Jes Kirkwood on November 15th 2021
Doug Roberge, Lyuda Grigorieva on May 10th 2020
What’s it like to build and grow a business in the age of COVID-19? We sat down with three top e-commerce industry growth leaders to find out.
Harini Karthik, the Director of Data Science at Shipt, a delivery service owned by Target Corporation.
Bryan Mahoney, the Co-Founder & CTO at arfa, a consumer goods company that develops personal care brands.
Lex Roman, Founder and Growth Design Lead at lexroman.com, a design wunderkind who focuses on growth, design, and analytics.
Each member of the panel brought a unique perspective on the state of e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic from both their personal and professional experiences. Their discussion ranged from how the e-commerce industry is being affected as a whole, to how individual businesses can use data “the right way” in a time of such uncertainty.
Dive into the conversation below, or watch the full on-demand webinar here.
Over-index on being nimble. Abandon the idea of planning six months ahead. It’s impossible to know what that market landscape will look like. Instead, ask your teams to plan six weeks, or even one week ahead, and make resolute decisions knowing that you may have to pivot. Experiment aggressively to determine where there are potential pockets of growth.
Use data to determine new customer needs. Your customer needs have undoubtedly changed, and it’s vital you can adapt to them to retain their business. Making sure your data is organized and accessible is also more important than ever given the remote working environment. Everyone in your company should be able to see and understand the trends amongst your customer base in order to make data-driven decisions.
Focus on customer LTV, but from a different perspective. Because the LTV of a customer is dictated by how much you spend to acquire them, it’s worthwhile to think about how to make that first interaction profitable. Using data and marketing tools to help customers find the right products or services quickly can be a smart way to boost LTV and customer satisfaction.
Embrace authenticity over perfection when it comes to content. While video marketing is proliferating, there is a growing desire for a more “authentic,” less polished approach. Your customers have started to become accustomed to life at home, and that means changes to the type of content they consume, and how it’s consumed. Moreover, from a practicality standpoint, it’s much easier to produce “authentic” content over a perfectly polished ad given the remote work environment.
Be a good global citizen. While we all navigate these unprecedented times for our businesses, there will be setbacks, frustrations, and the development of a “new normal.” Despite this, there are also tremendous opportunities to re-envision company priorities, reflect on our contributions to the world, and make a lasting impact on our consumers. Caution: don’t be cute or tricky about it; customers will see right through it.
Can you share your take on the impact COVID-19 has had on your company and the e-commerce industry as a whole?
Lex: A lot of new products have come forward as a result of this crisis. Since so many businesses are being forced to go digital, I’m working with a lot of local organizations to figure out how they can sell online, how they can build an online presence, and how they can communicate with their base differently than they did before.
Bryan: Arfa launched right when COVID-19 began. We’d been working so hard toward an e-commerce goal, and we were so excited to share it with the world. We knew we had product/market fit, but we paused to decide: Is this the right time to try to bring a new product into the market?
Within 72 hours, we changed our launch strategy and changed our website. It’s a testament to arfa’s ability to be nimble. Like everyone else right now, we are trying to find new ways to work, to be collaborative, and over-index on being nimble. Despite all of our prior planning, so many things right now are a guess.
Harini: Yes, I agree with Lex. Right now, so many companies are being forced to have a digital transformation, be it working remotely or getting their products to have an online presence. Digital transformation has been a key for businesses, but I think that on a personal front, we are having internal transformations as well. We are reflecting on health and family and what is really important for us.
Shipt is an online grocery delivery service, and the demand has spiked tremendously. Our product teams are working on launching newer features that will increase member and shopper safety. Our other focus is on how to meet the higher demand.
What changes have you made in terms of product strategy?
Harini: We are creating small groups to brainstorm ideas around what they are seeing in the data. What are the gaps? How can we provide better service? What are members requesting? What are shoppers requesting? What is the data telling us about these things? We look at all of that data together and then determine: What product features should we be launching?
From there, we scope out those ideas to understand the effort versus the impact. It’s definitely accelerated development driven by the health and safety of our members and shoppers and the data that we are receiving.
Bryan: Yeah, to follow up on that, we are being really careful with the data that we are receiving right now because the economy has really slowed down. So we are giving ourselves license to do the same.
We don’t want to start chasing something it’s the new normal because we don’t really know what the new normal is. We are going to be getting data we’ve never seen before, so we’re asking ourselves: How do we identify real opportunities? How can we come up with a “generalizable approach” to take advantage of those opportunities so that it will also be useful when we return to “normal,” or a “new normal,” and whatever that looks like.
I don’t think we can “data” our way into identifying what that new normal is, so we need to fight the instinct to chase these new opportunities that might not last. Cooler heads should prevail.
Lex: I think it’s interesting to see people reacting to the new data, which is emerging every day. I think there is an argument for stepping back and seeing where the chips fall. One of my recent clients was Gusto, the payroll and HR company. They took a look at their roadmap and asked, “Ok, what can we do to help our customers now?” Their customers are mostly small businesses.
So, they are now looking at things like webinars, education, giving people breaks on payments. This is Gusto’s way to support all of these restaurants, coffee shops and fitness studios who are now trying to make ends meet.
Gusto's Small Business Relief Finder
This presented a really cool opportunity for product and growth teams to shake up that road map and ask themselves, “What do our customers really need, and how can we deliver on that now?” I think it’s really cool to be able to ship value that is aligned with your customers.
