You’re not alone if your company has ambitious growth goals with a comparatively small marketing budget. It’s a conundrum that requires outside-the-box thinking.
In this episode, fractional CMO and fellow B2B growth marketer, Andrew Bolis, joins us to talk about how to get traction and results even when your budget is tight. Hear about ways to get creative while zeroing in on strategies that align to how today’s B2B audiences buy—on their timeline from a trusted source.
[00:00] Show intro
[03:54] Build programs that align to how B2B audiences buy
[05:45] Marketing channels that give you the most bang for your buck
[07:04] Strategy 1: Multi-phase email campaigns featuring high-quality ungated content
[13:19] Strategy 2: LinkedIn brand ambassador program that trains and encourages employees to post, comment and connect
[19:37] Strategy 3: Join forces with other companies that complement your brand/solutions
[25:53] Strategy 4: Start a monthly roundtable or networking event to share best practices with your C-level target audience
[29:52] Key takeaway
Hey everybody, it’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You are listening to The Demand Gen Fix the podcast where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation and why we believe it’s the key to long-term sustainable growth, especially in HR tech industry.
Hey Demand Gen Fix listeners, welcome back to the podcast. Today we’re going to talk about what happens if you don’t have a huge budget for your marketing. Not every HR tech company has the marketing budgets of the big brands like ADP, UKG, Workday, Bamboo, and the likes. On today’s episode, we’re going to dive into some deep strategies to drive brand awareness and demand creation that don’t necessarily require deep pockets to pull off. Joining us with this conversation is our friend and fellow growth marketer, Andrew Bolus. Andrew is a fractional CMO with over 15 years of marketing leadership experience in the software space. Welcome to the show, Andrew.
Thank you for having me on, Jenni and Deanna.
It’s so exciting to have you today. We’re going to go ahead and jump right in. Andrew has a lot of great ideas on this subject. Let’s talk about tight budgets and how that makes it a little bit harder to accomplish your growth mission.
I think that’s a good place to start. A lot of the companies I’ve been working with, they can’t just do what they did in 2021 or even 2022, which is mostly running more ads, creating more content. Both of those obviously work, but because budgets are tight and they’re limited on resources, a lot of companies just don’t have the money to invest in those channels. So that’s why I started coming up with different ideas to help create brand awareness, generate some demand for them outside of those typical channels.
I would work at companies who had aggressive growth goals. They did not have aggressive marketing budgets. I would come in and I would be the first marketing hire. I would build up the marketing team from scratch and they’re like, and by the way, here’s your hundred-thousand-dollar budget for the year. We’re going to grow from 15 million to 25 million in the next three years. And it’s like, ooh, okay, let’s, let’s figure this out. Right? And I think what it forced me to do as a marketing leader is to get really creative and to find ways to go out there and build brand awareness in the market and build that trust in the brand.
I look back on it now, what people call demand gen now and personal branding and all those things,
I think, hey, I must have been ahead of the curve because we didn’t have budget. I had to get creative and find the ways to do that. And a lot of the ideas which we’re going to talk about today are based off of a post in the carousel that you actually created for LinkedIn and totally fit that model of yep, here’s how we’re going to create some traction in the market without having this huge budget to work with. So whether you are dealing with your budget got cut significantly and you can’t do some of the programs you did in the past or you’re just starting out anyway same as last year. I didn’t have a big budget last year; I didn’t have a big budget this year. There’s some really good ideas in here.
What I like about these ideas too is that they scale without necessarily increasing costs. The problem with ads is even if they’re working, you have to spend more to get more. You reach a point where if you just run out of budget, you can’t just run more ads. A lot of these strategies because they’re building your brand they do scale over time and they’re a lot more sustainable.
Yep, for sure. You’ve got to get somewhat creative to move the needle when you don’t have those big budgets. And I think one of the things to really think about is you’ve got to build programs that support the way B2B buyers want to buy today. They’re not responding to lead generation tactics the way they did in the past. And they think, these technology companies that have these SDR teams and the models built out around all of this marketing are really hitting a brick wall right now in some instances because they’re not getting the traction and it’s not necessarily the SDRs fault they’re doing the model that’s always been done. It is just buyers aren’t responding that way anymore. And so, you’ve kind of got to move past the traditional marketing tactics of we’re going to put together this really deep content that we think is something that people are willing to fill out a form and download.
You’ve got to move past that because it just doesn’t work anymore. We talk to clients all the time or prospects that come to us and are like, we’ve been running digital ads, we’re getting a lot of good traffic to our landing page, but the landing page isn’t converting, and they’re looking at it and they’re like, do you think my HubSpot link is broken? It’s like, no. They say, do you think I need to redesign the landing page? No, I think you need to acknowledge people aren’t buying the same way anymore.
