24 top CMOs share their uncuttable demand gen budget items
Learn the demand gen strategies that have been fundamental to these marketing leaders' skyrocketing success
December 15, 2020
As we head into 2021, we know every marketer is asking themselves…
“What areas are my marketing peers investing in?”
“Where should I focus my efforts for the biggest impact?”
Every week, we sit down with marketing leaders from some of the world’s fastest-growing companies on the Demand Gen Visionaries podcast to uncover the demand gen strategies that have been fundamental to their skyrocketing success. During each of these conversations, we ask our guests what their three most “uncuttable” budget items are.
They’re building highly-relevant content to break through the noise
Content is the most frequently-mentioned area of investment amongst the CMOs we speak with. Broad, generic market awareness motions aren’t effective at capturing the attention of today’s time-starved B2B buyers.
While targeting strategies vary—some CMOs adopt an industry vertical approach, while others focus exclusively on company revenue and size—everyone agrees that producing content tailored to their ideal customer profile (ICP) helps boost relevance and increase sales velocity.
Not only are CMOs making a big push to produce curated content, but they’re also investing in intelligent ways to distribute the content. SEO still remains a top-mentioned area of focus, but LinkedIn is becoming a popular content channel as well. Many CMOs are also thinking strategically about how this content aligns to their account-based engagement motions.
They’re still producing events, they just look different
Events have historically been a major demand gen engine for the CMOs we speak with. Naturally, life in the midst of a pandemic has drastically changed this, but events have far from ground to a halt.
Many CMOs have quickly pivoted to webinars as a scaled events approach, though they frequently echo that these have not proven productive for the deeper relationship building and networking benefits of traditional in-person events.
To help achieve this, some CMOs mentioned early success with smaller, intimate virtual events. These generally involve an immersive, ice-breaker experience—such as a wine tasting or cooking class—and then include thought leadership discussions.
They’re advancing website strategies to deliver personalized, real-time engagement
CMOs universally agree that their website is the front door in the buyer experience. The window of opportunity to capture a prospect’s attention is getting smaller and smaller, yet buyers have much higher expectations for receiving a personalized experience.
While producing content that’s highly relevant to high-value prospects is a top priority for CMOs, they’re also finding creative ways to create personalized experiences within the website. Many CMOs have launched conversational marketing strategies, such as live chat and chatbots, to deliver 1-1 buyer experiences that quickly engage buyers while their interest is piqued.
Some CMOs are even looking to intent and signal tracking capabilities to surface and engage with active buyers, particularly those that choose to remain anonymous deep into their buying journey. We expect to see a lot of advancement in this area over the next year.
What are the top 10 demand gen budget items?
The following were the most commonly-mentioned demand gen budget items amongst the group of CMOs we spoke with:
SEO & SEM
Curious to know what each marketing leader highlighted as their most “uncuttable” demand gen budget items? Read on for their individual spotlights!
LinkedIn: Scott has found that this is the most efficient channel for account-based targeting. It's the best advertising platform they’ve found for targeting by company size and by title. While the ROI of LinkedIn advertising isn’t as good as it was a few years ago, the hyper-targeting is still so valuable. It’s important to note that Scott doesn’t use LinkedIn for awareness as you would display ads. Instead, Thoughtspot uses LinkedIn ads to promote rich thought leadership content to attract the right leads at target accounts.
Events: In enterprise B2B marketing, events rule. Before COVID, 40% of Thoughtspot’s pipeline came from events. During COVID times, they’ve found it’s actually easier to attract busy execs to virtual events because there’s more flexibility. Intimate, small virtual events that involve an element of networking have been very successful in engaging senior-level execs.
Webinars: Especially in recent times, Thoughspot has pivoted to host multiple webinars. These have filled the void in the rest of their in-person field events.
Field marketing: While marketers have really had to reimagine what this looks like in a COVID world, Sara believes everyone will come out of it as much stronger marketers. Marketers have been forced to think of new ways to engage buyers, especially those in the higher segments where executive dinners, networking events, and CxO councils are really critical. But Sara still believes there’s no better way to create pipeline than field marketing.
