Jennifer Kyriakakis
December 27, 2019

How Matrixx Grew From a B2B Startup to a Challenger Brand

Guest: Jennifer Kyriakakis - Founder & VP of Marketing, Matrixx Software

When Matrixx started out in 2008, they were a David among Goliaths. People thought they were crazy to even try cracking a pretty crowded SaaS market for communications and digital services provider. Skip ahead a few years and they’re boasting 70% growth (for 3+ years!), 15% responsibility for the lead pipeline—which in a niche market like Matrixx’s is quite a feat—and, perhaps most impressive of all, a 100% renewal rate for the multi-year subscription model. You don’t see 100% all that often (Citizen Kane’s 100% on Rotten Tomatoes is certainly good company to share), and with good reason: it takes some simply stunning work from the company to achieve.

In this episode, Jennifer Kyriakakis, Founder & VP of Marketing, talks about their journey from startup to top-5 brand in their industry. She shares how they’ve celebrated customer loyalty (hint: don’t make your case studies about your product), how to boldly approach new business acquisition, how they manage to show each prospect a live demonstration of how the Matrixx software can support their specific needs, and more. Matrixx has maintained a David mentality, even as they’ve grown to the Goliath level, listen in to this episode of RTU to learn how.

Full Transcription: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jennifer Kyriakakis

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and I was reading a book review the other day of a new biography on Thomas Edison in The New York Times. They talked about how this biographer, for whatever reason—and literally he finished the last sentence of the book, he turns that book in and then he dies, so it’s kind of a story in itself—but he writes the book backward a la Benjamin Button. He writes it from the very end of Edison’s life all the way back to the beginning. And of course, the reviewer wondered why. But that kind of sparked an idea in my mind that I wanted in this show to start at the end, because the end here is amazing, the results that my guest, Jennifer Kyriakakis. [Laughter] I already promised that I wouldn’t butcher the name. Jennifer, please pronounce your last name.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Kyriakakis.

Drew Neisser: Kyriakakis! I knew it. I said it right. All right. Awesome. Anyway, Jennifer is the founder and VP of Marketing for Matrixx Software. She’s winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year award for her work at Matrixx. But I want to start— Jennifer, let’s talk about some of the results that you’ve been able to achieve at Matrixx. Give us the top five accomplishments in terms of the role marketing plays in driving your business.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Sure. Absolutely. Thanks for having me on today.

Drew Neisser: Oh yeah, welcome to the show.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: We do business in an area that has been dominated by a small group of very large theaters for a very long time. Coming in as a startup where everybody thought we were crazy—I’ll skip to the beginning and then skip to the end. Everyone thought we were crazy in the beginning. We actually, you know, are considered today one of the top five vendors in our space. We’ve managed to achieve over 70% growth for the past three years in a row. Marketing itself has contributed up to 15% of pipeline over the past year.

Those are some of the headlines. I’m also just really proud of our customer referenceability and our renewal rates. We are licensed through a SaaS model of a multiyear subscription model, and we’ve had 100% renewal rates on that. So, you know, across the board, very excited about the growth, about elevating the brand, and then also the customer success and customer loyalty.

Drew Neisser: And just for perspective, how many employees are there? Given that 70% growth, how many employees have you added through the course of this last three years?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Oh, gosh, a lot. I mean, I think we went from 60 to 250.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. That’s got to be an interesting part of this as well. Okay. So, massive employee growth, massive customer growth, a reputation in an industry where you were an outlier or just considered crazy for even trying to get there. Beyond challenger brand, this is like, “Hey, over here. Hey pick us!”

Okay, so let’s break a couple of those things down. 15% of pipeline. Let’s talk about that. Does that number feel good? And how did we get to 15% of pipeline? Is that a good number?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yeah. That number feels good for us. We do long, complex sales cycles—big deals—and we do them in a very specific industry, so we are focused on one vertical. When you think about companies that are selling across verticals, that are selling to any type of enterprise, that number could be a bit bigger. But for us, where we have a very defined set, very defined target market, a very defined set of customers, and we know who we’re going after, 10-15% is really—15% is like the top of what you can expect for pipeline contribution.

Drew Neisser: It’s great to have a benchmark like that. First of all, how long is your sales cycle?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: 12-18 months.

Drew Neisser: It’s crazy, right?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Right. And it’s been longer than that. In the beginning, for us, it was two years because a lot of times we had to sit out the first RFP process because we wouldn’t qualify because we were a small vendor. And so we had to come in behind the initial process and start a new process. We’ve had much longer in the beginning, but these days it’s 12-18 months.

Drew Neisser: 12-18 months sales cycle. And have you been able to figure out in that thing what role marketing plays along the way to help not just get the lead in the pipeline, but nurture it along?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Absolutely. Absolutely. As you can imagine, there are touchpoints across every organization. Every organization has an influence on the buying decision no matter who it rolls up to. It rolls up to different people depending on the organization who makes that decision. A lot of times it’s a c-level or a board-level decision. What we found from the marketing perspective is that there is a tradition of B2B companies being really good at engaging IT—and in our specific industry, engaging networks.

Where they didn’t really focus is engaging the commercial people, the commercial organizations, and the product owners and the business people. And so as a marketing team, we’re really focused on how do we nurture that side, especially because those specific organizations have gained a lot of power and influence within the buying decisions in the past five years because of digital transformation. We designed a bunch of programs to specifically engage and nurture those people.

Drew Neisser: So we have the c-suite and the people who are approving. Are these the people that are actually using the software?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: These aren’t the people that necessarily use the software. They’re the ones, though, who are trying to grow revenue, who are trying to move that needle and are responsible for whether a product is successful or unsuccessful and are responsible for concepting new products. They feel the result of what our software does. If they have a fabulous idea on how to target a new product to a new set of customers and IT can’t rule it out, that’s a huge issue for them or it’s going to take too much time and too much money to roll it out. That’s a huge issue and we help take that issue off the table so that they can get their products and services from concept to launch in a month.

Drew Neisser: I wanted to ask about the basics of it. First of all, how big a deal are these? I mean, are these million-dollar deals?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: And bigger.

Drew Neisser: Million-dollar deals and bigger. So, it makes sense that it would take that long. And typically, with a million-dollar deal, there are a lot of people who have to sign off on it. Okay. You know, when you look at most software and SaaS models, it comes down to you’re going to save them time, you’re going to save them money, or you’re gonna help them reap financial benefit down the road.

Now, all those things sound good, but the reality is, most of the time you’re replacing one behavior with a new behavior. You’re having to get them to change. And as the folks at Gartner say, you have to convince them that the gain of change is bigger than the pain of change. Let’s talk about that in terms of the relevance of that comment to your particular situation.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: It’s very relevant because we always say we’re not in the software business, we’re in the change business. You have to want to change the way you’re doing business in order to reap the benefits of swapping out systems. If you bring in a system and it basically just replaces what the previous system did, what’s the point of doing it? And so that’s a lot of what the marketing team focused on. We designed a bunch of workshops for commercial people to walk them through—”Hey, here are the types of products and services that you could be launching. Here’s how it would change your operational process, but, you have to embrace and accept that change. And here’s the results.”

And I think that was the key to it, right? “Here are the KPIs you should be looking at measuring in the short term versus the long term, how not only are these new products and services potentially going to drive more margin and revenue for you, but also how that operational change—the type of KPI is you can look at around affecting that operational and organizational change in terms of how it impacts your end customer satisfaction—how innovative you get to be.” Right. It’s like the pace of innovation. Right now, if you as an individual product owner can only roll out one to two products a year, now you can roll out 30 and now it doesn’t matter if 25 of them fail because of those changes that you’ve been willing to make. It’s much less expensive for you to concept and roll out products and therefore that pace of innovation opens up. And how do you measure around that?

Drew Neisser: Wow. I’ve got so many questions and my mind is spinning and I want to make sure that the folks that are listening are following along here. I’m going to break some of these things down and then we’ll take a break and we’ll come back.

