Interview with Margie Agin – The Ins & Outs of B2B Product Marketing – Episode #72

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    • “Product marketing is thinking not just about lead gen and awareness but, all the way through the funnel.”Margie Agin is an award-winning marketer who helps B2B tech companies discover what makes them unique and find the words to say it. She is the founder and chief strategist of the marketing agency Centerboard Marketing and is the author of “Brand Breakthrough: How to Go beyond a Catchy Tagline to Build an Authentic, Influential and Sustainable Brand Personality.”

      Before founding Centerboard Marketing, Margie led demand generation efforts for the education technology company Blackboard, a digital marketing tool for video conferencing leaders like Tandberg and Cisco.

      Questions we covered:

      • What’s the difference between product marketing and product management?
      • How can marketers bridge the gap between high-level branding and product-level messaging?
      • How can product marketers become advocates for their customers’ point of view?
      • What are the key advantages to consider when comparing the benefits between a user community versus a customer advisory board?
      • How can marketers use content marketing and product marketing for sales enablement?
      • What are some of the must-have content assets that are needed for marketing and sales enablement?
      • What are Margie’s favorite social listening tools?
      • And more!!!

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:01  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the people with digital marketing with your host Kenny Soto. And as always, I’m very excited about today’s guest because she comes with a plethora of great advice and wisdom. And her name is Margie agian. Hi, Marjorie, how are you? Hi. Thanks for having me. Yeah, of course, of course. 

 

And before we started recording, I gave you a little deep dive into who we’re talking to, and why I started this podcast. And it’s always good to just get a general sense of like, the guest’s context in their career right now. So my question for you, the first question really would be, how would you describe your current job?

 

Margie Agin  0:49  

Sure, so I run a small marketing consultancy, called centerboard. Marketing. And it’s the way I sometimes describe it to others in the marketing industry, right, it’s sort of me and my circle of friends. So I started this business about 10 years ago, after 15 years as an in-house marketer. And my focus is content strategy and content development. 

 

And for b2b technology, companies that often have really complex and quirky niche products and services that are often you know, hard to explain in plain language. So what I do is help them really get to the heart of their value proposition and then help them find the words to explain it. I say circle of friends, because my focus, my personal focus is more on the strategy and marketing strategy. 

 

And I also do a lot of writing, because that’s sort of that’s my love, and part of where I started. But I work with a lot of partners, designers, video, people, SEO people who have, you know, deep specialization in their areas, and then we kind of bring them in and out of projects, and kind of orchestrate depending on what the client needs.

 

Kenny Soto  2:14  

To get a little bit more context, what would you say, are the weekly and monthly challenges that you face in growing your business specifically?

 

Margie Agin  2:24  

Wow, that’s a good question. So I mean, there’s always client challenges in that every project is different, right, and every other lives specialized in some ways in b2b Tech, that is still broad enough that, you know, understanding the technology and getting up to speed really quickly is a challenge and something that, you know, it takes some investment upfront. 

 

So that is that, that’s one of the challenges just didn’t in the consulting world is it’s also a joy and a benefit, but it’s being able to jump around to different types of projects and kind of get immersed in that world. So that’s, you know, that’s one thing. And then, just internally in terms of scaling, you know, I mentioned, I’ve done this for about 10 years, and I’ve kind of over that period of time tried to figure out how much do I scale, you know, what is the right number of clients to have, before you spread yourself too thin. 

So those are, those are always questions because, you know, having sort of five or six different clients, you know, you can go really deep and get to know them very well. But, you know, anything beyond that it starts to become, you just, you’re just switching gears too often and spread too thin too often. So that’s kind of what I face trying to figure out that sweet spot where I can really be a good partner to everybody. And, but also sort of have that variety and bring different perspectives.

 

Kenny Soto  4:01  

So I see this interview as a very serendipitous moment in my own career because I just became a product marketing manager myself for a b2b company. And I’ve worked in b2b before, but I’ve never been a product marketing manager. 

 

So I have my own unique challenges that I also believe other marketers might be facing or have already faced as well. So my next question for you would be, what’s the specific difference between product marketing and product management?

 

Margie Agin  4:33  

Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. And I think both fields have evolved a lot, especially over sort of the last 10 years. Let’s say product management was maybe newer 10 years ago, and now and now is pretty established. 

