By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

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This week’s show is entitledCreating a Predictable Pipeline with Special Guest, Cheri Keith“. Cheri Keith is Head of Strategy for ON24.

I think a lot about making sure, even though I’m no longer in an operational marketing leadership role inside a company, I have to maintain that edge. I have to make sure I still understand what operational marketers are going through, what the current issues are. I ask Cheri what were some of her best practices doing that as an analyst and what are some of her best practices for staying sharp.

The best practice for me was really just listening as much as humanly possible … Ask for feedback really early on. People think you have all the answers, but you won’t, so you may as well just go in very early and as part of a research process, whether you’re creating a technology report or something that’s more model and framework based and say, “I’d love your feedback on this.” .

And there’s lots more!  Listen in now or read the full transcript below.

Matt:  Well, anyway, thanks everyone for joining us today on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. If you’re listening to us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thank you so much for joining us and making us part of your work from home workday, hybrid workday. I saw that I think JP Morgan is requiring all employees to go back to work in a couple of weeks. So wherever you are, thanks very much for listening. If you are listening to us through the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing. Our download numbers continue to grow steadily, and thanks everyone for being a part of that. And if you want to check out any of our episodes of Sales Pipeline Radio, past, present, and future, you can find them all at salespipelineradio.com.

I am very excited to have our guest today. We had a last minute change from someone we were planning on having today who couldn’t make it for… Hey, listen. There’s lots of stuff going on these days. Totally get it. And this worked out really, really well because I’m super excited to be able to have joining us today, my copilot on a really interesting event we’re doing later this month. She’s the head of strategy at ON24. You may recognize her from her time at SiriusDecisions in Forrester. We’ve got a head of strategy, Cheri Keith. Cheri, thanks so much for joining us today.

Cheri:  Thanks for having me, Matt.

Matt:  Any natural disasters we need to know about up in New Hampshire right now? You guys doing okay?

Cheri:  We’re okay right now. We did have a pretty severe thunderstorm roll through a few minutes ago, but we’re in the lull right now.

Matt:  See, that’s what we don’t get up here in Seattle. West coast, generally, especially those of us on the western West coast, we don’t have hurricanes, we don’t have those crazy thunder bangers. We do get forest fires part of the year. We get earthquakes. We definitely have the earthquake side. That just kind of sneaks up on you. But boy, just crazy times. And speaking of crazy times, I mean, a lot of people that are listening to this probably remember you from years at SiriusDecisions and also, obviously, Sirius was bought by Forester. So you’ve been kind of a household name of B2B for a while, and literally in March, you left Forrester to go to ON24. Talk about that transition and kind of going from the analyst back in house. Talk about the transition and talk about the timing.

Cheri:  Well, I should first start by saying I knew nothing about before joining ON24 before. It had nothing to do with everything that’s going on in the world. But yeah, I mean, there’s a saying that you’ve heard, Matt, where it’s like you’re an analyst for three years, you really need to think about getting out, four years, it’s really pressing it, and it five, it becomes difficult to leave. So I was just passing that five-year anniversary, so it became the time for me in part of my career journey just to move back in house. But it was one that I definitely didn’t take lightly, but spent a lot of time really… I would say this was probably a year process, just thinking about what do I want out of the next jump? Where do I want to be? What do I want my work/home life balance to look like as well? Do I want to be going into an office every day? And that led me to ON24, which is great.

I covered the company for several years in an analyst capacity, but it’s a lot of excitement going back in house, but I like that the kind of role that I have here isn’t out of touch with the clients. It’s still a lot of hands-on with people talking about their marketing strategy, talking about technology implementation. So it’s kind of that best of both worlds for me where I get to be really close to a marketing ward without actually doing their marketing.

