Nina, thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. How are you doing today?
Speaker 2 (02:37):
I'm well David. Thanks for having me on.
Yeah, I'm super excited for this episode, first episode of 2021, first of all, but also for your company and what you guys are doing in the marketplace. It's very exciting. But for those of our listeners who don't know about the company yet, maybe explain a bit about Alyce, when it was founded, who your customers are and what you are doing uniquely in the marketplace.
Yeah, happily. So for those that are unfamiliar, Alyce is a personal experience platform and we enable enterprise sellers and marketers to create personal bonds with anybody that they want to do business with by way of one-to-one gifting. And our tagline at Alyce is we say always be personal. And the reason the inspiration behind that is that I really feel that the current approach to B2B outreach with optimized automations, really making us all opt out at the end of the day. And I think you might agree with me, David. And so it's no wonder that, you know, your prospects and customers are harder to get in touch with than ever. So Greg Segall Alyce's CEO. He launched this business at the end of 2015, but it's really been the past 18 months or so in which we've seen a tremendous growth in the market, especially in the enterprise segment. Which makes a lot of sense because that's such a relationship motivated game there. And Alyce really helps create that sense of emotional resonance with your audience.
After doing over 130 episodes of this show and really listening to the themes in the SaaS marketing industry over the past few years, personalization has been pretty much the keyword that wins every year. I think what you guys are doing is fantastic because you're really taking personalization to the real level that it's meant to be not just like you said, the automation and it's so true, I'm you know, I'm overloaded with emails in my inbox that I don't even open. When I can just tell that they're fakely personalized. They're gone already, but yeah, very exciting. And it sounds great.
You're spot on David. And I think, you know, the way, the way I think about this too, is we almost augment the personalization, you know, finally tech and data is kind of catching up to the consumer space where people have, you know, they're light years ahead of us B2B marketers in terms of their ability to use data, to create more of a relevant buyer journey. But you also need to consider that person behind the persona, behind that marketable persona and the way that Alyce is able to leverage personal insights and personal data points about what makes people, people, and then pair great fit guests with that. That's really where we're seeing the response rates that people need right now in such a digitally saturated market.
Quick shout out to Pendo. I think they did something like this to me the other day, and I'm a big wine fan. And literally the email was like, can I get your advice on some wine? And it literally prompted me to open this email. I responded to it. They're like, Hey, can we send you some wine or something like that? And it was literally to get on the podcast. And I was like, that was a great outreach because that was so personal. So it's exactly what you're talking about.
That's like, couldn't have picked a better example, spot on Pendo, whoever did that outreach well done.
And I'm so waiting for my wine. So we'll see how that goes. But getting back to this, when did you actually join the team?
I personally joined up as the head of demand gen actually two years almost around this date, in January of 2019. And I can, thank you kindly. It's been quite the journey. But I, I joined from the consumer space actually, and then I was in food and beverage and hospitality and events for over a decade prior. So, you know, what compelled me to join Alyce was really this idea that we are trying to fundamentally change the way in which people develop relationships and experiences for their audience. And that just like spoke to me on this deep, emotional level. So I had, I had to join. I would be silly not to.
Yeah, that was very smart. And I have such a big place in my heart for food and beverage industry. I came from that, but I think it's such a great educational space for, for learning about people, learning about you know, customer service and support and just how to talk to humans. I think it's a great place to learn that. Now you mentioned it took a couple of years to really get momentum there at Alyce. How did the company find product-market fit and has your ICP, your ideal customer profile had to evolve along the way as you guys grew and shifted the product?
I mean, when you, when you think about it, David, something like gifting can be you, it's a gift and a curse. The idea of gifting can be used by all functions in almost all business contexts. And so it's endless opportunities. So how exactly do you narrow in on the segment of the market that your solution is best fit for? And so, as a result, we had to continually refine our ICP, our ideal customer profile in order to find the primary personas at the right profiled companies to actively market and sell against. And I would say it's an iterative process and the real way that you hone that craft is by listening to the market and listening to the data and understanding exactly where you're driving the most efficient outcomes for your audience and understanding how exactly from a product standpoint, can you continue to drive value in a way that's meaningful to them.
To actually track that from a data specific way, are you putting in like your North star, as far as what an actual win is, and then you're monitoring, which customers are getting like all the way there with the full value expansion, or is it more of a business financial model where you're looking at the data of this customer had our greatest LTV or are those one and the same?
It's both. You need to have a healthy dose dose of both. And I think that there's, there's so much to peel back in both early customers that have significant expansion out of the gate. And there's also a lot to peel back when you look at your churn customers or the reasons for closed lost opportunities. And we start to look at trends for both the wins and the losses. It becomes a lot more clear what the specific criteria you should be crafting your ICP around in order to sell more efficiently into that segment of the market and in order to best service and grow those accounts in the future.
