Mind The Gap, with Kristina Libby

Emil mladenov

What should be marketing’s role in revenue generation, and how does content play into that role? In this episode, Nick sits down with Emil Mladenov, VP of Corporate and Digital marketing at Inspirata, to discuss analytics, challenger marketing, and how sales and marketing think differently about revenue.


Emil brings his background in marketing and analytics to the table as he and Nick dive deep into several topics:

  • As strategic as marketing can be, it’s also important to have a firm understanding of execution. Emil’s background in finance and consulting not only gave him an analytical framework to view marketing with, but taught him the things in sales and marketing that “you can’t find in textbooks”
  • Marketing has 3 primary purposes in generating revenue: brand, leads, and customer knowledge. The brand serves a unified front to the public, the leads prove ROI for your stakeholders, and the customer knowledge should serve as the brain and center for all of your public-facing communications
  • Content has 3 purposes to serve in the buyer’s journey: spark, inform, and confront. ‘Sparking’ content will grab your buyer’s attention, ‘inform’ content will give them additional knowledge to make a well-informed decision, and ‘confrontational’ content seeks to challenge their worldview with unconventional knowledge about their world state – which may lead to a sale


Nick: Hello everybody. And welcome to Mind the Gap, a podcast seeking sales and marketing alignment by Enablix. My name is Nick Ziech-Lopez. And today I’m joined by Emil Mladenov. Emil, how’s it going today?

Emil: Great, Nick, how are you doing?

Nick: I am well, thank you very much for coming on the show. Now, Emil, you are a household name to many. Everybody knows who Emil is, but for the listeners that don’t know, could you introduce yourself and what you do?

Emil: Yeah, absolutely. I am a vice president of marketing at a company called Inspirata and I’m part of the executive team at that company. I’m mostly focused on marketing, but I also oversee some areas of sales, and market research, and kind of got involved in some of the operational stuff that’s happening at the company. It’s a fairly small company, so we all wear multiple hats.

Nick: Yeah. And,  in talking to you, you know, getting ready for the episode, I was interested in a little bit of your background of marketing, but you also have some operational, some soft skills, and some hard skills. Can you start off by telling me a little bit about how you arrived to the world of marketing and what you did before then?

Emil: Yeah. When it comes to my career choices, I realized through some of the pivots that I’ve made are a little bit unorthodox compared to some other marketers who may have gone in a more linear trajectory, starting from more junior marketing positions and then going in to higher, more senior positions or alternating between sales and marketing. I’ve actually dabbled into several different areas, like you said. While I made a few bold changes over the years, I’m proud to say that whatever I have learned in terms of soft or hard skills, it’s definitely helped me build up on who I am and become even better in what I’m doing. Even though some of these things may not a hundred percent relate to marketing, there is always a time when I can look back on what I’ve done in the past and say, if I didn’t do that, I would have been making a mistake right now, or I wouldn’t know what to do right now- and that’s important. Just to give you an overview of an area where I really started honing my analytical skills and knowing how to use data, dealing with numbers- I studied finance in college. I’ve always been interested in math, and I wanted to be an investment banker back in the day. That was years ago, so some of the iBanker companies don’t even exist anymore. But, after I did a few job interviews with the usual suspects on Wall Street, I kind of realized that finance is still interesting to me as a subject, and I like a lot of aspects of it, but it’s a little too literal for me. 

What I mean by this is that, it’s numbers. You try not to have a lot of unknowns, and you try not to be surprised many times when you’re in finance, and I like ambiguity. I like to tackle problems that I’ve never encountered in the past. I like to use both my left and right side of my brain and to be able to be analytical, but at the same time, super creative when it’s needed. I just realized that that’s probably not what I’ll be doing in iBanking, at least in the beginning for many, many years.

Nick: Not many large, like whitespace problems yet to be solved in IBM.

Emil: Right? Maybe at one point if I lead the team and we are working on a huge merger and acquisition deal, maybe there’s going to be more creativity there, but not in the beginning.

So I just got the solution to that, I retained my love of finance and numbers, but just decided to explore something else. Around that time, I was applying for jobs, basically my first job straight out of college, and I took a bold step in the unknown and decided to go into consulting. That, in retrospect, built up my strategic skills and ability to see the big picture and connect the dots. 