Content: Sara specifically mentioned organic content, which she’s seen pay off in terms of search performance after long-term investments in content writing and creation. She believes it’s important to ensure you have coverage for a broad surface area of use cases to drive the right awareness for the long haul.
SEM: While investing in organic content is a valuable long-term play, paid channels, like Google SEM, are low-hanging fruit and good for driving a predictable volume of traffic.
3. Nate Skinner, SVP, Global Marketing for CX, Oracle
Website: Every company, particularly tech companies, should recognize that their website is the front door. It dictates the world’s perception of your company. The website experience must be as simple, approachable, and concise as possible because people have such limited attention spans. If you’re not doing your best to make sure your website attracts buyers when they visit, you’re losing.
People: A good, strong execution engine of actual people is something you don’t want to cut. There aren’t a lot of people out there who have the skills and experience to do all the things you need to drive the next generation of growth.
Driving value for the selling team: Good marketing works backwards from the customer by clearly defining the problems you’re solving for them. When done well, this drives new demand from high-quality leads for the sales team.
Executive alignment & sales enablement: In B2B, your sales channel is always your sales people. It takes a lot of human resources to invest in internal executive alignment and sales enablement. A significant element of this is creating a culture where the organization embraces marketing’s role across the entire funnel and views them as a partner for long-term strategic planning.
Events: Events are an irreplaceable way from sellers to build intimacy with their customers. Attending events—either in person or virtual—shows a level of engagement that’s much more meaningful than downloading content or clicking on an ad, which is a great intent signal for sellers.
Content: The content you produce has to start out. It can’t be borrowed from somewhere else and repurposed for your brand. It must be provocative and super detailed in regard to a problem your buyers are trying to solve.
Content: By investing in content, you’re driving meaningful traffic to your website and delivering them with value. Content is an asset that you build over time. As you create a content engine you improve your search ranking, capture meaningful traffic, and have the ability to nurture that traffic over time.
Growth marketing: Ryan defines growth marketing as the practice of surfacing behavioral triggers within the product and website and using these to deliver intelligent responses. For example, if someone matches G2 Crowd’s ideal customer profile (ICP) and visits their pricing page, this triggers a prompt right on the website asking the visitor if they’d like to schedule a demo with the sales team.
Marketing analytics and operations: This is such an undervalued team. It’s tempting for many marketing leaders to over-index on launching new growth campaigns, but then realize down the road the tech stack isn’t equipped to deliver the right level of insights on what’s happening within the marketing pipeline. These insights not only help illustrate the impact marketing investments are making, but also make you a good partner to the sales team.
Marketing tech stack: Mike views this as a competitive advantage. Many of their competitors are larger and can outspend them. If they can’t outspend them, then they can outsmart them with an intelligent martech stack. This includes the data architecture behind the technology stack. Being able to bring the data together and derive insights that inform intelligent marketing campaigns is critical.
Content: Content comes in many different shapes and sizes. You must ensure you have the right content at all stages of the marketing funnel, and it has to be valuable enough to cut through the clutter. is uncuttable because we have to have the expertise at every stage of the funnel
Virtual events: Virtual events—specifically those that would have traditionally been done in person—have been extremely important in today’s environment. In fact, Mike is seeing even higher attendance and engagement rates for virtual events than their previous in-person events. This is an area he will continue to invest in, even post-COVID.
Website: The website is the front door to the company and is absolutely critical. Particularly now during COVID, it’s the only way you can guarantee interactivity with your audience. For InsideView, their website strategy includes a heavy conversational marketing component. It has allowed them to ungate a lot of their content and still have human-to-human interactions in real time with visitors on their website.
SEO: You can cut your digital ad spend, but you always need to ensure you’re appearing in relevant searches. In its most simplistic form, you need to ensure your content is searchable and you prioritize your content production and back-end tagging to optimize for high-performing keywords. But these days, we can also get rich insights about what’s bringing visitors to a website and start to weave together topic interest with intent to elevate your strategy.
Account-based tactics: Account-based tactics are the orchestration of email, phone, social, and ad experiences across a list of targeted accounts. These must be done seamlessly across marketing, sales and customer success. InsideView not only utilizes account-based strategies for net-new logo acquisition, but also for existing customer account expansion via upsell and cross-sell motions.
