Ep. 268: Ryan Bonnici is the CMO @ G2, the company that allows you to get the right software and services for your business with over 897,000 user reviews to help you make smarter buying decisions. As for Ryan, prior to G2 he was Senior Director of Global Marketing at Hubspot where among many other achievements, he scaled HubSpot’s marketing-generated sales revenue by 330% year-over-year. Before Hubspot, Ryan was Head of Marketing @ Salesforce (APAC) where he led his team to achieve 227% YoY net-new sales sourced through marketing. Due to his success, Ryan has been named to Forbes’ List of World’s Most Influential CMOs.
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In Today’s Episode We Discuss:
- How Ryan made his way into the world of SaaS from Sydney, Australia and came to be one of the world’s leading CMOs with G2 today. What were Ryan’s biggest takeaways from his time at Salesforce? How did it change his mindset?
- What are the core differences when comparing marketing functions at the likes of Salesforce to smaller companies like G2? What can they learn from each other? Where does Ryan sit on whether marketing is an art or a science today? How did Ryan turn a $6,000 initiative at Hubspot into a product that generated $64m net revs?
- What have been Ryan’s biggest lessons in what it takes to acquire the best talent? How does Ryan build candidate pipeline? What works most effectively? How does Ryan structure and run the process? What core questions does Ryan ask and find most revealing of the individual’s character? What does Ryan love to see in a candidate?
- Does Ryan agree that marketing teams should always be held directly accountable to a number tied to revenue? What type of CMO would Ryan bucket himself as; demand gen or brand? How does Ryan think about the relationship between the two?
Ep. 269: Gorgias helps brands automatically respond to basic questions, and track the impact of customer service on sales so support becomes a profit center. Join CEO Romain Lapeyre as he walks you through how to close your first 1000 customers based solely on data.
SaaStr’s Founder’s Favorites Series features one of SaaStr Annual’s best of the best sessions that you might have missed.
This podcast is an excerpt of Romain’s session at SaaStr Annual 2019.
Missed the session? Here’s what Romain talks about:
- How to build a growth machine
- How you can tailor onboarding to customers
- Using data to your advantage
If you would like to find out more about the show and the guests presented, you can follow us on Twitter here:
Below, we’ve shared the full transcript of Harry’s interview with Ryan Bonnici.
Harry Stebbings: This is the official SaaStr podcast with me, Harry Stebbings at hstebbings1996 with two Bs on Instagram. And there you can suggest both guests and questions for future episodes. I would love to see you there.
Harry Stebbings: However, to the episode today. I’ve wanted to have this guest on my show for a very long time, and so with that I’m thrilled to welcome Ryan Bonnici, CMO at G2, the company that allows you to get the right software and services for your business, with over 897 thousand user reviews to help you make smarter buying decisions.
Harry Stebbings: As for Ryan, prior to G2 he was Senior Director of Global Marketing at HubSpot, where among many other achievements, he scaled HubSpot’s marketing-generated sales revenue by 330% year over year. Before HubSpot, Ryan was head of marketing at Salesforce (APAC), where he led his team to achieve 227% year on new net new sales, sourced through marketing. Due to his incredible success, Ryan’s also been named to Forbes’ list of World’s Most Influential CMOs.
Harry Stebbings: And I do also have to say a huge thank you to Ryan Boratto, Godard Abel, and Tim Kopp, for providing some fantastic questions suggestions today. However you’ve heard quite enough from me, so now I’m very, very excited to hand over to the very enigmatic Ryan Bonnici, CMO at G2.
Harry Stebbings: Ryan, what can I say? I’ve been looking forward to this one for a very long time. I’ve heard so many great things from Arun at Accel and then also the wonderful Godard Abel. So thank you so much for joining me today, Ryan.
Ryan Bonnici: Thanks for having me.
Harry Stebbings: Not at all, but I promise this will be Harry being the more confrontational and argumentative version as we just discussed, but I want to start today with some context. So how did you make your way from the wonderful world of Australia, to become one of the leading CMOs in SaaS today with G2?
Ryan Bonnici: Where do I even begin, man? I started my career about 10 years ago. I was a flight attendant with Qantas International, very random. Always knew when I was really young, probably when I was like 12, that I wanted to be a CMO. And even to make things weirder, I knew that I wanted to be a CMO by 30. And so, yeah, I guess over the last 10 years I’ve worked my way up and around.
Ryan Bonnici: So starting my career in Australia with Qantas, and then I moved to Microsoft. Then I moved to Exact Target, spent some great time there building a team. I had an APAC. ET was then acquired by Salesforce, as you know, and then a good nother three or so years at Salesforce leading their APAC marketing, so across Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Asia. And then right about the time HubSpot was launching into APAC they brought me on board as their first marketer. And then did the exact same thing I did with Salesforce at HubSpot. So built their APAC team.
