You Are What You Measure with Joe Chernov (CMO at Robin)

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This is a podcast episode titled, You Are What You Measure with Joe Chernov (CMO at Robin). The summary for this episode is: Joe Chernov is CMO at Robin, and before that served in the same role at InsightSquared, and was VP of Content at HubSpot and Eloqua. He's often referred to as one of the most influential content marketers in B2B, and on this episode of the Swipe File, DG and Joe talk about micromanaging versus empowerment, why interviewing is an overlooked skill (for marketing), why having no metric is better than having the wrong one, career transitions to serve the business, and why hiring is the only thing that matters.

DG: Hey, everybody, it's DG. And on this episode of The Swipe File, I sat down with Joe Chernov. We had a coffee. Joe is one of the best B2B CMOs in the world. He's one of the most influential content marketers on the planet. Always get inspired when I talk to this guy. We talked about everything from micromanaging versus empowerment, why interviewing is such an overlooked skill for marketers, why having no metric is sometimes better than having the wrong one. We talked about career transitions and we talked about why hiring is the only thing that matters in marketing. I think you're going to love this episode. Here's Joe Chernov on this episode of The Swipe File.

Steve: You're talking about interviewing people?

Joe Chernov: Yeah.

Steve: Is that what you wanted to talk about?

Joe Chernov: Oh no, like this kind of interview.

Steve: Oh, you want to talk about this kind interview? Tell me.

Joe Chernov: So I have thoughts on this team. I think interviewing people is just like...

Steve: Yeah.

Joe Chernov: And I think it overlooks. I don't mean hiring people, but like this sort of interview. And as marketing gets more casual, like business marketing gets more casual, and more about like brand and the people, right? I think that a lot of good ideas get blown in the last mile because the marketing person says," Well you know, I get to interview."

Steve: Do you ever feel like you go and do interviews with people and you're like, this is awful. I feel like most people that, what they do is they say, they have their five questions. Like I have my five questions. I'm going to ask Joe Chernov.

Joe Chernov: No matter what he says.

Steve: No matter what he says, right? And then what they do is like the second you answer that is then they go" Next question." On to the next question. Which like, the real stuff, which is like, why I wanted to do this interview series is cause I just want to have a conversation and see what comes out of it. And like the real good interviews I think are when it actually is a conversation, it's not an interview. When it comes back.

Joe Chernov: With the people that you are inviting to participate, like you can sort of go wherever that conversation is going to go.

Steve: Sure, sure, sure.

Joe Chernov: But if you're sitting down with somebody that's a scientist or an entertainer, you have such limited domain knowledge. You can't just take it where they take it. And that's why a professional journalist that does the research and has a background to be able to adapt is why crosstalk

Steve: And knows that..

Joe Chernov: And knows that talent.

Steve: That's a good point and knows this space.

Joe Chernov: Gets me from Rolling Stone to interviewing.

Steve: Because they can know," Hey yeah, that thing that you did in 96, like that was interesting." I thought you meant interviewing people. This is a better tool. Yeah. I think that's important for going forward as a skill in marketing. That's very underrated. There's going to be more podcasts. There's going to be more video interviews. There's going to be more blog interviews. Like, I mean, you've been doing this for a bunch of years now. Like I could probably go and Google 55 questions with Joe Chernov type of interviews out there. Like you can't just-

Joe Chernov: But they're pretty much" Next question. Next question. Next question."

Steve: You can't do that format. Let's talk about forums. You had a tweet. What did your tweet say? This was last night. Do you remember it said?

Joe Chernov: No, I just say stuff.

Steve: You're a prolific tweeter by the way.

Joe Chernov: Yeah, but nothing just resonates like it used to.

Steve: I think like what... yeah, but like...

Joe Chernov: I don't think anybody would want to converse anymore.

Steve: Not anymore. You used to have this tweet pin to your Twitter profile, that was like" The best time to call me is email."

Joe Chernov: Do you know that was a subtweet? The funny thing is that was a subtweet. Like somebody called me and he was like, kind of hammered me to try to crosstalk.

Steve: When's the best time...

Joe Chernov: And I responded in email and I said," Dude, the best time to call me is email." And then I wrote him again. I said," Hey, I'm sorry, I'm going to do this, but I'm going to subtweet you right now." So I gave him a crosstalk.

