Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

Bright & Early Podcast

Knowing Your Customer with Claire Suellentrop

Episode Transcript

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Brian: Hey everyone and welcome to bright and early the podcast for people building early-stage startups.

I’m your host Brian Rhea.

I talk to entrepreneurs, product people, designers, and marketing pros to learn what works, what doesn’t, and why; giving you at least one thing to apply to your business first thing tomorrow.

my guest today is Claire Suellentrop Claire is a SAS marketing and growth adviser she loves helping teams get out of the echo chamber and inside their best customers heads I could use a bit of that Claire welcome to the show Ryan it’s so good to be here thanks for having me of course it’s my pleasure I’ve been following forget the funnel for a while your work there yeah just been been a fan for a while so it’s it’s totally my pleasure to have you on that’s awesome so can you um before we get into a couple of things can you just give listeners a bit of background on yourself we’ll definitely go into in-depth on on all of your background a bit later but who you are and what are you up to sure absolutely so I this is the marketer in me I tend to update or slightly change how I describe myself based on the audience I’m speaking to your audience I think that the TLDR would be that I I call myself a SAS marketing and growth advisor because I’ve been in SAS marketing for several years now and the longer I’m in it the more I look at marketing and then the idea of growth is kind of just inherently intertwined so I started my career in SAS as the number two employee at calendly where I was the director of marketing and then after Colin Lee I went on to transition into consulting independently so I’ve worked with companies like Wistia like death to the stock photo like whole story a couple of other companies really helping them figure out who are there what separates their their best customers from kind of the rest of the pack and then we go out and find more of those best customers how do we really resonate with those people and grow the business that way so now I do that kind of in a different fashion but I work with my business partner George agnolotti who’s also incest growth and marketing advising and we really help teams learn to adopt those processes I should say SAS SAS companies and SAS teams without those processes so now I get to teach other people how to do it which is really really fun great and we’re gonna have Georgiana on the show actually so listeners look forward to that and so where where can people find a little bit of information about the work that you and Georgiana are doing together sure so gia is her kind of shorthand name so gia and I are I think our biggest project or or like the easiest access is our marketing our SAS marketing workshops which we produce once a week and those roll out under the domain forget the funnel comm if you want it like if you want to sign up for future workshops that we’re putting out you can do that at forget the funnel comm slash workshops and then our kind of home website so to speak our umbrella website is hey elevate calm that’s where we have client services but we usually forget direct people to forget the funnel come first and so that people can kind of get a sense for who we are and what we’re all about yeah you’ll have you’ll cover so many great topics they’re like marketing strategy content strategy community development email on board like you cover it all so people definitely definitely check that out awesome so I want to ask is there a book or books or a TV show that you’re currently obsessed with that you would love to share so the funny thing about podcast books TV shows is we could talk about the business ones right which probably is most helpful in this setting or we could talk about like the personal ones and all my favorite podcasts right now are definitely you know catching up on everything else is happening in the world so we can focus on books here I great okay if you have ever heard have you ever heard of a book called made to stick or what yeah okay so the heath brothers right oh my gosh yes this is not particularly new it’s been out for quite a while now but made to stick by the heath brothers and then a kind of a sister book to made to stick which is called switch how do I not change when change is more okay I haven’t I have not read that one they are they’re really inherently intertwined it’s about habit change it’s about getting getting a concept or an idea to really resonate with people so from a marketing perspective they’re fantastic but they can also be applied to overall business growth operational changes there they’re excellent books okay fantastic is there that does it matter like which order I know that may just it came out first but you can really read them enough yeah you can read them independently of each other so if you start with one there’s no risk that you’re going to be like missing out on concepts from the other one okay all right great I’m going to add switch to my list I love me to stick I agree with you I think thank you maybe like 10 years ago or something that that was right right not new but I find myself like I have a hard copy I don’t actually keep a lot of hard copy books but I have a hard copy of each of those and I thumb through them fairly regularly they’re great yeah well that mean that’s that’s the mark of a it’s been around for a bit they you continue to write well okay so you mentioned this already and I want to hear as much about it as possible you were the second employee accountant Lea that’s right so where do I start what’s the best place to start at the beginning I guess what was yeah yeah yeah let’s start at the beginning what were those early he’s like sure so I came on board there when the product had been in a kind of free open beta it’s for a little over a year so at the time there were already a really really healthy number of free users on the product a founder and the dev team who’ve been building the product were you know fully in let’s get this thing to kind of a product market fit mode and then I came on board as the number two employee and director of marketing to help make that transition from fully free public theta to a freemium product with a Kate with with a paid plan so it what’s really I think what’s really interesting about my time there or what’s really kind of shaped my the way that I look at marketing and and gross is that I thought I was coming in to do the kind of typical marketers job which is to focus on the you could say top of the funnel or or in other if we’re gonna use the pirate metrics for example I thought that my job was going to be all about acquisition let’s get a whole bunch of people to our website let’s get a whole bunch of people into the product but because of the way the product worked in that and I apologize if there’s some background noise right because of the way the product works if I if I share my calendar link with you to schedule a meeting then I’m inherently spreading the word about it right like I whether or not I’m a four year paid user I’m kind of a part of the marketing machine because of that aspect of it and because the barrier to entry for the product was so low it wound up being the case that we didn’t really have an acquisition problem we were getting plenty of new users and the product itself was driving those users so what my role actually became focused on was something I hadn’t been prepared for which was much more about once someone arrives and and signed the for our product how do we keep them because the more people you keep yes of course if they’re paying the the the you know higher ar-ar-ar grows but even if they’re free they act as as a part of our marketing machine so suddenly I found myself in this situation where acquisition was no longer my goal but activation and retention of users became my goal yes so let me let me just super-great sorry to interrupt you but listeners when Claire is saying you know pirate marketing it’s it’s our hey our our our acquisition activation retention revenue and referral and so okay Claire yeah you nailed it I so I was in this scenario in which I realized okay now I have to learn to do things that I didn’t realize I was going to need to do in this job so that being the case I spent a lot more time on what what some people if you if you like to think of marketing as a funnel what some people would call more bottom of the funnel activities I’m saying those in quotes but rather than you know forming a really really really robust content strategy or rather than forming a paid ads strategy or rather than doing these very quote-unquote telephone 11 efforts I was I was really spending more of my time on figuring out those differences between what made someone really likely to use to continue using the product versus those who showed up and disappeared what were the differences between those people what were the roadblocks after someone signed up that we had to get better at helping them overcome to retain them how did we drive people toward a paint plan rather than you know letting them hang out on the free plan further forever so that’s that was really key to shaping my view of marketing as something that isn’t truly a quote-unquote top of funnel thing its marketing is not simply acquisition marketing is really making sure that at every stage of the journey someone’s going through when they experience your product that you’re helping them get to the next step of the journey and the next and the next of the next so I’ve kind of married that view into the consulting work that I do now as as elevate the the partnership that I have with Gia hey everyone its Brian and we’ll get back to the interview in just a bit but I wanted to let you know that bright and early is brought to you by text our studio text our studio enables you to rapidly envision validate and launch disruptive new startups partner with the tech stars worldwide network to access entrepreneurial talent and a proven track record of helping the most promising startups succeed for more information visit TechStars comm slash studio and if you decide to reach out let them know Brian’s insha [Music] well and it’s what sure what was your process for uncovering those insights that you just talked about what you mentioned what’s the difference between the users who show up and then never come back versus those who continue to stick around to become our best customers sure how did you discover that so there’s a lot of ways to do this the one that I have found most the one that I have found most clarifying is actually by having very in-depth interviews with a whole bunch of different customers and it’s it’s a bit of a it’s a bit of a it’s a bit of a new process for a lot of folks who are used to kind of building the product in a silo and then releasing it and assuming ok you know build it and they will come but I spent a lot of time getting on the phone with folks who were really engaged in our product both the free and paid versions to understand the differences and and learning who these people were and what situations they found themselves in that led them to seek out something like Kalin lien and what you know and really what what context they were using the products in so I’m gonna say relatively high level because our episode is short but this this is a whole process that’s that’s evolved from a the product development world and has more recently been applied into the marketing world called jobs to be done and there’s a ton of literature out there on jobs to be done so I’m happy to share some links with you after this but essentially I was doing what what one would call jobs to be done interviews where I was trying to figure out ok when when you when you customer were going about your life and and before you ever knew about our product what happened that made you realize your current way