“TaLk t0 YoUR CuStoM3Rs”– some LinkedIn thinkboi
Lots of people give it lip service.
It’s easy to talk about on LinkedIn.
But few are willing to put a calendar link at the footer of every email their company sends to let customers book time on their calendar.
I get it.
That’s a bold move.
Especially when you have 150,000+ customers.
But… I’ve seen it.
I watched our guest today do exactly that.
Because THAT, my friends, is exactly what you have to do.
Marketing lives and dies by our proximity to the customer.
By our proximity to the market.
The closer we can be to the customer, the better our internal relationships with other teams.
The closer we can be to the customer, the better our marketing.
The closer we can be to the customer, the better our revenue.
It… solves a lot of problems we all seem to be having.
So today, you’ll get the playbook (plus so much more).
If you’re marketing a SaaS that has big growth goals AND a focus on profitability, you’ll want to read this.
Few marketers truly understand product and company-transforming marketing the way Benyamin does.
I can’t wait for you to apply these insights to your own company.
What you’ll read here are words. Some Benyamin’s. Some mine.
PS – Sign up for his newsletter about the “soft” skills that nobody teaches but are what make people actually successful at work.
How Podia gets customers (200k+ users)
Below, we’ll explore:
- Why you absolutely must to talk to customers (and no, it’s not just to get more marketing ideas)
- Benyamin’s 3-part Customer Research Playbook
- Why they chose not to backfill people who left Podia (brilliant reasoning IMO)
- Podia’s “modular approach” to marketing
1. Who does marketing ultimately report to, and has this changed over the years?
The leadership team, as a whole, works quite closely together, and includes:
- COO (prev CMO – Hey Len 👋)
- VP Marketing
- VP Support
2. How many marketers do you have? How has that team changed over time?
Six, but that’s intentional.
They went down in headcount over time and intentionally didn’t backfill two people who left the company.
You need different people at each stage of a company’s growth.
Like building a road.
The first stage of building a road is clearing out the trees, so you get people to clear trees.
Then, a dirt road.
Then, a paved road.
Then, a highway.
Building a company is similar.
When they first started, (similar to clearing out a jungle to build a road), Podia was fighting for every customer.
And their preferred tool was scrappy content marketing.
But as Podia continues to grow, that same type of content isn’t the right-fit to solely focus on any more.
They’re much better served investing in our growth loops, instead of only content marketing.
So as those early content marketers left, they didn’t need to backfill them on the team.
Also, and this can’t be understated: Podia puts a LOT of work into their job applications.
Their last opening on the marketing team got 600+ applications.
3. How far out do you plan your marketing in detail, and how has that evolved over the years?
Roughly every six months.
They’re small and can be opportunistic.
They know things will come up.
So they take a different, more “modular approach” to marketing.
How modular marketing works at Podia:
Each campaign is meant to be modular and interchangeable.
They can be picked up, put down, or moved around without stressing out the team. Or, at least, stress them out far less than otherwise.
Example: April campaign was originally for May. May was originally scheduled for March.
The modular approach is meant to slide forward and backwards, and keep space open to stay nimble while still committing to a few BIG things.
If you’re working in a world where conditions change faster than you can plan for them, you get two options:
- Sit around and complain about it
- Choose a modular approach and move with it
4. Do you use OKRs (e.g. objectives, key results, 70% goals, etc.) in some form?
They focus on revenue and even more so on profit.
The profit focus comes from their CEO being a serial founder (and having navigated the ‘08 crash).
Benyamin has little interest in traffic, rankings, direct paid attribution and things like that.
Those are measures.
There is danger in using measures as targets.
However, Podia does track a lot of things like: Cohort retention, product usage, etc. but they don’t set targets because it incentivizes the wrong behaviors.
Similar to our previous deep dive with Margaret Kelsey where she said, “It always pays to assume that targets will always be gamed, and if they do, are we still incentivizing the right behavior?”
5. Do you structure your team around channels, products, customer types, customer journey, outcomes, or something in between? Has this changed over the years?
Benyamin’s team structure isn’t that interesting… yet.
Reporting to him is
- Sr. growth marketer IC
- Dir of marketing w/ 3 direct reports (content, product marketer + video person)
But they also have a lot of other channels driving impact for them:
- A substantial affiliate program
- Email marketing
At Podia, lifecycle marketing is managed by 3 people.
Which may not seem efficient, but they feel that hiring too specialized runs into issues (people want to use their skill/tool to solve every problem they run into).
So instead of hiring for channel-specific skills, they’ve hired for customer-focused marketers who have more varied skill sets.
Here’s how many companies, especially VC-funded ones, grow:
- Look at what channel appears to be driving the most impact
- Invest more into that channel
- Wind up with 2-3 channels that work reasonably well
- Those channels slow down (because there’s a limit to how many years you can sustain massive growth)
- Now have 6+ different channels run by different teams that have all been resourced independently and all have NO idea how the company grows. They just know their own channel.
- Teams begin to fight with each other for resources with no concept of how they work together or solve business problems. Only channel problems.
