Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 232: Q & A with Benjamin Shapiro @benjshap
By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
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This week’s show is called “The Startup of You: How to Prioritize Your Brand, Career & Future” and our guest is Ben Shapiro, host of the MarTech podcast and owner of benjshap LLC which is a Brand Development & Marketing Strategy consulting firm comprised of boutique consultants that help businesses identify, reach, and monetize their customers. Accidental media mogul, Ben Shapiro, has a fascinating story of going from being a consultant and now really making his living with media properties. I think it’s a lesson for any marketer in any organization– the power of creating your media channel. Ben shares some some lessons for those who want to engage an audience. This and a LOT MORE!
“… relying on the things that you just do inherently well, it’s going to drive you to be more successful… really understanding who you are as a person was lesson number one”
Matt: Thank you so much everyone for joining us on the first episode for 2021 of Sales Pipeline Radio. If you’re listening to us live on the Funnel Media Radio Network, thanks so much for joining us. If you found us on the podcast, thanks so much for subscribing, for listening. And if you like what you hear today, you might like what we’ve said in the past, we’ve got over five years of episodes on-demand up at salespipelineradio.com. We are featuring in this series some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today absolutely no different. Very excited to have with us today the host of the really well done, MarTech Podcast, great guy, long term B2B sales and marketing guy, Ben Shapiro. Ben, thanks so much for joining us today.
Ben: Matt, what a pleasure. Happy New Year. We got five good days in there before the shit hit the fan.
Matt: I mean, what conversion rate is that? That’s not bad. If that was your batting average in baseball, you’d be the best of all time.
Ben: You’d be wonderful.
Matt: Yeah. Well, thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk mostly about B2B sales and marketing. Maybe a little about StrumSchool, because I got to hear the story behind this as well.
Ben: Oh man. The way back machine.
Matt: Yeah. Well, I mean, things stand out and we just talked about, okay, he’s run marketing at a number of startups, he’s run business development at eBay. We can talk about the MarTech side. I want to talk a little bit about brand and demand and the balance between those as well. Maybe just first, just introduce yourself to people that don’t know yet.
Ben: Yeah. First and foremost, there are multiple Ben Shapiro’s in the world and I am not the political podcaster. I’m the guy that does the marketing show. So for anybody that’s in the United States, thinking about politics today, I know that there’s lots of people, I’m the other guy. And my background is in marketing. I’ve had a couple of sales roles that were interesting, and I’ve been doing the solopreneur thing for a little over five years. I left my last startup job and decided to create an independent consulting practice, helping early in growth stage companies figure out their brand strategies, their marketing strategies. And somehow that dovetailed into me creating a media business called the MarTech Podcast and also the Voices of Search Podcast. So was selling my wares too early in growth stage companies and was trying to reach new ones and out came this media property, which basically did well enough that it ate the consulting business as lunch. And now that’s all I do. I’m just a talking head.
Matt: Being a talking head is not a bad thing to do. I know this is an audio only podcast at this point, but that is some kind of microphone there. Your audio sounds great. What kind of equipment do you have there?
Ben: This is a Yeti Blue microphone. It’s just a USB microphone. Truthfully, the stand costs more than the mic. So you bring it up real nice. It looks fancy, but it’s nothing too technical.
Matt: Well, we’re between microphones here in Sales Pipeline Radio world headquarters. The main reason that you’re not seeing me is I’m literally holding my webcam so that I can get close enough to get decent enough audio. You don’t need to see the inside of my nose as we do this. You’ve been out on your own for five years and I started Heinz Marketing a little over 12 years ago and can certainly relate to sort of the serendipitous nature sometimes of those journeys. I mean, I’m just curious, I mean talk about where it started and where it’s come and what have been some of the decision points and pivot points that have gotten you here.
Ben: I guess the fun part of the story starts with heartbreak. I was working at this startup that I really tried hard to get this role. VC-backed startup, early stage company. It was kind of the Uber for X age. It was dry cleaning and laundry delivery. I was really excited to be running the marketing department and for one reason or another, it just wasn’t working out. The relationship was souring. And so I basically relaunched my personal website to be an online resume, to take on some short-term projects while I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and my career. And it was really a time of transition for me personally. And what I didn’t realize that as I was basically trying to explain why I was no longer at my last startup, I had started my personal brand and I did a lot of things by accident that ended up working out okay.
