Read time: 30 minutes
Read time: 30 minutes
In this episode, we talk about some of the challenges B2B companies face in the era of digitalisation, the storytelling frameworks used by leaders to communicate their strategic narrative, and the power of podcasts as a medium to acquire and influence. We also touch on topics like new customer experience, many-to-many storytelling, and content vs context.
To discuss more, we are joined by Graham Brown, Founder and Chief Storyteller at Pikkal & Co, which is a performance communications agency specialising in B2B podcasts and webinars. Graham is an entrepreneur, author, podcast host and has published over 1000+ podcast episodes.
Listen to the podcast for the conversation with leaders from across the world to discuss the forces, opportunities, and challenges that are shaping the future of sales and marketing.
Talk to Lee Hackett, CEO at BluprintX, on LinkedIn, or please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee Hackett 00:06 Hi everyone. Welcome to the B2B Game Changers Podcast. I’m your host, Lee Hackett. B2B Game Changers is the result of my hunger to help companies of all shapes and sizes unlock the value in their business. This podcast is my attempt to synthesize what I have learned in the process of working with some of the most successful companies and individuals in the world. We’ll be featuring leaders from across the world to discuss the forces, opportunities, and challenges that are shaping the future of sales and marketing.
Lee Hackett 00:46 Welcome everyone to the B2B Game Changers Podcast. This week, we’re going to be talking about B2B storytelling, why that’s important, and why that’s changing. This week’s guest is Graham Brown. Graham is known for a little bit now. I’ve been on his podcast twice, once in Singapore and once recently, a few months ago. Graham is CEO, Pikkal & Co, chief storyteller, podcast host, and just general chief cook and bottle washer, I think. Graham, is it? It was a good old English term there. So, Graham, thanks for coming on.
Graham Brown 01:37 It’s great to be here, Lee.
Lee Hackett 01:39 It’s my turn to interrogate you now.
Graham Brown 01:41 It is. Yeah. Just be gentle.
Lee Hackett 01:43 Well, you’re definitely the expert on interrogating your guests, right? I think we met two years ago now in Singapore.
Graham Brown 01:59 Yeah, in the studio.
Lee Hackett 02:00 In the studio, where I come on your podcast. That was definitely one of the ones that I’ve done, in regard to podcast, the one I enjoyed the most.
Graham Brown 02:12 It was a good conversation, wasn’t it? It was over an hour.
Lee Hackett 02:17 Absolutely. That’s when I was just getting my ‘the book’ for podcasts. I’ve been a listener of them for years before that, then wanted to do my own, and then go on podcasting. I went on yours and say, “Now, it should be really done.” We should also say, right from the beginning, we are also interrelated in a business way because I am also an investor in your business for full disclosure. I’m not promoting things that I also believe in, but that itself is obviously a testament to the topic today of B2B storytelling, podcasts, and how that’s important.
Lee Hackett 03:10 So, before we get into that, let’s talk a little bit about you and your background, because I know you’ve got a really interesting background, lived in different parts of the world, different projects. So, let’s go back to early days, first business roles, and how you got into business.
Graham Brown 03:30 Hmm. Where do you want to start? I don’t have the professional footballer background, so I don’t go far as back as you do, Lee. I come onto the scene probably post-graduation, where I went to Japan. If you’re over an age and you grew up, Japan was always it. Japan was always the place to go if you are young and ambitious. It was always, “Go east,” where opportunity was. It was always Sony, TDK, TDK tapes, that was a thing. All those consumer electronics like your VCR and all that, they’re all Japanese and the TV. It’s always an exciting frontier to explore. I guess that’s where I got my start. I went to Japan just because it was a ticket. It was a passport to a new world to see something else outside of the confines of where I grew up.
Lee Hackett 04:31 Well, that’s not a small step. How old were you then when you went to Japan?
Graham Brown 04:38 Let me see. I just graduated, so I was about 20 something, early 20s.
Lee Hackett 04:45 Wow. That’s a major step.
Graham Brown 04:47 It was. That was ’94-’95. Back in those days, you didn’t really know what you’re getting into. Today, you can look at Instagram or Google it. But back then, you were relying on traveler’s tales. People would come back and say, “Yeah, I was in Japan for a year.” That was the social media back then. It was much more of a risk. You’re talking about stepping up, but back then, it was a big risk because you couldn’t check it online, you couldn’t read the reviews. It wasn’t as bad as it was, probably in the generation before where you got on a boat, you went, and you never came back, at least you could come back, but you really didn’t know what you’re getting into.
Lee Hackett 05:38 Yeah. Japan is a place I absolutely love. I’ve been trying to get my kids there on holiday for the last 3 years because I wanted to take them somewhere, which was very different, not Europe or America, but really different in terms of culture. So, at that time, going into business or going to Japan, your first job, what did you do?
Graham Brown 06:13 Teach English. If you were young, out of the gates, that’s what you would do, teach English. There was a demand. You could earn good money as a young 20 something teaching English because Japan was a hot economy. It had slowed down. It wasn’t like the ’80s. So, if you went and taught English, you could earn more teaching English than you could working in a bank. So, that was a natural opportunity for everybody that was so inclined. You could just go out there, you could learn, you could experience the culture, and it was different. Absolutely.
Graham Brown 06:52 I got, you would like this, one of my first students teaching English, I remember he came to class on his own. If you could afford private lessons, you obviously had a bit of money. So, this guy is quite big guy, tall for Japanese. He comes in quite imposing figure, as tall as me, a 185 cm, 6 ft something. He comes in, he walks into this language school, I didn’t know who this guy was, all the students looked up and went, “Oh,” as if somebody important had walked in and I had no clue. I just knew his name was Catal. That was it. It was a very Japanese name.
