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Boosting B2B Brand Confidence
Ah, RFPs. Short for Requests for Proposal. Long for time-to-value. They’re the bane of many a B2B business’ procurement processes, frustratingly time consuming and full of friction in a fast-moving world. But they don’t have to be that way, not according to VP Global Marketing Angela Earl and the team at RFPIO.
They aren’t here to tell you that the RFP process as it stands today isn’t full of pain; instead, the RFP response SaaS brand is here to tell you there’s another way. Tune in to hear how RFPIO is drinking its own champagne to both simplify and build confidence in a notoriously frustrating category, enabling sales teams in such a way that the RFPIO marketing team effectively delivers a whopping 90% of pipeline (“pipeline” being fully vetted Sales Qualified Opportunities, that is). Check it out!
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- How RFPIO is maximizing internal and external partnerships
- How brands can optimize their RFP creation and response processes
- The secret behind RFPIO’s marketing team bringing in 90% of pipeline
- Golf is a Game of Confidence by Dr. Bob Rotella
- RTU Episode 100: Thoughts on Leadership, Accountability, and Building a Network That Spans a Lifetime
- Turning Marketing into Math: an Interview with John Miller
[0:00] Cold Open: The Renegade Marketers Book!
Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and I’ve got some exciting news. My second book, Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, launches October 5th, and is now available on Amazon for pre-order—hint, hint. And for super fans of this podcast, you’ll be happy to know there’s an audio version recorded by yours truly.
I’m grateful for the many kind reviews. I’m hoping that you all will want to read it and write your own reviews, and that you’ll visit renegademarketing.com for details, for special downloads, and all sorts of other goodies. Now let’s get to the show!
[1:01] From Agency Consultant to CMO
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! When I was a kid, my dad and I played catch with just about any spherical object as often as we could. Whether it was a football or a baseball or a basketball or a tennis ball he kept saying to me, “If you can touch it, you can catch it.”
Now, I suspect I was a kid who made up excuses when I didn’t catch it, like “It wasn’t my fault” or “That was a bad throw” or “The sun was in my eyes.” But as he repeated, “If you can touch it, you can catch it,” it finally sunk in that excuses we’re not to be part of our conversation.
So, as I did my down and out pattern, and he let fly a perfect spiral leading me to the sideline, I’d stretch out my arms, keeping two feet in bounds of course as they did in college, and imagine I was pulling down the game winner. As we did this over and over again, I gained a sense of confidence that I could indeed catch the game winner.
Now, I never played football for a school team, but I did become a pretty good tennis player and I was known for my doggedness. I could run down just about any ball and somehow get it back. If I could touch it, I could get it back.
Now years later I realized that there was a more important part of my father’s lesson when I saw this book Golf is a Game of Confidence. You simply have to believe that you can do something—anything in life, whether it’s sports or otherwise—in order to do it.
You gain confidence through practice, but positivity comes first, not afterwards. All the while I thought my dad and I were just playing catch, he was instilling in me a sense of positivity and a path to confidence—perhaps the greatest gift any parent can give their children. So first, thanks dad!
And at this point, you might be wondering how this is relevant to today’s conversation. Well, let me explain. My guest today is Angela Earl, the Vice President of Global Marketing of RFPIO, a company that makes software that aids the sales process.
When Angela and I were planning out this episode, she expressed a lot of empathy for their target audience—people who sell—and mentioned how hard it is to be a salesperson and to deal with rejection all the time. And how supporting these individuals with a sense of positivity is very much in their brand DNA. So I thought, “Hot damn, we’ve got to talk about that!” Angela, welcome to the show!
Angela Earl: Thanks for having me.
Drew Neisser: How are you?
Angela Earl: I’m well. I’m excited to be here.
Drew Neisser: And also, because these days you could be anywhere, where are you?
Angela Earl: I am in Southwest Portland Oregon.
Drew Neisser: Southwest Portland Oregon, okay. Having heard the intro, are you still feeling optimistic about this episode?
Angela Earl: I’m feeling very optimistic. I’d like to hear more tips from your dad to be honest.
Drew Neisser: You can! He was in episode 100. We had a lot of fun with that, and he’s doing amazing. He is 95 years old and sharp as a whip. Anyway, one of the things—I saw you did was a podcast and I guess you did 10 episodes, but I wonder if you found as a result of doing a podcast that it was more fun because you were learning so much more than you ever expected?
