In Conversation With | Alex Shipillo - Director of Demand Generation at Influitive
Alex Shipillo is the Director of Demand Generation at Influitive.Influitive makes it easy for B2B marketers to recruit, mobilize and recognize advocates to support marketing campaigns, refer new clients and close deals. We sat down with Alex to chat about all things marketing and what it takes to succeed in the startup world.
Tell us about what you do at Influitive
I am the Director of Demand Generation.Our marketing team has essentially 4 sub-groups - content marketing, customer marketing, product marketing and my team, which is demand generation. My job is to take all the marketing that we are doing and turn it into a pipeline for our sales team. We are the more left brained, analytical part of marketing, with a focus on converting all of the great messaging and campaigns we produce into responses and inquiries.
I don’t have a free product or a free trial that I can offer to my prospects. The way that we get them to engage with us is by getting them to raise their hand when they download content, by filling out a form on our website, by speaking to us at a trade show or by attending a webinar. The demand generation team drives all of those responses to our sales team, who then convert them into demos, opportunities and eventually, new customers.
Tell us more about Influitive
The most valuable tool or resource any marketing or sales team has is their customers. Influitive’s vision is to enable great companies to better mobilize their customers to market and sell on their behalf.
When you make a decision to buy something, you probably don’t want to listen to a sales rep or read generic marketing material. But you do want to ask your peers for recommendations or ask existing users of the product. We make it really easy for companies to mobilize their customers in that way, and help out new potential buyers. Influitive’s product is an advocate community.
It is a place where you invite your supporters & your fans. Once they login, they see all sorts of ways to support your business. It could be small things like reading your last blog post or posting a link on Twitter about your upcoming event. Or, it could be big things like giving product feedback, recommending a peer for a referral, joining a customer call to give a testimonial, or speaking at an event.
Each request is segmented and targeted to the right customer - the right advocate - and they get recognition for doing it. For the advocates, it can often help their career, and deepens their involvement with your company.
Influitive’s customer are world’s biggest and fastest-growing B2B technology companies.
What was your path to marketing and where you are today?
I hear that a lot of people have fallen into marketing mostly by accident, and I’m in the same boat.
When I started in marketing, I didn’t even realize it was marketing. I was in high school and started a project which was an online resource for high school students to find opportunities - scholarships, programs and competitions that they could participate in. We wrote articles and had a database of all of the scholarships and programs (looking back now I realize that I was doing content marketing.)I was very surprised by the results of the project! We were hoping for 20 people to visit the website, but ended up having a hundred, then a thousand, then ten thousand and then a hundred thousand and more. It was driven by what I now know as SEO. In university, I got involved with a group of students at the University of Waterloo who were running a youth entrepreneurship organization.
In 2008, startups were not the cool thing at all. Instead, they were something you would do if you couldn’t find a job or you flunked out of school. Startups were considered an alternative. But we ran conferences, competitions, campaigns and events promoting youth entrepreneurship as a lifestyle.After university, I ended up moving into more formal marketing roles. I did internships with a couple of startups - Penzu, in Toronto, and TeamPages in Vancouver.
Once I had spent a bit of time in those organizations I knew it was time to find a real job. I reached out to Kyle Vucko who was the CEO of Indochino - an up and coming e-commerce custom suit company out of Vancouver. He hired me and I got on the marketing rocketship. I was one of the first 10 employees for the company in Vancouver. I joined without really knowing what I was going to be doing or how I was going to do it, but there was just so much opportunity for the business to grow. We tripled our revenue in a year and a half and I fell in love with revenue-driven marketing. In e-commerce it is so easy to measure the value of every click, every transaction and every website visit - they directly affect the revenue, and marketing is responsible for all it. I just fell in love with it. I also had a great team and we had so much fun building the business.It was also a consumer brand, so it was very fun to market it. Custom suits were sexy. It was awesome!I left Indochino about year and a half after joining, and ended up moving to Toronto in search of an opportunity in B2B marketing. I had very fortunate success in B2C with Indochino and I was very curious to understand if the B2B business was different and how it was different. I ended up joining a startup called Pressly and was there for about 9 months as their sole marketer.
