By Mark Choueke on 21st August 2019
Marketers join B2B tech startups, they rarely found or lead them.
Nor are startups funded by marketers.
Such tendencies might half-explain why startups often waste so much time and money on poor marketing.
B2B startup founders and CEOs are usually clear on the outcomes they’d have their marketing and PR achieve for them. Few have a strong appreciation of how to build an effective marketing strategy or programme to obtain those results.
That’s proven by the scant number of B2B tech startups that have an experienced director-level marketer in place when it's time to go to market. However much of a game-changer your product might be, without a serious go-to-market plan you’re not a businessperson.
A number of tech companies going into scale-up mode do so while entrusting their marketing operation to teams made up of hungry first-jobbers and interns.
As a result, marketing rarely influences the early fortunes of many tech businesses in the way that it must.
That said, when skilled young marketers at B2B tech startups do advance the case for marketing’s strategic and commercial value we celebrate it.
Hannah Stewart is still defining what marketing means to ‘customer journey optimisation’ and personalisation platform Yieldify.
Founded in London by brothers Jay and Meelan Radia in 2013, Yieldify has more than 100 people serving 500 ecommerce customers in 15 countries and claims to have influenced more than 70m online sales.
Hannah joined Yieldify as a product marketer - a discipline she shifted into earlier in her career after early stints in PR.
Her ability to lead and make things happen prompted Yieldify bosses to make her Vice President, Global Marketing two years ago at the age of 31.
Having already more than validated that decision, Hannah has just seen her team grow exponentially when a move was made to incorporate inside sales into her team.
I say Hannah is still defining marketing at Yieldify because despite what she’s achieved, much of her emphasis as we talk is on how much she still has to do to prove the case for creativity and justify marketing’s place at the centre of commercial success.
MC: The journey you came on to arrive at this role brought you through PR and product marketing - indeed, you began life at Yieldify as a product marketing manager. How did you feel when the promotion came about?
HS: When they gave me this position my first thought was: "No fucking way am I a global VP of marketing". It sounds like I was lacking in confidence but I think it’s actually quite a good way to go into a job like this. If you go into something you already feel you’ve mastered you’re going to miss a lot of stuff you learn while finding your way.
MC: What did you think you were missing?
HS: Well I stepped into this role not having done very many elements of the full marketing mix. I wasn't very good at digital marketing. I hadn't done much events marketing. As you said I came from a comms background and then through product marketing.
MC: So why do you think they gave you the job?
HS: Because I’d shown I could build something from the ground up and make it work. I'd been at Yieldify for about a year and had started up the product marketing function from scratch. Before that our product definition could have been described as...loose. I built a team that launched a brand new platform that was properly defined, messaged and positioned. We took a sales enablement function from something like 200 different decks with outdated case studies, to having a clear set of funnel-based sales enablement pieces.
MC: So rather than a CV demonstrating evidence of senior marketing leadership experience, you were promoted because your bosses had confidence in your ability to operate?
HS: Yes...and survive. In a startup the hardest part of a role can often be to stay focused on the plan you know is going to work when there’s so much constant change going on around you.
MC: How, if at all, has it helped you to have experienced such different marketing disciplines before taking on a leadership role?
HS: When I was moving from one discipline to another it was actually very difficult. I came up against a lot of roadblocks. Honestly it does my nut, the level of influence other people and their perception of what you can do, can have on your career. When I made that move I had people telling me: “You’re a comms person, we need someone with a different, broader skill set.” It was only by going into an in-house role as a comms person and then moving internally into product marketing that I was able to transition.
I also think that within marketing there is a certain level of snobbery around PR in particular. Very rarely does the PR agency get to take charge in the context of a multi-agency account which is a miss. There’s a very archaic hierarchy between the different disciplines and I think in PR’s case there's a gendered element to that.
MC: Do you think that either consciously or not, clients play a part in that?
HS: Yes I do. More than once in my life I’ve been part of a team referred to in crass terms like “PR bunnies”. When I was in PR agencies the vast majority of the troops were women while the majority of the leadership was male. When you’re in it, it becomes apparent as to why that is. The hours are long and the pay is often not very good. Quite often you saw women deciding to start a family and seeing that become an obstacle to those leadership positions. Or else they’d return to work three or four days a week and find themselves thinking: “You know what, the money's not good enough for this hassle, it’s just not worth my time.” I do think there’s a gendered element to how PR is seen within marketing and I don’t think that's me being paranoid.
MC: Now as a global VP you have to see everything more holistically. How has that changed your view of B2B marketing - what it’s capable of and where it perhaps falls short?
HS: Well the big change is that you stop thinking just about marketing and start thinking about the business. You move from mid-level management up to the exec team and you don't feel like an ‘employee’ from that point. You report to the CEO. No-one's going to coddle you anymore. You are one of the pillars that's holding up the building and that’s a different mindset, one I'd never had before. I’d experienced changing levels of management; bigger teams, smaller teams or whatever, but this is completely different. I love it. Wherever I go in my career I want exec team responsibilities. I enjoy getting involved in areas of the business where I'm not invite
MC: Is it something you’re now used to?
HS: Sort of but it doesn’t stand still. Recently, I took ownership of our business development team. My number of direct reports multiplied several times over. I’m really excited about it.
