238: The Curse of Commoditization, with Katie Martell

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Commoditization is such a beautiful word that means nothing, but it is so important to understand.

Katie Martell, CMO and co-founder of Cintell, will be speaking at the Conquer Local Conference in 2019, June 10-12 in San Diego! She can walk the walk and talk the talk. Katie gives us a teaser on what she will be sharing with our Conquer Local audience, commoditization. She explains that it doesn’t matter what you sell, you are likely selling into a commoditized market. It’s an issue that all companies are facing every single day.

Katie Martell is an independent voice in the marketing community and known as the “unapologetic marketing truth-teller.” She has been named “one of the most interesting people in B2B marketing,” a “marketing expert to follow” and a top marketing writer on LinkedIn. Katie is a frequent speaker and emcee at conferences including TEDx, INBOUND, and MarketingProfs, and serves as the Co-Executive Director of Boston Content, the city’s largest community of content professionals. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Rabble Rousers, and hosts the Explicit Content podcast with Enterprise Marketer, featuring direct and honest conversations about marketing.



George: It’s the latest edition of the “Conquer Local” podcast and we’re starting to bring you guests that are on our list of speakers at the Conquer Local Conference, which is happening June 10th through 13th at beautiful Hotel Coronado in San Diego, California. And Katie Martell, the CMO, and Co-Founder of Cintell, Director of Buzz at NetProspex. She is coming up next to tell us about commoditization of sales. And to learn more about what she’ll be speaking about in her guest appearance as one of our speakers at the “Conquer Local” conference in June. Katie Martell, I’m excited for this edition of the “Conquer Local” podcast. Katie is on our lineup for Conquer Local, the conference coming in June. And Katie, thanks for joining us.

Katie: Hi, George. Thanks for having me. And hi, everybody.

George: I’m very excited to dig in and get a bit of an overview of some of the things we’re gonna be talking about when we see you on stage at Conquer Local. But let’s get this out of the way, right out of the gate, commoditization, what the heck does that have to do with sales in 2019, in your opinion?

Katie: Oh my God. It’s such a beautiful word that means nothing and is so important for everyone to understand. What do you think it means, George? What does the word commoditization say to you when you hear it?

George: When I think of commoditization, I think about, you know, you’re selling something, you’re maybe first to market, you maybe have some penetration into the market, and then 30 other people are selling the same thing, and now that product or service has become commoditized.

Katie: It’s exactly right. The synonym that I use is a nasty word in sales and marketing, but it’s prevalent, ready for it, brace yourself, generic. I know, it hurts.

George: I hate that word.

Katie: But honestly, it’s a word that I just find…it’s a curse of commoditization that I think a lot of companies face today. And honestly, it’s the hardest thing to overcome, but it’s ubiquitous. It doesn’t matter what you sell, you’re likely selling into a commoditized industry today, and you’re likely facing more competition than ever. So, I think for those listening on this call, it’s likely an issue that you guys are facing every single day.


Times Are Changing, but Commoditization Is Always Here

George: I’ve looked back to my long and storied career, you know, we were commoditized 30 years ago, selling 30 second radio commercials so that, you know, it’s not something new, but I think that it’s important that people understand that there is a way to deal with this and that everybody is facing it. And I’m glad that you brought that up.

Katie: Absolutely. I mean, my background is in 100% B2B marketing, my background’s actually at smaller companies, startups, really companies that are just trying anything sometimes in a desperate way to break through. And I’ve always sold and marketed technology, and SaaS products, and solutions before I moved on to market services, which is I know a lot of the folks listening today. But it used to be taken for granted that you could build technology, bring it to market, and as long as you were doing something different enough, you were gonna differentiate, you were gonna break through, buyers were gonna take you seriously. I think the reality in 2019, beginning to 2020, is it’s actually never been easier to start a tech company, bring something to market, build Cloud technology, launch it in the market, just like it’s never been easier. And the barrier to entry has been lower for agencies and for digital providers. So, now, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, it could be HR tech, it could be even drone-related technology because that market is exploding. You’ve just got more noise and more competition. It’s amazing to think even niche markets have a ton of competition today.

