Declan (Strategic IC) So, Alice, thank you for joining us today. Alice is the CMO at Cognism. So tell us a little bit about Cognism and your place in the market.
Alice de Courcy - Sure, yeah, so Cognism is a B2B prospecting solution. So we work end-to-end, and predominantly what we are founded on is a B2B data platform that is globally compliant. So we provide data to sales teams and marketing teams to help them prospect. And then we also have the tools for them to execute that prospecting within our platform as well.
Declan (Strategic IC) And how long have you've been around for?
Alice (Cognism) - So Cognism was founded in 2016, and now we've hit the high growth phase of the company where we've just in September last year, we opened an office in America, in New York. And this is sort of, I guess, our high growth year for Cognism, but obviously, slightly tapered back now given the current circumstances.
Declan (Strategic IC) Well, as you mentioned the current circumstances, obviously we're living through extraordinary times, what have you learned on a professional or personal level over the last few weeks?
Alice (Cognism) - Yeah, I think it's been really interesting for me and especially as someone who's leading a team. So a big part of the change has been how to manage a team remotely, especially as we actually had two new starters joining the company and our team literally the week lockdown began. So that was a really interesting dilemma in terms of how do we onboard them effectively, both so they feel part of the team, but also so they can start executing work as quickly as possible.
Because at Cognism, being a startup, we grab people pretty quickly and throw them in at the deep end. But it's sort of perceived anyway to be harder to do remotely, but I guess from this experience, what I've found is it's very much possible. So my top tips from that were, we just documented everything so we've got a thorough step-by-step playbook, which is available online. And we actually use a platform called Turtl, so you can update it in realtime and it's constantly there for everyone to review and see. We utilise a lot of onboarding checklists, and Trello's a great tool for that.
Regular touch points with the team throughout the day, so we have a morning and evening stand up and there's a drop-in at lunch as well. And on that point, from a social perspective, we were doing virtual lunches, as we would in the first week, gave them delivery vouchers, because normally we'd take them out for their first lunch, so just trying to do a few things that still meant that they felt part of a team and not on their own. We started them on small projects, and we were sort of working very closely over video. So whether it be creating their first landing page or just because tools are unfamiliar, ZOOM was a great tool for us to use with that.
And then I think a key part was, we wanted lots of drop-in meetings with them for people around the business So I think when you go to make a tea or a coffee at lunch, or during a break, you sort of meet someone, have a chat, get to know them, they may not be directly influenced in your work, but that's a really important part of Cognism culture as well.
So we just set up lots of those meetings with as many people in the business as they could. So actually we think they probably have met more people this way or spoken to them in-depth than they would've done otherwise. And we just encourage all questions. So we use Slack and that's a great tool for us just to ping each other.
And that's kind of what our top tips I guess of onboarding remotely have been.
Declan (Strategic IC) And how's the business faring in the current situation?
Alice (Cognism) - So actually interesting, for Cognism, we've found that while we have had some clients whose business has been impacted negatively by the current climate, what's happened is, there's actually been an uptake in our CS support because they're looking at new ways in which they can go to market.
So they might have relied very much on events previously. And now they need to find new avenues to generate those leads, so that's where our CS team can help them utilise the tool in other ways, so that's been interesting.
And then, from a lead generation perspective, we've actually just seen an uptake in inbound, so it shows that more people are actually out there searching for solutions right now. I think the feedback from the BDM team is there's pretty much a 50/50 split on those who've just got more time. So using this time to look at what solutions are out there, and they also just feel more comfortable doing demos and things from home.
And then there's 50% who really need something right now because again, other avenues for their lead generation have closed and they need to start exploring new ways in which to drive new business.
Declan (Strategic IC) So linked to that actually, Alice, obviously there's a lot of talk about whether we should be selling or not at the moment. Now, several weeks into the lockdown as you said, what are your thoughts on that? What's the approach that you're taking as an organisation?
Alice (Cognism) - I think yeah, it's a really interesting point. Very early on, the first day we started, I got everyone on a call and just said like, one thing I want us all to be really aware of is this is a really scary situation that's affecting people, not just their livelihoods, but personally, and so with every communication and every interaction we have, whether it be your customers or prospects, we just need to have that top of mind.
But we're also aware that it's a new normal, so there's no clear timeline for this ending. People do want to discuss and want to know how best to tackle the issue of lead generation in the environment that we're living in now. It's a priority for businesses 'cause it's survival.
So I don't think it's a case of not selling especially for the tool and solution that we have, but it's rather a case of how you're selling. So if you're offering something that's helpful to people right now, how are you messaging that?
We need to be careful not to forget that there's a human element to everything we're dealing with. A lot of times I find people talk about B2B, and say it's very different to B2C, but at the end of the day, it's people, at the end of the phone, the email, all the interactions.
