SaaS Breakthrough – Featuring Nicole Smith

demio saas breakthrough featuring nicole smith About Nicole Smith:
Nicole Smith is the CMO of UserIQ, a customer success platform helping businesses align around user needs.
As CMO, she’s responsible for developing and executing a GTM strategy that aligns sales and marketing efforts to generate brand awareness, thought leadership, and demand.
Nicole enjoys combining her knowledge of marketing, sales, and customer success to develop innovative strategies that drive ROI.
Prior to UserIQ she led the marketing efforts at Dodge Communications (now MERGE Atlanta) and established the internal marketing department and created an external team focused on providing marketing automation services to the agency’s SaaS clients.

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Show Notes:
Intelligence Engagement Tools And Health Scoring All In One Place
Joining As The First Full Time Marketer
The Journey To Figure Out Product Market Fit
The Process To Set The Ideal Customer Profile
Building The Inbound Machine
Doing Content Marketing With The HubSpot Methodology
Doing Monthly Webinars
Timeframes And Goals
Experimenting Mindset: Try At A Small Scale
How To Ask For A Budget For Testing And Experimenting
Competitive Ads And The Level Of Awareness
Successfully Working With An Ad Agency
Setting Up Local Events Across Cities
Lessons Learned From Running Webinars For a Long Time
How To Attract The Best Experts To Your Webinars
Goals, KPIs and OKRs
The Challenges And Opportunities For 2019
Are We Making Our Boat Go Faster?
Lightning Questions

Hey, Nicole. Thanks so much for joining me today here on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. Really excited to have you and UserIQ here. How are you doing today?
Nicole [03:26]:
I'm doing great. How are you doing, David?
David [03:37]:
I'm doing awesome. I’m having a great day. Excited to go through this conversation. I think there's lots to talk about you've done an incredible job over at UserIQ, really coming in and building a great foundation for an incredible company. So, I guess we'll start off at the beginning. Talk a little bit about the company, UserIQ. When it was founded, who the customers are and what you're doing uniquely in the marketplace?
Nicole [03:52]:
Sure. Happy to start there. So, UserIQ was founded in 2014 and we're a customer success platform. And our customers are really software companies and they're really located in the US. And they typically tend to be in the SMB in mid-market space and they usually come to us because they're experiencing problems like onboarding new users or their turn rates might be high or they need to accelerate time to value or maybe they're struggling with feature adoption.
And I think that what we're really doing is unique in two different ways. First, there are a lot of point solutions in this space and maybe they provide MPS surveys or onboarding tours or customer analytics but we're a platform that provides the intelligence engagement tools and health scoring all in one place. And I think this is a unique combination because it helps companies identify any segment of users that needs help.
And then, we can engage them with at the right time with the right message through things like guided tours or tooltips and then we can easily track over time if your efforts are having that desire to defect. And then, another thing that's really unique about UserIQ is that we're the only customer success platform that lets you do all this across your web and mobile applications. So, a lot of other platforms only allow this on a web application which to me doesn't make a lot of sense.
Because I know I'm on my phone sometimes more than my computer especially when I'm not at work so I really appreciate it when a company has a mobile app. I probably use Wonderland, Slack, Evernotes, more on my phone than on my desktop sometimes. So, now UserIQ can support those companies or standalone mobile apps by providing our intelligence and engagement solutions like these guided onboarding tours or in-app announcements and MPS surveys on the mobile apps as well.
David [05:45]:
That is fantastic. It sounds like a platform that we definitely could have used here at Demio about eight months ago when we went on this huge initiative to learn more about our customers, the churn percentage, finding red flag zones like which segments we could add more education into, we just spent so much time doing this all manually. I wish we have had the tool kind of going probably would have been so much better.
But it's an essential part like once you kind of get customer acquisition down then that's the next problem to solve is getting everyone in the right place for success. So, that's awesome. A great product to have and obviously I totally understand the problem that's filling. I guess more about the company, when did you actually join the team?
Nicole [06:26]:
Yeah. I joined in mid-2016 and so when I joined, I was the first full-time marketer and it was really before we had ever received any of our Series-A funding. And at that time, there are about 10 people in the company full-time and it was just a mix of sales and development at that time and we were a part of a startup incubator program in Atlanta called ATDC. And we were just all packed together in one small room there at the incubator center and it was a lot of collaboration going on and it's was a fun time.