George: So, let’s dig into the bio for a few minutes. You’ve got my attention, but I just want to talk about some of these great bio lines that you have. You’re one of the top 10 marketing writers on LinkedIn. Number three most influential B2B marketer on Twitter, a marketing expert to follow as quoted by “CIO” magazine, one of 20 women to watch in sales lead management, and a top 100 influencer in content marketing. Now, also known as an unapologetic marketing truth teller. Now, I thought that all marketing was telling the truth. Any of the marketing people that I know are very, very truthful people.

Katie: Totally aboveboard. No, I made all that up. So that’s all just to get speaking gigs done. I’m kidding. I have a background in PR and I think as you are an independent consultant like myself, you have to be deft in the art of self-promotion. So, thank you for reading it out loud. It’s a little embarrassing when you’re faced with it on a call, but…


A Century of Marketing Is About to Evolve

George: Well, I think it’s important for our audience to understand that, you know, you aren’t just professing here, you are walking the walk and talking the talk of, you’re constantly promoting to continue to build up your resume and to, you know, be seen as a top influencer in the space. What are some of the themes that you’re seeing when it comes to marketing and what can we expect from the great Katie Martell, when she arrives at Conquer Local in a couple of months?

Katie: Oh, I really hope that I am introduced on stage as the great Katie Martell. That is fantastic. No, I have been a marketer for about 12 years now. And what’s funny is that the majority of my career, I have been marketing to marketers. And that’s given me this very interesting, unique perspective on the world of B2B marketing, but it’s also made me up my game because if you market to people that understand exactly what you’re doing, you’ve gotta be really good. You’ve gotta be above the rest, which, you know, it’s difficult, but I’m grateful for, it’s made me raise the bar on everything I produce. So, like I said, my background is in smaller companies and startups. I had my own startup for a little bit, I was an entrepreneur. You know, a trend that I see, it doesn’t matter how big the company is that you’re at, every marketer today is being asked to think kind of like an entrepreneur, kind of think scrappy, how do we do more with less? How do we become a little more agile than we ever have been in the past? Which I think is actually good for the profession of marketing, good for the industry, and forces us, again, like, it’s happened to me just organically, it’s forced us to raise the bar in what we do. Buyers, I know will appreciate that. But we are now kind of in this world of, if you’re not staying ahead of the curve, if you’re not trying something new, experimenting, like you would do naturally at a startup, you are gonna fall behind, no pressure.

George: In those 12 years that you’ve been doing this, do you feel that we’ve been wasting money on our marketing, as businesses, and as startups? And do you feel there’s been a waste there?

Katie: I don’t think there’s been a waste. I think what’s happened is, we’ve gotten complacent in, I wanna say the first 100 years of marketing as we know it today, which I count, essentially 19, 18 until today, the beginning of Edward Bernays, and the history of marketing is fascinating. I have a TEDx talk about it, you all should Google right now. But I think right now we’re facing a kind of, what happens to the next hundred years of marketing question. Buyers right now don’t tend to trust marketing, they’re kind of immune to it. I think the status, something like, you’re more likely to get into Harvard, win the lottery, and I think, get abducted by aliens, than you are to click on a banner ad. I know that’s a joke. We’re kind of having to reinvent what it is that we do, which, like I said, buyers are gonna appreciate because right now, any email they get, any ad they see, they’re looking at it really skeptically because they’re looking at it in the history of, “I have been marketed to for 100 years and it’s all been the same type of marketing.” By that, I mean, very product-focused marketing. We have a product, we’re gonna market it to you, in the sense that, we’d like you to become the kind of consumer that fits our product. And I think the biggest switch, the biggest difference in the next 100 years, and the best opportunity for anybody in marketing today is simply to switch that up a little bit. Think about the fact that if we’re gonna market, we’ve gotta do it in the buyer’s perspective, in the buyer’s point of view, in their language, in their terms. It’s gonna be downright refreshing as a buyer to receive that kind of marketing. And that’s the kind of marketing that, you know, helps even the smallest companies with the lowest brand awareness, breakout and get through.


