

I think the most powerful thing you can hear is the words of your customers.

And so, Gong was great to be able to do that.

I love sales people, but we’ve all got some friction.

One thing that drove me nuts is this perception that, 'Well marketer Dave, you're not on the phone, so you can't possibly understand what's going on'. And now I can say, 'I listen to the same call'. You and I clearly are going to listen to the same facts, and unless we interpret them differently, I think it levels the playing field for sales and marketing in that respect. I can listen to those calls, and at the same time I can say 'Oh, wow, we're not doing a good enough job with our messaging and our website and positioning, people don't understand this'. I think it really levels the playing field, let's everyone hear directly from our customers.

The interesting thing is that If you listen to a 100 calls, in 80% of those calls the same two or three questions are going to come up.

It's never like, 'Oh my god, there's so many things, I can't keep track of all them'. When I did a sprint for two weeks listening to calls, I didn't learn everything, but I learnt the 80-20 of what is happening in the business, and I think that's a really helpful exercise to know; it's not 100 different things, it's these two or three things. The 80-20 principle always applies, and especially applies to calls with customers.

As another example, we made our podcast a really central part of the marketing funnel at Privy, and we can go into Gong and say 'How often is our podcast coming up on calls', both in the sense of a customer saying 'I heard about you from the Podcast', but also our sales team saying, 'Hey, do you want to learn more about marketing and growing your business while you're around? You should listen to our Podcast'.

Life is Too Short to Work for a CEO who Doesn’t Understand Marketing

Look at some of the greatest CEO's that you can think of, whether it's Marc Benioff or Steve Jobs.

They do marketing. Why has there never been a CMO of Apple? Steve Jobs probably just churned through marketing people, because he had to be the one to write the headline, he had the one to set the tone. So I think that's the level, if you want to create a brand that has that type of movement and that feeling, that doesn't get set because you hire some marketer.

What happened at Drift was that our CEO had that vision, we got matched up together and it took off. I helped light that flame, but it's not like I came into the company and said, 'Here's a vision of how we're going to do marketing'. It has to start with the CEO.

People ask me how I recognise when a CEO really believes in marketing. The truth is that I can’t define it. It’s a feeling. It’s like walking into a restaurant and immediately feeling that it’s the real deal.

When you’re 24 years old and you’re just getting started in your marketing career, you don’t get to pick your job based on whether or not the CEO or gets it, but as you progress that is absolutely something you need to take into account.

That’s especially true if you’re going to be the marketing leader, the CMO or VP. You need to have the right relationship with the CEO, where they understand marketing and want to collaborate. I can’t tell you how many times at Drift and at Privy I’ve received texts about marketing from the CEO that are about creative ideas.

I think one of the mistakes I see is that there are often two founders of a company. One of them is the CEO, and the other one is the technical founder.

What then needs to happen is that the CEO needs to make it clear. One of them will take marketing under his wing, and so you’re going to spend a lot of time together, whereas the founder will be responsible for the technology side. I don’t see enough CEOs who say from the beginning, “I’m going to be involved in marketing.”

Make Your Mistakes Out Loud

It sounds like ego, but I’ve never had one big failure.

That’s because I fail every day.

My approach is very much “Do your work in public.” One of the coolest things about marketing today is that everybody’s connected. I’m using content and social media to always test new ideas, so I’ve developed a good feeling for whether something is going to work or not.

If you hold on to your big idea, disappear for two months, and then launch it to the world, that’s how you get a huge failure. The feedback loop that social media can give you is so important.

This goes all the way back to 2014 when I launched my podcast. I tweeted out when I had almost no audience, “How comes there’s no podcast for startups?” Somebody tweeted back, “Why don’t you start it?”

I think social media is such a cheat code but brands often don’t use it right. There’s all this hype about “Direct to Consumer”. People often don’t see that Direct to Consumer is social media. You can test out all your content ideas, your next product.

I’ve avoided huge failures because I’ve always avoided the “Big Reveal.”

Even when it comes to redoing a website. Most marketers would say that's a six month project, But I say let's break it down, let's do the home page first, because that's where 80% of people are going to be, let's start with a couple of versions of the home page, let's start to feel this out, get some more data on this thing, then we can go out and build the full site.

I try to break things down into smaller chunks so you can avoid the failure. I think it's just such an advantage to be able to reach people directly, that if you have a dramatic failure, that's on you.

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Dave Gerhardt is one of the B2B world’s leading brand builders. He is the Chief Marketing Officer at Privy and previously helped build Drift, one of the fastest growing SaaS companies of all-time. He created DCMG, a group of 2000+ members helping B2B marketers share their knowledge.

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Techie Talkie,  the tech marketing podcast is a casual meeting place where the best tech marketers share their most impactful trade secrets and marketing hacks . Its objective is to inspire creativity within the tech marketing space and help marketers rise above the noise. It is hosted by Asaph Shulman, a serial marketer and CMO of Firebolt and our very own Carmel Yoeli.