August 27, 2020 Andrea Bartman
Hey, Webinerds! We’re back with another episode of CMO Confessions, our B2B podcast with the top leaders in marketing and sales today. Today’s CMO Confessions features Matt Heinz, President and Founder of Heinz Marketing.
In today’s episode, Matt and Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24, discuss Matt’s upcoming book, The Predictable Pipeline, marketing fundamentals and shifts in the field as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As always, you can find the full episode of CMO Confessions on Podbean here an edited transcript of our conversation below.
Welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions!
Table of Contents:
The Predictable Pipeline Book
The Writing Process
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Marketing Fundamentals
Marketing Discipline and Shifts in the Paradigm
Seven Focus Areas of Predictable Pipeline and Matt’s Favorite Part
Hello, and welcome to CMO Confessions, the B2B marketing and sales podcast, where I speak with amazing guests about what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world.
I am Cheri Keith, Head of Strategy and Research at ON24. Today, I’m excited to have Matt Heinz on the episode. Matt is the President and Founder of Heinz Marketing. Matt, thanks so much for coming on.
Oh my goodness. Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure.
The Predictable Pipeline Book
All right, let’s get right into it. One of the projects that I’m really curious for an update on is the book that you’ve been working on called The Predictable Pipeline. First of all, how is this process going for you?
If you have ever written a book before, you know that it is painful as all get out. It’s one thing to write a 600 to 800-word blog post. It’s another thing to put together a 50,000-word book.
The good is this is not a new topic. I know some authors, especially for some of my favorite nonfiction writers like David McCullough and others. They pick topics they know nothing about. Then they go and research it because they want to learn about it and then they write a book about it.
For me, fortunately, the whole idea of The Predictable Pipeline is something we’ve been working on for 12 plus years. I think the more we work with companies on what’s keeping them from creating predictability, what’s leading to random acts of marketing. It continues to feed the copy into the book.
I feel like every month that goes by, it might be a little bit different, a little bit more enriched, but we’re going to get it out. It’s going to launch in February now at this point. February 2021 and then yeah. Excited to get it out and get it in front of everybody.
The Writing Process
That’s awesome. You mentioned the process that other authors use. What are you doing to either keep yourself on track when it comes to getting those prints down or just generally kind of your approach to developing all that content?
Yeah, there’s a couple of ways, a couple of things that really helped me in the process. One is I think a lot about Ann Handley’s process of writing, where she has this four-part process, four parts of writing. She says 50% of writing is preparing for writing. It’s doing your research and organizing your thoughts, writing an outline. So, understanding what you want to write. She says the actual act of writing is once you have all that organization in place, it’s the discipline of sitting down and doing it. So that’s maybe 20% of the time.
Then there’s a short period of time during the writing process where you really questioned your career choices and that imposter syndrome sort of feeds in. Then there’s editing at the end. I think if you ignore the imposter syndrome part, it’s preparing to write, writing and editing are the three steps. And the shortest part of that actually is the writing, if you do the first part right. For me, that’s been really helpful just to spend a lot of time organizing my thoughts before I started writing.
Also, in some cases, if I feel like I have writer’s block, or if there’s a section that I’m really struggling to put on paper, instead of writing it, I’ll speak it. I’ll literally make a video.
Many of the videos that I’ve made for this will never see the light of day. They sometimes have just been me talking through things. Some of them won’t make the light of day because they literally are me out sweating, walking in 90-degree weather here in Seattle that we’re having, thankfully, here this summer. I just turn on my audio on my phone and record myself on a talk track. That talk track obviously needs editing. It’s way too wordy, but it helps me think through the progression of the content in the book.
Honestly, I would recommend that for anyone writing blog posts, writing scripts for videos, any kind of content, just to get your stream of consciousness out of your head and do it in a format that you promise yourself will never get published. It eliminates those barriers of complexity and perfection. “I better have my makeup on and I’m a face for radio.” No, forget it. Just get it down and you’ll have something you can build off of and it’ll make it a lot easier to turn your ideas into print.
That’s awesome. It’s interesting you say that. I remember one time I had writer’s block and I was feeling kind of silly, but I was like, you know what? I need to go for a run right now. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you’re like, “Oh crap, that’s a really big hill in front of me.” Maybe I’ll have an idea here that I need to jot down in the notes section of my phone before I tackle this bad boy. It’s amazing how that works.
Yeah. I mean, there’s something to be said for taking time to focus on something else, like get yourself out of the context of sitting in front of your computer. We joke sometimes when ideas come on when we’re in the shower or working out or in the car and it’s in part because your brain is partially at rest. You’re focused on something else.