Harini: One thing I’d like to add is that some of the things that we’re seeing now in the data likely will stick. Take working from home, for example. We were already trending in that direction, and now people are discussing if this will be part of the new normal.
So, I think companies need to keep in mind that although some of these trends may not have the exponential growth curves that we’re seeing during this digital transformation, it’s still important to understand and reflect on how your business will work in this setting.
Do you see a future with more or less commissioned-based marketing, specifically for direct-to-consumer brands?
Bryan: I think that’s an excellent question. I’ve spent the last 10 years in the direct-to-consumer space and part of that playbook is spending on ads to find customers for your products.
Now, at least at arfa, we’re trying to find products for our customers, and how we think about growth is through that lens. That may be a cheeky way to answer a question about ad spend, but what I mean is that we are not motivated to spend money to try to convince you to buy our product.
Instead, we want to use our tech resources and marketing know-how to have better conversations with our customers, to really find out what they need, and then we’ll find products for them, with them.
That’s how I want to grow products and brands. That’s how I want e-commerce to move forward, and I think that’s the promise of direct-to-consumer (DTC). I guess a more direct way to answer this question is: We are not spending more on ads during COVID-19.
The impact of COVID-19 on online advertising.
COVID-19 has changed your customer needs, how has that influenced your roadmap or prioritization of existing product development plans?
Lex: I’ve been really impressed by local restaurants and how they are changing their marketing strategies because they can no longer rely on foot traffic. They are relying heavily on email marketing, offering delivery, curbside pick up, some restaurants are even offering groceries.
Really paying attention to your customers is your best growth tactic, and I’ve always felt that way. And now is a really good time to be listening to them, interviewing them, understanding their mindset, their emotional state, their situations. Then you can respond with messaging and offerings that are relevant to them.
Bryan: I totally agree. Now is the time for entrepreneurship, and the restaurant example is a good one. We see people being entrepreneurial in the sense that they are doing what they need to do to survive.
Harini: On the topic of ad spend and growth, with so many people at home now, I think there will be shifts in paid ad spend budgets, skewing more towards digital channels rather than other channels.
I also think companies should focus more on creating a “growth loop” where the product has a viral loop by itself. I think these external channels can be good at triggering these loops, but ultimately, you have to have a good product/market fit and add value to customers. So, the focus should be more on making sure we are delivering good products and in parallel leveraging channels to help drive some of those loops. That will be important.
How has the use of video and video content changed since COVID-19?
Bryan: Video is incredibly important. What I’m noticing is that it's not important to be perfect anymore with content, especially video. Content creation is becoming far more democratized. We are also seeing more content that is not created by influencers who make it “perfect.” And the more we see ad spend shift there, it will become a movement that snowballs and that can be really powerful.
I think this ties back to the idea that we are going to see more entrepreneurial shifts during this time, and this feels really related to that. I’m fascinated to see how this all plays out.
Lex: I think authenticity is really important. For example, if you're creating from home, just be really authentic. It’s important to realize the moment we’re in and communicate about that. We can’t be tone-deaf and just blast things into the ether like we used to.
We’ve seen a lot of companies transition their businesses to provide much-needed services during COVID-19 like Brooks Brothers, AB InBev, and more. What advice would you give to a smaller company that’s looking to do something similar?
Bryan: I’d encourage companies to do good for the right reasons—don’t make it a marketing stunt. As a company, just make it clear what your intent is and do that. If you try to get cute or tricky, customers are just too smart and they’re going to see right through it.
Lex: Also, I think you can collaborate with other companies. For example, if you feel like you can't do enough on your own, try teaming up with companies adjacent to you.
The other suggestion I have is to reach out to your local legislators because they also have a list of needs and they might have ideas for you. You can reach out to your state or city legislators to ask what they need to solve.
How can e-commerce companies grow LTV? What are some specific tactics you’d suggest to retain customers and grow your relationship with them?
Bryan: I think it’s a good time to focus on profitability, which may not be the most popular answer right now. You think about the LTV of a customer, in part, by how much you have to spend to acquire that customer. Now is a good time to review that—maybe you’re doing it wrong. So, how do we think about being more profitable in that first transaction? How do we think about creating products so we don't need to convince people (by way of traditional marketing spend) that it’s the right thing for them?
I don’t know what the new normal is going to be. But I hope it’s a move towards brands that resonate a bit more with better product/market fit, more word-of-mouth, and less of that traditional marketing playbook.
Lex: My career has been focused on how the design of your product really drives that impact. The way you build your customer’s experience drives impact. When it comes to LTV, how are you reducing friction for those customers? How are you responding in a way that makes sense?
How are you measuring new customer behaviors, and how are you making sure that you're delivering what customers want and not just what you think they want?
Bryan: Yeah, we’re still figuring that out. The honest answer is we don’t know. We’re doing our best to continue to collect data and have a real, hard look at it and decide where we want to go with it.
Harini: At Shipt, we test all of the new features that we're launching. We run A/B or multivariate tests and monitor our KPIs to understand the impact. We make sure that we’re doing all of the correct event tracking, which is where Segment comes in. We make sure we run the tests properly, then we measure the results and build out the dashboards and communicate the test results.
Given the scale of Shipt, we are deeply involved in every product release, and data has been a critical part in trying to understand what features we need to build, in testing it out, and in seeing if it will help ease any of our metrics because there is such an increase in demand.
