The Startup Founders Marketing PlaybookThe Tech Talks Daily Podcast
This is an interview I did with Neil C. Hughes on The Tech Talks Daily Podcast about my Startup Founders Marketing Playbook and my approach for building disruptive innovation technology companies.
What is the startup founders marketing playbook and how can it help your business grow?
In this interview, I share my thoughts with Neil C. Hughes from The Tech Talks Daily Podcast on how the startup founder’s marketing playbook can impact your business. During this discussion, we covered:
- The marketing playbook framework.
- How marketing impacts business outcomes.
- Marketing vs. sales and how to get in alignment.
- What the future of B2B marketing looks like.
[00:00:01.255] – Jingle
Welcome to the Tech Talks Daily podcast, where you can learn and be inspired by real-world examples of how technology is transforming businesses and reshaping industries in a language everyone can understand. Here is your host, Neil C. Hughes.
[00:00:19.435] – Neil C. Hughes
Welcome back to the Tech Talk Daily podcast. We cover so many different topics on this podcast, and I do as you all know by now, ask each and every one of you to email me at the end of every episode. And today’s guest did just that. His name is Mark Donnigan from Growth Stage Marketing. And he messaged me saying, I noticed that you don’t have too many marketers on the podcast or discussions about MarTech. So I invite him on the podcast to right that wrong straight away. But I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers. He is a great guy, someone I could chat with for hours. So instead, let’s get him straight on. So buckle up and hold on tight so I can beam your ears, all the way to Arizona so you can join me and Mark in conversation right now. So a massive warm welcome to the show. Can you tell the listeners a little about who you are and what you do?
[00:01:12.865] – Mark Donnigan
It’s great to be here, Neil. Thank you for the invitation. Yeah. So my name’s Mark Donnigan. I, I work with technical founders really to architect marketing playbooks primarily for B2B focused sales motions. And, you know, I’m a guy that that really spans the strategy to the implementation. I love disruptive innovation startups. And, you know, I really like getting involved at that stage where the product’s been built. The solution is ready and we built it. But no one’s coming to our party. And I think a lot of you know, a lot of product-led, especially startup founders, just naturally sort of fall into that because, you know, you’re super excited. You know, you really have an innovation that’s going to meet a market need. And it’s easy to assume because we built it, they’re going to come. And that’s just unfortunately not the way it works. So I really get involved. And, you know, as I said, I work, you know, initially in developing the strategies and then very often, you know, roll up my sleeves and get to work implementing whether that’s with an existing team or building a team.
[00:02:35.075] – Neil C. Hughes
And you mention that by executing marketing playbooks and designing them, of course, but tell me a bit more about how you actually produce real business results for early and growth technology startup companies? Because I suspect is something that many people listening will be completely unaware of. And how it all fits together?
[00:02:53.225] – Mark Donnigan
It’s a great question because I just made the comment that especially just where I naturally gravitate towards, I’m really a technologist. I started developing, started programing when I was 12 and just I didn’t actually end up finishing my computer science degree. So in terms of professionally, I never went down the engineering route. But the point is, you know, I’m very much drawn to technology and innovation. And so, you know, what I find is, is that founders and startup teams building very, you know, technology, forward-leaning companies, a lot of times haven’t had a lot of exposure in their careers to marketing. And so, you know, the perception is marketing is the pretty pictures in the videos and the social media stuff, you know, and the trade show booth. And so, hey, we need to find a marketing person who can, you know, who can do all that, all that pretty stuff. The fact of the matter is that, you know, those are important components and they’re certainly pieces that need to be executed. But that is not marketing. You know, that’s sort of the you know, the outward window dressing, so to speak. Really, you know, marketing is at the core go-to-market. It’s integrated with the sales process in a lot of startups today. And so when we talk about marketing, sometimes it can get a little confusing if someone’s not really living in that world because, you know, they’re approaching it from the, you know, what trade show we’re going to go to? What’s our booth going to look like? You know, how are we doing on social media? Kind of that typical stuff, as I just said. But the reality is, is that where we have to start is, saying what is the go to market plan? What’s the framework? What’s the strategy that’s going to allow us ultimately to make a sale? Because at the end of the day, we can make the company famous. You know, everybody can know our brand and know the name of the company. But if they’re not giving us P.Os and I work primarily in B2B, so, you know, for B2B, it’s a P.O. that’s, you know, a purchase order that, you know, is really the mechanism that says, hey, there’s some revenue coming here. You know, for not getting P.Os, then, you know, unfortunately, we’re going to fail. So, you know, this is about a market and positioning as well as a sales, sometimes it’s a strategy. How are we actually going to sell our product? What’s the mechanism and how do those two pieces fit together, the sales and the marketing? So, you know, there are some very clear steps to follow. There is definitely the science side of it. And there’s the art, as well.
