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Jared Fuller, Jill Rowley: Nearbound and the Rise of the Who Economy

NEARBOUND

Today, 75 % of the $ 105 trillion world economy is sold through partners. This is across 27 industries and 193 countries.

For every dollar spent on software and hardware, $ 2 is spent on services (and growing). In 2023, tech services grew to be larger than telco services for the first time.

Every company in every industry is essentially mirroring tech companies’ approach to ecosystems, and CEOs are now talking about how to leverage nearbound.

Nearbound is the leading framework helping companies leverage the Decade of Ecosystem, and Jared Fuller is the storyteller for this era.

Nearbound and the Rise of the Who Economy is a giant leap forward in the conversation.

TRUST IS THE NEW DATA

From data to trust, from how to who, and from targeting to surrounding.

British mathematician and marketing executive Clive Humby boldly proclaimed, “Data is the new oil.”

Data helped businesses automate, gain efficiencies, and find and target customers. Everyone wanted the digits.

We no longer trust data by itself; it’s data’s relationship to us we care about. Now, trust is the new data. Trust is in crisis. Trust in the new tools and tech platforms that were supposed to bring us together has also failed to live up to their promise. And when it comes to individual trust, we are more suspicious of those we don’t know than ever.

What we all want is something real — a genuine connection based on shared context and trust. Something relevant coming from someone known.

According to Ernst & Young, the number one reason companies invest in partnerships and platforms is because of the “proximity to and engagement with customers”.

In the old How Economy, buyers followed a transactional, linear process. However, today we find ourselves in a new era — the Who Economy. In the Who Economy, buyers take a radically different approach. They turn first to people they know and trust for guidance. Today’s buyers ask, “Who do I know that has solved this problem?”

The best network wins, not simply the best content.

The reality is that traditional outbound sales and inbound marketing performance will continue to decline regardless of messaging. It’s not just because of automation or generative AI flooding the market. It’s deeper. It’s how we buy that’s changed.

If that’s how we purchase in the Who Economy, then how should B2B companies sell and market? The answer is a realignment to networks of trust, not oceans of data.

Enduring companies will build ecosystems of mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships.

Era 1: The Brand Era (1950s-2000s). Before the age of digitization, companies relied on brand recognition and broadcast marketing to drive sales. This was the Brand Era of business.

Era 2: The Outbound Era – Sales Digitization (2000s). The early 2000s saw the rise of the Sales Digitization Era. This period was marked by the emergence of cloud computing, which transformed business and gave birth to the entire industry of Software as a Service (SaaS), as well as a new go-to-market (GTM) strategy.

Era 3: The Inbound Era – Marketing Automation (2010s). Starting in the 2010s, the third era arrived faster with the emergence of Marketing Automation. Rather than simply optimizing sales execution, marketing automation focused on systematically generating and qualifying new “inbound” leads. Growth marketing, demand generation, and other marketing practices emerged as their own digital discipline distinct from traditional brand marketing.

Technology enabled an unprecedented level of personalization and automation. Email drips, landing pages, and lead scoring were added to the list of growth levers that marketers could pull.

Data was the fuel. Automation was the accelerant. Heck, large swaths of B2B companies even have it in their category names! “Digital Acceleration,” “Sales Acceleration,” “Revenue Acceleration.”

Buyers don’t factor in vendor’s internal political structures in how they purchase.

We’ve been polluted by information used against us. Instead, we trust those who work with us.

There has been a power shift back towards trust: brands, networks — made up of complex overlapping relationships and partnerships — and ecosystems.

But digitally native partnerships of this age aren’t like physical channel partnerships of the past. Salesforce and HubSpot constructed 21st-century partner models distinct from traditional channels over time.

“Channel” traditionally referred to networks of third parties like resellers, integrators, and distributors that expanded a vendor’s reach and physical proximity to the customer. The traditional transactional channel was focused on reselling.

The channel world owns the point of transaction, while the emerging partner world seems to own the points of influence and retention. In the Nearbound Era, it’s not that the transactional channel entirely disappears, it’s just divided. First is the influencer channel. Rather than reselling, these partners advocate early in the buyer journey to build brand awareness and preference. Second is the retention channel. These partners support post-sale customer success, adoption, expansion, and renewal.

The transactional channel, however, is now rare and fading.

