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A Primer on Developer Marketing

TL;DR marketing to developers is hard, and you are probably doing it wrong.

The unstoppable rise of the developer

My former Acquia colleague David Churbuck introduced me to RedMonk’s Steve O’Grady and his 2014 book about how developers are taking over the world, called The New Kingmakers. The idea is that successful companies empower developers to solve problems instead of getting in their way by dictating legacy technology and process.

It sounds obvious now, but it wasn’t so long ago that everyone who sold technology started at the top of an organization, typically the CIO, and worked their way down. Important technology decisions were made on the golf course or at the steakhouse, and companies like Oracle, IBM, and SAP sold billions of dollars of enterprise software this way for decades.

But the explosion of open source and cloud changed everything. Instead of waiting for technology to be handed down by the CIO, developers could now pick whatever best product they wanted, and quick deploy them on AWS, Heroku, DigitalOcean, etc. We even coined the term Shadow IT to describe the stealth adoption of unsanctioned technology. O’Grady captures this disconnect nicely in a Venn diagram:

The New Kingmakers

So while the balance of power has clearly shifted to developers, many enterprise technology marketers continue to chase the CIO with old school enterprise software marketing tactics. Does this sound familiar:

First, we’ll create a whitepaper and put it befind a form. Then we’ll spam errr syndicate it to a bunch of opt-in(ish) email lists. Then our BDRs will call them Schedule a demo. Profit!

Ditch your traditional tech marketing playbook

One of easiest ways to fail at developer marketing is to fall in love with marketing best practices that were formed by companies who don’t sell to developers.

I’ll be honest: I’m jealous of my peers at companies like HubSpot and Marketo who market to marketers. It just seems so much easier. I know how CMOs are measured — how we buy — the language we use. I’m a good proxy for marketing to other CMOs. But I’m a horrible proxy for marketing to developers. I’m reasonably technical; I was a CS major, ran technical sales at a few enterprise software companies, and I’m currently the de-facto WordPress developer at RapidMiner. But I’ve never had to deploy code hundreds of time a day, scale a React.js application, or secure a bunch of Docker containers.

So just running the traditional one sized fits all tech marketing playbook isn’t going to work. The developer audience is particularly wary, and as O’Grady puts it:

Developers have, out of necessity, built up an immunity to traditional marketing tactics. Print ad placement doesn’t work because they spend most of their time online. Online advertising is ineffective because they block ads. Forced registration for white papers fails because they don’t care about your high level whitepapers. Media messaging is ineffective because the developers know more about the technologies than the reporters do. Analyst webinars are ignored for similar reasons. And if you throw a conference featuring your executives talking about their projects, expect your WiFi to crash as developers tune out the talk and hack their way through the sessions.

Respect the community

GitHub has millions of users. Over 100,000 users contribute to Drupal. MongoDB has been downloaded 20,000,000 times. RapidMiner has over 70,000 active users a month. The single most important factor in the growth of companies who sell to developers is the strength of the community. Even Microsoft gets this, open sourcing the hugely popular .NET framework to encourage even more adoption.

But successful developer communities aren’t built by marketing, and sometimes happen in spite of it. They almost always form organically around a product/project that developers love to use, combined with a a shared sense of purpose by the community to do something meaningful.

The danger comes in treating your developer community like a CRM or marketing automation system. Don’t expect that you can convert them with a lead form, “nuture” them with emails, harass them into taking a demo, and close. This approach works to a point, but it won’t the create the kind of sustainable value that comes from having a world-class developer brand.

Go into your developer marketing efforts knowing that many of the positive effects of building a strong developer brand are frustatingly hard to measure. But at the end of the day, developers only really trust other developers. You’ll have to have some patience to get the measurement right, and have conviction in the connection between longer term brand investments and the advocacy and revenue that comes from them.

Great marketing starts with great documentation, and deeply technical content

Your product might be the most important innovation since Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, but if no one understands how to use it, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. Treat great documentation the same way you treat building a great user experience. It’s that important.

For example, Twilio, Stripe, and Soundcloud all have amazing (and up to date, that’s really important) documentation, complete with thorough tutorials across multiple languages, getting started guides, detailed API overviews, working examples, and more. Their documentation makes it easy (and fun) to use their products and APIs.

And their documentation is easy to find and use. When I ran marketing at Acquia, we had all of our excellent product documentation behind the dreaded lead form, much to the dismay of the engineering team. I argued for it, because this form was one of the best sources of “leads” without consideration for the negative impact it would have on our developer brand.

Every few months or so, Acquia’s head of engineering would ask if we’d consider un-gating the documentation. And each time I refused, armed with the data showing how many leads were sourced via the documentation form.

But I was way wrong; the kind of mistake you make when you overweight short term goals like leads with long term objectives like brand building. Eventually we did the right thing and liberated all of our great documentation and you know what? All the developers who converted via our documentation forms ended up converting somewhere else on our site — webinars, product trials, etc — if they were really interested. None of our metrics went down.

Outside of documentation, creating great developer content requires deep focus and commitment. Developers aren’t going to read your lightweight ebooks and “10 awesome ways to speed your React.js app” listicles. Your content should try to be three things:

  1. Relevant. Is your topic relevant to your developer audience? Bring your own developers / experts / and community into the ideation process. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill a content calendar by just asking your users what they would like to read.
  2. Honest. Marketers love to spin. We love to write about all the game-changing, paradigm-shifting stuff our products do. But developers don’t grade marketing on the strength of our superlatives, they want to know what you really do.
  3. Actionable. Will the reader do something different or try something new as a result of your content?

For example, before the launch of Drupal 8 last year we turned a series of blog posts from Acquia’s Angie webchick Byron into the 40-page Ultimate Guide to Drupal 8. It’s still a popular resource for developers looking to move to Drupal 8, and it checks all three boxes.

Another example comes from Codeship, a continuious integration startup in Boston. With a tiny marketing team, they have built a blog newsletter subscription of over 65,000 users by providing detailed technical content on a wide range of topics. Some content is specific to Codeship, a lot of it isn’t. But all of it has been vetted for technical depth and accuracy, and is highly relevant to their developer audience.

