Why Marketing Storytelling Matters Now More Than Ever

My guest today prefers emotions and marketing storytelling over growth hacking and optimization. Michael Troiano is a Harvard Business School graduate and former Chief Marketing Officer of Actifio, a global enterprise data-as-a-service provider. He is currently venture capitalist based in Boston at G20 Ventures, and has nearly 25 years of executive leadership experience, working with name brand companies such as PepsiCo, Jiffylube, Ragu and Hewlett-Packard:

Listen to this Episode:

In the 17th episode of your favourite digital marketing podcast, we touch on his personal story and discuss why marketers should focus on marketing storytelling instead of optimization. We’re also going to go over a detailed step-by-step methodology on creating a story that people will actually connect with. Listen in as he shares valuable advice to new marketers, such as why they need to focus on finding a good boss instead of a good business.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • Michael’s background and how he got involved in marketing
  • Accountability and metrics that are actually meaningless
  • Good storytelling as a foundation of marketing
  • Actionable tips to improve your marketing storytelling strategy
  • Advice for new marketers on getting started

Resources:

Full Transcript:

Louis: In this episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, I’m talking to Mike Troiano. Mike Troiano is a former CMO for Actifio. Actifio is a service that help businesses to manage their data in a better fashion.

He’s also a venture capitalist based in Boston for G20. He spent his early career in New York and he worked for ad agencies on brands including Coca Cola, AT&T, and Taco Bell. He then served as president for many NASDAQ listed systems, integrator. He also was an executive team mobile content pioneer m-Qube. He’s been around for a long time. He’s now an adviser for startups including Drift, Drink, Intelligent.ly, and Milestone.

                    In this episode, we went through his personal story. He came from an Italian-American family and how it shaped his personality and his career. We also went through why marketers should focus on emotion instead of optimization. We’re also going to share a step by step methodology to create a story that people will genuinely connect with. That’s actually really interesting because we are going into a lot of details into that. Finally, we’re going to talk about why people who want a job in marketing such as young graduates need to focus on finding a good boss instead of a good business.

                    That’s all in this episode today. Have a listen and let me know what you think. Hi Mike. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. Welcome to the show.

Michael: Thanks Louis, pleasure to be here.

Louis: I have a first question for you. You’re ranked in the top 1% as a Twitter influencer. You’re in the top 1% of the population there. Do you think it’s a great achievement given the fact that 90% of Twitter users are butts anyway?

Michael: No, but it is perceived as a great achievement. There’s a meta level to that. I think it’s one of those interesting metrics that it’s sort of outwardly impressive until you think about it. You’re absolutely right. Being in the top 1% of Twitter influencers is not that mathematically impressive and yet it’s something people come to again and again. It just struck me one day and I put it in after I did the math myself but very few people realize that so kudos to you for noticing.

Louis: How many users does Twitter have now? Is it 400 million or 300 million?

Michael: Something like that. I think it’s hard to pin down active users because obviously things are somewhat in flux there. I try to figure it out on cloud and it was like .00 something percent but that number was much less memorable than just saying you’re in the top 1%.

Louis: I have another question I wanted to ask you. It’s not going to be like this for the rest of the show but I wanted to ask you this. You’re a Harvard graduate, right? Did you actually go there or was it a one day online course?

Michael: No, I went to the Harvard Business School. Their two year program. No excuses. No night school. No variation. I’m a two year HBS grad.

Louis: Wow. That’s actually impressive, I have to say.

Michael: Thank you.

Louis: Let’s get into the more serious question. How did you discover marketing? Do you remember the first time you felt that marketing was one of the things that you like to do and that you wanted to get involved in?

Michael: It came from some reflection. I went to Cornell, as an undergraduate, another American University. I did not do well there. In my first semester, I think I got a 1.6 and I followed that up with a 1.4, which are both failing grades in our system. I had to have a chat with the dean and the dean said, “I think you’re a smart guy, Mike, but you’re not applying yourself and I’m not sure why. I noticed you failed the two classes in your major as well.”

I was an economics major at the time and he said, “Do you like economics?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, if you could decide what you like, you can study that here. If not, you’re going to need to go be an economics major someplace else.” I went away and reflected on what I wanted to do and that inevitably led to some reflection on what made me unique.

