Why It’s Time to Rethink Your SEO Content Strategy with Sangram Vajre, Co-Founder of Terminus
Speaker 1: Welcome to Page One or Bust, your ultimate guide to getting on page one of search engines. In this episode, you'll hear all the ways the B2B marketing world is changing and how account- based marketing runs parallel with content creation. You'll hear from Sangram Vajre, a bestselling author and co- founder of a leading account- based marketing SaaS company. He talks about why content is a critical part of a page one strategy. But before we get into it, here's a brief word from today's sponsor, Page One or Bust is brought to you by DemandJump. Get insights, drive outcomes with DemandJump. Get started creating content that ranks at demandjump. com today. And now, here's your co- host Christopher Day and Ryan Brock.
Christopher Day: Hello. Welcome back to Page One or Bust. This is your co- host Christopher Day, the CEO of DemandJump, alongside Ryan Brock, our chief content Officer here at DemandJump. Ryan, I'm super stoked about our guest today.
Ryan Brock: Yeah. We got two gentlemen with very, very nice haircuts, and me. I don't think that's the only thing I'm going to be jealous of today here.
Sangram Vajre: Well, I think you'd be brooding. I imagine you're brooding in your spare time, your beard, and oiling it, and keeping it going.
Ryan Brock: Yeah. Right. Yeah, it takes up half my day, honestly.
Christopher Day: I love it. So our guest today is Sangram Vajre. He recently co- authored the book, Move, with Brian Brown and host a podcast, Move: The Go- To Market podcast. I can't wait to talk about that, Sangram. And Sangram believes that go- to market is a product, which I couldn't agree with more. Today's going to be awesome, so let's get after it. Sangram, talk to us, let's go back real quick and level set and set the playing field for your journey, and go back maybe to how you came to join Pardot and your role there. Then we'll go from there.
Sangram Vajre: All right. Well, Ryan, Toph, thanks for having me. When I go back in the memory lane, I really want to just stay there. I don't know if you ever feel like it on some days, those days when you're so naive about certain things, and you just go about your day and some great things happen. You look back and like, " Oh my gosh, how did somebody even take a chance on me?" It just feels so wrong.
Ryan Brock: Oh, a 100%. Every day I am like, " Why am I here? What am I doing?"
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. So I think we all have these grateful stories to share. So I want to make sure, as I share some of this, I call out some of those people who did take a chance at me. I think we always should be thinking about that and doing that for others. So for me, in the very, very early days... I'm a bachelor's and Masters is in Computer Science. I have no bone of marketing from a academic perspective. I remember, in my Master's program, my team used to ask me to go and present, and the naive part of me thought, " Oh, I'm a great presenter. That's why my team is asking me to present." All my masters, they never let me code. They always said, " No, no, you present. You tell the story. You do all that stuff." For many years I thought I was a really, really good storyteller. Years later, I meet them at a bar and we talk about that time and they say, " Well, let us break you the truth, you were a horrible coder. We never wanted you to touch the keyboard, so we had no idea. But the professor put you on our team, so we just pushed you on the mic and said, 'You go present it.'"
Ryan Brock: I love it.
Sangram Vajre: But quite frankly, that was the reason why I became a better storyteller and I continue to learn about it, and got my breaks in marketing and product.
Ryan Brock: I feel like every time I talk to a really great public speaker or storyteller, they have some roundabout path of getting there. They were thrust into something that they didn't even necessarily want, but then they're glad they did it. Right?
Sangram Vajre: Oh, yeah.
Ryan Brock: So that's a great story.
Christopher Day: So talk to us a little bit about some of the go- to- market strategies in your journey with Pardot. What types of things did you deploy from different marketing channel perspective and what things worked? What things didn't work? What surprised you or myths that you debunked along the way?