Yeah, very wise. I like that a lot. And I also know that you guys have done some really fun things with the buyer persona names. What have you guys kind of built out?
Yeah, so a la HubSpot, we have too named our economic buyers and our buyer personas. And so Alyce typically is a marketing sponsored but sales executed piece of technology. And so our economic buyers of CMO Sally and Demand Gen Danny and Field Marketer Franny, those are actually different than the personas we need to craft enablement and support around the end users around sales manager, Steve and BDR, Billy because we need to, from a marketing standpoint, be creating experiences and collateral and event opportunities that appeal to both of those audiences, but in really different ways.
Super, super smart. And I love the way that you even personalize them internally in the company, but you also understand there's gatekeepers and then there's their actual end user, which a lot of times doesn't happen. You don't get that clarity very well there. But one of the things I want to talk about is marketing channels, things that you've been using to get the name out there, to bring in new leads, convert them. I know one channel that you guys have been using exceptionally well is email. And we've talked a little about that already. Just personalized emails that don't make it into the inbox. What has been the email strategy that has been working or initiatives that you've been testing for real personalization?
I think David, you know, COVID forced a lot of businesses and marketing organizations to scale back both their tech and their budgets. And as a result, they turned up the volume on their own channels, like email. And I think as a result, that's why we've been seeing this inundation, this flooding of our inboxes with really you know, personalized, but not yet personal things that don't yet spur action. And so at Alyce we've really tried to create a strategy that's very intentional about when we send emails. I think it might surprise some of your audience listening today, but we have never, ever run a nurture stream out of Alyce because we don't believe that nurtures that are one-size fit all and speak to one-to-many are really clever enough and compelling enough to motivate modern day buyers. And so some of the specifics around how we've actually, re-imagined an email strategy that's really successful for us as we've made sure that every email that's ever sent out of Marketo, which is our marketing automation platform, all those emails are plain text. We really want it to look like a friend or a colleague or a peer is messaging you.
That like might break some of the hearts of marketers listening today to say like, I love my stylized emails, but the data shows that emails that look are plain text and look like they're actually coming from an individual person convert better. Other examples of things that we've changed up to have more of a human, more of a personal experience in our email channel is we make sure that it comes from an actual individual on our team who crafts that specific email based on their subject matter expertise. So if I, with the help of lots of colleagues put together an ebook about digital event best practices, well that email promoting it should come from me. It should be written in my voice and it should have my real email address.
So that way, if people respond or have feedback, it really comes to my inbox. And that's, it sounds simple, but it makes the world of difference when people can get to know people put faces to names at your brand, and then eventually, hopefully when you win that business, they already know who the players are. And they're not surprised when I want to listen in on their onboarding call or I ask them to be on one of my future webinar episodes. So you really need to start laying those foundational relationship elements early on. And then the final kind of tip or tactical I'll share with the audience is that we always sign off our emails including our #5to9 interests. And I explained earlier that we really believe in prioritizing that person ahead of their persona. And as a result, we really like to speak to our audience on their five to nine levels, not always their nine to five levels and five to nine are the things they like to do outside of the work. And so my personal email, I think it says in the water, on the water and cheese in that order, because that's who I am as a person. I love being outdoors. I love cheese. I love charcuterie. I come from food and beverage. And so those little insights into me as a person helped create more of an authentic experience for my audience.
My first question coming out of that is what's your favorite cheese, but that seems, it seems obvious it's gotta be (inaudible), right?
I mean, I do love, I love stinky cheeses, but I think without a doubt, my most favorite cheese has to be blue and that's, that's a hot take and unfavorable opinion.
Wow. That's a tough one to take away from
That's the next episode.
That's the next episode? Talking about blue cheese.
Just about blue cheese. You mentioned that you don't do any nurturing on emails. Does that mean that you guys are literally individually writing every email that comes like every follow-up email to every person? I just wanna make sure I understood that.
Yeah. So when I say no nurtures, that means we don't have automated streams that are running on some sort of cadence broadcasting at a certain interval outside of Marketo. We always have a human component to it. So if we have an event coming up or a new feature we want to promote, or if we want people to participate and give a customer story, we create all of those assets individually and intentionally for a certain subset of our marketable database and that's the message that it just goes to. And we use filters in Marketo to help us prioritize and segment based on where they are in their customer journey. But I think another interesting strategy we've taken is that another variable or another dimension we've layered on top of that segmentation is the actual sender's familiarity with that audience. And so I've had emails back to me, you know, and of course they didn't go one to one. It was one to maybe several people at a particular account, but somebody wrote back and they were like, I can't tell if this is really you. Or if this is like a one to many email, it's just so good. It speaks to me on such a personal level. And that's like the North star, I think if you're able to elicit that sort of response.
