But there is a difference: MongoDB has refined its content marketing strategy directly into lead generation, to the tune of sourcing 65 percent of their sales pipeline. But a fruitful collaboration with MongoDB's sales team is only part of the story.
At Influitive's Advocamp 2016, I attended an instructive presentation with Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at MongoDB, on MongoDB's advocate marketing approach (view full video replay here, and Krihely's slides: Advocacy is Your New Content Marketing Strategy).
At MongoDB World, I had the chance to tie these marketing threads together during a sit down with Krihely and Meagan Eisenberg, MongoDB CMO. The chat shed light on areas most marketing teams have not ventured. It also brought issues pertaining to lead attribution to a head.
Community energy is not a business result
Krihely set the context: yes, MongoDB is very good at community. But community energy does not, by itself, dictate a business result:
We've been doing a community at MongoDB for such a long time. We had never used technology to scale our efforts, or make things repeatable or predictable. What we did was: we took all the models we used for making community happen the old way, and we put it into a technology. I think that's why it worked really well.
Our philosophy around how to work with community was really sophisticated, and we knew that it worked. We just needed to find a way to figure out how could we make this scalable and repeatable. How can we make it so that we can report on these things and determine whether or not it impacts our bottom line?
Enter advocate marketing. Eisenberg had past experience with Influitive's advocate marketing solution at DocuSign. But would developers buy into a structured, gamified approach? Or would they be repelled? Eisenberg:
I was concerned when I came to MongoDB and started evaluating advocate marketing technology. I just didn't know if developers would do it. Are they going to be into these challenges? Are they going to do the gamification? Are they just going to mock it and not want to do it?
But MongoDB took the plunge, and it paid off:
It's way more successful here. We have way more people that have signed up that are active. Now, I'm like, "Yeah, developers will definitely do it."
To which I remarked: "They're even willing to wear green capes at conferences." (At MongoDB World, a surprising number of community hub volunteers, including the ones pictured here, were willing to don green capes and help make the show a success).
Even Eisenberg was surprised by that one:
I thought it was the silliest idea. I didn't say anything. I was like, "I can't believe we're doing green capes. Nobody's going to wear it." Then you're right: they're totally into it, with light sabers or whatever those are called. I am blown away.
Advocate marketing payoffs - before and after
So why bother with the effort of a structured advocate program? What's changed? Krihely:
When the advocates asked me what I wanted for my birthday in may, I said, "I love it when community members write blog posts about their experiences with MongoDB." Developers learn from blog posts. It's way more likely that they'll go to a blog post from some random regular guy that works at a company than go to our blog and take it seriously.
And the results?
I challenged my advocates and said, "Hey, I want you guys to write 28 blog posts in a month," and they almost did. They wrote 25.
Eisernberg added: "It blew me away." And before advocate marketing? Krihely:
In the past, if I did things like that, where I would try to encourage people to write blog posts on specific topics, it took such a long time. It was pulling teeth. The hardest part was identifying the people, and saying, "Okay, have I talked to this guy named Doug in the past couple of weeks? Let me look in my email." Or, maybe I just asked him to do this thing, and he said no, so I'm not sure if I want to ask him to do something else.
Whereas with a platform like Influitive, it's amazing because you can target challenges towards people based on their actions, sort of like marketing automation. You can personalize things based on what you know about a person, and also based on what the machine knows. Oh, and it took us three weeks on those blog posts, not four.
That led us to a discussion of how MongoDB is using Influitive, including the gamification of points accumulated by community members. "Challenges" like blog posts can be gamified, and targeted to specific individuals in the system based on their points totals and interests, rather than a community-wide blast.
The problem of lead attribution and business results
But we're back to how such activity is measured in the harshest/narrowest terms: business results. I asked Eisenberg to elaborate on how they tie MongoDB content into lead generation with unique UTM codes, a topic Krihely touched on in her Advocamp presentation. Eisenberg said they tackle the problem of lead attribution by tying Influitive back into their Salesforce system:
Anyone who signs up [for the advocate community], we connect into Salesforce. They're associated to a campaign of Influitive, and we track any influence into opportunities. Also, they recommend others in their networks, and other leads, and then we follow up on those leads.
They track content pieces back into Salesforce as well:
If they convert, then certainly the blog worked. For example, people will write us reviews. There's a Gartner review portal now, and we've got 22 reviews.
By attributing leads directly to content pieces, Eisenberg can ramp-up (or ramp down) content investments with a new precision:
We're cutting programs where we can't find any attribution, and we're funding those that we can. We rank all our content, so we look at every single webinar, white paper, case study and how it affects return on investment.
Sometimes that means changing content presentation or emphasis:
Our architectural guide is very popular and ties to many of our deals. Now we put architecture guides and nurture programs, we put them out on social. We make them more prominent on our website.
I asked if there was every pushback from sales, for example, pushback on attributing a particular lead?
No, because I always frame it that this is about me figuring out where to allocate the budget so I can more effectively get people in that sales wants to talk to.
A Salesforce-based solution helps with this level of attribution tracking:
We use a technology called Full Circle Insights from Full Circle CRM, and it has a really good attribution model that's looking at lead source, and then last touch before it became an opportunity.
This led to an excellent relationship with the sales team, and the aforementioned 65 percent of the sales pipeline sourced through marketing. Eisenberg wants to get to 68 percent this year:
We have a really good partnership between sales and marketing. Carlos [Carlos Delatorre, Chief Revenue Officer] and I are pretty well aligned, and we agree on the attribution model that we put in place.
MongoDB has taken content attribution and advocate marketing far enough to envision a different marketing and sales collaboration. And for those who find the green capes a bit silly, the point is not one-size-fits-all, but the power of mobilizing community quickly. Done right, the structured approach does not have to muzzle the grassroots energy that is usually threatened by clumsy attempts to "leverage" community.
The problem is that some important content - what I sometimes call, for lack of a less pompous term, "thought leadership," is not easily attributable to lead gen. It's about expanding brand credibility and claiming topic authority. MongoDB is working through this also. Eisenberg told me they've had success with how-to papers like one on Kafka. They soon realized you can't just throw those types of signups over the wall for a sales call, so a different nurturing process is needed there.
But "how-to" is only a small component of so-called thought leadership content. That content isn't easily measured or attributed, as it usually needs to occur outside of a vendor's own web site purview, though social and traffic bumps can offer clues. Deeper interviews with post-sales customers can reveal some of these early, influential touch points. This is a topic I'll return to, because there is a trap in cutting spending on such content solely on the basis of measurement (Why the informed buyer is ruining the content party).
Meanwhile, I'd be remiss not to return to the human element. Asked for her takeaways since the Advocamp talk, Krihely reminded that analytics are no substitute for the hard work of building relationships - and being transparent about company goals:
Everybody's looking for that human connection. That's why people are on Twitter, that's why people are on Instagram, that's why people are making themselves vocal and available online... You can do as many asks as you want to, but if you don't know who's asking you to do something and why it's valuable to them, why it's important to you, you're not going to get very far.
End note: we also had a good talk on women in tech and Girls Who Code.