Ryan Bonnici: And then I got this really interesting opportunity to move over to the US with HubSpot and lead global marketing, global digital, global PR, global brand campaigns, and social and all that fun stuff. So yeah, jumped at that opportunity and that was two and a half years ago now and so yeah, the last year and a half joined G2 as their CMO and, you know what, I don’t think I’m looking back to Australia. I fucking love it over here and America has its issues, for sure, but someone in business, and especially in tech, there’s just so much opportunity. I love it. I literally have never been happier, which is weird because I wasn’t expecting to feel that way living in America.
Harry Stebbings: There are a couple of things that I want to unpack, and I didn’t expect to go off schedule this early but we’re going for it. You said there about being a CMO at 12, Ryan, very interesting 12 year old that you were.
Ryan Bonnici: Oh, I’m a weirdo.
Harry Stebbings: Why the fuck did you want to be a CMO at 12? What was it in your mind that made it that attractive thing?
Ryan Bonnici: You know it’s hard to say because my memory isn’t perfect, it’s actually far from perfect. I think it maybe had something to do with, back then anyways, which would have been, gosh, 18 years ago, digital marketing wasn’t really a thing. So I think most of my exposure to marketing was magazines, it was billboards, it was TV and I think I just loved the creativity of it, the storytelling elements of it. And I loved that it just was so public. And I don’t know, when I was younger I wanted to also be a pop star and a famous singer. I still long to be a famous celebrity but that’s never going to happen. So I don’t know. I feel like there’s something about being a CMO in the sense that you can kind of be behind the scenes of celebrity-esque brands if you do a really good job.
Ryan Bonnici: So I don’t know, that’s kind of my assessment of why I liked it back then, but who knows.
Harry Stebbings: You mentioned the storytelling element there and I absolutely … I’m with you in terms of that being my passion point within the world of marketing, but today it’s so much around A/B testing, data centricity, process orientation, I have to ask, in today’s marketing world, have we lost maybe the art of marketing and it is now a science?
Ryan Bonnici: I don’t think so. I think in marketing in general, no. B2B marketing, yes. I think I would agree with that a lot more and say probably in B2C it’s quite the opposite. B2C is so much more about storytelling because of the big campaigns that … the big, sorry, budgets that folks have.
Ryan Bonnici: I think part of what happens, with anything when you go too far in one direction, so creative advertising, old school, and when a market self-corrects, it then typically self-corrects and over indexes the other way. And so I think we’re starting to index backwards from the hyper-focus on demand generation and numerical, scientific explanations to now actually realizing that that stuff works when you have the right story in place, but you can’t just A/B test your way to the right story. You really need to have someone that can think more conceptually about positioning in your unique selling point, and so much more.
Ryan Bonnici: So they work hand in hand but I think, yeah, we definitely went a little bit too far in one direction.
Harry Stebbings: No, I do totally agree with you in terms of going too far in that one direction, but I do want to pick up on some of the elements that you mentioned there in the intro to today and where you are. And a lot of it is really around, you worked at Salesforce and then also HubSpot, both in the hyper growth phase, and what are the core differences in marketing for behemoths like Salesforce and then your HubSpots of the world, to now a true startup with G2, what are the differences?
Ryan Bonnici: I’ve kind of always viewed my career, Harry, I guess, I always want to go to a company whereby I don’t know that much about what I’m going to be doing. Which kind of sounds really counter-intuitive. So when I was at Microsoft I was doing consumer marketing and then when I moved to Exact Target I was doing B2B. And so when I then joined Salesforce, Salesforce is very much enterprise B2B marketing. So we were doing super high-touch marketing activities, in the sense of CMO events, where we would rent a private jet and take 25 CMOs on a day trip somewhere and it was all about relationship building with our sales reps. Which is a super useful tactic. It works really well. We would generate 10x what we invested into that based on those people. But it doesn’t really scale when you’re selling to the masses.
Ryan Bonnici: And so for me, I want to run my own business in the not so distant future and so I knew that I wouldn’t, when starting my own company, have a $10 million marketing budget to just go and start organizing private jets to do CMO events. And so I kind of realized like, hey I needed to build those skills around inbound marketing, really ROI focused marketing that compounds, that’s cost effective, and that really works. And so that was where I was like, hey, I love HubSpot’s product and I fucking love the way they market and so I wanted to become an expert at that. And for the first six to 12 months I was just in learning mode, and then I think it was from like month 12 to 24, that was really where I then felt like I started to push the needle forward for HubSpot in terms of what inbound marketing was because I had learnt as much as I needed to.
