Category: Marketing

Show your click stats to the designer, or how creativity at scale is hard work

ehimetalor-unuabona-270320

This post leaped out of my head as I’m wrapping up my six or so years of heading marketing of Pipedrive and I’ve started to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly. There might be more posts like this, you sign up to receive notifications in the right sidebar.

Q: What moron pays good dollars for the right to show Facebook ads to the perfect audience and then cobbles together stock illustrations and copy that makes one yawn at best?

A: The moron that wrote this piece.

Hear me out, there may be a lesson or two here. You see, I’ve considered myself as a “creative” marketer which has been somewhat justified. I’ve rented a tram for a month and had it transport people for free, brightly Skype-branded. I’ve won creative awards on both sides of the table. I’ve managed a creative team at an agency and run my own little boutique.  And then I completely stupidly dropped the creative ball as head of a 20+ person tech marketing team.

How some of our marketing got bland

Being a marketer with a knack for copywriting meant I was always close to the creative development and also had access to results, whether this meant clicks or purchases. I had both the left and the right brain view on marketing.

At the early days of Pipedrive marketing (context: we had no budget whatsoever which is a lot less than “low budget”), I did all the copywriting myself whether it was text ads for Adwords or our welcome email copy. I would look at creative executions with my right brain first to assess whether they’d got “it”. Then, when the results started to roll in, my left brain would look at the results and took note of what worked. I owned the results after all. Things went full circle.

Our second and third marketer also had a knack for writing and in the early days everyone did everything, so there were no silos of stats or isolated pockets of creativity. Our marketing was usually fresh and stood out. We had creative team members and there was no need to have a process for staying creative.

But around the 10th marketing team member, we were so big that we had someone doing nothing else but pulling together stats and someone doing nothing else but writing copy. They sat deceptively about two meters apart from each other, so in theory, they could have just turned around and looked at each others computer screens, but things get busy in a startup and they didn’t. Just to be clear: this was my fault, not theirs.

We kept scaling and adding people. Some were more creative, others more analytical. As we scaled, some of our marketing stayed creative and some of it got “analytical” depending on the people who were working on it. By “analytical” I mean it was on message, but drier than Winston Churchill’s martini (or as Ott once said:  copy is safer than the lobby of Health & Safety Bureau of Norway).

How do you scale creativity

Short answer: I don’t yet know with certainty but think three approaches have been or could be helpful.

Hold creative review meetings. We had talked about our creative hits and misses in a couple of monthly retrospective meetings. Independently of my own musings my colleague Dario recently summoned an ad performance review meeting where we looked at best and worst performing ads and analyzed what can be done better in the future. It was a great way to get the whole team looking at creative executions with stats.

Create a regular forum for feedback. A bit of context: autonomy was a big goal in building the marketing team. There is currently no formal sign-off process for creative executions, whether we’re talking about new pages to go live or onboarding emails or blog posts. People tend to share their work in relevant Slack channels and with their managers, but some things might get too much attention and others not at all. Feedback is sporadic and spread unevenly.

I had been planning to take a page out of Pipedrive’s design team’s ways of working and summon a regular feedback session (a la design review meeting) in the marketing leadership group where ready work could be submitted and discussed from all aspects: message, idea, visual, content and results / reactions. Alas, I never got to summoning our first one.

Build up the resources. Last but not least: establish a strong creative function early on. We’d hired a copywriter and a couple of designers but in hindsight this way less than we needed. Other marketing teams of our size usually had more creatives in the team. There were a couple of good reasons for not being able to build out the team faster but if I could turn back time, I’d probably find a way to get this done faster.

One of the luxuries you could afford by having more creative resources is not doing more things but allowing more time to optimize the 20% of assets that generate 80% of impressions / results. For example a monthly or at least a quarterly challenger development for things like the welcome email, best performing PPC and display ads and content pieces.

PS. I started this post as a Pipedrive employee and finished it as a member of Pipedrive alumni, hence a bit of fluctuation between “us” and “them” here in this post. I’ll soon start working on a project that unites the worlds of sales and marketing. If you need help on lead generation / nurturing stuff and if you’re using a modern CRM like Pipedrive, I may be able to help (like, really help). If this sounds interesting, please shoot me an email.

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

How Pipedrive reached 50,000 paying customers

Pipedrive art

Earlier in the year Pipedrive crossed the 50,000 paying customer mark, an event we celebrated with cheap champagne insightful stats. I thought it’d be a good idea to follow up my “how Pipedrive got to 10,000 customers” post.  A couple of things are exactly the same, some have lost their relevancy and there are several new themes.

What follow are my observations of things that got us from 10,000 to 50,000 customers, in no particular order, but leaving the most important thing last. Note these are observations of a marketer, if you asked one of our product managers, sales leaders or investors to write the post, you might get a different post.

