What is Influencer Marketing? [Notes From TechTO]

That’s the question I had in mind going into the TechTO event on February 19, dedicated to influencer marketing. In exploring this topic, I found the presenters all brought something different to the debate. Alexandra Panousis, the host for MarketingTO, did an excellent job managing the discussion and pulling out key insights from the presenters. It was great to be back at the TELUS office in Toronto for the event.

From the presentations at the event and my views, there are a few significant problems marketers need to consider before adding influencer marketing into their marketing mix. Let’s start with pricing.

Influence Marketing Challenge: Pricing

Compared to established digital marketing platforms like Google Ads or Facebook Ads, influencer marketing pricing is challenging to understand. From my discussions at the event, it looks like magazine-style rate cards and cost per thousand impressions are the most popular pricing models. Beyond traditional transactions, some brands pay with product samples. The ambiguity and wide range of practice in pricing means there is more work involved to make this channel work.

Influence Marketing Challenge: Transparency

No matter how you approach it, transparency is a significant problem in influencer marketing. Thankfully, some solutions are coming to the market to help with this problem. #Paid, a SaaS company based in Toronto, brings analytics to help brands in their due diligence process. While this data is helpful, there is still no replacement for old fashioned due diligence efforts like picking up the phone and meeting the person.

#Paid at MarketingTO

Influencer Marketing Challenge: Trust & Authenticity

If you pay an influencer in kind or with money, does that impact whether you are authentic to your followers? This is not a new problem. It emerged in the 2000s when bloggers started to take off in popularity and compete with traditional journalists for access, perks, and attention. Increased disclosure and measurement tools will help.

Does B2B Influencer Marketing Exist?

My marketing practice focuses on B2B technology companies. Alas, most of the influencer marketing examples we see in the market come from the consumer space. For B2B, the primary example of influencer success comes down to founders and executives promoting their own company like Russell Brunson’s expert promotion of ClickFunnels. Would an executive at a Fortune 500 company be able to accept a traditional, paid influencer marketing arrangement to promote a product? Possibly! However, such arrangements would probably require clearance by compliance and legal professionals. The return on effort might not be worth the effort.

Now For Something Different: TikTok

TikTok at MarketingTO


TikTok, the emerging social media platform, was also highlighted in the event. It was my first time seeing the platform in action, which I found helpful. In functionality, it looks like a cross between YouTube and traditional social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. From a marketer’s standpoint, the full-screen app experience and the default “sound on” are exciting. However, I am skeptical if the “sound on” default settings will stay because that may be perceived as a less than ideal user experience when other platforms let users control this feature. On the other hand, millions of Canadians, Americans, and others are finding value in the platform. Thanks to Joshua Bloom at TikTok for sharing his perspective on the platform.

The Final Word on B2B Influencer Marketing: Experiment With It

In most areas of marketing, I like to use the 80/20 rule. Allocate most of your marketing effort (the 80%) to proven marketing efforts that work for your goals. Reserve 20% of your resources to experiment with new media, offers, and messaging. If you are pursuing influencer marketing in a B2B context, reserve this strategy for experimentation.  From a B2B marketing perspective, I don’t think influencer marketing is ready for prime time, but it is well worth experimenting with it. Many companies will be reluctant to pursue it due to the challenges outlined above. That means there is an opportunity if you work at making the channel work.

How Much Should SaaS Companies Spend on Marketing [Data From 6 Companies]

What fraction of total SaaS revenue is typically spent on marketing?

How much of your SaaS revenue should you spend on marketing? That’s a question I recently read on Reddit, so I thought I would provide a detailed answer. Since sales and marketing are closely related, I’m going to use sales and marketing data sets here.

1. Typical Industry benchmarks: Percentage of SaaS revenue spent on marketing

In terms of industry benchmarks, a 2016 SaaS survey found that the median is 35% of revenue spent on sales and marketing. The research found that revenue growth was correlated with higher spend on sales and marketing. In this case, it was not an even split between sales and marketing – the sales spend was more than 50% in this survey.

