Where Marketing and Data Meet (Christopher Willis) - KNN Ep. 84
Updated: Feb 23
Christopher P Willis is Acrolinx’s Chief Marketing & Pipeline Officer, responsible for all aspects of the company’s Marketing strategy and pipeline health. Christopher has over 20 years of experience growing companies in the technology sector. Before joining Acrolinx, Christopher held leadership roles in marketing, creative, technical, and business development at companies including Perfecto, Pyxis Mobile, KPMG-CT, ModelGolf, and Cambridge Technology Group.
[00:00:00] Christopher: That's such a great microcosm of branding that you're seeing a lot of people are doing it just very naturally. Like this is the thing I know I'm going to get on and talk about this one thing over and over and over again. And I'm going to become that. And it's, it's working.
[00:00:22] Ken: This episode of Ken's Nearest Neighbors is powered by Z by HP. HP's high compute workstation-grade line of products. Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Willis. Chris is Acrolinx’s Chief Marketing and Pipeline Officer, and he's responsible for all aspects of the company's marketing strategy and pipeline health.
Christopher has over 20 years of experience growing companies in the technology sector before joining Acrolinx Christopher led leadership roles in marketing, creative, technical, and business development at companies, including Perfecto, Pyxis Mobile, KPMG, ModelGolf, and Cambridge Technology Group. In this episode, we dive into what exactly a pipeline officer is, and we discussed some of the implications that data has on the marketing field. We also go through the evolution of the marketing domain, and I think this one is a must listen for anyone interested in the intersection of analytics and brand. I hope you enjoy our conversation. I know I really do. Thank you so much for coming on the Ken's Nearest Neighbors Podcast.
You have a really interesting history related to data and marketing as well as a very unique title these days. And I'm excited to drill into this. I think a lot of people in data science or data analytics are very interested in the intersection of marketing. And I'm happy that you can sort of tell this marketing story as well as some of the data story today here.
So again, welcome.
[00:01:44] Christopher: Sounds great. Excited to be.
[00:01:49] Ken: Excellent. So, something that I always start out with is, you know, from maybe your marketing brain or just from your experience, what is your first exposure to data or what is your, what was your first experience with.
[00:02:04] Christopher: So I think as I started out in marketing, so my career started in web development moved into new media and then eventually into sales. And so I really hadn't spent much time thinking about the measurement of things. As I moved into marketing, what I realized very quickly is that if I want budget, I need to use the data around me to create a picture of what I'm doing, where success is, what success looks like.
What failure looks like in order to eliminate it. A lot of, a lot of my early success came from that understanding that this is a data-driven business. I think as, as a young person but marketing there's storytelling and storytelling is very attractive. And I like, I love that. I like it a lot, but the way that I get money to tell stories, By measuring it's by looking at the data behind what we're doing and being able to prove value to the organization.
And, and so once I figured that out it changed the way that I think about what I do. I am a very data-driven marketer, and I think that's what moved me to where I am now. And that intersection of marketing and sales where looking at numbers all day becomes a way to guide the organization to success further forward in our future then most companies would look
[00:03:41] Ken: I really liked that. I think that there's something kind of cool about, okay. We're using numbers to prove our own case, as well as provide or like to evaluate ROI for the organization. I mean, I look at this, my experience is probably even a microcosm of that is if I'm selling an ad sponsorship on one of my YouTube videos. They want to know, okay, who's my market. They want to know how many views my average video gets, how popular a certain topic is. And they're going to be evaluating very easily with very clear metrics, how many views the video gets and all of these things. So on both sides of that, I have to say, Hey, for my history.
Like, this is how much value I've created and from what actually goes out there, this is how much value after the fact you've gotten. And if they, you know, if they don't get the value that they believe that they would be set to get, they're probably not going to work with me again. Right. And so.
[00:04:37] Christopher: It's the decision-making process for both good and bad.
And you know, it's difficult. I mean, think of living in a world. I'm in the B2B space, but envision being in the consumer space and booking, advertising on a billboard, something that a lot of companies do in my business to business mind, I'm thinking, how do I, how do I measure that? I don't know how many people drove past that and they can give me an idea of how many people drive past it, tag in it and ask.
Enter the tag when they come to our website, but you know, that, that doesn't work a hundred percent of the time. So how do you measure that kind of awareness and the results of a campaign like that versus advertising on your blog or advertising on the podcast where I know how many visitors you get and how many viewers you get.
I know how many clicks through your site that go directly to my site, turn into traffic and then turn into conversions that allows me to make buying decisions very easily. We're in a point in this organization, we're now we're starting to build our spend on awareness and it's a little bit daunting because what is, what does awareness mean?
Does that mean that I'm not going to have a direct line to a number that's going to help me a make a decision and then be show value? Yikes. That's that's an interesting place to be based on where I've been.
[00:05:58] Ken: That's a very fast, I actually, I really want to dive into that awareness idea a little bit later before that I'd love to talk for you to talk a little bit more about your, the role you're in and sort of how you got into this very unique it's chief pipeline officer role, correct officer.
[00:06:16] Christopher: It is. So, I was hired here at Acrolinx where I work now. We're German AI system ad platform for increasing the impact and fitness of content at the enterprise level. I was hired here as, as CMO and a year ago, year ago we hired a brand new CEO and he entered the business and this is an interesting place.
