Be ready for growth.
Companies (and your competitors) are waiting for the right moment to shift back into growth mode. Preparing for that growth now gives you the advantage when it’s time to execute.
Focus on real metrics, not vanity metrics.
Adding people to your list isn’t helpful if they don’t convert. Pay less attention to the metrics that just look good on a slide. Give more energy to the KPIs that really matter.
Partners are more important than ever.
Co-marketing is giving way to co-selling, working with trusted partners to help both companies extend their sales process. We expect to see more businesses teaming up to make growth happen in 2023.
B2B companies have learned a lesson about agility. They can’t just pull back. They have to have fluidity. When the conditions are right, companies are going to have the processes in place for growth.
Uzair built Iron Horse from a startup to an award-winning growth marketing agency helping global brands build scalable integrated marketing programs. Uzair is regularly featured in Wired.com, CNET, Demand Gen Report, DM News, eMarketer, MediaPost, Native Mobile and Retail Integration, and has spoken at TechWeek, Marketo Summit and other key industry events.
As Chief Growth Officer, Monica is responsible for Iron Horse clients’ growth and alignment strategies. Most recently, Monica was the Vice President and Global Group Director of B2B Services at Forrester where she led over 100 advisors and analysts serving B2B sales, marketing, and product executives. Prior to Forrester, Monica led the Marketing Executive practice for SiriusDecisions, where she developed and applied best practice methodologies serving executives across a variety of industries. Before her advisory service roles, Monica held executive positions in AMD, Cisco, and IBM.
Alex Jonathan Brown: It's 11:00 AM on the West Coast, 2:00 PM over in New York, and 1:00 PM in Leon de Los Aldama, Mexico, home of the world's largest coffee cup. Whether you've got your own 7000 gallon cup or just a regular human size mug, close Slack, put your phone on do not disturb, and grab a beverage. It's time for a coffee break. I'm Alex Jonathan Brown, a senior copywriter here at Iron Horse. Frankly, I am still recovering from 2022. Elon Musk acquired Twitter. The whole FTX thing happened. I think there was a World Cup in there somewhere. That was just Q4. So many things that I did not have on my proverbial bingo card. But this year, this year, we're going to be more prepared. And to help me and you and all of us get ready for whatever the rest of this year has in store, we've called in a couple of experts, Iron Horse CEO Uzair Dada, and Iron Horse, Chief Growth Officer, Monica Behncke. Hello. How's it going?
Uzair Dada: Good, how are you?
Alex Jonathan Brown: I'm good. There is that proverb of, I didn't have that on my bingo card. We've just made a bingo card for 2023. We're going to talk through it a little bit more today. Thanks for joining us. If you're watching live, feel free to leave questions, comments in the chat. We'll get to those if we have a chance. But I'll warn you, we're going to move pretty fast to get through these. You can see we've got eight predictions. I think we all have feelings and thoughts about them. We're going to talk through them super, super quickly, like I said. Let's just start. Upper left corner. In 2023, sales people will be supercharged if senior sales lets them.
Monica Behncke: Okay, I'll jump in. We did some research at the end of last year. It's not published yet. One of the things that came out of that research that I thought was really, really interesting is that our sales responders, when we ask them what's your priority? What are your kind of top priorities for 2023? Alignment with marketing and sales operations and processes. You look at that and you go, "Wow. What about growth? What about selling more stuff?" I really think that sales people have figured that is now the path to growth. They've understood that buyers are online, they're digital. It's not a handoff from marketing.
They have to become much more effective, much more proficient. They have to use the data. They are spending their time really focused on the accounts and the opportunities that are most likely to close. It's interesting, we had a company that we were talking to the sales and the marketing leader at the same time, just last week, and the sales leader said, "We always try and get our buyers to buy like that, but we're not selling like that." And you're absolutely right. We need to rethink our go-to-market and our alignment with marketing. That is going to be the fuel that I think is going to supercharge sales people. It's not going to just be on the shoulders of top talent.
