Hi Lissa. Thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS Breakthrough podcast. It's incredible to have you here. Excited to have on Looker and learn a little bit more about what you guys are doing over there. First of all, let me ask, how are you doing today?
I am well, David, how are you?
I'm doing great. Really, like I said, excited to have you here. Excited to learn a little bit about, your experiences, but for our audience who isn't familiar with Looker, why don't you start us off by giving us just a brief background on Looker, maybe when it was founded, who the customer is that you're looking at, the customer persona that you're really trying to hone in on and maybe what you are doing uniquely in the marketplace.
Sure. Thank you very much. And thanks for inviting me to talk about this topic, which I love.
Yeah, no problem. I love, love talking marketing and I'm excited to learn from someone as experienced as you.
Okay, great. So Looker is a platform for data, and it helps companies just uncover, actionable business insights, all from a single source of truth, for as many employees across your company as you want. I think a great example to help really understand what that means is a sales and marketing example. Of course, there's always conflict between sales and marketing because we're all shooting for the same goal but at slightly different points within the funnel. And one of the things I've especially found through my career is I'll go into a meeting with a sales person and I have a different number. My conversion rate is different than their conversion rate, or the number of leads that they are looking at is different than the number of leads I'm looking at. And what Looker does is it brings all of the data sources together and has been a repeatable modeling behind that data that allows me to look at the same numbers as maybe the head of the sales development team, so we can have the opportunity to have the numbers. So that's what I really like about Looker and I think that's one of the big differentiators for it. We were founded back in 2012 in Santa Cruz and that is where our headquarters is still today. And, and today we have about 1600 customers and they range across industries across the globe, and various sizes of companies. So we have companies with 10 employees, we have companies, customers with hundreds of thousands employees. Some of the examples, you know, these are the brand names we're very proud of Amazon, IBM, Etsy, Lift and Spotify. I think most people know what those companies are and do.
Yeah, some really, really amazing logo companies there. So you mentioned, you know, the customer size now, but what about when you joined, when you actually joined the Looker team itself and maybe what was the company like at that time?
Sure. I joined Looker in 2013. I felt fortunate. 13, was a good year for me. There were about 10 other people in the company at that time, so I was the first full time marketing person, did nothing but marketing. And we had, gosh, 20 to 30 customers at that time.
Incredible. That's incredible growth, first of all. And so I guess almost six years now, you've been with Looker and congratulations, it sounds like a great ride. And joining number 11 means you're joining a more agile, nimble young kind of startup phase. So coming in as the first marketer and a lot of our listeners are often times coming into companies about that size. What's your initial kind of focus, what do you have to jump into first when you're coming in? Especially to a company that only has 20 customers, you are probably still trying to figure out a lot of stuff. What are the first things you have to start doing?
Yeah, I mean I had to really decide and focus on growing the customers. So I was maniacally focused on just finding new customers and new business. It was very much a blinder situation. I really worked on getting the systems up and running so I could make sure I was executing tactics. And then I was tracking those marketing tactics and my primary goal was just to feed that sales development team. There was one sales development person, I just needed to feed them leads and MQLs.
When you're coming in in 2013, were there as many competitors in data as there are now? We've had a couple, data companies on here dashboard, you know, data dashboards and insights and stuff like that. And I always kind of wonder what the landscape looked like and how you guys continue to find your differentiators between the different companies. What, what was that kind of like as you navigate over the past six years?
It was very competitive in 2013. It remains very competitive. I think that was one of the first questions I asked when I was interviewing at the company. I'm like, why would we have a product in such a competitive field? Primarily the answer was it means there's a lot of opportunity to make things better. And that's true. Yeah. So it's a lot about finding traction as you mentioned earlier. and finding ways just to explain ourselves. So that our differences are highlighted as well as, you know, we're still handling the table stakes, business intelligence and data analytics needs for people who need to simply do something slightly differently.
Makes Sense. And so the early days you're trying to help your SDR, you're trying to fill that pipeline. Do you have an idea when you come in, if you have product market fit, do you have a customer persona laid out or are you going through that process to find that customer? And I think also you mentioned, you know, when you kind of talked about the, the background, the description of Looker, all these different company sizes from the 10 person company to the enterprise Spotify team. How has that kind of evolved when you grow this company?
