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AO: What was one unconventional growth tactic that you ran that did support surprisingly well?

Maria Pergolino: I love that question because it’s very similar to what my answer is, which is not trying to do everything, just do a few things and do them really well. Just like you saying, hey, what’s one question. I’ve gone into a number of organizations and we’ve had really big audacious goals. And if you try to, what I call peanut butter, everything. If you try to, you know, have three blog posts a week and 20 social media posts and tab a full webinar schedule and have a perfect event schedule that you end up taking all your resources and spreading them across every channel.

And every one of those channels need more content. And what you end up with is everybody doing kind of okay at a couple of things, instead of saying like, hey, I’m going to choose one or two things and we are going to be known for this and we’re going to blow it out of the park. And so that has been the only way I have known to really do great demand and great marketing.

AO: This is amazing. And it makes sense, cause we prioritize in areas of our lives naturally, but for marketing, it seems just like, no, no, we gotta be here. We gotta be here. We gotta be here. So like the first question is, how are you listing out these priorities? Because like I just imagine, it’s like, wait, you’re the head, you are running marketing. And we don’t have this one channel. Like how do you answer those kinds of questions? Cause I imagine it’s the fear that leads us to want to cover all of our bases.

Maria Pergolino: Yeah, I’ve done my grad and undergrad in marketing. I’ve been a marketer my whole life. And what you learn when you’re just looking at the basics of marketing. If you were to write down google marketing, what it would say is marketing is essentially brands plus selling. So, when you think about that, the reason it’s brand, is brand creates an efficiency out in the front, right? We know we want to buy something or we feel comfortable buying something because we know the brand, which makes it then easier to sell and selling sounds obvious. But a lot of times as marketers, we think that’s the salesperson’s job, but really it’s ours. And so when you start with those two things, when you really sit down and think about like, okay, what am I trying to brand and sell?

So when you think about whatever your company is trying to do, when you think about, okay, now I have to help this brand and you have to help them sell this. The answer is almost never okay, the way to do that is do everything. It’s really about, okay, what’s going to make a difference in this market and you start peeling apart at the top. What’s the message, who’s it going to, and what’s going to be important to them. And when you start that way, the approaches that you’re going to take become obvious. And it may not be the same at every company.

And I do think that one place we go a little bit wrong is taking a playbook with us instead of relying on just experience, we kind of want to take the one playbook and move it over. But what that does is it perpetuates that, let’s do everything or doesn’t let us get to the one thing that might be very special in this market, or may differentiate you from everybody else.

AO: That makes so much sense. I mean, I love it. So help me with how you visualize these priorities. What’s your process around making sure that we pick the right channels to focus on or just the one channel.

Maria Pergolino: Yeah. So, the companies that I have been to, so one, I specialize in, I don’t try to just say, okay, I’m going to do every job. And in fact, when I chose this amazing job at Active Campaign, I started with a very short list of companies because I feel like what I know is B2B technology, all SaaS companies. And I specialize right in the size, past product fit. So I’m not trying to figure out what the product is, the kind of past that product that through until IPO or public offering, or then it becomes more about that long-term scale.

And in that piece, what I’m looking for is a brand that has a unique category, something differentiated to say, maybe category creating, or it may be trying to take that leadership space. And what’s going to be key in that situation is differentiation. How are we going to be able to say something different from everybody else? And often when you find that thing, a channel will become, or a couple channels will come really important. So, if it is about category creation, it may be thought leadership. And where do you have to start with your content and really think about where that content is going to be useful.

Who’s going to hear it in previous companies. It’s been thinking about that executive and then, is anybody going to look at that blog post? And I was at Apttus, we had an amazing content leader. His name’s Zach. He was so good. And you think the first thing he would do is roll out a blog, but we were probably two years in before we rolled out a blog because we were so focused on getting the right thought leadership, the emails, the things that our readers we’re going to open, making sure that the content we were putting through on things like customer advisory board was going to be great.