The type of content doesn’t really matter — blogs, webinars, podcasts, etc. all can work. RapidMiner regularly gets over 2,000 people to register for our monthly webinars on data science. Andreessen Horowitz runs a great podcast on a variety of technical topics. Just make sure your content is relevant, honest, and actionable and it will do well.

Eliminate all your bullshit messaging

Most marketing copy is awful. The aforementioned David Churbuck of Acquia has a great perspective on the straight talk that is missing from marketing. David is former journalist, and the founder of forbes.com:

As a corporate communicator, a so-called “content marketer,” I have a conflicted view of the disease as both a carrier and critic. Without casting stones inside my own house, let me just say that I fight a constant, daily war against the forces of derivative babble-speak, and think, after over a decade within the walls of corporate communications (after two spent in journalism), that I understand the source of the pestilence.

David blames our jargon-laden bullshit addiction on the symbiotic relationship between: 1) the press, and their need to oversimplify complex technology 2) industry-analysts who reward vendors who speak with a common language and 3) Google, and our insatiable need to rank for every possible search keyword.

If you are really marketing to developers, then you need to write for them too. In plain English. Without hyperbole. And buzzwords. Developers want specifics. They want to know what you do, and don’t do, and exactly how you do it differently than whatever approach they are using today.

Take a look at your product page. Does it cover the specific technical details of your product, or does it regurgitate phrases that you are trying to rank for on Google or industry analyst-speak?

My colleague Ingo, the founder and President of RapidMiner, reminds me of this daily: there are over 1500 operators in RapidMiner Studio, but you’d never know it because we’ve buried them on our site. Our goal is to use product pages to narrow someone quickly into detailed technical documentation, tutorials, samples, etc. It shoudn’t take more than two clicks from the homepage to learn about exactly how RapidMiner does logistic regression or deep learning.

Note that the total bullshit filter doesn’t have to apply to your your mission/vision statement. It’s okay to aspire to inspire. For example, Kubernetes is “an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.” Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. But Nginx provides the more visionary “Flawless Application Delivery for the Modern Web”. But get to an Nginx product page, and you are one click away from the deeply technical content developers expect, like this on the Nginx Content Cache.

Lastly, if you are really the leading platform for something, you don’t really need to say it. And lets all agree to stop using “seamless integration”. There has to be a better way.

Make events a core part of your strategy, but do them differently

Developers love events. They are happy to spend their nights and weekends networking with their peers. Decisions that used to get made on the golf course are now being made over the weekend at camps, cons, and meetups. But your developer event strategy has to be more thoughtful than just sponsoring a tradeshow and staffing it with your sales team.

In some cases, you’ll have to do the traditional big tradeshows. If you sell security software, you’ll need to be at the RSA Conference because all your competitors will be there. If you are in the AWS ecosystem, you’ll probably sponsor re:Invent because of the huge developer audience. But don’t just staff your booth full of eager BDRs looking to scan “leads”. Make sure your booth is staffed with people who can answer technical questions and connect with the audience.

But there are lots of other ways to use events to reach developers without the high cost of big tradeshows.

Hold your own conference. Holding your first user conference is scary. You’ve got to build an audience from scratch. It’s expensive. You’ll struggle to get sponsors. You’re entire marketing team will be all hands on deck for months making it happen. But it’s so worth it, and it gets a little bit easier every year.

Jason M. Lemkin of SaaStr suggests that companies hold their first conference once they get to 100 customers or so, and I agree.

Participate in community events and meetups. The easiest way to get started with events is to find and supports the ones that are already happening. Chances are, there are already well established events happening around your product, and they would love to have someone on your technical team participate. Set aside some of your marketing budget to cover travel and arm your expert with plenty of swag.

Be creative, and have fun. You probably don’t have an unlimited marketing budget with and the ability to write a $500,000 check to become the Mega-diamond sponsor of every tradeshow. And thats okay, because brainpower and creativity scale much better than a marketing budget. Here are two good examples of creative developer campaigns:

  1. New Relic has given out well over 100,000 t-shirts, and credits them for a lot of their early traction. Seriously. Never underestimate the impact a brilliant developer wearing your t-shirt can have on a movement.
  2. DigitalOcean, in partnership with GitHub, runs an annual Hacktoberfest event to encourage contribution to open source. Make 4 pull requests from a bunch of open source projects and you’ll be rewarded with a fancy limited-edition Hacktoberfest t-shirt.

Why you should find a developer evangelist

Steve Francia was the Chief Developer Advocate of MongoDB, where he was responsible for the developer experience of MongoDB and led a large team of developer evangelists. He was an early employee and his evangelism team had a huge impact on the early traction of MongoDB.

What does a developer evangelist do? Their job is to lead the grassroots adoption of technology in a quest to win the hearts and minds of developers. There are lots of ways for evangelists reach developers — ranging from speaking at conferences to blogging code samples to participating in developer communities. Evangelists address the the trust gap that developers have with traditional marketing, and they provide unique insights back into the product team as they are often the closest to the users.

Whether or not they live in marketing doesn’t really matter, and they really shouldn’t. I’ve been lucky to work with two great developer evangelists over the past few years. eGandalf aka James Stout was a developer evangelist on my team at EPIServer. James was initially a customer and active participant in the EPIServer developer community forums. We hired James on the marketing team to increase engagement with our developer and partner community, through providing everything from direct mentoring and coaching to code samples and working applications for customers. James led our highly successly Office Hours program, a weekly Google Hangout covering a broad range of topics for EPIServer developers.

Even a single evangelist hire can make a difference. And the best ones aren’t made, they are found. Chances are there is someone already on your technical team who is playing this role, and would love to make the transition. So go find yours.

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Building a Data (Science) Driven Marketing Team

Marketers like to claim that we’re data driven, but are we… really?

Sure, we track our lead conversion funnel from acquisition through conversion to paid customers. We use campaign attribution to figure out where to invest our budget to generate the highest return. We personalize our emails, A|B test websites and landing pages, and create beautiful reports in Excel or Tableau proving our contribution to growth. Data certainly isn’t the problem. From Salesforce and Google Analytics to DMPs to enterprise-scale data warehouses and data lakes, marketers have more data than ever and plenty of ways to report on it.