If we take what we’ve learned and overlay B2B with Mother Nature, we’d come up with a definition of a B2B Ecosystem that looks like this: A B2B Ecosystem consists of all networked accounts and contacts linked to the commerce and information they share. B2B Ecosystems manifest in the form of partnerships (accounts) and relationships ( contacts ) that either directly or indirectly benefit the end customer (user) of the B2B Ecosystem parent. In B2B Ecosystems, cost and time are conserved. Information flows through the system like energy — typically from influence to commerce — while trust, like nutrients, is recycled, preserved, and grown.

Matt Cameron, CEO of SaaSy Sales Leadership, observes, “Outbound continues to decline in effectiveness due to automation, volume, and defensive tech in inboxes and on phones. Content marketing works to drive inbound, but content is the new spam.”

Nearbound is where the company’s partnerships and network of relationships are not simply a “channel,” nor a partnerships department, but instead a strategy for every department. Nearbound is about tapping into existing connections and relationships in every department of your company.

The future is nearbound deals won through influential referrers, frictionless buying journeys, and retention support from trusted sources. The new world hates friction, and the solution is trust. Trust comes from helping others reach their promised land. We don’t trust companies who offer the promised land. Instead, we trust the people who have actually been to our promised land.

Too much of sales still fixates on volume-driven metrics versus truly understanding customers’ journeys.

Nearbound companies realize sales is no longer about selling. It’s about forging relationships based on helping customers become who they aspire to be.

The most misunderstood word in startups is “strategy.” Strategy is choice. Period. And not all choices are equal.

PandaDoc hacked a Chrome extension which allowed it to send documents from HubSpot even without access to their APIs. This was nearbound product innovation in action. Less than one year later, PandaDoc was HubSpot’s number one partner-built CRM integration.

I could go on with another dozen stories about big nearbound choices with Marketo and Drift …

The nearbound.com media network (formerly PartnerHacker), is the largest library of partner and GTM-related content anywhere.

Nearbound is aligned to the modern buyer’s journey, and that makes it the best lever for B2B leaders.

Nearbound is the antithesis to the plague of siloed partnership teams. Nearbound is the clarion call for a company-wide mindset and manuscript for each department’s alignment.

Layering nearbound onto every department is fairly basic. It’s what David Cancel, the CEO of Drift, would call “simple, not easy.”

NEARBOUND DEFINED

Outbound → Inbound → Nearbound

At its core, nearbound is the next evolution of go-to-market motions that builds upon the mass adoption of outbound and inbound models.

Nearbound in a Word Surround. Nearbound in a Sentence A business strategy that connects to buyers with and through the network of partnerships and relationships that surround them.

Outbound targets the customer, inbound attracts the customer, and nearbound surrounds the customer.

In a world where trust is the new data, companies that prioritize identifying, collaborating, and executing nearbound plays with influential partners have the advantage.

Nearbound transforms linear funnels into multifaceted flywheels, leveraging existing customers as sources of new leads and current partners as hubs for intelligence, influence, or introductions to your top accounts.

The nearbound approach aligns your overarching operating model with a broader ecosystem, beyond just internal operational metrics.

In the Nearbound Era, you may have a perfect pitch, but buyers aren’t buying it if it’s coming from a perfect stranger. You require connection to their network and relationships, and context of information filtered by someone they trust.

According to Business Insider, by the end of 2020, 65% of Google searches did not result in a click. Additionally, HubSpot reports that blog readership declined and response rates to sales outreach dropped by 40% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“You need more than data, you need context,” Rangan says. She adds that connection is more important than information and that community is more important than contacts.

Berkshire Hathaway’s decision-making process is a prime example of Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets, which is a response to a world that operates on probabilities. When executed correctly, this approach yields significant returns that are not merely exceptions, but rather the standard.

What was considered contrarian thinking 10 years ago has now become conventional wisdom. Companies have embraced this mindset and are striving to lead their respective markets by establishing a lasting and effective model that recognizes the potential of these high-risk, high-reward bets, rather than opposing them.

In this era, trust trumps data. Relationships supersede messaging. And network effects compound growth in ways that linear funnels cannot.

There was initial resistance within HubSpot regarding heavy investment in agency partners, but the results soon spoke for themselves. Pete helped agencies evolve to more sustainable business models built on recurring revenue. HubSpot provided them with the tools and content they needed to make this transition. Pete built a program and an entire business unit around assisting agencies in changing how they billed their clients, the products and services they offered, and even the decisions on who they served — narrowing down their focus to expand their reach.

