When the Ego Calls: Leaving B2B Vanity Metrics in the Mirror

A high-growth startup founder and a marketer walk into a bar….

Okay, it’s actually the Tomorroist blog - not an actual bar (we’ll spare you bartender banter and buzzed rambling). How can high-growth B2B startups grow market share and leave behind the temptation of vanity metrics en route to marketing bliss?

Here is what one team learned. Read on from the team at Olo - the acronym for Online Ordering, the restaurant industry’s earliest nod to food ecommerce platforms that emerged with early public internet in the late 1990s. If you’ve ever used apps from restaurant brands such as Five Guys or sweetgreen, or ordered Chipotle catering, you’ve interacted with Olo without knowing it. Founder & CEO Noah Glass and Director of Marketing Jackie Berg converse about navigating a changing B2B landscape and ways that the Olo platform's reach has grown from 10 to 20 million users in the past year.

Jackie Berg (Olo Director of Marketing): I just returned from an unplugged week away abroad, and one of the most vivid images I started my first day back in New York with was a familiar commuting scene: scanning the subway car and seeing every passenger hunched over a handheld screen, masterfully blocking any surrounding chaos and unwanted messages calling for their attention. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon, but I bet this subway car looked quite different when you started Olo eleven years ago.


Noah Glass (Olo Founder & CEO): That’s right. Back when I started Olo, it was in a sub five percent smartphone adoption environment: New York City circa 2005. That meant that we had to demonstrate the potential of mobile ordering by letting customers order and pay via text message - no small feat. It was a klugey experience, but one that customers really loved, because it let them order and pay for coffee and food minutes before walking into a busy restaurant and get to Skip the Line® when they arrived, which always feels awesome.

JB: In the restaurant space, we are in the midst of an awakening in terms of the industry truly embracing the new consumer who is smartphone-enabled and in control. When you are facing early resistance from your audience and can sense future before it happens, how do you play the long game?

NG: The key is to find the early adopters who intuitively “get” what you’re trying to do, or have the most pain in a world in which your solutions doesn’t exist. You turn those clients into case studies/reference stories and work with them, so that you have quantifiable and indisputable metrics that prove that your solution has value to go and sell to the skeptics. Then patience and a little bit of pushing on the right stakeholders eventually get you to the fun days.

JB: What has the sweat equity and all this time taught you about generating and sustaining attention in a B2B environment?

NG: It takes a dedicated and scrappy team to hang in there during the tough early years of building proof. You need vision and conviction in that vision to get the team of true believers working with you through long hours and longer years. It’s not sexy and flashy and it’s easy to lose heart when you see other startups in the B2C space getting all of the media love. Still, sometimes the greatest prizes take time and only those with the discipline and fortitude to “embrace the suck” can stick it out.

JB: It feels like marketers are constantly fighting to regain trust with their potential customers. We know that trust has been broken by all the irrelevant messages that have inundated their customers in the past. You could call technology and data the behavioral therapy we need, but I still think a lot of marketers are screwing up their second chance.

NG: One of my favorite Michael Bloomberg quotes is: “In God We Trust. Everyone else: bring data.” That’s how buyers behave when confronted with marketers who are hard-selling without proof. As frustrating as it can be, I sympathize with these buyers. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Marketers who provide relevant/relatable messages and quantitative metrics that matter will always win.

JB: This reminds me of what Jon Bond alluded to in a previous post. He said that with real-time service layers, marketing can “become customized enough to finally migrate itself from an unwanted intruder to an actual (gasp!) service you appreciate – maybe even (double gasp!!) pay for.” It feels like we are just on the cusp of an omnipresent personal service layer with additions like Amazon’s Alexa. As B2B marketers, we should strive to become as skilled as brands like Amazon in answering the call of what our customers need in a way that is not invasive.

NG: It feels as if the lines between research reports and marketing are blending - and that’s a great thing. When marketing content can truly help a buyer make a better decision, it serves both marketer and buyer well. Content and evidence highlighting larger trends has become so critical in arming our prospects at Olo with the tools they need to get going.

JB: Back to the concept of targeting. I’m trying to think about the last time a vanity metric brought us any real marketing value, yet we all still obsess over them as marketers. Let’s say you had a choice of inheriting a subscriber list of 50,000 or 5,000. Which would you pick? We need to separate the knee-jerk reactions of the ego from the reality of what we are trying to accomplish. Suppose that list of 50,000 only has a 5% open rate. How does it sound now?

NG: Depth, nor breadth, is the key to good marketing. It’s about providing the resources that the buyer needs to answer all of their questions or just get them to the next step of asking to talk, even if that’s not a formal demo. I’d rather have 50 engaged prospects than 5,000 disengaged prospects.

JB: The tribe mentality, as Seth Godin would call it. The one question I think we can all ‘gut check’ ourselves with as marketers at all levels is: does this strategy or tactic drive real value for my customer or potential customer? Asking that question before undergoing any project has helped me tremendously in getting refocused on what matters. NG: There’s a lot of me-too in the marketing world. And a lot of borrowed tactics that have no strategic value because they’re borrowed. Strategy first and tactics second. Measurable everything. JB: Right. Most importantly, we need to stop interrupting people and start bringing value to everything marketing touches. What do you see as the next great challenge for marketers selling into business buyers?

NG: Transcending the obvious stakeholder is the next great challenge in B2B marketing. That is, getting a similar, but distinct message to the other key stakeholders involved in - but not leading - the decision. At Olo, we’ve found great value in engaging and educating the restaurant analyst community and investment community as a way of involving those who question and help dictate strategy for our clients and prospects. That’s made all of the difference.

Takeaways for B2B brands, regardless of where on the spectrum you sit:

  • If you are still in the early days: Turn enthusiastic early adopters into quantifiable case studies that will resonate elsewhere in your market. Anything you expend to achieve this should be considered a better marketing expense than advertising to people who don't "get" it...yet.

  • If you are fine tuning your marketing value proposition: Map out the areas that your service has the opportunity to bring real value to customers as part of your marketing mix. Ask them directly about how valuable this is ("Everyone else, bring data."). Layer this into your offering wherever possible. From the outside in, think about other service layers to bring your product to as well, that will serve customers in a natural way. As the HubSpot mantra goes, "stop interrupting and start connecting."

  • If you are cruising along but want to ensure you don't rest on your laurels: Have a good look at your marketing KPI set today, including elements that are top of mind. How many of those are vanity metrics used to tell yourself or your Board a fairytale? How many can you actually use to demonstrate actual engagement and business value?

  • No matter where you are: Bring the tenacity every day. Remember that overnight success stories are also often the ones that are the fastest to fizzle.

Noah Glass began working in the foodservice industry more than seventeen years ago before founding Olo in 2005. Glass is an industry visionary and pioneer in mobile ordering, whose thought leadership has been featured by Advertising Age, Inc., The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and more.

Jackie Berg is a B2B marketer at the intersection of hospitality and technology at Olo. She has worked across the marketing spectrum - previously uncovering consumer insights for Reebok International, Applebee's, and Sam Adams as well as writing copy for LivingSocial before becoming involved with the restaurant industry's digital transformation.

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