Graham Brown 07:31 So, he comes in, he sat down, and we started talking about him, why he was here, and why he was learning English. It turns out that he was a Japanese football player. He was one of the first J League players, and he played for Yokohama Marinos when the whole J League kicked off. He was well-known. He was also a commentator. So, he would have been, in English terms, a Gary Lineker. So, when he walked in, it was like, “Oh, it’s him.” I didn’t know who he was, but it was quite cool because all he wanted to do in the lesson was talk about football. I thought, “I’m getting paid for this.”
Lee Hackett 08:12 Brilliant. When you were talking, I was thinking it’s Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, or something like that, that kind of stardom. How long were you doing that for then, teaching there?
Graham Brown 08:30 Two years. I did two years, which was the maximum if you wanted to get exposure. Teaching English, it doesn’t go anywhere. After two years, you’re doing the same thing. So, at that point, it was the mid to late ’90s, Japan had just launched i-mode, which was one of the first mobile internet services in the world. It had like an App Store years before Apple launched their store. You had NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese mobile company, just launched. We’re now in a world of these small dainty phones, these pocket phones. I saw young people using these pocket phones and communicating. And then, I came back to London, England. I remember walking in Tottenham Court Road, walking into one of the mobile phone stores, in the days when mobile phones were the size of bricks, and I looked around thought, “Wow. I feel I’ve gone back into a different era here.”
Graham Brown 09:38 Because in Japan, they had all these tiny, cool, pink and blue designed phones and everyone in UK was walking around with these big bricks. I thought, “Wow, there’s something here.” I wanted to start a business, but I didn’t know what to do. We talked about this when you were on my podcast. I thought, “How do you get start sales?” So, literally, I remember buying a newspaper and you go through all like a state agent, door to door sales, and then there was just this tiny little box in the corner saying, “Be your own boss. Phone this number.” Yeah, that’s it. I phoned it and they pulled me in for this presentation. Those people that may know, there was a company operating out of Tottenham Court Road at the time.
Graham Brown 10:36 It was quite infamous, bit of a boiler room, selling life insurance and pensions over the phone. In those days, you could actually do that. You could phone up and, “Hello, Mr. Hackett, have you got a pension?” In those days, people actually came and met you as a result of a phone call, a cold call. So, I did that. I did two years, came back, and got a start in sales to really learn my craft and start my whole journey.
Lee Hackett 11:07 Yeah, I love that. We did talk about it. It’s funny, isn’t it? We talked about this on your podcast, but it’s worth reiterating. That’s how it happens, right? You took a leap, you went out to Japan, you did something, and then you find out opportunities arise because you put yourself in that position, where you went to Japan, you seen something different, you come back, you build up a picture, all of a sudden, that pathway, that road forward starts to come clearer. I’m talking about that with my daughter at the moment because she’s leaving university. I just said, “Look, just do something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just get into something and figure it out.” That’s just testament to that.
Lee Hackett 11:59 Back to the English teacher. I knew that, but is that where the storytelling come from in you? Because you wrote an ebook recently, which I actually sent out. I haven’t told you this, but I sent out to some people in my network, a couple of customers, and also I sent the link. I actually sent it to a guy called France Cohen, who’s head of data science, maybe I’ve got that wrong, but I’ll make sure to correct your titles in the show notes, and at a local university, probably one of the best guys I know interpreting data into a story or into something which is usable. He said to me, “This is fantastic.” The whole book itself, the Human Communication Playbook that people should download, that’s a story in its own right. That must be at a big level of effort to write it, but is that where that comes from, that storyteller in you, does it go back to that English teacher title approach?
Graham Brown 13:13 I don’t know. It’s a good question, Lee. I really don’t know the answer. Like yourself, these things are revealed to you. There may not be specific pivotal moments in the sense that, “Okay, that’s when it happened.” It’s like this epiphany and I was a storyteller. There’s a combination of events. Of course, teaching is obviously a form of storytelling and sales, teaching go very much hand in hand, especially in the B2B space, they always talk about teaching sales, right?
Lee Hackett 13:54 Yeah. And storytelling in sales.
Graham Brown 13:56 Absolutely. Those three together, teaching, storytelling, and sales, are really one of the same in a way because what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to take somebody from where they are over, effectively, a river in their mind to the world of the unknown. In sales, it’s like, “Okay, I’m trying to get you to a part with the money to go here because it’s better for you and there are many reasons why you should do that.” But we are, by default, very afraid of change. So, your role as a salesman, salesperson, or as a teacher is really to show people why they need to cross that river.
Graham Brown 14:41 In many ways, storytelling is a big part of that because what storytelling does is it connects the unknown to an experienced known. That’s why analogies and stories use very familiar frameworks. When Steve Jobs stands up and says, “The iPod’s a tool for the heart,” it’s very conscious use of words because what he’s doing is, he’s not saying, “This is an mp3 player,” which is what a very inexperienced salesperson would do. He’s saying that this item connects to what you already know, the heart, all your understanding about emotion, feeling, and music go hand in hand with that. That’s a fantastic storytelling. It’s not always these heroic myths, but sometimes the use of analogy or frames. We’ve had conversations about strategic narratives, how important that is for increasing value in sales, and so on.
Graham Brown 15:43 I guess what’s happened at a later point in life is I’ve managed to join the dots in a Steve Jobs style and work it out. That is actually a meta skill. It comes from all these experiences and even going way back as a kid, being that kid that kept saying, “Why? Why?” and getting into trouble for doing that. That’s the seed that flourishes into becoming a storyteller because you’re always interested in communicating something different to people.