So I think it's a really good time for people in B2B to really understand that. And to really understand your customers and your prospects, and acknowledge the current environment, and just be really empathetic.
Declan (Strategic IC) So let's talk about ABM, we're both obviously operating in an ABM space, let's talk about ABM data. How do you see data changing, revolutionising ABM?
Alice (Cognism) - So I think data is literally the backbone of any ABM strategy. Without the right data and importantly, knowing how you use that data, your ABM campaigns will most likely fail. It's vital at the start, the middle and the end, it's throughout the whole process.
It gives you the ability to contact and identify those target accounts. It's a means by which you can personalise your campaigns, and at the end of the day, ABM's all about personalisation. And it's often the trigger to taking action to change, iterate and alter your approach. That data is what you use to inform those decisions. I think the right data provider can help create the foundation, the quality data that you need for that ABM strategy, and it should always be evolving alongside the behaviour of your target accounts, so it shouldn't be static, I think that's also important.
Declan (Strategic IC) And give us a couple of examples of where you're seeing data being deployed effectively.
Alice (Cognism) - Yeah, so I guess, I think probably a good example is, where you can start to see real benefit in ABM from data and how you can use it in a clever way, is when it's becoming integrated into existing workflows and systems to provide that consistent and accurate timely data into your campaigns.
So say, this is just an example, but you've got a defined list of target accounts and you've been able to map them into your CRM system with all the relevant contacts at those accounts.
You've populated that data with multiple data points beyond the normal contact information I'm talking about like technology stack, hiring status, funding announcements. And then importantly, that data is updated in real-time so it doesn't stagnate, doesn't become stale, it's always being refreshed. Then you're able to maximise the option to use at those accounts, and make sure you're never losing possible opportunities within that data pool that you have.
And then you can set up campaigns, this is the really clever bit, based on key triggers or in temp buckets, and it can all be synced up into your CRM and your marketing automation system. So you can start a really clever messaging journey, you can map it out across both the different types - it depends what programme your running - if it's one-to-one, one-to-few, one-to-many.
But you can get very clever and you start creating key data inputs that are fully synced with your systems and workflows. And then when those start to trigger certain events that's when your messaging changes and alters and pushes people through the buyer journey, and that personalisation starts to kick in.
But I think the key is that, The key questions you need to ask yourself around data and its best use within ABM, is do you have a way of enriching and populating contacts at the target accounts?
That's number one. Do you have a way of keeping this data up to date constantly? And that's number two. And number three, do you have a means of getting intelligent data into your systems? Whether it be intent data, trigger data. And then finally, can you track all of the engagement with those accounts and contacts?
Declan (Strategic IC) - And so let's just dig into that a bit more around the sales triggers you mentioned and the data. How that's informing, in the case of yourselves, your messaging or your content strategy?
Alice (Cognism) - Yeah, so it's really interesting. So say we have, for example, at Cognism we know that a tech company 11 to 50 that uses Salesforce and is hiring for SDRs right now, are an absolute sweet spot for us. So we have campaigns setup which are completely personalised to that journey and to those pain points that we know will ring a lot of bells for people who fit that criteria.
And what we can have is a bucket of people constantly drip into, based on that. 'Cause you're not going to have high volumes of numbers, but what you are going to have is very relevant messaging and uber-personalised content. So white papers that are made to look like just for that one account and that one contact at that account.
And that's really powerful and we've seen a huge uptake in engagement based on that.
Declan (Strategic IC) And talking about marketing budgets, what are you seeing is happening out there in the ecosystem with regards to companies? Are yous seeing that they're coming under significant pressure, or is it just that the funds are being, and the investments are being redirected around?
Alice (Cognism) - Think it will really depend on the industry the company is in. 'Cause obviously some industries have been hit harder than others but say in the SaaS tech information technology space, what we've seen is actually, budgets aren't being decreased, but people are being made to look at how to reallocate that spend elsewhere.
So where events were often quite an important channel for people, they might now be looking at, should they invest in a virtual event or webinars? Or, is it actually, they need to start modernising and looking at some digital channels they've never used before.
So I think it's very much a case of reallocation definitely in that industry.
That's what we've seen.
Declan (Strategic IC) Yeah, and obviously, you're sitting there at home, I'm sitting here at home, as is everyone in the world probably now who's working. Are your customers finding it more difficult or easier to actually have conversations with their customers and their prospects?
Alice (Cognism) - Yeah, I think, so what we've found is that actually people are more willing to have conversations. The difficulty is that where you might have had a data provider who would be giving you the office numbers, you now, obviously can't speak to people at offices, so you need a way of getting their direct dials.