I decided I was a pretty creative person but not the most creative that I knew. I was pretty analytical but not the most analytical but it struck me that somewhere at the intersection of those two things, that few people who had my same aptitude for creativity were analytical and few of the people who were analysts seem to be as creative. There was something at the intersection of those things and I felt like if I could find something that was at the intersection of those, I could be unique.

It was really thinking about that and I thought about maybe designing airplanes or being an architect or whatever. I hit on this idea of marketing and advertising. That just seemed like right in the sweet spot of what made me special. That was really where it started and I’ve been focused on that ever since.

Louis: What was your first job involving marketing?

Michael: I took an internship at a small agency in Boston between my junior and senior years of college just to learn what it was like inside an agency. I worked mostly for the copywriters in that experience. But it was a small shop, I just loved everything about it. I loved the spirit of the agency and the camaraderie. I loved working with clients. I loved writing. I’ve always been a writer and it’s something that helps me organize my own thoughts. It’s a real pleasure for me. I seem to have an aptitude for both the relationship side of the business and the actual marketing strategy part of it.

Louis: Before you were such a big deal, because you’re a big deal, aren’t you? You’re a smart guy, you’ve been doing a lot of things in the last few years. I want to get into the why you’re such a driven guy. Why do you think you’re this way? Is there any particular event in your life that made you who you are today?

Michael: That’s a good question. I’m the first in my family to go to college. I’m an Italian American. My father was a professional. He was a sales guy at a tech company, multiple tech companies in Boston. My mother was a hairdresser and a homemaker, took care of us full time, eventually. I always had a sense of wanting something more than that and I had a sense of wanting to do something that had significance, that really mattered, that had an impact.

                    It’s interesting that when I left that world to go to Cornell, I really shook it off. I wanted no part of it. I was sick of Italian food. I wanted to shake that off and be an Ivy League student. I went to New York. I was first a bouncer and then a bartender for a while and made my way through the agency ranks and I bought great suits. I ran away from it a little bit.

                    As I matured and was exposed to more of the world, I realized that the world worked in a very similar fashion to the world that I had grown up in. It was a lot about who you knew. It was a lot about taking care of people. It was a lot about relationships. I think that that realization, the reconciliation of the world I grew up in with the world that I’d become a part of as a graduate of these great universities and a participant in some of the world’s largest agencies, when those things came together for me, I feel like my career really started to go to the next level. That’s my story, I guess.

Louis: How long did you go without eating pizza?

Michael: Never more than a week.

Louis: So you didn’t really say no to Italian food too much?

Michael: No. I’m just a man, Louis.

Louis: Any other Italian dishes that you would recommend? Because failed passing pizza because it’s really cliché but is there any particular Italian dish that people don’t really know about that you would recommend?

Michael: It’s interesting. I don’t think in terms of really dishes when it comes to Italian food, I think of Italian food as more of a philosophy of just buying the best stuff you can find wherever you are and then preparing in a way that doesn’t fuck it up too bad. With all due respect to your personal heritage, I find that French cuisine is similar in some of the Mediterranean stuff I like but I feel like the French have a way of elevating things away from perhaps their natural state whereas the Italian sensibility is a lot more to leave it un messed with. I think Italian is a state of mind more than a dish.

Louis: That’s a good point. I want to fight against what you just said but I actually agree. I think it’s true. I think the Italian food is simpler. It respects more of the ingredients. It’s a bit less process in a sense. We tend to try to overdo things a little. That’s how we do it in France. Anyway, this podcast is not about food, is it?

Michael: All podcast are about food indirectly.

Louis: That’s true. I could talk about food for an hour. Let’s talk about marketing in more details. The reason why we are talking together today is because I saw one of your tweets on Twitter recently and I knew in one tweet that you would agree with the philosophy I’m trying to promote and spread. You told me a few things about you that I really like. Let’s get into that. First of all, why do you think marketers have a bad reputation in general?

Michael: I think that most marketers are focused on optimizing the outputs of marketing as opposed to delivering results to the business. If you look at the different parts of the organization that are held in lower regard, I would say marketing is probably at the top of that list. Take something like HR. A lot of organizations, human resources, it’s the vast majority of your call structure. Every business in the world, that most important thing about us is our people.

                    A few organizations hold HR in high regard. Why is that? I would say that it’s because most HR organizations, they’re focused on optimizing for HR policy or on treating human relations as something that independent and frankly, often at odds with the financial interest of the business itself. It’s held at arm’s length. It’s sort of viewed skeptically by senior executives and it’s been held back I think as a result of that perception.

