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Data-Driven Decision-Making in B2B Media: A Conversation with Zach Jones

Zach Jones, Chief Revenue Officer at TechnologyAdvice

Join the captivating conversation between Harshit Gupta and Zach Jones, Chief Revenue Officer of TechnologyAdvice. Embark on an illuminating journey into the intricacies of B2B media strategy and conquer international SEO challenges with Zach. Delve into the transformative integration of AI,
unveiling the dynamic dance between paid and organic media marketing through advanced analytics. Navigate the global landscape of B2B content innovations with insights from TechnologyAdvice, unraveling the nuanced path of cultural sensitivity in cross-border marketing. Join this riveting exploration, blending data-driven mastery, audience engagement finesse, and the art of global marketing evolution.

We’re a full-service B2B media company that delivers marketing and data for technology companies to help them find their ideal customers.

Zach Jones
Chief Revenue Officer at TechnologyAdvice

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Wytpod. My name is Harshit, and I’m the Director of Business Alliances at Wytlabs. We are a digital agency specializing in SaaS and E-commerce SEO. I’ve got Zach Jones with me. He’s a Chief Revenue Officer at Technology Advice. Now, a little bit about Technology Advice, it’s a full-service B2B media company that delivers marketing and data for technology companies to help them find their ideal customers.

A big welcome to you Zach, and I’m so happy to host you today.

Yeah, Harshit, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be on and chatting with you.

Now, before we dive into TechnologyAdvice, can you please let the viewers know a little bit about you and your professional journey so far?

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been with TechnologyAdvice coming up on 11 years now. I think I usually say a better part of a decade because I think it sounds cooler to say it that way. So I’ve been with TechnologyAdvice for the better part of the decade, but I got my start straight out of school. I studied marketing and wanted to be in marketing, fell into an internship here at TechnologyAdvice back in 2013. So I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the great growth journey that we’ve been on over the last 10 years. And I’ve gotten to wear a lot of different hats. I’ve been in client success. I’ve been an account manager. I’ve been in sales. I’ve pretty much done everything, including land my running joke is some of those things they continue to let me do, and some of them they do not let me do anymore, which is probably good for everybody. But today I’m responsible for all things, sales, client success, and marketing globally for the organization. Our revenue team is about 90 strong around the world with the majority of the folks here in the US, but also with team members in Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, the UK, as well as Germany and France.

A growing full-service B2B media company and I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of the crazy journey that we’ve been on over the last few years.

The association with the company is so long, over a decade now. What’s the hook? What do you like about the company that kept you glued for so many years?

I think the opportunity to grow and to learn. We have grown the business exponentially over the last 10 years. We went from, I think there were 10 or 15 employees when I started to having close to 400 commercial now. And if you include Writers and call center agents, they’re going to be that close to 600. So every day I come to work, I’m faced with new challenges and new opportunities to continue to advance my career and to be a part of something bigger. There’s so much opportunity in the B2B media space, and it’s changing and it’s dynamic. And the one thing that I’ve enjoyed is just being able to have the opportunity to get experiences that are above and beyond my years of experience if you will. But you can be in a career for 20 years and you can get one year of experience 20 times over, or you can work in a company like TechnologyAdvice and get 20 years of experience in one year in some cases. I’ve been very fortunate to be around really great people and great leaders who have a growth mindset. That’s what’s so great about coming to work every day and why I’ve continued to be on this great journey.

Awesome. Let’s talk about technology advice. Can you at least provide an overview and the unique approach the company takes in helping technology companies find the ideal customers, particularly in the context of B2B marketing?

Yeah, absolutely. You gave a nice overview, but we’re a full-service B2B media company. We’re based in national Tennessee, but as I mentioned, have a global presence. So we own and operate more than 20 digital media properties, including sites like Tech Republic, E-Week, and project-management. Com, just to name a few. Most people know our sites, but not necessarily as much that technology vice owns them. But through those sites, our email newsletters, and phone conversations, we’re able to connect tech marketers with over 100 million B2B buyers to trust us and our brands to help them make informed technology purchasing decisions. And so our offerings include custom content, advertising, lead generation, buyer insight, and intelligence. So we play in that B2B tech marketing space. But there are a few things that set us apart when we think about how we’re connecting buyers and sellers of business technology and working with tech marketers and this great audience. And the first is that we put the audience first. So we take the approach of thinking about it this way. Our core purpose is to create opportunities for four unique stakeholder groups. And those are tech buyers to find the best business technology.

