Nout has over 13 years of marketing experience, starting out in ecommerce and eventually finding her way into B2B SaaS. She founded Nine Lives Digital, a marketing consulting agency, to help startups with their marketing campaign operations and optimization:
"What that means is basically setting up the foundation in the technical sense. So we help you execute marketing campaigns with your martech stack.
For campaign operations, we want to make sure all your data is flowing correctly and everything is tracked properly. We also do optimization for your existing campaigns through auditing and coming up with recommendations for improvement."
When should you invest in marketing?
More often that not, early stage startups postpone investing in their marketing because of:
- Limited resources
- They're currently more focused on growth and finding product-market fit; and
- Founders have no prior experience with marketing
"Most founders are more developer/engineering founders, and they really don't have the experience and knowledge to say, 'this is a setup we need for our martech stack in order to scale.'"
With her vast consulting experience, Nout observed that these marketing challenges are similar but come in different flavors:
"What's funny is that every startup is unique in one way, but every startup is not unique in the way of technology challenges on the marketing and maybe even revenue side — it's all the same exact challenge, just different flavors of it."
The breaking point
But when does marketing become a must for a startup? Nout says that the breaking point is: has the company been successful without it?
Companies that are in the Series D or Series E can still be successful without a marketing system in place up until they are trying to get an IPO:
"When you're trying to get an IPO, consultants and your internal folks are trying to figure out what to do in order to be attractive for an IPO. And one of those things you have to do is maximize every dollar. If you were successful before, now you have to do more.
That's when I see a lot of companies freaking out about, 'are we marketing appropriately to everyone in our universe?' So prospects, customers, users of our product, et cetera."
If someone in the company's leadership sees the value in marketing, they'll readily invest in it even if they're an early stage startup:
"But the problem is, so many folks in leadership positions at startups don't really see the value. So it doesn't really become a problem to solve until they have to, because someone (usually from finance) is knocking on their door saying, 'You need to do this.'"
B2C vs. B2B lifecycle marketing
B2C lifecycle marketing
For B2C companies, it's easier to see the value of lifecycle marketing because of the quick return of those efforts:
"There's this understanding of marketing's value and they're able to do a lot of lifecycle marketing. They're also able to look at the entire experience of these customers — all the way from not placing an order to becoming a VIP and placing an order every month — and really maximize all of the funnels.
They know if they stop, there's nothing else to catch, and that there's no sales team that will go out and get those deals. So lifecycle marketing is important and a very high priority in B2C."
B2B lifecycle marketing
For companies that rely on product-led growth like Zoom, Zapier, and HubSpot, it's not necessary for the customer to have a sales experience because they can simply sign up on the website and put their credit card information.
But for a traditional B2B sales-led company, marketing is only seen as playing a supporting role to sales, instead of something that can stand on its own. Aside from this, these companies also have more complicated products or their ideal customer is an enterprise-level company.
Because the deal sizes are very large, they can't really rely on product-led growth as much as a sales-led one:
"A lot of these traditional B2B companies are saying, 'Product-led growth just doesn't work for us.' And I think that that is a huge gap for a lot of B2B companies because you want to optimize the customer and prospects' experience with all of your entire ecosystem. That includes your software/product, marketing, sales, customer success — all of that.
And if you don't take advantage of lifecycle marketing for your product, then you're really doing your product a disservice."
Lifecycle marketing and channels
"Lifecycle marketing is the experience with your brand. Whether that's in your website, your product, your marketing, depending on where that person is in relation to that experience with your brand."
Email is just one of the primary channels
At its core, the selection of channels is about customer centricity and figuring out what's valuable to the user.
For example, you're thinking of a strategy to increase product engagement. When a user is hanging out in your product daily, it's better to send them an in-app or in-product notification instead of an email.
So when thinking about your overall strategy, remember to think of customers first instead of the other way around:
- What do you need them to do?
- What information do you want to tell them?
- What value do you want to give them?
- Where are they hanging out?
- What would be a better experience for them?
"Think of these instead of thinking about you as a brand and what's easier and better for you."
Marketing to sensitive audiences
Audiences like devops, founders, and even marketers absolutely despise being marketed to:
"They hate marketing. I will say that oftentimes, when people hear marketing, they think of advertising and 'buy now!' And the reason for that is because as marketers, we've not been very good at our jobs.
There is a time and a place for 'buy now!' but I think that if you lead with customer centricity, you know that your developers, engineers, and technical people do not like being sold to outright."
So what should we do instead?
Nout says to lead with value in education first. Remind your audience that you exist and you have a solution to their problem:
"And they would go, 'You know what? I need to log in and do X.' or 'I need to talk about this with my boss,' or 'I need to tell a friend about this,' et cetera.
In order to give that customer/prospect a good experience, if you bring value first, when they're ready, they will come to you. They'll see you as a trusted source instead of an annoying marketer."
What to keep in mind when creating your marketing messages
Tell them what you do and why they should care
Nout shares that when B2B companies get leads, they expect them to convert without communicating the basic things:
"Number one, do you have a welcome email that tells this person who has no idea who you are as a brand, what you do, and why they should care?"
This stage would usually take a few emails or even a whole sequence.
Use simple language
"Depending on where you got the leads from, there are a lot of people that don't really know what problem your product solves.
I think that there's this curse of knowledge and I've seen it over and over where brands just assume people know exactly what they're talking about. For example, someone says, 'We're your full devops lifecycle tool,' What does that mean?"
Nout emphasizes that when writing your emails, you should break things down to simpler terms so that anyone can understand you:
"Be respectful. Don't patronize your audience, but really break it down. Be really simple and plain in your explanation of what it is that you do, and really focus on why they should care."
