How to grow your organic, high-quality inbound leads through this new approach to content

Interviewee: Chris Walker, Refine Labs
Interviewee: Chris Walker, Refine Labs
Listen to this interview on our podcast

Are you using ebooks, white papers, and value proposition-focussed videos to generate leads for your product or services?

Then it could be time you stop.

Chris Walker, CEO at Refine Labs, has a more efficient strategy for you.

Chris' social audience continues to snowball as he hammers home this inbound demand generation marketing theory.

He sees the majority of marketing teams making the same mistake: trying to generate as many leads as possible through ebooks, whitepapers and seller-driven content.

But, most of those leads are useless and unqualified. Which means that your sales reps are wasting tons of time and seeing a 0.01% close rate, which generally means companies have to run a sales-rep heavy, expensive organisation.

But there's a better way, a way that is more cost-efficient and effective.

It's quite simple: create content that will be actually consumed by your customer.

Forget for a minute, or forever, writing for yourself. Forget funnelling customers towards a sale, forget your value proposition, and just write for them.

Consider what they are interested in, what challenges they have at work, and how your writing can help your customers biggest problems.

Chris' theory goes: write valuable content -> That content is actually consumed -> Some people are intrigued to know what you do -> They consciously or subconsciously consider your services -> Next time they have a genuine need, your brand will be top of mind -> Your customer comes to you -> Your sales team supports them in their purchase, little selling needs to be done.

Chris illustrates this method with an example of a lawyer who stopped writing boring legal content, and started writing about her passion: video games. After a while, other gamers learned she was a lawyer and when they were in need of legal services flocked to become her clients. Smart, right?

This sentiment was also echo'd recently by Dave Gerhardt, CMO at Privy, when he stated "Don't build a marketing team. Build a media company for your niche."

There's ton of insight in this interview to guide your inbound lead generation strategy. I hope you enjoy it.

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How the Fxck: When you first start working with a client, where do you start? 

Chris Walker: So the first step in the process, in my view, is to understand what's going on currently. And so, we do that in a couple of different formats, depending on the size of the client, the media budget, and their growth goals. There's a lot of different variables in that and how we decide how to do it. But it comes down to a very detailed analysis of their marketing performance from a channel and an overall marketing level, compare it to their outbound or other mechanisms for generating revenue, audit their ad strategies, their KPIs, the overall objectives of what they're trying to accomplish in those channels. 

Once we have a clear overview, how it's performing, and how the budget's allocated, we have a clearer picture of how what chanes to recommend.

"this is working. Turn it up. Start focusing your conversions down this conversion point. This isn't working. This is a complete waste of money. Cut this, change this, scrap this." The upfront analysis is essentially the process.


How the Fxck: Do you see a lot of commonalities in the challenges faced by your clients, and are they making the same kind of mistakes?


Chris Walker: Yeah. So, over the past six months, I've probably audited somewhere between 20 and 35 SaaS companies and essentially in the SaaS world, almost everyone does it the same. 

There are like little tweaks, but everyone is in essence, following some form of the serious decisions, demand gen, waterfall demand, waterfall framework.

Where the framework is: collect as many leads as possible, pass them over to your SDR tele-prospecting team for qualification, and then move them to a rep if they get qualified. Everyone is using that form, and inside of getting the leads, most people use the same tactics. Most focus heavily on ebook conversions is what I see, or syndicated content for leads or webinars for leads.


That first metric point (number of leads generated) seems to drive everything, which I think is misguided and wrong compared to how you actually should generate demand in a B2B SaaS company today.


How the Fxck: There seems to be some kind of conflict in marketing today. I mean, a lot of marketers are generating as many leads as possible through eBooks and the methods that you mentioned without concern for the quality of the leads that they're pushing towards their SDRs really, that can't be efficient, right?


Chris Walker: No, I don't believe that it is an efficient process. Many companies use it and what actually ends up happening, is that they don't look at it to the level to know that those executions are doing nothing for them. And, all of the actual leads they're converting to revenue are coming through organic search or direct traffic, which is a surrogate to word-of-mouth, or already had the intent or, or got something else and all the attributable leads, so, the eBooks, don't end up going anywhere. 