You want to hire marketers that know how to grow the business.
Not just their channel.
Don’t chase the short term ROI.
Chase long-term business growth.
6. What’s your primary tool for tracking tasks and campaigns? And for production?
Right now they’re using G docs with new tasks feature, but have previously used Asana and Basecamp.
They really work hard not to over-engineer process management.
7. Is there something unique or philosophically core to how the marketing team and leaders think about acquiring customers?
Benyamin ignores tactical channel-specific tactics and instead focuses on market research, packaging and pricing as focal points of his marketing strategy.
But for a lot of us, it’s *really* hard to have impact on pricing and packaging.
It’s hard for any single marketer to have that amount of influence within a company.
Or maybe that ability exists, but it’s difficult to interact with product teams.
Or maybe that ability exists, but it’s difficult politically.
Or maybe that ability exists, but the timeline is too long.
It’s a long-term play to decide what to do and then to implement it.
Far too often (especially in the current economy) that luxury hasn’t been afforded to many marketers.
This is reflected in what he’s done since joining Podia.
Primarily, the decision to go freemium and reposition away from online course builders (their first ICP).
And here’s how he’s been able to come in fresh and have big impact on pricing and packaging out of the gate.
Here’s Benyamin’s 3-part customer research playbook:
Part 1 — Why to do it
Most of the advocates for customer research talk about jobs to be done, product affinity, pain point discovery, and probably a ton of other buzzwords.
But here’s the real secret:
Customer research gives you a lot of influence within your company.
You become the customer whisperer.
You become the source of righteousness because you are the person advocating for the customer.
You never have to have a conversation about opinions again, either.
You get to say “this is what I heard from the customer.”
You also become a hub within your company by becoming the person that people go to when they have customer questions.
^ This bulletproofs your marketing career.
You will get what you want more often if you back what you are saying with words from customers.
Stuck in an impasse on website strategy? The person/team that’s closer to the customer (and uses customer insights as backing) will win.
Part 2 — How to do it
“I talked to a few customers.”
Note: You don’t have to use a crazy intense framework.
Too many of them are over-engineered, anyways.
Starts from a non data-backed framework (like JTBD) that are qualitative.
But, if you want this to truly work with all the power it has, you do have to do a bit more than casually chat with a few folks.
- Interview a bunch of people (up to 10) who are good fit customers (good fit means high NPS and high revenue)
- Get it transcribed
- Mark them up (Benyamin recommends the Coding manual for qualitative researchers) – but we’ll break it down more below…
The big goal is to take the unstructured texts and add structure (turning qualitative information to quantitative data).
When interviewing customers at Podia, Benyamin wanted to understand what the overall lifecycle of their business (timeline) looks like and where Podia fits into it.
The timeline piece is a key point that often gets messed up because humans don’t tell stories linearly (nor do we keep consistent gaps between events we share).
Tip: Don’t ask “why” questions because it may put your customer on defense.
Bad: “Why did you decide to do that?”
Better: “What made you decide to make that choice?”
He discovered specific milestones (such as selling their first product) and marked those milestones as push/pull/habit/fear:
- What pushed them away from their current solution (push)
- What pulled them toward a specific solution (pull)
- What are their habits do they have around their work (habits)
- What stops them from doing these things (fears)
490+ quotes went into a spreadsheet and he broke out buckets of pushes, pulls, etc.
Those became 6-8 sub categories for each push/pull/etc.
Benyamin took 3 months to do all the interviews and code up all the reports.
But, he also notes this can be done to different degrees of fidelity and may not take as long if you’re already extremely close to the customer.
Who you do this…
The floor for sales gets higher.
The floor for product gets higher.
The floor for marketing gets higher.
The floor for everything gets higher.
You have such a stronger base to work from.
You’re so much less likely to go in a direction that doesn’t resonate.
9. What were the best performing channels for you? Did that change over time?
“I don’t want to answer this question.” – Benyamin 😂
Benyamin isn’t excessively interested in this.
It doesn’t narrow their focus or dictate their behaviors.
No channel has uncapped growth and nothing works forever.
In the way that most SaaS defines channels, their highest performing channel is affiliates.
Signup surveys point to referral and word of mouth as influencing about 40% of their signups. But again, that also overlaps with affiliates.
Pricing & packaging and building for the market that you’re in are FAR more important than the channel(s) you’re using.
How to use this info:
1. Send a DM to your teammate: “Amanda — I read about how Podia used customer research to acquire 200k+ users and thought there’s X things in there that might really help our team. Mind if I send them over?” Then send her this link.
2. Meeting with your boss: Since we’re planning for 2024, I just got a behind-the-scenes look at how Podia uses a modular approach to marketing. Think we can use that to our advantage? If so, this might be worth bookmarking.
3. Linkedin Post: 3 ways to build trust with multiple audiences. (make sure you connect with & tag Benyamin!)
Thanks for reading!
This is the second of a long series.
If you have a tip or feedback, I’d love to hear it.