August 1, 2019

Marketing as a product—the role of marketing in a product-led organization

What is the role of marketing in a product-led organization—and does that role change in a company with a small or non-existent sales team? At what point do you upsell to an existing customer? When should you gate your higher tiered plans? And how do you separate the meaningful data from the noise?

We sat down with Jessica Meher—former VP of Marketing at Notarize and the founder of Girl Capital, a network for aspiring female angel investors—to find out the answers. 

Read on to learn about her take on marketing’s role in product-led growth, the importance of data, and why you should think of marketing as a product. 

Sales is new to Notarize—what is marketing's role in product-led growth at a company with a small sales team?

At Notarize, we have a small (but growing) sales organization—one AE, one person leading enterprise ops, and one leading sales enablement. Of those folks, 2 were hired within the last 8 months, so sales is relatively new to the company.

So, I think both marketing and product has to act as an extension of the sales organization. As a marketing team, we’re still tasked with the responsibility of generating demand for sales, while also working with product teams to create a frictionless, self-serve buying experience. 

We are a very horizontal business in that we sell into many industries and company sizes. We talk to businesses who all have a variety of different needs, uses cases, and legal requirements—law firms, real estate companies, banks, etc. The opportunity is massive but that means we're still learning what a good marketing qualified lead (MQL) or a sales qualified lead (SQL) looks like. 

We believe that leveraging product-led growth could help provide more clarity in that, and unlock a ton of potential business opportunity. If we can make it easier for customers to use the product, we can then use product data and behavior to identify MQLs and PQLs. 

As we ramp up our sales org, the company has put a ton of investment in product-led growth. We’ve made it significantly easier to try the product for free and upgrade without having to speak to a sales rep. We’ve brought marketing, product, and customer success teams together to focus not only on user acquisition but account activation—helping the customer realize the value of the product as quickly as possible. 

We’re still learning to understand those magic triggers—at what point we could be upselling or getting more volume out of an existing customer by putting them in front of sales or customer success, when the timing is right.

Can you give us a specific example?

So over the last year, we’ve invested a ton in data architecture—connecting product data to marketing activity. This insight enables us to create better quality marketing experiments because we can now look at what impact changes make across the entire buyer journey—from site visit, to sign-up, to document upload, to document completion. 

And because we essentially have 2 different products and funnels (a consumer experience and business experience), we need to make sure that an uplift in one funnel does not cause a decline in another. We’d be operating blind if we didn’t already have the infrastructure to support this. (Big shoutout to the product and growth teams on this one!)

Even better, now we can say: Hey, this account came in, they started to send some documents but they're not getting them back—maybe we should actually give them a phone call and walk them through best practices about how to prepare their documents in advance so they can get a higher return rate. This turns sales into more a consultative experience and is providing real value to the customer in return.

So, this gives us the best of both worlds, combining a freemium model with an enterprise sale. 

So, if I understand correctly,  anyone can sign up and use the product on their own without talking to sales?

Yes! Anyone can create an account, they can use it, they can play with it. We didn't want that to be a limitation. We wanted it to be open, we wanted it to be easy. 

Actually, we just launched our version of a trial that lets people try out the higher tier plan free for 30 days.

What we also discovered by looking at behavioral data was that there were certain features that made customers more successful, but we were gating those features in the higher tiered product. So we opened up those features and are running experiments to see if that helps increase customer conversion rates. In the end, we want companies to have a better experience and create that wow moment, sooner. 

You're un-gating for a certain amount of time with the idea that, after 30 days, that would be a higher priced plan, right?

Yeah. We don't know if 30 days is the right number or not, but it creates urgency.

It's also on us—as a marketing and sales team—to say: Hey, we noticed you signed up for this thing. Here's how you can actually use it, and here's why there's value in it. We're still figuring out when in that 30-day sales cycle we should be sending somebody to a sales rep. When I talk about marketing as an extension of sales, I mean that marketing actually gets on the phone or on a web chat with sales prospects.

We're willing to jump on demos. We even take a lot of customer support calls, because it makes us more informed about the objections people have and whatnot.

We're still learning when is the right time and what is the right trigger for a freemium user to become a sales hand-off, but we're building the tools, resources, and tracking to lead us to that answer.

Do you have any tactical advice to give somebody who is just starting to think about scaling through the product, or opening up their product to let people really try it out before getting into a sales process? 

Just try it. 

Run some experiments to know if opening up your platform is worth the investment (there are hack-y, lean startup-like ways to do this, like putting a trial button on your site even before one exists).

But if you decide to go all-in on product development, make sure you have the data systems in place to give you the insight you need.  

If you don't have the infrastructure to measure how that actually impacts your business, and what that means from a revenue perspective, I think you have to build the data infrastructure along with whatever path you want to take.

Some people might have different opinions. Some people are like, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, and don't worry about tracking, you'll do that later. I feel like we have a lot of assumptions—and assumptions could be wrong. How do we make sure that we create a methodology of experimentation that validates and tests our assumptions? That when we launch new things in the product, or in the buyer journey, we can A/B test those things, or at least have some indication of how people are using it?

I think if we had not had that at Notarize, we would be making a lot of assumptions in our marketing as well as our product development lifecycle.

I think that's very fair, and that it needs to happen concurrent with, or even before, you decide to go this route of free trial or freemium experience.

Yeah, or at least think about what kind of data you want to collect. Even if it's super manual, because I realize a lot of people don’t necessarily have the budget to buy a big, fancy BI tool or whatever. But you need to know how people are using your product.

As a marketer, I'm always asking product and the growth team: Hey, have you measured this before, or what do you think if I do this? If we do this, how do we measure it so it doesn't negatively impact another part of the business?

If we didn't have that data, it'd be really hard to make good decisions.

As you collect more and more data, how do you decide what's actually signal and what's noise?

One thing that's interesting about us is the B2C2B thing. Notarize started as a consumer app, and the majority of our business are what we call retail users—people who just download the app and they notarize one document. It's kind of on a transaction-by-transaction basis. 

We've shifted to B2B, so now we're learning how to shift from a product-led model serving consumers to one that serves businesses, which is a totally different need and a totally different model.

Optimizing just for that one retail transaction forced us to build a product that can be used by anyone, at any age, with any technical sophistication, with any kind of WiFi situation. We had to get really good about accessibility, and proving out that model—that people can upload a document, verify their identity, notarize a document, and just get done as quickly as possible.

Now we're trying to build that same mindset into the business product, but to serve businesses faster so they can get documents back faster in turn. The question we have is: What should that funnel look like? As a marketing and product team, how do we actually measure success throughout the funnel to understand what we should be looking at?

For example, should businesses be uploading documents within the first 24 hours, 48 hours, 7 days? If they don't send anything within the first 30 days, are they a bad fit or do they need education? We're still trying to figure that out.

Okay, we have just a few more minutes. Is there anything that you want to add or anything that we didn't cover? 

One of my personal methodologies has always been to think of marketing as a product—everything we do is usable, and everything we do connects into the product experience. So when we think about improving product, it's not just within the product, it's all the other things that happen before and after.

That's what we have to keep in mind, and that's what we're trying to build.

Beyond Wonderment, Jessica is also the Founder of Girl Capital, a network for aspiring female angel investors, and former VP, Marketing at Notarize. Previously, Jessica was VP of Enterprise Marketing at InVision and has over 10 years of experience leading go-to-market strategy for high-growth tech companies. Prior to InVision, Jessica held several senior marketing roles at HubSpot, helping the company grow from $18m to $130m+ in revenue, and from a private company through a successful IPO. Jessica is also an angel investor and startup advisor.

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