                    I think of marketing in many ways in a similar vein. I used to say in my unkind moments that it was the last bastion of mediocrity in the American corporation because it was the last place you could hide from accountability. As I mentioned, my dad was a sales guy and he held marketing people in very low regard. He used to say, “Show me a sales guy and take away quota and I’ll show you a marketing guy.”

                    I think it starts with that. It starts with the sensibility that it’s a place that you can go and be creative and hide from accountability. What happened over time as digital became more prominent is marketers sort of saw this as their opportunity to fix this. They went out and created all these metrics. It was highly measurable. It was incredibly precise. You can measure with great precision the “impact” of your marketing.

I think marketers confused precision and accuracy. Today, I think marketers are very precise in the way they measure exactly what the marketing did but it oftentimes wholly inaccurate as to the question of whether what they are doing is valuable to the business.

The business case for marketing in a company like ours, Actifio is a enterprise technology company, we have a very high average order value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars we do. We do a comparatively limited number of transactions per year but we are sales and engineering driven type of business. In a business like ours, the value of marketing is to improve the productivity of the sales organization.

At the end of the day, if I look at what is my bookings in the given quarter, my gap revenue, and I divide that by what am I spending on sales and marketing in total, that gives me a ratio. I see my job as a CMO is to make sure that that ratio moves in a positive direction every quarter. Over the course of my tenure at Actifio, we’ve increased that by over 360%. That’s what matters. What I don’t focus on is marketing qualified lead generation or engagement scores or Twitter Klout. What I think of our intro-metrics that have become a giant distraction from the ways that marketing can actually create value in a business.

Louis: Let’s get into precision versus accuracy. Give me more examples about the type of metrics that in marketing we tend to follow that are actually meaningless.

Michael: MQLs is the holy grail marketing, marketing qualified leads. I’m sure you’ve seen this. It’s such bullshit. The marketing people create all these leads and they throw them over the wall and then they say the sales people aren’t following up on the leads and the salespeople, manager goes to talk to the sales people and the sales people say, “Well, the leads suck.” It’s just such a waste of time and energy and imagination.

                    This is true in every relationship between every sales and marketing team I’ve ever seen, for the most part. I think I was just determined to avoid that. I think part of it is that my partner on sales and myself, we’ve both been a CEO. We’ve both overseen both functions. We just said, “Look, let’s optimize this as a go to market team.” That at the end of the day, what we care about is that we make the number, are we growing at the right rate? Are we on top of productivity and the predictability of our model?

                    We’re going to focus 100% of our energy on those things. Less so on all of the various inputs that we can measure along the way. Again, I acknowledge that there are businesses that are whatever, they have a premium acquisition model. They have a low average order value, higher velocity businesses and conversion metrics for marketing are probably much more important there.

In those businesses, the role of marketing is different so I want to acknowledge that there are certainly places that are different but for the most part, I think this bullshit between sales and marketing is massively counterproductive. The only way to fix it, because sales is always going to focus on sales, God bless them, they’re grounded in the reality, marketing people have to step up and get more focused on helping sales deliver the fucking number. That’s really what I’ve tried to do.

Louis: But surely, to just take the devil’s advocate on this, obviously, the example of the business that you are involved in is as you said, a high value lead, high value customer, so it maybe the business model is slightly different. Let’s take a typical SaaS business per se with an average of value of let’s say 200, 300, or 400 euro a year, or what’s beyond those lines.

                    Surely, it’s a good metric to have as a marketer, to know how many MQLs you’re generating and then to know how many of those MQLs has turned into SQLs.

Michael: It is but I would say that if you’re going to focus on optimizing for a metric, why not optimize for lifetime customer value. At the end of the say, what I care about is having spent this much to acquire customers. Think about the funnel in typical SaaS, I can optimize at the very front end. I can optimize for impressions. I can optimize for click through. I can optimize for cost per action. Let’s say it’s some kind of a raw lead. I can apply inside sales and do a marketing qualified lead, to a sales qualified lead. I can do an initial customer transaction.

                    At the end of the day, what I care about is my most profitable, happy customers. Where did they come from? It’s not just about up away at the top of the funnel. What is my cost for marketing qualified lead? I want to know what is my cost per customer profit dollar, if you will.

