Being the first CMO, at Slack with Bill Macaitis

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Word-of-mouth is definitely our biggest acquisition channel. As we pushed into a number of parallel marketing efforts, everything from around content marketing to nurturing to advertising and all the different channels we do there that has helped accelerate that core word-of-mouth. But I’ve always believed you have to have word-of-mouth.

Bill Macaitis is the CMO of Slack and first marketing hire at Slack, joining in December 2014.  Bill has over 20 years experience in online marketing and has built marketing teams at some super successful companies, such as Zendesk, Salesforce and Fox Interactive Media.

Bill spoke with me on The SaaS Revolution Show podcast, where we talked about being the first marketing hire at Slack and his experiences in his first year at one of, if not the hottest SaaS company on the planet.

You can listen to the full interview below, alternatively, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and never miss an episode.

Being the first CMO at Slack with Bill Macaitis by The SaaS Revolution Show

Bill Macaitis joined Slack as it’s first Marketing hire in December 2014 when Slack had already been crushing it and had earned the mantle of the fastest growing SaaS Company ever and the hottest SaaS Company on the planet.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of the podcast full of great learnings and advice for Marketers and SaaS founders:

You are the first CMO at the fastest growing SaaS company at the time. Slack have been mega-successful without a CMO, without much of a marketing department at all before you joined. So what is the first thing that you did that you implemented when you started?

For me, it was an incredible opportunity to join Slack. Sometimes you got to ask that question, the company is doing pretty well. What do you need marketing for?

And the way I’ve always looked at it is that marketing is really the fuel to the fire. Once you’ve got great product/market fit, marketing and all the different tools that we have, everything from advertising to nurturing to conversion rate marketing to split testing to positioning messaging, those are all the tools that can help just accelerate that growth further.

I think one of the first things I did and what I usually do as I was Marketing Employee #1, I’m like let’s build out the analytics infrastructure to help us understand where we stand and what are some of the key metrics. One of the first things we did was we did an aided and unaided brand-recall study just to understand how many people actually know about Slack and what is their sentiment towards it. It was really interesting because the first one we did, and this is going back a year ago, we had about a 1.2% unaided awareness. It really just spoke to the opportunity and it was pretty amazing because as fast as Slack was growing there still was 99% of our target audience out there just did not know about us.

I think sometimes when you’re in Silicon Valley you do get caught in a little bubble where everyone knows the biggest startups and how fast they are and how they’re growing, but we saw Slack just had this massive opportunity to expand and to really reach new audiences. And it really was any knowledge worker out there who works in teams.

That was really the basis for really understanding what are some of our core metrics where. From there, we expanded into things like measuring Net Promoter Score and CSat and some of the other core metrics that I think are really important to know as an organisation.

How important have your B2C skills been with Slack, the poster boy for consumerisation of enterprise software? 

I think it’s a really good balance to have both B2C and B2B background and skill sets. I think one of the reasons Slack has been very successful is that when you kind of went back and looked at Stewart, our CEO’s background, and a lot of the founders, they really didn’t have any “enterprise” experience. I’d often said ‘bless your heart’ because you had no enterprise design experience. Did anybody actually use enterprise software in the past? It was like ‘how crappy they are’ and ‘what a pain in the ass they are’.

They really brought a fresh perspective to kind of an Angel issue, which is just how do teams communicate with each other. There’s a lot of good stats out there. 47% of our days we spend dredging through our email, communicating with team members, searching for information and that was just this really massive pain point that Slack addressed but really from a fresh mind and a more B2C approach.

From the marketing side, I think the same thing. Slack is really interesting because for most B2B companies you have a very specific vertical or functional team that you’re going after. One thing that was different about Slack was we saw that we were getting use cases from all different types of departments that we had. The marketing department, the sales department, the finance department, the dev departments as well as small businesses, mid-market enterprise. It almost was a little bit of more of a consumer play where we could start to use a little bit more different consumer-type tactics to reach that audience because that audience was so broad-based and applicable.

I think definitely having that consumer background with a kind of a customer-centric approach has helped Slack grow and has helped me in particular.

Are you amazed at the number of different use cases for Slack?

Yeah. We’ve been really just kind of overwhelmed in a really great way with just how many different use cases and how people are using Slack. At its core, we just want to be great and help people off for team communications.

For those in the audience that haven’t heard of Slack or what we do is we basically bring together all of your team’s communications in one place. We dramatically reduce email or completely eliminate it for your internal side. And it’s just really a simple and easy tool to use.

I think just having that core value proposition when you think about just how much of your daily life you spend in emails and meetings. I know before Slack I felt like I wasted 2 years of my life in the dreaded status update meeting. It just really kind of addressed that core pain point.

