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Your First 90 Days as a Marketer: How to Build Trust and Make an Impact

picture of Claire Suellentrop

Claire Suellentrop

Co-Founder, Forget the Funnel

You want to make an impact, right?

Imagine you’ve just been hired in a new marketing role. What’s the first thing you should do to get your foot in the door? In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to build trust and prove yourself in the first 90 days as a marketer.

Join us in welcoming Claire Suellentrop back to the podcast. Claire is a SaaS marketing strategy consultant and the co-founder of Forget the Funnel, where she teaches tech marketers how to build high-growth SaaS companies.

listen to this episode

We covered:

  • Why marketers and their leaders often struggle to align themselves
  • The first step you must take when you’re starting with a new company
  • Two ways to develop true empathy for the founder or CEO
  • How to build strong relationships with leaders of other departments
  • What type of questions you must ask during those first conversations
  • Why your first 90 days as a marketer are a critical period of time
  • The simple (but effective) tip for nailing communication with your boss
  • How to balance customer research with making your first major impact

Full Transcript:

Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! And welcome, to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the no-fluff actionable marketing podcast for marketers, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.In today’s episode, you will learn how to make an impact and build trust in the first 90 days as a marketer–and obviously after that. But as we’ll show in this episode, the first 90 days are quite important.

My guest today has been on the show before, it’s actually the first time I’m having someone for the second time. Remember, she talked about Jobs to be Done and if I remember well, you loved this episode. I say you, listening to this podcast. That’s the power of creating content, you can equate good people and you make friends.

So, my guest today is helping SaaS companies figure out the next marketing move and create growth, she’s the co-founder of Forget the Funnel, a weekly series of free 30-minute workshops to help marketers get out of the weeds, think strategically, and be more effective leaders. My guest today has a lot of knowledge to prove yourself as a marketer, how to talk to your CEO, and to your boss and leaders. I’m super happy to have Claire Suellentrop on board again. Claire, welcome.

Claire: Louis, it is so nice to be here. Especially for a second time, quite an honor.

Louis: Let’s be honest with people listening right now. We actually came up with the theme of this episode literally five minutes ago. We were planning on talking about something completely different, but we like to improvise.

Before going into the topic, which is to prove yourself as a marketer, especially when you get started. And build trust with CEOs, that usually believe marketing is full of fluff and a lot of bullshit. How does it feel to be famous since your first appearance on Everyone Hates Marketers?

Claire: Laughs. Well, I think fame is really subjective if you can consider me micro, micro, micro niche famous. But even that is nice. I think what you said a moment ago really applies, when you create content you happen to make friends. And that’s really what this feels like, more than anything like true fame.

Louis: Thanks, you’re way too kind. Going back to the problem there, I started a marketing role two years ago–and I started a marketing role five years ago where I completely fucked up on multiple occasions. I know this is a problem that listeners suffer from.

Recently, I received a LinkedIn message from a listener in Australia who said, “I use your podcasts to prove to my CEO that all of the surface trying to do is bullshit and it needs to go back to the basics-”

Claire: Amazing.

Louis: “He’s into the get-rich-quick type of growth acts.” This is exactly how she wrote it. Why do you think there is such a problem between marketers — and their CEOs or their leaders — when it comes to aligning themselves?

Claire: Of course, it’s going to be different within every company. But there are a couple of themes that I see over and over. And my co-founder in Forget the Funnel, Georgiana Laudi, also has seen.

She and I have both served as marketing leaders within SaaS companies. Then we both left our in-house roles around the same time, and have continued to work with SaaS companies on a consulting basis. Some of the things we see over and over are, first, it’s very rare that the founder or founders of a SaaS company have much a marketing background.

Typically, they are a product-focused founder, so they’re really good at building product or they’re a subject matter expert in a particular industry.

Either of those things — or having a founder who is either of those things — is really useful, but that lack of understanding of the importance of marketing typically leads those early teams to de-prioritize marketing.

All the focus is on, let’s build a great product and it’ll be so amazing that once we launch it everyone will just immediately flock to it. So, it’s a build-it-and-they-will-come mindset.

What they do is they build the product, they build the product, they build the product. Maybe they take funding, whatever the financial situation is. Eventually, the founders realize through pressure of investors — or simply if they’re bootstrapping the product and they’re running out of cash.

Either way, acquiring customers suddenly become this emergency and they’re like, “Okay, we’ve got this product but nobody’s using it and we need to get some money in here pretty quickly.”

So, it’s at that point that they turn their attention to marketing. And suddenly, marketing is this big emergency. By the way, at any point jump in if you have seen similar or different scenarios.

But then they’re ready to hire this marketer, they don’t know a lot about hiring a marketer, it’ll be like if you or I needed to hire an engineer. We think we know what makes someone a talented engineer, but there’s so many details that we just aren’t familiar with because that’s not our day-to-day work.

