Pipedrive’s story takes us back to the year 2010, when founders Urmas Purde and Timo Rein spotted a gap in the CRM market. Having trained tens of thousands of sales professionals for companies like Coca-Cola and Nissan, Urmas and Rein realised that there is no proper sales management tool that caters to the needs of people doing the actual selling. With more manpower on board, Pipedrive, one of Estonia’s seven unicorns, was born. Today, they operate 10 offices in 8 countries, employ 900+ people and are proudly serving the needs of 95,000 customers from 175 countries.
Mariliis Beger, Global Head of PR, joined Pipedrive in 2019. Having worked in KPMS & Partners and completed her PhD in Communication and Media Studies at Florida State University, Mariliis has laid the foundation to becoming one of Estonia’s most sought-after PR experts. Below, Mariliis shares her insight on the challenges and lessons she’s accumulated throughout her years at Pipedrive.
Give us your best pitch, as an expert and Pipedrive employee.
I’m the Global Head of PR at Pipedrive. I’ve been with the company for two and a half years and am responsible for all external communications, starting from media relations, ESG projects, analyst relations up to thought leadership and organic social media. Prior to joining Pipedrive I was finishing my PhD in the US and have also experience in working at a PR agency. I always prefer people with agency backgrounds because they have seen it all and have very broad experience across the various disciplines communication includes.
Why Pipedrive? If you are a small company aiming to increase your revenue goals, then Pipedrive is the go-to tool because it combines all your teams, from marketing to sales, into a single system. Your revenue teams will reach their goals and perform even better.
How many people are working for Pipedrive? What’s the size geographically?
We have 900+ employees across 10 offices worldwide. Our biggest offices are in Tallinn and Lisbon. We have almost 100,000 customers from 150 different countries.
Pipedrive is a global company, but there is no such thing as global PR – one has to focus on certain markets.
We consider ourselves as a global PR team because we have customers all across the globe. We do have focus markets where daily PR activities are handled with the help of agencies. Pipedrive has already defined key markets for 2022. Using Germany and UK as a blueprint, we’re also adding Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand. Moreover, we also have employer branding communication markets (Estonia, Portugal and Czech Republic) due to our big hiring needs. And apart from our focus markets, we’re handling some PR activities in niche project-based markets. For instance, we’ll have a localised version of Pipedrive in Indonesia coming out in January.
What’s the role of PR in overall communications mix? What are the goals?
When entering a new market, the main goal is to increase awareness and build brand presence. In addition, I think it’s very important to build credibility for our spokespeople as experts in the eyes of media. Having well-known experts on the field makes our further existence much easier in terms of media relations. It’s a long-term process and there are many stages between awareness and direct action.
I see PR as part of the customer journey. We increase awareness and impact other aspects on the journey. The rest of the marketing mix has to drive additional power and take this potential customer to the desired action – sign up.
Compared to sexy products like Tesla or mirror houses, Pipedrive is a pretty boring product aimed at niche B2B players. How do you make it interesting for influential media?
Most of SAAS products are aimed at niche markets. I think it comes down to finding the right frame for it. When talking to a journalist you need to keep in mind that you’re not talking with the end customer. You have to find an angle that captivates them. Our work is based on extensive research. We want to know what the pain points are, what are the things salespeople are struggling with in their daily work. We are linking our product announcements or other updates with specific problems, and offering solutions to them.
Another good tip is linking your message with an overall bigger trend or change in the society. For instance, COVID was a very big change for most people, everything went off track. Hence, we introduced our e-signatures feature and communicated it through the COVID frame: here’s a solution for people working from home, for them to handle the whole sales process without meeting prospects in person. It got superb media coverage.
And finally, local numbers and local spokespeople work wonders. For example, in Czech Republic, we are not regarded as a local company, we’re competing with Czech startups and scale-ups, especially in terms of recruitment and hiring. Local spokespeople have managed to break that ice for us. Last year we published our annual State of Sales Report focusing exclusively on German numbers. It has to be one of our most successful PR projects to date.
Do you test these concepts before publishing?
We’re not testing, but we do analyse afterwards. For instance, in Germany, we are now switching our strategy from press announcement based approach towards thought leadership because it’s exciting and gets the best response from local media.
What would be the first steps when entering a new market?
It starts from defining key relationships with agencies and journalists. It’s not possible to do good PR as a global function, you have to have great spokespeople. You define your partners and start building awareness.
So having an agency is a must. How do you find the best one?