I mean, a lot of it was trial and error. You know, one of the first things I heard from our VP of Marketing, and it kinda just set me free was, if you find something's working, keep doing more of it until it stops working. And for some reason that just opened me up to say confidently, this is working, I need to go do more. So it helped me reduce, external opinions from other groups. But we really had to just go and try different things. And one of the first grips that we really found success with, was other venture backed technology companies. So they were often companies who had a lot of data. They didn't necessarily have a lot of data tools and they really wanted as many of their employees to have access to data in order to make better decisions. So they immediately understood the value of Looker quickly. And from there that helped us get a little bit of ground swell and then we could start talking to other companies that maybe were larger, who had maybe pockets of innovation like that, or ecommerce companies, or retail companies, companies with a lot of data who just needed that data safely and securely and correctly in the hands of employees.
Are you guys actually creating personas for each of these different companies? So in the early days it's kind of scrambling going after all of those different people. But now do you guys have like these different listed personas and how do you keep track of that without getting, you know, overwhelmed with all these different persona types?
You know, I don't know that we have like the long list of personas across the company. What we are finding is that certain groups, maybe it's a customer facing group or prospect facing group, or marketing my end of marketing, the top of the funnel, we understand that our personas may be slightly different than other groups. And so we definitely try to be as clear as possible within our own departments. And then we hear from each other's group about maybe this is the types of people we sell to, but then this is the types of people who actually end up using the product. So we're starting to get much more crisp on that. And I think it's very much then maybe part of the selling cycle, or part of the customer experiences, how we're keeping, keeping them straight.
Do you find that that helps to contribute to new product decisions and marketing language when you just look at, I guess the output of the, I guess you're looking at more information on like what makes a good buyer versus just a customer persona type. But do you find that that's changing how the product and the marketing voice is being done?
It's very much changing how the marketing efforts are being done because if marketing is able to align with sales on here's who we are targeting, I in demand generation can be very clear with maybe the SMB team as compared to the enterprise team, the types of leads they very much want and then we can go target better so that we just get better conversion rates at the top and middle and ultimately the bottom of the funnel.
Fantastic. And are you looking at specific channels or marketing initiatives for your team? So let's say demand generation, you're coming through, are you looking at specific items recently that have worked really well with your personas? I guess as they've been dialed in through that sales process?
You know, all of the channels work for us for the most part, they're always changing too on their ability to perform. So we're constantly looking how do we improve, sustain, conversion rates and number of MQLs and SQLs. I think that we've also noticed that as we've changed from an early stage startup to, you know, mid to late stage startup, some channels worked better or didn't work better. The rest of the buying cycle is constantly changing all of the time as well. So not only am I looking at external market factors and maybe content syndication worked early in the first two years, but it's not working so well now. I also know that my sales team is looking at the qualification of opportunities and they're changing their sales funnel. So what I'm going out and grabbing and qualifying and pushing through is changing on a regular basis too. So I have a lot of factors the team looks at.
I guess with that kind of complexity, how do you make prioritized decisions on how to use your resources? Time, you know, budgetary resources, obviously you have multiple segments, multiple regions, multiple departments, you know, what are you optimizing? How do you put one thing in front of the other and choose exactly which ones you need to nail?
I think one of the most important things we've done at Looker, which is unique to what I've done at any other company in a demand generation role is we've worked very closely with our finance team. So our financial planning and analysis team, FPA and working with them, they've helped us understand what the company like bookings goal is. And from there I'm able to very much take apart the sales goals by region, by segments. And then in marketing we take those goals and then take them apart, by how have our marketing channels performed in the past. So we are very clear on our ability to hit certainly goals, were clear in our ability to hit conversion rates that will ultimately end up into sales pipeline. What that does to me is it lengthens my planning process, but it also gives me really strong, guidelines or guard rails so that I on paper can say, I need to put a little bit more money in maybe a pay-per-click marketing this quarter because last quarter it performed, performed very well. And maybe we had a trade show last quarter that didn't perform so well, so we're being a little bit more cautious on maybe event leads, so I have a really good basis of comparison using that, I can then more confidently say I need to go do more of the same or I need to go find something new to fill a gap that I think is coming.
Let's say you think that gap is coming and I think this also applies to when you're early stage and you probably may, may remember this when you were more early stage, you want to increase that demand generation or increase your lead gen, you want to the pipeline for the SDR, but the channel that you've been working in isn't performing well, so you have to go after a new channel, a new initiative, new idea. How are you then in that same idea, that spreadsheet, that whatever, whatever you're building this into, how are you making those decisions on, you know, budgeting before going into it? How do you know what to estimate for estimating conversions for that channel or you know cost per acquisition, whatever it is that you think that you're gonna need to, to preplan that because it sounds like this makes a lot of sense when you're mature, like you guys are, you've had historical data in a lot of these different channels, but again, when you're going into something new or when you were just starting, how did you handle that?