                    The creation of these systems, I think, that optimize for these higher funnel functions, they inevitably create problems because I’m optimizing for something other than what the business actually requires. There may be channels that are incredibly productive from a marketing qualified lead standpoint that are absolute shit from a long term customer satisfaction or customer lifetime value standpoint. To optimize for those I think is to abandon your responsibility not just as a marketing person but as a member of the executive team.

Louis: That’s what I was getting into. This is why I’m doing this podcast at the end of the day. It’s that if you take the first principle of a business, really, it sounds like really simplistic and really common sense. It’s all about making profits long term. It’s about generating money so you can pay your staff, so you can grow and you can have a little bit left for everybody and you can grow this way. Every single person in every organization should have this goal in mind.

Exactly as you said, if you generate as a marketer 100 MQLs a month, not all of those MQLs are created equal. You might very well have two of them that are as you mentioned, the most qualified that fit exactly the most profitable customer profile and you might have 98 of them that are completely useless. As a marketer, our job is really to make sure that those two, we recognize them, that we know that we need to get more of them. It doesn’t really matter to have 100 MQLs, what really matters is to create more profitable customers.

Michael: Right.

Louis: Before we go into more how to’s, I’d like to get into an actionable methodology together in the next few minutes. Before that, let’s backtrack a little bit. Apart from those metrics and those optimization stuff, you probably know that better than me, internet is a very crowded place at the minute and marketers are almost responsible for it in some sense. We tend to read a lot of things. Every time there’s a new channel coming up, we get in there and we mess up with the experience. How do you think we could, as marketers, make the internet a better place?

Michael: I’m a big believer in the focus on good marketing storytelling as a foundation of marketing. We’ve talked about optimizing for metrics and I think that we’re in the era of the growth hacker, which is a term I always hated. It implies that all this thing can be done behind the safety of keyboard, that marketing is sort of done in Excel and that it’s a very clinical process and you have so many inputs and so many outputs. I think that that is really not what marketing is at all.

                    I think at the end of the say, marketing is a process that begins with storytelling, that’s rooted in customer benefit. I think that the best marketers I’ve known, they’ve been, if you will, students of human response, meaning they tell a story. They watch to see how a prospect responds. They adjust that story and they refine and they’re constantly on the lookout for how human beings are actually reacting to the messaging that they’re putting out there and using that to refine not only their messaging but their product.

                    I think that that’s the other important thing that good marketing people do, is they shape the product and not just the message, over time. I think number one is a renaissance of marketing storytelling and I’m moving away from the idea that marketing is 100% about the optimization of metrics and this growth at hacking sensibility and much more about the human dimension of marketing storytelling and empathy. I think that’s number one.

Louis: Less about metrics, more about the people.

Michael: Yeah. There’s meat in the machine. There’s all these numbers and all this Excel. At the end of the day, you have to have something that works. These are dark times in America just politically. I don’t want to go to the rat hole of what’s happening here. If you look at what happened in the last election, I feel like you had a candidate who at the end of the day was incredibly metrics driven and divided the population very neatly into target segments and optimize the MQLs and social outreach and play this game of identity politics and optimize these different situations and it was optimized.

                    And then you had a candidate, I would say a vastly less qualified candidate who is all about a big story and good message, discipline, and theatrics, and just hammering away a simple idea. We saw which one, by a lot, despite a massive difference and I would say in the nature of those two, if you will, products.

I see that in category after category is that where you see good marketing storytelling, where you see good communications discipline, I’m not saying you can be completely, we live in a digital age, and you’d be foolish to ignore all the tools that enable you to measure audience response. I just think we’ve gone way too far down the path of growth hacking mentality. That’s my view.

Louis: That’s something you talked about. I’ve seen a few presentations of yours where you’re saying that the first thing is the emotional response. People have emotions all the time and they feel before they think. As you mentioned, in the US election, that’s exactly what happened. One candidate was really reaching out to the emotions of the people out there and the other one was really trying to rationalize everything and as you said, to optimize.

                    By the way, for the listeners who obviously can’t see Mike’s face when you say optimize, he doesn’t mean it in a good way. He’s really mad about this word. That’s it, isn’t it? Emotion before the rational.

Michael: What I like to say to people is that if you want to change what someone does, you have to change what they feel and not just what they think. I know I should not have a donut but I want a donut. I know rationally I shouldn’t have a donut. I know that. I’m a smart person. I know that I should not have that donut and yet I want the donut.