The head of sales and I'd get. And if you're listening and you're involved in sales and or marketing, you realize that what I just said is it's kind of interesting. It's a bit different. We get along really well. We talk by choice, not by force. We are, are essentially solving the same problem.
We're trying to build a big valuable company. And when the new CEO came into the business, he looked around and he said, there's no friction here. This is weird. Let's create some, some positive friction to to help further the business. And one of those things was we need somebody that's going to be responsible for the future.
And do you want to do it? Yes, I do. I don't know what you're talking about, but yes, I'm going to, I'm going to do it. This is exciting. And. We spent the first six months really figuring out what this role is about. What was the purpose of it? And the nice thing is that not only did this not create friction between sales and marketing or pipeline your marketing after six months of it, it actually really furthered the objectives of both because of what I do and where I sit, I have marketing levers that allow me to be more effective in my primary objective in the pipeline role, which is ensured the future success of the business. So if you look at let's take a step back by a week or in Q4 of 2021. And our CRO is 100% heads down focused on closing the year.
That's where his head is. He's got a number he's, he's called disconnect, and he's going to hit that commit. And that's really primary objective for him. And for many of our salespeople, that's, it's the same thing. They're just trying to close business. But what I know is that. If we have a great Q4, we also need to have a good Q1 and Q2.
So what Shane is focused, our CRO is focused a hundred percent on Q4. I'm living in Q1 and Q2. I'm looking at creation progression to get us in position, to have a great quarter in Q1 and same thing in Q2. I'm always two quarters out. So I'm looking at what's was being created. So what meetings are coming up?
What meetings are turning into early stage opportunities? I have volume numbers for those that I care about. I'm trying to fill in these opportunities into our pipeline. I'm looking at the progression of those. So are we moving from our earliest stage into the value pipeline? Are we progressing out of the early stage and a business case, and I'm working with each individual sales.
To identify where we're doing that and the exceptions, the ones that we're not moving from. How do we solve those sec, those exceptions then I'm looking at just general conversion rate of what's coming in, what's coming out positive. And then from there, how long has it taken us? What's our sales cycle and all of these numbers come together to create what we look at is sales velocity.
So it's the number of opportunities. Times the average deal size times the way. Over the average sales cycle length, and we're measuring that. And the number that comes out. The equation doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if it's 10 or a hundred or a thousand. I mean, it does, it would be amazing, but that's not what I care about.
What I care about is the direction that we're going in. I'm looking to increase that velocity over time. So are we able to put more into the engine? Are we able to prove value at a higher level and increase our average deal size? Are we able to win more deals? Are we increasing the ease of our message and closing more deals that we open and then are we compressing the stages up front?
Are we getting to discovery faster? We're getting into business case faster and we're shrinking our overall sales cycle time. There's some things that aren't going to change. We're always going to spend, you know, two to three months in procurement in that negotiation stage at the end, because there's InfoSec and going through the, the finances and all of that.
But before. Are we moving through our process faster. So with those things in mind, I spend my time using the marketing organization, working with the sales organization to achieve a greater sales velocity.
[00:11:25] Ken: That's incredible. And so, so I'm curious how large is the company right now? Roughly like in terms of employees.
[00:11:32] Christopher: We're probably 150 employees right now.
[00:11:35] Ken: Okay. I mean, that's something. Especially with your, your fairly unique role is really important is that once companies reach a certain size, right? You start going away from, Hey, like we're all in this startup, and we're all focusing on this common goal of, I don't know, making, like the best Bluetooth speaker ever.
Right. And then you start thinking about quarterly targets and you start thinking about, oh, as an individual, how do I get promoted? Right. Like the larger a company you get into the less. Is on like what the goal of the company is all the way out. And the more it transforms to being on these, like intermediary targets that eventually in these massive companies, you know, a couple, couple thousand, 4,000, 50,000 people become almost meaningless or you get into these Q4 targets.
I was working at a very large manufacturing company and we were building data science models to cut like costs in future quarters that were not be realized costs like the models that we were presenting. They were creating cost savings that were not realized yet. And we were using that for accounting purposes and it's like we're not creating any value. We're just trying to make our quarter look better this year, then next year, because they're finishing the project next year and no value is being created until this goes into production like two years from now. Right. And it's like, well, I really, I think it's awesome. Your specific role, because you're focused on.
Create value beyond just the quarters, because once you get into this very short-sighted quarter system, there's value in that obviously, especially for like sales numbers, but when you're kind of transferring to a more data centric domain, and you're looking at a lot of the work that I do, like, it's really hard to evaluate the, the like pure performance you get from a project that you put into production this quarter.
Right? Like we have to see how it works in the real world. A lot of the times with data work when you're building models, the outcomes aren't clear. You don't know, even know if it's going to work until you experiment with it. How do you scope a project that you don't know and dedicate time and resources to that?
You don't know if there's going to be a payoff, you have to be forward-thinking. And I, again, I think that that's such like a, a beautiful way to do that. If you haven't read it, there's an awesome book called Loonshots where they talk about how to like as companies grow, they can still innovate and they can still have this future planning and they're doing something similar.