By promoting greater specialization, his programs transformed generalist agencies into established niches.

In the past, HubSpot was considered a lesser player in marketing automation compared to Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo, and Act-On. But only one of these companies achieved a successful IPO: HubSpot.

Since the Caputa – Roberge days, HubSpot has transitioned from a channel business unit and direct sales team to an integrated revenue approach. Caputa called this an “overlay model,” and my friend Jill Rowley calls it an “infused model.”

The playbook Pete established at both HubSpot and Databox exemplifies how pioneering companies embed ecosystems into their DNA across marketing, sales, success, and product teams.

To borrow from philosopher James P. Carse, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are choosing to opt out of the finite game of competing for larger shares of the same pie in pursuit of a static notion of victory. Instead, they are engaging in an infinite game — one in which the objective is to sustain and continue playing the game. In this game, the pie expands, humanity progresses, and relationships multiply.

Great product never beats great go-to-market. But great go-to-market never beats great network effects.

When it comes to laying the groundwork for nearbound it’s important to understand the choices available to you in order to proactively recognize (and even create) network effects. And there’s more than one type of network effect.

Some network effects are “direct,” where value comes from other users, as we discussed with AT & T. Others are “indirect,” attracting complementary providers. For instance, as more gamers purchased Xbox, more game developers joined the platform, creating a virtuous cycle that increased Xbox’s value.

Beyond direct and indirect effects, other fascinating types of network effects apply more than ever in the Nearbound Era.

Language has powerful network effects. English has become the global lingua franca, while regional languages have declined.

We also see bandwagon network effects that draw people in due to social pressure and fear of missing out.

Notion demonstrates the utilization of ecosystem network effects.

Scale is an output of network effects, not an input.

As we explored with Tesla, network effects arise from cultivating density, proximity, and throughput as a hub within a broader ecosystem.

As a leader, you need to decide to create watering holes where employees can congregate to exchange intelligence regardless of department.

There’s a simple framework to help bring nearbound to every department, created with the help of Mark Kilens. It’s not complicated either. It’s called ICE and it’s pretty cool. ICE stands for Identify, Collaborate, and Execute.

  • Identify: Determine who surrounds your buyer and who they trust. Identify potential partners that make sense to collaborate with.
  • Collaborate: Align with partners on how you can provide mutual value to customers.
  • Execute: Take action to turn these relationships into results. Run specific plays to engage partners and their customers in the sales process.

Jill Rowley, one of the top salespeople and pioneers in the era of outbound and inbound automation. Jill is one of the most influential B2B sellers of all time, largely credited with inventing “social selling.”

THE CURIOUS TASK OF MODERN MARKETING

The interplay between economics and markets is so profound that Nobel laureate, Friedrich Hayek, even termed it the “market economy”: “[The] market economy [is] as an information processing system characterized by spontaneous order: the emergence of coherence through the independent actions of large numbers of individuals, each with limited and local knowledge, coordinated by prices that arise from decentralized processes of competition.”

Hayek’s key tenet is that markets are emergent — not planned — and that they require actors to process information according to their own preferences and act accordingly.

Does your marketing strategy revolve around the idea of “imagining the world you think you can design”? Do you solely focus on measuring what happened and taking credit when the numbers align, but shift blame elsewhere when they don’t?

That’s the curious task of marketing in the Nearbound Era: to demonstrate to the model makers, the funnel obsessives, the central planners, and ivory tower intellectuals just how little they know about what they imagine they can design. Don’t fall into their trap.

The act of marketing is based on imperfect information. People act in ways you could never plan or imagine.

As Alfred Korzybski eloquently put it, “The map is not the territory.” Your map is not the territory. Your model is not the market.

At the root of marketing is the study of human action in your market. Ludwig von Mises, a fellow Austrian economist, and author of the magnum opus Human Action, referred to this study as “praxeology.”

THE NEW CMO

“Buyers have become almost unreachable”.

In the wake of the 2023 recession, marketing budgets were cut when CEOs and boards realized that Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) was only increasing with more spend.

Chris Walker analyzed the 2022 advertising benchmark study by metadata.io across $ 42MM in advertising spend and 236,000 leads converted.

The average cost to get someone to read a PDF through advertising on Facebook or LinkedIn? $ 126 for a download. And based on the exact same data set, he estimated the win rate to be 0.3 % from that cohort of leads. This means that sales needs 333 “leads” to win ONE deal.

