Making decisions about what NOT to do can be harder than deciding what TO do. Jon and Nicole cover topics like:
Being okay with the things you do and don't do
What Shape does and doesn't do with our marketing
What Shape does and doesn't do with our product
What Shape does and doesn't do with our sales process
Why you do not need to do everything to grow
Best advice we have is to remember do what is most valuable for your team and your business, don't get distracted.
Trust yourself to make decisions on what to add/what to cut, don't delay stopping efforts if something isn't working. The long-term success of your business can be determined as much by what you don’t do as what you choose to do.
Spent years as a PPC consultant and agency analyst before focusing on making software.
Jon: Hey Nicole.
Nicole: Hi Jon.
N: Let's do this.
N: I'm Nicole Mears.
J: I'm Jon Davis.
N: and this is our podcast 'Shape the Conversation'.
J: Nicole and I work here with a great team at shape.io, headquartered in Bend, Oregon.
N: So we left her agency job as marketers to build software for digital advertising teams. On this podcast we'll talking about working in marketing and growing shape into what it is today.
J: Our goal is to talk about the experiences the tough lessons we've learned and hopefully give you a few takeaways that you can use to shape your own conversations throughout the week. Why should you even listen to us? We're a profitable SaaS company located outside of the Silicon Valley bubble. We raised funding in 2015 that we've used to grow the team and customer base and are focused on not raising VC funding anymore but growing a profitable software company here in Bend. So Nicole what are we talking about on this episode?
N: Well on this episode we'll be talking about how to decide what you're going to do with your marketing, with your software, with building a business. How do you decide yes on this, no on this and be comfortable with that decision.
J: Yeah, and I know this is a tough one for you particularly as a perfectionist. Somebody that wants to close the loop on everything and really feel like you're checking all the boxes and doing all the things.
N: I want to do all the things.
J: Yeah but the reality is you know part of being a smaller team and not growing with huge amounts of VC cash is that we have to make tough decisions on what we decide to take on what we do and what we don't do and being okay with that is a completely different thing. And I think that's really the topic we'd... another part of today's topic is one, we've got a big list here of a bunch of things we do and don't do in these different areas of our business. But also thinking about being okay with that. You start a new business a new endeavor a new department a new project. You feel like you need to do everything possible to push that thing forward but sometimes you can spread yourself too thin, end up doing a bunch of things not as well as you possibly could, and you don't really drive the results you're looking for. So I think there are a few things that we do here that Shape that people will be surprised maybe that we don't do and show that, hey you can still grow and make strides by deciding not to do big things that potentially the market might view that you should be doing with your sales marketing or with your product. So what do you think Nicole, you just want to dive in here and start talking through a few of these?
N: Just rapid fire them.
J: Yeah, I got the big list here. I'll start rapid firing at them but then we'll just talk about them and you know why we haven't done 'em maybe that we dabble or experiment of the past. I think the key is that we don't do these things not necessarily because they don't work. You know we just feel like, when looking at them we haven't been able to put in the time to do them really well.
N: True. Although I think there are some things that don't work. We can talk about those too.
J: Yeah I think we've got a couple of those that fall into that category but all of these aren't necessarily an indictment on this is a marketing channel we don't believe in or one that we don't think has merit. For instance podcasting, you know that's one thing that we just started this podcast a few weeks ago. Up until that time we've read articles for years have a podcast, make sure you have a podcast, you've got to have a podcast so you get your brand out there but until a few weeks ago... no podcast. and we were still able to grow and build our brand along the way. So that's an example one of the things in marketing that we haven't done until recently
N: I think another one is, and you know you see pretty much everyone has them these days... A blog is another thing that we do. We find that there's a lot of value in creating content that you know you have to make sure you're also create great content. You can't just throw a blog out to throw a blog out.
