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30 Minutes With G2 Crowd’s New CMO Ryan Bonnici — Exclusive Q&A

1rbSoftware and service reviews provider G2 Crowd ended 2017 with a bang. Hot off a $30 million funding round, the company tapped former HubSpot Senior Director of Global Marketing Ryan Bonicci as its new CMO.

In his new role, Bonicci will be responsible for growing the G2 Crowd brand. On his fourth day on the job, I had a chance to chat with him about how he visualizes the growth of the company and what it takes to deliver successful brand awareness. 

Demand Gen Report: What is your first order of business as G2 Crowd’s new CMO? 

RB: I’ve been spending a lot of time with the existing team and just learning about the different strategies that they’ve been using in the past because G2 Crowd has obviously grown incredibly fast. Things are going really well so I don’t want to come in and immediately stop that amazing growth but add to it.

[In 2018], I’m excited to lean into content marketing, to be honest. If you think of the way reviews have grown, we obviously receive millions of visitors through our site every month but a lot of [the traffic] sits down at the bottom [of the funnel]. I think where there’s a lot of opportunity for us is to start to create content further up the funnel, so that we can capture and nurture those buyers before they actually know they need software.

DGR: G2 Crowd recently raised $30 million in funding and you’ve already mentioned its rapid growth. How do you visualize the growth from now on in your new role? How do you see the company growing and expanding from here?

RB: I’m excited for us to expand our influence further up the funnel. Then there are so many other opportunities, such as internationalization and looking at different regions around the world where we can service the market, as well as look at different software in different markets.

If you think of Latin America as obviously a huge population, there’s a lot of different vendors that are — I don’t know if they’re copycats or clones — similar to platforms that might be used over here in the U.S. or in Australia and the UK. They’re very focused on those regional markets. I think there’s an exciting growth potential for us as we look into 2018 and 2019 in that space.

Expanding our reach into the services industry, as well. The first few years of G2 Crowd really focused on software, the database software companies. In the last year, we’ve started looking and delving further into service companies and allowing buyers of those different services to review their agencies or the companies that they’re using, because, in the enterprise space and the mid-market, a lot of the time, services are required with some of the software that’s bought.

DGR: How did your experience at companies like HubSpot and Salesforce prepare you for your new role?

RB: If you think of the two businesses, both are incredibly fast-growing companies. They’re two incredible companies that I feel really grateful to have worked for, especially through a time of growth.

In the enterprise space, Salesforce really just owned [it] and has built an incredible enterprise sales and marketing playbook. I was able to spend a good three or so years actually learning how Salesforce built so much influence with enterprise buyers — with their world tour events, executive briefing centers, incredibly consultative sales reps. It’s such an incredibly well-oiled machine for enterprise sales and marketing.

However, a lot of the tactics that you use in an enterprise are much less scalable. For a company like HubSpot with sales really in the SMB, face-to-face events-style marketing, that kind of a scale just doesn’t really pay off from an ROI perspective. I was able to really refine my skill set in terms of top-of-funnel content that drives mass awareness and mass traffic from buyers that were searching for content, and then really understood how to use conversion and optimization and lead generation strategies to convert those traffic visitors into leads and MQLs for the sales team.

What I think is really interesting about our business as it relates to those two companies is that our model — in terms of how we work with vendors and how we pair vendors with buyers — fits a little bit more on the enterprise side in terms of where our sales team focuses. However, the other side of our business is huge on the buyer side of the business. Buyers come from all sorts of companies, whether they have one, two or three employees and are just starting out, or if they have 50 to 100 and are scaling upward, or if they have 1,000-plus. That side of the business is nice because it allows me to really lean into more B2C scalable tactics, as well as in the enterprise relationship account-based marketing stuff on the enterprise side.

DGR: What kind of steps do you take to deliver successful brand awareness? What kind of advice would you give other marketers?

RB: There are so many different ways that you can drive brand awareness. What I used to always say to my team is that our brand isn’t what we tell people we are. Our brand is what people think of when they think of us. It’s all about incredible content that’s helpful. I think that builds a really strong brand and that’s one of the leaders we want to lean in to further.

One other element of brand awareness is word-of-mouth marketing and referral marketing: users and buyers of your software telling others how great it is. That’s obviously naturally built into our product — that people are leaving reviews on the other products that they’ve found. Then you’ll start to see there are forums on our site where different buyers of products will talk about different features and whether they work or not. That is, I think, a fantastic way for a company to actually leverage G2 Crowd data to showcase their own brand in the words of their customers. We’re starting to see more and more of our customers start to use a lot of our vendor algorithms and their badges on their sites because they’re proud to be ranked so well on our website.

DGR: What’s next for G2 Crowd?

RB: One campaign we’re running [this month] that I’m really excited about is the “top 100 software companies ranked by customer satisfaction.” We’re big fans and we work closely with the incredible team over at Glassdoor and we’re inspired by a lot of the stuff that they’ve done with the Best Places To Work list. I think we’re excited to start to lean into some of that data on customer satisfaction and start to rank software companies and hold them accountable to how happy their customers are. You’ll be seeing the list coming up from us [this month]. I think that’s another exciting way for us to get our brand not only in front of software companies but buyers.

DGR: What is the best piece of marketing advice you’ve ever gotten?

RB: To be honest, the most valuable piece of advice is to truly understand the challenges and problems of your buyer personas. I think it’s just something that not enough marketers actually do. A lot of marketers think about it and they’ll create buyer persona documents for their sales teams or for their marketing teams where they talk about their pain points and their demographics, but it’s pretty basic data. I find it’s just done as an exercise and it’s not super useful. But when you actually sit in the seat of someone that’s creating a business if that’s the persona or is selling every day, you actually realize that the challenges that they have — that they go to Google and search for — are really different than what most people market to them. I think that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity for content marketing — creating content around the topics that people don’t realize.