Your demand gen engine will determine your business’s success… or failure.
But you don’t need unlimited resources in order to turbocharge your engine’s ROI. There are just three key elements to any winning strategy: People, Tech, and Alignment. Get those right and you’re off to the races.
Lauren McCormack knows how to get these elements dialed in. The VP of Marketing at BuildFire is an award-winning marketer and Marketo Certified Expert. Her strategies will get your demand gen engine up and running in no time.
Don’t miss this game-changing episode!
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is building a demand gen engine. Here to speak with me is Lauren McCormack, who is the VP of Marketing at BuildFire, a tech startup in the mobile app space. Lauren is a 4x Marketo Certified Expert, the 2021 Marketo Champion and an award winning marketer that loves to innovate. She specializes in paid search, social strategy, demand generation, marketing automation, sales and marketing alignment, operational change management and marketing strategy best practices. Lauren, welcome to the show.
Lauren McCormack: Great to be here. Thank you for having me today.
Steffen: Well, Lauren, before we start talking about how to build a demand gen engine, let’s find out a little bit more about yourself. Tell our listeners about how you got started in your career, and how did you end up in marketing?
Lauren: That sounds great. So it’s an interesting journey. It’s got some twists and turns but straight out of college, I was the first graduating class after September 11, which was non enviable distinction of sorts and led to a rather extensive job search, I was an English major, Creative Writing minor, and a graphic art minor. And it led me to find a gig with a local newspaper chain. And when they said they were looking for managerial trainees, I was a bit suspicious that I might just be ending up getting coffee for the executive staff at the paper. But lo and behold, it was a great experience that ended up cross training me half in journalism and half in sales, which ultimately led me to have a passion for both writing and advertising.
And I ended up moving into one of the bigger papers in the Midwest as a celebrated salesperson, right as an account exec. And in my 20s, I was winning awards, breaking commission structures and doing wonderful things in newspaper sales. And we also had niche magazines, as well as a very early iteration of online CPM advertising for our website. And you know, the website, of course, was never going to replace the newsprint revenue. But it was an interesting new horizon. Then soon I got the bug and got directly into online marketing, online advertising. Moved into the agency space, and fell in love with digital, right. Because of my love for digital, I ended up finding a job in the Chicago suburbs for a software company that was looking for this crazy concept of marketing automation to be stood up.
So I came as a marketing manager with no direct reports. And my VP asked if I could help him figure out this crazy thing called Marketo. And value add, if I could also figure my way out around Salesforce. So one of the first early adopters of Marketo and Marketo, and Salesforce infrastructure. This is like 2011, like early 2011. Right in the beginning of the year. And when I came on board, Marketo had like two 15 minute recordings of webinars, and they handed you a five hour block of time and basically patted you on the back and said good luck. There was no community, there were no resources, there was no agency structure, really, no ecosystem developed around what you’d recognize today, under Adobe’s umbrella. But it was fun, it was exciting.
And we transformed the marketing department at Applied Systems, the software company from the department that would do the annual company picnic, and would have a donut cart that would come around on Fridays into a revenue generating presence in the boardroom with the CEO brought us a seat at the revenue table, right? And we were able to just totally transform the way that applied approach to marketing and the contribution that marketing brought to the top and bottom line. So much so that when I ended my tenure there, you know I had 14 direct and indirect reports supporting me with this revenue machine that we had created, which ultimately attracted the attention of Bain Capital. And the rest is kind of history, you know, Bain brought about a certain set of changes.
And at the same time, I was approached by a wonderful company out of Danville, California that was looking to build a Marketo practice. They had been previously a very successful, primarily Eloqua agency. And they were looking to get into the Marketo space. And I was I was hire number two at a company called Demand Gen International. And that ended up becoming the key player, the biggest, the biggest agency in the Marketo consulting space for a number of years. So that was fun. I had clients there, like CenturyLink, Hitachi, SanDisk, CA Technologies, New Relic places like that Citrix to name a few. And it was wonderful, I got to cross train with some of the best and brightest minds across the tech industry, internationally, really. And I learned so much about best practices, but also business.
