How to build a marketing team for growth, the non-sleazy way?
Today we tackle how to jumpstart your marketing team with growth expert Ferdinand Goetzen. He’s a speaker, blogger, and the Head of Growth at Recruitee, a SaaS company for recruitment software.
I invited Ferdinand to the show to chat about how to build a phenomenal marketing team. He joined us to discuss the role of growth in marketing teams and where you can go to find the ideal people for the position.
Listen to This Episode:
In this episode, we covered:
- Why most well-known growth hacks won’t work for your business
- What the biggest sin in marketing is today and how to avoid this mistake
- The easiest method to use for providing more value to your customer
- What first step to take when building your marketing team
- Why you must hire a good storyteller (and why humans will always love stories)
- The surprising reason you should interview potential content marketers on the phone
- Who your second hire should be on your marketing team
- Why we shouldn’t focus on marketing data and analytics from the start
- How to align a team with specialized skillsets together
- The real explanation for why growth hacking has a bad reputation
- Growth Tribe Academy
- Tech Crunch
- Storytelling Made Easy: Persuade and Transform Your Audiences, Buyers, and Clients — Simply, Quickly, and Profitably by Michael Hauge
- Brian Balfour
- Andrew Chen
- Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll
- Purple Cow by Seth Godin
- Episode 31:Yam Regev on Everyone Hates Marketers
- Episode 39: Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré on Everyone Hates Marketers
- LinkedIn: Ferdinand Goetzen
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the marketing podcast for marketers, founder and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
Louis: So, we haven’t talked much in this podcast about building a marketing team, and we haven’t really talked about building a marketing team that can take ongoing new challenges, that can experiment with stuff without being sleazy, and basically help your company grow. So this is something we’re going to talk about today with my guest, but we’re also going to talk about my favorite topic of all, which is growth hacking, and I’m going to quiz my guest quite a lot on this particular topic. Because as you know, I’m not a big fan of the approach, or at least the way it’s being done by most people.
Louis: So this is that we’re going to talk about today and my guest is the Head of Growth at Recruitee, which is one of the fastest growing software service company in the Netherlands. He heads the growth and marketing department there and he worked with a lot of companies in the past like ING, Pipedrive, Phillips, Favreau, Transavia and before working with Recruitee, he has experience in a growth hacking agency called Growth Tribe Academy, and he was the lead speaker there.
Louis: An interesting fact about my guest today is that he’s a passionate traveler. He’s actually visited 56 countries already and he has a plan to visit 100 countries before he’s 30. So Ferdinand Goetzen, welcome aboard. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
Ferdinand: Hi, thanks for having me.
Louis: So let’s get started in the problem that you think most marketers are suffering from right now, and you’ve isolated 7, if I’m not mistaken. Let’s go through them in general and let’s maybe talk about those marketers and what they struggle with in the day to day.
Ferdinand: Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes I try to group all the problems into what I like to call the 7 sins of marketers, but to be honest, it could just as well be 5 or 20. The general things that I see marketers doing wrong, same goes for growth hackers, or growth marketers, they’re all part of the same boat, is first of all, not being data-driven. I think that’s incredibly important. Always following with your data, always tracking the data, understanding the importance of process and team, this idea that’s … you mentioned at the start that you’re not a fan of growth hacking or the way that it’s being done today.
Ferdinand: I think one of the main issues there really is that people have this weird idea that you can take a famous “growth hack” and then just apply it to your own business, and there’s also this weird myth floating around that you can have one amazing idea and then your company can grow infinitely from it. That’s something that I’ve found to not really be the case. I’ve worked with a lot of different companies in different industries with different team setups, and I’ve found that it’s very rare that you can just copy paste someone else’s idea and it’s very rare that one idea alone is going to push a company forward, especially the more you grow, the more, how do you say, the more complicated growth becomes in terms of strategy, in terms of data attribution, in terms of really thinking about scalability and the importance of scalability grows a lot.
Ferdinand: I think that it’s really important to think about always being data-driven, placing importance on process and team, placing importance on creating value. Always create as much value as possible for the user. I think that’s what marketing should be all about, and then there’s a whole range of other things that are very closely related but I think if people really are multidisciplinary and they work in an effective team, they can actually get great results without resorting to the hacky, sneaky, kind of cheeky tactics that people have grown to hate so much.
Louis: Right. So everybody would agree with your statement when you talk about being data-driven and talking about value, but what does it actually mean to be data-driven and do you think that … no, let’s keep it to this simple question because I want to jump straight away and debate with you on this topic. What this actually means, to be data-driven? What does it mean day to day?
Ferdinand: So, at the end of the day, it means that when you make decisions when you try to decide what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, the assumptions upon which these decisions are based, that you’re not pulling them out of thin air. That you don’t have a company culture where someone comes in and says, I’m really senior and therefore we’re going to do it my way, but rather that you try to always validate your assumptions, that you always try to make decisions on the basis of facts and data. That’s essentially how I see it. So, one of the things that is very typical of growth hacking is this idea of experimentation and I’ve spoken and I’ve written a lot about the fact that I think experimentation is incredibly important because experiments allow us to validate core assumptions, but that experimentation isn’t everything, because you need to scale what works.