Lee Hackett 16:19 Yeah, completely. In the B2B, now we’re talking about it, if I go back to my career when I was purely in sales, quite a number of individuals I am actually still friends with come from a teaching background. I never connected the dots on that, but they come from a teaching background or had that in their CV. But in the B2B world, if I think about all the best salespeople that I work with, they were able to paint a canvas for the customer. At that point, the assets and opportunities to do that wasn’t there because the comms that were coming out from B2B businesses was very product focused. There was no context to use. Something I like from the book that you’ve laid out is the content and context piece there is.
Lee Hackett 17:19 The salesman was able to enrich the experience for the customer to convince them to buy that product or to buy into them. They were always painting a canvas to the customer of why you should deal with me if it’s a relationship type sell, or why you should buy my product. They were able to do that on a one-on-one basis. There was no surprise. Those individuals always had the highest conversion rates, always had that the highest average or the values, always hit the targets, where another type of salesperson might struggle because they’re just thinking about the product and the functionality rather than what you get from the product in a B2B sense. Does that make sense?
Graham Brown 17:20 Yeah. You’re talking about why people buy effectively. If we talk about content and context, you could look at it as emotion and logic as well. If you think about the decision-making pyramid or an iceberg, that tip that pokes above the water is logic. If you ask somebody, “Why did you buy that?” You say, “Well, I bought it because it was on sale,” or “I like the design,” or “It’s easy to use.” These are logical reasons, but below the water is this 90% that we don’t see. That’s really where stories speak to. So, you can imagine if you were selling to somebody that really the reason why they’re buying is that emotional level and often that emotional level is driven by things you can’t see. It’s their vision, their self-image, fear, all these kinds of aspects, which they don’t talk about openly. Good salesperson knows how could fear is as a motivator.
Graham Brown 19:29 As an example, how do you sell life insurance? The pitch for life insurance is, “You give me money whilst you’re alive and I give it back to you when you’re dead.” How do you sell that? As a product, it’s pretty lousy on the logical level because what you’re doing is you’re just asking for money with no real benefit. And yet, the reason why people buy life insurance isn’t because they want to pay out when they die because they’re not going enjoy it. They won’t be around to benefit from it. However, it’s what they call ‘advertising the benefit of the benefit.’ They’re not buying the fact that they’ve got cover. They’re buying the fact that, “What kind of a man would leave his family without any kind of cover, destitute on the street?” You can paint all those pictures about what would happen. “Do you want your wife to remarry another man and your son to be brought up by this stranger?” That works.
Graham Brown 20:34 It’s a big stream, but you get the idea that buying life insurance isn’t about buying cover or the product. They’re buying whatever is inside them, the fear or their self-image of, “Yeah, I’ve got a million dollars life insurance. Okay. I feel like I’m good. I’m a responsible man now.” That’s real. Even in b2b sales, and probably more importantly so, I feel, because you’re dealing with bigger sales, you’re dealing with people who are probably in complex sales as well, so there’s many more chances for it to drop out. So, I feel that storytelling in the B2B space is exceptionally important. And like you say, people gravitate to product, but that, in a way, is probably a lack of understanding of what people really are buying into.
Lee Hackett 21:30 On the insurance, that completely resonates with me. I’m that guy. I want to make sure that I’ve ticked that box. I’m probably an easy sell. You’re completely right. In terms of the B2B buyer journey now, how buyers buy thing, the big shift there is why storytelling is so important. As you said before, you and I have had quite long conversations about strategic narrative and to try and paint a picture of an arc. The story and a good movie have an arc to it in terms of how it’s written.
Lee Hackett 22:20 When I talk to a lot of businesses about this and the importance of it, where the penny drops is the buyer journey now is made up of multiple personas. So, it’s like your audience is much bigger and broader than what it was before. Also, the audience is now armed with a lot of information. They don’t rely on you for truth. They’ve already done a bit of research and they already know what they want. So, what they’re looking for is actually a big shift rather than just, “Give me information about the product. What should I do with it? How is it going to affect me? What’s the value of it? How quick am I going to get that value? What are the things I should be thinking about and not know? What don’t I know that I should know?” All these things. The expectation is much bigger.
Lee Hackett 23:23 Last thing which I’ve noticed in particular over the last 2 years is skepticism. I don’t know if it’s the fake news, media, and all of those things. You see a real skepticism and sometimes it’s healthy. But in other cases, it’s a real challenge for B2B businesses, where once you can walk in and go, “Here’s the features and functionality, and this is the benefits that you’re getting. Technology’s been so like that for years.” Now, it’s, “What am I going to get from it? How is it going to make me feel? How is it going to get me promoted? How’s it going to help me hit my targets?” All of those things. That’s the way storytelling and a strategic narrative of a business is. That’s why it’s so important.
Graham Brown 24:23 I heard the other day, Lee, that I think Cisco now has a chief storytelling officer. So, there’s a recognition inside these courses, whether Cisco is as a vendor or buyer, that somewhere now, like you’re saying the penny drops, now there’s a realization. There’s a shift that they’re realizing that, “Actually, we need these skills now and it’s not just a fluffy add on,” for all the reasons you said because it’s now becoming critical.
Lee Hackett 24:53 I think it’s also more complex. The complexity, the differentiation, and the journey is becoming more, the audience’s bigger, and I don’t believe there’s a way to do it without having a story, without having a strategic narrative. The other thing with those tech companies, I know Adobe have gone in this direction as well, Salesforce, their product is also becoming bigger, so they got more and more products. It becomes more and more complex for their customer to understand the value and they’re increasingly looking towards storytelling as a way to do that. I can understand why, but it’s still very early days. As you said, it’s like one individual in the business. I certainly haven’t seen across the board that are at a much lower level.
Lee Hackett 25:59 That links us into podcast as a medium to tell stories and talk about these issues. In terms of the business that you now run, you’re hosting and helping businesses such as McKinsey tell stories. What made you get into that? Why did you feel podcasts was the way to do it?
Graham Brown 26:27 Maybe it was one of those things I just fell into. It was a history there, many years of being connected with radio and really enjoying, even as a kid, having my own recording tape recorder with a microphone stuck to it, going around the houses, and asking neighbors about their lives. This would be like, I’d be five or six, and that worked out. I think I told you this story before. It worked out until the kids from up the state beat me up and took the tape recorder. In those days, those things were valuable. I was also recording stuff. There’s something about conversation audio that is timeless, and it isn’t going away because of digital, just in the same way music didn’t go away. When digital came, everybody thought they were going to kill it. If anything’s happened, music’s become bigger than ever. Music’s been around for thousands of years and so has conversation and storytelling. Podcasts are a great way of doing that.
Graham Brown 27:39 The idea of starting a business around that was a little bit of a leap of faith. I was in Japan at the time, living a semi-retired life, and then this opportunity came where I thought, “I could start a podcast business.” I’d started a podcast in late 2017 called Asia Tech Podcast just to reach out to people across Asia and have conversations. It started as a hobby to keep me busy, and then I realized, actually, it was more than a hobby because these people weren’t seeing it as a hobby. They wanted to talk, they wanted to connect. I thought, “This is a really good way of connecting to people all over the world.” Just like we’re speaking now, regardless of any kind of COVID situation, travel, time zones or whatever.
Graham Brown 28:32 Other people have this problem as well, businesses have this problem of how do we connect, how do we create engagement at scale? What started happening was people were asking me, “Can you do this for me?” I couldn’t do it on my own, so I gathered a team that could help. We set out to do this. There really wasn’t a playbook. There wasn’t a playbook in the sense of this is how you build a podcast agency. There was nothing, especially in the B2B space. There was no established way of doing it. We just had to go out and plow our own farrow with all the mistakes that were made with it. But we learned a lot, we tried different things, we tried different formats, we learned there’s a big difference between B2B and B2C podcasting. I never knew that. That was huge, that realization. This is completely different.
Graham Brown 29:26 When we started working with McKinsey, Airasia, Zero, and these B2B brands particularly, we discovered that they had a very different need to a B2C podcast, which is more like Tim Ferriss or NPR. So, we realized this is something new. It’s a big risk doing it, but there really isn’t anybody out there doing it right now. It just became a mission we were on. We were propelled down that road because somebody had to do it. These businesses needed authentic ways of communicating now. Look at McKinsey as an example, one of the premium brands in the world. Why are they turning to podcasts? Because for them, it’s a great way of humanizing that brand and connecting with people at scale.
Lee Hackett 30:29 Yeah, completely. That is a huge perception because it’s still really early days in podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts for 6 to 7 years, Joe Rogan and all that people that you like and I like, and we’ve talked about many times. I’m not a reader. I’ll read things like ebooks or blogs, but then I’ll never read a book. For me, it was audio, and then I stepped from audio, in terms of Audible, into podcasts. Now, it’s my main source of information in terms of these subject matter experts who I can now plug into, who never get access to. It will cost me literally hundreds of thousands of pounds, I can now just get for free.
Lee Hackett 31:36 There’s just simply not an awareness of that around podcast still. When I talk to people in B2B space and say, “Look, I like your podcast. Who’s the audience?” There’s not many B2B businesses that have podcasts because they see it as a B2C communication tool. That’s still media. As you said, it’s Tim Ferriss. It’s almost like a community of individuals, probably different demographics in different countries, but will listen to podcasts. But then, that translation over to the business world is still in its infancy.
Lee Hackett 32:30 So, for business like McKinsey to do it and others that you do it for, for me, it makes complete sense because I’ve listened to some of your produced McKinsey podcasts, and I’m now getting access to their analysts. I don’t know how much that cost but it’s a few quid or dollars. But from a B2B sense, I can now get access to some of the best analysts in the world who work for McKinsey, the CEO, or other individuals within the business for free. People, individuals, businesses, don’t think that way about it. They see it as a B2C communication media.
Graham Brown 33:27 You’re absolutely right. It’s still seen as media and it’s about eyeballs and content, which have its place. But I think, there’s a really untapped value in B2B podcasts. You mentioned one, for example, the access to information, that ability to effectively put out the equivalent of a lead magnet to thousands of people, then drive people back, acquire, and influence your leads, it’s certainly a great way of influencing your B2B leads. What people haven’t really gotten hold of is the value of a podcast as a business development tool. You and I both know the value of getting a conversation with somebody, especially in the B2B space where you’re talking deals thousands and up. You’re not talking 100 bucks on a deal, but thousands. You’re talking large deals.
Graham Brown 34:31 The ability to sit with that person and have a conversation that matters, it’s priceless. So, imagine if you had a tool where without travel, without any COVID restrictions, a completely time effective tool because you’re not having a coffee with somebody, you spend all the time getting there and back, and so on, you could meet that person on a podcast and have a conversation about what you both care about, and that creates a connection that lasts forever. What is the value of that in business development to B2B company?
Graham Brown 35:18 For example, I can sit with Tony Fernandez for an hour, have a podcast conversation with him, and then go and do business with Airasia. What is the value of that podcast to us as a company? How do you put a value on it? Even if nobody listens to it, you still got the meeting. That’s like with McKinsey, it’s certainly one of their value. From their perspective, not like you as the consumer of that content, but from them, the value of putting Oliver Tonby, the chairman of McKinsey Asia in a meeting with, for example, somebody from the UN or a minister in a podcast conversation, the CEO of SAP, or whatever it may be, that kind of conversation, what is that worth to a company like McKinsey? As you say, they’re not charging a few bucks for their time.
