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Brian is the Director of Product Marketing and Operations at Klaviyo, where he leads the company’s efforts on positioning, analytics, marketing technology, and customer marketing. 

His marketing career began a decade ago in email marketing and customer service and expanded when he joined HubSpot as their first community manager, later becoming the in-house SEO for HubSpot’s properties, and as the marketing leader for HubSpot’s Sidekick sales product. 

He also served in marketing leadership roles at Kinvey and InsightSquared, where he led inbound marketing and sales enablement as the company tripled. 

Klaviyo enables e-commerce marketers to communicate with their customers like they want to, with precisely personalized messages that drive sales. Klaviyo is based in Boston, and growing rapidly in a culture focused on delivering the automation product that marketers have always wanted.

See Klaviyo’s open job listings: https://www.klaviyo.com/about#careers

Learn more about e-commerce marketing on Klaviyo's blog: https://www.klaviyo.com/blog

  • SC

    Sam Coren

    21 days ago #

    How do you feel about chatbots?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Remember SmarterChild? I’m pretty disappointed with how little they’ve progressed since that early incarnation.
      Chatbots are in a space where they could be really good, but they aren’t. (yet, at least)

      There are multiple companies doing development around them, but that works so far just means integrating them into the other systems the business uses, the CRM, the marketing automation platform, the whatever. That’s good work to do, but it’s not really helping the marketer be better - it’s just automating away more work. The flaw then is that they’re the bot’s responses only as good as the rules that the marketer can come up with… and marketers are notoriously lousy at that kind of process, where the outcomes are ambiguous and manyfold.

      This is because marketers, especially great marketers, are really good at storytelling. They focus on best-case scenarios, the tale to tell. They’ll build a beautiful story about how good the experience can be and how it’ll feel almost like magic to the user. And that’s true!

      But when the story doesn’t go as planned, it tends to fail very badly. And it’s not magic. The user realizes that they’re talking to a machine that doesn’t understand them, and they’re frustrated and feel like their attention was wasted.

      Engineers and product managers are usually much better at anticipating the potential outcomes or exceptions that can occur when interacting with a chatbot. Work with some as you plan the responses, and they can help you identify the exceptions and how to manage them better.

      If you’re going to roll out chat on your site, make sure you think through more than just your best case scenario of interaction, and have helpful prompts. If the bot really get stuck and doesn’t know how to answer a question, let it apologize and recommend they speak with a real human at your company. And as a marketer, learn to challenge your own assumptions and biases in your work.

      I've never had a chatbot experience that didn't feel like I had to solve a rubik's cube to get the right response from the bot.

      4 Share
      • AL

        Arsene Lavaux

        14 days ago #

        Thanks for sharing your great insight with us Brian. It makes a lot of sense.

        Chatbots are poorly binary for now. There is some hope with what viv has started to do but may take some more time for chatbots to learn on their own and be curious to find proper customer interaction flows on their own.

        I particularly enjoy your recommendation that chatbot should connect to humans when they don't have the right answers. Recently, as I keep researching the current "state of the bot" in growth for some future writing, I had an horrendous experience with the chatbot of a well known institution.

        And not way to connect with humans!

        Fascinating subject...
        Thanks for sharing again.

  • ZG

    Zach Grove

    17 days ago #

    Brian,

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    What are some growth experiments/ channels that have worked surprisingly well for you? Are there any channels that you feel are undervalued -- especially with so many other startups going after the ecommerce market these days?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Absolutely, it's a pleasure. I think I really underestimated the value of word of mouth when I came to Klaviyo. Delivering a great product to the right audience made all of our other projects so much easier, because people wanted to talk about us.

      There are absolutely a ton of companies chasing the ecommerce market these day, but a lot of them are messaging too broadly on who they help and how they help them. That's okay for now because they're still mostly early in their growth curve and trying to answer that question for themselves.