 

And product marketing is really coming into its own, I think, especially in the last couple of years. So I’ll kind of tie this back to what I was saying about content as well. So product marketing and product management have to really work hand in hand, right, there is sort of two sides of the same coin. And in some organizations, one might report to the other, right, or there’s definitely overlap and blending of these different roles. 

 

So a lot of it depends on the size of the organization and how they’ve decided to set things up. But what I’ve found is product management, and I’m thinking about technology companies, right? But product management is often the one who is more closely dealing with the development of the engineering team and kind of guiding the roadmap for product development. 

 

And also sort of the, you know, the way that products are sort of the cadence with which they’re released, making sure those products meet customer needs. And they’re typically more technical, right, maybe they themselves have come from a kind of a, you know, a technical background, often, but they’re looking at the technology in a more in more of a business sense. 

 

The product marketing folks are also looking at how well the product meets customer needs. But they’re less about, you know, defining the future of the product and more about communicating the benefits of how a product can solve pains and listening to customers to understand how they’re communicating their needs. 

 

Because they are basically the bridge often to the rest of the marketing team. Right. So I typically find product managers don’t want to get involved with demand generation, right, or sometimes even blog writing or content development, some do. 

 

But, you know, often they’re the subject matter experts who have a lot of information in their head, but they’re not the ones that are then going to go put it on the website, you know, or build the sales materials, or write a blog or write a white paper. 

 

So the two are fairly strong partners. Because know, what I’ll find is, you know, I’ll talk to the technology folks. And they, they, sometimes they can get very much in sort of the features and functionality. And through our conversations, right? We come to what is the real value, right? What is the real competitive differentiator, right? Why should people care about this now, it often takes that conversation actually between the product marketer and the product management person to have that come to life. So, then the product marketer has to then kind of package that and communicate that and work with the rest of the marketing team.

 

Kenny Soto  7:48  

Now, when it comes to packaging, the messaging, how can product marketers bridge the gap between high-level branding and product-level messaging, which are very distinct things?

 

Margie Agin  8:01  

Yeah, I think I think it depends on the size of the organization. Right. But I’ve often the brand team, right, or the corporate communications team will have kind of scenes, I guess you could call them, right, the big picture kinds of umbrella fiends that.

 

What does the company stand for? Right, what is the mission? What is the vision? And that’s an extremely high level, right? And then down sort of in the grassroots? Right? It’s sort of, you know, hand-to-hand combat part of the sales and, and product side, you’ve got, well, how does this feature, give us a competitive advantage? Or why are we ahead of our competitors in this area for this industry, it can get extremely like nitty gritty, right, and there’s, there’s a big gulf between the high-level sort of vision and the nitty gritty. 

 

So what the product marketer ultimately is responsible for is closing that gap. It’s finding kind of that red thread. So let me kind of give you an example. Right? So I have one client, where they’re their whole sort of premise is that it’s a cybersecurity client, is that cybersecurity technology is incredibly complex. Right? And they want to and therefore, often don’t get used. And which actually makes it more dangerous, right, because people have sort of a false sense of security. 

 

So their whole sort of brand vision is we are seamless, we are easy to use, right? We have what’s called usable security. And we’re different from these complex tools. You know, your grandfather’s old complex tools that you know, are actually so complex that they sit on a shelf and you’ve wasted all this money. 

That’s the high-level sort of brand message. at the product level, we’ve got to prove that’s true. Right, that now we’ve got to talk about, okay, well, we’re working on, you know, this kind of user interface, or you can do things more quickly because you can now do it in two steps instead of five. 

 

So we’ve got to sort of make sure that there’s a reality to what the high-level brand messages saying, right, and we’ve got to find those proof points that back up what the high-level man brand messages saying. And so that’s sort of an example of when it comes to a sort of, you know, maybe that was a top-level message that went down to the bottom. 

 

But sometimes there’s something that comes from the bottom and goes up. So the product, the product team, the product management team, or the product marketing team, may find that what customers are really asking for, right who knows, is some kind of a dashboard or report for compliance. 

 

And then suddenly, the message needs to also talk about, you know, why we help you pass audits and, and compliance needs. So there’s, there’s kind of that give and take where the two sides have to communicate really well. So that there’s this thread that goes from the mission all the way to the proof points.