[00:05:52.475] – Neil C. Hughes
And you mentioned that you’re a technologist at heart, presumably, that would come in really handy in the world of MarTech because technology has engulfed that world, hasn’t it?
[00:06:01.835] – Mark Donnigan
Stepping back, I have found that nowadays there really is not an industry that isn’t being interrupted with technology or, you know, digital transformation is everywhere. And of course, 2020 with the pandemic is going to be the year that’s forever referred to as the year that all of this digital transformation talk that has been going on for years, I mean, for more than 10 years, really even 15 years. You know, this whole shift from doing a lot of things in kind of a physical manner to virtual, you know, to online. 2020 is the year it happened. But, you know, that disruption, so to speak, has carried through every single industry. So even some of the oldest and you know, the industries that maybe, you know, no one really thought could be quote-unquote, digitally disrupted have been. When we talk about technology, in some cases about the products and the services and the, you know, what we’re actually building. In other words, what we’re bringing into the market. But we’re talking as well about how as a marketing organization, how as a sales organization, we’re able now to approach the market, talk to a market, speak to a market in a way that previously, it was always available, but often the ecosystem or the market, you know, was maybe less open.
You know? So that’s you know, that’s really where I’m super excited about what is happening right now in business and in marketing in particular. Now, MarTech, from a technology perspective, you know, all the tools that we have available, this is also very, very exciting and opens up some tremendous opportunities for real scale, so that a startup. What it allows now any team to do is, you know, I like to say kind of punch above their weight so you no longer need to go out and hire the classic. You know, I need seven to ten people in marketing just so I can get the job done now with three to five, and with the right tools and the right strategies and the right frameworks, it is very possible to outperform teams that are much larger. And that’s really, really exciting and that’s great news for startup founders.
[00:08:48.955] – Neil C. Hughes
So for anyone listening outside this world or maybe just want to take a look under the hood and understand how it all works, what does that go to market engineering process, actually look like?
[00:09:00.745] – Mark Donnigan
When we talk about processes and frameworks, I like to start simple, but as is usually the case, almost always the case, the devil’s in the details. So I’m going to define, you know, at a very high level, very simple framework that will be sort of a slap on the forehead, you know, of, OK, that’s kind of obvious. And then, you know, we can dip in a little bit deeper if you’re interested in going there. But what I find is, is that rather than starting from sort of like a brand audit perspective. And what I mean by that is often when a consultant or someone comes in to work with a company and maybe they’re just getting started or maybe they’re struggling a little bit, you know, kind of the default behavior is, hey, you know, let’s look at your brand. You know, let’s see what your exposure is online. You know, does the ecosystem know about you? Does the industry know about you? And that’s all kind of brand facing. I don’t actually believe that’s the right approach. I think the first thing is to start by clearly defining the problem that they’re solving. So what is the problem that that product or that solution, that service, you know, whatever it is that the company has developed, what is the problem that they are uniquely able to solve? So this sounds like kind of, again, a slap on the forehead like. Well, yeah, I mean, that’s why the company was created, you know? So I mean, you know, that’s just a given. Right? But I am shocked. And, you know, if any of the listeners are out there and you’re in an earlier stage startup or you know, you’re pre product market fit and you’re going through the process, I would encourage you to try and, you know, just ask yourself, can I clearly define what the problem is? Because what invariably happens is the problem statement is either so broad and so wide that it can’t actually possibly hit because it’s just too broad. Or it is so narrow that it also is going to miss, and so you have to start by solving the problem. Then you have to develop, so the second piece of this framework is developing the key message or messages that explained very simply how we solve that problem. And again, I realize that it’s so tempting to sort of be like, OK, this is all very common sense stuff. Like we’ve already gone through all these exercises, but where I have seen startups that have a real solution that solves a real need, but they’re not being successful. 