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Before falling backwards into the world of SaaS, Claire Suellentrop started her career at an entertainment marketing agency, where she attended power lunches with record label execs by day and rubbed shoulders with bands by night. It was a run-you-ragged lifestyle that inspired her to start a side project: a blog about how to eat healthfully while surviving long workdays and even longer nights attending concert after concert.

Ultimately, she decided a career in an entertainment wasn’t in the cards — but she kept up the blog, which served as her sandbox for learning how to build an audience and make money on the internet.

Her work on the blog eventually landed her the role of Director of Marketing & employee #2 at Calendly — where her tenure saw product growth skyrocket to hundreds of thousands of users and revenue climb to millions in ARR.

After transitioning from her in-house role to consulting, she helped SaaS companies like Wistia, FullStory, Edgar, Death to the Stock Photo, and many others get inside their customers’ heads, and increase conversions across sales, marketing, and onboarding.

She’s now the co-founder of two companies: Forget The Funnel (SaaS marketing training) and Userlist.io (behaviour-based email for SaaS products).

She loves discussions about business, marketing, customer research, CX, professional development, leadership, company culture, intersectional feminism, and cats. You can reach her on Twitter anytime to chat about these topics.

  • KR

    Kamil Rextin

    about 2 years ago #

    What is the difference between 'Growth' & 'Marketing if there really is one? :)

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Kamil! Jumping into your Q quickly because it’s so hotly debated :)

      We should probably start with Sean Ellis’s definition of what a “growth hacker” is responsible for: Everything [a growth hacker does] is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth."

      For clarification, I’m going to define “growth” as “revenue increase” throughout this AMA. Because increased $$$ is what we’re all aiming for, right?

      With that said — if the goal of marketing is to drive revenue (aka growth), then “marketing” should touch every stage of the customer journey — NOT just acquisition, but also activation, retention, revenue, and referral.

      Therefore, my super-duper TL;DR answer is that I believe “marketing” and “growth” are the same thing.

      HOWEVER, there are *many* factors that determine whether a marketer (or marketing department) can truly make an impact on growth within their organization — and I think that’s where marketing v. growth breaks down, and all the Twitter fights get started. For example:

      * For marketing to impact revenue (growth) across the entire customer journey, the organization as a whole has to already have rallied around the appropriate north star metric, and structured its departments in a way that enables collaboration. For greater detail, see my answer to Alaura Weaver’s question. 

      * The further away an organization is from that state ^^, the harder it is for departments to work collaboratively on projects that fuel growth. 

      * The harder it is for departments to work collaboratively on projects that fuel growth, the more silo’d each department (and the metrics they’re responsible for) becomes.

      * The more silo’d each department (and their metrics) becomes, the less shared empathy there is for the customer, and the value that customer needs to feel in order to remain engaged with the product / brand.

      * The less shared empathy there is for the customer, the more each department doubles down on their silo’d metrics (because now, we’re all just here to hit our numbers and go home)…so marketing ends up as just an acquisition play. And sales gets mad because marketing’s leads are terrible. And customer success gets mad because sales makes promises the product can’t keep. And so on, and so on.

      8 Share
  • CH

    Corey Haines

    about 2 years ago #

    Love the backstory!

    What advice would you give someone who is trying to work up to being director-level in marketing/growth? What are the most important skills to foster?

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi, Corey!

      I could give a million bits of advice, but here’s the gist: aim to be a great businessperson who happens to handle marketing — not a marketer who happens to work for businesspeople.

      In a long-ago Forget The Funnel workshop**, Gia & I discussed the evolution of a “product-first” company (aka, most SaaS companies) like so:

      1. Product-first companies typically form from a founder’s “big idea” — a problem they notice and want to solve.

      2. Product strategy is the answer to “how will we solve this problem?” It typically comes first, then business strategy evolves.

      3. Business strategy is the answer to “how will we make money solving this problem?”

      4. Marketing strategy is the answer to “how will we find and communicate with the people who need this problem solved, so we can solve the problem for them and make money?”

      Therefore, being a strong marketing leader and strategist requires visibility into: 1) decisions already made on the product and biz sides, 2) a deep understanding of the problem, and 3) a deep understanding of the market (the people willing to pay to solve the problem).

      All of the above require you to think like a product person and a businessperson — not *just* a marketing person.

      If you want to be taken seriously by your boss, if you want your ideas to be accepted in meetings, if you want to truly be seen as a leader who helps *drive the business* — you need to understand and empathize with the executive team just as seriously as a good marketer understands and empathizes with their target audience.