This goes back to our overall methodology, how I think about the world in B2B SaaS. Most companies have structured their marketing team to act like an SDR team to generate as many as possible at who cares in the quality because you have the SDR filter, and then it goes to the AEs. 

However, if you just do the marketing well and you generate high quality leads at a lower volume, you don't need the SDR layer. And so those leads can go directly to account executives. When those leads go directly to account executives, there's a better buying experience and because of that you close them at a higher rate and with shorter sales cycles. 

However, if you just do the marketing well and you generate high quality leads at a lower volume, you don't need the SDR layer. And so those leads can go directly to account executives.

And then there, after that, you can think about, okay, how do I deploy these SDR resources? Do they go outbound? And when they go outbound, if you get that far, you'll find that that channel just isn't that effective and that your demand gen engine, when it's running right, works better. 

And over time you end up having fewer SDRs, you invest more into marketing. 

Execution, well done, lowers customer acquisition costs that lower customer acquisition costs and higher efficiency allow you to invest in product and other infrastructure inside of the business that supports growth. And overall you come out with a better, more scalable business.


How the Fxck: So, how would you suggest measuring the performance of a marketing team? If it's not on something like leads generated? But maybe you don't want to do it on the same metric is sales, which is sales volume. What would you suggest here?


Chris Walker: I've done this for a long enough time to know that the most important variable in whether or not a sale closes is how the buyer comes to you. And, so I believe the biggest variable is not actually sales performance.

I have past leads to people that have worked at the company for five days, had no idea what was going on with the product or the market or the buyer, and we're able to close in on leads because the person was pretty much decided and the sales person's job was just to help them buy it. For that reason, I do believe that marketers, when doing their job well, do have a huge amount of influence into whether or not the sales close.

I've found that a lot of marketers are like "well, we don't have control over the actual outcome of the sale because the sales reps aren't following up for all this different stuff", and just making excuses. The reason the sales reps aren't following up is because you're passing them a bunch of junk.

If they knew that when you pass them something, they had a chance of getting revenue, and it was their best opportunity to hit their goals, you bet they would call. But over time you've actually done the wrong things, giving them a bunch of junk, and now, therefore, they don't trust you, and they don't want to waste their time on the things that you've sent them.

Just to get back to your original question, yes, I do believe that marketers should be measured on a revenue outcome. They can track all the leading indicators however they want. I recommend you track all the leading indicators to know where you can fix processes, optimize and all those different things.

But the endpoint is the same. It's revenue. And when you're focused on revenue, you do different things to get the leads. I've found the most equitable method to score your marketing team is on marketing sourced revenue contribution for net new logo. 

But, this is specific for B2B SaaS with a traditional sales model. So, non-transactional, non-product led. And, because the net new logo revenue contribution will normalize for things like environmental business changes like the one that we're facing right now. 

Right? Like all revenue for some companies is down right now, but the percent contribution should remain somewhere stable. 

It also normalizes for sales performance. So if your sales team sucks, they're going to suck on whatever source the lead comes from, not just on marketing source. And so, therefore, you still should be able to hold yourself accountable to a percentage contribution, and that percentage should be decided based on a lot of different factors.

I think the number one is budget allocation. So, between your outbound team and your inbound team, what's the percent budget allocation? If you invest 10% into marketing, you probably shouldn't expect them to get you 70% of the revenue. And I've worked at companies where the marketing team had 2% of the budget and generated 30% of the revenue.

That is a broken model because if you just changed the way you allocated the budget, you would change your business. 

But I believe that is the North star for marketing teams to be aligned with their sales teams.


How the Fxck: Yeah, I completely agree. That makes a lot of sense to me. One thing you said there was that a lot of time, the close rate depends on where the leads came from in the first place. What would you suggest marketers do to create the most high-quality leads? 


Chris Walker: Effective communication with the market is the number one way because the objective is to drive organic buyer initiated sales conversations. Most marketing teams will have somewhere between 90% and 99% of their sales conversations start seller-driven or company-driven, and the objective is to have more buyer-driven sales processes. 

Most marketing teams will have somewhere between 90% and 99% of their sales conversations start seller-driven or company-driven, and the objective is to have more buyer-driven sales processes.

When the buyer's driving the process, you are more likely to close more of those deals. Things that don't usually work: the ebook downloads that I've talked about enough, because they downloaded an ebook, they didn't ask to speak with your sales team, but now all of a sudden you're reaching out to me to have a sales conversation. Like, I'm not interested.

