B2B Marketing Isn’t Broken — It Was Built This Way

with Victoria Gamlen

Eric Stockton's black and white headshot on a dark blue background with the text "Long Story Short with Eric Stockton" in white font

Victoria Gamlen is a brand strategist and consultant who establishes positioning, develops messaging, and builds verbal identities for B2B and B2C brands. She is also a fractional head of marketing and creative director across multiple industries. Off of LinkedIn, Victoria owns a cleaning business and is an accomplished photographer.

Here are a few of the topics we’ll discuss on this episode of Long Story Short:

 

  • How B2B marketing is not broken — it was built this way
  • The false enemies B2B marketers create and what the real one has always been
  • How B2B SaaS defied business fundamentals, and how things look in the current economic climate
  • The impact of Venture Capital funding and business valuations on B2B marketing
  • The key to developing effective marketing and copy: making yourself a local
  • The important distinction between capturing and earning attention
  • Why ‘growth at all costs’ never worked, the consequences were just delayed
  • The state of content on LinkedIn and Victoria’s strategy for how to win
  • Why creativity might be the most valuable skill in technical fields, and vice-versa
  • Why personal branding is overrated

 

 

Resources:

B2B SaaS Marketing Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way: Part 1

B2B SaaS Marketing Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way: Part 2

In Defense of Corporate Jargon

The Irreconcilable Differences Between B2B and B2C Marketing

“Not Boring” Isn’t a POV and the Issues with “Pick an Enemy” Positioning

 

Connect with Victoria:

LinkedIn

Blog – In the Gray

 

Connect with Jeff:

LinkedIn

 

Connect with Sirkin Research:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

LinkedIn

Jeff Sirkin:
Hello and welcome back to another episode of Long Story Short. I’m your host, Jeff Sirkin. On this show, we talk to marketers and entrepreneurs about actionable strategies to help you connect with your audience and keep your finger on the pulse of your market. My guest this week is Victoria Gamlen. She’s a brand strategist and consultant who establishes positioning, develops messaging, and builds verbal identities for B2B and B2C brands. She’s also a fractional head of marketing and creative director across multiple industries. Off of LinkedIn, Victoria owns a cleaning business and is an accomplished photographer.
I had a great conversation with Victoria. She’s the best writer I’ve come across on LinkedIn and was the perfect guest to kick off the 2023 season. We had a deep and wide ranging conversation centered around how B2B marketing is not broken, it was built this way. We talked about the false enemies B2B marketers create and what the real one has always been. We covered B2B SaaS defying business fundamentals and how things look in the current economic climate, and we also dug into venture capital funding, business valuations, and how they impact B2B marketing. So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Victoria Gamlen.
Hi Victoria. Thanks for coming on Long Story Short.

Victoria Gamlen:
Thanks for having me.

Jeff Sirkin:
So you and I didn’t know each other until couple months ago. I was following you on LinkedIn, and your post stood out like nothing I’d ever seen on there, and I knew I had to reach out to have you on the show. Over the past few months, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, and it’s only made me even more excited for this conversation. There’s so, so much that we need to cover, but to get us started, can you tell the audience a bit about what your world looks like today?

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, absolutely. On LinkedIn, I am a brand strategist, consultant, and copywriter that specializes in brand voice. So I establish positioning, develop messaging, and build verbal identities for B2B and B2C companies. And then off LinkedIn, I run marketing and creatively direct for a restaurant group, as well as do marketing for a super small B2B company, and then I also have a cleaning business that specializes in commercial carpet, tile, and mattress cleaning.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah, I love your distinction of how you separate what you do on and off LinkedIn, but I want to come back to how I first found you on LinkedIn on a platform that honestly feels like a bit of a mid-afternoon nap. A lot of times your posts really are an immediate jolt of energy, and you have a way of saying what people really need to hear and not necessarily what they want to hear, and you do it in such a thorough and thoughtful way. Your content honestly is the best I’ve ever seen on LinkedIn. And I’m really curious, what prompted you to start posting?

Victoria Gamlen:
First off, thank you so much for reading. Yeah, so LinkedIn is funny for me. I actually had no intention of starting to post this year at all. I used to post just like basic copywriting tips and SEO stuff. I wrote a couple articles on there on digital marketing for local businesses. That was my audience and clients before. And then as I was kind of figuring out what I wanted to do, I just completely stopped. And then last January, I got off Instagram because it’s basically visual cocaine, but obviously, I still needed another distraction, so I started scrolling LinkedIn a lot. And also, I was writing content for B2B SaaS. That was part of my research. And I just started seeing all this marketing and copywriting advice, and I was like, “What? What is going on here?” First off, why are marketers posting advice at all when 99% of their work is contextual? And second, why are they posting copyright advice when they’re not copywriters?”
Marketers hate when people tell them how to do their job. Yet, here they are weighing in on copywriting. And of course, the reason this is an issue isn’t because they’re doing this. There will always be a peanut gallery. The issue is that companies are listening to them, and I know this because they would come to me for conversational copy and bring in stories, and what they really needed was solid positioning and a POV and also to get to know their customers and not just do marketing based on what they liked or what a random B2B marketer, an audience. And I get why they post these things. They’re playing the content and audience building game, and I get that, and context list, platitudes content scales way better than high quality, complex content, but I saw a place to win with content that doesn’t scale.
I saw a place to win by carrying deeply and being very intentional about what I said on there, even down to my comments. Yeah, I saw a place to win by digging into all the things that other people were either too lazy to or thought that they were too good to, or most often simply didn’t know or weren’t aware of, like in the case of lexical density and corporate jargon versus corporate as a feeling, and then connecting the dots between B2B marketing being ineffective and VC funding. Essentially, I saw a place to win by playing a completely different game. Winning to me on there looks much different than other people, but, yeah, so my first post on there this year was coming for write like You speak, but not even the actual advice, the criticism of the advice, and then the next one was on lexical density, which does address the actual advice.
And then that turned into me starting a blog because it was just too complex to… LinkedIn has really become place for me to write as Victoria. The nature of my work for my clients is that I’m writing as them or as their company. So on LinkedIn, I not only get to write as me, but an academic version of myself that my life off LinkedIn really doesn’t allow for simply because it’s not necessary or relevant. And if you would’ve told me that I was now using LinkedIn as a creative outlet of sorts, because that is a part of it as well, I would’ve been like, “What has my life become?”

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah.

Victoria Gamlen:
True. And then, yeah, as far as what I write, my writing is now fueled by my experience and witnessing companies trying to apply what B2B marketers are saying when they approach me. I got started because I saw this stuff and then also witnessed it. But now, I actually don’t really follow anyone in B2B SaaS marketing. I follow sales and finance people and people in my clients’ industries. I’m very big on taking responsibility of the content that I consume, and a lot of content on there annoys me. And then more importantly, no random B2B marketer on the internet is ever going to know more about my clients’ audiences or customers ever. And I don’t care what trend they’re touting, I care about how my client’s customers are buying. They will tell me what channels and tactics I should be using. And then just lastly, I see so many people who complain about the fluff on LinkedIn. Some go as far as to literally make it their entire content strategy.
And we’ve all seen some hilarious posts, but complaining about the fluff is no better than posting it in the first place. It’s just contributing to the noise. And if fluff gets you leads, do your thing. When what you’re doing is working and making you money with your content, with your marketing in life, you really don’t care what other people are doing. And honestly, I love the fluff. It helps me stand out. Post more selfies, please post more motivation. And if you don’t like a platform, then leave. No one is making you stay on here. That’s the other thing I don’t get. To me, the entertainment ROI on LinkedIn I think is super high. Given the expectation for this “professional platform,” where else can you get a selfie of a CEO crying? That’s [inaudible 00:07:17].

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah, there’s a couple things I want to touch on there. First, I really love the idea that we’re really running our own race in life. And if what you’re doing is helping you get towards your goals, then keep doing it. There’s no such thing as a one size fits all strategy in life or on LinkedIn, but the other is what you mentioned about winning with content that doesn’t scale. It comes across so strongly how much you care about what you put on LinkedIn. Your posts are so smart and well thought out. It’s clear how you’ve truly considered every angle to make them bulletproof.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, for sure. Sorry, I’m just laughing. t’s so funny to me, just a side note, yeah, I do care, and I’m not scared to admit that. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who try to be chill, and they’re really not chill. No, I do care deeply. Sorry, I don’t know if we should… Is this a good point?

Jeff Sirkin:
I do. I really do. Because you’re right, people, nobody would admit that honestly.

Victoria Gamlen:
I have really strict ground rules for myself and content guidelines for myself on there. When I did realize I was going to start posting, my first thing was I’m only going to post when I have something to say. My objectives are to educate Warren and attract my ICV. That is it. So I’m not trying to build an audience, so that’s kind of what I mean by the anti-strategy piece. I like dopamine just as much as the next person, but I’m still trying to figure out what people do with all these followers they collect.
Growing up, my dad would always say, “Victoria, if you have to choose between being famous and rich, always choose rich,” and I didn’t get it at the time because I wanted to be a famous tech company founder, but now I get it. And on that note, I’m not trying to build an audience because having a big audience would literally do nothing for my business. I have a very specific ICP and a very small target audience, so I literally could never build a big audience even if I wanted to. I don’t even have LinkedIn Premium. I literally don’t care how many people see my posts. I want the right people to, and my bar is so low for that.
I posted what I thought was my best piece at the time on the day they updated the algorithm once. This is [inaudible 00:09:31] one, and I got very little views. But this one chick in B2B marketing who I think is really funny, liked it. And I was good. I remember I messaged you, I was like, “I’m trying to be mad right now, but I’m not. Is something wrong with me?” But yeah, my bar is very low for that.