      **I think the workshop where we talked about this was https://forgetthefunnel.com/strategic-thinking-for-saas-marketers/

      PS: an amazing article on this exact topic came across my radar a few weeks ago. It goes into much greater detail on what it means to "think like a businessperson": https://hackernoon.com/unsolicited-career-advice-for-tech-marketers-a8702054e057

      4 Share
  • AG

    Ashley Greene

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Claire! Excited for your AMA as a fellow customer research nerd. :) What advice do you have for getting buy-in on doing more user research/making user research an ongoing priority?

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Ashley! Thanks for being here!

      Wherever possible, I avoid pitching the “research.” Instead, I try to pitch the “business solution.” That could look like any of the following:

      Business problem: “We thought our ad costs would decrease over time, but they’re still really high. Why aren’t we getting more clicks and driving down our spend?”

      * Answer: it could be a messaging and copy mismatch — why don’t we interview some of our customers in the segment we’re targeting, to see if they use these words / phrases in real life?

      Business problem: “Our product is ‘horizontal’; it’s useful to people in many different professions and industries. Where do we focus our efforts? Which segments are worth investing marketing dollars in first?”

      * Answer: our customers in different industries / roles might have completely different motivations for using our product — and they might even shop for our product in completely different ways. Let’s do some surveys and interviews to find out, so we can make better marketing channel decisions.

      Business problem: “We want to increase CLTV. What opportunities do we have to expand our current customers’ usage?”

      * Answer: our customers in different industries / roles might have completely different motivations for using our product. Let’s do some interviews — and for each major motivation we learn about, let’s figure out which premium features are most likely to help a customer with that motivation feel value. Then, we can create an email campaign that drives new customers to engage with those features.

      6 Share
  • MM

    Mary Mallard

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Claire! Excited for your AMA. :) Two questions:

    1. I had a discussion about this with our intern the other day, and I'm really struggling with: is "Growth" just a new word for "Marketing", esp in SaaS and startups?

    2. What's the best way to get leadership buy-in for marketing projects, and how can you be able to confidently defend why you think one of their ideas doesn't quite fit with your strategy?

  • SM

    Shanelle Mullin

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Claire! Thanks for doing this. I have two questions:

    1. Can you explain how you apply the Jobs to Be Done framework to marketing?

    2. Have you been able to achieve a more balanced life since leaving the entertainment industry? If so, what steps did you take and do you ever feel guilt for not working as intensely as you used to? If not, are you trying to achieve that balance? Why or why not?

    I guess that last one was actually a few questions. It's like math homework!

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi, Shanelle! Thanks for being here.

      Re: JTBD & marketing — I could probably write a whole book about this (maybe I should?) but the gist is:

      The JTBD framework is based on the assumption that people buy & use products to make *themselves* or *their lives* better in particular ways — not because they care about the product itself.

      Example: someone buying a grill for their back deck isn’t buying the grill solely to own a large hunk of metal. They’re not buying it for the activities of repeatedly purchasing propane and cooking food.

      More likely, they’re buying the grill with a vision like…

      * “I want to enjoy the love and companionship that comes with hosting barbecues for my friends / neighborhood / etc.”
      * “I want to impress my family with my steak-grilling skills and feel like a master chef”

      The correlations to marketing might be obvious here. Once you uncover your target audience’s *real* motivation for buying your product, you can speak more directly to that motivation EVERYWHERE across your customer journey. You can use that copy and imagery in your efforts to drive awareness. You can create experiences and materials that help them realize that “better life” when they’re trialing or have purchased your product. Etc etc.

      Re: achieving a more balanced life: sort of yes, sort of no :)

      On the sort of yes side — I no longer feel pressure from my organization to fill my calendar with events at all hours of the day, night, and weekends. And I make more money, which enables me to enjoy life in myriad ways (indulgences, traveling to spend more time with family, etc etc).

      On the sort of no side — whether it’s a result of how I’ve been socialized or whether it’s an innate character trait…I’m really ambitious and I naturally tend to work hard.

      I don’t promote the idea of hustling just for the sake of hustling (self-care is important, and the end goal of work should be….to set up your life for enjoyment / fulfillment, not just the work itself).

      However, I subscribe to the idea that life is a bell curve: “you spent childhood not working, you will likely spend old age not working; there will be some decline of work if you have children, or have to care for aging parents, or when you simply suffer the slings and arrows of your own aging process.”

