Iteration over experimentation, with Maria Pergolino


In this episode Benji talks to Maria Pergolino, Chief Marketing Officer at ActiveCampaign. 

Discussed in this episode: 

  • Jobs to be done vs. ICP
  • Marketing KPIs across multiple channels
  • The need for focus and iteration

Conversations from the front lines and marketing. This is B two B growth. Today, on B Two B growth, I'm excited to have Maria Pergolino with me. She's a chief marketing officer at active campaign and we're actually welcoming her back to the show because she's been on three times, back in a couple of times in actually, and then back in, but Maria will welcome to be to be growth for the fourth time. Hi, thank you for having me. It is a pleasure to come back and such a on Oor. B Two B growth is such an important topic and such a good show. Yes, I'm excited to chat today because you in an active campaign. You guys host like a hundred eight thousand plus customers hundred and seventy different countries. So just a lot of moving parts, a lot of strategy that we could talk with you and I think it's fantastic for our B Two b marketers that are listening to this to get to tap into your wealth of wisdom and what you're seeing from your seat. So I will be chatting about a lot of different things today, but what I wanted to start with is you guys are really not just a pure like Sass enterprise marketing right. There's a lot of SMB work. There's this mix of like self serve and sales reps, and so it keeps you on your toes. I think when we were talking in the prep call you said it's a really fun challenge. So so talk to me a bit, Maria, about what you're focused on these days and what active campaign is up to in the world. Yeah, over are about half our businesses outside of the US. You said a D seventy different countries. That is more than McDonald's hosts, you know, in different countries. When you think about a d eighty thousand customers, if we were a pure consumer brand that that might not sound huge, but as we think about a B two B brand, that would be more customers than, I think, what salesforce has ever reported. I think they're last their highest was a hundred and fifty thousand that they ever reported. Now we obvious we are not as large as salesforce and that's because we would have a lower SP average sales price and that is because we served that strong mix of customers which includes smaller businesses. The smaller businesses often closed, but some larger through that self serve channel. But sometimes people want to learn more, they need more details and that goes through a sales rep that creates some awesome lovers right. When you think about marketing, it is when do you want to engage with a customer and when? When is it great for them to and, you know, not talk to somebody in the company? I just recently bought a new piece of fitness software and winning to me was not not getting great help, it was not needing help right and that's why you really want to think about that customer lifecycleism marketer on that self serve piece, but also make sure you have the right materials so your sales team can go deep when somebody needs it. Yeah, what's been the most unique challenge? Just making sure that you have everything they need to be to say that you can like be self serve and really like give people what they need at the right time. Is that a lot of what you're focused on? Yeah, I've been thinking a lot lately about what people come and say they're looking for and what they're really trying to solve, and I don't know that they're always the same thing. I always think back to uh there was a study and well over a decade agore an example that was published in Harvard Business Review. They talked about how people said as they got older they didn't need dining rooms. So all these houses started coming without big dining rooms, but actually it was hard to get them to transition because they didn't want to give up all their furniture. Right. And so what people say they want and what what's actually going to allow them to make that move or sometimes two different things. And I think the same as we think about the challenges that we have. What people you know, they may come... us saying, Hey, we need crm or email marketing, but ultimately it's how do they grow their business? What do they need to help engage better with their customers and helping them with lots of different ways beyond what they originally come to us with. You know, how do we help them automate in a great way and how do we introduce that to them when they that may not be what they originally came to us for? Right? I imagine part of this too, is like with that many people coming to you and that's kind of scale. You can't just typically boil down like use cases into like these nice NEAT I C P. So how do you think of that and, like the customers that you serve? Yeah, I think what you'd call what I just described in that that dining room example, is jobs to be done. What are the jobs that somebody's trying to do? What are they really trying to accomplish and trying to solve for that, I think another way that marketers often talk about her what are the pains that people have and how do we help solve that? In our case it's not necessarily a pain somebody has. It's not a pain to engage with your customers. But how do we help them engage? How do we help them save times they can put more into their business? Uh, and how do we make sure you know, when you're a company that, let's say, is helping build homes or helping, you know, making pizza, whatever that is, you want to spend your time doing that. You don't want to spend it all day sitting behind a computer, you know, thinking about marketing or thinking about your sales. We want to help automate the pieces that are repetitive so that you can, you know, put your touch to those things, have a genuine conversation, but then also spend your time doing the thing that you're going to do best. Yeah, I know your marketing is is a bit unique in that you guys have chosen to take this route of going we're gonna have five main channels and they're pretty evenly dispersed. Walk us through the five, because I think that's a it's an interesting approach. Yeah, so we have, as you said, five sources, the way that we classify our marketing. That would be things that I'm sure every marketer thinks about in some cases and once you may not be thinking about. One is organic, just people that come to you through a Google search or through some type of search engines. That could be a social media search engine. The next is affiliates, people that go out and talk about us. You may think of it as influencer marketing. For us there are those influencers, but also people that are truly consider themselves affiliates and do that as a full time job. Next or agencies, people that are helping implement our services with our customers. Uh. Next would be paid marketing that we do and then finally, we group together those people that come directly to us. It's a little bit of the other bucket, but we call it direct because often the reason we don't have the data is not because our systems are bad. We get the great pleasure of using active campaign for all of our sales and marketing, but it's because they come directly to our website or they come directly to a page that has a free trial, and so we don't know what was behind that. But all of those may sound you may say, Hey, we do all of those wre we do three out of the five of those. But generally speaking those five have each represented, you know, equally in the business, are close to equally, and we've been able to use them almost like dial so is one, you know because of Covid, because of the changing macroeconomics. You know, do we want to dial one up or dial one down? And that's been really exciting. Yeah, take me a layer deeper on that, because I had the five always been around since you came on as CMO. It was this something that you brought in as as a plan? Like how have you guys build the business around this form of marketing in these five, five channels? Yeah, the CEO is definitely a visionary and he saw these channels is when he was starting the business. I think very similarly, he saw how important international was and thought about localization in our product very early on,...

...and so I think just you know, if anybody's on here that is a Solo Preneur, an entrepreneur. You know, the company is a twenty year old company and the CEO saw spent the first well over a decade until two thousand and sixteen, really learning the industry. He had an on premise solution and took all those learnings, which not only on the product but also on the go to market side, and really build an amazing model that we bring forward today. We continue to add to it and test new things and some of those channels have changed radically, for example digital marketing. Of course there's been PPC for a very long time, but Kudos to Google. They have figured out how to monetize every single piece of it. What worked years ago does not necessarily work today, and so there's definitely it's not just a carry forward. What has been interesting from my side is that one they can counterbalance to each other. So you know, we're right now, as as you and I are on this call. It's August and we see some countries may have more vacation or not be doing business the same way we see some of our agency partners that may not be selling as much this month but will have really strong business in September. The flip of that is we can then increase paid or we can roll out some organic campaigns to counter that. And so really we've been able to learn a lot about each of the channels and use the the opposite, you know, the other channels, to create some even flow for our teams, which is pretty amazing. When I look at those five, I think especially the affiliate and like marketing has evolved so much in the last five years. I mean they all have developed in their own right, but that's the one that's really standing out to me, and maybe it's because we're talking about about it. Around B two B growth and around sweet fish. How has your thinking evolved there? What are you guys doing strategically that maybe we could learn from? Mr Scifically, when it comes to affiliate marketing, yeah, I think that. What I say about affiliate marketing is that you can definitely programatize some of your affiliate marketing. You go to our website, it tells you what a great value it is to be an affiliate for us. We highlight the fact that our average affiliate makes over a thousand dollars for bringing a customer to us. That's not insignificant. I can think of another company in a similar space and I think they say that that it's like fifty some dollars. So there's we're definitely marketing the program. But I think beyond that, you know we just brought on a new president, but this has always been the case for our CEO that the customer really has to take that center stage. I know every company says their customer centric, but being customer centric is is not just saying, and you know that you're you support the customer and doing customer calls. It's really using data, using all the information you have about your customers to continue to engage with those customers, bring them success so they'll continue to talk to you. And I think that because we have such a large customer set for a B Two B business, it allows us to look at data in interesting ways and then we do carry that, you know, desire to have great customer conversations. One thing that I'm really proud of for this company, that our CEO personally drives is that when we get together as a company, when we do what some people might call on all hands or a company update. Every part of that has customer stories, customers talking through it. I don't think we've had, I mean in years, one that didn't have three, four or five customers is a part of that session. We do calls, I think twice a month where anybody in the company can join to listen to customers give feedback uh, and sometimes that's to the positive and new features. Sometimes that's the negative because they've chosen other path. Because I think it's easy to say we'll talk to customers, but sometimes people learning jobs that you can talk to a customer. You just don't know how are you feel uncomfortable with picking up the phone. The...

