Episode #28

"Vuja-De" Understanding marketer's thinking and how to solve repetitive problem differently

"Vuja-De" Understanding marketer's thinking and how to solve repetitive problem differently

Shri Mithran is the Head of Demand and Pipeline Marketing at Chargebee. He currently leads the demand generation team focusing on Demand Marketing, Operations, and Funnel Conversions. In addition, he is responsible for running cross-channel marketing campaigns (Organic, Performance Marketing, Social, etc.) and driving efficient growth in Leads and Pipeline. He has also developed and executed the Mid-Market and ABM strategy from the ground up.

Highlights of the talk:

  • Strategies to understand customer segments and website visitors
  • Objectives that make sure that the sales team gets quality leads from marketing team
  • The first approach for designing experiences for different personas landing on your website.
  • Defining revenue marketing

How did you start your marketing journey?

Mithran: My marketing journey started like most Indian SaaS marketers. I wanted to be part of a high-growth environment where there is an opportunity for quick learning. So I started my marketing career with MindTickle, an Indian SaaS company. The marketing was more about branding, content, top-of-the-funnel building, and hitting the sales side with enough content. There was a lot to learn about foundations and basics, and then I moved to Chargebee.

It's a SaaS platform that helps subscription businesses manage their recurring billing and subscription management. We are close to revenue, so most of our revenue is marketing leads that give us a lot of room as marketers to learn and expand our horizons. My responsibility is to create the pipeline for our sales teams to meet our sales targets. It's a combination of acquisition, demand capture, and demand creation through multiple channels like paid search, organic, SCM, and SEO. In addition, we focus on some account-based marketing and long-term demand creation like pull marketing.

The strategy you follow to understand customer segments and website visitors

Mithran: We are focused on making sure all our marketing engines and the marketing campaigns that we build are tailored to our Ideal Customer Prospects (ICP). We make sure we focus more on laser-focused ICP marketing with more preference to inbound marketing. As a part of strategy and optimization, we ensure that whatever we do is a strong fit for our ICP across the channels and campaigns. To set up the marketing-sales alignment process and leads, we focus on capturing leads. When we understand our customers, market, and which channel market fits better, we focus on solving high intent. What we pass to the sales team is only the explicit sales intent. As a marketer, we are supposed to educate and enlighten our target market, our customers, to make them problem aware and solution aware. In this process, we try to minimize the friction and add context through the buying journey, and once the customers express some sales intent, the actual selling begins.

Objectives that make sure that the sales team gets quality leads from marketing team

Mithran: There are two aspects to this:

1. Solving the high intent in terms of website optimization

It's like if someone is speaking to an SDR, the chances of converting are pretty high. We do have a free trial option for people to understand the product and what we do. Those are some good leads to us, but if there's no intent, then it's just a waste of time for us. The first thing we optimize for this is getting the prospects set up time on our SDR calendar. The SDR are more of product consultants than salesforce in an inbound context. They don't need to chase prospects. It makes sense to get prospects with the right kind of questions and meet SDR. It's a scalable process. Most of our opportunities are created through this process, which we solve in terms of marketing. If the prospect takes time to schedule a call, it means that they have done some research, know what the space is all about, and solve the quality to some extent.

2. Internal teams to check, balance, and benchmark on quality indicators

We have a concept called must-wins. It is to identify the leads that are in our ICP. We call them must-wins. If the percentage of must-wins in a given week does not meet the internal target benchmark, then it is an indicator for marketing that the quality trend is declining, so there is a need to fix it up. There is an internal benchmark that we agree with sales teams.

There is an SLA that we set up with sales on the total leads that we submit in a week. In the context of our data sanity, we try to get as much data as possible about our customers, which gets fed into the channel teams. They also work on it, take the feedback and implement it in the talent mix, which could be paid search, paid social. The feedback mechanism is critical. We won't wait for sales team feedback saying the quality is low. If the quality is low, the channels team with exemplary innovators will fix it.

Push the ICP focused quality traffic onto the website

Mithran: We are inbound heavy which means we search first. Paid search is one of those channels that work for us. Paid is easier, faster, and has more control. Organic search also does the same task with the distinction that it takes a long time. You can use both and choose whatever suits your business goal at that time. You can use paid search for a while and meanwhile keep building an organic engine. Paid search is one of the crucial channels for us. We have historical data and campaign works in terms of ICP in terms of deal closures and customers.

Paid search is a channel where you have absolute control. It has a good demand capture engine, so when there is a demand, appear there, put a concise landing page with the correct value proportion and try to convert. You want to ensure that you have a strong understanding of your customers and their pains and problems and how to translate it to your campaigns and keywords. We have a broad segmentation of our paid search campaigns, what we call core campaigns which are the category keywords that we want to associate ourselves with. It could be subscription billing, recurring billing, and management.