Basically you have a dedicated team that's focused on, on on like forward research and forward planning and they have to interface with the other teams, but they also have to be buffered enough from the quarterly structure and system to be able to like actually innovate, not worry about those targets.
But I'd, I guess I think that again, that is just like such a. A unique way of approaching that problem, that if anyone has worked in a big company, in a small company, you, you certainly certainly see firsthand.
[00:14:43] Christopher: At its most simplistic, it's just, Hey, we're going to have a good quarter this quarter, but do you want to have one next quarter also?
Because what most companies do is they get to the end of the quarter. They everybody high-fives. They go on vacation for a week and they come back and they look at the mess that they were like, And now how do we make this into the next quarter? And what we know is that it takes time to close deals. So I can't create something now and have it impact.
That's not a thing. Like I can't generate marketing. Can't give you a lead today that you're going to close before the end of March. It's not gonna, it's not gonna happen. If it did, that would be amazing, but I'm pretty certain that it's not going to happen. So we need to be looking forward. Marketing is looking forward.
Anyway, we're creating pipeline right now for late 2022 on to 2023. All right. So we're way out ahead of the business. Anyway. So this role is just taking that a step further and bringing the sales people into that process and reminding them that you got to do three things. You have to be creating, you have to be progressing and you have to be closing next to all those things.
At the same time, you can't just put your head down and close because it's the end of it. Cause you're in the quarter that you're going to close deals in because then you get the next quarter and you walk off a cliff. My job is to help you build a bridge so that you don't die. It's very simple. And that's a, I mean, you can look at that don't die, fall enough with bridge.
However, you would like literal figurative, but let's build a bridge and then have, however you're looking at it. It doesn't happen.
[00:16:13] Ken: So from a personal self-interest question. So I've worked in data roles where I've interfaced directly with sales teams and there was a lot of sort of headbutting. You know, I think sales are very focused on closing a lot of the time.
And there again is that short-term focus and you know, that doesn't necessarily jive as well with some of the projections and the content that, that I put forward as a data scientist. Right. It's like, Hey, like if we, we need to create this pipeline and we have to do these things, how do you, how do you reconcile?
How do you have those conversations? You know, I obviously worked in sales. You know, you having the conversation with the CRO - chief revenue officer, correct? Just for, okay. I'm like, how do you, how do you approach that subject? How do you say, like, we need to do this in a different way.
[00:17:07] Christopher: So the data that I present.
My, our CRO and I are aligned is the first thing we have to be. I can't come into a meeting and surprise a rep in front of our CRO. That seems like a recipe for danger. And, and the friction that we don't have. So he knows the data that I'm looking at. We use Power BI to pull data out of Salesforce, build out interesting visualizations that show data in forms.
Wouldn't come out of Salesforce that are more interesting, that helped identify individual fingerprints of sellers so that we understand what each person does well and what they need to be assisted on. And when I get into these meetings with the individual sellers and I do this on a monthly basis, it might actually shift to a bi-weekly basis this year as we get into the beginning of the year.
But the feedback has been... I guess different than I would have expected, which is those people love this. It's giving them a forensic view of their pipeline that they'd normally wouldn't have, or even know how to put together. They don't think that way. And it's fair. I mean, it's not a complex meeting.
It's, we're going to talk about creation. We're going to talk about progression. We're going to look at what you've closed and identify what we should do with your closed opportunities, closed, lost opportunities. And then we're going to look at your next two quarters. I don't care what you're doing, right.
This quarter is not interesting to me. It's interesting to him, but it's not interesting to me. We're going to look out right now, Q2 and Q3, and we're going to find that cliff. And then between me and my marketing organization. We're going to help you build that bridge. And they really appreciate that level of data and visibility into their business because A they don't have to build it, which is super for them.
But B it uncovers soft spots that they don't necessarily even know they. Have it allows them to be better. I ended it the way that we're able to look at this data and identify the projection of what I think they can do this year based on their conversion rates, their philosophy level and the pipeline that they come into the year with it is just for lack of a more complex term, really neat.
Like I can say, like, based on what you came into the year and what you did last year, if you can do what you did last year, again, you're gonna, you're going to surpass your quota by a half, a million dollars. Is that cool? Do you want to do that? And that's a great conversation to be able to have, because I would look at the things that you've done right.
We want to double down on those. What are the things that are holding you back? Let's try and fix those. And it becomes very actionable if it wasn't actionable. If it's just me sitting here looking at data, showing them slides. That would get old really quickly and we wouldn't be doing it anymore. But the fact that we action out of every meeting, there is a final page of every conversation that is here are the things you need to take away from this makeup.
These are the actual things that you need to do. We look at you and where you stand against everybody else in the organization. This gives you an idea of where you're struggling. Let's fix it.
[00:20:21] Ken: This episode of Ken's Nearest Neighbors is brought to you by Z by HP. HP's high compute workstation-grade line of products and solutions. Z is specifically made for high performance data science solutions, and I personally use the ZBook Studio and the Z4 Workstation. I really love that the Z line who comes standard with Linux and they also can be configured with the data science software stack. With the software stack, you can get right into the work of doing data science on day 1 without the overhead of having to completely reconfigure your new machine.