                    It’s not to say people are irrational but we are not merely rational, we all do things all day. We make big decisions. We make decisions on where to work, where to live, who to marry, where to go on vacation, what house to buy. These are emotional decisions. Emotion plays a huge role in affecting our behaviour.

                    As a marketer, you have to understand if your goal at the end of the day is to change what someone does, it’s vastly more important to change what they feel than it is just what they think. People interpret that in the wrong way as being like this is about emotional manipulation or words that have a slightly negative connotation. I’m really not saying that. I’m just saying that we are emotional beings. We’re wired in a certain way at the lizard brain level. We’re wired to embrace stories in ways that are never going to change.

                    As a marketer, it’s very important to understand those drivers of human behaviour, which very often are not intellectual or rational ones.

Louis: That’s all well and good. I’m pretty sure listeners understand that that we need to be more focusing on emotions and change the way people feel. Let’s take an example of a head of marketing in the team of five or six marketers and have a business of let’s say 50 employees, 60 employees. They have targets every quarter. The CEO is putting them under pressure to reach this target. I can hear them in my head telling me, “It’s all well and good. It’s beautiful.” You need to change the way people feel but how does it play down day to day? How do we actually do that?

                    If you want, for the next few minutes, we can try to create a to-do list, or an action plan, or sort of a methodology that people can take away from this episode and apply to their business. I’m a head of marketing for this marketing team and I want to change the way people feel so that they can change the way they do things and use my products. How do we do that?

Michael: I think it starts by figuring out the emotional benefit at the core of your product experience. I was at Actifio for five years. Actifio is essentially a data virtualization company. We help global enterprises deliver and access data as a service the same way as they do software and infrastructure available instantly on demand wherever they need it. That’s essentially Actifio’s value proposition.

                    It’s a very technical value prop. Not unlike what VMWare did for Compute, we do for sorts. We virtualize data, decouple it from physical storage. My third day at the company, I came to a customer session to talk to customers, to get their feedback on the release of the product at that time and we sat in on this thing. The marketing people have sat in. The company have not had a CMO up to the time that I joined but I sat in on this thing. I started following along. It’s very hard to understand towards the technical details but doing the best I could to keep up. I finally got through it and they were describing what the platform had done for them.

Towards the end of that meeting, I said the first time you were able to recover data on the Actifio system. Many times, these databases, it could be a 25 terabyte horrible database and it goes down and it could take days for a customer to recover before Actifio and after Actifio is deployed, they can access that data in 34 seconds. Just to give you a sense of the impact.

We’d always talk about that benefit in terms of the time horizon and whatever. But I said, the first time you recovered that database, how did it make you feel? I remember vividly my team, the engineers, the product people, customers, everyone, just started looking at me like I was a freak and it was silence. I just let it stay silent just to exert pressure on other people to say something. Finally someone said, “It felt great.” I said, “Well, help me understand.”

“I knew that I was going to be okay if something went wrong. We had an outage at my company and I ended up being inside the office, in the building from Thursday to Sunday. I couldn’t leave the building. That was five years ago and since then I’ve kept six packages of ramen noodles in my lower desk drawer. Just waiting for this to happen again. After I saw what Actifio did, I didn’t need those anymore. It was wonderful.”

And then someone else said, “It changed the way I spend my weekend because I was always aware that if something happen, my beeper, or I might need to get into the office and so there was only so far that I could go away particularly in these windows where something important was happening. It freed me up to be able to go further. In retrospect, I lived for years with this tether to the office even when I wasn’t in the office.”

Finally, a third customer said, “The first time I recovered a data set with Actifio, it was like the first time I kissed a girl.” I swear to God, I swear to God, that’s what he said. My team was in shock. When I talk about emotional benefit, what is the core of it? What that says to me is that the emotional benefit of Actifio is freedom. That we’re going to liberate you from the tyranny of 20th century storage architecture. We’re going to help you get out from underneath this anvil of the inability to recover data the way that lets you meet your own internal SLA, service level agreements.

That idea of freedom, finding different ways to infuse that emotional benefit into the various things we did has been a lot of what I’ve spent the last five years at Actifio doing. It’s looking for ways to infuse the emotional benefit of freedom into every touch point with the external market place.

