Modern Marketing

B2B Marketing On a Budget: Thought Leadership with John Watton of ShipServ

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John-watton The next interview in the B2B Marketing thought leader interview series is with John Watton, VP Marketing at ShipServ, the leading e-marketplace for maritime shipping (and also a Marketo customer). Over the last two years, John has revolutionized the company’s marketing strategy using Marketo Lead Management, introducing social media engagement, and leveraging the best practices he garnered over two decades of marketing at communications and high technology companies such as Cramer Systems (acquired by Amdocs), Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Ariba. You can follow John on Twitter @jwatton

Q: What business challenges did you face when you joined ShipServ two years ago?

I was brought in to help scale up the business, following a period of rapid growth. The main challenge for ShipServ is that we’re a relatively small business (120 employees) serving a global, fragmented business community. In addition, we don’t have much competition in what we do, so we have to educate the industry we serve on the power of the Internet before we get around to discussing our offerings.

Q: What are you doing differently to reach a global audience whose primary focus is not technology?

I’d break this into three areas: channel, messaging and media.

In the age of Twitter and Facebook, it’s easy to let the channel be the answer. But as boring as it sounds, I went back to basic marketing principles and thought seriously about where our audience ‘hangs out’. For us, online plays an important role, but it’s not the entire answer. So I developed a blended programme of online, email and offline activities. Tradeshows, industry associations, and seminars all remain relevant. And yes, we do have a ShipServ Twitter account, but it’s simply a feed from our blog.

Once you know where your customers are, you must have to have something to say to them. So, I went through a process of refreshing our content to focus on business-issues and communicating in the customers’ language. I also tried to give the content a point of view/personality and accelerated our customer evidence initiatives, providing proof points to the benefits we were conveying.

Finally, in terms of media, I’ve tried to keep our audience engaged by varying the delivery mechanism. So now information is delivered through a mix of video, digital documents, podcasts, flash demos and eBooks.

Q: What is ShipServ’s go-to-market strategy?

We have two basic revenue streams. At one end of the spectrum, we’re selling a SaaS ecommerce solution to large corporations via a small but global direct sales force. It’s a relatively high-ticket value offering, with all the attributes of an enterprise sale (complex sales process, long decision cycles etc.). At the other end of the spectrum, we’re selling advertising and listings via a telesales team based in the Philippines. It’s a volume business, operating on a daily sales cycle.

When I joined ShipServ, it was clear that we needed to better align our selling cycle to the buyers’ buying cycle. We wasted too much time chasing down opportunities and ‘hassling’ customers. We needed to focus our sales resources on the sales-ready leads, whilst not neglecting the longer-term opportunities.

This led me to introducing the Marketo Lead Management platform to help us automate and manage our leads. With Marketo, we have a way to qualify a contact based on their interaction with our website and emails. Those that are ‘ready’ get passed to sales. Those that aren’t will continue to be nurtured. Which means we’re more in sync with customers’ needs, and we’re building a tailored, relevant relationship with them.

Social media has been an important part of my strategy to increase our web footprint and traffic. I’ve effectively turned our company inside-out, and now whenever we generate a new piece of content, not only do we post it to our web site, we also post it to sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Scribd, Slideshare, LinkedIn and Twitter. It’s easy to do and it’s free! It also helps with SEO too, keeping our brand vitality high when users are searching for us on Google.

Q: How has your relationship with Sales changed over the past two years?

Marketo, in combination with Salesforce CRM, gives me a fact-based relationship to review pipeline and lead generation status with my SVP of Sales, which takes the heat out of the traditional sales vs. marketing debates. We’re definitely more in-tune, and work in partnership to drive revenue. The sales guys also love the information coming out of Marketo, especially the weekly visitors report that informs them about which of their prospects has been visiting our web assets and to what extent.

Q: Describe a campaign or initiative that you are most proud of and why.

I’m very proud of our limited budget campaign. The objective was to build awareness of ShipServ throughout the global industry without spending a fortune! We generated a stream of content and micro-content around six calendared themes, including white papers, blog posts, Twitter tweets, e-newsletter, a viral video, social media releases and discussions on a new community forum. We then promoted and distributed this content through low-cost media — especially social media; feeding a Twitter account with blog posts, social releases, etc.

The result was the number of web visitors up 59% (quantity up); page views up 70%; and average time on site up 25% (quality up). LinkedIn and Twitter went from zero to being in our top 20 traffic sources. And the number of sales-ready leads passed to sales went up 400%! It’s an exciting time to be in a small business, as you don’t need the mega-budgets to make a difference. I think large businesses have a lot to learn from us small guys!

Q: How do you measure return on marketing investment?

I’m going to rock the boat here and say ‘don’t get hung up on ROMI, especially if you’re a small business’. That’s because you can’t really separate demand generation from brand building – everything you’re doing is a mix of both. Plus you’d probably spend all of your time knee-deep in spreadsheets!

That said, I am a big fan of accountability and metrics. I measure the impact of marketing in terms of metrics such as Marketing Qualified Prospects (MQPs), web visitors, site conversions and ultimately, as an Executive, revenue. If all of these things happen, the return on investment will come.

Q: What’s the one thing a marketer can do to impact sales revenue?

Collaborate with your sales leadership, develop your programmes together and build a clear contract with sales in terms of what marketing will deliver. Critical is the ‘handshake’ between marketing and sales — focus on what constitutes a sales-ready lead, and make sure sales signs up to it. You’ll get far better engagement and a sales team motivated to follow-up all of your hard work.

Q: What advice do you have for a new marketer?

Have a thirst for learning and developing, and don’t be afraid of experimenting. Explore new ideas and try doing innovative and different things. I personally like to think I still have a lot to learn – it’s what keeps this job so interesting!