I joined an up and coming research and consulting company that was not one of the big five in terms of reputation and brand awareness, but it was actually growing very fast and later on there was even more expansion when I joined them. That allowed me to grow professionally as  the company was growing.  I had a very fast, accelerated growth in positions and areas of seniority and that helped me not only to hone my strategic thinking and the ability to borrow ideas from one industry to another, which is important because a lot of times, if you’re just in one function, it’s a little bit of tunnel vision. You only think about your function and how things get done in whatever you’re doing, whether it’s marketing or whatever. You also fall in the trap of, we are in a unique industry and, whatever happens somewhere else, doesn’t apply to us too much. I’ve learned through consulting and through that job, particularly to not fall in a trap, to actually always look for ideas elsewhere and figure out how they apply to what I’m doing at the moment.

I learned these things, but the other thing that I learned through this growth that I mentioned that the company was doing professionally, I was growing with that. I learned how to be a manager and how to be an agent of change because the company was growing and it had needs that were changing and I had to be part of that, and be the agent of change many times. At one point I merged four teams into one larger function and I was managing 20, 25 people and some of them were in the US and a big number of them were also in India, and I believe I had someone in the UK. That was my first experience becoming a leader and learning how to work with people or how to manage people. Then, I decided that it’s great to be a consultant but it’s a little too abstract- it’s theoretical. I mean, you work with real companies, you work on real problems, but you’re never on the hook for what happens. You never actually really know what really happens at the end. You just provide your insights, you try to influence things on the outside here and there, but it’s not your project. It’s not your company. So, I decided to become more embedded in the real world, to be part of the practical problems that people are trying to solve.

I moved on to corporate and I became Head of Strategy at Rosetta Stone, the language learning company. At that time, Rosetta Stone was the hottest educational technology company on the market. They’ve recently IPL’d successfully, they had a very ambitious plan for growth internationally and domestically.

I learned a lot there, and some of the things that really stand out when I think about my learning experiences from there, one, I realized the power of having a strong brand and not only brand awareness, but brand equity. Having such a strong household brand that people will intrinsically pay attention to what you’re saying, just because they know who it’s coming from.

That’s a luxury that later on, when I started working in some other smaller companies, I didn’t have. It’s just important to understand how that can help a lot. The other thing that I learned is the nuance between B2B and B2C because the company was extremely strong on the B2C side, but also had a pretty viable B2B offering. That offering was growing throughout the years, becoming a bigger percentage of the total. So I started understanding how the two things work, but most importantly- and I think that’s actually helping me a lot now- I don’t shy away from borrowing a lot of ideas from B2C that a lot of B2B marketers may say, these are consumer world things, we are not going to do that, not in our industry. One example would be creating more interactive experiences for the end user, if you will, to showcase partially what the product does. A lot of times when you do marketing for a B2B space, you probably have focused on what are the several personas that I need to target because these are going to be involved in the decision making process and what are the types of things that they’ll like to hear on the enterprise level. But, at the end of the day, you also have to build a little bit of  demand from the bottom up. The users themselves have to have a need and realize that they have a need and use the product in one way or another, so from the B2C world, that’s number one. You have to provide the experience to the people that are going to be using the product because they’re also the decision-makers. In a B2B world, the decision makers are not always the users, so there’s a little bit of breakdown between the two- that’s one area. Another area, for example, is that at least in healthcare technology, digital ads and even advertising on Facebook and things like that were not really, very common in the past. For many reasons based on where the industry is going right now, not so much the industry itself, but just how Facebook is changing and other things are changing, we are maybe moving away a little bit from that again. There were several years where we were doing a lot of digital ads in my company and some of our competitors were not doing any, and that made us stand up and stand out. When we were, for example, targeting, we had one app that we had to target doctors and it was very important to reach out to them on an individual basis- that helped a lot. If you retain your B2B mentality, because until yesterday you were sending enterprise solutions and you’re targeting CIOs and CMOs, then all of a sudden they tell you, well, now you need to target doctors, you’re probably going to go with your older approach, the B2B approach. You’re not going to target these people where they are at their homes on their mobiles, or with ads on their mobiles–  you’re going to target them on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and everywhere else they go on social media.

Nick: Is it fair to say, your biggest piece of advice is to come up with a Tik Tok dance for whatever product you’re selling? 

Emil: Well, know your audience. If you think that’s going to work for them. I think by all means you can do that, and also know your limitations in terms of what you can create.

Nick: And flexibility, too because you can really hurt yourself if you try to step outside of your comfort zone. We’re going to move on, so you’re an Inspirata. Could you tell me a little bit about what you do there and what Inspirata does? 