Advertising CAC to be $ 57,000 to win one deal. This is just the advertising cost and doesn’t include sales headcount, SDRs, marketing headcount, or other marketing programs such as events. When you include all the other expenditures, you could reasonably estimate the total CAC payback on these programs is more than 48 months.

In 2021, renowned SEO entrepreneur, Rand Fishkin, conducted a study revealing that 65 % of all Google searches end without a click, up from 50 % in 2019.

In the How Economy, companies competed to get information in front of the right people at the right time. In the Who Economy, companies battle for influence around their customers. True influence comes from trust, and trust comes from those who help.

Buyers are hungry for people who’ve already walked the path to success. They are seeking out people who have been where they want to go or who have helped them before.

As both buyers and professionals, we no longer seek aggregate information online; we seek direct advice from trusted relationships and proven experts whom we can reference relevant to our specific situation.

The nearbound approach of marketing with instead of marketing to. While outbound targets and inbound attracts, nearbound surrounds and connects through trusted relationships. Trust comes from helping people reach their promised land.

The idea of leveraging relationships and influencers is not new — it’s a return to what worked before the digital era.

The “watering holes” concept provides a mental model for understanding this distinction. A watering hole is a place where your audience already gathers, such as forums, events, podcasts, and social media clusters.

The goal is to become part of your audience’s conversations without interrupting them — done right, you’re participating with them, not marketing to them.

Before crafting marketing content or campaigns, always consider: where do my buyers go and who do they already trust?

SURROUND SOUND MARKETING IN 5 PHASES

Let’s review the core principles of nearbound marketing: Recognizing markets as emergent processes, which exist prior to our market-ing activities. Participating in ecosystems and building loyalty through relationships first. Surrounding your audience with influence. Marketing with the relevant influencers rather than marketing to your customers.

Phase 1: Defining Your ICP. Nicke Down to Create Resonance. The first phase of nearbound marketing involves narrowing your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) as much as possible. Your ICP needs to answer not only what accounts, but also what partners and vendors you trust. The ‘who’ that surrounds the ICP. You should also identify “lighthouse” clients that perfectly represent your ICP.

What if we started in reverse — working with partners or talking to your (prospective) customers and letting the conversations dictate the marketing message? Real people tend to have more specific needs than the faceless ICP figures we conjure up. These questions can be as simple as: What’s your biggest win to date? What is your biggest challenge/pain point? What are your goals for the next quarter? The next year  What’s the biggest blocker for reaching those goals? Who in the industry do you look to for advice, or as an example of success? Who is helping you execute your vision that’s not on your team? What service providers, communities, or tech do you turn to in order to make calls you need to make? What do you read or listen to every day/week?

Phase 2: Establishing a Strategic Narrative. Make Yourself Easy to Market With. The “strategic narrative” concept was popularized by Andy Raskin. Raskin has laid out five steps to developing a strategic narrative: Name a big, relevant change in the world. Show that there will be winners and losers. Tease the promised land. Introduce features as “Magic Gifts” for overcoming obstacles to the promised land. Offer evidence that you can make the story come true.

What does it look like when you achieve success? Your company or product is not the hero of the story but rather an enabler that helps your prospects get to where they want to be.

By enabling partners rather than simply promoting to them, you empower an extension of yourself. When they succeed, you succeed.

Marketers are used to prioritizing customers first and their own product second. The customer is first, that much is correct. But after customers, it’s those they trust — your partners — followed by your story and, finally, your product.

Phase 3: Assembling a Nearbound Marketing Team. In Phase 3, we build the core Marketing team needed to activate evangelists and surround buyers with trusted voices. Rather than just hiring top marketing talent at a premium, the nearbound approach leverages four unique personas: Journalists, Content creators, Partners, and Customers.

  • Journalists Job to be done: Story finding. First, bring in journalists who excel at uncovering stories — discerning signal through the noise — and spotting trends from the market without bias.
  • Creators Job to be done: Story spreading. For the next persona, you want to partner with authentic content creators who already produce material your target buyers love. You can leverage creators both internally and externally. For example, enable team members with creator potential to build their personal brands. Or, collaborate on content with industry influencers who attract your ideal customers.
  • Partners Job to be done: Story connecting. From service partners to technology partners to referral partners, they all have relationships with audiences you want to reach.
  • Customers Job to be done: Story validating. Finally, your team should engage with customers who have achieved success using your product. These customers add a layer of credibility when sharing your brand story.

Your customers aren’t just chunks of revenue to retain; they are partners.

Phase 4: Activate Your Evangelists. Activating your network of evangelists is the crucial step that brings the inbound marketing methodology to life.

  • Step 1: Identify Potential Evangelists. The first step in activating your evangelists is to examine the broader market and ecosystem surrounding your ideal customer.
  • Step 2: Evaluate. When you first start identifying your potential evangelists, the list can seem daunting and overwhelming. You need to “map and tap”: map out your evangelists and how they are situated around your buyers, and then document how you can tap into their influence.
  • Step 3: Activate! Once you’ve identified your top evangelists through careful evaluation, it’s time to activate them. But first, clearly outline expectations and incentives. Regardless of the level of formality, reciprocity is key. Ensure both parties understand the mutual benefits. Making it easy is always the key.
  • Step 4: Distribute — Make Them Famous. The fourth step of activating your evangelists is getting the word about your strategic narrative out to the people who need to hear it: your Ideal Customer Profile. Remember that your task is to distribute with partners and evangelists, not through them. B2B SaaS is still a world of small worlds, relatively speaking. Though a niche often looks crowded, you don’t have to be the center of the universe to attract some of the brightest stars in your solar system.
  • Step 5: Understand. Colleagues who are stuck in the Digital Automation Era will likely want some assurance that the new marketing spend is getting results. Tracking results and understanding what is working well versus what is not is crucial for optimizing and improving your nearbound marketing approach over time.

Phase 5: Iterate and Expand. Once you achieve some initial success activating your first small group of evangelists, it’s time to iterate and expand the program.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the power of acting with partnerships as an overlay is with Account Based Marketing (ABM). Marketers are already aware of the surge in popularity of ABM, if not as an industry, at least as a fundamental practice. ABM marked a significant advancement for a large portion of B2B, as Sangram Vajre’s rallying cry to “flip the funnel” became widespread in B2B marketing.

I remember the day when Allison Munro first crystallized the epiphany that “nearbound marketing is the next evolution of ABM.” ABM often stops there. Once you have targeted your ideal accounts, how do you actually reach them? This is where the nearbound approach shines. ICE makes ABM easy. This framework is intentionally direct and uncomplicated, designed to overlay nearbound strategies into existing marketing frameworks, regardless of their complexity or scale.

HOW SELLING REALLY WORKS

“How is anyone ever going to sell me cold if I can’t even reply to internal emails because we’re so overwhelmed?” he asked in exasperation. Here’s the reality: in addition to being a VP of Sales for a major SaaS company, the man I was talking to is also a buyer.

Nearbound doesn’t ask you to scrap inbound and outbound and reinvent the wheel. It amplifies inbound and outbound by adapting them to the moment we’re in — a moment that is hungry for trust and connection.

I partnered with the right people at the right time. The buyer doesn’t want to tell you about their business; they want you to know about their business. If you can get that insight and intel from someone who already has the trust, you’re coming in ready.

In the Outbound Era, ABC meant “Always Be Closing.” In the Nearbound Era, ABC means “Always Be Connecting.”

THE NEARBOUND SALES BLUEPRINT

The Nearbound Sales Blueprint is a dead simple way to operationalize plays from sellers that utilize partners in the revenue mix , without altering the structure of your organization or attempting to rebuild it from the ground up . The Blueprint is comprised of three steps: Nailing your nearbound sales math Creating your nearbound account list Running the 3 I’s of nearbound sales – Intel, Influence, and Intros.

  • Step 1: Nailing your Nearbound Sales Math Goal: Nail your nearbound sales math & calculate your optimal nearbound sales mix. The sales team uses the nearbound target account list to strategically tap into trust and influence from partners to surround and shorten their sales cycles, and to close more deals.
  • Step 2: Creating your Nearbound Account List Goal: Get strategic with partners to drive higher revenue and mutual benefit.
    • First: Sort the accounts with the most impactful partner overlap.
    • Second: Identify which partners have the most relevant signals to run nearbound sales plays against.
    • Third: Identify the Relevant Relationships. Identify the personas involved in the account you’re speaking with, as well as those that have relationships with key decision-makers. Focus on their roles or departments.
  • Step 3: Running the Nearbound Sales Plays Goal: Master the 3 I’s of nearbound sales (Intel, Influence, and Intros) to accelerate your pipeline by leveraging your partners trust and access. There are three primary plays that power this playbook. We call them “The 3 I’s of Nearbound Sales”: Intel, Influence, and Intro.

Intel refers to any information your partners and/or partnership technology can provide you about an opportunity. Intel is information that they aren’t advertising to just anyone. Obtaining this information helps you position yourself and your strategy alongside the companies with which your prospect has established relationships.

Many B2B deals involve procurement — the department that makes final purchasing decisions. Procurement focuses on getting the best terms and pricing. They can be tough negotiators.

Influence. Influence is crucial in the new era of B2B sales — it’s both everywhere and at the center of the Who Economy. Buyers are tuned out to traditional outreach methods. They instead turn to trusted advisors in their network for guidance.

As Jay McBain notes, the typical B2B buyer has around 28 “moments” before choosing a vendor. These are key interactions, events, or touchpoints in their buying journey. Only 4 of those 28 moments might involve direct communication with potential vendors. The other 24 moments are driven by external influences, like peer recommendations, consultant advice, or industry chatter.

Picture each buyer as being surrounded by a “gravitational field” of other companies and advisors. Their opinions and relationships exert a pull on the buyer’s decision-making. The strongest “gravity” comes from those closest to the buyer.

Charlene Li, an Executive Transformation Coach and the author of Disruption Mindset, defines power as influence through three types: Referential power is all about connection. Informational power is achieved by sharing the information. Expertise focuses on identifying people who have an area of expertise.

Intros. Introductions represent the holy grail of nearbound sales. Intros are the most valuable if obtained, but the most sophisticated to execute — and the riskiest if you screw it up.

When you get an introduction with the prospect, have a clear understanding of that contact’s role and their individual needs.

Understand why the account and contact you are attempting to engage with need you. You have a very short window of opportunity to get their full attention, so don’t waste it on materials that don’t apply to them.

Never, ever, ever ask for an intro where you have not already written an example intro for the person you are asking for an intro from.

Of course, like the “influence” play, getting introductions requires some upfront work. Don’t expect trust, whether in the form of intel, influence, or intros, to be given freely.

There’s an art to knowing when you’ve built enough goodwill to make an ask.

Strategic partners require joint responsibility between sales and partnerships to drive sales impact.

The 3×5 strategy was shared with me by Bobby Napiltonia who led the scaling of the global partner strategy for Salesforce directly under Marc Benioff. Use the 3×5 Strategy: Identify your top 5 target accounts that are customers of your partner. Identify your partner’s top 5 target accounts that are customers of yours. Identify your mutual top 5 new logos to pursue together.

In short, the nearbound accounts performed 2 – 3x better than the leads from inbound and outbound. Where are these estimates coming from? This isn’t rainbow-and-butterfly fiction. This is a very real and attainable outcome that hundreds of companies have already made happen by adopting a nearbound strategy.

Welcome to the Who Economy and the Nearbound Era. May trust be your greatest asset and influence your greatest source of power. Seize the partner opportunity. Your company is counting on you.

We’re revenue people who leverage relationships to move the needle. The key to making this work is to align both the individuals and the collective around the value we bring to each other and to the market.

SOCIAL SELLING 2.0

Jill was more than just a LinkedIn influencer. She was, as previously mentioned, the “Queen of Social Selling”.

She redefined the salesperson’s role into that of information concierge. Someone who guides buyers to exactly what they need. Jill’s approach wasn’t about competing for market share; it was about building trust and creating networks of mutual benefit.

Jill described surrounding customers with trusted advisors — blending sales, marketing, and success. She hinted at a new playbook founded on what she called “empathy technology.” A marketplace of meaning to redeem the polluted data swamp.

My goal was to form a “conspiracy” in the best and truest sense of that word: a group of insiders who “breathe together” (con spire) to define the next era of business. To shift from isolation to integration. Monologue to dialogue. Noise to signal.

For more traditional B2B companies and executives, social media strategy feels like a tightrope act — a delicate balance between safe (boring) and daring (risky).

You have to be especially careful of what my business partner Isaac calls algo simping — contorting all your content in a desperate attempt to win the algorithm’s favor and get more reach.

