October 20, 2022

Brent Adamson Unlocks B2B Customer Confidence

We couldn’t quit Brent Adamson even if we wanted to. Yep, he’s back for his 5th appearance on Renegade Marketers Unite! One of the premier sales thinkers of today, Brent recently joined a CMO Huddles Bonus Huddle to discuss how to sell in the context of a will-it or won’t-it-happen recession.

Regardless of whether or not the downturn will become a reality, this episode is a lesson in staying a few steps ahead of your customers—how to demonstrate real value that brings decision makers together and overcomes buyer trepidation. He also shares advice for B2B CMOs facing budget cuts but not outcome cuts—don’t’ sleep on this one!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode 

  • How B2B CMOs can overcome buyer trepidation 
  • Why value is the key to success 
  • How to help B2B decision makers feel confident and connected

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 315 on YouTube 


Resources Mentioned 

Time-Stamped Highlights 

  • [2:53] Brent’s prediction: Is the Recession coming? 
  • [11:04] To beat buyer trepidation… 
  • [16:39] The Socratic Approach to Value 
  • [19:51] How Ecosystem Software demonstrates value 
  • [24:12] Marketers, your customer is in the same boat as you 
  • [28:29] Help customers feel confident about tough conversations 
  • [30:40] Tell a compelling story with data and evidence 
  • [32:31] Connect decision makers to each other 
  • [38:29] Prove the outcome your solution contributes to is essential 
  • [41:50] Measure success as a team  
  • [44:13] Advice for CMOs facing budget cuts (but not outcome cuts) 

Highlighted Quotes

“Run everything through the lens of customer confidence. Our job is to make customers feel better about themselves, more confident in their ability to decide things. This isn't about buying.” —@brentadamson @ValueMadeClear Click To Tweet “Decision Complexity, Information Overload, and Value Opacity are three major forces undermining customers’ confidence in their own ability to decide inside their company.” —@brentadamson @ValueMadeClear Click To Tweet

“Your customer is about to have a very tough conversation about your product with their CFO.” —@brentadamson @ValueMadeClear Click To Tweet

“If we deployed a readiness checklist in such a way that we increased the likelihood of stakeholders downloading & looking at it & then engaging their colleagues in a discussion around it… That’s the magic.” —@brentadamson @ValueMadeClear Click To Tweet “Value is defined collaboratively, not unilaterally.” —@brentadamson @ValueMadeClear Click To Tweet 

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Brent Adamson

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers. Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, the top rated podcast for B2B CMOs and other marketing obsessed individuals. Alrighty folks, you’re about to listen to a bonus huddle, a specially curated huddle that we run once a month with experts sharing their insights into topics that are most important to our B2B community, also known as CMO Huddles. The expert at this particular huddle was the well renowned—make that the world renowned researcher, co-author of “The Challenger Sale”, and 5 time guest—you should probably get a jacket for that—on Renegade Marketers Unite Brent Adamson. We had a really insightful, challenging, humorous conversation on how CMOs can recession proof their marketing, demonstrate value, and increase customer satisfaction. I know you’re gonna enjoy it. Let’s dive in.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade Drew Neisser.

Drew Neisser: Welcome to a very special bonus huddle. Our guest today is Brent Adamson, Best Selling Author of “The Challenger Sale” and “The Challenger Customer”—and oh by the way, wrote the foreword to some book called Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands. Brent is one of the most sought after advisors in sales and marketing in the world. And spent the last 2 decades researching the B2B buying process, which he declared is entirely broken. After 5 years at Gartner and 14 years at CEB before that Brent joined Ecosystem this April as their Global Head of Research and Communities—we will find out what he is doing there. He has been a frequent guest on Renegade Marketers Unite. And when we caught up earlier this summer, I mentioned our huddles on recession preparedness, and he leapt at the chance to add his voice to this conversation. So, Brent, welcome!

Brent Adamson: Thank you Drew. It’s good to be with all of you guys. It’s great to see all of you and I hope everyone is doing well. And I’ll do my best to share a perspective that’s hopefully interesting. If nothing else but—

Drew Neisser: Always interesting. Always interesting. So also, where are you?

Brent Adamson: I’m in my home office, where I spent the last 3 years of my life. Not being on airplanes. This is in Northern Virginia. So Dulles Airport is right over there. About 7 o’clock at night, the Frankfurt flight comes right over the house in the 747. And I’m not on it. But there you go. So that’s where I’m at.

Drew Neisser: Awesome. So we will get to Ecosystems because I think it’s really relevant to this discussion. But let’s stay big picture for a second. What are your spidey senses tell you about a possible recession?

Brent Adamson: So first of all, I’m not an economist. I just read the same headlines you guys all read. So I think the thing that, to me, that’s really interesting is how complex the story is, right? So you know, employments up, strong inflation, of course, numbers out just yesterday looks particularly bad. Even when you discount the fact that gasoline prices have been diminishing. The war in Ukraine is taking an interesting turn, course that has huge implications for supply chain. And this supply chain stuff gets really interesting. I was talking to a global head of sales yesterday at a paper company and a lot of their products rely on recycled goods. You know, like when you buy paper products, it says “Made from 20% recycled goods.” But what I didn’t know it turns out that most of the input materials that they use to make those goods comes from recycled paper from offices. But no one’s in offices right now, so they have a supply chain problem because people aren’t working—people are working from home. The reason I tell you that stories is to show you just I would have never thought of that. Do you? I mean, I guess that the my point is simply it’s just there’s so many different moving parts. So many different dimensions that I think not a single one of us has been able to fully put together because the reality we live in today is so different from 3 years ago. For those you guys—well, for all of us, and particularly in marketing, I think there this—this will be part of the bigger theme of what I’ve been talking about a lot lately is—there’s a really strong opportunity for us, all of us as partners, suppliers, vendors, brands today to play a role in what I would call frame making, which is just help people make sense out of it. I would love for somebody to say, “Look, I don’t know if there’s a recession coming. But here’s the 3 things to watch for.” Or, “I don’t know if there’s a recession coming or not. But if there is or not, either way, here’s 2 things you need to be thinking about.” Those are, I think the kinds of conversations that we could and should be having with customers right now to help us because I don’t know he’s like, period. I’ll just stop there. Take a break. 

