The sacred cows of B2B: Press releases, slide decks, event sponsorships and sell sheets

In Ideas On March 4, 2012 0 Comments

These are the sacred cows of B2B marketing.

And I’m not here to tell you to stop doing them (well, one of them I’m here to tell you to stop doing). But lately I’ve been asked a lot about these things. Either someone asks me whether I know somebody freelance who can do these things for them or I get asked if I recommend doing them or not. It’s also no coincidence that if asked, this is what most non-marketers inside an enterprise org think the marketing team does.

These activities are not value-adding (vs. your competitors). Get them done as quickly as you can, then move on to differentiating yourself.

What? But we need a good sales deck! We need to be at the right events! Yes, you do. You absolutely do. But I’m sorry, neither of these things will put you ahead of your competition, because they’re exactly what everybody does. They’re the price of admission.

Sell Sheets & Slide Decks

I find that there’s a strong inverse relationship between the time companies spend on these two things and the impact they’re having on the market. Part of it makes sense: making general slide decks and sell sheets are internally consuming, and at best only make existing sales cycles better (don’t confuse this with sales development, which is a different and value-adding function). They don’t do much to grow new interest in your company. Thus, get them right, but get them quickly. Perfect is the enemy of the done.

Same deal on the externally facing stuff. I’ve talked about Press Releases before, so I won’t rehash that one. But what about:

Event Sponsorships

At a certain point in your development, you can’t avoid doing these and spending good money on them. Some events are great, by the way. But beware of time traps. Booths are one such trap. I know they’re necessary at a certain point, but boy do I love the stage before you need them. The problem is that they’re an arms race. If nobody did them, it’s not like you’d have trouble doing business at conferences. And maybe you’d be able to walk about and network instead of being glued to a booth fielding all kinds of inbounds that aren’t your customer (and ironically, the customers you do want wizz by vendor booths with horse blinders on). But as soon as your competition does booths at events where your customers lurk, as soon as it’ll be visible that you don’t have one, you just have to do it. And it sucks, as you’re getting parity, not value-add.

My advice here is to treat the time you spend managing & executing events (as well as the other sacred cow B2B activities) as preciously as the money you spend. Remember: time spent doing these things is time lost differentiating. (N.B.: this applies to other people’s events, not your own events. When you control the positioning, message, audience, and content yourself, boy oh boy is that an opportunity to differentiate.)

Parity vs. Value-Add

Because those of us who work in the B2B marketing function are so used to being defined by the sacred cow B2B activities, we can often get away with just doing them and little else. This, by the way, is what I see in a lot of different markets. And that’s what makes them parity functions as opposed to value add functions. Though I’ve also seen clever companies (startups especially) forgo a parity activity to gain an advantage (value-add) over an incumbent. Either “we don’t need a slide deck to sell!” or “we don’t need to do expensive sponsorships, we’ll just do our own show!” are interesting approaches that are high risk but clearly show a focus on value-add vs. parity. Before agreeing to do an activity, always ask yourself whether this activity goes toward parity, or goes toward value-add. Make sure you always have enough in the value-add column every month. In a future post, I’ll focus exclusively on some great examples of value-add activities. Stay tuned!


  1. We B2B marketers always get asked to do press releases, slide decks, event sponsorships, and sell sheets. They’re necessary but woefully insufficient
  2. When doing these things, manage your time as carefully as your budget. Time spent creating & managing these things eats time spent differentiating/adding value for breakfast.
  3. Evaluate all your activities by “do they get me parity?” or “do they add value?” When too many answers are “yes” for the first question, reallocate resources because you’re not differentiating enough.

How to drive signups to an event, even if you’re nobody

In Ideas On February 27, 2012 0 Comments

Over at iMedia (where I’ve been cross posting for a couple weeks now), a thoughtful commenter pressed me on my advice about holding a thought leadership event even when you’re early in your product or company evolution:

I think your fireside chat [with a thought leader] example is too idealistic. Where does this thought leader come from? Where do you find 100 people who are remotely enough interested in a product they know nothing about to attend such an event? Invitations to these events are just like your previously mentioned press releases… they get lost in hundreds of the exact same jargon filled messages.

