Future-Proof tactics for IT Sales and Marketing in 2021 [video]
Updated: Feb 7, 2021
Together with Victor from Rocks&Gold I've recorded my first video on Marketing & Sales for Software Houses and B2B Startups. Yupi! That was a great lesson for both of us. Please find a result of our work that covers: 👉 Marketing Foundations and Strategy
👉 Niche Marketing 👉 Account-Based Marketing
👉 Outbound Marketing 👉 Data-Driven Sales
👉 Inbound Marketing
👉 Content Clusters & Pillar Pages
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Please find a transcript of our conversation.
Table of Content:
Victor Krasovsky from Rocks&Gold
Hey Marcin, we're on the air.
Marcin Małaszuk from GrowMy.Tech
Finally, nice to meet you today.
I'm very happy that we’ve finally got this call because it was postponed as I was sick with his aggressive virus. I'm very happy that we’ve made it.
We met last year, and we collaborated because you started using Rocks&Gold platform. You were one of our users. That was really interesting because I found out that we actually practice the same approach towards marketing and sales, briefly account-based sales.
To the people and the audience who are watching this, we had a chance to talk together on the best practices, marketing, sales, account-based sales and we got this idea to make a call to discuss all of the challenges that happened last year, and some of the business trends that could be used by marketers and sales guys in IT companies.
I know you as the person who is a growth manager and a growth hacker and the person that can kick off sales and marketing in IT companies. I'm very happy that you’ve agreed to hop on this call and exchange some of these ideas.
To people who watch this video, could you tell a bit more about your expertise and how you’ve got there and what's your background? It will be a good intro.
About Grow My Tech
Hi guys, my name is Marcin Małaszuk. I'm from GrowMy.Tech. I help software houses, from the CEE region, that start their marketing and sales to kick off. Basically, all the stuff from the very beginning so from the strategy, crafting communication, building up tactics and execution. This is what I do.
The story you have mentioned was really nice because like I used Rocks&Gold for a while and that really helped me to find proper companies to engage with and to do ABM, what we will discuss later on, and we share the same, I would say, attitude toward the business, so that's great we could discuss what has happened in 2020 and what are great tactics for 2021.
We met while you were using Rocks&Gold platform and this is a platform that we created to track hiring data. We are talking about sales signals, buying signals, sales data management.
There are tools such as Crunchbase to track fundraising, tools to get alerts whenever companies appear in the newspaper when there is some public news going on. We felt the need to create a tool that would give the same alerts for hiring.
And again, hiring data is just a signal, but the bigger question is, how do you use the sales data to find opportunity windows to actually speak with the client and solve their problem. So my question to you is and I was really interested to hear your opinion based on 2020. What do you think, what do you expect from 2021? What things do you think are working? Which things stopped working? What's your experience on that when you look back into 2020? What's going to happen now?
What to expect from 2021 in terms of B2B marketing?
2020 was a hard time for many of us.
The biggest change, I’ve observed is the window for all the outsourcing companies. So people who would like to deliver projects for other companies, but not as internal teams but as external ones here. This is point number one.
Point number two is a transfer of marketing budgets from various areas of marketing directly to online marketing. We all sit at homes. Our offices are partly or completely closed.
We spent more time online, so all the marketing activities in 2021, maybe not all, but most of them would be concentrated on digital.
The third part is connected with the competition. Competition in the digital space. We'll see probably a lot of content, a lot of quality content. So that would be even harder, next year, to become visible, differentiate your company and get to your prospects.
I think those are the challenges for the next year that were caused by Covid. This is my perspective and your, as I think, is a little bit different one because I'm saying it from a marketing and general growth perspective, but your perspective is concentrated on sales. Victor what's your opinion?
Yes, that's interesting. I think the marketing and sales line that is between is always blurred. You just raised the point that there are more opportunities for outsourcing companies. Do you connect with the fact that it's more remote jobs and some tasks and parts of services could be done by an outsourcing company instead of employees? Is what you mean?
Yes, companies were forced to work remotely, which wasn't a 100% normal situation before. Unlike working before, you can think, ‘okay, so remote work is almost like outsourcing so why shouldn't I check external parties, yes?’.