Drew Neisser: Well, so it’s interesting. So I was talking to a CMO who was at a conference with other CMOs. And about 1/3 of them we’re already seeing 2023 budget declines. Not just budget freezes, but budget declines. So, part of this answer is, and I’m not an economist, either—although it was 1 of the majors that I had in college—is the US economy is a lot stronger than the global economy, but the US economy is not immune to the global economy. So, you know, we’re just right now with full employment as it is, it’s going to be slower to hit us. But for global companies, it’s probably already here in so many different dimensions. Because if there’s less money to spend, because more money being spent on your regular goods, that’s hard. And that’s gonna have a ripple effect all the way around. Okay, let’s move on. So let’s talk about this—and we talked a lot about this in 2020 in particular—there was this moment right after the pandemic began, where the CFO became the CF-NO. And we laughed about it, but it was in a really important shift. Because what happened in that very first part of the pandemic was very telling. As we start to think about strategic shifts that brands will need to think about, we’re gonna start to get to this buyer trepidation, right? We’re just gonna, we’re gonna say, “Ah, do I really need to buy this now?” What kinds of things are you thinking about? Or, you know, will we go back to the playbook of essentialness that we had as part of 2020? Or are going to be new things?

Brent Adamson: Well, so a couple of thoughts. You know, there’s so many dimensions to this answer, but here’s a couple of things I think we should all be thinking about. So number one is, so we—you know, degrees, you get to like know a little bit more about the company that I’m working with a company called Ecosystems. I want to be careful I don’t become a shill for a product. No, it’s a really cool platform. But I will tell you the world that I live in now, the environment is at this company called Ecosystems, the world of value. And there’s a reason why I’m here talking about value with this company, because I think in a time like this, as we all know, to be true, at any altitude, whether it’s at a very tactical level, like just explaining, justifying the size of your own team, to your CFO. Or helping your customer understand the need for your solution, when they’re all on the sidelines, and becoming incredibly risk averse. I think the way that you inoculate yourself against a recession or against tough times, or risk aversion from your customers, one of them at least, is to be able to clearly articulate the value of what you’re doing in the first place. Why is it—and I think that to bring in a little bit of a sprinkle of a challenger work that we’ve done in the past—it’s not so much, what is the value of your product, or the value of your solution, or the value of your team, or the value of this software platform for your company. It’s the value of the outcome that that relationship that that investment leads to, right? And that’s actually different, right? So it’s like, because the reason why it’s different is, let’s say, I’m going to have a discussion with my customer on the value of my solution, well, then I got to talk about like, here’s the total cost of ownership or the lifetime value, we spent a lot of time putting the calculators together. I think the better way to think about it is to sit down with your customer collaboratively or do through digital, because we’re marketers, right? Is think about what are the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve, irrespective of the means of getting there? What’s the end? And what is the value of that end? And that’s where I think a little bit the challenge of work is still absolutely applicable, which is, here’s what you’re trying to do. Here’s a different thing to try to do and why it’s actually better, because they help you save money or make money in different ways you hadn’t thought possible. So building the value out of that course of action, whether it’s when your customers are on already, or one that you actually challenge them to be on. But then to build out sort of, how do I explain or how do we discover together why that matters, right? And then make it very concrete from that point. So it can’t just be like it matters for these very abstract reasons. What are the KPIs? What are the metrics? What are the targets? So as I put it the other—I was at the pulse conference a couple of weeks ago, that’s the Gainsight conference, and the way I put it to someone was like, what are we trying to do? And how will we know when we get there? Those are the 2 questions, what are we trying to do? And then how exactly are we going to know when we get there? Very tactically, very practically, what are the steps we can take? And I when I look at, you know, like the typical value calculators, or the total cost of ownership, all the different ROI calculations a lot of us do on behalf of our reps or put on our website, I think there needs to be a first step around aligning that first question, what are we trying to do in the first place? And then figuring out irrespective whether you work with us, or use our solution, why would that be valuable to you? What are you going to get from that? What are the metrics and then getting alignment among the customer stakeholders around that? So do we all agree that that’s the right outcome? Do we all agree that those are the metrics that we all believe in? Do we all agree that those are the right targets? But I think if you’re not buttoned down on these kinds of discussions with your customer, or more importantly, irrespective of you if your customer is not buttoned down on these kinds of points, it’s gonna be very hard for anyone to take action in the face of the uncertainty that we see today. That’d be my take.

Drew Neisser: I want to break this down a little bit and get into it because you also said in that conversation, “Save money, make money.” And most businesses are—

Brent Adamson: Or mitigate risk. That’s the other word. So save money, make money, mitigate risk. Those are usually the do almost everything ladders up to those 3.

Drew Neisser: Right, it ladders up to that. But what you’re really talking about is—and there’s a timeframe, by the way with that too, as well, right? How quickly you can do it. Because one of the things that was really interesting at the beginning of the pandemic was, if you had a long more than a 3 month payback, CFO saying, “No, I don’t have time, I got immediate things that I need to fix now, like digital transformation, years is a year payback. That’s great. But I don’t have a year.” If we’re not talking about saving money and we’re not talking about making money. And we’re not talking about doing it in a certain timeframe, because that’s one way of looking at value. What are we talking about and how do we get a little more specific to help folks, and it probably depends on the folks industries. But this is where we sort of—and this is really jumping ahead, but this is sort of, save money, make money in a certain timeframe is the rational. And then we know there’s this emotional component but help dimensionalize this idea. And then there’s another whole area to talk about.