And ultimately, you know, when I came back client side I was able to bring those learnings to the table in the Silicon Valley tech space where, you know, even under uncertain times, like we experienced in 2020, I’ve been able to consistently deliver growth, history, record breaking historical growth, across the the tech sector companies that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of. And, you know, it’s been a great ride. And I’ve now got the honorable distinction of being able to lead the charge at BuildFire, and we’re doing some wonderful and exciting things already. So it’s a it’s been a bit of a circuitous journey from those early days in journalism. But each waypoint along the way sort of taught me a new, valuable lesson in how to make content that converts and how to build a world class strategy based on all of the different logos that I’ve interacted with over the years.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, that fits nicely into today’s topic, building your demand gen engine. Lauren, what are the elements that are part of a demand gen engine?
Lauren: So I think it starts first and foremost with people, right. You need to have a team you can rely on. And that’s not always the easiest part of the equation to solve for. I think it’s underestimated what a truly talented and seasoned marketing team member can bring to the table, especially because the market is so hot right now. I see a lot of my peers making some critical mistakes around staffing, choosing to go with less expensive, more junior resources. And I’m sure you know, I once was a less expensive, more junior resource myself. And I’d like to think I had some pluck, and some aptitude and was scrappy, and delivered results that I wouldn’t have wanted to have been limited by my my years of experience or anything like that.
But I do see people sometimes not evaluate the full spectrum of talent that’s out there in the market, simply because it’s a hot market. And sometimes it’s difficult to court and keep experienced and, and valuable talent that’s in high demand. But I truly believe that at the end of the day, hiring people that know more than you makes you a better leader. That’s never intimidated me. I’ve always embraced the notion of welcoming people to sit at the table with me and to add their expertise. So I think that’s that’s one of my first and foremost foundational components. But on top of that, oh, sure. Go ahead.
Steffen: Lauren, let me let me jump in here. So what do you just said, totally resonates with me and I couldn’t agree more on hiring people that kind of add to the knowledge that is already in a room certainly makes sense. But, you know, you have companies out there that might not have the financial means to actually go out and get that higher caliber person, right. So they have to look at, you know, am I hiring one person, for example, that has that caliber, which means we that person, and the hire will have to divvy up the work or am I going to hire maybe one or two more junior people in order to get things started? What are your thoughts on that?
Lauren: I’ve had some real good success over the years with contract to hire FTEs. But always an ever more with the promise of contribution and success leading to a pathway to full FTE benefits and, and structure. Right. So, especially when I was at Neo, you know, we were going through continual growth, toward, sort of, we all jumped, it was kind of like holding on to the tail end of a rocket ship, we were growing so fast. There were days where you would come into a boardroom. And there’ll be so many new hires that maybe you didn’t recognize half the people sitting around you. So that was a bit of an exception to the rule that you’re kind of putting out there as far as limited funds are concerned. But then I’ve also been resource constrained at super small startups, where we don’t have budget for headcount.
And we do have to figure out how to do less with more. And in those particular situations, making a triage priority list of headcount. Like a headcount wish list almost of who you think would deliver the most impact on ROI, from a headcount perspective, so that when you do secure that first headcount that maybe is a bit of a chip out of the old budget, you can justify with results and with revenue, why it’s important to consider one top tier hire instead of two more junior highers. Because at the end of the day, the time that you’ll save, in not having to QA and train and retrain and backfill mistakes and patch up holes, is really valuable time that you could spend innovating, and and finding your next great talent to bring to the table.
Steffen: Yeah, and adding to what you just said, I mean, a second ago, you mentioned, you know, contractors, freelancers, right, I think that’s, that’s also a great solution. You know, you might not need 100% of a person for a specific solution. You set up your CRM, and kind of prepare to a point that it can be properly used, or to set up the email sequences, etc. It might be a good starting point to find part time talent to do certain things. That part time talent might be more experienced, you might pay a little more in an hourly rate. But therefore you have access to those different people, instead of having one person that has to work literally across everything.
