Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 307: Q & A with Eric Wittlake @wittlake


By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m Pacific on LinkedIn (also on demand) you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

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This week’s show is called “How the Dark Web Can Shine a Positive Light on Your Sales Pipeline”.  My guest is Eric Wittlake, Sr. Product Director at 6sense.

Join the discussion with us to unpack what the dark funnel of B2B marketing is and its relationship to a buyer’s journey. You’ll learn:

  • The importance of building trust and preferences in the early-stages of a buyer’s journey
  • Intentionality in measuring B2B marketing analytics
  • How 6sense is providing accessibility to data visibility for organizations

Listen in now, read below, or watch the video!

Matt:  All right. Welcome everybody to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. My name is Matt Heinz, your host. Thank you for joining us. If you’re watching us live today on LinkedIn, hello. Thank you for joining us live in the middle of your work week. Welcome to February. Welcome to a new fiscal year for those of you in a February through January fiscal. exciting to finish the year, but then you’re back to zero, which I know is like, it sounded like Sisyphus, Eric. We keep doing new fiscal years all the time, but that’s how we roll.

If you are watching and participating live today, feel free to comment. Feel free to ask questions. We will see those as we go, and we will throw those up on screen and make you part of the show and maybe even ask our guest some of your questions as well.

If you’re watching or listening on demand, thank you for subscribing and listening. This is episode, I think, 330 on Sales Pipeline Radio over from the last few years. If you’re interested in what we talk about here, we cover B2B sales and marketing. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. And every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio past present future available at

Today, featuring one of my favorites in the B2B space, Eric Wittlake, who has been an analyst, he’s been an agency consultant, he’s been a practitioner and now is an… I don’t know what is your title? I think of you as just the B2B whisperer. I don’t know if that’s an actual title, but Eric Wittlake, thank you for joining us today.

Eric: Maybe I now have a review request. That sounds like an awesome title to have. I’m in product marketing at 6Sense came in really with a focus on already on the category we were in. And so that’s just a place within the organization where I can bring to bear some of that historical experience and connections and perspective that I think you’ve probably heard too much of from me over the course of the last few years. Thank you for inviting me and being open to hearing a little more.

Matt: Well, I can never hear too much from you, Eric. And I think that’s why you tend to be in such high demand. I think I met you when you were at an agency, you were at Topo for a while, then obviously at Gartner post-acquisition and Six Sense is doing something I expect more companies to do, which is basically building an analyst expertise in house between yourself and Carrie Cunningham, super smart to be doing that. I want to be able to talk about some of the things you’re seeing and some of maybe the research that you’re thinking about for this year. One of the topics we wanted to cover today is this concept of the dark funnel.

And it’s like, we got to call things something. I didn’t like the fact that we were saying things were marketing automation, because none of it was really automated. The account based marketing is terrible, because it implies it’s just marketing. Dark funnel just makes me think we’re in a Harry Potter movie somewhere, but I think the concept behind it is really, really important. So for those that haven’t heard about dark funnel, can you shed some light on the dark funnel?

Eric: Oh man. I’m sorry to everybody listening. There’s Matt for you. All right. So I guess maybe let me start with just a little bit of context for it. As marketers and as revenue teams, we need to understand our market. And one of the things that we need to understand about our market is, where are their opportunities for us. And that’s a time sensitive thing. That changes every week, every month, every quarter where there’s opportunities for us. And so we oftentimes talk about funnel, if you want to do awareness, interest, consideration decision, whatever funnel construct that you use, it almost always starts with awareness when people talk about a funnel. And the reality is when we think about our own internal buyer journey, funnel view that we have, we don’t actually see awareness.

We don’t know when someone is aware of us and when they’re not, we don’t often know when they first start doing their research start, they’re now interested. They already need to spend time and attention, but they’re not spending it with us so we don’t know about it. And so that’s where the dark funnel, the piece that is before they’re in the traditional funnel, we can have as marketing, as sales, as revenue teams, they’re already doing their work. That’s the piece they’re in their journey, but it’s before they get to our funnel view of where they’re at. And so how do we get visibility into the start of their interest, the start of their research? Because, most of the time we all spend on a purchase decision. Most of the time we spend on a purchase decision is time that we are on third party sites that we’re on review sites that were on a blog that talks about somebody’s experience.