Sangram Vajre: Oh, at that time, this is... We have to date ourselves because if we don't, people would think these guys are talking... like just smoking crack because we are not telling the truth here. But no, this is 2008- 2009 timeframe where webinars were a big deal. I don't know if you remember where we would send an email, " Join us on a webinar", and we would've thousands of people actually join on a webinar. It was crazy. So the thing that worked in 2008 to 2011 timeframe was, we would do literally a weekly webinar. Weekly. It wasn't once three months or once every single... No, no. Every single week we had a 35- minute webinar, or 45- minute webinar, about a particular marketing automation tactic, how to create a landing page, how to drive leads, how do you do this, that? Very, very tactical. Then thousands of marketers who wanted to learn how to use marketing automation will just joined that webinar to learn something new. It was a greatest way to build awareness, hype, revenue. I was blown away with the fact that thousands of people would join for a webinar that is literally talking about, " Here's how you use our product."
Ryan Brock: Why do you think that is? Is this a little bit of like, " Ooh, this feels like the future, so we're doing webinars now." Why did that stop? What changed?
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. Well, so in 2009, 2008, at that time, the ability to get on a screen together and watch something happening, I think it almost felt people like magic. Plus, I think that was the beginning of my understanding of community building and the power of community, the power of being an evangelist, the power of being truly doing any and everything to help your customer be super successful in their own job. And we, at that time, really thought about the fact that if we can get our customers promoted in their organization, we have done our job as a software provider. Honestly, that's really started to really move the needle for us.
Christopher Day: So you exit to ExactTarget, and then I think maybe even simultaneously Salesforce. Then you decide to co- found Terminus. How did you arrive at that thought and how did that happen? What did you set out to try to solve at Terminus?
Sangram Vajre: So I'm at Salesforce, cushy job, right? You're part of an acquisition, you're doing well at that time. And for somebody who's really not have a marketing thing, all of a sudden I go from a$10 million Pardot startup company to a multi- billion dollar iconic brand. Just crazy. It's awesome. Having more budget than I could count the zeros in, I'm like, " Is this a misprint here?" "No, no, that's your budget for a quarter." I'm like, " What? For a quarter? What do I do?" So I was just looking at this stuff and I was just like a kid in a candy shop. Awesome, great experience. About two years... But there was one thing that happened personally, I met my co- founders of Terminus at a startup event. I saw them pitching the idea of Terminus. At that time, Terminus was already founded. It was like, I think, two months into it. They were pitching the idea that, " Hey, if we can advertise to a list of email addresses, that'd be really, really cool." I'm looking at that, I'm like, " Oh, that's targeted advertising. That's interesting. But if you did it at the account level where I can go after a specific account and we can put an ad in front of all of them proactively... Not reactively, not like a retargeting thing... proactively, then actually could be really interesting thing for a B2B." So I set up some time with them, and had coffee with them, and ended up spending an entire day on a whiteboard with them. I don't know if any of that sounds like... Because you both are founders of your organizations before, so you probably can experience that, you just spend the entire day on a whiteboard. And I could come home and tell my wife that, " All right, I just met these two guys. They have this company, no revenue, nothing whatsoever, but I think it's something special because I think I can be myself. They are tech people. I'm a marketer. I think it's the problem that it could be solved. I think this would be really cool." She looked at me, " Do you recognize we just had our second baby? I don't work. We have a mortgage. Are you aware of where you are pretty much on planet Earth?" And I'm like, " I know, but I think I have a plan." Every entrepreneur has a plan, right, in the books.
Christopher Day: Right. Exactly, " This is going to be great."
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. And the plan is, you are going to go find a job and we're going to put our kid in the daycare quickly, and this is going to work. Then we'll have financial freedom. She's like, " Here's the thing, you have one year. You're one year to show me this thing has legs. Otherwise, you are going to go find a real job." So she gave me a perfect constraint of one year to go do whatever it takes to do, which is what we did. We did four Flip My Funnel events. I wrote a book, the first account- based marketing book. We went all around to four different cities spreading the gospel of ABM, because there was a clock on me. There wasn't an idea anymore. This had to work. There wasn't a plan B for me left. If I didn't do this, then my wife, who's also working, and also we have two kids, and doing all these things, it's not going to work. And I'm going to be, again, finding another job. So personally, this became a thing that I needed to come back to her with something that's of value. So I'm so grateful for-
Ryan Brock: But when something sucks in like that, and you can't get that idea out of you, and it becomes part of your brain... I can relate to everything you're saying on a spiritual level, except my wife allowed me to do what I was doing for 10 years before I finally was like, " Okay, I better sell my business because if someone's offering, that probably means I did a good job, and I need to not force her to live with that anymore.