Emil: Yeah. So, Inspirata is a healthcare technology company, and it’s a leader in oncology informatics. What this means is that it’s a pretty highly specialized field where we use some of the latest technologies that are almost buzz words these days into natural language processing, artificial intellect, AI image analysis, and overall digital transformation in any process. We try to make it easier for hospitals and healthcare organizations to process the gigabytes and petabytes of data that they have on cancer patients,  because a lot of the time, that data is unstructured. It may be captured as images, like radiology images, or pathology images. In other cases, it’s captured as a narrative. It’s free text. Let’s say the doctor saw you as a patient and they wrote a little narrative about that encounter, what happens? What did you tell them? What did you think about it? It’s always in free text, there is a report. The pathologist sees your image, and then they write a report about you and they say, we believe we see cancer and that cancer is whatever, and that again is described in human language. It’s very hard for any entity out there to access all this data and be able to manipulate it in ways that they can make something useful out of it to inform their own decisions and to speed up the processes that they’re working on. So, maybe the easiest way to describe it to an outsider is to think about clinical trials. So there are thousands of clinical trials out there. Some of them are running, others are ready to launch very soon, a lot of them are happening in the US, others are happening in other places of the world- all over the world.

Each trial has specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. In order for you to qualify, you need to meet these criteria as a patient. What happens is, when you see your doctor or later on, or you have someone in the organization- an oncologist or a nurse- who’s looking at all these trials and looking at all the data they have about you, they are trying to figure it out which patients fit specific trials or the other way around, which trials are best for our patients. It’s almost impossible to do this in a short period of time. The downside is, if you take too long, then it’s too late. You as a cancer patient have started taking some treatment and then you’re ineligible for that trial. What this means is that you missed out on the opportunity to improve your quality of life, to get better outcomes, to maybe even survive where normally you wouldn’t have survived. On the other hand, that just makes clinical trials super long and expensive and adds a lot of uncertainty to the process. What we do is we have a proven NLP solution, a natural language processing solution that we’ve refined over many years working with hundreds of hospitals and it’s optimized for clinical use. Basically we have blind ads and we solve the problem. That’s what Inspirata is in essence, it’s inspired data. We try to make every moment better to the clinicians that work with us and the cancers that they see.

I know this sounds a little bit of a marketing spiel right now, but I can’t help it. You know, I’m a marketer so I had to provide some of the fact lines and a few brand plugs here, but that’s what we do. Now, you asked me what I do at Inspirata, and I’ll try to be shorter in my description there. 

I had all aspects of marketing within the company and we have operations that go beyond the US, international and domestically. I also am very much involved in a lot of the sales processes and recently I built a team of sales development reps, SDRs and I manage that team as well. I have a manager who manages them on a day to day basis, but I’m responsible as the executive sponsor of that to make sure that they’re successful and that they’re performing. I also drive a lot of the market research of the company and that’s based on my previous experiences.In the past, I was a consultant and then I worked in strategy, and learned market research at Rosetta Stone, so a lot of these things, again, going back to what I said earlier on, they’re kind of coming in to be handy when the right time arises. Whatever I learned in the past doing jobs that are not necessarily marketing is definitely helping a lot now, when I’m a marketer. So that’s what I do. I hope that makes sense. Do you want me to elaborate on any of these?

Nick: No, where I want to go next is what you just said. So, you lead all marketing related activities, but, this being Mind the Gap, I want to focus specifically on the sales part. You said you hired a team of SDRs, I want to back out and say, what do you think? Can we talk a little bit about marketing’s role in revenue? What do you see marketing should be doing and how does marketing execute on that to shorten the gap between sales and marketing?

Emil: That’s a good question. So, in any effective organization, I think marketing should play three main roles. One is the one that probably everyone thinks of, and that’s presenting a professional unified front to the public, basically brands, public relations, trade shows, marketing, collateral, positioning your company, all the messaging- you need to create digital campaigns, landing pages…

Nick: I think when many people, especially outside the profession, think of marketing, that’s all they think it is. It’s like, oh, that’s what marketing’s doing- you’re making the website or whatever that is. 