Ryan Bonnici: And I kind of do that with all of the companies that I move to. The first six to 12 months I am getting up to speed in what I didn’t know. And then when I can connect what I didn’t know in this new role with all of the stuff that I do know from my previous roles, I think that makes me then better than other folks that are coming in with just one skillset in that one space because they’ve always done the same type of marketing.
Harry Stebbings: I love that in terms of the accumulation of knowledge. I do want to pick up, you said there about your admiration for HubSpot in terms of their marketing going into the role. Can I ask what did you love so much about their marketing that inspired you to take the position and also be so excited to move forward with them?
Ryan Bonnici: I think it’s a bit meta but as a marketer, HubSpot marketed to marketers. And most of the companies that I’ve worked for marketers have been my target audience. And so I think it just naturally felt right to me because I’d already been consuming a lot of their content organically because I was a marketer and I was going to Google and I was searching for things that I was doing within my job, whether it was writing a press release or organizing an event, or testing subject lines and HubSpot was always there to help me up level. And so I think that’s just naturally why it made sense to me of this is a cool company, not only in product but also just from a philosophical point of view.
Harry Stebbings: I also did hear from Tim about your time at HubSpot and how you, as he said, moved the needle, especially on the inbound side. Can I ask, what did you do there that you think worked super well and was there a big takeaway for you from moving the needle on the inbound side for HubSpot?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, sure. So the way that HubSpot, and I guess most companies, kind of think about some of this is that … so I was in region, I was in Asia Pacific, based in Sydney, and so for the first year, actually, I didn’t really do anything. None of the regions really do anything to drive inbound in the original sense of the word, so inbound meaning blog traffic, because we had a massive and an amazing content team over at headquarters in Boston at HubSpot. So that first year I was really fortunate to be able to already have a lot of visitors from APAC coming to the site because of all of the US, global English content. And so my teams role was actually really much more middle and bottom of funnel in that first year. It was about, these people that have already pulled in, how do I now convert them into marketing qualified leads for our local sales teams?
Ryan Bonnici: So I kind of did that in that first year and it wasn’t until about maybe 12 months in where we were crushing our numbers, doing a really good job there, and I start to get bored when I’m hitting my goals. And so that’s when I start putting my fingers in other people’s pies, in whatever the business I am in. And starting to explore and see like, okay, where is there a problem that needs fixing because I like fixing needy problems. And I realized at that point, 12 months in, that our blog traffic and our leads had flat-lined in the sense of comparative to where they were the years prior.
Ryan Bonnici: And so that kind of made me do this massive content research project over a couple of months where I basically … I wrote a really in depth article about this for Entrepreneur Magazine about how I exported basically all of their GA data or their CRM data and connected it all up and basically worked out that there was a bunch of topics that we were writing, creating content about, about we’d already reached our ceiling for the total number of eyeballs of people searching for those topics. So that kind of then led me to start to research, what are some other areas that we have never gone down into because they don’t seem like they’re connected to our product, but in fact our buyer, marketers, business people, actually goes to Google and searches for and maybe even when they’re not looking for marketing automation.
Ryan Bonnici: And that was really the project that led to my team in Sydney building HubSpot’s first truly Gen three tool, which was HubSpot’s free email signature generator. Which cost us $6000 and within a couple years drove more than $64 million in net new revenue. Completely organically without any advertising and it was because we saw a need that we hadn’t created content or a pre-product to solve. And it was that 70,000 people every month were going to Google and searching for email signature, email signature template, email signature generator. So we created a really cool free version that then, naturally, all the things that go into your email signature is a lead form. So it was just a beautiful lead generator for us.
Ryan Bonnici: And then we started building HubSpot’s out of office email reply generator because there’s even more people, like hundreds of thousands every month, that go on vacation and they go to Google and they search for an out of office email template. So we created an out of office email template builder. And that was around the time that I left and then since then HubSpot has built an invoice generator and a bunch of other things.
Ryan Bonnici: So that was, to your question … sorry that was a bit of a long winded response, but that was my journey towards driving impact for HubSpot on the inbound side.
Harry Stebbings: No, I absolutely love it. And I did love the article in Entrepreneur. I do have to ask, you said there about your process in terms of the conversion from SQL to MQL and how you thought about that. And you’ve seen that across multiple different companies now. I’m interested, where do you see the most common breakdowns in the working of an efficient funnel, and how do you think about that?
Ryan Bonnici: To your question, the most common breakdowns in an efficient funnel, I think, the most common break down actually has nothing, in my mind, to do with the funnel, it has to do with the relationship between sales and marketing, and making sure that they are bought into what metrics each are going to be contributing and owning with 100% responsibility and so I think out of any business that I have consulted with, or marketers that I have spoke to, that’s really the most common break down because if that’s broken, then naturally other things within the actual funnel itself will be broken.
