This is a transcript of the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast – BC Startup Sales Podcast – Humanizing Data with Cezary Pietrzak (Cezary & Co)
Episode 5 of the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast.
MB: Hey there! Welcome back to studio. We are here with Cezary Peitrzak, a good friend of mine who is going to talk to us today about humanizing data in your SaaS company. He has been an advisor, a consultant, an employee in a lot early stage start-ups on the SaaS and B2B side and he is talking to us today about a pretty interesting topic that I think goes often times unnoticed by early stage businesses. So, welcome Cezary.
CP: Great to be here, Mike.
MB: So tell us may be to start, just give us a little idea of kinda your background, who you have been working with, you know, what it is exactly that you do and kind of where you have been as a start.
CP: Definitely. So, I think my background’s in many ways is interesting because I started off in the advertising agency world, doing consumer insights and strategy and so despite having spent, I guess, a lot of my time in spreadsheets and data and business school, the way that I started my career is by really exploring as creative and human side, I guess, of the business. So, thinking about people’s behaviours, their motivations, their values, things of that nature, and using this information to influence business results. So I spent a few years there, I worked for big companies like Campbell Soup, LG Electronics, AHL, and then from there I moved into the startup world where I had a company in the travel space, been there around for about 4 years. We sold it to TripAdvisor and then I spent a little bit of time there with Q-ups which was a technology incubator. I had been marketing there B2B mobile company called Appboy and then most recently, I have been advising a range of companies in both the consumer and B2B space.
MB: Talk to us a little bit about what you mean, I think when people hear, the term humanizing data, their sort of eyes glaze over and either they don’t understand it or they don’t think it is relevant to their business, so maybe just give us a high level about what you mean when you say that sort of how companies should perceive this or think about this from earlier stages of their life.
CP Definitely I think a lot of companies understand and appreciate the value of data. I think there has been a really big movement in the last couple of years about collecting information about what is happening on the site, what is happening on an app and what people are doing and there has been a wide of tools to help you do that and I think as the data world has become more complex, I think a lot of people have just gotten lost in the numbers. They have looked at in the numbers. They have looked at information in a very simple way, they don’t actually step back and think about the motivating factors behind why something might be occurring and so when I think about this notion of humanizing data, it is really about understanding the people behind the data about understanding why they do certain things, you know, who they are, what they actually care about and what are the hypothesis behind the results, because I think understanding that side of equation will really give you good ideas about how to improve the business and how to make it better.
MB: And you wouldn’t suggest not looking at the data but more sort of compliment to your existing processes or is it hey, most start-ups interactive are just way too in there with the data and need to kind of pull it back and think broadly about human psyche and sort of humans interacting with your product or service.
CP: I think it is simple things from everything from just observing people to taken the time to research to just defining the target audience better. I don’t think you have to sell SaaS companies on data or start-ups or anyone in general technology space and I think most people in that space come with more quantitative focus skills but I think they just do forget that there are people behind their business and that people actually drive any sort of business and the lack of understanding about people is what is going to be problems or challenges that they can solve by just looking at statistics or analytics or spreadsheets.
MB: And how did you I guess maybe before we dive into some specific examples or how did you, you have obviously coined this term and given a lot of thought to it and there is a lot information available online that Cezary has talked about but how did you kind of come upon this or what gave you that impedance to either call this or take this sort of strategy.
CP: As I made the move into this startup world, I just started seeing some of this big differences, I think the advantage that I have had and the benefit that I have had is, I have been exposed to these very creative human-centric process that you see in creative agencies that are working with ideas with very conceptual terms and that sort of again understanding when I come into the startup world, I see that its lacking and one great example is the prevalence of the word users. There was a great blog by Jack Dorsey about a year ago that in his interaction with a board member I think how it starts from Starbucks, he had had asked them what do you guys always call, your customers, users, they are not these humanless drones, they are actually real people so call them that and I think that really starts to change the relationship that you have with your customer and your customer could be a guest, could be your fan, it could be client or whatever that is. I think just even elevating that, that sort of language really starts to inform how you about reaching them how you go about marking to them, etc.
MB: But so not only, so sort of humanize data from a standpoint of carry out specific tasks or solve specific problems but also as an organization, the way you think about who do you talk to, what you say can also be an element of humanizing data right.