J: Yeah definitely. Writing is really really hard and that's one of the things that we've definitely found in blogging too. But in order to fuel your channels it's a way to get your ideas out there. It's a way to get sort of your beliefs and how you feel about a wide range of things out there in the world. I do believe pretty strongly that blogging is one of those things if it falls on your personal don't list, you better have some really good reasons for not having an active blog or at least thinking about a blog early on that was one of the biggest mistakes I think we made. You know I was focused on a lot of things that weren't generating this kind of cadence with the blog that we needed to really sustain an inbound lead source to get us going early on and then I had to do a lot more outreach on the sales and in a lot more emailing but now starting to find our cants on the blog you can see where that starts to pick up.
N: I would say the interesting thing with this is even within these categories you're going to find some do's and don'ts. Like Jon said and I said we do blog but there's one thing that I want to do that's more how to articles more kind of not necessarily long form content. But I just you know we've done a lot of how to with budgeting which is our key focus. We've done a lot of management blogs because Jon and I come from management experience. I love to draft us some really helpful useful how to articles. I haven't even begun yet. So even within that category there's something where it's like how do you decide which ones to do right now and how do you decide where you're going to put on the backburner.
J: I mean even within specific channels there's things we do and don't do that you see a lot of other people do and so LinkedIn video, all the rage right now. You know when we're recording this in May 2018 everybody's got videos on LinkedIn, everybody's experimenting. We haven't done any of it today. You know we're looking to change that soon. But on the LinkedIn side we haven't done anything with video but we've been really active posting and LinkedIn has become one of our biggest lead sources. Tyler, our business development guy, his LinkedIn profile is starting to become one of the biggest referral sources for our inbound leads and traffic to the Web site. So even within these marketing channels sometimes you have to decide what you can do well and what you have to punt on until later we develop the cadence with blogging we could get text content out there through LinkedIn but video is what we're working on now building that skill and capability before we really push it out there on the marketing end I feel like I read a new article every day now that's Instagram for B2B. Here's a new way to use Instagram to attract B2B customers. We haven't even touched it or even thought about it yet. It's something that we can't even explore or experiment yet. We don't have a newsletter. We have people that you know you can sign up for the newsletter on the blog in a couple backdoor ways through our Drift Bot and the chat but we really haven't cultivated a newsletter at all and a lot of startup articles you'll read says that's the number one first thing that they said you have to go and do. Another thing that you've thought a lot about and I'd like to hear your thoughts on as we haven't done really any guest posting and get our content out there on other blogs. Why haven't we?
N: Honestly I think it comes down to time and effort. I will fully admit as a marketer I think I mean link building as you know if you want to call link building, but guest posting reaching out looking for those opportunities is something that's kind of one of my biggest desires to go after. But I also want to make sure that we have really great content that we're either we have in the hopper or that we're pitching people who we're asking to post on their blog. We want to provide as much value to their user base as we try to provide to our own. And as Jon said sometimes it just comes down to time. You know we've got 10 other things on our plate. And I hate to say it, but sometimes trying to go research other blogs to post on and trying to really craft a great pitch and really think about that is it something that gets pushed down my list. Now having said that it's one of the things I want to do the most.
J: And I think one of the ways we can hopefully maybe get more guest post opportunities down the road is continue to work on our blog you know attract people to the blog to see the types of content we're putting out there and have people coming to us making pitches.
N: I don't think you can always expect that though. That's the other thing is sometimes you think with marketing that it's just going to come to you. And it doesn't. Or if it does sometimes it's not the opportunity that you want necessarily. What I mean is you know if maybe someone's like a reciprocal guest posting but you get contacted by someone who really doesn't know what your sites actually about. They may have looked at it really quickly and been like Oh I'll write a blog for you, you write a blog for me while you'd love to take that opportunity. We're not going to provide value to someone who's looking for financial budgeting tips right because we're a digital advertising platform and blog.
J: Yeah, guest posting, that's a good example of one that's in our don't section but not because we choose to. You know we just haven't been able to make it happen. Another thing we don't do on the marketing front not because we don't want to but because we haven't been able to is speak at conferences. We've made a lot of pitches. We've tried to get out there but we haven't been able to kind of cracked that code of getting invited to speak at a digital marketing conference for us is what we'd be shooting for it.