The real challenge is still turning data into “oh shit, now what do I do now?” And because that’s hard, I think most of what we end up doing is making data-informed decisions — using data to reinforce our intuition and prior experience. Certainly a positive step forward from Mad Men marketing where an unknown half of marketing spend was wasted. But being informed by data is something very different from being driven by it.

If we’re honest, we’re missing the most important part of the data-driven marketing equation; the part that separates us from our own bias, uncovers the hidden insights not visible in pretty charts and graphs, and most importantly reveals the mathematical truth behind the decisions we’re making.

The data science.

Data science already sits at the center of many innovative organizations. For example, Alphabet created Google Brain, a research team dedicated to solving hard problems around deep learning and artificial intelligence. While mostly a research organization, some of the innovations from the Brain team have already made their way into consumer products like Google Photos. Tesla has analyzed over 100 million miles worth of autonomous driving data, using data science to build self-driving cars. Netflix uses data science to figure out what TV shows to produce.

Building Your Data Science Team

I see the data science team as an evolution of the marketing operations function, who are responsible for marketing technology, processes, and analytics. The head of marketing operations is often thought of as the Chief of Staff for CMOs, and is a natural home for data science efforts in marketing.

While there are lots of different titles for data science, there are two primary sets of skills you’ll to add to the marketing operations team:

1) Data scientists blend machine learning and business acumen to drive marketing teams to actionable learnings. They are responsible for formulating a growth hypothesis and then prototyping, validating, and deploying predictive solutions into the business. Common skills include expertise in machine learning and statistics; proficiency in predictive modeling tools like R, Python, and RapidMiner; data visualization and storytelling; and the ability to translate business requirements into testable hypothesis. Here’s how AirBNB hires data scientists.

2) Data engineers tackle the complexities of access to data, handling the infrastructure and tooling for the data scientist team. Marketers continue to drown in data, and this role helps ensure data scientists have access to the complete picture of a customer by connecting data across hundreds of structured and unstructured sources. Common skills include SQL/NoSQL database systems, data modeling and ETL tools, data warehouses, and Apache Spark.

There’s no doubt that data science roles are hard to find and expensive to hire. And the problem is only going to get worse in the next few years, as organizations scramble to recruit data science talent. McKinsey predicts that by 2018 demand for data scientists is projected to exceed supply by more than 50 percent.

Three Marketing Data Science Projects to Start Right Away

So you’ve decided to invest in building data science team — great decision! Here are the first three projects you should look at:

1. Use machine learning to score leads. Existing approaches to lead scoring are mostly based on gut and instinct, causing too many unqualified leads to pass through to sales and while better qualified leads sit untouched. A data scientist can combine data from all your sources — CRM, marketing automation system, product usage, social media — and then train a model to predict leads that turn into “Closed Won” opportunities with the highest frequency. If you are doing Account-based Marketing, you can score accounts in a similar way. Here’s where you can learn more on how we recently implemented predictive lead scoring at RapidMiner.

2. Prevent customer churn before it happens. Churn applies to every company with a recurring revenue stream. A data scientist can look at all the attributes of a customer (called features) and help identify the specific ones that predict someone is likely to churn. Then we can proactively target specific offers to the customer before they churn. Here’s a great article from David Skok on the financial impact of minimizing churn.

3. Use clustering to segment customers and personalize offers. Dominos Pizza uses over 85,000 structured and unstructured data sources to segment customers, allowing individual stores to tailor coupons.

So Can’t I Just Buy a Predictive Marketing Product?

Absolutely not. Data science is too important to be outsourced to a product. For example, at my previous company we deployed one of the most popular predictive lead scoring products and found that:

  • The data science was a black box. We knew which leads were better, but not why.
  • Every time we wanted to tweak the predictive lead scoring model, we had to wait for the vendor. Changes took months.
  • Each new use case for data science required purchasing a new product. For example, we wanted to look at building a predictive model to identify targets for our Account Based Marketing program, but it required purchasing a separate product.

But most of all, predictive marketing products can’t replace the curiosity and creativity of a skilled data scientist.

They provide the insight behind the action. They know how to formulate and prove a hypothesis. They understand the difference between correlation and causation, and how to prove it. Machines still need to be taught how to learn, and the black-box approach of predictive marketing products removes the humanity that is still required to deliver breakthrough data science.

(crossposted from rapidminer.com)

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An Ode to Sonos

I’ve been using Sonos since 2005, when I wanted to add whole-house audio to a new home I had just purchased. At the time, multi room audio was a complicated mess — full of legacy companies requiring extensive wiring and proprietary controls I didn’t have. Sonos was exactly what I needed, so I took the plunge. Here’s a screenshot of the Sonos community account I created shortly after becoming a customer:

Sure Sonos was expensive, and buying a bunch of hardware from a tiny startup was risky — the life an early adopter. But it paid off, and 11 years later I’m using my Sonos more than ever. The company has become the model for everything that is right about building a modern consumer electronics brand. Here’s why:

It just works.

When Steve Jobs would talk about Apple products, he would always talk about how they just work. While most would argue that’s no longer the case with Apple, it certainly has been for Sonos. You never have to reboot the devices, or rollback an update, or workaround annoying bugs. They always do what they are supposed to do, and have since the very start.

In a time when we’re expected to replace our phones, TVs, and other gadgets every few years, it’s nice to see hardware that was built-to-last. My Sonos devices are by far the most reliable home electronics gear I own. They. Just. Work.

It gets better. For free!

I’m still running some the same ZonePlayer 100 devices I first bought in 2005, and they continue to get better with fantastic software updates. Sonos has been great about adding support for streaming music services. They were early adopters of Spotify, and moved pretty quickly to support Apple Music. And the iOS + Android apps improve with each update, including the most recent one that lets you control Sonos via the iOS lockscreen.

To the best of my knowledge, Sonos has never released a feature that doesn’t work on their old hardware. They easily could, and would make more money by doing it.

It does one thing amazingly well.