Uzair Dada: What I'd also add to that is the technology is getting really, really awesome and intelligent, where a lot of the manual tasks that the sales people spent and wasted their time doing, and enjoyed so much, as we all know, are becoming much more automated. As a result, it's freeing them up to focus on things they're really good at, which is relationship building, which is running process, which is making sure they get through to it. As the dynamic of people buying and doing research digitally, much more changes, marketing is playing a bigger role in that role of building the pipeline and really sales people are using their superpowers to close deals and push the process further.
Alex Jonathan Brown: One of the things we have on that is the idea of if senior sales lets them. Before we move on to the next thing, did we just have, what's the stumbling block or what are we seeing as stumbling blocks? Especially for older, more entrenched, more experienced members of sales teams to let those salespeople be superstars?
Uzair Dada: I think if you look at historically, the only way sales has been able to grow is hire more salespeople. That's been the traditional way. Hire more SDRs or BDRs. Hire more salespeople. But if you look at quota attainment and Monica, you probably have some really good research numbers from your days and days of Forrester. I think the quota attainment numbers are abysmal for sales people. A very small group of sales people ever attained their quota. Now, that could be a fallacy in how leaders set the quotas. They're probably true, too.
But, the fact that that's all we've done. Sales has always been inefficient and that your answer was, "Okay, these don't work. Let me rip the bandaid, cut 30% of them or 40% of them that are not working and bring new ones in." That process is extremely expensive, extremely time consuming. When you take out the redundancy, and you were saying, marketing is now giving me really good pipeline and I have alignment between marketing and sales that the data that's coming in is really good. I can be better. But, it's a change management shift. It's a sales leader who's thinking about, "Yes, this is indeed true." And embracing that marketing is giving them good stuff and it's not garbage, so it's not an overnight thing.
Monica Behncke: Yeah, that's what I was going to say. It's not a resistance, it's an entrenchment. And to get that entrenchment when you still have to actually make quota and making that shift takes some effort. It takes a partnership between sales and marketing. I really think that what this is saying underneath, an uber theme is, the go-to-market strategy and the alignment of the roles between sales and marketing is going to get re-imagined. Now is the time. Now is the time. I'm sure of it.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Is there, one of the things that you mentioned, is how automation is changing the sales process. That leads us into our next space on the bingo board. AI becoming an integral part of marketing operations in 2023.
Uzair Dada: Yeah, I am so excited with all the awesome stuff that's happening in the AI space today. We've all heard of generative AI and ChatGPT is the best example of that and what experimentation is going on. I think 2023, for AI and marketing operations, will be an enormous year of experimentation where people will be trying different things and seeing, what can I facilitate. We've all seen examples of people generating proposals and winning SCO deals. We've seen already five applications that help salespeople generate sequences based on just the information they have. That's just going to go explode because what has happened is, for the first time, AI is being delivered in a format that's human, in the sense of it's consumable. It's no longer an API that I'm looking at or whatever else. But, me and you and everyone else who's used to a chat interface, which is the lowest common denominator, can actually interact with it. And it's smart.
I think you're soon to be seeing people experiment. Before it was reserved for just the awesome uber developers and engineers and architects who were in the backroom. Not that they're still not doing it, but it allows for creativity to be pervasive because everyone can touch and feel it. All the goods and bads will come from it. It's not all just going to be good. There's going to be a lot of crap that comes through it and there's going to be a lot of things we learn about like, "We can't do this."
I don't think AI will dominate 2023 from marketing operations perspective, but I think you will see some awesome nuggets that come out that help us do better. My simplest example is, there's so many of us today that struggle with structured way of thinking. Organizing our thoughts around whatever. I need to send an email to someone about topic A. Or my boss told me to research topic A about something. The fact that I can go have a general conversation in ChatGPT and get some level of structure, likely 45, 50% wrong. But, the fact that I have a 50, 60% structured starting point is awesome because I've just saved time and I can build on it. I'm super excited about it. Monica?
Monica Behncke: I think that the key thing there is the experimentation. It's going to help people get over their fear. I think that's the big thing that's going to happen in 2023. The technology is there. There's still fear. There's still trepidation. They're still like, "It's going to take away my job. I'm a writer. Alex, you're fired. We're going to use ChatGPT because we don't need you anymore." I don't think that's going to happen. What it's going to do is, exactly as Uzair said, it's going to start to separate the people that have too much work and the people that don't have enough work.