      I know I am getting myself in trouble here as a former SEO, but I think companies still underrate the value of organic search. Just being present on the results pages for the searches your customers are doing is so valuable for helping introduce the brand to them. It'll take a few soft touches like that to get them familiar with who you are.

      2 Share
  • VZ

    Vlad Zachary

    17 days ago #

    Hi Brian,

    Can you give us some examples of using emotion to increase engagement with content marketing?

    Thank you

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Good to see you Vlad. Yeah! I think this is best done with video.. or at least, the best versions of it have been commercials on the web or TV.

      For example, this Budweiser ad on safe driving really caught me... I don't drink much beer or bud, but I appreciated it as a dog owner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56b09ZyLaWk

      They do a great job of setting up the relationship with the dog and how long that relationship can go on for, and make sure to end the ad with a strong positive note after the sad one. It's risky, but setting up that kind of emotional journey of up, up, up, then down, and then back up is really powerful. It can really backfire if you screw it up...

      If you remember the Nationwide ad from the 2015 Superbowl, about the child who dies. I don't think you can even find the original ad online anymore because they tried to take it down everywhere. There's no happy moment at the end of the ad.. It starts positive, keeps rising, and then ends on a really sad note. There's no uplifting message at the end. I was sitting in a room with some new parents when it ended and they were horrified. They definitely didn't buy any Nationwide products after that. I think it was a well intentioned PSA but taking a happy occasion like a sports event and mixing in a parent's grief was a huge miss.

      3 Share
  • TT

    Teffi Titus

    17 days ago #

    How can a service industry with their web products, connect emotionally with customers through various social media platforms?
    What kind of visual and content material helped Kalviyo to reach their TA?

  • TS

    Tonya Sims

    14 days ago #

    Hi Brian,

    Great to have you here today. What advice do you have for a young startup just beginning in terms of growth? Is it something to focus on right away or should we wait until we have the kinks worked out?

    Thank you,

    Tonya Sims

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      This will sound like it's from 2008... but anytime you write an email or message that's longer than about three paragraphs, that's a blog post. You might need to reformat it or change some words, but it's a good answer to a question others are probably asking themselves too.

      People underrate the value of a good blog in hiring. The best way to grow your team when you're early, is find people who really care about the exact same problem as you. The best way to find those people is by telling the world about the problem and how focused you are on it, and how you're approaching it.

      4 Share
  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    20 days ago #

    Bonjour Brian,

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    Could you share with us some Facebook ad personalization examples that Klaviyo enables?

    Merci!

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Of course, thanks for joining me!
      I have seen some Klaviyo customers doing really cool work to integrate their Facebook campaigns tightly with email. Some of the best cases come when people segment their lists very tightly. For example, I’ve seen ecommerce businesses that combine Facebook ads with new product launches, and segmenting the new product advertisement based on the customer’s relationship with them.

      People on their list who’ve never bought an item get one ad, where people who have bought just once or twice get another version, and then people who frequently buy from them get another version. And when I say segmentation, I don’t mean, a different photo with some snappy copy - They’ll offer a discount code to people who have never purchased before, and offer free shipping to their VIP customers.

      Then they’ll watch for which ads perform best for each audience, and feed that into the next campaign. They learn which kinds of discounts or positioning works best for each audience, and keep that information around. That kind of Facebook / Marketing Automation / Shopping Cart experience becomes very cool to the customer, and helps the marketer do more interesting investigation, getting closer to the heart of their buyer.

      It also works well if you have customers you're trying to win back to your store - maybe they bought a couple times a long time ago, but haven't returned and stopped engaging with your email campaigns. You can take one more shot at reaching them via social, and seeing if they're still there. The closer you can segment here, the better - show them new accessories that go with products you know they own, for example.

