In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Using marketing as a lever to drive business
- How to shift marketing from defense to offense
- The benefits of non-transactional marketing
What to listen for:
- [01:04] Forced to build a company
- [03:56] The fundamentals of marketing
- [06:25] Pursuing influencer marketing
- [10:31] Recommendations for social media marketing
- [17:51] Don’t just check the box
- [19:12] Chris’s life hacks
- [24:26] Chris’s advice for marketers
- [25:42] Reflections with Christian and Trinity
Check out his blog post "How to win in marketing with Chris Walker of Refine Labs"
- Connect with Chris Walker
- Learn about Refine Labs
- Connect with Christian Kletzl
- Connect with Trinity Nguyen
Chris is the CEO of RefineLabs - a demand accelerator agency for B2B SaaS companies, helping companies increase marketing’s contribution to qualified pipeline and revenue while lowering customer acquisition costs. Before RefineLabs, he ran marketing at Eversound and Vapotherm.
Chris: There's nothing in marketing that you should do to check a box. It's either you're doing something because it's going to make an impact or get that out of here.
Trinity: Welcome to The First 100 Days, a show for revenue practitioners by revenue practitioners, giving you unscripted access and tips to help you navigate any new transition or initiative both in life and at work. If you're a marketer in B2B, chances are you’re already following this guest to stay on top of the state of demand gen.
Joining us today is Chris Walker, CEO at Refine Labs, a demand generation agency for B2B SaaS companies. Chris is a master at understanding his target audience and constantly looks for micro innovations in everything he does.
That's how he enables Refined Labs marketing to be on the offense rather than defense – and it is a driver of their revenue growth. But before all this, he shares that no one wanted to hire him. Why is that? And what's he doing to revolutionize the dimension space? Have a listen.
Chris: I kind of got forced to build my company. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. The reason those companies didn't hire me is because they wanted to run marketing like it's 2011, like most companies do, because they see all the constraints. Those constraints don't exist anymore. They're fake. And so, a lot of companies don't believe that they've never seen marketing work in the way that I've seen it work at 5, 10, 15, 20 companies in a row.
When you see that and you get that it's repeatable, you build a level of confidence that most executives don't know. Most executives see marketing as an assistant to the sales team, as a necessary thing that you need as a... only want to consider marketing once sales, something in sales is going wrong.
They don't see it as the major driver that's going to drive a business today. People discover things on the internet on their own, which is best suited for marketing, to take that part of the journey and go and execute. That's how I got the company started within three, four, or five months.
We were hiring people. Over the past two years, we've gone from me being a consultant to about 50 people and growing quite quickly, just because we are accountable to business results. We do things in a modern way and we think differently. And then the last piece, which is super fascinating, is that we do the things that we tell our customers to do to get business.
Fascinating. How many quote unquote agent marketing agencies suck at marketing themselves. If they can't get customers on their own, do you think they're gonna be good at getting customers for you? Probably not.
Trinity: Right. Before this recording, you had a keynote session where you said something that I really liked when you say marketing should be the offense instead of defense, instead of a sales support.
Yeah. That's going to be the driver for the hockey stick.
Chris: To go a little bit further on that, just for the people listening on the podcast, most people do not view marketing as offense. They view marketing as “we need to.” This is something that we can, will change, when something goes wrong, when sales doesn't hit their target. When marketing doesn't hit their lead target.
When the pandemic happens. When some other major environmental shift in the market happens. When we go to some keynote and hear some tech vendor talk about some new tool that they have, that's when we'll change. Not looking at these as major opportunities. Let's go on offense and start driving our business forward with marketing.
I just don't see people take those proactive steps. I feel they react when things go wrong.
Trinity: So, in another piece, before we get into specific plays of marketing and demand gen today, you mentioned that modern marketers need to get back to the fundamentals. You mentioned the fancy tools that you see at different conferences, and there are values to those tools, but for marketers to be successful, they have to go back to fundamentals.
So what are those fundamentals?
Chris: Marketing fundamentals understand customers deeply. It’s knowing how to segment them. Have clear positioning. Hang-out in the places where they are. Have a constant stream of consumer insights. Understand what's resonating with them. Have the infrastructure to provide value and have a content engine that those people want.