I’ve done a lot of reading on neuroscience. Our brains are amazing. If we give it something to think about and then leave it alone, it’ll work on that problem in the background. It’s pretty amazing.
Before the iPhone, way back in the day, I used to run with a little mini recorder. It may still be around here somewhere. It’d be hilarious to go and listen because you’d have these ideas. Like you said, you’re going up a hill and you can barely breathe, and I have these ideas to record. You really have to listen to it three or four times afterward and try to figure out what I was trying to say.
But I think there’s something to be said for just giving yourself space and sometimes a little distance to get the idea out. But, also that idea of when those ideas come. To constantly have some means of capturing your ideas and the things that go through your brain because let’s face it, no matter who we are, most of the ideas we come up with are going to be terrible. But that’s part of the process of working through things in your brain and on paper and on your video or in a recorder to get to the good stuff.
Yeah, I also think the distractions that you have sitting in front of your computer, the things like email and your Slack messages. Where you’ve sat down to start writing, whether that be the book or another piece of content, and you get all of these distractions that aren’t really distractions. They’re work, but it’s hard to shut off all of that and then sit there and not feel the need to pull up Amazon and do some shopping at the same time.
It’s really hard. It gets really, really hard. And I think, I mentioned a business book oftentimes will be 50,000 words. If you sit down and try to write 50,000 words, God help you. That’s going to be an awful process, right? So, you have to sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to do 500 words at a time or a thousand words at a time.” Whatever sort of time you have or whatever your process is.
I’ve also found that for things that feel intimidating I use something called the Pomodoro method. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and the guy that created it apparently used one of those little kitchen tomato timers that you can turn it. Twist the tomato and you get to your time. Well, it’s very simple.
You take 25 minutes at a time and then take a five-minute break. Then you can do another 25 minutes, take a five-minute break. You can string them along or you could just do one. And the whole point is, it’s hard. If you haven’t sat and done one thing for 25 minutes, you’ll realize just how distracted we all are. Or just how much our brain is straining to try to do something else because we’re focused on something intently.
Our brains can’t focus on something for more than 40 or 45 minutes at a time. So, you do it early. You do it for 25. But it’s amazing, if you could just do 25 minutes of something and not distract yourself, how much you get done, how much progress you make. If there’s a project you’re sitting on that feels intimidating, that you don’t want to start, don’t finish it, just do 25 minutes.
You’ll realize in that 25 minutes how much progress you’ve made. It’ll feel less intimidating because now that you’re into it, you get a sense for how much is left. Like, “Okay, I only have this much left to do.” Instead of thinking, it’s going to take 40 days, it’s probably only going to be a couple more hours.
Then you can choose another Pomodoro period or just say, “Okay, I get it. I know how this is going to get done.” So really sort of giving yourself short focused periods of time to focus. I know you guys have a diversity of people listening to this podcast. Listeners, email me as soon as you listen to this, firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you can’t get away from your email or Slack or text for 25 minutes. If you can’t spend 25 minutes away from that stuff, God help us all.
I saw a really funny meme the other day. It’s like, “Did I really go to college to become a professional email writer?” That just needs to be the enabling mechanism for something else to be happening. You’re not supposed to be a full-time emailer. It’s missing the point at that stage.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s really easy to feel like you’re being productive by just responding to other people’s stuff, right? In your inbox and your Slack channel and everything else.
It means it’s that much more important at the beginning of the day, the beginning of the week, beginning of the year, you have to know what’s most important. Your inbox is 90% of other people’s priorities and their priorities may be important to the business. You may be part of the solution to help them achieve their priorities. Well, that’s important to know, but if all you do is focus on other people’s stuff and don’t get your stuff done, that’s a failure. That’s not a success. So there has to be a strong balance.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Marketing Fundamentals
Absolutely. So, one more question here about the book before we talk a little bit more about just predictable pipeline in general. Has the pandemic changed the way you’ve written? Has it changed the overall process that you were using? Certainly, this was in the works before the world completely shifted for us.
The short answer is no and I would argue that it’s even more important. When things are going well, when we’re in great market conditions when the wind is at your back, you’re sailing downstream and whatever metaphor you want to use, you can afford to be less disciplined. You can afford to do random acts of marketing or not have all your processes in place between sales and marketing and things might still work out.
When opportunities constrict, when your pipeline shrinks, when deals stop coming through as easily, it’s even more important to master the fundamentals.