Graham Brown 36:14 And Lee, I think this has not yet worked out the business case. Somebody will get it and companies are slowly getting it. It’s actually, “Wow, this is a great bizdev tool. What if I could have 100 meetings with people that can be potential clients, partners, thought leaders.” What is that worth to a business? All we need is more companies like yourself, for example, out there doing it, so people say, “Actually, this looks like quite a good bizdev tool for us. We need to be doing that.”
Lee Hackett 36:48 When you were talking about that, I was getting tingles on my spine because anytime you talk about business development, I’m all in on anything, as you know. That’s the heart of the matter. It comes back to, and this is something that you and I are working on, how can we bring that into language and almost a data visualisation of how podcasts are just part of that wider mix?
Lee Hackett 37:24 I remember the days when digital companies were thinking about whether they should spend money on PPC or pay per click. I remember those days, and these are big B2B businesses. You’re thinking about it, “I don’t know if that’s going to work for us.” That ship sailed. There’s no B2B business out there who thinks that they should not be on the web and they should not be potentially driving traffic to their content. That’s done and dusted, a business case has been signed off.
Lee Hackett 38:01 To me, this is just like that. It’s being able to present the business case to head of comms, head of sales, CMO, or even a CEO of a business and think that this is probably going to be your most effective channel for conversion. In my own anecdotal experience within Bluprint, in BluprintX, and in going global, the return on investment in producing our own podcasts and then driving that forward, although the level of effort is significant, but that’s why your company exists, to make that level of effort a lot easier, the return is much higher. I’ll give you a great example.
Lee Hackett 39:03 I did a podcast with Andrew Campbell, an ex McKinsey’s consultant, but he’s an academic. He’s the number one guy in the world on operating models. I’m a bit of a geek on this type of stuff. Now, he’s not going to turn out to be a client, right? But all of a sudden, I am now in the room with the number one guy in the world on something that I’m super interested in, it was almost like a free seminar, and he is also checking out our operating model to give me some feedback, which is amazing. And then, I told two clients, that, “Look, I did a podcast with Andrew Campbell. It’s coming out soon.” “Wow. You need to take a look at our operating model. We’re reviewing it. Could you take a look at that for us? We didn’t know you did operating models.”
Lee Hackett 40:07 It’s unbelievably powerful. That podcast hasn’t even come out yet, we haven’t even published it, we’ll be doing it in the next few weeks. That’s how powerful list of is, but it’s just unknown. It’s just seen as a gimmick, flash in the pan approach to the B2B space. “Oh, that’s for the consumer world.” I think that you’re changing that. Together, hopefully, we’re working on it together, in the coming months, we’ll be able to prove, because that’s evidence based, how effective this channel could be for B2B businesses.
Graham Brown 40:54 Yeah, it’s exciting time. You’re right, Lee, in the sense that it’s a little bit less mainstream, but the patterns of change are there. You look at history. You look at the first websites, and everybody saw websites. The first one, if you go back to ’96-’97, you would know. You remember those AOL CDs that used to stuck through your door. Get online, they still give you the CD, you join up with AOL, and you get this really horrible user experience of the internet. That’s how it was.
Graham Brown 41:33 There were people amongst those early pioneers who started talking about business case for websites. And in them, obviously, you had people like Jeff Bezos, who were saying, “Look, this isn’t about what everybody’s talking about. This is about doing business because it’s far more effective as an interface for a store to be online.” There was some stat, like the most commonly googled search time in the early days for e-commerce was store opening hours. What people would do is type in a supermarket, Aster or whatever store opening hours.
Graham Brown 42:26 The reason is because it was easier for them to go online and get that information from the website, than phone up the switchboard. If you think about what was the problem that the internet was solving back then, it was solving this issue of access to the company as an interface. That was communications interface. It was more efficient for that company to communicate with their customers through this new interface than it was to go through a switchboard or to turn up at the store and say, “Have you got this in stock?” It’s not in stock. It was far more efficient to go online.
Graham Brown 43:03 If you look at that change, a lot of people didn’t get it. They didn’t see this as a new communications interface. They saw this as new media, but business as usual. It was brochure where it was like, “Take your company brochure, scan it, and put it in the first websites.” We’re actually just scans. You probably remember them, right? Those were actually called brochure. That’s where we were. You talk about this being seen as a gimmick and media, that’s where we are now with podcasts. They’re seeing it through the old paradigm of what it was before, which is, “Okay. This is media, but it’s in audio.” And yet, you’ve got this group of people who are saying, “No, it’s more than that. You’ve got to understand that this is a new communications interface for business, and importantly, not business, but people inside the business.”
Graham Brown 44:06 I think, in B2B, the real realisation that will happen is that podcasts are to business leaders what websites are to businesses, in the sense that they are more effective communications interfaces. Why does Lee Hackett have a podcast? Because it’s how we find out about blueprint, BluprintX, and the man behind it. We want that. Why does Oliver Tonby from McKinsey Asia have a podcast? Because that’s a more efficient way for us to know who these people are and how to communicate with them. So, the real growth here is that every company has a website. I think every business leader will have a podcast.
Lee Hackett 44:57 Definitely. A lot of the discussion in the B2B space at the moment is about experience. In your book or in some of the charts that you published, you talked about new customer experience. We talked on it before about how the B2B businesses now buy, and how people now buy. That’s where the pain points come because a lot of businesses haven’t adjusted to that yet. They’re using lots of technology to do that, but that requires a very different way of working, that kind of digital transformation piece.