For example, regular payment software, it's not exactly what we do, but it's kind of what we do. The prospects might not know that there is a category called subscription billing, but they want to solve recurring payments problems, which we enable. So there are categories, there is a good core, and then there is one layer above. Then some competitors are in our integration ecosystem. Your customer will search for the problems they have with one of the tech they use, and your product will bridge the gap of the tech they are already using.

We have a strategy for all integration ecosystems and have competition against our competitors and end up billing in a reasonably heated market. You should have a vital competitive Intel to understand how you are different from your competitor. What are the values that you provide that the competitor might not have? We have a framework to understand the number of leads in a given month. Every campaign is picked against two benchmarks: the total number of leads from the campaign and how many belong to ICP. There is a ratio for every campaign, and we try to improve that ratio. If some campaigns are not getting that ratio, then we focus on the problem. Either the targeting is wrong, or there is no good message to convey. This framework helps in keeping the quality, and the same approach works for organic.

Every content hub that we create is curated with pain in mind with the person in mind, and we build the content hub from there. Another channel is paid social or any display network, a sort of spray and pray; it's not as accurate as high intent as paid search, but we have solved that with good investment into MarTech. We have a good tech stack that hyper-targets our ICP. We create audiences and attach them with high-performing audience channels like Facebook to get reasonable control of targeting.

So it's a combination of data quality and targeting capabilities of a perfect audience engine like Facebook. The amalgamation of both helps us control the quality to some extent, but we also need to understand that there is some inefficiency within inbound. We can't expect every lead that's coming to convert. So you need to understand the business skill of your business. What are the inefficiencies that you can live with? And it also depends on your STL capacity. At scale, the decision-making, frameworks, and mechanisms change.

The predominant or primary channels for Chargebee marketing from LinkedIn and Facebook

Mithran: There are some nuances to it. A lot depends on who your target personas are. Chargebee is predominantly operations and finance, who typically don't hang on LinkedIn compared to sales, marketing, or product management. The second aspect is the ads capacity of these platforms and how expensive these are. LinkedIn is costly, and in terms of algorithms, they can't compete with Facebook. Finally, there are some differentiators related to targeting capabilities.

Facebook is better for B2C, and for it to work on B2B, you need to have an internal CDP to control your audience. Any audience platform works based on the input data that we feed. We have connected our marketing automation system to Facebook and created a lot of internal hacks that allows Facebook to intelligently understand which is a good conversion, to understand which conversion became an opportunity for us, which can become a customer for us so that the ad engine can be optimized based on those. These nuances are not well built-in to LinkedIn.

Metrics to measure your post-click performance

Mithran- Our end goal is customer scheduling a call with us, and there are three ways for someone to express their intent. One is we have a Drift chat on the website. So either they can chat with sales agents, or they can schedule a call and book a time, or they can sign up for the product. It depends on which persona fits better, and we try to optimize accordingly.

Some developers try to do DIY types, and they want to explore the sandbox environment. They want it for those who optimize for the sign-up journey and those with significantly high intent. People who have been coming back to our website, coming from outstanding campaigns, like from a competitor campaign, are lovely because they are actively evaluating.

There could be leading indicators before that to depict what is happening, like for paid search and high intent campaigns, we want to convert it on the first station. It has been straightforward. We do a lot of top-of-the-funnel discovery kind of campaigns on paid search. We give a case study or a law to people, which talks about a particular use case, a particular problem, in that case, we optimize for engagement, and it goes into the retargeting queue. The metric for the website is conversion, and we optimize it differently for different industries, personas, or website behavior. The leading metrics is the engagement on the website and how many pages they visit. We introduced this metric called marketing qualified to click when we moved from super scaled page structure to optimized ICP page structure.

Now we have a lot of Clearbit Reveal products. Let's say from a given campaign; we get a hundred clicks. We won't understand from the hundred clicks how many clicks belong to our ICP because, at the website level, we might not know who the person is, but we know which account they are and which industry they belong to. It's like if you are coming from a SaaS company, then it's a marketing qualified click. So we try to benchmark all the clicks, how many are marketing qualified clicks, and optimize on that number. Because that's the first indicator of the quality of a campaign. The leads, of course, but before the click and lead, there is a lot of lead time for us to understand and optimize. So that was an interesting metric that we introduced and optimized. I think metrics have to evolve. You don't need to choose standardized metrics. Choose the one that makes sense to your business workflow.