Lauren: Yeah, totally. And I think it’s a spectrum, right? Like, you can go on Upwork, right, and you can find somebody that’s on the lower end of the scale, or you can go with vendors that maybe don’t even need to put their their shingle out, so to speak, and only operate on referral business. People that you’ve known for a long time that just prefer the independence, of contracting work, you know, I have several peers that fall into that category and it would I be able to work with them, they wouldn’t be so inclined to want to pursue an FTE path. And that would be fine by me.
But I think really just taking care of the people that you’re counting on to deliver results and believing in them and putting full trust in them across the board, whether that be in their worth monetarily or in their autonomy. From a decision making standpoint or advising standpoint. You know, I never want people to hesitate to bring me bad news, or to hold back any good news I want, you know, a team that has the confidence and trust in me to bring information to the table freely, and to bring their talents to the table freely. So whatever I can do to empower my people, I think at the end of the day, always delivers dividends.
Steffen: Yeah. Now, you mentioned obviously, we talked about people for starters as part of the demand gen engine. What are the other elements?
Lauren: So technology and alignment, right? And I’ll speak to the technology piece first. And it’s in separable, though I think from the alignment. But you have to have the right tech stack again, I think, in today’s marketing, business world, you are inundated constantly, whether it’s on your LinkedIn or in your inbox or in your social media feeds, with the vendors and with the tech and with the options for you to burn a bunch of money in a pile to try and find those those magical components that are going to differentiate you from your competitors. And I think at the end of the day, it’s less is more, right and finding tech vendors that you can wield and wield powerfully you know, I think of my husband watching Boba Fett right and inflicting his love of Star Wars upon me and you know, not everybody can pick up and hold every lightsaber, right?
So making sure that you’re buying the tech that you can leverage and that you know how to use is super important. That’s not to say sometimes it’s not a great idea to dip your toe in fresh and new waters. But I think at the core, you know, you need marketing automation. And you need CRM, of course. But anything that you’re going to pick up and add in, you know, to that ecosphere, you need to make sure that you know how to bake it in or else, you know, going back to the the people piece, you’re going to be desperately scrambling to try and figure out how to leverage what you’ve bought.
Because in the sales cycle, it all looks amazing. And it all looks simple. But anybody in b2b tech knows that the the deep dark secrets that we hold about implementation are often underestimated, I think, by the buyers. So yeah, so I think it’s, it’s, there’s no one size fits all tech stack, but knowing how to wield what you buy, how to negotiate for a fair and reasonable price for that tech, and to make sure that it integrates well with your staffing situation and that your staff can can navigate and manage and get the most out of what you bought is very, very important.
Steffen: Yeah. Are you a proponent for rather having one software solution that can do it all? Or several software solutions that are in itself, top notch in their category?
Lauren: You need everything to integrate, right? And duct taping things together with integration software on top of software isn’t always the most bulletproof answer. So I do prefer native integration capabilities. And I will seek out and give with preferential treatment, you know, vendors that do integrate with my core systems. But there’s no one size fits all marketing platform. To rule them all, you really need to look for API integration capabilities, though. When when you’re acquiring new pieces of technology, because you don’t want to have to sit there and manually export files, and try to kind of duct tape and patch everything together. It’s always nice to have technology that works seamlessly together. But you’ll have a hub of sorts, right?
So in my my landscape, I like to have Marketo as a hub simply because they have you know, a decade and a half of comfort with the platform. And I find it to be the best in class solution for integration and for marketing automation needs in general. So I’ve always got Marketo. And typically, that’ll integrate with Salesforce. You know, I’ve seen one or two instances when I was consulting, where we had an integration with MS Dynamics, especially early on that was, you know, uncommon, but not unheard of. Now I think it’s slightly more common. But I still do prefer Salesforce, because I think most of the talent and the people that you’ll find that on the sales side of the house, have a comfort level with Salesforce’s CRM.