In his 1912 seminal work, Twelve Principles for Efficiency, industrial engineer Harrington Emerson hinted at a better approach to social strategy and community building. “As to methods there may be a million and then some,” he wrote, “but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” Among these 12 principles are: Clearly defined ideals: Establishing a clear vision and purpose (Principle 1). Discipline: Methodical planning and execution of operations (Principle 4). Standardization: Uniformity in schedules, conditions, and procedures to ensure consistency (Principles 8 – 11). Efficiency rewards: Recognizing and rewarding contributions to productivity (Principle 12). More than 100 years after Emerson wrote his management magnum opus, his principles are as relevant to B2B SaaS as to early 20th-century industrial engineering.

Most sales and marketing teams view social media as advertising and promotion channels. But social selling, done right, is about nurturing relationships within your sales funnel through ongoing conversations.

In the realm of social selling, we’re not just capturing demand; we’re generating it.

Authentic social selling is grounded in the following five pillars:

  • Personal Credibility.
  • Always Be Connecting.
  • Content is Currency.
  • Social Listening.
  • Measurement.

Social proof is the phenomenon in which people look to others for guidance and follow the herd when they lack sufficient information to judge a situation. It holds a powerful sway over human behavior, especially amidst uncertainty.

You earn intention by respecting attention.

Make the event “where” people want to make moments happen with and beside you. You can even make the audience a part of the experience, too. Create moments that make people say, “You had to be there,” or “You gotta see this.”

If you want to create content that creates community, build a strong foundation that brings people together, construct pillars that keep the house strong, and clip window content for the highlight reels.

TYING SUCCESS WITH THE SERVICING BOWTIE

The shift towards Software as a Service (SaaS) is the reason customer success became a department.

Success may look like a noun, but SaaS companies have shifted to a dynamic approach defined by verbs like integrating, educating, training, supporting, and retaining. In this world, success is an action — a continuous provision of value. In a word, servicing.

According to a 2023 Productiv press release, the average enterprise in 2023 used more than 473 SaaS applications, a staggering increase of 156 from the 317 they were using in 2021.

In the Nearbound Era, customer success is officially and inextricably tied to “who”: who they use, who they trust, who helps them, and who else is touching on the same challenges your customer faces.

Unlike SaaS companies or ISVs, a service firm does not sell access to technology but instead focuses on delivering outcomes: solution-oriented services based on intellectual property that help customers win.

Competing with partners who have the solutions your customer needs has no place in the nearbound universe.

FROM BOWTIE TO FLYWHEEL

Most large SaaS companies have internal professional services organizations that are set up to offset the costs of servicing customers — at a cost to the end customer.

For most best-in-class SaaS companies, COGS is around 10 – 20 % of revenue.

Funnel-based businesses are faucets: stop filling them and you lose. Bowtie businesses are better businesses where dollars go farther. But flywheels are the perpetual motion machine of SaaS.

Customer value is the bare minimum; partner value raises the stakes and turns out to be both the most important and hardest part to nail. Max Traylor, my favorite agency coach, called this the “Pirate Island problem.” The problem with Pirate Island is that, in order to get there, you need to have already been there.

Discovering the true value of a partner comes from going to the place where you want your partners to go.

You’re asking your partners, who aren’t on your payroll, to spend a massive amount of time (and therefore money) figuring out the hardest problem in all of SaaS: you’re asking your partners to find the blueprint to your customer’s success.

Max Traylor came in to help me solve the Pirate Island problem. In HubSpot’s early days, Max created the intellectual property of “The Inbound Marketing Blueprint”. We developed a roadmap called “The Conversational Marketing Blueprint”. The blueprint encompassed various elements, such as “The Conversational Marketing Methodology,” “The Conversational Marketing Maturity Model,” and “The Conversational Framework (Engage, Understand, Recommend).”

if you want to win in the Nearbound Era, you don’t win with easy. You win with a passionate dedication to, as Drift CEO David Cancel said, “Putting the customer at the center of everything you do,” as Pete Caputa said, “Solving for partner value first,” and as Max said, “Documenting the path to Pirate Island yourself.”

“What is my ideal partner profile (IPP)?” Your IPP is someone who closely collaborates with your customers. IPP is an enumerated list of actual partner accounts. Who do your best customers already work with? It’s not just a definition, it’s a list. Sure, you can have an IPP definition, but I see this far too often: a definition, but a complete lack of conversations, account names, and contact information.

After launching productized services with clear pricing that impacts customers, your business dynamics shift. There’s a gap between offering these services and ensuring they genuinely meet customer needs effectively.

SUCCESS THROUGH NEARBOUND PRODUCT

The evolution of customer success from a static state — a noun — to a dynamic process, a verb that embodies the continuous action of servicing.

Three creative nearbound approaches to servicing that overlap with the product strategy: integrations, expert communities, and marketplaces.

Getting integrations right is the best way to bolster your customer health and company success. In fact, for most SaaS companies, it’s the highest leverage use of time for CS teams.

Your software is just one small part of your customers’ complex workflows.

Facilitating the right integration makes your solution “stickier” and more valuable to that customer.

In the Nearbound Era, customers demand seamless interoperability, and that’s only achievable through thoughtful integrations.

As business models, they can be tricky, but as a part of your business model, a marketplace can drive customer value throughout the bowtie.

Notion’s success is a case study in replacing hundreds of complex, headache-inducing decisions about how to service every possible niche with one strategic choice: empowering trusted influencers to do the servicing for them.

In the subscription world, packaging has changed, and with it, the process of guaranteeing your customer’s success.

Put the customer at the center of everything you do.

Surround them with integrations, expert communities, trusted marketplaces, and network effects, and you will create a world where everyone can win together.

Just because you have a partner program doesn’t mean you have a nearbound program.

NEARBOUND PARTNERSHIPS

When partnerships is a strategy for every department instead of a silo, it’s what I’ve referred to earlier in this book as an “overlay model.”

Here are some best practices for finding and approaching partners. Bernhard Friedrichs and Martin Scholz, Founders of PartnerXperience, call the 4 C’s methodology:

  • Customer base: Does your potential partner have a relevant and accessible customer base that matches your company’s ICP?
  • Credibility: Do they have the credibility to represent your products or services to the customer?
  • Capability: Does the potential partner have the models, systems, and/or technology capabilities to execute?
  • Commitment: Are they committed to the partnership and the mutual goals created together?

Partner incentives are vital during the activation phase.

  • Money.
  • Leads.
  • Co-marketing and co-selling.
  • Tiers.
  • Awards.
  • Contests.

You’ve heard of the first-mover advantage; in the Nearbound Era, there is a distinct first-helper advantage.

Here are some ways to reap the First-Helper Advantage:

  • Share valuable intel.
  • Spotlight partners publicly.
  • Offer exclusive access.
  • Resolve issues quickly.
  • Co-develop integrations.
  • Onboard thoughtfully.
  • Collaborate on campaigns.
  • Recognize excellence.

NEARBOUND OPERATIONS

To drive nearbound revenue, you need to get your attribution and compensation models right and ensure partner-relevant data is flowing to the right places.

Leads don’t march uniformly down a predefined path. Analyzing a linear pipeline is insufficient to diagnose and fix leakage. We need to redraw our maps.

By fostering a shared responsibility for the entire customer lifecycle, RevOps promotes holistic thinking over departmental silos.

Partner attach is a simple yes/no metric regarding partner contribution: was there a partner involved in this deal?

In almost every case, deals with partner attach outperform across these KPIs compared to non-attached deals.

By segmenting performance metrics by these two cohorts — attached and non-attached deals — the impact of partner involvement becomes measurable and actionable.

Culture doesn’t stem from vapid slogans and motivational posters plastered on office wall, but from the cadences and rituals that surface the right information for the right people at the right time.

Let’s start with the first principle of culture: incentives matter.

Managers and leadership alike should be looking to integrate partner metrics not only into their management and reporting cadences but also in compensation plans.

NEARBOUND & THE RHYTHM OF BUSINESS

If you want to create a nearbound culture, you have to establish the Nearbound Rhythm of Business (RoB). Overlay and weave nearbound into the cadences and rituals of your business, every year, quarter, month, week, and day for every department to drive your company culture instead of your company culture driving you.

THE NEARBOUND MINDSET

G . Michael Hopf’s oft-quoted passage from Those Who Remain: Hard times create strong leaders. Strong leaders create good times. Good times create weak leaders. And weak leaders create hard times.

The Three C’s: Curiosity, Courage, Conviction. This triad forms the core of the nearbound mindset.

  • Curiosity is the initial spark.
  • Courage follows.
  • Conviction transcends both curiosity and courage.

Unite your company around the customer, surround them with partners, and change the course of your market forever.

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