      4 Share
  • NH

    neal hamilton

    20 days ago #

    What are your thoughts on the state of webinars as magnets today? And are there any use cases you find you particularly good?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      I can't remember the last time I attended a marketing lead-gen webinar, or ran one. It's been a long time. I think they can be good if you have a great topic selected and are prepared to do a great job with it. For lead gen, I think a highly produced (in advance) video is usually better. You can re-do a bad take, research a question, and get the production value where you want it to be.

      I think the best webinars I hear or see now are for training - helping customers learn new functionality, demoing new use cases, that kind of thing.

      2 Share
  • JH

    Joseph Hsieh

    15 days ago #

    Hi Brian, thanks for doing this AMA.

    Can you share some insights on Klaviyo’s approach to choosing integration partners and what role these integration’s “BD by API” contribute to growth?

    What’s the marginal value of adding a new integration to attract new clients vs keeping existing ones from leaving?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Marketers today use a ton of different apps, all made by different companies. I don't know if you can assess the direct value of whether and integration exists to attract new clients or keep your old ones, but it's probably mostly in the latter camp.

      Customers probably won't leave your product (if your product is great) because of limited integrations. They already made an emotional commitment, and a wallet commitment, to your product despite the integrations. It will definitely stop them from joining you. If your product isn't great, customers will certainly leave you, but it's probably not because of the integrations, at least not primarily. Something else pulled them over the edge to make the new commitment.

      For the BD perspective, they're incredibly valuable. Your most powerful and trusting relationships in your industry come from your integration partners. There's been a huge commitment between companies to make the partnership work, from engineering resources through marketing and sales, legal commitments, and so on.
      If that relationship is really being maintained and supported, you'll find that you refer each other customers, help each other with other problems, plan live events or other activities together, and so on. They're like your best friends, you can count on them.

      2 Share
  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    14 days ago #

    Hey Brian - very cool to have you on!

    You are the first person I've come across with your specific title.
    Normally Product Marketing & Operations tend to be distinct roles.
    Why is it combined at Klaviyo?
    What are the benefits and challenges of this approach?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Yeah. It was kind of a natural growth. When I joined Klaviyo, marketing was two people. So cutting up responsibilities was easy - It was either mine, or my colleagues. As we hired up the rest of the team, I started giving away parts of my job to each new person who joined. I gave away content marketing, partnerships, paid, etc. The two areas where I was well skilled and experienced, and having the most fun working were operations and product marketing.

      Operations was a blast because I had some pretty specific opinions about how marketing operations should be run, and that analytics in marketing teams should be distributed across the whole team, not siloed with one Marketing Analyst. As I figured out how to actually enable the vision of what I call "Self-Service Analytics" here. We got to discover some really cool tools like Heap Analytics and Supermetrics to build and automate a lot of our analytics and reporting. This let other people build and consume their own reports without waiting for me... there's nothing I wanted to be less than a spreadsheet jockey.

      I've been in the sales and marketing tech space for most of the last decade now, and so getting to play any part in shaping the voice and vision of Klaviyo, and discussing what our customers need from us, and how we can help them in the future was a deep passion for me. I was really attached to the product marketing concept as a result. I get to collaborate across the company and tell our customer's stories and enable the next stage of marketing automation products.

      It can definitely be challenging though - it demands that I have to operate across several very different dimensions of our business every day. I can spend my morning in JavaScript, plan a feature release, review a case study for sales, and then build a campaign report. There aren't a lot of roles like that out there

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        14 days ago #

        So cool!
        Quick follow up. Unless someone has access to someone like you, what do you think the trigger should be to consider adding a Marketing Operations person to the team?