The founding team will bring on a marketer who no matter what level their experience, whether they’re a junior level, whether they’re mid-level, whatever it may be. They bring this person on and this person is under some major, major expectations. They have all this pressure to suddenly turn marketing into this acquisition machine.

They’re under pressure, but the executive team who has brought them on may not be always granting them… They may be giving them accountability, they’re held accountable to hitting goals, but maybe they don’t have the level of authority they need to make decisions and act really as a leader of a department.

I would say that’s where a lot of the friction comes from, and the particular listener you mentioned who said, “Hey, I’m using the podcast to convince my boss that all these shady growth hacks are a bad idea.” It sounds like a similar scenario, maybe where the founders are like, “Shit …” Oh, sorry can I say that?

Louis: Keep cursing.

Claire: Is it good? Can I swear on this podcast? The founders are probably like, “Shit, we need to get some people in this product.” They’ve read about growth hacks, it seems like a good way to acquire customers quickly, but they don’t realize the complexity and the long-term work involved in marketing.

Now the marketer is not only responsible for numbers, they’re also responsible for educating the founding team on what good marketing even looks like. So, I would say that’s a major theme in how marketers end up in that tricky situation.

Louis: Do you feel this is similar in other industries? I know you specialize in SaaS but I’m thinking ecommerce, for example, or services.

Do you feel like this is a typical scenario that the CEO doesn’t have a lot of marketing knowledge or a lot of subject matter expertise in one thing but not necessarily marketing?

Claire: Definitely. And while you’re right that my focus is on the SaaS space or SaaS products, Gia and I, in our Forget the Funnel Workshop series, we have a welcome email, of course. So when someone sings up and wants to receive future workshops, they receive a little email that introduces them to us, points them to some past really successful workshops.

One of them is yours, by the way, people love your workshop. Of course, asks a question because we want to learn from our subscribers who they are and what their scenario is. So, we ask them to tell us a little bit about what’s going on that led them to sign up and multiple subscribers have replied and said, “Hey, I don’t work in SaaS but everything that you teach is still really relevant.”

Maybe they work at eCommerce, maybe they work at an agency, it could be another style of business. But that lack of shared understanding about what marketing is, between the marketing employee and the founders, I think spans many many different types of business models.

Louis: Let’s consider the scenario. That is, I’m going to be hired as a marketer in the next few weeks. I want to prepare the best possible, so then when I get hired and when I get into the first few days, first few weeks, I can make an impact and I can be trusted.

By just thinking of this scenario right now, I can think that actually your job doesn’t start when you start the job, it seems like you need to prepare stuff.

It’s actually funny because I had the person who’s now head of growth for Baremetrics, who actually reached out to me before he started to ask about, how he should do stuff and whatever. When I compared to my role, when I started that whole journey and before in a previous startup, I remember how, in hindsight, I did so poorly in so many ways.

Let’s take the scenario that we are starting or we are about to start in a new job as a marketer, doesn’t really matter if we’re first, the first marketer or not. Although it could make a difference for you.

How would we advise people to get started step by step? What would be the first thing you would do to really get your foot in the door and make an impact, be trusted and all that?

Claire: Well, as a side note, there’s 15 things that come to mind but I’ll try to prioritize to make this a bit more actionable. The first thing I would do is step back and look at the health of the business, not just in terms of standard metrics that marketing is usually responsible for. Like traffic, leads generated, and content receiving, like the highest numbers of paid views or conversion rates.

I would look at the health of the business overall. I would try to put myself in the founder’s shoes and think, if I were the founder and I were responsible for growing this business, where are the gaps that I’m seeing?

“Whether they’re related to marketing …” I say that in quotations, marketing metrics or not … I’m really trying to, honestly, pretend or empathize with the founder as if I was that person. One of the best quotes I’ve ever seen in relation to marketing and being a career marketer is, “Operate not as a marketer, but as a business owner who happens to know how to do marketing.”

I think that speaks to not only how you should view that plans that you make, if you’re leading marketing at a company or leading a particular type of marketing within a larger department. But it also helps you frame the conversations that you have with non-marketing team members.

Like the CEO, or the founder, or whoever it may be. Because then you can speak with them about what the business’ goals are versus, “Hey, marketing needs more leads and so I need more advertising budget to drive those leads.”

Pretending for a moment that you are a founder who’s in charge of growing the business, instead of a marketer who’s in charge of increasing traffic, increasing leads, or whatever it may be, is a really really good first step. And something I wish I had learned a long, long, long time ago. But it’s just-

Louis: How do you do that though? How do you build empathy for the founder?

Claire: I think the first I would do — and this might be the most challenging if you are already in your role and you’re listening to this and trying to work backwards.