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Time is your enemy, at least when it comes to referral programs

One of my three operating theses is: market products that don’t need marketing. This is not due to laziness, at least not entirely, but due to my belief that this way you get to work on more interesting problems.

Relating to the “no need for marketing” idea, I firmly believe early stage technology companies should focus on word-of-mouth and recommendations as part of The Two Hedgehog marketing framework. Here’s an important piece of information to keep in mind when you’re designing your referral program: timing matters.

Pipedrive lesson: user age is the most important factor in referral schemes

And I’m not talking about their time on Earth but time since signing up to your service. Pipedrive’s product analyst Andres looked at usage of our tell-a-friend program in relation to almost any conceivable feature usage or user characteristics. Time since signing up is the most important factor to consider.

Pipedrive time to refer

The biggest volume of invites, both successful and unsuccessful, are sent out during the first couple of days since signing up. Which makes perfect sense because users are still in the discovery phase and learning about any referral programs in the process.

Which would mean that there will never be a better time to set up some messaging and triggers around the referral program.

There is another peak around day 30 for Pipedrive that coincides with the end of the trial period for must users. I’m 99% confident this is not organic and is caused by us encouraging triallists to visit the billing page where we present information about our tell-a-friend program among other things.

Bonus factoid: the probability that an invite is successfully accepted increases with each new invite the company/user has sent. That is, the more invites someone sends, the higher the probability of success, or vice versa.

What about the rest of the iceberg, or “true” word-of-mouth?

Any referral programs are usually just the tip of the iceberg and there are magnitudes more old-fashioned people-to-people referring going on. The above was data from Pipedrive’s referral program. Is the same true in the true “organic” word of mouth?

Potentially. I ran a study some years back and asked a sample of 291 Pipedrive users when would they be most likely to recommend the software. They claimed that this is not during the first days but during the first couple of months. Which may or not be true. We might study this next, so there may be a sequel to this post.

referral-timing-pipedrive

A hundred years ago products and services spread because they were good, not because they were marketed well. Focusing on referrals is not only efficient and effective, it’s also a step towards these olden golden days where we work on earning recommendations, not “hacks”.

PS. Pipedrive is growing fast and we’re hiring. You can see openings our jobs page and we’ll be adding new ones soon. If you would like to work with me/us, get in touch.

10 highly practical startup marketing tips

10 traffic sign

Sounds like clickbait, right? A “listicle”, questionable facts loosely stitched together only to get you to visit. But what this really is is ten solid, if I say so myself, marketing tips based on almost a decade of technology marketing.

I wrote them down because each of them has proven valuable in conversations with people that are marketing startups in one way or another. Here they are, in no particular order.

#1. Talk to lots of customers in a short period of time.

Talk to customers” is the piece of advice that has probably the lowest ratio of awareness to real usage ie. everyone knows it and no-one seems to do enough of it. Let me one-up this: speak to a couple of dozen of customers in a short time at least once when you start working with a new company or customer group.

I spoke to nearly 40 customers in 3 weeks for an hour each about 1,5 years ago as part of a customer persona exercise and while the result was useful, the process of having gone through this was even more useful. This dramatically increased my ability to create connections between Pipedrive’s offering and our customers. I can now relate new features we announce to specific places in the day-to-day of customers. When I look at product usage stats or market research slides, particular pieces of these conversations spring to mind and help to bring data to life. (There was also the practical added benefit of finding three really insightful case studies for our blog.)

And here’s a practical tip. The answer to the question how many customers should I talk to is: keep talking to more customers until the stories you hear back start to resemble each other. If you have a homogenous user base the right number may be 10, but in most cases it’s safe to aim for 25 or so.

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From hand to hand combat to a Bond villain – how you evolve as a startup marketer

I’ve worn so many different marketing hats it’s surprising I have any hair left. But heading marketing of Pipedrive from zero to more than 30,000 paying customers, and from writing copy for the first marketing site to managing a team of 15 on two continents, gave me a front row seat on how your role as a marketer evolves as the company grows, and the opportunities you will miss if your behaviour doesn’t match the phase company is in.

I’m not a fan of military doings but weirdly there is no better analogy to the evolution of marketer’s role than war. I must stress that this does not mean I treat customers/users as enemies – in fact, I’d like to think the opposite is true.

how you evolve as a marketer
This image will make more sense when you reach the end of the post. Alas, it won’t become any prettier to look at.

Stage 1. Hand to hand combat

Back in 2010 Pipedrive had an idea, a multi-skilled group of founders, one hired engineer, a lot of enthusiasm and … not much else.

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The Two Hedgehog Model, perfect for marketing early stage startups

One thing that doesn’t hold you back in startup marketing is the lack of options for models, frameworks and opinions on what to spend one’s time on. There’s Dave McClure’s AARRR model. The Bullseye framework. The “Throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks” approach. The list goes on.