Yeah, that’s a great point Deanna. And a lot of it too is the buyer readiness. Sometimes they’re just not ready to buy, they’re using something else, and the contract is not up yet, but during that time you still want to create awareness, be top of mind for them. So, a lot of these strategies help with that.
Let’s jump into the strategies. Like I said, you had posted some ideas on LinkedIn, so that’s the basis of our conversation today. I know you had posted about five different things. We narrowed them down to four and combined one of them, but I think they’re all great ideas to talk about and share with our audience.
Sure. Let’s start with the first one, which is building email campaigns to distribute relevant high-quality content. And the idea there is that you build email lists of your target job titles at target companies that you’re going after, but instead of just sending them emails that are salesy trying to schedule time to chat, you start by just sharing insights and educational content with them.
We talk about that a lot here at GrowthMode Marketing as well. The fact that you really shouldn’t be gating a lot of this content because you want people to be engaging with what you’re putting out there, right? That’s how you build brand awareness.
Exactly. I think a lot of it too is what you’re sending through the email. So, a lot of companies I work with, they have great reports or maybe they’ve done a webinar or something where they have a lot of great content, it’s just that they tend to share the entire thing versus like three or four small insights that maybe would resonate with a CEO who’s busy and just wants something quick to learn.
Right? And you know, there’s a difference. I mean listen, doing multi-step email campaign certainly isn’t this new and novel idea. A lot of companies already have it as part of their mix. But I think what’s happening is a lot of companies are focused on sending more sales focused type of emails. Like, I’m trying to get an appointment, I’m going to send some stuff out. Let’s try to convert these. Again, going back to the SDR model, you need people to raise their hand. And then the reality is not as many companies are sending out emails that are actually just to provide information without asking for anything in return or without saying and call me cause we’re going to fix this for you. And I think there’s an opportunity, and I think that’s the whole point of this bullet point that you brought up here, Andrew, is put really good content in front of them that addresses the challenges that they’re facing and provide practical advice and insights because that’s going to do a lot more to one, get them to actually say, yeah, okay, I’m going to read this email. This is pretty interesting here. Versus, we all get those emails probably many every day that are kind of spammy that you read the first five words and you know, it’s a sales outreach email. Those go straight to delete for a lot of people.
I also like the idea that you said about just not sending the whole thing all at once, but taking out just the pieces that are relevant or chopping it up a little bit because it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. If you get a big report to read, maybe you really are interested in it, but a lot of times people just don’t have the time to sit down and actually read an entire report at once. If you’re just putting out the information that is relevant or give them a little bit each week, I think that they’re going to be more apt to react to it and engage with it.
Exactly. And it allows you to do like really cool things. So, if you let’s say have two or three different target personas, you can share insights that are relevant to each of them. What I like to do with these emails too is I like to avoid including any links in the first email, which actually helps with the email in boxing and actually being open. I like to have like a soft call to action saying, hey, this is part of a bigger report, would you like a copy of our report? Because I’m also trying to get replies and things like that. The idea is it’s an email sequence, it just shares insights. It doesn’t push for a call or anything. It’s just more educating them and kind of sharing value.
Yeah, and I think you bring up a really good point, Andrew, about the personas. I think it’s so common to send out an email blast and just send it to your entire database. And so many companies make the mistake of trying to be everything to everyone because the thought is, well I could send it to this list of 10,000 people and you know, there’s more fishing poles, casting lines out there to catch a fish. When in reality I think you can get more traction if you start to get really focused with the content that you’re putting out there specifically to an ideal customer profile and talking their language instead of that more generalized language. I would love your opinion on Andrew, how do you feel about purchasing lists because I think that’s an area where there’s a lot of debate and the marketing automation systems obviously don’t want you to do that. They all put things in now saying, please confirm that this is an opt-in subscription list and let’s be real as marketers, you have to build your database somehow, so you know who hasn’t bought a list and put it in there. But you know, there’s lots of challenges that come with purchasing a list too.
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. So there’s a couple things there. I always start with, if you have insights or value add content that’s worth sharing, that’s when it makes sense to do a cold email in general. If you don’t, I wouldn’t do it from a technical perspective, it’s always a good idea to use a separate program than your marketing automation for cold email. You can also get a separate domain, warm that up or warm that different email address altogether. It just makes sure that if people mark your emails as spam, it doesn’t impact your marketing emails from getting into your inbox. It is legal to email in the us I wouldn’t do this with Europe because it’s GDPR obviously, but in the US from a business-to-business perspective, you can email anyone. You just have to keep an opt out list for someone unsubscribe. You have to keep track of those, you always keep optout if you switch tools or something just to import your list of people that you know you don’t want to email.
