This week’s guest, Chip Rodgers, Chief Partner Officer at WorkSpan, believes that content is all about community. You have to know your target audience to engage them and build meaningful connections. So how do you create content that cultivates community? Chip has the answers in our interview and educational content has a big role to play — especially in terms of how it can drive conversions.
Chip also draws from his extensive background in marketing to explore the intersection of marketing strategies with partnership initiatives, shedding light on the synergies that help you meet your business goals and drive success. We talk about the challenges, opportunities, and similarities that span across harmonizing marketing and partner strategies.
From creating comprehensive guidebooks to navigating the landscape of paid inbound links, Chip unveils the lessons learned and the strategies that have proven most effective. Join us for a deep dive into the dynamic realm where marketing and partnerships converge.
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Hello Chip and welcome to the show!
Hey Chris, how are you?
Fantastic, lovely day here in Massachusetts. How is it where you are?
Beautiful, another great day here in Northern California in the Bay Area. And thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be here.
Great, I’m excited to have you here. Let’s get right into the quick fire. I think that’s where all this comes together. What’s the best and most successful content campaign that you’ve done?
So I was thinking about this and there’ actually a couple. But I’ll talk about one that we’ve done that has worked really well. It was actually part of our SEO strategy and building authority for our domain. We created some guidebooks and these are long form content. They’re about 40, 50-page PDF documents. We have a lot of the content actually on the page as well. And then there’s a call to action to download the PDF.
We took a lot of time to build the content. It’s around some of our hot topics like co-selling and managing funds together with your partners. We took that content and then you chunk it out and take pieces of it, write some blogs around different aspects of things, point back to those guidebooks that are the main content. It’s been tremendous. I mean, it’s number one, you do build authority on all those keywords. We’ve really gained authority and AHREFs, like number one positions and top 10 positions. But then also you get a lot of downloads and interest. It helps you build awareness and authority around those topics.
I’m gonna come back to that in a second. That’s interesting. What do you think the worst content campaign you’ve done is?
Gosh, so I don’t know if I’d say worse. We’re still doing them, but we do some paid off-site inbound links, inbound linking. It feels like it works, we get more inbound links and it’s the right message and things like that. But when you look at the actual sources of where they’re coming from, it’s kind of like, meh. It does say that it has domain authority, but it looks a little strange.But when we created content, we created content with people that understood that space. Because if you're just yelling into a crowd, in a language other than the one they use, if you're not native to that audience, they know. Click To Tweet
I can envision it from my own experience. There’s some places and you’re like, “wow, how’d we get from there to there?” Interesting. Of the two, what taught you the most?
I would say the first, definitely. We really learned that strategy works and it worked for some of the things that I mentioned earlier. It works not only in building domain authority and our organic links coming into WorkSpan, but it also converts into interest.
And that’s what we’re trying to do here: get that conversion and make something happen. So from a guidebook standpoint, this is actionable content. Do I have to be a customer or a prospect to get value out of this, or is this something that’s just gonna blow you out into a broader world?
So great question. In some cases, you don’t have to be a customer. You have to be interested in the topic. But, some of the content is pretty squarely closely associated with our product and our capabilities. Some of it’s a little more broad and more about the category and just trying to put good information out into the world.
Yes, I think that’s the best kind of content you can create. It’s been a long-standing strategy from my organizations to think first about what solves a problem in the market, regardless of whether you’re ever gonna buy us, because that’s how I attract the crowd. And then from that crowd, we’re gonna be able to pull the people that we’re most interested in, that fit our ICP, that we can actually sell to.
But the interesting thing is all those people that we didn’t sell to the first time will probably, possibly move into companies that will be prospects in the future. So that awareness building that comes from great content doesn’t have to be an in the moment thing. Success comes over time.Content is all about community and community, I think, is really critical. They go hand in hand. So you have to know who your audience is, who the community is. You have to engage in the community. Click To Tweet
Yes, it’s so true. I think it’s building some awareness even early on so that at the point that they’re starting to think about, “hey, this is a problem that’s coming up for us and we want to solve it,” that there’s at least some recall that, “oh, these guys, maybe they can help.” Because they helped me just learn some things before.
Absolutely and it always comes back to that brand recognition of who has the answer. Because at the end of the day, nobody’s going on the internet looking for business to business software vendors. They’re going on the internet to find answers. I’m having a problem at work, I want something to easily solve my problem, and then they find content. And if the content solves their problem, the side benefit of solving their problem is that awareness that you create within that prospect base. If they can buy your product, that’s fantastic. If they can’t, maybe someday they can. If they will never, it’s still positive market awareness out there. I love that approach.
While we’re on that topic, we’re on a podcast right now. One of the other campaigns I was going to talk about was that I also have a podcast: Ecosystem Aces. It’s been going for about five years now, a couple hundred episodes. And that also is even more top of funnel because, like you, we talk to people that aren’t customers, that are just professionals in this space, in the category, and talk about what’s happening with them? What are the challenges? What have you found? Like we’re talking about today: What works? What doesn’t work? And again, it’s not product related at all. But it’s about things that folks that are in our industry are interested in. So I would add that as another really good content program, if you will.
Absolutely, and when it’s entertaining, like this is, it just pulls other people in, like my dad. My dad listens to every episode of this, hi dad! He’s been retired for a number of years, he was a captain in the Navy, and yet this is content that he’ll consume. So I don’t know if he can buy your product, he definitely can’t buy mine, but he’s all in on this.
Let’s talk about you in particular, because I think this is really interesting. You’ve been with WorkSpan for six and a half years now. And for the first six and a half years of that time, you’ve been involved in marketing, there’s been a couple of promotions in there, CMO recently. I think it’s interesting that this is an ecosystem business management product. You’ve moved into the Chief Partner role. And A, tell me a little bit about that. And then B, how does that progress? How similar is that? What are the differences when you look at what you’re setting out to do now in this new role?
Well, it’s interesting. And thank you, Chris. You’re exactly right. I just about a month ago switched into a Chief Partner Officer role, and I’m excited about it. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s in our domain, right? It’s the domain that we operate in. I’ve been in marketing for a long time, but I’ve also had roles that were partner-related where I was actually managing partners and working with partners to co-sell with. It’s different, but there are similarities as well because we’re all going to market together.I think one of the things that I thought was really fun when we set out to create the content impact space was calling competitors, calling the CEO at companies that we see in deals and say, “hey, do you like the way that people describe you? Because I… Click To Tweet
With WorkSpan it’s about how you co-sell with partners and co-selling is really an umbrella term, but it’s really about maybe we’re gonna build products together. Then if we’re gonna do that, then we need to go to market. So we do some co-marketing together and then co-selling. We might actually take some money and apply it back for incentives and things like that. So that’s sort of the flywheel of everything. It includes a lot of marketing, if you will, going to market together with partners. So I still feel like I’m in a similar domain in a way because it’s still about going to market. And it’s been fun so far and I’m excited about the role.
Did you own business development partnerships before in your CMO role?
Early on I did and then it moved around a little bit. But it was a decision that we made as a leadership team that we really need a single point. We have a lot of partnerships that are happening, some new ones that we’re developing and we really need the focus of having a single person responsible and growing it.
How are you going to be measured? Like what’s the major metric that you’re trying to drive in that role?
Ultimately, it’s revenue, pipeline and revenue. So that’s a pretty simple measure. There’s always the question of, sourced at, influenced, and those kinds of things, but we’ll work those out.
So it was a leading question and I was hoping that you were gonna answer it the exact way that you did because I literally just had this conversation today with our partnership organization. So our partner group lives in sales and we’re on a call talking about their contribution, the programs that they’re running, and the things that they could do to be additive and prospecting. And so much of what they do is very marketing oriented, creating programs to assist the sales organization in being impactful with the partners that we have. The experience is such an overlap in the way that we measure.
So they’re responsible for pipeline. We’re responsible for pipeline and marketing. I’m responsible for pipeline overall as the Chief Pipeline Officer. All this comes back to trying to fuel this engine. So this leap from marketing to partner isn’t nearly as big as the word on the page, because at the end of the day, you’re gonna just take a different group of people and try and drive this same type of impact, but at a broader scale, because of the scalability of the partner channel that we don’t have in marketing. I can’t add, just automatically add another group of people that can add value, you can identify a new part of a channel and drive exponential growth. I think that’s actually really exciting when you think about what your future growth opportunity really is.You really need to be enthusiastic and put content out into the world that's about the category and about the growth of the category and cheer everybody on. Click To Tweet
Yes, you’re exactly right, Chris. It’s just spot on. These days, we’re so challenged with, even as marketers, cookies going away, people getting overwhelmed with and inundated with messaging, and just noise. The opportunity of working with partners and in this new world, it used to be that partnering was, “okay, I’ve got a product, you’re going to go sell it for me. Like you’re my partner, right?” Well, today, some of that still goes on, but it’s more about, “hey, I’ve got a product, you’ve got a product, you’ve got a service. Maybe there are two or three of us working together. We all want to close this deal.”