Good question. Answer:

Don’t hold an event about your product, hold an event about your movement. You’re on a mission from God.

This commenter is totally right. Invitations to events about products get lost in the shuffle. People get pitched about products all the time, why would they spend their free time going to an event where they get more of the same?

Define your movement in terms bigger than your product and your company. Define something that leads to your customer getting promoted.

Quick story. Back in mid-2009, the online ad tech industry’s conversation was shifting toward real-time bidding and a myriad of other buzzwords that get written about a zillion times more than they did back in 2009 (we’re talking pre-Kawaja chart here). Back then, there were actually no events that talked about real-time bidding (I swear there weren’t; John Ebbert can probably back me up on this one). I was at Dapper then, over a year before the acquisition and just as we had our business model figured out. Our real-time bidding product was, at best, in its infancy. We were ‘nobody.’

Yet there was a movement out there. We sold dynamic ads. You know, ads that actually show you content that changes based upon your interests. Some of them didn’t look like ads at all, and we thought “sh*t, this is what we should be crusading about. Destroy the ad unit. Ads suck.”

So I launched a podcast called “Advertising Sucks.” The name raised some eyebrows, but the guests got people listening. A couple thousand people who didn’t know who Dapper was were subscribing to Advertising Sucks. But saying something sucks isn’t a movement. It might have struck a nerve, but you can’t build on a nerve alone. Your movement has to be part of the solution, not just call out the problem.

Mercifully, the name changed to “Fixing Advertising,” because that’s how we saw our product. By showing real content instead punch-the-monkey, we fixed much of the reason why “Advertising Sucks.” But the idea of Fixing Advertising was always way bigger than the product we had, and in fact our product might never truly live up to the promise (as it’s now part of The Borg). Doesn’t matter. The moment we created our movement, we could fill a room with the right people. We put people on stage we didn’t even work with yet. We began working with many of them. People were taking our calls not because we had the best dynamic ad product, but because they liked to be seen as someone who is ‘fixing’ advertising.

Our approach worked well because it was a new market that hadn’t developed its B2B marketing side. Thus there was no public conversation yet. I agree with my commenter that this idea wouldn’t work in the current noisy ad tech market, because we’re inundated with these kinds of events. It’s a mature market, with a clear set of market leaders. BUT-

“If you’re not in the top 3, resegment.” (Brad Feld)

Brad Feld’s great advice is especially relevant when defining your movement. If you’re in a mature market where there are a well-defined set of leaders (say, CRM software in the late 90s?), your movement should be a re-segmentation of the market. In fact, “Fixing Advertising” was actually a re-segmentation of the mature ad tech market, distinct from portals and ad networks and favoring transparent, accountable technology platforms. An immature market emerged to challenge a mature market. emerged to challenge and resegment a mature CRM software market, and their movement was clear, catchy, and exciting.

That’s the strategy of how to drive signups to an event, even if you’re nobody. In later posts, I’ll get more into the tactics, but if you get this idea right (and you do it before your competitors do), you’ll never have a problem getting that thought leader up on stage, and getting those buyers in the room.


  1. Your event should never be about your company or your product. It should be about your movement (your logo should be tiny).
  2. If you define the right movement (it should be about ‘the future of [X]‘), you’ll have no trouble getting buyers to want to be a part of it, as well as speak on stage on its behalf (in fact, this should be far easier than selling to them)
  3. If your market is too mature for ‘yet another event series,’ define a new market. Resegment. Launch your movement & event series to prove why this new segment is the future of that old, mature market.


What do those marketing people even DO? (or, the ballad of the marketing budget)

In Ideas On February 12, 2012 0 Comments

It was 2010, I was at the Yahoo! new marketing hire training. Second time I flew from JFK-SFO in as many weeks. Met Yahoo!’s CMO, learned the structure of the org, learned that these people spend many thousands, if not millions, on videos. Videos to tout Yahoo!’s marketing superiority. INTERNALLY.