And at the end of the day, it really is about the sales team using the CRM and using it consistently. So so the more comfort you can deliver with feature functionality to your sales team, and the less intrusive, you can make the the tech the warrant supports their needs and yours as well. Right. So beyond that, you know, it’s a real kind of journey for the logo to figure out what best rounds out the tech stack from that point on. You know, whether it be clear bit in support of some of your social media advertising, or even you know, are you doing, are you looking to do paid search and social at all? You know, is this going to be the ecosphere that’s going to need, you know, paid on top of organic?
And if so, now that expands the tech stack some and are you are you interested in doing webinars? You know, do you want to do virtual events and webinars and maybe live demos and things of that nature? Well, then you’re going to need a hosting platform. So I think, really, you know, and then, of course, some of this technology, like, say you have a chat bot on your site. Do you want native integration with Slack, you know, so that your your leads can be fed directly into your messenger system. And, you know, it’s there’s lots of different ways that you can spend that budget. Right. But I think being sensible and knowing that it’s not always one size fits all, is is a good way to start. We don’t want to grab a bunch of new technology and not be able to point to how it contributed to ROI at the end of the day when It comes up for renewal, or when budgets are under scrutiny.
Steffen: Yeah, I think it’s really important in the beginning, before you get on a journey to, to select different technology software solutions to identify, you know, what do you need? What makes the work the day to day work easier, right? You mentioned CRM and automation. That’s kind of almost like the basis of what you need. But then, you know, you said, do you want to do webinars, right? Well, then you need a software solution for that. You know, do you have, for example, a phone number on your, on your landing pages, while maybe you should look into call rail.
So it’s really at the end of the important to identify what a company needs for for their business. Now, let’s move on to the to the next thing you’ve already mentioned people. We talked a little bit about it. But you know, these days, it’s pretty tough finding people. It’s very competitive out there. And it feels like they’re not enough people. And I’m always wondering, where are all the people, right? So how do you go about to source for the people that you need? And then once you have them in your team, how do you help them grow? How do you mentor them?
Lauren: Sure. That’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful question, indeed. So when sourcing a headcount, I’m sometimes tedious with my HR department, or perhaps my supervisor, you know that why have we not sold your open headcount yet? Well, I’m picky, and not picky in in a bad way, I would rather look for the right person, than settle for a warm body in a chair. I’d rather look for the right person for three weeks, than settle for the wrong person, or someone that isn’t quite the perfect match for three years, you know. So I take more time upfront, to go through all the resumes that we receive, and I don’t typically limit the search to the resume. I find, especially if you’re working, perhaps with an agency or recruiter that’s sourcing new people, and giving you a volume of resumes to review, I try to be as timely and as quickly as I can, and reviewing the candidates as they’re given to me and knowing that there’s a lot of competition in the market, right? For this top talent.
So I don’t take long to look at what I’m given. But when I’m given a list of people, I will go beyond the resume, I’ll go to LinkedIn, right. I once found, I’ll go to social even. I once found a team member out of a stack of resumes that had been sort of watered down by the recruiting agency that we were using at the time. You know, the owner wasn’t a fan of formatting and wanted everything to be super plain and just, you know, Times New Roman or Helvetica, on a white sheet, and just bullet points, and she would tend to edit the resumes a bit before she handed them to us. And I knew that going in. So when I’m reviewing the stack of resume, even in comparison to what we’re getting off of our website, or our social media traffic, you know, I know that that these people are kind of being re recontextualized on their, their resumes on paper.
And so I say to myself, okay, I’m gonna knowing that, definitely weight, my search, and my evaluation process a little bit more heavily towards LinkedIn. And there was a candidate that was on a second stage of interviews with one of my peers, and my peer was, you know, just oh, you know, I think we found our person and I said, you know, we need to make sure we have a couple people that we would be thrilled to have on board because the markets so hot right now. A couple or a few, and it was really, you know, setting up kind of a bench of candidates in this instance, and then also looking through the finer points on the LinkedIn page. You know, you don’t really want to go off the headline so much as you do what maybe an unsolicited LinkedIn reviewer says about about work ethic.