Brent Adamson: Which idea did you want to talk about. Do you want to go on to the emotional side, Drew’s, is that where you want to dig in,

Drew Neisser: Let’s first get to value and why? What matters in the end? Really sort of, if it’s not on the dimensions of help you make money, save money, what are we looking at? Or give an example. Just so that we’re clear that we’re talking about something that folks on this call can do, I think it’s easy to say, “It’s easier for folks to understand it”—because we’ve talked a lot about this in the huddle is, “If I can show that my product or service will take a piece of software can pay back 3x in 3 months, I got a really good value proposition. Yay! I can do this.” And that’s clear. And that’s a very clear, rational, quick payback. You’ll make more money or your product will pay back and help you do this

Brent Adamson: Although, you know, look, if I was competing against our product, you know, I think I would—I have a longer payback period, but a better payback over time. That’s the conversation I want to have is like, let me show you why you’re short sightedness is going to bite you in the derriere a year from now. I think it’s a really good conversation to have around is a 3 month timeframe. And actually the right kind of timeframe because of the kinds of changes these tectonic shifts we’re seeing and moving towards a digital for example, as you mentioned. That’s not a 3 month journey. That’s a multi year journey. And it’s a really interesting begin to have a conversation around, how do you make sure that the decisions you’re making right now for short term survival don’t undermine your opportunity for long term growth? And I think that’s, first of all, a really interesting conversation. 

Let me if I could, I’ll take it a slightly different direction Drew. There’s a, I guess, a keynote and a set of content I’ve been running lately, which I think is if I take everything that we learned at Gartner over the last 4 or 5 years, and everything I’m seeing now in this value space that I’m working in the number 1 thing that we all can be thinking about right now, in B2B commerce, particularly as marketers and sellers is solving for what I would call customer confidence. And the thing that’s so interesting right now, and it’s it’s all plays into the uncertainty story that we’re laying out here. The number one thing that we saw in Gartner research, right, in the last couple of years, particularly prior to my departure was if you’re looking for the one thing you can do to increase the likelihood of your customers buying a bigger deal on purpose of feeling good about it, is the degree to which they feel confident not in you, not your brand, not your product, not your speeds and feeds, but the degree to which they feel confident in themselves and their ability to make that decision on behalf of their company. And when you think about that, so I tell CEOs all times like run everything through the lens of customer confidence. Our job as a supplier as a partner is to make customers feel better about themselves more confident in their ability to decide things. This isn’t about buying things about deciding things. And I think right now there are 3 major forces that are eroding customer confidence. One is decision complexity. One is information overwhelmingness, or information overload, we’ll call that overwhelmingness—I’m not sure that’s where it—so we’ll call it decision complexity, information overload. And the third one is what I mentioned already is value opacity. And if someone’s got a better word for opacity that doesn’t sound so wonky, I’m totally open to it and throw it in the chat. So decision complexity, information overload, value opacity are 3 major forces undermining customers confidence in their own ability to decide inside their company. So decision complexity, it’s all the different stakeholders, all the different concerns is all the like, customers don’t know how to buy. “Who do I get involved? What questions are going to come up? What’s going to blow up in our faces?” When deals go off the rails, I can guarantee you more often than not, the customer didn’t see it coming. It’s because they don’t understand how to buy given their own internal decision made complexity. So that’s one. Information overload is the sensemaking work that I put in HBr with the team at Gartner right before I left around customers are overwhelmed with high quantities of high quality information. This is where our thought leadership strategy backfires because you’re saying smart stuff, I’m saying smart stuff, we’re all in the smartest arms race to prove to our customers were the smartest company in the world. And we just leave our customers confused at a higher level because you’re telling me to zig they’re telling me to zag everybodys great information or y’all still sound the same because you’re all sounding smart. And I just don’t know what to do, so I just choose not to choose. The third was the value opacity point already made around. It’s unclear, you know, around the outcomes, the metrics, the targets, and are we all aligned? So if we think about it, if I put all that—I promise I’m heading for a final here, but let me sum it up for you Drew, is that, you know, so much of Challenger was all about being framed breaking, you know, so I’m teaching, breaking your customers mental model, giving them new a thing. And I still think that’s valid. But I think the opportunity today in this environment where customers are overwhelmed across 3 dimensions around decision, around information, around value, that there’s this really interesting opportunity for us to sort of shift our perspective from frame breaking into saying really smart, challenging stuff, which is still good. Move for frame breaking to frame making. Which is how can I create a framework for my customers that will help them feel more confident to move forward with a decision, I think you can build a framework around decision making, you can build a framework around information, and you can build a framework around value. Those are just 3 different ways that one can play the role of a frame maker. This is a world where frame making if what you’re solving for is customer confidence. The reason I like this word framework is you’re not telling them what to do, you’re giving them a framework, a scaffold, if you want to get into like behavioral cognitive psychology stuff, which is really interesting. You’re giving them a framework for them to organize their own thinking. So I can give you a framework for buying, here’s the 3 steps you want to consider. Here’s the 5 people you probably want to include. Here’s the 3 things you want to think about. And give you a framework around information that sense making. Here’s the 3 questions you need to ask yourself as you consume this information. Here’s the 2 pieces of information you really want to take a look at, and 1 maybe from our competitor. And I created a framework around value, which that’s the company I work at. And I was literally at our software platform as a tool to put framework around value. 