Sonos never lost focus on audio. I’m sure they’ve considered expanding into video and other things, but to date they haven’t. The clarity of focus is what has let Sonos continue to stay well ahead of competitors like Apple, Amazon, and Google, who all offer some form of multi-room(ish) streaming devices.

My only feature request

Sonos, if you are listening, I only need one thing: embrace the Amazon Echo. Your hardware and software combined with the Echo AI would be amazing, and I’d immediately sell my current hardware (+ two Echo’s) if you had it.

And please, don’t build your own voice recognition. You’ll never match the AI capabilities and breadth of the Amazon ecosystem.

But whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the values that have made you the best consumer eletronics company on the planet. And thanks for keeping music in my life.

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When Sales and Marketing Best Practices Become Average Practices

No one got fired for buying IBM?

In the 80s, IBM dominated tech from the desktop to the datacenter.

Buyers often picked IBM because they were safe choice, not the right choice. It didn’t matter. Buying IBM became the accepted best practice for CIOs. It was an emotional decision, not a rational one. People generally don’t like taking risks, and IBM was the easy, safe choice. Of course this mentality led to high costs and failed IT projects, but at least no one got fired making a decision to buy IBM. Or did they? More on that later.

The same best practice phenomenon is happening today in sales and marketing. Most tech companies run the same sales and marketing playbook, including the Sirius Decisions lead waterfall, the sales specialization + BDR model taught by Aaron Ross in Predictable Revenue, inbound marketing from HubSpot, and so on.

Study these best practices. Learn from them. Be inspired by them. Implement some of them. But don’t blindly follow them just because you think everyone else is, because that makes them just average practices.

For example, the current BDR tactic du-jour gone wrong — the meme-laden breakup email. I know breakup emails sometimes work; they certainly got my attention when I first started getting them. But they are no longer fun or funny when I get tens of them a week.

Don’t follow the playbook. Be the playbook.

Truly great companies almost always pave their own way. They take best practices and make them even better practices.

The difference between copying a playbook and being inspired by one is understanding. If you really understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and there’s someone else doing it better than you, then by all means copy their idea but do it better. Make it yours. Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

For example, Salesforce re-invented growth for the SaaS era, as explained in great detail (111 plays!) by Marc Benioff in Behind the Cloud. Box later took the Salesforce playbook and adapted it to their land+expand freemium model. Companies like Slack and InVision succeed with a relentless focus on building beautiful, usable products, matched to a sales and marketing model that’s about eliminating friction in the buying process, not creating it.

But if you are implementing a best practice just because it’s the new thing that all of the hot startups and thought leaders are writing about, then take a step back and study the problem more or you’ll probably end up with something much closer to average than best.

In the end, people actually did end up getting fired over buying IBM. The 90s saw the accelerated rise of companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, and eventually open source. Companies who held on to the IBM status quo for too long were exposed to competitors who could do things better/cheaper/faster with superior technology. The safe choice suddenly became the risky choice. The best practice became the average practice.

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How I Got Past the Awkwardness of Self Promotion Without Becoming a Kardashian

Every time I come across one of those “top marketer” lists on Twitter or LinkedIn, a nervous anticipation builds as I quickly scan for my name. Sometimes I’m on them, most of the time I’m not. They are marketers we watch speak at tech conferences, follow on Twitter, subscribe to on Medium, and read about in the press.

People who consistently make these lists deserve all the recognition they get. They are marketing royalty — from brilliant thinkers like Tom Tunguz to high growth marketing leaders like Meg Eisenberg to the Vala Afshar Twitter bot — Wait, he’s a real person?!? 🙂

And every single one of them is exceptionally good at self promotion — and all make it it a priority.

To be honest, self-promotion always seemed like a bit of an ego-serving, distracting waste of time. I really love the GSD grind of marketing; working through something on a whiteboard, writing in a Google Doc, or digging into Google Analytics.

But looking closely at the list above, I realized that nearly every single person in the tech CMO influencer infographic above has directly influenced my career in some way; from the computer science classes I shared with Marc Andreesen (way back in the day), to the actionable advice I read every morning from people like Jason M. Lemkin. Something struck me when I read this particular list of influencers:

Self promotion works when what you have to say could actually materially impact someone’s day-to-day, their life, and their careers.

Think about the ways you’ve been educated or inspired by people on this list. Who hasn’t included the Marketing Technology Landscape from Scott Brinker into a PowerPoint deck? Jon Miller and Sangram Vajre are giving us new ways to think about growth, Rand Fishkin studies everything about SEO so we don’t have to — and then graciously shares it back with us.

[Insert Your Name Here]

There are so many great new marketers I learn about every day, many just a few years into their career. They are wisely making time for self promotion, and while the idea of it turns most people off, there are just too many positives that come from doing it well.

You’ll advance in your career. As you progress in your career, you’ll find that most people are hired through their network. In nearly all cases, your best resume is your network and influence. Both take time to build, so you can’t get started early enough.

You’ll learn to how to communicate results. Many marketers struggle to translate tactical actions into business outcomes.

In particular, the process of writing forces you to step back and think about how to succinctly communicate the impact of your work.

You’ll help build your company brand. Your personal reputation will benefit your company — awareness, hiring, etc.

It reflects on your marketing skills. If we can’t market ourselves, why would a current (or potential employer) think we are the right fit to grow their company?

You’ll feel good for giving back. That single Medium post or conference presentation could become the catalyst for someone else’s career. Seriously, how great is that?

It boosts your confidence. The first post I published to my new Medium publication was advice for aspiring tech CMOs. Between Medium and LinkedIn, it got nearly 10,000 views and over 500 Likes, reaching people well outside of my network.

How to Get Started

Ditch the excuses and start writing. I’ve heard them all: But there’s no time. No one is going to read it. I’ve got nothing important to say. Wrong. The truth is that no matter where you are in your career, someone will benefit from the lessons you have to share.

So create your own Medium publication and get going.

Leverage tech vendors and industry conferences to expand your reach. Tech companies are always looking for customers to speak at their customer conferences, roadshows, and webinars. Nearly all of the “top marketers” you see on those lists use their vendor to increase visibility. They will be thrilled to hear from you. Connect with the account management team at your favorite tech vendor to get started.