But if you’re in that perfect sweet spot scenario where you’re just getting hired, the first thing I would do is sit down with the founder or the CEO and have a conversation about how the business is performing at every stage of the customer’s journey. What I mean by that is, sometimes, this is going to be dependent on how your organization is set up. Some organizations track their key metrics using like a pirate metrics model like acquisition, activation, revenue, retention, referral.

My favorite scenario, and one that Gia, my Forget the Funnel co-founder and I talk about a lot, is actually focusing your metrics on how your customer succeeds at every stage. So, awareness and then interest and then engagement and so on.

But either way, whatever the setup your company is, I would sit down with the founder and I would ask, “Hey, how are we doing at every one of these stages? Where do you think we’re doing well and where do you think we’re not doing well and why is that?”

Almost pretend you’re coming on board as a co-founder, even if your title is head of marketing or marketing manager or even marketing coordinator. Your ultimate job is to help the company make more money.

Pretend for a moment that you’re a co-founder and feel comfortable having that high-level conversation with the person who hired you. Because what they’re ultimately looking for is someone who’s thinking about the greater objective to the business, not just marketing metrics.

So, having that conversation and then really understanding. I’m sure you’ve got some follow up questions. But having that conversation as early as possible in your tenure as an employee will help build your boss’s trust, and help them feel confident that you’re focusing, not just on your little isolated metric, but on where the company is trying to go.

Louis: Yeah, I concur. The other thing I would say as well, is really concentrate on the context behind the company and even the story. That’s what I’ve learned as well in the past. There are small details and decisions — or even big decisions — that were taken in the past that might have an impact on your day-to-day.

There might be, for example, a company that have just always decided they were against SEO because they always felt it was tricking the focus on people rather than tricking Google or tricking you know.

Based on their story, you might have some small snippets of knowledge like that that you can only infer by asking about the story. Why did you actually found the business? How did it start? How did you get started? What was the story behind it?

Ideally, you ask that before you get hired. I wanted to add something else to what you said. Let’s say you’re hired and you talk to the founder, I don’t think there’s any reason why you can’t do that before.

So, if you really want to be hired as marketer, head of marketing, the CEO should probably spend a bit of time with you. Maybe you can do that before, which could help you to pick that right job if you get along with the founder.

The other thing I hinted about as well at the start was, I think if I’m starting with a new company again as a marketer, the thing I would do is ask all the marketers in similar roles like, how do they think I should get started? But that’s basically what I’m asking you.

Okay, step one. You talk to the founder, talk to the CEO. You get the story, you get the context and you also try to think like them as a founder. As a founder who is responsible for paying people wages and all of that, right?

Claire: Mm-hmm.

Louis: What would you do then?

Claire: You bring up a really good point. In an even better scenario, these are things you would be doing during the interview process to figure out whether you want to really be a part of this company.

And whether the skills that you have match with what the company needs and what the expectations are. The next thing that I would do, beyond forming that relationship with the founder or the CEO, is seek to understand, how do other leaders within the company think of marketing?

A good example is, if we speak in SaaS terms again, there are low-touch or self-serve SaaS products in which marketers are much more responsible for revenue in those scenarios. They’re responsible for driving traffic, they’re responsible for getting traffic to sign up for the product, they’re responsible for getting new trials to convert.

On the other hand, you have more enterprise software products, where marketing’s real role is kind of a relationship management role with sales. The sales team is really who “your client is” — or the person you have to make happy at the end of the day.

So, a marketing leader who’s a self serve SaaS company versus a marketing leader at a more enterprise SaaS company is going to be beholden to different expectations and metrics. There’s an article somewhere out.

I can’t remember who wrote it now, I’ll have to go find it and share it in the notes. But there’s a good article about this wherein an enterprise SaaS company, if you’re the head of marketing, your metrics are not as related to revenue.

They sort of are, but at the end of the day, your success is really determined really but whether sales likes you or whether sales feels that you’re helping them out on the right way.

So, how you will conduct yourself and your goals will be totally different in that organization than a self serve organization. I say all that to say, having built a relationship with a founder, your next task is to build really strong relationships with leaders of other departments.

Louis, I’m sure you’re familiar with the really unhealthy scenario in which every department kind of works in a silo.

Marketing is responsible for these metrics at the top of the funnel, and then product is responsible for these metrics, and then customer success is responsible for these metrics. But in a healthy company, everybody in every department should be working toward the same goal.

To avoid being stuck in silos, to avoid any potential tense relationships with other department heads, my next step after building a relationship with the founder would be to establish rapport with those other leaders.

What that looks like in real life is, first, just once you’ve come on board or while you’re in the interview process, go out to get coffee or lunch or a drink or something with the head of sales and the head of product and the head of engineering, the head of customer success.

Ask them about their day. Ask them about what they’re working on, what are they responsible for? It doesn’t have to be an interview, it’s not a grilling session. Really, what you’re seeking to do is build empathy with these people and understand what they’re worried about, what makes them tick.