CP: Absolutely, I think at the baseline, it is really asking yourself why, why are certain things happening, why is a certain data, the way it is, why are you observing these sort of trends, why are sales falling, why aren’t people converting on a specific page, what will help you actually resolve that not just kind of analyze it and recognize it is there, it is asking yourself, what could be the reasons for it and how does that relate to my target audience and then taking those hypotheses and then running a series of tests to see what would work. You know looking at data from human perspective will not give you all the answers but it will give you a very strong set of hypotheses.
MB: So may be if we can sort of dive into some specific ways that you have helped the companies think about this and obviously for the listeners, it will give more credence to the idea but that also practical applications, may be start-ups talk to us about, you have advised obviously bunch of companies on IT infrastructure side, I you cannot name specific names but may be tell us about a specific problem you saw or had with one of those businesses and how that sort of humanization of data really solve that.
CP: Yes, definitely. So, one infrastructure company that I have been advising had or has a very robust referral program. So they built products that people loved. They are willing to share it and they have been sharing it at a fairly high rate and as we are looking at.
MB: Just to clarify, when you say referral program basically, incentivizing a referrer to refer someone and then get paid or get something for that.
CP: Yes. Somebody who has had a great experience with that product to share it with their friends, with their professional contacts etc.
MB: In this case developers, basically got it.
CP: Exactly, so there is a great referral program already in place so people are already sharing and people who are really happy with the product but we really sit on an opportunity to grow that aspect of the business and so what we looked at is and what we found into again looking very specifically at the data that referrals were happening quickly. They were happening at a fairly high rate so people were referring multiple friends, but not a lot of people were actually doing the referrals and so again one thing that we could have done is may be tested some of the copy on the emails or the timings when they were sent, but really the bigger opportunity as we kind of dug a little bit deeper behind why this was happening is that, no enough actually knew that the program existed and so again.
MB: What was the process to find that out?
CP: I think a lot of it around was just conversations and running surveys and getting in touch with the audience to really understand you know why this was not happening more often and it was a simple insight but it was not obvious right away but again the numbers were already on a high level and so you wouldn’t necessarily think that there is a big opportunity to improve on this.
MB: Right, if you looked at the data, it would be wow, it was a pretty good referral program.
CP: Exactly. These two benchmarks are X, we are doing much better than that and so let us focus on perhaps some other channel and so we really began to understand that awareness was an issue, people were simply not finding out about the program enough so we implemented a series of tactics that would actually make people more aware and you look at the on-boarding process , how they are actually being exposed to the company and again when they started to make those referrals and we not found that optimal point to introduce this referral program to them but we also found multiple places that if they didn’t see or they didn’t become aware at one point, they most likely would out in another area.
MB: So to maybe carry it to its conclusion you have seen obviously an increase significantly in the program or it was already doing good.
CP: Yes, it was already great and yet we were able to increase it in this case over 50%. So it was massive and again it was one of those I think hidden gems that contrary to I think certain marketing tactics didn’t require a massive amount of implementation work and yet the difference it made was amazing because it unleashed all this good will that already existed that simply didn’t have a way to I guess come to life because people weren’t aware.
MB: So the big question form humanization of data standpoint is you know even if you have this great channel talking to the users and really understanding that particular referral program was super-helpful in understanding the touch-points and how it needed to be more effective, and then executing on all that to allow the program to grow really significantly.
CP: Exactly, so again looking at things from the person’s perspective, how they are coming into the company, how are they using the product, when are they finding out about this program and how they are showing it with others and trying to really look at the gaps in that sort of behavior versus just saying let us start testing a couple of different things and maybe see if we can increase the matrix incrementally.
MB: Then how did you, maybe to close this example out, do you continuously go back to try and make this referral program better or do you say to yourself okay, kind of mission accomplished for the time being so let us move on to the other things or how would you advise the startup now if they took that advice and executed on that program and may be it increased their own referral program, would you say sort of just move on or keep the same.
CP: Yes definitely I think we have some big hypotheses moving forward, some of them are around the ease of sharing information to their friends. I think that is another big thing that we are exploring and again, when you think about the process right, what does somebody actually have to do to inform their friends about a program and then you start to look at well how are they sharing, it is email, social, etc. If it is any one of those channels how do they actually find the person’s contact information, another piece is like what are they actually saying, so again kind of looking at it from that perspective and seeing what the resources that are available today and you start to see that and maybe there are opportunities to enhance this process in this way. So we think that there is an opportunity to improve that part of the equation so we are moving ahead with that. We also have an additional list of hypotheses as well that we want to test and we think you know that at some point yes then this channel will plateau and it will probably optimize as much as we can, but going after those bigger ones first makes a lot of more sense than trying to do small things.