So it’s coordinating, working together and co-selling, bringing the influence of all two or three partners to close the deal. I may have really good relationships in one area, maybe in the line of business. One of my partners might have a really good relationship in the IT organization or in a different region, but they all might be influencing the deal or decision makers in the deal. And so you’ve really just expanded your team as you’re saying and you can’t go hire all those people!
The right partnership changes a business. I remember two companies ago, I was at a mobile development platform company, and we were a very early partner with that little company up in Waterloo called Blackberry — back when they were RIM. And every license of software that we sold resulted in a device ad for them in the financial services industry in the US.
As a result, they funded my entire operation, from a marketing standpoint. I got hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from RIM to drive my marketing because we were aiming for the same thing. And the synergy was so huge because we were successful, they were successful, we were specifically successful in a region that they were trying to break into. It was fantastic. We never could have built the business that we built without that type of partnership.
That’s a great story.
I’ve been chasing that same situation ever since then. That was the 2006 timeframe and it’s hard to replicate. But when you find that perfect connection of our thing and your thing and exponential growth, like, it’s so much different than just hiring an additional demand person and doing more campaigns. This is the real growth that takes you to the next level, which is fantastic.It's about creating new language and defining and really creating some sharp differences and what's the old way and the new way. Click To Tweet
One of the interesting challenges, and for people that are wondering this is the Friends of the Bird season and how do I know Chip? The very first conversation that we had one-on-one, well it was probably three-on-one at the time, was around the creation of categories. I’m involved in selling a product that nobody really recognizes. We’ve made up a lot of different categories. Analysts don’t have a category for us. so the idea of how we build, define and build a category, ecosystem business management is a fast growing category. So the first thing you had to do in your marketing role was really establish the category and your place in it. How are you continuing to grow this business in this fast growing category space?
So it has been a really interesting journey. We started actually in 2018 with this idea, we need to really create this new category because it’s something very different from what has been done before. Myself and our leadership team sat down and wrote a 10 point category creation project plan. There are very tangible things that you can do. I mean, we worked with a lot of influencers. We built a community of like-minded people, the fellow travelers, if you will.
It’s about creating new language and defining and really creating some sharp differences and what’s the old way and the new way. And it’s a number of things like that. Working with analysts, I counted at one point, I think over a year and a half, I had 120 analysts, either briefings or inquiries. And it’s creating the idea around, “hey, this is something that’s very different from the current categories that are out there.” There are a lot of new companies that are coming into the space or a lot of startups. We’ve been at it for a while. What was your original question? How do we continue to grow?
How do you grow in the category that you created, that you became a part of, that you inhabited? It has grown dramatically in the last five years and it’s continuing to accelerate. It’s not getting less important. It’s arguably getting more important. How do you lead that business to the next stage?It's not product related at all. But it's about things that folks that are in our industry are interested in. So I would add that as another really good content program, if you will. Click To Tweet
So it’s a great question. A lot of it’s being engaged in the community. I think it’s also some of the things that we’ve been talking about with content where you can’t always be pitching, right? You really need to be enthusiastic and put content out into the world that’s about the category and about the growth of the category and cheer everybody on. That’s helping to grow the category. It’s at a point where we’re all still growing and the more people and companies that think that there’s an opportunity, and more VCs and funding and things like that come into it, it’s all good. We feel like we’re still growing. When I joined, we were 25 employees and we’re now up to 220 and continuing to grow and leading in the category. You just have to keep at it and I think be the cheerleader for the category and for our users and the folks that are having the challenges that we help solve.
Not to overuse the word ecosystem, but it’s about engaging with the entire ecosystem to do that. I think one of the things that I thought was really fun when we set out to create the content impact space was calling competitors, calling the CEO at companies that we see in deals and say, “hey, do you like the way that people describe you? Because I don’t like the way that people describe us or the companies that they compare us to. We should probably be talking about this as a group.” For the very reason that you said!