      With that said, I see myself as being at the top of that “bell curve” right now. In other words, I’d like to spend my later years in a state of gratitude, contentment and security — and I’m trying to earn those things right now :)

      **More on the idea of life as a bell curve here: http://www.getbullish.com/2010/12/bullish-maybe-work-life-balance-means-you-should-work-more/

      5 Share
  • CS

    Claire Suellentrop

    about 2 years ago #

    End-of-AMA update: wow! Thanks so much, everyone, for being here and asking great questions. I'm going to take a break, and will try my best to get around to the remaining questions later today.

    If you've asked a question and I'm able to follow up with a reply in a few hours, I'll @ you on Twitter (for *most* folks whose questions remain, looks like we follow each other there).

    Once again — thanks everyone for being here, and to the GH team for hosting this! You are rad!

  • PC

    Pedro Clivati

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi, Claire - thank you for this.

    By now I'm pretty confident in your ability to manage multiple things at the same time. If co-founding one company is hard enough, I can't see this happening with two. How do you do it? Any suggestion for someone who might be working on multiple projects at once?

    Now, on the marketing side, I'd love to hear what you think about the intersection of Marketing and Growth. Do they all come down to a single area or should they be separated? Do you think of growth as an ongoing effort with a dedicated team or overall experiments being run by everyone?

    Thanks again, Claire.

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi, Pedro!

      Thanks for the kind words — I’m still FAR from perfect at managing multiple things at the same time (I just happen to have wonderful co-founders).

      However, some tactical suggestions for making it work:

      * Theme your week. My Mon / Wed are dedicated to Forget The Funnel, while Tues / Thurs are reserved for Userlist.io. Friday morning is my “strategic thinking” time across all projects. Friday afternoon is catch-all time: I do random admin stuff, review my finances, take meetings that don’t make sense between Mon-Thurs, etc. This system isn’t *perfect,* but I’ve found it way more effective than trying to work on multiple projects every single day.

      * Consider working on the weekend — IF it makes sense for you and your style. I don’t want to sing the praises of this one too highly, because the I’m not a fan of the concept that one must “hustle” their whole life away to be successful. However, I tend to have “aha” moments outside traditional work hours all the time…sometimes on a Saturday morning, for example. And I like capitalizing on that momentum :)

      * If you’re working with co-founders, be VERY HONEST about your expectations of each other. Discuss the outcome you want from the project. Discuss the time commitment you can each realistically make. Explore all the avenues of what might go wrong, and make a plan for each one. Better to go into your agreement with backup plans than to assume everything will be fine…and ultimately for the relationship to sour when one co-founder’s priorities change.

      Re: marketing and growth, see my answer to Kamil's question :)

      3 Share
  • AB

    Adrienne Barnes

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Claire,
    Thanks so much for hosting an AMA! I'm customer research obsessed and love to dig deep for my client's content strategy, but I find there's resistance for SaaS companies to invest because it's difficult to link to ROI. How do you demonstrate reliable data that reveals an ROI to customer research?

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi, Adrienne! Thanks so much for being here.

      See my answer to Ashley's Q. Just don't want you to think you're being ignored.

      Speaking of Ashley's Q...Ashley also did a GREAT Forget The Funnel workshop a few weeks ago about proving the ROI of customer research. I've recommended it to a few folks trying to make the case for research within their companies. Her slides might be helpful to you:


  • AO

    Aaron Orendorff

    about 2 years ago #

    How do you deal with roadblocks in your work (aka, how do you overcome the all too common delays cause by cross-team dependancies: data, dev, design, etc.)?

  • AW

    Alaura Weaver

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Claire! So happy to see you here. My duo of questions:

    1. What's the best approach you've seen in getting product and marketing teams to work together toward a common goal?

    2. How can people in marketing roles at early-stage startups (like, say, #2 employees) ensure the integrity of their vision as the company gets bigger?

    • CS

      Claire Suellentrop

      about 2 years ago #

      Hi, Alaura! So glad you’re here. Starting with your Q first because it lays the foundation for my answers to some other Qs. I’ll try to come back to your second Q later.

      I’ve seen multiple approaches to product / marketing team alignment, and I’d recommend a 2-phase process:

      Phase 1: identify your “north star metric.” One might think I’m legally required to say this, since we’re having this conversation on GrowthHackers — but I truly believe in it, too. Departments should work together to identify (and actually agree on) the *single metric* that best captures the core value your product delivers to customers. 

      Once your company has identified and universally agreed upon that north star metric, the goal of every department should be to drive more customers to hit that metric — and/or or to ensure existing customers are hitting that metric repeatedly and regularly.

