Let’s talk about eliminating chaos in your marketing efforts. In today’s episode, I chat with Hana Abaza about the nitty-gritty of running the marketing for Shopify Plus. She joined the Shopify Plus team while the company was in the midst of crazy growth.
You’ll learn foundational principles for SaaS marketing, the biggest misconceptions about positioning, and how you can drive growth and optimization in a chaotic environment.
listen to this episode
- The nuance of marketing for B2B SaaS vs. small business or consumer
- How Shopify Plus started as an experiment to reduce churn
- Why positioning is highly misunderstood by most marketing teams
- What happens when you base marketing on your own assumptions
- Why you must have a minimum data measurement in place first
- How to identify low-hanging fruit based on your sales funnel
- The surprising reason growth isn’t focused on driving more volume
- Why foundational marketing strategy falls into four separate buckets
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! And welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers Dot Com, the marketing podcast, for marketers, founders and tech people who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode, you will learn how to drive growth and optimization in a chaotic environment. My guest today is the head of marketing for Shopify Plus. You probably know Shopify Plus. It’s the commerce platform powering Fortune 500 companies to the world’s fastest growing brands like Nestle, the New York Times, Fashion Nova, and thousands of more.
I very much like my guest because she likes to get shit done, especially around cross-functional teams, which is quite difficult to do. Prior to joining Shopify, she co-founded a few start-ups. She led marketing and growth in a variety of industries. She knows her stuff, especially when it comes to scaling teams, revenue, and customers. Hana Abaza, welcome aboard.
Hana: Thanks for having me.
Louis: What do you mean by a chaotic environment in the first place?
Hana: Basically, what I walked into when I joined Shopify two years ago would perfectly describe that. To give you a little bit of context and a little bit of background, I started at Shopify a couple of years ago. I joined predominantly to build and scale the marketing team for Shopify Plus, which as you mentioned is the division in Shopify that focuses on a mid-market to enterprise.
If you’re familiar with Shopify you know that historically it’s really focused on entrepreneurs and small businesses, so shifting that market was definitely a new thing for Shopify. I walked into this environment where there was crazy, crazy growth on a whole bunch of different levels. From 2012 to 2017 Shopify went from 24 million in revenue to over 700 million in revenue. I know, crazy, right?
Over the same time period, it went from a billion dollars in GMV — which is gross merchandising volume — to over 26 billion dollars in GMV in 2017. I can’t take credit for any of that, because I only joined two years ago, but you can imagine the level of growth and the impact that actually has on the actual organization.
Not only were we growing from customers and revenue standpoint, but I mentioned to you I started two years ago. Seventy percent of the company has started after me. We are at 4,700 people now. Imagine adding people to this machine that’s already moving at super, super quick speed. That’s what I mean by chaotic.
Louis: Wow. That’s quite a growth all right. Describe for us the scenario. You were, you joined from another company and you joined there. Was there already a head of marketing for Shopify Plus or were you creating the entire marketing team for Shopify Plus?
Hana: That’s actually a really great question. This is where the nuance of B2B SaaS vs. small business or consumer comes in. Shopify was fantastic at marketing to small business. They had done very, very well doing that. For those of you that are familiar with SaaS, a small business funnel is actually a lot more like a consumer funnel.
It’s free trials. It’s upgrades. There’s not often a sales team, because the price point doesn’t justify the cost of the sales team. When you take a look at what Shopify Plus was doing, that’s a totally different business model. When you incorporate sales, it’s higher touch. There are longer sales cycles.
It’s a completely different audience and really required a different type of marketing team, different types of growth leavers, a different approach to what we were doing. When I came in there were two people focused on marketing for Shopify Plus. Really, they were focused on the blog.
We went from two people to the team now is closer to 30 people. It was really building things from scratch. It’s funny, the speed at which Shopify Plus grew really mimicked Shopify.
We talked about Shopify growing really big, really fast. Shopify Plus actually started as an experiment, so as Shopify was growing really big, really fast, a lot of those small businesses that were on Shopify also started growing.
One of two things would happen. They would either graduate to an enterprise eCommerce platform, so they would churn off Shopify, or they would actually figure out a way to make it work. They’d hack something together and they’d stick around on Shopify.
