Katheriin Liibert is another bright mind on the SaaS marketing landscape. Having dipped her toes into marketing at Fleep, she is now the head of marketing at Outfunnel, a marketing and sales automation software to connect all your favourite tools into a single seamless experience. Also, remember Printful, the Latvian unicorn revolutionising the print-on-demand service? Katheriin has built a business using Printful’s services and is the proud co-owner of #muhoov, the company that produced the viral sweatshirt as seen on former president of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid. Below, Katheriin gives a masterclass on how to conduct meaningful market research, why growth marketing is not just a buzzword and why frustration is the gunpowder in Outfunnel’s customer journey.
Can you give us a small introduction: what’s your background and current position?
I’m Katheriin Liibert, currently the head of marketing at Outfunnel. I studied social anthropology, but somehow ended up working in tech back in 2015 when I joined the Estonian startup called Fleep as the fifth member of the marketing team. Got a chance to work on the product side and then moved back to marketing. After a small break, I found myself at Outfunnel and have been here for one and a half years.
For those who are not familiar - what does Outfunnel do?
Outfunnel makes it incredibly easy to connect sales and marketing tools. Lets say your sales team is using Pipedrive and marketing emails are sent out via Mailchimp – Outfunnel makes sure that the answers are in sync with the sales CRM contact list. The second benefit relates to recording the marketing engagement in the CRM like website visits, email opens and clicks. Hence, your sales people will know which leads are hot, what they’re interested in and what kind of communication they have received from your company already. And finally, we provide integrations that sync web form submissions to your CRM, a calendar integration to sync meetings and this year we’re aiming to build additional advertising integrations to help B2B marketers easily target ads to their contact lists.
I was just on a call with a customer who said that prior to adopting Outfunnel, a part of her job was exporting and importing Excel sheets, and she hopes that she will never have to do that again.
Can you describe your customer?
Most importantly, it comes down to the tools they use. Outfunnel is only relevant to those that actually use relevant CRM and marketing automation tools. In our case these are limited to Pipedrive, Copper, HubSpot, Airtable and Salesforce. The list is a bit longer on the marketing side, I’ll skip those for now.
The companies tend to be 5-50 employees, mostly B2B and with a longer or non-transactional sales cycle. We’ve noticed that professional services make up the bigger group of our happy customers. Companies with both the sales and marketing function, which can be a team, a single person, freelancer or an external agency.
You described the companies, but there is always a person on the other side. How do you identify the people that make purchase decisions?
We mainly serve small and medium size businesses so the decision maker is the person with the company credit card. In our case it’s mostly the head of marketing, because the value that we provide is most relevant to them. Communication is their responsibility. Sales managers, CEOs or even business owners can be a potential target, but we mostly focus on marketing.
Millions of companies fit that description – do you have a narrower focus market-wise? How do you prioritise?
I’m all for focusing on a small niche market. You can think that the world is full of your customers, but you have to narrow it down. In the early days, it was quite simple because Outfunnel started as an integration between Pipedrive and Mailchimp. The only potential target audience were the people who used Pipedrive and then a smaller sub segment who actually used Mailchimp as well. Currently the focus is still on the people who use the intersection of the tools that we integrate with. We’ve been making a lot of use of a tool called BuildWith to actually find these companies and find out more about potential markets. Geographics is not an important differentiator for us, but as our tool is only available in English, our primary markets are those who speak the language.
On a related note, I recently read a thread on Twitter by Nathan Barry, the CEO of marketing automation tool ConverKit. It’s a very crowded market and big gorilla named Mailchimp is the absolute market leader here, but what they did at ConvertKit is that they focused on a very small audience – content creators, anyone who is creating content for a following. ConvertKit went ahead and conquered this specific market completely. You can read more about it on Barry’s Twitter feed.
And what are the biggest English speaking markets for you?
The US and Canada of course, followed by bigger countries in Europe. The US is an obvious market for B2B SaaS companies: they have the biggest budgets for tech, they have a habit of spending on tech and services. While it’s a crowded market, it’s the best place to go to validate if people are willing to pay for your service or not. But again, it depends on the niche. Some companies focus on the European market where there’s less competition and more opportunities for building trust via localisation.
How does your customer journey look like?
Due to limited resources, our focus has been mainly on inbound. There’s usually a moment of frustration that ignites the journey. It might be that they sent out a marketing email to the wrong contact or sales weren’t aware that a marketing email had been sent on the same day. People are frustrated and start looking for solutions, maybe not right away, but it will be in the back of their mind. And if the pain is big enough, they will go out and either search for it on Google or turn to the Pipedrive community on the Pipedrive app market place. This has been our most rewarding placement to date and we took additional steps to get good reviews for our tool there.
One of my favourite recent projects was building a scalable engine for creating more than 200 landing pages for all the potential combinations of CRM and marketing tools. Bear in mind, these are mostly integrations that we don’t actually offer. We just started by building the search traffic to be present on some of the high intent CPC ads and collecting leads. For the integrations that we don’t offer we asked them to fill out a form in case of interest – a superb feedback tool to get a sense of what integrations are most in demand.
So you basically spent advertising money on products that don’t even exist. Sounds like an enormous amount of work.
The way you phrase it makes it sound almost insane, but in all honesty we used a plugin and some technical know-how to do that. We used a template basis and just filled in the right words in the right places. Then we customised the landing pages that were already of high priority.