David [06:58]:
Did you guys have customers at that point?
Nicole [06:50]:
We did have customers. A really small amount but yet we did have paying customers but they were a month-to-month and since that point, we converted everyone to annual or multi-year contracts.
David [07:10]:
Got you. That makes sense. So, was there even like a product market fit yet or was it more just kind of experimentation on “Can we even get customers?” just kind of validating some of the basic product stuff?
Nicole [07:20]:
It really wasn't, I didn't feel like there was a strong product market fit yet. We were really trying to determine who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do and how to do that and I think we took some wrong turns to get there and happy to discuss that and how we what if we went about and how we were doing that. But yeah, we were really just trying to figure that out when I got there.
David [07:41]:
Yeah. Why don't we talk about that? That's a really interesting conversation. Obviously, you're coming in as the first marketer, you're still very small kind of a tiny startup still learning these things so at this point, you're trying to decide even which market do we go after? I mean coming in as the first marketer, you have to both balance talking with leadership, learning where the products going to go in the product decisions and the marketing decisions. How do you guys get through that on the early stage there?
Nicole [08:09]:
Yeah. So, we started looking at that, we were like “Let's look at the market. Who's out there? Kind of who are these closest competitors? Let's assess what are customers doing and currently that we have” but that wasn't a great skill because they were so small. So, we kind of sat down and said “What do we want to do? Who do you want to be in this space?” And we said “We really want to create a category”.
But that wasn't really the best decision. I mean we didn't have the resources or budget to do that and honestly, it wasn't really necessary. I mean we're still really who we were in those early days, who we are right now. We're a platform that helped companies, after a buyer became a customer to help them with that adoption and retention expansion and the advocacy process to make sure your customers didn't turn you, could drive more revenue.
But coming in when you're still like that really fresh early company, it was like well I think even though we would call this customer success, we thought it goes beyond customer success and we can call this customer growth and brand now. Because we knew that sales didn't end at that point of purchase and it went beyond the traditional sales and marketing funnel throughout that entire customer lifecycle.
And over time, it's proven that if you can consistently nap your success with your customers business outcomes, those advocates will eventually send more qualified leads back to the top of the funnel. So, we are trying to position ourselves as that leader at the customer growth market. But with that, we really weren't clear on which personas we were marketing to and what type of company was our ideal customer.
So, I think it's really hard to try and enter and say you're going to own a category and create a category if you don't have the resources or budget to do it and you really don't have a map of who's going to be your ideal customer in that. And I would say at that same time in the business, it was really being driven early by outbound and it wasn't targeted outbound. It involves having interns, find leads that the STRs would then load into CRM email sequences and mass class prospects. And all that kind of come in together very quickly.
We had another problem to solve for and it's one I think is very common in the early days of a SaaS startup. So, between the non-targeted outbound and positioning, that wasn't clear. We are trying to be everything to everyone in this SaaS market space so it's a tendency to say “Yes, we do that” or “Yes, it's on our roadmap to every prospect that'll get on the phone with you”.
So, you can get some of those first customers and then I think you realize really quickly that you don't have a product that serves SMB the same way it serves an enterprise customer or maybe your marketing persona buyer doesn't have the same needs as your customer success persona buyer. And then, you start seeing churn happen quickly and you have to take a step back and say like “Okay, do we really have product market fit and who is that market that you really want to serve and how do we do that effectively?”
And I think that's when I was coming in, we started doing this marketing for round saying “What is that and what's kind of this next process to determine who's the market we want to go after? And how do we do that effectively?”
David [11:11]:
First of all, it's refreshing to hear that we weren't the only ones to kind of go through that process. I think it's honestly a journey of a lot of startups and I think it's one, the pursuit of growth. And especially as a bootstrap company like a lot of companies are, for us specifically, we needed growth and sales to survive. And you just kind of have to get out there and get on the phone and make those sales but you're absolutely right.
Like if you don't understand that stuff early, you get very much stuck on just having a product that is way too wide, you don't know your project roadmap, you're not able to make those smarter decisions. When did you guys ultimately come down to it, when did you come down to as far as like making those decisions. Did you have to like cut off clients? Which we luckily didn't have to do. I think must've just turned out that word fits for us but like how did you guys kind of make that final decision to say “We're going after this and we're going to be strict on it”?
