Archive for the ‘digital marketing’ Category

Why marketing is a lot like software development. By Peter Zaballos

March 14, 2018

Four reasons why marketing is as important as code for tech companies.

We’re living in the golden age of marketing right now. The mechanics of marketing and its impact on the business have changed dramatically in the past three years. Put another way, when I hire marketing talent, anything anyone has done more than 3-5 years ago I literally don’t care about or evaluate.

In the past few years I’ve seen marketing shift its focus from providing air cover to sales teams to now being the group within the company that’s determining the messaging and tactics that salespeople can best put into action. The data tells everyone what’s effective, impactful. Fewer opinions, more facts.

SW DEV STRIP

There are four reasons for this:

First. Marketing is a quant business. Everything is instrumented – you know who is responding to which offers, who is engaging with what content, what paths they take. Over time you can correlate engagement to value, and use data to find where and how prospects find you, and what signals the right time to present them with an offer or a call to action. This is a quant-jock’s delight. And data analysts are the new “must-have” role on a marketing team.

In today’s marketing you also have the advantage of short feedback loops which lend themselves naturally to an Agile approach to campaign management. Deploy a campaign, use data to validate assumptions, refine the campaign, repeat. My last marketing team collaborated with our DevOps agile coach to embrace the sprint/retrospective approach, and the team held daily stand-ups to ensure they were cohesive and focused on the most valuable activities.

Second. Google, whether we like it or not, is enforcing quality. What this means is that Google’s ability to interpret page intent is staggering. You genuinely need to be developing content paths that answer the questions your audience has, and legitimately guide them to a solution. If your bounce rate, or worse, your conversion rate is too high or too low, you’ll get penalized. It’s fundamentally obsoleted the marketing tactics that came before this.

It’s as structural a change as containers have been to DevOps. It’s creating a situation where I don’t care what you did three years ago – the search marketing tactics that worked back then no longer work today. Yes, we’re all still focused on the customer journey, but Google’s ability to assess whether that’s a productive journey you’ve created is what changed. This is a good thing. The companies with clear and differentiated positioning and value propositions, who create high quality content paths will win.

If you’re in marketing and you haven’t embraced this new world of content and data-driven optimization, you can still find a job, it just won’t be an interesting one. Just like in software, if you aren’t a full stack developer, if you aren’t learning new languages every year, you can still find a job, somewhere. It just won’t be an interesting one.

Third. Developing an effective marketing presence requires a system architecture. The category definition, positioning, awareness development, the demand generation – requires an architecture. Your category definition and positioning are that architecture, and inform how you will take your solution to your prospects and customers. Like with building software, you need this architecture to build the services that create the go-to-market “product” – the combination of campaigns and tactics you’ll put into motion.

One of my favorite marketing books is not about marketing at all, or rather, on the surface it’s not about marketing.

Building Microservices

The book is Building Microservices and while its purpose is to help the reader understand this new-ish phase of modern software development, it also describes how organizations can function efficiently. How “loosely coupled, trusted” relationships between organizations can produce resilient, agile performance.

Agility is important. There’s an abundance of data that modern marketing teams have access to today, and scrutinizing this data, and adapting campaigns and tactics are a critical success factor. Add to that just how much the mechanics of marketing have changed in the past three years (due to a large part on the above second point), and you have a landscape that looks a lot like…software development. Containers didn’t exist five years ago at scale. Serverless computing? Same thing.

 

Finally, the impact of marketing takes time to create. Just like any significant software development.  Assuming you have your category defined and your positioning solid, it will take 6-12 months to get scale from your demand gen. That means you’ll be iterating and iterating, refining, optimizing conversion rates, a lot.

It’s never been a better time to be in marketing. It’s never been a better time to be a CMO. You and your CTO will have a lot in common. And it’s likely your CTO will get jealous at some point, with more and more technology, and data, flowing into marketing, CMO budgets might just become bigger than CTO budgets.

 

 

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Why User Activation Is Demand Gen. By Peter Zaballos

March 8, 2018

And why it’s super hard to measure

And it really is an essential component of demand gen. Essential.

Let me digress for just a bit.

Assume you’re zeroed-in on your category, your demand gen is solid and scaled, and now you’re creating a steady, growing stream of prospects to your sales team. And they’re closing them at a brisk pace.

As hard as all that was, now the real work begins. That solution to the problem you promised the prospect? It now needs to be delivered through the product experience. The very first time that new user signs on.

Saved DNA

I wrote about this in my blog post on conversion optimization of demand generation. That new customer found your product because of how it was marketed to them. The very first time a new customer experiences the product, it has to align with the value proposition your promised. So, how do you know if you’re delivering on that promise?