Lee Hackett 45:43 What I tried to do is distill that down into, and I’ll put a link in the podcast on this, I think we have a slide which is a visual of this on the web, into three areas, in regard to experiences, knowledge. The expectation of the customer is you just don’t know about what your solution is, you can also provide insight around that solution. The topic or the subject matter was about the how, it’s not about the what. Speed is also super important because companies want it now. And a massive one is transparency.
Lee Hackett 46:32 I cannot think of a better tool to be able to achieve that for a business, and certainly for the leadership in the business. They can now put themselves out there. “Here’s our knowledge, this is what we’re about, we’re real. You can have this information when you want, it’s quick. We know our stuff, we don’t just think about the product, but we think about all of that context as well. We’re also super transparent.” That, for me, is a nice, new experience. We got that from research that we did. So, we did some research into leaders of B2B businesses, try to distill what does experience mean to you in regard to what you’re trying to achieve your customers, and try to distill it down into three areas.
Lee Hackett 47:39 For me as a CEO of Bluprintx, we need to achieve those three things, a podcast is probably the only way I can do that, in regard to really enriching the experience that you provide to your customers.
Graham Brown 47:58 What was it you found in your research? What was sort of the key takeaways when you said about leadership in B2B?
Lee Hackett 48:05 The real key takeaway was their area of knowledge. You said before, which is correct, the older values for B2B are always much bigger. The transactional time is significant in months, not weeks or days, the values in potentially hundreds of thousands or millions. Once they’re able to just trade on that, “We know our stuff, we know our product, our product is good,” the customer will buy it. But now, the customer demands insight around that. That was what that research really tapped into. That’s what they were struggling with. How do we provide that at scale? That was the key point.
Lee Hackett 49:04 A B2B business is a very different structure than B2C. I have a lot of conversations where a lot of people around, “Is there such a thing anymore as B2B or B2C, or is it B2E, B to Everyone?” I agree with the arguments. but the reason why it is different is that journey of how a customer will transact with that business. It’s very different than it is in a consumer world. So, struggling with that, how do we tackle this knowledge problem, that’s really was the key takeaway from the research that we did.
Graham Brown 49:42 It sounds like a lot of it comes down to trust. When you say, “We know our staff,” that’s the trust in that person that they’re not going to let you down, that you’ve got the right guy for the job. He might not be the flashiest guy, but if you wanted that guy to perform brain surgery, you want the guy with the experience rather than the one who’s really exciting. So, it’s a trust thing because there’s a lot of risk. B2B is more driven by risk. It’s a corporate environment, it’s somebody’s job, it’s their reputation within the organisation. It’s not their money. There’s procurement and all these kinds of things going on. As you say, it is a longer cycle.
Graham Brown 50:34 So, it’s really about trust. You mentioned it very early on about how people are becoming skeptical and bringing that full circle. Effectively, what’s happened in the last year and even the last 4 or 5 months, Lee, is there’s been a real disruption in the supply chain of trust. Now, what exactly is that all about? In the old world, meaning like pre-February 2020, trust was built face to face at exhibitions, you had a coffee, you met your supplier, you met your buyer, you met your client at the exhibition, at the big communications world age, or whatever it was that you went to. We all went to these B2B exhibitions. They’re a big part of what we did. Also, you met people for a coffee, you caught up with them, you went to the hotel for lunch, that was big part of the supply chain of trust in B2B, but that’s been completely disrupted. It’s very doubtful whether we’ll ever go back to that.
Graham Brown 51:48 So, now, we’ve got this situation. Trust was so important in the B2B space. How do you be that guy who knows his stuff, and so much of that was been about, they had a booth at this expo, they were speaking at this conference, that’s all gone. Now, we’re in this world where people are looking around thinking, “How do we rebuild that supply chain of trust in B2B?” They’re looking for solutions and the only real solution that gives authenticity is digital and podcasts. That’s where we are now. It’s like, we’re trying to rebuild that supply chain that existed for 50-70 years and it got lost, it got destroyed in 5 or 6 months.
Lee Hackett 52:38 Oh, yeah. Completely. I agree. That, combined with the lack of trust in the media, fake news, social media, all of these things is just building on that skepticism. In my job, I often will get a chance to sit in a room and advise a client on what to buy. So, I might be going through that B2B process of buying new technology and I’m there to advise the client of which technology should they use. They may have three vendors and three vendors come in. The vendor that comes in and talks about their solution, their features, their functionality, you can click this, drag that, do this, do that, never wins lately.
Lee Hackett 53:45 The last 2 to 3 years of this thing changed from you come in and talk about your product, and your product might be the best, it actually might really fit my requirements, but the business that comes in and is able to articulate and communicate that, “This is our solution, we’ve got all the features and functionality you need, but these are the outcomes that you will get from the solution. Here’s the insight of what other people are doing. Here’s what your peers are doing. Here’s how they’ve done it before.” It’s feeding in to that mistrust, that skepticism, and being super transparent about things like perceived cost or true cost.
Lee Hackett 54:43 I’ve done a little bit in procurement, but perceived cost was one of the things that a good procurement officer would always try and think about, what is the perceived cost, what is the true cost. That now, for a business, is an opportunity to really differentiate themselves and say, “Look, we don’t deal with perceived costs, we deal with true cost and we’re going to be transparent about that.” What I see is those are the companies that are winning, those that are companies that have realised that this shift has happened, we need to tap into that, and are now looking at ways of how to do that. I completely agree with it goes back to where we started with this in terms of the good old-fashioned sales guy, me and you, able to paint a picture.