If you read the book, The Predictable Pipeline, and you’re like, “Well, this is all kind of fundamentals.” It’s like, “Yeah and none of us are doing it very well.” Defining our target audience, who do we sell to and why, defining roles and responsibilities across sales and marketing.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard a company say, “Oh, we know exactly what a qualified lead looks like. We don’t have to go through that part of the process.” I’ll be like, “Great. Show me where it’s written.” And they’re like, “No, no, we all just know it.” I’m like, “Okay, then let’s get five people in the room and I want everybody to tell me.” If it’s anecdotal, if it is institutional knowledge, it is inconsistently applied, right? To be actively defining that and staring everybody in the eye and saying like, “Okay, do we all agree with this?” I mean, this isn’t set in stone. We can adjust this, but this is what we agree to now. That is so important.
I think it’s even more important now to have those things in place, to know your ICP, to know rules and responsibilities, to understand what happens when a good lead comes in, having alignment between sales and marketing and sales kickoffs. Great. What about alignment on Tuesday morning? If a good lead comes in, how do you know what’s a good lead? Who follows up with it? How often? With what message? How is that recorded? It’s not about getting draconian. It’s about defining the consistent components of your process, which allows you to be creative more of your time. It allows you to spend more time being creative with your programs, more time being creative with each individual opportunity. If you can get the fundamentals right and make that predictable, consistent and scalable as you grow your business.
You’re preaching to the choir here. It’s not the sexiest part of marketing, but it’s the part that just needs to be done. I think my favorite example isn’t necessarily about the definition of lead, but usually, I love to ask people about their personas. “Oh, we have those. Yeah. We have those. Yeah.” “When were they created?” “Uhh…2014?” I’m like, “Come on!”
Maybe that’s one of the good things that comes back to looking at the fundamentals right now is no one’s persona should be the same as they were before the pandemic. Chances are, you are marketing to a target audience that had some sort of shift or change within their environment over the past six months.
At least it’s that opportunity to go back to understand what’s going on in their world so you can market in a better way to them. So that you can actually make the messaging that will resonate to them. That you’re not being tone-deaf, either.
I think that’s the big missed opportunity for people right now is just that understanding that the message that worked before might not land now. And that’s okay. Now’s the time to go back and think about this in a different way.
Yeah, I agree. And like we said earlier, ideally you should be doing that anyway. If your persona was written seven years ago, that person, that member of the buying committee still may be relevant, but what they think about and what they prioritize may be different.
We’ve seen buying committees change in the last eight, nine months, right? I mean, when I started my business 12 years ago, I started in November of 2008 and that was the beginning of our recession. There was a lot of buying committees that changed.
I had a client that was selling into HR and the primary buyer previously was a director of HR. Well, going into a recession, all of a sudden, the buying authority for their size of a product actually went up to the CFO. So, we now have to add the CFO to the buying committee. By the way, the CFO didn’t want to get on any sales call, even though the CFO had purchase authority needed to sign off on the final purchase. It was still such a small deal, she didn’t want to get involved in the details. So, we had to teach the HR director how to speak CFO language, which isn’t necessarily a natural skill for a lot of HR managers, right?
They also talk about personas. Personas are a great start, right? Understanding who that person is and what makes them tick. That’s a great start, but it’s missing three components. If you have personas where you don’t understand the context of the buying committee, right? The multiple members of the buying committee internally who are going to ultimately reach consensus to make a decision, you have to put the persona in the context of their colleagues.
Two, you have to understand the buying journey that that prospect is going through. What are the problems that need to exist for them to be willing to do something about it? What’s the status quo that’s going to get challenged that gets them to commit to change? So, there are stages of that persona through a buying journey with that buying committee, you have to think about.
The third piece relative to that buying committee are buying committee cohorts. So let’s look at a big enterprise deal. There are eight or nine people that have a vested interest in the problem. So, there are eight or nine members of the buying committee. You don’t need all eight or nine of those people to make decisions at each stage, right? There may be subsets of the buying committee that can reach lower case “yeses” to move the deal along, to eventually get to the all caps “Yes” that gets your deal closed.
So, understanding the buying committee, buying journey and then journey cohorts. And again, I don’t want to overcomplicate this, but if you can think about those three things, you will have dramatic differences in the efficiency and velocity of the deals you’re working on.
Well, I think one of the reasons why marketers get so scared once you start to introduce this notion of the buying committee, which I think everyone realized it wasn’t just one person saying “yes” all along, but then they start to do, I call it marketing math in their head.
To use your example, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, there are 10 people involved through each stage. Now I need to multiply everything I’m doing by 60 in order to make this work.”