Those are the fundamentals. I listed out things. I don't know about you, but I interact with a lot of marketing teams. Most marketing teams do zero of those things. No content, no consumer insights, no talking to customers.
Trinity: My background is in product marketing. So that's everything that product marketers do.
Are you suggesting that every marketing team out there shouldn't have a PMM as one of the first team members?
Chris: I think it depends on the organization. The interesting thing for me, I believe in specialization of roles at scale. But if you think about your own career as a marketer, you want to be like, it's not hard to be good at all of them.
Product marketing. Field marketing. Sales enablement. Demand gen. Brand content. Advertising rev ops. It's not hard to be an expert in all of those things. And so, the problem that happens with most marketers is that they pick a lane, field marketing, and then they get to a director level, field marketer, and they don't know how to do any other parts of marketing.
And they are not going to grow from there. They're essentially like… you can't get to a VP level looking at just one thing. I'm really encouraging people, and I was lucky, and a lot of people listening to my podcast are working in some form of startup. In those types of scenarios, you have a ton of flexibility to go and work with SDRs, to go and work with product marketing, to understand the financials, to run ads, to create content, to talk to customers. And so that's how you become a good marketer. That's how you become a COO is by knowing all of those things, not by taking out, going full out, committed to your career on ABM.
Trinity: That makes sense. So, I'm going to get to tactical because I want to talk about one topic that's not usually talked about in B2B. That's influencer marketing. So when you started Refine Labs, one of the podcast interviews you did, you mentioned that early on in Refine Labs day, you made a number of bets like podcasts, communities, events, and one of them was influencer marketing, very common in B2C, less on B2B.
So, can you share your thought process back then? What got you to pick that as one of the bets that worked?
Chris: So, first off, this is more of just like semantics here, but I don't consider any of these things bets. It's obvious that they're going to work. Other people look at them and see bets because they don't understand the nuances and details. But I've been doing this stuff, I've been running influencer marketing since 2014, when we would have physicians who used our product speak at conferences about how they use our product for a specific use case. That's 100% influencer marketing.
I built relationships with those people. They had 50,000 physicians follow them on Facebook in 2017, and we started to build relationships with them. Then we fed them content and they shared it on Facebook to all those people that listen to them because they work at the best hospital in the US for that specialty. Influencer marketing is not new.
I know that it's hot for a lot of people, but a lot of industries have been doing it for a long time. They would call it key opinion leader marketing. And when you think about it, the thing that we went all in on was LinkedIn, some type of long form content stream, which at the beginning was why events turned into podcasts and virtual events, post-COVID.
I don't think about influencer marketing or key opinion leader marketing in a vacuum. It's integrated into the entire mix. When we're doing events, we're thinking about influential people. When we're creating content, we're thinking of how we can weave that in. When I was engaging with content, I had very clear targets of the people that I was going to engage with because their posts got a million views.
I had a comment on one of those posts that got a million views. And if my comment was the top one, I would pick up a thousand followers. All of these nuances that people never spend enough time in the details doing the work to ever see. Most people listening to this would never think that you could pick up a thousand followers by leaving a comment on a popular post.
I've been doing that for a long time. I think some people think about influencer marketing like. Hey, Trinity, I want to pay you $30 to post about how great our company is. I think that's a very superficial, transactional way to do it. I think the way that it wins in B2B is more like when Nike sponsors Jordan. Long-term authentic partnerships with people that truly do love the brands. Non-transactional always. Jordan wasn't getting paid on how many people clicked his affiliates. Yeah. And so those are the things that people, I think, should consider. Because if they move down, if they're like, okay, we want to do influencer marketing, they move down the camp where they're going to pay people $50 to post to that shit. Or they're going to get into a place where they're going to come to people and say, Hey, we'll pay you by how many sales you generate, like we're selling coffee or something over here, you're just going to piss people off. Yeah.
Trinity: That's just more like affiliate marketing rather than actual partnerships. That totally makes sense. I'm curious, you worked with a lot of marketers, like CMOs, how receptive are they or the companies to this key opinion leader marketing? Is that a framework to approach in the right way?
Chris: I think that smart companies are moving on it. I think that a lot of companies say no before they have the opportunity to say yes to a lot of things, Facebook ads, posting on LinkedIn, doing a podcast, running influencer marketing, starting a community.