Angela Earl: That’s exactly right. I enjoyed meeting the guests and learning from them hopefully as much as anybody who listened to the podcast. But first and foremost, we would have fun and I would learn a ton.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s really a wonderful thing. Let’s get to the subject at hand. You joined RFPIO in January 2020. What was your mandate from your CEO or board?
Angela Earl: At the time I joined, my CEO had shared a vision for evolving out of our niche of very specific proposal response software. He wanted to bring forth response management as a whole, and then round out the portfolio of products with a full procurement support for sales enablement.
Drew Neisser: So, he has a bigger vision for the brand—for the company I should say—with new products and so forth. And so, where did he see your role fitting into that narrative?
Angela Earl: Ganesh and I had known each other for a while, and prior to 2020, I had been a consultant with RFPIO through an agency capacity. I owned an agency; they were one of my clients. It was really fun helping them define the very first brand documentation and aesthetic, so I helped build the brand from the ground up. When we were talking last January, it had been three or four years since those initial conversations, so it’s really just an evolution in what had happened.
Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. I never worked on the client side and I’m curious, had you done that before in your career?
Angela Earl: My tech career started client side. I started in B2B tech, had an insatiable appetite for learning. I just move at a rapid pace and I just can’t get enough when I’m excited about something, so one of my mentors actually recommended I move agency side. I did so for a couple of agencies and then started my own, loved it, actually said out loud, “I’m agency for life!” and then I went to RFPIO. Never say never.
Drew Neisser: Exactly. Talk a little bit about… Not everybody can make that leap. What do you think that makes it work for you relative to being on the agency side where, one, you get to work on a lot of different kinds of projects with different types of clients? How are you able to make that work given the differences between those two roles?
Angela Earl: I’m not for every tech company. I think the realization that it’s not as binary as “client side” or “agency side,” for me anyway. It’s really about growth and pace. What I loved about agency side was getting to move quickly, to deliver fast solutions, and clients wanted change now. That’s why they had usually brought in an external agency. And so, for me, looking for hyper growth tech companies is really important. I need someone who wants to grow, wants to grow fast, and is willing to manage the change that is required to do so.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. The key that I take away and that’s so important as we talk to a lot of CMOs and particularly CMOs in transition is really knowing what you like and what you’re good at and that’s really important. And you’re a hyper growth marketer, whether it’s client side or agency side, and that makes a lot of sense. I can see that.
[8:01] Maximizing Partnerships at RFPIO in the First 90 Days
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about then… you get there, what were some of the first things that you did? This was January 2020, so just before the pandemic.
Angela Earl: You listen a lot, right? The first 90 days anywhere is a lot of listening, a lot of relationship building. Even though I had been around in some capacity, I had not been there as a leader and as part of the executive team.
It was forming those relationships, understanding what was working and what wasn’t from my peers, from my new team, from the cross functional teams that were relying on marketing for different support. Really taking that all in and then writing what would be the first of four versions of my plan.
Drew Neisser: So, let’s talk about the first of four versions, what wasn’t working that you had to fix?
Angela Earl: I mean there was lots working. I didn’t walk into an environment that was broken or with crazy pain points. We knew that we had a great content engine that was going, we had a really loyal customer base that was willing to engage, a strong webinar program to get super tactical, strong blog that was publishing weekly, and lots of engagement.
What we weren’t doing is really taking advantage of the shared and earned spaces. We had built some partnerships, but we were not maximizing those relationships to say, “Hey, where do we have intersections where we can meet the same people? You want to meet salespeople, we want to meet salespeople, how can we do that together?
Drew Neisser: Shared and earned… Let’s break those down. We’ll talk about “earned” for a moment. Is that hiring a PR firm?
Angela Earl: We did. We brought in Walker Sands as our PR firm, they’re based out of the East Coast, I think, like you. Maybe because my Nana raised me and she’s a Jersey girl, I have favorites. Maybe I should expose that as a West Coaster. But they are B2B focused. So just like I knew me, and I knew I wanted to be in B2B hyper growth tech, I looked for an agency that also had a really strong identity in the space that we were working in.
Drew Neisser: I’d like to spend a couple minutes on that because there’s been so much dissatisfaction expressed among B2B CMOs about their PR agencies. There are some pretty good ones too, and usually it comes down to the fact that they’re not willing to put in the work that it takes to get out of a PR firm. I’m curious—if you were advising a bunch of CMOs who happened to be listening to this show, what would you say is the key to making sure that your PR relationship—actually an investment—pays out?
Angela Earl: I hear the same thing from my friends, and there are two things that fall into this category: PR is one of them and technology purchase is the other. I know those sound so far from each other as far as reality, but honestly, it’s the same core issue.
You have to know what success looks like and what you want from the relationship or the software that you’re buying. And unless we own that to say, “Here’s what I need PR to do for me, here’s what I’m looking for, and here’s what I’m going to define success as…,” then it’s literally just chance on whether you feel like it’s successful in six, nine, twelve months. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll get somewhere, but it may not be where you wanted to go.
Drew Neisser: And often the complaint is, “Well I’m not in the Wall Street Journal this week,” or “We’re not in the New York Times this week,” or “We’re not on NBC nightly news” and it’s like… “Yeah okay…” Then there’s an expectation management issue. But knowing what success looks like, obviously, is really important. And it’s funny that you brought in the tech as well. So, you talked about “earned” and then “shared” is partnerships?
Angela Earl: Exactly. We’ve long had a partnership with an association called the Association of Project Management Professionals, or Proposal Management Professionals, APMP. It’s been around a long time; it is our core audience. They are first heroes our last heroes, they are their champions, we are theirs, and the association is kind of the one man standing of things out there for that profession.
We’ve formed a relationship with them over the course of our business lifetime, but then we form new ones. We looked at how within sales there’s different roles. Yes, you have your proposal managers, you have your account executives, you also have pre-sales. We’ve done reaching out to pre-sales collective as one of our partners and working with them on some events and campaigns and things like that.
Drew Neisser: Got it. Alright, we’re gonna take a quick break, and then when we come back, we’re really going to get into—well, you’ve mentioned one of four plans, so we’re going to fast forward through a couple of those other plans.
Show Break: On CMO Huddles
If you don’t mind, I’d like to plug CMO Huddles for a second. Launched in 2020, CMO Huddles is an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness.
One CMO described huddles as “Timely conversations with smart peers in a trusting environment” while another called it “A cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session.” If you’re a B2B CMO that can share and care with the best of them, visit CMOHuddles.com or send me an email to see if you qualify for a guest pass.
[13:56] Why RFPIO Simplified its Marketing
Drew Neisser: You said there were three plans. Let’s fast forward to the most recent plan. What changed in the last… whenever this last plan was?
Angela Earl: The most obvious change may not be that exciting. We realized that to be most useful, the plan needed to go beyond just strategies, frameworks, and guidance. We needed to simplify. We were trying to do too much at a time when we were running really, really fast.
And so, we pruned it. We pulled stuff out, we were honest with ourselves about where we didn’t make progress in the first half, and we said, “What are the perspectives we’re going to take going into the second half? Let’s do a single campaign arc for each one of them.” We’re finalizing that and taking that as our second half objective.
Drew Neisser: Longtime listeners will know that I harp on this a lot, but I’m curious… Why did you feel the need to simplify? How did you identify the problem that a little bit of a simpler approach would solve?
Angela Earl: I asked my team. We had a meeting and I said, “Here are the things that I can identify we didn’t accomplish in the first half. You tell me. What got in the way?” In a very open way. We work very openly. There’s a ton of trust. I’m very, very lucky for the team that I have.
We have that kind of relationship where I can say, “What’s going on?” And they’re not going to feel attacked or blamed, and can very openly say, “There was too much. We were trying to do way too much.” That was my instruction then, to go back to the plan, take my black sharpie, and basically start crossing things off.
Drew Neisser: I love it. By the way, this book that is back here, which is my new book that comes out on October 1st. The first chapter is all about that.
Angela Earl: I’ll have to read it then. I will enjoy it.
Drew Neisser: It’s like, taking the Marie Kondo approach to your marketing plan. B2B got so complicated so fast, and everybody tried to do so much, and the result was sort of peanut butter, just everything spread out too thin. Now, of course you haven’t proven out that this approach is going to work yet, though.
Angela Earl: True.
