Lessons from Jess Iandiorio, VP of Marketing at Drift

I recently stumbled upon across a great interview with Jess Iandiorio, VP of Marketing at Drift, a company founded by ex-Performable founder David Cancel. If you can, I highly recommend heading over to John Bonini's podcast and listening to the whole thing yourself.

In the meantime, here are my Cliff Notes, and why it resonated with me:

Setting a purpose for your marketing team. Drift as a company demonstrate its values not only in obvious ways like its family-friendly company culture, but also in the way they market themselves. Hearing things like "We made a commitment not to spam people or buy lists" and "We wanted our content to reflect our brand" was a refreshing change from the way so many companies go to market. Iandiorio is also keeping her team focused on companies they want to sell to, not just bringing anyone and their mother into the marketing funnel. 

Focusing on smaller experiments. Bigger isn't always better. Iandiorio talks about how her team is segmenting their prospect and customer base into narrowly defined segments, sometimes with as few as 100 people in a segment, and sending them personalized messages and content that are relevant for their contexts. One of my favourite experiments? Her team is loading up 10 Kindles with David Cancel's favourite books, and sending them to their target customers. 

Looking beyond customer acquisition. I wanted to jump in the air when she talked about customer acquisition being only 1/3 of the marketing equation - marketers also need to think about customer retention and customer growth. When you are a very early stage company, you need to acquire customers of course, but many marketers wait way too long before they think about how they want to treat their customers post-purchase. She described one scenario where a segment may be your unhappy customers. Instead of trying to upsell them, your goal should be to gather feedback, and ideally address their concerns. You can't achieve this with a one-size-fits-all email marketing list.

Her approach makes a lot of sense for B2B companies with high customer LTV, and for a company that has a decent runway in terms of funding. Some of her tactics are more work upfront, but I bet her results show the difference. One very small example - Drift's newsletter, which has over 7,000 subscribers has a 50% open rate and 10% CTR, well above industry average. Drift's newsletter also has great word of mouth referrals and sharing stats.

If you like what you hear in the podcast, I also recommend checking out Jess' Slideshare on developing a Go to Customer Strategy.

Why Startup Marketers Should Care About User Experience

In a few days I'll be heading to The Fluxible, a user experience (UX) conference in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. I've been to a few UX events in the past year and it's always struck me that I'm usually the only marketer in the room.

User experience is typically something that startups think about in the context of their product. For example, how easy is it for users to achieve their goals, how do they perceive their interaction with the product, etc...

As a discipline, UX has been traditionally considered an extension of design, but in my opinion, a user's experience is the sum of all her touchpoints with a product, much of which occurs even before she have become a user or customer. It's a combination of copy, layout, design and interaction, in everything from signup pages to email campaigns to their free trial experience. Here are a few example of good UX in marketing:

Newsletter signup

The folks at Method know their brand well, and they make sure it's expressed even in something as seemingly functional as a newsletter signup. Doesn't this image make you look forward to getting their emails?



Signup page

When you go to signup for an account with Nimble, a SaaS CRM product, the dialogue box next to the field where you enter your name changes from red to green when you complete the information. Once you have successfully entered a first and last name, the text changes to say "Nice to Meet You". This small interaction sets the tone for what it will be like to do business with this company, and leaves a memorable impression.


Content download

Nathan Barry is a freelance designer who has written a number of books on design that he offers for sale on his website. He offers a free chapter of this book for download and entices the user to signup by showing a great visual sample of the interior of his book. The user doesn't have to guess at what's inside and they are given an option to also receive a 30-day email course for free (see signup box). Below this free chapter offer he lists 3 difference packages for purchase, starting with the lowest. It would be interesting to test his conversion rates if the user could view all 3 packages side by side versus one below the other.


Website copy

Websites are a blank canvas for startup marketers; each page is an opportunity to win over a visitor or send them clicking away to someone else's website. Sugru is a company that makes a sort of silly-putty-on-steroids. The product was invented by accident while their founder was in university, and over the years they've developed a cult following. They use something as straightforward as their About Us page to deliver bite-sized scrollable cards that tell the story of how they came to be.

Can't Get Enough?

If these examples have whet your appetite, here are a few suggestions on how you can become more familiar with UX and find ways to think about the user experience when designing your marketing campaigns and communications:

  • Attend a UX conference or local UX meetup
  • Join a UX online community or discussion forum
  • Read some books on UX - a couple of favourites of mine are The Design of Everyday Things and Microinteractions
  • Regularly follow UX blogs and experts on Twitter

Getting your sales and marketing folks on the same page

Google the term "sales and marketing Alignment" and you'll get over 3 million results. Obviously, there is lots already written on this topic (this post by Craig Rosenberg of Funnelholic is one of my favourites). A lot of the discussion centres around having both sales and marketing agree on definitions of leads at different stages (sales-qualified lead, sales accepted lead, etc...) as well as agreeing on how to measure programs.

