Top Takeaways from High Alpha’s 2020 Marketing Flight School

Marketing Flight School

On Wednesday, January 29, we hosted our first Flight School of 2020. More than 60 marketing leaders from around the High Alpha portfolio assembled at VisionLoft downtown Indianapolis. For some, it was a plane ride. For others, it was just a walk down the street.

We came from companies of all shapes and sizes. More than a dozen different markets were represented. Responsibilities ranged from product marketing and brand to demand generation and paid acquisition.

Despite our differences, everyone shared something in common. All of us live, struggle, and thrive in the complex world of B2B SaaS marketing.

It was an amazing day of sharing, thought leadership, therapy, and connection. Below are some of my top takeaways from the day.

Create Binge-Worthy Content

Session 1: Brand Affinity: Why Shows Are the Future Of Marketing (Chris Savage, CEO, Wistia)

Chris Savage, CEO at Wistia, led the day off with an absolutely killer presentation encouraging brands to think more like media companies. Chris is engaging and well-spoken, but even more than that, he delivered a powerful message.

Chris advocated that every brand should produce a “show”. By his definition, a show was a recurring video series, often in season-like batches similar to a series on Netflix or network television.

Brands like Mailchimp and Profitwell are already doing this with great success. In fact, Proftwell CEO Patrick Campbell said “We are growing incredibly fast and 80% of our growth strategy is making shows to build brand affinity.”

As a marketer, this resonated with me. Rather than paying money to advertise on binge-worthy content, why not just create binge-worthy content yourself? Years ago, this would have been cost prohibitive, but with the cost of quality cameras plummeting, and tools like Wistia to help with hosting and distribution, the idea of making a great without breaking the bank is well within our reach as marketers.

One pro-tip from Chris worth sharing — for marketers serious about investing in this, hire a producer. Many producers from the media industry are eager to get into tech, and this one hire can make everything go much faster, and at a higher quality.

Need some inspiration? Check out ProfitWell’s Pricing Page Teardown show or Mailchimp Presents from Mailchimp.

In Content, Volume Still Matters. A Lot.

Session 2: Organic Growth Isn’t Magic, It’s A Process (Mitch Causey, CEO, DemandWell)

Our second presenter of the day was Mitch Causey, CEO at DemandWell. We work closely with Mitch here at High Alpha, but that didn’t make his presentation any less impactful. Mitch is an expert related to all things SEO, Content, and Demand Generation.

Mitch got real with the audience about what it takes to build an explosive organic growth machine. As marketers, we can all at times get caught up searching for that silver bullet. While some things will work better than others, sustainable growth is ultimately about a systematic, process-driven approach.

My favorite take away from Mitch’s presentation is simple — publish more great content!

To put it into context, everyone is publishing at least once a week. If that’s the bar, how can you ever expect to grow faster than your competition by doing the same? Most people aren’t willing to put in more work than one post per week, and that creates an opportunity for those of us who are willing.

The best way to put this to action is to commit to a test. Imagine this: for one quarter, you commit to publishing 3X your current weekly average. Measure your improvement in keyword rankings, website visitors, and new leads compared to your previous benchmark. If you’re doing proper keyword research and your site is architecturally sound, you will see growth. Leverage your improved metrics to get buy-in to invest more resources in the strategy.

Two pro-tips from Mitch:

  1. Make sure Jetpack is installed on your WordPress site. This will improve site speed and overall SEO effectiveness.
  2. Order a microphone and use a transcription service like Temi to crank out even more content. Record on your commute or whenever you have downtime.

There Is No One-Size-Fits All Approach to Demand Generation

Session 3: Panel Discussion: Demand Gen Strategies (Nick Tippmann, VP of Marketing, Greenlight Guru; Tamara Green, Demand Generation Specialist, Lessonly; Egan Montgomery, Marketing Manager, High Alpha)

Nick Tippmann and Tamara Green flaunted some demand generation knowledge on a panel led by Egan Montgomery (aka me).