Drew Neisser: Well, right now it’s a wonderful theory and we’ll leave it at that.
[16:34] How RFPIO is Taking a Positive Approach to the RFP Process
“This isn’t a quick trip to the dentist. We’re trying to actually convince you that you want to go to the dentist because it’s a revenue generating engine when it’s done right.” —Angela Earl @rfpioinc Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about how you all are addressing this very challenging part of sales in this world of rejection. And I’m curious, because we started talking about that as the brand DNA, and I’m curious how that has manifested itself.
Angela Earl: We work in an environment where… We started an RFP Response. I can run a poll at any point, on any day, on how people feel about our RFP Response. If we did a word cloud of those feelings and those words that would pop up, most of them would not be positive words. Some of them might be profanity.
It is not generally something that people are excited about, feel that it’s productive, and why? We’re not just frustrated. It’s because of the tangible outcomes of salespeople. We want to hit goals, we’re competitive. We’re driven and motivated, so anything that gets in our way, we have this frustration with.
We took it and said, “Well, our software is purpose built to make this process not just efficient; we’re not trying to help you get through it faster so the pain can be over. This isn’t a quick trip to the dentist. We’re trying to actually convince you that you want to go to the dentist because it’s a revenue generating engine when it’s done right.”
We said that we’re not going to talk about the pain, we’re not going to wallow in self-pity or embrace those negative words. We’re actually building a brand that’s all about the hope of the future state, and we’re going to really focus on what’s possible if you’re equipped correctly.
Drew Neisser: And what is possible if you’re equipped correctly?
Angela Earl: At RFPIO, we believe that RFPs are a very strong source of revenue when sales teams have the content they need. And then, most recently we’ve realized that content can reach across the sales organization and go beyond just your responses to RFPs, but can actually unclog all of the inefficiencies across the sales cycle…
Whether that’s an immediate response in an email, an SDR having to say, “Hey, let me ask that question and get back to you.” We’ve eliminated all of that friction in the sales process by simply giving access to the knowledge that is usually spread peanut butter thin across an organization and getting access to the salespeople on the front line.
Drew Neisser: It occurs to me as an agency person that when an RFP comes across the door, I just sort of say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” A long time ago, I said we’re not going to participate. But most companies in businesses, particularly if you’re selling complex technology or whatever it is, you can’t afford not to.
Let’s talk a little bit about what you’ve learned about this world of RFPs and how you do make them better.
There are two sides of this RFP world. There are the people who issue these sometimes-horrible RFPs, and you wonder if they even knew the industry at all. And then there’s this pain of having to respond to this process. Where do you sit in this world?
Angela Earl: We sit on both sides. The great thing about RPFIO is that we care about the entire life cycle of strategic sourcing or procurement. You and I talked earlier about how you make a PR team successful—it’s the same as how you buy software.
Before you write an RFP, you need to understand your requirements. You need to understand what you want to get out of it, what the purchase is going to enable your company to do, and then what are the KPIs that you’re going to measure success on. And those things are what should go into your RFP.
It doesn’t need to be pages and pages of verbose explanation. It can actually be a really efficient way to say, “Here’s what we’re trying to do, here’s what we believe we need in order to do that, tell me about your solution and how it’s going to fix it.”
I think if more RFPs were structured that way, responding to them wouldn’t have that daunting task of like, “They asked for a unicorn. Unicorns aren’t real. How do we tell them that we are a unicorn kind of because we are a horse with a hat on our head?” And so, you get into this like forced thing. And then on the response side…
Drew Neisser: Wait, I have to stop you for a second. I want to go back—you said that a good RFP does three things. I’m thinking of the audience who’s working out right now and they heard those three things and if they’re like me, I could only get two of them. One of them was requirements and the third was KPIs. Go through that list real quick so that listeners who are working out can hear it again.
Angela Earl: Absolutely. You need to know the list of requirements. You need to understand what you’re trying to do—and that’s a common language. I think we jargon things up and we try to make it sound all cool and business appropriate, but really simply, in human language, conversational tone, what are you trying to achieve? What is the state that’s different than the state of today? What are the requirements, what are you trying to achieve with it, and then how are you going to decide through KPIs if that happened or not?