Matt:  Yeah. It’s interesting you bring up sort of that timeline in terms of being on the analyst side. Quite frankly, as a consultant, I worry about that, too. And I’ve been in Heinz Marketing now for going on 12 years. And so I think a lot about making sure, even though I’m no longer in an operational marketing leadership role inside a company, I have to maintain that edge. I have to make sure that I still understand what operational marketers are going through, what the current issues are. What were some of your best practices doing that as an analyst? I mean, even though you talked about that timeline, it sounds like you followed it pretty well. Even year one if you’re no longer in that role, things change pretty quickly. What were some of your best practices for staying sharp?

Cheri:  The best practice for me was really just listening as much as humanly possible and not to be cliché at all. But oftentimes, I think analysts can get very caught up on, like you’ll join a call, you’ll be asked to speak somewhere. Everyone wants to hear from you, but it was actually just shutting up a lot of the time and hearing what people had to say back, whether that be one thing… I had a mentor very early on at SiriusDecisions who said to me, “Listen as much as you can. Ask for feedback really early on.” People think you have all the answers, but you won’t, so you may as well just go in very early and as part of a research process, whether you’re creating a technology report or something that’s more model and framework based and say, “I’d love your feedback on this.” And just having that open mindset was a little challenging at first as you’re trying to cut your tooth as a newer analyst and be seen as an authority on the topic.

But really, I think that’s what helped make sure I didn’t lose my edge. I was very open to taking vendor briefings and just hearing what people had to say. I think that helped guide a lot of the staying hands-on, and also really left the doors open for communication, with both clients and vendors alike, where you could just be like, “I know you mentioned this two years ago…” I had another client ask this, like “What are you doing now?” And I think that would probably be the biggest guiding principle I had is just to keep listening to people and not get so caught up in the fact that people want to hear you speak that you forget to listen.

Matt:  Yeah, it’s really, really important advice. Talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Cheri Keith. She is the… I don’t know if I’d call you the new head of strategy for ON24. It’s been less than a year. It’s been since March and, look, that’s both been a long time and a short amount of time. But I love that advice, and I think it’s good for all of us, right? The longer we get into our careers, the more we know, it’s easy sometimes just to sort of rely on what we know and the experience we’ve had and not maintain that curiosity factor, not continue to be sort of lifelong learners. And let’s apply that to this year, I think it’s easy to say, once we got into Q2 of 2020, a lot of precedents and benchmarks kind of went out the window. The Q2 sort of field marketing season really took a sharp left-hand turn. In some cases, just hit the brakes entirely. What are you seeing with ON24 clients within ON24? How has sort of go to market strategy really shifted, and what are people learning about that so far this year?

Cheri:  You’re right about the field marketing world just shifting. And if you think about how much of people’s budget or pipeline was dedicated towards that, it’s pretty significant, and it wasn’t phased. It was overnight. So I think the go to market change was so abrupt that what we saw very early in throughout Q2 was just knee-jerk reactions. People just put their heads down and executed without really thinking about how they could be doing things strategically or even just creatively, like “I have something that’s supposed to be three hours long. I’m going to do it online three hours long.” They kind of forgot about the fact that, well, you know what? If you’re doing something digital, maybe it doesn’t need to be three hours. Maybe it could be shorter. Maybe it could be two sessions, things like that. So I feel like everything was done very abruptly.

But now from the perspective of where we are today and then what people are looking at as far as 2021 is they’ll have the opportunity to take the time to consider what will be best, to go back to the best practices, to really understand how should you be orchestrating your entire marketing mix and not just doing a one for one replacement of things just because we can’t do field events anymore. So that’s what I’m seeing from clients just from the perspective of very early on.

I mean, gosh, my first week on the job at ON24 I was actually speaking at two field events in Texas, and then the world shut down at the end of that week. So I’m very lucky, I guess, that I got that experience on the road and then hunkered down for a while. But I think initially it was like, “How do I take my physical events digital?” was how I spent 100% of my time. Early in the summer people, I think, started to lift their heads up a little bit and said, “All right, how should events teams work more with marketing teams?” Now we’re at the perspective of like, “All right, how do I rethink what I need to do for 2021 in order to hit my goals?” So I think that’s been the progression of conversations I’ve seen. But is that what you’ve felt on your end?