2. The fraction of SaaS Revenue Spent on Marketing: Data From Public SaaS Companies

Now let’s take a look at companies which have recently gone public. Once again, sales and marketing figures are reported in a single value by convention.

  • Cloudflare: 49-56% of revenue spent on sales on marketing

For the year ended Dec 31, 2018, Cloudflare spent 49% of revenue on sales and marketing. For the three months ending Dec 31, 2019, the ratio was 56%. It is important to note that Cloudfare is currently operating in a net loss. Find out more from the company’s SEC filings.

  • Slack: 59%-67% of revenue spent on sales and marketing

For the nine months ended Oct 2019, Slack spent 67% of revenue on sales and marketing. In contrast, for the nine months ended Oct 2018, the ratio was 59%. Read more information on the company’s filings.

  • CrowdStrike: 55% of revenue spent on sales and marketing

For the three months ended Oct 31, 2019, CrowdStrike spent 55% of its total revenue on sales and marketing. Note that 8.7% of the company’s total revenue for that period was professional services. Link to the filings.

Data from established SaaS companies:

If you are operating at a later stage of the SaaS company lifecycle, comparing yourself to larger companies makes sense.

  • 45%-46% of total revenue spent on sales and marketing

For the nine months ending on Oct 31, 2019, the company spent 46% of total revenue on sales and marketing. For the same period in 2018, the ratio was 45%. Find out more by reading the company’s public filings.

  • ServiceNow: 47%-50% of total revenue spent on sales and marketing.

For the nine months ending on Sept 30, 2019, the company spent 47% of its total revenue on sales and marketing. For the same period in 2018, the ratio was 50%.

  • Shopify: 30-33% of total revenue spent on sales and marketing.

Shopify, the giant in e-commerce software, stands out compared to the other technology companies profiled here. The company is spending only about one-third of revenue on sales and marketing. In the year ended 2019 and 2018, the company had a loss. For more details, take a look at the Q4 2019 press release.

The Next 2 SaaS Marketing Questions You Need To Ask

Based on this brief industry survey, the typical range spend on marketing is approximately 15%-25% of revenue on marketing. That amount is estimated based on the 2016 survey. If you are spending less than 15-25% of total revenue on marketing, you are at a disadvantage relative to most SaaS companies.

Merely throwing money at your sales and marketing departments will not generate results. You need to consider a few other factors as well.

1) How Competitive Is Your Market?

Some markets are more expensive to market in than others. For example, marketing software for significant banks is going to be costly! To estimate marketing costs in your industry, take a look at Google Ads benchmark data. However, cost and competitiveness are just one side of the marketing coin.

2) What Is Your Customer Lifetime Value?

If a new customer is worth $5,000 over a year, how much can you afford to spend to acquire them? The answer will depend on your ability to upsell in part. As a rule of thumb, you can probably comfortably spend $500 to $2500 to acquire that customer.

How To Get Help With Your SaaS Marketing

Improving your SaaS marketing results takes time, expertise, and a willingness to experiment. Your in house marketing team may be at capacity with their current projects. To gain a new perspective on your SaaS marketing, contact me today.

3 Ways To Get The World’s Biggest Websites To Link To You (No PR Agency Needed)

You want the New York Times, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Hackers News to link to your website. You built a great app! Why shouldn’t they link to you and send you a flood of traffic?

That’s the thinking I encounter in quite a few conversations with tech entrepreneurs. It’s unfortunate because it is based on magical thinking. It’s the same kind of thinking you see in the movie and music business. You know those stories about aspiring actors and musicians waiting to “be discovered” by an agent? That’s not a good plan!  

If you want significant, high traffic, high prestige websites to link to you, you need to take action.

 1. Be different instead of “better” in your message

You built an app that is 5% better than the best solution on the market? That achievement, on its own, is not enough to get attention. All hope is not lost. To pursue this achievement and get major websites to link to you, use this tip. Translate that performance improvement into a customer outcome.


Technical Achievement: Our ad tech platform serves ads 5% faster than the competition.

Newsworthy Angle: Our high-speed platform just won CNN as a client because of our record speed.