Brent Adamson: But in this frame making approach—one of the things I think it’s so interesting about it Drew and be interesting get people’s thoughts in the chat—it’s very Socratic, right? So the idea here is that I’m creating frameworks to simplify. I’m helping customers make sense of the world. To organize and simplify and analyze their world. So they can come to their own conclusions. Because they’ve got to own that decision. Because that’s what you’re solving for is their confidence in our ability to make that decision. So it’s less about telling them what to do, and just giving them a fighting chance to decide what to do. And so that the Socratic approach, I think is, is a really interesting way to think about how we go to market. So you guys think about website design, for example, what information do we put on our website? And how can we organize it so that when customers encounter a website and work their way through it, they find, “I love these guys, they helped me come to a decision.” As opposed to, “They told me what to do. Or they told me that they were found in the back of a pickup truck on 1892. And he showed me all their logos.” Sorry, that was a bit of a dig. That was unfair. But that’s what we do, because we all do that. So but I got one more, then I promise I will take a breath. 

Drew Neisser: There’s a lot to unpack here. 

Brent Adamson: I know. But there’s—let me—but here’s how we could sum it up. So rather than unpacking it, let me put a point on it. Okay, there’s a guy named Bryan Smith. That’s Bryan with a “Y”. Bryan Smith is the Chief Strategy Officer at a company called Expedient, its cloud computing company. He’s the head of sales. He’s also now the Chief Strategy Officer. Bryan is brilliant. He’s really, really smart. I’ve heard Brian say to his team, and I just love this I permission to say this, but I’ve heard him say to his team, “Our job is to help our customers make the best decision they can in as little time as possible.” That’s our job. How can we help our customers make the best decision that they can in as little time as possible? Why as little time as possible? Because we’re going to lose the old saying in sales, “We’re gonna lose, lose early,” right? But I want to be the company that’s being helpful. So this is shift from how do we get our customers to buy, to how do we help our customers decide. That in a time of uncertainty go full circle where we started, I think that’s our opportunity, whether it’s success, sales, marketing service. That’s the bandwagon I’m on these days.

Drew Neisser: So in some ways, because I remember, you had a Gartner conference and the big slide that said, “Make buying easier.” Where you’re being more specific now, in the sense that we are making buying easier by creating a framework that helps them have the confidence to make a decision, because most of the time—and this is your language—paint a chain versus gain a change, right? Most of the time.

Brent Adamson: Technically it’s ADPs language, they’re the ones who came up with it. We put it in the book, so I’ll take a claim to it.

Drew Neisser: In your book that we’re competing with, particularly in a software world you’re competing with a gain of changes is rarely as high as you would like it to be versus the pain of change. So we’re creating this framework and we’re doing it in 3 ways. We’re helping them with decisions, with info, and showing value. Now the value to me is—and that’s what Ecosystems does, as I understand it, and then we can pause on that—and then there’s decision making and then there’s information. All of which is about making it easy for me to buy, right?

Brent Adamson: Not just making it easy but make me confident, right? We used to run everything through the easy lens. I would run right now through the confidence lens.

Drew Neisser: Confidence lens and I it’s funny because I this may not be a parallel but what I’m immediately thinking of is a lot of car advertising is for the person who already bought the car they see the ad and they go, “Oh I feel better about making that decision conflict there it is and it looks so good on TV.” It’s an interesting aspect. So it’s reinforcing there’s no buyer’s remorse, right, when you do it. So you’re trying to sort of address buyer’s remorse early get to confidence, all right, it’s easy to say that word. I’m gonna make you confident buying my product or service. I think what I like about this—or I’m optimistic about this is I can wrap my head around, “Okay, what am I doing?” And these other decision making info and value.

Brent Adamson: Yeah, right. This stuff can be turned into tactics. So Deidre’s point—and again, a lot of this is inspired by some great work we did at Challenger around decision complexity, this idea of buyer enablement and even something in the marketing practice at Gartner. Sharon Kanter Corvus is an incredible researcher who coined this term “Change Enablement”. Which is how can we be buying guides, coaching guides, here are the 3 people who want to talk to, here’s the questions they’re gonna ask, here’s the 3 steps to avoid, here’s a Cosmo quiz—some of you all know what a Cosmo quiz is—here’s a quick quiz to determine whether or not you’re right, like a readiness checklist. All these things are very tactical things that we can create marketing put on a website put in the hands of our sales reps to increase customer confidence and their ability to navigate their own decision making complexity. On the information side, that’s the article is called “Sensemaking For Sales”. I’m not trying to plug my own work, I’m sorry if that sounds self serving, but it’s just a nice summary of very practically, how can you help your customers make sense out of information, there’s tactical things that we do there. And around value, that again, I think there’s just a very tactical set of steps around outcome definition, collaborative defining of outcomes, collaborative defined definition of KPIs mapping out a road or a path to value realization, and think about implementation. So all these things can be very tactically deployed that which I think is super cool.

Drew Neisser: At the risk of making a show for your company, I have no problem doing that. Let’s start with value. Because we talked about value a lot. We talked in huddles, we’ve talked about ROI calculators, we’ve talked about other ways of showing return on investment and those kinds of things. What is it that you all do? And how do you get at this issue of of demonstrating value?