Industry conferences take more time, planning, and a bit of luck — but they are a great way to gain recognition among your peers. Conference agendas are often locked many months in advance, so make sure you start researching speaking opportunities 3–6 months in ahead of the conference. Here’s a great list of marketing conferences from Curata as a starting point.

Host or attend a local networking event. Peer groups and networking events are a great way to gain reputation and share knowledge. I’m a member of a small peer group of marketing leaders in Boston, and even though we only meet for a few hours or so a quarter, I’ve found the time incredibly valuable. I always walk away with actionable learning, and it’s helped me build a positive reputation among my Boston marketing peers.

Whatever your role/passion, go see if there is an existing group and join it.

If there isn’t, start one. All it takes is great content, some research and networking with your peers on LinkedIn, and a conference room.

But please, don’t become a Kardashian.

The Kardashian empire was built on relentless, shameless, self promotion. Nearly every Instagram or tweet is a carefully calculated statement, designed to build the Kardashian brand or sell whatever product they happen to be endorsing at the moment.

They have turned being famous for being famous into an empire worth tens of millions.

But thats not the kind of self promotion I’m advocating for. There’s a fine line between shameless promotion and the kind that helps build a reputation and career. Gary Vaynerchuk built his business by being a relentless but likable self promoter. He does it the right way, by being authentic, helpful, and having something important to say.

Do that, and you’ll start showing up on all those best-of marketing lists too.


Time for your self-promotion: Click the ❤ to recommend this article, and write a response with even a single lesson you want to share.

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Why I’m Killing the Marketing Qualified Lead

Five years ago, I was sitting at my desk working on a PowerPoint pitch for an upcoming customer visit. My boss stopped by and asked me a question that would change my life.

Hey Tom, can you run marketing?

Prior to that moment, I had spent my entire career in technical sales with a few short stints in product management. I had worked closely with marketing throughout my career, but I had never been a marketer. I had never generated a lead. I had never managed a budget. I had never launched a campaign.

So I of course said yes, but then reality quickly set in. I had to scramble to learn modern marketing, and learn it fast. I started by reading everything I could find from the companies I admired. Marketo’s Definitive Guides. HubSpot’s Blog. Eloqua’s Content Grid. I read these over and over until I could nearly recite them word for word, and recreate the important visuals on a whiteboard.

I was asked to join marketing at a time when growth hacking was just becoming a thing, and it happened fit my background. I’m not a brand guy (a weakness I’m trying to address) but I love technology and math, so the language of marketing automation spoke to me. I implemented Marketo at my first CMO job at Ektron and then again at Acquia, where our team won the 2014 Marketo Revvie award for most dramatic business impact.

There’s no arguing that the MQL, and the broader sales and marketing funnel, transformed marketing. It forced alignment, requiring sales and marketing to agree on the traits and actions that made a good lead. It required a good content strategy to guide prospects through the complex B2B buying journey. It drove a consistent set of lead management processes that made it easy to measure conversions at key points. And maybe most importantly, it let marketing to prove our contribution to revenue.

I loved the MQL. I owe my marketing career to it. But now I’m over it. I’ve learned that more isn’t always better, and I think the MQL treadmill is slowly starting to suck the life out of marketing.

Enter the PQL.

I first heard of the concept of a PQL — or product qualified lead — via Christopher O’Donnell of HubSpot via a post on the excellent OpenView Medium publication. The basic idea is to combine freemium/open source product distribution with an inside-sales model to increase deal velocity. Users qualify themselves by using the product and inside sales exists to support them through the journey and set the stage for a long term relationship with the customer.

https://expand.openviewpartners.com/what-is-a-pql-3d724548ba06#.qh380epfd

RapidMiner is the ideal candidate for a PQL model. We get over 20,000 product downloads a month. While there is some immediate drop-off between the initial product download and first usage, once someone makes it past the up-front learning curve, they absolutely love our product. For example, here’s our NPS score at two usage checkpoints:

Our clear path to growth is to get more people to use the product, guiding them through the product journey from building their first predictive model in RapidMiner to embedding the results into a business process to make or save money.

If someone doesn’t download and use our product, they aren’t a qualified lead.

The MQL + marketing automation playbook simply can’t produce the kind of high velocity leads and conversion rates we’ll get from creating happy, engaged users. If users need additional help or have questions, they can still “raise their hand” to talk to our inside sales team. And we’ll use a RapidMiner predictive lead scoring model to help identify the right free users for our inside sales team to proactively connect with.

We’re going to fully commit resources across the entire company to make this PQL model work, from how we allocate marketing resources and budget to our sales processes to the product roadmap. Everything. Instead of measuring traditional marketing metrics like MQLs, we’ll focus on product usage metrics and customer success.

Goodbye Lead Forms

The shift away from MQLs also lets me liberate content from the dreaded lead capture forms. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, and this post from Dave Gerhardt of Drift Why We’re Throwing Out All Of Our Lead Forms And Making Content Free pushed me over the edge.

I really don’t care how many leads our content generates. If our content is great, more people will download RapidMiner (we do capture email addresses on downloads) and more importantly, people will use it and see how we can deliver business impact. I’d rather help one user build a predictive model that generates millions in new revenue than add a bunch of poorly qualified “leads” to a database.

For example, people love our webinar content. We consistently get over 2,000 people to register, even though we ask them to fill out a complex form. How many people could we reach if we required nothing? (or maybe just an optional email address to receive the on-demand version for those who can’t make it?). I’m betting on a lot.

We’ve got great content. We’ve got a team of brilliant data scientists and predictive analytics experts. I want to get their knowledge in front of as many people as possible.

If you like this post, please recommend it so others will see it. Thanks!

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Before you agree to widening the top of your lead funnel…

Few things cause CMOs to panic more than hearing the dreaded phrase “we need to widen the lead funnel” from the head of sales. Or the CEO. Or maybe even the board. What they all really want is more qualified opportunities and ultimately more ARR. Maybe that means widening the funnel. Maybe not. But the solution is much more complex than just delivering “more”. Let’s dig into what can go wrong when you try to widen the funnel.