Steve: I remember that was pinned and had like, thousands and thousands of retweets, I love that. Oh, there's the T- shirt design. I just feel like when you tweet, you're thinking about it. I just am like, just say whatever, okay. You said somebody is talking about forums. The forum is the symptom. The problem is a lead centric or lead only KPI for marketing departments. Again, show me how I'm measured and I'll show you how I behave.

Joe Chernov: So that was Tom Wentworth. He was saying something of those very pro drift. So that's why you noticed it.

Steve: No, he tagged me in it, and he said," Companies spent hundreds of thousands on the CMS and design just to drive someone to the same old, tired felt this." You know, that could have been a drift pad. I wonder what a conversation...

Joe Chernov: I knew he liked that one.

Steve: Yeah. So he said, or conversation only at drift inaudible and before I could even chime in, he responded, so...

Joe Chernov: I covered it.

Steve: Yeah, thank you.

Joe Chernov: Look, my point is I say" Show me how I'm measured. I'll show you how to behave" a lot.

Steve: And I think that's a thing that doesn't get talked about enough, which is like, why do you do what you do? Because look at what you're being held with accountable for.

Joe Chernov: A meaningful percentage of bad performers are likely bad performers because they've been given the wrong incentives.

Steve: Or they have no clear metric, first thing available.

Joe Chernov: And so I'd rather almost give somebody no clear metrics than the wrong one. So we were talking about this before, I look at what I do for marketing. It may vary from company to company, but me at InsightSquared, I do four things. I try to generate demand, okay? I also take care of our customers and try to keep our customers happy, keep them longer and turn them into advocates, okay? So customer marketing, I have a brand to take care of and part and parcel to brand is a community around that. Okay? And then the third is, it's sort of like a magician knows when card you're going to pull from the deck. Like I know where we're going to take the business in the future.

Steve: Right.

Joe Chernov: So there's message seeding. There's...

Steve: Teaching people about future stuff.

Joe Chernov: Sort of grooming that makes the market more receptive to future product introduction. So these are the things you try to do, but all of my metrics are around demand creation.

Steve: Or like, you can do... You had one, two, three, four. You could be really good at two, three, four, but if you're not good at the first one, you're probably not keeping your job.

Joe Chernov: Like you're definitely not keeping your job. So you'll never have a chance to show the other ones.

Steve: Never!

Joe Chernov: Yeah, just really basic here. Do I put 25% budget, 25% budget, 25, 25? No, you starve these things at the expense of this. And is this the only thing that matters? No. Does it even matter disproportionately to the others? You could argue no. Especially in a venture backed business where the revenue is not the primary need when you have funding, like look at Drip. You guys are doing an awesome job on the branding and that's going to pay off later, right? That's where you're going to get the acceleration.

Steve: Right. And that's an important point, it's not like you and I started a company and it's self- funded and if we don't hit our revenue goal this month, we're not going to make payroll. Well, of course we don't want to miss that, but it's still like the runway is years. Not a week, right?

Joe Chernov: You know you look... We talked about a HubSpot blog. That's where those guys had unbelievable foresight. Like Mike, Dharmesh, and Brian. If they took that blog and on day one or on day 90, tried to use that blog as a way to spam people, their subscriber lists, they tried to take their blog subscribers and sell them stuff overnight, they would have strip mined that asset. They played it cool, right? They let it grow for years. And then they had an asset and they had something that was motive, it was an unfair advantage and they knew enough to not strip line it. When we started the sales plug, I remember talking to Mike about what metrics we needed to hit before we thought about commercializing the blog.

Steve: And turning it into lead gen and having...

Joe Chernov: But for a while, just build an audience. Nobody knows what they're going to like.

Steve: Yeah. And so what was your goal like when you launched a sales blog? Was it traffic?

Joe Chernov: At first, it was traffic.

Speaker 4: No leads, who cares about crosstalk.

Joe Chernov: We didn't put," Show me how to measure, I'll show you how to behave." If we put a lead gen KPI on it, what are we going to do? We're going to jam forms into it. We wanted to build an audience that we could monetize later.

Steve: Yep. What you're measured on today, it's not leads? It's something about... You came up with your own kind of definition for it.

Joe Chernov: A lead is a unit of demand, right? But we're really, we're in the business of generating demand. It just can come in different units for different companies. Our unit demands-

Steve: One could be a demo request versus a free tool. Try a free tool versus goes to an event, goes to the webinar. They all have different conversion rates.