Drew Neisser: Okay, which is really helpful. I think that the good news is we’re all buyers and we’re all sellers, so if you put on your buyer hat for a moment and you think about all the things you procure whether it’s an agency, a PR firm, a piece of software, this simple form of “What do you want to do, what are you trying to do, and how are you going to measure success?” and get that done first before you talk to a single person and put us through the wringer. Okay, now, you were about to go into the second part of this.
Angela Earl: Then on the response side, you loathe the response because often we’re a square peg and round holing. We’re trying to draw a connection into a very squishy RFP response that doesn’t make sense to begin with. So how do we respond to questions that don’t really make sense in a way that’s going to convince them that we are the best solution?
It’s kind of set up for failure, so as a responder, having access to your best product positioning, having access to pre-approved legal boilerplates, having marketing approved content and customer quotes and all of that on demand allows you to say, “What’s my best content and how do I put my best foot forward with this response?”
If we could do that for you efficiently, you would do more RFPs. Right now, one of the biggest reasons people don’t do them, you described how they come in and you’re just kind of like, “Yeah, that’s nice.” Oftentimes it is the headache of the amount of time it takes to gather all of that information and then it has to go through the rigmarole of a ton of internal approvals.
Drew Neisser: Why do we need RFPs again?
Angela Earl: I believe that when done right, when done as we are describing it, it creates accountability and transparency in both the purchase and in the purpose of what the relationship between those two organizations are going to do.
I’m a technologist, I’m a data nerd. I came up through marketing and sales operations. It’s a preventer of shiny object syndrome. I’m buying the software because my friend works there or because the brand is really cool or because all of the cool tech companies are doing it.
It interrupts that to actually make your outline “Why are you doing it, what is the business need from this?” And then on the response side, it can actually really outline—if I’m a good fit, hopefully, my response outlines, “Here’s how I’m going to meet that need.” If both of those things can come together, you can successfully pick. You’ll have more successful tech implementations and less churn overall.
Drew Neisser: Is there a bell curve where better RFPs, better outcomes? And it’s almost like a straight line? Or we can do with the inverse of that… Bad RFP, bad outcome. Is it just a direct correlation?
Angela Earl: I don’t know that there’s data behind it, so I don’t want to pretend that there’s statistical information that I don’t know if it exists or not. It would be an interesting study to say the least. At this point, we believe that customers are happy when they know what they’re getting into. Software should be a partnership and not just a purchase.
Drew Neisser: Got it, okay. I want to go back to this notion of the salespeople who are trying to deal with this RFP and the attitude, and why that’s so important to you all in your business and relationship with people who are responding to RFPs?
Angela Earl: First, salespeople matter to me because I work with them every day. My own sales team, from my peer Konnor who leads sales at RFPIO, his whole team, they’re our friends. You get to know people you work with, so you don’t want to be the source of frustration for anyone. The homework starts at home. We enable our own sales team. We’re working continuously to make sure they have what they need in their RFP responses and that it’s efficient, starting with us.
Outside of that, we try and spread the love. We want to share that success. Proposal managers are often the unsung heroes in their organizations that are having to facilitate this process that nobody likes. Who would want to have the job where you’re the cat herder of the process that nobody actually wants to do anyway? We’re elevating these people’s role and actually saying, “Hey you can have a strategic hand and be a really strong part of the revenue engine.” And they tend to get excited about that.
Drew Neisser: That is a promise that a lot of technology has offered, which is, “Hey, I know what you’re doing” and this is particularly for back-office software. “I know that you’re bogged down with data entry” or any one of these things that a lot of people hate in the workforce, and “We’re going to elevate it and you’re going to be strategic instead of just doing this stuff.” But I think there’s something more important in this… that everybody hates the category, which is a little bit different than a lot of other ones. That’s such an interesting challenge.
[28:14] How RFPIO Optimizes the RFP Process
“We’re going to give you a benchmark in your current state, we’re going to give you some immediate tangible improvement, and then we’re going to create efficiencies longer term.” —Angela Earl @rfpioinc Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: We’ve got this industry that is just… my wife used to use this expression: “Put upon mom.” And they’re sort of put upon people on either side of it. What kinds of things have you done to help them through that? Get that attitude of “No, this isn’t going to the dentist. This is going to a rose garden where you’re going to see beautiful things and you’re going to get to pick something nice and take it home?”