Every CMO has a version of this spreadsheet, that starts with an ARR target and spits out a lead, marketing-qualified lead (MQL), and sales-qualified opportunity (SQO) goal using historical funnel conversion metrics. Here’s a simple example using made-up numbers:

In this case, I’ve taken the next quarters ARR goal of $5,000,000, assumed 75% of it comes from marketing, and that we’ll close 33% of the opportunites we create at an average deal size of $25,000. Based on these assumptions, my model spits out a lead target of 5051 and an MQL target of 1515.

When the next quarter comes along, we do the same exercise. Let’s say we’re shooting for 40% ARR growth, which means we need 40% more leads + MQLs.

Here’s where the problems start happening.

In the early days of a company most MQLs come through inbound sources, but as the MQL target gets higher CMOs feel pressured to try new tactics to hit the goal. At that often means scaling paid programs that guarantee a certain number of leads based on targeted criteria like company size, role, industry etc. The targeted criteria helps ensure these leads become MQLs as they map to the attributes in your lead scoring process.

But not all MQLs are created equal. For example, your lead scoring processes probably overweight fit (think job title, industry, company size, etc) and underweight behavior/interest. So while those new paid leads look great in the spreadsheet you received from the vendor, they aren’t going to convert at the same rate as your primarily inbound funnel did in the past. So inside sales converts less of them into opportunities, and as a result probably loosens their qualification criteria to hit their numbers. Here’s how the funnel math looks now with the less qualified MQLs added in, impacting conversion:

When we lower the SQO conversion rate and the win rate just a little bit, the MQL target starts to spiral out of control. Because we’re not as efficient, our MQL target is now 85% higher than the previous quarter. If we play it out one final quarter, assuming we continue to get slightly less efficient, here’s what the targets looks like:

In this made up example, over four quarters our ARR target increased by 173% while our MQL target went up by 307%! And we had to pay for all those MQLs — and hire inside sales capacity to process them — driving our CAC way up. Of course I’m making a bunch of assumptions here that won’t hold true for everyone, but the point is that scaling the top of the funnel alone won’t lead to growth nirvana, and could be the entirely wrong thing to do.

Some companies like HubSpot rely entirely on widening the funnel to grow. This makes sense, as they sell in the massive SMB market and get most of their leads through low-cost inbound sources. But if your company sells into larger enterprises, has a vertical go-to-market, targets a niche persona, etc. you should be more focused on acquiring, converting, and closing the right leads, which might be measured only in tens or hundreds depending on your market.

Instead of just arbitrarily widening the funnel, what happens if we focus on scaling higher converting lead sources and targeting the right buyers? Magic. We generate higher quality leads, convert more of them, and win bigger deals. Much more efficiently. Going back to our prior example, hitting our Q2 target now only requires 84% more leads vs. 307% in the inefficent model.

If this sounds like I’m advocating for account-based marketing, you’re absolutely right. ABM is a great way to reach the prospects who are most likely to buy from you, improving funnel metrics. I also recommend products like Captora that help you grow the top of the funnel by scaling higher converting channels like organic search.

The net is that more isn’t always better. Often narrowing the top of the funnel is exactly what it takes to widen what really matters — the “Closed Won” funnel stage.

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Is Specialization Bad for Startup Marketing?

We’re starting to run a Scrumban process in RapidMiner marketing. Scrumban is a great way accelerate output by creating more transparency around priorities in the hectic world of startup marketing. We’ve got our Scrumban board, with all colorful kanbans beautifully laid out into various columns.

RapidMiner’s Scrumban board, blurred

As we get into Scrumban, we often find outselves blocked by kanbans that require specialized expertise. For example, our product marketing team is swamped with important messaging and enablement work. They can quickly become a blocker for the demand generation and events teams who require messaging for campaigns and tradeshow booths.

Our team structure is pretty typical of tech marketing. We’re a team of 7, and as our CMO I’m still pretty hands on with things. While I’m not particularly great at anything, I’m pretty good at lots of things. And I’m certainly not afraid to push myself out of my comfort zone to learn new things. In the Scrumban process I’m able to pickup any kanban and do my best to move it forward.

In a startup like RapidMiner, versatility is really important. Marcelo Calbucci coined the term Full-Stack Marketer, a reference to the full-stack developer who is equally comfortable working on back-end and front-end development projects. The full-stack marketer needs to be equally comfortable with writing content, optimizing for SEO, executing a campaign, expanding reach with PR, enabling the sales team, review metrics, etc.

Now it’s really hard to be great at everything, but maybe that’s not the point? Functional specialization becomes more important as companies scale, but for startups marketers being locked into the job description you were hired for limits your ability to impact the business. And maybe more importantly develop your own skills, especially if you’d like to run marketing someday.

The path to CMO is paved by versatility.

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You’ve been asked to cut your marketing budget. Now what?

Unicorpses. Layoffs. Bursting bubbles. Winter is coming. Every day there’s a new story on the 2016 techpocalypse.

Having lived through the 2000 dot com crash, this is nothing like it. But something has changed, so let’s start with a quick recap of how we got here. Starting in late 2012, tech companies began to raise massive funding rounds to chase growth. Here’s a chart put together by Tom Tunguz showing how the stock market once rewarded high growth tech companies:

http://tomtunguz.com/2013-ipo-characteristics/

Most of these companies are SaaS, which requires access to a huge amount of funding to run the business. Back in 2013 and 2014, money was plentiful. Private SaaS companies were able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars on the back of business plans that promised huge growth. And the market was so hot that non traditional investors — people like Wellington Management and Fidelity — jumped into the private company financing mix, often at much higher valuations than traditional venture investors were paying.

The most publicized example is Box, who grew revenue 110% in the year prior to their IPO but famously spent about 137% of its revenue in sales in marketing (over $170m!) to fuel the massive growth. The idea was that the SaaS unit economics of Box would eventually lead to a highly profitable business, where Box would a) “Land and expand” to keep net renewal rates well above 100% b) Lower sales and marketing costs to a more reasonable 35–40% of revenue range. While Box had to delay their IPO, ultimately they spun a compelling enough story to close nearly 70% higher on their first day of trading at close to a $3b valuation. But as we’ve learned in early 2016, markets go up, and markets go down. Box now trades at less than its IPO price, even though it continues to grow.