So why this post? If you have little data and time, as many early stage startups do, these models don’t help you focus on the 1-2 things that can make a difference. And so many spread themselves too thin between too many channels.

I think there’s a simpler better model for early stage startups. (It’s so simple in fact that you might already be using it and I was the last person on Earth to stumble upon in it.)

Two hedgehog marketing model
The Two Hedgehog marketing model, focusing on Recommendations and Findability

About a year ago I did a customer persona exercise for Pipedrive and spoke to about 35 customers for an hour during an intense two-week period. (Something I recommend any startup marketer to do). One of the slightly off-piste questions I asked was: how did you first hear about Pipedrive? Most people replied “from a friend or colleague” and other said they searched the hell out of the internets. I dutifully marked down the answers and continued my persona work.

Only some months later it hit me. What I had gotten from those good people was not just an idea of who Pipedrive’s customers were but a highly practical marketing model.

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Keyword Research for Startups – or One of the Two Things Every Content Marketer Should Do

Keyword research. These two words sound about as sexy as an empty milk carton in a windy car park. But, unlike said piece of packaging, keyword research is insanely useful. It  helps to identify big content marketing wins without relying on trial and error only.

And the good news is that on early stage startup scale it relatively simple and quick to do.

Keyword research is based on 2nd grade mathematics. The more monthly searches a keyword has, the better. The less competing blog posts and pages are about the same topic the better. And finally, the more relevant that keyword is to the service or product you want to promote, the better.

High number of monthly searches + low competition + high relevancy = content you should be creating.

Let me give you a Pipedrive example here. Which one of the following 4 keywords would you start producing content for?

Keyword volume

“customer relationship management” sounds like a huge opportunity, and “sales pipeline report” kind of pointless, but it might be a mistake to start by creating content for the former and dismissing the latter.

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What happens when a post hits #1 on Hacker News? Here are my stats

My latest post about the Pipedrive story to 10,000 customers reached the top spot on Hacker News for a couple of hours. Here’s what followed numbers-wise.

The Hacker News effect

The post has been seen by 20,038 unique visitors to date, and counting. Counting in the sense that for nearly 3 weeks now, blog traffic has been 5-10 times greater than before.

I’m pleasantly surprised Hacker News traffic didn’t immediately die down and the site has sent a couple of dozen visitors per day ever since the post got published. Direct source has held up even better – I guess the link is making second and third rounds in various IM apps and gets found many an over-flooded inboxes.

Long tail traffic sources

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How to get from 0 to 10,000 paying customers in SaaS

Short answer: great product, some marketing and a bit of luck. These things got Pipedrive to pass the 10,000 paying customers milestone earlier in the year. The longer answer is below. This is the post I would have liked to read back in 2010 when I had started working with Pipedrive founders. And I thought I’d get it out of the system as we change gears to target getting to the 100,000 paying customers mark.

Get tailwinds working for you – build a great product (with great support)

Pipedrive dashboard

Pipedrive could have grown to 10,000 paying customers without any marketing: by describing it as “it’s a piece of sales software” on an uncrawlable site without any design, without onboarding emails, without press mentions, without a single ad and blog post.

The main thing that got Pipedrive to first 100, 1000 and 10000 customers was having a great product. Our “inventory” back in December 2010 was: founders having a very good understanding of the pain in sales software, an MVP-level product used by 20 or so companies, plenty of ambition and no marketing budget. This wasn’t a lot, but because this included the critical component of having a product that solved a problem, it was enough.

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Everyday work humour

The thing with everyday work humour is that it doesn’t happen every day. Work mate James made me chuckle so hard recently I couldn’t help but share a recent exchange of emails.

Prologue

I’m a bit of a word geek so when you sign up to a trial of Pipedrive and don’t log in for a couple of days we send the following email:

Subject: Can we help?

Every time someone signs up to Pipedrive and doesn’t immediately fall in love with it, our support lead Martin gets a little anxious. He refreshes the dashboard of our analytics widget every fifteen minutes and wants to give this user a call to ask whether everything is ok.

It’s been 3 days since you signed up to try Pipedrive (thank you once again!) and Martin’s analytics widget tells him you haven’t used the software too much. Did we not live up to your expectations? Any technical issues? Would you like help with getting started? Please reply to this email with any questions, comments or concerns.

We recommend adding a couple of deals, or importing your own data to get a sense of how Pipedrive can help you get more clarity over your sales results.

PS. Martin says hi.

Not punchline-funny but does the trick. This email has gotten a good amount of tweets, positive responses and, most importantly, new customers.

But one day we received the following reply:

customer responseWhat do you do? Get offended? Explain to customer there might have been humour involved? Compliment customer on his (highly unlikely but possible) super dry taste of the funny? Here’s what James replied:

james replied

Beautiful.