Robyn Duda's Bird's Eye View: Scott Vaughan on Go-To-Market Strategies and Experience in B2B

RDC’s Bird’s Eye View series explores what the future of events truly is by bringing unexpected perspectives to the forefront.


In her latest Bird’s Eye View, Robyn Duda chats with her good friend Scott Vaughan, Chief Market Officer and GTM strategy expert, about current go-to-market trends, as well as the future of experiences and face-to-face events in the B2B space.

Watch full conversation above, or read below:

Robyn Duda: Why don't you start off by giving us a little bit of a background about who you are, how you came to be, and why you're so knowledgeable right now.

Scott Vaughan: I came up with a go-to-market mindset. Started in marketing, classic out of college, fell into the job and the tech industry was just starting to explode. The first company, after three years, was purchased, and I thought, oh, this is the way companies grow all the time, they get bought. I did spend after that some time in sales, about 8-9 years in sales and sales leadership, really honed my skills and carried bag for a while.

One of the things I encourage everybody to think about is to try different roles. I think it was Cheryl Sandberg, but probably other people, talk about the jungle gym and being able to experience different roles. I think you not only get to see what you like and love, but you're more valuable in any role that you take, whether it's in leadership, like a chief marketing officer looking over everything, or whatever that thing is. You're just going to have a more diverse view. You've been in those shoes before, or at least tasted it, the spice and the different aspects of it. I think that's important, so I did that for a while.

Then I came back into a general manager, product leadership kind of role for a while. And then from there, I really put everything together for me, it's a chess game of go-to-market. And I've done that typically from a chief marketing officer standpoint, the last 10, 12 years. I know that definition can vary, but I consider myself a go-to market, all things that touch markets, customers, strategy, product. That's how I view my outlook. And Robyn, we worked with some people who would drill things into your brain: “You must know the markets, you must know your customers, you must be smarter them about their business.” I was fortunate. I worked around people that drilled that into your head, so all that research and prep really became part of my muscle memory throughout my career.

RD: It was almost a little ahead of its time — we talked so much about knowing your customers so much later in the process, but I feel like that was drilled into us so, so early.  

SV: Yes, it was drilled into you, and if you weren't prepared, you didn't know your markets or your customers, whether that was in marketing or sales. We were talking to customers from a marketing standpoint all the time to try to get their voice and their understanding, and I've taken that everywhere. It's baked into whatever I do, whatever I think, because I think that's the only way you can really have a true impact on a business from a go-to-market standpoint.

RD: I think that's why I latched onto design thinking and human centered design so much when it came to experience design, because it was that same message. It was like, oh, there's a way to actually come up with an idea based around that, and validate it, and prototype and all that kind of stuff. So I think that's why that transition was a little easier for me to make.

SV: It makes sense. I live in the business-to-business world, B2B, and what you're bringing and thinking about experiences and human centered design sounds so obvious to people who've been doing go-to-market and marketing and consumer type of work or B2C work for a while. But we've been very mechanical over here, very academic in many ways. Not that it hasn't been good or work, but it's a business decision. It's a process. And those are all true, that has not gone away, but you can start to see some of the great work by our B2C colleagues and the type of stuff that you and your team are doing. We're starting to see that really play out and creep in. In some companies it's exploding, but I'd still say we're pretty early as a general statement.

RD: So you're all about go-to-market and go-to-market strategy. So what trends are you seeing today?

SV: One in the B2B world, the whole buyer seller relationship is strained, and there's so many factors. Yes, the pandemic. Think about this — you're not meeting face to face for sales calls, you have millennials who are very digital and native digital, there's apps for that, and they just have a different way of thinking. They're not going to take phone calls and all these face-to-face meetings. They're going to go online and talk to peers. And we've always talked about that, but we have a group coming into decision making power that are changing that dynamic. You throw in the lockdown, remote work, and the pandemic, and it's really rocked the buyer/seller relationship. And if you're a seller and you're not adding strategic value, you really have a hard time in B2B breaking through that.