Lee Hackett 55:41 It was never a picture of products, services, features, and functionality. It was a picture of, “Look, if you buy from me, I’m going to look after you. I’m going to make sure you get what you need, I’m going to make sure that you get that promotion, I’m going to make sure that you’re going to get the product on time and when you need it. You know what, here’s the guy, here’s a number of someone I deal with now, give him a call and ask him about me.” That’s storytelling and tapping into trust at an individual level, but the challenge, of course, is how the companies do that at scale. That is where podcast and storytelling, in comms in particular, and a strategic narrative is now an absolute must, not an option.
Graham Brown 56:41 There’s something I wrote about recently called Building the Storytelling Organization. I think that’s going to be the next challenge. Especially in B2B, comms has always been a gatekeeper, in the same way you look at how these companies are structured, HR is very much a risk management function, so it’s comms. Now, we’re presented with this challenge of how do we, like you say, create conversations at scale. It’s not just, for example, “How do I get that out to 1,000, a million-potential people?” It’s also, “How do I scale horizontally within the organizations, how do I get these people talking?” It’s not just Oliver Tonby, but it’s all these other consultants within McKinsey talking as well because that creates their own scale. Everybody knows their own network of people authentically and trust them.
Graham Brown 57:39 Now that we have that challenge, how do you create that storytelling organisations, which is the many too many models? In the B2B space, if you have audience, listeners who are from the B2B space, one of the big takeaways now is that we’re now in an era where official storytelling is over. The way I paint that picture is that the official brand narrative, their visual B2B company’s narrative is just one bird in the tree now. That’s maybe the wakeup call, literally, for these organisations to say, “For us just to have this one official narrative, just not enough.” You’ve got not only all these different kinds of medias, but you’ve got to have this very authentic narrative storytelling.
Graham Brown 58:34 I connect with 150 people, the CMO connects with 150 people, the chief procurement officer connects with 150 people. That’s going to be the challenge because that’s really rewiring comms inside the organisation from being a gatekeeper to being an enabler. That’s going to be an interesting challenge, but some get it. Going back to Cisco, they have a chief storytelling officer. Obviously, there’s change happening. I think we’re on the right side of change, or hopefully. We’ve made a bet and I think we’re on the right side of that bet.
Lee Hackett 59:08 Yeah, I think so. I think what people are doing is they’re looking for the instruments. How can I get practical about this? Looking for those solutions, that’s where podcast comes in as part of that journey. If your marketing and comms people are now used to mapping out a buyer journey and thinking about formats, ebooks, white papers, video and all of these different formats of communications, and in that journey, you’ve seen this, in terms of this is what we’re doing and think about where there’s a podcast, where this podcast fit is part of that mix. So, if we’re wanting to tell a story about a topic, which is quite a work at the moment, the topic of how businesses work now found its way to the top of the pile in what we do in sales and marketing because of COVID. It’s supercharged, that whole discussion for lots of reasons, which is probably just another podcast in its own right.
Lee Hackett 1:00:40 That whole piece about how we communicate what we believe in a transparent way to our customers, and bring in independent people, world renowned subject matter experts, behavioral scientists, write our own white paper, bring in the CEO of one of the technology companies who are leading the way, but how do we do that effectively at comms plan over a six month period? When this becomes industrial? As you said, the website, now everyone has website. Now, everyone does pay per click for optimisation, whatever the B2B business, very few don’t.
Lee Hackett 1:01:40 This now becomes practical. That’s the thing, the step that needs to happen because people get the context. They don’t think of podcast as a gimmicky experiment over here that will have a goal, they now see this as a fundamental piece of their comms strategy and strategic narrative. That’s how we’re approaching it. That’s what it will take to get scale. You’re right at the beginning of it. Also, providing, reducing the level of effort required, and reducing the knowledge gap required to B2B businesses to do this, this is exactly what the value you’re providing. That’s a great idea for a business because you’re basically reducing the level of effort required, and you’re providing the knowledge, which allows them to move into this quick and scalable way. But obviously, as people can probably tell, we’re sold on the idea.
Graham Brown 1:02:55 Absolutely. We’re doing it. The key to this, Lee, is just understanding the phases we’re going to go through. We marked out the beginning, where we are, the analogy with the internet is probably the best one out there. There will be two phases. All technology transfers through different risk profiles. The first risk profile is leadership. Leadership is about disruption, people who step up, put their hand up and say, “I’ll do this,” and care really less about what other people think about them than what is necessary. Leadership is always hard. It’s not a popularity contest. It always goes to leadership first. That’s why now, podcast really makes sense for leaders because they get it. For them, they understand the nuance more, why I need to do this, it’s more of a gut reaction, the numbers really validate for that, rather than the reason why they do it.
Graham Brown 1:04:03 That transfers into the second stage, which is what you call industrial, which is management, which is now about optimizations. Now, we’re in this leadership stage, which is about disruption, taking a risk, and belief in it. When the business cases are established, it now gets handed over, the playbook, to the managers who are saying right now, “This is established. There are 200,000 case studies out there, businesses that have used podcasts for this benefit, X, Y, Z.” We’re not there yet. So, that’s the next phase. When it gets industrial, it’s all about management and optimisation, which is going to be like incremental improvements on the business that they already have, but those incremental improvements over time add up. We’re still not there. We’re still in that leadership phase. There’s a good few years to go yet.