Brent Adamson: So it’s actually super cool. And if anyone wants to, by all means, hit me up on LinkedIn, or, you know, our Ecosystems.us is our website, and I’m happy to do a live demo, or just talk about if anyone’s talking about it. But it’s a software platform, everything everything today is SaaS, right? You guys are all probably SaaS too. It’s a software service platform. And the way I think about this Drew is it’s almost like an operating system for value. In other words, it is in a digital environment, a software platform in which sellers and customers can virtually sit down together and figure out what are we trying to do with this relationship? What are the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve? What are the metrics that matter? How are we going to map out a roadmap to get to that value? And then how do we track that over time. So what we can do is we can populate that platform with hypotheses. So for example, if you’re selling to pharmaceuticals, we can tell you, you know, if you’re selling a pharmaceutical solution to pharmaceuticals, here’s the 3 people you need to talk to, here’s the kinds of outcomes they typically care about, so that your sales rep now can have essentially what I call hypothesis led discovery, and they can pull down in the drop down menus area. So I noticed this has come up with but when working with other customers alike use my all time favorite phrase: “In working with other customers like you one of the things we find is this often comes up this hasn’t come up in our conversation, would you consider that?” You can do the same with targets and metrics, you can build out calculators, you can make them dynamic. So you can do scenario planning. There’s a really nice process mapping tools, you can map out what I would call a sequence of events and create what’s known as a verified pipeline. You put all that together, Drew—and one last thing. So one things we were talking about right before I left Gardner was this idea of a digital sales room, which is sort of a place in the Internet where your customers can synchronously and asynchronously interact with you and have these conversations. That’s not how Ecosystems thinks about what they’ve done. But when I look at us, that’s how I think about it, so essentially, it’s a digital space, like an operating system, on top of which these really great conversations that have been happening for decades through more analog ways can occur. And it can be tracked from all the way from a top of funnel marketing, all the way down to expansion through customer success teams. Super cool stuff.

Drew Neisser: So, part of this is going to existing customers and establishing a value. And then the next part of this is using it as a way of saying this is the value we’ll create for you based on the model that we’ve done for other customers.

Brent Adamson: That’s right. And not surprisingly, one of our big customer groups is customer success. Because you know, as we all move to—not all of us—many of us move to recurring revenue models, right? So subscription base, or whatever it might be on a monthly basis. It used to be I sell a 3 year contract and leave you alone for 2 & 1/2 years, right? But now we have—cause you guys know on the marketing side, we have to have recurring conversations with our customers often on a monthly basis. If you’re selling in a consumption basis that blows my mind because it’s literally in an ongoing real time basis where your customers can ask and will ask frequently, “What are we getting out of this? Should I just shut this off this month?” In fact, the way we put it—here’s something for us all to consider. There’s a great campaign around this—which I’m not a campaign builder, I need you guys’s help to build a campaign around this—but essentially comes down to this, which is your customer for—particular for those who in SaaS or in recurring revenue models, this is absolutely the case—your customer is about to have a very difficult conversation about your product with their CFO. That is our reality. It’s our reality for all of us right now. Your customer is about to have a very tough conversation about your product with their CFO. Here’s my question, are they ready to have that conversation? Which leads to are you ready? But are they ready to have that conversation? You’re not going to be there. They gotta go in to have that conversation without you. Are they equipped to have that conversation? Does that make you nervous? Makes me frickin nervous, I’ll tell you that. So that’s where this stuff becomes really important.

Drew Neisser: So this is very specified, but buyer enablement, right? This is you’re the leader of this committee who’s buying committee, you’re going to go to the CFO, and you’re going to say we need this now, because… 

Brent Adamson: Or we already bought it. But why do we still have it? Can we in the cost cutting mode, I’m looking to shut things off. I’m looking what we need. If we need to decrease our spend—by the way, this is you guys, right? This is your CFO having conversation with all of you saying why do we have HubSpot? Why do we have size? Why do we do this? Like the list goes on and on. Why do we have all these things? And at some point, you’re going to be under a little bit of pressure to give up on either people or process or technology or—probably not process technology—but you have to give up on something cause. And are you ready to have that conversation? What hill are you willing to die on right now for your budget? And are you prepared to actually have that conversation in a way that allows you to maintain your credibility over time, because I would imagine, for a lot of you guys, if you think like, “I don’t know, if I can really justify this and feel good about myself, I feel a little uncomfortable.” You’re gonna probably just let that one go. And you may regret it. But that’s your customer right now in the same boat with your solution.

Drew Neisser: And I’m gonna pause on that note for a second, because you sort of just made me think. So we put together this recession preparedness calculator, which you’ve seen. And one of the things that we asked the CMOs to do is to do an audit of their people, their programs and their technology and sort of figure out right now what they have to have, and what’s nice to have. Must have versus nice to have. And what’s so interesting about that is—and I hadn’t really made the leap as you’ve done. That’s what your customers are doing. So if we go to—because in July, we spent the entire month talking about customer marketing, customer retention, customer, all of that and why retention was so important. But now we can reframe that conversation, it’s like we should do it again. Because the reframing is not just are they using your product or service to the fullest extent possible, but preventing them from dropping you. Which means you’ve got to move your product from nice to have to must have and you got to do it in a very quick way. And it means providing the ammunition to your current customers to make your product defensible, right? And that’s something that we hadn’t, we subtly talked about it, but we didn’t put up a pin in it. And I think that’s really interesting. I want to put a pin on that right now, the good news is because you’re going through this exercise on your own, and you’re looking at this, you can learn from that experience, if you look at every piece of software you have right now and audit them. And you decide what you put in must have versus nice to have. What was in your mind? What made it nice to have versus must have? Because that’s what you need to take that and apply it to your own product or service. 