It doesn’t matter that we’re all in the same thing. It makes it better that companies, VCs, investors, analysts can identify something that’s boiling up. If we’re all saying our own thing, there’s no boil up. It’s just a bunch of random companies that are making up terms.
Right! You can’t have a category of one company.
We win every wave and every magic quadrant because we’re the only ones on it. And I don’t relish the idea of having to do a magic quadrant project, but also I would like to be able to be in a magic quadrant. So we need enough companies in this space to have that conversation.
I think one of the interesting things that’s happened recently is that generative AI has hit and being in the content space, all of a sudden, we’re all wrapped up in something that people can understand. When you talk about content governance a year ago, people were like, “I don’t think that’s super important.” Well, I assume with generative AI you want to tune your own model. Sure, okay, yes. And you only want to tune it with your best content. Yes, high quality, best content. Cool, how do you know? How do you know? Oh, content governance. Yes, that makes a lot of sense now. And getting back to that, bringing it all into that as the primary. There’s so many companies that play on the periphery of that, that maybe this is a moment where that category process comes together, but jury’s out.Nobody's going on the internet looking for business to business software vendors. They're going on the internet to find answers. I'm having a problem at work, I want something to easily solve my problem, and then they find content. And if the content… Click To Tweet
A thing I like to do, PSOTD, Provocative Statement of the Day. It’s a position that you hold that you’re not sure others hold and maybe people would disagree with, but it helps you get through your day. What’s your PSOTD?
Well, so I thought about this. What I would say is that content is all about community and community, I think, is really critical. They go hand in hand. So you have to know who your audience is, who the community is. You have to engage in the community. If you’re going to create content, you don’t just put it out there. You’re putting out content, but if you put it up on LinkedIn or wherever, people are going to react to it. You need to be able to engage in those conversations, share it, and hear feedback on what people are talking about. So that’s my PSOTD: content and community have to be very tightly interlinked.
I can see how some people might say that’s not true, but I’m not one of them, because I agree 100%. I think if I look back on my last company, we created content, we spoke directly to DevOps, and we’re a marketing team. To be fair, most of my people didn’t know diddly about DevOps, couldn’t define it, didn’t know who works in it, or didn’t know what they care about. But when we created content, we created content with people that understood that space. Because if you’re just yelling into a crowd, in a language other than the one they use, if you’re not native to that audience, they know.
The obvious example is a bunch of English-speaking people and I’m yelling at them in Hebrew, they don’t understand what I’m saying. That was our position with DevOps, if I just yell in marketing terms, they’re not gonna understand or care about what we’re saying.
They’re gonna tune it out.
Yes! So the idea of knowing the audience, understanding what they care about. Things like we were a mobile cloud testing company, but they don’t wanna hear about testing. They’re not looking for QA products. They care about quality software. Please say quality, not test, in everything. And you can’t describe what we did without saying the word test. So assume that the editorial process was a lot of cleanup of these things that were immediate turnoffs to the audience we’re communicating with.Awareness building that comes from great content doesn't have to be an in the moment thing. Success comes over time Click To Tweet
Then, like you said, when we socialize this, share this content, and have these conversations online, having that domain expertise was super important to me. It can’t be our social media expert that’s responding to this. It has to be product management, product marketing that understands the people that we’re communicating with — that are the people we’re communicating with. That’s what makes that engagement super positive. If not, even if we create the best content in the world, if we can’t support it with that domain expertise, then it doesn’t work. And we’re transparent. Everybody can see through us. They know we’re not real and reality matters.
To exactly your point, I had a similar experience with SAP. I was with SAP for 13 years and led our SAP community and TechEd events for about eight years. And same thing, the community was developers, enterprise architects, and people that were really engaged in building SAP solutions, but a lot of developers. And exactly the same thing: I had a team that tended to be more marketers, but we learned and they had learned and I drove this message to them and they became passionate about it as well. You can’t just have marketers drop in and start putting stuff into a community, especially of developers. They can smell it a mile away and it’s like, no, no thanks. I’m tuning you out and not interested.
100%, even within my own organization, when we talk to our own developers. Like, eh, I don’t know. Okay, fair.
Fantastic, Chip, thank you very much for being on the show. This is fantastic, exciting to have you on. Thank you very much.
Likewise, Chris. Thanks for having me on! Love your podcast and good luck with season four.
Excellent. Have a great rest of your day.