Imagine this - you have a market of potential clients in which your product or service can substantially streamline their day-to-day and make their jobs easier. I bet we’d all like to be a BRD selling these clients - they’re a slam dunk. But what if I told you these potential clients have a fiduciary responsibility to serve their business and client base, and not themselves, and certainly not by adding costs from a vendor. That changes your perspective on this market, doesn’t it?
This client base is accountants and while they are excellent corporate soldiers, their access to technology that can create efficiencies may go overlooked. But, they are still human and still interact only, which is where a lot of their journey starts in simply building awareness.
In this episode of AMP Up Your Digital Marketing, we meet Andres Botero, the Chief Marketing Officer at Blackline. He discusses building brand awareness and knowledge of his products by working in concert with sales to achieve their goal of demand generation. This groundswell approach has allowed the team at Blackline to have a crystal clear and consistent message throughout the buyer's journey, allowing them to tap into this difficult to sell client base.
Glenn: Welcome back to the show. Today we're speaking to Andres Botero. Andres, welcome to the show.
Andres: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Glenn: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Andres: Sure. I'm a Chief Marketing Officer at Blackline and we are the leader in software for accountants for financial closing. We help accountants close the books quarterly, monthly, yearly and at the same have a life, essentially. We automate a lot of the stuff they do manually. Things that they do in Excel and they improve the quality of life and the quality of the numbers.
Glenn: And so, accounts are kind of interesting, right, because you don't necessarily think of accountants as spending a lot of time online, but maybe I'm wrong with that. So, how do you think about marketing to accountants and where are they hanging out? How are you getting a hold of them?
Andres: Good question. That's a misconception that accountants are not online. They are people. They are online. They are really busy. And you got to find them where they read their news, where they buy their things. You gotta find them in their offices where they spend a lot of time and nights and to be really targeted geographically in where you advertise digitally.
Glenn: And so, I understand, one of the things that you are focused on right now is integrating various components of the marketing, whether it be physical, digital, people-wise and kind of bringing that all together. How did you get to the point where you said you needed to do that and then maybe you could walk us through how you're approaching that?
Andres: Sure. I mean, we are finding that, you know, essentially connecting to our accountants from all – in an integrated way with all the channels, we're talking about our message and putting them in front of our – what we can do for them is powerful. We have a solution that in many cases, they don't know that exists. They've been doing this job for a long time. In the same way they use Excel, they use paper. And, you know, initially, years ago, there was very little volume online. And over time we've been investing in awareness, we've been finding where they are, where they read, where they shop. And the awareness has been rising. And now we have moved to a place where they might know who we are, now we just need to get them to consider adopting something like ours. And the accountants are a group of people that are not really used to buying a lot of software for themselves. If you sell to sales or to marketing, they buy all the time. Accountants don't buy anything for themselves, they work, they're frugal, and they are good corporate soldiers. So, the integration of channels was particularly well for them. You know, we use digital to get in the radar, you know, get them familiar with the brand. We use a lot of direct mail. We send them, for example, a kit, scones or cookies, something for their closing. They are closing and the whole team is camping there in the office for days and they get something from us and it is a nice touch. Hey, here's something, close your quarter, we're with you. And that's the physical. And as they engage and they receive this, you know, we call them. And we call them, usually they are very grateful because no one really sends stuff to accountants. So, they are happy to receive something, attention from a vendor, this cool technology that will help them improve their lives. And that's the one-on-one connection and it opens the door.
Glenn: And are you doing that on a frequency that's quarterly, annually, I mean, because, well, technically they're closing the books every month, right?
Andres: Yeah. And what we're doing is we're monitoring the interactions, all the touchpoints between our target market and us. Whenever they download, wherever they read something from us, whenever they visit the website, they attend a webinar, everything is being scored and at some point, when the account is demonstrating enough interest, enough engagement, at that point it moves to the next stage which is the direct mail. And after the direct mail – well, it goes to targeted awareness first, geographically bounded awareness. And then we go to direct mail and then we go to the physical or the call from our business development representative. And that combination of monitor engagement, targeted advertising to them physically to the office where they are located, you know, geofencing the area where they are located. And then direct mail and a call has been – it's proven to be a good combination.
Glenn: So, what are you using on the upfront side, that's all digital, right? I'm assuming. Kind of have they been to the website? Have they done certain things digitally that indicates that you should now start moving to some of this physical aspect, whether it be direct mail or some of the packages you're sending?
Andres: Yeah. We have very powerful social channels on the digital advertising – I mean, of course, we Google, Bing. We are running display ads, we are running search ads. And we have a very interesting and good paid social media program. Our people live in LinkedIn, they are professionals. So, professional channels, you know, targeted engagement in social channels works really well. Then we do some account-based marketing, ABM advertising, you know, to the accounts that we deem are engaged enough to essentially build up, you know, maximize exposure to our brand ahead of getting something from us, which is more expensive.
Glenn: So, you would never – at this point, from what I'm hearing – you wouldn't use direct mail as a pure cold prospecting tool. You've already identified that there are some level of interest and that's how you keep those costs down, is that correct?
Andres: Yeah. I mean, direct mail, is something you use it to convert after the account has been already engaged and showing a strong interest or at least online engagement and engagement with your website, with your digital properties. And then you put – we use ABM ads on that account ahead of the direct mail. That improves receptiveness, people are familiar with your brand, they have seen you whenever they were reading their newspaper or shopping online, they have seen you. They might had not clicked on any of those ads, but they have seen you and that improves a few percentage points on the conversion on the direct mail.
Glenn: Are you able to identify – so, you're having some sort of follow-up, I would imagine, there might be a call to action in there, but you're also, you mentioned that you're doing some phone follow-up – are you able to identify the effectiveness of the direct mail portion or even the package portion? Is that something that your reps will collect and put into the CRM, saying, yes, they received it and it was a good reaction or is it just – is it more of a feel scenario that you're getting momentum with it that you didn't get before?
Andres: No. We monitor yield of the direct mail program because, I mean, compared to the digital and the ABM advertising, this is expensive, the expensive part of the program. It can get really expensive, so we control yield very closely. And we actually build multiple programs and then constantly we are evaluating one versus the other one. And there's a challenge out there to reduce cost continuously. So, we're always looking for, you know, ways of continuing with the program with cheaper, more efficient direct mail items. So, I mean, ultimately you build a portfolio, you have items, you know, all different price points to be used in all different kinds of accounts and different programs. I mean, more qualified accounts, more valuable accounts or accounts where you have a large team of accountants get something versus accounts that have or likely to have a small team of accountants. And ideally, you know, for the large team, you want something that they can share, that you build in branding not only with one person, with, like, with many.
Glenn: And are you – the best way to describe this, kind of chunking out the direct mail aspect? In other words, if on a given day you get let's say 20 interested users or even 200 interested users, do you wait until you get to a certain point, like, maybe 500 or whatever that number is to trigger it to now ship something out to them or is it just in time deliver for all of these activities?
Andres: No. The engagement, of course, is really something you monitor and you want to – every account will have a baseline level of engagement. You know, in a large enterprise accounts, there's always someone reading, downloading, doing something with our brand. We are a large vendor in this space. Is really the delta that is interesting. Is it surging? Is it – the number of engagements and touchpoints is going up as compared to the normal for that account and that what triggers a lot of the programs?
Glenn: I see. So, you could trigger a program in which it might send direct mail to a few people in an organization, even though you only had one indication from one person? Or what's the algorithm you're using from a high-level?
Andres: So, lets say Cisco Systems. Imagine a company of that size, we want to target them and we've been monitoring their engagement and the baseline engagement for them is, you know, we have 100 touchpoints in a given week. If you see something above, let's say, 120, something is up, they might be in-market, they might be more interested, so that's the appropriate time to send them something. So, now, that's for a Cisco Systems type of account. If you have a mid-market type of account, you know, the number is really not 100, the number might be five. And anything over five, that might be your trigger. And if the account is really small maybe just having a couple of touchpoints or engagements is enough.
Glenn: And this obviously all of this is tied together with your CRM. So, the sales rep gets to see what's been sent to them, when it's been sent, etc.?
Andres: Oh, yeah, it's all recorded in CRM. The BDRs work in close connection to the sales reps.
Glenn: And so, have you found that there is a – has this been fully embraced by the sales team? I mean, you must be getting some feedback in terms of – because this is not an everyday occurrence, right, because there's so much reliance today on digital, adding this physical component I think can be really powerful. And salespeople are not always used to it, especially sales people who have been selling the last ten years that missed out on all the direct mail days.