Harry Stebbings: Let’s dive on that then. If you used data CMG2, how do you think about creating a really tight relationship between your sales and marketing team, so the hand-off is as seamless as it can be?
Ryan Bonnici: So there’s a few different things that we do at G2. First up when I joined I immediately was like, okay, how can I get as much value for sales as possible, as quickly as possible, to build rapport? And so very quickly we set up automatic sales notifications and sales emails that basically would send out to sales reps as prospects if they were viewing our pricing page, as an example. And so like with these emails that a sales rep wouldn’t realize because they didn’t have access to the buyer intent, they wouldn’t realize that a prospect was on our pricing page. And so we would email them automatically on behalf of the sales rep and say, “Hey John, hope you’re doing really well. I noticed you were on our pricing page and just wanted to see if you wanted to chat about anything.” Those emails had like an 80% email send to meeting book rate for the sales reps. And they still do today.
Ryan Bonnici: And so that’s just a baby example of when I joined, one of the really quick things I did to build rapport, and then immediately sales is like, oh this new CMO’s awesome, we’re getting in front of these people, they’re responding, they’re booking time on my calendar as a sales rep. Normally I have to hassle people but now they’re actually booking time on my calendar because they received this really timely email from me, which hey, they didn’t even know was automated.
Ryan Bonnici: So that’s just one little example but I think you’ve got to just have skin in the game and truly believe that if sales doesn’t hit, nobody hits and so I’ve always been a big believer in that and so I will spend a lot of time early on on sales calls getting to listen to what our prospects are saying, what sales is saying, and helping them in that process and building together. And now, fortunately, I’ve got an amazing VP of demand gen under me who does that so I am not as involved. The early days, I was super involved in that.
Ryan Bonnici: If a CRO and a CMO aren’t aligned, that’s really the only thing that can get a CMO fired in my mind. You can’t get fired for branding or anything like that because branding’s subjective, but demand and that relationship I think is the most important thing. So yeah, I really focus on building that early on.
Harry Stebbings: No, I love that and in terms of the importance of that relationship. The other element though that you said was you kind of get antsy and look for other things when it’s too easy to hit the targets, so to speak. Targets and KPI setting in the marketing world is a really interesting one. We had Joe Chernovl from Pendo on the show and he said that you have to tie a marketing KPI fundamentally to revenue. How do you think about KPI setting for your marketing team and do you agree that it has to be tied to a number directly related to revenue?
Ryan Bonnici: I don’t think every element of my team has to be, but the demand gen team that I mentioned before, which is led by an amazing marketer on my team called Adam Goyette. So that team is … we’re not handing over MQLs. I couldn’t give a shit how many MQLs my team did. I care about how much marketing sourced pipeline is my team sourcing for sales. And by sourcing, I don’t mean they downloaded an ebook and then a sales person had to call them and try and prospect them, I mean literally someone has come to our site at some point and they’ve literally said, I want to speak to sales, or they’ve chatted with our chat bot and said, hey I’m ready to speak to one of your consultants. So it’s like someone properly raising their hand.
Ryan Bonnici: And so I really care, at the most, about actually pure dollars in pipeline and that number can’t live unless a salesperson engages with that prospect and then assigns a dollar figure. So if it’s a shitty person raising their hand, a $0 figure will get associated. So the MQL number in my mind is pointless. It’s helpful to start to map out the funnel, but at the end of the day it’s about pipeline generated and then pipeline closed is really what I care … and I commit to … it varies dependent on the sales team, but for our growth and SMB sales team, I think marketing sources around 80-90% of their total revenue. For our mid-market teams, it’s maybe more like 40-50% of their revenue was sourced by marketing. And then our enterprise teams, it’s maybe 10-20% sourced and then a really significant amount of influenced revenue.
Harry Stebbings: No, totally. And it’s fascinating to hear that proportion waiting, but I do want to ask, and we spoke about the relationship between marketing and sales. I’m seeing further and further, this integration between almost customer success in marketing with the content that marketing is producing being pushed down and used in many customer success cases. How do you think about the relationship between marketing and customer success and maybe the integration of the two with the content and the services that marketing provides now?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, I think they’re connected. I don’t think they’re as connected, though, still today though in most businesses just because most businesses are still very net new revenue focused. Where I think there’s really natural crossovers is around customer marketing, obviously, and retention based marketing practices. But I think most customer success forms, typically, while they might get some help from marketing in terms of setting up their services system, which has maybe their FAQs or their customer help databases and things like that, I think it still runs quite separately.
Ryan Bonnici: Now if you’re a more consumer focused org then typically marketing will run all of that, right? Because marketing is the revenue function. Marketing is the customer service function, etc. but in a more traditional B2B environment I don’t see there is as much crossover, for better or worse.
