Episode #8. How to Run a Successful B2B Podcast with Jen Spencer
Episode #8. How to Run a Successful B2B Podcast with Jen Spencer
Guest of the day:
Jen Spencer, a Vice President of Sales and Marketing at SmartBug Media.
Jen runs a series of weekly podcasts called “SmartBug on Tap” with thousands of listeners. Over her career, Jen has built demand generation and sales enablement programs from the ground up and has experience working within tech startups, publicly traded companies, mid-market organizations.
Michael: You know, I've been thinking about this interesting thing lately. Why many companies including Belkin's are hosting B2B podcasts? Why have podcasts become so popular in the B2B space, specifically as many companies are in this space? What's your opinion on that?
Jen: I think it's really exciting how B2B organizations are producing podcasts, and when you think about the way that human beings like to consume information, it just makes sense. So some people are going to prefer to consume information in an individual format, like a written format, some live, some may be audio. So even though you sell to a business, you actually sell to people and your market to people.
And those are human beings who have a method of learning that they prefer, and so podcasting is really simple. It's just another channel that you can use, the same as using social media as a channel or email marketing as a channel or video marketing, and it goes right in hand. And another reason why we're seeing a lot of organizations adopt podcasts is that when they conduct their buyer persona interviews and they learn from their buyer personas and those ideal customers when they understand how they like to consume information if your buyer persona says, you know what?
I sit in traffic for an hour each way every day and I fill that time listening to books or listening to podcasts, there you go. That's an opportunity where you have your captive audience and you can provide really compelling content for them.
Michael: You were saying that it's more like a lifestyle trend? People are stuck in the traffic, they're doing some morning running at the gym, doing some homework. So basically they are engaged where their hands are doing something, but at the same time, they want to educate themselves. So this educating trend becomes more popular lately specifically in B2B. Is that about right?
Jen: I think that's a fair statement and it's just smart. It's just a smart marketing tactic to go where your people are. So I think B2B marketers are realizing that there's this opportunity and we are seeing individuals consume more podcasts and continue to grow in their consumption of podcasts. So it really is just making sense when you line up kind of lifestyle and the way that we like to consume media as humans. You line that up with marketing and business strategies, they just go really well together.
Michael: But then how to stand out? I mean, even a few years ago, there were just a few podcasts in this space where you can listen to it, you can easily find them, you can subscribe to them. But right now when you go and search for podcasts in every space, there are hundreds of them. So I've been listening to your podcast and you have short episodes, like five up to 10 minutes each. You talk about specific topics - the difference between outbound/ inbound, tips for SEO or something like one specific topic. Why is that? Is that just the strategy? Did you run some analytics and say, okay, this is the best duration for the episodes or the best topics for people to consume? Is that just because your typical audience listens to the podcast in say 10 minutes a day that's good for them and then they move forward to something else. Can you share with me the reason for that?
Jen: The reason for this sort of micro-podcast approach that is Smart Bug on Tap, it came from a place of experimentation. So at my last company, I had previously hosted a podcast that was more of like an interview format, like bringing on a thought leader and engaging in intelligent conversation about a topic and there's a great place for these podcasts. But I was thinking about how I could use this medium in a different way and it was just kind of like a test. Also, I was paying attention to the way my behaviors had changed.
So I used to sit in traffic for an hour every day, and now that I work for Smart Bug, we are 100% fully remote. So my commute is from my bedroom upstairs to my office downstairs, so I'm actually not consuming a lot of long-form audio content anymore but I am listening to shorter. I found myself listening to shorter podcasts while I was doing my makeup or making my coffee in the morning and just looking for those like kind of micro bites of information. So I thought, all right, well this is what my day to day is like, and the world is full of interview format podcasts, so let me try something a little bit different so it was a little bit of a test. It's been exciting seeing the results and seeing the rise in subscribers and the feedback that we get has been very worthwhile.
Michael: Beautiful. How many listeners do you guys have right now?
Jen: Oh my goodness. I would have to take a look. I think somewhere in the 4,000 to 5,000 range, so I'm not entirely sure, but yeah, I'd have to dig in.