      Of course, each department will probably have sub-goals or sub-metrics they need to be watching, which roll up to your north star metric. For example: if I’m the head of marketing at a SaaS company that offers a free trial of the product, I can only drive trial users to hit our north star metric within the product IF I’m actually driving website visitors / marketing leads to actually sign up for trials. And I can only drive those visitors / leads to sign up for trials IF I’m actually driving qualified traffic to the website. So even though the north star metric may exist within our product’s trial period…I also need to be eyeing organic and paid traffic, visitor conversions to marketing opt-ins, visitor conversions to trial signups, marketing opt-ins to trial signups, *and* trial signups to north star metric.

      And if I’m good at my job, I’ll be monitoring the long-term progression of visitors —> leads —> trials —> customers over time, to make sure I’m not driving crap traffic, unqualified leads, etc into our product, which ultimately results in churn (not to mention unhappy post-sale colleagues).

      With that said — to identify the sub-goals / sub-metrics that *actually* indicate lead/user/customer progress toward your north star metric, it’s extremely helpful to…

      Phase 2: create a customer journey map, and use that CJM as the “rock” that the entire company stands on together.**

      To those not familiar with the concept, customer journey mapping can sound like a touchy-feely-arts-and-crafts waste of time. But the process is incredibly helpful in creating cross-departmental alignment around that goal everyone should be aiming for (driving customers toward your north star metric).

      Simply put, a CJM is a diagram of all the interactions a customer or potential customer makes with you — not just your product, but your overall brand. It’s typically broken into stages, e.g. “Unaware,” “Aware,” “Investigate,” “Try,” “Adopt,” and “Grow.”

      The value of customer journey mapping isn’t in creating the CJM itself — it’s in…

      * Giving EVERY department a “growth”-oriented metric to drive toward.

      * Identifying the experience an ideal customer needs to have at each stage, in order to successfully move to the next. What are they thinking, feeling, and doing? As a company, what action do you *need* them to take to progress to the next step? (ding ding ding, that’s the sub-metric you should be tracking that brings them closer to your north star metric!)

      * Figuring out where you’re *not* doing well, and prioritizing growth projects accordingly. Maybe you’re doing a killer job at driving traffic (guiding people from Unaware > Aware)…but your Aware > Investigate strategy is leaky. Or you get tons of trial signups (Investigate > Try)…but your trial > customer conversions are low. Having this holistic context helps you ensure you’re prioritizing the *highest-ROI* opportunities, rather than putting on blinders and focusing on the same sub-metric over and over, just because that’s the sub-metric your team usually focuses on.

      BONUS: if you have the ability to create this kind of organizational change, I also love the concept of building a company in “themes,” not “teams.” FullStory wrote about this a few years ago; in their words, “instead of having design be a team / engineering be a team / customer success be a team, a *theme* is a handful of designers, engineers and customer success people (and marketers, salespeople, executives, and more) all working together on a related set of projects — like onboarding features, or security improvements.”

      More on that “theme” model here: https://blog.fullstory.com/companies-work-better-in-themes-not-teams/

      **Shoutout to my girl Asia Matos for the rock analogy. I heard her say it a few months ago and immediately thought “Oh man I can’t wait to steal that.”

      4 Share
      • AW

        Alaura Weaver

        about 2 years ago #

        LOVE this answer...and I'm fascinated by the "theme" model...it kind of extends the notion that us freelancers/consultants need to focus on niches based on deliverable outcomes rather than particular capabilities.

      • SD

        Steve Dhungel

        about 2 years ago #

        So much GOLD! bookmarking this right now!! Thanks Claire.

  • BI

    Benjelloun Ibrahim

    about 2 years ago #

    Hi Claire,
    Whats effective tips to drive conversion?

    Thanks in advance

  • AB

    Alli Blum

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Claire! Thanks for doing this! A few questions for you around customer research.

    1. How do you plan customer research studies? What types of data do you aim to collect? What are your favorite methods for collecting it?

    2. How do you present your findings to clients and colleagues? Curious to know both the format (spreadsheet? slide deck? something else?) and the framework (do you make recommendations based on findings? do you let people draw their own conclusions?).

    Thanks again, Claire!

  • BI

    Benjelloun Ibrahim

    about 2 years ago #

    Second question ,how to make a saas company stand out from their competitors?

    Thanks again

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 2 years ago #

    Hey Claire!
    Very cool to have you on.

    Can you recall any experiments from your time at Calendly that were really big wins and what you learned as a result?