The Curse of the Consideration Set

George: Well, I think that you’re hitting on a very good point here and that is that, you know, marketing has changed dramatically. I was wondering if we could go back to commoditization for a minute. You know, in this same vein, can you give us some commoditization examples that tie into what you were just speaking about?

Katie: Absolutely. Think about it this way, if you’re a consumer, you’re well familiar with commoditization. Every time you go to amazon.com, and you’re looking up toilet paper, you know, I mean, you may still go to a grocery store and buy toilet paper, whatever, but you’re looking at a million different brands all doing the exact same thing. And what happens there is, they try to out-entertain you, right? They get cute bears or they drop the price. Now, in B2B, we like to think that we are immune from commoditization. But look at any software company, look at any agency, there is a spike in the number of people that do exactly what you say you do. And so, you either have one of two choices. You either lower your prices because what happens when products become similar from a buyers’ point of view, they will buy the cheapest one, or you find a way to break through. And you find a way to break through what I call, “The curse of the consideration set.” Now, this is a very natural process in the sales cycle, but the curse of the consideration set is what happens when a buyer has gotten to the point where they’re now reviewing vendors. They’ve gotten over the hurdle of being taught they have a problem, they’ve built their shortlist, and you’re now part of a shortlist. It’s actually something to celebrate if you’ve made it that far, great work, but, how do you avoid the price war to the bottom? How do you become one of the 4, 5, maybe 10 vendors on a shortlist that’s actually convinced the buyer that you are the one they’re gonna actually spend money with? And what happens if we don’t fix this? If we don’t solve it, our deal cycle is slower because the buyer can’t make up their mind between all of us. You go through a price war, which I mentioned because the buyer cannot understand why they should spend more money with you, or all of the marketing efforts that you’ve done so far are just slowing down. The response rates are low. These are like symptoms that you are suffering from this curse of the commoditization and the consideration set.


Act like the Company You Want to Be: Break Through

George: So, this is just a tease of what we’re going to see at Conquer Local in June, in sunny San Diego, when you are one of our keynote speakers on stage. Tell us about some other things that Katie is up to, in your work with organizations all over North America.

Katie: Well, this is one of my favorite topics to talk about because I think, like I said earlier, it is so universal. So, thank you guys for having me at your event. I’m gonna be talking about some ways to think about how to differentiate from that consideration set, how to break through. And honestly, this is work I love to do. It’s what I did when I was an in-house marketer, and it’s what I do now as a consultant. So, I tend to work with what I call high-growth brands, brands that are looking to…maybe they just got funding or they just kind of revamped their entire product strategy, and they just need to make some noise, and they just need the world to see them and to hear them. So, I’m basically working with brands to help them be seen as the leaders that they kind of internally know themselves to be and their customers know themselves to be, but you’ve gotta be able to make the right moves in market. Are you guys fans of Leonard Cohen?

George: Absolutely. Who isn’t?

Katie: I think Leonard Cohen is one of those names that I’d hope is quoted as much as, you know, Shakespeare and all the rest. What’s your favorite Leonard Cohen song?

George: Canadian as it gets, Katie. I don’t have a favorite. I love them all.

Katie: Okay, we won’t play any favorites. But Leonard Cohen has this quote that I think is applicable to any company, especially if you’re scrappy, maybe you’re like, the underdog, it’s, “Act the way that you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act,” right? And I think we have to act like the company that we wanna be. And even if we’re not there yet, we have to position our brands as the brands and the leaders that we know we can be before we’re there. We’ve gotta be willing to punch above our weights and kind of act like market leaders act, even before we’re there.

George: Well, I’m now quoting another Leonard Cohen line and that is, “Hallelujah.” You hit the nail right on the head. So, we’re excited to have you at Conquer Local and if now our listeners are saying, “I’d like to learn more about Katie Martell before I get to see her on stage,” how do we connect with you online and how do we follow you?

