BSMS 15: How do you position yourself within a niche?
Continuation of Ep. 14. How do you stake a claim to your niche once you've found it? Strong positioning sometimes requires you to make a promise or...
Today Stijn introduces a topic he is passionate about: slides in internal marketing reviews. He posits that not only do you not need them, but also they waste valuable time and resources. Instead, your internal meetings should be data driven. Simple data promotes productive and necessary conversations, and too often the marketing function does not discuss the most essential data on a regular basis. Do you agree? More inside.
If you enjoy the episode, check out Stijn's new book. Coming soon.
Welcome to episode 27 of B2B SaaS Marketing Snacks. My name is Mike. I am a product lead here at Kalungi and the host of this little shindig. If you were in the recent cohort of listeners that are new to the podcast, welcome. It's really, really cool to have you all here. It's been really fun creating this community, and we really appreciate you choosing to spend your time with us. If you get value from this content, we'd really, really appreciate it if you shared it with someone else who you think would get value, or write us a review on whatever platform you listen to us on. That would go a long way in supporting us and telling us what you want more of or what you want less of. So, yeah, thanks for being here. Today's episode is a little bit different.
Stijn calls an audible a little bit and pulls out a topic that I think was top of mind for him in the moment, and we have a candid conversation about it. I think it's really good. I don't want to spoil too much of it, but it is surrounding the scenario where if you lead a team or you're a marketing leader, and you're having an internal kind of review to check in on progress against campaigns and programs, and you're looking for answers to questions where you are expecting an absolute number as the result, but maybe your team members are giving you something a little bit longer, maybe a slide deck or a few paragraphs, a longer answer than what you're expecting, this is a conversation for you. Basically, the thesis is that maybe you shouldn't be using slide decks for internal status report meetings, and instead keeping everything just reporting out of spreadsheets, but there are a few caveats to it as well. So, anyways, I will stop talking and we can get into the content. Let's do it.
Thank you, Mike, for picking a topic myself today, I'm very passionate about this. I know it was not on your list, so I hope you can sort of roll with me here for a little bit. The topic is why I don't think the use of slides, PowerPoint, Google Slides or even written documents is a great type of support material to run a sales meeting, a marketing meeting, a review. Any form of checking in on progress of marketing and sales is better serviced, I think, with a sheet with numbers, basically a spreadsheet, and here's why. I've been in so many meetings in the last 20 years where some basic questions like "how many MQLs did we get last week?", or "how are we doing on registrations for the event?", "how many people came to our webinar last week?". They are meant to give you a relative objective view into the status of the marketing function, the sales function, and it is very easy for those questions to be answered with new questions instead of with an answer.
"24 MQLs" would be the answer to the question "hey, how many MQLs did we get last week?" You don't want an answer with 5 sentences, right? Explaining maybe the situation or how things are improving or changing, or maybe often the answer includes some form of 'we don't know exactly what the definition of something is', right? The definition of an event or someone who showed up for a webinar. Was it people who registered or people who actually were there, people who were there till the end? So I think in my experience, when you manage, when you lead a revenue function, either marketing, sales, customer success, or a combination of those, establishing a culture from out of the gate, that a spreadsheet is kind of the way you manage things is very helpful.
And it doesn't mean the numbers are going to be good or bad. They're just the numbers. And it's not about finger pointing. If anything, it removes some of the finger pointing between sales and marketing, the customer success, that sometimes happens, because you're just looking at the reality of the data and it's not about opinions, it's about the facts and then what you can do with them, what you can learn from them. So I'm very passionate about this. I also like to use a relatively straightforward, old fashioned, type of spreadsheet.
There's a concept called a Bowler Chart, it comes from lean manufacturing or Kaizen, and those type of ways to measure, for example, how a production facility is operating and where are the bottlenecks in the production process, et cetera, works very well for marketing and sales as well. Simple numbers, both sort of "what do you expect to happen next week?", "what happened this week?", and then next week you ask the same question, "what actually happened?", "what are we expecting next week?", and having that for all the numbers that sort of go into your marketing and sales and customer success funnel is super helpful.
And when I say "all the numbers". I don't mean a volume of numbers, but a couple of very important numbers. Things like MQL, meetings happened, how many customer calls did we have in the customer success team, right? How many of those ended in a positive, for example, rating or things like that. I think having those numbers on a spreadsheet is really helpful to manage your marketing and sales, and then always ask your team to both report on actuals and report on what do they expect to happen next week. That drives a lot of accountability and just focus on the right things. And you know, something else I often say, Mike, everything you give attention grows.
So it does help to just make that the first 5 or 10 minutes of every meeting every week, and then you have that focus right away.
100%. I have lots of thoughts on this too, because I grew up under you as one of my largest mentors and I've kind of followed a lot of your methods and techniques, and this, the spreadsheet one, is one that I've struggled with for a long time, I think. I agree. I think there's a lot to be said about finding the actual numbers for each of these different leading or lagging metrics, right, and it forces you to actually go in and look at it and report on it once a week at a specific time, right, and capture that data. Now, the challenge that I've found with that is it's impossible for one person to do all of that. So you generally have a team of people going and pulling these numbers and compiling them somewhere.
Now the challenge with that method is that often there's no good way to audit that number, and I think that's where that pain that you described earlier in this conversation where you ask a question like "how many X did we get this week?", "how many MQLs did we get?", right, and sometimes there's a number, but I know maybe that the number is different, and so I'll ask "where did this number come from?", and there's no way to really audit that number. So that's one of the limitations I've found with that method of having people go in and pluck those because there's no link to click to confirm or deny it or to say "okay, but who were those MQLs?", "what accounts were they?", "who were the people?", "where did they come from?", right?
So one thing that I always do moving forward with every spreadsheet I have is if there's a number attached to something, one, it has a very clear definition. It'll say, let’s say, "early access registrants for T2D3". The definition is "somebody who filled out this form" and I linked the form so that somebody can go to our Hubspot instance and actually see the actual form, and it's "this list", and it's an active list on HubSpot that captures all those things, and then I have the number next to it, that's in the spreadsheet, and it says when it was last updated, but if anybody ever needs to go audit it, they can click the link and go and see the active list. So the two things I make sure is there's a definition next to it. It's very clear and understood.
And then also a source link, because what happens is you're generally looking at all these different sources of data, right? Like we have the podcast, so there's viewership metrics, but that only happens in our podcast host, which is Transistor, and then I have other things to report on. Some of it's in HubSpot, some of it maybe it's in Google ads. There's a bunch of different places that I have data that's being captured. And so the thing that's nice about the spreadsheet is you can kind of compile a bunch of different sets together. Now, you just have to make sure that there's a clear definition and that there's a source link to it so that somebody can audit it. So that, I think, that prevents a lot of those kind of uncertainty questions that follow from it. And the last one that I will say, is I think if you're getting the drawn-out response or the question in response to your question, some of it may be due to the fact that the number is probably underperforming as well, and it's a way to, I guess, protect yourself from having to report on a poor number.
So I think creating a culture where people understand that because a number is low, it's not the end all be all. It's just, we need to understand the numbers so that we can make decisions to improve them or figure out, "is this the right number that we should be focusing on?", right? So I think that's important to note as well. Creating a culture of safety to actually report that your numbers aren't performing and that's okay. So.
Yeah, It's about shining a light on the numbers, Mike, the reality is that marketers and salespeople often get away with some of the data issues, right? The definition not being clear. The source not being well understood, or not even available. Imagine you're running the branch of a small bank, a local neighborhood bank, and you're not able to answer the question, "hey, how many accounts did we open this week?", or-
Yep. Not good.
"How many accounts have a balance that's not above a certain threshold?". Or you're running a local McDonald's franchise, and you're not able to answer the question, "how many Big Mac meals did you sell today?", right? And the honest challenge for marketers is that, walk into an average marketing status meeting and ask "how many MQLs did you get last week?", it's very, very unlikely that you get everybody in the room to give you the same answer.
And what I'm basically challenging my teams on is to not give up and to keep asking that question, because what a lot of marketers do, they tend to kind of shove it under the rug or ignore it for a while, until it comes up again, and then they create 5 PowerPoint slides to explain all kinds of things without answering the actual question, and I don't think that works. It's not a good reason for long-term success, and it's one of the reasons I think marketing executives have a lower tenure in their jobs, CFO, even the sales leaders, because sales leaders don't get away with this as much as marketing. I think revenue numbers tend to have a higher accuracy level because there's actually invoicing involved and money that flows into a bank account. So that's why I think you should use a spreadsheet, and it doesn't replace your marketing automation.
So your point, it's great to have a link in there on the cell, that says "hey, this is where you click and you find the actual HubSpot's report or Marketo report that shows you the MQL numbers", right, or in the case of sales that shows you the revenue that came in. But nothing beats the transparency level and the insight from a simple row of numbers, of course, always in a time series. What was the number this week, last week, the week before? No ambiguity, good definitions. Great point on that.
And the other thing that is really important, I think. People should not have to do a lot of preparation for this. This is how they should be running their day to day function, anyway. The reason to have an answer to "how many MQLs did I get last week?", is not because you happen to have a meeting with your boss or a weekly marketing check-in, it's because you'd have it anyway. You should be able to answer the question for your own good, right? Because you're running marketing or you're running sales.
Then the other thing, I think when you do the hard work of getting this discipline in place, it will save a lot of people a lot of time. Because writing down and building slides for him, it's not a good use of anybody's time.
No, it's terrible.
Right? And I don't need someone to show up with 5 PowerPoint slides for an internal meeting. Use that creativity and the grit to do great proposals for external customers, right? And that's where you build your beautiful looking slides, but internally numbers no words. Also, often these answers, they used words like "more" and "many", and "some", "before", "after", "next", "previously", right? All these words that don't define a lot of accuracy, right? So, yeah, that's one of the hills that I sometimes choose to die on, in running a marketing organization, because there are always going to be challenges with the automation and the tools, and people will have different opinions on how to define certain numbers, and that's not easy.
It's also a great way to go through “how do you form a marketing organization as a team?” to get people aligned on all these things, but it's not easy. It sounds much easier than it is to do this.