So the result of that — and this has been happening for a while, it's not new, but the nuances are very, very different. The urgency is clearly there. If you're in marketing, your role has changed. Before, marketing built awareness, and then we generated leads, and then we did some kind of relay race handoff to sales. That's broken. That’s not the way companies buy or make decisions. That's not the way buyers think, for all the reasons we just talked about. So the buyer/seller process is really getting blown up, and marketing's trying to react to it. That's kind of where we are today in terms of go-to-market. And then you've got investors, especially in the tech world, they poured in $400 billion — I mean just a crazy amount of money. So the expectation on valuation and the impact on marketing is so huge, that you put all these factors together, and there has to be a new, better, evolved way to do go-to-market.

RD: What do you expect in the future?

SV: It's typically two to three years to make changes at those leading companies, and five to seven years for a market to shift. And I think that's where we are. That's my assessment. We're finally getting away from lead gen and awareness alone and into a couple of big trends. Product led growth — we're going to build some of that experience and that engagement and self-serve, upsell, and cross into the product itself. I know it sounds so obvious, especially if you're in consumer, but you're in business. You're selling enterprise applications that are running major process and workflow that are sophisticated. So product led growth is a big example of that change, and a reaction to what we talked about.

The second is trying to move to those experiences and moments. And there's kind of two things that we break down. We're used to, in marketing, “moments we capture,” right? We're good at demand gen or putting out ads or doing an event, and we can capture a moment it, and we can have that moment in our database. We can even action that moment. We can hand that moment, or at least that data, off to sales. But what we haven't figured out is moments we create. We've lost that. And this is not just about brand and experience. This is about moments we create based on humans, on the individuals who make up that buying committee. In B2B, it's a minimum of five and could be up to 25 different unique people. So it's a bit more complex in that sense. And the data's a little bit more fragmented than our B2C colleagues. So that's what we're trying to figure out.

And the last piece is, we used to say, “we built awareness, we generated a lead, we're done.” Today it's full customer life cycle. The models are subscriptions. They're annual recurring revenue where you have to earn that business at least every year. So you're renewing and you're cross selling and you're upselling. This is all new for the go-to-market team, and how marketing and sales and this thing called customer success work now in B2B. We're really at an inflection point, a time of change. It's fun and exciting, but a lot unknown.

RD: Part of what we work on is this experience journey and how events for so long were pulled out and kind of separated from the buyer's journey, if you will. I’d love your thoughts on what that future looks like for these two formerly separate, segregated activities.

SV: I think they will be segregated for a while. I'm just being realistic. Why do I say that? The good news is we started to get a little bit better at digital online event experience, and we learned some things from that. That's more like a touch point in many organizations. It's like a webinar on steroids or they went and did some engagement online with our content. So that kind of feels natural, so maybe it's not so far out here. But when you're talking about a live experience, a live event, they're typically done in business to business for two reasons: ego, “we need to be there, it's an important conference, we need to show up,” sales and or marketing needs to hit an MQL number and they're the fastest, best way to do that. Or, sales wants to be there because that's where they actually do all their prospecting. Those are all legitimate. I'm not derailing or making fun of that process, but that's why they're typically separate. They're not designed to be part of the overall journey in most organizations. There are definitely companies and teams that are doing this and thinking about it. That's why I think why they're outliers. They're not designed to be part of something.

The second thing is events are typically where you may launch something. So it's fabricated in that sense, it's about your product and your timing and your launch, versus the timing of the attendee, the prospects that are there, the community that's there and attending. There's some things we need to recalibrate in my mind around events. I think the digital event experience is going to help that — the move to more orchestration of experiences. But we've got a ways to go. It's five to seven years. We can't just throw technology at it. And Robyn you know more than anybody, we've got so much data, but little of it is actionable. We can't activate it.

RD: Before you even activate it, most of my conversations are, “we don't even have the bandwidth to look at it, let alone what do we look at, let alone activate something on it.” We've been inundated with data the last two years, when you talk about virtual moments and digital experiences. I think that we have to get a grasp on what data is actually important, one to understand your customer, two to influence that journey that we talked about, and then three how you design from that. We do have a long way to go.

