FIR podcast episode #151: How Akamai rebuilt its website and drove customer engagement

Few of us get to have as much influence over a more public website than Annalisa Church, VP Digital Technology, Insights & Operations for Akamai.  She has built a career on converging marketing and technology to drive better experiences for customers and build long-term value for enterprises. She is devoted to transforming marketing into a data-driven organization through actionable insights and ensuring the voice of the customer. Prior to Akamai, she worked for eight years in Dell’s marketing department.

Annalisa recently led a massive overhaul of the Akamai website, which is available in nine different languages, with more than 1,200 pages in English covering 18 different products.  The site has tremendous customer engagement, with one million monthly visitors, and almost two-thirds of them become customers after visiting the site.

The diagram below shows some of the changes that Church implemented during her redesign to make it more effective and more relevant to visitors. These efforts have paid off in terms of more engagement, more conversions from visitors to customers, and wider impact.

Listen to our podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast episode #150: Marketing truths from Ruth Stevens

Ruth StevensThis episode brought us together with Ruth Stevens, whose consulting firm, eMarketing Strategy, helps clients build customer acquisition and retention strategies along with other marketing programs. Ruth has had a distinguished career. She has taught marketing at the NYU Stern School, the Columbia Business School and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. Before that  she held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, IBM and other firms.

Back in the early 1990s Ruth headed up marketing for the Ziff Davis Computer Library, an early – and highly profitable – business that repackaged content from Ziff-Davis’ portfolio of publications and delivered it on a CD-ROM, if you can believe it. Ruth is an unabashed fan of B2B marketing with a wide scope of interests. As a blogger on, she has lamented the often toxic relationship between sales and marketing organizations and described tools for connecting with your website visitors that even our hosts were unaware of.

Ruth is past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York and was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine. She has written a number of books, the most recent being B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, which was co-authored Theresa Kushner. In a recent presentation, she talked about ways to plan your content marketing library.

Among the topics we touch on in this interview is the value of account-based marketing, the importance of understanding the difference between lead quantity and quality, the mistakes that B2B marketers make that still drive her crazy and why B2B marketing is more complex, difficult and fun than B2C marketing. You can listen to our 20 min. podcast recording below.

FIR B2B podcast episode #149: Cutting out the middleman in B2B PR

For years Paul and I have used Help A Reporter Out. The service — now owned by Cision —  aims to eliminate the gatekeeping middleman role of corporate PR, and put sources directly in touch with the journalists that want to quote them. HARO, as it is known, has been less useful as of late, but there is a new, venture-backed startup called Qwoted that is making some important inroads. We spoke to its CEO and co-founder, Dan Simon. He told us Qwoted had close to a thousand inquires last month and is growing. The service has a free tier (individuals can make three monthly requests, agencies five) and a paid tier.

Qwoted flips the PR paradigm on its head by letting journalists initiate the conversation and cutting out the need for pitches.

Simon has lots of pointers to help PR and marketing staff get the most out of his service. He is deeply steeped in the field, having been president of Cognito, a New York financial services agency, among other roles. Simon recommends that you use the tools he provides to search on previous successful match-ups and examine the job titles more carefully, as well as to fill out the profiles to make your expertise more transparent and compelling.

You can listen to our 16 min. podcast here:

Speech: Using NetGalley to Promote Your Self-Published Book

One of the best ways to promote your book is by reaching new readers with pre-release copies, and thanks to a service called NetGalley, you can add this to your toolbox.

I have been using NetGalley as a reader for the past several years: the idea is that I can read new books that interest me for free, provided that I review them and post my reviews on Amazon and other book selling sites. In this presentation, I will show you the author’s point of view. Yes, it does cost to make your pre-release “galleys” available—but the fee is a very reasonable $450 per book, or $200 if you are a member of IBPA. In this presentation, I will show you how NetGalley works, what kinds of books are best for the service (including audiobooks) and the best time to take advantage of it as part of your book marketing efforts. 

This speech will be given to the St. Louis Publishers’ Assn September 8.

Here is a copy of my presentation slides

FIR B2B podcast #148: The Changing Landscape of B2B Discussion Groups

A new report on social media usage by the channel by Jay McBain of Forrester Research finds that the groups people use and the way they use them is changing amid a 13.2%, 490 million-user surge in social media use in 2020.

The report lists major tech channel groups that both managed service providers and channel managers should know about for each social network. McBain’s informal research found that Facebook Groups have replaced LinkedIn as the place to talk tech. He claims many LinkedIn groups have become ghost towns overrun by spam. Half of his respondents to his survey were disappointed with engagement levels on the platform.

The report prompted me to realize that he belonged to more than 50 groups and couldn’t remember the last time he posted — or even clicked on content on any of them. McBain has identified more than 40 FaceBook Groups that IT folks should take a closer look at. 

One of the more important lessons of this research is that social media groups aren’t an ad medium but a way to engage potential partners on a grassroots level. Too often we both have seen plenty of spam or vendor posts that don’t really encourage discussion. The speed at which channel firms have apparently abandoned LinkedIn groups shows how quickly attitudes can change if group members don’t believe their needs are being respected.

McBain also reviewed several other social networks, some of which we hadn’t heard of. Up-and-comers include the audio- and app-oriented Clubhouse and Discord, which was originally for gamers but which has broadened its scope. McBain rates Twitter the second most popular spot for tech content, even though it really doesn’t have the community engagement tools to match Facebook or LinkedIn. And he advises B2B companies to keep an eye on Reddit, which had 52 million daily active users worldwide at the end of 2020, up 44% year-over-year.