Matt:  Yeah, I mean, there’s clearly been a lot of change, but I think a lot of companies are also trying to look at, okay, isolate the variables that have changed and the variables that haven’t. Losing field events was disruptive for a lot of companies. Losing the trade shows and conferences that people had relied on to generate pipeline and interest in Q2, that was disruptive. But the interest didn’t change, the value exchange didn’t necessarily change. The venue was gone. So if the venue’s gone, but there’s still interest amongst parties to interact with each other, how do we rethink how we build value for event attendees, right? How do we rebuild value for events sponsors? How do we rebuild value for event producers? And now, six plus months in, I think we’ve done a lot of really great work creating value for attendees. I think not thinking about these as just the standard build a deck and do a presentation and a webinar, but making it truly interactive, engaging it across multiple channels for attendees, we’ve actually, I think, in many ways improved opportunities. I think for marketers and sponsors, we still have work to do. But I think breaking it down to the audiences and the value proposition and the value translation has helped a lot of companies get a little more precise and prescriptive of the changes they’re making.

Be back more with Cheri Keith. We’re going to talk more about 2020 changes and pivots. We’re also going to talk about this predictable pipeline workshop we have coming up together later here in September. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Paul:  Okay. Back to Matt and his guest who, I think she was ready to jump in and answer your question, but you kind of jumped to commercial there.

Matt:  No, that was completely disrespectful of me. I cut her off and just went right to commercial. So yeah, Cheri, I didn’t mean to sort of cut you off after my little soapbox there. But yeah, I definitely wanted to get your perspective on sort of some of those pivots. And you were referencing this earlier, elements of marketing and sales that are evergreen that really aren’t necessarily directly impacted by some of these shifts and sort of figuring out, no pun intended here, Paul, which of those waves change and which of those you need to continue to ride.

Cheri:  Yeah, totally. All I was about to just kind of go back to was this idea of understanding the buyers is more important than ever and the persona that you knew seven months ago is different than the persona that you’re marketing to now. And even within persona groups, there’s just such variations, whether people are in the market now for more of what you’re offering, less, maybe they’re still going to be in the market, but the timeline for purchase is going to get greatly extended. So I just think it goes back to the fundamentals like you were mentioning before and riding those waves.

Matt:  Well, and I like your comment about sort of really focusing on the buyer. Talked last week with Greg Lord at Elastic Path, and he’s running marketing there and navigating his own sort of headwinds of 2020. And he said something very similar. I mean, the quote I wrote down from him is, “Start with a customer and work back,” which is honestly, unfortunately, counter to what a lot of companies do. They say, “Well, I lost field events. How do I replace field event? I lost my conferences. Do I now do webinars?” And so instead of pivoting based on the channel, let’s go to the customer. How have they changed? How have they changed how they’re working, how they’re gathering information? Have their priorities shifted? Instead of focusing on three or four objectives, are they focused only on one or two, and have those changed a little bit, at least in a short term period? So it’s kind of evergreen feedback, but a good reminder to say, “Just go back to your customer. Go back to your buyer. Find out what they need. Be an expert in their problems,” and everything flows downhill from there.

Cheri:  Absolutely, and that’s not the sexiest thing on Earth to tell people. I mean, you and I are both in the business of working with people, helping them to understand their challenges, and you need to be a broken record in some way, but without having a strong foundation. Really, the process and the mindset to continually go and unapologetically go back to that, it’s really hard to actually have predictable ways of doing marketing. If you’re focusing on the downstream, you’re never actually going to get to the root cause to make sure that you can start to predict what results can be, whether it be at a campaign level, a program level, or even just internal workflow perspective as well.

