Peek Under the Hood: Digital Demand Engine

Overview: Rick Tolman VP of Demand Gen at Pluralsight walks us through 8 steps he takes to increase and improve demand generation.

About the speaker: Global marketing and digital transformation leader with over 20 years of progressive experience building top-performing, revenue driven, global demand generation programs for high-growth technology companies and established brands including Sony, Adobe,, Pluralsight, Domo, and Oracle.

With a proven track record of successfully delivering against complex and challenging business objectives to fuel engagement, loyalty, and new business growth for B2B, B2C, Enterprise, and Corporate organizations. Strong cloud technology and SaaS background with award-winning results leading and executing compelling, multi-channel marketing programs that grow revenue and dominate market share.


Welcome everyone. My name is Rick Tolman, I am the Vice President of global digital demand at Pluralsight. I’m very happy to be joining you today for this Demand Gen Summit. I’m excited to be able to share with you some tips and tricks and insights that I’ve learned over the years in creating what I call a digital demand engine.

This is something that I love meeting with other co workers, employees luminaries and counterparts in the industry. And for me, one of the more benefits as learning from each other is give me a peek under the hood of how we operate and how I’ve run my demand engines over the years. And so today, I’m very grateful to be able to spend some time with you discussing that as well.   

Again, my name is Rick Tolman, I am oversee our global demand at pluralsites. I’m also the Chairman of the Board of Utah Polynesian professionals, which is a group that is committed to workforce representation for underrepresented minorities, specifically those from Asia Pacific, and the islands of Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand. I’m grateful to be able to share some time with you today to talk about the importance of not only what we’re doing, especially given the environment that we work in today, we’re large part of our virtual. 

 Task Force is still working from home. And how do we make sure that we can deliver on the demands that we have from our company? For me, one of the greatest opportunities that we have from a digital perspective is being able to truly deliver what our goals are set forth to do it in a world that you don’t necessarily have the face to face elements of business anymore.   

And so it’s really important to understand how do we do this where especially in the marketing landscape today. You’ve got demand generation and attribution efforts are more challenging than ever. It’s hard to find a true percentage of people that are working from home versus those that are working in office and other environments. Where you have many companies such as my home and the tech companies that have announced that they’ll be fully remote till the end of the year. And some even into the next year.   

So it’s safe to assume then that as is occurred as much of the b2b business will be conducted digitally. So what does that mean for demand generation? At the beginning of Coronavirus in the lockdown of March, content consumption was up across the board. Many external channels had been eliminated. Though face to face demand channels of the critical ones. Such as field marketing had to take a step back. Given the social distancing requirements.  

Today, many brands and the brands that I’ve worked with for many years. Both in Silicon Valley have turned to a digital demand first model. Which means there’s a lot of content, but there is not enough time for overtaxed audience is to consume it all. So what do we need to do for this. This really then has this focus on what are we producing from a digital demand perspective. In a demand generation perspective that ultimately drives quality leads to our sales reps.

That those sales reps can convert into opportunities, pipeline, and ultimately close revenue. And so it puts a hyper focus on those critical dollars that we have today. As demand generation leaders, where do we apply those dollars? How do we deliver the highest ROI against that as well?    

So what I’m excited to share with you is looking at that landscape, what does the raceway look like for us, because again, I’m going to use the analogy here is our demand engine is a critical part of how the overall company car, the overall sports car that we hope to build. That takes us to the finish line. So what we’re going to cover today is essentially that is how do we build a high performing let’s call it a V eight, eight cylinder demand engine, which I know isn’t for most is they’d like to see a little bit more on the cylinder side. For me. It’s really about performance. And it’s about cost. It’s about being able to use what you have within your business to be able to drive high performance.    