From our perspective, because we attract hiring data, and we had our hands on the hiring data, we definitely have seen how the jobs dropped in February last year and then, a remote spike. We saw remote jobs where remote job weren’t reported and acknowledged like Dot.net and C#, which aren’t traditionally that remote. We’ve seen that companies had to adapt and adjust. Now we hear the news that many teams aren’t even going to come back to offices, they like the way it works. So what I think, what COVID and 2020 caused is that it was a change for everyone. It was a jump out of the comfort zone for everyone. It looked like nobody asked you whether you are an employee, whether you're a small company, whether you're a big company, everybody faced it, there was like a stress test for everyone. Everybody asked, do I keep these employees? Do I keep these workers? Do I keep this relationship or keep these vendors?
Do I need these or I need some other clients? It was a general re-evaluation of businesses. Obviously remote was a huge change, when we started our platform a few years ago, we even couldn't imagine something like this would happen. Angel.co had a newsletter last year, just mentioned that remote jobs have doubled and they are not so cheap. It's like just 10% on average paychecks are lower than traditional jobs inhouse. So we could support that definitely because we've seen this data from many other job boards, like LinkedIn, Stack Overflow, Remote.co, so the remote is a new trend that we have to keep in mind. Certainly.
To continue, let's forget about 2020 lessons to lessons, how would you approach this year? What things you would start even though it's been a few weeks since January, but it's never too late :). How would you start in 2021? What do you approach in the first place?
Tactic no 1: Specialisation and finding a niche in a Software House
It's like a good question. The first tactic, number one in a situation when we've got huge, and increasing competition is differentiation, finding a niche and getting specialised. Why? Because it's easier to run a business. Afterwards, it's easier to craft communication. It’s easier to craft the value proposition for clients. So building and finding a niche is like a way of easing your life.
If you will stand in the position of your clients, you probably will look not only for a marketing guy but a marketing guy, who knows software business. And from the perspective of a buyer of software development services, you would look for a software development company, but that would be great if they have experience in FinTech - if you aren't from FinTech. If you are from the supply chain, they [software house] know what your day to day problems are in the supply chain, and they know how to solve those problems using technology.
The specialisation is like a thing that helps to craft communication on one side; and on another side, it helps to make decisions, buying decisions on the client’s side. That’s why I think this is the number one tactic I would recommend for 2021, because of high competition online. You need to find your way out and reach your clients in a more effective way.
Yeah, you just can no longer go everywhere. I think it's just gonna be very difficult these days, there are fewer jobs, more competition, everybody's fighting for the same clients. You no longer can be good for everyone. Number one trend is to find your niche. Right, it's never bad advice.
Tactic no 2: ABM: Is Account-based Marketing any good for Software Houses?
Anything else? We started about account-based marketing (ABM), account-based sales (ABS). How do you see the application when you know where you're going?
I think it’s a topic you like, yes? But I like it as well.
Yeah, it's when our friendship started.
It's ABM, to explain for everyone, maybe not everyone is fully aware of what ABM is. It is Account-Based Marketing or Sales; you focus on your client, and on your clients' needs. We'll discuss it, I hope, for a couple of minutes. Talking about the application of ABM in the custom software development industry, I would say, it's an ultimate choice for the companies. Because ABM as a philosophy is a way of approaching your clients not in a general way, but in a crafted way at which your client is special and you know them. You know how to solve your client's problems. This is a tactic that is, I would say, designed for high margin industries, high margin deals, for best clients, for best segments of yours. We need to be aware that ABM is time-consuming, it takes time. It takes time to analyse and takes time to execute. So it's great if you could apply it only for the top clients. For example, you're entering a new market and you need to get top brands on board to do your portfolio - ABM is best for that. Because during the process you learn who is the decision-maker, how your ideal client is structured, who are stakeholders, how you should craft [communication] to this person and how should communicate to another one; you need to find the differences between decision-makers and buying personas.
Summing up, it's a way of getting the Pareto rule effect: 20% of your efforts might bring you 80% of revenue. This is what ABM is about. It's about limiting your time effort and activities once you are trying to get new business. Concluding, for software houses that's the tactic I recommend.
That's a good point that you mentioned about the Pareto rule as I haven't thought about it. I agree that it's not only about the client. I mean, regarding your client it is that you're becoming a trusted adviser, so you have a goal, not to sell but you have a goal to build a relationship with them.
It's also about you too as you dedicate your time because account-based marketing is a big commitment. It means that you say:
Okay, I have a list of dream clients, there would be 100 accounts and I investigate them, I make research, I understand where they are’.