Yes, it’s a must. Entering a new market with big goals is not manageable from abroad. If you don’t have any context or references you can always ask others. I exchange knowledge with other startups quite frequently. You can also get references from other PR professionals. We are part of the Vista group and the network is a good source information. Finally, let’s be honest, the website is a very good indicator. If they don’t even have an English website then it’s probably not the best choice for a global company. We usually meet up with two or three agencies just to see if there’s a fit or not.
Do you also build direct relationships with local journalists or is this something that you leave to for the agency?
Both. We have a circle of our own journalists and agencies have their circles. Especially with non-English speaking countries.
How do you strike a good balance between in-house PR and agencies? We see in-house marcomms teams growing exponentially in past years. Apparently the traditional agency model is not agile enough for startups.
There’s absolutely a big push towards in-house teams. We have been totally agency-based in the past but have moved to a hybrid model. We have only three people in our PR team: two in Estonia and one in London handling social media. In the US we are hiring a person instead of an agency to handle the Canadian market.
I see pros and cons in both approaches. The pace, agility and information exchange is much better with in-house teams. Pipedrive is known for our strong culture. You can work very closely with an agency but you will never get that core feeling of the company if you’re not an employee. It’s important to be part of the process. At the same time, we have agencies with amazing teams working for us which results in more ideas and bigger volumes.
What kind of volumes are we speaking of?
If we take press announcements, it’s around 1-3 per week plus global announcements which are localised and reused for different purposes. It’s very hard to name exact numbers, but we do get thousands of mentions in a year in terms of coverage.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your work?
It’s the most challenging question you can ask. I’m not a big believer in counting eggs. We are thinking of incorporating a new software which would help with evaluating the value of the brand as opposed to the share of voice; showcase more qualitative metrics for us. Meanwhile we are still counting eggs and doing social media metrics.
If you would go to your boss and say that you need to hire additional people then how would you justify the ROI?
It’s quite easy with hiring headcount. We look at the agency fee versus the salary of the person. I just had this conversation with Bolt’s PR person and she was convinced that hiring a full-time person is the way to go money-wise because it’s more efficient than using an agency. Especially now after COVID when agency fees are gigantic.
Another challenge is integrating PR with other comms like paid communications, advertising and social media. How would you integrate these functions?
The lines are very blurry these days. This has been a challenge for Pipedrive but we’ve managed to get in sync during the past year or so. We also have a new CMO and she will probably act as the umbrella that brings everyone closer together.
We started contributing with a media placement agency and their services are also somewhere in the middle, paid PR but not in a classical sense. It’s more for backlinks and SEO purposes.
They say a good backlink is worth hundreds of dollars these days.
Yes, asking for a backlink is a common practice when in contact with journalists. You have to be careful with that though. Real journalism is real journalism. They don’t want to be a marketing tool for you. Sometimes it’s not in good tone to ask for a backlink.
What about branded content?
We always prefer “free PR” but we do get these offers almost every day and look through them case by case. We’re not actively taking part in it because there’s a credibility issue. If it’s paid content then it’s advertisement. You absorb it differently. Also, once it paid the editorial side tends to lack a little bit.
What’s the role of specialised media? These days we have very narrow communities both in media and on social.
I think general media is good for brand awareness but we are also actively working with trade and niche outlets. Online communities are getting tighter and tighter. In the US, you basically have an outlet for every aspect of CRM. We are not actively taking part in the conversations happening on LinkedIn and Facebook groups. We have our own group with nearly 50,000 members where we do beta testing, customer service and many other things.
What’s your take on B2B influencer marketing? Does it even exist for B2B?
Of course it does. We have sales and marketing influencers working with us all over the globe. There are a couple of global influencers that we have a good relationship with. In certain markets like Brazil we have sales gurus who are able to market us in their language. The global approach doesn’t work there.
How important is it to communicate in local language?
I mentioned Germany where obviously everyone speaks English but they still prefer to have events, webinars and podcasts in German. Everything we do is in German, with rare exceptions.
What was the most successful project of 2021?
The State of Sales was very successful and we were able to repurpose it for 20-30 times in one market.
The biggest fuck-up?
I was on maternity leave for half a year so I’m not responsible for that (laughs). Not responsible for the State of Sales either to be fair. Overall I think we have done too many corporate pieces. Nobody cares about corporate stuff, they care about their own problems. It’s not going to bring major media coverage. When we’re hiring a new person and announcing it then the work starts after that: finding opportunities for speaking, building up the image, etc.
Any good recommendations in terms of books or podcasts?
To be honest, I’m not reading a lot of professional media. I prefer biographies about Middle Eastern women.