Riaz Kanani: What is the dark funnel?

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This podcast is recorded on: 07-10-2022

Jerrel Arkes: If you live in my bubble, it’s brilliant. Everybody’s talking about demand generation, the Dark Funnel, and ABM. The simple reality is, though, most are not. If you step out of the bubble and go and talk to the market, most people in the UK are not mature in their account based marketing programs. They’re at the early stages of demand generation.

Facilitator: This is the Inbound4cast, a podcast series about inbound marketing and organic growth for B2B companies. Here’s your host, Jerrel Arkes.

Jerrel Arkes: Hi and welcome to my podcast.

Riaz Kanani: Hi, everybody. Good to be here.

Jerrel Arkes: Thank you so much. We are here at Brighton for the BrightonSEO event, and you have your talk later today.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right, two hours to go.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes, about the Dark Funnel.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right.

Jerrel Arkes: This podcast is a warmup for you.

Riaz Kanani: It is a nice dry run without the pressure of the crowd.

Jerrel Arkes: It is only the camera.

Riaz Kanani: Yes.

Jerrel Arkes: I hope people can hear my voice because it was a wild party here yesterday, so I have a little bit of a hangover, but I’ll try my best. Before we start, can you give a short introduction of who you are?

Riaz Kanani: Sure. My name is Riaz Kanani. I am the founder and CEO of Radiate B2B. We basically help companies sell to enterprise their sales development teams, make sure we tell them exactly who they should be speaking to right now.

Jerrel Arkes: All right. Sounds good. You’re talking about the Dark Funnel.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right.

Jerrel Arkes: Can you give a little bit of insight? What is the Dark Funnel?

Riaz Kanani: I was part of Silverpop, 10 – 15 years ago. We were building up the marketing automation platform world, if you like, and setting out the best practices or MQLs, SQLs, all those sorts of things.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes.

Riaz Kanani: You fast forward to today and a lot of the problems that we were trying to solve back then exist again today. The major reason for that is because people are delaying buying. I don’t mean delaying as in they’re waiting longer, I mean they are delaying talking to the vendors and so they will research more online outside of your bubble, outside of your website.

Jerrel Arkes: Compared to it when is this a big change? Is this is five years ago or ten years ago?

Riaz Kanani: We started to really notice it five years ago and it’s what pulled me back into building a new starter, right? It must be eight, nine years ago, I said I was never going to do another startup again, and here I am. That’s when we started to see metrics, like, the number of times people would visit a website anonymously before they convert was increasing. When outbound sales teams were trying to get through, we were seeing they were taking longer to get through to companies. It was harder to get through, harder to respond. Much of that has to do with not just the delay, but also the demographic of the buyer.

Riaz Kanani: To go back to your question of what is the Dark Funnel, in the past we’ve always had this period of time where buyers would send an email to somebody they knew, their mentor or the previous boss and ask them a question about what they should be looking at for this problem, but because you involved the sales teams earlier, it was never really something to focus too much on. You knew about it, you’d do advertising, et cetera, you’d write content. Today though, that gap is so big that actually that time frame is really important to now focus on, and so it’s been called the Dark Funnel.

Riaz Kanani: Basically, the dark funnel is this period before they convert on your website where they are talking about you on social media, on podcasts like this in communities. You might, as a company, put a social post out. You don’t know that company X has seen that post. You’ve got no idea. You’d have even less idea that that person screenshotted that post and then shared it with their boss, right?

Jerrel Arkes: The fact maybe that people are visiting the website of companies less and less is a big part of it?

Riaz Kanani: It’s that they’re visiting companies anonymously more and more rather than that they’re visiting vendors less and less.

Jerrel Arkes: Also the part of consuming content in the LinkedIn feed and things like that.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. There’s much more information available and of course, the lockdown with COVID accelerated that. The amount of content generated in the last couple of years has just ballooned. The easiest way to show that really was the massive increase in CPMs that you saw in LinkedIn over that, just from an advertising standpoint. Forget about the organic perspective.

Jerrel Arkes: All right. You mentioned a few tactics in the Dark Funnel, so communities, social, podcast, and I think YouTube.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, that’s right. Basically, the fundamentals of marketing don’t change. It amazes me to this day. I’ve been in marketing 20 years sort of thing, and the concepts that I learned back at university on the four P’s, they really don’t change, but beneath that, everything changes constantly. That’s the big difference now. It’s looking at where people are going. They’re clearly going more to social than they’ve ever done before. It’s clear that there’s a lot more peer to peer conversations therefore going on, and so I think about five, six, seven years ago we saw a rise in the larger tech companies buying publishers. One of the reasons for doing that is because you can suddenly have access to an audience that isn’t coming to your website. They’re coming to consume.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes, it’s easier to buy it than to build it yourself and it takes a long time.