I don’t start with a vendor site. In many times in many cases, I don’t even know who the vendors are when I get started. And so how do we, as an organization start to see that early activity. So that’s the dark funnel that time that I spend there. And then the question is, is what can I get for information that gives me visibility into the dark funnel? And that’s where the data that we capture at 6Sense, the data that’s becoming more accessible to organizations today gives us visibility before people engage directly with us.

Matt: Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack there. And one of the things that I wrote down here is just the idea of track versus enable. And so I think for sure, I want to get to attribution and what get to track and what you’re doing to identify and have an intense signal from the dark funnel or from something that is not overt. It’s not a hand raise. It’s not let me download your white paper, but what are we watching for and why do we find it? How do we track it? What do we do with it? But I Think sometimes we…

Eric: Sidebar, who says, please let me download your white paper.

Matt: Look there’s value in white paper. You and I both know good research, good insights, but just because I downloaded your white paper doesn’t mean I want to demo. It doesn’t mean I need you to follow up or what talks about lead response time. If I downloaded your white paper, I don’t need you to call me in 15 seconds from my perspective, transaction over. Now you got to build extra value, whole other, maybe a whole other show, but this idea of track versus enable, I want to talk about. So sometimes we get so focused on what can we track. We forget that we have to actually create those moments in the first place. And I think just in even related to this rant about like, what can I get people to download? What forms can I get people to fill, there’s value in enabling discovery and enabling people to have those dark funnel conversations, even if we can’t track all of them. And I would posit that we will never track everything that happens in the funnel. I mean this there’s conversations that happen offline. It will continue to happen in person that are not in a CRM system. Talk about this idea of track versus enable, where do you see companies putting a focus on programs that are creating more of those dark funnel moments, that are creating more of those intense signals to begin with?

Eric: Well, my mind on that goes immediately to all of the misplaced maybe brand investments that a lot of B2B marketers make. And I say it’s misplaced because I think that oftentimes in particularly in like mid-market B2B, we just don’t have a great understanding of what it takes to truly change someone’s perception, change someone’s point of view from an awareness program and investment for perspective, oftentimes those programs are smaller than they probably need to be in order to accomplish the goals that we have in our mind, but haven’t figured out how to put numbers to. But what’s happening when I go: what more people are aware of what I do? more people are aware of the problems. In some cases, we’re trying to convince people that there’s a problem or that there’s a solution to a problem that they’ve just assumed is a pain of being alive or doing business.

How do I change people’s perspectives enough that they start going, I’m interested. I’m starting to look at that. I’m starting to read about it. You got my interest. I want to learn a bit more, maybe not from you not to begin with, maybe from what’s out there in the world, not directly from you, but you’ve changed my behavior. I’ve started to research to read, to talk, to consume, to listen about this. Now, how do I as the marketer, the organization that helped to spark that actually know that I had that impact what did we do way, way back, when I first started in digital, we looked at things like branded search. We looked at things like category level search. If we were trying to really get people interested in something completely new. And we said, Hey, does Google say that there’s more activity on our brand or on our category before we launch that brand awareness type campaign or program?

Well, that’s one little slice. Guess what, we get to see lot more of that today because we can use intent. We can use that insight that we have into the dark funnel to say, hey, are people’s behaviors starting to change? And if I want to change your perspective, then chances are, what I really want to do is I want to start to change your behaviors.

Matt:  So talking to on the Sales Pipeline Radio with Eric Wittlake, who we’re giving him a new title of B2B Whisperer today, I think he’s going to take that back and evangelize that internally. Years ago when I was at Microsoft, we didn’t call it buying journey at the time and I sometimes feel like that’s just become a buzzword, but it’s really important. I was working in a division of MSN that was doing real estate mortgage. And we were trying to understand the end audience a little better. And the one thing that stood out to me is we identified that first time buyers take 26 months from the beginning of the process until they buy a house. And that doesn’t mean that 26 months ago they were calling a realtor didn’t mean that, I mean, at the time, there’s and sites like that were nascent.