Harry Stebbings: No, actually, I understand from that perspective. Can I ask, Ryan, when I listen to you in all of the cases, it just sounds all very logical and reasonable, and almost a little bit easy. And so my question to you is, what’s really [crosstalk 00:19:47]
Ryan Bonnici: Marketing is fucking easy.
Harry Stebbings: I was going to say what’s fucking hard?
Ryan Bonnici: Great question. I think the hard things are, and this is going to sound arrogant because I don’t find these hard, but they’re more like taxing things to do, but I think hiring is hard, in the sense of hiring is the most important thing that I view as my role as our CMO, or one of them, that and I think helping drive our product forward is the other. But hiring, it’s really not hard for me right now because I have hired an amazing team. So anything you see from G2 has nothing to do with me anymore. It’s that I’ve hired really fucking brilliant marketers. And that was brutal last year. I needed to start taking Zoloft medication because I was so stressed because I was hiring … it’s really hard to hire great people and so I met probably with like 1000 people last year to then eventually hire 70 of them.
Ryan Bonnici: Getting to the team where it is today–when I started at G2 we had five marketers and now we have around 75 marketers. That was all recruited within 14 months. So I’m not great at maths but that’s a lot of people every month. And so that was hell. That was hard. And you know what? I don’t think most people find hiring that hard because they lower their standards and they don’t have a really high bar for who they hire on their team. Which is what fucks them over in the long run, excuse my french again.
Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, that is a shit ton of people to interview. What did you learn in terms of what it takes to really discover and detect the best, and did you have methods or processes in terms of really determining, beneath the BS, whether someone’s actually got the substance to do what they need to do?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, you know, again, like I have to credit all of this to my old boss Kipp Bodnar at HubSpot, who’s their CMO. Just for training me around hiring. And by training me, I mean he just would say no to everyone that I wanted to hire for years until I eventually learned what a good employee, good marketer was. And so I think we have a similar style, he and I now, in terms of interviewing. I’m very much about a case format of interview.
Ryan Bonnici: So I’ll have a little bit of time at the beginning for small talk. And I want to get to know them. I’ll always ask a very open ended question. Like if I was interviewing you, Harry, I’d say like, “Hey, Harry. Stalked you on LinkedIn. I’ve gotten to know your background but who is Harry, tell me.” And I’m wanting to know, are they going to tell me about professional Harry, are they going to tell me about personal Harry? Whatever they tell me, and or if they even ask for clarification of which one, that tells me a lot about them. If they ask me which Harry I want to hear about, then I kind of know, oh okay they’re a little bit risk averse. They’re not going to own it and just tell me about both, or one. And if they don’t tell me I’m like, oh okay, maybe they’re a little bit more confident or naïve. I think I just learn a lot from that.
Ryan Bonnici: And then I basically will go into a really simple question, which is actually really hard, is like, why were you hired at your company? What was the problem that you were hired to solve? And if they can’t articulate that very clearly, and they might say, well I was hired as the email marketing manager. I’m like, okay, what was the problem that you were trying to solve? If they can’t connect it and realize that email marketing manager is meant to drive revenue ultimately, then I’m not going to hire them. I’m probably going to hang up 15 minutes later. And I’ll be really friendly and nice and I’ll just say to them, hey, really enjoyed catching up with you. You’re probably not the right person for this role because when I asked you about this, what I was hoping for was this. Let me know if I’ve gotten anything wrong here but that’s my perspective is that you don’t have enough experience here. Most of the time, 90%, they’ll be like, you’re right. I do need more experience there. And it always ends well.
Ryan Bonnici: And sometimes they’ll challenge me and they’ll say, actually you know what I’m just really nervous right now and I did crush it with this metric and let me show you. And there’s been some of those examples where I’ve then hired the person. But I really, regardless of if they’re a social media manager or a demand gen person, or a ops person, if they don’t understand their role in driving the business forward and they can’t connect the dots for me and walk me through the funnel, because every role has a funnel in some way or another, then that’s how I can just tell if they’re ready to be on my team or not.
Harry Stebbings: Do you know I think it’d be so much fun if we did a round two where you interviewed me for a role. That would be absolutely terrifying. Never going to happen, Ryan.
Harry Stebbings: I want to ask you because you said about the 1000 people there. How do you build such a high quality candidate pipe? That’s the biggest thing I hear founders say, literally where do I even source the candidates? How did you do that?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, so that’s a great question, and it was something that stressed me out a lot early on because, given my background being in Asia Pacific, in APAC I would almost always do the recruiting myself because I knew the marketing landscape well. I knew all the great folks here. But when I came to the US my network really wasn’t there and I didn’t really realize that. And so I actually worked with an amazing recruiting partner called … they’re an agency here in Chicago called Hunt Club that are amazing. They’re this influencer recruitment platform and basically they’re really high rated on G2 as well, which is how I found them, and basically they help me with a lot of my really strategic hires and as well as internal recruiting at G2.