Any of those things, executives are like, what? Facebook ads? forget that. And don't even try it, just write it off based on their opinion, which is really sad.
Trinity: So, talk about step one. Since you mentioned about Facebook, Instagram, I know you share a lot of content and thoughts about this, but just for the audience who might not be as familiar.
So many companies, especially in B2B, don't believe that Facebook and Instagram works. They think it's more for the consumer space or for those who are more adventurous, and put aside a little bit of budget for Facebook, Instagram. They think that it's more for engagement, maybe awareness, but those prospects are not sales.
Well, at least within the company, people pushed back on that kind of spend. Give us your thoughts. What do you recommend?
Chris: Here's what people will do. They'll do a couple of different things on Facebook, and when I say Facebook, it includes Instagram. Facebook and Instagram. Ads get deployed through the same properties.
You can basically cover the entire population of the United States across those two platforms. You can get mass consumption, unlike any other platform in the world, right. And so just by saying that, I'm so confused why people don't recognize the opportunity. There's not a single place, television, Wall Street Journal, anything that has as much scale as those two platforms combined.
And that, so that's enough for me. But here's what companies will do. One, isn't Facebook, isn't that for like college kids? Isn't that for consumers? I don't get that. Let's keep doing all the same stuff. They won't even try. But what most companies will do is they'll do this, they'll take $2,000 and they'll go into Facebook with a lead gen mindset and they'll run lead forms on $2,000. They'll collect 20 shitty leads. They'll have personal email addresses, bad contact information, the wrong name, bad data, because people don't update that in Facebook, and they're running the lead gen form.
They're going to collect 20 leads and say this data isn't good. And then they're going to give up and stop. What they actually did was they went out and tried to hang a picture with a wheel. They used the wrong tool. They used the wrong approach with the tool. Then people give up and then they get confirmation bias, confirm all the things that they already believe, and then they keep doing anything else that they're already doing.
Trinity: So, what would you recommend companies do? Maybe it's probably a secret sauce, but maybe one or two, what would you recommend your clients do?
Chris: We talked about it one time, and the reason that I talk about it all the time, and it's not a secret because nobody does it. Like it's not complicated. We do this for 40 companies. For some companies who spend $150,000 a month on it and drive the most business results through that channel it works. And I just recognize that most people will never act on it. So to talk through it… When I, when you think about what you're trying to do here, I reverse engineer all of the things that are all of the activities and all the concepts and all of the information that our salespeople try to deliver in a sales process.
Then I do all of that in a way that people, like, on the internet without the sales. It's really that simple. The difference is that most people move into Facebook with a lead gen mindset, not a “I want to teach you all of these things” mindset way. That's way more cost-effective than having people sit on a demo with our rep who don't buy.
It's an alternative way to educate people than what most companies do right now, which is super inefficient. Hand-to-hand sale.
Trinity: Yeah, no, but that's the part where you say, basically, you're trying to figure it out. What would a sales person do on a call or like trying to convince the prospects and then bring it to the marketing side and scale.
That's exactly what we've been doing within User Gems as well. So, when you said I'm like, gosh, don't say that you keep doing that. I think when I reached out to you, you said something about LinkedIn and I'm like, no, don't share that. It's been working so well.
Chris: People aren't going to move on it. Don't worry.
Like it's not a zero sum game. What we talked about on the event earlier, innovation phenomenon is real. So for most people, the things that we're talking about here on Facebook and LinkedIn are not going to move them for two, three years, if they ever do. And by the time two or three years goes around, there'll be nine other things that you and me are doing that they don't know about.
They're going to be five or 10 years late and so there's no catching up. It's a facade. It's not really happening.
Trinity: That's true. Another channel, another piece, that you've been talking about is the Google ads. I think in one of your recent posts you said, like, do buyers go to Google for non-branded terms?
I believe you mentioned you didn't really invest in SEO initially because for various reasons. So we'd love to get you on that.
Chris: Yeah, this isn't just paid ads. I'll talk through the phenomenon that exists and then we'll go into more detail. So the phenomena that exists right now, and the reality is that buyers trust their peers way more than the results they get on Google.