Louis: Let me cut you right there. That’s critical. That’s a really interesting story. Thanks for sharing it. If I had to break it down into different steps, the first step is talking to customers, isn’t it? By understanding what your product does for customers and how it makes them feel. You have to talk to them because you can’t really guess that from yourself. You wouldn’t have known that without talking to those people, right?

Michael: Yeah. It doesn’t matter what it does. It matters how it makes them feel. Those are two very different things. I think a lot of marketers are very focused on what it does or what they think it does but insufficiently focused on how a customer feels as a result. So yes.

Louis: So that’s the step one. Talk to customer. Understand how your product makes them feel. And then, because you worked on that for a long time, you spent ten seconds explaining it, but I think that also deserves a little bit of explanation. Based on those responses, you’re able to come up with the key, the core emotion, the key, I’m almost keen to say the key job to be done that those customers want to achieve. To be free. To feel that they don’t have this burden of constantly checking their phone or whatever if something happens in the office and they have to come back to. Is that a good way to define?

Michael: I think that what you need to do after you figure out what it is, is to still it down to something the organization can understand. I gave you the one word. It’s always great to have one word. Freedom.

                    The four paged contact report coming off of that customer session, it’s not enough to just hand that to people because some people will read that, some people won’t. No one will remember it. But when I come out of that room and I’m like, “Freedom.” I’m just hitting people over the head with that one word day in and day out. I’m looking for different ways to infuse that one idea to have every external touch point with Actifio. Infused with this notion subtly not using that same word.

                    Let’s take something as simple as identity. Actifio, when I started, had this very dark brand identity. It was black. I think they were trying to be cool but it had greys and blues. There were some purple in the palette. It just felt very dark. It was a heavy typeface. When I did overhaul the identity, I said I want lightness and newness and freedom and difference. Every other data management storage company in the world was blue and I said, “Okay, the opposite of blue was orange and we’re going to be orange.”

                    The brightness of that, the orange became a signature cover color for us. We created a different typeface that was more modern or more of a Sans Serif open feeling to it and created white backgrounds and white space. More of a kind of Apple sensibility. We weren’t afraid to leave margins on our white papers and blah, blah, blah. These things are trivial things in isolation but collectively, overall and over time, if they’re sustained, they deliver an impression to the marketplace about what the company represents.

                    You create that emotional association that this company is about something more than just clinical data virtualization. It’s about whether the customer can articulate it using the same word or not, there’s a sense of freedom in the way that they interact with Actifio.

Louis: You managed to simplify this conversation you had with customers into one key word that you were then able to distill throughout the company for months and years. I’m curious about how you managed to convince sales per se, because as you mentioned before salespeople are usually quite rational instead of being too much emotional people. How did you convince them that this was a big deal, that freedom was the key emotion that a customer had to feel or prospect at least?

Michael: Sales people, at the end of the day, are incredibly practical people. At the end of the day, they will do what works. If you want to change their behavior, you have to show them something that’s more effective than whatever they’ve been doing up to now.

I think that in the beginning, my approach with them was to go on into the field and open with customers, tell the story in the way that I felt would be more effective based on my interactions with customers and show them one by one, team by team that that way was in fact more effective, like getting customers to begin to describe their problems for us and begin to get excited about the potential of what we can do for them.

Over time, as sales people began to adopt this approach, to celebrate the successes of the people who were getting results and to start to reinforce those behaviors. It’s like any behavioral change program. It starts with being very clear and explicit about the behavior that you’re trying to model. And then it’s about reinforcing the adoption of that behavior by celebrating the successes of people who do. That’s how it starts initially.

Over time, marketing in a company like ours is much more about observing what’s working and what isn’t on the ground and then distilling those best practices for the benefit of the global sales team. But at the very beginning it was definitely about formulating something at corporate that will be more effective than what we had been using and then introducing that to the field in a more systematic way.

Louis: I’m curious about the actionable item for that particular piece, you mentioned the story that you shared with people. Did you actually have a corporate document with a typical customer story that you are sharing? What does that mean?

Michael: Yeah. One of the things that was really important to our success is we used to have this intro slide deck. I think it was 68 slides when I started. This thing was a nightmare, it was death by PowerPoint and it’s just shocking to me how many companies have this book but we definitely had it.

There are a lot of different things Actifio can do and we want to focus less on explaining to every customer everything that it can do and focus more on getting them to a place where they will begin to tell us what they want. They will describe their data management challenges and we can respond by emphasizing just the aspects of our platform that serve those particular requirements.

What is the minimum level of communication? That sort of minimum introductory narrative that is required to get them talking about their problems? We called that deck the CXL. CXL meaning short for chief, whatever officer chief information, chief digital or whatever. But it’s an executive level introduction to Actifio that is meant to be delivered in 12 minutes or less.

This very simple story to be able to go into an account, ideally at an executive level, tell this high level story that is the foundation of the Actifio IP and then very quickly move from that 12 minute narrative to a whiteboard session, to try and map out their current approach and identify their key problems, and then set up a subsequent conversation where we can begin to describe for that customer exactly how our technology can help deliver the things that are most important to them.

Re-engineering the front end of the sales process to be much more about discovery and targeted benefit communication and much less about just pounding them with 4,000 reasons Actifio is great. That was a huge change for us, the rest of our sales process flowed from that.

Louis: There is no excuse for anybody else, like as you mentioned Actifio is a very complex product and you can make it as complex as you want by creating slide deck that have hundreds slides because there are probably a lot of features, a lot of different thing you can talk about. You guys managed to simplify to the core of what it does and you are then able to extract the right information from prospect by asking them the key issues and making them talk and understand exactly how your solution can solve their problem. I think anybody can do that then. Based on the observation on the complexity of it, anybody with a product can do that.

Michael: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s like this Simon Sinek’s TED talk. Start with why. All you’re really trying to connect with a customer on that initial meeting is they want to know why this matters. They’re going on a hundred different directions, they took this meeting because their inside sales guy bugged them and they just had an argument with their wife and they got to go to the bathroom and they got a meeting with this guy who’s a pain in the ass later and they got to take their car to the dealer later and they’re going to sit down and they’re going to let you go through your freaking slides.

The guy comes into the room and that’s where he is. Every sales guy knows that no one is sitting there desperate, excited about you going through your 400 PowerPoint slides. The beginning of every presentation is always, okay, why should I pay attention to you for the next 30 minutes. You got to lead with something that’s relevant and interesting and new and different and that’s a story. You got to be able to tell a story that is compelling and that is simple and comprehensible enough to begin to draw me in to want to hear more about how this might be able to help me. That’s what you’re trying to accomplish.

Louis: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic advice. Let’s try to summarize it very briefly. First of all, talk to your customer, understand the key emotions that they feel using your product. Two, try to simplify to a concept that is basically one word. Three, distill that to the company and repeat this message over time. Four, create a story that is simple enough to introduce to prospects and to people. And five, ask question and be curious about their problems. And six, when your job is done it is much easier for salespeople to close them. Would that be a good summary of what we discussed?

Michael: Yeah. That’s a good framework.

Louis: I meet regularly with people asking me, I’m new to marketing. I’m a young graduate and I like to find a job in marketing or in the digital marketing industry. What would be your number one advice for those people looking for a first job in marketing?

Michael: Find someone who you can learn from and have great humility with respect to how you can help that person. When I reflect on my career, I had certain talents I think brought to the table, no doubt about that. I was incredibly fortunate to work with people who help me understand the stuff and who shaped my own thinking about it and who invested the time to explain why I was doing whatever menial task I was doing. That was so key.

Throughout my career, I’ve sought those people out and I think way more than any talents I brought to and out of the gate, my ability to find those people and earn their loyalty and support, get their help in developing my understanding of marketing and business in the world frankly, has been incredibly important.

I would say the person you worked for out of the gate is probably more important that the place you worked for them. Working for a dick in a very cool big brand name company is going to be way less valuable to you than working for someone who takes an interest in your success at a smaller and less sexy place. I think over time it’s great to have those brand name companies on your resume but right out the gate for the person you described, I think it’s critically important to find the right boss, number one.

Number two, humility. I interview kids coming out of college and I ask them why they want to be on marketing and some of them was I have great ideas, or I love marketing, or I love this ad, or whatever. I’ll say what’s your idea about this or what are the two or three ads that you enjoy or whatever. And many of them can’t even answer that question in a way that’s satisfying. Some of them can.

I remember starting out, someone said to me, why should I give you this job, Mike? I said because I’m going to come into this place and I’m going to work my ass off to make you look good. That is such a different mentality than because I’m the man and I have great ideas and I going to help shape this company out of the gate.