Andres: Yeah, I mean, the sales people are really grateful for what we're doing in a sense that we're opening doors and our objective is to put them in front of a qualified prospect as soon as possible. And so, the work they do in collaboration with the BDR essentially is, because what we sell is something that is almost every company can use and every accountant would be happy to have. And it's something that usually you don't have a budget for, but you create a budget because you see the great value that the accounting department would derive from it. Then we want to put our sales people in front of the potential buyer as soon as possible. So, you know, in other places I've been to, you want to go for full bent before you call a sales person, here, you know, we want the sales person to really engage early because that salesperson is our best representative and he will convince this potential buyer the need and the need to create budget and go for it in the short-term. So, maybe that's an interesting characteristic for us that is different from other companies. And it's in our case, we want to put the sales person the sooner, the better, in front of someone that has the need and the authority or influence, but not necessarily a budget or a timeline because that can be created. In that interaction we've seen that it happens over and over. The solution is so good and a lot of accountants just don't know that something like this or they haven't seen it that way.
Glenn: And so, I think other companies who might be listening right now are thinking, wow! This sounds like a logistical challenge to say the least, especially when you're dealing with physicality, you're probably going to get third-party dropship, whatever, how did you go about bringing this into the organization, I'm assuming you just didn't walk in with a full-on program and there's probably some amount of testing that got the initial buy-in from your peers in the c-suite?
Andres: Yeah. That's how we get to this. I think, what we have is the result of a lot of continuous improvement and somehow integrating the different teams and putting together processes that just make it easier. Like, you know, people on the BDR side now understand the program and the demand generation team brings everybody together, the digital people, the BDRs, the direct mail people and the product marketing. Because all those ads, all those kits, all those calls need to say the same thing, pointing to the same direction. So, we have a good well-oiled cross-functional team that, you know, put together a program and refine it over time. I mean, you don't get to nirvana all at once, you just get going and every time it improves a little bit. Every month, couple of months we get lower cost in our kit or we improve the way we integrate the digital advertising with the rest. Our scripts for the BDRs are continually refined by product marketing. So, everybody kind of works in concert. I think the driving force is marketing, here at least in Blackline, I mean, we really, in partnership with sales and our most important goal is demand generation. I mean, everything we do is in function of demand generation. That's what everybody in my team, from PR all the way to the direct mail people talk about, everybody is looking for bookings and growth and timeline generation.
Glenn: So, you know, one of the things that I think people often think about is, how might I test something new? And in this case, because there's a physicality approach, is there any advice that you would have? I mean, did you, like, segment part of the team, maybe a couple of BDRs only were attached to the initial deliveries of direct mail and then just get some feedback from them or was this kind of thing where you rolled out pretty wildly in the beginning but you just didn't do too much of it?
Andres: No, initially we had two different teams targeting different segments, running programs, and running slightly different campaigns. And over time we look at them and compare and learn from both. And over time kind of standardized what's standardize-able and tweak here and there. So, I'll say, having two teams that are doing things slightly different helps, because I mean, piloting stuff is really important but having two pilot run in parallel where people are kind of competing in a friendly way. And over time exchanging information and sharing best practices and sharing what's not working, I think that has been very interesting. The people running the program in enterprise have learned from the people running the program in mid-market and the other way around. I mean, that's how this whole started. And I think I've seen really positive progress.
Glenn: It's a great approach, because not only are you testing but you're testing with two different groups who will see things in two different ways and you can gain even more information from that because there's a – to your point, there's a little bit of friendly competition there?
Andres: Yeah. They are doing things and it's good to see them both. And by comparing, you get to really put your finger on what exactly is going on, what should change, what should we learn from the other program.
Glenn: Right. Andres, if there was one thing that our audience could put into action today to really have an impact on their digital marketing, what would that one thing be?
Andres: I think probably my best piece of advice is that it's not about the destination but the journey. Everybody says that, is just to make sure that every week you're making a little bit of improvement, don't try to go for, like, heaven all at once. Stairway to heaven is laid with a gazillion little steps every counts so, you know, I push my team to move the needle a little bit every week.
Glenn: And it compounds over time.
Andres: Yeah. You start in one place and by the time you look at it from the end of the quarter, 14 weeks later, you are in a different place.
Glenn: Fantastic. Andres, thanks so much for being on the show. If people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that?
Andres: Oh, I'll love to connect with people on LinkedIn. They can find me there. That's probably the best channel.
Glenn: Perfect. Andres, thanks so much for being on the show.
Andres: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Glenn.