Lex: I would also say that from the UX side, especially for anyone who is working on a two-sided marketplace, and anyone who is dealing with manufacturing or any kind of supply chain, make sure you’re thinking of the human impact of the decisions you’re making. These KPIs are human beings on the other side. How do you make sure that you’re accounting for that as you’re measuring the success of your company?
Harini: Absolutely, I second that. We are a four-sided marketplace. We have members, shoppers, retailers, and CPG partners. I agree that so much can be done using the data, which is really the voice of all of the customers, B2B or B2C, which is definitely the most important during these times.
What challenges do you have collaborating as an organization around your customer data while also working remotely? How do you gain consensus on growth decisions and make sure you're making the right decisions?
Lex: I love this question. I think this is a great time to take stock of your analytics tools and processes and figure out what’s broken within them. For example, are there people on your team that can’t access data or can’t understand data? Is there something you can do to address that, like changing tools or offering training or some additional kind of support?
I would also look at the cadences in which you are reviewing data. Are people doing it on their own? Are they just kind of throwing it over the wall to each other? Is it something that you bring into your process? Are you looking at it together, perhaps in a standing meeting? I would strongly suggest you incorporate a regular cadence where you’re looking at data.
The other thing I’d mention is to make sure that you’re pairing qualitative research with your quantitative data—especially if you’re seeing changes in the behavior of your product. So, more usage, less usage, erratic behavior, anything different—reach out to those customers, interview them, try to understand the “why” behind the data.
Bryan: I absolutely agree that you need to balance the qual/quant data, and now is a great time to reach out and interview your customers. If you haven’t developed that muscle as an organization, I’d encourage you to do that now.
COVID-19 has created a lot of emotion among the customers that you might need to serve. What digital signals can you use to understand, quantify, and react to that?
Harini: Sentiment analysis is the best way to measure emotion. If companies are truly trying to understand customer sentiment, they could look at social data like Twitter. You could see what your company is tagged in and do sentiment analysis on that and measure real-time NPS.
Lex: Yeah, I’d look at all of your channels including social media channels and customer support channels. What is the feedback that you’re getting on your website? In your app? Customer calls? This way you have sort of a broad qualitative pulse on your customer base, and you can reach them in a more meaningful way.
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Steffen Hedebrandt on April 23rd 2020
Alex Patton on April 20th 2020
Once you’ve started to acquire users, you’ll want to build the perfect onboarding email series for your product. Whether you’re a B2C product or a B2B SaaS platform, a well-thought-out onboarding campaign can play a key role in turning your new users into lifelong customers.
How emails and ad audiences can introduce value to your product.
How to design your first product onboarding campaign.
How to set yourself up to learn and iterate from your first campaign to your ideal campaign.
In many ways, a product onboarding campaign is a re-engagement campaign. There was already a spark that convinced your user to sign up for your product, and a successful onboarding campaign will remind the user why they signed up in the first place.
Targeting your audience with advertising campaigns is an effective way of re-engagement. Utilizing custom ad audiences in Google Ads or Facebook Ads, you can target the exact users who are receiving your product onboarding email series with display ads that match your emails.
In parallel, you’ll stay top-of-mind by reengaging with this audience. Using Customer.io’s Ad Audience Sync, you can keep your segments and ad audiences automatically in sync between Customer.io and your Ad Networks.
What are the steps to unlock the value of your product? If you’re just starting out, it’s likely you won’t have a definitive answer to this question—and that’s okay! You can use a tool like Segment to track those all important first actions.
For our product onboarding campaign, we picked the five most important steps to get up and running in Customer.io.
Your product onboarding email campaign is a great place to test your initial assumptions about your product. Email is a lower cost to produce and quick to update. While you won’t get the same kind of answers as you could with a true A/B test in your product, you can quickly test concepts by including them in your campaign and seeing the response to it.
To start, start by tracking the events (in Segment) that are the most important to find value in your product. For some companies, that might be setting up content preferences (to see personalized results), or setting up domain authentication, or inviting team members.
List the steps, then order them in a way that makes the most sense to progress in your product. When you’re just starting out, we recommend sticking to at most four or five steps—if you listed more than that, you can always A/B test the different steps.
For a B2B product, you often want users to come back into your product to set everything up and uncover the value immediately. We suggest starting with five emails, send one message per day, and schedule the delivery on working days (Mon – Fri).
For B2C, we suggest starting with one email per week for a month to avoid being overkill. If you offer a free trial for your product, then try spacing your emails throughout the free trial. We’ve found this timing works well for a successful strategy.
For those of you who may be struggling to start your campaign, here’s a piece of advice. Your first onboarding campaign won’t be your last; it’s important to get started so you can build the baseline and grow from there. As you build your first product onboarding series, allow yourself to frequently and intentionally iterate from the baseline.
A big part of that set is your tech stack.
At a minimum, you’ll need an email marketing platform (Customer.io). Segment, makes it very easy to quickly set up Customer.io as well as any ad hoc analysis tools (like Google Analytics or Mixpanel), and a data warehouse/ data visualization solution (like Mode Analytics querying Amazon Redshift) with the flip of a switch.
You can use Segment to track all of your users and events to help create the right audiences for your onboarding campaigns in Customer.io. Our recommendation is to start using these tools as early as possible, that way you’ll be amassing data from the start and have a strong baseline of data for your campaigns.
We understand it can be hard identifying what is (or isn’t working) in your first campaign. Open and click-through rates can tell you a little, but it’s more important to follow your users from their first product onboarding email to converting to a customer or tracking their actions with your product.