Where's the gap that you can close with your expertise and you say:
Well, it's not gonna be easy. It's gonna take time. It's gonna take maybe half a year and that means that it's about you and where your business is going to be in a half a year, what clients would you love to have in a half a year or a year.
You're going to commit, you're going to build relationships with them. So I completely agree. I think it's a key to make a plan because without a plan you fail. You have to make a plan, you have to make a research, you have to understand why they are on your list, and how you can be helpful with your expertise, and then... yeah, just do the job.
Support everything with data. It's a good idea because you don't want to make guesses. You want to prove you know where they are, that you understand the situation.
Talking about account-based marketing I want to, as a sales guy, compare it with a tactic I used to practice - spread and pray. It is where you take the massive database, and you just contact all of them. So in the end, the top of the pyramid will be people who respond and say yes ‘I have this problem, I like this service.’
Whereas account-based sales is completely the opposite. It is where you have 100 companies or 200 companies, and you go down just educating them. You start with the fact that they don't know anything about you, and then the next stage is that they're aware of you, then they consider you, and then they make a decision. You simply build relationships with them, and you just know that you're not going to push, that you're not going to speed up things because it's not how the friendship grows. Right? It's how you prove to them, one by one, that you care about their situation. Big part of this is when you start account-based marketing you need a plan and you have to find a moment to do research about the contacts and the subjects.
Let's say I decided to do ABM for 2021. I already thought about my clients, about their problems. What do I do next, how do I bring everything into a plan? Can you give us some advice?
Apply ABM with a data-driven approach. Having a data-driven approach you can execute ABM within your marketing, so getting well-structured analytics, you might be supported with many tools that give you insight on how your clients act, who they are, what they do and where they go afterwards. [With analytics] you might find that your clients are not interested in your whole offer, but only part of your offer.
Let's imagine you're a software development company, and you've got some specialisation in a particular niche, and that's Fintech, so you can easily find out that your clients, spend quality time on your website, looking for information about FinTech, about KYC, for example. Your job as a marketer in a data-driven and ABM approach is to prepare content that is appropriate for that person, that is informative, it's good in a format, and so on. Afterwards, craft a strategy and your tactics to deliver the best possible content for this person; once they leave the FinTech section of your website, never send them information about logistics, as it's not the way they will buy and you will not build an expert's image in those people’s eyes. Instead, use remarketing to bring them valuable information about FinTech i.e. how regulations are working within that field. This is the job of a marketer within data-driven ABM on top of preparing the materials for sales, presentations, white papers etc.
So I don't know if you if you see, what's the difference between the marketing departments here in ABM?
I think, you just don't claim yourself a trusted advisor, there must be content that supports it. Right? I think from the sales perspective I usually thought that the key to success is one on one time with the client, but then we realised that's more important what the client does between this communication tie, as you can raise awareness and show solutions to the problem, and then they would love to investigate what are the options. The fact that you have the right content on the website that supports client’s needs just really helps you a lot to progress in building trustful relationships. This is something you really have to care about.
Can you give advice from the marketing perspective, how you should structure such information? Let's assume I understand the problem, I understand the gap and understand which of my clients have particular problems. How can I make my clients believe it's not just expertise that I have, and that I'm the trusted advisor that can bring them where they want to be. What could be the tips here?
Tactic no 3: SEO: Topic Clusters & Pillar Pages at Software Companies
I’ll try to cover that one, but before let me be back to the notion you mentioned before. It’s funnel. You described a sales funnel which is structured the same for marketing. You've got the awareness stage, you've got the consideration stage, you've got the decision-making stage. Your job is to build content, might be a blog post article, an ebook, a white paper, a video, etc., that helps your clients, answer particular questions they have on each of those steps and push those clients from the stage of awareness to consideration and to the decision making. You want to be the last click. A tactic, that to me, is very helpful to reach that goal is building topic clusters and supporting it with pillar pages. This is the notion of not targeting keywords only, but, targeting subjects. A subject is a group of subtopics. Just to visualise that one; we are a software development company and we would like to find a client that will buy our services. The natural and most common subject is software development. In the concept of the topic cluster, you build several subtopics, sub-articles, blog posts about software development, that cover the subject from different angles. You might write a piece of content about:
how to find the best software developers,
how to build an effective software development team,
what is the pricing level of software development,
how you do software development,
what kind of software development technologies and languages might fit for your particular needs.