And then once we had all of that, it was easy to roll it into a blog, but that was definitely not the first step. We didn’t start by optimizing every single thing on the website, because that’s not where their audience is going to be very different from Active Campaign, very digital business, more SMB focused here, whether it’s on the web is critical. It’s self serve, making sure that customers and companies can find the product, but not just that thought leadership in the front. In fact, people are often finding us. The thought leadership maybe even isn’t as important as giving them confidence to buy without talking to a rep.

So here making sure customer reviews are in a strong place and that your customers are sharing and doing great advocacy becomes much more important than maybe a customer advisory board or account based marketing. And it frees you from feeling like, Oh, I’m going to have to do these 50 things. You say, hey, how do we do one or two? And I think it can be really powerful. I just sent over to our sales leader, hey, this is what we’re going to do in April and May. And it started with those financial targets, but then was quickly followed by the priorities, which was just four bullet points and they weren’t channels.

They weren’t tactics. They were, this is what we’re trying to achieve. We want to try to keep our current customers engaged. We’re going to try to expand what our customers are currently using within our base. Right. Being super clear on what we’re going to try to do over that month and a half, and then having all the tactics underneath that. But I think that that has really helped and letting us just, you do less.

AO: Oh, I love it. And it just like you said, it frees us, that resonates so much that, cause it almost seems trapping in any business. I’ve been more on the zero to one side of startups and it just seems like we gotta be everywhere. And we got to do all of these different things and you just can’t especially at a small company, but I love how even at a big company as you’re scaling, like, no, maybe we’re still doing some things there, but like we’re really focusing on these one or two initiatives and just doubling down. I think that’s incredible. Could you give us some metrics on how well this has worked maybe an example or two in the past?

Maria Pergolino: Yeah. So if we look at Active Campaign, I’ve been here six months, but we have drastically increased our number of trials. So different from your traditional funnel with MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads) and SQL (Sales Qualified Leads) tier. We’re really looking to get people to try out the product. One thing I would encourage enterprise tech marketers to do is, I think that while something like free trials or freemiums or whatever you want to call it, or whatever kind of approach in that area, you want to take, I think that has been more reserved for smaller businesses, but I think that’s going to become the path for enterprise.

People just want to get in and they want to try it. I am seeing brands like Slack and DocuSign and monday.com all just getting the product into people’s hands. Zoom would be a great example of that. I know those are the tech brands that have taken off. And so really embracing that and saying, okay, instead of trying to worry about how many white papers and how many webinars and all that, how many people are we getting to our trial and are they participating in it meaningfully? And then very tightly watching how many of those we bring to our sales team. And then how many of those become either self-serve deals or sell through the sales group?

So, conversion rates obviously matter all the way through it, but not getting so myopic that like it is, you know, okay, well we have to get out three white papers. Some weeks we get out a couple blog posts, it’s one and half just, okay. We’re going to focus in on that trial. Very different though from what we did at Apttus, which I was at previously, a company that I was about a hundred employees.  I was there through over a thousand, and a billion and a half acquisitions.

There we only routed the leads to sales that were from their name to count. We said, okay, let’s get out of the volume game. This is a true enterprise play. It’s all account based marketing. Let’s only look at the engagement that we have within those target accounts and only bring those things, those people forward. And those are the MCLs (Marketing Captured Leads) we’re going to count. This isn’t going to be all about just anybody. It’s really going to be about the right people. And again, really allows for focus then on the thing that’s going to matter to the company.

AO: We know the successes and what you’ve done. And I trust this. The question I was going to ask is, say the CEO comes to you and says, Hey, why is it this one channel or this other potential strategy? Why isn’t that working as well? My point is say you’ve determined that it’s the second or third priority, but it’s still something you’re covering. How do you have that conversation?

Maria Pergolino: Yeah. And we have this conversation all the time. I can tell you the way first not to go. I once sat in a conference with a group of other CMOs and a CMO came up and said, you know, as the CMO, you really have to be the CM-No because you’re constantly saying no to all these things. And I was like, I did not like this advice because, that’s not who you want to be. I just do not want my personal self in an organization to be aligned to the like answer bell, right. That the answer is, yes, I wouldn’t be the CM-Yes.