Because the people that have too much work and they can't get it done are going to go, that first 40, 50, 60% that it can give me and then I'm going to put myself on top of that is going to be really, really valuable. They're going to be able to be more productive. The people that don't have enough work to do, I think those are the ones that are going to be a little bit more fearful. But, I think it's going to be about getting comfort in 2023. I don't think it's going to take over the world. I think we're going to get comfortable.
Uzair Dada: If you look at the history, when Monica and I are probably older than you Alex, and so when we went to school we learned by repetition because the information was not accessible. That was the key. Information was something you had to remember. If you were a doctor, you still have to memorize crap to take your MCATs. But if you look at my kids who are teenagers today, they don't learn, they don't regurgitate anything. Their learning is all applied. All the information is available to them. They are just amazing consumers of information and being able to apply it.
This is just the next iteration. You basically are saying, there's all this extra work that I do. As someone told me this the other day, that 80 to 90% of indexed information in Google search is bot generated. That means it's garbage, in most cases. If I can de-garbage-fy that, if that's a word, and clean it up and something like this gives me a starting point that's a little bit more refined that I have to manually go do today. How cool is that? It just saved me so much time to do more. I think we're copywriters, we're creators, we're ops people, we're sales people for the community as a whole. I think it's going to be fascinating.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Just in case we've got any writers watching, as a writer, I think combining those things. I was scrolling TikTok and every now and then you'll get a sales TikTok where somebody is like, "You just need to hire an assistant to handle 75% of your stuff and then go do the 25 that matters." I think that's where this is going to wind up being for writers. Of the first 75%, like you said Monica. The busy work part of writing, you could have ChatGPT do and then come back through with your 25% of expertise. I think it's really interesting. Was that just a way for me to casually bring up TikTok in this conversation? Yes.
Because the next thing we have is TikTok gains and surpasses Google as a true discovery tool. Uzair, I know this is one of the things that you are personally...
Uzair Dada: I do. I've got two teenagers. Not teenagers anymore. I've got two young women in the house. One is 18, one is 21, they're both going to college now. To me, year and a half, two years ago, the epiphany was, TikTok has changed how this next generation discovers. Discovers anything. Google is not their default value. The way they discover music, the way they discover how they travel, the way they discover literally anything including business stuff now, now starts in TikTok because they feel the algorithm is so much better in curating content. They're getting better information.
That's pretty freaking cool. That doesn't mean they don't search, but search is not natural anymore. It's secondary. As a result, you're seeing businesses, because it's really been very consumer-centric so far, predominantly start experimenting about how to get to that audience because this audience is now living in that channel. I think between some of the ChatGPT stuff we talked about and TikTok, I think TikTok already has, for a lot of purposes, changed the whole search paradigm. I think it'll be interesting to see if that carries over to businesses. I don't think it's going to be the year where it becomes over. But I think again, in the theme of experimentation, I think more businesses will create more content for TikTok than they have in the past.
Monica Behncke: In another context, we were talking about data yesterday. Our head of people in operations said, "I just got a TikTok from our marketing automation platform." And that was yesterday. I was like, "Really?" I'm surprised they're on it. It's really common. All of social media actually started in consumer, of course, and then went to business. You see that phenomenon of the consumerization of B2B. I think it's interesting, Alex, that you put it as a discovery tool, which I think is probably, as a writer, a very specific word for you because it was mimicked by Uzair as well because it is. It's that top of the funnel or that more awareness. It's not the deep search solution area. I don't know of a lot of companies that are putting it in their mix right now. That's going to be really interesting to see how quickly people start to put that into their media mix and what the response is. What are the actual conversion and tracking response against that.
Alex Jonathan Brown: A discovery. I'll weigh in a little bit. I think where TikTok is so valuable is, like we talked about, it's giving you the idea to go search for something. Or giving you the idea to do more of that research on your own. The TikTok algorithm, like you said Uzair, is wild and should have a whole thesis written about it on its own. Speaking of wild algorithms and weird data stuff, European style privacy laws, if they don't become law in the US in 2023, which I think might be a bit of a reach, will be the norm and what consumers expect. We've seen some of that already with cookies and now how every site basically makes you opt it in. But, I just wondered if anybody had any thoughts more on where we're going to see that stuff go and specifically what that's going to mean for marketers.