When in reality, I think if you’re going through this process thoroughly and you’re really being introspective about it, what it’s actually going to help you do is better prioritize the work that needs to get done. It’s not that you need to create the most earth-shattering experiences for everyone. It’s about knowing when they will need that type of content and being sure that it’s available at that point in time.
Right. You’re exactly right. And “content” quote-unquote does not mean a 20-page white paper in every case. Content may be a quote. It may be a testimonial. It may be one or two sentences that just sort of address the right person at the right time with the right sort of context or right sort of issue that they’re dealing with. Right?
I think the other perspective we get is like, “Oh my gosh. I thought personas [blip]. I just got this medical company I want to sell to. This just got way more complicated than I’m willing to deal with.” I’m like, “Well, buying is hard. Selling is hard.” We have to be willing to embrace a level of complexity to do this well.
You asked at the beginning of this interview, “Hey, what’s different now in terms of the beginning of the year relative to predictable pipeline?” Well, this is one example. In a good market when there’s lots of money flowing when people are willing to fund priority number five on their list, you can get away with having more of a one size fits all message. But when people are no longer funding the priority number five on their list, when they’re only funding one through two, you have to be a lot more precise about how you’re approaching that prospect and with what message and why. So, there will be a lot of companies who embrace this complexity and embrace the discipline behind it and come out of this pandemic stronger than ever before.
If you think about this in terms of a racing metaphor, I’m not a big racing guy, but I like this metaphor that we’ve been in straightaway for a very long time, right? And in a straightaway, in a race, you just [blip].
We’re right now in a curve and a curve is the hardest part of the race. You have to slow down, you have to watch all your metrics and make sure you don’t hit the wall. But races are won in the curve because some race car drivers know when to accelerate through the curve into the straightaway.
You don’t wait to hit the gas pedal when you’re on the straightaway. You hit it when you’re coming out of the curve. And there will be companies that do the workaround creating critical pipeline systems for themselves that not only help them sell more now, but it’s going to help them create competitive differentiation as we move into a new normal and work our way back into another straightaway.
Hmm. I really liked that analogy. My parents are race car drivers. I was raised at a race track. So that definitely resonates with me.
Yeah. That’s how they met. They were race car drivers. It’s kinda crazy.
I want to hear about that.
I know! That explains why I drive a six-speed MINI Cooper, right?
Marketing Discipline and Shifts in the Paradigm
I think that’s interesting because especially if you look at the shifts that are happening. It’s like being able to build the discipline right now. In a way, right now for marketers, it’s harder to be disciplined because of all of the other things that are happening within the organization, but if marketing can be the forcing function to getting things done and having that repeatable process with sales, I think that’s also where people will start to see the real impact. It’s not a racing analogy, but I was thinking about it the other day.
Of course, if you think about like the pandemic bingo card, I’ve checked off getting a puppy because I’m not traveling anymore. So, the kids finally got their way. We got the puppy and it’s not easy, right? But I’m like, if we’re disciplined now with the approach, we don’t have to worry when the dog gets to be whatever size that it’s going to jump on you. You need to do it now so that you have that creativity like you were talking about, to play with, but you can’t do that in reverse.
I think that’s where it’s about building good habits early on for people. But I think event marketers actually, strangely, might be some of the best people to think about this because they have the biggest new normal that’s going on right now. They need to figure out how to do digital marketing all of a sudden. And I think they can be an interesting enabler for the marketing team right now. What do you think?
Oh, this is crazy, this is a really exciting time for event marketers. I think that we will eventually go back to more in-person events. Those are never going away, but I think you’ve seen so many companies start to reinvent what events mean, to reinvent what field marketing means, to reinvent what it means to engage someone in an online experience.
Sitting back and watching someone walk through a PowerPoint without seeing their face on a webinar is like, that hasn’t worked for a while and now we’re seeing it with even greater attention that that doesn’t work. Right?
This is a really exciting time to rewrite the field marketing playbook. I think there’s a little bit of experimentation that goes along with that, for sure. But if you’re wondering what that should look like, just go back to your customer, go back to your understanding of the personas, your understanding of the buying journey, your understanding of the buying committee. It will give you evidence. It’ll give you a blueprint of which things you should go invest in in the market.
Well, that’s interesting too, that you say that because I think one of the biggest strengths, and I see this both professionally and personally for my friends who are in field marketing and event marketing and event management, I feel like one of the biggest differentiators for them is that attention to detail and discipline that they have. That is really within their DNA and makes them really good at what they are and that’s all back to predictable pipeline. Infusing that type of rigor could be an interesting role that they could play in all of this.