“Value Card”: This is a sales enablement tool 6sense invented that maps keywords (such as “predictive analytics”) to various personas. If a buyer with a certain role expresses interest in a keyword, sales reps can use the value card for that keyword to quickly understand the relevant pain points and value props to tailor communications with that prospect.
6QA: Instead of MQLs, 6sense tracks “6QAs”. The 6QA model is composed of four scoring areas: 1) is the account a good fit?, 2) is the right decision maker engaged?, 3) are they showing the right signs of engagement? , and 4) where is the account in the buying journey? This criteria come together to generate a score that dictates whether the account is qualified.
Personalized experiences: This involves taking a close look at how marketing channels are connected to ensure wherever visitors engage with 6sense, the experience is personalized to the account and the buyer persona.
Search: It’s important to invest in search to ensure you show up and you understand the triggers that are driving your demand. Paid search has been an especially valuable play for SignalFX when buyers search competitors. Tom advises that marketers pay attention to trade-off decisions, such as which browsers to invest in.
Customer marketing: The validation you get from customers is immeasurable. What you say doesn’t matter as much as what others say about you.
Content: Content is critical to amplifying your message in the market. Tom recommends keeping content production in house. SignalFX experimented with outside writers, but ultimately found the content they produced in house far more impactful.
Brand: Brand is an area that a lot of B2B companies don’t invest in, but it’s especially critical for a company like Slack in their mission to create a new category. Investing in brand marketing is binary; you either invest in it or you don’t. There are diminishing returns the more you reduce your spend in brand marketing, and there’s a threshold you have to invest in order to make it worth it. Slack invests in brand marketing in a targeted way by focusing on the regional areas they want to have the most expansion in.
Content: In order to fuel great demand generation you need good content. Content helps buyers realize value and builds love for your product. Content also helps customers get value from your solutions and deepen their usage, ultimately driving them to evangelize your products.
“Innovation pocket”: Julie describes this as the budget she dedicates to uncovering new ways to reach audiences using creative tactics. This includes things like ABM tools, content syndication in new channels, etc.
Free product: While it’s easy for Asana to quantify the revenue their free product drives, there’s also an unquantifiable—yet significant—word-of-mouth impact it delivers. Even if a free user never pays Asana, the research shows that this audience is still a huge influence on brand awareness and reputation.
Paid marketing: Investments in paid search and review websites are super important to Slack.
Brand: Brand marketing is something Dave really believes in. This includes PR, analyst relations, brand advertising, and community programs. Whenever he joins a company, he talks with the founders and the board about the importance of brand marketing investments. While he can derive ROI for the majority of his marketing investments, brand marketing is the one area he believes is a smart long-term investment, but can only really have proxy performance metrics. can be e acknowledges that PR, analyst relations, advertising, community programs
Digital buyer experience: This is a critical area of investment for Tenable. It includes investing in search engine optimization to ensure Tenable is synonymous with the problems they solve for. They also invest heavily in conversion rate optimization, which involves looking closely at the customer journey across the website and ironing out potential areas of friction that would prevent buyers from converting.
Free trial offer: Free trials allow the buyer to quickly earn value. In the SaaS world this is especially valuable. The point isn’t to get a buyer to create a login, but to demonstrate to the buyer that Tenable will solve their problems. Tenable invests in nurturing and coaching new customers along the way to ensure free trial users successfully adopt the product.
Search engine marketing: This is the last budget Melton would cut. SEM is both offensive and defensive. It allows Tenable to position their brand in the context they want to be seen in. People turn to search engines more than any other source, so it’s critical that Tenable is part of that ecosystem.
Content: Specifically, having super-relevant content on third-party sites, such as LinkedIn. You can draw engagement that’s trusted because you’re pulling people into an authentic conversation that they feel like they can control as they go through the experience.
Digital marketing: Chandar says this is especially critical to drive awareness and move deals forward with a set of target accounts. They provide educational content through digital channels to effectively move deals down the funnel.
“Circles”: These are small, one-to-few style events that gather a small group of peers together in an intimate virtual setting to generate valuable networking conversations. Chandar argues that event marketers often get too caught up in vanity metrics, such as registrations or on-demand downloads, but lose track of how events impact revenue acceleration. He’s seen far greater success moving deals forward with smaller-scale, targeted events than larger one-to-many events.