Lee Hackett 1:05:02 I agree. When I started my podcast, and the people in my network who also do a podcast, I’ve said exactly the same thing, “Everyone in the business is our luck.” It’s just CEOs’ thing, egotistical. Some customers, when I’ve been with the operational management teams, have said the same thing about the podcast that they have. That’s just the CEO. I completely agree with that. It has got a bit to run, but I also do believe that the last six months has accelerated this process, and really got companies thinking, not so much about innovation, but really thinking about their business model, really attacking some of these problems I mentioned before around knowledge and insight. I think that’s why companies like Cisco, Adobe, Salesforce are now really thinking about what story do they tell the market and how can the scale that right down to the team level.
Lee Hackett 1:06:29 We could go on about this all day because strategic narrative story, storytelling, podcast as the best instrument to do that, we’re both believers there. We’re seeing that change in front of us. But, if any of the listeners are thinking about this or want to know more because you are the expert, you are the subject matter expert here, where can they find you? Where should they reach out to? We’ll get this in the show notes as well.
Graham Brown 1:07:08 Come and visit us at pikkal.com. That’s where we are. We got planning guides, starting a podcast, also webinars, all B2B focused, as well as guides on B2B storytelling if you have a podcast, all of it there. So, go and fill your boots with all the content that we’ve got. And also, go and listen to the podcasts on there and see some of the work, case studies. We’ve got B2B case studies, for example, McKinsey Future of Asia Podcast case study that won seven awards. You can go and see what that’s all about. So, that’s a pikkal.com.
Lee Hackett 1:07:49 Or my scouse version, pick out.
Graham Brown 1:07:52 Yeah. I like your scouse version. It’s the authenticity. Just got off on a tangent, but in advertising, they always pick a certain accent to sell insurance or banking. They often pick a scouse one or a Scottish … You guys are more believable, apparently.
Lee Hackett 1:08:19 Well, I remember the days where a CEO that I work for have a blue chip when I was very young, just out of my foot, but I think I might have told you the story. He was a scouser, and I sat around a dinner table with him. This is a FTSE 250 company. I won’t mention his name or mention the company, but he said to me, “Lee, you need to get rid of your scouse accent.” This is at the time where if you live in [inaudible 1:08:56], you couldn’t go to Manchester and do business. Those things have vanished now. At that time, I believed, and actually spends a lot of time trying to probably neutralise my accent, but what a lot of the rubbish that was. It’s now one of those things, as you said, it’s that authenticity. It’s interesting. I love to speak to people from all over the world, all sorts of different accents. That’s one of those things when I look back in my career, one of my naive moments. There’s not many of them, but I was definitely one of them.
Graham Brown 1:09:45 I would like to hear that one day, the accent.
Lee Hackett 1:09:48 It’s scouser.
Graham Brown 1:09:49 No.
Lee Hackett 1:09:50 Oh, the non-scouse accent. It was a mix of …
Graham Brown 1:09:58 Posh.
Lee Hackett 1:09:59 It was weird. That’s what it was. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t authentic. He was a good CEO. He has more hidden experience going back into the late ’70s, early ’80s. One of the things I would definitely point people to is your recent ebook. I love the charts in there. I think it’s a great way to communicate. I’ve actually nicked that idea, just to let you know. I’ve done that recently.
Graham Brown 1:10:37 As long as you’re not profiting out of my hard work.
Lee Hackett 1:10:39 No, not at all. I would never do that. There’s also a tool called Strategize, which we use, which I know you’ve seen. Alex, who runs Strategize uses a lot of visual tools like that in terms of animations, and actually drawings to explain complex. When you’re in a business, particularly in B2B, it’s often complex and multiple audiences. So, great way of achieving that. I would also point people to that because it’s really interesting book.
Lee Hackett 1:11:23 Graham, I’ve managed to get you on my podcast. You’ve privileged me twice coming on yours. So, I really appreciate taking the time of phenomenal knowledge in terms of we are at the beginning of this. Super excited to be involved with you at the beginning of this as well. So, really appreciate you coming on.
Graham Brown 1:11:46 No. Thank you, Lee. I really thank you and not just for this podcast, but for being part of the journey together. Let’s look back when we’re old and grey. We can look back on these moments and say, “We were there.”
Lee Hackett 1:12:00 100%. Appreciate it, mate.
Graham Brown 1:12:05 Cheers. By the way, full time score 2-1. Two on mine, one on yours.
Lee Hackett 1:12:11 Absolutely. Well, we’ll do the next one soon and go deeper into the subject. Cheers, Graham.
Graham Brown 1:12:19 Cheers, Lee.
Lee Hackett 1:12:20 Thanks, everyone.
Lee Hackett 1:12:25 You can find all of this information and more on blueprintx.com where you can find high quality show notes and other great stuff. You can also sign up for my weekly update on interesting things I have found in sales and marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Google Podcast, Apple Podcast, or wherever you listen.
Graham is a published author on the subject of The Digital Transformation of Communication, works including “The Human Communication Playbook“, “The Mobile Youth: Voices of the Connected Generation” – documenting the rise of mobile culture in the early 2000s in Japan, China, Africa and India and “Brand Love – How to Build a Brand Worth Talking About”.
Graham is the founder of Pikkal & Co – an AI Powered, Data Driven B2B Podcast and Webinar Agency. He also hosts The Be More Human Podcast, Asia Tech Podcast and The Pitchdeck Asia show. He has published over 1,000 podcast episodes.
Guests include Tony Fernandes – CEO and Founder of AirAsia, Rod Drury – Founder of Xero and Sahar Hashemi – Founder of Coffee Republic.
His work has been featured in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and has helped shaped the communications strategy of clients McKinsey, Leap by McKinsey, AirAsia, Xero, The Singapore Institute of Management, Vodafone, Nokia, UNICEF, MTV, The European Commission, Disney and Monster Energy Drinks.
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