Figure out how you can be of help to them so that in the future, when you’re trying to pitch a big marketing project and you need other people’s buy-in, you can lead on them.

So, building a relationship with the founder or the CEO would be my first step. And my immediate step after that, or maybe in tandem, would be to build those relationships with other leaders at the company and then manage those on an ongoing basis.

Everybody’s busy. You don’t want to put too much of a burden on people’s calendars, or your own, but at least try to establish a biweekly or a monthly one-on-one with each of those department leaders.

So you can stay in sync about what they’re working on, they can understand what you’re working on — and you can kind of avoid that really unfortunate scenario of accidentally working at a silo. Where marketing’s off over here, and then product’s over there, and they launch a new feature, and they expect you to have a go-to-market strategy ready by tomorrow.

Louis: What question do you like to ask people when you have this first call or this first meeting with other department leaders? You mentioned that you just ask them about their day and whatnot, but are there any other things you like to know?

Like maybe, out of the blue I would think something maybe like, what’s your view on our marketing department right now? What do you think of marketing as a whole? Engineers tend to and developers tend to think marketing is bullshit.

I know, because this is the podcast and I receive a lot of emails about this. What else do you like to, or do you think, we should ask when we have those first conversations? What else should we bring up?

Claire: I think you’re right on the money that it’s really important to ask, what do you think of our company’s marketing right now? What do you think is working well and what’s not and why? I would also be asking things like, what matters to you? What are the metrics you’re driving toward?

An engineering department, for example, or a product team is often responsible for metrics related to output. Our job as the product team is to ship features as quickly as possible.

Personally, I don’t believe that’s the metric that a product team should be driven by but that’s another podcast episode entirely. Once you have that information as a marketer, then when you’re trying to get a buy-in in a marketing project, now you know what to leverage.

Now you know how to pitch it to the product team to say, “Hey, product team, I think that we should no longer have a website that is custom built, that the engineering department is in charge of. I think we should go to Web Flow or WordPress or some other platform that the marketing team can manage so that you can be responsible for shipping features and not maintaining a marketing website.”

I just kind of came up with a random example there, but you’d be shocked. Or maybe those listening would not be shocked, but I am often shocked by how many markets I speak to who have no control over their company’s website. That’s marketing’s territory.

I bring that particular example up because I’ve noticed it to be a challenge. But if you can understand what your fellow teammates are responsible for, what metrics they care about, then essentially, you can structure what you want to get done in way that conveys that it’s valuable to them.

Ultimately, what you’re doing is marketing to your team members. The same way you might write copy, develop a messaging strategy, or chose creative for an advertising campaign based on what you know is going to resonate with your customer. You’re doing the same thing, but with your internal team.

Louis: That’s a great start, I would say. Yes, and we talked about that on the podcast quite a lot. About empathy for users, empathy for customers, empathy for people, but also requires empathy for your own team members and colleagues.

So, to summarize what you said talking to your CEO, founder, understand the context, understand the story, talking to other leaders. Also, you said something briefly but I think super important is, use that as an excuse to set up one-to-one’s regularly.

You have your first call with them and you say, “Hey, I’d love to just keep having this chat every month like this.” And just set up a call and it’s recurring and all that. That’s all good, now what else?

I mean, first few days I can do that but then the first 90 days are quite important. By the way, we haven’t really defined why. Briefly, maybe you can say why do we both feel like that the first 90 days as a marketer are super critical?

Claire: Oo, that’s right. We never defined that, did we? Traditionally, and I’m sure you’re going to say, “Okay, duh, Claire.” But most companies work in quarterly cycles, right? So, three months at a time. Typically, not in all cases, but a company sets its annual goals and then it rolls those back to, “Okay, what do we need to accomplish each quarter to hit our annual goals?”

I like to think of goal setting as a typically 90-day exercise to match quarterly timing. Within your company, of course, if you operate on a different cycle then adjust this based on that.

I worked with one team where they actually operate in six week-cycles, they move very, very quickly. Anyway, the point is as someone coming onboard, you have so little context and building those relationships is your first way of getting that context.

But you have to have something that you are driving toward within those first three months that you work there. And it doesn’t have to be as ambitious as, okay I’m going to get us 50 new customers or 100 new customers or whatever the number is.

But you need to, at the outset, establish that you are experienced or at least confident in setting a goal and then making a plan to work toward it. Often times, in those first 90 days, the first 30 days, the first month, you may not focus on generating new traffic or leads or customers at all.

Your first 30 days might very well be focused on things like becoming an expert on the product. You might spend your first couple of days doing nothing but using the product to really understand how it works, where the bugs are, what the most valuable features.

You ideally would be doing customer research. As we spoke about in my last episode with you, Louis, this is one of my favorite topics. I could say this in two ways.