Marketing operations is a critical function in a company, I think, or sales operations. Combination. I don't think it requires huge amounts of people, but you have to have someone in the team who understands data to really own this, to make it easier for a marketing leader or a sales leader to have access to the right data and the right numbers without having to do a lot of data gymnastics, to export things from one system and reformat them, et cetera.
Yeah. And also understand how they're connected together. I think a lot of times people try to create that slide deck that you're talking about in preparation for having to report on a poor number, because they want to say "look, this number isn't working, but here I have the plan". And a lot of times when I've been the marketing leader for the customers that I've worked with, I actually want to have that conversation with my team member. I don't want the plan. I want to create that with you because in a lot of cases you have to ask “why?” a bunch of times, and whoever's managing that data needs to understand how all the things connect together. So I always like to use this analogy. There was a Ted Talk, I don't know who it's by, I'll try to attribute it in the show notes, but it's basically it's called the "leaky pipe conundrum".
So it's like this idea that if there's a pipe leaking and there's a puddle on the floor, what do you do? A lot of people would say you'd get a mop, and you mop up the puddle. And it's like, "okay". But the person who's really trying to figure out what the problem is, would say "well, where's the water coming from?". It’s coming from the pipe. "Okay, so I'll wrap up the pipe". Okay, but actually, what if the water pressure is too high and next week the wrap job that you did just burst again? Okay. So now I need to go adjust the water pressure.
Okay, cool, so I go into the boiler room, I turn the valve down a little bit. Now the water pressure is better, but actually it's the regulator. The regulator is broken. So it doesn't matter where I turn the lever. The water pressure is always going to be too high. So you have to keep asking these continual, progressive questions.
Why do we even still need water, maybe?
There you go. Yeah.
Can we turn it off, completely?
Let’s just fly to Mars. But you have to ask these questions to really figure out the root of the problem is, and if you have someone who's just reporting on data and not actually understanding which data point could be affecting the downstream component of it, it's sometimes isn't helpful. So I guess that's my point, is that whoever is managing that needs to not just be looking at the number and plugging the number in, but really asking "why is this number lower? Is that significant? Is it insignificant? Is it okay?". Yeah. Those kinds of questions.
And that's why you have a marketing leadership team review, meeting, weekly check-in; to have that conversation. So you want the 5 minutes start of the meeting to be "let's look at the numbers, let's make sure they're accurate". So that takes not a lot of thinking. It's just, you know immediately because you have good access to data and then you can use the valuable time to ask "why are we seeing certain things go up or go down", and have very meaningful discussion about that that drives new insights, but not spend a lot of time debating what the number is, why it's maybe inaccurate or what the definition is. Yeah, and then also don't use a lot of time preparing PowerPoint slides and things like that. Use the time in the meeting to discuss the numbers and what they mean and why are they important.
Yeah. And also, I think we touched on this in a previous podcast episode, but I just want to make the note that you don't necessarily need to keep every single one of those numbers in your Bowler chart, as you like to say. You don't need the health of the regulator. You don't need the water pressure. You don't need the gallons per minute flowing through the pipe. You don't need the number of drips on the floor. You just need "is the floor dry?", and maybe a couple more, but you don't have to necessarily keep track of everything. That just takes too much time and effort, but you need to know when to recognize when there is a drip on the floor. So it's enough of a red flag for you to go investigate it, right? It's just keeping enough of the operations on your dashboard so that you know when to go give attention to it.
Yeah. I heard someone, I don't remember who, otherwise I will find out and attribute it correctly, but someone said, "measurable KPIs, manageable KPIs, and actionable KPIs". You know, I read it in a blog somewhere, I don't know where. Measurable KPIs are when we use OKRs to key results, right? For example, MQLs. Things that are meaningful outcomes that you feel are kind of the reason you have certain functions, right? Measurable KPIs, key results would be what sort of jumps off your dashboard. It's your monthly or weekly sort of performance metric. Are you tracking against the right outcomes? And then manageable KPIs are the things that maybe lead to those measurable outcomes that you manage on a daily basis and you make decisions on them. You make decisions to do a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that. So you can optimize the business.
And then there is something called actionable KPIs, which are immediate triggers. For example, your conversion rate of your website sessions, traffic into contacts goes down. Super actionable, right? Because the first thing you need to do is to say "hey, is the page even still operating correctly?", right, or "is the form not firing, right? And so there's, I think, these three levels of KPIs that are... Measurable key results is what works, I think, to be on your all up leadership dashboard, maybe a monthly, maybe a weekly, meetings. And then the manageable and actionable KPIs are much more to things that you track daily, or you maybe even have triggers that when they turn red, you do something, right? I think that's another way to think about these different things that you use to manage the operations.
Also, to be clear, we're not advocating for not ever using slides when you're reporting, because I think there are scenarios where you do want to use slides. You just want to also have the spreadsheet behind it.
If you're presenting a new idea or you're presenting a plan, a timeline, or something where the slides have a functional role to play. But they're not meant to replace just answering the question "how are you doing with our numbers, with our results?".
Right.Maybe put the spreadsheet on the slide?
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