Tech marketers, literally create opportunities for their sales team. But also if we do those two things well, we create more opportunities for our employees, and we create more opportunities to get back to our community. Those are the four stakeholder groups that we’re thinking about. And so when you think about why putting the audience first is so important, it’s because the buying journey has just gotten so complex. You think about the way it’s changed in B2B over the last three years is really how the B2C market changed over the last two decades, where the buyer is taking all the control, they don’t want to talk to sales individuals, they’re researching in several different ways. And there are thousands of solutions out there. If you go and you’re a small business and you’re looking for a payroll solution, there’s no less than, I don’t know, 100, 150 for you to choose from. And the risk of making the wrong decision at that stage of your business is pretty intense, right? You could go out of business. And so we want to make sure that whatever we’re writing about, whatever we are doing to educate the marketplace is truly the most helpful answer to that reader when they come to our sites looking for help to implement the best technology for their business.

One of the ways that we do that is by owning so many different properties, but also by making sure that they have a chance to do the research in the ways that are most meaningful to them. So some people like to research review sites. Some people like to read white papers. Some people like to watch YouTube videos. We make sure that we’re putting the most helpful cost to these buyers across these different first-party channels to make sure that they are getting the most helpful, the most meaningful content to them. That’s really how we differentiate ourselves among the publishers being able to service that complex buying journey, but also reach different members of the buying committee.

Got you. And how exactly do you leverage newsletters and phone conversations to engage and connect with technology buyers? And what strategies have you been particularly successful for you in this engagement?

Yeah, absolutely. So every channel is unique, right? And they have their strengths and their weaknesses and they have different pros and cons. So when you think about it, newsletters are great vehicles for awareness, but also for driving content downloads and placing a brand in front of a highly engaged, often niche audience. So you think about the newsletters that we offer here at TechnologyAdvice, we have around 25 or so newsletters, ranging from a general text story of the day to something more niche like Microsoft and Apple user groups. And so within these newsletters, we often see 30 to 40 % open rates, and you can see hundreds of clicks or downloads from these engagements. So newsletters are great for reaching niche audiences, particularly because what you find is that the people who are subscribing to an Apple user group who are opening your email 40 % of the time every single day are highly engaged. And while the volume may not be high, that’s a very meaningful interaction that you’re having. So you’re able to associate your brand, take like a JMP, for example, who does serve specifically Apple devices to a specific audience.

And so it’s great for getting high impact, great exposure, and high-quality leads who are being introduced to a brand, although they might be at a little more top of the funnel. So it’s a really strong niche audience. And when you think about phone conversations, they’re a great tool for gathering additional information from users. We might call our newsletter audience once somebody has downloaded one to understand a little bit more about their project, about what they’re working on outside of just conduct information. And so it’s hard to truly understand what’s happening in the business over a form, Phil. But if I can get that person on the phone and understand who are they currently using, what are the challenges they’re facing in their business? What is the timeline for the project? Who else is involved in the project? Those are the types of interactions and account intelligence that really should allow the tech marketers that we work with to be able to have more meaningful and personalized buyer experiences as they move down the funnel through their buying journey. So it’s just about understanding where somebody is at in the buyer journey and deciding which of those vehicles or channels to use and which content hits them at the right time at the right place.

Zach, what’s happening right now specifically I’m talking about the newsletter front and you have awesome open weight for those. I’ve seen it recently because Google has updated Gmail quite recently. Microsoft has done it quite some time back. Yahoo is planning to do it sometime in January, or February. A lot of emails are made specifically for bulk email, and email centers. It’s getting a lot trickier to reach people’s inbox. Are you seeing such scenarios within the company or is it alarming or of concern for you? Or how exactly are you dealing with it?

We’re not blind to the fact that it’s getting more to inbox. I think the key that we lean on is just building a really strong relationship with our readers and making sure that the content that we’re providing them is valuable. So when you think about a newsletter, the other reason that it’s so valuable is you’ve got somebody who’s found an article on a website and they’ve willingly subscribed and they want this in their inbox every single day. And the reason that we have such high open rates and have engaged is because one, we’re providing relevant, meaningful content that’s useful to this group every single day. We get some people who, if we forget to hit send, will email us and say, Why didn’t I get my story today? It’s a really strong group of people. And that tends to be defensible against all of these, you don’t need to mass email necessarily because they want the content to be in their inbox. The other thing that we do is scrub our list frequently. If someone hasn’t opened in a long time or hasn’t engaged with our content, we ask them if they want to be subscribed.

If they don’t respond, we remove them. And that does a few things. One, that helps keep our inbox rates high, but also make sure that when we are talking to tech marketers and talking about this audience, it truly is highly engaged and that we’re not just filling it to have millions of subscribers that are meaningless. We truly want to have a highly engaged, relevant audience who’s engaging with our newsletters. And while it’s going to continue to get more difficult to inbox, especially cold emails, we feel like owning the audience and owning that relationship is building a nice moat around our business. And we think in three years from now, you have to own the audience.

Yeah, we’re talking to one of the big, giant SaaS businesses as a complete module around cold outreach and things are a bit difficult to time for them. Let’s talk about it, can you share some insights into the basically the methods or criteria used by your company in connecting the technology buyer with the most suitable technology company?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny because oftentimes when we start engaging with customers, they dictate this for us. They say, I only want to reach CIOs and education systems in the Southeast of the United States. And it’s funny how as the campaign progresses, we’re often able to show them the areas or the buyers who are interested and they haven’t traditionally wanted to because of who’s researching and who’s interacting with these newsletters. And so when you think about the buyer and the traditional ICP, they’ve changed as we talked about earlier, even just in the last two years. The ICP is more broad. It’s not just IT folks who are involved in the purchasing decision, it’s finance, it’s HR, it’s sales, it’s marketing who are helping to make up these buying committees. And it takes more touches. And it’s also people researching in several different ways. And so when we think about how we truly connect the buyer and the seller, we want to let the content they’re reading and their interest really drive the interaction and then help provide the next most relevant content for them to read. For example, if someone comes to our site and they’re looking at what is project management software, right?

That’s probably somebody who has no idea what it is or what it’s used for. But then we want to be able to, the next time they come to our site, serve them with an article that says you might also be interested in how to implement project management in your small business. And so that’s really how we think about it. It goes back to putting the audience first. We want to make sure that we have the most helpful answer to whatever they’re googling when they start their search on Google because we all know, I think maybe Gartner or Forrester said 93 % of all searches or business or software searches start in Google now, which is a pretty interesting fact. So we want to have the most helpful answer. And then we just want to make sure that whatever they’re reading, we’re using that to help provide the next most relevant content so that when they’re ready to speak with a vendor, we provide them a channel to do that. So let me give you an example. You might go to our website and you might read an article, What is project management or how to implement Project Management to small business.

And then over here on the widget, we have the top five examples of the best small business project management solutions. And if they’re ready to talk to a sales team, they’re now going to click on one of those links and fill out a free trial. And that’s truly what creates highly engaged conversations between our audience and the vendors who want to connect with them. We’re not necessarily forcing that. We’re making sure that we’re keeping it meaningful and relevant and providing the next most helpful content along their journey.

And what role does demand generation play within your overall marketing strategy and what innovation, innovative tactics have proven more successful in that sense in this domain for you?

Yeah, absolutely. So for us, I think I may have mentioned this to you earlier, it’s interesting because we’re a marketing company, but marketing as an organization or as a function within our business is still relatively new. We were very fortunate that during COVID, our business grew tremendously as events, and budgets became digital budgets, and we didn’t have to think too much about marketing going out and acquiring customers.

During COVID time, the whole space, like the digital marketing space, has seen such a good boom. And now it is like flattening out in many businesses, we’re declining, to be honest here.

Yeah. Look, it is one of those things where we’ve recently established a marketing function. We’ve always had a marketer, like someone in our business who’s been responsible for building lists and doing some marketing and coming materials. But now we see a huge need to go out and have our brand be known. So one of the things that I’ll tell you for us individually, but also what we’re seeing from our customers is the re-assurance of the brand. It used to be during COVID, I don’t want to do any branding because it’s not driving any bottom line. I can’t associate it with revenue. And what we’re finding is that one, we want to put ourselves out there. We’re probably one of the largest publishers that people haven’t heard of. They’ve heard of Tech Republic, they’ve heard of E-week, and they may have heard of TechnologAdvice.com. But knowing to put all the pieces together is something we want to do. But we’ve also found that our customers who have the most success with their demand gen programs are also including brands. And when I say brand, I’m thinking of things like traditional display advertising, newsletters, sponsorships, and article sponsorships. Being a sponsor of the top lead generation strategy of 2023 and having a TA sponsor is a branding strategy.

It can drive some lead gen as well. But the interesting thing is when we think about the brand and how it drives down the funnel, we’ve had a couple of customers come back and say, the amount of people who remember my brand when I follow up on a content syndication link, for example, is 40 % higher when I ran display or branding activities with you versus when I did it. And so it’s about incorporating this entire buyer journey. So someone’s on our site, they see your brand. Then I understand which companies are actively researching because I’m using intent data of readers and content, understanding again what they’re reading, I can follow up with them and say, Hey, we noticed that you’re actively researching project management. We’ll stick with that example. Here’s some other content that we think might be relevant to you. And by the way, my customer’s brand is in there. I think that’s something that we’re seeing the dynamic shift back from. It used to be, How many leads can I get? What’s my CPL? How can I drive to revenue? And now it’s really about orchestrating that entire buyer journey and about the buyer experience and putting the audience first.

We help you drive those conversions down the funnel because you’re having better brand recall and more meaningful, personalized conversations with the people who are the result of your demands and activities.

That’s interesting. I would love to check with you because you’re specifically working with technology companies and I’m sure if I niche down, there must be a lot of competitors also. They must be reaching out to you for sure. You must be having some of the listicals and all of those things. How do you deal with those things, those situations? And how do you take care of the prioritization in those scenarios?

Yeah, we lean a lot on editorial. We lean a lot on our editorial staff. We have conversations with these vendors. We want to understand what they feel like their strengths and weaknesses are. We want to do a lot of research and understand how customers are using it. I know our editorial team spends a lot of time researching, speaking with, and validating a lot of the claims that are happening. And then we do our best. We do our best to position everyone in a way that provides the most helpful answer to the reader. And oftentimes we can tell whether we’ve got it right or wrong based on, are we getting traffic? How much time people are spending on the page? And how much are they clicking it? We’re constantly looking for examples of do we have top Salesforce alternatives. And then Salesforce has got an ad on the page? That doesn’t make any sense. And so we’re consistently on the lookout for mixed messages because again, putting the audience first, I don’t care if necessarily Salesforce is willing to pay me all the money in the world to be listed on the alternative Salesforce. If it’s not the best answer for our reader, eventually that’s going to come back and hurt us because we’re not going to build that loyalty and that return visit.

We want them to continue to come back to the sites with our readers. There are places on the page where you can pay to be listed as sponsored ads, but we try to call those out. We want people to understand who’s being sponsored, and we’re choosy with who we work with. Not everybody has good software. Not everybody’s sales teams are equal. And we want to make sure that when readers are looking at TechnologyAdvice, they’re truly viewing us as a trusted authority to help make those decisions. So a lot of work, a lot of editorial, and sometimes some tough conversations with vendors.

Again, as we are tricky ones. SEOs & sponsor tag, I’ll be honest with you because it raises flags. Anything that is sponsored triggers Google that you paid for it, paid for that content, and they don’t get that value of the link pointing back to the site and specifically link building experts are scared. They try to make that link from an external domain to their site much more natural. They want to do follow-up, all of those things. Do you get such requests? And if so, how do you entertain those things?

Yeah. We get all those requests all the time. I think what you’re asking me is how vendors feel about it. How does Google feel about it? And how do we navigate? We A/B test a lot. The fortunate thing about owning 20 sites and having millions of pages, we get a lot of opportunities to test. I think what we found is that we’re also, from a sales standpoint, we’re targeting vendors who we already feel are the best answer. And so it’s a combination of both. If you go look at some of our sites, what you’ll see is there might be a listical where Company X is the number one answer in the listical, but they’re also the sponsor. And that makes sense. And so aligning editorial with our sales efforts helps to mitigate that because then there are no uncomfortable conversations of, if somebody’s in the top one, two, three, four, or five, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t recommend them as a sponsored article. So it’s about balancing that out of understanding and being transparent with our readers, this is a sponsored article, but our sponsorship is aligned with our editorial, which goes a long way from a Google standpoint, but also from a click-through standpoint.

We’ve seen some great results on that recently. And so I think we’ve decided that being transparent with the readers and just being more targeted in our sales approaches on who we will allow to sponsor has shown the greatest results from a click-through rate from a time-on-page and authority standpoint.

Now, one more question about the same thing. There’s a lot of research done around it. Say, for example, if you search anything on Google and there are different Google show top results, some of the ads and then there are organic results. However, the click-through rate of the ad compared to the organic is in many scenarios lower. People tend to click more on the organic results because of the trust or whatever. How exactly does it happen within a site? Say you have a popular media site and you have a good list ticker, on top you’re showing your sponsor and then the water does not have some organic results. How exactly does that?

Yeah, the organic results outperform sponsored ads. But one of the things that we’ve found recently is by aligning that sponsored ad with the organic search, we end up boosting the number of clicks that the vendor who is sponsored, it’s by one to two %. So it increases by having the sponsored ad, It drives more conversion, not by clicking on the sponsored, but actually by reinforcing the authority that person has by being number one. So you’re more likely to click something in the organic because we have a sponsored ad of the same person in there.

Got you. I would love to know, but now let’s skip the technical bit. Let’s talk marketing. I’d love to know how exactly your company managed to build a global reach and engage audience worldwide. And what challenges have been encountered in this process?

Yeah, this is a really fun story. In February 2020, we were around 50 people, and we had the opportunity to acquire Queen Street’s B2B portfolio. So it were about 20 sites at the time, including IT BusinessEdge, E-Security Planet, for example, E-Week. It changed us from being a lead-gen provider, doing a lot of email and telemarketing into a publisher. And we wanted to do that because we knew that owning the audiences was going to be important in the future, and we wanted to have these relationships. And so that acquisition went well. Covid happened. The business grew both organically and also because of COVID and the acquisition. So we doubled the business overnight. In fact, on the same day, we brought another site, project management.com. February 14th, 2020, I’ll never forget because we had rolled out all these hacks for our company, like what we were going to accomplish in the next three to five years. And at the time, a lot of the executive team knew we were about to acquire this business and we were going to hit all of our three to five-year goals overnight, essentially.

And so it propels us forward on this audience acquisition. And so fast forward to today, we’ve done eight acquisitions in three years, including several different sites, including Tech Republic, which we bought from Red Ventures, who had previously bought it from CBSI. And so that pushed us into the Tech Republic acquisition, pushed us into the EMEA market as well as the APAC market. And it was quite the learning curve, right? Just from not only an audience acquisition but also managing and growing a business in those different regions. The markets are completely different. The way marketers think about reaching their audiences is completely different. The expectations are different. I think one of the mindsets that we’ve had is we consistently just want to move forward. It’s about learning, growing, failing quickly, and trying different strategies until something sticks. One example I would give you of that is in the APAC region, a lot of the things that we tried to do was centralize out of the US a lot of our operations, a lot of our email teams, a lot of our deliveries. And it turns out the delay in time just wasn’t as possible as we were expecting.

And so we’ve now been moving more of our resources into that region. They understand the market better, they can be a little more responsive. Just little things like that adjusting on the fly has been a learning curve. But those acquisitions in general have propelled us into having a global reach and having those audiences. So we went from being a Lead-Gen provider to now having 100 million page views every year globally pretty evenly split between North America, EMEA, as well as the APAC region. And so now what we’re doing is figuring out how we localize the content across these different regions. English only gets you so far, so how do we increase our editorial presence in Korea Germany, and France? And so the next hurdle for us in our growth journey is understanding those local markets and creating localized content.

That’s brilliant. I was speaking to the SEO head of GetResponse quite some time back, and he has a complete remote SEO Team. Whenever we try to enter a new market, say, for example, they want to do Japan. What he does, and he has because he was the SEO head, he has local talent in that new market in Japan. His SEO strategist will be from Japan, his content writers will be from Japan, all on a contract basis. That is how they see a new market in that sense and then penetrate in that way. It’s working well for them. Just one idea, hire local talents and that helps. There are ways to do that. You can hire a local maybe like a hiring agency and take care of it. A lot of places can do that Because your business is such that your content needs to be engaging. Just translation won’t do the trick at all for you the fact the content needs to engage as a need. Do you need to use local slags or not? One of those things is cumulative and that is something that only that specific country people can do, unfortunately.

Yeah, we’re not in that AI world. This translation app can simply do the trick, unfortunately.

As a Chief Revenue Officer, what strategies or insights do you believe are crucial for technology companies to effectively navigate and succeed in the current advertising service landscape?

Oh, man, that’s a loaded question. I think there’s a ton of different ways that you could go about that.

Yeah, but let’s handpick a few of the main strategies that you feel are really what’s in the field.

I generally believe that the companies who are the most successful right now in the advertising landscape understand the channel they’re in, the channel they’re marketing in, and how to best follow up with that lead independent of any other channel they’re working. And so what I mean by that is there’s a ton of different providers and demand generation providers and avenues and channels that you can use to generate leads and demand. But you’ve got your technology, Outreach, Sales Loft, Gong, Chorex, and everything you’re using to put all the pieces together. But then you’ve also got publishers like TechnologyAdvice or Gartner or review sites like G2 Cloud, or you’ve got the Zoom inputs where you’re getting data and intent data and success. There’s no number of ways, but it’s understanding how each of those individual things plays into your overall go-to-market and making sure that you’re not treating them all the same. And so what do I mean by that? When you think about working with a company like SoftwareAdvice TechnologyAdvice or G2 Cloud from a review standpoint, those are going to be highly qualified, very bottom-of-the-funnel leads, send them directly to your sales folks.

You should get a 40-50 % conversion. But then if you go run content syndication, you should not expect those same results. And so it’s about understanding where in the funnel this person is. How do I create the best possible buyer journey from them by understanding how to provide them with the next most relevant touch, as opposed to trying to call all of them and shove your brand down the throat? It’s really about how I put my brand as a marketer in front of my potential buyers in the places that they’re doing their research on already and in the most helpful ways. Then I follow up with them making sure that I’m being personalized and meaningful. The bar has now been raised for how outreach is supposed to happen. It can’t be a generic message. It can’t be a send. So you’ve got to be thoughtful about where you’re marketing and then what is the next most logical touch point for that person, depending on how they’ve come in through. I think that’s probably the companies I see do the best are good at that and understand how to create these really strong customer experiences.

Zoom info is a great one if you haven’t studied any of their go-to-market strategies.

That makes sense. Makes perfect sense. Alright, Zach, so we’re coming to an end and I would love to have a quick rapid-fire with you. Are you ready for that?

All right, I’m ready. Let’s do it.

What one word do you want people to associate you with?

I would say driven.

Oh, nice. What’s your last Google search?

My last Google search? Probably some history on you, Harshit to be honest. Yeah. Okay.

I feel privileged.

What is not a big deal to most people, but is torture to you?

We have this restaurant here that the exec team always caters to called Tazikis. I’m in the minority. Everyone loves it. I hate it. Not a big deal that everyone else can’t stand it.

What’s something you could eat for a week straight?

Not Tazikis. What could I eat for a week straight? Anything made out of potatoes, I’m good with. There’s a lot you could do with it. We’ll go potatoes, French fries, mashed potatoes, hash browns even.

I’m a big fan of potatoes. Now, to reach my very last question. Any funny nicknames, your work colleague, your family, or your friends used to call you?

With my name being Zach, I get Zach attacks a lot. I don’t know if you watched Save by the Bell, but our CEO, Rob, calls me Zach Attack a lot. Other than that, I’ll pretty much respond to anything as long as it’s nice.

All right, Zach, thank you so much for sharing all the information about the company, about you, and all the strategies that you’ve sent. I share the session. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on. I appreciate the time and look forward to catching up again soon.

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