Ferdinand: So data-driven is really about not just looking at the right metrics and not just focusing on data, but also the right data, not vanity metrics. I can’t even count how many companies I’ve worked with where they say, we have this many active users, or we have this many people signed up to the product, and so often they’re just vanity metrics. They’re metrics that sound really nice, like what Sean Ellis would say, is that the metrics you’d want to have on Tech Crunch, but not the ones that are really going to help you optimize or make any difference.
Louis: And what does it mean, to add value to people’s lives or to bring value as marketers, because that’s also a word that every marketer and growth hacker would mention?
Ferdinand: Creating value is really about understanding your user and solving their pain in as many ways as possible other than through your product. At the end of the day, the way I look at companies is that I think, or a product in general is that you’re trying to solve a pain. You’re trying to solve a problem that a user might have and your product is hopefully the ideal solution for that pain. But in addition to your product, there are going to be many other pains, many other elements that drive users to want to use your product to being interested in your type of product, and your industry and your market, and the more value you can create for them and this in my experience is often through content. Producing great content is one way of providing value. I think that should be the primary way with which you actually market your product.
Ferdinand: So rather than saying, I have this product and I want to just jam it down people’s throats as much as possible, it’s more about establishing yourself, your company, your product, your brand, as a thought leader, as a company that has the vision of solving specific problems that are interrelated and the product will be one of the elements that solves this problem. It’s probably going to be the element you work on the most, but then your content and the way in which you market that product should also be solving problems. It should also be creating value for the user in that sense.
Louis: Alright. Do you think content is a buzzword that’s being used quite a lot or do you think it’s actually something marketers should and could rely on them for the next 10, 20, 50 years?
Ferdinand: I mean, I think there are very few words that are used in marketing that haven’t become buzzwords at this point. Often if you go deeper into these buzzwords, they actually do mean something at the core. In my opinion content of course is a general word and you can produce content in thousands of different ways, but I really do believe that you can produce valuable content, be it by doing a podcast such as this one, or writing ebooks, or simply making videos that explain concepts that people who are interested in your field might learn from. I think there are a lot of different ways and when I say content, I use that in quite a broad sense. I think maybe even a better word would be just to say inbound, anything that really produces value, anything that really gives the users something that they can learn from, something that they can use, something that does help solve one or multiple of the pains that they’re feeling, related to your field.
Louis: I’m almost ready to take a gamble here and say that, I mean, if you look at the first principles out there and how people think and behave, I’ve said that many times in this podcast, people’s brains haven’t changed in the last 10,000 years or even more than that. Therefore we can rely on principles that won’t change in 10, 20, 50 years, and I agree with you that inbound or content basically, helping out people by giving value first and tracing a void where you give value, means that there is the reciprocity rule that we have in there. The more you give value, the more people are willing to get in touch with you and trust you a bit more every day and this is a phenomenon that happens in everyday life. You help somebody out. He’s more willing to help you in return, and this how you build trust and credibility. So regardless of how we call it, I think the very core principle of helping out people and actually genuinely helping solving their problems is always going to work one way or another.
Louis: So let’s go into a solution there, because you have experience in something that I really don’t and we haven’t talked about this particular topic in this podcast, so I think it’s going to be interesting for people. Let’s talk about how to build a team, a marketing team, that is really there to face new challenges, to move quickly if needed, to test new stuff, but doing that without being sleazy or anything like this.
Louis: So where do you actually start? Let’s say you start as the sole marketer in your company. Where do you start from there?
Ferdinand: Right, so this is going to sound maybe a little very specific or zoning in too much, but first of all it would have depend on whether you want to build a marketing team or a growth team, which will be used interchangeably in a lot of contexts, but I guess to a certain amount of people, myself included, there is a difference in that a marketing team is going to be focused a little bit more top of the funnel, so driving awareness and converting to users, whereas a growth team is going to go deeper into the funnel.
Ferdinand: It’s going to look into things like usability. It’s going to look into things like what features, pricing strategies, all sorts of things surrounding the product as well, and the main difference here being that first of all I think that most companies in the world, no matter what label they use, whether they call it marketing, whether they call it growth, we’re seeing people become a multidisciplinary. We’re seeing marketing teams and growth teams focused more deeply in the funnel on retention, on activation, on giving users that first great experience, getting them hooked on your product. We’re seeing that already.
Ferdinand: More importantly, it’s just a matter of if you want to focus deeper in the funnel, you’re going to need different kinds of skill sets. If I’m a lone marketer or a lone growth hacker or a lone growth person, I don’t like the word growth hacker much precisely for the reasons you pointed out earlier, in these situations it really starts with a product. What is your product? Because the more technical your product, the more technical your team is going to have to be. Often that will be the case at least. It’s going to depend quite a lot on your market. Some markets have a lot of potential for thought leadership, for sharing a lot of valuable content. Some markets are incredibly niche, so maybe if you bring content people in to the mix, maybe they’re going to have to have very particular expertise within content. So all of these different aspects are going to feed into what kind of team you’re going to build.