The question was actually: How do we retain these customers longer? Shopify Plus was the answer to that. It was an upgrade mechanism. How do we actually keep them on Shopify? The turning point was when we not only saw upgrades, actually started people, seeing people migrate back over from competitor platforms.
It was like, “Oh, hang on a second. There’s a white space in the market and it’s really that mid-market that nobody was serving well.” That actually was the impetus for growing Shopify Plus into, not just a sales team within Shopify, but actually, an entire division that focuses on this. That also meant building out marketing.
When I first walked in, honestly, it was like the basic foundational marketing stuff. There was lots of things happening in the name of growth, but it was super ad hoc. We hadn’t really figured out who our audience was. We didn’t really have good positioning, which I think is the foundation of marketing.
We didn’t have a team to actually sit down and figure it out. That would really be the starting point. I started with trying to figure out what the positioning was.
Then the other piece to that was, “Okay, how do you actually sort through now the growth piece, the funnel piece? How do you accelerate that? What is the system? How do you define that?” Lots of challenges walking into that, both from an org standpoint, but also from an infrastructure standpoint.
Louis: How did you go about finding the right audience and the positioning that goes with it?
Hana: Yeah, the positioning piece is really interesting. I think positioning is one of those things that’s highly misunderstood and it’s also one of those things that people gloss over. The audience part was a little bit easier. In the early years, Plus was figuring out who the right customer was, so you end up upgrading people that maybe now wouldn’t really be a customer fit.
That part we were able to zero in on a little bit more quickly. The positioning part is always a little bit trickier. Here’s the problem with positioning. Most marketing teams don’t fundamentally approach it in the right way. I have make this mistake before as well where you get into a room with a white board with a bunch of marketing people.
Usually, it’s triggered by a calendar invite that says, “Brainstorming session,” which is red flag for me, huge red flag any time I see that calendar invite. It’s like, “No, no. What’s happening here.”
Brainstorming session, walk into a room, has to have a whiteboard. Then, all of these marketers start speaking in all of these flowery terms and glowing adjectives. They start talking about unicorns and ice cream and rainbows. Then all of a sudden the next marketer starts doing the same thing and they’re puking rainbows.
Then it becomes infectious. Everybody in the company is talking about unicorns and ice creams and rainbows. All of a sudden you have this positioning statement and this messaging and this strategy that’s created out of this brainstorming session. The problem with that is most marketers don’t look at the actual inputs that need to drive what your positioning needs to be.
It comes off of the back of a brainstorming session. This is actually, I think what’s fundamentally wrong with marketing in a lot of cases is this puking rainbows scenario that happens beyond positioning. I’m sure you’ve seen it before as well.
Louis: That’s my biggest pet peeve. And I think pet peeve is not the right word for it, because it’s really not strong, but that’s the thing I hate the most about marketing talk and the marketing techniques. Exactly as you said, the biggest mistake is that you base your marketing on your own assumptions, your critics’ assumption, and on the person who speaks the best English on the team or whatever.
You end up with a positioning that is fluffy. You end up using words that you don’t understand, like positioning statement, value proposition, self-enablement, and go to market. All this bullshit. You forget the people who matter the most, which are your customers.
Louis: I’m glad you’re showing those mistakes. Yeah, when you get invited to brainstorming session you know it’s a red fucking flag.
Hana: Decline, decline. I think the actual work of doing positioning, listen, it comes down to three things. I have this framework on, I think, Slideshare. I’ve shared it several times. I’m happy to send it to you. You can add it to the podcast notes.
There’s also, actually, a great woman, April Dunford, who talks a lot about positioning and she’s writing a book on it. You’ve had her on the podcast. She’s fantastic. I steal a lot of stuff from April as well. You should do that. Steal from her. She’s got lots of great stuff.
It comes down to three things: What are the inputs that you need in order to fuel this discussion? There’s a lot that goes into that. That could be customer research. That could be actual data from campaigns that you’ve run in the past, that could be from internal teams.
There’s an entire list of different inputs that could go into fueling positioning. Then there is a framework of, “These are the questions you need to answer.” It comes down to differentiation. It comes down to who your customer actually is specifically.