It’s super hard.

And it’s super important, because customer acquisition is pointless without retention. Jamie Quint explains this exceptionally well in a guest post on Andrew Chen’s blog, and goes further to highlight that retention is the core driver of virality. That means retention is a core driver of your…demand gen. Right. Full circle.

First of all, you need to look at each user in the context of a group of users called a “cohort” – usually this starts as the collection of users whose first experience with your product happened during the same timeframe (day or week typically). And you can see how the cohort segments into usage activity patterns – some will be super active, some moderately active, and some not active at all.

This can get you started, but doesn’t really tell you a whole lot. You really need to know two other “hard to define” metrics.

First – what constitutes a meaningful action for that user in their first session? That means you don’t just need to understand the core functionality of your product, but how that first time user is going to interact with that functionality to get something they consider valuable done. This is exactly where your product team and your marketing team should have a happy collision.

Didn’t your marketing start the acquisition process by trying to figure out what the exact words that prospect would use to describe their problem? At the very beginning of the customer journey? Well, now the product team needs to deliver the solution in the form of an experience, in terms that the converted prospect (now customer) will recognize as valuable. To them. Of course it’s not that simple (buyers may not be users, but buyers did buy solutions to problems your marketing team zeroed in on).

Second – how frequently will that customer be expected to use your product? You need to know this to establish the baseline of your entire measurement approach. Is it hourly? Daily? Weekly? You may think you know when you’re developing the product, but product design is focused on personas and assumptions about usage. Now you’ll need to check those assumptions through cohort-based analysis of real world people. Amplitude has a great blog post about figuring out how often people use your product.

And everything I just described is virtually impossible to measure with Google Analytics. That free tool is awesome for measuring website activity, but is architecturally incapable of measuring cohorts (believe me, my teams have tried, hard and GA is miserable at cohort analysis). There are some really exciting companies filling that void who have designed cohort-based tools specifically for behavioral product analysis. Amplitude is one – who offers a free versions that you can use to instrument your product and get plenty of data, and then of course have much more sophisticated capabilities you pay for.

Finally, retention is made up of “activating” a customer – making sure they have not just a successful first experience, but that they have a second successful experience and then ensuring long term customer “adoption.”

This is where Product owes an obligation to Customer Success to ensure that customers activate, and then the success team can drive long term adoption. So the product team should own understanding what value needs to be delivered in the first two uses of the product. This will take intensive focus on data, cohort behavior, and many, many iterations with the product design and dev teams. Customer Success should be a part of this process because they will need to take those two experiences and ensure they become hundreds or thousands, or more.

What’s worked well is to have a weekly meeting with Product, Product Design, Development, and Customer Success, where the product manager leads the analysis of usage, and the resulting product and resource development to ensure successful activation. You can think of this as a smooth handoff of customer accountability:

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 11.27.29 AM

In my last role the company had gotten to scale without any focus on product usage or product usage measurement. I was fortunate to have a whip-smart product manager who spent an entire year of these weekly meetings getting grounded in the basics, and bringing that cross functional team to have a clear and compelling understanding of what drove the first two experiences.

And bringing this back to where I started. Product activation is a critical step in your demand gen strategy. It’s why a lot of CMOs have responsibility for both product and marketing, and if not, it’s why CMOs need to have super tight and trusted relationships with their product colleague.

Product led organizations build categories. By Peter Zaballos

March 6, 2018

Part four: Product has the obligation to set the tempo of transformation 

Every business needs to have a laser focus on the needs of their customers. Look no further than Amazon, who has a legendary, systemic, DNA around customers. Literally their customer obsession.

A few years ago I had an opportunity to speak with an Amazon exec about the business he was running and the priorities he had in building it. This business was a direct competitor to a business of Apple’s, and I noticed the Amazon exec was using both an iPhone and a MacBook Pro. I asked him, “why are you using products from your competitors, effectively helping fund them?” – his answer was disarmingly reflexive and sincere. He simply stated “why would it serve my customers better for me to use products that made me less effective at doing my job?”

MountEverest

What does this have to do with product led organizations?

Bringing a category to life and Amazon have the same customer focus.

I wrote earlier about when you’re building a category it’s important to not listen to your customers – don’t let them dominate your near term product priorities. You owe your customers the maniacal focus on your bold vision, and bringing that to life over time, not attending to their long list of improvements in their limited field of view.