 

Kenny Soto  11:22  

How can product marketers become advocates for their customer’s points of view?

 

Margie Agin  11:29  

It’s a lot of listening, right? I mean, it is a lot of interviewing customers, happy customers, unhappy customers. Happy customers, unhappy customers, lost customers, and prospective customers at events, right? And the only way to really get their point of view, or even hear the words that they use to describe what their problem is right is to talk to them directly. 

 

I think. I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of research that you can do online, and there’s a lot of, you know, webinars that you can listen on. But I think that type of interviewing skill is incredibly key.

 

Kenny Soto  12:15  

This is a follow-up. I’ve been conceptualizing and thinking about the need for either a standalone community channel, where we have both leads, but also current customers interacting with each other. 

 

So it’s many too many, as opposed to one too many, versus a customer advisory board, where we have power users, so to speak, all work in tandem to help with messaging, product, roadmap, etc. If you had to advise a client of yours, the pros and cons of each, and which one would be the best use case? How would you go around the thinking between a community versus a customer advisory board? 

 

Margie Agin  13:10  

So if you are a b2b technology company, right, then you probably will get the most benefit from people who are experts in the field. Right? And, and you may get more value from 10 people who really know their stuff, right, than you would from, you know, 2000 people that are generalists, right, and can’t really directly answer the questions. 

 

So I think those people are hard to find sometimes, and maybe hard to engage and hard to keep engaged. So they also get a benefit from being in a community where they can find other like-minded people, right, and sort of network with them and learn things from them. So if you’re in that kind of world, we’ve got, you know, a real sort of specific topic that you need some depth, deep expertise. I think the customer advisory board makes a lot of sense. 

 

But if you’re in a broader industry, right where you want. You want people who maybe aren’t as familiar with your technology, you’re trying to introduce a brand-new technology, right? Or you people that don’t know your product, and so they don’t come in with any kind of preconceptions, right, then maybe the larger community is better for you because you’re getting sort of, you’re much more inclusive and in your research. 

 

So you’re getting a lot of diversity of opinion, instead of sort of cherry-picking just the people that you want. But either way, those sort of two-way conversations with people where you know, you can listen, as I said, you can do social listening and you can read. That’s all really valuable stuff. 

 

But when you actually can have a follow-up and get more in-depth with people, and show them something and have them play with it and have a follow-up question, you get to sort of the root cause of what, what their motivations are. So that’s a huge advantage of either type of community, I think it’s really just more of a matter of what type of people you want to include. And how much engagement are you going to have? 

 

Kenny Soto  15:31  

How can product marketers leverage content assets to help with marketing and sales and sales enablement? Because, um, this is a leading question because I have some assumptions on how to use content to enable marketing and sales. But I know some of my listeners have been specialists, either in paid media, for example, or in other avenues and content might be a new challenge for them. What would be the best recommendation that you have for marketers to leverage content?

 

Margie Agin  16:05  

So just to kind of build that connection between product marketing content real quick, I think, you know, I started working on content 10, plus years ago, it was the website, and, and then social media, and maybe the blog, right, very top of funnel kinds of lead, not even lead generation, but sort of attention gaining, right. So SEO eyeball, gaining to use as a magnet, right? And that’s how I think content kind of, you know, grew up is sort of, you know, more is better. And let’s be the engine of the website to keep the SEO going. Right. 

 

And I think in some ways, digital marketers are still kind of thinking that way because they’re using content for downloadable assets on the website, right? And they’re using content, as you know, gated lead gen type things for advertising, right, or third-party syndication. And all of that is very, it’s top of funnel kind of information, where you’re just trying to build awareness, and you’re trying to get your brand out there. 

 

So where, where I’ve seen this shift is that content generation and content responsibility are starting to become more of a product marketing kind of responsibility, not just demand gen or brand responsibility. And, what that has done is now we’re able because the product marketers are more subject matter experts, right? And they’re talking with the product teams. Now we’re getting more into mid-funnel kinds of content, sales enablement, and kind of content. 