Some of the copy and the way that I was describing myself, essentially dovetailed into, here’s what I can do for your organization. And people started hiring me as a marketing consultant. Most of them were, if not all of them, were from my personal network. People I had already known and already worked with. And so I started to build some processes around pipeline development, my sales processes, and really productizing what I could do as a marketing consultant. And after about two and a half years, three years, I’d hit the end of the road. I’d hit a ceiling. I was at a couple of hundred thousand dollars in revenue per year, just as a guy out on my own, working as a consultant. And I felt like there was an opportunity for expansion. And so I decided that what I was going to do is create a media property or a content strategy to try to build the influence of my consulting practice.
And since I was working with early in growth stage companies that primarily were technology companies and a lot of them was working advising other marketers, I created the MarTech Podcast. And lo and behold, I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, sort of another serendipitous, right person, right place, right time thing. But the podcast took off like I wouldn’t have expected. And after the end of the first year, we were sitting, looking at 10,000 downloads a month and we started selling sponsorship packages and we had $25,000 of revenue in our first month and the rest is history.
Matt: Speaking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with accidental media mogul, Ben Shapiro, he’s fascinating story of going from being a consultant and now really making your living with the media properties. And I think one thing that just reminds me, and I think it’s a lesson for any marketer in any organization is the power of creating your media channel. That you created something to market your business that became your business. What are some lessons that you have if you’re talking to a MarTech company or really any company that wants to engage an audience? It seems like there’s a blueprint and a lesson there.
Ben: Yeah. I think that a couple of lessons that I learned, I feel like I was inherently a good communicator over audio, which you can make your face for audio or face for radio joke here. But I just felt like my core strength as a consultant, as a person, was getting to know people, building relationships, having conversations and distilling those conversations down to the fundamental truths. And so that’s what I was doing as a marketing consultant. I would go and I would interview everybody in the organization or their customers, and try to basically figure out what they meant when they were talking about their products or services. And so that skill inherently made me at least a decent, if not a good podcaster. And so relying on the things that you just do inherently well, it’s going to drive you to be more successful.
If you’re a great performance marketer, you’re great with the numbers, go do things that are related to the numbers. If you are an entertainer, go be in a place where you’re going to benefit from those skills, whatever they are. And so really understanding who you are as a person was lesson number one. I think the other big lesson for me, A, the sales pipeline process actually didn’t really change much between finding consulting clients and finding podcast sponsors. What I was selling was different, but my process for doing the outreach, some of the email marketing that I was doing, that was all the same systems and they integrated into each other very well. So growing your pipeline is kind of the same process, no matter what your business is, whether you’re selling professional services or whether you’re selling podcast sponsorships. And that was the other really big learning for me. And I guess the last thing I would say is, when you’re creating a content business, the more content, the more shots you have at the rim, the better success you’re going to have. We’re high volume producers and that’s what really works for us.
Matt: Yeah. No, I think that that’s a good lesson too, is that I think a lot of companies spend a lot of time trying to get the perfect podcast out or the perfect episode or the perfect blog post. And some are going to be better than others, and it’s really sometimes hard to determine that upfront, but having a broader body of work that people have access to, both for, I think your audience as well as your sponsors to give them more access and more impression is probably that bolsters. It becomes a win-win.
Matt: Let’s talk a little bit about sort of this you in your consulting practice. And I know in the MarTech Podcast as well, you talk about the balance between brand and demand. And I think that our circles continue to work with demand marketers, who are thinking about pipeline, who are thinking about conversion, who are proudly math marketers that don’t think a lot about the brand side. And I think that when you look at some of the most healthy growth stage companies that are not just gen focused on logos, but focused on profitable logos, it’s in part because they have invested in building a brand behind that as well. What’s your perspective on that and does it change based on the stage of the business?
Ben: Yes, it does. Brand builds demand. And so you get really early stage companies that are trying to figure out product market fit. They need to invest in the demand driving activities, just because they need to find a signal to figure out if their business works. As your company matures and you’re starting to get into the scale phase, you don’t just want to spend to drive revenue. You need to start building assets that become more valuable over time. Things that start becoming more profitable over time. And that’s why you see companies that get into the growth stage, start investing in things like brand in content marketing, something you can put $1 in today, that’d be worth $100 at the end of the year, as opposed to more of the transactional type of marketing that you get with your performance marketing, your demand generation, your sales outreach. So absolutely, the marketing mix changes over time. And what successful businesses find, you look at the biggest companies in the world, the Apples, the Cokes of the world, they focus primarily on brand marketing because that inevitably drives your demand. That you have to work your way up to that point.