      • BW

        Brian Whalley

        14 days ago #

        If it's a company that is expecting to grow pretty rapidly (like if they're taking outside funding), marketing ops should probably be an early hire. It's much harder to have them come in late into a team and try to create order and set the team up with a good structure... But early on when the company is just starting to coalesce, they can help provide a lot of structure in marketing (and sales too, if sales doesn't have its own operational lead)

        Otherwise, you can probably get along for quite a while without marketing operations, as individuals run their own processes. The trigger will come when someone realizes that everyone in Marketing is reporting out from different metrics and programs :)

  • JP

    John Phamvan

    14 days ago #

    Hey Brian

    a. What tools are you using at Klaviyo for experimentation & analytics right now?
    b. Where does your data live?
    c. Also, has/have been the most recent one(s) you'll have added to your arsenal - and why?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      We use Visual Website Optimizer for website testing, and use a mix of Klaviyo and Heap Analytics for any reporting or analytics we have. We've also built a lot of our own web testing and personalization ourselves... Nothing that's productized, but we've found that we can often move fastest by determining the solution we want and creating something one-off for ourselves. We also use Supermetrics a lot to pull data from Google Analytics or various paid ads platforms into Google Sheets.

      I don't think we've added anything new to the setup recently... I've found that most problems can be solved by APIs, talking through problems with a coworker, and a good spreadsheet.

      2 Share
  • DH

    Dani Hart

    14 days ago #

    Hi Brian
    What is Klaviyo's North Star Metric?
    How have you (and/or anyone else in leadership) been able to rally your entire organization behind this key metric?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      We have one main metric we care about in marketing and sales: Months to payback. It was the same in the last organization as well... The faster we can recoup our investment, the more we can confidently pour into growth.

      We still have plenty of other numbers that help us find our way, around qualified leads and conversion rates.. but if you can know our months to payback on a marketing or sales effort, you can make decisions confidently.

  • TN

    Tri Nguyen

    14 days ago #

    Hi Brian
    I found it interesting that you had two CTAs on the site - for a demo or to sign up (with sign up being the one in color). You also have a "sign up for free" form on the site.
    As an outsider this tells me that perhaps having people just sign up without a demo works better for you.
    If that assumption is correct, why offer the demo at all as a CTA (vs perhaps as part of a drip)?
    What purpose is the demo CTA serving?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Great question Tri.

      Sign Up is definitely the action for most people. Klaviyo attracts a wide range of sizes of businesses, both very large and very small. We've experimented with taking "Request a Demo" off the site, but when we did, larger businesses stopped coming in. They didn't sign up instead, they just checked out entirely. I think it was a signal that the way to use Klaviyo was to sign up and dig in.. but bigger businesses don't buy like that. They want to talk to a human.

      They do want to be sold to a certain extent - before investing time into setting up a product, they want to make sure your product has the features they need, works with their other apps, etc. If you want to sell into bigger companies, they really want to see a product demonstration before investing further. It's a great opportunity for your salespeople to qualify them better and guide their experience to the things that are most important to them anyway.

      2 Share
  • MD

    Mark Anthony de Jesus

    14 days ago #

    What is your biggest growth challenge right now and how are you tackling it?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      I might be able to get myself in some trouble... but today I would honestly say that it's hiring. Great people are hard to find. We've staffed up on the recruitment side internally, and we set public goals (well, public inside the company) for hiring, and share our progress towards those goals internally. It keeps everyone on the team motivated to find people, refer them in, etc.

      2 Share
  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    14 days ago #

    Hola, Brian,
    Can you talk more about why you'll have pricing the way you'll currently do (ie flexible based on contacts/sends) vs fixed tiers?
    Any other tests/experiments around pricing you'll have tried that you're willing to share?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      I think it was just our first shot at pricing - do it along a value metric from the customer. We haven't revisited it since then. I think we really like making all features available for all users, so that the sales process doesn't have to get into nuances of plan details or limitations, and that people who are growing quickly can just swipe their credit card to upgrade, and not worry about maximizing their performance at a tier.

      The only experiments we've tried so far have been around inviting larger customers to a sales demo instead of a direct product signup. Most people at companies of a certain size want to be sold a little bit, to be able to ask direct questions and have a conversation with someone who understands them.