The first approach for designing experiences for different personas landing on your website

Mithran: In terms of the personalization concept, it is still evolving. Personalization is solving for context. When we started as a small company, the ICP was highly defined and had a finite set of people. As the product capabilities evolve and as the market expands, there are different interpretations of the product. Context setting is what any personalization layer allows us to do, and that's our ideology. We try to run these experiments with the objective of better conversions. Regardless of the conversion, we try to solve for the customer experience.

The part of the customer experience is essential. It is not like having a vague correlation and expecting them to speak when SDR understands it further. Do we enable them with all the context they need to decide whether to pursue the evaluation? And definitely, it is also for promotions, and then in particular cases, minimal tactical experiments give massive differences, even that you wouldn't even think of with high impact. The primary consequence is to "speak to the customer for who they are and not for who you are."

Changes in Chargebee's thought process and growth strategy prior and post-pandemic

Mithran: Pandemic has a positive influence in the business context as more and more companies understand the need for subscription. Some companies sell from physical locations and are moving into the cloud to sell subscriptions. The E-learning industries are now transforming their services to cloud-based learning. From a marketing context in general, companies are getting smarter with marketing strategies. The global marketing landscape has opened up many playbooks that are no longer a secret paid for just one company or two.

The playbooks have normalized, but the competition gets heated up. There has to be a constant pursuit of understanding and unlocking your next customer base. For Chargebee, we have seen some saturation levels for some core engines like paid search and organic search. It's giving sort of diminishing returns forcing us to look to other channels. The inbound has been comfortable for us, and it has done quite well for us. Now the subsequent pursuit is how to solve account-based marketing and scale. What strategies we should implement for people who are not aware of our services. In this way, the whole thought process is evolving. The buying journey and buying behavior of other partners have also evolved. With the increased competition, the companies understand the need for giving as much information, arming the buyers with information.

You should be transparent enough and focus on buying experience rather than focus on your process. The actual problem is how to translate the same into an application. It's an evolving experience, and we will solve it.

Defending revenue marketing

Mithran: There is a general shift happening in the B2B marketing landscape. In revenue marketing, the marketers are solving for revenue either directly or indirectly. The problems are focused on two things: one is focused on customer experience, and the other is your group. These two are your foundational tenets, and it helps you with decision making. The closer you are to revenue and pipeline, the faster decision-making is. Just focus on one channel that gives you a pipeline or revenue impact.

You have to closely understand the sales process rather than a mere fight on quality vs. quantity and follow-ups. It also urges marketers to understand and empathize with what problems the accountancy and SDR faces. If SDR has to answer so many questions on a call, it means as a marketer, we fail to explain some of it before they get onto the call. We try to solve it either with more innovative campaigns or better messaging on the website. In general, the marketing source pipeline is metrics for the marketing team, not leads, not website traffic. If you are working in a B2B SaaS environment where you have a responsibility to deliver pipeline to sale, it makes sense to focus on the marketing pipeline.

Tools to automate your marketing efforts

Mithran: HubSpot is one of the core marketing automation platform that we use. On the website, we use Drift for chat and Chili Piper for scheduling and routing. We use Clearbit ads to sink with our ads for enrichment to the website. Clearbit and CustomFit are used for running personalization journeys. CustomFit integrates with Clearbit to be personalized for identified audiences. It also works well with HubSpot. We use Zapier for internal stitching and hacks, but the core automation, retorting, and analytics sit with HubSpot.

Suggestions for marketers with potentials

Mithran: Adopting the paid-forward culture as someone trusted you, and you have to pay it forward. A good cutting edge is coming up that replaces the legacy system, and the new tools with deep expertise understand point solutions better. The optics as a marketer are to not just solve for the pain you have currently, but to think about what it opens up for you. Clearbit has a marketing playbook to understand what the product is all about. CustomFit has interviews and podcasts where you show the playbooks to know what you are offering.

Elaborating "Vuja-De"

Mithran: It's a kind of Deja Vu. It's an illusion that marketers get when we get repetitive problems, and that time we either ignore or solve them in similar ways. Deja Vu, in marketing terms, is like it might have happened sometime back, but can we look at it with a new lens? It helps you create new hypothesis and new ways of solving the same kind of problems.

Advice for marketers

  • Make sure you stick to your first principles
  • Look at the problem with one degree at a time and not get bogged by all of the definitions out there
  • Even if you are working for a product company, consider yourself as a product marketer regardless of what title you are
  • Deeply understand the product and deeply understand the business impact of what you do.
  • Always ask yourself what will be the bottom line of any new initiative? How does it impact your business?
  • Try to take a lot of marketing best practices from podcasts
  • Try to understand your customers with respect to what your product can do for them.

                                       "Find out where your customer persona resides"

Contact Shri Mithran