Now back to our show. I really like how you framed that. I mean, something that I think people are very scared of related to data that I've seen frequently is that, Hey, I'm being evaluated on this and I don't buy this and I don't understand how it works. Right. I see that with a lot of professional athletes, right.
They're like, I don't want to have my heart rate data when I'm on the court recorded because that'll be used against me in my next trade deal. They'll say I'm slacking off. They'll say whatever. Right on the flip side, there's this unbelievably powerful way to leverage data for helping people or saying like, Hey, this is how you can improve.
And when you frame it that way, who wouldn't want to know how they could score, like in a basketball setting, like, you know, an extra three points, a game or increase their efficiency by XYZ. Like that to me is a really like nice secret sauce that you settled in on there is like, Hey, like, this is for you.
This is to help you. This is not to like, to like judge you or anti-gay, you're not going to get paid based on this. And like the direct sense, like, this is your your ability to improve your pay or improve your skills. And we're telling you how I think that that's how data should be used, but definitely isn't always how it, how it is used, which is, which is fun.
[00:22:08] Christopher: I also do some exposing of where you stand against other people on Slack publicly. I mean, there's a little bit of that as well. So, you know, there, there are leaderboards. And leaderboards are designed for exactly what you would think they are. I mean, I can go back to we started a company back in the 90s and it was for project managers from big five consulting companies.
We're not salespeople and we don't like selling. How do you ensure that the four of us. Leaderboard publicly, like public shame works. But it doesn't work if that's all you do. I, if, if all you do is pointed people, it's not actionable, it's just being a jerk. Being able to provide them. I mean, like you said, the first thing that I say to them, when I walk into the meeting is this is about making you a million dollars this year.
Somebody going to do it in this organization and it can be you. And let me show you how it can be you and that frames, what we're trying to do. I don't, I don't want them to feel. With them to succeed because if they succeed, we all succeed. So action through this. This is how you're going to make a lot of money and that's what they understand.
And that's what they're here to do. And it makes it really interesting for them.
[00:23:23] Ken: That's a very insightful way I think of how a sales mind would present a data solution. And I really, really liked that. I can't say that I have the greatest sales mind, but you're obviously showing your, your your experience there.
So this, you know, changing gears a little bit, this is something that I've been very fascinated with and we've talked on in previous conversations. And, and a little bit earlier is that, you know, marketing and branding, it has become like a very concrete thing in 2022 going forward. Right. It used to be this very kind of squishy ideal where it's like, Hey, you know in, in mad men, you know, you're talking about w what's the movie with Matthew McConaughey, the selling like diamonds foster yourself, right?
Like there are these very I guess. Emotionally centered things and it's moved towards very aggressively towards this data-driven thing. Can you walk me through, like when that transition really started and, and what sort of kicked off?
[00:24:30] Christopher: Well, I mean, I think right, you know, right now where we live and this has been going on for a bit, but the easiest example of, of shift is the COVID situation. And marketers have been selling this concept of the digital shift into enterprises for years, probably the last eight years. The message that the fear uncertainty and doubt message is the internet is coming for you. And if you don't start building your business online, if you don't move your interactions online, this digital shift is going to come and you're going to get left behind and I don't think any of us really thought that was ever going to fully come to fruition, but it was a great message. And it did get enterprises to move forward with all kinds of different solutions. But on March 10, how do I know March 10th? Because that's the day that my calendar is set to on my desk at the office that I don't go to.
Everybody went home and the only way that you can interact with your customer with your consumer is through your, your digital interface and so now all of your charm, all of your employees, all of the customer service that you provide in your business in the real world is garbage. It doesn't matter.
It has no impact because nobody's doing it. What's going to drive both individual value to the business and customer acquisition. It's your brand. It's the ability to influence both customer acquisition. Choice. And then the ongoing value, the ability to sell at a premium. So these enterprises that we all work with the, the single biggest asset they have beyond their product on anything is that brand because it sets their ability to capture new new customers, new audiences, and it sets the premium.
If you're the premium brand. You own the pricing. And so if you look at somebody, I mean, a glib example, Louis Vuitton and Skechers, both sell shoes, bags, Gucci, and Sketchers, both sell shoes better. Why are you paying 750 bucks for a pair of loafers? Because their brand is worth more. It's helps them with customer acquisition.
And then let them set the premium, all that other stuff that you think of people recognizing it, seeing it on billboards, that's helpful. That's helping it become what it is. But the, the value of the brand of the business is getting us in converting at a higher price. And that's really interesting when you think about it is you're creating that awareness.
You're creating the visibility of your business. It's not just visibility. I know the Sketchers is too, but you do, but all of us do still only paying 27 bucks for those pair of shoes, because that's, that's the approach they've taken their strategy is to do what. Well known and inexpensive. So they're using it on a customer acquisition side, not as much in the premium side.
[00:27:44] Ken: So from, I know you guys generally work in B2B, but let's say as an individual, you wanted to expand or create your brand. That's something I'm constantly thinking about. I know a lot of the people who watch this podcast are thinking about how they can create their own brand. What are some of the like what, like, what's the bedrock of that? Like, what is most important when creating an individual or even a company brand?
[00:28:10] Christopher: Yeah, I think from an individual standpoint, you know, if I locate you, you can position yourself as the data guy. And that becomes that singular focus of identification. When I, when I need to go out and find somebody that can talk about data, I've got to pull up.