We all know what we need to do to get sales and marketing alignment, so why isn't it happening in so many companies, and in companies where it is working, what are they doing that their peers are not?

In one word: Culture

My first job out of university was a marketing assistant position with a large global consumer products company. For the first 6 months, I spent 3 days a week on the road, visiting customers, influencers and distributors, often together with one of our best sales reps. This wasn't a make-work project. This was part of the company's DNA, to ensure sales and marketing were tightly coupled. Spending that much time with my sales counterpart made me look at my marketing role as an extension of sales and vice versa, not as completely separate functions.

So, what can you do as a startup marketer to create this culture of collaboration inside your company? In my experience, it boils down to formal and informal activities:

Formal ways to align sales and marketing

  • Physically locate sales and marketing together. Where is your desk/office? Where does the sales team sit? Sitting together or next to each other makes it really easy to stick your head in someone's office for a quick question or to overhear useful snippets of conversation.
  • Work the phones. Talk to your sales team about sitting in on calls or go with them to customer meetings or face to face events. But don't get in the way - let sales drive the bus. Your purpose is to observe and listen.
  • Include sales in your planning meetings. Every month or quarter, depending on how often you plan your marketing sprints, give sales a seat at the table. Hear firsthand what they are hearing from customers, where they are getting stuck in the sales process or what programs fell flat and why.
  • Share reports. Don't make sales wait for a quarterly review meeting to see results of your efforts. Give them a real-time (or close to real-time) view of what's happening as a result of marketing programs. Products like Hubspot do this out of the box, or you can simply send/post a weekly recap of key marketing metrics, trends and themes you are seeing, even a snippet from a social media conversation that sales would find useful.
  • Use sales as your beta tester. Before you put out that new email campaign, let a couple of your best sales folks take a sneak peek. You may catch some things that you'll want to change, or even if you don't, you will have a few champions inside the sales team who will help their team members support your initiatives.
  • Make technology the great enabler. There are so many great tools out there to foster collaboration between colleagues - everything from an intranet where marketing assets are shared, tagged and discussed, to products like Yammer or Salesforce Chatter that provide a forum for online conversations between sales and marketing.

Informal ways to align sales and marketing

It feels silly to even write this but surprisingly, marketing and sales folks often don't even talk to each other, certainly not in any kind of meaningful way. When was the last time you took a sales rep out for lunch a beer? Did you know that your VP of Sales loves fly fishing or that her dog just died? If not, you're doing something wrong. Jason Stirman of Medium shares an amazing example of how he resolves conflict between members of his team:

“I’d hear that someone on my team had a problem with someone on another team that brought everything to a standstill – just because they didn’t like each other. I thought, what if I just got them in a room together and we all talked about everything except the problem at hand? When we did, we got some casual conversation going, they discovered some similarities, and by the end of the hour they were talking about how to solve their issues. This was a conflict that literally kept me up at night, and as soon as there was space for them to connect as people, it was fixed. I thought, holy crap, this is a super power.”

This approach would work to bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams as well. As a marketer, when you start thinking of your sales colleagues as people and not adversaries, you'll be surprised at how this can change the dynamics at work. This isn't easy to do and maybe you can't befriend every single person but with some work and persistance, you can put things in motion to create this collaborative culture.

I'm hoping to get some sales folks to weigh in on this as I'm writing from a marketer's perspective. Leave your comments below or share an anecdote from your own experience.


Recruiting Prospects and Customers for Marketing Interviews on a shoestring budget

I recently wrote a post on why it's good to talk to your customers, and someone left a comment asking a simple but important question: How do you actually get people to talk to you?

Before I get into the details of how to find people and how to get them to agree to an interview, I wanted to point out two things you need to think about upfront:

Establishing a goal

There are many reasons why you may want to talk to a customer. I have found that it helps to think ahead of time how you are going to use the customer insights. This doesn't mean the conversation has to be highly scripted, but it will help you spend more time talking about things that matter for that particular exercise.  For example, are you trying to understand how a customer is using your product today and where they are getting "stuck" in the user experience, or are you trying to learn why a prospect switches to using your product from what they were using before?

Establishing a goal is not just helpful in the interview process, but it also helps select the right people to interview.