Content syndication: Content syndication has been valuable for Coupa in the middle of the funnel, when you have to earn the right to engage and educate your audience.
LinkedIn page: Udi caveats this by acknowledging that LinkedIn is only a viable channel if it’s where your audience is. Not every company’s target market will have an active audience on LinkedIn. At Gong, their LinkedIn strategy is two pronged: the Gong brand is authoritative on LinkedIn, plus Gong employees are thought leaders on their own social profile. They use both levers to publish highly-engaging content that generates organic followers. This is Gong’s cheapest demand gen channel; they get thousands of content downloads from a single post.
Email list: Gong has built a large opt-in email list of people interested in receiving their content. They enrich these emails with additional information, such as company industry and size, to send tailored content to various reader personas to ensure they continue to engage them in a relevant way.
Virtual events and webinars: Virtual events are full-day, multi-session events, while webinars are 30-60 minutes. Gong generates value for both formats. In each scenario, attendees not only leave with a lot of takeaways, but their full attendance is a high buying intent signal. If you tap into those folks in the right way at the right time, you’ll be able to move opportunities forward.
Content: Content is king for Workfront. The content they develop drives all of their channels and is the most important asset they invest in.
Digital programs: Digital marketing programs have become especially important in the last several months, where digital programs have had to make up for demand they would have created through in-person events. Changes in the B2B buying landscape that have been driven by COVID will remain far beyond the pandemic. Companies must invest in the digital buying experience by understanding how buyers engage with your brand across digital channels during the selling process.
AppExchange marketing program: Since OwnBackup has such a strong focus on the Salesforce ecosystem, this is a major demand gen channel for them. They automatically know everyone they engage via this channel likely is a strong fit for OwnBackup’s product.
Conversational marketing: Prospect engagement is moving away from forms and is now about getting prospects to the right person to have the right conversation with them at the right time. The idea that a buyer would fill out a form and sales would spend the next two weeks trying to get in touch is so off.
Video: Video delivers a clear, concise message in a format that’s really easy to share. YouTube is the second biggest search engine. Not only do you want to be present there, but it’s also an easily-consumable and easily-shareable content mechanism.
17. Adam Blitzer, EVP and GM of Digital, Salesforce
Customer Data Platform (CDP): With the proliferation of martech solutions, data is the foundation of central control. Marketers need a single source of truth for customer data, and that’s increasingly recognized as a CDP. The CDP will be the battleground in marketing for the next five years. Companies that successfully unify data across the diverse channels that drive customer engagement will be able to differentiate themselves with a seamless and orchestrated customer experience.
Personalized website experiences: Every time someone visits your website, they should have a unique experience. The content they see should be tailored and prioritized based on what the business knows about the visitor. For example, the case studies that appear at the top of the Customers page are personalized to that visitor’s industry or company size.
Communities: You must learn quickly which “watering holes” your buyers gather at and participate in those forums. With increasingly-rigorous consumer protection laws, traditional “broadcast” marketing — cold calls, cold emails — are far less effective. Communities are a productive way of projecting your message and reaching your audience through genuine interactions.
Open-source software: If you’re selling to or working with developers, it’s important to spend time in your open-source communities. Being a good community citizen means that you have people that are focused on contributing and participating in an open source community
Blog: Your blog serves as a consistent, repetitive point of contact with customers. A lot of content marketing is a single exchange, but blogs keep people engaged repeatedly. With social promotion of your blog posts, you can drive a subscriber base you can continuously engage. For VMware, a visitor that navigates to their website via their blog is 3x more likely to convert, proving this is also a high-intent audience.
Website and digital spend: Don’t skimp on your website. It is the face of your company to every single customer, prospect, potential employee, press, and investor. Your website pays even more dividends than you can track. In each of her last four jobs, Lauren has uncovered that the website backend infrastructure isn’t built to scale. It’s grueling, but she believes that the ability to adapt will make or break every demand gen initiative. If you’re on old technology, you’re dead in the water. Invest in tech infrastructure to make everything else you do faster and easier.