Your customer’s not everybody. I promise you that. It comes down to all of these factors that are literally questions you need to answer. The next piece also to recognize is positioning isn’t messaging. Those aren’t the same things.
How you say a thing is the next layer of starting to build out the messaging that can fuel campaigns, that can fuel experiments, that can fuel landing page copy, all of that kind of stuff. I think investing the time up front to really nail that piece actually helps across the entire funnel, particularly in B2B SaaS.
And the place where it has the most impact is really also on that sales piece, because if you don’t tell salespeople what to say, they will make their own stuff up whether it’s right or wrong. It’s incredibly important to have that foundational piece.
Louis: We’re not going to go into that much detail for positioning, because we have another subject to talk about in detail, but I’m glad you gave the summary and you still mentioned April. We had her on the podcast and yeah, she’s fantastic as well. Absolutely check out a few episode where we talk about positioning.
We talked about product positioning and brand positioning and a few other topics around positioning. Today what I was really curious to know about, especially from your experience is: How do you turn a chaotic environment where you arrive into Shopify, Shopify Plus, and there was only two marketers.
Have you thought about a place to assist in where you knew you could test stuff on a regular basis with a proper process and all of that? Let’s go through that step by step. When you arrived, what was the situation when it comes to testing new channels or testing new stuff? Perhaps you can define what you mean by gross and optimization. Maybe I’m forgetting aspects.
Hana: Absolutely. It came down to a couple of different elements. Initially, when I walked in, very small team focused on content. We had a few challenges we had to address initially. Number one we had some infrastructure challenges and some data and visibility challenges because Shopify Plus had grown so quickly.
We weren’t necessarily tracking all of the things that we needed to track. We were using a CRM, but we weren’t really using the CRM. Things weren’t being inputted into the CRM properly. Because there hadn’t really been marketing before, the infrastructure to actually set up, execute on campaigns, experiments, and even something as simple as an AB test actually was not existent.
There was some previous infrastructure across Shopify that we could leverage, but it hadn’t been set up for plus. Honestly, it was that boring stuff initially was the first step is the lay of the land. What is what, how is everything performing, what is the infrastructure, what is the data?
One of the bigger challenges walking into an org like that where the rest of it is really mature is that their ends up being this very pent-up demand for marketing.
When you get there, everyone’s like, “Oh, all the things.” It’s very tempting to try and find the low hanging fruit and start to optimize right away, because you really want to start to make an impact. Those low hanging fruit for us were, “Hey, there’s a couple of high traffic pages and it looks like it’ll be really easy to start to tweak those a little bit and get higher conversions.”
Or we weren’t doing any lead scoring at all at that point. We can implement the out-of-the-box lead scoring and start to see some immediate benefit from that. As you start to dig a little bit deeper, the curse of low hanging fruit starts to become apparent.
If you’re surrounded by low-hanging fruit all the time and literally you turn around and you’re hit in the face with it, it makes it incredibly difficult to prioritize. We’ll talk a little bit about how framework for prioritization, but lots of low-hanging fruit makes it hard to prioritize.
Number two, most of the time low-hanging fruit actually masks a bigger problem that needs to be addressed before you start making those small adjustments and changes and tackling the low-hanging fruit.
For us, it was like, what are all of the things that we could do? Whether it came down to more infrastructure basis, like something like lead scoring where we make sales more efficient. Or whether it was more on the CRO side and we were looking at optimizing website.
Or whether it was literally taking a look at the campaigns that we’re running and actually starting there? We ended up with this giant grid of all of the supergranular tactics, but also all of the potential experiments that we could run. At that point, it comes down to effort, impact, and dependencies.
Louis: Before we go about that, let me backtrack a bit and talk about the first step. The first step is if you do not have the minimum data measurement in place, then you shouldn’t probably work on the next step. You said the basics are the CRM structure, ability to measurement campaigns, and the ability to score needs. These seem to be the three ones. Am I forgetting any?
Hana: The other piece that I would say there is behavioral. How are people interacting on the website? Conversion, that kind of stuff. I think that flows through that whole funnel or journey for most people.
Louis: What did you choose to set up for each of those? Briefly, how is your system working right now?
Hana: Right now we are using Hub Spot for our CRM. We are using Hub Spot for marketing automation as well. We have a data layer at Shopify. We have a data warehouse. We use several data viz tools to actually tap into data around that. We also have the typical Google Analytics, campaign tracking, that type of stuff.
The challenges though that all of that was set up in a silo for Shopify Plus and not necessarily connected to anything else at Shopify. I don’t want to rabbit hole too far down this, because it’s actually a very complex infrastructure, but that’s the scenario that we had it.
Now, fast forward a couple of years down the road. We are in the process of migrating over to a new CRM. We’re migrating over to a new marketing animation tool. We are actually unifying that view of customers across Shopify so that we have better visibility into all of that data. We have to start looking at that now, but we can’t just do that.
This is where you start thinking in parallel. That’s the foundation. We have to start working on it. What’s the minimum viable thing that I can do to start doing marketing things. Then continue to work on the infrastructure piece. Does that make sense?
Louis: Absolutely. Yes, you can’t go in a rabbit hole of developing this new data around this project for two or three years before it needs completed. Because then it means you can’t do anything else. The second thing you mentioned is the low-hanging fruit.
This is something I’ve experienced myself in my role a few times where it is good, I think, when you get started into a new role to get some quick wins out of the way.
Hana: I agree.
Louis: So that you show confidence, you show impact, you show progress, working on a longer strategy cloud. Before we go into this big grid that you came up with and all of that, let’s talk about low-hanging fruits.
How do you identify in an environment very chaotic when you arrived? How do you identify those ones that obvious to tackle right now? The ones that you did when you joined and maybe the data one is actually one of the quick way perhaps to set up the CRM and all of that properly.
Hana: I think identifying the low-hanging fruit really depends at which part of the funnel you’re looking at. I think for me it was a combination of honestly talking to people that have been in Plus for a number of months at that point, potentially a year or two.
If I started hearing the same thing multiple times and I could start to predict what people were going to tell me, it’s like, “Okay. That’s at least an important thing.” Whether or not it’s low-hanging fruit, it remains to be determined. If something keeps coming up over and over again it’s worth investigating to see, “Hey, is that something that’s easily solvable?”
The data piece came up over and over again, not easily solvable, but a couple of steps towards progress could be made. I think there’s a couple of other telltale signs. If we’re looking at optimizing from a sales perspective there’s really easy ways to take a look at the data around your sales team.
Around which reps are performing and not performing and actually sitting in with them and finding the bright spots of who’s doing really well. “I want to know what they’re doing.” Then you can actually take a look across the board.
Typically, there’s always, “How do we standardize that? How do we help the rest of the sales team do more of the same?”
Then if you’re looking at more of the marketing growth related stuff, anybody with experience in CRO can typically go through a website and start to identify, “Hey, there’s these really high-traffic pages that are maybe not converting so well or these really high conversion pages that have no traffic.”
That’s the stuff that I think your audience is probably is largely probably pretty familiar with already.
Louis: Yeah, some of them. I know, what I like about those interviews, every time I interview someone on a topic in back of my head I have this little voice that says, “What if this person says the same thing as the previous guest on the same topic?”
Every time it’s not. Every time there’s something new coming up, your own experience shines in, and therefore, you are repeating the things that have been repeated 10 or 15 times in the podcast is irrelevant. Because there is this unique angle that you have, because you are unique and you have your own experience.
For low-hanging fruit I would finish this side, it’s definitely I would say a very good way to show confidence and get progress and get some sort of a flywheel starting to turn. You show if you get some quick wins and then you start, you feel safer into planning for something larger.
And your boss or your colleagues would feel understand more that you need to spend time on the longer term strategy once you’ve done some quick, once you have some quick ones in your bag.
Moving onto this big grid I’m very curious about, before we talk about the three criteria you started to mention, how do you go about collecting all of those tactics wins, dare I say hacks? All of those hacky terms that just means the same thing. How did you go about collecting all of those ideas?
Hana: It was diving into whatever data I could dive into. So, while it was sparse there were some leading indicators that you could look at, there were certain areas where you could start to understand, “Okay, what’s broken and what’s not and what can we fix?”