SV: Even if you have a base of data, or you talk to your peers, you could start making progress against that, then adjust using data.  What I always get frustrated at and get twisted up about is when you sit and say, well, we haven't done this before, or we're going to build the Taj Mahal and all these experiences and these journeys and these things — just get into it, put it out there. Do it based on what you know about the market, the customer, talk to your peers that maybe are doing it. Go out and say, Hey, based on what we know about our market and our customers and what we've been doing, here's how we're going to try this let's, and try some different things. I think the that's how you really need to get started and think about it, then use the data to make adjustments and all of those other elements that become important.

RD: You have to be patient with trial and error, and I think a hard part, depending on who your owners are, private equity, VC, etc., there's very room for trial and error when it comes to spending money. And that becomes very, very difficult in the knowing your customer and creating change in the experience piece because you're on a 6-18 month lifecycle. You have to make that big cash cow that you might have work, or you have to wait a whole other year to try it. And I think that's why there's so much resistance sometimes to change.

SV: I think that's where leaders step up and make a business case that maybe there's other things you turn up in the meantime to make sure you're covered on your pipeline numbers and other things. That's where education about the changing nature of what an event does, what role it can play — and sometimes you're going to win those and you're going to get that through the system, and sometimes you're not. I'll go back to One Reality. They want to know the attribution on a single event, and yet we're all talking about that there's 20 to 25 touches. There’s moments and experiences. So finding that balance between doing that. And one of the things I see really working well, is before you go and build the data and all of this stuff, keep collecting the data, but go in and take your last three big wins, or five, or two, whatever the number is. Get underneath the hood and spend some manual time understanding the account touchpoints, the buyer touchpoints, and reconstruct that.

And when you go to your customer business review or your quarterly business review — in B2B that's common, you sit down with sales and the executives and you review that quarter — dissect those wins and go, “Here's what we what we found. The last three big wins. These are the things that happened. So therefore we're going to start to make adjustments and connect these things. We are going to use an event to do X.” So it doesn't always have to be completely data driven. It can be more relatable. Especially to sales — people go, “man, I didn't know those 11 other people had been on our website or they had come through our booth. I had no idea. I didn't put those.” So now they're believing, and you began to move the thinking and in the strategy. But patience, patience, patience. And that has to be the hardest point. You almost have to put your hand up a little bit and take the heat for while you're building over here. Very difficult to do at the pace of change that's happening today.

RD: And sometimes the lengthy cycles of design and planning when it comes to events too, especially since we haven't had much in two years. As a marketer, what do you think makes a moment an experience?

SV: One thing I learned is a moment could be good, bad, or indifferent. We don't want bad experiences, but sometimes indifferent will do the job. So we don't have to make everything a great experience — that's over engineering, and that probably is not brand authenticity. It probably doesn't represent your company or your product. Or you're going to get an eye roll from your customers for being over the top. That's the first thing I go — moments are not all magical. There's different types.

One of the principles I think about is that a moment is defined by the individual, or in some cases in B2B, by the team, because they sit down and they talk amongst each other. There's a lot of people involved in B2B. So it's a bit different. I kind of have degrees in moments. I know this is dorky, but it's the way I think. Sometimes, it did its job. I was able to pay that bill. I went to the event, I got exactly what I needed. I asked for these things, these things were delivered. It did its job. That's a moment. We think we need to have people dancing in the streets and doing cake stands but that's not necessarily true. Sometimes having appropriate, “it did its job” is a big thing.

The second thing I think about is the person recalls it. They kind of get that, “Yeah, that was pretty cool,” or “That was good,” or “I like that.” And sometimes that's not always a triggered moment. Sometimes what we have to do is when we study those things is go back over and ask some of those questions. That's why it's important to be in market and ask your customers or your prospects, not survey them to death, but reach out and have a few conversations, and try to understand what those triggers are and what they thought about that.

The next thing is when the person starts telling other people about it. Sometimes you can't grasp that because it's peer to peer, like you and I always compare notes. But sometimes it's on social, so you can see it. You want to understand those moments to go from a moment to an experience. And then to me, the ultimate, is they keep coming back. That to me is a measure of understanding. Much like your communication strategy can be segmented based on what they are, I think there's going to be more and more a prevailing sentiment to what their experience is, and therefore the ability to tailor their communications to what they are. Just like you segment your archetypes of buyers or your segment your customer types. It's going to be the same thing around experiences. And I think if we get really good, we're going to ask that person up front, what do they want? Just the facts and basics. Just ask them.