...other thing I'd say for the marketing team is we have so we give every one of our employees an active campaign account and I think we have three or four, maybe five marketers on the team that are using active campaign to help support side businesses. But that brings product knowledge, that brings a customer into almost every one of our meetings and so that customer piece ties to that affiliate, because so many of our affiliates or influencers are just customers that are carrying that forward and say hey, wait a second. Not only can I use this great tool, but it's gonna pay for itself, not only because it's great software, but because they're gonna pay me to share this with our my friends. And so when you log into the platform, there's a little heart and there's a referral program with that and if you do a couple, we reach out to you and we try to bring you into a more structured affiliate program. Hell, love that. Yeah, thanks for breaking that down. I think that's an easy way. You can go really deep into that, but you want to create those passionate advocates. We all want that right for our brand, and so I wanted to hear like the unique ways you're doing that. And I love also that you're empowering your people with their side businesses, because the more that they know and the more that they use that product, they're like you. Just you want your marketing team to be in it right, not just like trying to promo and make the brand look shiny, but actually like actively using it. So that's that's great. One thing you had mentioned, and you've brought up your CEO a couple of times, but you've also talked about how there's a d n a of mobility and optionality that he brought to the table and that's something that's infused into the team as a whole. But that's also playing out in your marketing with having these five channels. I wonder how, like how has the CEO infused those things, optionality, mobility, and when you're at such scale, like how do you continue to be somewhat nimble in your approach right, because that's I think that's something that a lot of people look at big companies and they go and it's it's hard to steer the ship in a sense, and and and sort of fast movement. Yeah, I'm going to just make a couple of statements kind of to that. Maybe not all connected, but they come to mind. One is that it is imperative. One thing that is unique about me, and I didn't here a lot about myself, but I have specifically helped companies and all the calls I've been on have with you before have been around, have been for companies where we were trying to grow from a hundred million to I. P O or tow that larger company, and I think one of the things that happens that is that can be really dangerous as you try to build in scales. So the way I think about it kind of, you know, when your company is really small, you're thinking about product fit. Once you get that product fit, you're really trying to come up with what are the paths to success, kind of what we talked about at active campaign, you know those on the marketing side of those five channels right that that's been happening. So let's say up to ten million you're doing or twenty million you're doing product fit. Twenty million to that whatever eighty million you're figuring out in each of the t is what works. It's not necessarily scaled, but you're coming up with what is special about the organization. And then you get to this point where you have to figure out how to scale it up, and I end up specializing with that scale. Uh, and so I think my job is to bring that vision that the CEO and, uh now our new president are looking for, you know, to in a bigger way and scaled. But one of the most dangerous things that happen is a team. You bring a team on and they see what what great looks like at a ten thousand, uh twenty thousand and fifty thousand person company when we're a thousand people. And I think the people think scale is getting all the systems in place so you can be that twenty thousand person company. But that can sink a company because it's so costly to operate if you're a thousand person company, to operate as if you're a twenty person company. That's a wealthy you really have to continue to bring some of that scrappiness and you have to make sure that you may see what is down the road, but pick and choose. One...