Nicole [12:10]:
Yeah. It's a really hard decision, like you said. I think there's so many startups that are in that situation. I think very few actually. When you really start off it can say “This is exactly our go-to-market plan. Here's our ideal customer profile and we're only taking customers that fit in this mold”. I mean it's obviously going to change after time but I think it's very rare that you see companies that in year one or a year two, these are their same exact types of customers that are with them in year five or going forward.
So, it's a hard move. But what we really did was we really used a lot of the data that we have on ourselves as we grew over the years so I mean I think what I would just say is; yeah, we use data which is helpful and we have a lot of our fingertips just with a UserIQ. Like what makes an ideal customer in our system and then kind of combining that with some market data as well.
So, we looked at stuff in our product of “What features do our best and our worst customers at that same time with like people who maybe are churning, what were they using then, what were they not using, how often do they log in, how many campaigns do they create, what's their account health score, what was their MPS? And so, we kind of came up with an analysis and what did these customers look like?”
And then, did that in tandem with the market analysis to understand this total addressable market and look at that of “By these tiers of revenue and employee count, let's compare that with our customer base and mark that with ‘Okay, this cut our customer base has these here as a revenue an employee count and what's the propensity for churn in each of these revenue tiers?”
And we kind of came up then with our ideal customer profile set and said “We want to go after these customers in the software industry between a certain revenue range in the US and who use these types of technologies. Because we know that they use our product the most and like this is how we know to market to them and these are the features they want to use and these are the problems they're facing and this is how we can definitely go after them the best”. So, we really tried to use data to drive the decisions we were making.
David [14:23]:
Well, that's a fantastic answer. It's so nice. Did you guys do this while you're still in the incubator or were you guys already out by the time like this kind of came together?
Nicole [14:30]:
We were out by the time all this came together. So, lots of trial and error and the incubator.
David [14:37]:
Yeah. I know it sounds fantastic and you also probably got, did you raise while you're coming out of incubator?
Nicole [14:41]:
We did raise while we're in incubator, yes. And got our Series-A in the incubator.
David [14:46]:
That's fantastic. That you got it even without product market fit, so that's awesome to hear. So, you come out of incubator, you kind of put this together, you figure out “Okay, we have our data set that's giving us now, who our target markets going to be”. What are your first actual experiments initiatives? Now, going to market, you're the first marketer, maybe it's building a team, I don't know. What are you doing?
Nicole [15:10]:
I mean it was a lot of stuff. I was figuring out how to build that inbound machine and what the process was along with that.
So, even really before I started building a team I would say, what do we need to do to bring in leads? It was a really outbound driven machine that UserIQ, like I mentioned before of “Let's just send Cadence to send mass emails to everyone in the market and it wasn't personalized, not doing research on these companies but let's get people to start coming to us but how do we do that and what's the process?”
“And will our current tools work for that or do we need other tools? And what do we do with organic and paid and how does that all work together?” So, those are the biggest initiatives on my plate.
David [15:55]:
When you're doing this, what does the actual plan look like? Are you researching on blogs to find different like organic marketing plans? Are you saying “Hey, we're going to start with 10 blog posts a month”? Like give me some details on that because I know how hard it is to get some of these initiatives off the ground at the same time you also have to go to leadership and improve it and stuff like that.
Nicole [16:17]:
Yeah. That's a really good point. It was really important for me to do that. When I did this that I needed to figure out first and kind of prove it like “Okay, we can do all of this, do inbound without buying new tools or ripping and replacing anything”. Note that we had a lot to replace when I came into UserIQ and we didn't have a budget. So, I was like “I need to figure out how we can generate leads”.
And what I really focus on was a lot of content marketing at first. Kind of using the HubSpot methodology and looked at our buyers’ journey and said “How can we educate them throughout that process. So, we put a big emphasis on the top of the funnel and how we could attract new buyers. So, I had by this point, a full-time content marketing manager and we just did a ton of stuff between e-books, playbooks, and blogs. When I came into UserIQ, there were I think three blogs on the website, we started blogging weekly.
We started doing monthly webinars and then would distribute everything via social media posts and relevant industry groups partnered with some of these groups again free stuff. And then, optimized everything really heavily for SEO so we could start showing up in these Google searches and then did a lot of kind of just SEO stuff easily that we could do on our end. And so, that was the first step really in this to start building that legion engine on our end.