So we see the primarily used case is for people within companies. It’s to manage all their internal team’s communications. But we increasingly see a lot of great communities using it. It’s just kind of exciting to see Slack grow and all the different use cases.

There’s a huge trend for Content Marketing right now and it’s perhaps many SaaS startups’ first key inbound marketing strategy. Has it also been an early key marketing strategy for Slack?

Yeah, definitely. I’m a huge believer in content marketing. I think content marketing done the right way… And I think you get this, Alex. I know a lot of your listeners do as well. But we’ve all seen bad content marketing. It’s basically brochureware content marketing where you’re only talking about your company and why you’re awesome and you’re not really providing anything of value to your customers, your prospects. So I’ve always really believed in breaking down that content marketing funnel.

I think top-of-funnel, mid-funnel, bottom funnel content, what that is, how it’s helpful to the audience, what pain points you’re talking about. And one of the things we did differently is we really wanted to go after top-of-funnel content but, in the same way, be a little bit channel-agnostic about it and not naturally just do blog or PDF-type content for it.

One of the things we launched was the Slack Variety Pack Podcast. It was really about work and life and the history of a lot of interesting things like how the modern weekend even came about, how people started thinking about cubes and office designs. It had our brand and our tone behind it. We talked about inspirational topics. We talked about topics about work, about life in a very human voice. If you listened to it, Slack Variety Pack, is not a hard sell on Slack. We really don’t push it hard.

We tangentially will introduce it but for the most part, the company we work with, Pacific Content, who’s been phenomenal, we give them a lot of time to think about what are the topics we go into. It’s a great way to just reach new prospects, introduce them to our brand, but also be there for our existing customers and basically have them walk away with the emotions they feel about the podcast transfer onto our brand. So that’s been something that’s been really successful for us just from the amount of pure listens we’ve got relative to the amount of investment that we put into it.

What marketing metrics have you obsessed about in your first year?

I think holistically the first thing I’ll say is that Slack’s a little bit different. One of the things I’ve really appreciated is that of the philosophical viewpoints of how individual or team-specific metrics you have versus more company-wide shared metrics we have, we lean a little bit more towards the latter. We have a lot of shared company metrics which all the teams collectively work towards. That’s been nice and refreshing because I think a lot of times what happens is the teams or the functional teams get so silo’d with their metrics and oftentimes their competing metrics that we have everyone here to march us towards the same drumbeat.

One of the top-level metrics we look at here in Slack is we look at Daily Active Users. That’s a real big one for us from a standpoint of if you’re not using Slack or using it every day, you’re really not using it. And it’s a high bar and high threshold to get to. We recently announced we hit the 1.7 million Daily Active User count and that was a really cool milestone for us to think that we have that many people using us every single day.

Another big one we look at from a company-wide perspective is, as you mentioned, Net Promoter Score. Yes, I’m pretty passionate about that one because I think that that’s a very good proxy of word-of-mouth growth. It’s also I think a very long-term indicator of the health of the company. We can certainly help accelerate the company in marketing and we can have that fuel to the fire but you really want to have a really healthy NPS score which is indicative of just how much people love you and are they recommending you.

We track that specifically in marketing because I think marketing just has the toolset to track that and to break it down by vertical, by segment, by user type. But we view that as an overall company metric.

Then we get more into marketing. The things that we’ll look at is how we sell the brand metric. So aided/unaided recall, sentiment share, voice share of conversation. We look at things organic versus paid, leads, teams that are coming in through the various funnels. We’re looking at things like cost-per-team, CAC pay back, a lot of the traditional SaaS metrics there.

But I would say holistically, Slack has always put more weight on customer success-type metrics. Essentially, our bar has never been simply did they buy from us and we’re happy. It’s not if they bought. It’s not even if they renewed. It’s would they recommend us. And if they recommend us they’re going to have a better experience, they’re going to talk to our peers, and we’re always going to have a very strong, healthy, organic order-based growth curve.

Is NPS something that all SaaS startups should be implementing and using?

Yeah, I think it’s a really good metric for any company to have because, one, it’s so easy to get. I mean, it’s a one-question. How likely are you to recommend Slack to your friends and colleagues on a scale of 1 to 10? You can make in an optional second question which I recommend as you put the “why” on there. And it just gives you so much good data. You can benchmark it against your competitors, against the SaaS industry. You can understand ‘are you starting to get product/market fit?’. You can understand ‘what are the Top 3 reasons I am getting recommended?’, or conversely ‘what are the Top 3 reasons I’m not getting recommended?’.