Matt: But we’re going to take a quick break, pay some bills. We’ll be back with more with our guest, Ben Shapiro. We’re going to talk more about the MarTech side of things. Definitely going to ask some questions about StrumSchool. We’ll be back on Sales Pipeline Radio.
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Paul: Okay. Back to Matt and his guest. And can I ask one quick question? And when we have a successful podcaster here, I’ve got to ask some questions.
Matt: Please go for it.
Paul: What do you think the future of podcasting is? Is it a truly new medium that is, as I always say, is long-form storytelling, or is it just another way to get some little snippets and content up on your site here. Is it a new way to tell stories, is it a more in-depth way? Yeah. To the guest.
Matt: Yeah, Ben. That’s for you.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s both. I think that in the same way it’s like saying what’s the future of blogs, 10, 15 years ago. Well, there’s some short-form content. There’s some long-form content. Maybe it dovetails into something like Twitter became essentially a short form blog. That was the original intent for it.
But I think that what we’re seeing is the transfer from terrestrial radio into on-demand audio. And so there’s going to be a world where long-form content and audio books are incredibly valuable and there’s going to be a world where people just want their news updates and their Alexa news as well. So I think that we’re at the early stages and there’s going to be short-form and long-form content being valuable.
Paul: Do you think it’ll ever be all on-demand or will it be live streaming? Because obviously the social media platforms, YouTube and LinkedIn, all these others are pushing that immediacy, the urgency of now. That’s what we do here on this channel. Obviously we take a podcast and we stream it live to start with here.
Ben: Yeah. I think that it will be both. I think the question is, what do you consider a podcast and what is just content publishing? There’s a time and a place for live audio and there’s a time and a place for on-demand in the same way that there is for television or I guess sports is a good metaphor for this. Sometimes I want to listen to the radio, but it’s live because I’m listening to a game. And sometimes I want to hear the recap after the fact. And I think both of those use cases will still exist moving forward.
Paul: What do you think, Matt? You do both now?
Matt: I think that Ben’s right. We have these terms we use like podcast and blog and video and we tend to put them individually. I can say, oh, I’ve got a video strategy, I’ve got blog strategy. I mean, I think our content strategies need to be far more diversified and really then very focused on who your audience is. Right. If you’re going after a late stage boomer audience, you probably aren’t worried as much about your TikTok strategy, at least not yet, right? And so to really know who you’re targeting and what type of content formats that they care about, and then how do you package those content formats to make it something that’s interesting. I don’t know. We could go a whole other show on that for sure. But honestly, Paul, social media is blowing up. I have to ask the question now, StrumSchool, Ben, I mean, it just sticks out like a sore thumb and sore thumb makes it sound bad, but I’d love to hear the backstory and just tell us about StrumSchool.
Ben: So I was working at eBay. I had a great job, stability. I was on a nice career path doing business development, account management and felt like I was in a really good company, but all the cool kids were leaving the mothership to go work for hot startups to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. And I just could not get the job I wanted. I was really trying to be the head of marketing at an early stage startup. And I just didn’t have enough, get your hands dirty, get it started, figure it out experience. So people looked at my resume and said, he’s a big company guy. He’s a business development person at one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world. The only way for me to bridge the gap from business development at eBay, a 13,000-person company to I’m going to run your marketing department and be one of the first five or 10 guys in the door was to jump off the cliff and start doing it myself.
And so StrumSchool started off as a side project. It was on-demand guitar lessons before on-demand was really a thing. And I turned it from this project I was working on nights and weekends to a very poorly run startup that did not see the light of day, or it did not drive a lot of revenue, let’s just say. And eventually, I was working on it for about a year and a half as my full-time job, converted into on-demand video instead of guitar lessons. But my girlfriend at the time said she was ready for a promotion to fiance, but I needed to go get a steady paycheck to pay for the ring. And the next thing I was working for the man again.
Matt: Oh, the things we do for love. Well, I’ll tell you what, if you get a chance and we’ll put this in the show notes, go to benjshap.com. If nothing else, I think the logo is amazing. It’s very cool and if you’re a music fan, you recognize the multiple layers of coolness in this logo, but still a few more minutes here on Sales Pipeline Radio with our guest Ben Shapiro, who is long time B2B sales and marketing leader and the host of the MarTech Podcast. And let’s finish up, just kind of talk a little bit about the MarTech side of things. Certainly more and more tools, more and more complexity in a lot of MarTech stacks. I have started to notice more and more companies asking not to help build its MarTech stack, but to help to simplify their MarTech stacks. They got a little too crazy, a little too complex. What are some of the trends you’re seeing with companies that are either focusing on or where they’re simplifying or where they’re doubling down relative to their marketing and sales stack?