Ferdinand: I think that the first thing that you should do, depending on who you are yourself of course, if you are somewhat of an all-arounder, then the first person I would usually bring on board is an inbound or content focused perso, because that’s something you need to start very early on.
Louis: Okay, so let’s go back to what you mentioned. I think that’s very interesting, and you see, I don’t want to go into the debate of naming things different ways. What you describe as growth I would naturally describe as good marketing or just marketing. Obviously, it makes sense to focus on acquiring people, but it also makes sense to follow them through the journey and making sure that they use the product the right way, that they are happy, that they refer others, etc., etc.
Louis: I would definitely call that myself a marketer, and in Hotjar where I work full-time, we actually call that marketing simply. But for the purpose of what you said, let’s pick then a growth team, which is basically a multidisciplinary team that is following people from point A to point Z in their journey, not only in point A and point B.
Louis: I’d like your first step. You say, if you’re a full stack marketer, if you’ve done a few things in the past, if you know a thing or two about marketing, then it makes sense that the next hire is an inbound or content person, right?
Louis: So can you drill down more about the why behind that? Why do you think it’s usually a good first step?
Ferdinand: Well, simply put, you actually said something very similar, which is that the human mind hasn’t changed in thousands of years, and you’ll find that some of the psychological principles of marketing, books that were published 10, 15, 20 years ago, a lot of those principles are still true today. Because people haven’t changed, and I think when you think about the skills that a marketer needs to have, nowadays it’s an incredibly broad skill set.
Ferdinand: There’s tons of different kinds of people, kinds of roles, kinds of profiles you can have in your team and that’s going to constantly evolve, but one thing that’s not going to change is the power of storytelling. I think being able to tell a good story, being able to engage people in the way that you communicate … now of course when you’re doing marketing a lot of that communication will be written at first, but if you’re doing video strategies or even audio strategies with podcasts and such, if you can tell a good story, if you can communicate things in a very clear and engaging manner, I think that is the first step in marketing accurately, or marketing effectively, and of course if you yourself are a very content-focused person with a wide skill set within that field, then probably your first hire would not be a content person.
Ferdinand: But if you’re not then bringing in someone who’s good with content can make a huge difference, because it can help you communicate what you’re trying to say more clearly, more effectively, and you can use that person in a whole range of different ways, be that your ad copy, your copy you use on your landing pages on your website or be it even just writing great content, writing great articles, providing that value that we were talking about.
Louis: I agree with you 100%. Storytelling is rooted in our DNA and this is how humans like to receive information. This is why it’s so crazy the power that stories have, the way we watch TV shows and movies, the way we strive for new stories. We are just wired for this type of thing, so as you said, once you’re able to communicate clearly and tell stories clearly, you are in a good place marketing-wise, because at least people will be aware of what you’re doing. So that’s a good first insight, definitely.
Louis: So let’s say I’m a full stack marketer and I understand a lot things around marketing. I’m not an expert in many of the facets of the role, but then I can have a content person. How do you typically advise to go about finding such a person?
Ferdinand: Again, I don’t want to answer every question with a depends. Of course, every single company is different, every market is different, and the needs you’re going to have is going to different depending on who’s on your team. But let’s say you yourself have a wide profile, a broad profile. You want to find a content person. I guess the first thing is to … it really depends on what you want to communicate. I think the storytelling aspect is really important. What I try to look out for, of course, it’s very easy to see if somebody can write. It’s quite easy to see if somebody speaks English properly. That’s if you want to market in English. If it’s another language, same goes there. What is not as easy to determine is if someone’s a good storyteller, and I think that’s why I think one of the first things I would do when I try to hire a content person would be to just get on the phone with them, before I do anything else. I don’t really care so much about their CV. I don’t really care so much about their portfolio. The first thing I really care about is just talking to them and just hearing how they communicate, because the thing with storytelling, it’s something that I think is incredibly valuable for anything in life, even if you don’t do marketing, I think everything boils down to being able to communicate as effectively as possible.
Ferdinand: You want to make sure that somebody has that natural communication and I think on the one hand, you could say that a content person doesn’t need to be an extroverted person who is very sociable and a very strong communicator, but at the same time, I do think they do need to have that, because that’s something that does reflect in the content that they produce.
Louis: How do you typically test for their storytelling abilities over the phone?
Ferdinand: So, over the phone alone you’re not going to be able to get the full picture, but I think that’s the first thing that I would look towards. So I would get them on the phone. It really depends on a case by case basis, but most importantly, I’d want to understand … I’d ask a lot of questions. I’d ask them why they’re interested in working for us, why they’re interested in our industry in particular, because I think that writing great content is linked to being passionate, and I think one of the things that you find with content is that there’s a lot of people applying for content jobs.