We’ve done that where we’ll do the warmup campaigns using something like Milkshake to slowly drip to those people and find out who’s engaged enough to bring into HubSpot. But it’s a long process and it’s a pain in the butt to do, and clients sometimes say no, I want to do my campaign now. We just spent $15,000 for this big list; we need results yesterday. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act to figure out what is the right way to build up your database without going crazy to the point where you start to get your, you’re blacklisted and none of your emails go through. Because that certainly defeats the purpose of all of it for sure.
If we’re talking about companies that are on a shoestring budget, they might not have the money to buy a list anyway because it gets expensive.
It does. Building up your database obviously is going to be a much higher quality list. Because those are people that said, hey, I like what you’re doing. I’m interested in your content, but that’s not quick that takes years to really build up really good lists for most companies. So, there’s usually some kind of balance you have to put in place while you do that.
That’s a good point. You want to balance both. I also don’t like to mix the list. I would recommend keeping them separate, like keeping your email opt-in list separate from this full email
List. Alright, number two.
So, number two is creating a LinkedIn program within your organization for your employees. There’s different names for it. Sometimes it’s called like an employee advocacy program ambassador program. But the idea is to just enable and train your own employees to build personal brands on LinkedIn. From that prospects will also find out about their brand your brand and are just more likely to purchase from you or engage with your own employees on LinkedIn. So it’s both from a brand awareness perspective and creating demand. It’s, it’s very interesting.
Yeah. This is something that I think has really gotten traction. If you go on LinkedIn regularly, I see a lot of people out there, a lot of companies that are starting to see like, hey, there’s value in really building out this brand ambassador program in having my employees go out there and on behalf of the company build out that personal brand where they are constantly posting content that’s very relevant for your company on topics, that are important to your ideal customer profile. They’re connecting with those people that they want to target; they’re commenting on their posts and really just being very visible out on LinkedIn on behalf of the company. I can think of a handful of tech companies right now that you can tell they’re actually making a very, very concerted effort. I’m sure the ones I’m thinking of, Andrew, you’re thinking of too, because I’m sure we see a lot of the same people because we run in the same circles popping up where you’re like, wow, they have a lot of employees that are really out there talking about their brand and the topics that are relevant for people that may consider purchasing from their brand.
And they think there’s a lot of power in that because people build trust with people much more than they build trust from brands. If you’re a B2B buyer and you go out and make a purchase and you’re deciding between two companies and all things are equal, including functionality and price, you’re probably going to pick the one where you like the sales rep better, right? Because you build that personal relationship with them. And so even though you’re buying from the business, it’s still kind of this personal like, do I like these people? Do I want to work with these people? Will I buy from these people?
A lot of companies are doing this well. I see it in MarTech and sales tech, a lot of companies there I think have got a good system. But outside of those two industries, I feel like there’s a lot of other industries that are just not taking advantage of this yet. It does take some structure. So, you generally have to train the employees, you have to like to help them optimize their profiles and then you have to create a content calendar and an engagement plan for how they comment who they engage with, what they do on LinkedIn and things like that. So, it does take some effort, but after kind of the first 30 days, it’s one of those things that builds on its own and employees like it too. Cause they get to build their own personal brands.
I can see where an employer would be like, I don’t want to do that because if they look like too much of an expert in the industry, our competitors are going to snap them right up. And it’s like, yeah. Oh that’s absolutely true. For the time that they’re at your company, if you’ve got employees that really embrace the ambassador program and do this on behalf of your organization, they can really make some serious headway in brand awareness for your company.
I feel like there’s also an opportunity there for your employees to get more invested in the company. If you’re training them in on all of the things that you’re trying to market to your customer, it makes them feel like they’re part of the process. Maybe they’ll be more invested in your company by being able to do that and be part of the ambassador group.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. Going back to what Andrew said about you have to provide them guidance and training. I think yes, if you just tap employees on the shoulder and are like, Hey, I’d like you to be a brand ambassador for our company. Go at it. They may not know, especially if they’re not in marketing or sales, I don’t know what to post. I have no ideas. I don’t know how to represent us. So, you got to provide some level of guidance, but I think you’ve also got to make sure you give them the freedom to be able to create posts without having to get them approved and to be able to have a perspective and put it out there on behalf of your company that they own. Because if you don’t, then it just feels like I’m just, I’m just a copy and paste machine here.