N: Absolutely. I will say this I think there's been a sigh of relief a couple of times when some pitches weren't accepted because we know that attending and speaking at conferences is a great opportunity not only to get our personal names out not so much... you know we don't want to be super brandy just to go there and pitch our brand that's not the goal but it's also a great opportunity to meet a lot of great people in the industry. So we know that speaking at conferences is great. We've got a couple of introverts on the team. I think we all need to work on our public speaking skills which is part of the reason why the podcast is one step towards that and we just have to keep pitching.
J: I think that one's on us. You know I don't blame the conference organizers for not accepting our pitches in those cases they have a lot of strong pitches to sort through. Anything that comes from a software provider I think gets an extra level of scrutiny definitely and looking at these kind of conferences too so I totally see where they're coming from there.
N: I think one last do that I'm going to throw out here. I don't know if you have any more do's and don'ts on the marketing side, is great customer service as marketing. You know we've said this before we really strive to be a highly customer service focused business because your customers are really going to be the best referral source for you. And we typically don't ask. I think we've done one thing to ask for reviews when we were dealing with support issues and if we had happy customers we'd ask for reviews but we've never sat there and said hey can you refer us to all of the people that you know in the PPC industry. That being said in a lot of ways some of our customers are fantastic and they've recommended us and really surprising ways and channels that we didn't expect.
J: Yeah I think it's always healthy to look at your customer support as marketing in a lot of ways especially when you have a lot of overlapping roles on the team like you handle some customer support and some marketing and that, Great point, I definitely think you've got to view customer service as a big marketing channel for you. Some of the other don'ts we've got up here on our board we're looking at on the marketing side. YouTube got pretty quiet YouTube channel to date. You know you'd probably see some slightly outdated demos on there right now if you looked. We've put some effort into videos when we were pushing our API and looking at some of those efforts. But for the most part not much going on on shape's YouTube channel right now huh.
N: I think we have maybe four subscribers and three of the four might actually be employees of this company.
J: Yeah I think that's probably true but I do think that's one of the things that that's the case today. But a year from now won't be the case I think video is really growing it's something that's got a lot more of my attention and your attention I know we're having to fight through a little bit of that introverted nature that we have to kind of get out there and put ourselves in front of the camera. And I think that will help to YouTube but there's a lot of companies out there that are using it really well and I think it's something that we need to work on to going forward. Shifting a little bit into looking at the product end so a little context for those that might be new the podcast, we build software for digital marketers. You're able to sync with Google, Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter all these different sources of where you're placing your ads out there online and make it really easy to manage those budgets. What we really focus on is being the best solution in the world for managing your digital advertising budget. So that's one of the things we do focus on. But what that means is we have to let a lot of other stuff kind of go by the wayside that other tools may be better at or we don't feel like we can take on and really deliver best in class experience with that feature set. So within our product one of the big things that we don't we have no campaign creation or ad creation abilities within our product. You can't go into Shape and build an ad and actually that's a big trend across marketing tech because it's really hard to keep up with the pace these platforms are building ad creation tools. The next thing we don't do and you as a former analysts kind of know that this is a big section of our space, competitive space, is Bid Management algorithms and making recommendations on what to bid at the keyword level. Shape doesn't do any of that.
N: Nope. We now we allow you to change keyword bids. That being said but we don't actually create rules algorithms etc. that you might see in some of the bigger players. And really honestly and correct me if I'm wrong, Jon. It comes down to honestly being able to provide the best experience with that and being able to provide, like Jon said we're really focused on the budget aspect of it because we can know we can be the best in class at that.
J: Absolutely. And those are the tough decisions you have to make. Like when you look at your team in the eye do you believe you can really be the best in the world or deliver a great experience in this problem set your potential customers are going to be facing. In our specific case, bid management is one of those things where it's complicated data science it's really the math is actually pretty doable. The tough part is the inputs you know are you getting the right tracking from your customers is conversion tracking all set up are you working with all the data you need to really make a decision as important as changing a keyword bid. Those are complete problems in and of themselves outside of budget pacing that we want to take on that would just distract us from our core mission which is providing these budget management tool and providing collaborative space for these teams using the software to talk about it and work together. And that's where we really are helping teams and customers are responding.