MB: That is great. So maybe move on to another example. I know you have done a lot of work with sort of the commerce side of the house and subscription commerce companies, a little tangential to the traditional B2B SaaS but still a component of their model is in and around this space, maybe sort of give us an example of one of the companies that you work with there and how you have obviously seen that progress from a humanization of data standpoint, working with them.
CP: Definitely, I think the big theme in B2B space is marketing automation, email marketing, contact marketing etc., and so this commerce company in particular has a fairly robust program in place and I think as you see there are lot of companies that are growing pieces or components of the program, really kind of get added on as needed as the company grows and the system overtime starts to I think lack a little bit of cookies in this that it should have when you, again when you step back and you think about the customer lifecycle and the different steps and different interactions that customers are taking to kind of interact with the product and so one of the things that we have been doing is actually mapping out to that entire process. I guess again whatever tools that you are using receive these set of emails and triggers and logic behind when and why they are sending but none of them actually give you a great way to visualize what that is and so to supplement I think that that process and again the data that you see around how often people open emails and why, there is I think a bigger opportunity which is actually which step backwards actually see visually how these emails look when they are being sent out. Let us map out the process and let’s start to think what those opportunities are to improve the business by just looking at things like how many emails are people getting each week, especially if it is a recurring subscription business. When are they getting specific emails, when is their strong called action around the certain behaviour that the company wants to influence and so I think there are lot of interesting insights that just come from that process that aren’t as transactional as saying, “Alright we need to send this email because we now introduce this new feature and so it is important to have this notification.”
MB: So the company actually had a marketer or some component of marketing automation, did you really sort of in the beginning say look let us step back and see if this working or not working or would you recommend having it, let us say you are just getting up and running with marketing automation, would you recommend essentially doing some stuff early on getting some data and then stepping back and sort of taking that humanizing approach to it.
CP: Yes actually, I think again we have to take it very practically, when you are starting off and you don’t have a program in place doing something already that starts to build or begin building a relationship with your audience is very important and so I think you take those steps first but at some point you start to realize as you are sending more and more emails as the product becomes more complicated, it is not just those individual emails that you are sending, it is the entire collection of emails and those collections of emails really start to make for a bigger experience and if you can really deconstruct that experience and think about the steps that people are taking, you start to notice opportunities, not only to make their experience better but also to drive business results so if there are specific objectives that you want to achieve for example to get to the first X number of orders then you really have to think about how you approach that and when you are sending specific emails. Do you logic around sending an email only if somebody has opened up the previous email or interacted with it in some way, but you really have to kind of think about that holistically and again you combine that with the data that you already have, so data again is not something that you are replacing at all, you are complementing it, you are enhancing the experience and you are coming in with better ideas of what to do.
MB: So you have the data, you map the entire experience on the email side, what were some of the insights or things that you guys changed just to sort of conclude that example, lets say.
CP: Definitely, there are simple things like knowing that for example in first week people were getting a lot of emails, the opportunity to send them another one would probably not work because if you just again think about it from the perspective of getting flooded with emails in your inbox, you probably will not have a great perception of the company. Another one is again in this case it was making an introduction to referral program after we know that customers are very happy with the service and you can kind of look at some of the information and you can tell that after X number of orders that person is going to be a loyal customer and so that becomes a great trigger point to say alright, now that we know that you are happy, why don’t you invite your friends and then again there are certain opportunities around re-engagement just kind of mapping out and saying that the types of information that people are getting at different points wasn’t actually motivating them to convert and so being a little bit more prescriptive around when that happens and why, became a great opportunity to convert people that otherwise would not have.
MB: Makes sense. Maybe move on the third example. I know you have worked a fair amount on the education side and there are bunch of companies that are in sort of B2B education space, give us kind of some thoughts on one of the companies that you worked with there, how do you humanize the data and then sort of what were some of the results?