Ferdinand: This might depend on the country, but at least here in the Netherlands, you put out a content position, you’ll get a lot of applications, a lot of applicants, and a lot of those people are often just looking for a job. They’re not looking for the job. They’re not looking for a specific type of company and a specific type of industry, which you do find a lot more with marketers, actually, because marketers have then worked with different products, different companies and they sometimes have a very clear idea of what kind of field they want to work in. Whereas with content people, you don’t always necessarily have that. Now of course, there are exceptions, and maybe everyone has a different experience, but what I would want to know is, what is their passion for the field we work in?
Ferdinand: So in our case, it would be applicant tracking, recruitment, the future of recruitment tech, the idea of talent hacking and just using modern technology and modern techniques for acquiring talent and really understanding the millennial mindset when it comes to working. These are the kind of things I would want to ask them about, really understand their passion first. So once they have the passion and they can speak the language properly, and they have some writing skills, you’ve already got the key pillars to what is or what might become a quality content person.
Louis: Right, and who would be your second hire?
Ferdinand: After the content person, if I have a very technical product, it would probably be a technical marketer of sorts. It would probably an all arounder, another all arounder, because when you start growing, you start scaling your business, you test a lot of channels at first. After a while you kind of know what works. That’s the other thing that I don’t like about this stereotypical view that people have of experimentation within growth hacking. It’s not just testing things for the sake of testing things. It’s having ideas, having a strategy, having a vision, and then testing to validate the assumptions that underlie that.
Ferdinand: Very often you’ll find that within a few months, or depending on how your company grows, you’ll have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work, and then you’re going to really talk about how do you optimize campaigns. How do you tweak them? How do you get your message across as effectively as possible? How do you reach people as effectively as possible? And for that you’re usually going to need more than one person. So my second hire would usually be an all-arounder, but also with some technical expertise. My goal is always to hire people who can do stuff that I can’t do. That’s really important in the early days. Later on, anything can happen and you might take a more senior position. You might become more of a strategist. I’m not like that, so that’s not how we really do that at Recruitee. We’re all hands on and everyone’s in the trenches, but that might happen in a lot of companies, and then you can think about bringing in people who have the same expertise as you. But it’s really important to bring in people who can do stuff that you can’t do.
Louis: Right, so let’s say you are a full-stack marketer, but you don’t know how to code or you can’t even do A/B testing, because this is something that you haven’t done before, then you might want to look at an all arounder who has done that in the past and knows how to code and also has a breadth of knowledge around marketing?
Ferdinand: Exactly, and data and analytics. That’s something that I think is really important, and if you don’t have that expertise, if you don’t have experience with tracking the right data and interpreting it the right way, that can be a very valuable hire as well. It’s not worth doing right at the start, and this really depends on when you start building your team. I think the most important thing is, build a great product first. If you don’t have a great product, don’t waste your time on putting together a big team that’s going to market something that nobody wants. Build the awesome product first. Invest your time and your efforts and your resources into that, and then when you have a minimum viable product, when you start getting a bit of traction, you start getting the first signs of product market fit, then you think about the team, and at that point, it does make sense to look at somebody with data competences, someone with content competences, someone with coding and A/B testing competences and so on and so forth.
Louis: I’m glad you said that because this one of my core beliefs around marketing. I don’t think you can do good marketing with a shitty product. I think you have to have a good product, that will leverage it and then do good marketing.
Ferdinand: For sure.
Louis: What happens quite a lot is that you have a product that is not that good, and then you hire marketers in order to polish the turd in a sense, and you hire marketers to sell it but you almost always have to use sleazy tactics to sell, because the product itself is not good enough.
Ferdinand: Absolutely. I think a lot of shitty marketing, and this is something that I feel very strongly about, some people might disagree with me, I think one of the big problems and one of the 7 sins that I underline is agency dependency. This idea that a lot of companies tend to outsource a lot of their marketing, and I don’t think that works at all, because the people you outsource to, they don’t know your product. They don’t know your brand. They don’t understand how you think. They don’t understand how the founders think. They don’t know how to create real value in your field, because they’re not in your field, and even if you don’t have any of those problems with them, in the very, very, very least, what’s going to happen is, they’re going to have all your data and in an age where data is gold, you don’t want all your data to be with agencies. I think that’s incredibly important. The reason agencies are so popular is because you have so many people with crappy products who are just hoping they can just drop it on an agency and hope that they can sell it.
Louis: They’re building a bad product, and then they are okay, now we need to market it. Let’s find people who know how to do that. I agree with you. I know it’s not necessarily a popular opinion, but trust me, many listeners and probably most of them agree with us. I receive a lot of emails that would say well, I agree with you. At least between us, in our small world, we agree with you and I agree with you.
Ferdinand: Good, good.
Louis: You started about the few next hires, which is interesting. I’m curious then. How does your dream growth or marketing team look like? What are the typical competencies you’re looking for and how do you typically organize that?