They know there's affiliate links. They know there's pay-to-play stuff. They know that vendor's not objective when they have that blog. And so when people are making buying decisions, they make those searches elsewhere. They make those searches in places where their peers are. They ask that in a revenue collective, or a Slack community, or a Reddit channel, or a Facebook group, or a direct message, or an email, or a Zoom call.
And they talk to somebody that they trust more than the results that they get on Google. And the way that people use Google is they use it to get transactional information. What's the definition of this word? How am I going to convert this currency to this currency? What's a synonym to this word? How do you do this?
That's how people are using Google. When they're going to make complex purchasing decisions, they're going to go and ask their peers, or they go to Google because they already know who they're going to buy, but it all leads back to people funneling through Google, in a branded search. Once they figured out what they're going to do, they buy somewhere else.
And so all of these companies are spending a ton of money and a ton of time on SEO and SEM, not recognizing that over the past 18 months, like this is not, this hasn't been it. This has not been happening for a super long time. All of it changed, where now buyers literally just go somewhere else to get the information and what you see there.
Increasing CPAs on Google ads, less people that actually convert on those ads. Convert to customers less. So those are some of the dynamics in Google ads. There's plenty of companies that run Google ads, that if they did audit them, even if they were doing a good job, are not getting an acceptable ROI from Google, but they consider it an operational expense.
They don't think they have a choice about whether or not they spend. And so would you rather take a hundred thousand dollars a month and spend it that way in order to get $20,000 a month back, or would you rather take that a hundred thousand dollars, go put it on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, a podcast, different things like that and drive 300 X ROI instead of 0.2 ROI.
Like I said, I'm not telling you not to do it. I'm just telling you to recognize that things are changing for buyers fast and there's opportunities. There's better opportunities.
Trinity: Thank you for sharing it. Maybe I'm biased, too. That's super timely because I've been thinking, I've been thinking the same way. Should we put money into the Google ads? And I talked to marketers in all kinds of communities and they all complain about how it's so ineffective. It's so expensive and yet they still have to do it because everyone else is doing it. And if they don't do it, they're afraid that they’re missing out. But from what we've seen, because we track all the demo requests and conversations, they all came in from like a certain type of ABM that we doing, or communities like revenue collective, or that sixth sense, CML coffee talk, things like that. But in the back of my mind, when I talk to my CEO, is should we do it or not? Because everyone's doing it. So we do. And I'm like, I don't know if it's the right word yet. So actually when a question, like, is it just something you kind of do to put aside a small budget, just because you can check off that box, like yeah, we’re doing some of it, understanding that it might not convert.
Chris: Yeah, it's certainly not something to check a box. There's nothing in marketing that you should do to check a box. It's either you're doing something because it's going to make an impact or get that outta here. And so when it comes to Google ads, I think that most companies, the pure black-and-white answer is that companies don't know how to target keywords. They think about Google and they don't know how to get results in other channels. So they overspend on Google, and in order to overspend in Google, what they do is they open up the targeting and they try and convert people on low intent offers to justify the spend.
So instead of spending $10,000 a month trying to get high intent keywords to convert demos, they spend $200,000 a month to try and get a bunch of traffic on low intent keywords to convert on an ebook. And so that's the myth here. And then they have $200,000 to people converting on eBooks, and then they never look at how poorly those people are converting into opportunities or revenue with their sales team.
That's the big. That makes sense.
Trinity: Dang it. I was hoping, like, I can just scratch it off and I can do something else. I know we're almost out of time so I can, I guess I can, we can get a toss up. One is whether you want to share your all-time favorite, demand gen play that you can share for Refine Labs or your clients, or the other side is something completely non-work-related.
What is your favorite DIY life hack. Heck, we might have time to do both.
Chris: Okay. I have no favorite demand gen play. The reason is because marketing is not about running one play. Marketing is about an aggregation of thousands of touch points and activities every day that drive the outcome that you're looking for over time.
And so anyone that's looking for one hack or one thing, that's not how you get to marketing. You find 3, 4, 5, 7 things that you do consistently that all make that impact and build. So if we were really looking for something, the move of creating an event that people love, and doing that on a weekly basis, which becomes a podcast which fuels organic social distribution, all with one event is the move right now.
You basically have an entire organic content strategy mix to do by doing one event a week. My life hack recently has been working out in the morning and getting eight hours of sleep every night.