Christopher Day: So that's a perfect lead into going back to 2008, getting thousands of people to attend webinars. There's this little acronym called SEO and content creation. Historically, you go back 20 years and, gosh, SEO I think almost has a bad connotation to it a lot of times because there's been so many-
Ryan Brock: Of course, it... Absolutely, not kind of. It totally has a bad connotation to it.
Christopher Day: People have been trying to figure this out forever, stuffing things with a bunch of bag full of keywords, or repeat it four times and then it will work, or do these back links, or create these bots, or whatever. People do all kinds of things trying to get stuff to work. Then we had this little thing called a pandemic occur, called COVID, and which just accelerated everything in its complexity another 10 years literally overnight. People talk about 70% of the B2B buyers out there now do all of their research and evaluation online before they ever talk to a salesperson. Marketing just becomes exponentially more complex every single year. More and more data, more and more complexity, more and more competitors, more and more customer types, et cetera. It just keeps going on and on. So how do you think about that? What have been your experiences with SEO, and with content creation, and trying to create that awareness?
Ryan Brock: Is that opposed to ABM in your opinion, Sangram? Or are these things compliments to one another?
Sangram Vajre: I think it's dramatically complimentary to each other because if you think about ABM, by construct, it means that you know your target audiences and you're going after them. It's literally... I sometimes explain it as putting a billboard in front of every single house, every single office that you ever want to be in front of. That would be the best thing to make them remind. That's what ABM really is, it's be in front of the people that you want to sell to. Now, when I think also about the fact that the sales process... I'll just share my own example... this is my third book that I wrote recently. This time I went from, " I want a publisher and figure out how to write a book. Do I need to get a ghost writer to do it? And which publisher can do it so that I can quickly get it published because I know what I want to write, so I just need the process of getting it done out." So I went from deciding on a Friday afternoon that I need to figure out who is the best publisher out there that I can work with so I can get the things done. And by Tuesday evening. I've already made the decision. So if somebody has a nurture program that is six month long of somebody filling up a form and following up, so to get them to become... I mean, they just lost the battle.
Ryan Brock: Right. That's exactly right.
Sangram Vajre: They probably are still sending me emails, but I've already made the decision. I've already moved on. And I'm not even deleting the email because it's not worth my time from another, but somebody's still sending me emails about, " Hey, we saw you build a form and stuff." So the idea of a process, a customer journey being super linear and following literally exactly a step by step model is dead, and it's no longer relevant. inaudible.
Ryan Brock: Yeah. Something that's happened recently, and I don't know if it's the pandemic alone, but it's right in the same timeline as the pandemic where the portion of the customer journey that happens before that contact is made, it's just stretched out a ton. What used to be the top of the funnel is the entire funnel now. We don't even know who we're talking to with content until they finally make their way to us and they say, " Yeah, you've given me enough of what I need to do my own research and make my own decision."
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. And the process, the timing of decision making, either all of a sudden... If you ever hear somebody say... Or, when I talk to my sales team, they said, " They just went dark." When I hear somebody say that, no, no, no. They just didn't go dark. What we are doing is just not helping. Maybe they've moved on or they've already made a decision. They didn't go dark. They're still doing their job. They're alive. They're doing what they need to do. Or you would hear sometimes, " Well, I don't know. My content, it is just not falling on the right ears." " We are not just getting the right person", is another way I think of saying is that, " We just don't know what problem we're solving for them."
Ryan Brock: Yeah, right.
Sangram Vajre: I think if we know the problem we're solving, they will open the doors and want to talk to us. But if you don't know, then we are just throwing darts all day long. I was having a conversation with Shawn Herring, who is based out of ND.
Ryan Brock: Sure.