I know for us here at Slack that really helped shape our positioning. For a long time, we debated and went through a lot of cycles of how do we describe Slack because I think you’ve used it, Alex, and some of your listeners have. It’s a pretty powerful product and it was tough to distil down into one-sentence on how to describe it.

I remember when I first joined, I asked, there were about 50 people in the company when I joined. I asked everybody, “Hey, when someone asks you what Slack is, how do you describe it?” I literally got 50 different answers. Which is again why marketing is good. You get a little consistency in talking about how you describe it.

But one of the things I eventually ended up doing was I really looked at the NPS data and I was like, why are people recommending us? That’s when we started to get around this theme of all your communications in one place. That was like we consistently saw that’s why people were recommending us. Then we consistently saw that people were saying big reductions in email and improvements in productivity so we worked that into it. And we consistently saw it was a really simple and easy tool to use.

Now when people when ask us, I say, hey, it’s a messaging app for teams. It brings together all your team’s communications in one place and eliminates or reduces email, and it’s just a simple and fun tool to use. A lot of that just came off of the NPS survey and us understanding why people like Slack and conversely what were the areas we can improve and routing that to the product team in making sure it’s a good holistic feedback loop.

I definitely recommend it. I think is such a simple thing to do and the data is so powerful.

What roles did you first hire for and why?

The teams I tried to build out are really centres of excellence around our analytics and attribution. As that was growing, all the entire marketing tech stack that’s everything from attribution, testing, lead scoring, all the classic marketing tech stack that you build out.

Building up the product marketing team and that’s everything from positioning, sales enablement, all the pricing structure, a lot of the upgrades.

Building up nurturing teams. I think that’s really important and channel agnostically how you nurture your prospects and your customers.

Building up the content and the editorial team and again looking at that from top, mid, and bottom type photo content.

Then advertising teams, field marketing teams. I really tried to look at it holistically by bringing the leaders that could then hire those teams there. But just really centres of excellence around all the different disciplines of up-marketing and how we could scale and bring that into a very hyper growth organisation which was growing as fast as it was.

Do you have a growth hacking team? 

We have. We have a cross-functional team that works together to think about how do we improve the funnel for us. That’s everything from when they arrive at the homepage and we’d run probably about 20 different A/B tests on the homepage and we’re constantly refining our messaging and our conversion funnel there. We spend a lot of time on thinking about going through that sign-up process to become a team, what does that look like, how easy is it to invite other members of the team and going through that process. Then we spend a lot of time onboarding our customers and making sure they are successful and everything from Slackbot to the videos to the onboarding assistance that we provide. So we have a cross-functional team that looks at that.

Growth or growth hacking is always a little hard one. I think it’s really important to think about how you’re bringing in your prospects and customers and making them successful. I like that part of the growth tag-team if you will. The areas that i’m not as hot on as like really bad growth hacks where you have someone and you inadvertently get them to give permission to their calendar or their address book and they email 500 people out to get them to join. I’ve never really liked that part of growth hacking.

But I do think there’s an art and a skill to just bring people in, making sure they have a good experience. At the end of the day, I’ve always believed the brand is the sum of every single experience that they have with you. And really mapping out what that looks like holistically from your support team, your trial, your marketing, your sales, your product and just mapping out that funnel making sure they have a really good, positive, successful experience with you.

I crowdsourced a question from the Slack group of Content Marketers that I’m in. So the question, from Jakob Marovt who’s the CMO of Pipetop. He presumed word-of-mouth is Slack’s biggest acquisition channel. How do you guys measure it, optimise for it, and encourage it?

Word-of-mouth is definitely our biggest acquisition channel. As we pushed into a number of parallel marketing efforts, everything from around content marketing to nurturing to advertising and all the different channels we do there that has helped accelerate that core word-of-mouth. But I’ve always believed you have to have word-of-mouth.

It kind of gets back to what I talked about what a brand is, the sum of every single experience. I think what we do there is we don’t just track word-of-mouth. And NPS, as we had talked about, that is the proxy, at least for me, of what your word-of-mouth growth is. We really do a lot of initiatives to try to harness and make sure that there’s a healthy, ongoing word-of-mouth growth.

For instance our accounts function, which is kind of like the quasi sales thing that we have, we really developed a lot of policies to try to ensure that people had a good experience with us when they went through that buying process.

We a lot of non-standard things. We don’t have a commissioned sales team. They stay with you for the entire life cycle of your account. We have a Fair Billing Policy where if you sign up for 10,000 seats but you only end up using 1,000 we’ll give you refunds or credits back for that that 9,000 that you didn’t use. We launched an EULA Program where you can sign up for 10,000 seats and in the first year you can grown unlimited. Again, very good experiences that we have.