Jeff Sirkin:
Well, and honestly I think I love what you said there because I agree, but so much of that to me comes back to being really clear on what your goals are and who you’re trying to reach. And outside of that, nothing else really matters.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. And then also, that piece is a good example of how much editing goes into my work because I sent it to you the day before, and there were a lot more jokes in it that I had to strip down because there were distract… I never want my personality to get in the way of the points I’m trying to make, and that Sisyphus analogy didn’t come to me until that morning, and it made the piece. So yeah, I think you saw just what goes into them.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. And I will say, now that I’ve really gotten the, I would say, the behind the scenes of your content creation process, a lot of what stood out to me from the very beginning before I knew you really makes a lot more sense now, and I’ve really seen firsthand the time and effort that goes into every single one. But again, to me, it really just comes back to being really clear on who you’re trying to reach and who you’re speaking to.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. So I write highly targeted sniper content. I call it dog whistle content. It’s meant for only certain people to hear. I’m disqualifying clients with every single word I write on there. My work is very time intensive, so I need hot leads at all times. There is no room for casual discovery calls, but honestly, me posting on there has just been a super intentional, ongoing experiment to disprove all the best practices about content that gets engagement. The two main ones being people don’t prefer short content, they prefer good content, and the whole people only read 20% of a post. Well yeah, because 80% is trash. Watch what happens when you go hard with every single sentence. And then on that note, I don’t do social media writing. I do writing writing on a social media platform. I refuse to dumb down my vocabulary. I’ll shorten it because I have to, there are character limits, but I will not use simple language when a complex word will do.
I talked about this on another podcast where I was talking about brand voice, but one of the reasons my content does hit harder is that I really limit how much I go on social media. Everyone sounds the same because they’re all doing the same tactics from the same big accounts that post all the same stuff. It’s subconscious. Confusing popular content with high quality, you can’t help but do it so I stay off. Everyone complains about being burnt out and struggling to come up with content ideas, and it’s like, “Well yeah, maybe because you put your brain in a digital microwave for an hour a day. I would hope that negatively impacts you somehow.” So yeah, my strategy is really just an experiment to prove that, A, if you have something to say based on your firsthand experience, and B, go hard with every sentence you write on there and respect people’s attention, people will take notice. I mean, this conversation is proof of that, I would say.
And then part of it also is only talking about business ever. It’s hilarious that I even have to say that, but here we are. Who would’ve thought talking about business on LinkedIn will get you noticed. Yeah, I mean it’s not easy at all. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like my posts don’t take an enormous amount of time or what I call cognitive calories, but what people don’t realize is that dumb, easy content gets you dumb clients, and dumb clients are cheap clients. Just like easy dumb copy gets you dumb customers, and dumb customers will cost you. They will cost you time, money, and usually both. And weak leads too will crush your business. Any type. B2B SaaS is maybe finally learning that. And especially as a services-based business where I’m the sole executor, they will absolutely crush me. So yeah, I don’t do dumb or cheap clients, I do smart, expensive ones.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah, I really love what you said about the longer content piece, and it really makes me think. There’s been so much talk over the last maybe 10, 20 years of how our attention spans are getting shorter. And frankly, it’s just not true. It’s really become more of a consideration span, the fact that it’s just not relevant anymore. And so to your point that if 80% of your post distracts, then I’m only going to read the 20%. And once I’ve lost interest, I’m out. But it’s not because my attention span is short, it’s because I’m just no longer interested in what you have to say. And the other piece there, again, is somebody who essentially is a solopreneur as well. If I had 50 weak leads that came to me and all these discovery calls, that would crush me. I mean, that would not be an exciting moment. That would be a problem I would have, and that wouldn’t be something I’d want to face personally.

Victoria Gamlen:
Right, exactly. Well, two things on that. First, I mean, going hard with your content shows signals, “Wow, they wrote this for free. Imagine what happens when we hand them money. Imagine how they treat their customers going viral or whatever.” Going viral will do nothing. The whole obsession with vireality and the whole, “We’ll make you go viral.” That marketer is an agency’s promise. A, going viral just means more people outside your target audience saw it. That’s a Dan Kelsall point by the way. I don’t want to take credit for that. So it literally does nothing to drive revenue. Or if it does, it’s a spike, or it breaks your business and ruins your brand. And then B, you can’t force or predict it. Are you going to do a rain dance or what? It’s so wild to see agencies guarantee this.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. It’s so funny you say that because I really hadn’t put it in that context, but I really love the idea that going viral just means that, frankly, people who are never going to become your customers are the ones who have now seen more of your content. And it’s so interesting to put it in that lens.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. And just in general, I don’t take it for granted that people are reading my stuff. Just anyone listening, Jeff really likes to make fun of me when I say thank you for reading, but-

Jeff Sirkin:
I do.

Victoria Gamlen:
… but [inaudible 00:15:29] I mean. People giving me their attention is something I take very seriously. And it’s so funny to see people talk about attention being valuable, yet they still use the words capture or even the word hook. Are we talking about fish or people here? And you don’t capture attention, you earn it, Captured attention doesn’t want to stick around. You’re kidnapping it. And then earned attention, on the other hand, they’ll follow you to your grave. And then one thing I’m out to disprove, honestly, just kind of by default, not even intentionally, is the whole write like you speak. I can’t write like I speak on there. I’m not even speaking like I speak now. I’m one of those people that has to speak like I write.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. As someone who knows you, if you wrote like you spoke on LinkedIn, you would be banned. We talked about everything that goes into who you are on LinkedIn, but I want to mention what does not go into your posts. And as someone who knows you well, there’s really a mix of both. You’re actually much warmer and colder in real life than you are on LinkedIn. But even more so, honestly, you’re hilarious. And knowing you in this way, it’s truly impressive to see how much restraint you show on LinkedIn because there’s so much wit and humor that doesn’t make it in your post. Even for this podcast, when Victoria and I met to talk through the conversation and how it was going to go, we both agreed for her to stick to LinkedIn Victoria here too.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, I appreciate that. Like I said, I never want my personality to get in the way of the point I’m trying to make, so thank you. I feel very, very seen right now. Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff Sirkin:
Absolutely. And I want to come back to a point you made earlier about being very targeted towards your ICP with that content, but another reason your content stands out and hits so hard is that it’s so direct. There’s a line in your latest piece that I really want to read, and it goes, “This piece is simply a warning written solely for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear about the perils of fighting an easy, seductive war against the wrong enemy.” Can you speak to the directness in your writing and where that comes from?

Victoria Gamlen:
Yes. So it’s funny. I don’t consider myself direct. To me, everyone is just indirect. If you’re not speaking directly to your target audience on social media or with your marketing, I don’t know what you’re doing there. And if you don’t know who your target audience is, I don’t know why you’re speaking. And what’s also funny… Well, just on the whole LinkedIn content thing. What’s funny is people are, yes, people are more casual and less formal, but they’re still not saying anything. They’re still technically very corporate in that they just beat around the bush. It’s still super curated. It’s what I call curated vulnerability. And corporate jargon and corporateness are two different things. Corporateness isn’t formality, it’s saying nothing, and people are still doing that even when they’re talking about personal things.
I mean, okay, so I know I said I don’t think I’m direct. To be fair, the directness is… It is part of my personality. I have received qualitative feedback over the years that my communication style is quite direct, but I also personally prefer that type. So I dish it, but I can also take it.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep. I can imagine you receiving some of that qualitative feedback. And one thing you and I certainly have in common is that neither of us is really the type to lose very many arguments. Because the truth is with you, it isn’t even just your post, but really every single comment that you make on LinkedIn is essentially bulletproof.

Victoria Gamlen:
A big piece of all my writing and what people are actually seeing is that I grew up with a litigator for a dad. For anyone wondering what a litigator is, they are verbal assassins essentially. They are trained killers when it comes to arguing. They can’t help it. There’s not like courtroom dad and then dad dad. If an argument arises, I’m convinced that something goes off in their brain to fight strategically. It’s not annoying, lame, hitting below the belt, they are just trained to know how to argue. And they’re lovely people, my dad’s a really nice guy, but that is really a big piece of all my posts and all my writing and all my work too. My positioning work, my copywriting is really rooted in that foundation. So it’s funny, it was super annoying growing up, but now I love it. It is truly one of the foundations to all my work. But it’s really wild to see how people on LinkedIn, they can’t put an argument together, and I had no idea how much that would come in handy. So I’m always making sure to have evidence through experienced data or examples.
But back to the directness. I mean, like I said, personality, but also the reason is that my world outside of LinkedIn and the jobs I worked as a photographer and to build my writing consulting business, and now even my cleaning business, if you don’t have common sense and street smarts, you don’t make it. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid. You actually lose your job. So the communication style is one meant to get a job done and the point across in the most efficient way possible in those jobs. And in some instances, there was a physical safety element as well.
And in so many other industries that I was in, and still very much am in, hospitality, owning a blue collar business, they have trash talking and whatnot, and that actually isn’t just a services or blue collar thing at all. Many corporate industries do too; finance, investment banking, real estate. If you give bad advice or say the wrong thing, you get called out. If a general manager ever tried to give cocktail making advice the way marketers try to give copying advice despite not being copywriters, they would get destroyed by bartenders. And the truth is, and no one wants to hear this, but B2B SaaS is soft. Everyone except sales. B2B sales couldn’t be soft because they’re dealing with the fallout of failed marketing. And if they don’t hit quota, they won’t get a job, so they have to be tough.
Like I said, B2B marketing isn’t bad because it’s boring, it’s bad because it never had to be good. It’s soft because it never needed to have grit until now. And speaking of that softness, the last reason I am so direct is that the things I speak to are quite serious. Tech has never run out of money before and there were never any stakes because there was always more money and someone to shift the blame to. And it’s very clear, by the way, most people in B2B SaaS are talking about marketing and whatnot, that they really don’t understand that. They don’t understand what it means to, A, run out of money, and, B, not experience “growth” Because so many SaaS companies are so, so new. Most B2B SaaS companies are infants. Other industries have had decades of experience in recessions and economic climate, so the directness piece is part personality, part background, and then part necessity.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. You brought up a great point that I want to dig into about what is at stake, really saying that there hadn’t been any before for B2B SaaS marketers, but how does that compare to the stakes in your world? I want examples, Victoria.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yes. So as a freelance writer and consultant, my clients can fire me at any time. HR wouldn’t need to get involved. There’s no safety net with that. My clients never have fired me, but it’s because I know they can that they haven’t, so I act and perform accordingly. I can also fire them. It goes both ways. And then for my client that I do marketing for, they are a restaurant group, so they’re not in tech. If they run out of money and don’t have customers, they’re done. They have investors, I think, but in every industry outside of tech, if money stops coming in, investors stop giving it to you. And anyone who knows the restaurant industry knows the margins are trash. And we’re in Arizona too, so it’s seasonal, so my client has to be insanely careful with his cash. So while the marketing budgets are way smaller than B2B SaaS, the stakes are way higher.
And I also started working with them during a pandemic. And I get that it was super disruptive for tech to have to figure out how to work from home and whatnot, but for the brick and mortar world, they didn’t have the option to work from home. People were losing their livelihoods while SaaS was taking off. And also the sales cycles are much faster in B2C as well. So not only could I get fired immediately, I can also get fired faster. And my client knows things like SEO take time because I educate them, but the sales cycle in B2B SaaS is 90 to 120 days. Restaurant sales cycles are 90 to 120 minutes. We know way sooner if something is working or not. So even if B2B SaaS was held accountable.