Monica Behncke: What I think that, there are so many companies, when I've worked with very, very large enterprises and start with the large enterprises, they market all over the world and they're not going to market differently. They're just adopting the more stringent rules and applying it globally. That takes out this big chunk of companies almost already there, even if it isn't the law. If you start to go each piece underneath that, what starts to happen is so many people behave this way because of the way that the large companies and consumers are acting that it becomes the expectation of the smaller companies and they have to adopt it anyway. Whether or not it becomes the law? I'm Canadian, I'm not going to weigh in on that one.
Uzair Dada: I think it's a good thing.
Monica Behncke: I agree.
Uzair Dada: I think that the trend beyond the laws is giving the end user, that's all the Web3 stuff that you heard, you've seen, is all going towards giving the power to the user and making sure they control what information and how that information is used. Most people are not afraid of letting people use their information as long as it's information that's useful to them. I don't want junk on Netflix, I want to have personalized recommendations. I'm totally cool with that. It's when that abuse happens and I think that's the part that is not sorted out. Eventually, I think that'll be good. This goes in beyond. I have this conversation with marketing and sales leaders all the time, especially marketing leaders. I'm like, "We are obsessed with database growth. Obsessed." But, we know that if you look at, took a live pulse of our databases, at best it's 30 or 35% live.
The rest is just dunk and dead and should be put to rest. But, we don't because we're obsessed with numbers. If we can get over the, I only care about people who care about me because that's who actually does the work anyway, it's good housekeeping. We are stuck to the past in some ways. It's a real thing that consumers will have and the users will have more power in the future, but that does not mean you won't be able to do marketing. We've been talking about this privacy stuff and what's going to happen to advertising. It's impacting some stuff, but GDPR stuff has been around for years now and we've been doing it pretty successfully. I think there's so much noise around this that deters people, but to me, it's good housekeeping at the end.
Alex Jonathan Brown: I think we're moving on to one of the, I'll tip my hat a little bit. This might be one of the further reaches in our bingo card. But, marketers will finally find success with AR slash VR technologies in 2023. I've been waiting on this for about 10 years now. Is 2023 the year I get to use my VR headset, becomes a tax write off or not?
Monica Behncke: I followed this. I made this prediction, it had to be six or seven years ago. I actually had a group of CMOs. I gave them all the cardboard ones and talked about all of the applications with it. Now interestingly, and I'll back up a little bit, but three years before that, we were talking about QR codes. QR codes almost went away. QR codes are everywhere now. They are everywhere now. People have finally figured out, I'd rather have a QR code than a grimy menu. In Austin here, people put them on the street and you find things on the street. I was at an event and you snap the QR code, put your name in for the draw, which was a beautiful Stetson hat because it is Texas.
I think that we're going to get there on the VR side. I think that there are some really good industrial B2B applications. I loved it, back when I was talking about it a lot for sales enablement, especially if you are selling a product that is really hard to bring to a customer or demonstrate, it allows you to have a 360 degree all the way in. I don't know why we went away from it. It's the delivery, the ability to deliver that experience with a client that has been the thing that has to get overcome. But I am like you Alex, I am forever optimistic about that one.
Uzair Dada: AR VR is in our history of being 22 plus years old. We've seen every circa of AR VR launch and actually participated in it. Most of the stuff was on the B2C side or B2B2C side. But, some of the B2B applications are pretty awesome. I just went to my ophthalmologist for my eye exam. That uncomfortable, I don't know if any of you guys have sat in and put your face in this contraption and used the clicker to see the dots on the screen. That was a VR headset. It was so much more comfortable. I had a clicker in my hand. I was resting much more easier. Those are cool.
There's a lot of cool healthcare and training applications that are happening. I think you'll see advancement there in terms of niches. I don't know if it becomes pervasive. What is cool though is you're seeing, just like technology advances, you're seeing things, the tethered-ness of VR AR headsets from five years ago is what killed it at that time. The untethered-ness of that makes it much easier. But, it's still a big thing that you still have to deal with and it's a pretty expensive thing. Eventually, I think AR is going to supersede VR but I still think that we're ways away. You'll have to wait, Alex.
