2022 Growth Trends: Building a Community with Chris Walker

Natalie Marcotullio
January 11, 2022

Today we’re speaking with Chris Walker, the CEO at Refine Labs, a demand accelerator for B2B SaaS companies that helps businesses dominate categories and unlock major growth opportunities.

Chris is also an expert in all things Demand Gen and host of the State of Demand Gen podcast and Demand Gen Live sessions on LinkedIn.

In this interview we discuss:

  • Creating company-wide LinkedIn content that stands out
  • Importance of multi-channel communities
  • How Lead Gen contradicts good buyer experiences

To start, give a high-level introduction of yourself

As I continue to develop and the business that I run right now continues to grow, I’ve always seen myself as a business strategist, not a marketer.

What I recognized is that marketing is the best way to get things done in business today.

When you look at marketing in more of a broad view than just comms, putting things on social, running Lead Gen and you think about how customer insights drive strategy, product strategy, how you target, then you think about marketing in a much more broad view.

You realize that marketing strategy is synonymous with business strategy, and that’s how I see myself.

What is a recent innovative marketing campaign that you conducted?

The things that we do that I think people undervalue that are driving significant growth in our business right now, I’m not sure that people would view them as innovative.

But like I mentioned, other companies aren’t doing them.

The way that we think about our LinkedIn content and using long-form videos. I posted a nine-minute and 31-second video on LinkedIn and I publish greater than six-minute videos there a lot which I’ve never seen anyone else do.

The reason that people don’t do it is that they care about the views and the vanity metrics that you see on the platform.

But people literally put in the comments, that was a great video. I watched all nine minutes and 31 seconds of it.

And so I think just challenging general assumptions of people has been something that has been relatively innovative for us.

I think the number one thing that we do as a company here at Refine Labs, that I haven’t seen a company do it like us is the way that we’ve taken LinkedIn and now scaled it across about 40, 50 employees simultaneously.

It is a lot of very smart demand marketers posting about marketing information almost every day, which is creating this, like crazy ecosystem and flywheel.

I would say that’s probably the number one is how we empower and enable our employees to do whatever they want to do on LinkedIn, not force them to post company blogs and other bullshit.

When you’re sourcing candidates for Refine Labs do you look for someone who has a social presence?

We don’t. It’s really interesting to think about because of the way that we market, the people that want to have a social presence apply. So it’s the other way around.

They most likely don’t have a presence right now. But then once they get in here, they want to do it because they see a bunch of other people doing it and being successful and having fun with it.

We’ve been able to create an environment where people are excited about it. They’re not being pressured into doing it, they do it because they want to do it, which is why I think it’s working for us and why it’s not working for a lot of others.

Even in the companies that force people to post like that, the environment they create does not empower people to do it or want to do it.

And I think that’s the gap. It’s not only about the resistance of people, it’s about the culture inside of the companies that are trying to do this is why it breaks down.

How have you created a culture that encourages employees to post?

The easiest way to create this culture as leaders is to do it yourself.

All of the people on our executive team are active on LinkedIn and post a lot. We show people what good looks like, we teach people how to do it, and we give them the tools and enablement during onboarding to be successful.

That’s how you get it done. By not just being the CEO up here and telling people they need to post on LinkedIn, but being the leader who does it and shows people how to do it.

​​Where do employees get their ideas from?

It’s interesting, if you’re doing content right, then you shouldn’t need to think about what you’re doing or what you’re posting. If you’re doing it, you’re getting insights, you’re posting your thoughts, and you’re posting what you’re doing.

Our company runs demand marketing, I would even go more broadly to say that we run marketing, at a lot of B2B SaaS companies. So each person that’s doing that is an expert in that.

They have the expertise and they’re doing it actively, which then gives them ideas that fuel the content.

I would say that a lot of the ideas that people post about don’t come from me. It comes from the experience that you have here every day.

Do you recommend companies only hire subject matter experts?

It’s different in marketing, right. We are expert marketers that sell to marketers and hire marketers. So it’s a real synergy right here.

But I’ve worked at a medical device company where our CSMs were people that worked in hospitals, nurses, and respiratory therapists. The CSMs were people that had those certifications that previously worked at hospitals and oftentimes had used our product in clinical settings for a long time and then decided to work for us.

Those people are primed to be the people that are posting content and doing social and things like that. So the nuances are different.

The key is that if you’re a marketer and you’re selling to CIOs or CFOs and you don’t have the subject matter expertise to create information those people want, then you need to acknowledge that.

Then figure out how to get those people to be able to do it underneath the brand maybe through personal profiles or influencers.

What is one marketing mindset or strategy you’re really excited about going into 2022?

The things that make me successful as a marketer don’t change every year. The things that I do are tried and true.

Figure out how to get insights. Understand customers. Figure out how those insights can come to you continuously so you can update the strategy, do things that are in the best interest of your customer. Communicate effectively.

Learn how people want to buy, and then reverse engineer how you can make that experience aligned with how they want to buy. It’s all simple stuff.

If you are committed to doing it, it’s very simple. If you’re a company that isn’t committed to doing it or has a lot of infrastructure that prevents you from doing it, then it becomes very difficult to do otherwise, very simple things.

To answer your question more directly, I’m excited about and what I see emerging is this continuous development of what an actual community is.

I think that we’ve done a really interesting really strong case study of what this could be when executed properly, which is not just a product user group or some Facebook group that you put up or some slack thing.