Riaz Kanani: Not all of us can buy a publisher, but in the last couple of years, what you’ve also seen is a massive explosion in communities, and so we last year launched a B2B sales and marketing pioneers community.

Jerrel Arkes: Do you think that’s really a trend because communities ten years ago, you already had them, but I think in the last months, everybody is talking about it again?

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. Communities have been around.

Jerrel Arkes: I’m not sure why there is an increase. I also see it, but I don’t understand the reasons behind it.

Riaz Kanani: The reasons we did it and the reasons we see clients of ours doing it is because again, it allows you to be part of the conversation. For us, I think ten years ago there was a huge surge in communities, but really they were never very well implemented. I don’t mean that from a technology standpoint, and there were obviously huge success stories, but the majority of them viewed it as being regeneration, so it was a way to get your sales message in front of people. Of course, no one in a community wants to be sold to directly like that, and they disappeared and never succeeded. Today, the technology is certainly better, there’s better measurement, but for us, it’s not really about a tech change, it’s about the market share.

Jerrel Arkes: Building a relationship and learning from your customers.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. I’m a data junkie, so I always measure everything we do. Our main KPI for that is the number of conversations that are created by people not connected to Radiate, and that’s what we want. We want a thriving community where we’re just a host, and actually we don’t host it just ourselves, we host it with another sales agency who also manages it.

Jerrel Arkes: It’s a B2B marketing community?

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. B2B sales and marketing.

Jerrel Arkes: Then I have to join it.

Riaz Kanani: Yes. You’ll see the QR code on the slides I’ll talk about later. If you do a search or pick me on LinkedIn, I’ll get you an invite. It’s an invite-only. Give me a link and I’ll get you.

Jerrel Arkes: I will. How does this compare to, for example, dark social? Is it the same as the Dark Funnel?

Riaz Kanani: It’s a subset, and in some ways it’s one of the bigger parts of the puzzle, if you like. Dark social is obviously everything that’s happening on social. It’s all the posts that get shared without you seeing it. I remember we did some research back in Silverpop days, 10 – 12 years ago. I don’t know if you remember, they shared to social buttons that used to exist everywhere, and they still do today, but seem to be used less. When we measured activity, we knew that the majority, the biggest activity was email. It was never shared to social, it was shared to email, and most of that was undetected. That’s the same thing happening inside social is it’s getting shared via messages, it’s getting shared behind the scenes.

Jerrel Arkes: The Slack channels, for example, the internal social media platforms.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. Dark social is something that you need to be aware of. Basically, it’s interesting because for me it all connects together. One of the things I talk about is the rise of brand in B2B. I think one of the biggest downfalls of the marketing automation period was it over-prioritized data and short-termism versus the longer term brand building capabilities that are just as important in the B2B world.

Jerrel Arkes: I also think back then, the funnel was also dark, a part of it, but maybe we thought we had everything in our Hubspot account or whatever.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. Well, that was enough. The reality was that there was plenty of low hanging fruit that was coming in through inbound and through conversions. It was the early days of content and honestly, you were less likely to be burned.

Jerrel Arkes: What does this mean for attribution that we have this big black hole in our in our data?

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. I actually think this is one of the hardest things for a marketer to get, not so much get their head around but to handle, because we are so trained on MQL’s website conversions all the metrics that are black and white, even though most of them, honestly, are not completely accurate anyway. I mean the easy one. I sometimes hear people talk about that open rates in email. Open rate is not actually accurate by any means. The rise of the Dark Funnel means that actually the metrics we’re thinking about and we’re looking to use to measure the Dark Funnel are not black and white, they’re gray.

Jerrel Arkes: We have to accept that we just don’t know a lot of things.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, you can get indicators. For example, there’s a couple of big things that we use to shine a light on the Dark Funnel. The first thing is around asking. When someone does convert on the site, how did you hear about this first?

Jerrel Arkes: Yesterday did you attend the event and saw the presentation from Ahrefs in the morning?

Riaz Kanani: I missed it.

Jerrel Arkes: Because they had a great example that, I think, they have this on their forms as well. For example, when they filter on the version on YouTube, they had, I’m not sure if it was 1500 or 15,000, but a lot of people mentioning their YouTube channel as their primary source of where they got to know Ahrefs from.

Riaz Kanani: Right.

Jerrel Arkes: Very interesting.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, and that’s right. That’s the reality of the Dark Funnel is that when we do it, we know that one of the biggest things that comes back. I live on LinkedIn, so we do LinkedIn lives on there. We share a lot, we talk a lot about the industry, and so we know a lot of people come to us because they’ve heard of us on LinkedIn or seen us on LinkedIn. We can’t measure that. There is no metric I’ve got that shows me that there’s a lot of people who are buying from us because of our activity.