Seven Focus Areas of Predictable Pipeline and Matt’s Favorite Part
Yeah. Well, and the way we’ve defined predictable pipeline, there’s sort of seven focus areas that we recommend companies work through. It doesn’t mean you have to go work all seven at once.
Usually, we’ll go in and if we audit the benchmarks, so to speak, where people are at, there are places where you’re strong and there are places where you need improvement and that gives you a bit of a roadmap of where to go and focus. So, you’re not going to go do everything at once. You’re never going to have time or the ability to do that. Usually, it’s not very efficient to do so anyway, but to know where to put focus and to know where your best leverage is going to be to not only create greater impact now, but to create more consistency, moving forward. It’s super helpful to have that level of clarity.
So, of those seven areas, what’s one of your favorites to work on with clients?
There are seven areas and the first four are in a grouping called Plan and Understand. We impress upon people that the majority of this process is before you start to execute, because I think a lot of companies say, “I just need to go get leads,” right? So, let’s just send more emails, let’s make more calls. And then you end up with those random acts of marketing that really don’t have a face. It’s like, “What are you saying to who and why? Or what happens after that lead is generated?” It leads to chaos very, very quickly.
I would say the most important piece is understanding your target, right? Understanding who you’re selling to and why from an account standpoint, as well as who the people inside the companies are. I’d say that’s the most important, but my favorite part might be actually the roles and responsibilities part of the process.
So many companies haven’t just thought through consistently what happens with the lead and why? Like if it’s good, here’s what happens. Here’s the kind of follow up that happens. Here’s the right kind of message and the right format. Is it video? Is it email? Is it different? Is it social? Having that documented and having an iterative improvement process for that.
Sometimes that alone, sometimes we’ll go in and we’ll say, “Listen, the personas are okay. The buying product, the ideal customer profile and a definition of discipline is fine for now, but there are no processes in place. You go fix that and you go get that in place.” And boom, I mean, you can say you have existing opportunities, you have existing leads, you fix that process piece and the impact can be, I don’t want to say, immediate is a bad word, but it can be very quick. Right?
Sometimes we have a process we use called pipeline rescue. It’s the idea that if you have deals frozen, opportunities frozen, let’s figure out where to get them unstuck. Sometimes it’s about honing the messaging. Oftentimes, it’s about just getting your process dialed in.
There are those things that, depending on the nature of the company that you asked, what are my favorites. There’s a couple I gravitate towards, but once we’ve benchmarked where they’re at, usually there’s something that stands out that I think can have that boom impact for the company in terms of unleashing this pent-up demand, this pent-up interest that they just haven’t been able to get out of their own way to address. It’s exciting to watch.
That’s why you’re in the business you’re in though. Because you enjoy seeing the clients being able to unlock those results based on the methodologies and the guidance. I think that’s what differentiates people who spend their career in client service or on the external view. That’s the most rewarding part.
Yeah. That’s what this is about, right? This isn’t about documenting personas and creating processes and sending more emails. This is about impacting people’s lives by impacting their business.
We joke internally that none of this matters unless it impacts metrics you can buy a beer with. If you start to really impact pipeline velocity, closed deals, consistency of getting those deals across the line, increasing the accuracy of forecasts and the accuracy and predictability of pipeline development. That can change a business. That can change a business’s growth opportunity. It can change its profitability and there are often places with companies where that can happen in a pretty short order.
Absolutely! Well, Matt and I are actually partnering on a workshop on predictable pipeline in the next few weeks. I’m sure the audience will be invested in joining us. I think there’ll be a lot of [blip] in there and a lot of great resources that we’ll have.
Any closing thoughts about either that workshop or guiding perspectives on predictable pipeline?
No, I’m excited about the workshop. If you like what we’re talking about here, the workshop is going to land the plane, right? To be able to walk through what does this look like? What does the template look like? What does the sample process look like?
I’m not big for ivory-tower theory. I’m big on pragmatic, how do we get this done? And so, the workshop’s going to get pretty detailed and just how this can actually impact companies pretty quickly at the end of the workshop.
I look forward to that and look forward to getting the book out, too. It’s one of those things that’s 12 years in the making, right? I have a methodology that I think has really impacted a lot of companies in a positive way, so excited to get that out to more people.
Absolutely and we’ll all be waiting for that. February, as far away as it seems, it will be right around the corner. I’m sure with all your deadlines, you’re feeling that crunch a little bit more, but thank you.
Very much so, but no, it’s a good thing.
Well, thank you for your time today, Matt. I always value our time together and, Audience, thank you for tuning in and make sure that you register for the workshop that Matt and I will be running in September about predictable pipeline. Thanks and have a great day.