2. Adopt the “craft-brewed” approach to your pitches

Some services on the web offer “email blasts” or sending a press release to thousands of journalists. For many companies, these services are not a good fit if you are just getting started. Why? These services make it nearly impossible to customize your message for a specific audience. I know what you want to use these services. They offer a short cut. A way to get your free traffic and mainstream credibility fast and cheaply.

The reality? These services do not often work. It is not the fault of the press release service. It is your expectations and level of preparation. You fail to think of the journalist or website owner as a customer. You need to connect the dots between your business and the publication. You cannot assume that your “awesome app” will be understood.

The solution is simple.

Do 5-10 handcrafted pitches next week. That means writing out emails yourself to specific people. Make the email YOU FOCUSED. Think about the journalist or website owner’s problems. They want to look smart to their audience. They want to feature news stories that generate buzz and help them stand out.

3. Play the long game of online publicity and traffic

For a few years, I worked hard on building up I started by publishing articles on my website for a few months. Then, I started to reach out to other project management websites with an offer to contribute articles. After nearly six months, I had a big break – landing a monthly column with Building on that relationship further, I had the opportunity to deliver more than 20 webinars and grow my audience along the way.

Why do I tell you this story? Simple. Many people want to jump straight from zero to working with a major partner. However, this is like building a home without laying the foundation first. It is simply not going to work!

The way to sustainable success in online publicity is to start small, build your credibility in the industry, and work your way up.

This Is Just The Beginning

There are more ways to get significant websites to link to you and provide a flood of traffic. Stay tuned on this page for more insights about ways to get the credibility and traffic you need to grow.

4 Reasons Why TechTO Is An Amazing Community

When you first hear about an event like TechTO, you have certain expectations. That it will be a way to learn about the local technology industry. That you will meet interesting people. However, what I saw on September 16th blew me away.

What Community Means: A Tale of Two Presentations

Many in the tech industry talk about community in vague terms. It’s sometimes hard to know what it means. TechTO showed great community spirit in two ways last night.

1) Supporting Community Development: DAREarts

Looking back on my younger years, I’m grateful for many opportunities. I had the chance to travel, play music in school, and more. Unfortunately, many people do not have those resources. Some also struggle with bullying and being labeled as difficult, dumb or worse. DAREarts organization offers one solution to those problems. In a short presentation, I learned about how the program exposes students to a variety of creative forms such as graphic design, acting, dancing and more.

In addition to the content of the program, I admire how DAREarts gives the opportunity for reinvention. Since they mix students from different schools into one program, you don’t have to worry about your past nicknames coming up. In a way, I also see this program as a way to encourage networking beyond a student’s home school. What a welcome relief from our culture’s unrelenting obsession with STEM subjects and test scores.

2) Encouragement When You Stumble

If you haven’t made mistakes in your business, you must have started your business today. Mistakes, trial, and error, whatever you want to call it. It’s part of life. We can’t change that. However, we can change how we support people when they have a problem. That’s one area where TechTO shone on Sept 16.

Speaking about your business in front of several hundred people is a daunting experience. After all, most business owners are not public speakers by inclination or training, especially in the technology industry. One of the first speakers, a successful entrepreneur in the coworking industry, came to speak about his experience of building one of the fastest-growing co-working space companies in Canada. Unfortunately, he had some difficulties with his presentation – it happens to us. For a time, it looked like he was not up to finishing his presentation.

The community rallied to support him under the guidance of our excellent hosts, Alex Norman and  Jason Goldlist. First, we gave him standing applause to encourage him to return to the stage. Next, Alex reached out to help him to start speaking again by referencing his slides. It was one of the best recoveries I’ve seen. There’s no other business group I have seen like this.

3) Pulling back the curtain in fundraising

Mike Murchison, Co-Founder & CEO of Ada Support, presented on his company’s recent fundraising success. This was interesting because it was a chance to dive beyond the headlines of tech fundraising. His point to question the traditional power dynamic of investors and companies was a great one. Rather than approaching investors as a supplicant, view them as a potential new hire. After all, a great investor for a tech firm should bring more to the table than a cheque. I have heard this “more than a cheque” comment before, but it was not explained further.