And Robyn you and I learned this coming up through the editorial ranks when we worked together at B2B media companies. And I see that we went into this other world and we all of a sudden lost our mind about “ask them what they want.” We want to deliver what you experience, not necessarily a chat bot that comes up and screams at you, and maybe a chat bot's right for certain things and we need an agent to solve a problem. But if they're coming on as a prospect or a customer and they need something, I know these are really deep topics, but that's the way I think about it. I break it down into segments and think about how to deliver moments and experiences and categorize those a little bit. And then that way, at least you can be focused on delivering back appropriate or contextual to groups of people.

RD: My dad played basketball and he always said, you have to have the basics. If you can't dribble, you can't shoot. And I think we've gotten so far away in the event and experience world where we're doing these — you think experience means something, and it became stuff that does nothing to do with the topic or the event. It's keynotes that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

SV: You get away from your purpose and your why by doing that.

RD: Yeah. And sometimes you don't need an event — and I'm an event gal — sometimes you just don't need an event to do the things you need to do. It's figuring out, what is the unique thing that you can't do in any other medium? And if you can't identify it, don't have the event.

SV: Exactly. And it's easier said than done. We're talking about this, but going back to fundamentals and knowing and understanding your buyer is everything. Or your customer, your prospect, your community, your audience, whatever label you use, depending on your industry. If you don't know that, you're going to have a really tough time. Because that way, you can go back to it and start with fundamentals. Start with that understanding. Whenever I get confused, I go back and just try to break it down into its basics and fundamentals. And then try to create on top of that. Because especially with everybody barking in your ear, the investors over here, your executives and your sales leaders about pipeline, don't do this event, how much are we spending on that, what are we getting back? Break it down into its most basic elements.

RD: Dr. Adrienne Boissy, she was on a couple episodes ago and she was the former CXO at the Cleveland clinic, and we talked about personalization. She’s all about neuroscience, and she was just like, we're allowing someone to ask arbitrary survey questions after the fact of an experience, of what their perception was of the experience that we delivered for them. Instead of understanding ahead of time, what does success look like for you? Is it, I want to have text messages for reminders for my appointments. And if we understand what that is and we can measure it, we can see, did we deliver on that need of yours? We're allowing emotion to drive perception of experience and then drive our design of it, as opposed to needs and delivery of needs. And I was just like, yeah, you’re right.

SV: Ask people up front, ask people during the experience, don't bombard or slow them down, but are you getting what you want? And I would never compare healthcare and medical to what we're doing in events. And there are two different spectrums. But there's a lot of learnings. And isn't it ironic that she's neural, this whole idea of how your brain works and learns, putting more of that into your experience. That's a little off topic here, but that's what I try to go back to. The purpose and why, the fundamentals, what are they trying to learn, how do they learn. That's why I think buyer archetypes and archetypes are just — this is the kind of information I need, giving them control, letting them self-qualify as much as you can through nonirritating frictionless questions. If you ask the right questions authentically and for good reason, not to hammer them with stuff or spam them as you follow up, then I think people will give you the information that you need. “Hey, I'm just looking right now.” Fine. Great. Enjoy. If you need anything I'm here.

RD: No one wants their time to be wasted, especially now.

SV: Well that's what we did in the marketing automation centric. It was great for marketing because we had data, we could outreach, we could follow up — marketing could, I mean, not just sales. And it was a great start, but that's 10, 12 years old now. And that thinking of, I did this and therefore you're going to get three automated emails, three phone calls…I mean, it's so ridiculous to think about. There's no moments. There's no experiences. There's very little deposits that are being made in that individual or that company that you're talking to. That’s that whole remake of moments and experiences, and I know you have to connect it all and you have to have data eventually, but break it down to its essentials and fundamentals to start.

RD: I have two questions I want to ask you. I'm going to ask you the closing question first and then come back to the second one. If you have one piece of advice for those in the event industry — generally B2B since that’s where you play — what would it be?