All that being said, it can take months to collect and analyze this data —and that’s okay. Combine your quantitative data with customer feedback and conduct user interviews. Ask questions about the product onboarding series, and use that feedback to make your email series even better.
Throughout all of this, remember that your first product onboarding email series won’t be your last. You’ll continuously be learning new things about your product and your users. Using the guidelines above, you can take your first steps to build an impactful onboarding campaign.
Are you an early stage startup that would like to use Segment and Customer.io together for free? Click here to apply.
Customer.io is a partner on Segment's Startup Program. You can get 12 months free on their Basic Plan or 90% off their Premium Plan through Segment's Startup Program, or sign up directly for their Startup Program.
Geoffrey Keating on April 19th 2020
Calvin French-Owen on April 6th 2020
Lately, a bunch of early-stage founders have emailed me to ask for go-to-market (GTM) advice. They have a real product, it solves a real problem for their handful of customers…
…so why isn’t it selling?
It’s a problem faced by nearly every single technical founder I talk to.
The unfortunate truth is that the first year of sales will tend to make or break the company. Sales provides the initial momentum for a startup to survive. It’s the difference between a Series A, and an Our Incredible Journey Medium post.
The trouble is, I’ve always felt at a bit of a loss when asked for sales advice.
I’ve worked way more on the product and tech side. Until recently, I’d never had a strong framework for understanding how sales actually works.
That changed recently after I attended a two-day sales training. Our CRO hired a consulting firm called Force Management (I know, I know, it sounds like soul-crushing corporate training, but bear with me) to teach all of our GTM teams about sales. I was fortunate enough to sit in.
Bonus: If you’d like to hear a fireside chat between myself and Force Management on the importance of sales in B2B, listen to our conversation below.
Candidly, I was impressed by everything the instructors taught us. They were handing me the exact answers to the questions these founders were asking me for.
My goal in this post is to relay all of those learnings as concrete advice for early-stage founders. By reading it, you should be armed with the framework you need to sell a SaaS product to other businesses (and have a view into the enterprise).
We’ve gotten Segment surprisingly far without having any of this sort of framework. But frankly, I wish we’d known this much earlier on. There’s no reason not to be great at this from day one.
Without further ado; here’s everything I’ve learned when it comes to selling a B2B product.
Note: A version of this post first appeared on my personal blog.
Before getting into tactics, I want to spend a minute on the importance of sales, particularly in the enterprise.
I used to think that “products just sell themselves”. A great product naturally spreads like wildfire.
I’ve since realized that I was dead wrong. A great product may be the backbone of a company, but it’s not sufficient all on its own. Here’s why.
Think about all of the products you buy today–food, gas, coffee.
For the most part, these products are commodities. The cost of the good is dictated by the raw ingredients and the competition; maybe there’s some markup for additional quality.
What that means is that you might encounter a $5 cup of coffee on your morning commute, but a $50 cup of coffee would be unheard of.
Now in the enterprise, these rules go out the window. For most SaaS business, the cost to deliver your product rounds down to zero.
The infrastructure used to run our Salesforce instance probably costs somewhere on the order of $100 per month. Yet, they charge us tens of thousands of dollars per month… how?
In enterprise software, customers pay for software based upon the value that software provides, not the cost to deliver or build that software.
The same product can be sold for $50, or $5,000,000. The price comes down to how much value the buyer is getting from the software. As long as the buyer sees it as a positive return on investment, it’s worth the price.
A great salesperson steers the conversation towards that value. If you’re not anchoring against the value, you are literally leaving money on the table.
The first lesson in sales is: don't think of it as sales.
When I think of salespeople, I typically think of people without my best interests at heart. They’re trying to close the deal. They don’t really know or care about the things I want.
Honestly, this rule applies to 99% of sales interactions I’ve had. Why shouldn’t this stereotype hold if I’m talking to someone trying to sell me something?
Don’t be that 99% of my inbox.
When selling, you have to approach the discussion from a totally different mindset all together. Great sales isn’t about closing the deal. It starts with understanding the customer.
Don’t think of yourself as constantly trying to pitch them on your company. Instead, think of yourself as a consultant or a trusted advisor. You’re trying to help the customer get the outcome they want (and maybe that’s not buying your product!).
Getting there requires two key skills:
actually listening to the business needs and
demonstrating that you’re listening.
To do this, I’ve seen a few different tactics be effective
Do your homework: read 10-Qs, earnings reports, and press briefings. Try out the product or service, and see what customers are saying. Look at reviews on G2Crowd, Capiche, and Yelp. Have an idea of what matters to your customer before that first call. Companies (especially public ones) put out a ton of information on what they want to get done. It’s on you to find it.
Ask “What does success look like?”: anyone considering buying a tool will have an idea of what they want to get out of it. There’s likely some quarterly goal that they want to achieve, or some metric that they want to impact. It’s a great idea to understand what matters most to the customer.
Tie back to a business objective: at the end of the day, businesses traditionally value just a handful of things: increased revenue, decreased cost, reduced risk, or time to outcome. It’s worth understanding what the overall goals for the business are here, because your product should support one of those top-level goals. Saying “We have a better UI” doesn’t really paint the ROI story that you need.
Write it all down: there's one big commonality between our best salespeople: they are constantly taking notes in a notebook. No one will object to you taking notes—and it’s a key way to remember exactly what the customer said. You’ll want to use these notes in follow-up emails and conversations. It’s really easy to do and makes you seem like a pro.