And I just try to put myself in our buyer’s shoes. I knew I bought a lot of software building and marketing tech stacks before and I know how frustrating it’s been to get oversold, to have a bunch of people working on your account when you buy it and then when the deal is signed they all run away, to have to pay for things like support for using your product.

So we’d really tried to reinvent what a go-to market model looks like. On the support side it’s not uncommon to get 5 or 10-minute responses. We have about 4 times as many support people than we do accounts or salespeople. Everything we did was just really centred around a great experience for our prospects and customers so that they would recommend us. The bar was will they recommend us and that ensures a healthy ongoing word-of-mouth growth.

It’s very much top-of-mind for us and it’s something that we spend a lot of cycles on. That’s always the litmus test, ‘Is this better for the customer and will it help them recommend us more?’

Building conferences and communities in the offline world are fairly commonplace with B2B SaaS companies marketing strategies. Obviously you’ve got Salesforce with Dreamforce and Gainsight, their Pulse Conference, and Box with BoxWorks and many others. Will there be a Slack conference? If so, who attends that? I imagine that would be a great customer experience. What’s the plans there?

We’re building up and building out that marketing events team or field marketing team. We’ve started to do a couple of events. We’ve had a couple of ones at our office here we brought in some of our customers and had a chance for them to talk to product managers, hear a little bit more about the roadmap.

And we’re excited for 2016 to put a little more calories behind that. We’ll probably have more of a rotating city tour where we’ll be able to go out and really just talk to customers, understand how they’re using Slack, let them talk to other fellow customers.

I remember when I went into Salesforce. I was clued in into a very simple strategy they had which was, “Run an event. Have happy customers, happy prospects. Talk about the product but then basically have an open bar and let the existing happy customers talk to the new prospects and just let them do the selling.” I always thought that was a pretty simple strategy and it works.

If you are building a product in a service that is generally going to have people really love it and have a great experience then ultimately your customers are your best salespeople. Having a way for them to interact with existing customers and talk to prospects, that’s so powerful. So I think that’s probably the strategy we’ll be taking as having these conferences where new people can learn about Slack, talk to existing customers, but also have it just be very centric on helping existing customers succeed. And not a really salesy-type conference but ones where again people can have a good experience with Slack, learn something new, and talk to fellow customers.

 

What have you learned about marketing in this first year at Slack that you didn’t already know from your time at Salesforce and Zendesk? What’s really different I guess sort of between the three companies and positions you’ve held with them?

I think they are all three phenomenal companies and I think I learned an incredible amount in each one. At Salesforce I think I learned from Mark just how important it was to have a really passionate leader at the top that was really having everyone march towards a single goal. That was always customer success at Salesforce, and how important that is to really put yourselves in your customer’s shoes.

I think at Zendesk it was a little bit of a different market. It was more just purely focused on the customer support side. That was an incredible experience and Mikkel is just a phenomenal CEO. Just the empathy he had for all of our customers and what they were going through in different go-to market models where I think Salesforce still kind of had a classical, traditional, sales-heavy go-to market model. I think Zendesk was a little bit more on the self-service model from an SMB standpoint and their reaching out.

Then I think coming to Slack in just again kind of reinventing what a go-to market model looks like because here we have a very, almost consumer-type play from the standpoint that we had. Almost every single vertical could use us, every single function in an organisation could use us, all company segments and sizes could use us. That’s something it’s always been passionate from my standpoint.

I think in SaaS it was always a little bit disappointing that you would see tremendous innovation from a product standpoint but yet a lot of B2B companies and even within SaaS would use very old, dusty, 30-year-old B2B playbooks on how to go to market for that. I think that us as leaders on the go to market side whether you’re in marketing, sales, support, there are new and innovative ways on how to sell and market, make your customers successful. And everything from the metrics to how you organise, the incentives you use. Those are all really important and I think there’s a tremendous amount of innovation that’s happening there. I’m really excited to help bring some of that to Slack and to really make our customers incredibly successful.

What has been the secret to your success?

I always say it’s my teams. I am here for the sole reason to inspire them to do the best work of their lives and to make them successful.

I’ve been really blessed to have incredible teammates that I’ve worked with, incredible people on my team. I think my philosophy has always been don’t be territorial. Don’t be an empire builder. Just try to provide value, help out, learn new things, try different things out. Also be someone that you’d want to work with.

I don’t know. I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing companies and some amazing teams and the success I’ve had is really a by-product of that.

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