 

So demos, scripts, videos that are you know, how-to kinds of tools and tips and techniques, papers that are, you know, more for an expert level, right? Or talk about it talk about what’s the experience like to work with us or do an installation or, you know, what the upgrade process is, like, this is content that is much more sort of, after you’ve got those eyeballs, right, and you’re trying to move people sort of along the sales cycle. 

 

To close the customer journey, you know, doesn’t just end when they become a sales lead, the customer has a lot more questions that happen during that process. And those are things you might not put on your website, right those are things that aren’t, you know, something that you promote heavily through an ad, but there’s still content that is necessary to kind of make a build that trust, help customers make that final decision, justify their purchase, right, all those things that happen all along the way. 

 

And, even after, right, they become a customer if you want renewals and referrals and all those things. So that’s also the bridge with a sort of from the brand or the product marketing is, you know, product marketing is thinking not just lead gen and awareness, but all the way through the funnel.

 

Kenny Soto  19:12  

That was a wonderful illustration. And that definitely is going to be a clip on the podcast for sure. My next question is a little long for a clip but we’ll figure it out. Yeah, my next question is more general and vague because I’m sure that this has been brought up in conversations with your clients what are some of your go-to Martech tools?

 

Margie Agin  19:37  

Ah, wow. Um any particular focus like there’s any throughout the whole thing

 

Kenny Soto  19:47  

Let’s start off with audience listening tools and audience research.

 

Margie Agin  19:51  

Okay. Well, it’s you mentioned communities, right there. So there are a lot of really interesting community tools out there. Actually, one client of mine that I’ll recommend is a company called Aleta. And Elena has a community kind of, it’s a combination of surveys. And like, almost a digital customer advisory board on steroids. 

 

So that’s a very cool tool for b2b and b2c companies. I think also, you know, I do a lot of social listening literally just through Twitter and HootSuite. And you know, sometimes spark Toro is one where I kind of look for topics and look for themes. 

 

Sometimes that’s harder in a b2b tech, like a niche kind of world, right? But I do like that you can kind of tell even Google Trends, right, what people are talking about, they’re not talking about. For SEO, I use Moz. And I can use Moz. Also for a topic generation in many ways, because there are some ideas that come from that, where I say, oh, there’s actual search volume on this topic, let me dig in and talk about content on that search topic. 

 

Search, search volume, in a nice b2b world might be you know, 500 searches a month, but that’s great. Like a week, that’s okay, that’s a dedicated audience. Um, you know, another tool that I have loved where, when often will work on website content generation. 

 

And I don’t do the development, right, but I do content creation. So I use different tools that will help me sort of gather content and then get that content reviewed, right, and make sure that it fits in the size and shape that it needs to be for a website. 

 

So another tool that I’ve really liked is called gather content, which is, you know, if you’ve ever worked in a website, where you’ve got like, a whole bunch of Word documents, and, or even Google Docs, you know, out for review, or multiple versions, and then you’ve got to try to fit it into this little, you know, space, that’s only 10 words long, it can be hard to make that jump from Word doc to website frame. So that’s, that’s a nice tool that helps you just streamline that process.

 

Kenny Soto  22:22  

My next question is in two parts. What excites you? And what worries you about marketing, in general, this year?

 

Margie Agin  22:35  

That’s tough. Kenny. What excites me? Um, well, in general, you know, I think the last year has been having, what is cool is that I have gotten to know people from all over the world, because we’re all stuck at home. Right. 

 

And so I think we’re finding ways even this podcast, right and doing this connection here. And I talked to someone yesterday who was in Finland, right? And I had, you know, just as good a rapport with that person. And I talked to someone in Australia. And that idea now is that we can pick the best people who can work from anywhere, right, and find the best partners, and make connections with people. 

 

And, you know, yes, of course, we could always do that, right? But we just weren’t in the same way. So now, and sort of, because we’re forced to, we’re not going to events the same way. And everyone’s a little more open to showing their face on Zoom, maybe than they were before. You know, if you put yourself out there, I think there’s a lot of cool people in this marketing community that want to connect. 

 

And it doesn’t even matter where they are so that’s what I’ve found really invigorating, and I’ve needed to have that over the last couple of years where I, you know, I just to feed that like, new blood, new ideas. So, you know, I would encourage people to just reach out and make some connections, because I think a lot of people are feeling that way.