Like, for instance, I had a hire, as I was mentioning, that was noted to be a Swiss army knife, right? In one of the LinkedIn comments on their profile, and I turned to my colleagues, that’s exactly what we need right now. You know, we’ve talked to a lot of people that want to highly specialized or want to use this role as sort of a toehold to get into the organization so that they can get the roles that they truly want, but this person has, you know, senior level experience yet is so entrenched in the technology that they’ve been called a jack of all trades, right? So who doesn’t want that, that problem solver on the team that can get in and find solutions when, when, when they’re needed most. And sure enough, this person lived up to that reputation, and was a wonderful hire for our organization. So it did take us a while to find that though, right? So we went through probably four stacks of resumes, and we were exhausted.
And, you know, I think my team was slightly annoyed there, come on, pick somebody, you know. But I, I look for my person, I look for the human that I have such a chemistry and a synergy with that, you know, I can’t wait until they sign and hop on for the first day. Because it’s, it’s undeniable, the contribution that they’re going to bring to the table and everybody can feel that enthusiasm, including the hire and, and once you have that kind of talent, I think, never letting a day go by that you don’t remember that it is a distinct honor, to be able to be that person’s advocate. I think that that that sentiment, the you know, servant leader sort of sentiment goes for of an awful long way if it’s sincere.
So once you get a team member, that’s invaluable, reminding yourself, humbly, every day that your job is to advocate for their success is what will keep you both truly happy for the duration of their tenure with the company. And that that in combination, I think was a little a little soundbite that I got once from from one of my favorite supervisors who told me in the interview process, you know, we don’t think this company’s going to be the last place you ever work. But we always want to make sure that when we’re working together, and we’re setting our goals, we’re thinking around those bullet points you want to add to your resume. So let’s be totally transparent here and talk about company growth, but talk about it through the lens of personal growth. Like what do you want to learn? What do you want to accomplish? And how can I help to make that happen?
You know, and I think if you’ve got those instincts, those coaching kind of instincts, combined with that gratitude for being able to be a part of one of your team member’s journeys. I think that’s, that’s hugely significant. Because at the end of the day, you know, I’ve had wonderful quarters, I’ve had banner years record breaking, you know, ROI and sales numbers and awards and such, but the most gratifying piece of what I’m doing now, these days is popping open, you know, LinkedIn, or hearing texts, or seeing emails from people that I’ve been lucky enough to mentor along the way, or train along the way or, or, you know, in my consulting days, maybe I, maybe I shared some skills, knowledge.
Or maybe it was a longer relationship even than that maybe it was, you know, years of partnership. But when I see the people that have crossed my path over the years getting promoted, and and becoming increasingly successful, and getting teams of their own, families of their own, watching their kids go to college, that’s the good stuff. Like that’s the stuff at the end of the day, that really makes me happy to have participated in their journey. So always kind of holding reverence for the fact that you get to be that person to somebody else, I think is what’s most important at the end of the day.
Steffen: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Now, as it relates to demand gen. What channels do you like to use to generate demand? You’ve talked earlier about content, obviously which is obviously, solution to to create information that is hosted on your website, and then this being displayed organically or you can use other channels to to distribute it. What do you look at? And how, where do you start when you pick up a role at a new company?
Lauren: That’s a great question. And I think it ties into kind of the third tenant like beyond the people and the technology. It’s the process, right? And so often, I think people inflict a process on a company, and they say, because this worked at X company, I know it’ll work at Y. At the end of the day, your prospects and customers dictate your process and strategy, and you really have to listen, right? So I’ve yet to join an organization where, historically speaking, success didn’t predate me, right? Every company I’ve joined, has had wonderful leaders, wonderful contributors, wonderful team members, wonderful ideas that have gotten the company to the point where it’s at.