What was like the texting in that? Like what, what would you put in that, that you got that response?
Yeah, so that one in particular, I was promoting a new piece of content that we had created, and I knew that of our, you know, dozens and dozens of customers, a handful of them, I had had actual conversations with like consultative calls where I sat down with their marketing team and we teased out a couple of topics. And so I referenced that and I didn't get down to like the painstakingly personal level of like, Hey Susie, you know, I remember on this call, I shared this insight instead. It was more like, I know when we spoke last fall, this was a point of interest to your team. And so now that I've created this ebook or, you know, conversational landing page, I thought you guys might want to share it internally and let me know what you think. And it's just that level of familiarity went a really long way with that audience. And it elicited a response, which at the end of the day, like that's what email is designed to do. It's designed to be another opportunity to provide your target audience with a chance to interact with you.
I love that thought process, I guess, where I get confused is how you do those at a mass scale, right? So do you have to have very detailed levels in the funnel or how are you tracking or measuring engagement to make sure that you're talking to the right people, you're talking to the people like you're putting in all the emphasis and effort into people that are qualified.
We have really, really specific stages of our buyer's journey and our sales and marketing funnel and using that data, using those insights, I know precisely the right type of messaging and collateral and material to provide to that audience based on where they're at in their evaluation stage. And so if you don't have like that foundationally set up, it does make it harder to achieve at scale. But once you have your systems talking to each other and you understand exactly the data points that you need to have processes built around, collecting that data for, then it makes that ability to scale the outreach that much more feasible.
That makes sense. That makes sense. And when you did that, I think you guys also shifted away from an MQL. What, talk to me a little bit about your process there of kind of segmenting those leads.
Yeah. So at Alyce, we evaluate an entire accounts in market readiness and we don't just let a singular ebook download or email open, like define that readiness, like an MQL does. MQLs are designed to be prioritization approaches for marketing and sales team to understand like who's doing what and where can we, how can we quantify that engagement in a way to say, like, this is my best guest to say, this person is sales ready. They're ready to be hearing from somebody on the sales side. A marketing qualified approach, which is one that we take thinks about the account holistically. So it's not on an individual lead level, but instead it's saying everybody in aggregate at that account, what are they demonstrating behaviorly? What are the demographics, the technographics of that particular account? And then most importantly, like the variable that is missing in that MQL calculation, which is really like the key to productivity here and the key to prioritization is that accounts in market readiness. And by that, I mean, what are all of those known points of engagement in your, you know, the known parts of your funnel, but then what are also the dark parts of your funnel? What are the things, the behaviors, the content that's being consumed anonymously by people at that account that help show you and help predict their readiness, their likelihood to open an opportunity within you with you within the next 90 days. And we use a piece of technology called 6sense to help us achieve that, but that's completely transformed the way that marketing calculates and has visibility into their impact in the funnel. And then furthermore, it helps understand which accounts does m or excuse me, does marketing need to be prioritizing their spend and resources against which accounts does then sales need to be spending their times and resources against. And then our BDR team are kind of connected tissue between those two functions, where should they be spending their time. So it's just, it's made the world of difference for us on the demand gen side.
Was there a specific time in your marketing department when you brought that in, you felt you had enough data, you were ready to up-level even more to really get you know, even more personalized, even more focused because obviously if you bring in a lot of these systems early on, it can be overwhelming.
Yep. Yeah. So we around this time, last year, we decided to pull the trigger on that. And that's because we had reached a critical mass of customers to your point. We had enough data to really start to hone in on what exactly is our target market. What exactly does that look like in terms of just like the volume of accounts and as a result, it showed us that we needed to take more of an account-based approach, have more of an ABM motion in order to penetrate those accounts efficiently. And then as a result, we needed to start, you know, optimizing our tech purchases and our processes internally in order for us to like really get that data in a good spot we can action off of it.
That's fantastic. Good on you guys. And you know, Ashley, our director of marketing is probably gonna listen to this and she'll have to be ready to get 6senses as well. Cause that sounds amazing. But awesome. Well, moving forward, I know last year, a tough year, 2020 with events, you guys did do a week long event that you named YOUniverse. What were the goals for your event? Why did you guys come up with this particular initiative and what was it all about?