of scheduling meetings wasn’t working and then how did you go about finding a solution to that and how did you find us and what made us stand out and this is a process that anyone at any company can replicate and going through this process even though interviewing your customers is a bit of a lengthy thing it is it is an in-depth project but what it does is unlocks so many insights around where your best customers hang out naturally right so what that informs your quote-unquote tapa funnel marketing strategy helps you figure out should we be advertising on this platform should we be doing a sponsorship at this conference where do our people spend ever time it helps you figure out things like what pain points to emphasize in your messaging when you define you know this this is what probably solve and then from a product perspective it really helps drive feature development right if you figure out the context in which someone is using your product then you can much more intelligently choose which features to develop to help people in that situation again I’m staying relatively high level just because this is a bit of a tldr I am a huge proponent of jobs to beat amazing and even have written a bit about it myself and do this work for from my clients I mean I would and I’m with you I think we should between the two of us we could completely you know we could have a two-hour conversation about that alone yeah so we will just wheel table though for maybe a future episode but just as a couple of quick takeaways like when you say in-depth interviews with a lot of customers in depth being like an hour or so of a conversation to get all of those contextual insights so I said in in a perfect world an hour would be great I we can we can say that that’s the ideal but in depth interviews I have refined the process over time to get it to a point at which I can learn a lot in 30 to 45 minutes when I say lots of customers what help would it be helpful to define that ya know that’s so those were my two things was tell us tell us how in depth is in depth and how many is a lot so now we’re gonna get into research theory and statistical significance and and I’ll try to fit this into into a real-world scenario so if someone is listening to this and they’re running a problem they’re you know running a business and they’re like what does this mean for me um let’s say you want to better understand who your who your best customers are and do these interviews I the way that I recommend that that companies do this is go figure out whether it’s in your crm or your marketing automation software or you know just the backend of your product totally depends on where your kind of customer database lives but go find the people who are the most engaged the customers who are the most engaged they are they’re the least burdensome on support’ right they get it and they sing your praises they they let their friends know about you they tweet about you you your your customer success team or support team probably knows them by name but in a good way find as many of those people as you can and reach out to them and say hey I want to learn more about how you found us and how you’re using the product because we think you’re great and we want to make this product better for you if you can try to get 10 people on the phone to start in the in the case that I was in you know when I was in house the product was such a it was so it was such a what I’ll call horizontal product you could use it in many contexts so sales people would use it to get you know lots of outbound lots of demos advisors that universities would use it for student student advising sessions there were like oh my goodness there were like five other core use cases that we had so I was doing 10 times like every use case so so I was doing dozens and dozens of interviews but for someone who’s just learning about this getting 10 people on the phone he’s a great starting point that’s plenty so so we’re talking 30 to 45-minute interviews with at least 10 people who love and get a lot of value from your product yeah is that weird you get what do you think Brian amazing yeah no amazing starting point okay I mean even even to get to five or six is infinitely going to give you infinite more insights than just totally working in your cage you know then then releasing it to you to the world right yeah thanks for that yeah so you so Claire right now you your specialty and and your background has been in you help post product market fit companies achieve sustainable growth right so I’m curious based on your your personal experience and then what you see on a day to day basis for our listeners who are probably pre product market fit what what could they be doing today that would set themselves up for success down the road so the worst answer but the pretty much only answer that ever fits questions like this it depends it’s gonna completely depend on the situation right it depends on whether or not your product currently has users whether those users are paying you so let me come up with a kind of a mythical not mythical but let’s come up with a scenario in which someone who’s listening has a product and they’ve got their first couple paying users you know it’s it’s it’s not profitable yet it’s it’s not something that can stand on its own maybe you’ve got a code can hold every person for their trial there are credit cards yeah there are credit cards being right right a couple people are paying you and you’re like this is awesome the I think the first thing that anyone could do to really set themselves up for success is kind of going back to what you and I just described is to really get to know each of those people and not you know not not not simply the demographics you know are are they you know are they local to the US or are they based somewhere else what is their you know age range and things like I’m gonna I’m gonna actually step away from the idea of demographics for a minute but if you can really hone in on her home in on what