You got to come in and you gotta pay your dues, you got to do the grunt work, that quid pro quo that you’re going to have where you’re getting exposed to this higher level things, comes at the price of the willingness to do whatever menial task is required to make the team successful. I think young people who come in understanding that, who come in with that expectation, not to be trained and supported and coddled and whatever and I don’t want to get into the whole millennial cliché because I think it’s broadly unfair and this has been true of every generation but having the humility to understand like you’re going to come in and you’re a drone, you’re a body, you don’t know shit. You don’t know shit about marketing, certainly.

Come in and work your ass off and do what I tell you to do and make me look good and in return I’m going to help you understand what’s happening in the bigger picture and that’s going to make you better. When you have someone who is in that mindset and that’s open and they’re like a sponge and they are smart, they can write and they can communicate, there’s a certain foundation of talent but I think in that broad universe, the people that win are those that can identify a mentor who can help them grow and who are willing to do whatever shit work is necessary to help that mentor succeed. That’s the key.

Louis: I tend to think as well as the marketer. I as a marketer, the state is always that nobody cares, nobody cares about us, nobody cares about our product, nobody cares about the brand.

Michael: Amen.

When you get married, you’re not even married yet.

Louis: There are two things. What you just said, you need to make other people look good and you need think that nobody cares. I think once you have those two things, together as young graduate, you’re going to do great in marketing.

Michael: That’s not rocket science, Louis.

Louis: It kind of is. It seems like common sense, obviously and I think it needs to be repeated. As you mentioned with the freedom example that you gave earlier on. It needs to be repeated because many people forget it. We’re talking about graduates here. Even marketers that have years and years of experience don’t even think that people don’t care but they don’t care, people don’t care. That’s the key. That’s why we need marketers, if they did care, we wouldn’t have a job or at least not this kind of job.

Michael: That’s right. That’s right.

Louis: Right. Last question before we can wrap up this very good episode. If you had to pick three resources, they could be books, podcasts, anything to recommend to marketers and digital marketers in particular, what would they be?

Michael: I would say the first book would be is Ogilvy on Advertising. David Ogilvy is I would say the father of modern advertising and grew up in a great copywriting tradition, created Ogilvy and made the agency, Ogilvy, agency network I was proud to be part of for a period. That book, it’s the foundation of everything. How to write, how to talk to customers, what advertising is really about and it’s one of only a handful of books in my life where I think at least two or three times a week I’ll recall something relevant or interesting or useful. Ogilvy on Advertising, absolutely must have text to understand the basics of understanding and marketing.

The second book is a book by Steve Martin called Born Standing Up. It’s Steve’s story. It’s written by him from when he was doing a show at Knott’s Berry Farm for six people, his first comedy show as a young man and it goes from that all the way to five sold out shows at Carnegie Hall where he’s the biggest comedian in the world.

What I loved about is it shows his process which is you write 10 jokes and 2 of them kill, 6 of them suck and 2 of them are okay. You write six new jokes and then three nights later, you have three jokes that kill and four that are okay then couple that suck and you change those and just overtime, month in and month out, show after show after show, you’re writing new material and refining the material, you have to make it more effective and compelling and you’re watching closely as the audience responds to know what note to hit and what beat to take and what word is funny and what word isn’t and refining your material to the point where you can go on stage and have 90 minutes of material that just kills every time.

That is the marketing journey. Certainly in a startup but I think even in a larger company, it is a process of beginning with a hypothesis and then using that in the outside world and learning from the interaction with the customers. How to shape that core story in a way that’s just incredibly effective at changing what they think, feel and do. I think this book lays that process bare in a way I think is incredibly valuable.

The third thing is of course, my podcast, How Hard Can It Be? If any of these has resonated with your audience, they can follow my blog at miketroiano.com, follow the podcast. We really try to get into the real world versions of entrepreneurs, investors and marketers who are struggling with these kinds of issues in the real world and people are going to certainly get more of this there if they’re interested.

Louis: I’m looking forward to your invite to your podcast.

Michael: You should expect that presently, Louis.

Louis: Awesome. I’ve been digging for it. Mike, you’ve been absolutely fantastic and I genuinely mean it. That’s what I like to do during episodes. I like to really create methodologies that people can take away because that’s always something that seems to be missing when we talk about the big picture is how to do it actually day to day. Thank you so much for being really helpful. I guess I’ll talk to you very soon, then.

Michael: Thank you, Louis. It’s been a pleasure.

Louis: Bye.

 

How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers

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Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.

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