You know when I joined the organization, and I think having reverence for that is important and learning from past mistakes. Learning from past successes is always where I like to start when I’m building out my process. And then being sure that I’m in lockstep with my sales team is so critical, right? So I can create hundreds of leads. And if they don’t align with the demographics, and the firmagraphics and the behavior that shows interest in qualification, right, they’re nothing but a list of email addresses and names. They’re not going to turn into money at the end of the day. So making sure that I fully understand the ideal customer profile, and what a what a good prospect really means, right. And you can get to that point with different workshops, different exercises, even lead scoring workshops, get you closer to alignment with sales.
But I think always knowing that it’s an iterative relationship there. And then, by that, I mean that things can change, right? So say, we come up with a few different awesome pieces of content that we think are fantastic. Proof is in the pudding, right. And we can turn out, you know, three new new pieces of content and people vote with their feet, right. So if the prospects aren’t into it, and it’s not converting and paid search and social, and it’s not converting on the website, then no matter how much we love it, we can’t double down on it, right.
So I think the process is informed by what predates you, and what you can learn from it by the people around you. In other corners of the organization, you know, whether it be a company that’s big enough to have product marketing, where you can learn, you know, a lot around feature functionality, and release strategy and positioning and all that great stuff, and competitive intelligence. Or even just an organization that is small and mighty, and just, you’re learning more from the founders, you know, and the C suite, and maybe some sales people are kind enough to let you ride along for win loss interviews, or even in the sales process. Just to be a fly on the wall, sometimes is super, super helpful, or, you know, letting prospects and customers speak for themselves.
So say you’re getting ready to find a great webinar presenter, and you’ve got some use cases in front of you really listening to that journey end to end and understanding why people have have selected your brand. Conversely, if you’re allowed to do lost interviews, why people chose a competitor. You know, those are the valuable pieces of information that will define what makes the most sense for your demand funnel, and for your processes and for your alignment. And for your definition of a qualified lead. You know, and you’ll know you’ve got the recipe, right when downstream in your demand funnel, you’re seeing conversion, and you’re seeing the length of your your sales cycle shorten, and ultimately that that can’t help but drive ROI.
Steffen: Yeah, I think, you know, when you start off in an organization, you you hopefully have data available, or you need to ensure that the data collection process is properly set up, right, so that you operate from a clean and useful data set. And then as you go along, it’s about reviewing the data that you collect, and then questioning your decision from the past is what we, you know, anticipated or what we decided to do, is that still true? You know, do we need to adjust our approach? Are certain assumptions that we made still correct? If not, you know, what does the data tell us? And how can we fine tune that. So it’s, from my perspective is a constant journey, to kind of fine tuning your approach, whether that is messaging, channels, you talked about content, all the elements that are part of the demand generation process, to review them and to constantly question them.
Lauren: Totally, it’s an art and a science. And, you know, often we’ll have a slide that has, you know, a guy in a lab coat and, you know, another person as a painter and talking about, you know, the fact that the art exists allows us to bring creative hypotheses to the table. But at the end of the day, there’s still hypotheses that will be tested and vetted, and validated or invalidated based on data. And it’s just like a lab, some test tubes, you know, fizz and others fizzle and where we see the fizz in the frost. That’s where we double down our efforts. But you can’t have the great experiments without a couple failed ones. And you just have to fail fast and learn from those and not get too attached and just continue hypothesizing and validating those hypotheses with experiments.
Steffen: Lauren, unfortunately, we came, we come to the end of today’s podcast episode. I really enjoyed our conversation. I think we could probably continue talking. I have a still a number of questions that I wanted to ask you. But thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on how to build a demand gen engine. Now, if people want to find out more about you and BuildFire, how can they get in touch?
Lauren: And be sure to visit us at buildfire.com or find me and add me on LinkedIn. Always happy to have new friends and contacts over on LinkedIn and drop me a message say hello and let me know that you enjoyed the podcast or otherwise. All feedback welcome.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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