was the situation that led those people to find and use your product and really deeply understanding that then you will have so much more success figuring out where to start your marketing program right again which which which watering holes so to speak to go hang out in to find more people like that and and what problems to speak to you that arise in their in their everyday lives that you can position your product as the solution to so I guess you know I hate to I hate to be a dead horse also that phrase is so gross but I think the best the the best recipe for success is to as long as you can maintain really close contact with those folks who love you and happily pay for you so that you’ve really so that you really keep a pulse on what problem you’re solving in their life and how you can go find more people who have that exact same problem yeah you’re you’re right on and we are sentences away from going on another you know rabbit trail on jobs to be de-emphasizing demographic personas and discovering the job to be done okay so listener seriously if what Claire just said resonated with you like get into the show notes and we’ll share some jobs to be done resources definitely you’re gonna dig it so Claire suppose I said this to you that the marketing like marketing is for companies who don’t have a great product and my thing is going to spread via word of or I’m gonna do affiliate programs I’m gonna I’m great at SEO I’m gonna get content right etcetera etcetera I don’t need to think about marketing what would you say I so is the idea here that this person thinks they already have a really great product isn’t the idea yes I mean I I talked to I talked to enough people who who have said I don’t need to do marketing because I want this to spread by word of mouth and it’s gonna be super niche to a to a tight community or I’ll even say personally like in one of my objectives is to build a SAS product that doesn’t need a sales team right because you know my mindset is you know I wanted to be able to you know you know to sell on its own and so sales versus marketing like big difference there but I definitely know folks who are like I don’t want to have to market this it will market itself because it’s great what are your thoughts I think that I think that in some very very rare scenarios a product all by itself can catch on but I would say those are getting fewer and fewer and fewer and farther between especially a sass becomes a lower and lower barrier to entry space within which to start a business I mean a lot of folks like to point to Dropbox as an example of something that you know had this viral component and made it spread like wildfire so there’s a couple things to consider there Dropbox was Dropbox was launched oh my goodness like how long ago now 20 years ago I guess I I need to go Google this quietly checks her phone when it Dropbox so things you keep in mind would be that that products that that simply go viral maintain a very very a couple of things they they maintain a very specific what’s the word I’m looking for not not product design as in like the UI but there’s a very specific component that requires that when the product is used someone else is inherently exposed to it which is a which is a surprisingly difficult thing to do in that most of the SAS products out there that are actually doing quite well don’t have that element to them so if your if your thought process is I’m gonna build something that is just so great that people will naturally share it with their friends maybe you might but we’re talking about you know a teeny tiny maybe one probably less percentage of the SAS world that’s been able to accomplish that so I wish you the best good luck but it’s also worth noting that even Dropbox had to struggle and get some wrong with their marketing before they before they really achieved that that success if we’re calling virality success so Dropbox kind of kicked around for a while with different ways of describing what they do different ways of different messages in terms of you know how do you even tell someone what Dropbox is and it wasn’t until they hit on a couple of different things they they figured out how to describe Dropbox to their unique audience by trying and failing at a bunch of different different options and then they went specifically to the community where their audience hangs out which was at the time hacker news and dropped a demo video laden with Easter eggs they knew their audience who would laugh at that they started to get that traction and all of that work was marketing that’s all marketing yeah so I even with with products that have gone quote-unquote viral like Dropbox there is an element of marketing to literally all of that if if you truly have a product website and an end a SAS product behind that website and you’re doing nothing to let people know about it I think this is kind of the like if a tree falls in the forest but no one’s around to hear it does it make a sound kind of scenario where like maybe you do have a fantastic product but if you’re not talking to anyone about it I don’t know honey was gonna come find you and so let’s say let’s say then that I know that I know that I need to do I know that I need to market my product I’m convinced I’m early-stage and so I just don’t have the budget yet if I had zero budget to invest in marketing in the early stages but I’ve got some time how would you recommend I spend my time if you’ve got time so ok realistically this is another it depends good question cuz it comes down to what your goals are right are you trying to is if your goal you know to build yourself like a comfortable business that provides for you and your family and a couple of maybe employees or contracting team members if so then you’ve got even more time and you know then you then you realize and you can really go down the direction of what I’m gonna describe if your goal is to get you know thousands and thousands of users within the next year to a couple of years then you