So as we step through this, these we’re going to be talking about include codifying the vehicle. It’s understanding the landscape that you’re working with. What is your vehicle producing, what’s the overall schematics and layouts for that? To have high importance obviously, is onboard diagnostics. Whether in a racing situation or business. Really having your optics dialed in to understand where there’s needed improvements. Also, where you have the capability to be able to drive more performance. And where dollars are ultimately being turned into pipeline and revenue.  

When discuss the third thing here is pitcrew rules understanding the roles that we play, both within our demand generation teams within our sales teams and the rest of the greater ecosystem that helps deliver pipeline. Also, we’ll talk about throughput capacity, truly understanding what the levers are to tune your car and your engine to to higher demand performance. alignments in that is also key. We’ll discuss that as well when it’s alive. Within marketing and also within sales, and then basically number six we have here, it’s mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, it’s the fundamentals, what can we be doing to make sure that at a base level, we’re producing the right results.  

Number seven is my analogy for using spotters, which essentially we’re looking at from an external analyst perspective, using data, and outside data to help these aren’t unique problems we’re trying to solve for ourselves. So leverage the collective community and learnings of others to be able to help you as well. And the last part was something personal for me is talking about how do we create diverse teams and leverage diversity within our teams and also within the company to be able to truly address this global market?   

Okay, so let’s jump into this. First, I want to have a little brain teaser for you something to set the stage for this discussion. This is a quote from a very prominent philosopher. Some would even say it’s his, it’s someone that’s contributed to society in the overall evolution of man, and is one of the greatest philosophers and poets we’ve ever had. And the quote is simply this, and this is going to tie directly to what we talked about today. He says this life’s ill don’t get it pretzels, I can’t show you. But I’ll leave a stencel. I’m talking about what matters, not figures. And I’m pointing at the moon and you’re looking at my finger.   

I’m going to give a second to pause and really think deeply about this going back into your high school and college history courses, your philosophy courses. What great poet and philosopher said this. And I know many of you know exactly who it is. Yes, you’re correct. It is Ghostface killah, from the Wu Tang clan. Now, this is important one too, because what we’re talking about today is essentially, you’re gonna hear a lot in the industry about what do we need to be doing to produce more pipeline.  

Essentially, that is, you’re talking about what matters, but really what figures if you’re pointing at the moon, and you’re telling someone, here’s what we’re looking at what they’re looking at your finger, we have to understand what truly is, but moves the needle for us in terms of generating real pipeline at the cost that we needed to and at the speed and velocity needed to go space killer. Thank you for setting the stage.   

Let’s jump right into point number one codified the vehicle. Now, this is an example of basically understanding whenever I come into a company for the first time. Whether it’s a marketing organization that’s brand new. It’s a marketing organization that’s existed for several years. The first thing that I love to do is be able to number one is go map end to end our entire lead to revenue framework. I need to be able to understand essentially, how are those leads being tagged. how they’re being captured? How are they being passed off to each different step in our tech stack? And also, how are we actually monitoring that as well.  

One of the one of the things too, is it’s very simple to be able to chart out what that lead to revenue framework looks like. And looking at every single touch point. Essentially consider it like a baton handoff. Making sure these leads are being handed off correctly at every phase of that race. And then one of the things that first things I like to do as well as conduct a smoke test. Where you essentially you start putting in data and leads to be able to see where the cracks. Where does the lead information fall out? If you have for example, Dobies recognizing 1000 contacts that came in through the website. And the handoff to marketo only recognizes 990.  

So trying to build this simple basic early warning systems that help you understand are these leads make it across in a conducive fashion. Because the reality is even having some of the best laid marketing programs digital advertising. If your funnel is compromised. If that lead to revenue framework has fallouts. Then you’re missing not only the actual volume of those leads. But you’re missing the quantifiable data. And you’re sending signals back to your optimization teams that are false. Because leads are falling out of the system.  