If no one at your company has spoken to five to 10 to 15 ideal customers within the past year, then that would absolutely be something that would do as a new marketing hire within those first 90 days.

Louis: So, before we dive into what we will do, the worst-case scenario is what? Let’s say, you don’t match expectations out there. What could happen? I want you to say it out loud.

Claire: Well, the worst-case scenario is… there’s probably two. One, you get fired. Two, if you don’t have clarity into what other people expect of you — so your boss or other marketing leaders — then you are completely set up to fail.

You have no idea what people want you to do. So, you’re sitting around waiting for someone to give you assignments. Which is a terrible position to be in because then you look like someone who needs to be babysat, someone who needs to be managed.

Louis: Or you start doing stuff, you start taking initiatives, but it wasn’t exactly what was expected. You might have done great in your own measure, in your own objective. But actually, that wasn’t what was planned or what was expected.

I’m coming from a very personal experience there, where I made this exact mistake and I’m super happy you’re mentioning this. If I had to do it again, if I was hired in a new company again, I would set expectations very clearly from the start.

Sometimes it feels like it’s a bit difficult to get those expectations, right? So, you would talk to the founder and say, “You know what? Any new customer you bring in, I’d be happy if you do that.”

Or you’d have fluffy goals like this. But you need to dig into the actual core of it, okay. I’m not happy with just you saying, “As long as you get new customers.” I want to know how many new customer per quarter does it need, exactly, you know?

Claire: Yes. Oh my gosh, yes.

Louis: You need to be able to set up goals that are specific, measurable, that you can achieve. There’s an acronym for that.

Claire: S.M.A.R.T.

Louis: Yeah, so specific, measurable, actionable, whatever.

Claire: What’s R? Whatever. We can find it.

Louis: After you talk to those two founders, I mean, on that back of that setting of expectations. Ideally, I would say this is something you could do in the interview session as well.

Claire: I agree.

Louis: To set up expectations. But anything else on top of that, on the expectation side? Any tips apart from really asking for hardcore, real numbers that everyone agrees on?

Claire: I mean, this isn’t a separate thing, I think it’s really diving further on what you described on expectation setting. I would push back if you are unsure whether the expectations are realistic. Realistic! That’s the R in S.M.A.R.T.

A good example of this is a colleague of mine. Asia Matos, she runs a small consulting agency called DemandMaven, she was bringing on a new client. This is about a year ago. The client has this massive lead gen expectation.

She wanted to get thousands and thousands of leads because they had a very, very low lead-to-customer conversion rate. That ended up being a scenario that was caused by the fact that they didn’t quite have product-market fit.

So they weren’t sure who their best customers were. But Asia was under this pressure to generate massive leads numbers, so she asked the founder, “Why? Why do you need thousands and thousands of leads?”

When the founder admitted, it’s because we don’t know how our best customers are, we don’t have product-market fit. But Asia was able to say, “We don’t need to focus on getting you thousands of leads via website traffic. All we need to do is run a much more focused, almost like cold sales oriented campaign. Not like spammy, but we just need to get a couple of people in to try the product and we can do that through our own networks, we can do that in much much more realistic ways.”

I say all this to say, if what you’re hearing from your founder or your CEO in terms of expectations doesn’t seem to make sense, be comfortable pushing back and saying, “Hey, I think there’s an easier way we can do this.”

Or, “Hey, I think there’s a cheaper or a more efficient …” Or, “I think there’s just a better way we can be looking at this. Here’s how I would do it.” Do you have any thoughts on that?

Louis: I just want to repeat the acronym that we said, S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Realistic and Time-based, right?

Claire: Mm-hmm. Time-based, yes.

Louis: We showed the five. If you have goals that are like that, that are smart, then you are good to go. Now, you also need to make sure that this goal are shared amongst the other leaders.

It’s not just you being happy with it and your CEO, you need to make sure that everyone agrees. Yes, marketing goal is to do that.

Honestly, if I’m thinking of the one thing you need to make sure you’re doing right beyond all of the other thing you mentioned so far, this is probably the most important. Because I failed multiple times doing this and it was bad.

It took me a while to realize that that was the thing I didn’t do properly. And you start working, burning out, because you’re working so many projects that don’t have the impact expected.

You start to doubt yourself, you start to have this imposter syndrome kicking it and you do shitty work and it’s just an endless cycle of shit. So, expectations, super important. Then you mentioned two other things I want to dive into.

One of them I know you’re very passionate about, but the other one is super important. Ideally, you should do that even before you get into interview, I’m a big fan of applying for roles with companies where you use the product or the service yourself that you fucking love, not that you tolerate but that you love. That’s probably the best chance, right?

Claire: I agree.

Louis: But anyway, let’s say you start with a company. You haven’t really used their product, you don’t know it that much. You said, spend actually one day, three days, five days, whatever to use it, why did you say that?