Victoria Gamlen:
… is working or not. So even if B2B SaaS was held accountable, they have months and months of perks and health benefits and whatnot, to find out if what they’re doing is working or not. Most importantly, I’d say, being solely responsible for the strategy, and where this client’s money goes, means one wrong move and I have to look him in the eye and tell them I spent his money and I didn’t make him more. There’s no buffer for firing, but there’s also no buffer on a personal level. So that has a profound effect on how I go about my work. I treat his money like it’s mine. I have no doubt that, if I were to stop performing, he would fire me, because he should.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. I want to come back to this. That 90 to 120 days versus 90 to 120 minutes, it’s such a powerful way to really conceptualize the difference. Again, coming from somebody who has spent most of my professional career in the B2B space, and in these longer sales cycles. In SaaS, and with some of these larger companies, there’s obviously a lot more teams and moving parts, but even beyond that, I really just appreciate the responsibility that you choose, and the accountability that you take on yourself.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. A big part too is, I know how hard these people work. I do their content and photography, so I’m in there with them. And also, it wasn’t long ago that I was working in a restaurant to make ends meet. So my work is very personal to me. All my clients mean a great deal to me, that they trust me with what they do, but also because they’re the reason I don’t have to work at a restaurant or drive delivery anymore. That shit is hard, and I don’t want to go back. It’s hard on a cognitive level, it’s hard on an emotional level, and it’s hard on a physical level. Anyone who’s worked in hospitality knows what I’m speaking to right now.
I have a strict no swearing policy, but I will break it for the hospitality industry any day. And part of the reason I did build my business from scratch was because nobody would hire me. I had no in-house experience, because I couldn’t get it. I had to be self-taught. I tried to go in-house last year, as a digital marketer associate, very entry level, so my clients hired me when no one else would, even though I was honestly just as good as I am now. That means a great deal to me, and it’s something I will never forget, especially as a creative. To have someone believe in your creative vision, or not even care what it is, they just give me so much trust to execute, that’s a very big deal.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. I just want to echo a lot of that. I worked briefly as a busboy, so I’ve been in the hospitality world, and then I painted houses every summer from high school, and even through most of college. At the time, I did it because I had no marketable skills, and I hated it. I really hated every day of it. And honestly, it was the best experience I ever could have had, that showed me why I was in college and wanted to stay there, because honestly, I never wanted to do that again another day in my life.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s so funny to hear people say that fear is not a good motivator, and I’m just like, “[inaudible 00:26:56] never been broke.” [inaudible 00:26:56] get what it was like.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep. The best motivator there is.

Victoria Gamlen:
Right. Is it sustainable? No, but it’ll get you places. And just as an aside, part of the reason I have been successful with this client, for their marketing, we’ve increased our average monthly revenue by 30% for two locations compared to pre-COVID, is because I worked in the industry. I was hostessing while doing marketing for them, and that had a huge impact on what I did, because I saw the inner workings of a restaurant, and I knew that certain ideas simply wouldn’t work. And that research piece, that’s something that’s sorely missing in B2B SaaS, I’ve noticed, the research and the willingness to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes.
Now, I get that B2B SaaS cannot go get a job in every industry they serve, but in order to write effective copy and do effective messaging, you need to make yourself a local, as I call it in my latest piece, especially for conversational copy, which B2B SaaS is so obsessed with. Many companies do not know the industries or the customers they serve well enough to speak to them the way that they do. And also, me having experience in the industry is part of why my client respects me. I’m not a hospitality group owner, but I’ve seen enough to know I could never do what he does, and I think that’s really missing as well.
I see it first hand. I see it with this client getting pitched by SaaS companies. I see it with myself, my cleaning business. I’m a B2B owner, I buy a lot of B2B SaaS. They don’t get my client’s business, and they don’t get my business, and they don’t try to get it. And that’s the problem, because they think that software will save the day. It cannot solve the hardest parts about being an SMB owner, especially in the hospitality or services space sector, and it never will. And they really don’t get that.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that concept of making yourself a local. It really feels similarly to how you talked about how audiences are earned, and not captured. You really can’t effectively market to your ICP without deeply understanding their world, period. But I need to set the stage here. You’re doing marketing for a business that is normally chaotic, and now their world is turned upside down even more by a global pandemic. I’ve seen some of the content you’ve created for them, and it’s fantastic. But even though you’re kicking ass, there are always things that go wrong, and with the accountability you take on yourself in the high stakes environment, it sounds really stressful. How do you manage all of that?

Victoria Gamlen:
This is just how I operate. There’s [inaudible 00:29:10] better, best. Going either zero or 100 miles per hour, there is no in between. But it’s really taking time and discipline to figure out how to make that work, because it’s actually not a good thing, because success is super boring. It’s really not exciting. A lot of people don’t learn that until it’s too late. But anytime I have had to look my client in the eye and tell him, “I spent your money, and I didn’t make you more,” it wasn’t that bad, because I set very, very clear expectations. I do that with all my clients. Writing, consulting, marketing. I call it my, “If you’re scared, go to church” clause. I make no guarantees for results. No marketer can. The only thing I guarantee is that I will work as hard as I can to get them.
For example, it happened with Nextdoor ads. He’s gotten some business from there, from word of mouth, dark social, if you will, so it made sense to spend money to get in front of more eyeballs on there with ads. And it was super dumb. When I told him they were dumb, AKA, no conversions, he was like, “It made sense why you tried that, though.” And obviously, I told him beforehand. And then we increased ad spend a lot on Google this past summer, trying to find a combination between different platforms. He does a bunch of different paid ads on different platforms, and when you increase spend on Google, there’s an optimization period, it’s not just a matter of 2x equals 2y. So he was nervous to, as he should have been, and I was like, “You’re going to lose at least $1,000 this month. If you’re not okay with that…”
There’s also a lot less stakes for not playing as a team, and I think this is true of the corporate world, not just B2B SaaS or tech, but a lot of industries, if you are not all on the same page, it will cost you. It can cost you big time. But in tech and the corporate world, this misalignment between marketing and sales is honestly the standard, and it’s fine.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s a really powerful story, and I love especially how you were intentional about communicating those expectations to your client. In the B2B SaaS world, companies tend to run on this quarterly cycle, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with marketers who are, let’s say, launching a brand awareness campaign, and by the time they get up to next quarter’s board meeting, they don’t have tangible results to show, and they end up having to change course. And it becomes clear that really what was missing initially was them communicating that it may take six to nine months to see success, and here’s what the leading indicators are going to be. But it really just highlights how important it is to set those right expectations up front.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. That’s always been really big for me, in all my work, especially creative work. You have to be super clear about scope. I see a lot of victimhood within the freelance writing community, and it’s like, “No, you need to teach clients how to treat you. You make the rules.” Trust is earned when you set boundaries, and when you say no, and when you set proper expectations. And B2B SaaS marketers really haven’t done that, because they haven’t had to, because there was no accountability, because there was no stakes, because there was always more money. And now, marketers want a seat at the table, and it’s like, “What have you done to earn that, as a collective group?” This whole, “Don’t work for a CEO who doesn’t get marketing,” I’m sorry, but why would the CEO of a business not understand such an important part of business? No-one is asking that, because if they did, I think they’d find that many CEOs, not all, I know there are some who just refuse to understand, but many don’t get marketing because they’ve never been given a reason to, because marketing never built business cases around their work.
B2B SaaS literally just decided to start tying activities to revenue a year ago, literally, and that concept was considered revolutionary, which is insane. So that whole victimhood with marketing, not just in freelance writing, it’s because they never set the right expectations, and because they said yes to everything. They were fearless, but in the wrong way. At first, they were scared of telling the CEO that something is either not feasible or going to take way longer than the CEO or C-suite thinks, probably because they sold investors on a vision versus reality, which now they’re scared of not looking cool, or of having boring marketing, because some B2B marketer on LinkedIn said not to use certain words in their website copy. There’s this arrogant fearlessness that is going to be the demise of a lot of companies this year. Nobody wanted to be the adult in the room over the last 20 years, and in some instances they couldn’t, and still can’t. But if you’re at a company, and your “No” isn’t respected after you’ve clearly explained why, I’m not sure what you’re doing there.

Jeff Sirkin:
I’m really glad you brought up that vision versus reality. And speaking back to that Sisyphus piece from earlier, you read a really great line in it I want to read.
You refused to do the uncomfortable work of getting clear on what you do, who you do it for, and who you don’t do it for. You continue to think your TAM for niche software is everyone with a pulse over the age of 25.
In addition, you’ve written a number of blog posts that I want to dig into, and the main theme from these pieces in particular is how B2B marketing isn’t broken, but that it was built this way. How did that all come together for you?