Again, that goes back to spending three days diving into Google Analytics to start to identify, “Hey, where are people actually coming in from?” That also is sitting down with people that have had a hand in running campaigns across Shopify.
The advantage that I had is Plus was focused on a specific audience segment. But there was also this huge, marketing team for Shopify that actually was doing a lot of the things that we maybe needed to do but targeted towards a different audience.
There was a lot of meat of what I could dig into there to learn, gain context, and understand what worked. Conversations with people. It really was. There’s no magic to it. If you’re starting a new role you need to spend all of your time talking to the right people and digging into whatever data is available to you.
I think to your point around low-hanging fruit, the way I think about it is whenever you’re walking into a position it’s this balance. If you go, if you come in too strong with all of these really hard opinions and you know exactly what you’re doing, people are not going to respond well to that.
On the other side of the coin, if you walk in and you don’t start to add value for a really long time and you have this analysis paralysis, that’s also not good. For me, it was trying to strike the balance of, “Where are places where I can start to add value and where are places that I need to sit back and listen?”
That was actually the most important part. Sitting back and listening were the places that pointed me in the right direction to identify the low-hanging fruit. I mentioned some of them, but for us, lead qualification was a huge miss. And that was obvious after talking to a dozen people, because you would see this huge amount of leads come in through the door and there was zero way to qualify them.
Then what ended up happening, everything went to sales. There was actually no file. Everything went to sales. You can imagine sales reps trying to churn through every single lead. Most of it’s not that good, which is a huge waste of time and energy and money. I would say if you’re talking to the right people, the low-hanging fruit becomes really obvious.
Louis: Yeah, and I made this exact mistake you mentioned. I came into jobs with my big ideas, my big ego, and trying to make people believe that my ideas were really, really good and all of that. We’re not doing much.
I was obviously showing up on time and doing a lot of stuff, but without making progress or without winning on stuff. As you said, there’s a balance between those quick wins and those longer term. You need to balance the two if you don’t want to be seen like an asshole or don’t want to be seen like someone who is afraid of doing stuff.
Hana: And it’s really hard.
Louis: It is hard, but with experience, you learn it and this is also why — maybe we are going off topic a bit, but this is important. This is always important with your boss or whoever decides on what you should be doing to get clarity on the work that you must achieve. And what, it doesn’t matter, the clarity of the goal that you have.
Yeah, absolutely and I think that’s also one of the things that tough for B2B SaaS, in particular. Because most marketers are in this mindset of more, volume. “Give me more traffic. Give me more leads. Give me more, more, more.” That’s actually not the right question to ask.
The right question is, “How do I get to the desired outcome with the least amount of traffic possible? And how do I get to the desired outcome with the least amount of leads possible?” That’s what speaks to conversion. That’s what speaks to quality. That’s what speaks to the fact that you’re tapping into the right audience. Right?
Louis: You said you looked at many data points. The biggest one is talking to people, as you said, talking to people internally. Did you talk to customers as well?
Louis: You talked to customers, you looked at analytics. You mentioned analytics. You looked at the basic of the highest traffic-low conversion, the high conversion-low traffic. What else did you look at?
Hana: We looked at some of the campaign data as well. There was some direct response advertising happening for Shopify Plus.
Louis: Can you define direct response for us?
Hana: Search, Google ads, a little bit happening on some of the social channels, a little bit happening around that. Then there were some efforts around SEO as well. There was a blog that was capturing blog subscribers. That was pretty much it in terms of what was happening that was specific for Plus.
There actually wasn’t much marketing going on. It was a few channels, some SEO, and a big ass sales team. That was basically it. There wasn’t much to dig through and then when you did dig through it, it was pretty apparent where the gaps were and where things really weren’t performing as well as they could be.
Louis: All right. Give me example. Where was this grid sitting on? Was it in Google Sheets, was it Excel, what was it?
Hana: It was Google Sheets. Yeah, big, Google Sheets grid. Since then, pieces of it have moved. But I’m pretty sure I still have the original. It was pretty straightforward. It was: Here was the initiative or the idea or the experiment, depending on what it is that we were talking about.