I learned that this team, while underfunded and understaffed, understood that to be anything but that in the future, they were going to have to sell, sell, sell. ABC. (I also learned I didn’t want to be part of that team…but that’s a story for another post…)

They underscored one of the biggest challenges of any marketing org, especially b2b:

What do those marketing people even DO?

Throw in a heavy bent toward technology, and you have a perfect storm for nobody in your company to ‘get’ what the heck you do every day*. Some dismiss this as a left-brain / right-brain thing; those technology folks over there won’t ever and don’t ever need to understand the creative stuff that we do. But, like I said once before, culture is hugely important and when several (most) groups in your company don’t understand the value you create, be prepared for that notion to pervade the company culture and eat your strategy, and marketing budget, for breakfast.

So how do we get them to understand?

Yahoo! had their way. Do something cool, and pretty much hire a reality show crew to document every step of it to create an exciting case study. Pics or it didn’t happen. This is a legit way to get people pumped about your successes- especially when there aren’t easily measured success metrics. It’s also a good strategy when what you did was super cool, but not really impactful on the business. Unfortunately, some left-brain types are going to see right through this smoke-and-mirrors show. Try it, though. Nothing wrong with getting colleagues excited about how your brand is received externally.

The other way: market right-brain, measure left-brain.

Back when Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management wasn’t yet the top school it is today, they decided to fill their faculty not with the Don Drapers, but with the Louis Skolnicks. I was there during the heyday of Dean Jain, a mathematician by training that turned marketing on its end. I loved it: Data or it didn’t happen.

But easy in theory, difficult in practice. Especially in B2B marketing where almost far less good tools exist compared to consumer marketing. “What about revenue!?” you say? Yes, you can back out things to revenue. You could also measure the goalie’s performance by whether your team wins the game. Or, you could figure out a way to see if your goalie’s tactics are succeeding in blocking the puck from going into the net.

My point: choose your metrics wisely, then sell, sell, sell.

For your business, it might be # of leads generated. Nowhere in the Yahoo! marketing new-hire training did I hear the word “lead” even mentioned, so suffice to say that for them, it wasn’t the metric of success (they probably would say there isn’t a buyer alive that hasn’t heard of Yahoo!, so what’s the point? I would say that lead generation can be a form of engagement). Do the big dog and pony show, but always close with the key metric of success. Let me know how it goes.


  1. Marketing didn’t happen until everyone in your company sees it happen
  2. One way to tout internal successes is through more marketing – videos, case studies; the same stuff you’d use externally
  3. The more believable way is through data. Data is hard to come by sometimes. Do your best.

 *my mother still has no idea what I do every day

The Brand With the Low Self Esteem Doesn’t Get Laid

In Ideas On February 6, 2012 1 Comment

“When it rains, it pours.” We’ve all heard that before. It describes why people in relationships magically seem to get hit on more often.

We all know it’s just a confidence thing. When you’re confident, you exude it in everything you do, and people around you tend to want to be around you. When you’re unconfident, it’s difficult to get people to follow you into friendships, relationships, and business.

Easy to see how this is true for individuals: Donald Trump didn’t get where he is by having low regard for himself. But what about brands? What about the “collective self-esteem” of an organization? As Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If that culture gazes at its shoes a lot…ruh-roh.

Your company’s confidence is perceived in the minds of your audience in the clarity and consistency of your product and vision.

Pretend you’re that email security company I made up in an earlier post: You get funding, and you describe yourself as “the technology that makes it safe to send email again.” You get some great market traction, start generating sales, and then you see competitors follow you. Whoa. You’ve just started a movement to make it safe to send email again!

The next move I see far too many companies make is to begin to look in the rear view mirror. They see their competitors doing things and apply what I’ll call a reverse confirmation bias toward their competitors’ tactics and strategies. The fear of “maybe they’re doing it right” quickly becomes “why aren’t we doing that?” They build up a confidence debt.

A market leader that spends too much time reacting to what competitors are doing will not be the leader for very long.