99 percent of the time, which is to say almost 100 percent of the time I can go back and again, either their problem definition is so broad, they’re trying to hit everybody and explain to the entire world why everyone on the planet, all seven billion people could use their product. Or they’re just so narrow, and if they get that targeting off, then, you know, again, they’re missing the target. So this is really, really critical. And then, you know, finally, the third step of this process, this whole, you know, go to market. And what we’re talking about is the foundation for demand generation, because demand generation is revenue. Right. So after you’ve defined the problem, after you’ve very clearly developed the key messages that explain, you know, how is your life going to be better after, you know, using our solution, after implementing our product than it was before, you just have to get into the field. So the third step is get into the field and start spreading the message. Now, you know, this is where I’m super excited about what’s happening right now in marketing. Where, you know, the buyers are, the buying journey has gotten so fragmented that there is just tremendous desire for community. And what I am seeing is, is the old days of where the trade show and a handful of pillar vendors, you know, in a particular market and a particular ecosystem in a particular industry, hold all the keys to communicating with the customer. That’s how it used to be 20 years ago. You had to go to the major trade shows because you had to hear from the largest vendors in your space, because that was how as a buyer, you would learn. That’s how you got the information to make a decision on products and understand where the market’s going and what technology trends are, et cetera. Well, all of that has just been decimated. Not only as a result of the pandemic and everything going virtual, but it’s been happening for years. Because the Internet has leveled the playing field, and so now I can get any information as a buyer that I want or need without ever talking to a vendor. This absolutely flips the marketing game on its head. And so now if if I’m a marketer and if I’m not in the field and if I don’t have a really good understanding of how my buyer is receiving information and getting information, then I’m just going to be, you know, as we like to say, spraying and praying, just blasting content all over, hoping that maybe if I put it on Facebook and I put it on LinkedIn and I run Google ads and I, you know, and I advertise in half a dozen major industry, you know, blogs and a handful of magazines that might still exist. And, you know, and I go to a certain trade shows and I have a booth and that, I just hope it all works. And that is just not a good place to be sitting here in 2020, you know, staring down 2021.
[00:15:25.505] – Neil C. Hughes
And of course, another big focus is that need to eradicate information silos and increasing collaboration. So with all that in mind, can you tell me a little bit more about how this three-stranded cord cannot be broken? And the importance of having that strong relationship between the CMO, CRO and the CEO, too?
[00:15:45.195] – Mark Donnigan
It’s a really good point that you bring up, Neil, because inside the organization now, you know, we’re sort of shifting our our focus. We’re, you know, talking here for a couple of minutes, more about the earlier stage, where a lot of times, you know, the marketing leader is probably also the sales leader might also be the CEO, you know. But, you know, so there’s there’s a small number of people wearing a number of hats. But as an organization grows and you begin to develop these silos, which, by the way, you know, they should not be silos, but it often is what happens. So you have the revenue silo, you know, all the sellers, the sales team, the head of sales. You have the marketing team and the head of marketing. You know, you have the the the CEO and and the executive team. And, you know, it’s so critical. I have always operated and I’ve just never found ever an example where by having three silos, that could all be very strong, very good organizations, but they’re not working together where a company really ultimately succeeds. I see a much better example of where, you know, sort of like a rope, you know, and that’s why I like the analogy of the three, you know, the three-stranded cord. So you take three smaller strands of rope and you twist those together in the right way. And wow, I mean, you could you know, you could pull cars with it. You know, it’s really, really, really, really strong. And so that is a very intentional thing that has to happen culturally inside the company. And ultimately, what I have found is that it’s my individual responsibility as a member of one of those three strands, so to speak. So generally, I’m sitting in the marketing chair. And so it’s not my responsibility to look at my CEO or, you know, at the founder of the company and say, hey, you need to bring us together. It’s actually my job to to be actively participating in that integration process. But with that said, it is super critical that culturally and again, starting at the top with the CEO, that this be mandated, I guess you could say, but it’s modeled, you know, is this behavior. And when you bring especially marketing and sales together, wow, it’s magic. Because when the sales head and the marketing head understand that we all rise together or we swim together, you know, meaning, you know, we’re out of the boat. We’re just trying to survive, you know, when they are joined and when they are connected at that level. I have I’ve seen just multiple, multiple times where great things happen. Because, you know, not every quarter is going to be knockout, you know. Unfortunately, I mean, it’s great when those happen, but, you know, when things are not trending in the right direction, when the numbers are off, when you know, the go to market strategies aren’t connecting, that’s when the marketing and the sales leader must get together and must work together or else the company is going to fail.