Here is the expected impact would be the next column. Effort would be another one, so how much time is this going to take? How much energy is it going to take? And how many people is it going to take? Then, the last column, which in an org the size of Shopify is really important, because things get complex quickly is dependencies.
Sometimes the fact that a really key experiment that you want to run is dependent on three other groups. That might kill it right there, because it might not make it worth the effort. That was really the dock that initially fueled the first few things that we tried out on the marketing side.
Louis: Give me an example of an actual line item in the grid, if you can remember.
Hana: Yeah, so one of the key ones where we thought we could actually make a lot more impact is actually super tactical, low funnel, the contact us page. You click from a variety of different places, on Shopify Plus’ site, Shopify’s main website, certain campaigns.
You get to this page that’s basically a demo request page. Here’s the thing that was really interesting. This actually specific change we made and for the better, I think, is we had a link to Shopify Plus’ contact page on the Shopify pricing page.
So if you go to the main Shopify.com/pricing, there’s a link at the bottom saying, “Hey, we also do enterprise stuff. Click here to contact somebody.” You’d click on that page, click on that link and it was a significant amount of traffic that would go to the contact page, and you get to the contract page.
It’s literally just a form. There’s no words on the page. There’s no header, there’s no context. You get there and you’re like, “Am I contacting support? What’s happening? Is this a demo request?”
You look at that and if you have any experience in CRO, you know right away there’s no context. People don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. It’s not matching the message of where they came from. That was one of the first things on the list and that was one of the first things we actually actioned, because there wasn’t a whole lot of dependency.
Super easy lift on the design side and on the lay, copy side. Didn’t bother A/B testing it or anything like that. Sometimes you need to make the change and monitor the results. It ranged from things as simple as that that could have a decent impact, low funnel, to things as complicated as building out a lead scoring algorithm.
Louis: How did it work with your team? How did you involve them? It sounds like, maybe I’m mistaken, but it sounds like you led this and it sounds like you were the one collecting most of the data. How did you involve you team in this process?
Hana: In the first couple of months, I didn’t really have much of a team. In the first couple of months when it was more investigation, trying to learn, and starting this list of things that we could potentially do. It was myself and two writers that would pinch hit when they can, but ultimately they were focused on the blog.
Slowly but surely we started to hire more people and we started to bring people onto the team. Then, they really drove those initiatives and actually added to them. This grid started like this when I was there. Then totally grew in size an scope as the team started to come on board.
The reality is, the goal’s always to hire people that are better than you at stuff. The team’s way better at this stuff than I am, at the end of the day. As we were bringing people on, not only were we expanding our ability to execute, but we were also leveling out the brain power.
Since then there have been multiple things that have been actioned from that team. Some of them worked. Some of them didn’t. With B2B, certain types of experiments are always tough, because you don’t necessarily get the volume that you do at least in terms of traffic on the website.
You have to be really smart about what you do and don’t experiment with and you have to be okay using A/B tests as an indicator and then making a judgment call. I would say that it’s mostly the team actually. I think I started it. I created the framework for the spreadsheet, and then it was like, “Okay, go guys.”
Louis: You have this spreadsheet with a few hundred items, maybe that your team contributed to and then you prioritize based on the three scores. You have a master score formula that says, “This one is 50. Definitely, it’s more than 49 different. This one must go before the other one.”
Now once you have that, you said something that intrigues me. You said then you need to be smart about the way you experiment because not everything is going to be clear cut stuff. That happened in my role as well.
Many times where what you need to do is make sure that you’re not fucking up the business, not necessarily proving that you made a win sometimes, because there’s brand new stuff. How did you differentiate the things that you know you experience from an A/B test and some things that are a bit more blurry?
Hana: The blurry things typically ended up being things that crossed over into other functions. Where there were at least some dependencies or some areas where, for example, this experiment for this segment of our database with these emails will only be successful if sales behaves in this particular way.
For the experiment to actually work well, you need to incentivize sales behavior in a specific way in order to prove, “Yeah, we should be calling at this stage instead of this stage.” I’m making stuff up now, whatever the experiment might be.