The advice to question conventions when it comes to pitching investors (e.g., that presentations are always a particular length or style) was also impressive. After all, imagine you are a venture investor and sit through a dozen presentations per week that all have the same format.

4) Sharing how to rapidly build and grow a high-performance technology team

If your company had to hire dozens of people this year, could you do it? That’s the challenge that Index Exchange has faced this year. For Marc Staveley, CTO at Index Exchange, managing a high growth engineering team requires a few disciplines.

Always Be Recruiting.

Like any other process, it takes time to achieve momentum. To build your recruiting pipeline, you need to run the process continuously. That’s one of the company’s achievements. This reminds me of Ryan Barretto’s, SVP Global Sales at Sprout Social, comment at the Sept 2019 SalesTO event earlier this month. Recruiting and sales require continuous efforts and systems to succeed.

Emphasize culture and attitude over technical skill.

Rather than attempting to hire for the perfect set of technical skills every time, Index Exchange takes a different approach. As a matter of principle, they emphasize culture and attitude fit over skills. There’s a fascinating perspective to hear from a technical leader. It also shows that companies need to be flexible to find the right talent in today’s market.

The Final Word From Tamara

During one of the breaks, I met Tamara Tanney of Marketing Millennial. Later, I asked her to share her perspective on the event. She commented, ” My favourite part of the event was seeing just how far tech has evolved and how many fields tech can be leveraged in: Non-profits, education, co-working.” Well said!

4 Lessons From Sales TO’s Sept 2019 Event

Going to Sales TO for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be surrounded by sales professionals making pitches? Alternatively, would it be like a sales training event? I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a collaborative community. Thanks to Pipedrive – the CRM I use! – for helping to sponsor the event.

Lesson 1: How To Keep A Crowd of Sales Professionals Happy

Sales professionals are known for being loud, competitive, and determined. So there is an art to managing and channeling that energy productively. There were two practices at Sales TO that helped.

2.1 Staff An Open Bar

Sales TO has the highest beverage consumption out of all of the TechTO events. Staffed by Sip, the bar kept everyone in good spirits.

2.2. Lay Out The Ground Rules And Provide A Safety Valve

Telling a salesperson not to pitch? That’s a tough sell. Kenny Goldman, host of the event, deserves much credit for the event’s quality. He laid out good ground rules – no pitching and no poaching.

However, that restriction was balanced with the Open Mic segment. This segment gave everyone in the room 10 seconds on the microphone to provide an update, say they were hiring or make another announcement.

Lesson 2: 4 Steps To Keep The Content Machine Running From Gong’s Content Marketing Strategy:

Before the event, I was already familiar with thanks to their excellent content marketing on LinkedIn.

Naturally, diving into the company’s content strategy was exciting. I appreciated how Chris Orlob, Director of Sales at, mentioned that it was a work in progress – there was not a multi-year plan at the beginning. How did they do it? Orlob laid out a tongue in cheek series of steps for us to follow.

1)  Start by understanding your market deeply.

When Orlob was at a previous start-up, he interviewed over 200 sales leaders. These conversations gave him a deep understanding of the market. It’s a critical practice to go deep with your market, especially if you are selling to a market where you have less personal understanding.

2) Read Every Day

It doesn’t have to be a full book. You could read magazine articles, blog posts by customers, or comments on social media. For a B2B tech product, comments on posts by influencers in your space are an excellent way to stay on the pulse of the market.

3 Write Every Day

I cannot agree with this habit strongly enough! I’ve recently restarted my “writing daily for the business” habit, and it has helped tremendously.

4 Write Every Damn Day

It’s so important that we’re mentioning it more than once.

What about overcoming those inevitable “blank page” syndrome challenges?

To this, Orlob had two helpful tactics.

First, physically get out of the office and walk in nature for a time (a glass of wine is optional but recommended). You will probably get some ideas during that walk.

The second tactic is to look for “micro problems” your market has and then create content to address those points. I love this tactic because it is an excellent counterpoint to the drive to develop “ultimate guide” exhaustive content. Those content assets are valuable and worth creating. However, they are not the only game in town.