[00:19:16.455] – Neil C. Hughes
And before you came on the podcast today, I did read about Demand Gen being the responsibility of the entire company. But it should always be led by marketing is something you can expand on in the reasons why?
[00:19:28.215] – Mark Donnigan
And now there’s a new twist on SaaS called PaaS, platform as a service. And so in those business models, there’s very often a function called demand generation. And that’s because ultimately, even though there is a sales team and of course, a lot of this depends on the, you know, annual value of a deal and the average cash value. And, you know, so if you’re selling a product that, you know, is maybe on average five to seven thousand dollars a year, that’s a very different sort of sales motion than if it’s seventy to three hundred thousand dollars a year, you know, and or something even larger. But the point is, is that demand generation is often a function inside the marketing team that is about producing leads. I mean, that’s the job. The problem that I have with saying that there’s a team of people, you know, there’s kind of the single function. There’s this team of people. We have the Demand Gen team and they sit over here in this corner, is that what it does is it relegates the total success of the company on the heads of a handful of people. When in reality, Demand Generation success spans across marketing, obviously, it’s really starts and it’s led, I believe, in marketing, but it, of course, connects to sales. It goes to product. It goes all the way into the executive suite across function. It even goes into H.R. and it goes into people management. And so I have found that changing the thinking, the mindset. Now, you still have the team that’s focused on the function because there’s you know, there’s there’s specific things that the Demand Gen marketers and the Demand Gen team will be doing. So when they come to work every day or, you know, they wake up and start their day. You know, they need to be doing certain things. But the notion that Demand Gen just starts and stops with this group of six or eight or ten or twenty or thirty people is really wrong, in my view. And from what I have seen.
[00:22:04.695] – Neil C. Hughes
And I also read that you’ve got a belief that today’s CMO is a business strategist and an ecosystem and domain expert every bit as much as a marketer. Can you tell me a bit more about that school of thought, too?
[00:22:16.665] – Mark Donnigan
Yeah, I believe this, really, with all my heart. So as as marketers for the marketers in the audience, especially those who are sitting in a VP of marketing or CMO title. As many will attest to, the marketing chair rotates frequently, which is to say that, you know, unfortunately, business starts to stumble. And usually the first head to get lopped off is the CMO, you know, the head of marketing. Well, let’s get someone new in here. Surely they can get the job done. And you know what I have found just in observation, and in conversation with executive teams working with clients, is that almost always I don’t know if I can say that I have never run into a situation where, you know, where maybe someone just really didn’t perform in their job, you know, so they just didn’t have the skills or, you know, whatever. For some reason, they weren’t getting the job done. So that does happen. But what I’ve found is that more often than not, the situation of somebody getting replaced as a head of marketing really had nothing to do with them not being good at their job. In fact, I found the opposite. I found in some cases that it was quite shocking to me because, like, wow, this is a really highly qualified, very skilled, hard-working person. In other words, they were doing all of the right things, but they lost their job because unfortunately, what they were doing didn’t work, you know. So at the end of the day, you know, results are what really matters. Right? And so I began to really think a lot about why that is, you know, how is it in this seems to be a bit of a pattern. So what’s going on here? You know, you know, why is this happening? And what I observed is, is that generally speaking. Those were the marketing leaders who were executing a playbook from like 2005, you know, from basically their their business school training from, you know, 2000, 2005, 2010. So, you know, 10, 15, 20 years ago, they were executing in some cases flawlessly. But they weren’t in the market. They weren’t connecting to the market. They never really understood the nuance, the power lines of how the ecosystem worked. And as a result, they were executing brilliantly, but that they were shooting in the opposite direction of the target, you know, to use that analogy. And so, I mean, they were lining up the gunsights and they were I mean, everything was spot on. The problem was the target was in the opposite direction and they were, of course, missing it. And so, you know, what I have found is, is that we are in such a dynamic time in business. And by the way, you know, there is no, quote-unquote going back. And I’m speaking beyond even just sort of, you know, pre-pandemic, post-pandemic. But, you know, that’s certainly front and center for all of us right now. But there it’s not that we’re going to kind of return to the good old days of business. The world is just moving too fast. We are in a fully integrated global economy. You know, we have been for years. So that’s not really anything new. But the marketing leader, who is not deeply entrenched in their industry and in their ecosystem, is really, really going to struggle. And so this is what I mean by the fact that, you know, a marketing leader really is a strategist. A marketing leader owns the ecosystem. It’s the marketing leader that in the staff meetings, you know, when the executive team meets. It’s the marketing leader that should have the most recent and on-point feedback of what’s happening with competitors, what’s happening, you know, just general trends in terms of the market that could be affecting the business or the business strategy. And to the extent that that person has that information and is able to bring that forward, it makes them indispensable. And so all of a sudden, the marketing leader goes from kind of being the first head to lop off to the last head to lop off because like, wow. You know, the CEO’s saying, you know, this is the last person I can get rid of because this is the one person who has the most direct connect conduit to what is really going on in the you know, in our industry, in the ecosystem.