Those were the things that were always blurry and those kind of require a little bit of an exploration phase before you actually execute on the experiment. The way we’re thinking about it now. Honestly, we didn’t really formularize it until recently, but it’s very much like, you have this hypothesis. You understand what you want to do. Before you actually start running in to do it, there’s this phase that we’ve implemented.
It’s called the explore phase where you’re actually validating the viability of that particular experiment. Viability might mean, “Can we actually physically do this with our infrastructure? Is this something we can execute in our current CRM?”
Viability might mean, “Do we have the support of whatever a cross-functional group needs to be involved in this?” That stage has actually become really important, particularly in an environment as complex as this.
I would imagine if you are a much earlier stage, that’s almost part of the hypothesis process and you know right away. Where we’re at this point, we can’t move forward without digging into the viability piece. It becomes incredibly important.
Louis: Right, now you have a way to experiment. You have things to do on your own map. How do you organize your team? How do you organize yourself to get them done? How does a typical week look like now for you?
Hana: That’s a good question because we’re also as a team talking about how do we want to change things coming up into 2019. If you look at the whole marketing team, I think it has a few different core functions. We’ve got product marketing. We’ve got content marketing. We’ve got growth/demand gen that we’ve got … what am I blanking on right now? This is terrible.
Louis: It’s okay.
Hana: E-Partner marketing and marketing operations. At the end of the day, we’re going through this 2019 planning process now and really identifying what the main priorities and initiates are. But also this is a big, huge, integrated campaign vs. these are smaller experiments that we’re going to run over a series of the next quarter or two quarters.
There’s different people on the team that are focused on it. The way we think about it is there’s the big, broad stuff and there’s the more consistent channels that are constantly on, always on type stuff. Then, there’s one-off experimentation.
When we think about marketing in general, marketing really falls into four different buckets. You have your foundational stuff. You have campaign marketing and that could be a campaign around a product launch.
That could be a campaign around a seasonal campaign, whatever it might be. You have experimentation and then you have your always on: Your email drips, your blog posts, all of that kind of stuff.
We have this four box, or at least that’s the way I think about it. Things shift from box to box. What starts an experiment might move to be an always-on thing if it’s a thing that proves to be worth it and sustainable.
That’s how we think about all of the things that we’re doing. There’s different teams focused on different things. I would say every team has a combination of high dependency and low dependency projects that they’re working on, which I think is important also for motivating people.
As an individual, you don’t want to be constantly working on very high dependency projects, because you feel like you have no control over the success of the thing.
Louis: Let’s see if I have a good memory. You have the foundational stuff, you have the always on stuff, you have the complaints stuff, and then you have the experiment. Boom.
Hana: Nicely done.
Louis: The foundational. Can you define that for me a bit more? Foundational marketing, what is it for you?
Hana: Sure, that’s a great question. Positioning, for example, I would put under foundational. I would say creation of core assets, so sales decks and even the heart of your website, the home page of your website.
And there’s two schools of thought on this, but to me, the home page of your website should actually more reflect the strategic direction of your company and where you want to be going versus only trying to optimize for conversion. You can do that on other pages. It’s that kind of stuff, the messaging, the value prop stuff. To me, that’s foundational.
Louis: Then you have the always-on stuff. As you said, the constant, the marketing stuff that constantly go on, such as blog posts, writing blog posts, and all of that. Then you have the experiment that we discussed where you have this big grid and you’re testing your stuff, and the campaign where it’s more seasonal based on your products.
Hana: For us, campaign is more book-ended and there’s a defined timeframe. Campaign could be product based. Every year we do a thing around an event called Unite, which is for our developers and our partners.
There’s always a campaign around it, and it’s really around product launches. Seasonal could also be a back-to-school campaign or a holiday campaign, or something along those lines. It’s really anything where there’s a defined purpose and timeframe.
Louis: Makes sense. Thanks so much for going through all of that with me. I think you went through a lot of stuff already, which is great. You answered on the question I had on this particular topic. Thanks for that.
I ask a few questions at the end of every podcast, and I’m curious to know your answers. The first one being: What do you think marketers should be on today that will help them in the next ten years, 20 years, 50 years?