Emil: And it’s important, I mean, it’s table stakes. If you’re not doing this effectively, then do you have a lot of work in front of you, you need to make sure that your core marketing engine is capable of covering all these areas. I say that because I also see some folks that are more used to traditional marketing. Again, that probably depends from industry to another industry and B2B versus B2C, but in certain industries and B2B spaces, there’s probably more emphasis on traditional marketing and press releases, or trade shows, and websites. It’s probably where it all ends, right? Some messaging here and there. But, in the modern world of marketing, you can’t just be doing one or two of these aspects. You have to be doing everything. You have to be strategic enough to craft the messaging and positioning, you have to be tactical to execute on the campaigns, you have to understand technology so you can create the effect of digital experiences, and you have to be a psychologist to understand what works, what doesn’t work out, and how your target audiences will react to what you’re showing them. You need to understand data, going back again, mentioning earlier, I love data- it’s important. I mean, don’t get bogged down and just focus on the data, but it’s good to analyze trends, spot some issues, even minor things that can help you improve your day-to-day performance.  I think that’s one role that everyone should always keep in mind. Like you said, everyone thinks about it. Maybe they don’t think about it as holistically as I described it here, but it’s definitely the number one role. Now, pure marketing with a capital M is what I call this first role, right, it’s just doing marketing. I think this is becoming a thing of the past. I think in most modern organizations, especially those that have very limited resources because they are still more recent startups or, later stage startups, have ambitious growth targets but not a lot of runway to experiment. It’s very important to prove your ROI. It’s one of the biggest challenges in marketing, to prove ROI, especially if you only focus on the marketing with capital M, which is what I talked about. I mean, just having all these planning pages and press releases and trade shows on their own, it’s probably not going to be something that you can convincingly quantify for your executives. What they want to hear from you is how much revenue was generated from the activity that was done. You need to be an integral part of the lead generation process. What that means is not only to create some inbound leads here and there, but to actually, consistently, focus on creating inbound, outbound. Once you get these leads, help them qualify and figure out which ones are the good ones, and then assign those to sales teams so they can work on them as opportunities. That’s where I think sometimes there’s a little bit of disconnect, because people think they’re doing these things through trade shows, landing pages, email blasts, campaigns, and digital ads, so they think they have some inbound leads. Well, yes, but how many of these really ended up in the pipeline? How many of these are progressing in the pipeline from one stage to another? How many of them are really excited to talk about? That’s important to keep in mind. This is why you see more and more companies where the SDR team, like you mentioned earlier, are hosted under the head of marketing. This is definitely why we’ve gone with a structure at Inspirata. We definitely considered where these folks should be and we thought it makes sense for them to be an extension of the marketing team. There is a third role, but I don’t know if you want to comment on this or not. 

Nick: I absolutely do because of the way that you described that last part. I think it’s in line with a few of the recent guests that we’ve had. That first part of saying that the first thing you’re doing is presenting a unified front and the second thing you’re doing is creating leads. We just had Jason Myers from the Austin Lawrence group and his whole thing was forget about lead gen- don’t do it. Don’t try to generate leads. If you do the first part effectively, you will generate leads. His whole thing is don’t count the leads generated. Him and a couple others talk about buyers, central revenue. If you don’t focus on leads, but you do focus on demand- which I think you’re counting as one and two- generating demand for your product, then in the end revenue will go up. You’re right, the attribution is probably going to be fuzzy, but is attribution already kind of fuzzy because marketing is taking credit for a download of someone that was already in the sales process? Do you have thoughts on demand gen versus lead gen and how that shakes out in the capital M marketing versus not.

Emil: I think the big difference is what or how close your sales processes are to a real B2C environment, and there are B2B environments that are closer to B2C. What I mean by this is that you may be targeting someone who is the sole decision-maker, and that person may be able to make decisions almost immediately. In that case, that sales process is fairly short and maybe a B2B sale, but it’s for a small amount of money, not a lot of risk for the person who is buying it. There are not a lot of checks and balances that they need to take care of on their end. In that case, yes, I mean just doing your capital M marketing can actually ensure enough demand and that demand translates very easily after that they just have this funnel, and you know that they’re going and trickling down and trickling down. Now things get very fuzzy when you have long and convoluted sales process that goes over 9 to 12 months. It involves 6 to 7 decision makers, stakeholders, some of them are decision makers, others are influencers. Some of them are even detractors that you have to make sure that you’re keeping happy, but they’re not really detracting from your product. You’re depending on so many touches during that period. You’re generating a lead, but for that lead to become a sale, there are months and months of interactions and conversations, and sales can do a lot in that process to either make it happen or not make it happen. I would say that if I just relied on capital M marketing, unless I worked for a company that was so financially stable and established, that for them, they get to spend an infinite amount of  money on marketing. Or a company that has decided that they’re going to spend this chunk of money on marketing and that they don’t need to know how much exactly that relates to what happens at the end of the day, in that case, yes, absolutely. Most of the companies, especially when they start going into these different technology spaces, and especially in the healthcare technology space, they’re not in that position. I have a perfect example, several years ago, I was at a different company than where I work right now. I was at a trade show and we had a customer at the booth, and he was talking to a sales rep, and things are progressing very quickly because that was the fifth or the sixth conversation they had. It was just a matter of, let’s shake hands, get to meet each other a little bit more, and then figure out what else needs to be done on your end, just procedurally and operationally, who else needs to check the boxes for this to happen. All of a sudden, someone who was very senior within our organization interjected in the conversation, without understanding where this conversation was going, or even understanding the customer. They came in and started talking about stuff that didn’t really relate to what the conversation was before that. That impacted the conversation so much that we lost another 5 or 6 months before closing the deal because they just instilled all this doubt within the customer. Then, basically, their reaction was, “that’s great, how about you guys come and visit us again in a month from now? And we’ll bring in a few more stakeholders on our end, and then maybe we’ll do another review.” All of a sudden, you started going down that path. The reason why I’m sharing this is that, as a marketer, you have very limited control of what happens behind the screen in terms of the sales process, but you have to be aware of that, and you have to support it to make sure that these things don’t happen. You have to enforce it in a way, you have to be the traffic controller that sometimes stops people from making those mistakes and keeping people real.