Victoria Gamlen:
Great question. Just a little bit on my background, because this is actually part of it, I grew up in the Bay Area. I was creative as a kid, but then I saw all these tech companies and all these people getting super rich overnight, not knowing, of course, that tech valuations and profitability are two completely different things yet. And of course, I was like, “I’m going to do that. How hard could it be?” I actually majored in comp sci, thinking I’d just go into tech, especially as a woman, I’d have it made. Worst case, people will be pounding on my door to work for them [inaudible 00:34:27] virtue of my existence. But minor detail, I don’t like programming.
And then I did two baby startups on the side of my full time job that didn’t go anywhere, because most startups don’t go anywhere. I was still really wanting to do a startup, though it was not on the development side, it was more on the marketing side. They were technically B2B SaaS companies, but it wasn’t really called that back then.
And then I left that world to become an [inaudible 00:34:54] photographer for a couple of years, burned myself out with that, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and then got into marketing and writing. After being a marketing generalist for a bit, I was like, “I just want to be writing.” I’d always written, but it’s funny, I didn’t want to be a starving artist, even though I’d just spent several years being one. There is something about being a starving writer that I was just like, “No, I’m too good for that.” It’s like, [inaudible 00:35:16] “You’re not.” So I was like, “Okay, who’s going to pay the most? Tech. Tech has money.” Tech had money. Too soon? So that’s [inaudible 00:35:28] I got back into B2B SaaS.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. So I want to stop you there for a second. You were a computer science major, getting into the tech world, and you had an internship, and I just need to read your description. According to your LinkedIn profile, it says that you updated client websites and ran SQL reports, learned that despite having a computer science degree, I don’t belong in IT. So while you may have not lasted that long professionally as a programmer, it really led to this great Easter egg.

Victoria Gamlen:
I appreciate you reading those. I had some fun with my job descriptions. So I decided I wanted to be a writer, content writer for B2B SaaS, as well as copy. Those are two different things, but that’s a different conversation. I wanted to write content for B2B SaaS, and so I go on LinkedIn, again, partly to get a social media high, but also to learn more about B2B SaaS, for research purposes. And everyone was saying B2B marketing was broken, and I definitely fell into it. Again, it’s such an easy enemy to blame the tactics, the channels, the gated content, the trade shows, whatever, but nobody was asking why this was allowed for as long as it was. We are not talking a couple of quarters here, we’re talking a couple of decades of not doing marketing that drove revenue or was in line with how people bought.
And any time a large entity or system, and I would argue that B2B SaaS, a multi-billion, potentially trillion dollar industry, any time it’s “broken” for an extended period of time, it’s not actually broken. It’s built that way. Our financial system, our healthcare system, they’re not broken. They’re well oiled machines that were built with much less positive objectives than people realize, but they’re not broken, by any means. They work perfectly for a certain group of people. So it’s a mismatch between alleged objectives and actual ones, not brokenness.
Similarly, B2B marketing has never driven revenue. You can’t say that it has, because again, the concept of tying their activities to revenue was revolutionary. That being such a big deal, because that was the reason I started my agency for local businesses, that’s always how I pushed marketing. I saw all these other agencies doing churn, and selling services these companies didn’t need, and social media, all of this stuff that didn’t drive revenue. And I saw a place to win there. I was like, “What if you just got results?” I always started with the buying dream, not [inaudible 00:37:50]. That’s how I built the strategy to have two of the restaurants grow as much as they did. I’d never done restaurant marketing before, let alone actual marketing, so I just did the next right thing. But then I go into B2B SaaS and that that’s game changing. So how can it be broken if it never worked?
And I think some people are like, who cares? Just fix it. Stop splitting hairs. And it’s like, no, if you diagnose something incorrectly, that means you’re going to prescribe the wrong solution, and that’s what’s happening now. And the wrong solution can kill a company if you misdiagnose or… Sorry. And I think some people are like, who cares? Just fix it. Stop splitting hairs, semantics, whatever. And it’s like, no. If you diagnose something incorrectly, that means you’re going to prescribe the wrong solution. And that’s what’s happening now. If you misdiagnose an appendix bursting with a stomach cramping, you’re going to die. That’s an extreme example, but you get the idea. And that’s happening now. Everyone thinks boring marketing is an issue, and it’s not. There are so many issues. Boring marketing is a luxury problem companies wish they had right now.
Back to that piece. So the last part is that this past year, I started a cleaning business. After doing the whole starving artist thing, I was like, I never want to experience being broke again. I’m going to start tying my activities to revenue. So I started learning about actual business, not tech world business, but real estate, private equity, businesses that actually make profit. All that stuff is super interesting to me. That’s where the business fundamentals piece came in that I mentioned in part two of the series.

Jeff Sirkin:
For me, it really hits home when you talk about how B2B marketing is not in line with how people buy. And I encourage anybody who hasn’t read your pieces to check them out, they’re so good, and there’s so much more depth frankly than we’re going to be able to cover here. And all of the pieces we’re referencing are linked in the show notes. And I want to start there and share the opening section of the second piece with the audience.
And it goes: Many software companies are a solution in search of a problem. As a result, no other industry struggles with marketing and positioning like B2B SaaS. Tech cracked the supply code. Build once, sell a million times. But they forgot one minor detail: demand. Who needs the most basic of business principles when you can get funding with mere product market fit?
You then go on and provide some great examples in the piece. Can you share more about those?

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, absolutely. So I got back into B2B SaaS as a content writer, like I said, before moving into copywriting strictly, and then brand voice, and now positioning and strategy. And two things happened with my cleaning business that really brought that piece to life. So I wrote part one a couple months ago, and it actually wasn’t going to be a duo. Part two, what you just read, was actually supposed to come after what was going to be a three part series called In Defense of Corporate Jargon. But it’s three standalone pieces now, two of which will have been published, one breaking down corporate jargon versus corporate as a feeling, and then one explaining several irreconcilable differences between B2B and B2C marketing. And then the third one is coming, it’s about the proliferation of common sense as insight and the fetishization of creativity in B2B marketing.
So that series was all going to lead up to the question nobody seemed to be asking, which was why did B2B SaaS marketers get away with not doing their job for so long? But now it’s a two part series. Part one’s sub-headline is, why B2B marketers being bad at the job isn’t an isolated event. And then part two’s sub-headline is, why privilege leads to bad marketing. So then with your encouragement, actually I was like, this is too important of a concept to not do now. And it was going to be a much longer piece, but I was like, can I get this into 3,000 characters? And I wasn’t sure if I could, but I somehow pulled it off. And I think it actually hit harder than a longer piece would. That is not to say shorter is better at all. Please do not let that be the takeaway of this conversation.
So as I see in the piece, SaaS doesn’t have to apply to the most basic concepts of all time, supply and demand. Prior to nicheing down to carpet, tile, and mattress, I had a regular cleaning business. It was first residential B2C, and then I moved into B2B, because what B2B marketers don’t understand about B2C is that B2C is really terrible. And I’ll leave it at that. B2C marketing is good because it has to be, because humans are very not great sometimes. Anyone who would’ve said that, before I started doing marketing for a restaurant, I’d be like, “You’re negative, they’re great.” And yes, there are great people, but until you experience the not so great people, you don’t get it.
So the first example was me almost taking on a restaurant customer cleaning their kitchens every night. So [inaudible 00:42:39] didn’t start in SaaS, started in cleaning obviously, but it would’ve been a daily [inaudible 00:42:45] up in here. No, it would’ve been a daily recurring customer, because restaurants need to be cleaned very well, health inspection, all that stuff. So it was honestly the most exciting call of my life. I felt like I was getting called up to the majors. They’re like, can you do a walkthrough? I was like, yeah, be there [inaudible 00:43:03] dropped everything, because this is going to be a big customer. It would’ve made me a six figure business owner overnight, honestly, just a couple months in. And then I leave and I’m all excited, I’m all excited.
And I think about it, and I was like [inaudible 00:43:16] it’s at night. Phone’s going to be ringing at night. We can’t have that. It’s hard enough as a creative with ideas coming and whatnot. I was like, no. And then B, it would’ve broken my business, because the labor, the contractors I would’ve used, A, I would’ve needed them every day, but B, that entire group then couldn’t start the next day until at least noon [inaudible 00:43:43] because I had to sleep. So it would’ve brought in a whole series of issues with labor, and it’s already hard enough to find reliable, good cleaners.
And then part two was me trying to get a line of credit to get into post-construction. So post-construction is the cleaning that happens after a building is built. There’s a lot of dust, and that is a specialty my contractors were very good at. It takes a long time. So anyone who is getting quotes for post-construction after remodeling, that is why it is expensive. You want to pay a lot for that. Do not skimp, or as you move your clothes into your new closet, there will be dust all over your black suit.
So I wanted to do it on the B2B side, and I needed… They are net 30. I have no leverage with that. These big construction companies do not pay other than net 30, net 45. So I needed cash to pay contractors for big jobs, and I’d be paying it back. This was not a loan, this is a line of credit, this is much different than a loan or even funding. And I didn’t have enough revenue at the time, and I was still broke as well, so I had little income as well. That was just what they also look at. So I couldn’t get it. And to be honest, I wasn’t mad. I was like, that makes sense, I wouldn’t give me money either.
And so what I ended up doing, this is funny, I paid a company to apply for a personal credit card [inaudible 00:45:02] 0% APR for a year. I only have a year to use these. My credit score took a hit, but I didn’t care. I wanted to get in the game. So that’s on the services based side. But those things still apply if you’re selling a physical product. So in the piece, I used the example of the steamer that my cleaners use now for carpet and tile. Say I made those, say everyone wanted to buy one, it goes viral. They couldn’t. I’d have to figure out manufacturing, and then materials, we got supply chain, labor.
These constraints don’t exist in SaaS or the digital world. And these constraints aren’t a bad thing. They are annoying, but they keep you from scaling too fast, or thinking you’re scaling when you’re not, and they also keep your business from breaking. So no-one was tying these two things together with regards to B2B SaaS marketing, because they couldn’t see it, because they’ve spent too much time in the fantastical world of tech, as I call it. But my work and my background spans both.