It didn’t mean that they were like, I need to look at listings or I’m ready to talk to a realtor. 26 months ago it may have started with people just subliminally thinking about how bad their commute is or thinking at some point we’re going to want to start a family and I don’t want to do that in this tiny house or in this apartment. It starts with things that you don’t even think of, but are experiences that eventually come to the forefront of your brain, say this sucks. I don’t like my status quo. What could I do? I could rent a bigger place. I could move in with my parents. Maybe I should buy a house. Could I do that? Could I afford it? I mean, there’s all these steps. We identified this whole journey up steps people go.

I bring this up as an example because I think a lot of people, they want to engage as many buyers as possible when they’re ready to talk to a realtor. When they’re ready to engage, when they know they have a problem. This conscious of the buying journey, when we’re thinking about the dark funnel, it’s even more important now for us to not just value, but to crisply understand those early stages, knowing that they’re not going to convert right away, but you’re building trust and preference in those early stages. Talk a little bit about that process and, and how companies can start to be better at doing that.

Eric: Well, I think we could spend the whole time on just that, but there’s a couple things that the practicality of being able to do that change when you have that insight. As a marketer who says, yes, I have all of the money and resources that I could want to go after and influence the market that I’m in. We don’t have that luxury. What we’ve done historically in that scenario is we’ve said, oh, well, here’s the couple percent of people that I actually know are far enough down the process that they’re probably ready to talk to a realtor. And then here’s the other, let’s call it 95% of people. And I don’t know where they are. What I’ve had to do as a marketer is I’ve had to peanut butter myself thin out across all of them.

And what that means is I probably actually didn’t have a heck of a lot of influence. I didn’t change a lot of perception for any of them because I was spread so thin. Well, what if I could actually identify in your scenario the 15 or 20% additional people in the market that are starting that process they’re on month 26 t- 26 or 24 or 18 or whatever it is. I’m starting to get that ability to identify that set of people. Now, instead of as a marketer, taking myself peanut butter thin across 95%, I can focus that in, on that 15 or 20% and actually start to make a difference in their perceptions and flowing through into their behaviors. The fact that we live in a time and money constrained environment as marketers, I think is one of the biggest impacts that we have is we can make a decision that’s right about what we should prioritize and where we should invest to influence that outcome.

Matt: This all makes sense. And I imagine people watching this, whether it’s Jenn or others, I mean, it’s easy to nod your head and say, this all makes sense. But as marketers she’s right. We sometimes prioritize what we can measure, because it’s metrics that we it’s things we can show the organization that we have done. Andy Krestadina at Orbit Studios. He was the one that he made stole from someone else, but he said, the more important, the harder it is to get to. And I mean, if we’re implying this full complex model of how people engage with you, and it’s not just the individual buying a house. For most people watching this it’s complex B2B buying committees with multiple people, engaged at different stages, it’s really hard, if not impossible to measure all of that.

What we often tell clients is like, the measurement is important, but the intent is more important. The understanding that this process exists and you orient your program to it is important. Can you address it and just talk about the culture change components required to be good at that, to say that we’re not just going to look at form fills than MQLs, that we’re going to prioritize efforts to impact the dark funnel even if it isn’t something that Jen can curl up at night with her spreadsheet and make her feel more comfortable. It’s a very much more ambiguous when you land the plane and have to talk about the impact of it in the ROI.

Eric: Yeah, really? Is it? Does it need to be? A piece of me wants to push back a little bit because the reality is, is none of us are going to be able to let go of justifying what we do. I don’t think we should. We can’t let go of that because guess what, we have to go make a case for continuing that budget, increasing that budget, maintaining that activity. We have to continue to go make the case for that. And that means we do need measurement. What I saw at Topo, what I oftentimes preach when I was at Topo is this is a new set of metrics you’re going to be using. And for many of you, what that actually means is you’re going to need to show to the business that these are more reliable indicators of being able to create value.