Matt:  Well, let’s do our own pivot here on Sales Pipeline Radio. Talking today with Cheri Keith. She’s the head of strategy at ON24. We have our own event coming up here, and this is very different than I think what we’ve seen from a lot of companies where, look, there’ve been a lot of great summits, a lot of great webinars, a lot of great sort of best practice sessions. We’ve created something a little bigger and quite a bit deeper. Talk a little bit about this predictable pipeline workshop we’ve got coming up.

Cheri:  Yeah. So in just a few short weeks here, what we’re going to be doing is actually doing a three hour long workshop, so very similar to what you might’ve expected to do in person together. And we’re going to spend most of our time actually together not in that one to many experience, but where we’re all together. So there will be some prerecorded sections where we’re talking about best practices and understanding the buyer and customer journey, thinking about content and programs, and process and measurement as well.

But then we’re actually going to spend the majority of our time working through with our audience what their questions and feedback are. We’re going to get people a copy of an 80-page workbook, which is a very meaty piece of content that we’re sharing with people and actually doing the exercises along with people, starting to answer those questions very directly. It’s not going to be like your typical webinar where you wait till the end and then you try to field as many questions as humanly possible before the experience is over. We’re actually just incorporating that all the way through. So you’ll get access to both prerecorded Cheri and Matt, and live day Cheri and Matt.

Matt:  Yeah, we did a couple of, just as we record this podcast here today, we did a couple of those recordings yesterday. And I think we were both struck and very happy, actually, with how short those components were. It’s a three hour workshop. Depending on when you listen to this, we’re doing this on September 23rd. That’s a Wednesday in a couple of weeks from now. And yeah, there’s lots of good best practices and there’s some instruction time.

But I think the most valuable part of these workshops is actually hands-on. I think too often, you go to a lecture, you go to a webinar, you go even to a conference in a breakout session, and it’s a lot of people talking at you. Understanding how to translate some of these concepts into reality for your business into something where you’re landing the plane for your business is not necessarily trivial. I think it can be quite intimidating when you see some of these models. And let’s face it, Cheri, B2B marketing is not easy. It is not just fill out a form and handing the lead off to sales. Doing it well requires a far more sophisticated approach to strategy and execution. So at least starting to understand how the concepts relate to your business I think is key to quickly translating that into execution as well.

Cheri:  Absolutely. And it snowballs right? Once you hear someone else asking a question that reminds you of a similar situation you were in the past or a challenge that you hadn’t anticipated, but when someone else says it, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m totally going to run into that.” So I think that’s my hope through that is to also really get that kind of community feeling that you usually end up with. And I think that’s usually a successful workshop is you share some content, but then you get everyone speaking as well and starting to share what they felt and what they’re doing to plan for the future. So I think that’ll be probably one of the most valuable sections of this.

Matt:  Yeah, I agree. And I’d love to get your feedback and perspective on this as well, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised this year at how many people you can get into a Zoom type of meeting and have it actually be valuable. Beginning of this year, I think the same time you were in Texas doing some events with ON24, we were doing our last couple physical CMO breakfasts of the year, and we actually had to cut our sort of spring tour short because we couldn’t fly anymore. And we converted them to virtual breakfast and we sort of gave everybody Grubhub certificate so they could go and get themselves breakfast. And we’re like, “How are we possibly going to make this useful in a group setting?”

And I think we were pleasantly surprised at… Look, there’s still plenty of people that are going to sit and not talk, just like in person. There’s plenty of people that might sort of over-communicate, just like in person. But moving from presentation to conversation to really make it feel like you’re sitting around the table and engaging people directly and having them be part of the conversation, it’s entirely possible in an online format. I think part of what we are doing here with the workshop, I don’t want to make this commercial for ON24, is really sort of drinking our own champagne by saying this isn’t just a presentation. This has to be a multimedia sort of immersive opportunity, especially if we’re going to take three hours of people’s time and not be in front of them to keep their attention. We have to really sort of engage all the senses, and knock on wood, I think we’re going to do a pretty good job of that.