Brent Adamson: What’s interesting, Drew, is I would imagine there’s gonna be this gray area where you guys would put it in a must-have spot. If something but part of your MarTech stack that you would put in the must-have category, you really need this and you can see the value. But then when you think about having that conversation out loud with your CFO under some really tight budget constraints, you think, “Yeah, but am I really confident my ability to articulate it? I know we need this, but can I truly articulate it in a way that doesn’t make me sound crazy, dumb…”—and you guys don’t sound crazy, you know what I mean? It’s like, there’s a difference between I see the need, versus I can articulate to the need. The need to someone outside of marketing, who’s in finance, who’s just looking to cut 10%. That’s your cut. So that’s why I think comes back to confidence. It’s not just do you see that? Because I can give you all the ROI calculators until the cows come home, but have I equipped you to go have that conversation around, here are the outcomes that you and—so I’m you now and I’m gonna roleplay you guys as marketers, right? So I’m sitting down with our CFO and saying, “We talked about here are the outcomes that we as an executive team agreed on as the things we’re trying to achieve. Whether it’s a certain percent of growth or market shares, or whatever it might be. Here’s the things we agreed on. Here are the 3 tools in our tool chest that are most important for achieving those outcomes. And let me explain why because this one…”—and then you need to work from, “This tool does this.” And I gotta be able to ladder it up to that higher level outcome, right? So this particular tool helps us achieve this, this, and this. Those 3 things are important because it gets me this. This is important because it gets us that. And I’d be able to show that causal link and have that conversation. And ideally put numbers against it, put proof points against that, ideally yours. And unless you can have that conversation where you can ladder up and ladder down in terms of outcomes, you may feel it’s important. But can you convey that it’s important? That’s the trick.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. I’m just imagining either a cheat sheet card, or an SMS, that goes out to every one of your customers right now, who are the defenders. And these are probably people, by the way, who identify with your product or service really tremendously. Like it’s part of their existence, their existence kind of depends on it. But giving them the ammunition as you describe to defend the purchase.

Brent Adamson: Worst case scenario, Drew, is what we’re seeing right now. We sell to a lot of value professionals, and they’re right now losing their jobs. So what do I do in that person who’s able to have that conversation doesn’t work with the company anymore? And now I’ve gotta go have that conversation with the CFO, do you see? Or that CFO is going to have to have to figure that out for him or herself. So this is where, again, being buttoned down on this stuff, and having access to all these different people I think is useful. To some degree you guys may thinking like, “Gosh, I hope my sales team is thinking about this kind of stuff.” But this is I think, the degree to which we can do this through digital channels, or the degree to which we can provide—produce the content, the talking points, the collateral that we put in the hands of our sales reps, or maybe our channel partners, but I just run everything through this lens of how can we help our customers feel more confident in their ability to have these kinds of conversations in their company.

Drew Neisser: The tough conversations. Suddenly, I’m even that much more excited about getting everyone to take the recession preparedness calculator, because the things that it talks about it on an internal level in ability to defend your budget is going to be based on your confidence that all the things that you’re doing are working to the fullest extent that the company, your CFO and your CEO believe they should be. And the less confident you are in the way you’re spending the budget on people, programs, and technology, the more likely your budget is going to get cut, right? So again, put it there. But the exercise that you’re going through is going to be informative, and help you get yourself prepared to do what this is what we call it sales enablement. And we’ll call it customer marketing enablement, right? And it’s a different kind of customer enablement marketing, because I don’t think everybody’s thinking, “Oh, my God, our product could be cut. Somebody’s looking for 10%, our product could be cut.” And so now suddenly, that’s a little bit different conversation then, “Hey, are you using it well?” It’s a little bit different than the upsell conversation.

Brent Adamson: It is. And you know, I think again this is why I love, you know, I spend so much time working with salespeople and sales leaders, but my emotional home is marketing because we’re storytellers, right? And I think that’s the part of the critical aspect of this is be able to tell that compelling story with data, with evidence that is going to resonate across multiple stakeholders all with different perspectives. So one of the things that we talked about in the beginning of the Challenger customer, which is still true today, is one of the weirdest things we ever found in all my time at  CEB & Gartner is that the better you get at positioning your offer to individual stakeholders, the less likely they are to buy the bigger solution. Whether it’s like personalization basically works against you. With that I realized that’s like, gasoline on a fire for marketers. Any cool to say that out loud, right? Then the reason why is because it’s not just there’s a lot of stakeholders involved in a purchase. It’s not a numbers problem, although that number keeps going up. It’s a diversity problem. The fact that the CFO is different than the head of marketing, is different than the head of operations, is different than legal and compliance, and seaso. And they all have different metrics, they all have different dashboards and unless they can come to a common understanding of what they’re trying to do, they’re just going to choose not to choose. So in sales, I talked about the track them all down, win em all over strategy. I gotta get that person on board and I’m gonna personalize that stakeholder and get him on board. And I’m gonna personalize that cycle and get her on board. Now, once I get once like one plus one plus one, I get them all on board. Well, it turns out it equals zero unless they all can agree. So it’s not about doing a better job connecting them to you. It’s doing a better job of connecting to each other. And I think that’s where, again, these value conversatio—we’re talking about the metrics we choose, the KPIs that we define, the outcomes that we articulate need to resonate across multiple stakeholders as a collective. It’s like Graduate School of value, right? It’s a more complicated, subtle art, but it’s critical one to figure out.

Drew Neisser: So the Brent Adamson groupie in me will tell you that they are 2.2X  less likely to close the sale if they’ve expressed personalized, customized messages to each of the decision makers. I believe that was the number

Brent Adamson: Sounds vaguely right.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, in your book. Because I pretty sure I put it in my book. And it’s interesting because at first marketers think well, isn’t the future all about personalization? But really, this is a step back and saying, “No, for a moment this is about the big story and having everybody see the same—that it’s an elephant, right?” It’s not the blind men touching seven different parts of an elephant wondering what it is. It’s making sure that everybody sees the—and at this point, everybody has the same confidence that this product or service can do the same thing for the company, it is important to them. 