Claire: First of all, you cannot be effective at marketing a product if you don’t understand the product or if you don’t understand the customers.

It’s mind blowing how many times I have seen a marketer who’s in charge of a product but they don’t really really even know what it does. They know on the service, this is an X, Y, Z tool but they don’t know why it’s different than other tools.

They’re just missing all of that really important context and so they can’t speak intelligently about it, they can’t market it competitively against other solutions.

One, it’ll make it you better at your job. Two, it’ll build your credibility within the company. That you’re someone who’s not only thinking about, how do you I fill that funnel with leads? But it’ll build your credibility as someone who’s really thinking about the product and the business. Customer research and why that matters, I almost feel like we should just link that to the Jobs to be Done episode. But there is one other thing that I wanted to reference and this comes actually from a Forget the Funnel workshop that we ran with Len Markidan who’s the CMO at Podia.

He gave a really, really great tip that I wish I had done a better job at when I was employed in house. And that’s, once you’ve set your goals, and once you’ve established what projects you’re in charge of and what your priorities are, communicate regularly with your boss and with the larger company about the progress you’re making. But do it in the channels where they already spend their time.

In that episode, Len talks about this unfortunate scenario in which you might accidentally become the king or the queen of Trello. You come across Trello and you’re like, “Trello’s great. I’m going to use this to track my projects and I’m going to invite my CEO and everyone else and then they can see how I’m doing.”

Well, if those people never check Trello, they’re not going to check Trello to measure your progress or see how much great work you’ve been doing. You need to get really comfortable with communicating how you’re doing against your goals in the channels your boss and your colleagues already hang out in.

That might be email, it might be Slack, whatever your team uses. Just like marketing to customers by choosing the channels where they already spend time, you need to communicate with your internal team members using the channels where they already spend time. Because otherwise, no one’s going to care how much great work you’re doing.

Louis: I got something you could probably ask when you have those first conversation, what is your perfected way of communication?

Claire: Definitely.

Louis: Text? WhatsApp? Fucking email, Slack, Trello? God forbid. A lot of stuff that you’re saying seems to mirror almost exactly what you should be doing to understand customers as well, which I like.

And I know if you’re listening to this podcast, you do enjoy that, I do receive emails about this a lot, which is it’s about principles of marketing. It’s not about reinventing the wheel or those new digital trends coming up and making you reinvent everything that you knew about marketing.

No, it’s bullshit. It’s always the same, always been the same. As you said, it boils down to understand people whether they’re internal customers. It boils down to really understand them so well that you can fit into their day, and not really expecting them to fit into yours as you said. I’m glad you mentioned that as well.

Now, we can maybe dive into the understanding customer aspect but with a caveat. I did that when I started as a marketer a few times which is, you know what? We need to understand our customer.

Every time I started it was always the same thing, I knew the company didn’t really understand the customers especially not the most profitable ones.

But you can go down the rabbit hole of research and you can literally spend your first quarter just doing fucking research and talking to people. It’s true though that if you have a smart goal in place, you need to achieve this goal.

So, how do you balance the customer research? Where we can go maybe a bit more detail, but what specifically would you do with getting shit done? How do you coordinate to make sure that you research builds and you get shit done with the highest impact possible and the least amount of resources?

Claire:  I think the way I would start, especially if you’re facing some resistance to pitching research as part of your 90-day plan is, I actually would not pitch the research itself like, “Oh, I’m going to do customer research.”

The way I would pitch it is based on the business goals. In this scenario, I’m kind of pretending that I’m sitting here with the CEO or the founder and we’re deciding what those first 90 days should look like.

I think the way I would pitch it is by saying, “Look, you have communicated that this is where the company wants to be by the end of the year and that means this is where we need to be by the end of next quarter. In order to get there, we need to better understand whether we are using the right language in our current marketing efforts, if we’re even using the right words. We need to better understand if we’re spending our marketing dollars on the right channels. We need to better understand X, Y, Z.”

I would basically list the things that we need to better understand as the stuff I would be looking for in my research that I plan to do.

Louis: Give me more than X, Y, Z. You said the messaging.

Claire: Messaging, channels. This is like now I’m playing into exactly what Hotjar does or any other tools. But we need to understand why our website is performing in the way it is.

Where are people abandoning? Are things broken? Let’s see, we got messaging, channels, website performance, I’m trying to kind of work my way through how a customer may experience company.

Once they’ve signed up, we need to make sure we really understand what was going on that led them there which usually most companies are not tracking and therefore they can’t make more informed decisions. Do you you have more? I’m struggling to prioritize them because they feel like they’re kind of just jumping around in my brain.

Louis: Yeah, other things would be to identify biggest opportunities, like trying to say, “Well, I want to have the highest impact possible in the least amount of time and for that, I need to understand what is the biggest challenge, the biggest problem right now that I can be solving to unlock as much revenue or whatever it is as possible.”