I’m just going to take the content you give me and put it out there, but I have no skin in the game. Honestly, what do you think about these topics as it relates to what we do as an organization that that really empowers an employee to not only learn more about how to talk the lingo and, and how to have a perspective like it, it helps them grow tremendously, but it also feels more authentic to the individuals who are reading what you’re putting out there.
You’re right. Like they need to vary their post types. So I like to think of it as some posts should be about the company, others should just be about the industry or the space that the company is in. And then the third type that I like is also encouraging the employees to share stories from their professional career. Something fun they did once in a while, like just something more personal. Cause that also helps as well, where it’s not just like them talking about the company or the industry all the time, they come across like an actual person. So even their connections start to connect with them more.
And that’s where the trust comes in, which makes total sense.
All right, let’s talk about number three.
So number three is just tapping into existing and relevant audiences. There’s a couple ways of doing this. One is partner marketing. So partnering with other companies that maybe go after a similar audience as you but are not direct competitors, like their solution is complimentary to yours. And then the second part of this is also just engaging in existing communities that are where your industry hangs out or where they, they spend their time.
I think the crux of what you’re saying is, hey, let’s tap into third party audiences that already exist that are very relevant. Meaning my ideal customer profile hangs out there. We work with the HR tech industry a lot. An example would be tapping into if there’s a group of HR tech buyers, senior HR leaders who have an online forum, how do you get involved with that? But again, don’t be salesy. You have to be authentic, but it creates an opportunity to kind of use their platforms and the existing platforms to be able to build your brand awareness and put a message out there. You know, and same with if you’re partnering with companies that align but don’t compete, there’s an opportunity to co-market and it’s beneficial to both companies because you are getting your content now in front of their audience, but they’re getting their content in front of your audience too, and you’re doing it together. And, and in some ways, it can build credibility because if they’ve got a really good brand on a really well-known brand, that credibility carries over to your brand if you’re partnering with them and vice versa. Do
You have any recommendations on how to find these opportunities out there? I mean, I’m assuming we’re talking about LinkedIn, right? So, like where are these other companies that you can find or these groups that you can look for?
I’ve mostly worked in SaaS and tech; I like to use like things like G2 or other sites where I browse the more general categories. So I used to do this when I worked in like supply chain tech supply chain is very broad and within supply chain there’s just different tech, you know, subcategories. You know, we would find companies that, again, not a competitor, they just have a different type of supply chain tech. And then, and then I would go on LinkedIn, and I would find their marketing people and reach out that way depending on their size. Like if they’re big, they might have an event or a partner, you know, marketing person. If they’re small, it could just be their director of marketing or head of marketing. Even when I’m reaching out, it’s just more, hey, like we’re both in the same industry. It would be nice to chat and have a coffee chat or something. And then from there I’ll introduce the partnership opportunity.
I think looking at software technology review sites like Trust Radius, G2, you know, list goes on and on. I think that’s a great idea because they’ve already categorized for you and to your point Andrew, yes, something like supply chain, there are so many different avenues that fall under the supply chain arena. So you’re not technically competing against that company that might be in a parallel path, but you’re selling to the same people. So how do you come together and let’s say you’re looking at things like, we’re going to do a research report together and publish it, or we’re going to do a webinar series, or we’re going to create a podcast series. There are so many different things from a marketing perspective that you can look at and say, how do we approach this together for the benefit of both of us to be able to expand your reach beyond your own known audience?
Exactly. Their marketing team usually loves this idea because they’re often already either doing webinars or creating reports. So when they hear, hey, we’re going to partner on something together and it’s going to be cross promoted, it’s almost like the same amount of work, but now it gets double the reach.
Right. And, and half the cost because if like you’re paying to work with Forrester for example, to develop this research report, which report is not a cheap avenue to go down. Now you only have to pay for 50% of that cost to get the same information. Right. Cause your partner is also paying for 50% of that.
The other part of this point too that I think is often overlooked is found finding, you can call them influencers except in B2B they tend to be more like, like creators or whatever. So again, when I was in supply chain tech, we found, her name is Sarah Barnes Humphrey, I think she runs this page on LinkedIn. It’s called Let’s Talk Supply Chain. And she has her own supply chain podcast, and she just built a big audience. So we would partner with her, we would have her sometimes host our webinars. We would have her get us guests for web. We would just do different activities. But because of partnering with her, we also got access to her audience. Again, some of this was paid, like she just had a fee or whatever, but compared to ads, it was just much more affordable to work with her directly on different media and different programs than just to purchase ads. And over time it got us access to her audience and even her network and connections and experts in the supply chain space.