Where's the data guy in that. And then the awareness that you've built on top of that is about expanding. Everybody's understanding of what you do around that one thing, people that try to be everything generally fail people that try to be one. Can elevate that to a much higher level. I mean, it's interesting because it's something that I haven't really focused on for me at all.
I do a lot of different things and that actually doesn't help me to be super well-known versus the head of brand at drift who Dave Gerhardt. We built a very solid brand, being one thing at drift, he left drift became roughly the same thing in another business and use that to come back and be the head of brand at the head of marketing at the same company that you left, because he's established himself as that branded element inside the business.
He's the thing. I would love to be able to spend more time doing that. And I think part of that is talking to people like you being on podcasts like this and being in more places. But I haven't found that level of speced, that specialty of one thing that I'm good at. So maybe, maybe it is being one of two people on all of LinkedIn that has the title of Chief Pipeline Officer that I could build that around remains to...
[00:29:55] Ken: Awesome!
I really liked that that concept is, so it seems like just to reiterate there's two, two effectively, two things in the brand. So like your specialization or what you are, what you're known for, and then people's awareness of what you're known for. And I think that, that, although it sounds like a very simple equation, it's very elegant in the sense that like, that's all you really have to do is like, okay, I want to create a brand.
I have to figure out what I want to be known for. And I think a great medium for that is just creating content. Right. If I want to be known for something, I should probably make some content related to that and that I should share those content, that content. And it's probably, Oh, where should I share that?
Probably the platform or like the actual medium that is most effective for that. So if I'm trying to share professional content, LinkedIn is probably a really good choice if I'm trying to, to share entertainment content, or, you know, maybe visual content like YouTube or Instagram or something like that makes sense.
If I'm sharing very highly technical content, maybe for a coder, like GitHub would make a lot of sense. And I really, I really liked that framework for understanding this something I would ask.
[00:31:09] Christopher: Okay. Well, I mean, if you look at TikTok, there's so much brand building going on in TikTok. Most of it is fairly useless, but it's happening that people are that thing.
Like, I'm just going to talk about this one thing and they're able to build a following and actually make money on the internet being just that one thing. And then they created Jason sees from there, and then you can start moving out into other areas because you've built that following. It's. I mean, it's fascinating.
I think I missed that. I think I'm too old to be one of those, one thing, things on TikTok, I do have a TikTok if you want to go find it. Good luck. I have two videos. They're not very funny. But and I'm not famous. But that's, it's such a great microcosm of branding that you're seeing a lot of people are doing it just very naturally.
Like this is the thing I know I'm going to get on and talk about this one thing over and over and over. And I'm going to become that and it's, it's working.
[00:32:15] Ken: Yeah. I mean, it's how to put this. It's it's exciting, but it's also in my mind, like a little bit discouraging. So you see like, it's like this, I mean, a lot of these people, they're saying the same thing over and over on TikTok, it's sort of like this weird echo chamber.
It's like, oh, there's this trend. I'm going to apply it for my one thing. I don't know, like. There's a, I'm trying to think of like what a trend would be. But you know, like everyone's dancing to one song and they have like, they're pointing to things and it's related to their domain and it's like, it's reused.
And as I'm not an artist by any means, but I feel like there's like a, a pride aspect of my own creation is where I want to create something novel. Right. I want to put something out there and all of my videos that like, hasn't really been done before. 'cause it's really easy to get viewership if you're following a trend and targeting it for your domain, but the way algorithms are designed now, they really discouraged completely novel content because everything is linked to other things, right?
Like, oh, they watched this thing. That's similar. They're going to put out this other thing. That's similar. I mean, we're going to recommend them. This other thing that's similar when you make a video or content that is dissimilar to anything. There's no, there's no linkage to it. And there's a, maybe I'm just ranting, but I think it's like a very, it's a, it's a very interesting way.
How algorithms in a sense have shaped a lot of how we view brand and mark and marketing, right? Like you're no longer necessarily going to be the largest brand, if you're the most unique brand, because you're going to get recommended less there, obviously. Like cases where that is not true. Like if you're, if you're creating something truly, truly extraordinary, you're going to get recognized no matter what, you may be able to create your own category, but it's also this weird paradox between fighting what humans want and what an algorithm wants, which are usually the same, but can be different.
[00:34:23] Christopher: Right. Well, it is. I mean, I agree. It is hard to find something new on any social media. I mean, there's a whole world of conversation around that and we don't need to have here today, but I mean, I don't see new things.
It knows what I want to watch and it just feeds it to me. And that's super dangerous, I think. Because then you, you start to believe everything you're seeing. Okay. Feels real to me is it's all I see, but it's just junk being thrown at me. Yeah. Now we're both renting.
[00:34:54] Ken: Well, I think that that raises a larger question and it is sort of how has, how have algorithms and like the rise of Google and some of these companies, how has that changed marketing from your perspective?
I mean, it has 100% like completely transformed the industries. You know, are there, are there are other things that like maybe the lay person might not notice about that change? Whereas a marketer would, would recognize, because I can tell you from a data perspective, but not from like a marketing perspective.