Ferdinand: My dream setup is if you scale your business to a very large business, let’s say 500 employees plus, that you have a growth team dedicated to every stage of the customer journey. So you have a growth team focused almost entirely on traffic. You have a growth team focused almost entirely on acquisition, on activation, on retention and so on and so forth. That would be my dream set up, and then within each of these teams, again this depends a lot, but each of these teams, I would want somebody who has that storytelling ability, so this could be a content person. It can also be someone else, but somebody who has this ability to really communicate very effectively and very clearly what you’re trying to say and the value you’re trying to bring and the story you’re trying to tell, so that’s the first thing. You’d want that person. You’d want a person who has a strong solid footing in data and analytics, someone who can look at the results, understand the user behavior from a quantitative perspective and a qualitative perspective as well and can use those learnings to optimize further to improve further.
Ferdinand: And then I’d want to have a technical person, somebody who can actually implement the things that I want to change, somebody who can implement on the product, who can build maybe even side projects with different smaller auxiliary products to attract more people, to attract more interest, and again, provide value. And then once you have those bases covered, you can then start looking into more niche skills. So one of the things that’s going to become increasingly important is having a data scientist, not what I mean when I say a data and analytics person. A data and analytics person is someone who can look at the data, interpret it. Data scientist is something very different, is somebody who can use machine learning to help you make better decisions, to help you predict things more effectively, and to ultimately also help you produce more value and more unique content as time goes by, and then of course, somebody who has a more classic digital performance marketing background as well.
Ferdinand: If you have that team of 4 or 5 people, and they’re specialized at every stage of the funnel, then you have a pretty good set up and then your main challenge is going to be tying it all together, having someone who has the overview and coordinating and cross-referencing those teams in a way that they work together rather than as independent parts that aren’t linked, because it is one customer journey at the end of the day.
Louis: So how do you typically recommend to align those teams together?
Ferdinand: Well, at the moment at Recruitee, we’re not a 500 person company yet. We hope to be over 50 by the end of this year, so we just have one growth team, where we have … this is a good example, actually, to show you how it can be different. We’re in a B2B sphere, a B2B sales company, which means that we have a sales department, which is incredibly important in the whole customer journey, the whole process, so what we try to do as well is we have a sales person who is on the growth team, which is quite unusual. A lot of companies don’t do that, because I really think that is important to bridge that gap. At the end of the day, we’re all working toward the same goal.
Ferdinand: But if you have multiple teams, then the most important thing is creating some kind of system for making sure that the communication’s very clear. So I would say that strategy meetings should definitely be done with everyone together if that’s feasible. Of course that depends on the company set up. If you can do strategy meetings together and also rotating, it really depends. If you have people who are really hyperspecialized in one stage of the customer journey, which is not that common to be honest, but if you have those people, you might rotate less. But if you have people who have very similar competencies, you can actually rotate and have them focus on different things, because they can also bring a new perspective. They can also look at things in a different way. They might not have tunnel vision. So one of the ways you tie it together is, you mix and match, you rotate people and you make sure that everyone’s always communicating as much as possible, and everyone’s working towards the same goals.
Louis: Yeah, that’s an interesting idea. I like that very much, because this is something that tends to happen quite fast, when you have people who are very passionate about what they do and are able to dive into problems and solve them, is that they tend to have a very funnel vision and it’s quite difficult after a while to align everyone together as a team.
Louis: That’s the team side, which is quite interesting. I picked up a lot of things already. I’d like to talk about the process side of things as well. So we talked about the people in your organization, which is the most important thing, but then how do you advise companies, and even small companies, to organize themselves to be able to face new challenges and test stuff and all of that? What’s the typical process you like to use there?
Ferdinand: One of the most common things, when people say growth process, especially in growth marketing, growth hacking, growth circles, what people usually mean is an experimental process, which is basically a process for testing and validating assumptions, and I think it’s good to have a process, have a team. You can have a team within a team. If you look at how companies like Spotify or Skyscanner, for example, try to scale their agile set up, they have things like tribes and squads and chapters, which means that you have teams that work together on certain things, but there are all kinds of different structures and different informal and formal structures that tie it all together and have them work together on different projects.
Ferdinand: So I think that’s a really good way to also deal with your process. Make sure that everyone gets to work on different things, that everyone gets to bring a certain degree of freshness to everything you’re doing, and then what’s also important is that you have a process for experimentation, which in our case is very basic. We come up with a general set of goals that we’re trying to reach. We have our OKRs. We have our specific targets that we try to reach sometimes, and then within that we just frame more specific goals, for example, we want an increase in retention. Let’s say, for example, we say retention is currently lagging behind in terms of compared to other stages of the customer journey. Then we’ll say, okay retention is something we need to work on. And then we’ll think of the different metrics that are important within retention, the early indicators, the soft metrics, the harder metrics as well, and then we’re going to start experimenting.
Ferdinand: We all come up with a bunch of ideas. We prioritize those ideas using different frameworks, and then we essentially experiment, test, look at the data, and then once the assumptions are validated, we then take our actions based on that. Now in some cases, you have a very simple situation where you’re testing something small. The test is successful, and then you upscale it.