Yes. But the way that you do that and not get bogged down with a billion requests is to say, you know, three comes with an idea. This happens every day. People believe the success in marketing is the idea, but it’s really about the execution strategy. And so getting them up, talking about the strategy and what they’re really trying to achieve as a way to get around that. So somebody comes,  let’s imagine this situation say, Oh my goodness. You know, did you see this company? They did this campaign. It was a survey. I love the survey. What are we doing with the survey?

We need to do a survey. Oh, this is the greatest, right? I say, okay, tell me why you love the survey. What is that going to do for their business? What are you trying to get to? And they’ll say, well, you know what? I liked it because it was a survey of their customers. So what I’m trying to do is I would think if we could engage our customers more and then I can get into, okay, so what you’re asking for is not lead gen. What you’re asking for is customer nurturing. What are you trying to do there? Do you think we’re losing customers or do you think we’re trying to upset our current base? Our biggest opportunity? I don’t need more leads.

Our team has plenty of leads. I think where we really need to focus is upsell to our current base. And now I can say yes, because what I can commit to is if they’re on the right track, if you know, we should be agreeing as business leaders. Okay? Yes, this is a priority. So if that’s right, I can say, listen, I hear you on the survey. But what I’m going to do is I’m going to commit to you that we are going to help grow upsells to those customers. I’m going to come back to you with a couple of ideas. And so instead of being stuck in their tactic, I’m going to bring it up. I’m going to understand what they’re trying to achieve. I’m going to make sure it’s aligned to the company’s goals.

It’s not to educate them about what the priorities are, but if it is, then I’m going to, I’m already doing these things that are going to help that I come back and I say, Hey, look, I know this, isn’t a survey. Let’s put that in the plan in the future. But here’s the three things we’re doing right now to help with that upsell effort. Do you think they’re going to get to help? Do you think they’re going to be useful? And if they say no, then there’s an important conversation that needs to happen, right. Then maybe I’m doing the wrong stuff and I should pivot. But if they say yes, I’ just give them that. Yes. And I never had to do that survey. And so it’s just getting people out of the tactics and the ideation and into are we trying to achieve the same thing that I think has made the biggest difference?

AO: It’s getting to the why? Like, why are we ultimately coming up with it. Solving for that and then judging it based on that. Ah, this has been amazing. I know we’re coming close to our time. Last question. Any roadblocks that you would just see that you could help someone who’s about to go execute on this kind of hyper focus?

Maria Pergolino: Yeah. I know sometimes it just feels like somebody is saying, hey, I noticed we haven’t updated this or we haven’t done that. And you know, once you start doing something you’re kind of stuck, keeping it maintained, or you have to find a way to educate people and say, hey, this is what we’re doing. Do you agree that this is what we’re doing? I think that can get really hard. So don’t, if you then start that blog, you have to either make sure everybody knows, hey, this is we’re going to get one post up a week. And set the expectations so that there’s not this like trailing, what about this? What about that? 

I think the other thing is, be particularly when you’re hiring, I have been very fortunate. The best part of my career has been the awesome people that I have worked with. I stand probably by every one of them. And that comes from any leader, job. Number one is in hiring. If you know the things that you need to do and then just hire the people that are best at them. We just did this, I just hired like someone incredible for revenue marketing and somebody incredible for product marketing and we’re going to let them do their thing.

And of course it takes time in the beginning to let people kind of come together and align to the culture of the company. But I think the most important thing any of us can do is think about hiring. I know that sounds so simple, but it’s probably under talked about. 

AO: Thank you so much. It seems like when I talked to leaders like yourself, it’s always about going back to the basic principles that people think are just part of it, but they’re just skipping by it. And you’re like, no, no, no. We’re going back to these basic core things: prioritization, don’t put all your resources everywhere, put it in one or two really good things and then hiring great people. This has been amazing. Thank you so much for your time. 

Maria Pergolino: That’s awesome.Thank you.

AO: That’s it. Another great episode of The One Growth Show , the official podcast of growth marketing conference to learn more about upcoming events, visit www.growthmarketingconf.com and subscribe to the newsletter. If you enjoy this episode, let us know. We’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a five star rating, super easy, just click the last star on iTunes, and also share this episode on social media. After all you want your network to know you’re the person they can always turn to for the best growth and marketing content, don’t you?

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