SV: Where my mind leads around events is, I would try to figure out what companies like Netflix are doing. My bet is, and I don't have insider information, they're going to go to concert and live plays next. I really believe that, because we are moving to a subscription economy, we're already there. How do we learn to make our experience sticky? Or the role of our event, or event program, to make that more relevant. We had to react. Before the pandemic, it was a digital extension. 24 by 7, and I forget all the terms now, but all that goofy stuff that was not human centered, that was not experience nor what the buyer needed or wanted. That was about us and being able to get revenue beyond the live event.

Then we move to we're going to do a digital extension and a hybrid event, and that just doesn't feel right either. Can you do live streaming of certain pieces of it? That's pretty cool. Now you're delivering experiences, and you are creating value in that. Or you can sign up to see a track of something, or it'll be recorded and you can sign up for that later. But think there is something about the Netflix subscription model that's going to happen in events on the other side of it. And I think that is something that I'd be studying. What Disney and what streaming is doing. I know it's counterintuitive to live experiences, but Disney took Hamilton, and put it out as a movie, and watch all the other stuff they're going to do with brands like that. And that to me is where you might open our minds up a little bit.

RD: Squid Game is a great example from a Netflix standpoint. That was a small investment that made them five times, if not more over, without all the extensions of the brand that they're going to do.

SV: I think you're right on. I just think there's something there that's a base that we can learn from, that can truly make an event a brand. That to me is a big one, for those putting on events as their business.

RD: I love that. You mentioned brand, so the last question I want to ask you is like chicken or egg. I asked this to Brendan Kane who was on the last one of these. What are your thoughts, community versus brand? Which needs to come first?

SV: I think you need to figure out how to bring them together. And it depends on the maturity of your market, the maturity of your business. And then have you built your own community, or do you want to do that? Yu may buy a community because it was an acquisition, and you may inherit it. So if you build, you have to nurture — you always have to nurture, but build is nurture and build trust and all of that. If you buy, you have to immediately go in and earn that we are behind this. Let us tell you a little bit about us and we want to know about you. And then if you partner, that becomes more interesting too, because I'm seeing a lot of success in partnerships where groups come together to form a community and they share in that.

To answer the question, I think you first need to decide what you want, what your customers need, who your community is and what they need, what they want, what they expect. And then your purpose and why. I don't know if I can say which comes first. But I will tell you that most companies put their brand first and then their community. And I think what we've learned by now, if you put your community first and serve those, your brand can take shape. I'm know a little wishy washy on that one. When you put that question in that note to me, I was thinking, oh my gosh, this is a really, really smart question that I have to think about.

RD: In the event world, every event is a brand to a certain extent. The intention should be that there's a community of people behind it. It's not just a thing that happens. And in B2B everyone wants community. I think it's an interesting question that I want to ask everybody as we talk about engagement and we're all trying to lead to engagement, but how do you get to that?

SV: If you're doing a community to be your buying audience, then you're probably starting off with the wrong intention. That's why I went back to your purpose and why. You see this in a lot of communities that come up, they get started and then somehow they need to get monetized because they they're so big. I'm a capitalist, there's nothing wrong with that. But that's where community has to come first, I think. And then building a brand in around that probably makes a lot more sense.

RD: Any parting words?

SV: The parting words are, now is the time — as crazy as it is, the unevenness of everything that's going on right now, of business, of life, of who in who's out, of markets that are up that are down, that have been affected by the pandemic and many not so much, or however that all works. My thing is this is a great time to find your true north. This is the time to think about what you're passionate about, what you love to do. My LinkedIn says, do what you love. This is a great time. You have the great resignation, but those people are going somewhere. They're shuffling. I call it the Great Reshuffle.

So it's a great time to really step back. This doesn't mean leave your company. Your company probably has more needs and opportunities than it's ever had. So if there's something that you can step up and say, Hey, I'll do that. I'll try that. I'll add that to my responsibilities. It's not to do more work. This is the time to — speaking of experiences — to accelerate that because we're at such an inflection point of change, at least from a go-to-market and marketing standpoint. I know that applies to many other professions, but in this world, the audience, the community we're talking to today, now's the time. I can see it, because we've been through enough of these, now. I can see all the people that are really getting to cool new things and capitalize on what is really a big shift in evolution.


Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.


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