Michael: And you have about 40, 45 episodes right now?
Michael: And you do them weekly, right?
Jen: We do them weekly. We produce them weekly. They can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. I focus less on the time and focus more on the content that we're delivering. But the other thing is, it's important to understand what's your goal with the podcast that you're producing. So I was looking at this as another element in kind of the acquisition or lead nurture plans we have for our buyer personas.
So my expectation is I'm going to launch this podcast and I'm going to optimize the podcast completely for search and I'm going to find brand new people. That would be a bonus. That wasn't the main intention. The main intention was that we know at SmartBug we have a very rich healthy blog where we're publishing blog articles that are very detailed and get into the nitty-gritty of how to do something. Those blog articles, we publish them once a day. We get so much great feedback about them. So it was just okay.
We already knew that the format of very tactically driven information, that format worked really well for us, and we saw it as being differentiating in our space, and so the podcast was an extension of that.
Michael: So it was just the logical move for you to move forward with that content?
Jen: It was, and then, of course, the chance to... one of my favorite things about the work that I get to do at Smart Bug is I get to tinker. I get to play around with technologies, with tactics, strategies, testing, see what works, see what doesn't, and then potentially help roll that out to our clients. And so it's one of the best parts of my job.
Michael: Growing the listeners, did you grow organically to 4,000 to 5,000 listeners, or you had a hockey stick at one point where it kind of propelled you in terms of your number of listeners?
Jen: Overall, I would say the growth has been organic, but it is interesting. We have noticed we'll get some significant spikes around very specific topics. So because sales and marketing is so broad, we might have somebody one day who is loving it, the content because it's all about like web design and that's what they're into right at this moment, and then the next day it could be about sales enablement and that's maybe not as topical for them.
So I don't think we see people consuming every podcast that we produce. I think people are probably cherry-picking because we will see spikes around very specific topics. For example, SEO - anything that we publish about SEO is an extremely high performing, and so what's really cool when you're producing podcasts and you can get to see that like real-time, we see the rise in the number of downloads and this tells us, hey, this is a topic that our ideal customers are interested in, and so we can use those data points to influence upcoming campaigns and help prioritize new campaigns in other aspects of our business.
Michael: So we are still new at this. We have released 8 podcasts so far. Obviously I want to talk more about the team behind the process. How many people are involved, what they do and how they do this?
Jen: We produce our podcast 100% in house and it's very low cost. I mean I record via Garage Band. I have just a USB mike. Then someone on our team does a little bit of editing, just a little bit on the front and the back end and we upload it online, and so actually it's a very easy process for us. It's a lot more lightweight than most people probably think. But I'm also just one voice, right? So I'm not going to have to do a lot of audio mixing, so it makes it a lot easier to manage. But to answer your question about is it worth it?
I think if you are in a space where people, you're selling a service, for a lot of organizations, the only thing that's going to differentiate your service from somebody else's are the people that are actually doing it. So it's not like thousands of people in the world who could build an app or could implement technology or write a piece of copy, so what makes one better than the other? What I love about podcasting is it's intimate. You're getting a chance to hear directly from somebody and you're getting a sense of who they are and their culture and the culture of their organization. And when you're competing against other businesses that sell the same thing, you should look for any way you could possibly differentiate yourself and get people and build rapport with that audience. And that's where I think podcasting is really, really an amazing tactic.
Michael: I agree 100% there with you, and we actually saw that even though we released just 8 episodes right now, and we have I think about 500 listeners on each episode, but most of them are ideal customers. and that's great. And we've also seen some great feedback, but it actually affected that conversion rate, because it built the additional channel for the customers.
So it built a conversion rate from organic kind of visits into actual registrations on the website, which is great. I was basically against podcasts the first time. I was like, yeah, you know need to do a lot of research, then if you want to do an interview-style, you need to do research for the guests and you need to spend hours, especially if the people have a lot of content. You cannot just talk about something that will not be interesting either to the person that you are sitting with or to the people who would be listening.