Secondly, syndicated content where you pay $50 a lead to some company to send you leads. Those people downloaded your white paper; they did not want to talk to your sales rep—no wonder the close rates are 0.1%.

This is very straightforward, but most people don't look at it at that level because all they're doing is they're saying "okay, I need to get 30,000 leads". They never look at the actual 'outcome to qualified' pipeline, to sales cycle length, to win rates and, ultimately, to revenue. 

If they started breaking it up into those buckets, and I know this because I go into companies and I audit them, and I break them up into these buckets, you'll expose all the things that you're doing that have absolutely no value and have no place in your marketing mix.


How the Fxck: Okay, perfect. So that's what not to do. What is it that works really well?  


Chris Walker: It's funny because most people will not be able to get there with me when I say this because it's very counterintuitive, it's very buyer-driven, not seller-driven.

That's something that might resonate with some people, but giving people information which then creates awareness about what you do and then letting them figure out when they have a need. When they do have a need, that they come to you and you're top of mind, is the best way to generate revenue and do marketing. The problem is that most people are so short-term focused that they don't have the patience to do it.

They tend to take all these shortcuts, which then lead them to very low-efficiency outcomes. 


How the Fxck: One of your central theories around content strategy is that marketers need to stop creating bullshit content and start writing content actually gets consumed. Can you tell me more about that?


Chris Walker: Most people create content for themselves, not for their buyer.

Most people create content for themselves, not for their buyer.


If you just look at it black and white, most people design their content around 'how is this going to benefit me?' Not 'how is it going to help the person that I'm trying to have read this?' Which is, therefore, why it doesn't work. And, so people can feel it. It's very obvious. 

Like most companies do not invest in the talent, in the subject matter expertise in the production or in the distribution for a content strategy to actually work. They don't measure it the right way. They don't give it enough time to develop. And, for all those reasons, most companies don't have a good content strategy. They make less content than I do as a five-person company. It just makes no sense. 

It's because of all the reasons I just stated: they don't believe it's essential, they don't measure it the right way, they don't have the right talent or resources or investment, and they do not know how to do it.

Especially growth stage or companies that are going up against a major entrenched legacy competitor, the way you're going to win is by being smarter, not by doing all the same shit that your big competitor does. 

If you're going and competing with a billion-dollar company, and you are going to run the same marketing mix (spend a hundred thousand dollars on trade shows and sponsorships, go heavy sales outbound, do all the same things that your competitors do), you're going to lose or you're going to limit your upside significantly. 

I've been talking about this for a long time. I've been seeing it come into play both for the companies that I worked at as an employee, and the companies where we now consult. When you execute better and you do things that are smarter, you grow faster. 

You start slowly taking market share from the companies that are wasting a bunch of money and not doing smart things are trading off a brand that's declining in value because they're not executing in today's today's world.


How the Fxck: So the theory is that we should be creating content that is actually consumed by our audience, regardless of what it is, because that brings us to the top of mind when they are considering a purchase of similar technology. How far does this theory go on the content side, how far away from what your company does can you create content for? Say if you're in healthcare and your buyers don't consume much work-related content, but it's a really strong community, they love to consume all sorts of stories about each other.

The theory is that we should be creating content that is actually consumed by our audience, regardless of what it is, because that brings us to the top of mind when they are considering a purchase.


Chris Walker: Just the root of the question illustrates the point that I just made. Most companies create content for themselves instead of reverse engineering what their buyer needs and then giving it to them, regardless of whether or not it has to do with a funnel leading them to buy their product.

So, the strategies that are going to work the best are when you understand, if you are selling to nurses, that nurses probably care about a lot of other things than what you're doing. And so then you have to pick a lane. 

Both lanes can work for that matter. 

(1) The one is, is getting very deep into everything that they care about for their job.

So normally, this is not a scientific percentage but it's just to illustrate the concept, for most people the way that your product fits in is 2% of their job. There's a lot of other stuff in their job that has nothing to do with you, and that's where all the upside is for companies. But most continue to stay in this 2% and also super focused on moving people into buying their product as opposed to focusing on helping buyers with the 98% of their problems - content which the people care about. 