So, what we have here is a situation where you’re going in the door and saying to these companies, “You could do business better. You could get products to market faster.” And I imagine that there’s a lot of skepticism—”I haven’t heard of you. I don’t know who Matrixx is”—I mean, it’s got to be the case for most of the folks until you are aware—”I don’t know who you are. Why should I believe you?” Credibility has got to be a big issue.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yeah, it’s a big issue. And there’s nothing else like being able to see, feel, and touch. And that’s why there are two solutions to that problem and you have to address both of them. The first one is the see and touch part. We would always bring in as a starting point to a new prospect, the end consumer experience as what their customers would experience. We bring it live into their hands so they can actually use it, see it. We allow them to say, “Hey, can you try doing this product and rolling it out,” and we’ll do it in front of them. We’ve had people literally sit there and go, “Oo, that’s magic. They’re actually doing it in front of me. You’re not showing me slides. You’re not showing me a video. You’re doing it in front of me.”

So, there’s that see-and-touch piece of it. On the back end of it, you do have to pick the right first customers. As a startup, we had to think about who we engaged with for the first time. And you don’t have that luxury because you’re just trying to find those first customers, but we did actually walk away from some early deals and stuck with customers who were going to be innovative, who were going to go on the journey with us, and then who are going to support us. Because once you have those few first customers that you can also point to and say, “And it’s been running there for 18 months, two years, three years” as you build up, and they’re willing to reference and talk to potential prospects. Then, once you have both those sites covered, then you can start building that credibility.

Drew Neisser: That’s a perfect place for us to take a break because I want you, during the break, to ponder this—when was the last time you turned away a customer? The truth is, you don’t have a strategy until you say “no” to something. So with that, we’ll be right back.

BREAK

Drew Neisser: All right, we’re back and we’ve been talking about saying “no” to customers or prospects, potential customers. I think I listened to an interview you did with someone else and you were talking about getting customer references and why that was so important. So if we start with the notion that you have to pick the right first customers—which it sounds like you did—how do you then build off of that and continue to have the momentum? Because what’s interesting is, when you’re a startup, you either say, “All right, we’re going to be really picky. And then we have some time.” And then suddenly, you get a customer or two or three. Now you have a factory floor to fuel and it’s even harder to turn it down to customers, because we’ve got a pipeline, it’s about sell, sell, sell.

How do you make sure you continue to get the right customers? I always was interested in a metric that doesn’t really exist, but it’s sort of cost per satisfied customer, cost per happy customer. Everybody looks at is just simply, you know, as cost per acquisition and to me—yeah, you can acquire a customer, but if it’s a bad customer—

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Or they churn out. Yeah, or if it’s an expensive customer.

Drew Neisser: Right. It’s really expensive, and they’re expensive because they’re not happy. And that costs you so much time and energy. So how do you, in the marketing process, make sure that you set yourself up for success for acquiring happier customers?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yeah. I mean, marketing and sales have to work together on this because it’s it’s jointly developing the qualification criteria. We work together on that where we set forth some qualification criteria and some tools on how to do that that involve many different aspects of our customer’s business.

It includes political stuff; it includes whether or not there is a change agenda already existing within that organization. Now, again, we are targeting a finite set of customers, most of which are public companies, so we can look into their annual reports and do some basic qualification around if there’s a change agenda going on there. This was a few years ago—did they have a Chief Digital Officer? With the whole digital transformation initiatives that are going on, if they hadn’t hired somebody to run that initiative, then they probably weren’t a great prospect right now, right? Come back. Let’s go back in a year.

Drew Neisser: Right. I want to pause on that one because it’s so important. And marketers say, “This is really important to us.” And I say, “Well, do you have a full-time person assigned to it?” And they’ll say, “No, it’s a part-time job.” Then I said, “It’s really not on your agenda.” And what you figured out from a targeting standpoint is if they don’t have a CDO, they’re not in the transformation mindset and therefore they’re not a good prospect for you. That’s fascinating.

Drew Neisser: If we go and we say, “All right, we now know this pool of companies that have a CDO and they have a change mindset.” What’s the insight or insights that you’ve been able to glean from those types of people that have helped you really close the deal?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that we learned was that—well, first of all, these people are trying to effect change in very large legacy organizations that don’t want to change, that are resistant to change. But they’re also being held accountable in a way that they were never accountable within that industry before. They had to start showing measurable progress within six months, so it really helped us shape our offering because we actually worked then to reshape some of our offerings for specific types of deals so that there was a much leaner, quicker way for them to get something in and running.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Typically, a system like ours, with any of the existing vendors, it takes 12-24 months to actually take to put that system in. For us, we figured out—all right, let’s find a way to get them up and running in less than six months, and to help them also shape what they’re going to do with the initial rollout of that so that they have KPIs that they can immediately start reporting back to the business after those six months. So within a six to nine-month period, we’ve made them successful and they have KPIs they can report back to the business based on the way they shaped their end offerings to their customers.

Drew Neisser: Just so I understand that, and the listeners—in six to nine months, they can have a full implementation and an output as a result of it.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yes.

Drew Neisser: So, a new product that they were able to at least get—

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Or an uptick in the customer satisfaction scores and NPS scores, or a measurable spending increase spending per customer rate.

Drew Neisser: Got it. All right. I noticed in another interview you mentioned NPS as a score for your customers. I’m a little on the fence right now with NPS. And the reason I’m on the fence—and I’m curious if you share this—is that A: it’s a moment of time and particularly in the B2B world where there are so many factors and it could be just that moment.

It’s like, I generally have a great experience on JetBlue, but the other day, it was a seven hour delay. That was a long time. Now, if you’d called me at that moment, I would have said, “I’m not so happy about it.” But the next day they said, “Oh, we’re giving you a $250 credit then, “Oh, you know, they’re pretty good. I forgot the pain.” So, between those eight hours, the NPS score would have gone from a two to a ten. And the other part of it is, they wouldn’t have known why. What do you do with it? I’m curious—having stated that position—your turn.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: What a lot of our customers do is—because these are companies that have millions and millions of end customers like an airline—they actually look at specific customer journeys so that they can compare more apples to apples. So there’s something called onboarding, which is: how do you sign up for a service through an app if that’s how you onboard a customer? Or whatever the onboarding process might be like, they have to go to a store and sign up. So, they take a look at that onboarding process, and then they can measure what is the NPS immediately after the onboarding process versus the existing operations, existing systems that they’re working with.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Then they can compare apples to apples, so they actually look at it from a customer journey perspective like, what the NPS after they pay their first bill? So that kind of thing. And then they can, of course, they’re looking at aggregate scores, and when they then aggregate all that and average it out—like we had a customer out in Southeast Asia who basically launched a whole new offering on our platform. When they looked at the NPS of those customers versus their existing customers, it was like twenty-five points higher after a six to eight-month period. And that’s a huge difference.

Drew Neisser: That’s when you really love NPS.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Right. That’s when you really love NPS. It’s a leading indicator for them, too because they have looked at it in the telco industry. NPS actually can and does correlate a lot of times to customer loyalty, to longer customer loyalty and longer customer lifetime value, and even sometimes increased spending. So they have made those correlations, but when you’re launching something new, a lot of times those revenue measurements can’t be made till a year out. In the short term, though, you can look at the NPS. If that trend is higher, then you’re probably on the right path to driving more revenue as well.

Drew Neisser: Right. Those are good. What I heard that’s, I think, important is, if we’re just doing NPS once and it’s sort of this big macro number, it’s really not that useful. But if you’re doing it in a very specific moment in time and you’re doing it, and you see, “Oh, well, we just onboarded them. How is that onboarding experience?” If the scores were good or their scores were bad in a certain way, we can probably isolate the variables and therefore it does become useful.

Drew Neisser: As we wrap up this segment, I’m wondering—when you think about the customer satisfaction for Matrixx, other than renewals is certainly one, another is obviously their willingness to be an advocate. I’m curious—because this is a big problem for B2B brands—how do we get more case histories? Everybody wants them. What have you done in that area?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: That’s always a company-wide effort, right? Obviously, they have to be supported well, they have to be serviced well, there are so many factors that go into that. From a marketing perspective though, again, when you’re in a position where you are helping and enabling people who are oftentimes fighting uphill to affect change in their organization, the more that you can help them be successful and then those successes get highlighted in a bigger arena, the better for them.

It’s really finding those advocates who are trying to widen their sphere of influence and make sure that you’re working with them. As I say, we love to showcase when our customers in a customer-centric way. We don’t always necessarily even talk about exactly what Matrixx is doing for them. We talk about the innovation they’re bringing into their specific markets. And that’s the key, to really focus on their story and their success and how they’re changing the industry. And then, you know, obviously, we’re helping them do that, but make it customer-centric. You have to make the case study customer-centric. People actually forget that.

Drew Neisser: It’s true. I mean, every brand thinks they’re the hero of their own story and they’re not. The customer is. All right. We’ll take a break and we’ll be right back.

BREAK

Drew Neisser: We’re back, and we were just reminding ourselves that we’ll occasionally see case histories where it’s all about the software: “This software enabled this company to achieve 20% growth. We’re awesome, aren’t we?” and you barely even see that the customer. It’s amazing. It seems so obvious, but there’s this temptation—”Well, we got to tell them what we did.” In truth, you don’t necessarily.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: And if you’re in a challenger brand, if you’re in a challenger place in the market, it’s almost not a bad thing too because, you know, it creates almost a bit of a mystique around your brand if you focus on a customer. I’ve had analysts come to me and say, “Nobody quite really understands how you’re doing this or what you’re doing.” And that’s actually made us more interesting in terms of just people wanting to engage with the brand and understand more. That’s also not a bad strategy to kind of say, “Hey, look at what all these amazing companies are doing and Matrixx is helping them and if you want to learn more, then you have to come talk to us.”

Drew Neisser: We’ve got this situation where we have high customer satisfaction and success. You’ve changed their business in many ways. You’re enabling them to, ultimately, what’s really cool here is this is less about efficiency and more about future revenue, which is always a great place to be. We work with a lot of cybersecurity companies and so much of that is about protection, so it’s a cost to protect. It’s like an insurance policy and really with a side that you want to be on is, how do we enable growth? And you’re certainly there, which is really cool.

So, ultimately you can measure your success by a customer’s ability to grow their business using your software. Very cool. Great end game. Are there any metrics that you wish you had?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Any metrics that I wish I had?

Drew Neisser: Yeah, one of the big issues in B2B is attribution, attribution modeling, pipeline, and all those—I mean, pipeline is good. It’s still hard to measure, and it’s less important than closing sales. What’s a metric that you wish you had?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: I think this is probably not that different than a lot of companies, but we are focused enough that it’s impossible to get intent data. It’s a small pool of people looking for specific things. There’s just not really intent data that we can leverage in the market. And then, I think, the nirvana is always quality of engagement. We are in the process of moving into a much more focused, account-based marketing model. I think the challenges there are always how much of an organization, where is that sweet spot in terms of what creates a qualified account versus a qualified lead or a qualified contact? Figuring out what that MQA is, I think is something that we’re working on and trying to figure out right now.

Drew Neisser: Right. So, you didn’t start out a marketer. When you were at William and Mary, you were a STEM student and then you sort of migrated and so forth. And I think it’s really interesting and I’m wondering—because you didn’t grow up a marketer, I suspect you have an outsider’s perspective on marketing.

I’m curious—in this role as both Founder and Head of Marketing, what are some of your go-to principles that you rely on? Because again, if I were giving you a challenge initially that you studied, you go, “I know exactly how to do that.” But as someone who had to learn marketing, I imagine you sort of learned it and you have some building blocks. Can you share some of those?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yeah. I think I would categorize them in three ways. There’s the data side of it, there is the marketing/positioning side of it, and then there’s the what is marketing’s job/organizational side of it. I would say on the data side of it—data is good, but it’s not the end all be all, and data can be misleading, especially in places like ours where you’re doing these big, long, complex deals. It’s really, really tweaking, tweaking, tweaking to get qualified data. I think that’s part of it.

I think on the positioning and creative side, I just feel like, be specific. This is what I always get on my team about. Don’t talk in generalities. Marketing people tend to rely on marketing speak instead of figuring out how to elevate complex things in a simple way without watering it down. I mean, that’s a huge thing, right? And that takes a lot of effort and a lot of focus.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. Let’s focus on that for a second. Elevate the important things without watering it down, but keeping it simple.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Yeah, it’s difficult.

Drew Neisser: It is. Give me an example.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: A good example today is, everyone starting throwing around this term “cloud-native.” “Cloud-native, cloud-native, our application is cloud-native, it runs in the cloud, blah, blah, blah.” We just recently put out a press release and, you know, it was pushing a team to say, “Don’t just throw the buzzword in there. We need to specifically say, what do we mean when we say ‘cloud-native’ and what about our product is different.” We can’t get sucked down into all the acronyms. Let’s write it and then let’s revise it into a language that everyone’s going to understand.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so we’re going to keep it simple. We’re going to keep it clear. One of the things I’m interested in—from our standpoint at Renegade and how we think about things—is, what we see a lot in B2B is that you get down into the features pretty fast and the functions of the thing. The reality is, and it’s really interesting in Gartner’s research—which I loved and of course, I use it all the time because it supports my beliefs—isn’t the way you’re supposed to use research?. But the research was that if you as a company have all these personas and you present your company one way to the finance guy and one way to the security guy because you think that’s the right way to do it when they all get together—.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: They don’t know what you sell.

Drew Neisser: They don’t know what you sell. This means that, somehow or other, the marketer has to come together with a bigger idea that holds the brand together. Do you think that’s true?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: I absolutely think that’s true. We went through that evolution as a company because some of the things that we do when you think about feature function, some of the things that we do already exist. They have names, they have complicated technical names in our industry, and so the default was to name the product stats.

We stepped back as a marketing team about five years ago now, I guess it was, and went, “Wait. We are not just a collection of all this stuff that other people do. We’ve brought it together in a different way. We’ve designed patented technology to sit underneath. So, how do we visually and verbally create a concept of what this product is and what the solution is that will resonate with everybody.”

So we actually changed the name and we changed the visualization of the product about five years ago from terms that everybody in our industry would have heard to “digital commerce,” which is what we call it today, which actually now is a more acceptable term across industries, but still not something that people in the telco industry were buying.

While it was a difficult transition because people were like, “What’s that? We don’t have one of those. We’re not sure we need one of those.” But at least it gave us a framework to explain to all the different stakeholders what that means to them in a way that would make sense to them. There’s still a little bit of tailoring, but the tailoring is not around the feature function. The tailoring is around the business outcome. Focus on the business outcome, not on the feature functions.

That was a huge thing for us and that actually helped propel a lot of the sales cycles, too, because it gave a very differentiated message for our teams to go in and it also wasn’t like, “Hey, this is something that you need that you didn’t know that you need.”

Drew Neisser: I think that’s really interesting. So, you essentially said, “There’s a new category. It’s called digital commerce.” And that’s a brave thing to do for a small company and it seems like it’s a natural thing to do because we’re doing something different. But then you have the analysts who want to put you in a category and all these big companies rely on that. How did you bring the analysts along?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: We didn’t fight that. That was the thing. We weren’t trying to create a new category for the analysts, per se, because who wants to be in a category by themselves? We walked them through “Hey, this is how we’re positioning our offering and our solution, and here’s why. And does that make sense to you?” But we remained in the categories that they had existing, and they always actually elevated it. It would be funny. Gartner is one of them. They would always say in their report that we branded the solution matrix, digital commerce. I think they thought that was interesting because nobody else was doing that. Every single time we landed in their magic quadrant, that was always highlighted.

Drew Neisser: Right. In fact, you made it easy for them to talk about you in a differentiated way. Yay! That’s marketing! It’s proof when the analysts pick it up and they go, “Yeah, that’s good language. We like that. In fact, we wish we’d come up with that. Thank you. We’re gonna probably use it and own it!” That’s amazing.

All right. Well, we’re sort of running out of time. We’ve covered so much really good ground. We started with—and you didn’t talk about this much, but I know from your other interviews—focus is really important. You mentioned in another interview that you have one persona. I love that. I’ve been ranting about personas lately because we’ve just seen too many clients who have 15 different personas and these long-winded things, then they go to sales and they say, “Okay, here’s the way you can talk to each of these individuals and so forth.” And nobody is capable of keeping track of all those things, and as a brand, you sort of dilute things. The more personas you think about, the more likely that you are going to create this diluting effect.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Well, we talked about this a little bit before, you and I. When you look at account-based marketing, it’s not so much about the personas. It’s about their specific business and their position and their market because whether or not you’re in IT or the commercial side or the finance side, there is a set of business challenges that are unique to your company. And that’s the one that they’re all thinking about regardless of what their role in the company is. It’s having that account-based marketing focus without thinking you need to divide it into 15 different personas.

Drew Neisser: Right. And in your case, there really is a universe. I mean, it’s global, but your universe is telecommunications companies, right? That’s your universe. Your promise is, “Hey, guys, we’re going to help you increase your revenue in this particular way and we’re gonna do it with our software.” So in some ways, we can boil this down: “Here are the companies, we’re the growth engine. Come find us. Let’s talk growth.” It’s wonderfully simple. Okay, let’s wrap up.

For startups in software service companies like yourself, what would be two do’s and a don’t?

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Two do’s and a don’t So, again, focusing on the brand on an actual meaningful level. What’s the company culture? Why does the company exist? Focusing on building brand from day one is, I think, a key investment that a lot of startups don’t make because they’re focused on technology.

Number two would be—figure out how to invest in ways that make you look bigger than you are. Make those smart investments. That’s something that my CEO and I worked a lot on. What are the right marketing investments early on that are gonna make you look like a bigger than you are? Because you’re going to need that to get in the door in so many places.

Then, I would say on the “don’t” side—when you’re that size, nobody externally is going to be able to help you at a cost that makes any sense. Don’t hire an agency. Don’t hire an agency—figure out how to do it organically, make a case to do it organically in the beginning. I’m sure it’s going to piss off agencies everywhere, but I just don’t think it’s the right fit when you’re starting out.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. And we don’t work with startup startups, so you’re more than welcome folks, all you startups out there. But what we found is, when companies get to $25-50 million and want to get to $500 million, then they really need to go to someone who can help them—and thank you for setting this up—who can help them reinvent their story and tell their story in a more imaginative way?

Because so often, when they start out, it is a feature function thing. And they were great. They built a product that had an immediate need that made sense to go, “Hey, we have this widget and it really works, don’t you need this widget?” Whereas later, as they get bigger, now suddenly they need an employee brand. Now the brand needs to stand for more than just, “Hey, we sold a lot of software.” Then you need a customer brand where they feel really proud to be associated with you. And then finally, you need something that your sales folks can go to that feels more then, again, “We’re just in the business to sell stuff.” So, I think you’re absolutely right. If you can’t figure out where you’re going at the beginning, you’re in trouble.

I love the notion—and it’s funny, we’re working with a company right now whose third hire was a designer who really understood brand—and it permeates the organization. It’s so cool, so powerful when that happens because it also, in that particular case, it affects UX, and this designer brought a certain elegance and simplicity that often engineers can’t do. Anyway. Amazing.

I loved this conversation. Jennifer, thank you so much for being on the show.

Jennifer Kyriakakis: Thank you. Good to be here.

Drew Neisser: And to the listeners here, always grateful that you spent the time. If you feel like it, hit me up on LinkedIn, a couple of people have suggested individuals or topics that they were interested in. I love that. And of course, if you feel like going over to your podcast channel and writing a review as the folks at Drift say, “Give me that six-star review,” that would be awesome. Other than that, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

Subscribe

to the Latest in

Renegade Thinking