Alex Jonathan Brown: My wife will not be happy to hear that. I have so much stuff just lying around. Moving on. Growth will be a focus again in 2023. Everybody loves to talk about growth. Is 2023 the year that we say, "Pandemic's behind us, economy's going to do what the economy's going to do, but it's time for us to start building again."
Monica Behncke: I'm voting yes on it. Maybe I'm just the eternal optimist. But again, we did some survey work. I think a lot of people are with me, that they are getting ready and doing a lot of readiness right now. Processes, new technologies, those sorts of things to get ready for growth. The last couple of years since early 2020 have been so up and down and up and down. I think one thing that is going to allow this to happen, people are just in general, B2B companies have learned a lesson about agility. They've realized, "I can't just pull back and hold there. I have to have fluidity. I have to have agility." I think that part of growth is people's readiness for growth when the conditions are right. I don't think it will be the second half, but the conditions are right. People are going to be poised for it. They're going to have the processes. They're going to be lean. They're going to have the capabilities they need. They're going to get to it pretty rapidly. That's my thought.
Uzair Dada: I remember I was assuming, looking at some stats, I think it was a Wall Street Journal article yesterday or the day before that talked about, with all the corrections we're seeing in tech specialty, this is where all the noise is.
All the layoffs accounted for less than 4% of the workforce, in total. That means we're way larger than we were in 2020, 2019. Growth has slowed, but the companies are so much better than they were in Q2 of 2020 when COVID happened where everyone's freaked out. We went up this hyper growth structure. Every time, when you binge, you need to digest. That's where we're going. We're going through a digestion process and reset process to make sure we have.
Another great example that I use all the time is that, is it really layoffs or is it actually intelligence? Because if you look at a Walmart or a Best Buy or Amazon, every September they hire tens of thousands of people for Christmas to support their growth. Then they're gone because they're seasonal workers. To me, the fact that companies were able to take advantage over the last two years to take care of the growth after this standstill in Q2 of 2020 when COVID happened, shows the competency of these companies. Now they're just saying, "We almost over indexed on it and now we're right-sizing based on where the growth is."
Even if they're correcting 15 or 20%, they're higher than 30 or 40% from where they were two years ago. To me, I feel it more as a normalization. Similar to Monica, I think you'll have all the bad news, as we are calling it the bad news, is mostly happening in Q4 and Q1. People already, and talking to our customers, are thinking what they want to get done. They're getting back in the growth mindset. I think you will see momentum start building Q2 on is my prediction and I think the second half is going to be roaring.
Monica Behncke: I'll give you a bingo card prediction for 2033. I think at that point I think we're heading towards, just to extend on what you were saying Uzair, I think we're heading towards a world where companies are a lot more comfortable with gig workers or non-permanent workers where people will come in. It's like a movie. You come in. You bring in all that the skill that you need. You do this thing. It takes a while. Then all those people, they have their personal brands and they go and they collectively come together as a community again to create another project.
I think that the world is heading that way very slowly. That's why it's a 2033, maybe a 2043 piece. But, I think that companies are getting more comfortable with that thought. That gives the ultimate flexibility to B2B companies who maybe have a much smaller core. Then do more of an accordion as is needed for what's ever happening in their company at that point.
Alex Jonathan Brown: We've got two left. They're big ones. But, before we get to those, Michael in the chat threw a question out that I just want to get people's thoughts on. It's going back to the privacy laws discussion we had. It's the idea of B2B marketers building, basically, a large database of everybody they know and then pulling your target personas actually into the CRM to keep that clean and keeping all your other data parked elsewhere. He said, "It keeps his CRM at over 95% of who you actually want to talk to rather than just that random mess we talked about."
Uzair Dada: I agree. I think good housekeeping is good housekeeping. Declutter and do the spring cleaning every year. Make sure you have the right things that you're doing. I'm a huge believer in the real metrics and vanity metrics. I think we as marketers play a large role in defining vanity metrics and sticking to them. I think we need to be real real and make sure we do the house cleaning that's needed. Because at the end of the day, it helps everybody because those vanity metrics are truly that.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Especially, if they're only internal vanity metrics.