...of the things, and I keep mentioning our CEO, but again a true visionary Jason, he has brought to our annual planning process is not just what is the plan, but what are we admitting? What are we not going to do? And that's been really important because even though it's a good idea, that doesn't mean it has to be the idea for today. We may have ten years and you may want to choose to do that in your eight and so I think I think that has been really critical for that scale. Continuing to we I've mentioned, we've added a president of the Organization, Samir, who Causey, who is really added to I don't think brought a different view. He's brought complementary views. I think one of the things he's really talked about is how do you flatten the organization? How do you make it that you're not so, as a leader, distant from the team that you don't really understand what's going on? And and I've really found great power in that and really heard him in that because, if you know, nobody wants to be at a company where it feels like like it's disconnected. So I think that's powerful. So there's there's these things that come together and it's again not not in what is going to be perfect, but what is right for the company today and sets up scale for down the road. Yeah, it's interesting. You mentioned scrappiness there and I know you also are very opinionated on iteration over experimentation, and I want to talk about that for a second because sometimes when people think of scrappy they might think, well, we just were constantly experimenting, trying new things. But you'd actually say, okay, maybe that's not the smartest way, maybe not just like all this random business work. Right. So I do think, and this maybe it will be the most provocative thing I say, I am not a fan of like fail fast or like where people say, Hey, it's it's okay to to try something and fail. I think it's marketers. We have so much data available to us and we have so many other marketers who are happy to share that we can really make very good, educated guesses and we can like sometimes somebody'll say, hey, we tried webinars and they don't work. Well, that's how. How? What you mean? They don't work that don't find someone who's good at it right. You can from let's. You know, we're talking on a podcast right now. Somebody will say, Oh, podcast, we tested it didn't work, and I think that you can make anything work, but you can't make everything work, and I think often when something fails it's because you're not putting everything into it. Instead, what I'd say is, like, choose something and come with a plan to do it in an amazing way and outdo everybody else in it. And that's where then that iteration comes in, because you've we we talked about the emissions. Be Okay with the things you're not going to do. So maybe if you're doing a podcast, don't do webinars. You're not gonna be to maybe do both great. So choose one that you're going to do great and then really do it well and continue to iterate on it and get it too better and get it too better and make that work. And so less of they fail fast, but really infused the things. Uh, you know, put the energy to where something you know, you think can have juice. Now. If that really isn't working, don't, don't just, you know, live by it and and let's not they continue on. That's that's not going to be a success. But I think a lot of times we give up on things too soon or we will just be trying everything and and that's a great path to inefficiency. It's interesting because in some B two B companies it seems like there's this old way of doing marketing that they're like stuck in and it kind of gives b two B like that. B Two B is boring branding, right, like B two beanies. Look, we we have all those fun conversations. So in a sense it's like they're not trying any of the things and then when they go to try it's like, well, we have a presence on all these different platforms. And I put that in quotes because their present this is... a random post on all the platforms because they think they have to post something across all of them. You're advocating for hey, pick one, get really good at it and then maybe go on to the next one. Right, yeah, and and that doesn't mean so, let's say, let's say we are talking about different platforms. If you do a Webinar and you take a clip of that and put that on a tiktok account and don't have a full effort into Tiktok, like maybe that's just fine. It was five minutes and maybe your first thirty videos get very little traffic, but it may build up a base and and maybe there's something to their algorithm. We're having some time and some volume on the platform helps and just be okay with them doing that like quick five minute posts and then when you're ready, it's okay that like then really go at it right, like it's Um. So when I say all or nothing, it doesn't mean like do not log into it, do not touch it, but I think it goes less about the channels that way, but more like, you know, we we talked about affiliate programs or influence ers. Like if you say, Hey, you know what we're not doing an affiliate program. I heard Marina talk about it. We're just gonna go do it and we're gonna test it out. If nobody on your team has experience in that, if you're learning it from scratch one, that's a very inefficient way to try to do marketing. Now you're paying somebody to learn something where there's probably experts like. What I'd say is, if that's what you really decide to do, go get an expert, somebody who has experienced with it. Have them teach your organization. Maybe there's somebody you hire, maybe it's a consultancy, and then you know, task them for not letting it fail. Not Hey, let me find somebody. We don't have experience doing it, we don't know how to measure it, because that is definitely a path to inefficiency or or not being successful. Yeah, yeah, I think of our our journey, even with the channels that we really focus on, and we took a bit of like a an approach of okay, we're gonna be on these few channels and we just once we knew that most of our success was coming from linkedin. As far as organic organically, we just double down there instead of staying so spread and we've added experimentation in a channel like a tiktok. But knowing, like where you're seeing success and allowing yourself to really, like be there long enough to iterate and find more success right and I actually create that is so important. So I like, I