N: And we've really, I think, I want to say last year leaned into the collaborative space for teams even more so than we had previously. Do you want to talk a little bit about how we've leaned into that a little bit more?
J: Yeah. I think we, in previous episode 2, you know check back last episode we talked about some of those things where for a long time we didn't provide as many tools for teams as we could have. But we decided to move that from one of our don't columns into one of our do as we've had bigger customers and moved up the ladder in terms of being able to engage with bigger prospects. So that's one thing now that we've moved into our do category because it is so important to serve the customers that we have today. But again you're making concessions with that. We haven't built super detailed reporting solutions. You know you can't schedule reports in Shape, you can't export huge PDFs in app. We decided for a long time not really to compete with some of the other players in that space because one, we thought Gmail analytics owns it and they do it the best. And there's other ways using Google data studio and some of the things that maybe we can offload some of that reporting work into a system that some of our customers are already using but not build all those solutions right in-house.
N: One of the things it does kind of crack me up about the collaboration side and it was kind of pulling back from reporting is that we did release something called notes to be a collaborative feature between teams and really so you can comment back and forth you can @ mentioned people. We went to make our big marketing push and not 24 hours before we did so AdWords were just like, "hey we've got notes, Isn't this fantastic!" And Jon and I just kind of looked at each other and went Agghhh because AdWords is AdWords and they got you know a ton of mention for it. Now this is not a podcast where we're going to sit here and plug our product all the time. But I will say this, we can do for AdWords, we can do it for Bing, we can do it for Facebook. Okay? So that's the one thing I was like, all right AdWords you got us this time.
J: Yeah I think in the do category do try to launch your feature a week before as opposed to a week after one of the major other companies in the space releases something similar.
N: You know Google is very very transparent with their product announcements so...
J: Yeah, they always let you know exactly what they're working on and what's in the pipeline right. All right. Let's jump over to sales and talk about some of the things on the sales side we don't do at all and we've made peace with it and we're okay about not checking all these boxes right Nicole? Right perfectionist Nicole?
J: Okay. All right. One of those is that we don't go to conferences. We went to one back in 2016 spent a lot of money over ten thousand dollars to go to it sponsor it gets "shwagg" for it and we didn't convert any customers from that conference and sales so since then we looked hard at our conference strategy and we pulled back. So for last two years we haven't done any conferences I think "oh how do you grow software in the digital space without going to conferences?" Well you can you just don't go. You find other ways to bring people to you to your Web site to learn about your product. And I think from attending conferences I don't know if it's just a place where people are ripe to be sold. I don't know. Is that your take when you've been at some of these?
N: So conference are an interesting thing for me. So I went to a conference four years ago and I did actually go speak to a vendor. Now part of that was because I wanted to get an extra T-shirt for my team that I could take back. I did get the guys contact information. I did contact him but I will say this it took four more years for me to contact him because we were in the space to look at bid management software which was what that was at the point. The thing for me is you're never going to you're never going to have a handshake deal at that conference no ones are going to turn around and be able to make that decision to buy a multi-thousand dollar piece of software across the table at a conference in between you know of 45 minutes session. It's just never going to happen. So it was a long sales cycle with a four year sales cycle for the guy and he honestly at the end of the day he didn't actually get the deal. We decided to go a different way.