Which means product will have complicated relationship with sales and customer success. Sales and customer success are faced daily with enormous input and demands about the here and now. And they should focus maniacally on how to win today’s prospect sale and ensure today’s customers get the value they were promised. But the product team needs to be super careful to include only the most critical few of those customer and prospect needs in the roadmap. The category is the high order bit here.

Your category gets built by bringing tomorrow’s promise to life. I’ve seen companies falter and stall when they take their eye off the category defining focus and shift it to the priorities of their sales teams or their customer success teams. Worse, if the next 90 days of your backlog is the only commitment to your roadmap, you’re never going to build a category. You need to have appropriate commitments to what needs to get done three, six, nine, and 12 months from now.

The product leadership needs to behave like the CEO of their product. That means to operate with a strategic purpose and context. Sure, they need to hear the near term need from sales and customer success, but like a CEO, they’re measured on their ability to perform today but also ensure the company realizes its potential. This is so wonderfully captured in Ben Horowitz’ now legendary 20+ year old essay, Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager. If you haven’t read this. Do so. Now.

Focusing on the bold future can introduce some awkward dynamics to organizations not used to thinking with a category mindset. In a product-led organization, sales and customer success are going to feel pressure to keep up. They’re going to have to become capable and fluent in understanding the trends and priorities that make the bold product vision important. They will need to fully internalize why the category is strategic and important and be able to explain it to their prospects and customers.

In sales or customer success led organizations, the opposite occurs. The product team will need to simplify and reduce the vision and explain the plan using the terms of today. No matter how well you do this, you’ll never build a category. You’ll just hit a forecast. For a while.

I’ve heard some executives at tech companies use the excuse that “we can’t let the salespeople know about the roadmap, because then they won’t sell what we have today.” If that really is true, then that’s the tell-tale sign that the company in question is not a category builder. Because category builders have salespeople who are experienced and savvy enough to sell what you have today, and who can also convey the compelling nature of what is coming. And why buying today’s product puts that customer on a more compelling and secure future.

No one less than Steve Jobs understood this with his typical clarity. Observing that the difference between technology companies that function as sales organizations versus technology companies that function as product companies is that the sales-led organizations will revert to today’s product. They’re not wired to think about or develop big, bold new products.

Companies like Salesforce have mastered “product-led” organizational behavior. Just watch one of Marc Benioff’s keynotes and you’ll see him talking about capabilities that likely won’t be real for years, but speaking to them as if they’re here now. Their salespeople know how to straddle these two realities. They know that you’re going to be better off getting on the platform now and be better off over the years as the promises get delivered.

Product-led organizations build categories, and categories are the product of a bold vision that the marketing organization communicates and aligns the company around, and a product strategy that brings the category vision to life. And that’s good for your customers. Give them something they can’t envision. It’s never been a better time to be a technology company CMO.

 

More on why optimization is the foundation of marketing. By Peter Zaballos

March 1, 2018

Finally, data-driven marketing

In my earlier post about conversion rate optimization I realize there’s a lot there to unpack. I thought I’d go into a bit more detail.

And in that earlier post I took a very liberal definition of CRO – which could confuse folks. I’m expanding the topic of optimization (of which CRO plays a huge role) to cover the entirety of the customer journey all the way to satisfied, enthusiastic user of the product. Let’s just refer to this as optimization.

For the marketing team, there’s likely three orgs at work here – an SEO team optimizing organic traffic volume and patterns, a CRO team looking at how to make the most productive use of that traffic, and a product team (product managers and product designers) ensuring the user experience pays off.

Optimize orange

Optimization isn’t just throwing an A/B test up and seeing what happens. It’s about getting super focused on understanding the journey that a visitor is taking and the purpose of the journey. And then using data inform where you focus and improve that journey. This is easy to do for one particular customer’s journey, it’s super hard to do at scale for everyone you are targeting.

While to people deep into marketing this is well known, I’ve lost track of the number of executives, salespeople, and partners who don’t really understand this.

At its simplest, optimization is about examining the path a customer or prospect follows in getting a solution to a problem they have. And then it’s about ensuring that the solution they found really does solve the problem.

The path to the solution follows the “customer journey” model popularized by Hubspot, which I like because it helps you understand what type of engagement is most effective based on where that prospect is in their journey.

At first the prospect is looking for information – to help them understand what kind of problem they have. This means you need to understand the problem AND the words the customer us using to describe their problem. Their words.

On the last marketing team I led, we’d use the prompt of “there’s someone awake at 3am, they can’t sleep because of a problem at work. We need to know the words they’re typing into Google at 3am to describe their problem.”

Your content describing the problem needs to be fully search optimized for those terms. And that piece of content they find needs to also provide a set of terms that visitor is going to remember and use to describe the kinds of solutions to their problem. Because if you do your job well with this first piece of content they will search for more. Ideally follow a link in that first piece of content they found.

This creates the next set of content. And the terms in the first stage of content now align with the terms in this second set and your search optimization needs to be heavily focused on this second set terms. Now you’re providing more specific information about the kinds of solutions to the problem exist. Helping guide the visitor to a solution they can choose (ideally yours).

In this second phase you need to provide a set of specifics about solution capabilities, advantages and drawbacks, and how to select. Again, this content needs to be optimized to get the visitor from the first stage to this content, as well as provide specific terms that will guide the visitor to your solution in this next phase.

There are three types of search terms to optimize for: navigational, transactional, and commercial. Up until now we’ve been dealing with “informational” search terms and strategies. The visitor is not prepared to make a buying decision yet. So “transactional” search terms and strategies would be premature and would send the visitor elsewhere. And data will tell you this. If you’ve got a low conversion rate across phases, that’s where you need to dig in and figure out why.

At this third stage, the visitor wants a specific solution. Yours. Now you show up with a set of search terms that are about transactions. They are about selecting the solution. And the visitor is ready to buy.

You can see how complex this gets. At every juncture connecting these three stages of the journey, there’s a different strategy for optimizing the conversion at each stage.

And we haven’t even talked about how this can change by persona, by type of company and size of company.

But the optimization doesn’t stop there.

Let’s assume the visitor has chosen your solution to evaluate. They fill out your form and submit it. You have literally minutes to contact them. That’s because at the pace we all work today, that prospect will have completely forgotten the form submission and your company by tomorrow. On my last team we got our repose time to under 10 minutes. That’s right, within ten minutes of that potential customer sending in a form asking to be contacted, they were on the phone with a sales development rep (SDR).

And let’s assume that the SDR qualifies that opportunity, and an account rep made a sale. What happens the first time the customer (likely not even the person who purchased) uses the product you sold them?

That too has to align with the terms and expectations set during that journey. Because the cycle doesn’t end with the sale. In a lot of respects the real journey begins with the sale. It causes that customer to want more of the product they bought, and be interested in learning about the other products they might not have considered originally. A happy, satisfied customer is what also causes more prospects to learn about you by sharing their experiences. And one of those people they tell will head to a browser, and type in a phrase that should bring them to you, and the process starts all over again.

For CMOs today, this whole landscape is pure gold. optimization is measurable, it connects words to actions and connects prospects to products. It’s everything you’re responsible for, and it now is informed and driven by data. What could be better?

Why conversion rate optimization is the most important role in marketing. By Peter Zaballos

February 26, 2018

And it’s as important as your product

Why? because conversion rate optimization is the function that reveals the truth of your brand, your product, your business. Holistically.

It’s where you have to think deeply about the problem your customer or prospect has, and the information path they will follow to find a solution. But it doesn’t stop there.

Many marketing orgs look at “conversion” as the final step. But it’s really the beginning of the customer journey. It’s when all that carefully crafted terminology has to be aligned to what the customer experiences with the product you just sold them. The customer journey is about delivering value. And having a happy customer come back. And bring their friends and colleagues.

analytics-ss-1920

I was having a conversation with a senior exec at a successful cloud application provider last month, and they mentioned that they were having a hard time converting free trial users to paid subscribers. They were asking my opinion about what communications strategies I’d used in the past to boost these.

My first thought was, “you may be too late to do a whole lot about it.” If the content path that caused someone to find your solution – all those carefully crafted conversion junctures – did not line up with the first experience of the product, then you’re stuck.

No amount of in-app or email or chat communications will fix that. You might make the bad situation a bit better, but you really need to see this as a continuum of your brand promise. It’s what creates the words that draw a prospect in, and the experience they have with your product.

Like with almost everything today you get one shot at establishing trust and a relationship. Whether you’re a marketer or a product manager. And as a marketer you’re ultimately marketing a product experience. So there’s got to be tremendous coherence and alignment between what you market and what happens the very first time that former prospect becomes the user of your product.

Activation is different from retention. Retention looks past that first experience and presumes activation. Activation is converting the promise of a solution into…an actual solution to a problem. Retention is ensuring that the solution is durable, compelling, and lasting.

So if I were to pick one discipline that a marketing org should master it’s conversion rate optimization. Above any other. It’s the moment of truth for your business. It’s measurable. It quantifies your ability to deliver value to your customers.

And this is why it’s awesome to be a CMO and to be responsible for Product and Marketing. Because you are accountable to the business for ensuring the brand promise gets delivered. Everywhere. Every time.

CRO