Claire: You use more high-level.

Louis: Yeah, and to do that, I absolutely need to spend time with customers.  I need to audit the sites. As you said, to mimic the journey, I need to experience the journey myself. I need to sit down with salespeople and ask them questions.

You basically need to have a rough map of what’s going on like the food ecosystem and then you can start saying, Okay, this is a big thing that might prevent people from purchasing or whatnot, right?

Claire: Right.

Louis: I agree with you, I would never pitch it as research. It doesn’t look like a student doing a master degree or a thesis or whatnot. It’s more about, I want to understand where I can have the most impact so I can prioritize my work as a laser focus marketer.


Claire: Right. In SaaS Marketer Essentials, which is the training program that Gia and I run under Forget the Funnel, there’s a lesson in where we refer to that as essentially auditing your customer journey.

Through the research, as you described, Louis, you kind of pretend to be a customer or you speak with customers to understand their journey and then you audit it.

You know, okay here’s the gaps, here’s where people are struggling and we need to help them get to the next stage, here’s where we can optimize each of those different stages. Or here’s some entirely new things we never tried before that could be really really great.

Multiple customers mentioned that they listened to this podcast, why don’t we do some sponsoring about podcasts? Why don’t we do X, Y, Z? Multiple customers mentioned they go to this major conference, why don’t we develop a campaign around that?

By doing that research, as you said, you never want to pitch it as research but by doing that research you can be so much more effective as a marketer. You choose which activities are going to really, as you said, make the biggest impact in that very short window of time.

Louis:The way I see it is like Venn diagram. It’s like what I’m currently doing and what are your ideal customers kind of currently doing. One of my favorite topics I love to complain about, or to give out is this idea that, you should test all channels possible and fucking test your way around all those channels. What’s the name of this book? Traction.

Claire: Oh, I know what you’re talking about. Traction, yeah.

Louis: To me, that’s always bullshit because if you interview customers well and identify how they made their bad decisions, how did they research about tools or services like yourself in the past, what made them choose it? What was the trigger?

You know what channels they spend time one, so I don’t need to fucking guess anymore. If I know that when you do research for to buy a helmet for a bike, most of the research is going to trade shows.

Well, if you as a company are not going to trade shows right now, this is a big gap. I know, let’s put money into trade shows. So, it’s just like literally the Venn diagram of the intersection of the two, what is currently that you’re currently doing that is in line with your ideal customers? And then what is not? If so, you either stop doing it or start doing it, right?

Claire: Exactly.

Louis: I wish we had more time to talk about customer research in detail. And I think you’ve hinted a bit about specific things you could be doing, but as a new marketer, you only have 90 days. You don’t have a lot of time for research. What would be the number one thing you would do when it comes to customer research beside auditing the journey yourself?

Claire: Okay, I’m going to give the best case scenario and then the plan B if you can’t make the best scenario fly. The best case scenario would be, and I’m sure you’d agree with me on this, you actually get on the phone with 10 of your most profitable customers.

When I say most profitable, it’s not just most profitable but also those who get the product instantly. They don’t require a ton of babysitting.

When your sales team or your customer success team thinks about them they’re like, “Oh yeah, those guys. They’re great.” If they’re relatively within reach, you go visit them but would at least get on the phone with them for 30 minutes to really just have a conversation.

There’s a series of questions that I use in particular which, Louis, I’m happy to send you the link to. They might already be linked from our previous episode but I would get on the phone with those people and record those interviews so that I can refer back to them later.

If I have to go to plan B, and I for some strange reason can’t get on the phone with customers, which to me would be a big red flag by the way. As a plan B, I would run a survey to my larger customer base.

A survey would essentially be a more scaled by not as high-quality way to try to learn some of the same things. So, the questions that I use when speaking with customers as I just described are really designed to help me film a mental documentary of them going through the customer journey. So, what they would do-?

Louis: Okay. You need to give me the questions now, some of them at least.

Claire: Laughs. All right, some of the ones at the top of my head that I can remember. After you’ve said hello and introduced yourself, don’t be weird about it, are things like, okay what was going on before?

How were you solving the problem that you solved using our tool before you found us?

What was your old way of doing this thing?

What was going on in your world that compelled you to look for something different?

Did the old thing break?

Did you just hear about us from a friend? What happened?

What was the moment that made you start looking for something new?

Once you figured out that you wanted to make that change, how much research did you do to find a new solution? And where did you go? Did you go to Google? Did you ask friends? Like you said, was it a trade show?

Did you hear about it in a Slack community? And so on and so on. But what were some of the other things you tried? How’d you find them?

What I’m really trying to understand here is not how they feel about our product but notice that I’m trying to get into the process they went through to find us.

How did our product finally come into the picture? What made you interested in trying it? If it’s B2B, were you the only one your team doing this work or did you have to report to like a head of finance?