[00:35:26] Christopher: So let's go full circle to what we were just talking about and overlay that over my business. So we are AI powered, linguistic software. Anybody out there and hear about that? No, we are that interesting new thing that you're not getting served because we're not part of a category. If you're a new CRM system, it's easier to get recognized because first CRM is recognized and then people talk about what's within CRM, what's hot in CRM, and you get pulled into that category because you're that thing that people understand.
We don't get pulled anywhere. There is no higher level of us. There is no category in which we reside in. It's actually a project that I'm working on right now, because as we head into this year, one of the big things for us is generating awareness and awareness of us alone. This challenging, because if I just come at you and be like, let's talk about content content guidelines and governance and strategy aligned content.
I just sent a bunch of things that don't mean anything to you. It's not recognizable, but if there a category that is recognizable, that we actually put money in time and resources and bring our competitors into and get our partners involved. And we can build recognition around a bigger thing because everybody's pushing it out there.
Again, creates the ability for everybody to get pulled in and have that conversation and let Google catalog all of this and bring us, connect us to a bigger movement. And that's literally what I'm spending a good portion of my marketing time on right now is what are we? And I'm having really interesting calls with my competitors, because this is what analysts think that you are.
Do you agree with. No, neither do I, what do we think we are? And we're going to build the category and we're going to go back to the analyst and say, this is, this is us. This is what we think that we are collectively. Can you agree with this? Will you agree with this? Do you want to change it slightly? And can we start pushing this message out on a more broad basis and that's going to float all of those boats higher because things like Google will have an easier time understanding what to do with us. It's going to make more sense, because if you do a search for CRM, you're going to get millions and millions of results. Do a search for content governance. You got like three. I want to be able to do a search for enterprise content impact platforms.
And find all kinds of information and then the game's on. And then it's on me to figure out how to, how to rank highly in that category on Google. How do I spend money for money into our identification as that platform to create awareness? So when we talked about earlier, the fear of spending on awareness, I know how I'm going to measure it.
Like it's not really that I'm that afraid I'll do a billboard because at the end of the day, what I'm looking for, is it, is it easier to sell? Is it easier to create a first meeting because people recognize us or they recognize that category? Is it easier to move into discovery because they're willing to talk to us because they've heard of us.
Is it easier? Is it faster to get the business. And is business case more straightforward because they understand the business case associated with category that we inhabit. Like all of that is how we're going to measure the impact of awareness spend and awareness spend is everywhere. There's all kinds of things that we could be doing to further both a category.
[00:39:07] Ken: I think that that's something, I mean, that's definitely something that I'd never thought of is wow. And in this day and age your competitor is like part of your ecosystem and not necessarily helping your competitor, but like the, just as you said, like the tide raises all ships.
I think that's what the stadium is awful with names, but I digress. You know, that to me is, is funny and I there's, this really. Neat corollary from YouTube, or like from some of these TikTok things that, that comes to mind. And it's just like beast between creators. Like if you're. You know, talking bad about someone on the internet, you're both getting traffic and it actually raises the tide for both of you, even if you're not saying necessarily nice things, but I think YouTube creators or YouTubers has figured this out a long time ago. And, it's funny to see that businesses are, you know, there is some area to follow suit, right?
It's not that you talk bad about your competitors, but publicity around either of you improve. The category as a whole or approves awareness as a whole. And we're in this weird kind of dystopian awareness game that we were never in before. I mean, historically if my product was bigger and better known people were going to buy it and they weren't going to buy your product.
They probably wouldn't even hear about your product because I was doing all paid media. You're not seeing their product in the newspaper next to my giant ad when they have this little tiny ad or whatever it might be that I don't know, that kind of blew my mind. I think that that's, it's a very interesting way to look at it.
I wonder who my competitors are and, and how I can...
[00:40:56] Christopher: It's the validation of the space. That's the thing. When you talk to somebody, and when, when we're out marketing right now, I we're out pushing out our messages and somebody responds to something. We send out one of our BDRs to schedule the first meeting.
And that first meeting has to be a full introduction of what we do, and that language is ours. It's not the industries. There is no industry for what we do. And that's where I want to push our messaging is into that category space so that everybody. Again, those are competitors companies that are kind of like us.
Our bigger partners are all talking about the category and validating the categories so that we can inherit the definition of the category when I meet you for the first time. So if I, if I say to you, we're a CRM system, you know what I mean? I don't have to say, well, we're database. We have accounts, but then there's entities for contact and lead.
And all of that is interconnect. I don't have to do that because you know what a CRM is. So all I have to do with. Well, we're CRM, but we're different because we're Salesforce. We don't require you to install a software. Oh, cool. I know what that is. And I know I don't want to install software. Let's have a conversation and that makes it so much easier than what we do today, which is let's talk about being an AI powered platform that create that in improves the quality and impact of your content.
Okay, that's cool. But I don't know what that means. I don't even know what it looks like. What comes in the box? Where do I put the keys? Like all of that is just slowing down our sales deal. And it's long attempt for all of the companies in this space. Anybody doing well is going to validate everything that we're all doing.
And then I need to place a bet that we're going to be the highest execution. We're going to be the ones that can actually execute on the promise. And we're going to go in the customers. If I don't think that we can do that, I shouldn't be doing this. I shut my mouth, sit in the corner and continue doing what we're doing.