J: And that's one of the tough things for me looking at investing in conferences and putting budget towards conferences is that so much about sales is really about timing. Are you looking for a solution or do you believe you need a solution in that space at that time. Are those two magical components going to overlap at this conference that was planned a year and a half ago with no respect to your buying cycle or what you were thinking. That's some of the things that make conferences a tough way sometimes to earn a bunch of sales and one of the things when you do go to a conference is you get but you get a huge list of people to reach out to and try to e-mail followups with and get in touch with and even those follow ups we've found where people understand they're going to get marketed to if they sign up for a conference. But even those people weren't super receptive to and we didn't get a lot of traction with those and I think that's part of a little bit of a bigger scope about what we do and don't do in sales. One of the things we no longer do in sales is we have no cold outbound outreach up until four or five months ago we were still sending cold e-mails making cold calls trying to have a cadence of outbound to generate interest in that way. But we found that marketers don't want to be sold that way. At least digital marketers in our space. And now we don't do any cold outbound whatsoever and that's a huge chunk of a lot of companies strategies around sales kind of revolve around you know SDRs which stands for sales development representative it tends to be some younger guy or girl right out of college that is like energetic enough to say they want to make 150 cold calls a day. And that's the way a lot of companies generate. But we don't do any of that now but we haven't seen too much of a drop off honestly in the leads since we've stopped that and turned our focus then to having our sales reps develop LinkedIn content and have conversations out there on these different channels and really change our focus from busting all these outbound calls and e-mails to how to nurture relationships and do all the things that great salespeople are supposed to do.
N: Yeah I think it took a while but I think we recognize that sometimes we're not the solution for someone right away. I mean going back to that conference example right. It may be a year where we are talking with someone who reached out either through a lead or maybe it just like someone we've connected with their networking and really talked to them and seen them grow their business maybe kind of helped them in ways or referred them to other tools. Right. We honestly we want the best experience for that person regardless if they're lead, regardless of their customer and ultimately along the way down the line that nurturing that relationship we've seen really positive results from nurturing that relationship even if it takes a really long time.
J: Yeah definitely. I think that's one of the areas where not having a cold outbound focused kind of helps your sales guys have those types of relationships because that initial spark came from an interest on your prospects side. They have some problem they're trying to find they've saw your blog post. They are reaching out to you and that's everything that digital marketing is all about. In today's world in the way you're trying to have the most efficient sales team possible is to feed them the warmest leads possible and that's where we've made the decision that we're going to put energy into that and have our sales guys fielding those inbound efforts to not just our marketing team but to do that we're willing to sacrifice, you know, being able to have the tangible results of Hey we made 200 cold calls today. We've sent 200 cold e-mails today. You know there some to be said for hey we're trying. We're putting energy out there but you've got to be honest. Is that the best use of your time. When you look at your results for us it wasn't
N: I think it's great that you want to try all the things right. It's you know it's aspirational to want to try the things. Now I think you have to look at yourself look at your business and really decide OK where are we going to focus right away. Another thing that you have to do is take a step back sometimes and look at what you're doing and seeing if it's successful. Right. Is it meeting the expectations that you had. One of the things that we stopped doing as much as posting on Facebook. We really do focus on LinkedIn and Twitter when we created a new blog article. Ultimately at the end of the day comes on being comfortable with that. Once you made that decision move on, doesn't mean you can't revisit it but you have to get comfortable with that.
J: And I think as a small team it's something you have to get comfortable with for your own sanity. And it also gives you the best chance to succeed because you actually have the time and energy to really do something well that really makes an impact and stand out in the marketplace. So you know think about along the way. It's just as important what you say no to what you don't do what you rally your team behind not doing as what you're rallying your team behind what you're actually doing.
N: So we hope you'll let us know is there a take away from this episode they'll use to shape your conversations this week. We hope you'll e-mail us, find the show notes with links to our e-mails the socials and more at blog.shape.io/podcast.
J: And we're just getting this podcast going so tell your friends about it. Don't be afraid to go on iTunes and subscribe or review the podcast. Thanks so much for listening. We got a few guests lined up over the next couple of weeks ranging from a member of Congress to the CEO of a major microbrewery so it'll be interesting to kind of pick their brains and get their thoughts on building new projects, teams, and businesses so until next time, over and out from Bend Oregon and Shape HQ here.
Reach out to us with any ideas, questions, or feedback on the podcast!