Jerrel Arkes: Do you see it in the forms that people mentioned?

Riaz Kanani: Yes.

Jerrel Arkes: Do they also say what, so a specific post or a live session or just LinkedIn?

Riaz Kanani: We make it simple. Some people will be more wordy, but most will just type.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes, when you analyze it, I think knowing that LinkedIn is very important is maybe enough.

Riaz Kanani: When it comes to which posts, you can get an idea from LinkedIn’s own metrics as to which posts are popular, but of course, just knowing that a lot of your inbound direct traffic is where that’s coming from, so it’s an insight, right?

Jerrel Arkes: What is then important for you on LinkedIn? Is it the reach and engagement or do you still also look at clicks, for example?

Riaz Kanani: I’d say the majority of my posting on LinkedIn doesn’t have a link and actually maybe in the SEO community that that will go down like a ton of bricks, I suppose. The major reason is one of the things that we know we can post very valuable content in the size of a LinkedIn post and when you add links into a LinkedIn post, it has an impact.

Jerrel Arkes: The algorithm isn’t happy with it.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, that’s right. Actually, my current theory, and these theories change all the time because LinkedIn changes all the time, is that links have a domain authority within the algorithm on LinkedIn and for most of us in the B2B world, that domain authority is extremely low.

Jerrel Arkes: You’re saying that when you have a high authority, maybe the reach of the link is better.

Riaz Kanani: We know when we post certain links, whether it’s sometimes the BBC or TechCrunch and I will see tens of thousands of views. If I had someone else who writes a similar post but posts to a different less well known link, nothing.

Jerrel Arkes: That’s a problem for a lot of B2B companies.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right, but it’s not to say that we then post in a silo. A lot of my posts will be reused, repurposed within LinkedIn live and vice versa. It’ll be used in blog posts, it’ll be used in white papers, it might get written up as a separate thing on the website. It gets reused all the time.

Jerrel Arkes: Then let’s talk about your software because it’s called the Dark Funnel, but maybe it’s not as dark as we think because you have, I think, intent data.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right, and that’s the second big thing about the Dark Funnel is obviously a lot of the activity is happening on third-party websites that you don’t have access to, and so when you do searches for intent data, you’ll see events come back, things like G2 for the customer reviews, but also people like ourselves where we partner to bring together over 5,000 publishers. People who are browsing across those publishers, they come back. We partner with companies like BambooHR to tie that data together with other anonymous behavior to then give our clients a single score, basically, of how high that behavior is to suggest they’d be open to a conversation.

Jerrel Arkes: That’s on a company level, right?

Riaz Kanani: It’s all at a company level. We don’t go down to individual level for obvious privacy reasons. I’m not sure anyone would quite like their activity to be tracked at an individual level across the Internet. I certainly wouldn’t.

Jerrel Arkes: Me neither. Let’s say that I’m selling CRM software. I go to you and you can sell me data of companies that are in the market.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, that’s right. Basically, whenever we talk to them, everyone wants it to be a silver bullet, right? We take a topic called CRM, which we do have, and certainly there will be a list of companies that are associated with that, but most people when they’re researching a topic, are not just researching CRM. They’ll be researching some of the issues and problems that they have to do with CRM, it could be sales acceleration, it could be sales data, and so what we recommend to our clients is that actually, yes, obviously CRM is important and that’s the core topic, but you also look at topics around that to then give you a picture of what that person is actually thinking about.

Riaz Kanani: What you’ll get back is not going to be a list of a few companies who are actually in market. The number is about five percent of companies are in market. We see that all the time. In fact, some of the stuff we do allows us to measure that and it holds up.

Jerrel Arkes: It’s in the demand capture corner.

Riaz Kanani: That’s right. What were you able to do is will identify some of the companies that are buying today, the top ten, 20 percent of them, probably. Then you’ll get the companies that are early on. The ones that are researching still and you’ll get the ones that are investigating because they know it’s going to be a problem for them, they’re not yet in the buying process, you’ll get those as well. Our clients, the companies who sell, they are usually midsized companies that are selling to larger companies, and so the sales cycles are longer.

Riaz Kanani: Anyone who works in that space knows you don’t pick up the phone to the buyer and magically the following day you’ve got a deal.

Jerrel Arkes: It’s, I think, account based marketing, for example, is maybe an important approach to use your data.