At the end of the day, selling well means that you are helping the customer actually understand their problem, and the path to evaluate a solution. Don’t sell, consult!
Okay, once you’ve started learning about what the customer cares about, you need to get a first meeting with them.
I’ve historically seen two ways work well for this, inbound and outbound.
Getting customers coming to you means that you first have to put something interesting out there.
When it comes to content, my #1 rule for this is teach people something they didn’t already know. It has to be non-obvious, and combine some set of deep research or your own data.
A good rule of thumb is asking yourself “Do I wish I’d read this post six months ago?” It’s easy to become “too familiar” with content that’s actually really interesting.
Priceonomics has the definitive guide on building out interesting content, so if you want to go this route, check them out first: The Content Marketing Handbook.
I’ll warn you right now that inbound is going to be a slower path. But it’s far more likely to succeed for some audiences (developers in particular).
In the early days, we grew Segment by:
Launching Analytics Academy — we realized people were eager to learn more about analytics, and the best way to highlight Segment was to teach them.
If you need a faster path to getting users (or your market requires it), you may have to rely more on cold emails.
As a rule, most people hate getting outbound emails. I certainly do. In fact, we actually used to have a rule at Segment that we didn’t send outbound emails ever).
Most outbound emails I get aren’t personalized. Best case, they feel like spam, worst case, they are downright annoying. I archive almost all of them immediately.
I’ve since come around a bit, mainly because I’ve realized: outbound emails don't have to suck. A few ground rules:
Do your homework: Sound familiar? Make sure that you’ve researched the person you’re emailing. Look at LinkedIn, Twitter, recent talks they’ve given. Make sure you can put yourself in their shoes.
20 emails are better than 1,000: I’ve found time-and-time-again that a handful of emails are better than a random blast. If you need early user feedback, focus on those few users you really want.
Answer: Why me? Why now? If I'm going to get an email from you, you have to make it clear that you’ve done your homework. You have to mention something that’s both relevant to me, and explain why you’re emailing now. For example:
I saw your talk on handling outages, and it got me thinking about entrypoints.
I realized that there should be some sort of tool to make those more apparent. We’ve built a first version that I’d love to show you.
Would you be interested in trying it out?
Get an intro: So many of the founders I talk to don’t lean on their investors hard enough for intros. Yet, it makes me 10x more likely to talk to a new startup if someone else recommends them.
Now, let’s shift gears to what happens when you’re actually talking to the prospect.
The truth of the matter is that 99% of salespeople start with the same exact pitch. It’s pre-canned, it’s not personal, and it’s irrelevant. In other words, it’s far less likely to succeed. It’s the dead opposite of what we want to do.
Remember, let's start the conversation by thinking like a consultant, not a salesperson.
Before ever talking about “what it is you do”, you need to gain a clear understanding of the problems the customer is trying to solve. And you need to have a crystal clear idea of how they are doing things today.
That means asking open-ended, illustrative questions.
As an example, I’ll share a few that are particularly relevant for Segment:
What does success look like? What metrics are you looking to move?
Tell me how you answer a question about your funnel today?
Walk me through the process to gauge the success of a new product launch.
These questions help establish the “before” state; it’s the status quo.
The before state probably has some rough edges. Maybe it’s expensive or a waste of time. Go deep here, you need to figure out where the real pain for the customer comes from. You need to be able to articulate that pain later, so ask questions even if they may seem obvious.
Once you understand the status quo, start probing for what the business should look like in a year.
This is where the “after” state comes into the picture. If the customer could have their dreams fulfilled, what set of things would they want to exist?
Write down that “after” state diligently. Ideally the after state should have a set of “axioms that are now true”, as well as concrete business outcomes and metrics.
Once you and the customer both have a clear picture of the “before” and “after” states, then there’s the natural question of “How do we get there?”
That’s where we get into creating required capabilities. These are the requirements that need to be true to transform from the “before” state to the “after” state.
What these are is not nearly as important as how they are created.
Crafting the required capabilities should be a collaborative affair. If you’re just listing out a set of requirements, you’re doing it wrong. You’ve stopped listening.
Imagine it in the same way that you'd build your product. You don’t just go into a room solo and emerge with a list of strict requirements. You’ll whiteboard them, pressure-test them, and give and get feedback from the customer.
It’s your goal to understand what their list of requirements is. At the end of the day, you want to agree on that list.
To see what this looks like, suppose I’m trying to sell Datadog, an application monitoring tool.
My list of required capabilities might look a little like this:
Engineers must be able to create dashboards to monitor their own services.
Engineers must be able to define alerts which trigger our existing pager system (Pagerduty).
We must be able to record our own custom application-level metrics.
We require SSO support.
Those capabilities are requirements that you and the customer have mutually agreed are important.
Remember, the customer is the expert on their organization, and the needs it has. You are likely the expert on how companies evaluate and buy your software. The two of you need to strategize together to figure out what makes sense.
Finally, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! The time to tell the customer about all of the great things you’ve built.
The way not to do this is to put together a laundry list of features you’ve built. Instead, you want to speak to the value you provide—and that means bucketing the problems your product solves into several different buckets.
There are only a handful of types of value propositions when it comes to selling to businesses:
At all costs, you should be able to map some part of your product and its features to these four outcomes.