Selecting the right pool of interview candidates

Based on the goal you have for your interviews, make sure you are recruiting from the right pool of candidates. This may sound obvious but it's surprising how often I've seen people overlook this.  Sam Ladner, an ethnographer working at Microsoft, has put out a great primer on sampling methods that is worth reading.

Bottom line:  Make sure the interview candidates are a representative sample of the group you are trying to understand.

Recruiting interview candidates

So, you've decided you want to talk to your customers, but you don't have a big database of emails to draw from. This is probably the hardest part of doing customer interviews for early stage startups.  How do you find people to talk to when you don't have an established customer base and you don't have a budget to use a recruitment firm?  Some grassroots tactics that have worked for me:

  • Work your professional network. LinkedIn is a great tool for this as you can search for candidates by a number of criteria  -- e.g. Content Marketers in tech companies in New England -- and then work backwards to see how you are connected to them.
  • Post in relevant LinkedIn groups.  The key here is to be upfront about who you are and what you're trying to do.
  • Work your social networks.  Ask your friends and family, post on Twitter and Facebook - you'd be surprised at how many people you can reach through word of mouth.
  • Go to a Meetup or talk in the area where your target customers gather.  Again, be upfront about what you're looking for - no one likes a bait and switch.
  • Partner with a company or organization that has access to the customers you are interested in.  What's in it for them?  Offer to do most of the legwork, and write up findings in an e-book or Slideshare that they can share with their sales and marketing teams.
  • Put a call to action on your website. The only caution I'd give here is that choosing people who have heard of you is adding some bias over a general pool of target candidates.  You may still gain valuable insights, but make a note that allows you to separate these candidates from a general pool.
  • Do a limited paid search through Facebook or a sponsored post through a 3rd party whose audience aligns with yours

Writing the recruitment message and offer

The jury is still out on whether or not you should offer an incentive for people to participate in an interview. I've read research advocating for and against and there is no conclusive opinion even within the market research profession. I've done both. In my own experience, a monetary incentive was not helpful when interviewing people who valued their time a lot higher than any incentive I offered - e.g. a senior executive.  But it definitely helped in some circumstances, like when I had to interview customers who had stopped using our product.

As for the recruitment message, I always include a few key points, whether I am recruiting in person or via email:

  • Explain who you are and why you are doing the interview. Being personal really helps here - I get much better response rates when I'm asking as an individual person i.e. Amrita Chandra, Head of Marketing, than when I am writing on behalf of a team or company, e.g. RocketScope Marketing.
  • Be upfront how much time you are going to need. There is nothing more frustrating to the interview candidate than agreeing to a certain amount of time, only to find out that the interview required more.  Err on the side of being conservative.
  • Make it really easy for the person to schedule the interview - offer to go to their office or do a phone interview, be open to doing interviews outside of business hours, and send a meeting invite to ensure the interview and all details are scheduled in their calendar.  I use TimeTrade to schedule my interviews, as it avoids a lot of back and forth with the interview candidate.

Sample recruitment emails

Here are two sample recruitment emails I've used that worked well for me:

This first one is one I've used with existing customers where we had a large group of candidates to choose from.

Hi XX,

I hope you are having a good Monday.

I'm emailing to see if you would you be willing to participate in helping us learn about how you chose [redacted]?

To do that, we need about 20-30 minutes on the phone with you to talk about your experiences in a little more detail. You won't need to prepare anything but we will ask you to recall some details about deciding to sign up for and use [redacted].  The call will not be recorded but I will be taking notes to share with our executive team.

If you are interested and available to speak in the coming 2 weeks, you can choose your preferred day and time using this link. 



VP Marketing, [redacted]

p.s. As a token of thanks, we will be sending you a $25 Starbucks e-card upon completion of the interview.

And here's an example of one I wrote for an early stage startup that was relying on introductions through LinkedIn to recruit their interview candidates.

Good morning [redacted], 

I hope you had a good holiday break.

A friend of mine is interested in speaking with a senior marketing professional to gain some insights for a new [redacted] tool his company is bringing to market.  He would like to talk to a VP of Marketing who leads a team that includes content marketers, and I thought of you.

I was wondering if you would have an hour available for a conversation in January?  Again, I wanted to be explicit in saying this is not a sales-related inquiry, it is purely for market research purposes.

Thanks in advance!

-- Amrita

My final tip is that you have to do what works for you and there's no way around actually doing the work.  If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

If you are interested in learning more, I'll be a guest on Jobs to Be Done radio this coming week, talking about my experience using their interview techniques and what I've learned doing customer interviews over the years.