David [17:42]:
So, finding the content keywords that people needed or at least the content topics, creating a schedule, getting the content out to start with, you used like social and email to kind of just get your content syndicated and out there and then, you add it on the next layer of SEO to start ranking over time, so you built your audience that way. That’s kind of it, right?
Nicole [18:04]:
Yeah. That's correct. And doing different types of content too. Some non-gated stuff like the blogs and then building it up to other things such as the webinars that would require leads to fill out a form, to get it so we could capture some of that and with obviously doing that with the leads, we wanted to capture those leads but we had to make sure that we were capturing them properly and there was some process to not only attribute the source of those leads but pass them off to the STRs and qualify them.
And if they weren't ready to buy at that time or they weren't actually a qualified lead, that they could go back to marketing and we had some sort of nurturing program set up for them as well.
David [18:44]:
Got it. And did you have a specific time frame you're trying to get this all like built in or were you guys just kind of free to like go out there build this organic process?
Nicole [18:52]:
No, we were trying to get, so when I started in July at UserIQ, I would say kind of the first four to five months, were really focused on messaging and then going into that first year 2017 was really when all overly gen and initiative started around demand generation. Once we had messaging nailed down, we had put up a new website.
When I had first came into the company, I had kind of taken that first six months to overhaul our website when I was doing the messaging and then when I started demand gen program, our goal for that year one; was to move from nothing being inbound to having 50% of it to be inbound. And actually by the end of year one, when we were at 75%.
David [19:40]:
Wow. That's awesome. So, when you're looking at this stuff and you're going through that kind of year of content inbound, when do you then decide to add new initiative or experiment on top? Obviously, just that piece alone that we talked about that system that you built, that is a ton of stuff, lots of stuff to deal with. When did you decide to add the next thing? You're like “Let's do maybe Google advertising”.
Nicole [20:05]:
Yeah. I don't know if there was ever a magical time. Especially in the early days, my biggest belief is that you should test something and either let it fail faster or grow quickly. I don't love spending a month deciding if we should try something new, I'm just kind of like go do it and I think a good point of being a small company and team is that you can iterate quickly. A good example of that is that at one point, we were going to try a content syndication and legion service and we said we would test it for two months.
And we had lots of recommendations. I think I talked to probably three other marketers that I really trusted at other BC-backed companies that have been at our stage and they swore by this strategy for lead gen. We put it in place and the feedback from our STRs was terrible. I think if I remember correctly probably 85% of the leads weren't workable and after trying to work with the company to tweak the audience, nothing got better.
So, I ended up stopping the experiment after less than a month just because the leads we were getting from it, we're not a fit for us at all. So, I think it's just one of those things that if you test it and it doesn't work, then it's done quickly but if something like that had worked and we were getting 90% of leads that were awesome and weren't converting really quickly to opportunities or moving to that trial or closed one stage quickly, I would have tripled my spend in that or something like that.
But it's just testing and experimenting quickly and not being able to be afraid to try at a small scale so that you can see what's working.
David [21:28]:
Any advice for people on maybe going to leadership and asking for budget or budget increases for testing and experimenting even if it's going to be fast or a small experiment?
Nicole [21:48]:
Yeah. I would say give a timeframe. Say “I want to try this for three months and here's what I expect to achieve from it”, putting some measurements in place and maybe be willing to give something else up that you're doing as well. My team has come to me with four initiatives and said “We would like to try this product or tool or this initiative”.
Adding this premium package to something we're already doing and it's an extra $600 a month but I think we can cut back on spend on AdWords in one area and we're not going to see any, we've cut the fat in another area and if we can spend here, I think this these are the results we're going to see. So, I think if you can show leadership that you're cutting spend in another area and then you're going to show them ROI in a different area, that's really powerful.
David [22:41]:
Really just basing it all on the return on investment and that makes a lot of sense. And listen speaking about Google advertising, I know that's a big part of your guys' own experiments and initiatives as well. Do you guys have any advice or recommendations for people wanting to get the maximum ROI from their Google advertising techniques? Is there anything that you guys did that really kind of shift off the game for you?
Nicole [23:06]:
Yeah. So, with Google Ads, it's been a really powerful platform for us. We get a really big boost for our pipeline each month. We target really high intent keywords that are at the bottom of the funnel and have honed it in our paid Ads against our targeted competitors rather than trying to cast a really broad net. So, we used to spend a lot of money on non-brand paid terms. For example; we would target something like customer success software but these are really competitive terms.
And we were running to show up there but these were not bringing us really good opportunities and we found that we could do a better job with our SEO efforts here. And backlinking and content actually works better to drive people to UserIQ site, so we trimmed a lot of our budget on these areas and reallocated it to other areas like our competitive google paid Ads and we've seen really great results from doing that. So, I would try and focus maybe if your startup on targeting some competitive Ads and try that at first.
David [24:12]:
How do you actively run the competitive ads? Are you using copy that is mostly like a differentiation of your product and theirs’ or is it mostly just like a competitive type of product where like ‘This product versus us’ type of thing or a route? Where do you see like the copy stand out the most for those type of ads?
Nicole [24:32]:
So, it's really talking about different features and I think more the benefit statements as well. We've done a little bit of, we test out different things and I don't know if we found a silver bullet for what's best. I think different situations for different competitors work better but I think really what works best is because usually those people, they're searching UserIQ versus one of our competitors. It's because they're in more of an active buying cycle and they're ready to buy and that's why they are searching for us.
Because they're like “I need to evaluate another tool or I'm curious what other options are out there”. So, they're ready to buy or they're looking instead of just customer success solutions or maybe customer success books or something like that. They're more top of the funnel, they're not really ready to purchase and so it's going to be a long drawn-out cycle.
David [25:25]:
Right. So, think more about the level of awareness that those prospects have based on the keywords that you're using. It makes a lot of sense. And what about management? Do you guys actually do that in-house? You're using an agency, is there a win on either side?
Nicole [25:41]:
We do. We use an agency for that to manage our SEO and our paid work but our content marketing manager is really heavily involved from the SEO side. And then, our demand generation manager is heavily involved from the paid side to partner with the agency. So, this too will act as an extension of the agencies team and I don't think there's like a day that goes by where they're not communicating with the team. And we use Basecamp and so I think they're very involved with that.
But I will say we've gone through three SEO paid agencies during my time at UserIQ. I could probably do a whole separate podcast on lessons working with an agency monthly and at one point, we were really frustrated with the process and we were going to bring it all in-house but I think at the end of the day, what it comes down to for me is that the level of specialization that the right agency can provide and what it would cost and headcount for me, it didn't really add up.
And I think if you find the right agency and this specialist, that I think they can provide especially if they have someone for SEO and paid those are very different specializations that you need to have someone to think differently on those.
And then, also kind of a strategic person to manage the accounts again. They're like three roles so I think using an agency and a partner and they're doing this day in and day out for different customers and can bring that strategy side of it to you and see what's working for other people and bring that to your business, I think that's been really helpful for us.
David [27:16]:
Do you recommend like a boutique versus like a bigger agency or is it not really mattered as long as they have the resources of those specializations there for you?
Nicole [27:24]:
I still probably would recommend a boutique. We use a company, I think they're about 40 people, so not huge. I'll say when we've also used one that was super small and that didn’t work for us. If you have one or two people, that's not going to be enough I think to support someone. I think more the boutique size is better.
David [27:44]:
It makes sense. I know you guys also started doing local events for part of your, I guess inbound process that's to be considered inbound, like user adoption expedition across the United States, how have things like that have gone and how have you set those up as part of your process?
Nicole [28:02]:
Yeah. So, we did. We did that user adoption expedition last year and that was in Ford City. So, it was a cocktail reception, piano discussion and then networking for people in customer success and product management SaaS companies. And it was a really good experiment. They drew a good crowd probably between 60 to 100 people per event. They were really challenging to put on because we didn't have filled marketing or sales team members in the cities we chose so I think putting them together was more work than expected.
And it's probably something every marketer has encountered for events but finding the right venue, shipping everything you need, coordinating on-the-ground efforts, things like that but I think if I did it again, I would do smaller more intimate events to have a chance to talk more one-on-one to people. But the process of setting it up was just really like going out to the cities, finding the venues, finding panelists for those events and that's a lot of like how we do the webinars as well promoting those.
And we've been doing the webinars for a long time too. It’s pretty much since I started at UserIQ but the process has evolved a lot and finding the right panelists for those events. And I can speak on customer success or industry related topics and really showcase themselves as panelists.
And I think what we've learned from those is that although the webinar to opportunity ratio might be lower than say like what our requested demo to opportunity ratio is, webinars attract the right types of companies and personas as have someone like these events we've done and they're a good source of leads and a really important stage in the buyers journey.
Something we've noticed is that like 20% of webinar registrants have been from companies with opportunities created this year. So, companies with active opportunities are registering for webinars when they're talking to us so it just might not be like someone registers for a webinar obviously then converts to a closed one deal the next month.
David [30:03]:
Got it. And I have some more questions or one more question about the webinars but for the events themselves, you mentioned maybe next time you do them smaller.
Would you say that the size that you did to people was more almost like a resulting in branding recognition and more so just like your name's on the event, you made a couple of opportunities but really a smaller more intimate event would be more like network building with the right companies maybe not even for opportunity but for partnerships and stuff like that. Would that be kind of the newer target initiative?
Nicole [30:36]:
I think so. Yeah, that's a good way to put it. It was definitely good branding for what we did an exposure but it was hard to have more targeted conversations like you said whether that was for more deeper common conversations with either opportunities that were already in the funnel or partnerships. But I think probably another lesson learned on that too is just not great, we didn't necessarily have a great follow-up program in place either.
I think we could have done a better job following up with people and making a better incentive or reason to continue the conversation after those events.
David [31:16]:
Yeah. That's a really good point. That's a hard one to think through and a lot of times people miss that one, it's kind of follow-up.
Nicole [31:22]:
David [31:23]:
Like how do we get your email and how do we keep the conversation going?! Back on the webinar stuff, you said you were doing a really good job of getting panelists and experts on your webinars, what a bit process are you doing to find attract and then get people excited to be a part of your webinar process?
Nicole [31:40]:
We are really just I think creating topics that people are interested in in the space. We're doing a webinar this month talking about compensation for your customer success team and how to build out plans around that. And that's not something a lot of people are talking about and it's actually like kind of hard. It was hard to find people to talk about that topic who felt comfortable and so what?
I have a running list, me and my marketing team do, of panelists that we'd like to have for events whether it's at companies we want to work with or just people we like in the industry that are talking about things and what we usually just do is just cold out reach them on LinkedIn. And I kind of think of it as like boxing outside my weight class. I think it's a great opportunity to just gain brand recognition at a low cost by figuring out how you can work with different leaders in the industry and I think webinars are a great opportunity to do that.
Just invite these people to talk about something that's relevant to your audience. And I found that most leaders in the industry are really receptive to talking about something, a topic that's relevant to them when there's little to no work that they have to do besides just showing up and talking about the topic that they're interested in.
David [32:56]:
That's awesome. Yeah. So, very value driven and approaching it with that value first education first there's nothing needed from them approach.
Nicole [33:06]:
Yes, definitely. And we try and make it like you said, very value driven, we don't promote UserIQ on the webinars we're doing. Sales again is, I'll talk about follow-up in a minute but we also make it really easy for all the panelists so we'll give them pre-written emails, social media posts, maybe images to share to encourage them to invite their networks to promote not only themselves as thought leaders but obviously to help drive new leads for us.
But again, everything is super easy. We're not asking them to do anything besides just show up and have a conversation like I'm doing right now with you. But yeah, and I think then again, will last sales to follow up with the registrants afterwards to make sure that process is really tight. But we're not following up with people if they're not a top tier account or they're not a fit for us so those leads will go to marketing if they're not correct.
David [33:58]:
I love that. That just gave me a really good idea for a webinar series on our end. That's fantastic. Yeah. On a month to month basis, are you guys creating goals and new KPI? Is that something you set quarterly? When you go into a new initiative, is that when you set that up? What does that look like?
Nicole [34:15]:
Yeah. So, we set our goals quarterly and my goals and KPIs are based on the organization's goals. And we actually do OKRs, if you've heard of that.
David [34:25]:
Nicole [34:27]:
Yeah. I think it was made popular by Google and now, we use a tool called 15/5 to track it which I really love and we can see how all of our objectives and results align with the overall strategy of our organization. And then, once my objectives and key results are in, my team members can put in their objectives and key results and then they can see how theirs are all tracking to mine and roll up.
So, I really like it. Being able to see how everyone else's goals and strategies affect what you're doing in the organization because I really believe in like that transparency and being able to see how everything aligns together. And so, for example, some of my KPIs, mine don't have to do with a number of MKOs but the grade of them. Already bringing the right leads from our ICP and then also our MQL to SQL ratio is sales able to convert them to a qualified opportunity. So, those are some of mine.
David [35:27]:
I love that. It's very much more qualitative versus quantitative which is a big shift we made internally here this year too. I think it's very valuable especially if you're going after your like ideal customer profile, making sure you're doing the right things to reduce churn and get the right customers and that's fantastic. So, I guess since your journey in the incubator till now, a lot of things have changed. You guys have really just kind of flipped the switch, got growth going, what does the numbers look like? How are you guys doing?
Nicole [35:59]:
Yeah. So, when I joined marketing team of one, now they've got a team of six people, we've acquired a company, we've had to move the office two times to account for pension as well. So, it's been a fun ride and we keep growing and I'm excited to see what the future holds.
David [36:18]:
Yeah. Absolutely. In speaking of that, kind of going into this final quarter you'll be setting some new goals and KPIs like you just said, for Q4 here. Any challenges or opportunities you see kind of wrapping up the year, anything you're excited about maybe?
Nicole [36:31]:
I think the biggest challenges are just always going to be securing enough budget. We always want to do more and there's going to be a limit so it's hard to say ‘no’ to certain activities or technologies and have to push them off. But one of the things I've started to look at our CEO believes and asking one simple question about everything we do and it doesn't make the boat go faster. And if it doesn't make the boat go faster, we shouldn't be doing it.
And that's something I've taken to like ask my team about anything they want to do whether it's something they're doing every day or they believe they should do it because we've done it before. “Do we need to just stop doing this? Is it contributing to our overall ARR and our growth?” If it's not, then you don't need to be doing it. Let's focus on something else and when we have an all-hands company stand meeting every Tuesday, he actually just starts out the meeting by asking people “What did they do to make the boat go faster?”
And I love it because everyone usually shares what someone on their team did or someone on another team that they worked with did to contribute to our company growing. And I think that helps everyone work towards the same goal and maybe let's you not think about “Well, I don't have budget for that or something like that”. But so that I think that's a challenge but in terms of opportunities, I just think there's a lot of opportunity we can easily align across our organization.
That's the fun part of working in a small company. It's great to create a seamless customer experience from the top of the funnel through customer advocacy especially with what we're doing and we're doing a lot of that stuff with aligning with marketing sales customer success and product right now. And I'm excited for all that we're building with that in our organization right now and just making that experience even better for our customers.
David [38:20]:
That's fantastic. Sounds like an amazing opportunity. From the challenge perspective, just a quick question on that. With the “Are we making our boat go faster?”, is there ever a time that you'll get to when marketing initiatives aren't just focused on instant return? Are there ever long term marketing initiatives that can pay off in the long run?
Maybe that's again, branding plays, content players that don't have immediate ROI or is that just something that doesn't have a place startup marketing.
Nicole [38:52]:
No. I think he does definitely have a plan to startup and one of the initiatives that we've relied on so heavily, is Google Organic and it's a really long term play that pays off in the future versus immediately but that's really what I built the marketing program on was Google organic. And we have I mean probably closer to what is I would say 50% of our inbound is driven by Google Organic now, and so things like that.
I mean we still would do other things that may not pay off immediately but may take months if they are going to drive a bigger return for us. I mean Organic is huge, SEO it's huge and I would really challenge anyone if they would say “I'm not going to invest time or money in ranking on search engines or for certain terms or getting content to rank”. That would be a huge challenge if they were not going to invest in that for their business if they're starting out.
David [39:53]:
Yeah. Makes a ton of sense. Well, that's fantastic answer and all together you guys are doing fantastic so I'm just really excited to see what's next for you on the marketplace, what you guys do with your roadmap, and all kinds of stuff. Sounds like to me, exciting rest of the year. What I want to do now is I want to flip over to our lightning around questions. Just five quick questions that you can answer with the first best thought that comes to mind. Are you ready to get started?
Nicole [40:19]:
I am. Yeah.
David [40:20]:
Awesome. You're going to do great. Okay. What advice do you have for early-stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
Nicole [40:27]:
I would say don't listen to it everyone else tells you to do probably. I think everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing from board members to peers or maybe it's a competitor or mentor tells you something but I would say take the advice and do research on it but don't just switch your company strategy or make a drastic change before figuring out the business.
In fact, I think one of the worst things employees can hear is to have their leader go to a meeting or lunch and then come back and say “I just had lunch with so-and-so and their company's doing this, why don't we go try that?” It just takes the focus off your goal and your strategies and pivots into something in the moment. So, that would be my advice.
David [41:10]:
That's really good advice. I like that and it makes a lot of sense because there's just so much information that you can do and you have to find what works for you. Just to be the best there. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
Nicole [41:24]:
I think the biggest skill I encourage my teams to improve on is telling a story with data. So, no matter what role you're in on the marketing team, you need to be able to analyze the data and understand how your role and what you're doing ties back into there our goals and the bigger picture. I want to make sure everyone on my team understands this and that they are all responsible for reporting on metrics that tie into our larger marketing goal.
But more than what they report on the data and then tell a story with the data, if you need to look at trends and tell me what should we do or not do moving forward and that's really a different skill set. And it's harder to train that second one but I think with good team goals and meetings and analysis and talking about things and understanding how the funnel works, it is possible to really train people on that skill set.
David [42:16]:
Are there any educational resources you recommend to your team to learn that or is it mostly again just feedback directly to them as they go through the education process?
Nicole [42:25]:
I think it's really more just than feedback to them as they go through the process and especially sitting down with maybe my director of marketing and sales ops or demand Gen manager who are really sharp on some of those skills and their analytics and being a little tell stories when people have questions you might be newer and fresher in those areas and that hasn't been a typical part of their role.
And if you're like I don't understand this data point or what it means well let's go into the tool and maybe show you these different areas of it and how that relates to, if you're tracking social media, how does that tie in to this part of the pipeline? So, things like that.
David [43:03]:
That's awesome. Well, if you ever do write a report or anything, a book about that, I would definitely read it. That's super interesting. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
Nicole [43:13]:
There's probably two I would say. I think one; people ask me this a lot and I would say insight squared but that's really just because I like to dig into data behind our marketing and see how it's contributing the sales pipeline and figure out what's working best and I really like to get kind of nerdy on the data. Again, going back to data to tell a story but I can see everything of like pipeline, buy lead source, close one the conversion rates and where leads are getting started.
But lets me analyze all that. Without going and bugging people on my team and asking questions about it. So, it's like my sea level view of everything that's going on from the sales and marketing side and then I would also probably say 15/5 like I talked about earlier, because again, it's just tracking our okay ours and what everyone's progress is and I think it's really helped me go from being a little bit of maybe a micromanager at times and asking people “What's the status on these projects?”
And now, the 15/5 thing is that each person takes minutes at the end of each week. To say what they completed that week, what's on their list for next week and then I take five minutes to review it and I can obviously ask follow-up questions but it just made it so much easier and the transparency across the team of what's going on. It's cut out the need for lots of emails, lots of slack questions and lots of other meetings of what's going on or what the status of things are. So, I love it.
David [44:39]:
Yeah. I love that but I wrote that down already 15/5. We will have to put that in the show now, so I'll check it out after. It sounds like an awesome tool what about a brand business or a team that you admire today.
Nicole [44:51]:
What I love is Drift. I think the brand they've built and the content they put out is just incredible. It's kind of weird but I get excited when they announce any products because I enjoy the story they tell around it. They just really make it exciting even saying something like that and I strive to do a better job of just even doing product news like Drift does. But I mean everything they're doing, I like their podcasts, I like their blogs and then they're just killing it.
David [45:20]:
And they are probably the number one most admired brand everyone has Drift has their answer and they're fantastic. We're actually going to be bringing them on the SaaS breakthrough summit at the end of the year as well. They've been a guest on here and what they're doing is absolutely incredible. So, I just want to stop and take a moment say thank you Nicole for your time and being so transparent.
You gave a ton of great information, lots of great content of just building up that marketing department, the choices and decisions you had to make along the way and some of those killer initiatives that are doing a great job for helping us. So, thank you so much for jumping on with us.
Nicole [45:54]:
Of course. Thank you so much for having me. This was a great conversation.
David [45:59]:
It was. There was a ton of fun and really excited to see all your growth, see what's next for you guys and thank you again and have a great day.
Nicole [46:05]:
Of course. You too. Have a good one.
David [46:11]:
I truly hope you enjoyed today's episode. t was wonderful having Nicole and the UserIQ team come on and explain what has been working through their journey. From that incubator day one until now where they're actually generating quality leads. Again, they're getting a ton of traffic from Organic and Google advertising, a lot of great lessons learned. I see them all over the place with webinars and events and it's a fantastic company to follow. (...)

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