This is about topic clusters. I will show you an example of a company in the industry.
It's called TownSendSecurity (https://info.townsendsecurity.com/definitive-guide-to-encryption-key-management-fundamentals). They want to get clients who are interested in encryption key management. You can find them at the top of organic search.
They've created a pillar page. A pillar page is a single standing web page that is the centre of a topic cluster. This is a place where you give extensive and thorough information about the subject. You can use other subtopics, pieces of content to present them on a pillar page. Use backlinks, use videos here. This is a place where your client comes, gets the best possible information and builds an opinion about you as an expert on the topic.
Please scroll, just a bit to see what they've got. What kind of content they have.
I will do it really quickly. Afterwards, we'll add in at the bottom of the, of the video. The link to those to those guys so you can do some...
It's like best practice on this website. And yeah that might be a good way, I will contact those guys.
They have videos, they have ebooks they have lots of written information, they are almost like Wikipedia, they have different schemes that really... even encryption, that's not the topic I'm good at, but I'm actually getting very amazed.
As you can see they are using all that they could on one page, so you don't need to go anywhere to get full knowledge. And it's completely for free. This is an important point, it is completely for free. You don't need to pay with your email or other data.
You read it, but once you are interested in the topic... I'm almost sure, it's like in a bookstore, you go, you check a book, you read it, you find it interesting, then you buy. This is the same way which pillar page works. You find this material interesting and you want to do something with that. Only then you pay with your email, so this is a completely new way to do business regarding content. Providing educational and informative data. At first, educate, this is like what you said, become an advisor, become an expert and a friend of your client, give them something and don't expect to pay upfront. Like buying a pig in a poke. This is all about helping people here and the empathy that you mentioned as well. That's my perspective, I think it's like the fourth tactic for 2021 from my side. I totally agree with ABM and data-driven. And I think all those steps that we mentioned, they meet at one point, and this point is a subject.
Certainly. Account-based sales and account-based marketing is a commitment. I mean, to write a page like this you cannot waste your time. You have to be sure that you're approaching the problem that your clients have otherwise it doesn't make any sense.
To elaborate and to open the brackets of data-driven. Many people think of data as contact data, company's data, but it’s important to think of a concept of sales data management. It's how you find companies, how you find people behind the companies, it's not just to build a relationship with the company x. People from many different levels that are CEOs and project managers and tech people, operational people, whoever you need, will contribute to the picture of what's the situation in the company. So the sales data also means any kind of buying intent, sales signals. A good example would be Crunchbase. It's data in real-time that says: ‘Oh, they actually thinking of it’.
Maybe you heard of Bombora (https://www.bambora.com/)? They make a list where they score companies by topics. Let's say you type ‘account-based sales’ for instance, and you'll see the list of companies by score. I guess they track how they look for things on Google, but they score that the company has this problem. The company's making the research on this topic. This kind of data can really signal to you an opportunity. Signal that they are thinking about some solutions. Maybe they are wrong, they might face the wrong set of options and it's your goal to come and show them that there are other ways. Prove to them that you understand, prove to them that you can get them to the point where they want to be.
I think from the sales perspective because you asked me how account-based sales could be different from account-based marketing. The marketing goal is to give leads to sales, so you can say that okay this company is actually a good shot for me.
From a sales perspective, I think it's just a bit more proactive approach. Like knocking on doors, but instead of going spread and pray mode and fighting for attention, you want to win with empathy. So I think good advice is that when you have the content that supports the subject, you have to let people know about the subject too. The best way to do this is to be proactive in your communication, showing your face, send videos, send examples, send gifs, connect on LinkedIn, make a phone call, do something that won't be trivial. There's something that will let them know that you're just another offer on the list. I think people just kind of tired of this constant fight for attention. I sow people who are ready to just say anything, just to have your reply. It's not the way it should be because-account based sales means ‘no worries, I'm not gonna hurry up, I understand that you may have some rejections, but I'm convinced myself that you're a good client and that I can help you. I'm convinced myself that together we can get to a better outcome. That creates the whole strategy - I'm willing to not push you, but I am willing to prove to you that there is something you may be missing, and overall raise the trust.
We're talking about account-based marketing and account-based sales; are there any practical tools that you would advise for people to give it a try.
We already know that you need to find your niche, you have to think about your clients, you have to commit, you have to make your research support with data, know clients problems and build subjects and give this content, your outreach with a proactive approach. Now, what tools can save a lot of time? It can be very difficult to start from zero.
Tools for Marketing and Sales for 2021 for B2B Software Companies
I will tell you a little bit about my top choice. You can test them and afterwards, you need to pay, but it's worth paying, it's SurferSEO. It's a tool for content creators, for marketing strategists and copywriters, that needs to build content. From the perspective of our conversation Surfer might be used to create topic clusters and pillar pages. They are Poland. I think they are well known because it's a killer tool. My one advice here to you guys - check Surfer SEO.
What are you picks for 2021 Victor?
That depends on the problem. I certainly advise people to look for tools that can save time. To me, the most important tools are divided into three categories.
The first one is around CRM or let's call it sales data management. You just want to find data easily, you want to build lists easily, you want to make research easily, you don't want to copy-paste, do any manual tasks, so choose a CRM that has plenty of integrations for instance HubSpot. It is free, HubSpot is connected with many other apps that can help you to find people contact details and so on. You can choose PipeDrive, or Salesforce but Salesforce can be quite expensive. Pipedrive is a very affordable tool, HubSpot can be even free on certain plants. So these tools can help you to work better with data because data determine the success of account-based marketing.
The second choice for SEO perspective would be Frase (https://www.frase.io/) and SerpWatch (https://serpwatch.io/) it helps you verbalise and to write a text that will become understandable by your audience. It's critical for any kind of messaging, or even just content.
Number three, if you choose automation conditional emails. Many people don’t know it, but you don't really have to copy-paste messages, you don't really have to write messages. If you have several data points, you can use liquid templates. It emails conditional content: so if you're a CEO the next sentence will be about numbers; If you're CTO the next sentence will be about technology. Tools like Apollo (https://www.apollo.io/), HubSpot have some conditional emails, Woodpecker (https://woodpecker.co/) is another Polish tool that supports conditional emails. So, to people who watch this, just google tools I’m using, check if they have conditional emails or liquid templates, because that's the number one technology I think for email marketing, LinkedIn marketing. So conditional emails, liquid templates - check this out.
I mentioned gifts; CloudApp can make a gift. It's free, it can make some videos. Loom (https://www.loom.com/) can make videos easily embedded in the email and LinkedIn. Drift, again, another free tool, specifically for LinkedIn video content.
Those are my top choices, there on the screen.
I think it's time to wrap up and make a little sum up. Could you, repeat what are the main tactics for 2021, what people should be doing, and what things are worth doing this year?
Point number one is getting specialised. Find your niche and build your specialisation
Point number two. Think about account-based marketing and account-based sales, it pays off.
Point number three, do things data-driven, don't waste time on guessing, you've got so many tools. Victor mentioned plenty of them, so just scroll back to the recording and check what Victor was recommending to be data-driven.
Point number four. Write valuable and meaningful content using topic clusters and pillar pages.
I think those are four main points from our discussion that might help you guys move a little bit faster this year.
Listen to this guy, he's a growth hacker, he definitely knows what he's talking about. Well, I can just totally agree.
To me, account-based sales, account-based marketing is a top choice. It's not about clients and dream clients and that you prove that you're a trusted adviser. It's about your business. It's about your niche. So, certainly account-based sales, it's a commitment that will change and shift the paradigm.
I mean, the other thing you mentioned - data-driven - so sales data management. Don't be afraid of investing in tools, invest in data, find real-time data like data signals, buying intents. Because only data determines the quality of your research about the clients but also how you communicate the value.
So that's the number one choice. It depends on your product or services, but when you invest in data you also free up time for communication rather than copy-pasting or building lists. It is connected with the third idea, that is automation. Data should tell people what they should be doing, not the other way around. So if you spend time creating lists, trillion manual tasks, then think of how you can just create automation.
And finally, we were talking about the outreach. Do not be trivial, make sure that you are not fighting for attention, you win with empathy. So it means that you use available data and insights to connect with people, not be afraid to show your face. Show them examples, tell them about their business, not just be repeating some pitches. Don't be afraid to become a friend. Start small and grow this relationship because it might be the determinant of successful sales.
Tool for SEO that will help you create content clusters and pillar pages:
Sales + Automation:
Liquide Templates / conditional emails:
Gifs / Video / Animation