Brent Adamson: So finding—so let me, again, super tactical. But I think, at least what’s conceptual but still tacticals finding means for your customer stakeholders to interact with each other is such an interesting opportunity for us in sales and marketing. So on the sales side, it would be things like customer alignment workshops, like literally how can I get them all in a room, which these days, of course, is still hard because of residual pandemic. But I think through digital, it’s actually super interesting, right? How can I create a digital experience that increases the likelihood of customer stakeholders talking to each other. Of interacting with one another around a calculator, around a set of questions, around an assessment tool, around a readiness checklist. It’s not like kind of love us and marketing, right? So we built a readiness checklist and we put it out and we gated it now we’re like in 50,000, or 5000, people downloads is 5000 new leads in our funnel, and we pass this off this, this is this can’t be the world we live in anymore in marketing, right? The thing we care about is have we created a readiness checklist. And have we deployed it in such a way that we increase the likelihood not of people downloading and looking at it, but of stakeholders downloading, looking at it, and then engaging their colleagues in a discussion around it. That’s the magic. It’s not the one person downloading and looking at it is the sharing. So if you think like, well, how the bleep am I supposed to make that happen as a marketer? One company we profiled a couple years ago at Gardener was, they literally just had a Share button on the piece of content, you just track. Like, how many times does this piece of content get shared by one stakeholder to colleagues, for example. That’s not going to solve everything I’m talking about. But the winners, here are the creative ones. The winners here in marketing are the ones who come up with the answers to the questions I have, right? Which is like, how do I deploy a digital experience that increases the likelihood of my customer stakeholders interacting with each other as a result of that digital experience? And I don’t have all the answers to that. But I think that’s the thing to figure out.

Drew Neisser: Right. And again, this is under the assumption that this is a large purchase decision. There are a lot of people involved in it. It’s a committee and they have to come together. So on the calculator—going back to that just as a place to continue the conversation. We talked about these sort of 4 buckets that would really show the essential pneus of the brand in it’s sort of where are you, you know, in this must-have versus nice-to-have in your customers mind. The insulation, and this is an interesting one, the insulation comes down to how likely are your customers to actually keep you, right? And how likely are they to upgrade you that’s part of it. And it’s also the internal belief that marketing works, right? And there are certain marketers on this call, who can show not only pipe that, you know, the marketing touches, but marketing drives 60% of revenue, right?

Brent Adamson: Oh yeah. 100%.

Drew Neisser: Those folks are insulated. In many ways their budget is insulated, at least in the short term until the target start to go down, right? Because I’ve got 2 things, they’ve got customers who are going to renew because they love them. And they can already answer the question, why I have you and why I can’t live without you. There’s this whole operations part of it. And I expect that that’s going to have a major impact on MarTech world, right? Because MarTech in my mind has grown unbelievably faster than almost any other budget area. And MarTech has been programming. MarTech isn’t media. And so that’ll be interesting. And then this sort of last area is the internalness of and the confidence that your employees and your leadership believes in in the brand.

Brent Adamson: Well, actually, could we talk about this essential point, because I think it’s actually really important. And I’m guessing you guys are all there like me and your heads but it’s just so we all articulate it out loud is—because the way you said it and it’s a natural inclination prophecy, how do I prove the essentialness of my solution? How do I prove the essentialness or show that my brand or my product, my solution is essential? And then internally, how do I demonstrate that my team is essential and we shouldn’t lay people off? If I may, I think there’s a more productive way to articulate the same concept. Which is, it’s not so much that you want to demonstrate how essential your solution is. I would suggest the better way to think about is how can I demonstrate how essential the outcome is that my solution contributes to? Does that make sense? And it feels like I’m splitting hairs I don’t mean to be but but the thing you want—let’s take in the customer in the sales setting. The thing I want to convince my customers of is not that—cuz think about it. It’s like, do I think my iPhone is essential because it’s an Apple iPhone? No, I think my iPhone is essential because it allows me to accomplish certain tasks in an easy sort of way. If someone came out tomorrow with a better phone, I mean, is there a certain brand loyalty there? Yeah? But not if someone can help me do that even better, right? So I think customers are fickle to some degree, particularly in a recurring revenue model and, you know, on a monthly basis. So the thing that we have to show is essential is we help you achieve this outcome. This is why that outcome matters more than anything else, or matters a lot. That is essential. There we go. This is why this outcome is essential. And here’s how we are directly connected to that outcome. It’s a two step logic as opposed to a one step logic and often times we short circuited or short cycle to, here’s where I’m essential. I think that’s where we can get ourselves in trouble. So we wind up spending too much time talking about ourselves, and our features and our speeds and our proof points and our customer raving fans or whatever it is, as opposed to let’s go back to our customer. Just remind them what are they trying to do? Why does it matter? And here’s how we help them make that happen. Do you buy that Drew? Does it feel like a difference without—a distinction without a difference? Does it feel important?

Brent Adamson: My mind being the simple minded person that I am struggles with the distinction, but it’s only because I have to process it and I need an example. I need a story that gets me there.

Brent Adamson: Here’s I guess the high level the I guess the reason why just years of watching this happen is if we want to make our product essential, what do we wind up talking about? Our product. If we want to make our brand essential, what do we wind up talking about? We talk about our brand, right? But if we want to make sure that our customers consider a certain outcome to be essential, then we start talking to them about their business. And I think that’s—it feels like it when I say like that, it seems like just dead straight obvious. Like we all kind of know that. But it’s not in the principle, it’s in the execution where we kind of get tripped up. Because we—”Oh, it’s so important to get them to love us or like us or use us or you know, think we’re amazing.” So it’s kind of like dating is like, “I want you to think I’m amazing. So I spent all my time thinking about and talking about how I’m amazing”. It’s like that’s usually the exact 180 degree different way to—it’s like the worst possible way to actually achieve the thing you’re setting out to achieve.

Drew Neisser: I got it. And really this is about not being the hero of your own story. 

Brent Adamson: Right. Yeah.

Drew Neisser: You’re helping, you’re enabling, your Iago—bad example.

Brent Adamson: You went to Shakespeare, I can’t help you out there, man.

Drew Neisser: No, no, I went to Aladdin, actually. 

