Karl Van Buren of Audyence: 5 Tips for Your B2B Marketing Strategy

An Interview With Rachel Kline

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
21 min readJan 4, 2024


Invest in improving your customers’ digital journey. Allow them to learn about the value you can bring them, and maximize those touchpoints before passing them over to Sales. We discovered that while social channels drove a fraction of our web traffic, those who engaged in content on our social pages and then visited the website were 13x more likely to convert.

The B2B marketing landscape is a complex and evolving space, with its unique challenges and opportunities. Navigating it effectively requires well-thought-out strategies and insightful tactics. With a myriad of digital channels available, what are the best ways to connect, engage, and convert potential business clients? As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Karl Van Buren.

Karl Van Buren, CEO and co-founder of Audyence, has over a decade of executive experience in sales, marketing, and business development for leading companies within the B2B demand generation and media industry, like Madison Logic and Spiceworks Ziff Davis. His recognition of the gross inefficiencies in demand generation inspired him to help B2B marketers reach, engage, and convert their target accounts across multiple channels and platforms. Follow him on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your personal backstory with us?

My story isn’t conventional, at least compared to most tech startup CEOs. I’m not an Engineer and didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but I firmly believe that with grit and a little luck, you can carve a path to your ultimate goal.

I grew up in a middle-class family in a suburban community outside Houston, Texas. At a very young age, I was taught that life was competitive and that to thrive, you’d have to find what you could be great at. I’m the youngest of two boys, and my older brother is extremely intelligent — with perfect SAT scores and degrees in a fraction of the time intelligent. I struggled early on to find my own identity or where I could shine. Although I had good marks, those paled compared to my brother’s. As a young kid, I initially found my competitive edge in sports, but later in sales.

My working career began in high school, selling consumer goods for various companies, some door-to-door and others by appointment. I was lucky enough to have some great mentors that led to my early success. In my first two weeks of selling, I earned over $10K. I remember being in disbelief when receiving that first check and my parents being in even greater shock. I was fortunate to have several impactful teachers throughout college who would help me hone my sales skills, overcome challenges, and coach me to collaborate with others. Those experiences taught me skills I’ve continued using throughout my career. Most importantly, show up daily and have tenacity in the face of adversity.

After graduating with a B.S. in Economics from Texas A&M University, I started my career in outside sales, first for a leading consumer packaged goods company and then in the B2B media and advertising industry. I didn’t really “choose” the transition, you could say. I was newly married, and my wife and I moved away from our home state of Texas to New Mexico after receiving a promotion. It was evident that my career path would require us to move every few years, and it was also clear that we both wanted to plant our roots back in Texas. So, I quit, put the house up for sale, and moved to Austin three weeks later. I landed my first job in Austin on a phone interview somewhere in West Texas, and I’m forever grateful that my cell phone never lost reception.

The transition wasn’t easy. I quickly learned that B2B transactions are often much more complex. To succeed, you must deeply understand the customer’s business and needs and use a highly consultative, often customized, approach. I was selling advertising, something I had no real experience in, to B2B technology companies, an industry I knew little about. I was also far from the “smoothest” salesperson in my field and certainly not the smartest. Despite how unqualified I may have seemed, I asked my peers and superiors many questions to mitigate my weaknesses. I learned to leverage my relative strengths, but chief among them was undoubtedly my sheer work ethic.

I was also inspired. The second media company I worked at had some great sales talent. I witnessed people close six- and seven-figure deals fairly regularly and occasionally even eight-figure deals. Eventually, I learned enough from them to close six-, seven — and eight-figure deals as an individual contributor. Along the way, I realized that I loved to coach others, which naturally led me away from what could have been a very lucrative career as an individual contributor and back into a management role.

It took me over three years from leaving a management position in the consumer packaged goods industry to get back into the same management level in the B2B advertising industry, but it was entirely worth it. I became extremely passionate about the space, learned the pain points and needs of some of the largest B2B technology companies in the world, and had the joy of leading exceptionally talented media sales teams for many years thereafter.

I was very fortunate to be given opportunities to expand my horizons beyond Sales. Over the next few years, I enjoyed leadership roles in Marketing, Revenue Operations, Client Success, and Partnerships organizations. These roles allowed me to “see” the industry from different perspectives and learn more about how businesses and the people within them operated.

Along the way, I identified several critical issues within the B2B media and advertising industry, particularly in the lead generation space, affecting several parts of the ecosystem on both the supply- and demand sides. I also learned that a solution for those issues was needed, and no major player was closing that gap. It took me years to finally jump from the executive roles (and the security that comes with it) I’d been enjoying for many years to leading my start-up. But, ultimately, I decided that the only way to surely fail was never to try.

Luckily, thanks largely to the great talent on our team and our investors’ and customers’ belief in us, Audyence gained traction very quickly. We achieved a seven-figure run rate after just one month in beta, and we’re expecting to triple our growth in the next quarter.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Oh, too many to count. Do I have to choose one?

One of my earliest managers, Tina Aldrich, and her superior, Dustin Marx, demonstrated what true leadership meant to me. The amount of time and effort they invested in coaching me, who was only 17 years old when I first started working with them, has never been met by any other manager I’ve ever had. They also gave me opportunities that I probably didn’t deserve. They must have seen something in me that I didn’t. After just 3 or 4 months of working with them, I’d placed in the top three of a few company-wide sales contests.

Tina asked if she could recommend me for a speaking engagement at one of the upcoming regional conferences, with a few hundred people attending. I told her I had never spoken in front of a crowd bigger than a classroom and felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know what I would even say. The next day, Dustin, her boss and my Divisional Manager, called and said, “Tina’s thrown your name in the ring to speak at the conference, and I think your message will be powerful.” After getting over my frustration that she’d “do that to me,” I agreed.

But Tina and Dustin didn’t sit idle. They knew I was anxious about what it would mean to my professional development if I performed well at the conference. For weeks, Tina coached me, let me rehearse, and gave me feedback. Dustin would check in every few days and give me pointers. When the conference came, I felt very practiced and prepared, but more importantly, I felt supported. Tina stood up in the audience while I was talking and smiled at me the entire time. After my speech, which I’m sure was mediocre at best, Dustin introduced me to his superiors, who congratulated me on a job well done.

They were the first to teach me that trusting someone even before they trust themselves to be great at something is crucial to helping someone develop professionally. And also that genuine support doesn’t come in words but actions. Don’t underestimate the power of confidence in an individual. You can’t have grit if you don’t have confidence. I owe them a lot for ingraining that in me.

So many others, too, have impacted me. James Pinckney, whom I reported to for a reasonably short time, taught me that humbleness is a strength. Al Gashi, who I also reported to, taught me to “never count my verbals” and to consistently deliver value to prospects and customers to create long-term relationships. And countless peers and employees who’ve taught me more about my industry and leadership than I could ever glean from a book or publication.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There’s a book of quotes about determination that sits on my desk.

My favorite is: “It always seems impossible until it’s done,” by Nelson Mandela. A close second is: “The only guarantee for failure is to stop trying,” by John C. Maxwell.

These strike a chord with me because I’ve proven them to myself to be true. There have been countless times I thought an achievement would be impossible and myriad others where someone else doubted me, and through tenacity and time, I’ve proven myself and others wrong time and time again. I’ve also doubted others, and they’ve proved me wrong through grit. Try hard enough for long enough, and you can achieve more than you imagined you were capable of. You just can’t quit after you fail the first time.

Can you share three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?

I know I keep harping on it, but grit is the number one characteristic that has helped me get here (and helps me continue to improve professionally and personally). Unfortunately, I don’t know that you can build this in yourself quickly. I wish you could — I would teach it! Usually, it comes from a significant hardship you’ve overcome, of which I had my fair share growing up and throughout my career. So, the best advice I can give to building this characteristic within yourself is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Find them, pursue them, and learn from them. Grit does not come easy.

“Always be curious” is another. None of us have all the answers. And if you’re stretching yourself far enough, you likely don’t even know yet how you’re going to get to a particular milestone by the end of this year, or next, or five years from now. That’s a great place to put yourself because it forces you to learn. So, give yourself a true challenge requiring you to invest considerable time learning something new to reach it. Then, read books on that specialized topic, interview people who have already reached that goal, or attend webinars. There is information everywhere!

Inspire confidence to get the best out of people. We all struggle to see ourselves as more significant than we currently are. That includes your peers, your employees, and even your leaders. So, be someone who inspires confidence. There are many ways to do this. If you’re a leader, for example, give someone an opportunity you know they’re not quite ready for and provide them with the support, guidance, and training they’ll need to be successful.

Which skills are you still trying to grow now?

This is a long list. But here’s one that is top of mind because I now have a sixteen-month-old daughter at home.

I need to learn to say “no” more. Too often, I take on too much at the request of others, and my nature is not to stop until it’s done. This often leads to a poor work-life balance, less time spent with my family, less sleep, and less physical activity. Trading time spent on those activities for, in some cases, not urgent tasks is very tough to justify. Some things just don’t need to be done right now, or even at all.

Let’s talk about B2B marketing. Can you share some insights into how you perceive the current landscape of B2B marketing?

To understand the landscape of B2B marketing and how it is changing, exploring how B2B purchasing behavior is changing is useful. Purchasing behaviors are constantly evolving, but I think we’re in the midst of a major evolution. Many factors are at play in this evolution, but we could bucket them into three simple forcing functions — demographics, technology, and economics — that will drive the B2B sales and purchase processes to be almost entirely digital within the next ten years. And as the purchase process becomes more digital, B2B marketing approaches must adapt.

Several demographic forces are driving the digitization of the B2B purchase process. Still, the most important of these is that Millennials are now involved in 73% of buying decisions and make the final decision on 44% of B2B purchases. We engage digitally, research digitally, buy, and even give feedback digitally. It’s estimated that in just two years, more than a third of Millennial B2B buyers will prefer entirely self-guided digital purchasing channels for B2B products (Source). This will only accelerate once Gen Z begins taking on a more significant proportion of decision-making roles in the B2B economy, as their digital lives started far earlier and in a far more advanced state than their Millennial counterparts.

Technology is also accelerating the pace at which the B2B purchase process is becoming digitized. We already live in a physical world — an environment where the lines between the physical and digital worlds are becoming increasingly blurred. Still, the majority of buyers prefer some human interaction during the sales process (particularly at the point of purchase and onboarding), but as previously mentioned, those that prefer an entirely digital purchase process is increasing, and the generational shift from the Boomer and Gen X to Millennials and Gen Z will only accelerate that trend.

The preference for human interaction is primarily due to two things: there are some things technology just can’t do yet, and many find comfort and trust in human engagement. But the first of those is rapidly changing, particularly with the explosion of AI-powered tools and applications. We will see advancements in AI over the next ten years that will make the impossible possible. It’s not too hard to imagine a digital version of a sales representative who can share the brand story, answer the most frequently asked questions, and provide quotes to buyers. As the impossible becomes possible and demonstrates an ability to remove greater and greater portions of the human touch in the purchase process, the advantages may far outweigh the desire for comfort in human interaction.

Near-term economic pressures also increase the demand for technologies that can reduce the need for human interaction between buyer and seller and replace them with more digital interactions. Full-time employees are expensive. When we make purchases, some of those costs are passed through to us. These include the salaries, commissions, and bonuses of Sales, Customer Success, Support, Implementation and Onboarding, and more. As companies face economic pressures, they’ll turn to their vendors to look for ways to cut costs. Vendors will, in turn, respond by looking for ways to reduce their costs, including the digitization and automation of human-led manual efforts.

To be clear, I’m not saying that human interaction is unimportant or that any of the roles I’ve previously mentioned will become obsolete. Instead, these roles will evolve to focus on higher-value activities, allowing businesses to provide more excellent value at the same cost or less.

The combination of the generational shift, innovative new technologies, and near-term economic pressures is the perfect recipe for a dramatic change in B2B purchase behaviors. These trends will affect every industry, and we’ve seen its profound effects on one in particular — advertising. Roughly 80% of the world’s media is now purchased programmatically, and search is purchased on digital interfaces and social media. Other areas of the B2B marketing landscape are increasingly adopting similar market mechanics, including digital OOH, CTV, and lead generation.

How have recent market trends and changes influenced your approach to outperforming competitors?

Absolutely. The economic, technological, and demographic trends digitizing B2B purchase processes apply to purchasing B2B account-based marketing and lead generation campaigns, providing Audyence with a significant opportunity to grab a large market share.

Programmatic advertising has been around for roughly two decades. While the technology has become increasingly advanced and new deal types have emerged, the pricing models have mainly remained the same, limited to pay-per-click (PPC) or cost-per-mille (CPM, or cost per thousand impressions). We are the industry’s first programmatic platform built to enable buyers to purchase on a cost-per-lead (CPL) basis. Starting out, our hypothesis was pretty simple: If marketers prefer a programmatic, digital purchasing process for media but their number one priority every year remains to drive more leads, then providing them the ability to obtain a guaranteed number of leads through a programmatic buying platform will align the need for purchasing behavior.

The more critical understanding we gathered in our initial research phase was not the preferred purchasing process but why it is the preferred purchasing process for media placements and if those exact needs would apply to generating leads and pipelines. In short, there were five main reasons we uncovered that marketers preferred a programmatic purchase process for media, and all five not only apply to lead generation but solve 5 of the largest issues in B2B lead generation:

  • Speed-to-market
  • Costs-per-lead
  • Poor measurement
  • Poor data quality
  • Lack of trust in a non-objective partner

These are other companies, known mainly as lead aggregators or lead brokers, that provide cost-per-lead campaigns. However, they provide these services and do not enable purchasing, deployment, optimizations, or vendor management through technology. The lead aggregator’s service model, quite reminiscent of the ad networks of the late ’90s and early 2000s, directly results in most of the issues above. Manual, human processes slow speed-to-market, inflate customer costs, limit the amount of usable data, and make measurement across multiple providers difficult or impossible.

Audyence’s Real-Time Demand (RTD) Platform addresses all of these problems. Using a programmatic approach to purchasing cost-per-lead campaigns, marketers can leverage the industry’s most robust datasets to target potential customers and generate higher quality pipelines faster at a lower cost-per-lead than the traditional buying channels. Moreover, we’re entirely objective because we don’t own any publications, newsletters, communities, or other properties. Marketers can measure and compare campaign performance across all publishers and trust that those performance metrics are 100% accurate.

B2B buying cycles can often be lengthy and complex. How do you maintain engagement and nurture leads throughout the various stages of the buyer’s journey?

People don’t buy products. People don’t buy solutions. People buy the outcomes they desire. But not every customer buys your product for the same desired result. The problem with most companies’ nurture strategies is that they’re just not personalized enough. Companies must customize their nurture strategies, which should be deployed across multiple channels by cross-segments. Email nurture streams are the easiest to personalize first. Personalizing nurture streams based on firmographic segments, like company size, industry, or geography, is a good start. Enterprises will have different desired outcomes than small businesses, and healthcare will differ from manufacturing. But don’t stop there; go deeper. You can begin creating fairly personalized nurture segments in just two more steps. First, create personalized nurture streams for cross-segments, like Enterprise Manufacturing Companies, Small Software Companies, and Medium Energy companies. Now, add personas. Within each segment, the buying committee involved in the purchase process will differ greatly. Identify who those individuals are by reviewing your customer data for past deals and talking to existing customers to understand their buying process better. Create nurture streams tailored to each buying committee member within those cross-segments.

Personalization is gaining prominence in B2B marketing. What are some ways marketers can effectively leverage data to deliver personalized experiences?

My previous answer lends to this question. But let’s add another layer: behavioral data. Understanding precisely what buyers consume on your website, other domains, and social platforms and how they engage with your nurture streams represents a signal or score. This is commonly known as Lead Scoring, but I’d argue it’s the wrong, or at least incomplete, approach.

We should replace Lead Scoring with Buying Committee Scoring and Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) with Marketing Qualified Committees (MQCs). ABM strategies often qualify account penetration (or opportunities) as converting one lead to an MQL. However, that’s not reality. One individual does not make the purchase decision in most B2B use cases; multiple individuals make up the buying committee responsible for making the purchase decision. Thus, I anticipate marketers will begin to focus more on identifying, engaging, and tracking behaviors and brand engagement with every known member of that buying committee.

In doing so, you know who on the committee is most engaged and who is least. Those with high engagement are likely to champion your brand and solution; those with low, at best, aren’t reading it and, at worst, are blockers. Marketers can now use those personalized nurture streams built for buying committee members within each cross-segment in a new way. Take the nurture content for your blocker and provide it to your champions. You’ll have the best opportunity to persuade engagement through a champion, so give them the information they need to convince.

ABM has also gained traction for its personalized approach to targeting high-value accounts. What advice would you give fellow B2B marketers looking to adopt this strategy?

First off, it’s a smart strategy. ABM has proven to result in higher engagement and better conversion rates. But, like a house, it only functions properly if the foundation is strong. That foundation is data. Too often do I ask, “How was your target account list built?” The answer is that these are the Named Accounts that our sales team wants to win this year. That answer is acceptable, so long as those Named Accounts were chosen with specific criteria, but it is often just a wish list.

Generally speaking, the strongest performing ABM campaigns all have a strong data foundation that starts with identifying the accounts that answer the following three questions:

  • What are the most common firmographic characteristics of our existing customers? (i.e., 50% are Enterprise Healthcare companies, 25% are Enterprise Manufacturing companies, and 25% are of various sizes across multiple industries).
  • Which segment has the highest lifetime customer value among the most common types of customers? (i.e., Enterprise Manufacturing may be a smaller segment, but it has 3x the lifetime customer value).
  • What was the buying trigger for these companies? (i.e., Enterprise Manufacturing customers’ top reason for purchasing was to reduce operating expenses by automating this specific process).

If you can answer those three questions, you will definitively know which companies to target, why you should be targeting them, and what message will resonate best. Now, all you need is to determine who those companies are. Audyence has a solution for this, and it’s free.

What are 5 Tips for Your B2B Marketing Strategy to Help You Beat Competitors?

1 . Assess the strength of the data-foundation your ABM strategy is built on. When creating your target account list, be sure that you start with 1) What are the most common firmographic characteristics of our current customers? 2) which segment has the highest lifetime customer value among the most common types? 3) What was the buying trigger for these customers? If you can answer those three questions, you know exactly which companies you should be targeting, why you should be targeting them, and what message will resonate best.

2 . Don’t stop at targeting accounts; target buying committees. ABM strategies often qualify account penetration (or opportunities) as converting one lead to an MQL. Yet, that’s not accurate. One individual does not make the purchase decision in most B2B use cases; multiple individuals make up the buying committee responsible for making the purchase decision. Thus, I anticipate marketers will begin to focus more on identifying, engaging, and tracking behaviors and brand engagement with every known member of that buying committee.

3 . Personalize nurture workflows by committee members within each customer segment. The CEO of a Small Software Company is likely shopping for a dramatically different outcome than the CTO of an Enterprise Financial Services company. They need to understand how your solution can bring them the desired result. Everything else is noise.

4 . Adopt new tools and technologies that can save you time, reduce your costs, or improve your performance. And cut those that don’t deliver on at least one of those three — you probably don’t need them. A previous company I worked for had 17 different Marketing and Sales tools in their stack. On paper, there was a justifiable reason for all of them. But then I looked at the usage data. Eleven of them were utilized by less than 10% of the team, some not at all. Of those, no one addressed any of the big three questions. We cut them all, saved the company six figures in annual subscription fees, and re-invested that money into content development, paid media, and employee performance rewards. Nobody complained, and the move paid dividends in performance.

5 . Invest in improving your customers’ digital journey. Allow them to learn about the value you can bring them, and maximize those touchpoints before passing them over to Sales. We discovered that while social channels drove a fraction of our web traffic, those who engaged in content on our social pages and then visited the website were 13x more likely to convert.

How do you utilize data or AI to refine your B2B marketing approach, and what tools have been particularly impactful in gaining a competitive advantage?

We use our product. Audyence’s Real-Time Demand Platform leverages machine learning to analyze over 17.5B firmographic, technographic, demographic, and intent data points per second to allow us to build Target Account Lists (TALs) for our Account Based Marketing (ABM) programs. We can also tailor each campaign to one or more personas within a buying committee. We can purchase and activate these campaigns to dozens of publishers at once and only pay when leads are generated and pass our platform’s strict lead validation process.

Which digital channels have you found most effective in reaching your target audience, and how do you optimize your presence across these channels to outshine competitors?

I’m a firm believer in leveraging multiple channels at once. In today’s digital-first environment, you’re putting your brand at a disservice if you’re not maximizing the opportunities to engage with your prospects. Developing valuable content that is highly personalized as possible and drawing engagement to that content through content syndication, LinkedIn, trade publications, search, email newsletters, and hyper-targeted display media has been a winning strategy for many of our customers.

Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?

Perhaps not to “overlook,” but to prioritize a bit higher on the desired qualities list for just about any role, here are five to consider.

There are shockingly few interviewers I’ve run across that ask questions to truly uncover the level of grit, perseverance, or determination someone has. As a hiring manager, you know they will run into obstacles, have bad days, and fail at some point. We all do if we are stretching ourselves far enough. You need to know how someone is going to respond in those situations.

After grit, honesty is the second most important trait I have. Selfishly, it’s a business risk to have someone on my team that is dishonest. A handful of dishonest people can quickly deteriorate your brand credibility and create a toxic environment.

I look for optimism in most hires, especially in client-facing roles. Negativity is another cancer that can spread like wildfire. Optimism is contagious, too.

Curious people tend to be better problem solvers. Curious people approach problems differently, often finding it fun to find the solution. As a bonus, curious people are often more interesting. You’ll often find that they have deep knowledge about something, whereas others only have surface knowledge not just in business topics but also in non-work-related areas like music, history, astronomy, or gardening. I’m especially interested in a candidate when they have deep knowledge about subjects that I or my other team members don’t because it indicates that they’ll bring a new way of thinking to the team.

Outside of the Sales department, very few managers coach communication skills, even though it’s the characteristic that often propels people the furthest in their career (or holds them back). Speaking and writing clearly and concisely is essential, especially when communicating across departments or levels above your own. Those who can take the complex and make it simple often shine, especially when they can tell the story visually.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We need to teach and reward behaviors in children that lead to a more productive, sustainable global society. While we’re rewarded for winning competitions and demonstrating intelligence and work ethic in school, few societies reward or even teach the value of investing in others, civic engagement, or conflict resolution. These lessons are equally valuable in business and both local and global society.

If I could inspire educators globally to join a “Mindful Humanity” movement that, at its core, teaches children the value of competition and conflict resolution, personal development and investing in others, personal interests and civic engagement, perhaps generations to come would be more empathetic to other societies, countries, and cultures.

We are blessed that some prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? They might just see this if we tag them.

I’d love to meet with some of the top innovators in my field, including Jeff Green, the founder of The Trade Desk and AdECN, or the team over at Founder Collective who invested in The Trade Desk and supported their growth to a $1B IPO.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.