When I think about the products that we pay for an use at Segment, all of them fall into these different buckets:
AWS increases our speed of iteration
Salesforce increases our revenue
GSuite reduces the fully loaded cost of our email servers
Okta reduces the risk of stolen credentials
Of course, some of these value propositions are correlated (speed often decreases cost), but the key is that they can contribute meaningfully to the business model in some manner.
Finally, there’s The Mantra.
If you remember nothing else from this post, just memorize this section. The mantra is a handy tool to use to wrap up conversations, re-affirm what you just talked about, and discuss next steps.
The mantra should be memorized, so that you can repeat it by heart at a moment’s notice.
If I understand correctly, you want to achieve the following business outcomes…
Which require the capabilities to...
And impact the following metrics...
Here’s how we do it…
And here’s how we outpace our competition…
For more info, you can check out the following proof points…
These six lines help establish mutual understanding. It shows that you’ve actually listened to the customer and their problems, and affirms that your product can really help them.
And we’re done! Well, almost.
No deal is fully complete without a set of qualification criteria.
Plain and simple, this criteria ensures that you’ve covered your bases. It’s a rigorous tool you can use to evaluate a deal and see where you might have blind spots.
Think of criteria in the same way that you’d think of the checklists that NASA or SpaceX use to launch rockets. If any field isn’t checked, you might be missing a key piece of the picture.
The one we use is called MEDDPICC. I’ve detailed it out below.
Metrics are one of the most important parts of a sale. You and the buyer should both be agreed on which metrics the product will impact for the business. That’s how you’ll measure the success of the product (and ideally the ROI).
The economic buyer is the person who actually buys a product—the catch is that they may or may not be the person who wants to use it. In every case, you want to know who can actually make the purchasing decisions.
The decision criteria are more or less the “required capabilities” I talked about earlier on in the post. They determine how the customer will evaluate the product you’re selling.
In every case, a viable option for the customer will be to “do nothing”. They don’t have to buy your product, or any product for that matter.
The best way to prove the case for your product is with your metrics. Doing nothing should be a very expensive option.
Of course, the criteria are only a piece of the puzzle. The decision process governs how customers will actually purchase a piece of software.
This can vary wildly from company to company—so you should take care to understand how your customer actually buys software. Ask questions to confirm:
Who you should talk to in order to make a decision?
What does the timeline look like to get there?
The paper process refers to all the forms, paperwork, and contracts as part of a deal. While it sounds similar to the decision process, DO NOT IGNORE THIS STEP. We’ve had a number of deals fail to close over the years just because we weren’t sure of how the paperwork actually got signed.
Though it’s far down in the acronym, the identified pain is really where you should start with the customer. You should be able to answer in great detail why their life is currently painful, and how they handle the problems you solve today.
Your champion is the customer who is rooting for you and wants to buy your product. In the early stage, it’s likely that your champion and buyer are the same person. But as you grow and expand your deal size, the champion might need to get permission to buy your product.
When this happens, you need to be giving your champion firepower! Help them provide collateral to the rest of their organization to teach them why your product is the best!
Lastly, you should know your competition. It could be internal efforts, it could be competitors, or it could be doing nothing at all. In each case, make sure you know why the customer is considering your competition.
At the end of the day, selling well means understanding your customer.
In some sense, sales is just another form of finding product market fit. Instead of helping a customer use a product, you are helping them make a decision.
If you take nothing else from this post, remember that your customer is the expert on the problems they want solved. They have an extremely detailed view of what matters to their business, likely crafted over years. It’s your job to help them understand how those problems map to the different products on the market, and how to make the decision to buy your product in particular.
As a final parting thought, I think most of the lessons here aren’t just applicable for startup founders. They’re useful for anyone who wants to sell an idea within their company, or establish a culture of elite sales from day one.
Seek to understand first. The rest will tend to follow.
: A notable exception to this are Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IAAS) providers.
Olivia Buono, Sasha Blumenfeld on March 31st 2020
Over the last few years and increasingly today, changes to our global economy and rising customer expectations have forced businesses to adapt quickly and often. The shift we’re seeing in the market today is forcing change at a pace and scope that we haven’t seen before.
If you’re already a digital business, you need to optimize for financial performance today. If you’re still on your transformation journey, you need to speed up your investments into the digital business models, products, and user experiences that will carry your business into tomorrow. Balancing these priorities can be a difficult challenge, especially when the stakes are high and the timeline is tight.
We’re seeing our customers rise to the challenge by building a deep understanding of their end-users and quickly mobilizing that knowledge across every team and technology. Here’s how your business can use the Segment customer data platform to accelerate marketing impact, make better product decisions, and build a resilient tech stack.
Effective marketing doesn’t necessarily require more people or budget, but it does require a better understanding of your customers. Segment helps you unify each interaction into trusted user profiles. We then help you turn those profiles into real-time audiences, like “High-Value Buyers,” which you can feed into a variety of tools to ensure all of your marketing channels are working in tandem. With reliable data at your fingertips, your team can launch marketing campaigns faster, rapidly iterate, and personalize with confidence.
Personalization can have a significant business impact. According to Forrester’s Total Economic Impact Report, Segment helps companies test marketing campaigns five times faster and deliver 33% better conversion rates. To navigate the current climate, marketers should be looking to:
Reduce wasted ad spend by immediately removing recent purchasers from campaigns to focus spend on those who haven’t converted.
Make the most of your high value users by using them to create look-alike audiences that power your new user acquisition.
Optimize budget allocation by connecting all online and offline data to run more complete marketing attribution and make informed budgeting decisions.
