Early in my career, I'd default to reading articles and perusing marketing forums. This was great for developing a foundation of knowledge on a given topic. But I'd eventually hit diminishing returns for a few reasons:
- The authors of these articles rarely have skin in the game. Most of the time, they're a content marketer that is cherry picking data from questionable sources at best. And you never know what info has been massaged to fit their narrative (ie they're probably trying to sell you software or some course)
- Marketing suffers from the law of shitty click-throughs. Whatever's working from a tactical standpoint eventually disappears as more companies swoop in. So an article about the newest Facebook ads hack will decay in value fairly quickly.
- Great marketers don't show and tell. It's detrimental to share whatever is working, especially if you have first mover's advantage. Sharing knowledge isn't aligned with marketer's goals, we all want to avoid the law of shitty click-throughs as much as possible.
So how does one seek knowledge to level up their skillset?
The #1 value add for me now is through mindshare calls. These are typically 1-on-1 calls for 30-45 minutes with marketing operators that know their shit. While folks are less likely to share their strategies to the masses, most are willing to open the kimono in this environment.
In this post, I'll lay out a framework for getting the most out of these calls based on the hundreds of convos I've had over the years.
Identify Your Blind Spots
The first step is developing a level of awareness in what you currently suck at.
Never assume that you know everything, there's always areas to level up in. Even if you think you're at the top of your game, the reality is that no one has ample enough time to become an expert in every single channel.
To identify your blindspots, make a mental checklist of areas and channels you don't have exposure to. Maybe you've underinvested in developing a kick-ass referral program. Or due to budget constraints, you've never really figured out podcast ads.
If you're having trouble, a quick hack is to pull up Alexa's top sites in the United States.
The snapshot above is a list I went through for Kettle & Fire the other day. I red ticked on all the ones we have zero exposure in currently.
Sourcing blind spots through your network is an easy one as well. Keep tabs on brands in your industry and follow folks on Twitter. Blind spots will appear rather quickly.
Finding Like-Minded Folks To Chat With
After identifying your blind spots, let's find the best folks to chat with. Here are a few ways to do it:
- Referrals - The stronger your network is, the easier it is to connect with new people. Ask your marketing friends if they know anyone that crushes it in XYZ channel. I've found that as long as I'm consistently helping out others, folks pay it forward with intros.
- Twitter - I've passively built up lists of marketers that are doing cool shit and talking about it on Twitter. On any given day, I'll routinely find discussions relevant to my blindspots. Easy peasy.
- Research - I'll routinely stumble on brands that blow me away on a particular channel. Sometimes this just happens serendipitously from all of my online consumption habits. If you're hitting a wall, try reverse-engineering it. There's a ton of data sources out there (SimilarWeb, Ahrefs, Facebook's Ad Library etc) that you can tinker with to find top brands.
Once you've identified a few awesome folks, you'll need their contact info. If you got a warm intro from a friend, skip this step. But for going in cold, I'll default to Clearbit's free Gmail extension.
Install the app and pop in the domain for the person you want to chat with:
Then peruse the list of employees to find your person:
This also works well if you only know the brand but not the marketer. Since Clearbit provides job titles, you can determine who the best person is to chat with.
In the case that Clearbit doesn't pull the info, jump on Linkedin or Twitter and do some digging. If you are still hitting the wall, I recommend pinging one of the founders of the brand directly to get an intro.
Congrats, you just did all the ground work. Now your objective is to craft a cold email that gets the person excited enough to hop on a quick call.
Taking a page out of "How To Win Friends and Influence People", the deepest urge in human nature is the desire to feel important. Building on this, you need to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.
Here's a cold email template I've used that's worked well:
Breaking it down, I start by acknowledging their success to make 'em feel important. I'll also include a personal anecdote so it's obvious I'm not blasting them with an automated email.
Then, I'll do a quick intro on who I am and why they should talk to me. Over time, we've been fortunate enough to build some brand equity at Kettle & Fire. So more often than not, eComm marketers are familiar with us. This goes a long way in demonstrating value; the recipient now knows that they are likely to benefit from the call as well.
Side note on avoiding brain drain - If your brand isn't super well known yet, you'll need to think on how you can demonstrate value here. Always think, "what does this person want and how can I show them how to get it?" I can tell you that being on the receiving end of these types of requests, I'm more likely to respond if I know there's value that I can also gain. I'll likely ignore the email if it's clear that it'll be just a brain drain from my end.
Finally, I make a mutually beneficial ask. Note that I don't say "Just looking to pick your brain on PR strategies", though that was my ultimate goal here. I want to make the conversation worthwhile to them so we can both benefit.
Now even though I got a response and had a great convo, I could have improved on this. Recently, I've tweaked the question at the end to something like this:
What I've done here is kill the "brain drain" objection by clarifying that I'm willing to share anything. I've found that this helps twist the knife a bit to get a response.
Prior to hopping on the call, I'll do a little sleuthing to find additional discussion topics. To do this, I turn to a couple data sources. As I'm sleuthing, I'll jot down some quick notes to reference on the call.
I use ahrefs for SEO, adwords, and interesting referal traffic sources. Simply pop in their URL in the site explorer and start digging.
Using Kettle & Fire as an example, you'd notice that we get a considerable amount of organic traffic
Going a step further, you could find that we rank pretty highly for a number of highly competitive keywords. So a discussion topic could be around our SEO strategies and what we did to rank over time.
Their free chrome extension can give you a high level overview of how a website is getting traffic.
Looking at our site again, I might ask questions related to traffic sources or why we saw a lift in traffic in March.
Side Note - If you're lucky enough to have a SimilarWeb license (it's a little pricey), you can drill even further into some metrics to fuel some potential discussion topics.
I'm getting lazy so here's a quick list of other resources:
- Facebook Ad Library - Type in the brand's website and out pops all their active ads.
- Builtwith - To see a brand's tech stack and what apps they use
- Screaming Frog - Website crawler that scrapes all their pages. I've had some luck stumbling on pages that might be hidden but give me a hint at what they might be launching soon.
- Signing up for their email list - Self-explanatory
- Leveraging influencer insights tools - I'll save for a future post but there's ways to reverse engineer and identify who brands are sponsoring.
After synthesizing all my notes, I'll email over a loose agenda a few days before. In the email, I'll lay out potential discussion topics I'd like to hit on. I'll also clearly state that I want to make the call useful for both parties and encourage them to send over any question as well.
After sharing pleasantries and commenting on the weather that day, I'll jump right into the tactical discussion. This is usually free flowing. I've found it helpful to propose a question and let the other person talk. It's that simple.
As the person is talking, I'll make some mental notes on interesting points I'd like to dig a little deeper on. So once they've finished, I might followup with something like, "You mentioned XYZ, can you go a little further on that one?"
I'll also keep a close eye on the time. Since I usually block out 30 minutes, I want to be mindful of both their time and the value they're receiving. If at the half-way mark it's been fairly one-sided, I'll turn the question wheel over to the other person.
At the 30 minute mark, we'll wrap things up and say our goodbyes. If the call went well, you should have a big list of notes and followup items.
Following Up And Staying In Touch
Immediately after the call, I'll synthesize all my notes and bucket some followup tasks. This could include sharing info with team members or documenting the information I gathered in the appropriate place.
I'll then shoot a quick email to the person thanking them for hopping on the call and listing out some followup items we both agreed to. This could be anything - Making intros, pulling data, trading documentation etc. I sometimes throw in a few followup questions as well. These are usually on topics we didn't get to on the call.
Finally, I'll set a reminder to reconnect about a month out. Especially in marketing, I've found that there's always room for additional calls or quick emails to continue the knowledge sharing. Even a quick "heyo, how goes everything?" is worth the small effort.
Like I said at the top, this is the #1 value add for me in leveling up my skillset. And as you start putting in your reps and build out a stronger network, it's only a matter of time before you'll start seeing compounding effects.
Last thought - Don't get down on yourself if you don't get an initial reply. People are busy. Just keep following up (within reason) and ping new people. The absolute worst thing that can happen is the person says they're not interested.
Now that you have the playbook, start taking action!