So you need to make sure you have a data provider who can give you that information, or you're leveraging LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms or some other way in which you can collect data that you can contact people at home.
But yes, the feedback from, we have a role called a marketing development rep, it's a hybrid between sales and marketing, and they follow up on all of our marketing-generated requests and demand.
And they have said, people are far happier to have conversations. They seem to have potentially, a bit more time, they're just a bit more relaxed, even though given the current circumstances obviously, I think the first two weeks after lockdown, that wasn't the case. But now that it's a new normal, that kind of is the case.
And they're definitely more open to having conversations about different ways of doing things, 'cause I think everyone is aware that there's a need for change and it's the same with our clients. They're more open to learning about new ways, different to how they've done things before, previously.
And so sometimes we try and coach on best practise, but we might get push back from a client that this is the way they've always done it, and now those conversations are a little bit easier to have and we're exploring new ways in which they can reach customers and prospects.
Declan (Strategic IC) Well, actually that's linked to my last question, Alice. What advice would you give to companies looking to move, or try to move, prospects through the funnel in terms of, from leads to SQL, whichever terminology you use there, through to opportunity through to close?
What kind of tip would you give in the current situation, the current environment?
Alice (Cognism) - So we have six things really, that I think work really powerfully for us. So, we have a really robust handle for the process with sales, that's the main thing. So when you're going from MQL to SQL, or however - so marketing-generated demand through to sales.
Whatever that looks like for your company, make sure that it's clearly defined and it's very robust. We have regular, with this MDR role that we have, we have a weekly meeting with those reps, where we get a lot of feedback from them.
And it's where we will highlight upcoming campaigns, and we'll literally set out steps by which they should action that demand. And we make it as easy for them as possible.
So a robust handle process is really key. And then I kind of mentioned this, but really strong feedback loops between sales and marketing. So with us having that MDR role, it's quite easy because our success is tied to their success and vice-versa, so we're very aligned in that front. So that feedback becomes much easier. But again, we formalise that in terms of meetings and then in our reporting and dashboards that we share as well.
I'd say my third point would be introducing hybrid specialised roles is something to think about. So I think in a lot of companies, this is also true of Cognism before four months ago, we would have an SDR, and our marketing demand would just be split out across the whole SDR team.
There was no one solely responsible for that. And where we've now created a specialised role, well, two specialised roles purely for that, we've seen a huge uptake in the number of opportunities we're able to create through that channel, especially the content channel.
We now have a 10% conversion from a content download into an opportunity being created. And that was sitting at more like 3% before. So I think specialised roles and hybrid roles are really key if you can do that.
Iterative and data-driven nurture campaigns being in place. So, in order to move SQLs through the pipeline or MQLs through the pipeline, it can't always be the case that it's a BDM's responsibility, or an SDR's, marketing has a role to play as well.
So make sure you have the full buyer journey set up, and nurture campaigns across that journey, which you know will be feeding and enhancing the interactions they're having on a person to person basis with your sales team.
And then high-quality sales enablement materials. I think sometimes, and I know we're guilty of it, Cognism, because we're so demand generation focused as a marketing team, that we get ourselves caught up in saying no to any activity which is not directly linked to revenue or generating demand. But actually, it's so important for the BDMs and their closing, to have the right materials, and the same with the SDRs and their prospecting.
So ensuring that your sales team has and is equipped with those materials for each stage of the buyer journey is really important as well.
And then finally, data-backed decisions. So I think, right now, we're actually analysing all of our data across our pipeline and funnel weekly as opposed to just monthly. We obviously all have our own dashboards, but we're reporting that up to our CRA on a weekly basis now. We're really delving in deep to see if there are any trends that are occurring and what those conversions are looking like, and trying to act really quickly. And I think that's really key as well. So you might see that one channel has suddenly, your SQLs to opportunity percentage has gone up drastically and it might just be that more people are, paid channels, Google Ads, more people are searching for data right now. So actually, you might make a decision that for the next two weeks you're going to put a bit more spend there, remove it elsewhere. So that would be another tip.
Declan (Strategic IC) So in essence, you're being a lot more agile in terms of your decisions and what you're doing, and you’re testing and changing very quickly?
Alice (Cognism) - Yeah, and that's also true of our ICPs. So we had a very clearly defined ICP before this event. Which recruitment sat firmly within that. It was listed on our website as one of our top three personas. That's all changed given the current climate.
Every day, we're seeing new trends emerge. So this month for example, it's looking like SaaS information and tech is pretty much 90% of our pipeline that will close, and we had actually thought based on last month, it was going to be marketing agencies. So you just have to be adaptable and agile, and making decisions as you see the data.
Declan (Strategic IC) Fascinating, Alice, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today, and it's been really interesting learning more about yourself and Cognism.
Alice (Cognism) - Thanks.