In terms of advertising money, we don’t advertise for all keywords, we have a shortlist of which integrations we think we should be building next and set up landing pages, search ads and web forms for collecting leads. It helps us understand their use cases better because at the end of the day, we're not building superficial integrations, we're trying to make truly useful integrations. And unfortunately, all CRMs and marketing tools have some nuances. So a basic Zapier integration of just copying data from one place to another often isn't that useful, or it's very complicated to set up because all of the systems are a little bit different.
Some might call this cheating because these products don’t exist yet. How do you keep the interest up? Nobody has the patience these days. How do you communicate it?
For the integrations on the shortlist we try to communicate the expected delivery time. It helps manage expectations. People are more likely to sign up if we provide an exact timeframe. Otherwise, the amount of leads is reduced almost by a half. We stay in touch with them once they have filled out the form and we try to get them on calls to learn more about their use case. Surprisingly, people are willing to wait.
What are the volumes for such landing pages? How are these ads targeted?
We currently only do search ads on Google and Bing and don’t have almost any geographic limitations. The search volumes are typically quite small. For smaller tools it’s around 10 to 30 searches in the US per month. For bigger tools like Salesforce or Mailchimp it’s 200 to 300 searches per month. However combined, we’ve managed to grow the traffic to more than a thousand visits per month. There is clearly a demand, but it’s just a bit fragmented across the tools.
So it’s more of a customer research tool.
Yes, especially at this point because we have only covered a small portion of the sales and marketing tools available. It’s a long-term game: building landing pages and making sure they’re ranking for SEO purposes. With all the integrations we do have live, with both search ads and organic traffic, one of our priorities in the content and SEO side is to make sure that these rank for the prime keywords and are within the top five results. By the time we come to the market we already need to have that traffic and make sure we’re speaking the same language.
Would it make sense to use more aggressive outbound marketing to attract traffic?
It’s something we have been experimenting with. We want to make sure that our outbound is targeted specifically to the right audience. We are planning to grow this part of our marketing in the upcoming year.
Would that approach work in case of other products and industries?
Of course, it’s probably one of the fastest way to test ideas these days. I think search ads and landing pages are a great way to test the waters. But it’s important that you don’t promise things that don’t exist. You have to put it in a nice and elegant way.
What about content marketing? How much effort goes into content?
Content marketing and SEO are my strengths so a lot of my focus goes here. We have put effort into educational content mostly, because the awareness amongst SMBs is rather low. Quality over quantity and as informational as possible. We’re not necessarily banking on conversions, but driving leads, creating fans and boosting the brand.
Often one creates a magnificent piece of content, but nobody reads it. How much effort should go into creation vs the distribution?
The foundation is the content piece itself. It has to be unique and provide value. Distribution is the next level and on top of that, make sure you put effort in the presentation as well. Writing the titles, headlines, social media descriptions in an engaging way. This is the hook to get people to consume your content.
What’s your experience with communities? There has been a lot of discussion around this in recent years.
Communities have been a very important part of Outfunnel’s marketing, because most of these CRMs and marketing tools already have their own existing communities. Having been present in those communities, as well as participating in the right discussions, and then growing our brand awareness and name in those communities has been very important. But of course, for many cases, such communities do not exist yet. I would say it depends what stage your company is at. If you're quite small and early stage, I wouldn't try to cover all strategies and channels and perhaps community is not the place to focus your efforts.
That being said, there are many great cases of community led growth. A couple of examples I can think of are lemlist and Copy.ai who have grown massively thanks to communities. If you are interested in this topic then I would recommend following lemlist head of growth Vukasin Vukosavljevic.
The life of a modern marketer is quite challenging. It’s like being a kid in a toy store – so many tools are available, but it’s impossible to cover all of them. How do you find the right tools?
I recognise that feeling very well. It takes experimentation in the beginning, but once you’ve seen the results – you will know what works for you. And then make sure to make the most out of that channel or tactic. Even when you feel like you’re missing out on the million other tools, try to focus on one to two things.
You recently hired a growth marketer, very common in the startup world, but maybe less understood in traditional industries. Why did you decide to jump on the growth marketing train?
We wanted to grow our marketing initiatives in general, try out new channels or tactics and improve conversion rates. It was the right time to expand for us. it’s a fascinating world filled with experimentation and data. Even traditional companies could benefit from growth marketing.
How would you define growth marketing?
Experimenting with new challenges, new tactics, but also looking at the things that we already do and making sure that they are bringing growth. If we see that our conversion rates could be improved by changing the buttons on the website or changing the on-boarding journey – we should absolutely do that. In some cases it's not so much about doing something new as it is about seeing how we can do existing things better, whether it's time-saving or growing conversion rates or improving retention.
And finally, we always ask our guests about the books and podcasts they’d recommend for other professionals?
I would recommend everyone to read Alchemy by Rory Sutherland. After being in the data heavy SaaS world for quite some time, it’s refreshing to read his ideas on looking at the bigger picture and the role of creativity.
Another resource I’d mention is Katelyn Bourgoin who’s writing a lot about the customer journey and what makes people buy. People forget that the buyer's life doesn't revolve around your project. There are so many push and pull effects and influencers that are completely outside of your picture, you don't even think about them. So finding out what actually makes people buy or where are the friction points that actually push them to look for a solution as such - I think that's the more exciting part of marketing for me today.