That’s part of the regeneration process for me. That’s part of the ROI that I can prove. Again, going back to something earlier that I said, it’s just qualifying the lead. I mean, in some spaces, a lead is a lead. They come in, and you have some numbers. Maybe out of the 10 people that came in today, 3 of them are going to sign up for a free trial and 1 is going to convert, and you know it is going to keep going that way. But again, in an industry where we have different stakeholders, and things are happening in a more convoluted way, and it’s a more difficult process of proving the ROI of your solutions to the end customer, you have to quantify these people. I mean, you have to make sure they’re the right person, that they’re not just wasting your time as a lead. You have to make sure that they have the interest, they have the budgets, they have the needs, they have the authority. All those things have to happen on the marketing side. I think it’s a huge mistake to just pass on the lead to the salesperson and say, deal with it. I’ve done it in the past, I’ve fallen into this trap, and most of the time that doesn’t work, and that’s where it’s really hard for you to prove your ROI.

Nick: I want to jump really quickly to another topic. When you say lead, I think we talk a lot about MQLs in the industry. You’re saying that MQLs are if we talk about a lead from marketing to sales, What is that for you, and do you see that as an integral part of what marketing does?

Emil: I don’t like to always use the buzzwords that everyone else uses, but let’s say you have MQL and then you have SAL and SQL, right? The marketing qualified leads, sales accepted leads, sales qualified leads. The way I define them, and maybe that’s different from the way other people define it, but this is the way I’ve explained it to everyone else in my organization so at least we are all on the same page. The marketing qualified lead will come in and that’s typically someone who’s raised their hands. They have said in one way or another that they have some sort of an interest in what your company is offering, and maybe even defined what area they’re interested in. They come in, they’re inbound, or maybe we are at a trade show and we intercepted several people on the floor, and they said, you know what, that’s interesting. Let’s have another call and talk about it. Give me your contact information or here’s my card and give me a call later. I think that’s where, in most cases, a lot of marketers just say, all right, this is where we end. And then the rest is their metrics that we target, but we don’t influence them that much. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. I’m just saying that I’ve seen both sides of the coin. 

The next one in my mind sales accepted lead. I will define this as someone who’s accepted that, at least, they’re going to commit the time to speak with us in a more formal setting. They’re going to have a conversation with one of our sales reps, maybe a subject matter expert, maybe one of our senior executives to learn more about the product. Maybe they will have a demo to start the discovery process and start the real sales conversation. Unless you have an extremely proactive sales team- which may happen- but most of the time they’re just too busy with closing those deals, that’s where they don’t necessarily always go in and react to these MQLs to make sure this meeting happens on time. By the time they reach out to someone, maybe the person is not hot anymore about your topic, they’ve moved on. They found another solution or they just lost interest. They forgot that they’d been to your website that happens so many times. You call them and they’re like, “Inspirato, sorry, I’ve never been to your website,” even though they really have downloaded 5 infographics. 

SQL is the next one. And then for me, an SQL sales qualified lead is when you come out of the initial meeting, and you look at the sales rep, and that person tells you that there’s definitely enough follow-up steps here that are urgent enough. There are enough that are going to happen within our timeframe for me to consider this a viable sales opportunity. I’m going to create a sales opportunity in our CRM and I’m going to start working on that in stage one, I’ll be actively working on that. There’ll be follow-up steps. We’ll be meeting with more stakeholders. I’ll be sending additional materials. Maybe we’ll start talking about pricing, whatever it is.