Did you have to run this by your boss? What did that look like? When you tried us, how did you know we were the right choice? What made you go, “Yes, this is what I need?” I’ve got like 20 of these or 25, so I’ll have to send you the full list.

Louis: It sounds very overwhelming if you’re listening to this right now. But basically as you say, Claire, from experience what happens is you need to ask one question and then act like a journalist. Just bring them along the journey, you don’t necessarily to spell out all the question that Claire just said right now.

Claire:  You are exactly right.

Louis: It’s a checkpoint, right?

Claire: You use them as checkpoints, right. These conversations should not be like rapid fire interrogations. I think what you described just now, leading them through like a journalist is a really, really good way of looking at it.

Louis: Another tip for those interviews is like asking questions, basically. Please take me back to the time where you first consider potentially buying a tool like ours, or something like that.

So, you bring them to the very first touch point and if you’re curious enough, you naturally bring them there. You can use the question that you listed as a mental help to make sure, but then what happens as well.

And it’s a journalist type of tip as well. What they do is, they ask you a question first, you give an answer. Your first answer is always bullshit, there’s always something behind and you just drill down again.

So say, “How did you first find out about us?” Oh, I think it was Google. Are you sure? Did you actually use Google or something else? Actually yeah, Google but before that I ask a friend. Ah, okay. So, you drill, you drill, you drill until you get to the truth of it.

Claire: Definitely, right.

Louis: I agree with you, I’m glad you picked this one thing. Focus more research because that’s what I would do again and over and over again. It doesn’t take that long, you can transcribe those conversations straight away.

Summarize them, and you should have so much gold to deal with. With only those interviews, you should be able to understand the gaps between the channels you currently use, the channels people actually use, the message, the way people explain your tool and the way you explain it on your website, etc. You can start in the gaps, right?

Claire: Exactly, and you can use that information to backup your plan, your strategy to other team members. Because now you’ve got these transcripts and you can say, “Based on customer research, it sounds like we need to be spending time in this channel or at this conference or using this advertising in this platform,” whatever it might be.

Because this is going to be where our customers are going to find out about tools like ours. Suddenly you have a leg to stand on. As you said earlier, you’re not just trying random channels, you’re not just testing without a plan.

Louis: Let’s try to summarize what we just said. First, you said talking to the founders, talking to the team, using the product, setting up expectations. Big fucking deal. And finally. you’re doing some customer research.

How long do you think that should take? Should it take 30 days or less to have a road map, a plan for the next two months? How long do you think is long enough for this type of primary research?

Claire: It’s hard to say. And the reason that I say that is because it could be so different from product to product. A super simple to use product, like a very, very self serve, B2C sale product, you might be a product expert in a day.

If it’s very limited in features set, if it’s not a massive platform, if it’s a massive platform it could take you a week or two weeks or more to really be an expert on the product. And same scenario with customers.

I would say my goal if I were in that situation again where I had 90 days. If I were planning 90 days out, I would focus my first month on becoming a product and customer expert. So, that gives me a couple of weeks to really grok the product, really speak to those customers.

And during that first week I’d also be setting all those expectations and building relationships with my team members, the founder, setting up one on one’s with other leaders. Rough estimate, I think yeah we can safely say that should be a 30-day activity.

Louis: Awesome. Claire, thanks so much for playing the game of picking a topic five minutes before an interview and doing very well at it. Thanks for doing this.

Claire: Good team effort.

Louis: Yeah, do you have any resources to mention on this topic? Obviously Forget the Funnel, a lot of workshops there that are super helpful that should probably help you with this problem. Anything else?

Claire: Forget the Funnel, absolutely. We launched Forget the Funnel as a free resource to help people solve this exact challenge, so we can link to that in the show notes. As I mentioned earlier, the interview questions I used, I’m happy to give you the link to as well.

I briefly mentioned a training programming that Gia and I offer called SaaS Marketer Essentials which is a more in-depth, 12-lesson, I guess program is the best way to describe it. We have actually just pulled it from being available to being under waitlist version because we want to optimize some of the content. Make it a bit more useful.

But I can share the link to the wait list page so if folks are interested in joining that once we reopen it, then they’ll get updated.

Louis: Sounds good. Claire, where can people connect with you again or send you emails and ask you questions?

Claire: You can reach me anytime at claire@forgetthefunnel.com, I am happy to chat there. I use Twitter as my virtual water cooler, that’s my favorite place to have conversations about things like this.

That’s how we first connected, right? You saw the book and then you reached out to me on Twitter.

Louis: That’s true.

Claire: But I will offer myself up via email and Twitter, so I’ll share those links with you.

Louis: All right. Once again, thanks, Claire.

Claire: Louis, thanks so much for having me. This was a really fun conversation.

Next: check out the 500+ marketing resources mentioned on the podcast over the years (sorted by the number of mentions and format).

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