Last week, Taylor Gould, BetterCloud’s VP of Marketing, joined us on the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast to discuss “Optimizing Email Response Rates.” Taylor brings a great background in SaaS sales and marketing to bear on the subject at hand today. Before joining BetterCloud in 2011 (its founding year), he served as a marketing manager at Cloud Sherpas, a provider of cloud advisory and technology services for top tech brands with specializations in Salesforce and Google Enterprise. Though email response rates are traditionally thought of as the domain of marketers, the disciplines of early-stage marketings and sales are becoming increasingly intertwined. After all, marketing generates many of the leads that SDRs will engage with, and more and more salespeople rely on marketing techniques to optimize email outreach conducted to reach top-of-funnel prospects. Today, we’ll dig a bit deeper into how a startup stakeholder can ensure that their early marketing and sales efforts are properly aligned to achieve consistency in messaging and a seamless experience from the buyer’s perspective. Taylor gave an excellent talk on the subject at last year’s Marketing Nation Summit hosted by Marketo. We’ll use that presentation, which you can find below, as a guide to dig into 5 pro tips for marketing-sales alignment.
1) Chart Your Top-Of-Funnel Process To Define How Marketing & Sales Development Work Together
Most B2B startup organizations seat their Sales Development Reps (SDRs) under sales. In some organizations, however, placing SDRs into the Marketing organization can make sense and foster a more effective interaction between sales and marketing. BetterCloud, for example, has found this setup improves marketing-sales alignment in their organization. In order to determine what makes the most sense for you, we suggest mapping out your customer journey, highlighting any touch points. In the case of a Freemium product like BetterCloud, for example, SDRs and marketing teams need to be extremely attuned with one another because it only makes sense for the former to engage a lead when the time is right (in other words, not every MQL is ready for SDR engagement off the bat). In Taylor’s BetterCloud customer journey map to the left, this additional process is represented by the “Lifecycle Marketing” layer. Product marketing is a process constantly learning from and educating the Freemium user base. Meanwhile, SDRs are reaching out to “engaged” Freemium users, and continually improving the Company’s understanding of when and why users upgrade to a paid premium plan. In other firms where marketing organization simply generate top-of-funnel leads, and SDR execute on them with the goal of moving them forward to account executives, it likely makes sense to house SDRs in the sales organization. But in situations like these, where marketing gets much closer to understanding what qualifies a lead for sales engagement (though Lifecycle Marketing efforts), it may make sense to bring SDRs under the head of marketing’s org. In any case, this process will help you understand how your marketing and sales development teams should best work together, which you should also consider institutionalizing with an internal SLA (you can find a how-to on building and using an SLA here, with advice from Sean Kester of SalesLoft).
2) Map Out Your Marketing Audience By Each Vector Of Your Ideal Customer Profile
Customer outreach is the core discipline of both marketing and sales development. While each engages with the customer at a different stage in the sales funnel, the goal is essentially the same: reach the lead at the right time with the right message in order to move them further down the path to purchase. In order to do this, it’s important to avoid treating every lead the same. While the high-level value proposition of your product may be universal to all prospects, reasons for buying right now are probably different for different types of organizations and stakeholders. To that end, convene a meeting with your marketing and sales leaders to map out your audience by prospect type (see BetterCloud’s example to the left here).
As a first step, make sure you’ve gone through the process already of building an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) for your organization. If you haven’t done that yet, check out this past episode of the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast in which we walked though the process with Daniel Barber of ToutApp (more detail around building the ICP template itself in our follow-up article to that podcast here). In the spirit of marketing-sales alignment, moreover, ensure your marketing team understands the ICP as well as your sales team because as we’re learning today, the learnings are critical for both orgs.
Now, use a flowcharting tool (e.g. LucidChart, which Taylor uses here, or Microsoft Vizio) to map out your audience, breaking it out into more and more granular sub-groups as you move through each ICP factor. BetterCloud, for example, uses the following filters: Product Edition, Prospect Size, Level Of Product Engagement, and Geographic Region. Yours may be completely different and will depend on your ICP, but could include other factors like type of product currently in use, industry vertical, other measures of prospect size (e.g. number of employees, estimated revenue range), inbound channel (e.g. content marketing, website sign-up, newsletter, email campaign). The result will be a number of audience micro-segments. Both your marketing and sales teams can use these mini-groups to target their outreach on a more granular basis, and hopefully, increase effectiveness over time (more on how to do so below).
