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:

Recently published stories you might be interested in

First off, mea culpa for sending out that test message earlier this month. As you might have guessed, I have moved everyone to a new listserv (still using Mailman after all these years) at, and things seem to be working. LMK if you want to be removed or have your address updated or have issues with the mailings.

Last week was not a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, where all of my sources are above average. I flew for the first time domestically on business, and (unlike the fictional town) the flights and airports were crowded, but everyone was masked up and behaving, thankfully. The trip was to visit the Cyber Shield exercises held at the Utah National Guard base outside of Salt Lake City. I was staying on the base across the street from the monster NSA data center that you can see in the background.

The Guard story is posted here on Avast’s blog. I write about how the Guard is using live cyber ranges to train its cyber soldiers and the very realistic scenarios it is using. The dedication of the 800-some participants during this two-week event was amazing to see first-hand, and I appreciated all the time the Guard took to explain what they were doing and give me some of their stories of how they got involved with both the Guard and how it related to their careers in cybersecurity.

I also wrote another post for Avast about the Pegasus Project that was the work of security researchers at The Citizen Lab in Toronto, the Security Lab of Amnesty International in Berlin, and the Forbidden Stories project in Paris. Pegasus is a surveillance tool sold by the Israeli private firm NSO Group. It can be deployed on both Apple and Android phones with incredible stealth, to the point that targets don’t even know it is there.

The three groups examined phones from 67 people and found 34 iPhones and three Androids had contained traces of Pegasus – about a third of these had evidence that Pegasus had successfully compromised each phone. What was interesting was two items: First, one of the hacked iPhones was running the most current version of iOS. Second, many of the targets show a very tight correlation between the timestamps of the files deposited by Pegasus and particular events that link to the monitoring of the victim. Someone was very interested in these people, which ranged from politicians to journalists, someone who was a client of NSO and could target their tool to these people.

Several years ago, one of my contacts showed me the power of Pegasus on a test phone at my office and it was scary how easily the spyware could collect just about anything on the phone: texts, pictures, IP addresses, phone contacts, and so forth. If you want to read more about this project, several media outlets have written stories about it and are linked in my Avast blog.

Since I am in self-promotions mode, you might also want to check out some of my other work that I have written recently:

  • A story for CSOonline about a new defensive knowledge graph done by Mitre for the NSA called D3FEND. The project will help IT managers find functional overlap in their security tools and help guide new purchases as well as make better defensive decisions.
  • A podcast about a new report by Forrester that Paul Gillin and I recorded about the changing landscape of B2B discussion groups. The 14 minute conversation is how the shift from LinkedIn to Facebook groups has evolved and why IT vendors and channel partners should pay attention to the other social network outlets.

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.

Marketing in the time of the Covid

I have been doing a couple of podcast interviews with marketing executives over the past couple of weeks: one with Domo (a cloud BI company that I did hands-on tests several years ago) and Talend (a cloud data integration vendor). Both faced big challenges during the pandemic, such as turning their in-person user conferences into all virtual ones and changing their marketing to adjust to the new virtual way of doing business. You would think that the marketing would be pretty much the same even though both companies operate primarily in the cloud. But you would be wrong. When it comes to enterprise B2B software sales, you need road warriors and a personal high-touch. But the old school days of customer wine-and-dine are gone. You have to be more creative about building those connections these days.

Talend hired a completely new leadership team (which interestingly are all women) and as a result went through a series of rebranding efforts. “Data is the difference between surviving and thriving,” says Lauren Vaccarello, the CMO of Talend on our podcast. She watched one of her favorite tea shops close their doors in a couple of weeks and lay off hundreds of their staff. That motivated her to rethink their messaging and start fresh, assuming that everything will change. “We have a product that can help businesses with better and real-time access to their data.”

“We can’t rely on anything, we have to innovate and change what we did a year ago,” she said. For example, they could pull customer executives together in a webinar rather than rely on those who could attend a physical meeting. Not to mention that virtual events were a lot less costly and had a lot higher attendance and engagement too. “From an ROI perspective, we got 5x higher returns than from an in-person event.” Having an all-female executive team at Talend is an interesting experience for all of them. “None of us feel the need to be perfect around each other,” she said. That makes for more intense, authentic and productive collaboration too. “The dynamic is different.”

Domo had a similar experience and just a few days to transform their customer event into a virtual one. It went from about 3,000 attendees to more than 12,000 virtual visitors. And from three days’ worth of sessions to one 90 minute plenary session with dozens of break-out sessions that could be streamed on demand.

One of my biggest beefs with SaaS companies is how hard it is to price their services. Compare Domo’s pricing page with Talend’s  (shown here) — the latter is very transparent and very clear, and a rarity.

I want to bring in a post from Salesforce which talks about ways marketers can fight digital fatigue. The authors cite the average person now spends 7.5 hours daily in front of a screen. They have several suggestions on how to beef up your own marketing efforts during these pandemic times, including:

  • Follow your customers as they change usage patterns and try new products. Stay top of mind and evolve with them. Don’t stop your marketing efforts.
  • Personalization is critical. As customers curate their digital experiences, make sure you have a better understanding of their needs and what matters to them. But don’t cross over into being creepy.
  • Agile is here to stay. Understand this evolution and how customers are responding to your content.
  • Social media matters. Make sure you can engage your customers on the various social platforms where they talk about your products.
  • Empathy is important. Show your customers that you care and respond to their concerns. Above all else, avoid the hard sell and be authentic.


FIR B2B podcast #141: How Domo pivoted to a virtual conference — in just 12 days

Business intelligence software firm Domo had been planning its March 18 Domopalooza conference for nearly a year. About 3,000 customers and partners were expected to flock to Salt Lake City for four days of technical training and meetings, capped by a concert by the Black Eyed Peas. But as quarantines and lockdowns began sweeping the world in late February, Domo made the tough call to take the conference virtual, with just 12 days to make the shift.

Chief Strategy Officer John Mellor spearheaded the shift. In this interview he summarizes the rapid series of decisions Domo had to make to pull off a successful virtual event that ultimately attracted more than 12,000 visitors. There are more details in this story that my podcasting partner Paul Gillin wrote for SiliconAngle.

Mellor turned a three-day event into one 90-minute plenary session that mixed live conversations with pre-taped segments, along with a series of dozens of break-out sessions that could be streamed on demand. He focused on delivering great content, driving a higher attendance and better engagement through a well-defined user community. He also saved a bunch of money, even after paying the no-show fees for the various in-person aspects of the event. In our podcast, he discusses his decisions and why he expects to take a “virtual first”  approach to future events.

Listen to our 21-minute podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast episode #140: Talend’s Lauren Vaccarello On Taking Marketing Virtual

Lauren Vaccarello’s first year as CMO of Talend has been about resilience, psychological trust and safety, along with frequent quick pivots. The former marketing executive at and Box and host of a marketing podcast has had to adjust to working with an entirely new leadership team, leading a full company rebrand (and a second rebrand thanks to COVID-19) and transforming a planned in-person event to a worldwide series of virtual events fielded across three continents in a single day.

In the process, Lauren has learned to think on her feet and how to rewire marketing in this brave new pandemic world. In our interview, we talk with her about the changes COVID-19 has wrought in the B2B world, what marketers still need to learn about digital marketing, how B2B is affected by the surge of e-commerce usage in the consumer world and why Talend is so transparent about pricing (its page is a model of clarity that every SaaS vendor should follow). She also tells why she is excited to be working for an all-female leadership team and the collaboration and shared responsibility they bring to the table. It’s something other Silicon Valley firms could learn from. Listen to our 30 minute podcast here: