In out latest Industry Insider Interview series, Darryl Praill, the Chief Marketing Officer at VanillaSoft, discusses the reality of pivoting to digital channels in today’s economic disruption. Specifically, he discusses what strategies have best enabled him to virtually engage with customers and convert prospects. Read the interview below to learn what he had to say.

1. As a CMO, what is your biggest challenge when it comes to engaging with customers and prospects now that live events are no longer an option? 

I thought long and hard about this question but I continually come back to the same issue over and over again. My biggest challenge engaging with customers and prospects is being heard over the digital noise that has escalated to levels that are out-of-control. How do you pique their interest, or intrigue them, or entice them to consume your content? It’s very hard. In our case, we’ve been producing such high quality content for so long, working with the industry’s most notable influencers and trusted voices, that we can leverage our reputation for quality content. Despite that, we’ve seen a drop in sign-ups for virtual events which fortunately is offset by an increase in the proactive consumption of our written content like eBooks and case studies. And in the end I’m fine with that because, while my quantity may be lower my quality of engagement is higher and more intent-focused which converts higher. Bottom line – stick to making something people will value and forget about the vanity metrics. The secret to doing that is knowing your ideal customer profile, the corresponding messaging, and the use cases that they care about. Focus on the right accounts and prioritize them, and them alone.

2. What’s been good about the shift from live events to digital and what has been challenging?

Candidly, shifting away from live events has given me back a notable sum of budget that can be applied to other areas and that is great! In fact, it’s fantastic. Not having to worry about travel logistics is a nice bonus although I genuinely miss meeting and connecting with my industry colleagues. Relationships still drive outcomes. The challenge of not having live events is that the lead flow and volume commitments I signed up for at the start of the fiscal year to meet the revenue targets we agreed to have not gone away. How do you backfill those volumes? Ironically, the answer isn’t necessarily in replacing the lead volumes at a one-to-one level but rather focusing on increasing the conversion rates of the leads you do generate. To achieve that you need amazing data intelligence to create highly targeted audiences that relate to your ideal customer profile and your use cases. I would contend that the lack of live events has possibly been the biggest push for the entire industry to transition to an account-based marketing approach for this very reason.

3. How do your sales and marketing teams use tech intelligence to be more efficient in their outreach?

This answer is so easy. Tech intelligence is all about creating highly-targeted audiences (accounts and contacts) based on criteria that your ideal customer profile cares about. It allows you to go incredibly granular and generate messaging and conversations that are highly relevant and contextual to the prospect. From a marketing perspective, these audiences allow me to do very focused advertising and paid search campaigns at an incredibly affordable price point because I’m focused on long-tail applications which result in conversions that are far above industry averages. From a sales perspective, the intelligence a rep has before ever engaging with a prospect ensures each interaction is highly-focused which leads to a bigger pipeline and a faster sales cycle. All of this is far more efficient. The flip to this, for balance, is that lots of small, targeted campaigns can result in more work for the marketing teams so you should take some of that live event budget and invest in a few more resources to manage the effort.

4. How do you keep your sales team focused on the accounts they should pursue, rather than the accounts “they think” they should pursue?

Cherry-picking is probably the number one complaint we hear from sales leaders, followed by frustration that their reps are not making enough attempts to engage with those very expensive marketing qualified leads. When left to their own devices, sales reps will rely upon intuition and their own biases to determine when and how often to engage. It’s made worse when so many tech platforms present them with a list for them to work from. This includes CRM and sales engagement vendors. That’s actually why we eliminated the list in our VanillaSoft sales engagement platform. The system should continuously serve the rep the next-best-lead with the recommended engagement channel (phone, email, social, text, etc.). Let the system manage the cadence frequency and touches and remove that burden from the sales rep. If you do this, the reps are focused and their efforts are maximized on pursuing those leads you have deemed qualified. Every lead gets called, including those unexpected leads from new web form submissions or new buyer intent signals. Ironically, reps will thank you for this because you’re removing all of the administration burdens they hate and they’ll see greater pipeline creation which means more take-home pay for them at the end of the day. Everybody wins.

5. What steps should companies be taking right now to ensure their pivot to digital is successful now and long term?

The pivot will only be as successful as your depth of understanding of your target audience, their needs and use cases, and the language they use to speak about them. That means you need to do two things: 1) leverage a data intelligence platform to identify the right targets you should be pursuing, and then 2) call them to understand their issues, their vocabulary, what they value, how they measure positive returns, and what they dislike about their current state. This is not a sales effort. This is a research effort. Only once you’ve done this can you pilot a target ABM approach to determine if you’re assumptions are correct. Do this, and then rinse-and-repeat for subsequent target niches. Bottom line – get smart and then get into conversations. Knowledge truly is power, and it’s highly scalable once you’ve perfected the process on that pilot process.


About Darryl Praill

Darryl Praill, CMO of VanillaSoft, is a high-tech marketing executive with over 25 years experience spanning startups, re-starts, consolidations, acquisitions, and divestments. He has been widely quoted in the media including television, press, and trade publications. He is a guest lecturer, public speaker, and radio personality and has been featured in numerous podcasts, case studies, and best-selling books.

Interested in learning more from Darryl Praill?

In our most recent webinar, Darryl Praill and Justin Kitagawa, our Senior Director of Product Marketing and Operations, discuss three key steps to fill the gaps in your pipeline during economic disruption. Watch the webinar on-demand now!