Executive engagement programs: As a B2B company that sells to large enterprises, they need to invest in long-term relationship growth. Executive engagement programs are great deal accelerators. But not only do they help you hit your pipeline numbers, but they help establish you as a strategic partner in the customer’s eyes.
PR: When you really lean into PR and have a stellar program, all the boats rise. You get better hiring candidates and higher employee engagement, which helps build better products and has a halo effect on demand gen programs.
Sales and marketing alignment: This is a non-negotiable; it must always be present and invested in. This is a “budget” item in a unique sense in that it requires time investment. Constant connection, accountability, and transparency with the sales org is critical.
Transactional selling system: For Jen, this is usually Salesforce and a marketing automation platform. You can’t conduct a good business without these.
Website: This is your “always on” front door. It needs to reflect your corporate positioning, but also engage visitors to create demand.
Content: Zuora heavily uses educational content to capture buyer interest in a way that delivers high value to the prospect. They’ve hired great storytellers and data scientists to shape Zuora’s narrative and package that up into compelling content. This is core to their brand and the tip of their demand gen spear.
Direct mail: Given their account-based focus, direct mail is a productive tactic for Zuora to use things like their Subscribed book to open doors with executives at target accounts. Kyle advises that you can’t just send any content offer, such as a bottle of wine; it has to be relevant and attention grabbing.
“Signals”: Kyle describes “signals” as the channels and tactics Zuora uses for surfacing insights about what their target customers are doing. For example, G2 Crowd gives insight into intent signals when buyers are researching your category. If you’re targeting a large market but also want your sales reps to be personalized with their outreach, you need to help narrow their focus on the targets that are already showing signals that make them high-intent buyers.
Digital: Sumo Logic uses digital channels—particularly digital advertising, digital events, and their website—in a variety of forms to reach their target audience. Digital not only drives net-new acquisition, but also brand loyalty. Digital is the top way they engage with their SMB audience because it’s easily scalable to the large market size. They also use small-scale digital events to engage with executives at target enterprise accounts.
Enterprise account-based marketing: Sumo Logic has a very sticky product, so they see great success with land-and-expand efforts. Account expansion and cross-sell motions are very important to them, so account-based marketing motions are particularly effective.
Content: Buyers are all at different stages of the buying process, and they demand just-in-time educational content tailored to their stage. Suku spends a lot of time thinking about the customer journey framework and how they help move buyers to the next step, and content is the linchpin in that process.
23. Sarah Kennedy, VP of Global Growth & Demand, Google Cloud
Free trial & web engagement: This is a productive channel for all market segments, from SMB to enterprise. They use this to educate, progress, and sometimes even convert deals. The developer persona is especially important to buying decisions because they’re often the ones using the free product. They heavily focus on driving developer engagement through the free trial and web channels.
Social: Social is always an important channel, but they’re constantly changing how it’s leveraged. Strategically investing in social channels is a big opportunity because it continuously evolves.
Content syndication: This is a high-performing channel for Google Cloud in their effort to drive new-logo acquisition. It’s important to align with the right partners to drive quality because that varies widely partner to partner.
24. Kraig Swensrud, Founder & CMO, Qualified
Website: Our website is our most important marketing asset. It’s more than just the face of the company and where we establish our positioning, product demos, and competitive differentiators. Our website is the ultimate destination for how we engage with our buyers. We heavily prioritize investments in tools that allow us to know who is on our website (especially anonymous browsers), engage visitors using Conversational Marketing, and send signals to sales reps for prospecting. This has transformed into a whole new world from the forms and MQLs of yesteryear.
Content: In order to fuel all of our demand gen efforts, we need to produce high-quality content for use across a range of distribution channels. We primarily think about content in three core buckets: 1) educational content for buyers (ebooks, blog posts, webinars, videos), 2) enablement content for sales (case studies, product briefs, competitive positioning), and 3) awareness content for the market (PR, momentum announcements, virtual events).
Linkedin/ABM: Like many other companies, we’ve adopted an account-based marketing approach for target accounts that match our ideal customer profile (ICP). LinkedIn and ABM ad platforms have enabled us to segment and target our ICP with a level of precision that we could never have achieved before with search engine marketing. We use these platforms to reach our audience according to company, job title, and intent using highly-relevant content for their personas.