Yeah, so around the end of 2019, it feels like a lifetime ago, David, we had made the strategic decision as a business to go to market and introduce a brand new category because we just didn't feel as though Alyce being a better alternative to say direct mail, which is an existing category and, you know, an existing line item in people's budgets was really doing the service and commanding the attention of the market of the approach that we were cultivating, this approach of being personal in sales and marketing. And so at the beginning of 2020, we went to market with our new category of personal experience. And that approach really means, you know, looking critically at your customer's journey and transforming as many of those one to many touches into truly one-to-one moments for your audience. Like I just kind of gave those email examples.
And so we decided to kick off our lightning strike if you will, for that category creation with YOUniverse. And so the way YOUniverse was actually stylized was it was capital Y O U niverse. And the intention behind that is because the event was really designed to be all about you all about the attendee. And it was not designed to be about me or about Alyce or about us as the host. And I think that's where many, you know, sellers and marketers are led astray, is that it's all about me, me, me with their outreach. And instead it needs to be all about you. You use, we really were like, how do we create an experience? It's all about the attendees. And so you know, you mentioned we had a week long event that we had hosted that first entire day nine to five, or I think it was like nine to six thirty was all just programming that appeal to people's personal interests, their personal passions, those five to nine interests, like I had mentioned.
And we had things like there was a ventriloquist on talking about techniques. There was somebody on doing a drawing class, somebody made desserts, somebody did mixology and it was cool cause they, all the hosts were people in our B2B sales and marketing network. You know, we had John Miller from Engagio mixing up cocktails and it was just so cool to show people in their five to nine passions and not just their nine to five responsibilities, like we've kind of you know, manipulated them into in our professional worlds. And so that event, you know, the, the response was amazing and it certainly came through in the numbers. But the last thing I'll share there is that the metrics that we saw that were so encouraging really just validated this hypothesis, we'd had that, you know, there's a fundamental shift in how prospects and customers expect to do business today and it's on businesses to do better and to create more compelling personal experiences for them. And I do think that'll kind of play out in MarTech in a pretty interesting ways in 2021.
What are your thoughts there? What do you think is going to happen?
I think that we will see a, you know, emerging technologies that really help us understand our audiences more on that personal level. And I don't mean like more, you know, enrichment providers that help us just with like the contact and company data. I instead mean things like Crystal knows that shows you how the personality of your audiences and how should you craft messaging or reach out to them in ways that you will see greater response based on their personality traits or things like Lavender, where you can understand the tonality of your emails and how they'll actually resonate with that person based on their preferences. And I just think that it's going to open the door for more tech to help us be more personal.
That is absolutely incredible to think about, but also a little terrifying as we get closer, you know, AI that knows us from a psychological level and can you know, know how to talk to us the best. But I think everything that you're saying and talking about is fantastic. My only question here is why did you guys decide to create your own category? Whenever I think about category Kings, I think by the book Play Bigger and just the idea of categories and there's something to be said for building within a category and dominating it in your own way and something else, which is creating your own category because there's a lot of thought leadership that has to go into it. And obviously YOUniverse, the event itself was thought leadership. It was creating your identity. It was just getting in front of people to talk about, you know, your category. Where is that distinction made? Why did you guys choose to build your own category versus just trying to like revolutionize the category that was already created?
I too am a lifelong subscriber to Play Bigger. But I think the, to answer your question there, David, when you decide to go to market with a new category prior to doing that, you're at a fork in the road, and one way is showing you that you can be the best of a current offering. You can be the best of an existing category, or if you feel as though that doesn't correctly represent the DNA and the spirit and the approach of your product, then you can choose to hedge your bets and create your own. One that's more fitting for you. And so the, the crossroads that Alyce was at, we said, we don't actually believe we're a better direct mail provider because at its core, like it's DNA, direct mail is all about the sender. It's all about like, how do I get my logo on my cool swag and get it into people's hands. We really believe that Alyce was actually a recipient first platform. And so we're like, there is no category out there right now that we can correctly self identify with. And we really believe that this concept of a personal experience would command the market's attention in the way that, you know, economic buyers right now are commanding us to, and the shift that it deserves. So that was sort of the inspiration there, but it was definitely deliberate after some long conversations and late nights.
Yeah. Those are tough. Those are tough conversations to have for sure. I mean, they're the fundamental parts of your business and they take a long time to do, and it's not just a quick experiment. It it's, you know, foundational to your business. But that sounds great. And we talked a lot about wins. You know, things have been working in 2020 here into 2021 for marketing. What about hard lessons from things that didn't work out? There's, there's equally as many lessons to learn from things when they fail, right?