We're a very successful company. We don't need that kind of hassle if we're not that good, but I think that we are. And so I can't really be afraid of introducing everybody else to party. It's just going to be good for us.
[00:43:13] Ken: Well, I don't know. I think maybe you should just start some Twitter beefs and call it a day.
It's been working for Elon Musk. So...
I just, I just, you know, I'd love to, I'd love to understand a little bit better about your product. I mean, you you'd mentioned that. Okay. You've AI powered linguistic software. How does that, how does that work? You know, how do you improve the volume of content through that? Like, you have a kind of tangible example.
[00:43:38] Christopher: So if we think about what this space is. Companies, large enterprises, like we talked about with the digital shift their primary touch point with their audiences regardless of space in the company is through content. So if that's product documentation, if that's marketing materials, internal education, external education, support service a job postings, it's all content.
And it all represents the business and it matters. And when you're creating it, you're creating it for a purpose. It's supposed to have impact to do something. If it's a job ad it's supposed to create interest and get people to submit resumes. If it's a landing page on a website, it's probably supposed to create conversions that turn into leads or sales and what we do.
As we use the guidelines inside your organization to create content, that's going to be more impactful. And what does that mean? So simple things like correctness, is this content going to embarrass you, but correctness. Quality as it is, is a bit of a commodity there's companies out there that do only that, I mean, think Microsoft Word has correctness built into it.
Google Docs has correctness built into it. Grammarly is a really neat correctness tool. But then to go beyond that, is the content readable? Is it scannable? Is it, how has the clarity level aligned with the audience that you're writing for managing emotions? Managing inclusivity. Is it consistent from a terminology, standpoint, words and phrases?
Is it in the tone that you're trying to communicate at? I think pharmaceutical ads, the way that you advertise to a pregnant mother is probably different than the tone of voice that you would use to a 55-year-old man. Are you aligning those things so that this content resonates with the audience? If you're creating a technical content, is it usable?
Can I follow these directions? Can I use this, this code correctly based on the documentation you gave me along with it? If none of those things work, it's not very valuable content. So we're looking at content as an asset inside the enterprise. It's probably one of the single biggest assets outside of your brand.
If you think about it, I mean, what we found is actually super interesting. We went out and talked to customers about efficiency. We can help to save money. On creation of content. I said, well, cool. That sounds really neat. Show me where on my budget I'm spending money on content and you think about it. You're right.
You're not because content is a by-product of what we do. When we go to work everybody's content creator. We don't really have writer's pools anymore. We don't, this isn't mad men anymore. And so we don't have people sitting in a room with typewriters smoking and typing all day. Sounds great. We don't have it.
What we have is people that go to work and they have a job and part of their job is creating content and that content is going to roll into other uses. And how do I then manage all of these people to create this singular voice in my organization that resonates. That's what our product is designed to do.
And we're doing it. Like I said, across technical documentation, customer support, IT and operations, legal content, corporate communications, marketing, training, HR, talent acquisition, all of those areas where that impact needs to come with an end result of being get more out of what you're building.
If this is an asset and this asset costs you a billion dollars worth of people time, are you maximizing that stuff? I know you don't think about it cause it's headcount. But if you did, if you knew you had a billion dollar asset, would you value it? Would you maximize it? And that's where our customer base, which represents, you know, 20 of the top 20 largest software and semiconductor companies in the world, the biggest banks, pharmaceuticals, defense companies, manufacturers, that's where they put their time and effort is in creating impact around their content.
[00:47:51] Ken: That's fascinating. And it's a very, it's kind of a cool inversion to think about, like, what is an organization outside of their, outside of their content? Right?
I mean, my whole side business is literally my content videos. I make podcasts, I produce the courses I make any of these other things. It is like 99% of my content, maybe like 1% admin. And I think the world is moving in that direction. My question is, you know, how do you do that? I mean, is it, is it like a a bunch of different models you use?
Is it like almost a, a consulting approach where you have data scientists work with each campaign to make sure that that you're leveraging the specific things? If you can't talk about those things totally fair, but you know, that's something I think for my audience is very interesting.
[00:48:40] Christopher: Yeah, no, it's easy.
So, I mean, it's not easy, but easy to explain it. Every customer's implementation is different in many customers have multiple implementations think in terms of guidelines, things that we talked about, clarity, consistency, terminology, tone of voice style guide inclusive levels and the type of inclusive language you want to create emotion.
All, every one of our customers has a way that they want to create content. And it's probably written up on somebody's whiteboard. We're pulling it down off the whiteboard, digitizing that and making it actionable. And so once our system, our platform has been populated with your guidelines. Then it's about looking at your content.
However you want us to look at your content. So. There are ways to do it through automation. If you think in terms of continuous integration for content you're typing, typing, typing. Probably that content into a content repository it's being checked at night. You come in in the morning, there's a full scorecard of your piece of content, all the changes that you need to make to make it compliant.
You make those changes you recommitted it's rescored. And you can do that as many times as you want inside that process what's happening is that we're looking at that content, that stream of characters we're extracting content and context, identifying tokens within that language. We're adding identifying terminology and very detection, applying our patterns on top of that, our proprietary piece, and then looking at, you know, mix of rules and statistics to create tone of voice, and then leading back with guidance.