  • DO

    Danielle Olivas

    14 days ago #

    Hi Brian
    Why don't you'll have a live chat widget on your site?
    Only asking because its increasingly rare to not see one anymore.

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      It's something we've talked about, but staffing it is tricky because we're a small company. I expect we'll at least try it sometime soon.

      I have some very mixed feelings on chatbots as a fallback, the customer experience with them is generally terrible... I discussed them in detail above.

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Also, I should mention - we do have live chat inside our product, for support purposes.

  • EE

    Ecco Eternal

    14 days ago #

    Hi Brian, thanks for doing this AMA. My freelance clients and I love Klaviyo! Good work all around.

    My question is: In building the skill-sets that have helped lead your career - how have you been able to discern what to skills to learn and which to defer or delegate?
    There's so many irrelevant skills, tactics, tools, and other minutae that typically surrounds this work of contemporary growth & mktg., so I'm curious how you've navigated results creation.
    I much look forward to hearing your answer :)
    Thanks again!

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      Thanks Ecco, we're glad to have you!

      You're definitely right about that. I was super lucky early in my career and had a couple managers that threw a diversity of projects at me, and gave me the freedom to figure out how to solve it on my own. What I took away from that was a very good knowledge of Excel, and the ability to come up with a detailed project plan and back up my assumptions with numbers. This helped me understand if a particular result was actually likely or not... if what I was expecting from a campaign or effort was actually a reasonable outcome, and how I could challenge my own assumptions or prove them out in enough detail.

      That way, when I set out to actually do the work, I had a very clear conception of how to execute the project and where potential traps lay. In terms of tools, it also forced me to concentrate on learning a smaller set of tools really well. Most of the tools out there are very duplicative and don't really add much value. I try to avoid learning a lot of different tools, and just find new approaches to the existing ones I'm familiar with.

      Because I'm such a marketing generalist, I try to hire specialists instead of more generalists. They'll have narrower skills... but can do way more interesting stuff by applying methodologies I don't even know exist. For example, one of the women who works with me today is working on something called an ANOVA analysis right now. I had never even heard of that before this week.

  • SK

    S Kodial

    14 days ago #

    Does Klaviyo have a dedicated growth team?
    If yes, where does it sit within the organization?
    If not, why not?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      We have in the past - they sat in their own group, reporting to the CEO. They experimented with outreach into verticals outside of ecommerce. We wound up having them join other teams when we decided to focus directly on ecommerce.

      The functions that a growth team typically does (rapid testing and iteration, product and communication development, etc) now primarily lives with my team.

  • GH

    Glen Harper

    14 days ago #

    Thank you for joining us today, Brian.
    What channel is working best for you in terms of getting you the most qualified leads for Klaviyo?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      It's a mix of word of mouth / partnerships. Finding the right partners means all the difference in our industry - people who will be your advocate and sell the difference between you and the competition. Most people look at us as an email service provider, which is obviously a dense market. Having friends that share the word and want to use the product makes such a difference.

  • JD

    James Dunn

    14 days ago #

    What is Klaviyo's "aha moment"?
    How do you get people to it as quickly as possible?
    Are there any experiments you've tried around this that you can share?

    • BW

      Brian Whalley

      14 days ago #

      For a lot of our customers, it's seeing the kind of data we can make accessible from their ecommerce store and put in front of them. We try to guide people to activating their first automated email flow (like an abandoned cart series) pretty quickly - I've certainly seen that if someone doesn't start sending in the first couple of days, they probably never will. We're working on a mix of outside the app messaging through email, sales, etc., and so on to help people find their way more easily. I don't want the app experience to be forced onto rails, where they can't click around and explore more... exploration is what makes life fun, even if it's dangerous sometimes.

      2 Share
  • AL

    Apostolis Lianos

    14 days ago #

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for this nice conversation.
    Could you tell me this 1 thing Klaviyo does best that your competitors in e-commerce automation market can't do?

    Cheers! :)

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