Yeah, that’s a great point because there absolutely are influencers in every industry and you know, to your point, Andrew, we don’t always call them influencers in the B2B space, but industries tend to be somewhat incestuous. Meaning, you start your career there and like if we look at HR tech for example, you might start out at a DP and then you go to Ceridian and then you go to Paychex and then you go to a startup like they’re moving all over. There are certainly people that are well known in that industry that are doing things. They have created their own personal brand in that industry. And yep. Sometimes it’s pay to play, but there are opportunities to reach out to them. We do it for clients all the time and have them write articles about you or participate in your podcast or your webinar or you know, be part of an event that you’re doing where you can leverage their audience as well because they have a really broad reach a lot of times.
So number four is starting a monthly invite only virtual round table. This works well if you’re going after C-level VPs or director level people, you make it industry specific. The idea is that this is a networking event for you to connect network, discuss trends, get ideas from others in your industry that just work at different companies. And that’s kind of how you position it. And over time it just creates a lot of opportunities where it grows. At some point too, you might be able to even build your own community out of something like this.
Yeah, that’s a great idea. You know, especially when you look at leadership, it’s lonely at the top. They don’t necessarily have the ability to go talk about business problems with their employees because they don’t want to alarm them. And there are so many business leader and CEO groups out there, for example, that are very expensive to be a part of. And so if you’re offering this, making it an a sense of exclusivity by saying, this is an invite only I’m choosing you to be a part of this round table. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s I’m connecting you with other leaders within the industry that you can talk about challenges and share with. I think it really can be appealing to them because they’re probably like, well I don’t want to spend 25,000 a year to be a member of this CEO group, but for free you’re telling me I can go join this group of like eight other CEOs in my industry to kind of share and trade best practices. I think that’s pretty powerful.
It’s great too for their own career development now that you know those people in case they ever need like a new job or shift jobs. I think the key there is that when you’re starting out just being selective about who you invite to the group and just how you even describe it, I think the biggest concern to the people you’re inviting is going to be like, is this going to be like another sales pitch or something where I’m going to get like try being sold to? And you just have to be clear that no, like it’s an industry group and I like to even just give them a topic, Hey, for our next one, here’s the topic we’re discussing. And it’s a round table conversation.
Yeah. I could see them raising their hand and saying, well, I’m not sure I want to be in a round table group with p people in the industry who maybe I compete against. So, you kind of have to balance out, I think who you invite and make sure you know, that maybe they align but they don’t compete against each other so that they can have those more honest conversations and be more insightful in sharing in the groups when they come into them.
I do find that that for most industries, they’re wide enough where like I’ve rarely run into that, but that is a consideration again, when it comes to these virtual round tables. I’ve seen them like they’re popular in MarTech sales tech, but outside of those two industries, no. Like very few other industries are doing them or even sort of doing them well.
Yeah, it sounds like marketing technology and sales technology organizations are ahead of the curve in the things that they’re trying and building up those communities and their own personal audiences and brands, right?
They’re usually ahead of the curve. Another thing for this one too I like to do is like, if you want to incentivize the first one or two is you can do things like virtual wine tastings and making that part of it. And there’s companies that’ll do the virtual wine tasting for you, it’s a package thing they sell where you don’t have to worry much about the planning, but that’s also a good way, like just to get the initial set of people to attend.
Well, thank you Andrew. We’ve gone through the four. Just to recap, the four strategies to drive brand awareness and demand creation on a shoestring budget are one, develop multi-step email campaigns with high quality content. Two, build brand ambassadors on your team. Three, find existing relevant audiences to tap into. And four, start a monthly virtual round table with your ideal customer profile.
I think the key takeaway here is that just because you don’t have a huge budget doesn’t mean you can’t build brand awareness and trust in the market. The most creative solutions are often coming from the necessity to be creative and think outside the box. So we appreciate you Andrew, sharing these ideas with us. And you can connect with Andrew Bolis on LinkedIn if you would like to talk more about these ideas and see more of his insights. Okay. Thank you for having me on.
Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. We sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe for more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus give us a like, tell your friends. We’ll see you next time.
At GrowthMode, we combine the unique discipline of growth marketing and the evergreen principles of traditional marketing to develop integrated strategies and measurable programs that help businesses drive growth where it matters most to their vision. We help our B2B clients focus on their specific goals and ensure that their investment is aligned with their broader strategic vision.