We're not magically changing content, although we could. But content is as much art as is, as it is science. And a very simple example is we might have a rule that says, don't say tests say quality. Okay. But I meant to say test, I didn't want to say quality. So if we automatically change that, it makes your content wrong.
So we tell you, your company likes to use the word quality. Do you want us to change it? Click here. We'll change it for you. And you can say. And it'll come back and it'll change the overall score of your piece of content. But that is the output of our system is a, is a numeric score for your content. What you're coming up with is a numeric score.
Good. It's not, I mean, think about when you create a piece of content and you submit it to editorial and it comes back and you're like, and I feel like it's okay. And I don't like your sheets. What, what and why? What's wrong on my shoes? That's gone. This doesn't care about your shoes and it doesn't have an opinion.
There's a set of rules that we have established, and here's where you're stepping outside of the rules. And maybe you chose to do that. Maybe you didn't, but we're going to help you to get back inside the rules wherever possible. And again, you can have, as many of these guidelines sets, as you want in your organization to cover the type of content that you create, it doesn't need to be the same.
It's somewhat hierarchal at the top of the hierarchy. We all spell the name of the company, right? Like that's the first rule. Let's get that. And that's easy if you're just Acrolinx we have one name, it's got an X in it. So it might be a little complicated, but it's just one word. But if your American express are you NX, are you AE, are you American Express or you American Express the first time and then NX every time after, like how do we manage that?
So that everybody gets that right? Or in the case of a rebranding wake up in the morning and you're not Acrolinx anymore. You're accurate.
[00:52:21] Ken: Your Acrobat?
[00:52:22] Christopher: Yeah, exactly. And everybody's still going to write. How do we manage that? But then down from there different rules for different sets. When I started here, I do whatever CMO does.
I'm gonna write the new rules. I'm going to be the tone of voice. I know what I want. I implemented it through our product. I pushed it out to our sales and marketing organization and it worked, our audiences liked it. They interfaced with our tone of voice. Well, so I got all excited. I'm a bit of a megalomaniac.
I said, I want more people doing. Who else is creating things. Support, support is creating content. Let's get support to use these guidelines. Learn very quickly that what works in sales and marketing around being kind of fun and slightly witty and wise and helpful doesn't really translate over to support.
Support is supposed to be concise and clear and quick and simple. And not funny, really. And that was the feedback that we got from our audience was this is not cute. I don't want to answer my question. And we quickly learned that it's not one thing it's not, we don't have an acronym stone voice at the very top.
We all spell the name of the company, right. There's probably a few other rules that we all have. But as we go down, there's a voice for our support team that works very well with their audiences as a voice for our BDR team that works well with prospects. There's a voice for our legal team that works well as we're moving into procurement and working through deals, each one of those inherits those top up a rules.
But as we get down into tone of voice in terminology, clarity levels, they change, it changes to suit the audio.
[00:54:05] Ken: I love that. So in my mind, like very, very large picture, a Grammarly for company voice by vertical that you can specify and customize exactly how you'd, how you'd like in a very broad, broad strokes way of, of describing.
[00:54:20] Christopher: Correct. And going back to earlier in the conversation, the Grammarly comparison should bum me out a little bit, but it actually doesn't and in most deals, it comes up. They're like, Oh, so you're kind of like Grammarly. In that you recognize what Grammarly is? Yes. Grammarly is a linguistic software and we are a linguistic software now, realistically, between you and I, if Grammarly and we are in the same deal, if we're competing head to head, one of us is lost and we should ask.
And the one that's lost should leave because Grammarly helps individuals write less embarrassing content. We help a thousand people inside and outside of an organization, right? Like that organization. So. We wouldn't be well-suited to do what they do. They're not well to do what we are, but the awareness of them lifts us up.
It makes it easier for us to have that first conversation, because if the person says to us Grammarly, I can say exactly what I just said again. Not exactly words, word software. Cool. Let me explain to you what.
[00:55:22] Ken: It's not a bad, I love it. I mean, it ties perfectly back into what we were talking about before, right.
Where the kind of a tide raises all the ships in that circumstance. I really like, and I think that that's a really good, a good place to end, as well as that, you know, this marketing domain is so inter you know, intricately tied to data and it's transformed so much over time because of that events of new technology, because of COVID because of all these other things that it's an incredibly fascinating place to, to work and understand. And there's also incredibly unique roles and progressive ways of thinking around the domain and, and how you leverage data. Is there anything you'd like to add kind of towards the end? How can people get in contact with you and things like that?
Anything that you're working on and anything you'd like to share, this is the perfect time to do that.
[00:56:09] Christopher: So I am on LinkedIn, like everybody else. CP Willis on LinkedIn. Chris Willis is the full name. You can find us at acrolinx.com. We just released a new marketing handbook on how to create content for marketing it's available on our website free, obviously.
And other than that, just stay tuned. This is going to be a big year for us. And what my hope is that eventually it doesn't need to be me telling everybody to look us up. Your audience will just find out about us because all of this awareness is gonna work.
[00:56:42] Ken: Incredible stuff. Thank you so much, Chris. I really enjoyed this conversation and I'm sure everyone is gonna gonna kind of light up when they hear about, about the discussion.
[00:56:53] Christopher: Excellent. Thanks for having me.