appreciate how you broke that down. I wonder, as we're kind of coming to the end of our time together, Maria, like coming out of this conversation. We've talked about iteration, we've talked a bit about creating this sort of like DNA in your company, that is about optionality, about mobility. We talked about the five channels. But if, if there's a marketer listening and they're going, okay, coming out of this conversation with Benji and Maria, I'm gonna go back to my job tomorrow and this is something I can do differently. This is maybe a question I can ask myself for something I can be thinking about that makes me a better marketer. What would you say to that person that's listening right now? Oh, that is so good. I wonder if in our prep I gave an answer there. I'm trying to remember if I, uh, if if I had something there. I mean, I I really think that prioritization is you know, a lot of what we're hearing is we're talking about iteration as we're choosing what's going to be successful, as we talked about emissions. The theme that is running through that is prioritization, and I am relentless to my with my prioritization. I start the day knowing what I want to accomplish, and that doesn't mean it always goes perfectly and that doesn't mean that I'm not going to pivot, but I know I always start with this is what I want to get done, and that normally ties to what I state that I want to get done for the week. And I am UN yielding there to the point where that that means that I don't get to email, if I don't get to slack, if somebody you know, sometimes I will let things go unheard. My email box is definitely not my to do list, and that is so much so that you can find people in Lincoln talking about me taking that approach, because if email... and it's not on the topic that I'm working on, that it is not doing the right thing for the company to spend my time on that and that doesn't mean that it's okay to be totally unresponsive or anything like that, but I do think that when people say they're good at prioritization, they you just have to be even better, because it's really easy to get distracted, and it is. You know, I always say that you have to do something exceptional to get an exceptional response. And the one thing I can say about the companies that I've worked with they have you know, people say, Ah, you really pick great companies, and and I do pick companies that have good market opportunities, which helps, but then you have to do something special. You have to do something exceptional to have that, to have that outside growth. And UH, the only way to do something exceptional is either to work twenty four hours a day, have everybody do that, which is not sustainable, or to really prioritize. So I would really encourage every market or too to really think about how they're spending their time and if it makes a difference. And you know, not everything has to be done to a percent, not every check has to you know, checkbox has to be checked, and that's where I see that going wrong. Is, you know, we want to get our data perfect, but really if it's at eight percent, maybe that's good enough too and allows us to work on something else. And I don't know as much as people can think about that. I think it's useful. I love that as the answer. I gotta tell you we've been doing original research for B two be growth and having these discussions, and so we we interviewed a hundred marketing leaders last year and actually just in the last few weeks we released an episode as like tackling this question of what's your marketing team's biggest struggle, and the answer we saw by far was focus. And so having that, wherewithal right to go. Here's the main things. This is what we're focused on from the top down. For you as a CMO and flowing all the way through your team is absolutely vital and speaks to what we're seeing as a larger trend within B two B marketers going yeah, I gotta learn to focus, and so that's our homework. Continues to be a drumword beating at B two B growth, and Maria did it without even knowing, probably because she's been on the show before. So I really appreciate that. This has been a fantastic conversation. There's gonna be listeners that are new and want to be able to stay connected to you. What's the best way for them to do that and then maybe plug active campaign as well and how people can can stay connected there. Yeah, active campaign is an amazing company. It's what we use to run our own marketing and our our success is one that to be proud of, right and so we help companies with what we call customer experience, but really what we're doing is integrating email marketing, marketing automation crm so that you have all of the automation tools you need to build great relationships. I think you know an example that I would say. It's like you're when you get in order or you have a customer reach out. You should have visibility into that and your marketing campaign should keep that in mind. And right now our systems are so siloed often that that is impossible to do and you're really not creating a great customer experience. So active campaign, as you're trying to bring your marketing to the next place and and really want to think about customer experience, we are excited to talk to you about that. I don't remember the other Oh, and to get in touch with me, either to talk about active campaign or to answer any questions or learn more. On almost every social channel you can find me as inbound marketer, I N B o n d inbound marketer on twitter, instagram, all of those. UH excited to talk to everybody, excited to connect. Absolutely well, Maria, it has been an absolute pleasure and for everyone listening. If this is the first time that you're tuning in and you haven't followed the show yet, we're having conversations like this consistently because we want to continue to improve. So follow the show. You can chat with me about this episode...

...or anything you're learning and marketing over on Linkedin. We'd love to hear from you and I keep doing work that matters. Maria, thanks for being here. Thank you. Thank you so much. We're always excited to have conversations with leaders on the front lines of marketing. If there's a marketing director or a chief marketing officer that you think we need to have on the show, reach out email me, Benji dot block at Sweet Fish Media Dot Com. I look forward to hearing from you.

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