 

Kenny Soto  24:11  

Are there? Is there anything that specifically worries you? Or does that seem like a big challenge in the marketing space right now?

 

Margie Agin  24:19  

Well, I mean, I think the big challenge, really, we’re almost a victim of our own success in many ways, right? So it’s like content in terms of content, we’re all pumping it out, right? We’re all producing it. But when the latest something like you know, half of the content is never actually even read or used by the sales team. 

 

But there’s still this pressure to just do more and more and more and more. So that feeling and you asked me initially like what are some of my struggles in the beginning, right? And there is always that sort of struggle where we’re all being asked to do more, but maybe we don’t need to, we just need to do better. 

 

Or go back and look at what we did six months ago, tweak it a little and make it awesome and republish it. And you know that that is that’s, that’s what worries me because there’s just an appetite constantly for newness when we kind of as marketers sometimes have to push back on that. And look for just better quality.

 

Kenny Soto  25:25  

Yeah, certainly. And I would add, and this is kind of like two ideas into one. The first idea is, and this is specifically with SEO, for those of us listening that aren’t being told, Hey, what are the new content pieces that we’re launching? In q1, you might want to tell leadership, that what’s actually going to happen as far as an initiative is concerned is we’re going to review old content and see how we can upgrade it so that we can get more search traffic because a lot of old posts can still work, 

 

So long as you update the statistics, and the information that it’s a housing, and then yeah, and the second part is, if all of your blog posts specifically are already optimized, consider how you can repurpose them for audio and video, because they don’t necessarily need to be one content format, they can be three. So that’s something else to consider. My last question for you, Margie is a hypothetical one, if you had access to a time machine, and you could go back in time, 10 years into the past, knowing everything you know, today, how would you accelerate the speed of your career?

 

Margie Agin  26:30  

Huh? Well boy, that is really a tough one. You’re gonna have to cut out some gaps there. Um, gosh. Okay. So you said 10 years? Okay. So 10 years, almost exactly, is when I started this business. Okay, so I’ll kind of speak from the perspective of a consultant, right? So 10 years ago, I basically the way the reason I started my business, my consulting business, and so I sort of got kicked out of the nest, I was, I was laid off from a company that I was working for a part of a big layoff. But I kind of has always had in the back of my mind that I would consult, right? 

 

And so I started very slowly, though, kind of dipping my toe in the water, and kind of half of me was still looking for full time jobs, and half of me was kind of taking on small projects, right? And I started this business very slowly because I just wasn’t sure which way I was going to turn. Right. 

 

And I think that was kind of confusing for people who were looking to, you know, either hire me or work with me, because I would, you know, change my tune a little bit, sometimes. It took me really a couple of years to say, Yep, this is what I’m doing. You know, I, I liked the freedom of consulting, I like the variety of consulting, you know, and now I’m, I’m really in this to sort of build a business. 

 

But of course, I didn’t know that, then, you know, I sort of had to go through all of those conversations and that feeling of to see what I liked and what I didn’t like. But I guess what I really would do, sort of going back to that is double down on the exact topic and the type of customer that is the best fit. And that’s another one that took me years to sort of figure that out. 

 

Because I would do a lot of different things. You know, I did an SEO project isn’t a writing project, I did a Facebook advertising project, you know, I wrote a white paper for a university, I know, I did so many different kinds of things that I was very spread out. And it’s and now I have really come to realize that I can actually grow more by focusing on even b2b Tech is still you know, pretty broad, but say cybersecurity, right? Or, you know, communication software. 

 

And once you do that, you kind of open up this, you become known as an expert, and you sort of open up that world, and you get introduced and you get known so but honestly, I don’t know that I would have gone by would go back and change that because I think I had to learn that through that trial and error of doing those things. Probably just tell me to relax a little bit and enjoy the ride.

 

Kenny Soto  29:50  

Definitely. So I just want to thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it and if anyone wanted to say hello to you online, where can they find you?

 

Margie Agin  29:59  

So my website is centerboard dash marketing.com or LinkedIn, Margie again hit me up. I love to connect with people. And I really enjoyed this. Thanks very much for having me.

 

Kenny Soto  30:14  

Of course. Thank you, Margie, and thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of the people digital marketing. And I hope you all have a great week. 

 

Bye.

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