Riaz Kanani: Account based marketing is certainly one of the approaches, definitely, and certainly when you are selling to big enterprise, most people will have a mix of a demand gen or inbound plus an ABM standpoint. The primary uses of the data really is both sales and marketing. Certainly, the sales development teams knowing who they should speak to next, but also the marketing team from an activation standpoint. Targeting those companies specifically with advertising can just ensure that when those conversations happen, they’re more likely to have that conversation. We see a two to three times uplift in companies taking a demo when you combine the intent data with advertising.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes, advertising indeed is a big part of it too, I think. The easiest way to reach the list of companies.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, and that wasn’t possible before, because before you would have to target an entire vertical and for most B2B companies targeting large verticals is very expensive, but when you translate that down to specific companies, suddenly you might have a target account list of 500 or 1,000, 5,000. At those sorts of levels, you’re able to basically manage your market and just keep feeding small amounts of adverts and then increasing the frequency based on what you know as a business.

Jerrel Arkes: What type of adverts do you think are then relevant? Can it be targeted at your products or services, or should it be more demand ads?

Riaz Kanani: One of my bugbears in the B2B world is how functional we often are in our advertising. It’s very straight down the line, it’s very standardized, if you like, and that’s always a bad thing in advertising. If your adverts looks like everybody else’s, it’s not going to get seen. For me, I mean it depends. If the companies that you’re talking to, or you’re putting adverts in front of, are companies that don’t know you and you don’t know much about them other than you think they’d be an ideal customer, then you want to be feeding your story, why is it that you exist and educating from that perspective.

Jerrel Arkes: Maybe the click isn’t even that important.

Riaz Kanani: No, that’s right and interestingly, it varies. A couple of interesting stats that we see all the time, right? We sell to companies that sell to enterprise. We do that across lots of different verticals, but across all those verticals, 20 to 30 percent of the companies we target will magically appear on the website. In a brand-lead channel, you screen out consciously those ads when you’re not interested. For somebody to then magically appear on the website, they’re seeing those ads, they’re thinking about that situation. It’s interesting to them. That was interesting to me. The other thing is, is when you at a level below that and you look at how that 20 to 30 percent breaks down, in professional services and management consultancies, it’s about 60/40, 70/30 in favor of people clicking.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes.

Riaz Kanani: It’s almost the inverse for technology companies, so 70 percent will turn up on the website, 30 percent won’t click, and so it’s really interesting to see how that varies. We haven’t gone yet to go and interview some of these different industries to try and figure out some of the reasons.

Jerrel Arkes: The idea behind demand generation that people will come to your website if you are just there.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, that’s right.

Jerrel Arkes: You see that with adverts too.

Riaz Kanani: Fundamentally, a lot of marketing is about your share of market voice. The more share of the voice that you have the stronger you are in that market. Now of course, common sense plays a part here, just because I get, let’s say, £100 million worth of funding and I burn all of that in advertising, I’ll have a great share of market voice, but there won’t be a strong connection to the audience. They’ll know who we are, but they won’t have any value associated with that. They will have a little bit of trust. You have to combine multiple methods to both increase the awareness but also back it up with quality value conversations.

Jerrel Arkes: Where do you think we are when you look at the maturity level of most B2B companies and this approach?

Riaz Kanani: If you live in my bubble, it’s brilliant. Everybody’s talking about demand generation, the Dark Funnel and ABM. The simple reality is though, most are not. If you step out of the bubble and go and talk to the market, most people in the UK are not mature in their account based marketing programs. They’re at the early stages of demand generation and most are still, you know, it’s still outbound calling, outbound email.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes, so even at the stage before we got the whole inbound part and maybe they will go directly to demand gen, but maybe it will take five years or even more.

Riaz Kanani: The beauty of building a business is you always have more time than you think usually, you think the market is going to dramatically accelerate inside a couple of years and it rarely happens. The exception to that was COVID, where suddenly there was a massive increase in digital activity that really brought a lot of what we’re talking about today to the fore much faster than it would have done otherwise.

Jerrel Arkes: Indeed. Very interesting. Have you missed anything from your talk today that we should talk about in this podcast? Anything important?

Riaz Kanani: I think the big takeaway for me from the talk today, as well as this one is getting a handle on that grayness of measurement and realizing that actually understanding which of your programs, that don’t directly attribute to your pipeline actually is contributing without you realizing it. The second, of course, is the intent data base, for me, it becomes something that’s a critical part of any sales and marketing tool.

Jerrel Arkes: People who want to know more can go to the website, I think.

Riaz Kanani: Yes, certainly go to the website, radiateb2b.com, connect on LinkedIn. I am always happy to have a conversation on LinkedIn.

Jerrel Arkes: Thank you so much and success today with your talk at Brighton.

Riaz Kanani: Thank you very much. Really good to be here.

Jerrel Arkes: Yes, thanks.

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