Here are a few examples of how Segment customers are accelerating marketing impact:
Consulting.com improved ROAS by 10% using Segment's Identity Graph and event-based audiences to build seed audiences for Facebook lookalike campaigns.
Digital Ocean drove a 33% improvement in cost per conversion by rapidly optimizing digital ad campaigns using Segment to create granular audience targeting.
Product teams make hundreds of decisions each day. In times of uncertainty, you need their decisions to be as fast and well-informed as possible. Whether it’s the decision to build a new product or streamline onboarding, they should have an accurate picture of how people use their products and the impact their products make on the business.
The most agile product teams have access to high-quality data and make data-driven decisions. A complete customer view doesn’t just allow marketers to personalize different channels, it also allows product teams to quickly run A/B tests and drive product adoption. When all of their tools are connected to Segment, product teams are also able to quickly analyze data and generate insights without redundant engineering efforts. Right now, product teams should be looking to:
Understand which features drive revenue to create opinionated onboarding and growth experiments that lead users to take action.
Enforce a data dictionary so that entire product team has consistent analytics across every product or customer touchpoint.
Build propensity models with trustworthy data that doesn’t require days of cleaning by your data science team.
Here are a few examples of how Segment customers are making better product decisions:
IBM increased product adoption by 30% and billable usage by 17% in three months using Segment to standardize customer data across divisions and provide visibility to drive efficient nurture programs.
Imperfect Foods increased user retention by 21% with a fast experimentation cycle—22 experiments in 6 months.
Norrøna saw an immediate 50% lift in conversion by automating product recommendations based on seamless data collection in Segment.
The technology stack you have today won’t be the same one you use to tackle the digital problems and opportunities of tomorrow. And as new tools spring up every day, it can become unclear whether to switch now or how to make the most of what you already have.
When considering a new tool, you’ll naturally want to test it with your own data. Historically, that meant you needed to convince your engineering team to build a data pipeline and create yet another data silo. The alternative—not testing—could lead to a lot of wasted engineering hours spent on a tool that doesn’t work as advertised. This resource-heavy process of bringing on a new tool has caused many businesses to simply accept the status quo.
Segment helps you de-risk this problem by making your customer data portable. Segment makes customer data fully accessible to the tools you already use to help you maximize each investment. When you decide to test new tools, Segment helps you test using your complete data set, rather than a sliver, and limits the engineering work required to hours, not months. Many engineering teams are turning to Segment because they can save millions of dollars by being able to integrate and experiment more quickly. Engineers can also use Segment to:
Streamline customer data collection that’s trusted and actionable across every team in your organization.
Connect your data to hundreds of tools with out-of-the-box integrations and the ability to build your own logic for custom workflows.
Give your team the ability to adapt your tool stack in a way that enables you to keep pace with customer expectations.
Here are a few examples of how Segment customers are building a resilient tech stack:
Clearscore launched in a new market at 1/3 the engineering cost of building an in-house solution that would allow them to comply with regulation using their existing tech stack.
Heycar quadrupled digital conversions and tripled user retention by using Segment to implement a new analytics tool that gave their product team instant data insights.
Halp improved activated digital sign-ups by 4x in less than a week by connecting best-in-class tools they were already using to launch a new digital onboarding experience.
The move to digital business is accelerating. The seismic shifts over the last few weeks are just the beginning. If you’re already a digital business, you need to prepare as usage continues to evolve. If you’re making measured moves toward digital, your transformation timeline needs to speed up to meet our new realities. It’s critical that you quickly tackle the new challenges ahead, so you can build new digital experiences for customers while the opportunity is still there.
As you evaluate your strategy across marketing, product, analytics, and engineering, consider whether you’re prepared to empower each team with the quality data they need to drive business impact and create tailored digital experiences. Also consider if you can do it fast enough and at the scale your business needs.
If you want to discuss how customer data can accelerate your strategy and power your digital business—with or without Segment—reserve some time with a Segment Growth Expert today.
Doug Roberge on March 25th 2020
Geoffrey Keating on March 23rd 2020
When you’re the parent company of multiple brands around the world (and investing in new acquisitions all the time), it can be a balancing act to know how to build a tech stack and manage it across your global brands.
Should you enforce a particular set of tools globally? Or should you let each of your businesses build or buy their own solutions as their individual geographies and needs dictate?
As Cimpress has learned, the answer is a little of both. The publicly traded mass-customization conglomerate owns brands all over the globe such as Vistaprint (in The Netherlands), Pixartprinting (in Italy), and BuildASign (in Texas) and operates manufacturing plants on every major continent. With more than 10,000 employees and a $3.11 billion market cap, the stakes are high.
At such a massive scale, it can be helpful to develop a set of design principles that can guide your decision-making. For Cimpress, there are two golden rules: 1) choose tech solutions made by challengers and visionaries with an extensible, API-first mindset, and 2) avoid legacy companies that might be lagging behind as they try to evolve their monolithic platforms.
We sat down with Abhishek Dwivedi, Cimpress India’s Senior Director of Technology, to learn more about how he walks the technological tightrope between centralizing and decentralizing the parent company’s software offering.
As a product development veteran of companies such as AOL, Oracle, and Anthelio Healthcare Solutions, Abhishek has had nearly two decades of experience sifting through the 21st century’s shifting software landscape. He became the Head of Technology for Vistaprint India in 2012, just two years before it was acquired by Cimpress.
