When you're marketing a technology to a wide audience, there's always a buyer and endless possibilities for messaging and outreach. But, what's a marketer to do when their audience is extremely niche and tight-knit? According to Amanda Carty, CMO of Diligent, a provider of board management software, it's critical to create a marketing strategy that truly puts the customer first. I sat down with Amanda to talk about the challenges of a niche market, the accountability of the marketing department to the sales pipeline and the role of social media in lead generation.
1. What is your background and current role at Diligent?
Before coming to Diligent, I was in the tax technology space for 10 years working for Thomson Reuters - I had been working at a start-up they acquired. During my tenure there, Thomson Reuters acquired several other companies which was such a great learning experience for me. I managed a marketing team that grew from 2 to 17 people over the course of the years and was truly able to demonstrate the value, impact and ROI of marketing's role in an organization. It was also my first experience marketing to a niche audience - creating messaging and content as part of a communications strategy to reach tax professionals.
As CMO at Diligent - I'm responsible for everything under the sun. I manage a team of 30 people and oversee everything from public relations to product marketing to managing sales development resources. Since I've started with Diligent, we've also completed a handful of acquisitions and through this transition, I've rebuilt our global marketing organization to support a new framework. Diligent operates in a very niche market (board members and their tight group of very high-level influencers) - and we're focused on reshaping the way we communicate with that audience. Right now, I'm very focused on our content and digital strategy - working to find better ways to communicate directly with our users, and to make sure that their needs stay at the center of our marketing efforts.
2. Diligent plays in a very niche and generally quiet market - targeting very high profile customers, what are some of the associated marketing challenges?
When in tech, it's natural and easier to focus on the features and functionality of a product. I've seen some tech companies fall short of thinking more holistically about the full customer experience. Usually this leads to price wars with the competition. Companies end up competing on price vs. value. In niche markets, it is so critical to put the customer first, and thus your marketing strategy needs to be very focused on solving their specific and unique pain points. In other words, your job is to make sure that your customer isn't up all night worrying about the problems that your technology can solve.
For Diligent - our audience is very well connected and they talk to each other. Networking is crucial for them. That means, like many niche markets, referrals and word of mouth are critically important to our marketing strategy. Marketers in a niche space need to understand how to activate and leverage their customer base to refer other business - that means you need to be passionate about the customer experience. If you keep your customers at the top and really cultivate those relationships, you will be successful.
Finally, I think there is always an opportunity for niche players to define or redefine their category - if you're working in a small space, you have the opportunity to make noise and shake up the status quo. That can be the best way to break through to your audience and grab their attention.
3. Do you have some advice for overcoming these challenges? How should tech marketers approach the challenge of engaging a smaller, harder to reach audience?
There are three approaches that I've found valuable in overcoming these challenges in our market:
- Create unique experiences: At Diligent, there's real power in the relationships that we have with our customers, so we work hard to create valuable experiences for them. For example, knowing how important networking is - we recently planned a 2 day trip for customers and prospects to Napa to give them that opportunity.
- Don't underestimate digital: If you're going to engage a digital strategy, it is so important to have strong expertise in house and a great agency to partner with. All digital tools needs to be optimized and set up properly - they need to be looked at tweaked daily. A strong and agile digital strategy, with the right targeting and use of data, can really generate a significant amount of qualified sales leads.
- Truly understand your customers: When I started at Diligent we engaged a third-party to do persona research - to really understand our global user base, buyers and the buying process. We looked at everything - what their day to day life was like, the role our tech played and how we could provide more value. The insights were fantastic - we gained a deep understanding of customers in a really personal way and even uncovered new business opportunities. We were also able to identify new sales enablement opportunities to give our sales team new tools to help them to identify pain points and close deals.
4. Does content marketing play a role here? If so, how?
Content marketing is so important. Our persona research project showed us that we were missing customized content at the top of the sales funnel - and we realized that we needed better sales enablement content. We looked at our customer's needs at a global level and nailed down five themes - and we make sure that every piece of content that we create is aligned.
We also looked at all of Diligent's communications channels - and we realized that our blog was performing really well, but we weren't fully capitalizing on the opportunity there. Now, we've increased blog content and post 2-3 times a week. We're also looking at integrating social media into our sales process.
5. How can marketing empower the sales team when you're operating in a niche space? How can marketing support sales efforts and vice versa?
The sales and marketing relationship is critical - one can't be successful without the other. I believe the key to success is equal accountability on both sides. At Diligent, marketing is responsible for 90% of our sales pipeline - and both parties are accountable to the bottom line for the business. I am fortunate to work with a fantastic CRO that understands the importance of marketing and how the function drives business. That was one appealing things that brought me to Diligent. We've started the relationship off on the right foot and the relationship has only strengthened. Marketing and sales meet weekly to review pipeline activity and we've created daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly reports to ensure we both teams are acutely aware on what's coming in the funnel and how it's converting.
6. When it comes to measuring marketing and communication activities - what does success mean to you? What types of metrics are most valuable to demonstrating impact to execs?
I can't stress enough how important it is for tech companies to be metrics and ROI-driven - it's really a cultural shift. For Diligent, our CEO lives and breathes data. This is why we are pumping out daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly performance reports - that everyone looks at. If anything looks out of sorts, you know you are going to get an email from the CEO - but this allows us to stay agile and make any necessary adjustments quickly. I also recommend that marketing teams do a review of the sales pipeline on a weekly basis - leads are great, but if they aren't converting, it's a problem. Marketing teams need to do more than generate leads - they need to truly understand what it takes to convert a prospect to a customer.
7. What's on the horizon for Diligent? What should we keep our eye out for in terms of your marketing strategy?
Over the next nine months, Diligent is going to redefine our category - and our marketing strategy will play a very significant role in that mission. Very few companies cater to the extremely unique yet dynamic technology needs of board members/senior-level executives, general counsel and corporate secretaries - and we're proud to be the one that continues to innovate and challenge the norm.
Disclosure: Diligent is an Affect client.