Ferdinand: And sometimes you have bigger projects, which we have a different process for. We have a process which is only for bigger projects, so if we want to build, for example, you say you want to build I don’t know, a separate side product for example. Something that is going to be a free product which is going to provide a lot of value but also brings in potential leads for your central product. That’s probably not going to be something you build overnight, so if you need two, three, four weeks, or even more, sometimes two, three months to build it, then you actually have a different process for that. But what we always say is that every single larger project is based on assumptions, and those assumptions are then validated by experimenting on them. So we have an experimental process, which has the experimental team, and then we have the project process, which the whole department works on. We also differentiate between the people who are involved in strategy, involved in coming up with ideas and the people who are only involved in execution for example.
Louis: Right. And day to day, how does it look like, this experimental process? How do you typically go about making assumptions, submitting it, submitting the business case for it, testing it and all of that?
Ferdinand: Well, the tech world and the SaaS world especially and the B2B world, everything’s changing very quickly. Every quarter we try to look at the 3 months to come and we try to look at what are our big goals. What do we want to have achieved at the end of these three months? And that can change. That might shift over time, but just a general idea, what do we want to achieve within the next 3 months? And then based on that we’re going to come up with certain projects that we can try to complete in order to reach that, so if for example we want to have a proper cohesive and coherent SEO strategy. That could be one example.
Ferdinand: And then we could say, over the next 3 months, we want to really establish our ranking. We want to lay the groundwork for a powerful SEO and organic search presence. Then of course, there are two sides to this. There’s the overall project, which every 2 weeks we have a growth sprint. At the end of every month, we have a marketing growth meeting. So at the big meetings every month we will then outline what the project is, what the progress on the project is. We break the project down into smaller steps.
Ferdinand: So if it’s SEO, I’ll use SEO as an example, you’re going to think about your keyword research. You’re going to make a list of all the content you currently have. You’re going to run that content for example through SEMrush to figure out where is it currently ranking, what is it currently ranking for, and then you’re going to make a list. So we created an internal coefficient, for example, to say this content is closest to making it to the first page or closest to making it to the top of the page than the others, so we’re then going to focus on those first.
Ferdinand: Essentially we just map out the entire project over 2-3 months and then we allocate the tasks. We set individual deadlines, and then if there are any assumptions that need validating, for example, this keyword is something we could try to target, then we’re also going to outline the experiments that are going to validate those core assumptions. So we have 1 meeting a month where we look at the bigger projects, and then every 2 weeks we have a growth sprint. This is very similar to a developer sprint and we essentially map out all the experiments that we’re currently running, how they’re currently doing, what still needs to be done, who needs what from whom, and then at the end of the day, the way we coordinate it is that every task within a project and every experiment is owned by 1 person. That person doesn’t need to execute it. They just need to make sure it gets done. So they can ask anyone and everyone they want as long as it gets done in time.
Louis: Where do you store all of those tasks and projects?
Ferdinand: We use Trello actually.
Ferdinand: We keep it simple.
Louis: Yeah, Trello I found to be something that is good to start with but that can become quite overwhelming when you have a lot of people on the same board.
Ferdinand: You can switch to Asana as well. Asana’s also been quite good for us, and it’s something we also thought we’d outgrow, but it has been working relatively well, and you can always use a combination of different Trello boards for example. It really depends on the team. In my experience, you have your tools and you have your process, and everything is really beautiful on paper and then once you internalize it, once you get used to it, you also try to improvise a little bit more. You also use the tools a little bit less sometimes. You also stick to the process a little bit less specifically sometimes, because everyone has the trust and everyone understands how we think and how we work and everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Louis: Right. Well, thanks for answering all of those questions that are quite practical and step-by-step, so I appreciate it for going through this exercise.
Louis: I have a question for you. Why do you think, and we’ve touched on that already, but why do you think growth hacking has a bad reputation most of the time?
Ferdinand: I think growth hacking has a bad reputation because marketing has a bad reputation. Both of these have a bad reputation because it’s full of pseudo-influencers. It’s full of crap because a majority of people don’t try to perfect the craft and produce a lot of value because if they did, everything would be very different. So when it comes to growth hacking, I try not to use the word anymore simply because for me, there’s a difference between a growth hacker and someone who’s in growth. And growth hacker is somebody who wants to use multidisciplinary profile, which is fine, who wants to use more technical expertise, which is also fine, but who will focus on the sneaky tactics, who doesn’t have much concern for things like compliance, for things like ethics, for things like creating value. Their goal is to just optimize for clicks, and this is where it’s super important to not only focus on hard data because you need to have the soft data. You need to understand the users. You need to understand what they want.
Ferdinand: It’s not enough to say, 20 people clicked on this disgusting popup, so it’s great. You need to ask people, and then you often find that hey, this pop up has more clicks, but when you ask people, they all say they hate it. It’s really important to have that balance, so growth hackers very often, they experiment for the sake of experimenting. They use sneaky tactics, and the thing with black hat tactics is they don’t scale. So it’s great when you are a lone growth hacker, or you’re a freelancer or you’re working on a tiny project and you’re trying to get 100 people to read your article or something.