Nick and Tamara covered a lot, each bringing really deep marketing and demand generation experience. Here’s a punch list of some of my favorite, actionable takeaways:

  • Tamara recommends testing Bing ads (if you haven’t already). Lots of businesses, especially in the enterprise space, default to Bing as the main search engine. While the volume of Bing conversions is lower compared to Google, the ACV (average contract value) is higher.
  • Nick talked about using HubSpot for the vast majority of their Demand Generation technology stack. He likes the platform play because it’s cost effective and all the tech plays nicely together which makes reporting and measurement easier.
  • Tamara and Nick each discussed the importance of experimentation and new channel development. They each laid out processes for testing a new channel, including defining goals and using predetermined objectives to gauge success or failure.
  • Tamara is a major advocate that paid acquisition should live inside the company and not be outsourced. She stressed creativity and the idea that every business is different which requires extreme attention to detail and deep knowledge of the market.
  • Nick reminded us all that there is no one size fits all approach. Similar to Tamara’s point, every business is different. It’s important not to get caught up in buzzwords and trends. Focus on experiments, be rigorous with outcomes and measurement, and try to analyze everything through an objective lens.

Market to People, Not Acronyms

Session 4: B2B Marketing is Broken. Here’s Why (Kate Adams, VP of Marketing, Drift)

Kate Adams is the VP of Marketing at Drift. She has demand generation DNA, but clearly demonstrated that she has a knack for full stack marketing. Kate’s presentation was amazing. She talked about the importance of authenticity and empathy — two concepts that are not exactly synonymous with the common impression of demand generation folks.

Kate joked about the ridiculousness of our acronym-littered sales and marketing funnels. It’s all MQLs, and SQLs, and bla bla bla. “No!” said Kate. “These are real people.”

My favorite part of Kate’s presentation was when she revealed the new funnel she rolled out at Drift.

Drift's New Funnel

Even though it’s really the same thing at the end of the day, details are so important. By training her team to rethink funnel labels, she is emphasizing the importance of remembering that there are humans on the other side of the proverbial fence. A seemingly small detail can influence major behavioral change. It drives home the importance of empathy and authenticity as an organizational pillar — not just a slide in a deck or words on a wall.

I like this because it’s actionable. I’m not suggesting you adopt Drift’s funnel exactly, but are there seemingly discreet changes you can make around terminology or culture that could make a major impact on customer value and outcomes.

Own a Revenue Number

Fireside Chat: Inside the Explosive Growth At Sprout Social (Nate Turner, Growth Consultant & Former VP of Marketing Operations, Sprout Social, Drew Beechler, Director of Marketing, High Alpha)

High Alpha’s Director of Marketing Drew Beechler led an awesome fireside chat with Nate Turner, a growth consultant and former VP of Marketing Operations at Sprout Social.

There were so many awesome takeaways from this session but the one that stood out most to me was how important it is to own a revenue number. I would argue this is true across any lead generation or direct response role in marketing. However, Nate was talking specifically about those who own the free trial experience.

Ultimately the goal of a free trial is to generate revenue. If incentives aren’t aligned to real dollars, it’s likely that the free trial experience will not be optimized to convert.

This take is symbolic of broader shifts in marketing and product, in which disciplines outside of sales are stepping up and holding themselves accountable for revenue. While this is most obviously represented in product-led growth businesses, it most certainly can apply across all of SaaS.

If marketing (and product) want a legitimate seat at the table, they need to be responsible (at least in part) for driving revenue.

Final Thoughts

Flight School represents such an important piece of what High Alpha stands for. It’s a chance to connect, grow closer, and share learnings amongst people who are going through similar challenges and successes as you.

It was a special day, and I think everyone who attended walked away with something to ruminate on, socialize with their team, and/or take action on.

It was an amazing experience learning from some of the best and brightest, both within the High Alpha portfolio, and outside of it. I suppose I can only speak for myself, but I already can’t wait for next year.