Hana: I think marketers need to get better at psychology and I think they need to get better at copywriting. I know those are really strange answers, but I feel like those are two things that will make them better marketers overall.
I know copywriting seems super specific, but there is something really magical about being able to distill your idea into a compelling and persuasive sentence that will benefit you beyond marketing. I would say those are two things.
Louis: How does one learn about psychology and copywriting?
Hana: I think there’s a ton of ways you can learn from it. It’s funny, and I think this was on your list of questions as well. I often get asked, “What book would you recommend?” Or, “What resources would you recommend to marketers?”
I would say psychology and copywriting are linked together because to do good copy you have to understand the psychology. I always tell people, “Don’t read marketing books.” I usually say, and I stand by that.
There’s lots of great psychology books out there, but the books that are really fantastic are the old school advertising books from the 1960s and ’70s, like Ogilvy on Advertising. Also, an Olgivy one, weirdly, but there’s lots of other great ones.
Which they’re escaping my mind right now, but there’s one called Unpublished, which is a compilation of all of these writings from David Olgivy. And it’s literally like his memos to his staff and this manual he wrote so one of his clients could go sell door to door kitchen appliances. You read it and it’s literally like a sales Bible. It is amazing how relatable it is to what we’re actually trying to do in SaaS.
I think that stuff benefits you more, honestly, because the tactics of online marketing. You can Google all that stuff. Frankly, I wouldn’t want people to waste their time unless they really need to learn how to do that, go learn how to do that. That’s easy to learn and that’s easy to access. I would say the stuff that’s harder to get good at is the copywriting and psychology piece.
Louis: I’d recommend reading a book called The Boron Letters. It’s a dad who was in prison who sent letters to his son. Oh my god, this is the best copywriting work I’ve ever read, the way he’s talking is insane.
You reading it makes you a better writer right away, because you start computing what he does, which is basic, one of the basics of copywriting. It’s not about trying to invent shit. You take what is already there, what works, and you make it your own, but you use that as a framework.
You’re seeing short sentences sometimes with one more sentence that breaks the flow, then go back to a longer one. The flow is perfect and the tone is so personable. If every marketer was writing this way, I think the internet would be, oh my god, so much better to browse, but hey, not everyone is reading those book. Thank god.
Hana: Super undervalued skill, for sure.
Louis: Absolutely. About from those two resources that you shared, is there another one you’d recommend listeners?
Hana: Well, I think it really depends on what you’re after. The Conversion XL site has a great blog. When it comes to very actionable, tactical tips, I definitely would recommend their blog. I think that there’s a lot of good blogs around, like B2B, and B2B marketing.
It really depends on what you’re after. I tend to also like Andrew Chen. I read his blog. I’m sure a lot of your folks do. Brianne Kimmel also is great and she recently published a blog post, which is great, around B2B SaaS as well.
I tend to dig into more of those types of things and more on a utility basis. I want to specifically read about a thing and I’ll go learn about the thing. Yeah, there’s a lot of good resources out there like that.
Louis: What’s another B2B marketing blog do you like to read apart from the one that you mentioned?
Hana: Oh man, I would have to take a look at my inbox. I don’t know if I read a lot of purely marketing blogs. That’s the thing. I read a lot VC blogs, I read a lot of start-up blogs.
Louis: What’s your favorite start-up blog?
Hana: I like Tomasz Tunguz. I think they’re short, they’re easy, and they usually send you down a rabbit hole and link into other stuff. Oh man, there are many more I’m forgetting to mention and that I’ll get in trouble for, I’m sure.
Louis: That’s all good.
Hana: It’s a good place to start.
Louis: Thanks so much for sharing all of that. Final question, Hana. Where can listeners connect with you, learn more from you?
Hana: For sure. Honestly, if you Google me, Hana Abaza, my website will come up. I’m super easy to find on social, just a quick search and I should be the first one that pops up.
Louis: And how do you spell your name?
Hana: H-A-N-A, A-B-A-Z-A.
Louis: It’s probably the name with the most A’s in the world.
Hana: It’s all As. Only vowel in there.
Louis: Brilliant. Well, Hana, once again thank you so much for your time.
Hana: Thanks so much for having me.