Today, he’s responsible for tracking down best-of-breed solutions and figuring out how to leverage them for cross-platform integration, machine learning, and cloud infrastructure.
We’re excited to share how companies like Vistaprint empower teams and deliver real-time customized experiences for customers using Segment and Amazon Personalize.
This is the second in a series of real-life stories from leaders who have seen their stacks evolve in extraordinary ways. (Check out our interviews with Frame.io and Datadog about how they evaluate key technology choices.)
Our chat with Abhishek ran the gamut:
The difficulty of using a cookie-cutter approach for brands with diverse business models
Why Cimpress looks for “thought partners”: companies that are willing to listen and adopt design inputs instead of simply being vendors
How his team creates a mesh of services to address data infrastructure, visualization and distributed microservices
How following the concept of a minimum viable product helps them understand their customers’ journey at a high level and evaluate the technology they need to serve them best
Dive into the interview below.
Geoffrey: What sort of technologies were in place when you first started at Cimpress? What was working? What was not?
Abhishek: When I joined Cimpress, it was just one entity – Vistaprint. I joined in 2012 as head of technology because they were rolling out the Vistaprint brand in India.
Technology at that point took a cookie-cutter approach: you are in X country, and you decide that you want to be in Y country, so you would just basically copy the tech stack of X country and apply it to Y.
We had no way to help you adapt to the customer journey in that locale. That was a big, big challenge for us, because the stack was inflexible and monolithic in nature. You could neither extend it nor change it to impact the customer journey.
Geoffrey: So technology was centralized? How much flexibility did different locales have?
Abhishek: The company started in 1994, 25 years ago. When the company started, it was great for US markets, where the highest level of flexibility was available. You could be in one market and have a monolithic stack.
But when you start experimenting in Europe or Pan-Asian markets, things get harder. You had to move from a world where everything was centralized to a multi-brand, multi-country strategy.
Different regions want to take control of their own technology, but since the stack was monolithic, the level of control they had was actually very, very limited.
Geoffrey: What were the triggers that caused your stack to change from this cookie-cutter approach to where you are today?
Abhishek: We started to evolve as an organization for two big reasons. One: we wanted to go global, which meant we needed to be present in Asia. Being in the US and Europe doesn't make you global. That isn’t just limited to rolling out technology specific to each region. It also expands into marketing activities, plant operations, logistics, and so on and so forth.
The second trigger was that we started to make a slew of acquisitions in early 2013. We started to realize that a multi-brand, multi-country strategy would require flexibility on a per-region basis, but also a certain level of commonality in logistics, fulfillment, network, routing, and so forth.
Let me explain.
Within each region, there is some uniqueness. Is it B2B, B2C, or both? Is it a reseller? Are there closed borders, wide borders? Each region will have a unique way to bring a product to the market.
However, there are also commonalities that each region needs from its technology. There is a common set of things a business like Cimpress can offer to its subsidiaries. This cuts down their total cost of ownership and means they don’t have to execute a technology strategy completely independently.
Geoffrey: I'm guessing that when you acquired a company, you acquired their technology stacks as well.
Abhishek: Yes, we acquired the whole company. Getting all of them under one technology umbrella was a hard task.
This is actually how Cimpress came into being. As a holding company, we said: “Okay, we will invest in legal, finance, supply chain, and technology. This tech will basically power the platform on top of which these different businesses sit.”
We have created a level playing field for these businesses. Businesses can leverage the Cimpress technology platform, but at the same time, we preserve their brand identity, fuel their growth, and help them expand in a cost-effective manner.
You could describe it as decentralization with the support of a centralized platform.
Think of it as a pyramid.
What is common between the businesses for leverage? And what is unique for the businesses to deploy themselves? But some of the businesses have their own customer experience and their own technology.
Geoffrey: On a tactical basis, how do you keep data in-sync across all these different teams and tools and technologies?
Abhishek: Primarily through two things. Firstly, through event-driven infrastructure and microservices. Secondly, though common data infrastructure and data warehouses that we provide to our businesses. We also provide a lot of central tooling. like visualization architecture. We give you things you might not want to invest in, but you’re free to leverage them for your own needs.
Geoffrey: How does Segment fit into your stack specifically?
Abhishek: There are two locales in Europe that are using Segment. It is very clear that they understand Segment's potential, and are looking to harness it in new ways.
They have just introduced a Google Analytics integration with clickstream data coming into Segment. Soon, we’ll be able to tap into much more, like server-side data, events, etc.
Now that they’ve realized the potential of Segment, we want to move strategically into the area of identity resolution. This is the product within Segment where there is huge leverage for a business like ours that has analytics, marketers, engineering teams, and many different channels. These different units can then come together around Segment.
There’s big potential here in areas such as customer care, where we’re trying to realize identity and clickstream behavior while interacting with the customer.
Geoffrey: Obviously Cimpress is a fast-growing company. With that in mind, how do you ensure the tools you choose today can grow with you over the course of 12 or 18 months?
Abhishek: The one golden rule is that we never choose anybody in the top quadrant of Gartner or Forrester. We tend to choose people who are challengers and visionaries, because they are new-age, and they are not trying to refactor their platform from being monolithic to API-first.
The second rule comes down to our technology design principles. The technology we adopt should be extensible, it should be API first, and there should be an engineering-first mindset. If you take Segment, if you take Algolia, these are all engineering-first, API-first products. These company’s investments are in tech, and their core values are geared toward doing one thing as opposed to doing all the things (and not being good at anything).