Jeff Sirkin:
Sorry, I want to shift gears to talk about tech funding, and specifically how it relates to B2B marketing. In your second piece, you say the nature of funding in tech fools companies, not investors, they know what’s going on, they made the rules, into thinking that they have a business before they actually do. And your first piece starts by saying how most software companies are a solution in search of a problem. But you follow it up with a great section that I want to share, and it says, how could that be? Monosyllabic Missing Vowels Company X just got the biggest series A ever from Douglas Fir Ventures. Who cares that they don’t have customers? DFV just gave them $50 million. You have to understand that DFV didn’t invest in Company X because they believe in them. DFV invested in them because they know they’re probably going to fail, and that’s okay, because out of the dozens of other companies they also invested in, they only need one to take off to see an ROI. Raising capital can be a great thing, but you must know the rules of the game. The house always wins.
You then go on and talk on how investors become the customers. And as an economist, this is really what I would refer to as perverse incentives. If companies can get millions, in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars, without having customers or cash flow, then that’s really what they’re incentivized to chase. At the same time, you also talk about the fact that the investment comes with strings attached, and it does not necessarily mean that everything’s going to be smooth sailing from here.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. Exactly. It’s interesting to see how few people understand the cost of funding on a personal and emotional level too, beyond just the expectations for growth. That money isn’t free. Nobody talks about it, and they don’t have to. Same with how hard entrepreneurship is. It’s unspeakably hard. Anyone glorifying it, like I said, is usually trying to make you their passive income, or they have success amnesia, as I call it. Starting a business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it and everyone would succeed at it.
But back to the funding piece. Big money comes with big expectations, expectations that usually can’t be met. And it may sound like that doesn’t make sense, but that’s because people don’t know the rules of the game.

Victoria Gamlen:
Sound like that doesn’t make sense, but that’s because people don’t know the rules of the game. The first rule of funding is you don’t talk about funding, actually is kind of similar. The first rule is they don’t need to tell you the rules. It’s on you to learn them because if they told you the rules, you probably wouldn’t want to play their game. And the rules aren’t that complicated. It’s kind of just common sense or basic arithmetic. If someone hands you millions of dollars for an idea that hasn’t produced any tangible monetary results yet or doesn’t have any proven demand, that’s a very imbalanced equation. So investors will find a way to balance it out, whether that’s through you or that doesn’t. Sometimes hundreds of other companies they’ve invested in, that’s the whole point. They need their money back, and then some, which leads to the second rule, which I mentioned in the piece, the house always wins. They will make sure of it.
And I think many people would be surprised to look at a list of investors of allegedly competing companies and see they’re all backed by very similar names. And plus VCs have their money in a whole slew of different sectors within tech, even outside of tech, to ensure that they see an ROI somehow and some way. So that’s why when a company announces around of funding, it’s typically not a marker of anything beyond a VC thought they’d make a great slot machine. These VCs have a lot of money, a lot, and there’s a lot of them. So $50 million is a lot of money, but to them, it’s not. So yeah, and if you don’t like those roles or you don’t think they’re fair, then you probably shouldn’t play the game because it’s really not a game at all for you as the recipient of funding.
It’s a game for the big guys, hinder you the money, but as a startup founder, you think capital, it’s really not a game. And I’ve seen some content of people explaining different funding rounds and whatnot. It’s great, obviously understand that, but it’s also like, “No, let’s back up here for a second. And what’s going on back to the business fundamentals?” Right? You are being handed something money in this case, but it doesn’t really matter if it’s money, gold bars, cattle, let’s just look at the nature of what a transaction is on a business level and on energetic level. I think that’s really missing because then large funding gets normalized and it’s not normal at all to be handed that much money for something that doesn’t exist yet or that you haven’t done.
And anyone thinking, “Oh, if we just get some funding, that’s all we need. Just a little money.” I can assure you that that is not the case. If you cannot figure out a way to get customers for your SaaS product without funding in 2023, there are a million free tools and platforms at your disposal, you have no business raising money, in my opinion. This guy Mike Wynne, the UK, had a great line on LinkedIn a few months back. It was funding isn’t a finish line, it’s a starting one, and people really need to think of it like that. Same thing back to the rules saying, “If anything I’m saying sounds too harsh, you have no business starting a business, and you especially have no business accepting large sums of money from people with an insane amount of leverage because they don’t mess around.”

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. I really love that idea that investment is truly the starting line. And it speaks to that imbalance you were talking about in the funding transaction. Is there’s this built-in expectation that you’ll be able to reach this pie in the sky growth projection and that you’ll do it fast? And that immediacy really acts as a forcing function for your go-to market. So often this means you have to sacrifice strategies that’ll be more impactful in the long term in favor of less effective ones that can move the needle maybe a little more quickly. And that typically means focusing all of your energy and budget on lead gen tactics, overpaying for media, and leading with positioning that doesn’t disqualify anyone.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. Exactly. And this is why B2B SaaS marketing, positioning, and messaging has historically been so ineffective because companies are scared to disqualify because they sold investors on way too big of a tam. So now they won’t get specific and effective messaging and copy is specific. They can’t get specific. It literally doesn’t get approved. I’ve witnessed it. I have to be super careful about who I work with because of this. These clients can seem like they’re game, they read my posts, they like what they see, but they don’t get that, but I then apply that same cutthroatness to my client’s work as well in terms of looking the audience in the eye. And I’ve mentioned victimhood a couple times, but I see it in tech as well. Everyone wants to blame the VCs and whatnot when companies lay people off, but I’m pretty sure they were just fine with VCs when their companies were getting handed checks back to this easy enemy.
And I just want to also preface that it is really awful that people have lost their jobs. I’m not celebrating that whatsoever, but nobody outside of tech is surprised with what’s going on at all. If anything, they’re like, “Wow, it took longer than I thought.” And so I would really encourage people to do more due diligence before joining startups. If you want to do one for the experience, great, fully support that, but the victimhood has got to stop. I said this in another piece. The original line was, how high does the unicorn infant mortality rate have to get before people realize that six figures of revenue will never equal a billion of anything, let alone dollars.
You don’t even need to know what P&L stands for to see the writing on the wall with some of these companies. You just need to understand first grade arithmetic. And again, the big VCs don’t care. They’re not worried right now. Smaller angel investors are probably regretting some of their decisions, but why anyone would invest in tech startups at all given a 90% plus fail rate is beyond me, but it’s a whole other conversation. Speaking of disqualification, I probably disqualified myself from ever getting funding for my tech startup that trying to get rich, clean carpets, keep your tech money.

Jeff Sirkin:
I want to come back to the idea that no industry struggles with marketing and positioning like B2B SaaS. I know we already talked about that statement, but I want to zoom in on a particular word you chose there and it’s struggle. Say more about that.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. So it was really interesting to come back into B2B SaaS, like I said, and see how normalized it is to struggle with marketing. And that’s not to say marketing isn’t hard, but I see on the whole B2B SaaS marketers ringing their hands over issues that could be solved by A, speaking to their customers or B, having made sure they actually had some before starting the company. So many companies, few people other than… And it’s not to say these products don’t solve a problem, but few people outside the founder are interested in solving the problem.
So there are a lot of problems in the world, especially with regards to technology, but are people actually interested in solving them? You need to find that out before starting a company and before accepting an enormous sum of money that comes with enormous expectations because it should. And it’s also really, really concerning to see how much companies struggle with what content to create, and how much handholding they need with this, and format I get, but they literally don’t know what to say, and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t know what to say to someone, I don’t know.
But companies struggling to come up with content just reminds me like a wealthy dad struggling to buy a gift for their kid and stressing over whether or not to get an iPad or an electric scooter. Meanwhile, the kid just wants to spend time with them, and nobody views it that way. They’re just like, “Post some fun content ideas in the comment section, guys, lets all work together on this because we all have exactly the same product and same audience.” And it’s like, “No, what are you doing scrolling LinkedIn, go talk to your customers, go do your job because if you keep this up in 2023, you might not have one.”

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. When I started seeing your post on LinkedIn, it really immediately reminded me of the Big Short. So back in 2008, the housing market kept going up with really no end in sight. And there was this collective belief that the prices would just keep going up, and the party would never end. But there was a small group of people who saw through the fever that it was really a bubble about to burst. They saw through the true business fundamentals and they also got their hands dirty to find out for themselves that it really wasn’t real. They certainly felt crazy at times for being the only ones who didn’t believe, but of course they turned out to be absolutely right. And your perspectives on these topics and your way of delivering the message so directly really just feels like the warning everyone needs.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. I mean, I’m definitely not the first person to speak on any of this. The CEO of Bravado had that post back in March last year about layoffs. Nobody wanted to believe him, and he speaks more to the overall climate, but I didn’t see anyone tying it to how it affected marketing. And anyone I have seen talking about B2B marketing being broken, they weren’t making the connection between the nature of funding and how that affects marketing. And they also weren’t talking about business fundamentals. It was still very vacuum lens in that tech world. It was not looking at business at large. Those business fundamentals. I will say, I think the one difference with the Big Short is that people saw this coming. Like I said, nobody outside of tech is surprised right now. And I’m sure there might be some inside tech that aren’t surprised either, but have you read Moneyball?

Jeff Sirkin:
Oh, of course. Love it. Love it.