might need some money and you might have less time than you realize but let’s set that aside a minute um let’s say that your goal is the first thing where I would start and where I started with companies in the past who were in that scenario and where we’ve seen success is once again reaching out to people who are already using your product or who you think would be great for your products and getting on the phone and not making it about hey please go try this but making it about tell me it you know tell me about you tell me about what goes on in your day-to-day of life and building relationships I I know you can google the phrase do things that don’t scale and you’ll find a whole bunch of literature on this but in the early stage your best bet really is building those relationships one by one until you have enough momentum and the folks who are using your product love it and love you so much that they go and tell their friends about you we could shortly talk at length about content strategy and how to speed up you know this process of people finding out about you we could talk about affiliate programs we could talk about all kinds of different things but I think if you have to pick one thing in those early days it’s building relationships with those folks who are using the product or who you think would be great for it and just getting those one by one little winds which again Brian also being in the early stage world you can you could probably speak to as well but the not only not only will you build better relationships with folks who are already paying you and who will want to continue to pay to pay you but the inside still get from that will inform once again how you improve the product and make it more desirable through a larger audience so it’s kind of a keeping close to your audience or your customers improves the business in a number of different ways from the marketing perspective and from the product development side of the house yeah and and positions you for for more sustainable absolutely in a few in the future I feel like what I hear underneath your answer to that is and I just when I’m telling myself is do not over automate too early like you know when you’re saying do things that don’t scale is important to keep those things that require one one-on-one conversations on a regular basis that should not be overly automated too soon yes absolutely especially if your goal with your business is something that is you know profitable and keeping you happy and healthy and your family happy and healthy but isn’t you know some massive exit you’ve got time for this right you’ve got the time for this so yes not over automating too early is a great way to describe it yeah well said right well no no I appreciate all your all your thoughts there so we only have a few minutes left but I would love to I would love to hear from you you know we’re working on a start-up can make you feel a little nuts maybe hypothetically and I’m even speaking about myself but especially you know if you don’t actively work on maintaining your sanity are there any practices that you have found helpful that you would like to share across the spectrum from here’s how to do to-do lists all the way up to meditation any all right and anywhere in between what have you found helpful that you’d like to share oh that is such a good question I think the first thing I have to do is admit that as a very flawed human I am terrible at taking care of my own like health and Sandy terrible at it I’m really good at pushing myself too far so on a personal note I am like 18 days back into being on a regular workout schedule and that’s been really helpful even in the 18 days I I notice I’m I’m able to kind of step back and and breathe more in between like bouts of stress yeah so congrats thank you thank you be like the Seinfeld like don’t break the chain method is working really well I see my check marks and I’m like oh I don’t want to lose a turn mark so I’m gonna I’m gonna link to atomic habits by James perfect so even if it’s truth be told it’s not I’m not even doing anything that’s turning yes I’m doing like a 30 minute workout a day so even if it’s something as Tiny as as that holding on to a like personal practice whether it be meditation or working out or going on a walk or having coffee in the morning with your partner without your phones nearby maintaining some kind of personal ritual I have found really really helpful and then the other thing that I found extremely helpful is and I’m sure other guests have said this as well but finding a community of folks like you who get it whether that is in your town or whether it is online one of the beautiful things of working in the software world is that the community available to you globally it’s just so huge if you’re if you’re willing to go find the right space where people hang out I mean there’s I’m sure you’re I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the folks who hang out on the indie hackers community for example yeah yep there’s you know a couple of different marketing communities out there whether it’s on Facebook or slack or a Twitter chat but finding your people who are going through the same experiences and regularly setting aside some time to check in with those folks can do wonders and when I say check-in I don’t mean you should you know you need to spend all day on the indie hackers for example because you won’t get much done if you’re in there all day but very tactically speaking I have a reminder on my task list every day at 4:30 to just like check in to some of my marketing communities SACEM marketing communities and see how other people are doing and see if I can be a you know share a link or resource with other folks in similar situations and it just kind of helps you get through some of those tougher times that folks in your personal life might not really understand if they don’t also have internet jobs so a personal ritual out in your real physical world and then connection to your your kind