What we’ve done is we’ve created a mix of live events, social networks, some type of DMs, and things like that that have created a community that is not specific to a place.

It’s a community that’s specific to how people think.

You can be part of that community on YouTube. You can be part of that community on LinkedIn. You can be part of that community on our live events that we host multiple times a week.

There’s a lot of different places, but we attract people that think about marketing in a certain way.

I think that implementation and that strategy around a community are unique and something that we’re having a lot of success with.

Have you seen any major shifts in marketing strategy in the past few years?

The last time that there were major strategy changes was in 2017, like 2014 to 2017, through the real evolution and scale of social networks for B2B buyers.

Before that, because B2B buyers had not been on the Internet or interacting with their peers they went to certain places for information, which were blogs, analyst firms, potentially agencies, places like that.

Now, because of how it’s scaled, they have access to the social networks, to all these different content, to influential people, to their peers.

This has completely shifted how they buy, which adjusted how companies should go to market.

Not a lot of companies have made the adjustment in go-to-market to catch up to that. B2B companies, I’ve found, are typically about ten years late.

So we’ll probably see adjustments happening halfway through this decade.

Why do you think most B2B companies are behind?

I think that there’s a couple of key root causes.

Things are changing so frequently and the executives in the company are not on the ground to see them.

The second thing is that the places where these companies get information delivered. Because of the rapid amount of changes that information is becoming not very relevant. The place where they get the information to put together their strategy is driving, I think poor strategic decisions.

The last piece is that people just don’t want to try stuff in B2B companies. I mentioned how we are empowering our employees to use LinkedIn.

Most companies create cultures that help people say no because of the fear of failure or the fear that you’re going to get made fun of by your coworkers for doing something different.

If you did this thing and it didn’t work, then the CMO is going to come over to you and tell you how bad it worked out and we do the exact opposite.

It’s literally a core value at our company is like we embrace failure. I don’t even consider it a failure. The whole way that we’ve built our company is by doing stuff that everyone else said was stupid. And we’re building a rapidly growing company because it’s like the things that we’re doing are obvious.

They’re not stupid, they’re obvious.

The things are that other people don’t look for are the things that we look for. That’s why it’s been working for us.

Things like keeping a small culture or a small team with a defined culture as part of the success and why you’re able to iterate.

What is one marketing mindset or strategy that you’re ready to see end this year?

The idea of Lead Gen. I think that people should think differently about this one.

Lead Gen appeases early-stage vanity metrics and usually doesn’t help your sales team hit their targets, at least at a rate where they need in order to be successful, because it’s short term, not aligned with how buyers buy and not customer focus.

Companies spend a majority of their money and a majority of their marketing time to collect leads, low intent leads from places like content syndication, paid social, Lead Gen, other things like that.

Whether you’re doing contact acquisition or you’re doing some activities to drive MAQs or intent data, it’s all Lead Gen.

Marketers doing something to hit a vanity metric so their sales team can try to do sales to people that don’t want to buy right now. That’s the one that needs to end.

If you just ask your buyers if they want to buy that way, you will hear a unanimous no. And so the thing that needs to end is companies not respecting how your buyers want to buy.

The whole reason that companies are struggling with go-to-market right now is for that singular point because they focus on how they want to sell or how they’re told to sell by Gartner not how their buyers want to buy.

If companies could do one thing to improve their buying process, what would it be?

To survey 500 of their decision-makers and ask them at what stage do you want to talk to our sales rep? What is the first step in your buying process?

How would you like us to let you know about new information? Where do you go to learn about new stuff before you’re interested in buying? Which sources of information do you trust the most?

Then map that back to your go-to-market strategy and your marketing strategy. Which sources do you trust the most will be super interesting for people.

Go in there and put peers, influencers, content on social networks, review sites, analyst firms, content at conferences and events, and go and put that and see what your buyers say.

Then map that against where your budget gets spent and your budget gets spent in all the places that buyers trust the least.

What do you think about the rise of product-led growth?

Many of our customers have a dual PLG and demo funnel, which almost all product-led companies will have that because product-led companies eventually do want to sell enterprise deals. They just start in a different way.

The thing that I’m seeing, though, in product-led companies, is that in theory, it should be more buyer focused, but it’s not when you actually look at how it’s getting implemented.

What they do at product-led companies is they take $1 million a month, shove people into a free trial form, just like they did with their ebook form.

Once they’re into the product, they send out emails and do a bunch of other shit, they hit certain metrics, and then their sales team starts cold calling them. It’s the exact same thing.

This is why I’m telling people to think about go-to-market strategy, right? Just because you’re doing PLG doesn’t matter if you’re doing the same shit that doesn’t align with how buyers want to buy. And so there’s a lot of buzz around it.

The actual performance metrics in most of those companies are very poor. If you look at CAC to LTV and things like that, it’s way worse than a sales-led company.

It’s like not that much better. It could be. In theory, it should be. If it was executed properly, it would definitely work.

But when you get down to actual execution, people take old strategies, old mindsets of what they’re trying to do when they were doing ebooks in 2014, and they just do the exact same thing in product-led.

Wanted to give you a chance to promote your services or content.

We have a podcast called State of Demand Gen that has a ton of awesome insights. We publish three episodes a week, so if you want to check that out, feel free.

Additionally, we host a live show called Demand Gen Live every Tuesday at 07:30 p.m. eastern 4:30 pm pacific would love to have you there.

We have a really strong community of hundreds of marketers that show up and try and get better every week. And so if you’re interested in that, we’d love to see you there.

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