Although the report is aimed at technology channel companies, it’s a useful way for any B2B marketer to take a fresh look at the social groups you use to get your message across.

You can listen to our 14 min. podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast #147: Marketing Lessons From the Open Source World With Priyanka Sharma

This week we talk to Priyanka Sharma, who is the General Manager of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. The group has assembled a massive collection of 600 vendor members, ranging from little-known startups to the biggest companies on the Internet. The foundation is the steward of more than 80 open source projects that support Kubernetes, Prometheus, Vitess, Envoy and other technologies that deal with distributed data structures, network policies and cloud orchestration. The foundation helps to put on an annual conference, which has a business value track this year, and has a library of webinars to help spread the word about the revolutionary technology called software containers. She told us during the podcast that “Life isn’t a zero sum game and we have to work together” to help market cloud tech.

Our interest in this portfolio is high — Paul has written most recently about the foundation here for SiliconAngle.  We spoke to her about her role at CNCF and the tactics the foundation has found to help mainstream IT adopt cloud and container technologies, getting her members to agree on a single standard, how to sell open source to the prototypical “pointy-haired boss” and what tech marketers can learn from the cloud evolution that they can apply to solve their own business problems. You can listen to the 20 min. interview here.

FIR B2B podcast episode #147: Language matters

Last week Volkswagen tried and failed at an April Fool’s prank that involved changing its name to “Voltswagen” in recognition of its belated line of electric vehicles. The name change was confirmed through its press channels before Volkswagen eventually revealed that it was “only” a joke. Only a lot of people in the media weren’t laughing, believing that they had been manipulated as part of a marketing stunt.

The issue once again emphasized how tone-deaf companies can be in light of their reputations (Remember the whole diesel stats fiasco?) This brings up the topic of how to be cautious about your choice of language. The issue is particularly relevant in this time of hyper-sensitivity to issues of race, gender and disability.

An older article on The Hill has several examples of neutral language, such as using “pro-life” rather than “anti-abortion” to describe sides of that sensitive issue. My podcasting partner Paul weighs in on a recent experience he had writing an article about autism in the workplace: many of those folks prefer to be called “autistics people” rather than “people with autism.” The latter approach, called “individual first,” is favored by people with disabilities but autistic people don’t consider themselves to be disabled. Language has been widely used to shape the gun debate as well.

We’re seeing corporations increasingly weigh in on social and political issues and the need to be sensitive to special interests has never been greater. The most recent example is voting rights bills that are being considered by various statehouses. Several large companies have weighed in on the issue, with language ranging from blunt in the case of Delta Airlines to Microsoft’s more nuanced approach. And media, who likes a good fight, has largely overlooked the numerous bills that expanded rather than restricted these rights, something that the Brennan Center has tracked extensively.

You might want to take some time to review these links to understand how much language matters these days and to think twice about how you express your corporate position. You can listen to our 15 minute discussion here:


Greg Ness has a long track record of helping nurture tech startups to success. Now he’s a “fractional CMO” dividing his time between diverse emerging companies like DigitSecSmartStory Technologies and NetBeez.

Greg has made startups his speciality over the past 20 years, including full-time rose as VP marketing at Vidder, Cloudneeti, Vantage, Redline Networks and CloudVelox.  The concept of a fractional CMO is an interesting one because it allows startups to purchase just enough marketing resources without having to commit to a full-time position. Ness brings a cadre of domain experts with him in a package he calls “go-to-market-as-a-service.”

Working for several companies concurrently means he can quickly cross-pollinate great ideas and also nip potentially bad marketing decisions in the bud. In this podcast, we discuss why marketing needs for startups differ from those of established companies. You can’t just transplant tactics that work for big firms; you need to rethink your tools and techniques to fit each company’s circumstances.

Greg is more comfortable with technology topics than a lot of tech CMOs that Paul and David have met. His Archimedius blog reflects his insatiable curiosity about all things tech and his 20 years in Silicon Valley. In this interview he talks about how he balances his work load among multiple clients, what tech entrepreneurs most often do wrong and what the best ones have in common.

You can listen to our 24 min. interview here.

Resolving the issues between remote work and enterprise security

I had the opportunity to be the guest on the White Bull video webcast series recently. I spoke about how to understand the conflicts between working from home and keeping your enterprise secure, understanding what the differences are between zero trust networks and multi-factor authentication, how the idea of a secure perimeter has changed over the years, and other practical suggestions about managing and protecting passwords. The webcast was about 50 minutes:

FIR B2B podcast episode #144: The future of virtual events

While we’ve all been staying home and being virtual, Paul has done some original research and I have written this white paper for Network Solutions on helpful tips and tricks for IT pros that are involved in supporting virtual events.

The results of Paul’s informal census is that folks can’t wait to get back to F2F. We all have been in our pandemic bubbles for far too long and the urge to have human contact and serendipitous hallway meetings is a big reason to return to the rubber chicken circuit. But we’ve all learned a lot in the meantime about what makes virtual events successful. At its heart, you are putting on a live TV show with a very small staff to handle the production. You need to plan accordingly on the mixture of live and pre-recorded segments and figure out what tech you are going to use, including the video conferencing and the event management tool. (The two are different and you should understand the differences, which I explain in my paper.)

But virtual events have their purposes, including creating content that can be archived and used for marketing purposes long after the last attendee has disconnected. Unlike physical events, this content can be helpful in bringing in new customers and supporting new marketing campaigns, as well as supporting existing customers with FAQs, for example. And they can be very cost effective to produce, since you aren’t picking up huge travel and event hosting fees.

Listen to our 17 min. podcast here: