December 4, 2018
Ep. #4, Open Source with CoreOS’s Alex Polvi
In episode 4 of EnterpriseReady, Grant chats with Alex Polvi, co-founder and CEO of CoreOS, which was recently acquired by Red Hat, to dive ...
Companies often struggle with operationalizing their marketing – from marketing ops metrics, to choosing the right marketing stack, to launching nurturing campaigns, to channel attribution. It’s hard to know what to measure. This panel will help you understand where to focus your energy and pour more fuel on the fire.
Full Transcript Below
Alex Zhitnitzky: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Heavybit and to this panel about Efficient Lead Gen and Marketing Ops. I am excited to be here with this panel of marketing experts. My name is Alex and I’m the Director of Marketing at a company called OverOps. We were based in Heavybit until not too long ago, where we were starting our go-to-market activity, and I was mainly leading the lead gen. Today I am focusing most of my time on translating that activity into sales opportunities.
Let’s kick this off by introducing the members of the panel. To my immediate left, Kevin is the Director of Marketing Ops at MongoDB and he’s focusing most of his time on a marketing contribution to pipeline and tooling. He was previously doing Marketing Operations at Twilio and Fastly. To his left we have Alison, she’s the CMO at SocialChorus, and formerly held executive positions at Verto Analytics, 6sense and GigaOm. To her left we have Ryan, he is a marketing advisor and consultant working with companies like Algolia. He was formerly the VP of Marketing at Sentry and the Marketing Executive at SignalFx and Cloudera. To get things going, maybe give everyone a little bit of context about what you do on your day to day? Let’s start with you, Kevin.
Kevin Liu: I’m Kevin Liu, I do Brand Marketing Operations Analytics at MongoDB. I would say 50% of my time is based on looking at operations, running the day to day, campaign execution, building processes, looking at technologies, integration of those technologies. The other half is looking at our funnel, marketing analytics, conversions, different MQL and SAL volumes. Those types of things.
Alison Murdock: Alison Murdock, I’m the Chief Marketing Officer of SocialChorus. We’re a workforce communications platform which, you’re probably going, “I don’t need a platform. I got e-mail, I got–” But when you’re a giant company the size of AT&T or Anheuser-Busch and you have 150,000 employees spread around the world, and a lot of them are on email, you need a system of record for communications. That’s what we do. I have been at SocialChorus for about a year and I had to completely build the marketing team from scratch. Demand gen is incredibly important because we are practicing account based marketing, and we only sell to companies of 3,000 employees and more. We have a focused list of people to sell to.
Ryan Goldman: Currently, as Alex mentioned, I’m working with a company called Algolia which is a little bit later stage. Prior to that I had been early stage at companies who had great traction in the market in terms of adoption, but needed marketing to come in and help facilitate change, and in some cases, force a change. Putting in place systems and strategies and processes that were meant to think through how to get users to put a value against the product, and think through the longevity of the relationship with the product, and how to operationalize that relationship.
Alex: What does efficient lead gen look like? How would you define– What does success look like for a lead gen engine? Let’s start with you, Kevin.
Kevin: Efficient lead gen is something that’s scalable. You can’t do what you do as a small company, you’re sifting through all these leads.
It’s something that’s scalable, that’s going to be able to go from five leads a day, to 10 leads a day, to 100 leads a day, to 1,000 leads a day. You need something that’s going to be able to scale with what you’re doing.
I’m in operations and I talk about efficiency in operations and things like that, but you need to have a filter in place like lead scoring or something that you’re able to say, “These are the leads you want to pass into sales,” or “We want to follow up with.” Even if you don’t have a sales team, these are the leads we want to follow up with. “We have all these leads a day, how are we going to follow up with it?” Also being able to report off it and have a feedback mechanism on the leads that you’re passing through.
Alison: For me, there’s two things. It’s defining the pathways for leads that come in.
When you’re starting out there can be a lot of heavy lifting around lead gen. Somebody’s got to respond to everyone just to be nice. You can automate a lot of that, so there should be a defined set of pathways which allow you then to automate.
The second thing is a bit of planning. Understanding which companies you want to sell to, which could be defined and redefined every six months as your business evolves, but knowing then how to automate. “These companies are too small, let’s send them that email rather than have a human follow up.” Being able to track the lifetime of the lead, from the beginning all the way to “Is that a closed one? What was the value and how much did it cost to get that lead?” Knowing all that is important.
Ryan: Alison nailed it. It’s this idea that there’s a plan for the leads that you’re acquiring, such that you’re able to from the top or the point of acquisition determine which ones go into this bucket. Because they need a lot more nurture, they’re not attractive, for whatever reason they don’t score highly, they don’t have quite the right fit. This other hopefully large bucket, they match the cohort of desirable leads such that you have a series of plans whether they’re high touch or automation and touch, that you have a pretty high level of predictability about what will happen once you put them into the next stage of their path towards a sales opportunity. Or in a lot of cases, with developer tool companies, a self serve opportunity.
Alex: When is a good stage to introduce these platforms? What’s a good lead volume to get started with Marketo or Salesforce?
Ryan: Depends on the nature of your business. It comes down to that. If your business is completely self serve, day one is a good time for marketing automation, because otherwise you’re leaving it up to the product to do all the work. If your product is great, it’s still not enough, because typically the onboarding process requires a series of touches that are both in the product itself as well as via email and other channels. If your product is high touch enterprise sales, you should have marketing automation or marketing operations. Because then you have some ability to score effectively and get some signal towards making the most of your sales organization’s time, such that everyone, AEs all the way down to SDRs and BDRs are orienting towards efficiency.
Alison: I can’t personally imagine a world where you wouldn’t have marketing automation if you have a number on your head. How are you going to report? How are you going to run campaigns, and take the heavy lifting out of marketing to non ready customers? If somebody were to say “OK. Here, take this great job in marketing, but we don’t have marketing automation and we’re not going to buy it.” I’m not taking that job. It doesn’t make any sense.
Alex: The first big topic we thought of covering is laying the foundation for lead gen, and a lot of companies are taking their first steps by trying a lot of things and seeing what sticks, trying to get those first few customers and replicate that process. How do you get started when there is not enough, or not a lot of data to base your decisions on? How do you approach that definition of the early persona?
Alison: Understanding your business and your product. You’re going to make some guesses on who you’re selling to. You might be wrong, but remember B2B is selling to a committee, it’s not selling to one person. If you’re selling to one person that’s a whole different thing. You’ve got to get it right the first time. You can make some educated guesses from there. “What does your database look like?” You’ve got to build that first, because otherwise your SDRs or your BDRs can do this, but prospecting that is foundational. Going through persona work, it’s defining “What is that person’s pain points? What are they suffering? What are the three messages you want to deliver them?” You don’t have to do it all or plan for six months, but you’ve got to get started with some of that foundational work.
Kevin: I completely agree. We have this phrase we always use, “Analysis paralysis.” If we don’t have enough data and we don’t know where to start, it’s better to start somewhere, just going through these motions of “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” But you should know your customer. That’s who knows your product the best. You have an ideal phase of who you should be marketing to, and what you should be marketing.
Alison: If you get stuck too, it’s great to ask your customers. A couple times we were trying to get positioning right and we had this one customer, “How would you describe what we do?” And he said “I could do all this stuff, but I can’t do this stuff, and this is what you do.” It became our tagline, and it became the way that we sold our product. There’s always a way to get the answer but you’ve got to start somewhere, or else you’re done.
Ryan: There’s a lot of pressure in small companies on marketers to figure out segmentation and personas that capture the entire market. That’s the point at which you’re like, “I have so much opportunity that I need some system of record to make sure that we’re handling all this opportunity.” That’s a bad strategy. That downward pressure, in terms of making decisions that are based on a market that’s not well understood, is the wrong way to approach it. Usually you want to narrow things down and get a smaller base of prospective high value users that you’re targeting first.
This idea of having personas and segments is the right thing, but get into subsidiaries. Get into the smaller version of that persona, such that you’re able to say “If we capture more in our net, great. But the type of person, the type of user, the type of organization that will have the most value here is this.” We can define them narrowly and put in place the systems and the processes that serve that high value opportunity, whether it’s ultimately self serve or handheld sales is irrelevant. But starting from a narrow basis is a good strategy.
Alex: Tying back to these personas, how fine grained are you going when defining them? Most of the companies here are selling to developers and technical audiences. We have architects, we have operations, we have developers.
Ryan: The easiest way, if you’re talking about developer tools, is to say what else is in the stack? If you’re able to define it by “They have this repository, they have this CI motion. Do they have a CI/CD motion at all? What is their security strategy? What is their customer support and technical support? QA motion?” These things can be definitive in terms of getting a firmographic view. Also don’t be afraid to say “Developers within this industry or this type of company are most attractive to us because of X Y Z.” Even though the developer doesn’t necessarily start by saying, “I care about financial services,” or “I care about transactions,” if they’ve been there for more than a few months they start to think of themselves that way.
Alex: What are some channels that work well with technical personas? Is it the trial or open source version of a product, or if you don’t have that, conferences? Investing in content marketing?
Kevin: Regardless of channel, it’s the messaging you have for that channel. You can have display ads that are targeted to developers, you can have display ads that target executives. As long as the messaging is correct you can use any channel to target someone. You can have a meet up group that’s like a hackathon, or you can have a dinner, an executive dinner. Those types of things. In my opinion any channel is effective as long as the messaging is resonating with your personas.
Alison: I’d agree with that.
Alex: You’ve had a chance to build the marketing teams from the ground up. What were the first few channels that you invested in?
Alison: I would say for me it was largely dependent on the business, than the company I was working on. It’s “What are the leverage points that you have?” The previous company I was atnwas in consumer behavioral research and we had proprietary data on how consumers use technology. From that we were able to do a lot of content marketing which would tell stories about the way people shop, or “Do moms shop in the middle of the night? Why do they do that?” It is interesting to prospects and helped us get a lot of inbound marketing, so we doubled down on content marketing for this company because we are focused on a certain number of buyers.
Demand gen is important. You have to look at and think about what your strategy would be, and then hire those people and make sure they’re supported. If you don’t have headcount there are many great contractors out there, that’s the way I’ve always run it. I have this great database of vetted vendors and always have people sending me, “Talk to this guy. He’s great on coding e-mails in Marketo,” or whatever. That’s what you have to do when you’re at a startup. You hustle.
Ryan: Especially with technical users. There’s always a workflow. You’re never defining anything from scratch, even if your product is definitive. There’s some workflow that precedes it and follows it, and you’re usually trying to optimize or make it more effective.
From a operational strategy perspective you’ll find if you look at the data that the highest value, highest quality leads tend to be the ones that come as referrals, or come from a third party that has an entrenched audience and is already paying a lot of money to some other vendor and is looking to rationalize that investment, or how their time is spent.
Using content as a platform, but then using that platform to be able to balance both serving your partners, your technology partners and your integration partners, as well as their users. It’s a pretty good strategy. The last three companies that I have worked at that have targeted technical users, that has proven itself out both in practice and in data. Then if you figure out how your channel is affected by other folks who have larger entrenched user bases, you can rarely go wrong.
Alex: One of the things that we heard from the audience is that they’re interested to hear more about account based marketing. Alison, when we had a conversation last week you mentioned that one of the things that you wish you would’ve done sooner was identifying those 100 tier 1 accounts. Can you elaborate?
Alison: Account based marketing gets thrown around a lot, and it’s like, “Look. These are the companies we want to win. There is 100 of them there. We want all these people.” It’s that simple, but it’s hard to sometimes get sales on board because sales will normally think “Wait a minute, we’ve got to go after way more people in there.” Except for that, what I said earlier, it’s not one buyer, it’s a committee of buyers who are extremely influential in the deal. You have to understand that. That’s why when you do persona work, if you spend too much time on that you’re wasting time. Because it’s going to change again and again as your business evolves and becomes more well-known.
With account based marketing, the reason why I said that is that we didn’t– Because the marketing engine wasn’t setup from the get go, we didn’t have all the data to say “These are the most important companies,” and the way that we did it is we prioritized by whether they had an open opportunity, whether we’d ever had closed loss with them, whether they were the right employee size, how much we thought they would spend on employees based on the revenues of their company. All sorts of things. We did three tiers, and we have a different strategy for each tier, and then report on how we’re progressing with each of these accounts.
Then we have playbooks, more or less, for each of the personas. It gets pretty complicated, and we’re just rolling out a lot of these things. What we’ve been able to accomplish is reporting on how our strategy is affecting the sales performance. Be specific. “What do events do for us? They cost a lot of money and they are a lot of work, but how much pipeline have we influence driven or even gotten originally sourced close one?” We can say, “We sourced a couple million dollars from this one thing we did.” With account based marketing it gives you a lens and a focus, and a way to even personalize.
Personalization is something that people talk about right now, and if you’re a startup it’s not that cheap yet to do. But if you don’t have the technology or can’t afford the technology, you can also personalize to 100 accounts. That’s not much for your SDRs to say “Alex, I read that your company’s doing this. You might be interested in–” It’s that extra touch that people pay attention to when they’re on the receiving end. It’s old school, but it works.
Ryan: For ABM, what do you find to be the metric that matters?
Alison: It’s about the progress of the account. “Are you getting the sales velocity?” That’s our big metric. One of the things that that we get stuck on, there’s a certain point at which IT gets involved in the sale. It’s like selling to marketing, but not because it’s communications. IT is very involved when employees are part of the equation. So as marketers, we can say “We want this service,”and we don’t even have IT. It’s not even a question. With larger companies, IT is like “What is your security? What’s this? What’s that?” And things would get stuck.
Our measure of success is, “Can we shorten the sales cycle by involving the buyers early?” Sorry, the influential buyers. They’re not just the champion, but the influential buyers earlier in the sales cycle, by marketing to them with messaging that matters to them. If you’re IT you don’t care about the value prop, per say. You’re like, “That’s nice. But are you going to create more work for me?” That’s one of the main metrics we’re looking at with ABM. All of the other, the things like MQLs and so forth. It’s important to know that you’re tracking to what metrics people are usually looking at, but less so, it’s like “Did you win? Are you winning, and are you winning faster? Is the deal size what you expected?”
Ryan: So, pipeline is important?
Alison: Pipeline is extremely important. Yes.
Alex: Kevin, a big focus of your role is looking at pipeline. What are some of the metrics you track along the funnel?
Kevin: We have a traditional funnel, which is inquiry, MQL, SAL. Then we look at conversion rates, where people dropped off and why they dropped off. From the ABM perspective, similar to what Alison said, we look at velocity and we look at average deal size. “Are we bringing bigger deal sizes in?” Then we also look at net new names. ” Are we doing an ABM strategy to this account, or bringing new names from that account? How big are we growing our database on that account specifically?” so that we have more information or more people that we’re trying to influence.
Alison: There’s another important thing with ABM that we haven’t brought up, which is the funnel. This is “Net new names, come in, got closed one, bye-bye.” No. It does not work like that anywhere, and definitely not with SaaS businesses. It’s an infinite loop. You’re going to have to renew those people in twelve months, two years, whatever. All those net new names, they’re tiered too. It’s not just, “We never heard of that company.” They fit into tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3. Plus people leave and they go to another company and you get new people coming in, so you’ve got to keep an eye on the fact that you’re going to need to renew them.
CS is that, when you say “Sales and marketing need to be best friends,” customer success is another part of that, and depending on how your company is set up they may be in charge of renewals, or you may have account management. One of the things to think about, and we haven’t talked about stack yet, is a company like Gainsight part of the stack? It depends on what you’re doing, but I think it’s important to think about the funnel differently.
Ryan: What I see most often in terms of where ABM starts to break down is on the sales development side. It’s not that complex to come up with an account list. A sales leader would figure it out if they have AEs that already have an account list from which they’re working, then passing that account list to the demand generation organization to be targeted in terms of its spend and focus in acquisition, and remarketing. What breaks down, typically, is once those people are into the funnel they’ve been touched. They’ve engaged in some way to make sure that there is some process for the first line of defense, for sales, which is always sales development or business development to customized personalized focus.
Prioritize based on title, persona, company, all those kinds of things. Because historically they’re trained to go at scale. They find a sequence that works and they apply it everywhere. This is where product marketing becomes part of the process for ABM and lead generation. Because if you don’t have that assist from the folks who are thinking about the market and the user and the persona, then no matter how good our ABM strategy is for acquisition and getting high probability SQLs coming in at acquisition points, that efficiency breaks down if effectiveness is not invested at the first sales touch.
Alison: I would agree. Because SDRs have so much volume, I’d make a certain number of calls and send out e-mails, and now using outreach or something, it’s mass marketing. It’s important as a marketing team to look at those sequences, but also one of the things we’ve experienced is they were told to go after one specific title. Like, “Whoa. Guess who funds this deal? It’s not them. It’s this guy, and this guy.” When you look at how they’re compensated and all of that, it gets complicated and you have to keep your finger on the pulse. The point is you’re never done with the assessment or analysis, you have to take stock every quarter. If you don’t have time, OK. Twice a year.
Ryan: Integration is hard, but it’s important. But it’s still hard.
Alex: The second topic we wanted to touch on was, it was also mentioned earlier, there’s the marketing stack which is always the elephant in the room in every conversation about marketing. What are some of the tools that you’re using right now?
Kevin: For MongoDB we have 40 different pieces of technology in our marketing stack.
Alison: So I’ve heard. I can’t even believe that. Their former CMO is like, “I have at least 40,” and I’m like, “I’ve never heard of these things.”
Kevin: At the core we use Eloqua and we use Salesforce. Those are our two main tools.
Alison: I don’t think anybody here knows of those.
Alex: It’s the iPhone versus Android of the market.
Kevin: Exactly. We’re a big Eloqua shop. At the core, Eloqua, Salesforce, and then what’s important is our predictive scoring. We use Lattice as predictive scoring, which is new. I have an issue with when people say AI, predictive scoring, I don’t think it’s– No one has a true AI type model for predictive scoring, but we use that for predictive scoring. At the core we use that, we use things like Conversica, Lean Data, Demandbase. I can name all 40. But we have a pretty big marketing stack.
Alison: What’s the most important in your stack? In terms of just categorizing, without the vendor name. What makes a difference between success and failure?
Kevin: I would say Eloqua for sure is important. How customizable it is. Eloqua is not user friendly at all, if you’re ever using Eloqua you need an Eloqua expert. For sure.
Alison: You need like, five.
Kevin: Exactly, but if you know how to use it, how to utilize it, it’s powerful. It’s robust and it can do a lot of things. Data cleansing, data enrichment, data manipulation, lead routing. A lot of different things. It’s a great tool if you know how to use it. I would say it’s a steep learning curve for sure. Salesforce is our main reporting for marketing, we report off of leads, “Are they converting, or are they are they not converting?” We look at conversion. That’s all in Salesforce, but we use full circle insights, if you’ve ever heard of it. It’s a marketing funnel tool, but it’s not good for ABM. For ABM we use various tools for that one, and it’s more outside. We do data warehousing in Tableau, and that kind of thing.
Alex: Ryan, let me make this question harder for you. What advice can you give to a company that’s getting started, and what are the some of the few essential tools that they need to get started with??
Ryan: This is an unpopular position but I’ve worked, even though I’m not a full time marketing operations professional, I have worked in Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo and HubSpot. If you’re just getting started, no matter what stage of maturity your marketing is in, you need something to understand leads and pass leads and do scoring, HubSpot is invaluable. It’s an imperfect tool considering it tries to do so many things, but I have found given the cost benefit analysis of helping the sales organization based on some level of inbound opportunity, HubSpot gets it done and you don’t have to hire someone who speaks a language.
We forget that Marketo and Eloqua, they started off as languages. They were programming languages, and even though a lot of the user interface has improved such that they don’t seem like languages any longer, under the hood they still are. HubSpot is not. HubSpot is a series of modules that enable some level of scoring, passing, creation, those kinds of things. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, HubSpot was a lifesaver for me at Sentry. You can ask the sales organization if they agree, but from a marketing perspective it was helpful.
Alison: I would agree. HubSpot– Having used Marketo, and I didn’t grok on Pardot, it was not one of my favorites. But HubSpot, what I was impressed with is their onboarding. When you’re a small marketing team they’re excellent, and also being able to spin up landing pages quickly and not have to hire an expert. They’ve really improved their product. I’ve used it, I used it years ago, I used it again and I was like, “This is pretty great.” Not the same level of reporting I would say as Marketo, but back to tools just for a second. It’s important, marketing automation and Salesforce, obviously you’re managing social media, you want something like Hootsuite. All these things, you just want it all to plug back in.
We switched to Visible to be able to show what is working in our channel, and something like Brightfunnel was acquired by Terminus and now they’re going into outer orchestration, so we ditched them and went to Visible, but we’re able to show specifically “How much money did we spend on this channel, and what is the ROI?” Again, we don’t have to put it in spreadsheets, it’s done for us and it’s helpful to use a tool like that to educate our sales team about why we’re doing these things, and what the return was, and how the accounts were effective.
The other thing I would say is we use 6sense, which is a Lattice competitor that’s– I used to work there, but that doesn’t matter. Their product is amazing. What it does is gives us the North Star about some of our customers, pulling in insights that we would never see in marketing automation, it’s basically “What are the search terms this account is looking for? Are they searching for our competitors?” It helps our sales organization know when an account is leaning in, and also if they’ve moved from an education phase into a purchase or decision making phase. We get alerts that we send to our sales team, but also to our SDRs about where they should focus. Even within our tiers there are going to be signals that they can use to then reach out to people in a timely way, and that’s been helpful for our team.
Ryan: I saw the LinkedIn post from Megan who is the former CMO of MongoDB, and she listed all those tools that went into the stack. That made me reflect on this idea of if you’re early stage and especially if you’re a developer tools company, most likely your CEO is a developer him or herself that has been doing that exclusively and is taking on responsibility for the business. There is a low likelihood that they’ll have a lot of comfort with even one of the tools in that list, no less all of them. You have to remind yourself the same way that you approach marketing at large in terms of defining who your audience is, defining who the most likely persona or user is to convert, and being narrow and deep in terms of targeting. The same thing applies to the stack.
As a marketer, especially on the operations or demand generation side, you have to remember even if you’ve used these tools in the past that the person who holds a budget isn’t going to be prepared to invest in a lot of them. You have to make a case for what’s truly important, “What pain are you trying to solve now?” An articulate and clear case for how it affects adoption of the product and conversion to monetize user. That’s the path towards getting the right tools into your stack. Before you even present it to your boss, say it to yourself, “What’s a priority here? What do I need to do today, otherwise I’m going to sink?”
Alison: That’s the thing, you as a marketer, I’m just going to tell you that most companies, definitely C-suite, they don’t understand there’s no silver bullet for marketing. Guess what? There’s a lot of things you have to do, and a lot of things will work, and a lot of things will not work. It’s hard to get credibility, sometimes just saying “We need to do this.” You can almost fall back on the argument, “Why do you need HootSuite? Because it’s $295 a year,” or whatever. I don’t even know what it costs. But nonetheless, what I’m saying is, time is money. Would you want me to spend time on this, or this? Because when you have a lean stack that’s what it comes down to.
Alex: Just to keep it a little bit balanced, Kevin you’re using Eloqua, and OverOps is using Marketo.
It’s like having an objective way to choose your favorite sports team, or favorite marketing automation platform.
OK, let’s just leave it at that. One question that I wanted to ask before moving on to Q&A, is about the relationship between marketing and sales. It’s similar to engineering where you have developers on one hand and operations on the other hand, where they have to maintain whatever the developers wrote. There’s this movement of dev ops that promotes shared accountability. A similar shift is happening with marketing and sales, that they’re both accountable for pipeline. From your own perspective, where does the responsibility of marketing end and where does sales start? Or is there a cutoff at all?
Kevin: I don’t think there’s a cut off in my opinion. I pass the lead on to sales and my job’s not done. I need to find out why they fell off, or why they didn’t continue down. “Why didn’t they become an opportunity? What could we do better?” The way we restructure marketing and sales is marketing is responsible for X amount of the business. We need to understand why it didn’t convert, why it didn’t happen. When marketing is talking in sense of dollars, when you are a more mature marketing organization everyone’s good at talking in a sense of “This is marketing sources dollars. We’re responsible for X% of the revenue that comes in. We need to understand why our leads aren’t converting, why things are converting and what we can do better.” There is a handoff portion where sales will take over, but we need to understand the full funnel, and I don’t think there’s a clear cut “marketing loses responsibility and now it’s sales’ responsibility.” It’s always going to be everyone’s responsibility.
Alison: I would say we view it similarly, but we try to put some markers, our job in marketing. I always tell startups this, “If you only focus on two things it’s awareness and delivering revenues.” That’s it. Our job at the top of the funnel is, “Do people know what we do? Are they interested, are they leaning in?” But then when it comes down to the pipeline itself we are responsible for creating ways for potential customers to engage with us. Its events, its content, its webinars. Whatever it is, having come into a company where a lot of that stuff wasn’t happening we were able to show impact where we were like, “Great. This customer’s coming to this dinner. This customer’s reading some thought leadership piece, or they’ve seen the press about us and now they’re calling us. ” That’s partly our job.
Sales’ job is to take it across the finish line as your company grows. You’ll have more and more impact all the way through to the end of the lifecycle. Like I said, again it’s an infinite loop. It’s not a funnel. We’re now responsible for getting them to this critical point in which everybody agrees “We want to become a customer, now it’s about getting the deal done.” Sales’ got to take it across. But we’re still really in the middle of that influencing.
Ryan: Especially early stage. This is a hard thing to do, but the best lesson that any company can learn is that ARR and ARR growth is a responsibility of every single person employed by the company. No matter what your role is, if the denominator of your success metric isn’t revenue then you’re sunk. If you’re not thinking about revenue as the denominator of the success metric, then you have too much VC backing and not enough relevance in the market. You’ve lost sight of what’s important.
Alison: Too much pattern matching.
Ryan: I hear it so often from founders, that idea of “We need to gain ubiquity, then we will educate, then we’ll eventually create a category, and then we’ll monetize.”
Alison: So exhausting.
Ryan: Fine. That’s fine. But you have to have some velocity, some speed towards monetization early on to show that the effort that goes into ubiquity and education is relevant. Otherwise you’ll get eaten by some smarter, faster competitor. With ARR as the denominator, or some level of revenue as the denominator, marketing can have different portions of the numerator. It’s a math equation. You try and figure out what the contribution margin is and how to allocate, and if you have the right stack and you have the right data and the right strategy, then you can not rely on single point attribution. You can do full journey. That’s rad.
Alison: I completely agree. There’s pretty much no excuse to not know the effect of the work you’re doing.
Ryan: It’s hard.
Alison: It’s hard, but there’s only– I would say PR is still hard, unless you use your TM codes and you’re really good at that. Or if people type and click, which they don’t. They’ll Google you and you’ve got to be able to make some inferences, but nonetheless, there was almost everything we do we can capture the value of that. It becomes a little bit head scratching after a while, you’re like “My God. Are we really doing this? This is missing the point.” But you can.
When you’re going back to building a team, the person that I have in charge of demand gen, we spend a lot of time saying “What can we be showing to the executives, to the board, that they can see? Marketing was relatively reinvented in the last year. What are we doing, what’s the impact we’re having on sales? How much growth can we generate from the activities we’re doing?”You’ve got to have those numbers. If you don’t know your numbers, then you’re sunk, because your VCs gave you all this money and you don’t know a thing. There’s no excuse.
Ryan: Personally, I’ve been in that situation. I’ve been in early stage that we don’t know the numbers, but the fact of the matter is you have to be trying towards it at all times.
Alison: I see this more at board level than maybe even the C suite. But I’ve been presenting to the board, and they were like “We didn’t know you could track all this stuff in marketing.” And I’m like, “Yeah. Marketing has changed, and most people don’t know that it’s not– It’s like engineering for sales.” I’m just trying to figure out how to best phrase it, but you really can track more than you ever could before. It’s worth doing and investing time in and being– That’s why when I talk about running experiments it’s a good thing to do, saying “Should we invest in this persona? Can we get new opportunities? Let’s try it. What are the numbers? Was this better than benchmark?” “It is.” “OK. Worth a try for six months.”
Alex: Thanks so much. That’s it from my end. We have about 15 minutes left. Let’s open this up to questions.
Ryan: It’s always hard to do. Serve the heck out of your partners. One of the truisms of my experience as a marketer is that there is always someone who is in the workflow of your user who has total relevance and entrenched audiences who still have some kind of problem, and your goal in marketing is to rationalize this. That the time spent and the money spent on that tool by offsetting some of the things it does poorly. From a content perspective or any marketing, don’t try and get them to partner with you on the creation of the story because they have way bigger fish to fry.
Compliment the crap out of what they do, figure out a way to create a story using a customer narrative if you can, that talks about how the two things work together properly and how the value and benefit of the larger tool is only enhanced by not making it responsible for so many things that it’s not necessarily great at. Four times out of 10, 40% of the time, the larger partner organization will embrace that story and put it in front of its audience. Usually when that happens you will see a significant increase in your inbound demands. But you can’t do it once. You can’t say, “I picked this important partner and GitHub doesn’t have a policy for adopting this content,” or “Docker ignored me.” So what? Just keep on doing it, because it’s important to your audience as well. Just serve the partner and do the work for them.
Alison: I would love to answer that. Your second question is the first thing you should do, which is “Where are you going to focus first if you can only hire one person? What are the advantages you have in your company?” I can’t answer that, you would have to come up with that. Think hard about it. Obviously, you’re hiring experience. If you feel like it’s demand gen, obviously they need to have experience in that and that they have used the technology before. With content marketing they need to be a good writer, they need to understand promotion and how to come up with a storyline and so forth.
But finding the person is a lot about attitude and are they curious, and do they want to learn how to affect your sales for example, or how to bring customers in. Are they the person who’s adaptable? Maybe today their job is content marketing and now they’re owning other things. Look for that. Is it that the right type of person? But then also the skill set. Definitely do not be afraid to test their work.
Kevin: I agree. For me, everything Alison said and more. Am I learning things through the interview process through them? I was like, “If we have this pain point and then I learn new things from them during the interview process, maybe things or an angle I didn’t think of, or something that I wasn’t aware of.” That’s an eye opener for me during the interview process.
Ryan: I try to hire in twos. I always think of the first hire as an output engine, and usually the best trick to find an output engine is someone who hasn’t done that exact job before. They’re super hungry and they’re super driven, and they’ve observed the job they want to do either intimately or from afar, and they have opinions on how to do it better. The second hire has to be a strategist. Because that first person will know jack about strategy and will not be focused on outcomes at all, and you don’t really want them to because if you ask them to be focused on both output and outcomes they’re going to do neither particularly well.
So the second person has to be like, “OK let’s put some structure around this, because I have the experience and I have the insight and I know what counts in terms of driving the business.” The first person can be all about scratching and clawing at getting that thing that they’re going to play, and say “My name is attached to this and all the engineers in the organization loved it.” But the second person has to be like, “OK how do we make this work and do more work? How do we make it targeted at the thing that we care about and count against, which is board metrics?”
Alison: I would agree. As you build your team too, having those and thinking about how not everybody has to be exactly like you or exactly like each other. You have to have a good mix of people who can do strategy and work hard, as well as somebody who’s analytical. Whatever it is, a good blend is what you want, because marketing is all of that.
Alex: With marketing becoming more like engineering, it’s like we’re looking for this full stack marketer for early stage teams.
Ryan: Good luck.
Alison: I’ll take that, because the previous company I was at was a company out of Finland. Nobody knew them, number one, but we had data. Content marketing, we were tiny. But we were able to tell great stories. To give you a proof point, I said PR is not trackable, we went from zero PR to six hundred pieces of coverage in one year. That’s content marketing. It doesn’t matter if it’s pure, it’s content marketing.The hacks are, one important hack is if you can manage research. If you don’t have data at your company that’s anonymized and able to tell a story no one’s ever heard before, research surveys is effective. Especially if it’s, again, non obvious insights. That would be my biggest recommendation with content marketing.
Ryan: I was the first marketer at a company called Mixpanel, which is famous for a lot of reasons. Some of them good, some of them bad, but a lot of mixed panels. Rise was related to its ability to do just that. They were able to look at market and behavioral trends longitudinally and not talk about themselves, but talk about what that meant in the real world. They did this interesting analysis and fumbled their way into it. “We have a signal on iOS adoption before anybody, let’s publish what are our insights are on that trend.” Lo and behold the media was interested in that because Apple was the biggest company in the world.
Alison: We got a call from a very important company about some data we put out that showed a precipitous decline in their product. It was that big company, and we were like, “This must be working.” So it can be powerful, but again you have to understand what you’ve got that nobody else has.
Ryan: It comes down to how and how you package and present it. Okta and Zapier do a great job of saying “Here are the trends on our platform and within our space.” Great. Fantastic. It’s great for your audience, but that’s not going to get picked up in the larger world. Forbes and New York Times aren’t looking for those specific things. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. But being able to determine what behaviors are beyond your platform tend to be interesting, and they may add a little level of human interest. Putting on your product marketing hat for a second, if you’re able to present your brand and your product in a larger context, such that they are just more touch points.
When you do get to the relevant story about what your product is for, there will be more of a context for understanding it because it will have already resonated in some way previously with most audiences whether they’re the right audience or not. Datadog did a nice job of saying “Docker is a thing, let’s talk about Docker adoption metrics based on what we’re seeing.” That got a lot of pickup because at the time the shifts in the way products were built was interesting beyond just their immediate users who were SREs and operational engineers. It puts them in a position where they’re able to say “We have some authority over this, and we have some level of interest beyond our core set of practices.”
Alison: My background was in media. I worked at GigaOm. I’ve worked at two different publications and I work closely with writers, and from the editorial perspective what we’re always looking for were original viewpoints. Things that had not been heard before. It’s not, content marketing gets wrapped up in marketing but in today’s world there’s fewer and fewer journalists. Even if you can get on Forbes and into the tech council and write something, you may get picked up by press and it may be a viewpoint that no one is familiar with. That’s an advantage. You have to think about content marketing as being linked with all of the other channels, like PR and social, thought leadership. All of these things. Awareness building. They are important for startups to get their name out there.
Alex: Thanks a lot to the members of the panel.
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