The more you react, the less you’re able to act. The less you’re able to do the kind of blank-slate things that redefine the market you’re playing in. The less you take a step back and see your company and product through the eyes of your customers. And the more your customers see your brand as ever-changing and unstable.

It’s not easy, I get it. Mark Suster hit it on the head with his post about how startups are all “naked in the mirror.” And your competition might be right. But that stuff takes time to evolve, and you’ll never know if they have it all figured out based on what you see in your rear view mirror right now. You’ll never see that from a press release.

One of the hardest things about marketing is being able to differentiate between competitive intelligence that’s helpful, and that which is distracting. Openness and transparency about the things your competitors are doing right is critical. But keep yourself true to the vision you set forth, and make sure you’re devoting far more resources to chasing that vision than chasing your competitors. Then your brand gets laid.


  1. Customers can perceive how confident your company is – when you’re consistent in your vision and message, you can earn the right positioning among your customers. They’ll in turn feel confident buying you. This means revenue.
  2. Time spent following competitors is time lost following your vision. Acknowledge their strengths but stay true to yours.
  3. Never judge the success or failure of a competitor’s strategy or tactics by a press release or self-reported metric. Look at its impact on the market. Understand this sometimes takes a while. Listen to your customers, listen to your market.


Why You Should Never Do Press Releases

In Ideas On February 1, 2012 0 Comments

Your whole team has worked night and day for the last three months and you’ve finally completed your newest mondowidget compiler dashboard platform (v.3.0)!

Your product team can’t wait to hand this product off to marketing so they can do a…


So you can…tell…anyone who has a Google Alert set up for you what you’re doing, in a long-winded but cookie-cutter treatise you and your marketing team pore over for days, rewriting every sentence. But hey, you just gave your competition and investors great stuff to read. Your customers and prospects, not so much.

So why does every B2B company I see do these things? Aren’t you trying to reach your target audience with a message about that great product you worked so hard on?

PR great Mark Naples cites some choice quotes from actual reporters here, so I won’t rehash the reasons why these things are colossal wastes of time, money, and resources other than to say:

Press Releases are a red flag that you’re not building marketing into your product.

Your mondowidget compiler dashboard platform could very well be the greatest thing the compiler dashboard widget marketplace (a $10T market in 2015) has ever seen, and it’ll change the way the world thinks about your company. You have a real story here, one that reporters are interested in. If, of course, you can prove the above is true.

Proof is the the only thing you need to get press coverage for your product or company.

“But we just finished the product!” you say. No, you didn’t. You didn’t build the proof. Proof looks like this:

“You know, it’s very difficult for us to come in here and make an evaluation. How are we supposed to know whether what you’re saying is true?” Stahl asked.

“Why don’t we talk to our first customers?” he replied.

Yes, he already has customers. Twenty large, well-known companies have quietly bought and are testing Bloom boxes in California.

Like FedEx. We were at their hub in Oakland, the day Bloom installed their boxes, each one costing $700,000-$800,000.”

Quote from a 60 Minutes story on the Next Big Thing in Energy, the Bloom Box. It sounds like music to me.

Proof got this guy on 60 Minutes. Proof will get you everywhere, especially when your competition is still writing press releases about products and features. Proof is what you need to launch any B2B product. Proof, not press releases.


  1. There is never a good reason to do a press release if you have a good story*
  2. The only people who read your press release are your competitors and your investors. And you.
  3. Proof is what turns a product into a story. Get proof from real customers and you’ll get a reporter to cover your story. Which is what you really want anyway…

*Exceptions: public companies with disclosure requirements. Or when you truly do want to send a message to your competitors. But then you could always just send them an email (and save the wire service fees). I recommend telling them via Business Cat.

Why I hope Fred Wilson keeps telling startups to not invest in Marketing

In Ideas On January 29, 2012 2 Comments

Because then we can keep using it as a major competitive advantage.

Let me be clear: I don’t actually think that Fred Wilson is saying “don’t invest in marketing;” I think he means don’t invest in expensive activities like hiring a marketing executive or spending on advertising. I agree with that- save that stuff for when you’re truly scaling. But saying “don’t invest in marketing” is kind of like saying “don’t invest in features.” Furthermore, it builds a culture and strategy that marketing isn’t a part of, and it’s far more difficult to know when and how to add that later.