And so being able to number one, understand that ecosystem. Map it out, even if it’s a raw of the form. Build and map out that ecosystem, conduct smoke tests. See where there’s cracks showing and then be able to formalize a Constitution. Which is essentially build early warning systems. Look at a bill both manual and automated if you can understand where you can drive. And really, truly make sure every lead is being tagged correctly, processed correctly and handed off correctly as well.  

So that’s a huge one to begin with. Because then especially now we’re setting the stage now we have the baseline where we understand that we set the racetrack we know the actual course as it’s designed. And then for us now we have the ability to actually go to a car and an engine that can accelerate in this environment. key to that though, even before people always ask me to if they’re building a new company, if it’s digital marketing.

If it’s in demand marketing, what are your first couple of hires, and I’ll say this, in the last couple companies that I’ve been with it’s 100% one of the first hires that go after it’s a business analysts. It says I can stand up different programs with digital channel managers and program managers, having an analyst that actually can quantify. 

 To find the value of what you’re delivering and understand and tweak and be able to optimize how you’re structuring and allocating your spend, that is a critical role. So essentially, with that tool we’re talking about is being able to have those diagnostics, build the optics to be able to understand what you’re working with. And it starts very, essentially, with being able to build a top down approach, which is essentially, what are the targets you’re going after? What are the objectives are these revenue objectives, understanding the revenue objectives, how those translate into pipeline, pipeline, then into leads.   

Now, essentially, that is that we call it the top down version. Where you started with the company targets. The bottoms up will be understanding from a channel perspective. If you input $1 into, let’s say, paid search. What is that output in terms of pipeline, what does it output in terms of revenue. So you use both approaches, and hopefully, they’ll be able to come closer together in the middle. We’re able to connect those two and even if they’re, they’re slightly off directionally. They should be both pointing towards each other where you have a specific high level revenue target. But then you can map that with how you input your spending your channels that directly those two will meet in the middle.  

Second to that, too, is obviously understanding from Nazi standpoint, what are the model assumptions and in this case, interstage conversion rates, such as your your marketing accepted, lead to sales, accepted lead, or sales accepted, lead to your sales pipeline, understanding those conversion rates and be able to set a model to this so that you can truly again, understand each phase each handoff each baton handoff in the funnel, you understand exactly what the should be training, when the last part is well, that’s really critical as timing, timing and velocity is it’s as many CFOs would love to hear you say is, if I give you $1, how much we give me back. And in the follow up question to that is when and can you repeat it again.  

So it’s really essential to understand your lifecycle and your buyers journey. So and that can be split between different sales segments as well. But understanding when you actually are spending dollars in these demand programs. How long does it take to generally create pipeline. And then pipeline turning into revenue. As well as establishing that timing now gives you the lay of the land for your racetrack. So you understand what you have to be doing in terms of speed. But you set the right expectations with stakeholders. So when you’re giving you additional dollars. They don’t expect that to have return on investment overnight. And you set the right strategy to be able to optimize and also look at the early warning indicators as well as your end results. To truly understand what’s working there.   

Okay, next up pit crew roles. This one is essential because it any good racing team, you need to have your various team members that understand what their role is. And I’ve categorized it into three different groups. Number one is the funnel roles. So these other roles that understand and work towards prospecting your needs, they’re qualifying your leads, they’re closing them. These are essential roles. These are the ones that take those initial contacts and turn them into real opportunities for you. So those funnel rows are essential program roles.  

Second part of this are is the actual team that helps acquire those leads and prospects. They’re the ones that are focused on looking at acquisition. How many leads are they acquiring, they’re looking at conversion rates. How many leads have been accepted by the funnel rolls by the prospecting team? And how quickly can they accelerate those. And then the third group I put here is the tactical roles. These are the ones that look specifically at the individual tactics that you’re delivering. Whether you’re speaking, you’re actually choosing a channel such as paid search. Or you’re doing a field marketing face to face event. These tactical roles are the ones that take and learn from the high level objectives, strategies, and then go execute against that with the tactical side.  

Now, these teams are essential because all these teams and if you identify them and understand what their roles are, then you can hold them accountable for what’s producing the right results, to have a mixed group of teams where someone is doing the lead generation, but they’re also responsible to actually qualify it. That’s where you have people out of their swim lanes. And teams need to really understand and focus on the roles because they understand what their swim lanes are, and they can be optimized towards that.   

Next up, we have throughput capacity, this is about truly understanding what the output of your engine can produce. in a very simple way. I’ll say this. It’s about understanding for when you’re working with sales teams, how many leads do they really need? Because that’s a question that we’ll hear from, from both sales and marketing all the time is, can I get more leads.

So spending the time to be able to truly quantify and understand how many leads does an average rep need per day, per week per month to produce X amount of pipeline. And then as you build that, you back into it by understanding from a digital perspective. It’s challenging to be able to get down to a leads per day, simply because of the way inventory works and digital can be high low during the week.  

What I found often is it’s very straightforward to produce a weekly and even a monthly lead per rep. So that when you’re actually delivering these programs, you can monitor it. You can compensate for the highs and lows. The buying cycles during a given day and even during a given week. But being able to drill down. This is a simple analogy, a simple formula here. Really, to understanding how many calls per day average calls per day per number of reps will deliver how many leads that they need. They can call on to produce X amount of pipeline.   

So throughput capacity is essential. And this is something that you you don’t necessarily need a business analyst to discuss, you can back into it by understanding and delivering on your conversion rates, and back into it from an initial from revenue all the way back into pipeline, and then number of leads. But building this is critical to be building it with your inbound sales team or with your sales partners as well.  

Okay, time for another brain teaser. We’ll take a quick pause. Next question here is, Can any of you out loud name this band? And I’ll tell you this, if you can name the band, The correct answer is not that this is Nickelback, the correct answer is I don’t know who this band is. Okay, just tried to keep everyone safe on the streets out there. When asked about if you know this band is the correct answer. And the safe answer is, I don’t know, food for thought.   

Okay, next up wheel alignment. This one is critical, just as it is in any car, all of us that have to actually go in and get our linemen in place, you can see how much the car is drifting. This actually has significant impact on the business, especially when you’re working between different organizations, whether it’s marketing, and then sales. And so what this is specifically focused on is we right now when you’re looking at from an enterprise perspective, or even small to medium business, commercial aspects as well. It’s these target account lists. How are you actually focused on target account list? How are you building those target account lists, and I’ve separate these into target account lists and focus accounts.  

Because in general, if you ask and you build a target account, list, sales can give you kind of their whole patch, or their whole area of focus, which is great, you want to understand those named accounts, if you’re going after focused accounts is what I call it, the ones that the reps are truly focused on. These can be your tier one ABM, these could be the ones that are actually your reps are focused on knowing that the majority of their revenue is going to come from these accounts. And so being able to understand kind of the general logos that you’re going after, versus the actual accounts that the reps are going to be focusing on in that quarter. That is essential.    

And what I mean by the next part is that’s right hand me the left hand. Because what often happens, as I’ve experienced. As you go out and deliver against these targeted countless. You’ll find halfway through the quarter or even after 30 days of activity. Some of your sales reps may be shifting their focus somewhere else. Where they realize instead of after going after these 20 accounts. They’re going to make a majority of the revenue and a couple of whales. And so really about the focus here is you have to ensure that it’s not a set it and forget it. It’s not a one and done.  

When you set those target accounts, you have to have a motion, specifically if you an account based marketing motion, where it is a joint handoff where you are doing and actively working these accounts together, where the right hand knows exactly where the left hand is. So that we get to the end of the quarter, you don’t go home sales was focused on landing new logos, but I was actually trying to build you some more expansion dollars over here. So being able to really have the right concessions or in a weekly session, making sure you’re proactively aligned with the sales team in terms of where their focuses that’s critical for success.   

Next up, then we have its mechanics, mechanics mechanics. And what I’ll say about this one is this is this is where we have very specific focus, especially on how do we create fundamentals of discipline and and well organized so that we truly have a muscle where everyone feels like they have a clear understanding of what their job and the role is. This is culminating all of the topics that we discussed already as well, where someone truly owns and has a feeling of ownership of end to end lead lifecycle, where they’re looking at how are they delivering these leads? Are they the right quality leads? 

 Are they making it to the sales team is the sales team working them correctly. truly understanding and having someone that’s accountable to that, that they own it ends and work may be counted in several organizations is that you have a shared ownership with three or four teams could own the volume of leads, they could own the conversion rate, they could own the pipeline number, but really having one person that’s the one accountable throat to choke and says they’re responsible to deliver X amount of leads to deliver this much pipeline. Those were the core tenants are coming together for companies that really are able to hone in and focus on this priority area of the funnel which is that end to end ownership.   

They’re also what’s critical in these mechanics as well as having one single source of truth where you don’t have marketing and sales with the different optics set where marketing comes and says we’ve over performing work and sale says you under performed really getting your business This intelligence in your analysts groups together and focusing truly on what is the actual source of truth. So we’re all operating under the same game gameplan, we have the same insights as well, that’s critical. And as you’ll experience today, we have many organizations that are also a part of this Demand Gen Summit that are exceptional this.  

So my good friends, both a Domo on the business intelligence side and XANT on the lead development side, have phenomenal tools that help build all the visibility and transparency into how these programs are performing. But they also serve as a great collaboration piece so that everyone can truly understand and be working off one critical playbook.  

Last you’ll see on that too, is it is critical to have a lock in leadership support having a leadership aligned. And understanding what the true value and with the focus of this organization is. In terms of being able to generate pipeline is key like making sure leaders have a vested interest in that. They can see that where the art is really obvious coming to play even more where they can see how those leads are producing pipeline. Whether those leads were directly handed off to the sales team. Or their sales is able to go hunting those leads. This is where we have a true opportunity to be able to show leadership understand the value of demand generation. And where it’s coming from in terms of their revenue.   

Okay, couple more here, two more. Adding spotters, now, I love this one, because this is really about the problems that we’re trying to solve. They’re not necessarily unique to each of the companies that we’re with. And a lot of times we feel that way we feel like Well, my company is different. We’re we’re a little bit nuanced. This over here, we do something different. The reality is in terms of a lead to marketing funnel, they’re very common.

Whether you have unique, individual nuances to that, that’s fine. But what my highest encouragement is, is ensure that you’re looking and leveraging outside analysis and reports as well. And there’s a host of them, you can use McKinsey data. Serious decisions, but leverage those external analysts because while they may not be an exact match or fit for what you’re doing. It’s a great Asterix to have.  

It’s a starting point, it helps you establish your baseline. It helps with any conversation where you’re trying to have a referee. Negotiate Well, where do we where do we stand in this. Whether it’s supporting spending more and marketing or lesson marketing. It’s great to be able to understand and bring third party analysts in that will literally look at your company from a revenue band standpoint. Wee your employee size, the look at your market cap, look at many factors that help them understand. And say, here’s your baseline, this is what your average cost per lead should be. This is what your average conversion rate should be along interstates conversion rates.   

And so it’s really important to not only of course, understand and leverage your own internal data. But leverage these external analysts. Also, as many of you are deploying your Mar tech stack. Use martec vendors have clients in similar roles and positions as you so leverage your vendors. Leverage your vendors to say, hey, someone else is using your product isn’t my industry. Whether it’s b2b SaaS, or it’s retail, or it’s b2c. Ask them to make an introduction.

Ask them to show how their other companies are using their technology. And then you can get a peek and insight into their playbook as well. But leverage those vendors for that leverage those vendors to kind of build a connective tissue with you. And potential other comrades in the space.   

Same with leveraging the community, whether that statewide nationwide. I found more often than not that any potential demand leaders and or people working inside of sales organizations. They’re more than happy to be able to have a conversation around that work. Well, we’re all trying to solve the same problems. And if I can ever, I always tell people, I’ve cut my teeth and a lot of these programs so that no one else has to. So if there’s ever an opportunity to be able to help others that are standing up these programs are one optimizations. I found significant leverage and importance from the community as well. So I’d encourage you to do that as well.   

And then lastly, here, this is this is my man on the right, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, proud of Polynesia. This is diversity team. And so what I mean by this is very simple. It is it’s been proven in data even there’s a recent article in Forbes. It talks about the success of companies as they bring on and hire more diverse talent. And the reality is, if this isn’t about necessarily diversity inclusion. It’s about being able to understand and really attract your global customer base. Which is represented by a very diverse set of both culture, people, individuals, thoughts and ideas. And so we’re I’ve kind of broken this out into a couple different areas.  

First, looking at the diversity of markets. Demand is shifting into emerging markets. Companies need to be able to find their way into those. And so for me, this is about growing not only just the middle class. But also new markets that represent the rest of the world in terms of digital growth opportunities. So this those that portfolio is highly exciting to be able to go out to those emerging markets. And with that it requires talented representation from those diverse markets.  

Second to that is diversity of customers. These customer demographics and attitudes are constantly changing. They are empowered through technology, with greater choice. Increasingly customer diverse customer base that expects better personalization of products and services. Which comes back to us as marketers is how do we go attract these diverse companies and their buyers and their champions. We have to be able to employ that through leveraging the insights and knowledge of diversity.   

And one of the things that I love actually hearing too, it’s not even outside of race, gender. It’s about diversity of ideas, digital technologies, we know and the evergrowing Mar tech stack, which grows exponentially yearly. It’s about hyper connectivity. And it’s about deregulations, but to disrupting business. Traditional business value chains, and even the nature of competition and consumption in the digital era today. So I would say that few would argue against the need for rapid innovation, particularly how fast we have Moore’s Law, aggressively changing the landscape that we’re working on.  

And so being able to have someone that has a different thought or idea versus the status quo. The status quo, from a technology standpoint, changes on a dime, and it changes annually. And so I often love to say that if even if I’ve worked with a vendor. That was three years ago, it’s three years ago. Three years ago is not last year, not this year, that that vendor can have could have changed drastically in that time, as we’ve seen.  

So the diversity of those talents and ideas is critical. Because similarly there’s a shift in the new context for leaders and companies that have honed their craft on diversity. They’re truly addressing a global market that needs to be addressed. That was looking for representation, looking for personalization. And has exciting opportunities in these emerging markets. Where there’s a significant amount of portfolio and revenue to be found.   

So recapping, again, this is a very simple, straightforward analogy, I know. But it’s something that I actually have a lot of value in understanding with both building existing or optimizing existing demand engines. Versus building a new one from the ground up. You can apply these principles and either one of those senses. And truly be able to understand and take a diagnostic approach on the current system. Or build something from the ground up and start with this as a phased approach.  

To me, this is one of the more exciting times to be a part of this wonderful world that we live in, especially given the challenge that we have, in a truly virtual environments where company needs the the digital demand side to step up, they need to be able to reallocate budgets appropriately structure those investments that drive true ROI for the business. And so for me, I think there’s a there’s a great platform for demand marketers working together with their inside sales counterparts to truly move the needle forward and drive real business revenue and growth for the company.  

Again, I’m, my name is Rick Tolman, I’m happy to meet with any of you on LinkedIn, and connect up if any of you would like again, like I said, I’ve cut my teeth on a lot of this so that no one else has to I’d be happy to share any of these insights with any of you. Thank you for your time. I hope you enjoy the rest of the dimension summits and please click me up on LinkedIn.