Sangram Vajre: He said something this morning, it's so relevant with this conversation. He's like, " What you're describing is being objective about certain things as opposed to being subjective. Most of the marketing today is very subjective." It's almost like fishing for the right words to catch on. And hopefully, in these 100 words, there is that one word that will catch on and you will latch onto that, and that's really phishing for it. So it's very subjective, but as soon as you become specific, as as you become objective, as soon as you actually are pinning on the problem and using the problem words, the other person on the other side is like, 'Yes, you're talking my language now. I need your help.'" The greatest challenge that marketers, I feel, is going to face right now more than ever, is being objective.
Christopher Day: That's spot on. It reminds me of a phrase we're starting to think about, which is pillar- based marketing. Most markers, when they try to attack SEO or content, they go subscribe to some tool. They download a whole bunch of keywords. The sophisticated ones are putting those keywords into a spreadsheet, and they're trying to slice and dice, and figure out what to do. So they resort to their domain expertise and just want to start talking about, how great we are, how great my product is, or how great my widget is, my service, my great... It's widget, it's great. Great service, widget, buy, buy, great. Well, that's not objectively, or having the knowledge of what that target buyer, what is their pain? What are the words they're using to describe their pain? What are the questions they are asking in a very specific way that if you just knew that, well, then you'd be marking from a position of knowledge or being objective about, " Well, gosh, I know if I write this content that answers these specific questions and this specific order, that's what my target buyer wants to know. And then they find me and I'm talking their language. So immediately I'm establishing a digital connection. I'm establishing digital trust." And then that sucks them into the ultimate place, which is the solution, the widget or the service that you're providing. We built this rapport. Even though we don't know them, but we've built this rapport digitally of trust and, " Oh, this company gets me. They understand my pain and how to solve that."
Ryan Brock: And by the way, that's not just content. There's a reason we've started using the phrase pillar- based marketing, not just pillar- based content because the engagement metrics around successfully published content like that spill over into better landing pages and lower cost per click. We see that time and time again, if done right, this laser- like focus can impact every part of your marketing, which I'm a newbie to account- based marketing, but I think that's sort of the same idea. And I think the idea like if you ignore all the noise and stuff that doesn't really matter, and you focus on what does, it has a spillover effect on every little thing you do because you're finding efficiencies everywhere, I'd imagine.
Sangram Vajre: Oh, absolutely. So there's a parallel between how we came across and started focusing on ABM. Initially, it was about what we were working on was account- based advertising. That's what it was. It's really saying, " Let's just put a digital billboard in front of every future customer that you want to go after proactively. So it was account- based advertising. On the whiteboard... I still have a picture of that whiteboard where we wrote account- based advertising, ABA. But then just like, Ryan, you just mentioned about why I think it's so important to use the word marketing as opposed to content, because at that time, even though we did not know, we couldn't see what else could it be? We could feel that this is going to spill over into a better way of marketing. It's a better way of creating demand. It's a better way of all the things that marketing needs to do. So we started calling it and promoting the account- based marketing phrase. So I think you're spot on by using pillar- based marketing as opposed to pillar based content, because I think it's going to have ripple effects on the revenue and the business outcomes, and you don't want to miss out on what value it's going to drive to your customers.
Ryan Brock: Yeah. Well, and having been the target of account- based marketing and not realized that that was what was happening in the past, it isn't just advertising. I mean, it's ironic, I'm not going to name them by name, but there was a software as a service company that is now a customer of ours that we provide services to who, years ago when I was still just running my agency, Metonymy Media, they were hitting me hard. They were hitting me hard, and I was distracted. I was not in a place to making any purchase decisions around what they were selling. But I mean, it was to the extent where they were like, " Hey, we're mailing you like a present. We're..." Stuff that you're not doing to every... If you have a mailing list of a million people, you're not engaging on this level. So I mean, it was email, it was advertising, it was snail mail sending me custom- made wood- engraved things. In retrospect, I'm like, " Huh, that must be what ABM is." I just didn't know it at the time.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. In many ways, all of this... I think what I also love about the pillar, the way I think about pillars is, I encourage now as many companies I'm advising, or on the board of, and even our own team, we said, " Look, create one great piece of content that you can gate and stick with that. And drive every other things to that one piece of content." Because if people who are listening to this, and if they're in marketing right now, and if your scorecard looks like, " I need to do three web webinars a quarter. I need to do two eBooks a month, I need to write five blog posts", if that's what your tactical menu of options look like, you're essentially talking about being in the'90s might as well, because you're just not-
Ryan Brock: It's brain and brain, right?