Victoria Gamlen:
Seems very up your alley. Another Michael Lewis. So anyone who hasn’t read it, it’s about the Oakland A’s and their general manager, Billy Bean, and baseball stats, and using on base percentage of KPI. That wasn’t done before. And I feel like profitability and cash flow are techs on based percentages, except again, the on base thing was much less obvious. Everyone outside of tech knows that [inaudible 00:57:25] important.
And as for people who saw this coming, there’s a lot of them who stayed out of it for this exact reason because of what’s going on right now. Who never got sucked into the hype, who never wanted what tech had because they knew a lot of what tech had never actually existed. The money going into these companies was real, the amount and the velocity couldn’t last given the returns. And as for this being the warning people need, it’s honestly too late for many companies. The slowness of B2B is great for job security, but it’ll also be the death of many people. And even if it wasn’t too late, many people don’t want to hear it and that’s fine. But yeah, B2B SaaS marketing was getting drunk on MQLs, now they’re drunk on non boring marketing and conversational copy. So I’m curious to see what they pick up next. If they have the chance to pick up, they’ll be lucky if they have another chance to find a drug of choice. A lot of these companies aren’t going to make it or they’re going to get scooped up by private equity next year.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. And what we’ve seen is that companies just continue to get these higher valuations starting from seed, and then series A, B, C, et cetera. And frankly, as long as there’s someone willing to pay more at the next stop, everyone wins. And that’s just worked until the music stopped. And you’ve spoken to this, but the easy money and the insane valuations is what led to the arrogance and hubris frankly across the board.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, but B2B SaaS thinks they’re the center of the B2B world when they’re really the rookies. And they also literally thought they could defy business physics. One might say they did, but I would argue they didn’t, the consequences were delayed. There were no easier days of B2B SaaS marketing, just consequences ones, growth at all costs never worked. The negative effects were just merely delayed. But yeah, back to B2B SaaS is arrogance. They’re arrogant in a couple ways. First, the whole needing to remind people that B2B marketing is human speaks volumes about the naivety of B2B SaaS. B2B has always been human, always, because B2B is as old as the Hills. This B2B marketing website sent out newsletter a couple months ago with the subject line being like, “Networking isn’t just for the elites.” And then the email was went on to say, “Networking wasn’t dead.” And it’s like, “Nobody ever thought it was, you guys really need this reminder.”
I showed it to my friend in commercial real estate and I was like, “Can you imagine receiving an email reminding you about the importance of networking?” He’s like, “No.” And yeah, I got my big first B2B post construction cleaning job from a guy at the gym overheard him and his buddy talking about construction, went up to him and introduced myself, told him I do post-construction cleaning. That’s how business has always been done, but apparently in B2B SaaS marketing land, what I did was called ABM. All your favorite mob and mafia movies, all B2B. I can assure you that Thomas Shelby or Tony Soprano do not need to be reminded that B2B marketing is human. They know.
And then that you can also spot this arrogance in the way they call it B2B. They don’t even say SaaS. Like I said, they’re the rookies. I saw this guy on Twitter who actually were like, this is not a big to him at all. He was like, “The B2B world is small.” He was someone I think had screwed him over right, and he was like, I was like, we talk right. And in my head I was like, “No, no, no, no. Your B2B SaaS world is very small.” The B2B SaaS world is actually quite big. And the B2B world at large is enormous. It includes a ton of industries. And I see all these people lapping up this lukewarm tap water insight like its ice cold Evian from these B2B SaaS marketing people with large audiences when it’s really all just common sense.
And I say that not to be funny, but as encouragement, take out your AirPods for two seconds and go observe the world around you and see how real businesses, businesses that have to make money or they will die, how they operate. And I promise you, everything these marketing influencers are saying will become rudimentary common sense. You’ll get whatever it is you are seeking. No B2B marketing influencer newsletter tweet will ever give you the answers that are actually going to move the needle for your business.
And I say this as someone who used to read a ton of this stuff, business books, podcast, newsletters, communities, and whatnot, and it’s great. It was a great starting point. I encourage people, I’m always unbiased in my research like devour everything, but one day I had the realization that no one can help me. I’m on my own. And honestly, that’s when my writing and marketing business took off. So unless you are literally just learning about marketing for the first time, which I don’t think many of these people are, anyone listening. This is probably not their first marketing podcast, right? I’m sorry, but there’s nothing there for you beyond fun fodder, and no one wants to hear that. But this endless quest for knowledge outside of your customers are doing the work to get better at your craft as a writer is and will continue to be the death of so many marketers and writers. I witness it every day on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. Honestly, I really think the common sense packages insight and lapping it up like cold Evian, I think is honestly my favorite line of yours that always gets me. You and I have certainly talked about that off the podcast as well. But yeah, I love that. And coming back to the… I really love the perspective that growth at all costs never worked, at least not sustainably. And again, it just really reminds me coming back to economics that markets will always be rational. Not necessarily every day in the short term, but in the long run, and as we continue to see bubbles bursts,

Victoria Gamlen:
And also there are a lot of B2B SaaS companies that nobody has heard of that are fat and happy right now, and aren’t worried because they respected business fundamentals and never fell for growth at all costs. But they’re safe because they were humble and they grew the right way the first time. And back to your point about directness, I really don’t think people truly get the gravity of what’s going on in tech from a marketing perspective. And also in general, it’s going to be a very rude awakening for many people when they have to start earning their keep like other industries do. Easy money has been so normalized, and it’s going to be really hard for people to understand that money is hard to make. From customers, I’m not even talking about investment, tighten their purse strings. Otherwise, everyone would be rich, otherwise every company would be a unicorn.
And it’s embarrassing that I didn’t understand this until I left that world in terms of career path that didn’t pay very much in the beginning. I just mean as an industry, anyone who has spent their entire career in tech, I think is about to experience what the real world is like. You can see this arrogance by the way called B2B and not B2B SaaS and the reminders about human marketing. But you can also see in the way they don’t get business fundamentals by the way they speak about how to act in a recession. Everything people are saying about what to do in a recession is stuff they should have been doing anyways.
The advice they’re giving for marketing and finance, I read it and I’m like, “Wait, so what were you guys doing before?” This big VC firm wrote this piece. This SaaS CFO retweeted it. And the title was something like, Properly Managing Cash and Capital Allocation is Critical When Funding is Uncertain or something. When something is blank, and… No, no, no, Cash and Capital Allocation is Critical. And the VC firm who wrote that knows that, of course, they are fully aware that cash and capital allocation is important. They’re in the business of cash and capital allocation, but they’re obviously going to pander to the hysteria and speak on the topic of the day, which I get no judgment, but they’re not great. They created everything that’s going on.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. And I’ve seen so much of the same thing of like, “Oh, what people should be doing in a recession. And now frankly, it’s what you should be doing all the time.” I mean, you talked about VCs, but employees, “Oh, you should prove your value, that you bring the company and marketers, you should be proof with your budget and spend it only on that are going to provide ROI.” The only change to me with the recession is now that they’re actually might be consequences. And to connect it back to how you approach clients, you should act like there always will be, right? But with the warnings you give, and especially with your directness, I’m curious, do you ever get pushback on your perspective?

Victoria Gamlen:
Some people comment and I’ll get in the ring with them, and I also am very open to other perspectives, that’s really big for me and my LinkedIn ground rules is to always have a balanced conversation. But no, someone DMed me a few weeks ago telling me he was unfollowing me because he thought I was “unnecessarily combative,” whatever the opposite of an Irish exit is. This was that.
And I was like, “Ooh, I like that phrasing.” Combat is such a great word, phonetically. It literally feels like what it is when you say it. And he cited some comments I had left. It was more my comments. He came through the post and Left because of the comments, and he needs some examples. And I was like, “Oh.” In my head I’m like, “Oh, those are what did it for you. Those were…” Yeah, it’s best you unfollow. That’s good self-care. And then I was thinking about, you really have to pick your battles on the internet. I really only say about 5% of what I’m actually thinking on there, but this is a battle I decided to fight. And I go, “If you had recently lost your job because your marketing department didn’t understand what was at stake here, I highly doubt you would think what I had to say was too combative.”
Your job is on the line right now. I think you’d have a much different perspective essentially. But yeah, I mean the bottom line is I’m not on LinkedIn to make friends, which is ironic because I’ve actually made some really good friends on there. I’m there to educate and warn based in what I see out on the field as a writer, and strategist, and business owner, and also my experience as a customer of many of these SaaS companies. Yeah, no, I don’t really feel like the guys from the big short though, that’d be tight. I feel honestly more like a DD at a high school party trying to warn people that the cops are coming, at least in the marketing. And people that are like, “Relax, you just need a more fun brand voice and less boring marketing. They’re having a great time.” And then there’s the group of stoners who are super high and they’re like, “Yo, just chill. You’re being paranoid.” Because they’ve always had mommy and daddy to come pick them up from the police station, to donate money to the school so they don’t get kicked out.
It is funny though, in college I was a TA for Comp Sci, like 101 or 102. I wasn’t too keen on programming, but a professor thought I was under the basics enough to recommend me to be a TA, but I got fired for what I’m doing now. Kids would come into office hours and I was like, “Guys, you got to be kidding me. This is super basic. You should have learned this in class.” And of course, I try to help them, but eventually I was like, “This is above my pay grade. I do not have the bandwidth.” And this obviously got back to the professor, and he called me into his office, and promptly fired me. I remember it so clearly. He told me the position is no longer available for me. So I feel like I’m comfortable.

Jeff Sirkin:
I really love the line that the position is no longer available for you. I want to come back to something we talked about earlier, and honestly, you’re the best writer I’ve come across on LinkedIn. You barely mentioned your photography, but you’ve shared some of your portfolio with me and it’s really, really good. But at the same time, you majored in computer science and started in programming. You’re what if I think of as a true creative, but you have the technical and logical background as well. I mean, I’ve seen the work you do for clients and the range you have is really insane. I’m just really curious, how do you reconcile all of this together?

Victoria Gamlen:
Wow. First off, thank you again for the kind words. So creativity is much more technical than people realize. For example, with photography, I was just in Mexico, and I was in the middle of nowhere. So the sky was super, super dark. So I wanted to do astrophotography. And literally the only creative piece of that was thinking, I want pictures of stars. The rest of it is tripod, shutter speed, time of night down to the phases of the moon because if the moon is in the sky, it can impact how the picture looks. So that’s just one example. My hairstylist has to understand chemistry, the components and proteins of hair. She needs to know exactly how long to leave the bleach on my hair as well as humidity, my type of hair, all at right, to get this look right, to get the creative piece.
And then same with brand voice. Brand voice is highly, highly technical and objective. People think it’s this nebulous objective thing and it’s not average sentence length punctuation all dictates it. There are numbers behind the words. And then like we talked about, the same thing with my LinkedIn post. Part of the reason they read the way they do is they’re structured in a certain way because of my background and my dad being a litigator, and that logic piece. More importantly, many technical jobs require way more creativity than you would think. Finance programming to be good at these requires a human element of connecting the dots and qualitative insight what aka creativity, in my opinion. And I honestly think that’s a way more interesting conversation. Your job, quantitative research is highly creative because of the analysis piece you layer on top of it. That literally no one else is doing because they can’t, right? They don’t have your creative skills.
And I would actually argue that’s what people are paying you for is your creativity, which is super ironic even though you do quant research because anyone can run quantitative surveys. Anyone can go to Forrester and Gartner and overpay for a data dump that they don’t know what to do with. But it’s A, even before that, knowing what to ask to survey companies objectives. So what qualitative questions asked to get the right quantitative data plus the analysis and the storytelling you do. And it’s funny you mentioned stress and what I do before the post you did showing your Excel spreadsheet and what goes into your work literally gave me heart palpitations. By the way, went side note, one is someone interviewing you because your job is really, really interesting.

Jeff Sirkin:
Well, I will just say first of all that the Excel, that’s my happy place, so thank you. And frankly, people are welcome to interview me, but you did a really great job of it right there. So maybe they should just come to you instead as my publicist.