[00:27:06.985] – Neil C. Hughes
And as this is a podcast, I’m curious, how have you seen MarTech transformed the industry in your career? You’ve mentioned a few of the things that you’re possibly not so happy with. So is there anything that you’ve seen that has transformed the industry?
[00:27:20.815] – Mark Donnigan
Yeah. So, you know, one of the things that is really great with, you know, with marketing, technology and marketing automation platforms is obviously, you know, there is an efficiency that comes from being able to, you know, do all kinds of really cool, you know, email marketing and social media posting. And, you know, the platforms are very, very powerful. But the thing that I think is so powerful, I’m a really firm believer in getting rid of gated content to marketing assets. I just, it astounds me to this day to see how, you know, I’ll see a brilliant ad, you know, maybe on LinkedIn for a white paper or something where I think, hey, yeah, you know, actually, I’d like to read that, you know, even though most of the time I’m disappointed with what I actually am able to learn. But every once in a while it’s really useful. So I click on it and it forces me to go through and fill out 18 fields of information. And I think we’ve all had this experience. And, you know, with all of the new marketing automation platforms and other tools that are available around them and using pixels. And, you know, it’s so awesome that now we can track in an appropriate way, you know, still complying with GDPR and, you know, all of the appropriate regulations. But we can serve a better experience to the user. And I think, you know, what I have seen and in my approach working with my clients is I try and think almost like an e-commerce site would. You know, like how can I make sure that my content, you know, which is sort of like my product is always seen, you know, by the right people that I want to see it. And so, you know, MarTech is just amazingly powerful today where there are data enrichment tools that, you know, we can use to build a profile of who a user is. Even though a lot of times it’s anonymized because, again, we haven’t asked their email address yet, but there’s a profile. So that next thing I know, I’ve gone to a website, I’ve spent some time on the site. Now I’m on Facebook. And guess what? I’m now seeing not an ad for the business, but I’m seeing I’m seeing a white paper ad or I’m getting pushed information or there’s a blog post. There’s something I’m interested in and maybe I don’t click on it the first time, maybe not the second time, but the third or the fourth time, I think yeah, yeah, that looks interesting. I click on it, now, I’m driven right back into the website. Now I have a whole other experience path and all of this is made possible ultimately with, you know, the latest MarTech, you know, technology that’s being developed, which is now being rolled into, you know, like platforms like HubSpot. You know, or Salesforce, Pardot, you know, Marketo. I mean, it’s in all the major platforms. Previously you had to bring together, you know, three or four tools and kind of, you know, duct tape and rubber band them together to get all this to work. But, yeah, that’s that’s really exciting, you know, for me as a marketer.
[00:30:47.135] – Neil C. Hughes
And speaking of excitement. We’re here in 2021, we’ve got a new year of opportunity, we’re all hoping for much better things than last year. But are there any tech trends that you’re going to be monitoring closely this year or anything that particularly interests you?
