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Diary of a first-time CMO - Lessons on e-books

Hey B2B marketers

Here it is. Four years, $50m+ ARR and 200 pages later… My journey as a first-time CMO.

Covering the key learnings I've gathered in four years of leadership. This diary reveals the lessons that helped me scale Cognism from $3m to $50m ARR, build a team from 3 to 39, and transform our set-up from a classic lead gen function to a demand gen engine.

It’s my handbook for B2B marketers looking to thrive in leadership.

(especially if you’re as daunted as I was when I started out!)


Diary of a first-time CMO by Alice De Courcy
By: Alice de Courcy
1 minute read

Lessons on e-books

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There’s a part of me that believes anything done well can work. And we definitely got good at the e-book game.

We used subject matter experts to create genuinely valuable content. We always made sure there were loads of actionable tactics/takeaways and we led with them upfront.

We wanted to make sure that people knew the quality they would get when they signed up, minimising any trickery and showing the value off the bat.

We were able to get downloads of our e-books for about $10 which was unheard of on LinkedIn.

We also got really good at converting those leads. I’ve mentioned this in this diary before, but we carved out the role of the MDR.

The MDR role focused solely on converting marketing-generated demand. Because they were solely focused on these content leads, they became brilliant at getting them over the line.

Plus the feedback loop between them, our prospects and then back to us, was super-valuable. We knew which content resonated and which didn’t. We started to understand what assets made conversations and pitching easier for our MDRs and which didn’t.

We took our conversion rate from lead to SQO from 5% to 15%.

So that was really what helped to make this model so predictable and effective for us.

However, there are limitations… we did get to a point of diminishing returns.

Yes, we had this predictable engine where we were generating: 

  • MQLs for 10 dollars each.
  • Converting at a rate of 15% from content lead to SQO.
  • Those would close at a rate of 12%.
  • And we knew that 1 MDR needed 400 MQLs a month to keep them at capacity. 

This gave us a really simple model; it was easy to demonstrate to finance what our spend might look like from content and the revenue we could expect.

But we ran into a problem…

It only worked for the certain stage of growth we were at. Once we became more aggressive, this model was no longer viable.

Another problem we ran into was more of a team/people issue:

Salespeople get a lot of kudos/gratification from booking a meeting from a cold call. But for whatever reason, there’s a perception that a lead coming from a content download was an ‘easier sell’.

As we know from my first diary entry, that is certainly not the case.

However, that was the perception and so somehow there was less satisfaction coming from those deals.

One way we got around this was to make the MDR role a promotion from SDR before becoming an AE. Not only did it help the branding of the role, it also lent itself well as part of the experience and training in the sales team’s progression.

But as we came to terms with the fact that we were no longer getting the same results as we scaled, it became clear I needed to rethink this process as part of our overall strategy.

I still hold the belief that if we were at that same stage in growth as before, we could still be successful using this method. As I said at the beginning of this entry, anything done well can work.

However, I do feel like today’s buyers are no longer interested in downloading an e-book.

That’s not how they want to engage with content anymore. They don’t want to give up their details for a 20-page PDF, and I believe there are better ways to engage with your audience.

Personally, if I were starting day 1 at Cognism all over again… I wouldn’t roll out the e-book play.

I would go with the demand generation approach that we have now.

That being said, I think if you applied all the learnings that we did back then, there’s no reason you couldn’t still find success using it, if you felt it had to be a part of your overall strategy.

I know it sounds like I’m very evangelical about demand generation, and I am - now. But I wasn’t always.

It’s kinda a funny story…

I’m sure you’ll have heard of Chris Walker if you’ve looked into demand generation before. He’s extremely passionate about it. He was all over LinkedIn being… let’s say, negative, about the e-book.

At this time, I was still finding a lot of success with the e-book model. So I felt a little defensive. I thought I’d go head-to-head with him and debate it out.

I got him onto the Cognism podcast, where we discussed the e-book and its place in the marketing function. We had a really interesting conversation, which you can listen to here:

I remember he said to me:

‘I want to do this again in a year's time, and you tell me where you are then.’

I was pretty adamant that I wouldn’t change my mind. But after seeing the scalability issues with our method, and being exposed to more of his content…

Well, I did start to change my mind. He was right after all.

And we did redo the podcast - by then, we had become customers of Refine Labs. We were fully bought into the demand generation approach.

I think it’s funny to reflect on how all this stemmed from Chris Walker’s posts on LinkedIn, and how my opinions changed over time.

Advice to any other first-time CMOs out there:

Don’t let a philosophical viewpoint or an ‘I’ve always done this’ mindset prevent you from trying things a new way.

I could not have been a bigger advocate of lead generation when I started my journey, and now I am known for my demand generation content and both have enabled me to scale the Cognism marketing machine to where it is today. Both have had a critical role to play. 

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