Victoria Gamlen:
I’m happy to. But yeah, anyways, my point is as a creative, there’s no reconciliation because there was no separation to begin with. And there’s so much technicality in what we do that they will never be separate, and same with what you do.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. This really just resonates with me so much. In more technical fields, it’s actually your creativity where the value comes from. And in creative work it’s the logic, operational efficiency that sets you apart. It’s funny, I thought of these as two very different worlds my entire life, and it’s fascinating to see how-

Jeff Sirkin:
Two very different worlds my entire life. And it’s fascinating to see how intertwined they always are. And as someone who has always skewed towards data and logic, I used to think I was the least creative person on Earth. But actually, it struck me a few years ago that I am very creative. It shines through in how I find ways of measuring, testing, and especially analyzing data. And it’s how I can connect seemingly unrelated data sets and reveal these actionable insights and bring the story to life. So despite my extreme logical orientation, it actually is my creativity which is my greatest skill. And I’ve really leaned into that over the last couple of years.

Victoria Gamlen:
What you just said really hammered home. Yeah, that is super interesting that technical people actually are paid for their creativity, and creative people are obviously the creative vision helps. But I see it all the time, you can be an insanely talented artist, photographer, writer, if you can’t execute, if you can’t master the logistics of your process or the process in general, you will not make it.

Jeff Sirkin:
Okay. So there’s really just still so much more to cover. We’re going to have to leave the audience on a cliffhanger and continue the conversation into another episode, but we’re not done here yet. Are you ready for a couple of not so rapid fire questions?

Victoria Gamlen:
Yes.

Jeff Sirkin:
Okay, great. So first, what would you say is the most overrated marketing activity? What is something that marketers maybe do a little too much of?

Victoria Gamlen:
Very excited about this one. I am ready to make some enemies with this question.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s great.

Victoria Gamlen:
So in addition to B2B marketing not being broken, it was built this way, one of my other theses is that there are no bad marketing channels or tactics, just abused ones. I’ve written a couple pieces on this. That being said, I listened to some of your past podcasts episodes and saw you asked this, so I thought about it, while listening to Energy by Drake.

Jeff Sirkin:
Perfect.

Victoria Gamlen:
But I actually came up with two, and I just want to preface this first one by saying I think it’s really special that B2B SaaS just discovered copywriting, I really do. But the whole benefits over features push in B2B SaaS really needs to stop. It’s part of this whole pulling from B2C thing that people think is going to save B2B marketing. For anyone interested, I just wrote a 5,000-word piece on this because of how not just foolish but unfeasible this is, this whole pulling from B2C all the time. Benefits over features works in a D2C razor brand, get a smooth face versus our razors with the sharpest iron out there. For a B2B SaaS, as a SASS buyer, which I am for a B2B business, I do not need to be told the benefits of your product. I know them, that’s why I’m on your website. Now, does that mean use some obscure feature metric like 7,000 gigahertz? No, obviously not. Don’t be dumb, context is still required.
But I do not need to be told that it will save me time so I can go work on the important things in my business as if I’m a five-year-old. All products do the same thing. Save us time, money, or make us hotter or richer or smarter. And what I’m saying is especially true if you’re in a mature product category. But even if you’re a category creator, obviously your product does one of those things. I actually do need to know the features if they integrate with my tech stack and business and how they work as a business owner, or how you guys do something differently, keyword differently, not necessarily better, than the SaaS company down the street that I’m also looking at. And you guys need to understand that the other products I’m looking at, that other SaaS company down the street, it might not be a company you consider a competitor. I might be looking to combine different tools because my business has unique issues that you guys think you’re too good to learn about.
So that’s why it’s especially important to highlight what you guys do and how you do it clearly. And instead, you guys are getting distracted from the fact that you can’t do that. And here’s an example, it’s just very simplistic I realize, but with my first cleaning business, I had a cleaning contractor and we were chatting one day and she mentioned she does pressure washing. That’s all she had to say. Two words, no benefits of pressure washing. When you know your customer’s business, you don’t need to sell them. You just tell them what you do, and they’re a yes or a no or a not yet, not right Now. This whole benefits versus feature thing is so sleazy in B2B SaaS, you cannot finagle your way into a business owner’s life. And this isn’t like, “Ooh.” No, recession or no recession, you can’t do that, I’m sorry. It’s just not going to happen.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that. And I just want to come back to one thing you said specifically. I really love the differentiation of saying literally differentiation versus what you do better. I think that’s super important and we all get caught up by saying we’re the best at something. And so again, I’m really glad you brought that up.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, no, “We’re the best,” is not positioning. I have a lot to say on that, but yeah. So all right, second marketing tactic that I think is overrated, given the hype, is personal branding. Couple of terms to clarify, I am defining marketing as something you do to drive revenue for our business, and I am defining a business as something that makes money. Not necessarily profitable, we’ll keep it at revenue. And personal branding by way of content creation can achieve those things. But to me, a successful business and worthwhile business, so first it can run on its own, eventually. When you rely on content creation for your business, it is hard to remove yourself entirely. Some people have done this successfully, ghostwriters absolutely help, but most haven’t. They haven’t built a true business where they could peace out for months at a time without an enormous amount of preparation and work involved and batching content, whatever. They have built a job, not a business, they built an income stream. But back to my definition of what I consider a successful business, this response is subjective.
Second one, it can scale sustainably. Aspects of personal branding do scale such as digital products, but they rely on content creation, community scale and quantity and MRR, but they are hard to maintain, hard to keep the mojo going in those so they don’t scale over time, or they scale and then stop, again, back to the sustainable piece. And content creation can scale, but that doesn’t mean it scales sustainably over time. Many solopreneur, all these personal brands whose entire business, aka income stream, are constantly having to reach net new people because their material is very basic and people catch on to the basicness quickly. There’s no way to be sustainably posting every day and have it be good. There’s just no way. A lot of these guys are running on fumes and it shows, many of them either rip off other people’s content and curate it, or if you go back and look at many of these people’s content, they’re repurposing the same stuff from months back, which is fine. I get the whole someone didn’t see it or whatever, and I get that it’s fine to post every day.
But that’s exhausting. And followers catch on, they’re not dumb. I have no doubt a lot of people who have built audiences are like, “What have I done? What have I created?”

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, you should have thought about that. And then some are making so much money, they definitely don’t care, I wouldn’t either. But then third, it needs to have an exit. This goes back to my first point about running on its own. There is no exit with personal branding by way of content creation. You are the product and that’s fine. Again, my consulting and writing business has no exit. It is the opposite of scalable as well. I’m aware of that, that’s why I started a cleaning business. There’s that. So given all that, and this is the most important piece about why I think personal branding is the most overrated marketing tactic, humans are fallible and people on the internet are psycho. One of my favorite phrases is any, “Ship can sail and find weather.” And the same goes for brands, personal or a business brand Brands are really insurance policies, you don’t know how strong they are until something goes wrong. A brand is really how many people are still buying your product after you get canceled.
So that is why it’s very, very foolish to me to… It’s why, A, I think it’s overrated, and B, it’s very foolish to me to rely on personal branding to run your business. One wrong tweet, you can lose it all, people have. And same thing with the whole concept of a founder brand. I’m not knocking the person who came up with it, I’m sure they’re lovely, but to have your entire company center around a fallible human is truly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. CEO personal branding is great, whatever, but to build your company’s brand around one individual who you don’t know what happens behind closed doors with people, people are weird. The issue with B2B SaaS marketing isn’t that there aren’t enough founder brands, it’s that the focus isn’t on the customers. And again, pinning corporate jargon as the enemy, it doesn’t get to the crux of the issue, it’s just another tactic. And everyone’s response to that is, “What about Apple? What about Tesla? Are you them, or do you make CRMs? Because I’m pretty sure you make CRMs.”

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah, right. What about Apple? Can’t everyone just be Nike or Uber? That’s really powerful. And you just wrote piece on that as well and had a line I loved about needing to get over the fact that at the end of the day you sell software to software companies.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah. And that will never be cool and that’s totally fine, you guys. To any writer or creative freelancer out there who feels pressure to create a personal brand and post a ton of content all the time, you don’t have to do that. I’m not saying you don’t have to work insanely hard, but if that feels cringe to you, there’s another way. And it’s called being really good at what you do. There’s a lot of writers and creatives who are too focused about their brand and building their audience, and not enough about refining their craft. And it shows, they are not good writers. They’re good social media writers, they’re good at sounding like everyone else, and that’s great if that’s what they want to write, but they cannot truly sling ink. Well, first off, I could never post again and my business would be fine. The clients I work with, I have a nice little referral system in place so I could never post again.
Conversely, I could literally go on LinkedIn and share my actual thoughts on entrepreneurship and what it takes to run a business. I would get simultaneously canceled by the anti-hussle culture brigade and the work-life balance cult, as well as the pro-entrepreneurship crowd because I do think you have to be very dumb to start a business. It’s a smart thing to do, it’s also a very dumb one, and my business would still stand. My restaurant group owner isn’t on LinkedIn, he’d find it hilarious, he’d be proud of me, one of my clients would probably pay me more, and then my other clients wouldn’t care because they’d probably agree with me or they just want results. And again, for anyone who wants to take this conversation out of context, I’m saying it’s overrated given the hype, I’m not saying don’t do it.

Jeff Sirkin:
Well, at least I guess the good news is that you’d be canceled by everybody simultaneously. So you can’t necessarily blame one side or the other, it’s just everybody would. That would be the thing that everybody could agree on.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yes, exactly. And just one more thing, in case I haven’t triggered people enough, if you don’t know what to say, then don’t post. This whole, “Just start posting, just get going.” No, no, no, that’s the problem. Wait until you have something to say, and you find things to say when you’re actually doing work, not posting content. The ideas and the insight will come if you focus on working, not building an audience, I promise you. I have more ideas than I know what to do with simply just from doing my job. And I touched on this before, but if you’re a company that doesn’t know what to say in their content, to your customers or your target audience, that is a very, very big problem.

Jeff Sirkin:
Okay. So now, let’s spin it positive. What would you say is really underrated for marketers, and what should they be doing more of?