Ferdinand: It might work then, but when you’re really thinking about building a business, about scaling a business and becoming something more than just a small project or a side project, you’re going to find that most black hat tactics don’t scale. Like you said before, a lot of people will say that growth is just good marketing, and I don’t disagree with that. At the end of the day, these are all words used for personal branding, so they can be the same thing and I know a lot of growth hackers who call themselves growth hackers and I wouldn’t consider them to be growth hackers, and I know a lot of marketers who would never touch the word growth hacking with a barge pole and I would consider them growth hackers.
Ferdinand: So for me, it’s more about making a difference between these two kinds of people, and of course, being a hacky, sneaky, black hat marketer, is quite easy, and because it’s easy, a lot of people do it. And because a lot of people do it, you have this bad reputation. At least that’s been my experience of it.
Louis: Yeah, I’m going to be able to convince you throughout this episode that you need to call yourself as a marketer and that would be much simpler. What do you think?
Ferdinand: I think that is probably a debate that could go into the early hours, so I think we’re going to do ourselves a favor if we don’t go into it. I’ll tell you what the one thing is, and I’ll tell you the one reason why I’d make a difference between the two, is because I think that you can be a brilliant marketer, somebody who creates a lot of value, who is very ethically inclined, somebody who does all the right things, but who does only focus on the top of the funnel. Someone who gets a finished, ready-made product and their job is to try and increase … and even if they’re focused on the whole customer journey, it’s a finished product that they’re trying to push out there.
Ferdinand: For me a growth person is somebody who is part of that product process, so we have a team that decides what the next features are going to be, how we’re going to develop them, and it’s not only that the growth people in our company, it’s not that we only do things like email onboarding, UX. It’s not only the things that are kind of distanced from the product in some sense. It’s we’re really part of the product. We really think about how can we design this product. What features should we pursue next? How should we pursue those features and a lot of us do have product competencies. For me, that’s been the difference.
Ferdinand: At the end of the day, I think it is splitting hairs and my view is that over the next 5-10 years, we’re going to see all of these crappy marketers slowly disappear as people start coming to their senses and realizing that it’s one of the worst things in the world, is bad marketing and bad advertising.
Ferdinand: I think what’s going to happen in the next 5-10 years is that people are going to realize … well, people already know that bad marketing and bad advertising is one of the worst things in the world anyway and I think a lot of these people who use these black hat tactics, who are really short-term minded, I really think that they’re slowly going to wither away. They’re going to realize that they’re going to have to either learn how to market properly, or they’re going to disappear and as that happens, we’re probably going to see one term emerge to describe exactly what both of us would describe as good marketing.
Ferdinand: So, I really think that one day, it’s all going to be called growth or marketing. I don’t really mind what we call it, just until that happens, I think I’m going to keep calling it growth. Simply to differentiate myself, not only from people who do bullshitty marketing but at the same time, also people who only focus primarily on finished products, compared to people who are also involved in the product.
Louis: Yeah and I’m really glad that you answer it this way because I believe what you said 100% and I think we’re fighting the same fight. There is a quote from a listener who sent me an email a few months ago that I really liked. He said that good marketing is a marathon, while growth hacking and just kind of short-term thinking is just a sprint; and you simply cannot run a marathon by doing a series of sprints. You’re going to get tired after 3 or 4 and you can’t–
Louis: –possibly keep up in the long term and this is one of my … the biggest caveat I have against this short-term mindset is that in the long-term, companies doing good marketing will strive while you would have abandoned the ship a long time ago; and I think it’s much easier to focus on the right first principles and how people behave and as you said, adding value to their life, instead of just focusing on this next hack, where you can hack LinkedIn in order to send message to 1000 people in an hour, or Quora, or whatever it is that might work today but won’t work tomorrow.
Louis: I think it’s better if we focus on things that will always work, rather than losing our hair trying to find this new thing; because one thing that I’ve noticed from listeners is that a lot of them are absolutely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the amount of data, by the amount of news out there, by the amount of advice they get. They really don’t know where to start and I think it’s due to those blogs and those so-called experts who are just saying, “This is what you need to do next, this is what you need to look at next,” or, “Here is this new feature from Facebook.” And all of that.
Ferdinand: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more.
Louis: Right, so, that’s good. We’ve agreed. Fantastic.
Louis: No, I wasn’t expecting–
Ferdinand: Who’d have thought?
Louis: Laughs. Yeah, no. I knew we would get along.
Louis: What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years?
Ferdinand: Storytelling. Number one is storytelling. I think that’s something that everyone should learn. I think that’s something that everyone should learn in general. Not just marketing.
Ferdinand: If you want to get a job, the better a storyteller you are, the more likely you are to get that job because you could tell your story as effectively as possible. If you want to get investment … I’ve spoken to VCs who actually have said explicitly, “Sometimes we invest in products where we’re not convinced by the product, we’re not even convinced by the person’s track record but they told the story and the vision in such a way that we were completely on board.”
Ferdinand: So, I think storytelling is the number one skill. I think on the technical side it’s probably going to be inevitable, machine learning, data science. That’s something that people will have to learn. Although like I said, the thing with the technical sphere is that you can be out of the loop 5 years, 3 years, even 2 years sometimes and not have any idea what’s happening after 2 years because the sphere, it’s just changing so rapidly, everything’s changing all the time. Whereas, storytelling is not going to change. Telling great stories, that’s going to be valuable always.