Katie: I hope that everyone does answer this question whenever you ask this of them, I am very Googleable. As a good marketer, I am very Googleable. So, if you type in Katie Martell, you’ll see everything I do. Specifically, I’d love for you guys to check out, I have a newsletter that I send out every week, it’s called, “The World’s Best Newsletter” because I’m humble and subtle. And what I do is I just send out everything that I read throughout the week that I think is interesting, fascinating, all those things that I bookmark that are helpful, and you can subscribe to that at katie-martell.com.

George: And the TED talk that you did, we’re gonna find that when we Google, of course, can you tell us a little bit more about that experience? Because I have yet to do mine, I’m just waiting for the invite. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.

Katie: Now, see, I’m gonna give you some advice on this live podcast and it’s Leonard Cohen, “You gotta act like the company you wanna be.” You’ve got to go and get that TED talk yourself. You cannot sit back and wait for them to ask you to do it. You’ve gotta go find out who in your local…is there a Canadian version of TEDx? Do you guys have a local one?

George: Absolutely, we do.

Katie: You gotta go get dinner with that person tomorrow and get the spot, and that’s how I got mine. I find out who organized it, I said, “I’ve got a great pitch.” And they said, “You’re in. We’d love to have this on our stage. We have to make it happen.”

George: I love getting advice. And thank you so much for that, I’m gonna…We’re looking forward to seeing you in June at Conquer Local, and we appreciate you being on the podcast today. Commoditization. Now, I’m looking at it in a little different light. And I appreciate you giving us those insights. Katie Martell, our guest this week on the “Conquer Local” podcast.

Katie: Thanks, everyone. Thanks for having me.



George: Well, as a salesperson, you are facing commoditization, you probably have been for quite some time. And what Katie is saying, and I completely agree with her is that, it’s just growing at a rate that we’ve never seen before. And we need to be aware of that if we’re going to go to market. And you know, I love the fact she’s worked with so many startups because I think that as businesses, we need to think like a startup. We need to be scrappy and we need to be changing our approach and pivoting, or we risk being disrupted. And that could happen to us at any moment. You know, it’s gonna be great seeing Katie on stage, make sure you do Google her and check out some of that content she was speaking of. She’s a wealth of knowledge and a fantastic speaker, and I’m looking forward to learning from her when we see her on stage, the 10th through 13th of June, beautiful San Diego, California at Conquer Local 2019. Now, speaking about Conquer Local 2019, you could be there and we’re gonna pay the bill. Producer Colleen, and myself, we’re just gonna write a check, $5,000 and you get to go. Here’s the hitch. You have to do the survey, the largest survey of salespeople ever conducted. We’ve been sending out the links, we’ve sent out emails, we’re requesting, we’re begging, borrow and stealing your information. We wanna learn from you, what are the challenges that you’re facing? What are you seeing as some of the biggest things that need to be solved in local sales?

We wanna know who you are. We wanna know how long you’ve been doing it. We wanna know what type of organization you’re a part of. And we’re gonna take all of that information, and we’re going to come up with some key findings is what we’re hoping, that we can share at Conquer Local when I’m on stage doing my presentation. And we’re also gonna be sharing the information from this largest survey of local salespeople ever conducted right here on the “Conquer Local” podcast. So, make sure that you click the link, you can find that link on our website at conquerlocal.com. And the goal is for you to fill it out and win that trip for two. Now, not everybody is going to win, we’re gonna make a draw out of everybody that fills out the survey. But make sure that you do so in the coming weeks. And Conquer Local, if you can’t wait to win the five grand, then what you can do is go to conquerlocal.com and buy your tickets today, and you should do so, here’s why. The hotel room block is getting close to being sold out. We have a limited number of rooms in the beautiful Hotel Coronado. That’s where the event is going to be held. And I don’t want you to be stuck at the Hilton Garden Inn on the far end of downtown San Diego and then have to take Ubers, it’s gonna cost a fortune. Let’s just get you into the hotel room block today. So, go to conquerlocal.com, click on the conference link and let’s get you registered, but fill out the survey and go to conquerlocal.com, and register for the convention. They’re all coming up here right away. It’s right around the corner. LinkedIn is the best place to reach out to us with your feedback. We read every piece of feedback and we also take that information to heart, and that’s how we’re crafting upcoming editions of the “Conquer Local” podcast. I’m George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.