Trinity: That's awesome. Yeah. That's the eight hours of sleep. It's hard to come by…
Chris: Especially when you wake up at 4:15 in the morning.
I'm in bed at eight.
Trinity: Yeah. Combining the two answers with your answer for the last two questions, pick it out. Like you guys do one event or a podcast and then distribute it. And that's brilliant. And that's like how we started the podcast, too. So you guys are all inspiration, but like, the biggest question in my head is like, what, how did you get the time?
Because you guys turn out so much content every single week and it’s all not fluff. I've been following you since 2019, and you probably want to know of the only few got leaders that they'll turn to Alec useful content and sort of stuff where we're using…
Chris: It's an ultra simple answer. All it is that we are committed to the strategy and we don't do all of the dumb shit that everyone else does. It's super simple. We spend no time on SEO. We spend no time on lead gen. We don't spend money on content syndication. We don't go to trade shows. We don't buy Google ads. We don't do all the stuff that companies do. And all we do are the things that work.
It's simple when you look at it that way, but companies don't do it. So instead of having all the time to do this, because you decided that it's the number one priority and it's going to make the most, and you can spend a hundred percent of your time on it. The marketer, you spend 3% of your time on the event ‘cause you're doing all of the other stuff, the MIS or the thing that people undervalue in marketing, generally, or in business, generally, is lack of focus and what that does to the potential upside of certain channel. We'll need to learn how to say no to things that suck that are not worth doing that are their 10th priority so that they can put three people on one thing.
That's going to work the best as opposed to putting 3% of one person's time on the thing that's going to work the best and that's the unlock, but it only comes through the commitment to the strategy that I have that almost nobody else does.
Trinity: That's great. I mean, if I could summarize like the whole conversation so far is like prioritize and what works best for you, your customers know what your customers want to prioritize accordingly, and then integrate as many things together to amplify that effect and just gotta stick to it and do it consistently, essentially. That's how you guys have been doing it.
Chris: And then the last piece is I think people I want to walk through and I want people to understand and really get the idea cause you what sparked the question or the thought for me is you thought about adding things in or weaving stuff together, integrating them together, this concept of micro-innovation.
And so I just want to talk through this thing. I was posting text posts on LinkedIn. I moved to video on the way. We started to do physical live events in 2019 to create the video for LinkedIn. Instead of me sitting at my desk, obviously those events needed to stop. We transitioned to a virtual event that was used to create video for LinkedIn that became a podcast.
The podcast then started to grow. Then we started doing two events a week, one on Tuesday, one on Thursday. So you can see how it's not like we're going out there and trying to find 10 more marketing channels to market on. We're very strategic on one that most people never see the potential impact of a channel like LinkedIn, because they never go deep enough.
They never try things. And so they don't see that you could basically build your entire hundred million dollar company on LinkedIn. If you did it well from 2018 to 2020, you could build a million, a hundred million dollar company that way with no other marketing activity. People don't see that.
Trinity: Love it. So 1% better every day, trying to incrementally improve and innovate. Totally. That's awesome. So as we wrap up, can you share some words of encouragement for revenue practitioners, for the marketers, sales that are listening.
Chris: So this one is going specifically out to marketers. I've been saying this since 2019, and I will continue to say it that we're in the golden era of marketing right now.
The golden era of marketing could have been in 2016. The problem is that nobody recognized how important it was. And so what you need when you're in a golden era is you need a huge opportunity and you need executives and companies to recognize that same opportunity. And we're here. Marketing is a thing that companies lack that drives businesses today.
So if you're a marketer and you have the skills and you've done the work to really get there, you've set yourself up for a very nice five-year run because buyers are basically forcing companies to figure this stuff out. I've been waiting for this for five years, executives realize it too.
And so all of that attention, all of that budget, all of those opportunities are growing here. In 2014, all of the upside was in the sales team. You wanted to get on the sales team. You wanted that sales team to scale from 10 to a hundred people, and you wanted to grow through that process while the marketing team stayed the same size while that sales team scaled by 10 times.
Trinity: Christian, do you want to start with a mic drop? Or what stood out to you in this episode?
Christian: I think what stood out, in a sense, the important thing about this is it shouldn't stick up, but it still does is that he's very much about the fundamentals of marketing.