These are the leads that I define, and I believe that unless you play the second role that I mentioned, and you only focus on the capital M side, it is very hard to progress people from MQL to SAL, to SQL. You can define them in a way that it’s easy for you to show numbers that you are progressing them, but to have the sales reps at the end, really vouch for you and say, all these leads that came in claiming to be SQLs, they are. 

Nick: I think everyone has experienced that at some point in the last 5-10 years of, yeah, we had a hundred MQLs and not a single sales process that resulted from them because there were a hundred. 

I want to touch on something you said though, because you had said, you contact people that have downloaded some infographics- quick thoughts on gated versus ungated content. I think it’s a topic that keeps coming up. I don’t know if people can make up their minds right now.

Emil: Yeah. It’s a tough question. I think it’s tough because there are many ways to look at it. It’s one of these things where, no matter what answer you give, it could be right or wrong at any point in time. I personally believe that we’re way past the time where our prospects- no matter what the industry they are in- are willingly going to provide their contact information just to download a basic piece of content, especially some content that they’ll perceive to be freely available elsewhere. A lot of these infographics and very high level white papers may fall in that category, and I think that it’s important not to fall in the trap and gate everything, because you’re going to alienate the people you’re going after, they’re smart enough. They know by now that they shouldn’t be providing their contact information for everything out there, and they don’t need to because they can find any information elsewhere. 

On the other hand, as I said earlier, marketing has to be a core player in the lead generation process. How do you generate leads? You have to generate them, right? You have to get this contact information and you have to get people to opt into giving you permission to reach out to them after that and talk to them. So, you have to gate some of the content. There is another component that’s very important, especially in the B2B world, where sometimes the competition is very fierce. What really makes or breaks your success as a company is having one or two pieces of functionality that you’ve found out exactly how to do. Things that no one else is doing and things that your competitors are falling behind in. If you expose too much without a gate, if you allow everyone to go into all your webinars, and fireside chats, and download all your brochures, then they will find stuff that they shouldn’t be seeing that easily. It’s important, and it’s not just competitors. You have consultants out there- why would you educate a consultant that is going to get a gig after consulting a hospital about something by educating them on whatever process you’re streamlining with your product and solution. We call these people dark kickers, and some of them could also be students that are just going in and searching for content. But again, I don’t want everyone to see my content just because they’re interested in clicking and downloading it. So, what should I do? I mean, you’re damned if you’re gating it, and damned if you’re not gating the content. I think that either way, at least one thing that helps me navigate through this is a piece of methodology that I learned first by working with some folks that wrote a book about 10 years ago. I worked at this consulting company that I mentioned when I decided to have my first job out of college in consulting rather than iBanking, but they wrote a book called The Challenge of Sale. That book is available on Amazon, so if anyone hasn’t read it, you can go and find it. I’m not necessarily promoting it, but I think it’s an interesting book. It provides an interesting perspective. It’s also a methodology that’s been successfully used by a lot of companies of different sizes. You know, some large fortune 500 companies are very adamant about it and some very small startups are doing it. 

What I’ve learned through that is that there are certain elements that, even though the methodology itself relates mostly to sales, there’s also a marketing component to it. It’s a little hidden, but when you speak to people that are doing it more or less, you’ll start getting the gist of it. If you are to come out of this podcast with two things to remember, I say here are the two things that I’d like to emphasize. The number one thing is, you should always make your content to provide commercial insights that challenge your customers; thinking and lead to your solution. What’s very important, what I want to emphasize on the last part- lead to your solution, not lead with your solution. Bring people to understand that they have a problem. Challenge them to understand they have a problem, and then they ask for a solution and you lead them to your solution versus starting immediately with, “I have a toolbox here of algorithms that I want to showcase to you, and you can figure out how to use that in your particular case.” That example would be leading with the solution rather than to lead to the solution. Commercial insights, the way they’re defined, are unique and valuable and provable, and they are worthwhile for the customer to listen to you and get back to you when they need help after that, to lead back to your solution. That’s the number one thing to remember. And then the second thing to remember is that you should organize your content around three main buckets. In the challenger speak, those are called spark, inform, and confront. The sparks are very quick pieces that will grab the customer’s attention, like little ads, little infographics, interactive things on the website. They should not be gated. They should be just the ones that are driving the traffic, informing people enough about what you want to talk to them about so they’re interested in paying more attention to you, but they’re not justified to be behind the gate. No one is going to realistically provide you with their contact email, or email address or phone number, so they can watch your 60 second video on whatever it is. So, again, don’t gate those, but then the inform and the confront pieces are longer form, they have much more substance, and they’re very insightful. Those are the pieces that you should gate. People will understand that they’re gated because there is a reason for that. They provide a lot of value and they’re also sometimes unique, you can’t get them from anywhere else, but they also are personalized to you in one or another, so that’s why they need your name and your contact information.