Andmy marketing manager said, listen, I'm going to help you with this. I am going to do this. We're going to have this guy doing this. We going to have this guy doing this. We're going to have a designer putting together the OGs and all that. So great. Let's do this. You said that you have just a few people on top of this process right now. So you have yourself recording the podcast. You said you have someone editing it slightly and then do you have someone doing the research, getting scripts, topics, creating some bullet points there? So how does it work from the technical side?
Jen: It's a good question. So our Director of Marketing and Demand Generation owns our editorial and so that's mostly our blogs and our eBooks and templates and webinars and that kind of content we're going to create so the podcast is wrapped right into that. So she's responsible for kind of setting that editorial calendar and providing me with the talking points for the podcast episode because they're typically aligned with the overarching theme that we have for that month or that quarter. So that way all of the content makes sense when you're thinking about it all together, regardless of the medium. And then I do that reporting.
So we just set up like a task template in our project management software so everyone knows who's up next to execute. After I record it, I will drop it into a folder and then yeah, I do the recording because it's just me. It's quite simple and I will make sure that my audio is very clean from beginning to end, and then that way our marketing coordinator, all she has to do is put the ends on the front, you know, the intro and the outro on the episode and then load it into Love Zen for publication. And then from there, our team - and she's involved in this as well - is that marketing coordinators creating the social promotion graphics. So we've got those templates that are all set up for us that we've built in Canva and so we're able to do it pretty swiftly in a very turnkey fashion.
Michael: Do you listen to the materials before publishing it yourself? Do you listen through the podcast before?
Jen: After I record it before I pass it over, I do a spot check listen, but I don't listen to the whole thing and just make sure everything kind of came across well and then I pass it over and then I don't listen to it again until it's live, if even then.
Michael: Have you heard that some of your old episodes and you kind of had this cringe on the face or something like why did I do this, or I can do better or how I did this back then. So what I wanted to get from you is are there any like top five mistakes that you did as a beginner that are you being an inexperienced host can say, okay, I shouldn't do this? Top five things to keep in mind basically after the years of doing this.
Jen: Well, one thing is more of learning from when I used to host ...I used to host the Allbound podcast when I worked for Allbound, and that was an interview format podcast. And to your point earlier, I highly underestimated the amount of time it takes to prepare to have an intelligent conversation with another human being. It's scary cause I talk to people all day long as part of my sales role and so you think, oh, what's the big deal? But if you have a goal, you have an intention, something that you want to get out of that episode, you have to be very prescriptive about the kind of questions you ask and making sure that things stay on track so that you are able to walk away from that experience and say, okay, I have exactly what I needed.
So it can be very frustrating to leave a podcast and go, shoot, I wish I would have asked about this, or I wish we wouldn't have gone down this path because that wasn't really where I wanted to go. So I definitely learned a lot there when it came to the interview format. As far as now, other things I've learned is that to give myself more time. So one of the challenges that you'll face as a podcaster is that if you're not feeling well if you lose your voice, it can have a detrimental effect on the content that you're creating.
So I made sure that we are way ahead of schedule. I've got episodes that are done and we're not working on a week by week basis, because I want to give myself the opportunity to be a human and there's going to be things that are going to happen, things that are going to come up, and no one wants to listen to me sounding stressed and no one wants to listen to me sounding like I'm hacking and I feel crappy. So those are some of the things that I've learned to give myself a little bit more time to have things come up.
Michael: Is regularity important here with podcasts? You said it should be weekly. If you miss a week, would that affect the audience? Would that affect the drop-down in the performance or not for you to build up the audience?
Jen: I believe so. I think when you're starting a podcast, you should identify kind of the cadence that's going to make the most sense for you and pick that and stick to it. And if you know you're not going to be able to do something weekly, then don't commit to weekly. Commit to biweekly, and then you can always speed it up. But I think we as humans, we're creatures of habit. So I have the regular podcast that I listen to. I know. I have ones that are daily. I have ones that are twice a week. I come to expect it, and if all of a sudden the podcasts weren't being published and weren't downloading to my device at the frequency that I was accustomed to or that I was anticipating, I might go, well, I need to fill my time now with something else and I might find another podcast to listen to or something else to do with that time that could replace that time I was spending with that piece of content. So I think that consistency is what's most important.