I learned at Pressly that there is very different type of marketing needed when a company is pre-product market fit and post-product market fit. I joined Pressly as a growth focused marketer who was ready to take a product and start growing it. What I didn’t realize is that not all products are ready for growth. A few weeks after I joined, they started working on a brand new product - one that was not going to be ready for a while and did not need that type of growth marketing. They needed product marketing, positioning, messaging and to understand what their product was. They didn’t need my expertise.
Fortunately, Pressly is doing well now and is growing quickly with their current product.After Pressly, now over 2 years ago, I joined Influitive and it has just been an incredible experience since then. I have fallen in love with B2B marketing in a very different way. It is, to me, just as exciting as B2C. It is not as sexy and glamourous as marketing to consumers, but the predictability of marketing in B2B fascinates me.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
Every day I come to the office at Influitive and I know that I will have a brand new challenge facing me, something that I have not encountered before. Those can be marketing challenges, business challenges, personal challenges - in terms of becoming a better leader and manager - and that is what I find most rewarding.
When I was working in the B2C world in e-commerce, every month you start with 0 revenue. You have to build it up each time from nothing. A SaaS business is the opposite - you start with a subscription base and an existing revenue. You know what your last month’s monthly recurring revenue is and you grow each month based off of that.
As someone who loves financial models, the predictability of SaaS is so beautiful. I really love my role at Influitive because I know that whatever my results are today, they will correlate directly to the revenue our team is going to have 2 to 3 months from now. The fact that we are able to measure the impact of marketing on revenue is what I really love about my work. I feel empowered that I am able to see how the work that we are all doing is contributing to growth at Influitive.
How do you define success in your role?
Very specifically, it all comes down to numbers.
The way that my success is being measured is on direct sales qualified opportunities that are being sourced through our marketing campaigns. We also measure many different parts of the funnel - how many hand raises are we getting, their conversion rate and how we are reaching certain target accounts. I can’t hide behind the numbers [laughs] and in my role, more than anyone else's in the marketing team, the results kind of speak for themselves.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
With Influitive having raised a significant amount of venture capital funding, the expectation is that we have to grow as quickly as possible. Every month the targets we have to hit keep going up and that becomes a challenge.I always joke that marketers are pretty terrible people - we will exploit a channel or an opportunity until it no longer works. As a result, the challenge is to constantly keep coming up with new marketing opportunities!
How has the definition of marketing transformed in recent years?
I think there are a few shifts that have been going on. In the past, marketing was all about brand, imaging, feelings and colour. Then, the last decade saw the rise of marketing automation in B2B marketing.
Our founder and CEO Mark Organ was the founder of Eloqua. They pioneered the marketing automation movement and helped create that category. They brought rise to people like me - the demand generation marketer, who is driven by numbers and can show the value and influence of marketing throughout their company.
Now that we are getting to the next generation, there are a few interesting trends that are happening. The first one is that marketers all of a sudden have a lot of power and a lot of influence. They can often have more budget than anyone else does in the whole company and are seen as a revenue source instead of a cost center. The second thing is that, funnily enough, we are going back to some of those warm and fuzzy roots. The industry is saying that the data part of marketing is important but we are also going to have a more personal touch with our prospects and customers. We need to be human. Marketers have a big role to play in owning the customer experience. They have to be in charge of building relationships with customers and not just treating them as a metric.
It is funny that we are kind of going back in some ways to the softer, more creative and right brained way of looking at marketing after a decade of going so far towards the left brain.
How do you stay up to date with trends in marketing?
I read dozens and dozens of articles and blog posts every single day. I can’t consume enough content. You have to keep reading.
What are your best sources for reading about marketing?
My biggest source of information is Twitter. I think it is still the best way of curating content and that is where I find great information online.