And I think we just always need that reminder that ultimately it's all about understanding the customer, the prospect, and then utilizing the marketing channels to read and deliver the message. That's why, I think, even when you ask people about like, what's your, like, what's your number one thing that you suggest companies do? For Chris, it's not about the initiative. It's about don't start with the initiative, start with the fundamentals of understanding your customer. And I think I always see this and to get my customer success interviews, actually, in terms of like, for me, customer success in the center, because they, they understand the customer, they need to talk to marketing, they need to talk to the product.
And I think it's very similar actually with marketing. Marketing should be talking a lot to the customer, so they understand what the customer cares about. They should be talking a lot to the prospect, so they understand the pain points and then select the marketing initiatives and select the marketing channels based on that.
Trinity: That was great. That was your mic drop moment. I think that's it.
Christian: I think when I was in, when he talked about marketing being in the offense, I think, just like he then described the proactive versus reactive. I think that was also an interesting moment. Yeah.
Trinity: I think we’re kind of biased because, on that note, being on the offense, he also said marketing is a major lever of revenue growth. Because we, in a startup, is, kind of like, of course, because that's kind of like how we think about it, but I could see it if the company has been running well for a long time. I think of, like, one of the enterprises, like the Fortune 500, right. Then it doesn't feel like whatever marketing is doing is really driving the needle compared to sales.
Christian: So, it's always easier to celebrate the sales moments because there's this, there's this dotted line that gets signed, that was driven by the salesperson. He was the person sending out the contract and yeah, and for marketing, that's harder to find this celebratory moment, but it should actually be the same, especially for larger companies where you already have a brand recognition.
Trinity: So it's harder to see that incremental gain or incremental revenue growth that marketing is driving or influencing. So, for a long time, I was like, I don't, of course it is a revenue, like a level of revenue growth. Like how come no, what is he talking about? Like, why are people not getting this, but like, yeah, we buy us because we, in the smallest stage without marketing, no revenue.
He's a great brand marketer. I don't know if he realizes it, but there are a bunch of terms that he used and then it becomes like the de facto. So recently he introduced about doc social. So not the doctrinal, like doc social. So people on communities, they talk the chat and stuff like that. You can capture these like Facebook group.
You can capture this, we can't measure this. So he brought, he branded it as doc social. It makes a lot of sense. There's another one that he said, I think key opinion leader. I think that was pretty good one, too. Oh, the incremental innovation. Because at the end, when I said, I love what you guys are doing at Refine labs, where you start out with a podcast or like a Zoom call where people join and ask questions, you turn that into a podcast and then you repurpose it as like LinkedIn content and all kinds of other materials.
So you do it once and you distribute forever and repurposes and so many different ways. I thought that was brilliant. And in this case, they've been doing kind of an inspiration post on the podcast. And then he said, that is true, but it didn't start out that way. And he said, when they started maybe three years ago, I want to say like three years ago is that one small thing?
I mean, okay. Let's repurpose in different, general, and then they continuously innovate incrementally, like the 1% better every day. I thought that that's a great way to look at it because otherwise you just kind of look at the one who already made it, and been building this for the last three, five years.
And then you compare yourself against that and say, I want to get there, but you can't usually. It just start small. Get the fundamentals right. Get some pieces going, measure it, make sure that, like, you find out which one works when it doesn't understand why. And then incrementally improve on the ones that work.
Christian: I think he always describes this. I think it ultimately comes down to this, like you double down, but actually doubling down is probably just as 1% it's getting better. Which means that after, I don't know how many days you doubled down on that, because I think that's what he's doing. If I understood that correctly, in terms of like, there are a lot of things he doesn't do because he's doing the things that work really well and then doubles down on them, which he arrived at. Getting a little bit better.
Trinity: Yeah. Very cool. Yeah. I did not know that they specifically decided not to do a certain, like a work on the use of certain channels. That's risky, right? As marketers, like everyone knows that there are these many channels and you gotta be on all these channels, but he specifically says, like, no, these are the channels we're going to be because we understand our target audience. Gonna not do any of the other ones. It's hard to say no.
Christian: I mean, even entrepreneurship is about saying no so many times. So I guess marketing is the same.
Trinity: Are you undergoing a major transition within your organization? Do you have a first 100 days journey to share? If yes, we want to hear from you. Email me your angle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening.