How can we get customers to share their stories with us? For this conversation, Chris spoke to Christine Bottagaro, Chief Marketing Officer at Alviere

We delve into the strategies behind unlocking the invaluable narratives of happy customers and how to transform them into compelling case studies and brand advocacy. And here’s a hit, it’s all about working with your customers instead of asking them for favors! There’s an art to enticing customers to share their stories authentically and the significance of weaving these stories into the fabric of your organization.

Christine also explains how content weaves its way through your entire organization — meaning no department, not even accounting, can risk deviating from your messaging. Because ultimately, content reverberates as much internally as it does externally, and consistency fosters a sense of unity and identity. Christine explores the power of internal communication in driving brand perception and understanding across your organization, which means every content touchpoint is another opportunity to connect with both your internal and external audiences. 

In her Provocative Statement of the Day, Christine suggests that marketing needs to carry a revenue number, just like sales do. Because a shift towards measurable accountability emphasizes marketing’s contribution and is essential for a holistic understanding of its impact. Join us as we explore these key insights, unlocking the secrets to successful customer advocacy, internal communication, and the evolving role of marketing in today’s dynamic landscape.

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Hello Christine, welcome to WordBirds!

Thank you, Chris. Good to see you.

Good to see you. I’m really excited about this whole season because these are people that I know. I’ve known you for going on five or six years now, since your Kapost days. But since then so much has changed in your world. 

Yes, it’s true!

Lots of different roles. You’ve done a lot of different things. And we’re gonna come to that as we get into this, but let’s just start the way that we always start. Let’s jump right into the quick fire. What is the best and most successful content campaign you’ve ever run?

So I want to separate those two because the best and most successful aren’t always correlated. My best is probably the one I’m most proud of and that’s where we put together a book of a bunch of opinion leaders. We had analysts, we had folks who were weighing in on capital markets — that was the whole focus of it. We put together statistics and it was a book. It was a nice guide. So I loved being able to take an agnostic view of the market, get everybody to weigh in. And of course, we sponsored it, so there’s the implied endorsement. I think it was my best, super fun, really interesting. 

Though when I say most successful, it’s the most promoted. And that’s something that marketers don’t talk about. That for me was probably a third-party analyst guide, maybe an MQ or a Forrester wave where we were mentioned. We promoted it and we paid for it and we syndicated it and we put it everywhere that it needed to be. So it performed very well, but it was also because we put a lot of dollars and effort behind that. Not that we didn’t for the other, but I think you really have to separate those two because I think people do conflate the best and most successful and oftentimes they can be different.

So you have to find a pathway that serves that person, that organization, and then all day long, they will evangelize for you. But I think that's the piece that people miss. Click To Tweet

Interesting, I like the angle. What would you say is the, well now that I know that there’s two categories, worst or least successful?

Yes, so I would say the worst we did was in the early days when ABM was the hot topic and not everybody was doing it. We did a blueprint. So we did the full architectural diagrams. We were pitching open-source support. So we put together a diagram of how you would deploy this and we did big drawings. We rolled them up in a FedEx tube and we shipped them out. We followed up with emails. Then there was also a guide and all these things that we did. 

It didn’t really work. We were aiming really high in the organization. I think we came in too cold. People didn’t know who we were. Why are you sending me this thing? So I would say that was probably the lowest performing, even though a lot of the ideas we were then able to translate once we were in cycle and say, this is how a program would look. These are the steps. So I think it was a little bit of a misalignment. 

But what that did teach me is with ABM, you do all the right things and sometimes it just doesn’t resonate and it could be the targets that you picked. It could be a lot of different things. So that was a little surprising because we were like, this is the coolest thing ever. And it just didn’t deliver what we thought it would or should.

So of the two, well three, what was the one that provided the most learning?

I got to tell you conventional wisdom will say you learn your most from the mistakes. I think that’s true. But I think the best is where I learned the most. Because what I realized there’s taking an agnostic viewpoint, not always brand first, not always coming with your own value props and voice — the market is receptive to that. 

I really hate the term customer marketing because it's very self-serving. I don't want to be marketed. I want to understand that I have a relationship with a vendor that maybe become a trusted partner. Click To Tweet

So particularly when you’re talking at a higher level in the organization, can you educate? Can you bring a perspective that maybe they hadn’t thought about instead of just always selling and marketing? I’ve carried that forward, maybe take a position, offer something that’s new, give data that’s interesting. Like surveys are really cool. Can I offer some insights that we alone know to share with our prospects? So I would say it was probably the best one. And then I’ve used that model in other gigs.

So with the book, how did you use the book? Once it’s written and you’re the sponsor of the book and it’s not an overt sales approach, how did your company benefit from it?

So we shipped it out to a lot of folks. There was a bit of a thud factor in that back in the day, there was some direct. So we sent it to people that were probably already in cycle. We needed them to activate. It was also a really nice leave behind for our sales team. That’s like, look, when you have a minute on the train, on the subway, wherever you’re going, take a look at this book. And each one was short form. So very short articles, flip, flip, flip, lots of stats and directional information.

So it was very consumable. Then we were able to break up each of those with a web page and follow on landing page and be able to say, hey, did you see the chart on page 83? Because that really speaks to the things that we were talking about your needs. So it was highly targeted. And I think we also were able to get influencers involved because they then promoted. Chris wrote an article. Hey, you’re going to send it to your friends and your family, right? So we were able to get a network effect out of that one piece of material.

On a blue background there's a quote from Christine Bottagaro in white that takes up the majority of the image. The bottom of the image has a headshot image of Christine and the WordBirds Podcast logo.

And so was your sales team able to distance themselves from it and use it themselves like out in the field? Because I think that’s where this gets really interesting, is that, yes, we had something to do with this, but the data’s not ours, the information’s not ours. Go ahead and read for validation. That starts to impact not only deal conversion, but deal size because all of a sudden what you’re doing becomes much more important.

Right! And you remove the self from it. So it’s like, Hey, it’s not me telling you this stuff. Here are all these other people. And it’s very high level, like looking at what international exchange rates are going to be in the future and what the challenges are and how technology fits in. So they were able to take a step back and say, look, this isn’t me proselytizing. It’s some information from the market that we’ve gathered together to make you smarter. So you don’t have to read the 99 papers every day. We’ve done the work for you. It was really illustrative of where people were thinking. And then we could just launch into any conversation based on that.

Now, I mean, you’ve been a CMO to a number of companies. Have you been able to replicate that approach anywhere else after that first time?

We actually did that once more when I was at Kapost and it was a guide to content marketing. So how do you do it right? And had Ann Handley and a bunch of folks who are the opinion leaders in that space and did that again. Then mailed it out and were able to leverage that because content people are hungry for content.

I think I might have a copy of that book!

I feel like you do! So it really was a model that, even if it’s soft form, it still plays out. Like, can you gather people to illustrate your cause without you having to do all the work? You’re not telling them what to say, but all along it’s a theme of here’s how to do it right. That’s instructional and feels helpful.

If you go a week without talking to a customer, you're not doing things right, you're not managing your time. Click To Tweet

So I go back to, I’m a huge challenger, salesperson, are you adding value in every interaction? And that’s what salespeople and marketers don’t think about that enough. How can I educate our buyers and prospects in a way to make them feel more confident, not only dealing with us, but making the right decisions?

What was your least favorite part of doing that book? Because I know what mine was. We did one at Perfecto. We did a book like that. And I know exactly what my least favorite part of it was.

I think the hardest part is getting people enrolled and guiding on an area that they could cover. But we solved for that by saying, hey, you may have already published this article, but not everyone has seen it. So we’re like, look, you don’t have to write anything new. It could be something you’re thinking about. So I think it was finding the people and getting them engaged. It just took a long time.

When I say what my least favorite thing is, you’re gonna agree with me, because you’re gonna be like, oh, yes, that. The editorial process of having to copy/edit 15, 20, 30 people’s bad writing, like that’s the thing that hung us up. We had 26 writers in the book that we did at Perfecto, and it was 26 variations of terrible writing, and it ended up, this little project that was supposed to put all this work out to other people ended up costing me $30,000 in copy editing. It was ridiculous.

That’s painful! Well, don’t you have Acrolinx in that?

That’s literally right before I met Acrolinx. And when I met Acrolinx, that’s what attracted me. I was like, oh my God, push all the editing back to the first draft. I totally get what you do. I know why I’d use you. I’ve always held to that. We still as an organization, as a marketing team, get that efficiency here. There’s all kinds of things that we’ve added to the product over the years, but the thing that we use the most is just the process of streamlining editorial, getting as much pushback to the first draft as possible so that I’m reading for context. Now that we’re in a world where you can actually start to boil down the context and provide that back through AI, and you’re like, is this what you meant to say? We’re starting to take that away as well. It’s amazing. Anyway, gentle plug for what I do. 

Are we using contractions? Do we use more formal terms? How do we talk about our team internally? All of that matters so that you're consistent to the market. Click To Tweet

So, one of the things that has always fascinated me about you is your ability to change shapes. You’ve been in product marketing, demand gen, customer advocacy. You’ve been CMO, you’ve been CRO, you’ve been in operational roles, you’ve done a lot of things. How has content woven through all of those different spaces?

It’s always at the core of it. That’s something that I look at first is, what is the story that we’re telling to the market? And then how is that throughout all of our materials, whether it’s website or case studies, are we consistent? Is there a narrative that can hold true in everything that we do? So I’m all about consistency, which extends all the way through to the folks in accounting. You should be able to know what the company does and that should echo what our sales reps are saying and what marketing is saying. So content is absolutely the key to that. Even when I was talking about some of the more agnostic, even provocative materials, there’s still a narrative that holds, which is that we believe these things to be true and this is the problem that we’re solving for. All of that has to be in everything that we say and do. 

I think the one thing that I’m probably a little different from some other marketing people is that I care deeply about internal comms. So for example an internal newsletter, in fact, I just proofed it and shipped it today because other people put it together. Are we telling the story that our employees can go out and talk to somebody at a barbecue and say, here’s what I do? And are they consistent and are they accurate and true? With their own spin, of course. Accounting people are gonna look at it differently from our QA team, et cetera. But the main storyline is the same. So everyone has to be in concert, right? They’re on LinkedIn. How do they describe the company? How do they describe their job? All of that is messaging. And I think as CMOs, we have to care about every touchpoint in our organization, which includes our own team.

I feel like every episode I’ve recorded this season, in season four with my friend group, I’ve learned something. And today in my email, I got our company newsletter that my content team creates. I looked at it today and it’s got a whole new look and feel. It’s really well written, the team is fantastic. But I think that the take away here’s that that kind of internal communication, brand alignment, messaging in that is as important as anywhere that we place it. It’s not a throwaway piece of content. 

I think the one thing that I'm probably a little different from some other marketing people is that I care deeply about internal comms. Click To Tweet

And as you listen to this content team, I’m not saying that your content is throwaway. That’s not what I’m saying. But it’s critical, right? That we use the same governance process around the creation of that content as anything because you’re right, we’re sending people home with an idea of what they do, what we do. And the centralization, the singularization of the brand that the company holds is communicated through that method. I think a lot of time people just think, yes, I just need to get this out. I just need to throw some points up so that people get some concepts and push it out there. You’re saying it’s much more than that.

Yes and it’s also an opportunity. So I think it’s both a responsibility and an opportunity. Again, you miss a line there and there’s this schism between internal and external comms and I don’t see that. I see even the, hey, we’re gonna have our, holiday party or whatever it is. Like that should be in the same style guide. Are we using contractions? Do we use more formal terms? How do we talk about our team internally? All of that matters so that you’re consistent to the market.

Yes, have I got software for you? I know a thing that can do that! Looking at another area where you’ve spent some time is customer programs, specifically. That’s an area that you’ve focused on. How do you build that out? How do you make sure that you’re providing value to your customers instead of just value for your organization when you set up a program like that?

Alright, well, we’re gonna have to have another week’s worth of talk about it. I’m super passionate about this because I think it’s so critical and this is what got me excited about tech and every day I would talk to customers. And I tell you what, you go a week without talking to a customer, you’re not doing things right, you’re not managing your time. So I’ll just throw that out there. 

But the reality is you do, you nailed it Chris, and not many people get that, you have to show value to your customers and you can do that. And that’s why I absolutely dislike, and this may be my provocative statement, but I really hate the term customer marketing because it’s very self-serving. I don’t want to be marketed. I want to understand that I have a relationship with a vendor that maybe become a trusted partner. And by that, I mean, you’re going to use my voice and my examples in a way that benefits me. 

Content is always at the core of it. That's something that I look at first is, what is the story that we're telling to the market? And then how is that throughout all of our materials, whether it's website or case studies, are we consistent? Is there a… Click To Tweet

So I would say, Hey, Chris, your story is amazing. What you’re doing with our technology, Alviere, is really fabulous. I would love to shine a light on that. Let’s work through a case study, and then maybe we can get you on the stage at the next Money 20/20 event, because other people wanna understand. And so you’re allowing them a pathway to share their innovation, why they’re cool. People pick vendors to make themselves better, to help them in some way. So shine a light on that. Instead of like, I want you to say these things about how great our product is. Like, I wanna understand what the implementation was like. How many people, why is it good? How are you measuring good? 

Back in the day, I don’t know if you know Cargill, but it’s a very large privately held organization. They published our case study in their internal newsletter because it was a way for their dev team to shine a light on what they were doing and why it mattered to the organization. And we did that work for them. So that’s one example. Can we get a headline in an article because we’re talking about the benefit, not only that company, but their end users, their customers. 

So you have to find a pathway that serves that person, that organization, and then all day long, they will evangelize for you. But I think that’s the piece that people miss. They’re like, oh, let me ask you a favor. So Chris, I know we invited you to present to the content summit. And I was like, Chris, people need to hear what you have to say. You had a packed room, because I was there. And that was an opportunity for you to evangelize your own solution, but your perspective. Yeah, I’m gonna get you to say yes, because it’s a great chance for you. You’re not doing me a favor at that point. So that’s, I think, the shift that people really need to understand if you want a vibrant program.

You mean just asking somebody to do a quote for a newspaper article isn’t interesting to them? That’s not a benefit to them?

Ain’t nobody got time for that, right? That doesn’t serve me. So how are you going to help me be better? That’s what you have to think about. So shift that paradigm and our sellers have to do the same thing. How am I going to make you better, Chris, by working with me?

Yes, that’s very interesting. Are you speaking at Money20/20 this year?

I would love to. I actually pitched a bunch of abstracts. I’m waiting to hear. Some of those were customer facing where we share the stage and we talk about what they’ve done. What’s a really cool story about the US military, how they’re helping people during bootcamp, get financial access. So it’s a really cool story, but you find those threads and then you do the marketing work for them, which is I’m gonna pitch you at this event. Maybe you don’t have time to do that. We’ll do that for you. Then if you get a yes, they look like heroes.

Well, if you do make it to the show, another guest this season, Vanita Pandey, is the CMO at CAF. It’s a Brazilian identity management company. I know that she’s speaking there. You should definitely look her up. I’m having dinner with her next week. You two would like each other. 

Last section, and generally my favorite section, I hope it causes a fight, is the PSOTD. That’s a Provocative Statement of the Day. It’s a position that you hold that you’re not sure everybody else holds. Maybe it’s a little edgy. I don’t know, you’ve already thrown one out, which is customer marketing is self-serving, but what do you got?

Okay, I don’t think this is that provocative anymore, but a few years ago it was: marketing needs to carry a number and that’s a revenue number. So I made the mistake years ago of saying, I want a seat at the table and I’m going to sign up for X amount of revenue dollars, closed/won dollars generated by marketing. And that was the scariest time. There are many moments where I was like, what in the Sam Hill am I doing? Because it would have been easier to be like, look at all these MQLs, look at all this content we generated, look at this great website — and so what. I wannabe a person that activates revenue. I wanted an equal share at that table. 

Are you adding value in every interaction? And that's what salespeople and marketers don't think about that enough. How can I educate our buyers and prospects in a way to make them feel more confident, not only dealing with us, but making the right… Click To Tweet

So when I talk about budget, they’re like, well, yes, I know I ran efficiency numbers, I’ve got numbers out the wazoo, but you have to have accountability and responsibility. It’s no longer okay to just make things look good, which is a pet peeve when people say that, because we’re bona fide contributors to revenue. That’s something that I carry with me everywhere. I have it today. In fact, we were just talking about today, my number, and we’re tracking it every day. Our KPIs come up in every team meeting, and those are revenue and opportunity dollar numbers that everybody on my team is very familiar with, and we track it very closely. 

So I think we have to be able to say it’s not enough to do a good job in marketing. It has to be measurable and we have to have an equal seat with sales. I’m not going to sit in a meeting and when they talk about pipeline, just stare at my sales counterpart. It’s like, no, that’s my job too. So then both of us are talking through pipeline and forecast because we’re both part of it.

The output of that is it creates a trust between sales and marketing. So they accept the product that you’re delivering because you’re on the hook. You could give them anything, but if you give them anything and it’s garbage, you’re not doing what you set out to do. And they know that. That trust turns into conversion. They’re accepting, using, and closing the opportunities that you’re providing versus businesses that we’ve all been in, where they’re like, oh, marketing leads, cool, thanks. 

Then you have to come up with all the reasons as to why the marketing opportunities aren’t going anywhere. Well, it’s emotional. They created those themselves and they’re more emotionally connected to it. No, they just don’t believe that they need to pay attention to you because you’re not paid on the things they’re paid on. There’s a compensation misalignment. When you remove that, all of a sudden we’re all on the same team and that creates a much better front office environment.

100%. I’m so glad you pointed that out because I think that was an outcome. I’ve never had an adversarial relationship with my counterpart in sales because we’re on the same team. It’s never, hey, you did this and I didn’t do that and why are these aging out? It’s just like, I’m highly motivated to get things through the funnel. Whatever it takes, we’re gonna do it. So it’s a really subtle thing but I’m not sure everyone buys into that and it carries some risk like trust. If I’ve got comp tied into revenue that becomes real.

Can I offer some insights that we alone know to share with our prospects? Click To Tweet

Yes, you could walk down to the mall and hand out dollar bills, your cost per lead is a dollar and you’re getting business cards back, but that’s not gonna close and it’s not valuable. And you end up in that QBR and the marketing team’s like, we crushed it and the sales team closed nothing and it’s a disconnect. We’re all one company at the end of the day and you can’t win if the whole company doesn’t win. So this whole value chain needs to complete. 

We spend a lot of time looking at conversion from initial raw lead all the way through to closed/won, finding and optimizing every point along the way. My product marketing team has MBOs associated with weighted pipeline, progressed pipeline, because if deals aren’t moving, it might be a sales issue, but it might be a you issue. And what could you be doing right now? ROI, customer case study, what could you do to push pipeline forward?

Exactly. The other piece, Chris, is what can we learn from that? So I’m always looking at the DQs because there are certain business that we won’t take. It’s too small. There’s the whole thing. What can we learn from that? Is our targeting off, our keywords off, our message off? Why are we getting that? And when we get the right people, get the lookalike. So, there’s so much to be learned from that as people progress or not through the sales stages. And then what assets are we offering throughout each of those stages? A connected series of events, meaning when we get to solutioning, when we get to pricing, are we getting ahead of the SOW? Here are the terms we’re going to use. Here’s an FAQ. Here’s a definitional piece of when we talk about accounts, this is the piece that you need to understand. Let’s smooth the path for sales. So I’m always looking at what are the assets that we could bring forward throughout that process instead of, well, they’re yours now. Good luck out there. I’m like, no, no, why is this not moving? Are there materials we can get ahead of?

So I did a really neat thing. If you’re still listening right now, audience, this is about to be a bonus round. So I did a thing recently where I looked at our target accounts, specific target accounts that we’re going out after across five different industries that we talk to and measure the number of available targets and then engagement as measured by Demandbase. This isn’t a plug for demand base, but demand base does provide us with our engagement metrics.