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, totally. But if you actually say, " You know what? We are going to create a definitive guide." In your case, you might say a definitive guide on how to do SEO. Maybe that is your pillar content, if I use the word pillar with your permission on that, then that's what literally is driving everybody to, oh, all this awesomeness that you're creating where you're giving the objective information that people are finding and coming to, and if all of that is all free, all free, all free, all free, but then it points to this one thing all along with every single blog post, every single content you ever create to that one definitive guide or one state of whatever that report is, it literally becomes your only piece that of content. You don't have to anymore go after, " Well, that piece of content works better." It is literally keep that living, breathing, make it awesome, make it new, make it fresh every year, but create that. I think every company has the ability to do it. But for some reason, we always do go down to the lowest level of creating as many pieces as possible as opposed to the best pieces that can drive the business forward.
Ryan Brock: Yeah. Well, we certainly agree from the pillar- based marketing camp, spiritually, we're dead on. Even when we think about the flow of top of the funnel content, like your blog content. And that free stuff you're talking about, we follow the same principle where you have one pillar page of content, it's free. It's not gated. It's a core part of your website, but all roads lead there. Anytime we're trying to get someone onto our site from an organic search perspective, the only place that they're going to go next is to that hub that we want to get them to. It's about building a network of content. And then, yeah, I mean, we've seen, using this pillar approach, focusing our lead gen efforts only on those hub pieces, that's where you get the most magic is by really investing in that one spot. I'm just fascinated by the ways that we could fold these... You hear people using jargon all the time about this kind of marketing, or this approach, or this style of work, or whatever, but it's fascinating when you get down to it and you think, " Wow, there's a lot that these things can do for each other, and compliment each other, and learn from."
Christopher Day: So we have this evolution of marketing that's happened with account- based marketing, pillar- based marketing now, and talked a little bit about tying marketing and sales teams together. That culminates in writing the book, Move, and how you're thinking about go- to market as a product. And it's not only marketing, it's not only sales, but it's also your product team. It is your customer success team. Those things operating in unison as a well- oiled machine. So talk to us a little bit about your book. Let's give us the high level.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah. All right, so I'll share the problem. As good marketers, that's where we should start. I'll ask you guys, let's just do a quick poll completely off the cuff, what percentage of series A companies fail, in your opinion?
Christopher Day: Probably 90%.
Ryan Brock: Yeah, at least.
Sangram Vajre: Right. You guys are spot on. Think about that for a second, how quickly you just said 90%. It is 89% of the series A companies fail. 84% of series B companies fail.
Christopher Day: Wow.
Sangram Vajre: You think about all the money that is raised in the VC world right now for the early stage startup, and I'm like, " Is this the game the VC world is playing?" Clearly not. They're not banking on it, but that's what's happening. Then Mackenzie came out with a study recently where they talked about the fact that companies typically get to about 10 million in revenue... And Toph, you've seen this part when I shared that in one of our talks.
Christopher Day: Yeah.
Sangram Vajre: And literally they walk into this something called as the valley of death. If people can search called SaaS valley of death, you will see this chart where between 10 to 50... It's almost like they go there to die instead of rising up. Literally 0. 04% of the companies even had a chance to hit 50 million in revenue. And I've been, I feel like, fortunate being a part of from 10 to 100. And Terminus, we have gone from zero to 50, and I feel like I've seen this movie a couple of times now. So this book came out of this need as like, " Wait a minute, there's something inherently wrong of how companies go to market." And when I started asking question, " Well, how do you define go- to market? Do anybody inaudible, a lot of people had a very unsatisfactory answer, as you can imagine. People would say, " Well, when you launch a product, you go to market." Or, there is a sales channel, when we are channel marketing, that's going to market. Or any marketing stuff. And come to find out, as part of the research, I interviewed Brian Halligan, who really... At that time, was the CEO of HubSpot... and gave me that quote that you just said, which is, " Go- to market is like a product." I mean, he's like, " That is the thing that companies miss. They don't look and they don't evolve. They'll go to market as they evolve their product, as they evolve their services, as they evolve their teams. They do not spend the time to evolve their go- to market process." So it has been fascinating to be a student of it and just learning from lots and lots of people. As a matter of fact, how about this, anybody who's listening to this podcast, if this is interesting, just DM me on LinkedIn, I'll ship you a signed copy of the book. How about that?
