I just dropped five figures on a SaaS tool, despite hiring freezes, budget cuts, and increasing pressure to focus on driving more leads and sales.
How’d I get our CMO and CEO to buy in? To devote not only money, but time and other resources to a brand new, untested initiative?
That’s a story that began almost a year ago, while I was at the B2B Marketing Expo in London. It was the last day of the tradeshow and traffic to the booth was winding down, when a lady stopped to introduce herself in her charming British accent. She was Elena, and she worked for a SaaS company called Reveal.
Now, I’d heard about Reveal but hadn’t understood the purpose. As a tool for partners, several of the brands I’d worked with previously had asked to connect using Reveal, which reported on our mutual CRMs. Since Agorapulse had no real integrations or intention to integrate with other tools at the time, seeing customer overlap or potential, frankly, didn’t make sense to me.
Elena immediately helped me see some potential in using a tool like that. My initial thought was that we might use Reveal to find mutual prospects among brands in specific geographic areas, knowing that throughout 2023 I would be hosting VIP dinners for senior marketers and certainly wanted to use those events to elevate key accounts. After I returned home, Elena and I had a number of calls and discussions about how to use Reveal and how to bring more parters into Reveal in order to learn more about mutual customers and prospects.
And while we were never able to get Reveal to work as I originally imagined, I started to learn about another, far more powerful, use of the tool.
I was spending a lot of time in early 2023 exploring how best to be more strategic in the kinds of partnerships I was forging for Agorapulse. My typical levers of affiliate marketing, influencer marketing, and event marketing, were not scaling. And integrations or technical innovations with brand partners and our product still weren’t on the table. I subscribed to newsletters, expanded my LinkedIn connections, and explored partnership communities, and started to hear about a new approach to sales and marketing that I found fascinating.
Go To Market (GTM) is an increasingly trending topic among marketers and executives today and while some might dismiss the phrase as a just another term for marketing, there’s an underlying perspective to GTM which insists on identifying what a company’s specific problems and approach is when it comes to marketing and, ultimately, where your focus as a company is. Are you focused on inbound marketing? Outbound sales? Product-led growth? Event-led growth? Something else?
While I know and embrace the fact that partnerships can be utilized to enhance every aspect of a company, from sales to marketing to CS to product, my traditional approach has been to focus mostly on inbound initiatives – motions – like influencer marketing, or virtual events, which can generate measurable leads and sales. But, just like classic inbound marketing such as blogging or social media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to scale those initiatives. Similarly, while outbound sales for most brands was hot years ago, that motion, too, has cooled and become increasingly challenging and even disappointing.
What I learned about in early 2023 was a way that partnerships could be leveraged to not only assist in all of those motions, but provide a truly new and innovative motion that can increase leads, improve sales win rate, and even boost deal sizes.
It’s called Nearbound.
What Is Nearbound?
The idea itself isn’t new, just as “Conversational Marketing” was based on an existing idea of chat bots and widgets.
Nearbound is an evolution of inbound and outbound. It’s a play where your company’s sales representatives can now see when their prospects are already doing business with key partners and can talk to those partners about the prospect, getting the answers to the test in advance, as partnership expert Jared Fuller likes to say.
In the past, savvy co-selling brands might have shared spreadsheets or other cumbersome ways of informing sales teams of potential partners to leverage in a sale, but that’s where Reveal has come in to enable and empower this new shift.
Suddenly, my partners and I can access a real-time dashboard that shows us exactly which prospects are already customers of a partner, who the account rep is, and other vital information. My sales team can continue operating within their HubSpot CRM and still have that information surfaced for them. And I can spend my time forging new partner relationships and assisting my sales team in working with our partners to receive and provide valuable intel upon request.
- Imagine being able to bypass a gatekeeper and get straight to the decision-maker at a key account.
- Imagine being told, before you go into the sales meeting, what that account’s most important goals and struggles were last year that you might solve for.
- Imagine being introduced and recommended by a vendor who has already established trust with that account.
Because the greatest challenge to marketing today isn’t algorithms or pixels or cookies… it’s the total lack of trust that buyers now have. We know only 3% of buyers want to talk to a salesperson but that issue is made worse by the prevalence of AI-generated content and sponsored-everything, resulting in everyone having a total lack of confidence in anything they see.
How can they trust anything you have to say? They can’t.
But they can and will trust people they know.
Word of Mouth marketing will always be the most effective approach, but it’s not always the most efficient. Nearbound motions with partners brings WOM to scale for your sales team and for your business.
That’s the initiative that I am now building at Agorapulse and which I envision will be my focus for the foreseeable future. Initially it will be about getting the proper documentation, processes and workflows in place, and getting my team, and my key partners, trained on how to leverage this data and approach. But long term and at a high level, it will all be about establishing trust.
- I will be working to establish trust with our key partners, and leveraging that trust to expand relationships and forge new ones.
- I will be working with our sales team to ensure that trust is never brokered or betrayed.
- And I will be depending on our leading product and support teams to continue to hold the trust of our customers sacred.
Because in order for Nearbound to work and work well, trust is required at all of those levels.
Getting Executive Buy-in
So how’d I get that buy-in?
Fortunately, I had two external assists. I’d presented the idea… and the expense for a full implementation of Reveal… by the end of Q1 2023, and at the time neither the budget nor the buy-in was there. But over the next couple of months, our CMO happened to be at a GTM event in Boston where he heard first-hand about Nearbound from a longtime colleague, Jason Yarborough. At the same time, one of our former partner managers from Twitter had a conversation with our CEO about partnerships and he, too, talked about Nearbound. By the end of Q2, I had the full support of the CEO and CMO to pursue and implement a Nearbound program. And after I made some creative budget adjustment proposals to our CMO to allow for the added expense, I had the full green light to proceed.
I have a roadmap, and I’ll hope to share with you successes in the near future. If yours is a SaaS company, particularly in the marketing space, and you’d like to learn more about Nearbound and potentially partner with us, please hit reply and let’s talk.
This is a topic that I’ve broached in my podcast, first in this episode with Jared Fuller, whose media company PartnerHackers has since merged with Reveal, then again with Rob Rebholz here, and in upcoming podcast episodes as well. So definitely subscribe to the Partnership Unpacked podcast on your favorite podcast player.
Finally, you may be interested in the Nearbound Summit, a virtual event. It’s definitely on my calendar!
Want to explore leveraging strategic partnerships within your own organization? It’s not easy – it requires involvement of key stakeholders throughout your business, particularly executives, marketing, and sales. And it requires time & resources to identify potential partners, establish relationships, document processes, train internal staff, and build out working nearbound motions like co-selling and gathering intel.
Yet it’s the kind of effort that can result in transformative results.
Achieving that level of success is exactly the kind of Big Problem I can help you solve as your Fractional CMO. Learn more about the role that I can play in providing you and your marketing team with experienced leadership and strategic planning.