Uzair Dada: The hard part that I don't understand is they make your metrics worse. The only metric that's good is, yes, my database group. But, my engagement is pathetic. My conversion is pathetic. Everything else is terrible because you are using that as a baseline. But, it's just one of those things that everyone's fascinated with. Along the same lines, so many of those metrics that we talked about before, especially in the marketing operations world, are becoming less reliable. Email as a great example with all the changes in cookies and what Apple is doing and privacy laws. Being able to rely on email metrics is a farce. It's directional at best. But, yet we all report it in our weekly updates and MSRs and QBRs, it's a key metric that everyone relies on. Again, we are smart. We are afraid to make that change and communicate that to the bosses and the leaders and I think that change has to happen.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Speaking of metrics and how many people are in your database. In 2023, marketing lead generation matters less than it has in the past.
Monica Behncke: Yes, it does. But, I think that you have to really understand what we mean and the actual words about that. Because a lead, in its most technical term, is just an individual hand raiser with no context around it. Why are they raising their hands? Who are they? Are they part of your ICP? Creating a bunch of hand raisers does exactly what Uzair says. It's a bunch of noise and yeah, I have a whole bunch of hand raisers. I think that's going to matter a whole lot less than an approach where sales and marketing, going back to our very first one, sales and marketing are working together based on a target set of opportunities and we are nurturing those opportunities and capturing them based on the signals when they're actually in the market.
It may sound, that's marketing generating leads. But, it's not to me. It's sales and marketing together capturing targeted accounts or targeted opportunities that are actually in a buying cycle. It's not just finding hand raisers. You can put kittens on your website if you want hand raisers. It's capturing people that are in the buying process. I think that's going to be the difference. We've been trying to get people to think that way because it changes the programs, it changes your measurement, it changes how you talk to your board of directors. This is the year. This is the year, Alex.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Let's go. Just for the record, Iron Horse doesn't have a stance either pro or anti kittens on the Internet. We know this is online. Our last bingo block for the day. Partners will drive more revenue than sales people as a way to drive growth.
Uzair Dada: Yeah, I think this one is fascinating. I think you're seeing a huge shift of really leveraging partners. Companies have been using partnerships for the longest time. They predominantly were building partner ecosystems but really not going to market. I'd break that into co-marketing and co-selling. Most of the people were doing lip service and doing co-marketing or building their database again on partners. But, you're starting to see some awesome examples. HubSpot is probably the best example of that I'd say, where they've truly leveraged the partner ecosystem in a way where a significant amount of their revenue, I don't know what the number was, 30, 40, 50% of their revenue comes through partners. It's incredible. The power of partner is amazing if the harness. There's some cool tech that's coming out that allows you to truly think of partners as an extension of your sales team.
That naturally enables you to work in a much more seamless way and truly think about that. Even the partner's side, not all partners are created equal. You have strategic partners were you're investing a lot more. This is a Intel and Microsoft going to market. Or Oracle and whoever else going to market. A larger partner. Then you have the reseller ecosystem. Resellers have always been there. But, it's the strategic partners who are now starting to become a driver that is super, super interesting. I think 2023, I don't know if it's going to be the year of the partner, but I think it's going to make huge headways in that direction. I think that this will start becoming a trend that others start adopting.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Awesome. Y'all, we did it. That's our bingo card for 2023. We have also taken up all of the time. Thank you both so much for going through these. If you're watching and you have things that are on your bingo card, we would love to hear those from you. Track us down on social media on Twitter, we are @IronHorseio and you can also check out everything we're doing at ironhorse.io in your favorite web browser. Uzair, Monica, any parting shots about 2023 before we let people get back to their day?
Monica Behncke: Can't wait to get going. Giddy up.
Uzair Dada: I'm excited. I think it's going to be fascinating. I think marketers finally have this seat at the growth table, which is fascinating. Let's go make it happen.
Alex Jonathan Brown: Awesome. Thank you again for joining us both Uzair, Monica, and everyone watching. Until we do this again next month, coffee break's over. Let's get back to work.
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