While some of the discussion during the panel focused on changes, I was struck by how much remains the same. For example, the issue of focus came up several times. Specifically, what is your view of competitors on sales methods, conversion rates, and similar topics? The overall consensus was simple: we are focused on our goals. An occasional look at the competition is helpful, but that point of view will only take you so far.

Lesson 3: Sales Leaders Always Need To Be Recruiting and Networking

Ryan Barretto, SVP Global Sales at Sprout Social, made an excellent point about how he approaches recruiting. His organization’s sales force has dramatically expanded in the past year. As a result, he has developed a habit to personally spend time each week on reaching out to new people, going to lunches and more.

This is an excellent reminder for sales professionals at all levels. Your CRM might incentive you to focus on email and calling since those activities are easy to track. However, there is something special and irreplaceable about meeting people in person.

Lesson 4: Invite Your Customers To Speak To The Sales Team

Staying connected with your customers and the value they get from your product. When you are scaling rapidly, it is easy for sales professionals to focus on the next customer after each close. There’s just one problem with that approach. You might start to feel disconnected with the value the customer gets from the product.

To stay connected with customers, Erin Bush, Senior Director of Revenue Operations at LeanData,   mentioned that her company invites customers to their internal company meetings. That’s a great way to both inspire the sales team and equip them with more real-life stories to use in sales.

Wrapping It Up

This was my first SalesTO experience, and it was an excellent experience. There are not that many places where people interested in technology sales can gather in the Toronto area. Whether you want to hear about sales job opportunities, compare notes or learn from sales leaders, this event series is well worth your time. The event is at the right size where you can meet quite a few people in a short time yet not be lost in a sea of new faces.

SaaS Companies: How To Save Time With Social Media Marketing Using Habits

To get leads, free trial users, and prospects for your SaaS product, you need to use social media. So far, so good. There’s just one problem. You’re probably terribly inefficient in your social marketing. That’s costing you time that could be

Why Your Bad Social Media Habits Undermine Your Marketing Success

You publish a new blog post to promote a new feature like your Salesforce integration. To get traffic, you post that link to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Your vague intention is to publish the update and move on with your day. However, that “quick update” quickly becomes a half hour or longer social media session. You see all the updates from your friends and contacts.

Yikes! When a fifteen-minute marketing task becomes a 60 minute aimless wandering, you have a problem.

It’s Not Your Fault – These Are Habit Forming Products

If you find it difficult to tear yourself away from social media platforms, you’re far from alone. These products have been crafted by engineers and marketers to engaging. That’s a bit strange when you think about it. How can use a computer or mobile device become habit forming? That’s a big question best answered in the book – Read Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal for more insight.

You cannot change the design of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other platforms yourself. However, you can change your habits.

How To Optimize Your Social Media Marketing Habits

You cannot ignore social media platforms when it comes to promoting your business. That’s no solution! There are simply too many leads on those platforms to ignore. Instead, you need to use systems and rules to optimize your process. Use these rules to guide your process

1 Write your social media to do list in advance

When I was growing my project management website, I had a standard social media promotion procedure. With every new post, I would publish updates to Twitter, LinkedIn, and specific LinkedIn groups. Once updates were published to those specific places, my job was done.

2 Write your social media updates off the platform

Writing your social media updates directly on the platform is not a good idea. Instead, I recommend creating those updates in Word or Google Docs. Compared to social media, these apps are distraction-free, so you will be able to write your updates much faster.

3 Set a timer for direct social media use

I’m a huge fan of using count down timers as a productivity tool. For example, set a timer on your phone for 15 or 20 minutes. As the clock counts down, you need to go through each part of your social media update list from step 1. If you’re not sure how long to set the timer for, I recommend 20 minutes as a starting point.

4 Publish the updates

Copy and paste the updates onto each platform. Next, add in the other needed elements such as links, images, emojis, and the like.

5 Return in 1-2 hours for a 15-minute engagement session

After you publish your content to social platforms, you job is not done. When people engage with your content, you need to return to platform to engage. Scheduling a reminder to check and respond to comments and likes in 15 minutes is enough in most cases. If you happen across a prospect who appears particularly excited about your product, introduce them to your sales team.