Totally. I mean, I think there are more probably at least in my book, but I definitely think an investment that didn't pan out the way I had expected. And I, and I honestly, I'm glad that it didn't because it's challenging me to think about spending those dollars in different ways this year is, our virtual trade shows, our virtual, you know, large scale events in person events were a critical component to our go to market strategy heading into 2020. And the reason for that makes sense, we are a personal experience brand, well, what's the best way to achieve that? In person. And so when that opportunity or that channel was cut off from us, I, you know, we kind of reallocated our budgets and our dollars to invest into, you know, our tried and true activations just in a digital capacity.
And I didn't see anybody that was able to create a equal exchange of value between host, attendee and sponsor. And those are like really like the three different players in the event sponsorship world. And I saw platforms and organizations really optimized for that attendee experience, but I didn't see that equal exchange of value between sponsor and attendee, like that ability to have meaningful interactions and real time engagement. And, you know, with the computer sitting between you and your buyers or you and your prospects, it just made a lot, a lot more challenging. So for me, that was a huge lesson that it wasn't simply enough just to take a winning in-person strategy and move it online. Instead in 2021, we need to think about how do we connect with our buyers in virtual ways more effectively.
I love that. That's, that's fantastic. And you already mentioned kind of looking forward where you see the MarTech landscape changing, which is obviously a fantastic new revolution for personalization, but what about other challenges or opportunities that you see ahead of you? I mean, as the industry begins to accept the new, the new category as well, maybe that opens up new opportunities for you.
I mean, I think primary challenge that the market will face is how to stay competitive in this hyper digital world that we're living in where our digital channels are, you know, at an all time saturation level and just how naturally competitive B2B selling and marketing has become because of the inundation of tech. It used to be like the MarTech 5,000 now 7,000. Now it's probably like Googleplex. I don't even know how many tech are out there, but I really do believe that the businesses that figure out how to get closest to their customers will win. And so like while I see that as a challenge in turn, I see the opportunity that, you know, community building and, you know customer marketing and demand generation almost morphing into this like one super function, because I really think that the people that find ways to protect the basis of their business and grow premium accounts are going to be at a significant advantage over the competition next year and into 2022 and beyond.
I definitely agree with you. And I see that in the same light, you know, it's going to be interesting. We've had episodes on here, we've talked about, you know, the industry itself is going to have, you know, maybe a fire sale where you're gonna see a lot of bigger companies buying out the smaller ones. But ultimately we'll always have competitive brands in the space that need to find ways to stand out to really market in creative ways. I'm really excited for you guys. I really truly love the business. Love the idea. I love the personalization factor. So I'm really excited to see you move forward and continue to just grow and thrive in the industry. So congratulations on everything so far. What I want to do now though, is I want to flip over to our lightning round questions, ask five quick questions that you can answer with the first best thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?
Yes, I'm nervous, but I'm ready.
Don't be nervous. You've been doing amazing so far. This is going to be great. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
Starting marketing today, I'd say invest in your customers. If you, if you make your customers look like rockstars to their customers, you will win and you will eventually be able to actually sell through and not to your customer base.
I love that. That's great advice. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
I'm going non-conventional, I think soft skills it's where it's at. Soft skills, meaning like social emotional intelligence and your ability to think outside the box and, you know, intellectual curiosity, those, those are really just equate to how empathetic of a business person are you. And as a result, your strategies will mirror that from a marketing side.
So understanding EQ. So then on my follow-up question would be the best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about EQ or soft skills?
Yeah, actually I'm a fan of Marketing Mutiny growth workshop. It's put on by Jesse Roew at G2 and Adam who leads marketing at HelpScout. And it's this super cool six week course. So anybody that's curious on playbooks and templates and how exactly can you achieve sustainable growth through marketing? I recommend that you check him out, Marketing Mutiny growth workshop.
Adam has been on this podcast. He's fantastic at what he does. I did also sign up for that. He mentioned i on the show and I signed up for it's really incredible, highly recommended as well.
Love that. He's awesome.
Yeah. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
I mean, besides Alyce, which I honestly use every day as a demand gen marketer, I got to go 6senses. They totally helped us think differently about predictive analytics in our business context. So big shout out to those guys.
I love it. Haven't heard of them before today, so I'll check them out. It sounds fantastic. And what about a brand business or team that you admire today?
I'm a big fan of Gongs. Every time I see an email and add a social posting, I stop and read it and that's a sign of effective marketing. So shout out to all those gongsters hustling over there.
The gongsters that's hilarious, but yeah, that's fantastic answers. Nina, thank you so much for jumping on the podcast with us. You shared a ton of great information. Lots of good wisdom to start off 2021. Thanks again for jumping on and sharing some time.
Happily. Thanks for having me, David.
It was a great time. Have a great day and we'll talk to you soon.