And so, let’s just round the numbers, say 300 companies in financial services that we want to talk to, we’ve had engagement with 200 of them. The average engagement time, and again, engagement time doesn’t matter, it’s just a measure of Demandbase, but is 26 minutes per these 200 companies that we’ve talked to. The first is industrial manufacturing, which is a space that we own. We’re the foregone conclusion for the editorial process in industrial manufacturing. And we’ve only talked to the, again round numbers, 300 companies in that space that we care about. We’ve only talked to 100 of them in the last three months, but the average time spent with them, the engagement time, is 65 minutes. 

What could you learn from that? And what we’re taking away from that is, we have a lot to say to them, because no shit, we have a lot to say. We do a lot of business with them. We have a lot of content for them. We have a lot of case studies for them. There’s a lot of material that we can have a conversation with. On the counter, we don’t have customized material specific to banking. So what would we engage with them on? And that creates a content plan. These metrics that we’re looking at, it’s identifying where the gaps are in our game and allowing us to go in and decide which gaps we wanna fill. Maybe we don’t have a specific need to fill the gap in retail because that’s not a space that we’re going after. Yes, we have nothing to talk to people about, but also we don’t have anything to talk about.

What I realized is that there’s taking an agnostic viewpoint, not always brand first, not always coming with your own value props and voice — the market is receptive to that. Click To Tweet

But in banking, let’s go identify what our personas care about, have better conversations and see that engagement number go up. When that engagement number goes up, what we would expect is that conversion rates go up with it. And we should see opportunities created and progressing as a result of better content and better engagement. It’s all just a mechanism of getting smarter and putting better information in place to have these better conversations.

Exactly. I think you’re smart to point out that down the sales process, which is why your role is interesting, is to own more of that. But I think all of us as marketers have to look at when you get to closed/won, work backwards and where’s the time spent and where the lags. We see deals that slow. Why are they slowing? Can we get information in front of the prospect? What questions are they probably having to answer internally that we should get ahead of? What does that contract look like, what are the terms that might be new? And now they’re going to slow the process. 

What are the things they need to know? What are the tech questions? How can we generalize some of that so that people are equipped to drive that? Cause at some point you hand it to your champion at the prospect. And they’re doing the internal work to socialize. How can we equip them? Because they won’t often tell you. So I think there are signals that we need to understand.

The whole idea of the digital signals coming in from content specifically inside of business is amazing to me. Coming from where we all come from and the progression over the course of the last several years, what CMSs and other content repositories are able to do now are amazing. We work with a company called Paperflite in India and they’re amazing. This is an actual plug for Paperflite. Can’t do enough for them, they do great work. 

I sat down at dinner with their CEO and their head of product, essentially their two founders recently. They said, think about it this way. Your seller sends out the final paperwork and says, deal is committed. We’re gonna close this next week. Customer said so. What can content do to confirm that? Well, signals back from the content that you sent out, specifically the contract, would tell you whether or not somebody opened it. 

That’s the simplest way to look at this, is I’m committed, deal’s done, I sent the paperwork out. Nobody opened the paperwork. Just that signal alone tells you you’re not gonna close the deal next week, because nobody opened your contract, it’s not real. There’s nobody on the other end. So if that simple rule works, what else could you do all the way across the funnel? What moves the needle? What gets shared? Where does it get shared to? All of this comes back at you, telling you the story of the deal that you’re doing, especially in a world where we’re not having face-to-face meetings very often. Most of what we do is through digital. 

I think people conflate the best and most successful content campaigns and oftentimes they can be different. Click To Tweet

So capture that information, use that information to make better decisions, get things in front of people that move the needle, understand what moves the needle, and get deals done faster. That’s exactly what they’re delivering right now. It’s so exciting to be able to go back to our sales organization and say this little thing that we bought to present content to our customers is gonna change the way that you sell. It’s amazing days, amazing days.

Anyway, we’ve gone over. I apologize for that for everybody, but this does get very exciting at times. Christine, thank you very much for being on the show. This was fantastic and I hope enlightening for everybody.

Yes, absolutely. It was a pleasure. Super fun to talk to you again and talk through some of these things. We’re so often in the day-to-day so it’s nice to take a step back and think about it.

It certainly is. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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