So the first marketing plan we did it, it was what I like to call marketing math and it's just the basic waterfall funnel and it's purely based on my previous gut experience. So if I'm going to do a trade show, I think I should be able to go get this many leads in this many meetings. So how many registrations am I going to get? And then talking with that sales development lead, how many of those leads are going to turn into meetings? We would just simply take a guess and then ever since that first plan, every quarter we then have a comparison point. So since you know Q3 of 2013, I've been able to establish a comparison point and every quarter everything changes a little bit. The challenge then comes when we're going to just go try something new for the very first time and hopefully somebody on the team has done it before somewhere else. So they bring with them their past experience and they say it could be this, let's assume this is going to be it. And then once we do it, we say, that worked. That didn't work. How do we optimize to make it better? Do we just stop or do we keep it at a low level or increased it?
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I like the idea of kind of making those, you know, guesstimations as you might call it. Any advice for people who are kind of just starting in those different channels for guesstimations is, you know, specific things to look at or do?
Yeah, if they're just starting, they can reach out hopefully to their network. Maybe it's somebody who's never done trade shows before, but they're having to estimate trade shows. I'm sure they have somebody in their network who has done trade shows and that person would probably happily tell them, you know, how it's worked for them in the past. If you're going to just go and pilot something, I always like to say, you know, you start really small, optimize it once you get some results and then once, if you think it should be working but it's not working, optimize it, figuring out how to optimize it. And then you do have to decide, do I continue this and add to it or do I stop? Because sometimes you have to stop doing stuff because it's simply not working and you need to go focus in someplace else. The reason I liked that approach also is, it's risky taking risk and doing pilots and doing tests, especially as teams get larger, there's more voices, there's more room for criticism or even perceived criticism. So if you're approaching things as a test or a pilot, it gives people the opportunity to take a chance without a huge amount of risk.
Maybe even trying to implement a culture of taking risks and being okay with that. And you kind of mentioned that in the beginning when you know, your boss kinda told you, you know, continue doing that when, when it works. So speaking of tests, we kind of talked about channels, we're talking about initiatives. How are you guys plan for that, what you're looking at for new ones. But what happens when you get into those channels and now you've got to do testing like actual tiny tests within that channel. Maybe tell us a little about the process that you go through when you're doing testing and different initiatives for channels.
It depends on the channel and the website Looker.com is probably the place where we do the most amount of testing. We have different types of tools to help us. The person who's in charge of the channel, she has gone through a couple of growth marketing training sessions because we want to look at it from a very much a growth marketing and conversion rate optimization standpoint. So one of the first things she did when we were first really starting testing was just go to various teams across the company. Maybe it was product marketing, maybe it was the SDR team, the product team, the creative team, and start saying, what kind of tests should we do? Let's just brainstorm. Let's just think of some of the smallest tests, the most obvious tests, color, button size, verbiage. What are some of the craziest tests we can do? And then she went ahead and tried to estimate the potential outcome. That was of course difficult the first time around. Once we start doing some of the tests, we were able then to say we're going to be able to put value to certain outcomes. So let's prioritize these tests and see how they work. T,esting ab testing is a slow process. You don't get a lot of data, especially for a mid stage startup because you still have that much web traffic. So it took, it takes a while to get there. But at least once you started getting some data, you can start kind of getting past people's opinions and emotions and just say, here's the results. And sometimes the results don't really tell us a lot. And in that, and then at that point we can say what is best for our brand and where we think we are today and where we want to go to. And then we're able to, you know, make that decision together.
Is there a certain percentage of change that you use to make that differentiator? Like we have to at least see a 5% change in conversion before we just say it's not worth it or is there like a certain metric mark?
I believe we're looking at probably greater than a 10% difference. And we also now are able to look at the value of a conversion. So what is the dollar amount. Especially for website traffic, traffic and testing you're so top of the funnel, right? We finally got to the point where we're able to connect it to the sales funnel and then we can really determine what's important maybe for addressing the funnel and the pipeline as compared to maybe addressing a general awareness and then just that amount of traffic on the website.
How are you now tracking the conversions into the sales funnel and are you doing that by channel as well?
We are doing it definitely by channel. We've always done it by channel. The web team is getting far more granular, with the UTM codes and link tracking so that we're hopefully going to get to a much safer and stronger place of feeling confident with, you know, all of those differences you can get on maybe verbiage and headlines and content offer, which can become, you know, a long list of different variables.
Yeah, there's so many variables and it's interesting that you mentioned, you know, all of these different AB tests from inside the company. We're starting to do that ourselves, opening up, you know, different experiments from the team to outline. Any suggestions or I guess, you know, lessons learned from looking at all of these different tasks and trying to figure out where priority goes in that list?
I think one of the places you want to really look at is understanding, those most important pages on your website and then determine if those are the places you want to do your testing first. Because that will be mostly, that'll be where you get the largest amount of traffic so you can make a decision more quickly. And then what...
For you guys was that like home and pricing kind of thing?
Definitely home and pricing, you know, ask for a demo page, request a free trial. Those offer pages are really important for us.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. (inaudible) would get direct I guess, results from as well as from them seeing it. Cause otherwise, you know, some of these other pages it's hard to see even now direct result of them viewing some sub page unless it has I guess a call to action on it. Fantastic. So being such a heavy data company, like focusing on data obviously, what about, you know, KPI numbers or data that you use internally and the marketing team? Any suggestions or things that you guys have learned or felt are very valuable for marketers to use?
Yeah, I mean we definitely have the classic funnel KPI and we get so MQL marketing qualified lead, sales qualified lead, sales accepted opportunity. Those are the bellwether metrics. We also then just need to look at those conversion rates between all of those things to make sure any sort of like qualification or big effort changes are working or not working. We definitely then start breaking it down. You know, is this segment reaching the goal it needs to reach? Is this region suffering? Is this particular country needing more leads or less leads or how do we get more leads and you know, the east region as compared to the west region. So we definitely break it down very quickly.
You guys get very granular, which is amazing. I think that's an incredibly important in this age of data driven marketing. But you know, a lot of, a lot of marketers are still in the trenches trying to figure out, you know, what experiments and what initiatives or channels will work to, to get positive results. And we've talked about a lot of, you know, different wins along the way here for you guys. But what about roadblocks? What about things that have failed along the way? Things that have taught you tough lessons in marketing or, you know, things you've learned in the organic and paid channels. Anything that you look back on and say, wow, that, you know, that was a good lesson for us to get.
I think one of the early lessons I had in the company, and it, it's, you know, me learning to be a leader and saying, I need help, I don't need help. I have been very proud that I was able to do so much so early on. And I don't know that that helped me in reality. Our online advertising channel, I did it for the first two years and it never really worked that well. As soon as, as soon as we hired an experienced and dedicated and focused online marketing person, the channel started working. And we've expanded and added to the team and now it's just one of our best performing channels and it's not just all me not being able to do it. It's also awareness levels and company maturing. So everything just starts working better together. So that was definitely one of the, one of the things, particularly from a leadership standpoint, know your strengths, know your weaknesses, and really fight for the things that you think will really help the company.
Do you think there was a specific moment in time or like you said, maturity level point standpoint, where you felt like, I should have made the call earlier, I should have pushed for that sooner? Or is it just, you know, looking back, just just know your, know your weaknesses and know your strengths.
I think it's a combination of both of those things. Go into it knowing your strengths and weaknesses and then start understanding if maybe you start becoming, you yourself start becoming a roadblock or if you're able to compare yourself to other similar type companies, you know, if you're just underperforming in a certain area, what do you need to be doing to improve that? And sometimes it is definitely the resources, people, money, those types of things.
Got It. That's fantastic. Any other roadblocks or lessons that you can think of?
I think one of the biggest things, maybe it was just complying to the constant changes in the market. GDPR last year was just a, I don't think I'm the only one in the world saying that. It took the team a lot of work. I felt like we did a really good job, but dealing with not just understanding the regulation but dealing with the, the emotional response from the team and the market was really interesting. So, I don't know if that was a roadblock, but it was definitely an obstacle to work around.
Well, I think being like, being flexible in, in marketing and in business itself is such a critical skill to have because we're not able to foresee the future. We don't know, the changes that can happen from, like you said, a legislative perspective, GDPR too, you know, the changes that have happened in technology, what API resources you guys may have to create dashboards and stuff like that. So that changes. So I think, you know, like you said that the ability to be flexible and be okay with change and be ready for those emotional swings is a, is a critically important piece of marketing. But fantastic, so I want to switch forward to, to looking a little bit forward, you know, kind of hearing what you guys think of 2019. We're in the middle of Q1 2019 now, what opportunities are you most excited for looking for now, in the industry, maybe you, you know, with Looker, are there marketing experiments you guys going to be doing this year that you're excited for?
I think from a Looker standpoint, what I'm most excited about is, you know, we are getting traction as a company and the more of the more of our customers I speak to are the more of the prospects that are coming in. It's the fact that there are more and more people every day who love data and numbers as much as I do, as much as Looker does. And so that just has me really excited that we as a company can help, help all of those people meet each other and grow and learn from each other. So I think that's a great opportunity for Looker itself from, yeah, from a tactical standpoint. I think, again, as we diversify regionally and by different segments, we're just going to be trying more things, you know, how do we improve upon those regional events that we're doing that we just started for the first time last year? How do we work even better with some of our key partners so that we can, you know, have deeper and faster traction within regions maybe that we're not working so well in or they're not working so well in. So those are things that I'm looking forward to.
That's fantastic. You know, I, everything that you're saying kind of resonates back to kind of your first, your first answer which was just, you know, talking about, hey, if you find something that works, continue to do it in, double down on it. And it sounds like you've created that culture there inside the marketing department at Looker. When even, you know, even if you're circling back to something or if you just do, you know, a couple of small experiments, you'd still doubling down to figure out how can we make this better and you're using the data to make those decisions. So that's incredible. And again, congratulations for you guys different finding that traction and you know, having that growth going on. So incredible to hear. I'm excited for you guys. Excited to see which way 19' brings. But, based on time here, what I want to do actually is I want to switch over to our lightning round question. Just five quick questions I'll ask you and you can respond with the first best thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?
All right, let's do this. What advice would you have for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
I would have to go with that same advice my VP of marketing gave me, you know, find something that works, do more of it until it works no longer, because it really makes you be brave to try new things, but it also makes you dig deep and be critical on the outcomes so you don't just give yourself false positives.
The proof is in the pudding, right? Like you guys have grown this company on that, on that mindset. So it's an incredible answer and highly recommend it. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
I really want more marketers to be using data. I don't want to just to be at the demand Gen or customer acquisition teams that are really focused on on data. So, I'm hoping more people start using tools like Looker that are actually pretty easy to use once you, once you just understand it, because I think it can help teams stay focused and it can help them really aligned with sales and finance counterparts so that they just have better relationships and more focused outcomes.
This is the age of data driven marketers. In episode 50, I talked about a lot of what people thought was changing in 2019 and a huge industry shift is exactly what you just said. Most people think marketers need to be more data driven. So definitely check out Looker. That was a great answer. What about a best educational resource you recommend for learning about marketing or growth?
Yeah, the places I go to, are those marketing automation hubs. So Marketo and Hubspot, I go there all the time for templates and ideas. I also really liked that there's more training and academies for Growth Marketing. I think those are great sources in particular for people who are new to marketing because it really gets them to be more data driven. It gets them thinking about conversion rates. You know, whenever I'm interviewing somebody and they drop conversion rate to me, I just, you know, get all happy.
Instantly hired. What about a favorite tool you can't without today?
I think that the place I'm all the time going to is my percentage calculator. (inaudible) to give somebody a basis of comparison on data. Otherwise they're going to not really care if I met 100 MQLs today, like, well how is that? Is that what you're supposed to be? How does that compare to yesterday, last week, last year. So my percentage calculator.
That is a, an interesting answer. I have not heard that one before, but I like it. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today?
I think one of the things I saw recently, maybe some other folks site, it was a branding ad I saw in a local newspaper. And being a demand gen marketer, I don't do a lot of brand marketing and I don't understand it, but I respect it when I see it. When I, when I see something that I think somebody has done really well. About two weekends ago, Qualtrics did a great ad campaign and it started with a seemingly innocuous letter from somebody who lived in New Jersey and this person was writing to all of the companies in America and they were talking about, you know what, I get feedback surveys from you everywhere. They're on my phone, they're in email, there in the airport. I just have three things I need to tell you. You know, gimme more leg room on an airplane. And they went off and listed these two other things that they wanted these companies to go and go and improve on and then stop asking me all the time, did it or not work? And so it was just so like shocking. You're like, somebody did this and then you go through the newspaper and you see it's really an ad in an experience from Qualtrics. And so I just thought it was the most clever way to get people engaged. So I was just really impressed by that.
That's incredible. That's almost like a native ads, like a really well done engaging native ad that just kind of sucked you right in.
That's fantastic. Yeah. You'll have to maybe take a picture, see if you can find that ad somewhere, sent to us and we put it in the resources section of this episode because I would love to check that out as well. It sounds really cool, but you know, I just want to say, Lissa, I really just want to say thank you so much for coming on, for sharing, for being so open and transparent, was a great conversation. I'm excited for you guys over at Looker. It sounds like a lot of really good things are happening and you know, interested to hear how things change in 2019 for you. But again, just thanks so much for coming on today.
Thank you, David.
It was a real pleasure and I'll talk to you soon.
That was quite the episode. Lissa was incredible and a big thank you to Lissa and her entire team for jumping on the Saas Breakthrough podcast with me today, being just transparent and open and talking about these things, talking about the challenges, the lessons, the things that you can implement in your own business and I hope you took a lot away as well. (...)