I’ve built 3 marketing teams, hired more than 30 marketers, made a couple of colossal recruiting mistakes, been hired as the first marketer in a high-growth startup (Pipedrive), spent 5 years at the marketing team of global tech company (Skype) and founded a mar tech startup and found someone to hand marketing over to (Outfunnel). I haven’t “seen it all” but have clocked enough hits and misses to dare to write this post.
Hopefully, this post will help to hire your first (or third) marketer. As we all know, hiring is hard, and it’s painful to be working in a team where you’re missing a core skill.
There are several ultimate guides available for running ads, and I have no ambitions to create another one. So here’s a penultimate one, containing only six pieces of advice. But the advice is practical, to-the-point and based on more than 10 years and several million dollars of ad investments, as well as several million dollars of ad spend (yes, these are different things).
1. Make the first pick of channels, using category awareness and category urgency as your guide
“What channels should we use?” is a pretty common question and while all businesses are different and there is no best answer, I’ve found it helpful to use category awareness to make the first pick of channels.
Category awareness is high when most people in your target audience already know the product or service you’re selling. It’s things like car insurance, CRM software, web hosting, smartphones, etc. Each of these things is generally well known and people in the target audience use search engines and specialist shopping or comparison sites when they feel a need.
It seems we have product-market fit. What marketing channels should we invest in?
This is probably the most common question in the startup community (right after “should we do an ICO?”). After answering it a couple of dozen times in one-on-one sessions and workshops I now think I have a solid answer, the equivalent of having a map in an unfamiliar city. You can still get horribly lost but there’s a really high chance of getting to where you need to go. Which is particularly handy if you’d like to arrive before all the others do.
Ready? Building a marketing plan starts from assessing category awareness.
Step 1. Map category awareness and category urgency: are you a guard dog, a sugar glider or a little bit of both?
Join me on a (justified) detour with pets to illustrate this. You get a guard dog if you feel like you need to protect your property by someone who can also keep you company. You kind of know what to expect and how the business of getting and looking after a dog works. No amount of advertising or media stories will persuade you to get a dog if you don’t want a dog. In fact, if someone did advertise getting a dog, you’d probably be blind to this.
I’ve been working on a tool that does marketing automation for Pipedrive (more on that at the end of the post). Or rather, I’ve been working on an idea for a marketing automation tool as I don’t want a single line of code written before I’d experienced a notable pull from target customers. (This may sound like I am clever/ born lean, but in reality, I’ve made the mistake of starting a couple of projects out of pure enthusiasm in the past, and I’ve had enough of that, thankyouverymuch).
I set myself a goal of 10 customer pre-orders in a reasonable time, kicked myself in the butt and got started. As I had been preparing for cutting the cord of employment for some time, I had created an Evernote document with names of people I wanted to approach, another one with interview questions and the third one with feature ideas.
I knew I wanted to keep track of the whole process, be able to easily access and analyze my notes and automate as much as possible. Unsurprisingly, I picked Pipedrive as my main tool and took the advice that I had been preaching Pipedrive users for almost seven years: that the first step of achieving a (good) result is defining the process.
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.
Earlier in the year Pipedrive crossed the 50,000 paying customer mark, an event we celebrated with cheap champagneinsightful 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
The Achoo autopsy post has gotten good feedback and resulted in many good conversations. It wasn’t always pleasant to talk about the failure, but it helped to cement the learnings and, in a way, “get over it” faster.
Among other chats I did a largish Q&A session at a co-working space where I could go into more detail about the different mistakes we had made. Another thing to point out is that most of the time, we were aware of the mistakes we were making. We knew that focus is key to startups and that any successful social products always grow out of a tight small groups. But we thought “our product is so great, this doesn’t necessarily apply to us” and went with several target groups anyway. Same with our other mistakes. Just like a smoker knows that smoking is bad for health, but lights the next one anyway.
What you know, doesn’t necessarily matter, for startups and for other walks of life.