of business community whether it’s in the physical world or whether it’s in the in the digital space both of those I find are kind of my my anchors to staying sane so Claire we need to wrap up how can our listeners find and follow you online oh man so on the on the topic of using the the online world as community I am on Twitter a lot it’s my water cooler so to speak so Twitter is a great place to just say hello anytime and then in terms of really keeping in touch forget the funnel calm is the best place for sure gyah and i put out new marketing workshops there every week and if folks would find those helpful then we would love to have them on board my guest today has been Claire Solon trop Claire thank you so so much for taking the time to talk to me today and this is so much fun thank you for having me [Music] hey listeners some closing thoughts from me after that interview I really appreciated

Claire’s response to the kind of devil’s advocate question of hey I don’t need marketing my thing’s gonna grow virally you know etcetera etc and I liked where she went with that because I think she’s she’s right standing out is getting much much harder as the barrier to entry continues to fall you know over the years like when rails first came out that was just you know a glorious that you could get all of these these common sass patterns web application patterns and right out of the box and just save it would save you tons and tons of time and then laravel got better and now we’ve got react and react native and I in the episode with Jane Portman we talked about talked about bullet train and with just you know a rails it’s you know marketed here as bullet train as a Ruby on Rails sass in a box and it really is and anyway so you see where I’m going with this strife has made payments insanely easy compared to even just you know six years ago and for sure ten years before that and so that but that’s it so this is all good this is great business ownership should be democratized for sure and you know that as as web technologies have matured the ability to have an idea and you know within some number of weeks have a legitimate landing page the ability to collect payments and put you know your customers into some you know some degree of a prototype application that is insane and it’s going to continue it is going to get down to days it seems like now what that means though is that the field is going to continue to get crowded more people participating is a good thing the trade-off for that is it’s going to be harder and harder to stand out it’s not it’s not the way that it used to be we’re just being able to have an application set you apart and that you can have an online presence and so I like what Claire was saying marketing marketing is going to continue to become more and more important because you know you’ve got to obviously you’ve got to have a very legitimate business proposition and meet a meet an actual demand solve a pain point via painkiller but you got it you’ve got to be able to stand out through good storytelling which reminded me of this tweet by James clear but by the way really quick aside James clear is this New York Times bestselling author of a book called atomic habits and I highly recommend it it’s just it’s about hat integrating habits into your daily life for continuous improvement you can probably find a couple of talks on YouTube or something okay so but he has this great he’s worth a good follow on Twitter he has this tweet good storytellers are more powerful than ever before technology has reduced the cost of sharing stories one great story can move millions to act authors podcasters entrepreneurs politicians leaders the person who tells the best story rules their corner of the world and so he says technology has reduced the cost of sharing stories definitely true I want to add to that and this is what Claire was getting at technology has also reduced the cost of owning an online property and so this is this is where this is what it comes down to is being a really great storyteller I think this is why maybe I’ve mentioned here if you guys are following me online you’ll see that I often you know and commenting on or retweeting stuff from from Justin Jackson he and his co-founder John Buddha are building a transistor FM which is like the podcast hosting service it’s where this podcast is in fact hosted and the way that I learned about transistor was through their podcast called build your sass the story of building a sass company in 2018 and 2019 and you know it began you know as of this recording like a year and a half ago when they had you know $200 in EM RR or something you know just from John’s employer and a couple of friends who they you know finagled in or something like that and as of right now I think they’re like an 11 or 12,000 mr are 144,000 AR and as with the day I decided that I wanted to do a podcast I did not even bother looking at any of the other competitors because I had become so invested in their story and in what they were doing I just I couldn’t wait to be a part of it and so I that’s that’s a huge takeaway from for me I am I’m asking myself ok how do i how do I do this I completely agree with what Claire is saying how do I do this well and what are you thinking how can you do this well I would love to hear from you you can reach me on linkedin i’m brian ray you can find me on twitter i would love to hear from you there i am be ray on twitter but but raesfeld a little goofy and let’s let’s go with the baseball theme this time so it is B as in Brewers R as in Rangers go Rangers H as in Houston e as in Ebbets Field and a as in athletics beer a on Twitter I would love to hear from you there listen if there is anything I can do to make this show better please let me know this is your show it’s for you are there any topics that you would love for me to cover about early-stage companies any guest that you know of that you think I ought to reach out to let me know and until next time thanks for listening