[00:31:00.395] – Mark Donnigan
Yeah, you know, I am very interested to see where virtual, you know, video selling goes again, post pandemic. And maybe it’s not as much of a tech trend because, you know, effectively we’re talking about Zoom meetings, right? But I think this is a very, very important trend to watch. Are buyers going to return to some of the old patterns? In other words, are they going to be as quick to return to in-person events, frankly? Are they going to be as quick to welcome us back into their offices? You know, and this is and I’m setting aside any you know, let’s just make the assumption that, you know, there’s a vaccine and that, you know, there aren’t the health risks. So I’m not I’m not talking about that side of it, but just, I think in the last almost a year now, it’s hard to believe, you know, good, solid nine months, ten months. You know, we have seen that not only can we work virtually, but there’s a lot of efficiencies. Now from a buyer perspective, it might be viewed as a good thing, right, to say, hey, you know, I no longer need to spend, you know, six, eight, ten hours, you know, of my work week meeting with vendors and talking to people, you know, in person. And, you know, I can just schedule all this virtually. And it’s a little more flexible. It’s easier for me to accommodate. But this could have, if this becomes a persistent change by our buyers and again, I’m talking B2B here, this could have a very profound impact in how our sales teams are built. You know, this could have a profound impact in what our ongoing marketing activities and marketing motions look like. And so I’m very, very interested to see, I guess, is there going to be a persistent behavioral change?
[00:32:56.435] – Neil C. Hughes
And what’s next for you? What’s your focus going to be this year?
[00:33:00.155] – Mark Donnigan
Well, I am really excited. I’m working with a couple of clients that we’re doing some some really exciting things. But one client, our major initiative for twenty twenty one is to build a community. And, you know, this is something that I really believe is in the early days. But I think it’s it’s just going to come on super, super strong where effectively buyers in an ecosystem self-organize. And I mentioned it a few minutes earlier when I said that, you know, 15, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, you kind of had to go to the major trade shows, the major conferences to really learn what was going on. And that’s where, you know, you can hear directly from the vendors. You could talk to your peers, you could you could get a sense. So then you go back to the office and you could say, yeah, I think we’re doing the right things. Oh boy, you know, I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about this company or this solution or, you know, we should go explore that. That’s all. There’s no need to do that anymore. And what I’m observing is, is that a lot of buyers or these same people that used to go to these shows and, you know, stand around the aisles and stand around the, you know, at Starbucks or, you know, the hotel lobby and have a drink at the end of the night. Now they’re doing it all virtually. And so we’re really excited. And I’m excited about the prospects of actually building communities that are there to ultimately serve the ecosystem, but by serving the ecosystem, just automatically defer value to the organizers, you know, to those who are, quote unquote, throwing the party. And so this is something that I’m excited to be jumping in, in earnest. And we have really high hopes that that it’s going to really be a major driver for our business. You know, not just in 2021, but moving forward.
[00:35:02.855] – Neil C. Hughes
It’s been incredibly cool chatting with you today and for anyone listening that would like to dive a little bit deeper into the subject or maybe even contact a member of your team, what’s the best way of finding you online and finding that contact information?
[00:35:18.245] – Mark Donnigan
I’m very easy to find on LinkedIn. So just type my name, Mark Donnigan, and you will find me. A quick tip there, I do get a lot of connect requests. And so and unfortunately it’s not always obvious like who people are. So if you heard me on the show, make sure you just mention it. And of course, I’ll be happy to accept you. But my website is the best way, and I have you know, I have a number of blog posts and I’ve got some free resources up on it that I think would be really useful. And of course, I don’t ask for any email address. You don’t have to fill out a form. So go to my website at growthstage.marketing, and I’m sure we’ll link up to that in the show notes.
[00:36:11.235] – Neil C. Hughes
Yeah, I’ll make sure they’re all added and the blog post to promote this episode, as well. I love chatting with you today, especially learning a little bit more about how technology is like this is helping real business or helping drive real business results for early and growth-stage technology and disruptive innovation startup companies. Incredibly cool what you’re doing. I’d love to get you back on next year, see how things are going, but thanks for joining me today.
[00:36:37.655] – Mark Donnigan
Yeah, thank you, Neil. It was great being on.
[00:36:40.415] – Neil C. Hughes
I love how Mark produces real business results for those early and growth-stage technology and disruptive innovation startup companies. But for me it’s his passion for getting the most value from every marketing dollar invested and his passion for technology that really shines through.
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