3) Use Your Audience Map To Build Highly Tailored, Dynamic Emails
As Taylor walks through in his presentation, dynamic emails 1.0–which swap out contact names, companies, and little else–just don’t cut it anymore. Now that we have already built out an Audience Map in step #2 above, we can customize our email messaging accordingly. Each factor of the ICP, first off, is a potential dynamic field. You’ll need to A/B test which fields actually drive increased open rates and engagement, but it’s worth trying them all. Also, recognize that every data point you store (or should be storing) regarding a customer is a candidate for a dynamic field (not just your ICP factors). This is another area where marketing-sales alignment is key; both orgs hold valuable info on prospects and you’ll want to leverage it all to optimize outreach.
In BetterCloud’s case, because they offer a Freemium product, they can make use of historical product usage data to customize messaging (for this, Taylor suggests a user-based tracking system like Evergage, but tools like Monetate, Unbouce, Optimizely or even just Google Analytics can work here as well). Regardless of your model, however, you can get extremely creative with dynamic fields. Taylor found that for BetterCloud, using Geography to tailor suggested meeting times led to a ~100% increase in response rates alone. Also don’t assume the most intuitive fields are the right ones to include; BetterCloud initially used Company / Account Name as a field, but found that in fact the customer’s domain name performed better. One good way to begin exploring dynamic fields to add is to review every data type you capture in your CRM. If you are capturing sufficient information in your CRM (as you should be), you’ll have items like pain points / reasons for purchase (e.g. meets compliance / regulatory needs, has specific integrations, no variable costs, etc.). Though you won’t have this information for all leads, you may be able to infer them based on which Audience Map micro-segment they fall into. Especially if you’re targeting brand new leads that you have little information about, there are additional ways you can go about collecting information on these prospects which can in turn help you customize your messaging, which we’ll cover in the next step below.
4) Use Surveys To Collect More Information On Existing Leads
Startup sales organizations that don’t offer a Freemium product will likely have little information on a lead when it first enters the funnel: an email address, contact name / role, organization name and maybe some additional basics about the potential account. Presumably, however, there is some level of interest or at least other factor that makes that lead worthwhile to your organization. Try to leverage this interest by using a survey that speaks to the pain point in question, with a promise to share insights back with respondents. It’s a self-propagating form of content marketing, and it can also help inform your messaging by attaching additional insights on your prospect to each lead.
Taylor once again provides us with an excellent template flowchart for determining each touchpoint in the survey campaign. Once again, the questions you ask, as well as the resulting follow-up messaging and routing, should all be determined according to the prospect and her responses. Keep marketing-sales alignment in mind here: if your product is best positioned to users of cloud storage solutions like Box or DropBox, for example, you’ll likely want to treat those leads differently that those that currently aren’t using a cloud storage solution. If you ask leads “Rate the extent of your pain points around [your product’s value prop] from 1-10,” respondents who return an 8+ might be moved through to an SDR while those that return <=5 might receive a white paper for market education purposes. While marketing will be responsible for engineering and executing the survey, marketing-sales alignment is, again, critical here, as certain responses might auto-qualify a lead for an SDR call. Remember also that the survey message is like any other marketing or sales outreach; you should target survey campaigns using dynamic fields and consider how different audience micro-segments engage. Finally, consider adding incentives to your surveys to improve response rates. At BetterCloud, Taylor began by offering a $20 Amazon gift card to 100 randomly selected survey respondents. This alone boosted response rates by over 5%, up to 10%.
If you’re just getting started with surveys, start short and simple: e.g. <=5 questions. Just ensure that with each touch point (as should be the case with all marketing or TOFU sales development efforts), you’re learning something about the prospect (e.g. role within organization, level of administrative rights, budget or IT authority level). All of these learnings will help further customize all marketing / sales outreach dynamically, creating a feedback loop of prospect intelligence.
5) Always Be Testing
Putting these marketing-sales alignment strategies to work, Taylor and his team at BetterCloud saw drastic improvements over the course of just 1 year. In Q4 2013, campaign response rates were ~2.5%. Thanks to the additional layers of personalization described above, 12 months later, email response rates had jumped to nearly 10%. Qualified meetings set up by the SDR team (now moved into the marketing org) increased over 200% over that same period and per-rep productivity increased over 100%, with each SDR setting nearly 3x as meetings as before. But along the way, certain variations of email or survey messaging fell flat. The key was testing each, moving forward with what worked, and discarding what didn’t. It’s a message that probably won’t be lost on any modern marketer or salesperson, so I won’t belabor the point, but without frequent measurement and on-point reporting, progress around marketing-sales alignment (and just about anything else) will be impossible.
You can find Taylor’s full presentation from the Marketing Nation Summit below. We also suggest checking out Taylor’s actual talk from the Summit, which you can find on YouTube here. Thanks again to Taylor Gould and BetterCloud for joining us on the podcast and sharing so much great content. We hope it will be helpful to any startups out there looking to maximize marketing-sales alignment.