The other destination I look at frequently is Hacker News. I am obsessed with startups and there is great general knowledge and startup stories and discussions on there. For non-marketing news, Reddit is probably the other biggest source of information that I love. I enjoy reading about local news on /r/Toronto and I have few other subreddits that I frequently visit.
What are your top 3 applications and tools?
Worklife - Worklife a collaborative tool that helps you track meetings, set agendas and add follow up notes. We recently started using it at Influitive and it has helped make our meetings significantly more productive.
The Google Universe - especially Google Docs and Sheets. Collaboration is key when you have so many stakeholders that you work with.
Evernote - I use it to keep track of all of my activities, tasks, future campaign ideas and more.
Best Time Saving Skill
My best time saving skill is being impatient - I run very quick meetings.I don’t like to carry on meetings that are unnecessary or without any focus. I am known on the marketing team as being the abrupt person who says, “Ok! we are done here! There is no more reason to spend 5 or 10 more minutes talking about this.”
What does your team look like and how has it evolved?
When I first started, demand generation was a team of 1.Today, I work with 3 full time employees and 1 Waterloo co-op student. Our marketing team has grown to 15 full-time employees plus 3 co-ops.There are a few key pieces to our demand generation team:
1. Marketing Operations - This is the technical backbone of our marketing. Chantelle Marchionda on our team leads it. She is the main owner of Marketo and is in charge of all the automation, tools and systems we have in place. She focuses on enabling us to execute, scale and to build processes around all of our campaigns.
2. Marketing Programs - I like to call Vivek Balasubramanian our utility infielder. He’s able to take on a very broad range of marketing activities and he’s currently focusing on managing our paid advertising channels, SEO and Middle of the Funnel nurture programs.
3. Data Intelligence - This is the newest role on the Demand Gen team. We have always had marketing operations and sales operations at Influitive. But we realized that the one thing that always falls off their plate is data. Our idea was to bring a third person to join this team that is focused on our data strategy. We brought on Dean Wang to own our data strategy. His job is to figure out how do we grow, append, clean up, verify and scrape all the data that we need. As a company, Influitive is up to 170 employees today. We were about 40 team members when I joined two years ago. There has been quite a bit of growth!
What are some of the things you look for when you hire someone for your team?
The first thing is passion - you can’t fake it. We want someone who is just obsessed with what they do and has a passion for learning and a craving for knowledge.The second thing is work ethic. Ultimately, no amount of interest or knowledge is going to make up for someone who is just determined to figure out things no matter what. Being a fast-growing startup, we have a very high performance team and being able to work hard and in a resourceful manner is probably the second most important thing we are looking for.
Lastly there should be curiosity. Do they ask questions? Are they curious about how things work? It is usually a good sign of a marketer.
How do you define the value of a product and how do you deliver or communicate that value?
You have to focus on benefits, not features.
Many of the pitches that I get from startups or sales reps are focused on features. Ultimately your job as a marketer is to communicate benefits.The challenge today, especially within marketing organisations, is that there are so many tools, and applications that we can use. There is almost an additional maintenance cost to adding every new tool to your marketing stack. When you are trying to show the value, it is important to show which parts of the existing system do you replace or optimize.
How do you suggest that others find their way through the field of marketing?
I think we are lucky, especially in the startup world, because people are so accessible. If you can demonstrate that you are a passionate, curious, honest and a good natured person, it is very easy to set up meetings with experts and leaders in the marketing world. From there, it’s not hard to start forming relationships and asking people questions.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask. You will be surprised by how much response you can get.
The second opportunity for marketers is to write. Writing or creating other forms of content is the easiest way to make a platform for what you are doing and to show your thought leadership and expertise. Doesn’t matter if your ideas are good or not, just communicate them, get them on paper and share them.
It is a very easy way to start showing the world how your brain thinks and it is great way of demonstrating that you can bring value to a team. I have had a lot of success through my own writing in how it has helped me create connections with new people.
You can read more about Alex and his writings on his website.