Joe Chernov: Those are all different types. Yeah. So what we have is instead of leads, we have an alert and an alert is a type of engagement that we either create as marketing or detect as marketing. And it happens on an owned account. So our sales team sells in a named account strategy and they have a lot of native accounts. This isn't like Fortune 50, this is the Fortune 50, 000. Those accounts are signed, they're in territory, and they're named. Marketing gets credit when we generate an alert, a type of engagement on one of those owned accounts. There are three types of alerts and the types are designated by...

Steve: Did you come up with this? Is it a new thing that you guys invented?

Joe Chernov: Yes, we came up with it.

Steve: Okay.

Joe Chernov: The types are stratified by historical conversion rates. So we have same day alerts. The name of the alert type is the SLA. Same day alert means as a sales rep-

Steve: You've got to touch them the same day.

Joe Chernov: If this happens, you've got to touch them the same day.

Steve: And what's an example of that? Is that like a demo request crosstalk.

Speaker 4: Okay.

Joe Chernov: At the low end same- day alerts have a 6% alert to conversion rate, alert to operate at the high end, like 18%. So in that bin is a same day alert and they've got 24 hours to follow up on, actually close the business. 24 hours if it happens after 4: 00 PM. The next one down is next day alerts. These are 3% to 6% conversion rate.

Steve: So you might get it that day and as a rep, this says," Hey tomorrow, here's what you're going to do."

Joe Chernov: And you can follow up that day, but you're not going to roughed up if you do it the next day. And then the third type is we call it check alert. And that might be, we send a piece of direct mail. It'd be kind of weird to call somebody say," Hey, you get that coffee cup?"

Steve: Just checking in. Are you measuring... Are you tracking intent from other sources outside of your website too? You said there's two types of marketing, large. One of them is somebody did something or you detected that something else happened.

Joe Chernov: Yes. So, that's a good question. When you think of lead gen, you think marketing only gets credit if it produced a lead, if somebody filled out that form. If you hoodwinked somebody into giving you their personal information, they didn't say Mickey mouse at Disneyland. com, right? My job is to try to help sales close deals fast.

Steve: Yep.

Joe Chernov: We use data providers that give us signal as to if one of those 50,000 accounts is doing something that our sales team should be interested in. For example, if you are looking at our competitors on G2 crowd. You're looking at competitive InsightSquared on G2 crowd, that information gets fed into our CRM, triggers an alert. That's a next day alert, has a high conversion rate and they have to follow up within essentially by close of business the next day. That was a product that G2 crowd productized that 100% came from our request based on our learning system.

Steve: It came from you?

Joe Chernov: Yeah.

Steve: We use it. It's amazing.

Joe Chernov: So I called them and they said they were productizing. Like, we'll send you a list of people that are looking at your listing. My response is I don't really care if they're looking at my listing. I mean, I do, but they're probably on my website too. They've alerted another way. You know what I want to know? Are they looking at brand X's listing? That would be interesting for me. And they said, would you pay for it? And I said, starting tomorrow, it's the only thing I'll pay for.

Steve: So is that a demand gen, your demand gen person owns that as a channel?

Joe Chernov: Our ops person owns that because our ops person owns the tech stack and it's an API partnership. And so she is responsible for the API.

Steve: We can talk about it in a minute. I have one more question on this then when I go the other. So then you have, you have these buckets by conversion rate.

Joe Chernov: Yep.

Steve: So you have your next day alert is three to 6% conversion rate. Could that be multiple sources as long as they convert between three and 6% they get in that bucket?

Joe Chernov: Yeah.

Steve: Okay. So it could be a webinar, it could be an event. The conversion rate is what you use to say whatever, six to 16, three to six and then zero.

Joe Chernov: To create the traunches.

Steve: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joe Chernov: We just rolled this out.

Steve: I like that. I like it a lot.

Joe Chernov: This is like Vietnam, we just rolled this out. What we're going to do next is we've got to figure out now is, are there too many in one bucket? And six is not a magic number here. It's just, we looked at a histogram and it looked like-

Steve: Cause it could be right. It could be a 1% conversion rate, but a rep is going to have to touch all of those, which is not going to work as well.

Joe Chernov: The trick here, the secret to all of this is the check alert. The last tier is a check alert. There's no SLA. You don't have to follow up on this, but we strongly encourage you to check the record of sales for it.