Ryan Bonnici: I think what I’m really big on is whether I’m working with an external recruiter or an internal recruiter, I have them join my first 10 interviews for any role I’m hiring for. And they learn really quickly what questions I am asking, and then they can ask the same questions and I’ll tell them what I’m looking for. So if you asked a person this, and they say, here are the three options of what they can say, only put people through that answer A versus B and C. And so I try and just make it really simple because it’s a hard job recruiting and especially for a new leader, when you don’t know their style.
Ryan Bonnici: So I’ve found working really closely with recruiters and helping them understand what you’re looking for and just being really involved is key. But again, yeah, I would spend a day a week, like one fifth of my week early on was recruiting, which was hell because I was trying to build a team, change strategy, get connected with sales and do all the things. And I think that’s just the reality of a new executive going into a fast growth company. It’s a bit crazy.
Harry Stebbings: The other element that also struck me, you said crazy there, and you also said about moving from five to 70 in terms of marketing. How did you think about building culture and that team camaraderie in such a short time, with people that haven’t worked together and are all new to the same company? How do you think about building that fabric and culture in such a new but big team, actually?
Ryan Bonnici: You know we’re really fortunate, I think, at G2, in that we have a really distinct and really strong PEAK culture. And PEAK it stands for Performance, Entrepreneurial spirit, Authenticity and Kindness. And so we hire really great people already, so I was lucky in that there was already this beautiful fingerprint per se of what our DNA as a team would eventually be.
Ryan Bonnici: For me it was more so finding top performers that could be additive to the current team we had. And so naturally there was a few folks on the original team that just didn’t fit this new DNA of me as a leader within our org and weren’t on board for the direction and journey that I was going to take it. And that’s totally fine. I don’t think everyone is right for every leader and I don’t think everyone can scale up with every company. Some people are great for smaller companies versus larger companies.
Ryan Bonnici: And so I think I am just pretty meticulous and pretty transparent and open in that I don’t expect everyone on my team today to be the right people on my team in a year’s time. And what I mean by that is if in a year’s time they’re like, wow this is getting too big, there’s too much process or it’s going to fast, I want that feedback, but if that feedback’s not aligned with where I think we need to be, then no hard feelings. Maybe in a year’s time I won’t be the right CMO for this. I’m not too attached to that.
Ryan Bonnici: And so I think I’m just really real with my employees about those sorts of things, and I tell them if a company reaches out to me for a job offer, why I decided to stay at G2, and what I factored in so that they can do the same thing, and factor into their decisions when they’re thinking of leaving, maybe the same things that I would factor into my decisions because I have learned from my own career of it’s not always better to leave a company that you love for another role that’s going to pay you 50% more. They’re paying you more money typically because their culture sucks, or they want you, or it’s not going to be as good as it possibly is and that’s why they have to pay for you. So that’s how I think about it.
Harry Stebbings: No, listen, I absolutely love it and I’m super envious of how at peace and chilled you are with yourself. I’m completely the opposite, I’m permanently frantic.
Harry Stebbings: I do want to touch on one thing though, Ryan, which is before the quickfire and it’s obviously G2 rebranded, G2 Crowd, now G2. So how did you approach the rebrand and what was the biggest lessons that you really took from the process? It’s a big thing for any company to go through, especially at the stage that G2 is at.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, it definitely was. It was a few different things and it’s funny because I’ve always had a bit of disdain, maybe it was jealousy, I’m not sure, or just pure disdain, but I’ve always been a little bit anti branding CMOs. And I always viewed myself as the demand gen CMO. I love numbers. I love to show results. I need to drive revenue. I get a lot of personal value and worth from being able to show my bottom line contribution to whatever it is that I’m working on. And so that was naturally the most important thing for me first up, when I joined G2.
Ryan Bonnici: And then once I got demand and traffic and everything humming, the next thing for me that I realized was that we started as a reviews platform six years ago because B2B buying was broken. There wasn’t enough transparency. The analyst firms, whom I won’t mention, are completely pay to play, everyone knows that. Everyone knows that and they hate having to pay to play that game, but they have to do that because there hasn’t been anyone like G2 to try and rinse out the scum of the analyst firms.
Ryan Bonnici: And so that was what started the company but I think what I realized over my first 6 – 12 months after joining was that reviews are just a means to an end. Reviews are useful but they’re only useful because they help you find software. So I was like, okay, maybe we need to make our branding more about the software. And then I kind of was thinking about it more and spit-balling it with my team and I was like, but, no, software is also just a means to an end.