MC: That’s great. I always wondered why business development and inside sales teams don’t work more closely with marketing. Their job is to plough the market for leads that would benefit from the product being sold and turn them into meetings, yet I’ve seen inside sales teams work entirely independently from the insights and campaigns shared by marketing teams.
HS: Yeah absolutely. There's got to be a better tie-up between what these guys do in their outbound prospecting and what we do in terms of demand generation, particularly in a B2B context. The funnel is never as clear or linear as you would like it to be. There is overlap, the two sets of activities weave in and out constantly, particularly with account based marketing. You almost can't afford to have two separate teams. There needs to be far greater collaboration.
MC: How does a business development team go about shifting into the marketing operation?
HS: [Laughs] As long as they get their meetings they'll be happy. Each inside sales exec will still be paired with a sales rep. That doesn't change. But what we've needed and what I'm really excited to drive is an overarching process to manage the data and how we prospect into each account. It gives us transparency and visibility into how effectively we’re working. If I know BDs are targeting accounts in the travel sector then I can make sure I’m targeting those accounts on Linkedin with all the right content.
Leading from the front: "Stick your oar into every part of the business. Have an influence. Make sure it's more good than bad." Hannah Stewart.
MC: As an organisation, does Yieldify like and believe in ‘marketing’?
HS: Yieldify does like marketing and I’m not afraid to take some credit for that to be honest. When I took over the team there was a lot of work to do. We were two people and we didn't have a lot of budget but I think the testament to Yieldify's faith in marketing is how I've been allowed to grow the budget and the team consistently since. The business now looks to us and says: "What else can we do? What should we do next?"
But marketing in B2B tech has to work hard to achieve that level of autonomy and credibility.
You have to stick at it and keep learning and that’s hard because early on in a marketing career it’s very difficult. It's often not paid as well as it should be. I spent a lot of the early part of my career doing long hours in demanding jobs that required some craft. If you’re good you’re making a contribution very quickly, but the rewards for doing so can put good people off.
MC: Is there anything marketers can do to better prove their worth?
HS: Of course. There’s a lot we can improve from within marketing. We do indulge in extraordinary levels of bullshit. If anyone ever says the name Simon Sinek around me I just want to curl up into a ball and die. And you go to marketing conferences where people present their ideas and insights as if they're rocket science and genuine revelations. Really, good marketing is just fucking common sense. It’s great to hear about the power of behavioural psychological principles but if you're really thinking about your audience you already know this shit. Sorry, I swear a lot.
Sinek's motivational talks make Hannah want to "curl up and die". Not what he was going for, one assumes.
MC: You serviced B2C accounts when you worked in PR - do you think we could allow ourselves to follow consumer marketing’s lead and be more creative in B2B marketing?
HS: It’s something that’s always on my mind. We we are not as creative as we should be in B2B. We are not as innovative as we could be.
I'm guilty to a certain extent of falling into the routine of ticking the boxes you have to in B2B: the content followed by the webinar followed by the email campaign and so on. There is a sense sometimes of going through the motions that perhaps doesn’t exist in B2C. I would like to see that change.
Part of what holds us back is resource and budget constraint as well as a lack of time.
We’re selling to people which means there’s room for humour and emotion in the right context.
MC: Have you found ways to employ creativity or is it still an aspiration?
HS: It's probably still more aspirational but we've shown flashes of it at Yieldify which have proven the success of stepping out and trying something different. Two years ago we had a campaign for Mother's Day - obviously big for our e-commerce retail clients - to encourage them to improve their on-site experience in time for Mother's Day traffic peaks.
We co-opted our own mums at Yieldify and created a campaign around them called ‘Moms For More Conversions’. We also created ‘Yieldify's mum’ as its own character. She had her own Twitter profile that was consistently tweeting at Yieldify’s account in the style of texts from your mum. Things like: 'Hi, Dad’s off to the shops. Do you need anything?' and 'Hello. Lovely day. Sitting in garden'. It was ridiculously fun and got fantastic engagement, even just within the business. One of the things that we struggle with sometimes as B2B marketers is how to get the rest of your business to rally behind the stuff you want to do besides the next e-book or webinar.
We also held a ‘Christmas in July’ event where again, the aim was working with e-commerce retailers to plan for their Christmas peak in the middle of summer. We took over a blank studio at the top of Brick Lane and in the space of about 12 hours we turned it into a Christmas grotto, complete with fake snow, Christmas trees, reindeer and Home Alone 2 playing repeatedly on screens. As part of creating winter in the middle of summer we presented some brilliant stats about holiday e-commerce. Doing it in such a different way meant customers wanted to be part of it and then we could hit them with insight that resonated.
MC: Finally, we’re talking a lot this year about bravery in B2B. What does bravery mean to you in your job?
HS: I think bravery for me is to have marketing throw its weight around inside an organisation. Stick your oar into every part of the business and have an influence on it, and make sure it's more good than bad. Marketing is the custodian of brand so you should be defining the message and proposition. You should be constantly articulating the brand and seeing it reflected in every single corner of the business from engineering to services and sales. Sitting in a corner trying to generate demand is not what marketing is all about. It’s the definition of what the business is. You need guts to go out and push that as a message internally. It’s so much harder than people think it is.
Read our eight tips for creating marketing campaigns that cut through and help you stand out.