Keep your audience in mind
Aside from looking at the industry, you should also look into your audience's role at the company:
"Are they more middle management? Are they individual contributors? Are they in a senior position? And I say this because the further down you get towards the individual contributor, those are the people having problems every day.
They're on the front lines of the problem, so you have to be more specific with them. You can tell them, 'did you know you could do X, Y, Z? These are the things you can do.'"
The higher up your audience is, the more they deal with business problems instead of daily problems. Which is why Nout stresses the importance of doing customer research and doing customer interviews.
"For example, in certain organizations, the C-suite are the people that have the budget. So without their final say, you are never going to sell."
In B2B SaaS, you have to look at customers as buying groups instead of just one person:
"When you do lead nurturing, lead scoring, and just looking at one individual person, you're really missing the full picture of that buying group. You don't see how your marketing has to work together in tandem with the people that are working together in order to really win that deal."
So when marketing to the C-suite, you have to prepare assets and your arguments:
"In my experience, things like the Forrester and Gartner reports do fairly well. Basically, the reports from industry experts that can speak to your software offering."
Nout adds that account-based marketing has evolved from being something you do in addition to your daily marketing activities to how we should be doing marketing in B2B:
"You have to be really organized as a company. You have to align sales and marketing really well. While I'm no ABM expert, I do think that having a really good understanding of your ideal customer, your ideal accounts, and who you want to go after really helps make your marketing better because it makes it more specific.
When you can be more specific and you understand the challenges of those companies, your marketing just improves. Your segmentation also becomes more specific so your marketing improves because you're speaking to a specific audience with a more specific messaging."
Can you measure the ROI of lifecycle marketing?
Unlike in ecommerce, it's really difficult to measure the ROI for lifecycle marketing in B2B:
"A lot of it will fall on the company and what marketing attribution designs they've decided to implement."
So how can you attribute marketing spend to results?
"In my experience, companies pick and choose what looks best and go with that. Oftentimes, lifecycle marketing is not really seen as a channel in and of its own. It's kind of like a helper channel. Paid media is a channel. Events are a channel. Lifecycle marketing helps those channels achieve their goals."
And while attribution is challenging, Nout has seen lifecycle marketing do really well using certain types of attributions:
"In my experience, I've seen lifecycle marketing do well with W-shaped attribution and first-last with U-shaped attribution, considering it doesn't have an ad budget."
And while it doesn't sync with the marketing spend, you'll get your lifecycle marketing's ROI if you lead with value and you're tracking as much as you can:
"As a lifecycle marketing manager, my programs aren't beholden to the same kind of strict budgetary constraints because I just take what they give me and I do try and optimize that experience.
But everything that you do in the lifecycle, as long as you lead with value, gets an ROI that's pretty significant. You just have to make sure you're tracking all of your efforts."
How to better use existing content
When you have a pile of content at your disposal, it's normal to think about how you can use it in your lifecycle marketing. But before using it, you have to make sure that your content is good and valuable.
After ensuring the quality of the content, you have to ask yourself these questions:
- What is the goal of my lifecycle program?
- Who is my audience?
- What am I trying to get them to do?
- Does the piece of content help us achieve our goal?
- Is this the right content for my audience?
Nout warns that it's easy to fall into the trap of the sunk-cost fallacy, which only leads to frustration and failure:
"If you have content speaking to finance managers and you're actually creating a nurture campaign for HR managers as your primary persona, that will never work. I've seen clients often think, 'I already spent X number of hours creating this finance manager content so I'm going to use it.' That's just an exercise in failure."
So instead of forcing your content to fit your audience, it's better to create one that's more relevant to that audience:
"It's just going to be better for everyone if you keep the finance manager content for SEO purposes on your website, and really focus on valuable content for that specific audience that you're trying to nurture or reach via lifecycle marketing."
Formats that work for the devops audience
For the devops audience (developers, engineers, and technical people), Nout says that these people like to solve problems and play with things. So instead of giving them boring ebooks or white papers, interactive events like workshops and webinars work well:
"Give them a virtual workshop or a webinar where they can see a problem solved and ask questions and interact; or even an in-person workshop with a demo environment where they could play in, something gamification-oriented. Virtual classes that they can take to uplevel their skills. That's the sort of stuff they want."
But in Nout's experience, some white papers or books do well with this audience because they're about an interesting topic:
"There are a few books that help them do things that they're going to be really interested in. So once again, always start with your customer or prospect and think about what would be helpful for them."
What does a successful webinar look like?
For Nout, a successful webinar talks about technical content that:
- Lets attendees do or learn a thing that they didn't know how to before; or
- Wows them with a new idea
"We didn't see a lot of success in more broad topics like 'what's happening in the world of devops,' which was more thought leadership type stuff. That won't do well unless the speaker was someone of very high caliber."
And while these webinars are gateways to a sales conversation, their primary goal is to provide value to your audience:
"The whole point is we're teaching something and we're not selling. Of course, you want to be there to allow folks to raise their hand and say, 'I'm interested in having a sales conversation.' But the point is, you don't want to be brash and in the face unless you know they're ready to have that."
Do start with your audience first.
"Make sure that you're asking yourself, 'What's in it for them? What is the value that I'm bringing to them?' You're interrupting their day so make sure there's value there."
Don't be scared of creativity and weirdness as long as it's on brand.
"B2B marketing can be very boring. So if you bring in a little bit of humor, play around with it a little bit, and get cheeky, as long as it's within your brand, you'll stand out.
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