Inform does what the name suggests, it informs you right? Confront is to provide some unconventional truth about your current state. So it internalizes the point of view of sticking with the status quo, of not making a change, of getting with your problems and pain points over and over and over. It makes you want to look for new solutions. Eventually, it’ll bring you to us for those solutions. 

Nick: Yes, lead to, and not with. I really like that. Kind of skipping ahead a little bit, it sounds like just listening to you, if you look at spark, inform, and confront, you kind of have your gating strategy there.

Emil: Yeah. That’s one framework you can apply to decide what to gate and not gate. There may be sometimes exceptions to it because there are other considerations, and one of these considerations may be, like I said earlier, some very sensitive, competitive information, even in your spark that you may not want someone to see. Just to give you an example, there was a small video, 60 second overview about our product. If it somehow zooms in on certain features and sometimes even just the way you organize the workflow within your product is where you are better than your competitors. When you go and meet your clients, you say, their product is researched first, only. It’s meant for researchers and our product is conditioned first, and our workflow is really organized in a way that helps you as a doctor, do whatever you’re doing. Allowing the competition to see that firsthand because they can download all the product information like B2C, or they can go and download your app or sign up for it. In the B2B world, it’s much harder to do that. You have to pay a lot of money for competitive intel. You have to be careful. So, yeah, it’s a great framework, but again, don’t use it religiously and forget about everything else. There’s other considerations just like everything else. There’s always an exception to the rule, I guess.

Nick: As we start to wrap up here, I do want to ask you, it’s a question that we ask almost everybody, but, how do you not widen the gap? How do you shorten the gap? Where are places that you see the alignment between sales and marketing breakdown and what should marketers be doing about it?

Emil: Well, I think the most obvious area where sales and marketing break down is the sheer expectation that you’ve provided some content or information, even in the CRM, contact information about someone and that sales is going to fully take advantage of it and use it in exactly the prescribed way that you’ve asked them to use it. In reality, what happens is that, if you’re a successful salesperson, you’ve honed your ability to focus only on activities that have the highest probability of causing a deal and bringing revenue because in the end, that means more commission to you, right? By default, by definition, that’s what you should be doing as a salesperson. Unfortunately, what this means is that you also probably don’t have the time or the patience to look for collateral or content and deal with the number of clicks here and there, and then figure out where the latest version of whatever deck they need to share is. You probably are just going to open that PowerPoint that you saved six months ago on your computer and just reuse that and not care that the brand has changed since then. Or, maybe we’re talking about this product in a different way now, we call it something else. That has a lot of risks there, because marketing will point fingers at sales, sales will point fingers at marketing and they’ll say “we don’t have the time, you’re asking me to do stuff that I shouldn’t be doing.” That’s the basic challenge, and I think that is being addressed very effectively. And, you know, I’m sorry for another plug here, but Enablix as a company is offering a good product in that regard, and that’s solving some of that, closing some of that gap. That’s one, but another area that creates friction between sales and marketing relates back to what we talked about- the lead generation. I kind of talked about it a little bit, but successful reps will focus on later stage deals because they have the highest probability to close. And again, this is what their CEO or their head of marketing will be asking them- are you closing deals this week, this month, this quarter? Why are you spending time on things that have a low probability of closing? It’s a big dilemma for them because on one hand, they need to start building the pipeline and bringing some of these other leads that come in and moving them to stage one stage two, and continuing to progress them. At the same time, what they’re being asked by all the senior people in the company is focused on the latter one. Focus on the ones that are in the latest stages, because they’re the ones that are going to bring the money now. By the time they find the time to look into the leads that you generate to them as a marketer or a marketing department, the lead may no longer be hot. Like we talked about earlier, right? They’ve moved on. They’ve forgotten that they’ve been to Inspirata. And then what happens? The sales person comes back to you and says, thank you very much, but this was really not a high quality lead, they were not qualified, don’t send me those types of leads anymore in the future. The more it happens, the less trust there is between the two teams. Then marketing starts complaining and saying, let me look at it as well. It’s taking you three weeks to follow up with a person, no wonder by that time they’ve moved on. And then they say, you just didn’t send me the right person, it wasn’t convincing enough that I should be going in that direction, that I should be following up on this person faster. I think that there is a gap there, and I keep mentioning the SDR team. That’s what I call the bridge between marketing and sales. Without that team, especially if it’s a team that’s eager to qualify, eager to go after every single lead you give them, hungry for success, and led by a competent SDR manager who manages to focus on the right things and at the same time, ensure that there’s enough collaboration between them and marketing and collaboration between them and sales on their end. If you don’t have something like that, you’re going to suffer. I’ve been in positions where I may be doing some of the greatest marketing campaigns I could think of out there and I see results from those, but those results ended the MQL stage, or maybe some end the DSL stage. After that, there’s a huge gap and at the end of the year, when you say, “hey, Mr. CEO, I’m so proud of what I did” and he turns around to you and says, “well, that’s so great. I see that you’ve done a lot, but how many deals have closed that come from you, because that’s what matters to me.” Not a great place to be. It’s very hard to explain. That’s where it breaks down. There’s so many areas where things break down, but there is one thing that I recently started realizing more and more. We had a sales kickoff a couple of weeks ago with all the different sales teams and my new SDR team that I brought on board and my marketing team. We had some really interesting conversations, especially after hours in the bar. But, one thing that I started realizing is that marketers think about individual people. They think about conversions, suspects, leads, contacts in the CRM, because you reach out to these people- that’s what you do. Sales folks think about accounts and all the only sales folks. Actually, sometimes the executives in the company, if they have a sales background, will think about it, too. They want to know what the organizations they’re working with. If they’re hospitals, who are these hospitals, what kind of facilities, which departments- they’re looking at companies in the CRM. They’re not looking, necessarily, at the contacts in the CRM. This may sound fairly basic, but it’s hard to close that gap, because think about it this way. You are generating a few leads, and these leads happen to be part of the same company. How do you account for these? How do you account for the extra incremental value of bringing in a second or a third lead that comes from the same company? You’re proud of it because you did a great campaign that managed to involve that second person or the third person, but on the other hand, most likely you’re going to hear in a sales meeting “we are already talking to that account, so what does it matter to us?” That happens in my company. A lot of research shows that the modern enterprise sale involves 5 to 6 stakeholders, and some of them are decision makers. Others are just pure influencers. Others are detractors. You just have to realize that you have to keep them at an arm’s length- keep them happy, but that’s it.

You as a head of marketing need to figure out what it means to you and your sales team and how do you bridge the gap between those leads and the accounts. I would argue that that’s the hardest realization, and it’s also very hard to track. Having leads that represent different departments within the same company is more valuable to the sales team than having leads that represent the same department. Basically, what it means is that- and I’m starting to become more aware of this, I wish I was aware of this years ago- getting leads that represent different roles and departments within an organization is much more valuable to a sales team than bringing in leads from the same department with similar personalities. In my example of healthcare technology, say you bring in two clinicians that pretty much do the same thing. Having more supporters and more people to say, “I like this product” that is important, but what’s really more important is bringing the clinician and an IT executive because someone in IT has to check all the boxes and say, you’re selling software. They need to say this software works. This software is secure. It will integrate in our systems. And by the way, we like it and we’re going to work on it, and we’re not going to put it on the back burner and say, we have other things to do to work on at the moment. That’s another gap that I believe is a little unorthodox because I don’t hear it being mentioned a lot of times when I see people talk about sales and marketing, I just feel like it’s being neglected and until recently I was probably neglecting it.

Nick: So we’ve talked about the SDR team potentially bridging the people gap, and the leads and accounts being another gap. Before we wrap up, is there anything else to plug or anything you’d like to say?

Emil: I think we covered a lot of content here and from my end, I could be very passionate speaking about a lot of these things. I realize that we have limited time here, ao if anyone wants to pick my brain on what exactly is a confront type of content or, you know, what it means to  internalize the pain for someone so that they don’t stick with the status quo and you lead them to your solution. Some of these more esoteric things that I mentioned very quickly, earlier, I would be happy to  have an offline conversation about it. It’s definitely something I care about. I just wanted to bring up that we talked about a lot of things and some things are more straightforward and overlap with some of your previous episodes, and maybe some of them were a little different. I’m happy to discuss each of these in more detail.

Nick: Awesome. Ladies and gentlemen, Emil. Thank you very much for coming on the show.

Emil: Yeah. Thank you Nick. I really appreciate it. Thank you. 

Nick: This has been Mind the Gap, a podcast about sales and marketing alignment put on by Enablix. My name is Nich Ziech-Lopez. Thanks for listening.