Angela Earl: We’re not trying to pretend it’s something it’s not. We’re not covering it in rose-colored glasses, as it were. What we are doing is creating a transparent environment in the data.
We integrate with CRM and things like that to really show you in the data. Going back to how you purchase software with KPIs, we say measure it on implementation. Let’s get it set up, let’s expose a dashboard where you can see what’s happening. Are you using the content? Is the content helping you win more deals?
We can track that and we can optimize against it as well, so it’s not just one and done. We’re not going to just implement and you’re going to achieve utopia six-, nine-, or twelve-months in. We’re going to give you a benchmark in your current state, we’re going to give you some immediate tangible improvement, and then we’re going to create efficiencies longer term.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. I wonder, is there a specific type of transaction where this really just kills it? Because I’m thinking about an enterprise sale, where there’s… I think Gartner was saying there’s 17 people on average involved in the enterprise sale.
That’s so complicated and the communication is multi-streaming—you need to reach all of these people. I’m wondering where this fits in? There’s procurement on one side where there’s a single person who is going to be weighing this, or at least a committee, and it’s really clear? Help me understand where these RFPs are typically being used.
Angela Earl: At RFPIO, we understand the collaborative nature of these kinds of processes. It’s one of the reasons that we’ve created a software that has unlimited users. Unlike a lot of software out there where it’s per license, you pay per seat. It’s very normal, we’re all very accustomed to it now. I remember when it happened, but we are there and it’s normalized.
We’ve removed that. We’ve said, “Everybody in the organization has access to RFPIO from day one. It’s not going to cost you a single penny more.” And really, we look at it as unlimited collaboration.
Drew Neisser: Right. I’m thinking about it in the context of this world of all the CMOs that I think about. Your purchaser is most likely someone who is in this world or procurement?
Angela Earl: It can be a procurement leader, oftentimes it’s a sales leader. Proposal management rolls up within the sales organization at a lot of companies, unless it’s consulting or business consulting, then you have dedicated proposal management teams and things like that. But if we’re speaking broad stroke, most of the time it’s a sales function.
Drew Neisser: In theory, if I were using this product in this technology, I would have… in 2020, I responded to 20 RFPs, we got 5 of them. In 2021 after I implemented, we responded to 20 RFPs and we got 10 of them. You’re able to show them that, right?
Angela Earl: It’s both, yeah. It’s the fact that you were able to increase your volume, so there’s an efficiency in that the solution offers you the ability to respond to more RFPs because you’re spending less time doing them. But it’s not just a volume play. Because not only are you responding to more, the quality of every response is improved because you’re learning about your content with everyone.
The content gets raided, it gets data attached to it to say, when you’re pulling that content in, you can see how recently it was used and how many times it’s been used to win a deal. You’re naturally going to scrape the cream off the top and every proposal you do is that much better.
Drew Neisser: That’s so interesting because you think about it… So often, you do the RFP and if you lose, you may call the folks and say, “Hey, so why did we not get this?” But you’re not thinking about necessarily the efficiency of the process or the pieces. And this is really taking this area that is this thing that people don’t want to talk about. And it says, “No, this is yet again another business opportunity for digital transformation.” I mean you fit right into it.
Okay, I know I’m a little late. It took me how many minutes to get there. But I’m there. I think it’s just this aversion to RFPs is informing my view. And I bet there’s that out there, and that’s got to be part of this, it’s “What? RFPs?”
Angela Earl: Yeah, and we’re not debunking those things as lies. It’s not like we’re sitting out here saying those things are untrue. They are very much your state of today and they’re what you’re dealing with. What we’re saying is it doesn’t have to be that way.
In a manual process, absolutely. RFPs are going to be hard. If you’re calling through a Google Drive or your hard drive looking for the last RFP response that you did that’s kinda like this one, and you’re going to start with that draft, it’s going to suck. And it’s going to be old content from three years ago when you got talked into doing an RFP response then.
You’re probably going to lose, and then you’re gonna hate it more and it’s going to deep seat this angst for the process. But if you invest—like with most digital transformations—if you invest in understanding “How can this work for me, what does an efficient process look like for us, and how can we buy software that enables that process?” and then you start learning about the content… I think there’s promise and there’s hope in that.
[34:29] How RFPIO’s Marketing Team Brings in 90% of Sales Qualified Opportunities
“It has to be sincere, it has to be in your DNA as a brand, it has to be in the DNA of the company and the people that you hire. And then people will be attracted to that.” —Angela Earl @rfpioinc Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: Let’s get back to your marketing and obviously we’ve already established that you drink your own champagne and you’re using it to respond as your process, but if you look at it in our last segment, is there one thing or a couple things that you’ve done as CMO that have been particularly effective?
Angela Earl: At RFPIO, we are accountable for 90 percent of the pipeline. When we look across my marketing plan and we talk about calling things out, I have to be keenly aware that my number doesn’t change, just like sales.
When I say things like “We are a content driven marketing team,” which we are, it’s easy to think “Oh, we’re not measured. Oh, what’s your contribution?” Everybody sort of equates content marketing with this nice fluffy hug. But we are also very accountable.
We don’t operate in a traditional sense in that we generate a ton of MQLs. Nothing on our website is gated. I’m a big believer in creating the best content you can and then getting the heck out of the way so that people can consume it.
And we do that by trying to add value. We really do believe that software should be a partnership and our brand should be a partner out there to the people were trying to sell to.
I want to be a resource for sales teams to say, “I’m wondering about this. I wonder if RFPIO has anything on that.” And I want them to come to my site and not get a gate, not get an interstitial or pop up and have a frustrating experience and then Google it again.
I want them to come to our blog, find something really helpful and go, “Wow. That’s awesome. I’m gonna go try that right now.” They don’t have to buy anything, right? If they keep coming back to that well, eventually we’re going to evolve that into a customer relationship.
Drew Neisser: I’m just going to do a quick amen I’m just going to repeat that no gates thing. I’ve said it before on this show.
You are doing yourself a disservice and you are missing an opportunity if you’re producing good content—unless you’re producing content that you could charge money for on Amazon, which is called a book, why are you getting your content? Which is not a book, which is not worth charging money for.
But they’re gonna ask this question—well how the heck am I going to fill my pipeline? Where are those leads going to come from? Answer that for us, please.
Angela Earl: I mean, it’s a long ball game. The answer is not that tomorrow you’re going to fill your pipeline. You’re investing in really quality marketing that, over time, works. I think one of the things in marketing we have to get out of our minds this this immediate satisfaction that I can push a button and something is going to come out. It’s not a vending machine.
You have to create really good content, you have to be a really good thought leader, and then you have to do that over and over and over again. It has to be sincere, it has to be in your DNA as a brand, it has to be in the DNA of the company and the people that you hire. And then people will be attracted to that. And that’s worked for RFPIO.
Drew Neisser: It’s one thing to say: “Trust me, content’s going to work.” It’s another thing when you’re saying 90 percent of pipeline is driven by marketing. And that’s a huge number. There’s only one other brand that I’ve ever interviewed on this show that use 90 percent. And just in case that was an off-camera conversation, I can’t say the brand name, but there’s only one other out of well over 250 on the show alone.
Angela Earl: I’ll let you tell my CEO that.
Drew Neisser: Seriously, that’s a huge number. And I do want to make sure—and we talked about this in the pre-game. When you say pipeline, are we talking about what some would call opportunities? These are real names of people who are interested in buying your product the sales can make a call on.
Angela Earl: It’s beyond that. In marketing, we have sales development. We attract leads, they raised their hand, they say, “I want to see the product.” Marketing calls them. Our sales development team calls them, validates that there is really a buy ready interest there, that we’re talking to a real person at a company that can buy us with a need we can solve. We hand that to our sales organization, so it is a sales qualified opportunity.
Drew Neisser: SQO. Sales Qualified Opportunity. And 90 percent of those, so your sales guys aren’t going knocking on doors or cold calling—or at least 9 out of 10 aren’t. Because they’ve been warmed up through all this content hugging that you’ve been doing in the marketplace. And it is that 90 percent driven all by inbound content, or is there some outbound that goes with that?
Angela Earl: It is mostly inbound. My SDRs are awesome at what they do and they’re calling target accounts and things like that and generating—9 out of 10 of their SQOs are inbound. My sales organization, same. I don’t want to leave them out to dry. They do a great job at outbound. They definitely own their 10 percent and many of them overachieve all the time, but when we’re looking at accountability, it’s 90 percent accountability from marketing.
Drew Neisser: And just in case, this reminds me, I interviewed Jon Miller when he was at Marketo many years ago—probably over 10 years ago—and what he talked about was the math of this.
When 90 percent of your leads, if you will, your pipeline is driven by marketing, you have fewer salespeople. You don’t need as many salespeople, and salespeople are more expensive than marketing people, so the math of this is really actually pretty good too. My question before we wrap up is, were you at 90 percent when you arrived or has that been an evolution?
Angela Earl: Well, I’ve been around since the beginning. Remember that I’ve been leading marketing at RFPIO since they began, just wasn’t here full time. We’ve been 90 percent. We were 100 percent when we were small because, to your point, we didn’t need a huge sales organization. Over time as we’ve grown, the sales organization has done an amazing job at their own outbound outreach and has taken over that 10 percent.
[40:48] Lessons Learned: Agility, Creativity, and Simplicity
Drew Neisser: So, you’ve built this and what’s interesting to me is that these things do tie together. If you can’t see them, I’m seeing them in my brain, so here’s how I’m going to connect the dots.
We started with this attitude that we are sympathetic towards our target audience, that they have pain and one of the things that they want to do is research and they do that research. And if you can deliver things that are in the right attitude that help address their pain, you’ve made a friend. You’ve given them that that sense of hope and maybe sense of optimism that there’s something better out there than the craziness that they’re going through.
If you do enough of that, you get to the point where 90 percent of your pipeline is driven by marketing, which is really a pretty marvelous situation to be in. I would say any listeners going “Gosh, I want that for my brand!” So, biggest lessons learned in the last year.
Angela Earl: I mean, the last year has taught us nothing if it hasn’t taught us to be agile and nimble. I was reading a statistic this week actually about how much of marketing is the same old thing. We like to mock companies that do things for the sake of they’ve always been done that way, especially agency side. Like, yeah, it’s always been done that way, the old boys club, right?
It’s so mocked that there’s thousands of hilarious memes out there on Google. But you know what? Guilty. You know what that is? We call them best practice. We call them benchmarks. We say, “What did other people do that work? Let me implement that.”
And then we do it at such a fast pace, especially in hyper growth tech that we aren’t even adding to it any unique spin or creativity. We’re just like… implement, go, implement, go. I think testing, creativity, leaving room for creativity—again, that simplification, what it does is it gives us breathing space. It allows us to say really what’s going to work and let’s do a really good job at it instead of just go, go, go like we’re in boot camp.
Drew Neisser: I love that, and I also think that some of this if you will positivity applies back to your team. You are in a hyper growth company and there is a tendency to want to sort of push, push, push and do everything that you can. The problem with it is that you’re going to burn out your people, you’re going to burn out yourself, and you can’t do everything well anyway.
This focus not only allows, as you said, breathing room. I’m imagining that the attitudes on your team must have been just so much better, and maybe your retention rates. Because right now there’s a major battle for talent. So, you know, burn them out at your own risk. There was a double benefit that you—I think that was probably, as you explained, that was why you did it. But focus really matters is really what I’m trying to say.
Angela Earl: It does, and I agree, and I would hope that my team is a very happy team. They certainly are in their expressions to me anyway. Our goal is to create an environment where employees are happy. Happy employees serve happy customers.
Drew Neisser: Yes indeed. All right, well, we’re gonna wrap with this notion. Angela, thank you very much for for joining us and making me not get the shivers when I hear that word “RFP.” I’m excited for the future. There may be a point in time where it’s like when Steve Martin, in I think it was The Jerk when he goes, “The new phone book is here!” They’re gonna go, “The new RFP is here!” People are going to do that? Is that going to happen?
Angela Earl: I bet we have customers that do that now.
Drew Neisser: There you go! See, positivity. Well, there you have it, thank you again for being on the show Angela.
Angela Earl: Thank you for having me, Drew.
Drew Neisser: And for the listeners, if you’ve enjoyed this show as rambling as I was trying to get in this world. Do me a favor and go to your favorite podcast channel and rate the show, share it with a friend. As always, I’m available if you have any questions.
Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! Audio production is by Sam Beck. Show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about the savviest B2B marketing boutique in New York City, visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser, and until next time keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.