Marketing is already a feature of your product, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Especially in B2B. Because your product is only half the product. How many times have you seen inferior products get more market penetration because they had sales ‘feet on the ground’ or good air cover? Back in 2008, we at Dapper didn’t invest much in marketing and were competing with another dynamic ad solution that absolutely crushed us in the marketplace (at the time), yet they didn’t have half the product magic that we did.

People bought from this competitor because they were there, in people’s faces, selling themselves. Part of the buy decision was made on the quality of their product. But I’d argue much of that decision was made on intangibles: Do I like this person? Do I like this company? Do I like their vision?

Marketing is the feature that influences how buyers perceive your product.

So…you’re saying you’re not going to invest in the feature that determines a great portion of how buyers perceive your product? Great. I hope you’re competing with me. Because I always invest in how my product is positioned and the larger movement it’s a part of. It’s never too early to do that, and it may even cost you some money. But you’ll be investing in building a community that will ultimately serve as your customer base if your product is worth anything.

An example of how to properly build marketing into your product from day one:

Got an superwidget encryption technology platform? Perhaps it’s still not ready for prime time? Fine. Go start a crusade about making superwidgets more secure. Start a blog about it. Get a respected thought leader to do a fireside chat at a bar and invite 100 people who are interested in this concept. Bam: you just got 100 qualified leads for when your product is ready, you’ve established your company as a thought leader, and maybe you even learned something from talking to these attendees that will positively impact your product-market fit. And, you’re far more likely to get press interested in an overall movement than your dinky little product announcement anyway. Cost: about $5,000.

It’s harder than you think to just add marketing later

Again, it’s a culture and strategy thing. This is why tech companies often undervalue marketing and turn to it only when they see other competitors doing it and have no choice but to follow. When you don’t build marketing as a product feature from the start, it’s difficult to define its role later, and you find yourself doing the same old things that B2B marketing teams traditionally are mired in: sell sheets, PowerPoint, press releases about new features nobody cares about, and sponsorships of the same expensive conferences your competition forces you to sponsor just to keep parity. You also find it difficult to convince senior management that marketing is a worthwhile investment at all, because the way you’re doing it, it’s not.


  1. Build marketing as a feature of your B2B product. Don’t leave it for later.
  2. It’s never too early to begin influencing your market – community building should be part of your strategy from day one.
  3. Adding marketing later is far harder than building it simultaneously with the product.


How B2B startups can stop boring Alexia Tsotsis

In Ideas On January 20, 2012 0 Comments

Bravo, Alexia. I couldn’t agree with you more- SAP buying SuccessFactors was about as exciting as when Voadfone bought Mannesman in 1999. Except, well, that acquisition was for $179B. A company we’ve never heard of sold itself for three Facebooks. 25 Zyngas. In 1999 dollars.

Yet, like you, I’m still bored. Especially by most enterprise companies. There’s little exciting about these businesses, and the solutions they provide are rarely the source of any magic or joy (compared to consumer products). Consumer internet products could never get away with how slow these products evolve – most look no different than they did in 1999.

But herein lies the opportunity for B2B marketers like us. I love seeing class after class of Y Combinator and TechStars launching startups that do things like automatically show you the picture of the guy in your next meeting or build a ‘Marketplace for Authentic Experiences.’ As a marketer, the idea of getting a critical mass of consumers necessary to make any of these products a successful business is daunting. I tip my cap to these entrepreneurs.

Contrast that with my current challenge: the $10B market my employer serves is -at most- represented by a mere few thousand decision makers. And really, only a portion of them need to be on board with our product for us to be successful.

Enterprise marketers are doing it wrong

The reason B2B is so boring isn’t because these products are boring. It’s because B2B marketers often do a crappy job of making them exciting. They spend a lot of time on positioning, demand generation, collateral, and countless press releases.