Michael: Okay. So we have a podcast. We recorded the podcast, we published it. What's next? How to promote it? I mean, what are the first two channels to go to promote the podcast at this point when you don't have a huge audience? How do you organically get to the level where people start finding you on the internet?
Jen: I think the first place to really start promoting your podcast is going to be via your social media channels that you know are strong channels for finding the members of the audience that you want, that you want to attract. The same way that you would promote a blog article or any other kind of content that you'd be creating. So you'll see us as a team pushing out information about our podcasts on all of our social channels. I think that's really important. The other thing is if you do have a database of contacts including highlights.
We made an announcement to our database letting them know we launched the podcast, inviting them to listen, inviting them for feedback, inviting them to share. So there's that. And then I also did some very one-to-one tactical types of asks, where I reached out to people in my network who I had a strong relationship with and said, would you take a listen to this? Let me know what you think, and then if you like it, can you leave us a review? Can you rate it? Can you share it? And because I think I've lived my professional life in kind of a pay it forward, be helpful kind of culture. That means that when I was in a place where I needed a little bit of help, I had people who were willing to jump in and help me because I had been there to help them in the past.
So I think that kind of, those three tactics make sense and then always kind of connecting it back. So connecting it back to the other work that you're doing, the content that you're doing. If someone on our sales team has a conversation with somebody and they ask a question that we recently addressed in a podcast episode, that sales rep can be enabled with that content to share it directly, and we see that content ends up getting shared multiple times within that same organization. And from there you never know where it's going to go.
Michael: That's a great point. I had a great chat with James Moore recently. He's one of the top sales professionals in the US, top 100, and we were discussing email follow-ups and that they are all very generic, especially in the sales role when you just want to remind them about yourselves. Hey, just wanted to reach out again. I didn't see a reply from you, and what James said, listen, why don't you add content there?
Why don't you add an article or a piece of content that should be useful at this point in time to your client and instead of just sending this desperate follow-up email, just send content without any cold reaction saying, Hey, listen, found this article? I thought that that might be interesting for you. That's it, and he saw that it actually drastically increased the conversion and the podcast being this great content type, you can share that so it can just start a podcast, say, Hey, this great podcast that my team just released. You should listen to that because you guys can work on the SEO or something, or this is for you specifically because you wanted to and that's a good way, and that you could both increase the listenership and that would help you basically to close more clients.
Jen: Absolutely. I mean, the most important factor in drawing it back to something that they said or something that you know that they need. Not just sharing it for the sake of sharing it, but say, Hey, I thought of you. I thought of you because we were talking about this problem and here's an example of a way of solving, and so I wanted to show you how this works. Let me know what you would think. First of all, you're providing value, so you're helping rather than kind of extracting value, which is important. But then second, it shows that you understand them. Hopefully, if you get it right, of course, it shows, you understand them, you understand their business, you understand their pains, and that's a differentiator for sure.
Michael:Absolutely, and many, many businesses are looking for a zero-dollar acquisition channel, and I definitely think that having a podcast and basically continuously creating the content at a very low cost is much better than ... obviously it's different from industry to industry, but I know that many businesses are spending thousands of dollars for the trade shows, and at the end of the day, you are just going to those trade shows, meeting the same people or something, and you don't have that great exposure if you don't build this more kind of budget-friendly channel. To add to the promotion topic, if you do interviews, you can always promote the social plus tag your guests, and promote yourself through the guests and guests promote through you. So it's also additional because whenever you meet a new person, for example, yourself, you had your audience.
You have friends, connections, people, if they listen to this, they can enjoy some of it. They can find anything useful. The same goes here. So it's again, creating connections, creating value for both parties, creating value for the customers. Whenever we create new content like a blog or the podcast or how to library or something, I always say to my team, guys, we need always to stand out and need to be creative, and we need to look at each piece of content as if it's a unique, standalone piece so you shouldn't be the same every time.