Louis: How do you advise people on learning this skill in particular?
Ferdinand: That’s a hard one. Well, some people are more prone to it than others, that’s for sure but I think it is something that you can learn. Well, there are a lot of coaches and trainers and courses you could take. Some of them are fantastic, some of them less so. I think public speaking training is quite good. Even if you don’t plan on being a public speaker, I’ve found that people I’ve worked with … So, when I was working at Growth Tribe, we had a public speaking trainer, a guy called Thomas and he was actually a theater coach. He worked with theater productions. So, he had nothing to do with tech and he was a theater coach and he was a meditation coach and he also did public speaking practice with us and he was great because he really brought together all that was important, is how do you tell a riveting story? How do you tell a story as effectively as possible?
Ferdinand: So, there’s a lot of people you can learn this from. If you’re trying to think of kind of a bootstrapped way, I would say just think of people who you think are great storytellers and just watch them and of course, don’t imitate anyone’s style because one of the keys to storytelling is you need to sound natural. Whether it’s written or spoken, in both cases, it needs to sound natural. When somebody’s really trying to force a style, you can tell, you can tell, whether they’re a singer, a writer, a podcaster, it doesn’t matter, you can tell. So, learn to be natural, have your own tone, your own voice but just watch other people and analyze what they do and just try to figure out what it is that makes them great speakers; and think of people that you admire and generally just read stories. This sounds really basic but if you read great stories, you become a better storyteller, I think.
Louis: Yeah, we’ve got the luxury to have worked with a storytelling consultant recently in Hotjar, Michael Hauge, who has helped scenarios in Hollywood to create a few movies and he’s friend with Will Smith and all of that. Anyway, we were expecting to work with him on a specific project and he basically enabled us to really simplify the way we explain stuff in general and finding words that were just resonating with people much more easily; and he wrote a book actually. So, if you Google him, I’m not going to remember the name now but Google, if you’re listening to this, Google Michael Hauge, that’s H-A-U-G-E. There is a book that he wrote that is absolutely fantastic, around the art of storytelling; but nothing beats practice, right? So, the more you write stories and the more you practice, the better you’re going to get.
Louis: What are the top three best resources you’d recommend listeners?
Ferdinand: So, if we’re talking online resources, something that’s easy and accessible, I like to read everything that Brian Balfour puts out. I think he’s very insightful and he recently wrote a really good article about … essentially debunking the idea of the north star metric and the one metric that matters. I think that was something that had … it drew a lot of debate. So, I think he’s an interesting guy to read.
Ferdinand: I like everything that Andrew Chen publishes and … one thing, I mention him all the time. So, people are going to start thinking that I actually work for them, or promote them, or get a commission, I really don’t but I really love Zest.is, which is … it’s an extension that you can install and if you’ve used Momentum, it essentially does what Momentum does, it replaces your new tab page but with only content related to marketing and growth and this content is 100% hand-curated by people and there’s no algorithm at play. I don’t know if it’s always going to be the case but at the moment it’s just people who read it and they have very strict guidelines and they really try to make sure that only quality makes its way through and I have to say, there is a lot of valuable content and everything that anyone has referred to me lately has found its way onto Zest, and those would be my main online resources.
Ferdinand: Otherwise, in terms of books. I really love Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll. I think that’s a really insightful book. I think that’s … and Purple Cow by Seth Godin as well. Those are some books that I’ve really enjoyed.
Louis: Yeah, I’m going to second with you there about Zest and obviously, if you’re listening to this episode in 2 years or 3 years, then things might have changed but Zest is fantastic. I’ve actually interviewed the founder, Yam, on this podcast and I’ve also interviewed Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, who also worked with them as well; and yeah, it’s a great source of content and I don’t think they going to automate anything whatsoever. Ever. I think this is their company proposition, to be human and keep it this way.
Louis: So, Ferdinand, you’ve been a pleasure to talk to. A lot of good insight, so thank you for the debate as well, it was quite interesting on my side. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?
Ferdinand: Thanks a lot for having me, it’s been a lot of fun. So, everything that I do, I try to write about and you can find it at Blog.FerdinandGoetzen.com. Goetzen, spelt, G-O-E-T-Z-E-N. So, on there I publish everything that I write and yeah, you can find me on all social media. I’m really easy to find on LinkedIn, Ferdinand Goetzen, same spelling.
Ferdinand: So, connect with me, find me wherever you want. I’m always up for a discussion, I’m always up for a debate, I’m always happy to answer questions and most importantly, if you’re really interested in my real, real, honest, 100% point of view on marketing, just watch what I do. Go to recruitee.com, look at our marketing, look at what we’re doing, look at how we share content. I often say it’s better to watch what people do than to listen to what they say.
Louis: Yeah, that’s a nice way to end the podcast. Thank you so much.
Ferdinand: Thank you.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.