Nearly all of the tech IPOs from the past couple of years are currently trading below their IPO price. Private company valuation have taken an even bigger hit as they had further to fall due to the unusually high multiples they received in the recent past. Today, investors are no longer funding the grow-at-all-costs mentality of the past few years. They now expect companies to actually make money, or at least be able to paint a clear path to cash flow breakeven. While well funded public and private companies can hunker down and invest for the long term, not every company has a war chest of cash on the balance sheet.

So CEOs who once had access to unlimited private financing and/or a welcoming IPO market now must operate within the constraint of a reasonable burn rate… slowing hiring, cutting expenses, increasing gross margins, selling more…

And yes, cutting marketing programs.

Marketing programs are one of the few levers CEOs can quickly scale up and down. If you’ve been asked to look at cutting your marketing budget, here’s where’s to start:

Thank your CEO. CEOs are constantly faced with impossibly difficult decisions. Telling a high performing organization that they need to scale back can damage team morale. But as Heidi Roizen of venture firm DJF puts it:

You know what hurts morale even more than cost- cutting and layoffs? Going out of business.

Be transparent with your team. You can’t hide smaller budgets from your team, so include them in the budgeting process and help them understand the new constraints.

And maybe send them this post 🙂

Scale with brainpower, not budget. Rapidly growing marketing budgets creates bad behavior. People begin to equate their value to the company with the size of their budget, and makes it easier to spend on programs with questionable ROI. Pragmatic cuts to the marketing budget will help bring great clarity and focus back to your team, and eliminate the fiefdoms that sometimes form around budgets.

Most importantly, reduced budgets are a chance for your team to apply their brainpower, through developing new approaches, responsibilities and skills that might have been hidden by a bloated budget.

Eliminate the stuff you won’t measure. Marketing has gotten much better at measuring our impact on the business, and we’re pretty good at looking at how marketing spend across different channels drives leads, pipeline, and bookings. But there are still questionable “brand” investments we make that we’re not great at measuring — like PR. Jason Lemkin of Storm Ventures wrote a great post on how he measured PR at Echosign.

If you can’t commit to measuring your brand investments, then scale them way back. Or put much more effort into assessing their impact on the business and hold yourself accountable.

Stop buying leads. Joe Chernov of InsightSquared recently published a fantastic article on the rise of account-based marketing and marketing’s unhealthy obsession with the MQL. Many marketing departments operate on a spreadsheet model that sets MQL targets based on revenue goals and historical conversion metrics. That’s great, you should absolutely create that model. But your spreadsheet model is going to show that you need to create an unsustainable number of MQLs each quarter. This puts pressure on marketing to run expensive cost-per-lead programs to hit the lead commit. These less qualified leads then make your conversion rates worse, leading to your spreadsheet model telling you that you need even more leads next quarter.

This approach is broken. As Joe puts it:

Sales teams don’t need a torrent of minimally qualified leads; they need air cover.

Investing in account-based marketing is potentially a much more effective way for you to reach the companies who can actually buy your product. And it will help you better align sales and marketing by focusing efforts on a specific set of companies.

Take a hard look at events. Events can be difficult to scale back because they are often planned months or years in advance. But if you look closely, I bet you’ll find ways to cut back 10–20% from your budget without impacting the quality. People come to events to learn and network, so focus on the quality of your content and assembling the right people.

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Some Practical Advice for Aspiring Tech CMOs

In no particular order, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned running marketing at three tech companies.

Your most important job is to recruit and retain exceptional people

Never forget that people are your most important asset. As a CMO, you’ll be in endless meetings: the weekly leadership meeting, the executive offsite, QBRs, territory reviews, weekly pipeline reviews, product strategy sessions. Endless. Meetings.

Your calendar may be a mess, but you have to still find time to hire and develop your team. Make hiring your top priority, and personally review every candidate as long as you possibly can. Create and enforce a consistent hiring process for every candidate, to minimize the risk of hiring poorly. When I’ve hired poorly, it’s been because I broke process; ignoring obvious warning signs.

Don’t miss your weekly 1–1s with your direct reports. No excuses (wrote that for myself; I made too many excuses). Just don’t let anyone schedule over this time with your team. Make sure these meetings aren’t just a tactical review of todo items; instead focus them on strategic objectives and career development. If you’ve hired well, your team will insist on this. If you aren’t providing strategic coaching, they will leave and get it elsewhere.

Find the right balance between potential, passion, and experience in hiring

When I interviewed with Acquia in late 2012, they were one of the fastest growing tech companies on the planet. So why were they were considering me — and my measly 3 prior years of CMO experience — to run marketing?

Well, during my interview with Acquia CEO Tom Erickson, I was introduced to his P2 I3 philosophy — Passion, Potential, Integrity, Initiative, and Intelligence (sorry Tom if I got the order wrong). Tom explained these were more important predictors of success than experience alone (on a whiteboard, no less) and on that basis hired me as CMO of Acquia.

Experience is often really important, especially in roles like product marketing where domain expertise is beneficial. But don’t hire solely on experience, because experience alone is a poor predictor of success.

You won’t know how well aligned sales and marketing are until you miss a quarter

Every CMO chases the dream of sales and marketing alignment, but the true test is when you miss a quarter. At some point, you will. It happens to everyone. Then all your hard work and the conviction you had around your funnel in those weekly pipeline meetings is suddenly put into question.

The reality is that an aligned sales and marketing organization should have known about the miss many months in advance, and already have been working on the mitigation plan for the next quarter. If the miss triggers finger pointing then you probably weren’t as aligned as you thought.

Start by reviewing a key set of metrics each week that help you assess the health of the entire funnel. Make sure everyone agrees on the metrics, and that you keep them as consistent as possible quarter to quarter so you can learn and adapt from them. And don’t fall into the trap of focusing too much on the top of the funnel just because it’s easier to measure. Often the most difficult challenges (with the greatest potential impact) happen well after a lead has become a qualified opportunity.