So I want my prospects or people listening to this or reading the blog when they go to the page, they don't want to see the list of 200 very similar content pieces, but they see these unique pieces and they can get their attention too. You can see that people put a lot of efforts in each and every detail on the page, not necessarily one piece, but all the imaging, the content, the description, the topic, the guests, the list of bullet points, all of that and treat that as every piece of content there. Do you think that because of the habits that people have that you just consume the content that you like, but you don't necessarily look at those details? Do you think that this is the right approach or the difference between the mass market and a very targeted approach? What is the value result kind of feature there?
Jen: Oh man, that's a big question. I think you're going to have a healthy blend, depending on how you go to market. So if your total addressable market is pretty small and you've got ... we have clients who have got maybe 500 companies in the world they could actually sell to. For them, anything you do from a marketing perspective is going to be highly customized because they need to focus on those 500 customers, potential customers, and we can do tons of personalization and this is where you see the account-based strategies just really being very strong for those organizations.
But if you don't, if you got a much larger market that you could sell to, you have more flexibility to be a little bit more kind of broad. I just do think though, I agree with what you're saying in that how do you keep it looking fresh? How do you make sure you keep it looking like it's making sure that it's clear like this is new? And I would say also look for ways that you can take that one piece of content and give it more legs. We've been playing with things like with Instagram TV, IGTV and converting some podcast content there and looking for other places and spaces where it can perform. But I think it is a blend of consistent visuals to brand your company and brand the podcast episode, but then a bit of differentiation between one episode and the next so that that listener understands what he or she is going to be signing up for before they press play.
Michael: Beautiful. Thank you for this. So we went through all of these phases of the creation of the podcast, except the one that when you finish and people are listening to it, how do you analyze the performance? Do you use any specific tools for that, or do you just have the podcast native analytics, as well as some Google analytics, something like this or you, have some tools for that? How do you see the numbers?
Jen: We definitely have blind spots when it comes to the marketing performance of the podcast, and it's because we're unable to attribute a lead who comes in and converts on our site. They may have come in because they were listening on Spotify, or they were listening on iTunes. They found us there. That's a challenge, and it's not something that we can actually track from a technology perspective. It's something we will get into maybe if we are able to have a live conversation with somebody. Kind of analytics we look at, I mean we obviously we embed the audio files. We embed it on our sites and we have a podcast page so we keep track of visitors that are getting to that page. Having the content on that page is much more of trying to make it a useful kind of service to our listeners for them to have one place to go. It's less about trying to attract people to that.
We're not trying to optimize that page for our search because every single episode is going to have different content. Because we blog on a daily basis, we don't have a need for using our podcast content as blog content, but a lot of companies, this is such a great tool for them because they can take that content and then they can transcribe it and have it on their site as blog content. It's then searchable, trackable, and then you can see how people that are coming in through those mechanisms and also track who is reading versus who is listening. So long story short, we look high level at traffic growth. We look at spikes in the analytics of what episodes are getting the most downloads and we build correlations between those analytics and then the other kind of growth and success we're seeing across all of our digital marketing efforts. So it's a blend of art and science, but I think in the world of podcasting, it's still quite a bit of art and science is still playing catch up.
Michael: Where are we going with podcasts in the next five years? Would they be more popular? Would they be less popular, or in business are we going to create another channel like TikTok and have people there? What's your prediction?
Jen: Well, I don't have my crystal ball here with me right now, but I don't think podcasts are going anywhere anytime soon. Now, what else is going to be added? Oh goodness. Who knows, right? I love the fact that I have absolutely no idea that. That's what makes my job, I think so excitingly, but I don't think podcasts are going anywhere anytime soon. I think as technology improves, it's going to be easier and easier for non-professionals to create and to be better creators.
You think about the kinds of videos and little movies that I've seen teenagers and tweens make on their phones and think, Oh my gosh, what are you going to be doing by the time you're a professional? So I think that we're going to see more creative uses for podcasts. What I really want to see, I want to see better analytics. I want someone to crack the code on attribution, and I feel like that's just ripe for the taking. I'm ready for someone to come in and just disrupt it all.
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