Content that people care about actually gets consumed, which then leads people to figure out what you do and then creates a sales action that way. 


(2) The other route that you could take, which I think is very interesting is to look at the people for other things that they care about.

I'll give you an example. I was helping out someone that practices law in Florida, and she continued to struggle with making content about law and getting it consumed and no shit. Lawyer's content is not that helpful until you actually need it.

And then, she started producing content about the things that she liked to do, which was, in this case, playing video games.

And, so she would create content about her playing video games or different things like that. And what do you know, other people that also played video games found out that she was a lawyer and then needed her help with law.

Both ways can work. I think one way is obviously going to be more preferred for a corporate entity for a lot of different reasons, which is like, you need to figure out everything that that person cares about and then build the community around that.

What do you think would be the best way to measure the outcomes of content to make sure you have that kind of feedback.

How the Fxck: What do you think would be the best way to measure the outcomes of this content to make sure you have that feedback loop that we need to see if our content is working? 


Chris Walker: The way that I measure the outcome of content is basically in three things. The first piece is consumption.  Inside of the piece of content, if I have a five-minute video or I wrote a blog that takes five minutes to read, are people reading it for five minutes? Or are they reading it for five seconds?

It's a straightforward first cut at whether or not the content is working. Most people will never measure that. And so, therefore, they're using ads to drive clicks to their blog, but what they don't realize is that if they looked in Google analytics, they would see that 99% of the traffic is bouncing straight away because the content sucks or you're driving the wrong people there.

But nobody looks at that, and they say, "Oh, we got 20 cents CPC and so everything is great."

And then the second two pieces are about the people that are liking the content and engaging with your brand, whether it's followers or other things, but not just the number. The key measure is who, who's engaging?

If you're going after CFOs, are a bunch of CFOs and VPs of finance and financial analysts following your brand? Or is it the people that drive trucks because all you're doing is posting content that's irrelevant.  So, the second indicator is: are the people that you want to be engaged, actually engaged.

The third indicator (that I think is actually the most interesting, especially once you hit scale) is what is going on in the comments of the posts that you're making, who's commenting? What are they saying? Who's engaging? 

A very interesting metric for me right now is what people are tagging other people in the comments of my posts and who are they tagging?

And that's very interesting to me. So, like, it would show up in the metrics that I got 150 likes on my audio posts. But what it wouldn't show up, is it the CRO of $500 million company tagged the four people underneath them that run marketing demand gen and business development in my post.

Most people ignore it because they just are not smart about how they measure this stuff.  But those are the three pillars of how I would go about measuring a content strategy. 


How the Fxck: This is some fantastic stuff thank you so much. What else should I be asking you to get the most out of your experience to help other marketers?


Chris Walker: Marketers everywhere over-complicate everything. 

They spend so much time trying to figure out their list segmentation and their automation and their technology and their attribution and their bots and all this other shit, that they completely lose sight of the only thing that matters in marketing. Which is: are you effectively communicating with the people that you want to? 

They get so caught up in all these other things that they completely lose sight of the only thing that matters: am I able to earn the attention of the people that I am going after so that I have the opportunity for them to learn about what we do.

I think that is a huge miss. I'm a tech marketer for sure, I appreciate the technology, but technology augments a successful strategy. It does not fix a broken strategy. 

I think that's one thing that marketers are looking for right now is they're looking for some magic formula of automation. 'How do I send a million automated DMs and get a bunch of leads for my sales team?' 'How do I install this new ABM tool and magically my top 50 accounts are going to buy from me'. 

They're doing this instead of actually trying to figure out, and have empathy for, their buyers and what they need to do to capture the attention of those buyers, so that those people then have the opportunity to understand what you do.

If you're running a bunch of tech and like you spend five hours a week trying to figure out your attribution, wouldn't that five hours be better spent trying to figure out things that your customers care about? The questions that your prospects are answering before they ever come and talk to you? The key ways that people are discovering you? Those are the things that are important to me.

Mmost companies spend so much time internally, whether it's like in an ivory tower, trying to figure out how to make this, you know, the best marketing campaign with these creative words in this video, um, without ever really auditing whether or not it resonates with their buyers. They spend so much time with themselves or with their technology.

Instead of actually going out and talking to your prospects, you take shortcuts and listen to sales calls, which actually doesn't give you any of the right answers. It gives you a piece of the puzzle, but it definitely doesn't give you all of it because people actually do not tell you the truth when they're in a sales conversation.

They tell you the things that they need to tell you in order to navigate that sales conversation. And so the best way that I figured out to actually understand buyers is to talk to them in non-sales situations. Almost no marketers do that. 


How the Fxck: There absolutely seems to be some kind of empathy gap in marketing right now. It's like, I don't want to have an ebook forced and forcing me to give my email to you to download this ebook and I didn't want the ebook that much anyway. Why are marketers doing things like this? I mean, he's got to come down to some kind of fundamental misunderstanding of what the customers want, how they buy, what they like and that kind of thing. For my final question, I get the impression that you're very data driven, and I would love to get your impression on the more creative side of marketing. Is there space for both?


Chris Walker: You need both an understanding of the data and being able to analyze it and not only being able to analyze it but being able to make decisions based on what the data is telling you. 

So, a lot of people look at data directly, are not able to understand from their customer perspective why the data is like that. figuring out why it's like, that is the most important part. 

The creative is deeply important. We run ads and the difference between that campaign working or not as the picture you put in front of someone or the video or the words that you use.

So, I have a very deep respect for how important creative is. But I believe that if we look at creative, you have to figure out whether we're talking about just the art or the art and the content, the substance of it, because I feel like the substance is right now more important than the actual production value.

How I was able to grow a very large following on LinkedIn and, at the beginning, mainly using zoom calls or very low production quality lighting, was because the information that I had was very helpful.  I post Zoom recordings on YouTube that get a good amount of views because it's 90 minutes of good information.

I think that some people overthink or overvalue the production quality of the videos, which then prevent them from creating a lot of content. And there's this like weird spiral that happens that's a hidden effect, which is that if you don't produce content at a high volume, you lose the speed of getting better at it.

I think one of the reasons why my content continues to progress and why the audience continues to grow is because I do it so much that I'm constantly getting feedback from what people are saying and what questions they're asking and what things are working.

Like you've seen recently, I've been dropping audio posts on LinkedIn, which don't have me in the video. Obviously, the circumstances in a lot of cases prevent us from doing like a decent production quality video. And, so we've pivoted to audio posts with a sound wave and a picture of me and captions.

Those are getting better engagement than the videos. And the videos cost a lot more to produce. I continue to try and figure out how to say this so that people will understand it, is that if you spend three months making one ebook, it usually prevents you from making a video every day.

If you make a video every day in one quarter, you're a much better marketer than if you made one ebook in a quarter. You're a much better marketer. You understand your customers more. The process of actually creating the content has a huge intangible value, both in the quality of the content, the understanding of the audience, the understanding of the distribution, a better understanding of the metrics that matter.

But nobody gets into the work enough to understand these things. 

And so, I would highly encourage people to create content in volume. Knowing that as you do it, the quality will get better. 


How the Fxck: I think this is interesting, but you know, in your company, I think you and your team are a lot of the value because it's a service-led company. What if it is a software company, how important would you say is the founder's role in creating this kind of content? Can you be creating tons of content about the topic in general topics about your ideal customer and that kind of thing? 


Chris Walker: Yeah, I have to believe that if my company was selling a SaaS tool instead of a service, we'd be a much bigger company right now.

Honestly, the idea that it's whether this works for our product or service, the KPI is whether or not the people that you want to pay attention to you, are paying attention to you or not. I don't believe that it has to be the founder to do this. I think that I've done this as a brand manager for companies before and created the same content and seeing the same exact effect.

It was not me. I was in the videos interviewing people, but it was under the corporate logo, and I was just the person that was producing it.  So yes, I believe this is deeply important to all companies to try and figure out. Whether you do it under a personal brand, our corporate brand doesn't matter.

I think that both can work. I think that most corporate companies, especially when they get to a larger size, have too many opinions and too many thoughts about what words to use and which colour works better. And all these different bullshit opinions that prevent them from actually trying something that might work.

That's why you don't see very many big companies have a podcast, produced videos every day, produce anything but either high production testimonials or employee testimonials or animated videos that speak specifically to the value prop with that stupid little like voiceover that sounds the same every time.

That's why companies don't do it and every company would benefit from attempting a strategy like this, but I've empathy for why most don't do it.

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