CP: Definitely, so I think one interesting or I think of one common approach that I have seen for lot of B2B companies is immediately jumping to marketing channels, are we going to do email, are we going to do events, are we going to do social media, etc. So it is a very channel-first approach and I think that is fine, you do have to analyze and prioritize the channels that are available to you but what I did with this specific company is really force them again to think about their audience and think about the moments in places that their audience is most open to purchasing a product. So I think you know this is a classic exercise from the creative agency world and what it really does is, it forces you to think about all the things that for example somebody is dealing with throughout the day what types of different tools and products they are analyzing, how busy they are etc and then thinking about how and why they would want to make a purchase, what is actually the impetus for that. Are there for example particular moments during the business calendar that they are more open to hearing message or not, for example at the end of the quarter if somebody has to spend a budget or annual planning at the beginning of the year, or maybe there is in another words security example there is a big security breach and all of a sudden that becomes top of mind and if the product is offering some sort of security, then that becomes a great opportunity for you to get in front of them. So we come and start at looking at things from that perspective to come together on what is actually the marketing calendar around specific opportunities throughout the year that this company could not take advantage of, but also very unique trigger points. Again where they would be open to hearing the message about the service and so what that did is to complement, the standard approach of just looking at marketing channels and give them very specific ideas that you know what a hypotheses is, was that if these people would convert higher because if you just analyze the situation in the context of their buying decision, it made a whole lot of sense compared to every other moment.
MB: Now that is very effective and I think a lot of times we recommend the companies take a less you know channel-driven approach to things and way more high level or more human centric.
CP: There is another great example when you look at the sales process of B2B companies. Usually not that out in different steps you put in to sales force, etc., you usually have some sort of percentage conversion rate for each moment but I think you know all those things are great but when you think about how to optimize that for, what you are really thinking about is the person’s mind set so if you are going into first meeting and they are super busy because many vendors are pitching them, an insight like that might lead you to have a much shorter and concise presentation that is very high level and that does not have into some of the details whereas at the next meeting you have the CTO evaluating some specific technology and that may be you have to get more technical and you start to develop I think these trends over time but what you are really appealing to is not a sort of feature that you are trying to sell but really the people in the room the things that they care about and what would motivate you then individually to buy the product and as we know in our organizations that have more decision makers, a lot of them are motivated by different factors and so you have to be able to convey one cohesive message but also appeal to each of their individual needs.
MB: Maybe just to close, come back to infrastructure companies that you have been working with, I know you had a really good example about how humanizing data helped one business in particular, think about landing page conversions, so maybe to just close out the discussion, talk to us a little bit about that and sort of what you have learnt and how humanizing the data really helped.
CP: Absolutely. So I think with the landing page, there is again a culture of testing among technology companies, which I think is great but I think a lot of times it becomes very indiscriminate, let us test the green button versus the red button, let us test the presence of an image versus none, let us make the content longer, etc. Again, I think all those things are fine when you got to a point where you know particular channel or landing page works, but one of the insights that we have been uncovering in this example is that there was a conversion rate for a particular landing page wasn’t as good as thought it could be and so instead of going into the weeds and trying these smaller things we realized that hey if we really want to make a big impact on the conversion rate of this audience, what we really need to do is introduce some bigger changes and to get ideas for this bigger changes, we stepped back and we said well why are people coming to this page in first place, what mindset are they in and what are the things that they are looking for? And we are actually able to deconstruct a list of about five or six factors that were important to that audience and when we looked at the content of the landing page, we realized that we weren’t actually speaking to things that cared about most, maybe that information already existed but it was much lower in the page and so most likely they weren’t getting to that and so what was happening was it was getting to a place where they weren’t connecting with the message and they were leaving and so we started to introduce these larger hypotheses and what that lead was to a much bigger transformation of what that landing page could be and we realized that tweaking the message, we could actually make a very big impact on the top of the funnel which as we all know influences everything else that is below it. So this was a huge opportunity but I don’t think we could have gotten to this place if we just listened to standard conventions about buttons and copy length, etc that people typically get into when they start testing.
MB: So you made that change and it obviously had a higher conversion and did a lot.
MB: Cool. I think these are only four great examples, I don’t know if you had anything to close, we are almost out of time, but yes any closing thoughts to synthesize or aggregate the discussion and information, I am sure it will be helpful.
CP: Absolutely. I think you know data is important. I think all companies should follow it but the area where they can really start to differentiate themselves from competition is around understanding people and so I would encourage everyone to spend as much time with their customers as possible and sometimes it could be talking, other times it could simply be observing, almost remove yourself from situation and let people kind of live in their environment, read about them a little bit more, try to understand the world from their perspective. These are not very difficult things to do but most people don’t even think about them. The more I think you can do that, the more that you can really enhance your understanding of why certain behaviors are happening and then you are going to get very ideas of as to what you can do to influence them.
MB: Cool! Thanks so much, Cezary. We appreciate you coming by and talk to you soon.
CP: Awesome! Thanks Mike.