Steve: I bet you, if you look at your best reps, if you're looking at your best reps to percentage of them that are doing the check stuff is probably...

Joe Chernov: Or if you're on a plan and you're not using your check alerts, are you really in it? Are you really hustling? Are you really trying to close deal? Like the check alerts is a form of marketing entrapment. If you're not checking them, then there's a problem.

Steve: You mean, if you're on plan, like you could be blowing the number out if you're...

Joe Chernov: If you were on a plan...

Steve: Oh a performance plan, yeah. Yeah.

Joe Chernov: Right? If you were on a performance plan, it's a great tool for management to say like," Look, they're on a performance plan, but they're rummaging around these check alerts. They're doing the right thing. That person is going to keep their job."

Steve: I love this.

Joe Chernov: If they're on a performance plan and they're complaining about pipe and marketing's not giving support and they're not rummaging around this traunch then are they in the blame game? Or are they really trying to close deals?

Steve: Right. It's an easy game if you only work the leads that close at 16%, like that's what we all want to do.

Joe Chernov: Exactly.

Steve: This is exactly why I wanted to do this, because this is the deep stuff. Alright, one more thing and then you've got to go. You transitioned your career as a marketing leader from like content guy to now your thing is ABM. And I don't know, I think of you as you're CMO, ABM is your channel now. But like what was the transition from being this content leader to going to a company and having to basically throw out the playbook that got you to where you're at?

Joe Chernov: I was conflicted.

Steve: Was that like a" holy shit" moment? Or did you know" If I want to keep growing, this is what I've got to do"?

Joe Chernov: I just wanted to solve a problem for the business. And that content model was the wrong model for InsightSquared.

Steve: Yeah. Before I knew you, I knew you because I was reading your stuff. I was following what you're doing and speaking, whatever. I think content was the channel at the time, like 2008 to 2012- ish was like a sweet spot, which is like, you could grow a massive funnel on content. Today, everybody has a blog. Everybody has a podcast. Everybody has video. There's so much noise and content. Nobody's at home being like, you know what I wish I had, I wish I had more content from brands.

Joe Chernov: So it's... I think there are two dimensions to this and you've nailed one of them like with each new blog that gets spun up, it becomes incrementally more difficult for your signal to be heard. And especially if you're marketing to sales and marketing, where those industries have a lot of noise.

Steve: So much.

Joe Chernov: The second is the nature of the business itself. The content model makes most sense when you have an enormous addressable market, because you don't have that many false negatives. If you can sell to anybody then anybody who comes to your blog is a potential prospect.

Steve: Right.

Joe Chernov: If you're my father- in- law who sells software to nuclear power plants, it's a very strained market, right? Most of the readers of his blog, if we were to have one, we'd be false positives because it's such a specialized industry. The difficulty is most companies are in the middle. InsightSquared is in the middle. Say our addressable market is 50, 000 accounts. A blog is helpful for brand, a blog is helpful for building community, but it cannot be long- term your primary lead source in the way that it is if you're a HubSpot that has enormous addressable market. HubSpot doesn't care if you're a Mac trucks or a guy named Mac with a truck they'll sell to both of you.

Steve: And the product can work for both people.

Joe Chernov: And we care very deeply if you're Mac trucks versus Mac with trucks.

Steve: You need to find the 50, 000 companies with a sales ops person in the U. S.

Joe Chernov: That has a board that expects fast growth, that looks for very specific types of recording, very specific KPI.

Steve: That makes it obvious, like that's where you're going to start, right? It's not that you're not doing, you're not creating content. You still care about your brand. Like how do you figure out where, how to invest in content?

Joe Chernov: The theme, our sort of internal ethos is content that serves multiple masters. So I need to create a piece of content, like in the content marketing world they would talk about atomize your content and it would be like on a blog and then simplified for Twitter. And then it could be a brand's Facebook post and their medium came along and summarize it on medium. It's the same idea, but it's not atomizing it so much as saying, I need content that there is a version of it for the blog, but then there is a more product relevant version of it for the sales team and then a heavily like how- to version of it for the customer. So it's not about atomizing it in the way like adapting it for different channels, but think about marketing as an overlay across the entire customer journey. That's essentially what those four pieces were that I talked about. And if it's an overlay on top of the entire customer journey and I have limited resources, I need a piece of content to be adaptable to multiple states.

Steve: What's one thing that's still driving you nuts in marketing?