Messaging is much more important than you think

Companies that absolutely nail compelling differentiated messaging crush their competitors. Think HubSpot. Splunk. Slack. New Relic. etc. Messaging is bounded by brainpower and creativity (not budget) so it can truly level the playing field against much bigger competitors when done right.

But messaging is hard. You’ve got to get buy-in from everyone. You’ve got to validate it with customers and analysts. You have to enable + certify your entire field organization on it. You’ve got to test it via your website, paid search, email, etc. Don’t underestimate how difficult and time consuming that’s going to be. But when done right, a compelling message cuts through the noise and amplifies everything else you’ll want to do.

Write more, read more.

I told friend + former Acquia colleague Jess Iandiorio in her annual review that she was the best product marketer in Boston that no one had heard of — and that needed to change. So Jess started blogging, which ultimately led to her getting connected with the excellent team at Drift where she now runs marketing. Through writing, Jess raised her visibility as one of Boston’s smartest marketers but more importantly, said writing gave her a tremendous confidence boost. So create an account on Medium like I’m doing right now, and get writing.

Of course you should read more too. I’m about to get into the latest from Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin From Impossible To Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue. Most of my actionable reading comes from Flipboard, where I’ve spent a bunch of time following publishers, people, and topics so my stream has become highly relevant to me. It’s a time investment worth making, and Flipboard is usually the first and last thing I look at every day.

Don’t immediately propose a rebrand when you start at a new company

Updating the logo and/or redesigning the website might feel like a quick, highly visible win, but in the end you’ll be much better off focusing on the hard work of sales + marketing alignment, creating remarkable content, differentiated messaging, etc.

There are exceptions: For example, Jess Iandiorio just led Drift through a rebrand from Driftt. That was smart, because I just had to Google whether it was Drift with two t’s or two f’s. But unless there’s a well thought out compelling business reason for a rebrand, don’t do it. Or risk suffering the same fate as Uber.

Don’t chase shiny new #martec toys

BDRs pitch me on all sorts of new products every day. Most of the pitches are pretty forgettable, like this “breakup” email I just received:

Please stop it w/ the meme-laden breakup emails, they were cute for 15 minutes

The best way to pitch me is with FOMO, making me feel out of the loop for being the only CMO not using the latest and greatest marketing tech. Give me a slick demo and a spreadsheet that promises massive growth and ROI and I’m sold!

Credit: http://chiefmartec.com/2016/02/valentines-day-ode-marketing-tech-entrepreneurs/

Turning that spreadsheet into reality takes a lot more than any product alone can deliver. SaaS makes it easy and cost effective to deploy new products, but SaaS doesn’t account for the resources and organizational commitment you’ll need to make them successful. Where I’ve been able to align the organization with the technology, it’s worked great (for example, Acquia’s work with Captora). Where technology has failed, it’s not because I picked the wrong product; it’s because I didn’t commit the right resources.

In the end, remember that just because Box, Slack, Zendesk, or whoever is adopting that fancy du-jour SaaS product doesn’t mean that your team is ready for it.

Operate on a monthly marketing plan

Starting in early October, you’ll be asked to start thinking about your plan for the next year. Sales will ask how you are going to help them hit their pipeline + ARR targets for the upcoming year. Finance will ask you for a budget plan. Your head of products will want to understand your demand generation strategy.

You absolutely need a strategy for the upcoming year. You’ll need to plan ahead for events like product launches, conferences, big campaigns, etc. But don’t pretend that you have any idea on the specific tactics you are going to employ outside of the next few months.

I’d suggest running a simplified agile process, defining “epics” to represent your 3–5 objectives for the year (hopefully these won’t change, but they might). Then define a three month plan each month, but treat everything beyond the upcoming month as backlog. Then run monthly sprints, including a retrospective to review prior results, and creation of a plan for the next sprint.

This way you’ll have a rolling view of the next few months, with the flexibility to quickly adjust strategies and tactics as needed.

Say no more often

It’s far too easy for marketing to become relegated to service bureau status or worse, the arts and crafts department. We often get asked to do stuff that has little to with our real mission to accelerate growth. Carefully consider the impact of saying yes to requests that don’t align with your strategic initiatives, no matter how hard sales argues for that one-off campaign, or the CEO demands that you update that one page on the website that no one visits (note: both of these examples are fictional, they would *never* happen!)

Saying no comes down to having a clear list of priorities. It’s much easier to say no to anyone if you can easily help them understand the associated opportunity cost. This is where running an agile-like marketing process works, because you can capture these requests in a backlog and constantly revisit priorities every month.

Your budgeting process is probably broken

Finance desperately wants CMOs to build a budget solely based on an Excel model that starts with revenue targets and spits out a marketing programs budget based on conversion rates, ASP, CPL, product mix goals, etc.

You should absolutely build that model for finance, but don’t trust it completely, and certainly revisit your assumptions often. The model won’t account for so many things — product improvements, a successful PR campaign, fundraising, changes in your deal qualification processes, sales restructuring, and so on.

The truth is that budgeting is mostly science, part art; and it gets easier with experience.

Listen to your board, but trust your own experience

Board members are an invaluable asset. They have exposure to other high performing companies, and often have direct experience building and scaling companies.

When NEA invested in Acquia, they encouraged us to simplify our complex multi-product strategy into a single offering that became the Acquia Platform. NEA portfolio company Mulesoft had successfully gone through a similar transformation. This was a brilliant idea, and led to Acquia getting into much bigger deals than before.

But your board doesn’t know your business as well as you do. They will provide many great suggestions, but what worked at one of their portfolio companies may or may not work well for you. Listen carefully, but always remember the board is there to advise, not dictate.

It’s okay to feel like you are in over your head

It happens to all of us. Eat better. Get some exercise. Obsessively watch house-flipping shows and go to bed every night at 9pm (wait, is that me?).

Whatever helps you de-stress.

Seek advice from others

I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Boston CMO royalty — like Mike Volpe, Carol Myers, and Brian Kardon — and I’ve learned something actionable from all of them. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to help if you ask nicely (and are patient).

And when you ascend to CMO, please pay it forward to the next generation.