Ryan Bonnici: You and I right now are talking on Zoom. I love Zoom, Eric Yuan is speaking at our conference in Chicago next month. Wicked platform, but if you and I were in the same office together, we wouldn’t be on Zoom. It is a means to an ends for you and I to connect. Just as I have Google Docs pulled up on my screen right now because I didn’t have a pad next to me, and I’m using it there. The point being is software … if I’m buying marketing automation software, I don’t actually give a shit about the software, I care about the output of the software. Does it drive me revenue? If I’m buying accounting software, I care like does it help me close my books faster?
Ryan Bonnici: And so it was kind of like a bit of a revelation that myself and our CEO was having that we were like, wow, we’ve kind of made this too much about reviews. And actually we need to get back to the essence of why do people start companies in the first place? They start them because they’re passionate about doing whatever the company is that they created. Software is a means for them to find that out and to create and to live their dreams.
Ryan Bonnici: And so that’s sort of what the catalyst for us focusing more on we are a platform for businesses to reach their potential. And the reality is you can’t reach your potential in business without people, without products, and by products I mean software, and without process, and by process I mean strategy. So you need smart people, they need to have the right strategies, and they need to have the right products, tools, services, etc to execute on those strategies.
Ryan Bonnici: And so that was really the catalyst of the rebrand early on. I personally didn’t love the look and feel of our brand anyways, but I think a rebrand that just comes from an aesthetic purpose doesn’t have as much weight behind it. Not to say that you shouldn’t do it but I think it’s harder because you’ll come across more folks who don’t get it. Whereas, I fundamentally changed internally our mindset about who we were as a company. And so the old brand just no longer felt adequate enough to be who we knew we could be because we’re building a $10-30 billion marketplace business. We see ourselves … and TechCrunch called us the Amazon for B2B. So for us to fill those shoes, we’ve got a really fucking long way to go, and we realize that, but we really realize that we needed to think about ourselves in a much more consumerized way.
Ryan Bonnici: So now we’re really focused on how we can consumerize B2B buying because it’s still broken. Even though it’s more transparent, thanks to us, the fact that I still have to speak to 10 different sales reps and do 20 different demo calls and all of that, that’s broken, and we’re building a new way for that to work for buyers. To empower buyers to have more control than sellers. And I’m really excited about that.
Harry Stebbings: I’m sorry, last question before the quick fire, I know I keep saying that but I have to have one more and it’s, you and the team have achieved so much over the past 24-36 months. I want to ask, in terms of the achievements and once you achieve what you do, do you pat yourself on the back? Do you take that moment of appreciation for what’s been achieved or is it always eyes on the prize, goals ahead? How do you think about taking stock versus just always going for the next goal?
Ryan Bonnici: I think I’ve gotten better at that lately, especially with such a large team. I don’t know. I like to pat myself on the back. I like to pat my team on the back, and then I like to climb a new peak. And that’s all about our company mantra and philosophy is that, hey, once you solve and climb that peak and you get to the summit, fucking celebrate. And then let’s set our sights on a bigger mountain and climb to that next peak.
Ryan Bonnici: And so it’s truly in the DNA of our company and that comes from our CEO, Godard, who I know you’ve spoken with before, and so … but we definitely celebrate along the journey. I’ve never been as happy and as satisfied and fulfilled in a job as I am at G2. And I’ve never worked with so many amazing people so I feel really lucky.
Harry Stebbings: That’s amazing to hear, but I do want to move into now, as I promised, the quick fire round, Ryan. So I say a short statement and you hit me with your immediate thoughts. Are you ready to dive in?
Ryan Bonnici: Let’s do it. I haven’t looked at any of your questions so this’ll definitely be very authentically reactive.
Harry Stebbings: It’s called thinking on your feet. So what do you know now about the process, which you wish you’d known at the beginning of your time in marketing?
Ryan Bonnici: You know I had a really great executive coach that HubSpot got me a few years back and what I learned through her, her name was Margie, back in Sydney, was that it’s not just about results. Results are important but relationships are super important too. And I used to be one of those very gungho, very eyes on the results kind of person, and I would have pissed off, and I know I pissed off a lot of people in the process because I was so laser focused on results. And I think now I balance results and relationships much better than I did.
Harry Stebbings: What’s the biggest BS that you hear in the world of marketing continuously?