Cheri:  Yeah, absolutely. And you said it earlier, right? The venue changed, but people’s desire for interaction and learning has not.

Matt:  So again, if you’re listening to this live, if you’re checking out the podcast the next week or so, definitely September 23rd, it’s a Wednesday. It’s going to be from 9-12 Pacific, 12-3 Eastern. Can check it out. Go to ON24.com/predictable-pipeline-workshop, sign up. And this is one of those, Cheri, where honestly I want as many people to attend live with us as possible. But register for the workbook because honestly every time I go through this workbook, I’m like, “This isn’t a workbook. It’s 80 pages. This is a book,” right? And this is a book that’s a combination best practice guide, sort of instructional guide, as well as a little bit of a choose your own adventure, make this your own. I guess maybe I am tooting our horn here, I could totally see this workbook being something that is dog-eared and heavily noted and has Post-It notes sticking out of it and sits on people’s desks as they execute for a while.

Cheri:  Absolutely. I think you’re right. People are craving. They want to go from that strategy, brilliant idea to actually how I do it, and I think the workbook execution is really how people can fill out the forms, take advantage of it, scratch it out, print out another copy, and move forward.

Matt:  Awesome. Well, we will put that link in the show notes. We’ll make sure that gets out there so that you can sign up before and even after. So just a couple more minutes here with our guest. Want to thank again. I know you had to move some stuff around, but really appreciate your last minute joining us here. Head of strategy for ON24, Cheri Keith.

Last question before we have to wrap up. This has been a different year than we expected. There are some things that we’re missing. There are some things that we’re sacrificing to keep ourselves and our friends and our family and other people we don’t know healthy and safe. What is something that you miss from before March that you’re looking forward to being able to go back and do and enjoy again? And maybe what’s something, as well, that you don’t miss, that may have been part of your past normal that isn’t going to be part of your new normal moving forward?

Cheri:  Oh, that’s not good one. I’ll do one that works in both ways. How’s that? I’m not sure if that’s clever or lazy. But traveling. I mean, I spent a lot of time traveling for work both in my Forrester SiriusDecisions life, and I think I was on the path to be traveling a lot for ON24, working for a company on the opposite coast from where I live. It can be a grind at times, but I miss the work travel, for sure. But it’s also nice to be home all the time. I have young children. I was able to get a dog during quarantine that the kids have wanted for a while. But I also miss traveling with family. So my kids are ten and eight, and we had just started doing a lot more traveling with them since they’re kind of at that age to really appreciate and love it. So we had been to Disneyland earlier this year, and we had some plans to be going to Hawaii this summer. So I’m bummed for all of that, but with traveling again, that will bring back the work travel. So I guess that would be the thing that I miss and look forward to all at the same time.

Matt:  I would agree with that. Paul, you got a comment?

Paul:  Just going to say that we miss all those travelers coming to Southern California to Disneyland here. I don’t know what the economy is going to do here with all those people not showing up.

Matt:  Oh, they’ll be back. Disneyland’s Disneyland. I think this is a matter of time, and hopefully Disney has enough cash in their pocket to keep themselves occupied for a while.

Paul:  They probably do.

Matt:  But I agree with you, Cheri. We’ve had to cancel some family trips, and I’m looking forward to getting back out to places we love. But I’m looking forward to also maybe not doing as much business travel and that we can get work done here and then I can be home on a Wednesday. Missing first days of school is a nonstarter, missing birthdays is a nonstarter, but I want to be home on Wednesdays, and I’m realizing this year just how special that is for me.

Well, anyway, without going on a wholly different tangent, I want to thank everyone for joining us for another great episode. Thank you so much, Cheri Keith, VP of strategy for ON24. We’ll make sure everyone gets a link out to our workshop and make sure you join us there. But in the meantime, that’s all we got for today. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

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Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel.  I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing.  If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.