Ben: Yeah. I think that at early stages you start with point solutions and you end up accumulating a lot of different pieces of software. And as companies mature, they either migrate from the toolkit that they’ve built to a platform. Right. You go from, I’ve got a CRM and an email marketing system and a database somewhere. And all these systems, you try to duct tape and glue them together. And then you move to HubSpot and you have your hub and you basically have to migrate all of your data or you start to move, instead of going to a platform, there are starting to be hubs that are basically connectors of all of these solutions. And you get CDPs to pull all your data together and you basically work on platforms that help you unify all of the complexity because you don’t want to move away from this cobbled together stack. And so I think that there’s two directions growth stage companies can go. And it really depends on where you are, what your resources are, what your stack is going to be and honestly, what the long term future of the business is?
Matt: Those integration opportunities seem to be more and more important, right? Because I think if you look at whether you’re looking at how people look at revenue operations and their success, if you look at companies even doing account-based programs across sales and marketing, one of the common reasons why those programs stall or fail is not having an integrated data approach. Not having sort of a single view of the customer. Is your recommendation for folks to find those third-party integrators? Are many companies succeeding by having an integrated rev ops team internally, what’s the right approach?
Ben: It’s tough because there is a technology problem. Right. Using the hubs and implementing and make all the connectors work together. And then there’s a people problem. There’s ongoing management. You’re always going to make your stack, not necessarily more complex, but your business operations are going to change. And so that historical context really matters. Having somebody in house is really valuable if you can afford it. And if not, finding some sort of a consultant or an agency that can continue to help you manage that is also a reasonable thing to consider. And I think that really depends on how much room you have in the budget. If you can afford a rev ops teams, great, go get them. More power to you if you have a long-term plan. And if you can’t, documenting what you’re doing and being able to package it up and handing it to an agency to help you solve some of the problems when something breaks, also something that’s valuable. There are shades of gray. There are definitely stages that companies go through. Not everybody can afford a rev ops team.
Matt: What are some of the opportunities you see across revenue producing groups in organizations? I mean, we talk about a lot of companies quite frankly still having trouble just getting their MarTech organized, but it seems like the marketing stack, the sales stack, what the company uses for account management, customer and customer success, and then tying that up into the business management tools, so you have that single view of your customer, but really sort of a single view of the business. Easier said than done, but is that where people should be working towards?
Ben: Yeah. You hit the nail on the head, and I think that we’re seeing this in terms of marketers titles at executives’ levels. We’re seeing less CMOs and more CROs. And really that is connecting the functions of marketing into sales and having somebody go from prospecting, lead generation, all through revenue and sometimes customer success as well. And so the things that I’m seeing are data unification, trying to make sure that the data flows all the way from your awareness building activities through your customer’s life cycle. And then also the teams and the technologies that are helping to manage those relationships. It’s not just like there is a silo from marketing, you throw a lead over the wall and hope the sales team catches it, runs it wherever they need to bring it. It is really just one open playing field and we’re all working together. And I think from an executive standpoint, we’re seeing that happen. Technology, that unification is happening as well.
Matt: Love it. Real quick before we wrap up. What are some of the things you’re looking forward to this year? What do you see as some of the big trend lines, the storylines for 2021?
Ben: Yeah. I’m excited about the podcast growth. I think that that’s the new media. It’s something that’s really important. I think working with influencers is a trend that we’re going to continue to see. I think that the performance marketing budgets are going to come back. We’re going to see Proctor & Gamble and all the big boys start to get back onto Facebook and spend their media dollars now that we’re coming out of the initial shock of the coronavirus. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the economy and how that affects M&A. Are we going to see consolidation in some of the MarTech space, but those are some of the top things that are on my mind?
Matt: Awesome. Ben Shapiro, thanks so much for doing this. If people want to check out the podcast, your MarTech Podcast, what’s the best place to go?
Ben: Hey, you can go to martechpod.com. You can just search MarTech in any of the podcast app stores. And Matt, appreciate you having me on the show.
Matt: Well, thank you so much. We will put those links into the show notes and thank you very much for joining us. We’ve got some awesome guests coming up over the course of the next few weeks as we lean into 2021, but for today on behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thank you for listening to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.
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.