Ryan Bonnici: I’m not sure if I can actually pinpoint it as to one thing. There is a shit ton of BS in the industry. I think, for me, kind of what I alluded to with my hiring questions and stuff like that is nothing’s BS if the person can explain it. And so when I’m interviewing a social media manager, when they tell me, yeah my goal was to increase engagement, that sounds like BS to me but then my follow up is, cool, what is engagement to you? And if they say likes and comments and stuff I’m like, okay, cool, what are those likes and comments mean for your business? And if it just stops at, well that’s important to us, if they can’t say, well for every like we get we generate five dollars of revenue, or 10 new fans equals 10 dollars more revenue for us because we know that fans buy within 30 days of following us, if there really isn’t substance to anything in marketing, I think it’s BS. Yeah, sorry I can’t give you a perfect answer there in terms of one thing because I think there’s just a lot of BS folks in marketing. They’re good at spinning.
Harry Stebbings: Tell me, ABM, is it the buzz word of the day or is there real substance behind this, do you think?
Ryan Bonnici: No, definitely not. It’s a buzz word because ABM now is taking on more of a software oriented perspective, but ABM has been around for decades. Whether it was running an event with CMOs because they are strategic accounts, getting those CMOs in a room, that is account-based marketing. Direct mail, sending it to target lists is account-based marketing. So definitely not BS. I just don’t think every business needs to be doing ABM, just like any other form of marketing. It depends on the business. So ABM works beautifully well for companies that have a higher ACV, longer sales cycle, etc, doesn’t scale at all though, for companies that sell en masse to small and medium businesses. So HubSpot wouldn’t do any ABM.
Ryan Bonnici: So I think, again, to my point earlier, you want to, as a marketer, have as many different skills that you can apply to the challenge that the business you’re in has, but you don’t need to deploy all of them at the same time.
Harry Stebbings: What CMO do you most respect and admire, and why, Ryan?
Ryan Bonnici: There is a few. I wouldn’t say there’s one … I have one necessarily. I really love to have … there’s different things of different CMOs to me that are amazing. So I mentioned Kipp at HubSpot, he is just one … he’s one of the most skilled CMOs in that he’s amazing at the CMO level at building strategy, at driving team building. But then he’s also just a freaking incredible technical marketer. You can’t bullshit him with anything. Even if he doesn’t do it daily, he’s just so connected to consumers and how people consume content and how the world works. So he’s amazing.
Ryan Bonnici: Jamie Gilpin at Sprout Social. Their CMO is amazing. She’s like … I feel like her X-Factor is product marketing and driving demand and customer attention. Dave King, even, at Asana, I fucking love Dave. I think his secret sauce and what I admire about him is his branding is … Asana just is a gorgeous brand, incredible. And then this guy isn’t a CMO, he’s a CEO but I’d say Benioff at Salesforce. He’s essentially the CMO there, which is why they have a new CMO every year, because they don’t last very long. But I think he is brilliant at storytelling and at reinvention from a company perspective. And I think most CMOs are lacking in that.
Ryan Bonnici: So yeah, they’re just a few examples but Kipp’s probably my number one. I love that guy.
Harry Stebbings: I couldn’t agree more on Benioff. I’ve got Dave on the show tomorrow so that’s exciting to hear. I do want to ask one final question. What do you think is the optimal relationship between CMO and CEO?
Ryan Bonnici: In my world and the way I like to think about it is I think the CMO should become the CEO eventually, and that’s what I would like at G2. No, no. But I think the CMO is this really interesting position whereby their fingers are across all of the business and a good CMO is connected to pre-customer, post-customer, product strategy, and I really think today the CMO or the chief digital officer is really well suited to be able to step up into a COO or a CEO role.
Ryan Bonnici: But to the relationship specifically, if I think of mine and Godard’s relationship, I’d say we’re connected at the hip. We very rarely don’t see eye-to-eye. And I’m really fortunate to work with someone that I just am so aligned with. Is he crazy at times? Yes. Am I crazy? Yes. I think anyone that wants to be an executive is a bit batshit crazy. But I think CMO and CEO just needs to have really tight relationship because the marketing and the public face of a company is so public that if you don’t, it’s just a setup for failure and I think that’s why you see so many CMOs having such a short tenure. And I think all the stats show that CMOs have the shortest tenures at companies, unfortunately.
Ryan Bonnici: I think a lot of that comes down to lack of relationship with the CEO.
Harry Stebbings: Ryan, as I said I’ve been so looking forward to this one for a long time. We barely touched the schedule, which is always a sign of a great episode. But thank you so much for joining me today.
Ryan Bonnici: Thanks so much, Harry, it was great to chat.
Harry Stebbings: What can I say? I said at the beginning, I’ll say it again, huge fan of Ryan right here. And if you’d like to see more from Ryan, which is a must, you can find him on Twitter @RyanBonnici. Likewise it would be great to welcome you behind the scenes here. You can do so on Instagram @hstebbings1996 with two Bs.
Harry Stebbings: I cannot thank you enough for tuning in, for showing your support. It really means so much to me and I can’t wait to bring you another very special episode next week.