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, so I don’t even want to call this underrated because it’s required, but I will say being ruthless in your research, that’s something that is not talked about enough. Too many stupid swipe files and not enough customer research.

Jeff Sirkin:
Well, you won’t get me to stand in the way of saying research is underrated. Okay, so then the next one is, what are some of the most important qualities or skills for a good marketer or a copywriter?

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, so there’s a couple. First, curiosity. I know people have touched on this before so I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but honestly, one of the reasons I became a copywriter was because I love learning about random stuff and random industries. And as a copywriter, you’re doing it correctly, that is what you are paid to do. Research is literally 80 to 90% of what I do because copy is assembled, it is not written. Second, humility. My ignorance and my awareness of my ignorance is what helps me create my best work because I leave no stone unturned, and I don’t make assumptions when I know nothing about something. This is how I broke into B2B SaaS content writing so quickly. I knew nothing about the current landscape, so I devoured any and every podcast episode and YouTube video on this stuff my life depended on it, not just what was popular, because I wanted the best insight. And that’s how I knew I’d win.
Not by Googling or going with the obvious stuff that everyone was talking about, by outresearching and outworking everyone. So that’s what I did, and it worked. So I would encourage anyone wanting to break into B2B sass who kind of feels intimidated, just if you have the best research and are willing to work hard, you can break into it. And then one of the reasons my content for my restaurant group is so good is because I don’t drink. I got sober young. My palate did not develop beyond sugar-free Red Bull vodkas. So I didn’t know anything about alcohol, except that once I started I couldn’t stop. And that once I did start, there would be some less than stellar decision making. And I use that to my advantage. It’s funny, the owner is in recovery as well, and this is why he’s really good too, because he makes sure he hires the best. And why this matters is because the cocktail world is really, really particular, and it’s also really smart. That’s why I like it. Even though I don’t drink, I love people who are obsessed with their craft, and bartenders are.
I work with people who are the best at what they do, and these guys have one of the best wine and beverage programs in the state. I would actually argue the country, based on what they carry and their skill and their knowledge. And I kind of mentioned this before, but there’s a lot of trash-talking when you’re wrong about something, and if you sell out with your ingredients or with a trend. So I spend hours talking to them to make sure I get it right because my strategy isn’t to appeal to customers. Customers have horrible taste, they don’t know what they want.

Jeff Sirkin:
Good.

Victoria Gamlen:
My strategy is to appeal to the hospitality industry because if you’re in with the industry people, you know you’ve made it. If you’re good enough for the chefs and the bartenders, who have insanely high standards, you’re good enough for customers. So it really helps that I don’t love a certain spirit or wine or know anything about them because then I’d be biased. Their beverage director, I wouldn’t say he’s anti- [inaudible 01:26:34], but he’s very against people who are just like, “Oh, that’s all I drink.” Most people don’t know why they drink something, they just don’t question it. And so he is really big in getting people to try new things. But if I was a chardonnay drinker or I liked my gin with martinis, not vodka, I wouldn’t go as hard. But I leave no stone unturned with my research because I just want the best information and content for them.
And then even just their entire marketing strategy in general, which has been really successful for two of their restaurants, I knew a lot about digital marketing, but I’d never done it. But I started with, “Okay, how do people find restaurants? How do people buy?” I didn’t start with tactics. So yeah, I mean, for any content writer, like I said, looking to break into SaaS, use that to your advantage, copywriters as well, marketers too, because it’s people who think they’re experts, who think they know an industry, they get cocky and they get complacent. And that’s where you come in, with your humility and your willingness to go hard with the research and make zero assumptions.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah, and one of the other things I love that you said, underlying all of what you were just talking about, was really recognizing how much of what you think you “know” is really an assumption. But then ultimately, it’s okay as long as you recognize it as an assumption, where you said your awareness of your ignorance. It’s understanding that what you think is an assumption, and then how can you actually test those? And ideally, through research. But put them to the test, don’t just say that you think you already know.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, absolutely. And then just one more, being willing to do what others won’t. We file that one under most underrated. It is quite shocking how far you can get in life simply by being nice to customer service, and being willing to do what others won’t. That’s how I got as far and as fast as I did with writing, and now consulting, I literally just looked at what other people weren’t willing to do, which was listen to hours of podcasts, reach out to SMEs on LinkedIn, even if it wasn’t required with a piece, dig into the details, get my hands dirty with custom research and work really, really hard. A lot of people aren’t willing to work really, really hard. The air’s thinner at the top, but there’s a lot of room if you’re willing to climb.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yeah. One of the things you’re saying that I really love that underlies so much of this is the idea that, by definition, if everybody’s doing something, it cannot be the way to get ahead, because by definition, all that’s going to guarantee you is that you’ll end up somewhere in the middle. But the ability to just outwork everybody and to know that, frankly, if everybody’s seeing it can’t be the thing that’s going to put you ahead, I think that’s so super relevant.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, absolutely. And to be fair, there are times where if people aren’t doing it, there’s probably a reason. Clichés are clichés for a reason. But in marketing, again, these trends, all this stuff, it’s like if everyone’s doing it, run, or question it and still do it. Obviously there’s mainstays of digital marketing that you’re always going to do. Another one is business acumen. Understanding the true cost of doing business, not in an ROI way. We’ve gone from, “Can we track that?” to, “Let’s make people feel something.” And there’s this really important piece about what it means to spend money as a business owner that’s missing. I know people get budget objections, but it’s a value objection. You are not bringing enough value or you have not communicated it well enough to justify your price. It’s not a price thing, again, back at the whole business basics of what is a transaction? So my client doesn’t care that OpenTable is twice as expensive ’cause it’s actually not to him. Something is only expensive if you’re not getting enough value.
And as far as fit, which we can talk about, the restaurants that switched from OpenTable to the platform that we were being pitched, they didn’t run ads on OpenTable because they didn’t have enough money to run ads, right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Mm-hmm.

Victoria Gamlen:
They’re very good restaurants, but they were small. So this platform really, again, I know I said they were competitive, but fuck [inaudible 01:30:20]. Don’t say anything, please don’t press pause, please don’t touch anything. What? Don’t, don’t say anything. Okay. Okay, let me just start over. Okay. And I am speaking to SMBs, that is where my experience is, but everything I’m saying I think does apply to enterprise. So we were getting pitched on an OpenTable competitor. They were cheaper by half per month and we didn’t care. And here’s why. My client spends a lot of money on OpenTable because OpenTable gives them a lot, so price is really not as big of a competitive advantage as people think. And I know people do get budget objections, but it’s really a value objection. You are not bringing enough value or you are not communicating it well enough to justify your price. It is not a price thing. Again, back to the whole business basics of what is the transaction? So my client doesn’t care that OpenTable is expensive because it’s actually not expensive. Something is only expensive if you’re not getting enough value from it.
And then as far as fit, the restaurants that switch, we ask like, “Hey, you know who who’s using it?” Because they, they’re whole, and I’m writing piece on this, number of customers isn’t a value add, it’s actually gaslighting. So they were like, “Oh, we wouldn’t have over 200 restaurants if we weren’t good.” So we’re like, “Great.” We looked up what restaurants were using. The restaurants that had switched from OpenTable to the platform that we were being pitched, they didn’t run ads on OpenTable, they didn’t have money to run ads. They were small, [inaudible 01:31:54] really good restaurants, but they were small. My client does have enough money to run ads. So again, the whole big bad OpenTable with their expensive monthly fees, that hooks smaller restaurants, and this SDR, which, first off, I love salespeople, but, and this is a result of failed marketing, he was making assumptions about my client’s business. He was trying to force a pain point that didn’t exist. And that’s a whole other conversation, but I’ll leave it at that.
And then second, back to the cost of doing business. Let’s assume this platform was free, let’s assume they did run ads exactly like OpenTable, same audience size, there would still be an enormous cost. Training staff to use a new tool is incredibly time-consuming and it’s actually very risky in a customer-facing environment like this. B2B SaaS, it’s a lot of internal tools, where if you mess up, it’s just annoying, and then passive-aggressive Slack message. In this instance, if they did switch, and this is just any, if they ever had to switch to anything, this is what would happen, hostesses would struggle in the beginning, reservations would get lost, customers would get mad leave, one-star reviews. Now local SEO’s impacted and their brand gets tarnished. So that’s what I mean by the cost of doing business.
And smart business owners are willing to pay a lot of money for things they know work. But in order to get them as customers, you need to earn their trust, and you earn their trust by not making assumptions about their business and only going after businesses that you know have pain points that you solve. Yeah, I think SaaS needs to be really way more discerning in that regard.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that. And frankly, just the idea of the total cost of ownership, to your point that the sales rep was coming in and selling the face price as the selling point, which again speaks to trying to see potentially your client as a bit of an easy mark, but you’re a hundred percent right. I mean, there’s just so much that needs to go into it, and there’s real cost associated with the switching. And so to not be even aware and to not take that into account when you’re in their world. And to your point, your client knows his business so well and so these are things on his mind and it shows up as a real miss when the sales rep doesn’t mention any of that.

Victoria Gamlen:
Yeah, absolutely. And if you serve SMBs, especially local businesses, go ask to follow an owner around for a day. I am not joking. Or just ask for a screenshot of their email inbox and just see what their life is like. But yeah, just really understanding what their day-to-day is like on the ground level, I think, will get you light years ahead as a marketer and a copywriter, really getting as close as you can to your customers.

Jeff Sirkin:
Well, Victoria, that was great. But in this particular case, this is only a very temporary goodbye since we’re going to continue the conversation on. So thank you for being here now, and thank you for sharing your story with us. And for everybody listening, just stay tuned because the next one will be available pretty soon.

Victoria Gamlen:
Thank you so much for having me.

Jeff Sirkin:
I really enjoyed my conversation with Victoria. I love her concept of making yourself a local in order to develop effective marketing, and the difference between earning and capturing attention. I keep thinking about her strong takes on the effects of growth at all costs, the lack of stakes for B2B marketers, the state of content on LinkedIn, and so many more since we recorded. If you want to learn more about the resources mentioned in the episode, you can find them in our show notes. In addition, we are publishing full text transcripts of our episodes on our website at sirkinresearch.com/podcasts. Thank you for listening, and I hope you’ll join us for a new episode next week on Long Story Short.