And if I go, okay, I had this old MQL, I’ll pick on the MQL for a little bit, conversion rates continue to drop, quality isn’t there. I’m getting really good at gaming, getting to that number. It’s not creating the value for the business that I expect it to, but it’s still what the business knows. I can’t just go, Hey, throw out what here’s something new chances are, you’re going to have to put the two side by side for a period of time. You’re going to have to show that this new way of seeing those early indicators of success are actually more indicative of future success for your business. Are you seeing intent activity? Are you seeing that dark funnel activity, are you seeing that engagement activity? Start measuring, but it will take time to switch over and prove that to the business?

Matt: It will. And I think that we are out of the dark ages of the dark funnel from my perspective here, because there’s a lot of people that are doing this. I mean, the beginning of when we started describing EBM as a new… You can say, well it’s target accounts identifying isn’t new well what’s is, think about that whole buying committee, orchestrating campaigns between sales and marketing in a way that has always been seen as complex and difficult. But we now see it precisely what increased yield you can get from that. We have companies that are seeing investment into our funnel as hell say turn into more pipeline, better conversion, more efficiency along the way. And sometimes you can look and say, okay, let’s take the past six to nine months as a basis and see, or we change our behavior even if we can’t track explicitly, what’s happened. If a couple of these variables is what changed in our approach to the dark funnel is that different? And in some cases, you can even orchestrate that in a regional or an industry way as well. It may not be quite as dark, but there’s dark things happening. That’s the wrong phrase. Let’s talk about customer engagement, whether you’re doing, I’m sorry, if we’re doing land and expand, if you’re doing PLG, if you’re doing just you’ve got a customer and you want to get a renewal or you want to get more of their business moving forward, it’s an existing customer, but there’s still a lot of those untracked things happening with that prospect. How does all of this apply? How does the dark funnel still apply to a customer base that you maybe already have a relationship with?

Eric: And here’s where, when I first talked about the dark funnel, it’s like, well we have our funnel view and then there’s a piece that happens before someone comes into that funnel. I actually want to maybe flip the language that we use now. I don’t want to talk about that necessarily as the funnel, I want us to talk about the things, the insight that we get, because what that’s doing for current customers for instance, is it’s giving us more insight into the actual behavior activity and interest of our current customers. Rather than it being like dark funnel, the stuff that happens before the funnel that we can measure. All of that. But the reality is, is I continue to see that behavior all the way through. I continue to see what people are doing outside of my owned and operated domains and space all the way through the process.

That importance of knowing what people are interested in, what they’re spending their time on, that’s for me as a marketer, that’s a universal desire. It doesn’t matter what my current relationship is with you. I need to understand you better so I can be more relevant, make better decisions about how I engage with you. I think anyone that talks about customer experience, we want to understand the full extent. I don’t think there’s anything unique or distinct about that.

Matt: Yep. Well, coming up on about 20 minutes, we try to keep these 20 minutes or less, we’re going to run on over a little bit today. I want to thank Helen and Jenn and a bunch of others for watching live and commenting. This has been a fun conversation. We could certainly keep this going for a while.

Eric, I mentioned at the beginning of the show, what you and Kerry are building at Six Sense doing research inside of an organization. I think this is analyst 2.0 quite frankly, to continue to build some insights. What can you share or tease a little bit about what you guys are planning on and working on that we’re going to see coming out of your research efforts over the rest of this year?

Eric: Let me tease one thing and particularly because you said analyst 2.0. Man, what is the hardest thing you do from an analyst perspective is get good data. What do you have when you sit in a SaaS organization is such a wealth of data that it’s hard to even figure out what all you have and how to get access to all of it. That’s one of the coolest things. That’s one of the things that is different from the challenges of the past. And so much that can come out of how do we use real data as reflected in real systems and not biased by what are people able to recall or what do they think the answer is? Because those two are oftentimes really different numbers, really different decisions, really different priorities.

Matt: Yeah. Love it. Well, Eric I know you’re busy, man. Thank you so much for taking time to join us today on Sales Pipeline Radio. Thank you everyone for watching and listening live and on demand. We’ll see here next week 11:30 Pacific 2:30 Eastern.

My name is Matt. We’ll see you next time on Sales Pipeline Radio.


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