Joe Chernov: The form stuff. And that top of funnel has sucked up all the air in the room makes me crazy. I'll tell you a really good piece of advice I got...

Steve: Okay, give me some advice.

Joe Chernov: And I think about this a lot, especially... Take Drift, you guys are growing really quickly. I remember I said to my former CEO, when I was in LA for a while, I reported to him and I was grousing about my work load or something. And he asked about how I was performing in hiring. I had a number of open recs and he was asking me how close I was to filling them," Joe, I can't get to those. I have all these other things to do." And he said," You're upside down on this. The only thing that matters is hiring the right people. You hire the right people and everything else falls into place." And I was like, oh, he's got a really good point.

Steve: I love it, I love it. That on top of what you said to me when we were outside, which is the micromanaging piece. Like those are the two things suddenly I feel like right, the right people, and then letting them do what they were hired to do. And then your job is almost like the GM that has to move around the right pieces. They're not batting. You're not in the lineup, right?

Joe Chernov: If you don't get the people you have to be.

Steve: You have to be, but then that's a problem. Because then if you're, when you're in the lineup, you become a bottleneck. You don't have the bandwidth to actually do it.

Joe Chernov: Let's say you succeed at extracting yourself from the lineup.

Steve: Sure.

Joe Chernov: Now this is the time where we do the sports metaphor and everybody rolls their eyes.

Steve: It's fine, no it's fine.

Joe Chernov: You become the GM and you're hovering above it. And you're just like moving around players, right? It's really hard then to figure out you're doing a good job or not, because you've grown up judging yourself by batting average on base percentage, home runs. And all of a sudden, none of those apply to you. That's one of the areas that new managers and new GM's, if you will struggle, because all of a sudden you have different metrics and the old metrics are more familiar. So you start to seep back into the players on the field.

Steve: Okay, one thing before we go. You're a busy exec at a company, do you believe in this work- life balance? Is it the Jeff Bezos circle? How do you battle it?

Joe Chernov: You ready for crosstalk?

Steve: I'm ready, I want to know.

Joe Chernov: This is the one I go by and I'm not saying it's right. One night I was driving late at night and I heard this radio show on where it was Ask A Veterinarian. And this woman called and she said," I have two bulldogs." This is true.

Steve: I believe it.

Joe Chernov: She's like," I can't stop them from fighting. And I'm afraid they're going to hurt each other." And she was really upset. And the vet said," good news, bad news. Good news is I got an answer. Bad news is you ain't going to like it." And so the answer was," Let them fight. One of them is going to win. they generally won't hurt each other. And then it gets worse. The one that wins eats first, the one that wins gets let out the door. First, you reinforce that hierarchy. They are comfortable with the hierarchy." I think that family and work, unless you let one of them win, will always tear each other apart. And you've got to pick the one that wins and then feed that one first. I reach a juncture in my career when I verbalized, like family comes first and I try to feed it first. I tried to spend my time there first and I don't feel guilty about it.

Steve: I like that. All right, let's... That's a perfect place to wrap. You've got to go, it's been great. I appreciate it.

Joe Chernov: It this wat you wanted?

Steve: It was exactly what I want. Exactly what I wanted. So thank you.

DG: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Swipe File. If you like the podcast, make sure to subscribe, leave a review, text your friends, tell your mother, do whatever you want to do. It'd be awesome if you help spread the word about the show, but I have a little special for you because you're listening to my podcast. If you go to drift dot L Y drift dot L Y slash Steve, you will see a six minute video that I made that is about Steve Jobs' storytelling secrets, and you can get it all for free. Plus if you sign up there, you will unlock this crazy new thing that we're building behind the scenes called drift insider, where we're going to give you some of our best content exclusively. So go and check it out the way, the secret way to get on this list right now is to go to drift dot L Y slash Steve. You have to watch the first video and you'll be able to get the rest when they all come out, check it out if not check it out soon and I'll see you in the next episode.


Joe Chernov is CMO at Robin, and before that served in the same role at InsightSquared, and was VP of Content at HubSpot and Eloqua. He's often referred to as one of the most influential content marketers in B2B, and on this episode of the Swipe File, DG and Joe talk about micromanaging versus empowerment, why interviewing is an overlooked skill (for marketing), why having no metric is better than having the wrong one, career transitions to serve the business, and why hiring is the only thing that matters.