They spend exactly zero time on “how can we not bore Alexia Tsotsis to tears?”

You’re thinking Alexia isn’t the target market for your B2B product. You’re wrong. Alexia is, in fact, each and every person that works in your target market. These people who make buy decisions go home every day, and believe me, they aren’t thinking about whatever problem your boring B2B company solves. They’re consumers. wrote the book on this

Well, Marc Benioff did. Read his book, and start asking “WWMBD?” How can your boring B2B startup that does CRM automation or online ad optimization possibly be exciting to Alexia?

B2B products are exciting only when they become part of a larger movement, or crusade. did more than provide CRM in the cloud, they started a movement to ‘end software’ altogether. And that movement got them attention, press, and positioned them as a cool company you want to be involved with. Suddenly you’re not buying CRM software, you’re buying the future. And people who know how to deliver the future to their organization get promoted. Alexia likes to be promoted.

So why does this excite me? Because it’s not that hard to get this right. If you have a good product and successfully articulate your crusade to the market, you’ll destroy your competition and have fun doing it. And you have a much higher chance at real revenue and a successful exit in B2B vs. consumer categories where a new startup pops up every day. There’s an advantage to quietly making millions in revenue while the next hot consumer thing doesn’t even have a revenue model. And founders of these companies can think of plenty of more exciting things to do with that exit money…


  1. Even if your startup product isn’t inherently exciting, make the conversation about something exciting. Make your product a part of it. Start a crusade with it.
  2. Treat your target customers like consumers. Pretend they don’t work in your industry, and market to them that way.
  3. That most find B2B boring is what makes it such a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. Not to mention, the threshold for success is far lower and more incremental than consumer startups.

Image source:

Repeat after me: Nobody cares about my sh*tty little startup…

In Ideas On January 13, 2012 0 Comments

This sounds harsh. I know. I don’t actually think your startup is sh*tty. You shouldn’t either.

But here’s the most important B2B marketing lesson I’ve learned: until you prove otherwise, your audience thinks of you this way.

It’s the first hurdle you have to overcome in making an introduction, a sale, or building a marketing campaign. It should be addressed in the first sentence of your elevator pitch: “why should I care?”

Here’s what I mean: let’s say you make encryption software. You meet someone at a conference and they ask what your company does. If you answer with anything like “we make encryption software,” you’re done. Your conversation partner has done that thing Homer Simpson does when Ned Flanders explains the difference between apple juice and apple cider.

But you’re at a conference where people are eager to discuss the latest advancements in encryption software you say? Don’t care- these people still would rather be anywhere than a conference where encryption software is relevant. Admit it: you do too (and you’re the one who makes encryption software).

What you should be saying is “we finally make it safe for people to send email again.”

Or, “Did you know one out of every ten corporate emails gets read by a competitor? We fix that.”

This should be obvious, in fact it’s looking pretty trivial as I read it back. But you would be shocked at how many pitches I see that read just like “we make X for Y.” Or, “we’re the Kayak of XYZ.” The latter usually gets a pass by most, but it’s overused and it sucks. It does a fine job of telling me what you are, but tells me nothing about why I should care. Kayak, by the way, does a pretty good job at saying who they are: “Search one and done.” So if you’re gonna copy Kayak, copy their marketing too.

One last anecdote: there’s a very prominent and successful NYC startup that used to describe itself on panels as “we make software for a variety of uses.” I can’t make this stuff up.

You’d be surprised at how much impact you can make on your traction in the market, sales, revenue, conversion rates — whatever your metric of success — simply by redefining what you are as an answer to the question “why should I care?”

This is a competitive advantage. Seriously. One that costs nothing, and doesn’t require writing even a single line of code.


  1. Most B2B businesses put even B2B buyers to sleep (they’re actually normal people most of the time)
  2. When describing what you do: make it about more than just you. Make it about a movement, or a solution to a huge problem anyone (not just the B2B market) will relate to.
  3. BENEFITS, BENEFITS, BENEFITS. Tell them about features later. In fact, make them hungry to learn about them next time.

Photo by KateMonkey