Brent Adamson: OH you’re going to Aladdin? I thought we were in Othello land, when we were really in Disneyland.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, exactly. No. So okay, that makes sense completely and it also. So—

Brent Adamson: Kristin asked a really good question, which is—she said, “How do you measure success?” And Kris, it’s a tongue in cheek answer. But it’s actually mean this, which is, it doesn’t matter how I measure success, right. So in other words, when it comes to marketing, it matters, how the people who are holding the budget strings measure success. But this is actually why this matters, right? Is I—and you guys do this already, I imagine. But sit down with your leadership team and say, “What matters to us as a team? What matters to us as a company? And here’s how I believe we as a marketing team are contributing.” Because the answer is going to be contextual, it’s going to be different. And it’s gonna be articulated in your language. But you have to go through that exercise together. If that exercise—this, again, why the software that we use is so important, because it’s all based on a very fundamental principle that value is defined collaboratively, not unilaterally. And I think that matters in this world. So Kristen, I would suggest that you know, how I measure success doesn’t even matter inside my own company. What matters is how myself and my leadership teams we sit down, and how do we measure success? I think that’s the same point there. And that feels kind of punditry now that you say it out loud. I don’t apologize if it does. But I think it’s actually really important principle, I’ve totally thrown you off your talk Drew, this happens every time I come on your show. 

Drew Neisser: See the problem with a live show is that you have to think on your feet and sometimes there’s too much information going in. So I’m going to jump ahead. Conversations that we’ve been having right now have been about CFOs saying, “Budgets on hold in the in the first quarter, might need you to start to look at trimming here or there. But I still need you to hit your numbers.” And these are, by the way, not just for folks who don’t have a predictive engine, even for ones who do have a predictive model where they can show marketing drives, not just pipeline, but most often. That’s it, but they can drive revenue, they have a predictive model, they’ve all agreed that this model actually works. And yet, they’re being said, we probably need to cut this probably 10% fat. And so the marketers response is, “Well, there are some short term things I could cut, there probably won’t have a big impact, they might have a longer term impact.” But otherwise, they’re being asked to be magicians, right? They’re being asked to make something out of nothing or make more with less. And if they do make more with less than they really have to admit the fact that they weren’t spending as efficiently as they could have at the beginning. 

Drew Neisser: So what words of advice do you have for the CMOs right now who are looking at budget cuts, but not outcome cuts? They still are supposed to deliver the same number of leads into pipeline, they’re still supposed to enable the salespeople in the same way with wonderful tools like you described with less staff and less budget.

Brent Adamson: Look, this is hard. On this one, I’m just a guy, you know, I’m not a researcher. I’ve got bar charts I can show you to solve for this one. I think we’re all kind of in this together. The one thing you know, if I put on my empathy hat Drew, I would suggest this that you guys all know how that feels to you personally, when you have that conversation. It feels frustrating. It feels scary. And I think there’s this undercurrent to your point Drew you already mentioned which is well if you’re suggesting I can cut 10% and deliver the same result you’re kinda suggesting a bit sandbagging. And I don’t know about you, but I get resentful about that, like, who the bleep are you to, you know, and by then it creates an emotional tension as much as a procedural tension in your company. The first thing that came to my mind, Drew, is that the classic corporate world, things get cascaded. I would encourage you guys—maybe to state the obvious—be careful not to cascade that same sentiment down to your team. So as you think about leading your team, and explaining the fact that you’re between a rock and a hard place, be careful not to inadvertently or maybe advertently, create the same feeling among your team who you rely on to get your job done, that your boss just created in you or your colleague or your peer in finance. And so maybe you just openly talk about it. Look, these are tough times I know we’ve been running it 100% already, or maybe 98%. Maybe it’s temporary. There’s this weird, you know, the quiet quitting sort of thing comes up here, which is like quiet quitting turns out like you were actually you’re not quite quitting, because I’d be real careful about where I because everyone’s already doing their job, no one’s quitting, you’re just doing what I’m asked to do. So I would lean into process, I would lean into technology, how can we find ways to use this might be the place where you double down on technology, not pull back, if it can make you more productive, if it can make you more efficient. And by the way, there may be headcount reductions as a result of leaning into technology, that’s again, kind of where we’re at, I think that you can get more scale out of a value conversation we do with software, then you can with people, I definitively know you can get more scale out of it with process and people. But I also understand the potential human cost of that in terms of jobs, the physics here are hard, but I would just as all of you are great human leaders, many of you are great human leaders, just I would encourage you, as you think about how these conversations feel to you think about how they’ll feel to your team, when you have them with them. Just that’s not a solution isn’t true, but it’s something Oh, it’s

Drew Neisser : Great, it’s a good place to wrap up, I think it’s a good place to wrap up. Because, you know, basically, what you’re saying is don’t kick the dog. Right, if you’re getting kicked out, but I love the empathy. And and I think this is part of what we’re doing here, which is we’re collectively feeling some pain, but also bubbling up solutions. And one of the things, the big themes that I took away from the call is thinking about the word confidence, both in terms of internally, like you’re confident as a CMO that you’re doing everything you can to help deliver the outcomes at the same time you’re giving your current customers the confidence they can to defend this. And then finally, you’re giving your prospects the confidence they can to make this decision in a time where confidence is really hard to find. Yeah, right. Because we’re there’s so much uncertainty.

Brent Adamson: So a lot of that let that uncertainty is not the result of the economy, because I would argue when the economy turns around, or we get more clarity on the decision complexity, the information overload value paths are still there the underlying long term impact or forces eroding confidence, or irrespective of the economy, not because of it. So that’s why it matters so much to solve for them.

Drew Neisser: I think. Well, this, I’m confident one, thank you very much for joining us, and I’m confident you’re gonna come back. We’re gonna have more to talk about. It’s up to you guys. So Brent, thank you so much for joining us.

Show Credits

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Please visit renegade.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.