Ryan Brock: Wow.
Christopher Day: That's amazing, Sangram. I was just going to ask, " Can I get mine signed?"
Ryan Brock: That's amazing. Well, we'll read it and then we'll make it required reading for the rest of the C- suite over here. Absolutely.
Sangram Vajre: I would love to, love to help you do that. That's awesome.
Christopher Day: I love it. All right. Well, Sangram, let's get into a couple of quick hits. What's the last thing you searched for?
Sangram Vajre: Last thing I searched was a pet food and pet toys because we just got a little Goldendoodle, three months old.
Christopher Day: Oh, love it.
Sangram Vajre: And never had a dog in our house before. So we got two kids and they're running around with the dogs, and so we are looking for pet food and what pet toys... I'm spending more money on a pet right now that I'm like, " What's going on over here?"
Ryan Brock: It's easy to do, but then they look at you with those big eyes and you're like, " Okay, this was worth it."
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, yeah.
Christopher Day: Absolutely. What's the best piece of advice for a marketing or go- to market leader?
Sangram Vajre: I would say... I think it's a quote I've said before is that, " Being intentional is way more important than being brilliant." Most marketers just want to be more brilliant. Most leaders want to be brilliant. Really, it's not important to be brilliant at all. It's really intentional about it. And another way to say it is, being aligned is more important than being right. So get you, and your team, and your customers, and your partners, and everybody aligned on something big and massive. It doesn't matter how good it is. It's like if they're aligned, you'll actually find better outcome.
Christopher Day: Yeah, I love it. That-
Ryan Brock: Wow, that's amazing. And that shift's got to be hard for a lot of founders, right? You go from the being brilliant part and the saying, " I've got an idea that's going to disrupt things and solve problems" to, " Oh crap, now I just got to build the system." Those are two different muscles to learn.
Christopher Day: It's funny. All right, Sangram, where can people reach you? Where can they learn more about the book? Where can they watch your podcast? How do people find you?
Sangram Vajre: Oh, just drop me a DM on LinkedIn. I'll send you guys, send anybody who... Actually, just send me something you liked. I mean, maybe if... I know this is audio, but maybe you liked something that Toph said, or Ryan said, or I said, I'll always love to hear from people what sparked them, what got them going. Just drop something and I'll send a copy of the book. LinkedIn is the place to find me. Obviously, I hope you check out Terminus and hope you check out some of the work I've done, but LinkedIn would be the place to find me.
Christopher Day: Awesome. Well, thank you everyone for joining us today on Page One or Bust with Sangram Vajre. It was awesome, Sangram. Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts, and experiences, and wisdom. It's been absolutely awesome.
Ryan Brock: Such a great conversation. Thank you so much.
Sangram Vajre: Yeah, it was a blast. I couldn't imagine we covered so many things. I was banking that we wouldn't even get to the end of it, but we did. You did a phenomenal job.
Christopher Day: Awesome.
Sangram Vajre: Thank you.
Christopher Day: All right. Until next time. We'll see y'all soon.
Speaker 1: Page One or Bust is brought to you by DemandJump. Know the exact content to create to increase first page rankings and drive outcomes with DemandJump. Get started for free today at demandjump. com.
In this episode, Sangram Vajre, co-founder of Terminus and 3x author including the best-seller “MOVE: The 4-Question Go-to-Market Framework,” joins Toph & Ryan to discuss the new modern marketing approach to SEO, how content creation is the superior approach for reaching page one and driving better results, and much more.