It’s time to focus on pain points first.
Stop getting hung up on the nuances of your personas and focus on the problems you’re solving for them. Marciela Ross, Head of Content, Sales Hacker at Outreach, believes that content needs to address pain points in order for it to be effective and engage a community.
As a part of Outreach, Sales Hacker has become a vital online community platform for salespeople to discuss their day-to-day challenges and share advice. With extensive experience in community building, Marciela shares her top tips for how to build brand awareness, all while helping community members overcome their challenges. This includes discussing with your product or service developers about how they identify customer pain points and the types of customer pain points.
Learn how to prioritize pain points, build a community, and get some insight from the flock in the episode below.
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Hello Marciela, welcome to the show.
Hey Chris, great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Very excited to have you here today. Things that I want to talk about, well, they’re going to wait for a second. Let’s just jump into the quick fire.
Amazing content is …
I would say it’s easy to digest, delightful to read, and stirring enough to make somebody want to take action, whatever action that is. Read something else, click something.
Concise or descriptive?
I hate to be so consultative-y, but I think it depends. I tend to be wordy, but concise gets you to the point. Non-varnished words are easy to digest. But if you’re trying to explain something, like teach something, sometimes diving in deep is the best way.
Fantastic. The company with the best brand voice is …
I would say I always loved Trello’s. Just the way they communicate, it’s like you’re talking to a fellow colleague. They understand your pain and they take you along on this journey, like “I’m right there with you, it’s so annoying.” That’s how it feels.
Best piece of content advice?
For B2B, it’s definitely best to go and talk to your developers. You could talk to your customers, of course, to understand what their pain points are. But as far as solving that pain point, talking to your developers, there’s nobody else in the company that has more excitement around a button or some line of code than your developers. And why they created it in that way to solve a specific problem.How do I make people more money, save them money, or keep them safe? It's always come down to those three areas. Click To Tweet
I love that. And when I’m creating content, I always …
Have paper, like a scrap piece of paper to jot down notes, because it’s a lot of spaghetti. There’s a lot of pop songs and cartoons running through my head at any given moment. So I have to write down notes and take scraps of information and write it down, because I know I have to capture it some place else later in a more formal way.
Love that, fantastic.
All right, so I looked you up, obviously, as I’m going to, that’s part of what I do here. And your history is remarkable. You’ve done a lot of things, you’ve worked at some really interesting companies.
But you started your career, I think, prior to your MBA, working at some of the biggest global CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands in the world, companies like Hasbro, GM, Target, Isotoner. How did large CPG help to form your thinking on creation in general?
I’m from Detroit. So growing up in Detroit, you automatically think “I’m going to work in the car industry, just like my dad did, just like all the rest of my family did.” And so to me, it was like, “Oh, I want to be that brand manager for Corvette,” right? They sell themselves, right?
Going into it, I didn’t know all the ins and outs of the industry. And so I started at 18, formally with General Motors as a co-op and then worked my way until I became a brand analyst, for commercials. So far removed from Corvettes! But commercial trucks aren’t Corvettes.
But it gave me a lot of insights on, “Okay, this is how we do things.” We place ads in trade magazines. We put up billboards. Why do we do that? Because we’ve always done that.
We didn’t have as much data as we have today. And so to me, it was always this hunger of “I want to understand how this really impacts that audience. How’s this really motivating and influencing them to make a decision?That's why I like to talk to the developers and talk to professional services and customer service. What are they experiencing? How are people experiencing this problem in different aspects? Click To Tweet
And it’s carried on throughout my entire career, whether that’s like working at Target and saying, “why does somebody want this water bottle versus this water bottle? How do I influence that decision?” Whether it’s luggage or water bottles, or we’re talking about hats, gloves. I worked at Air Products, industrial gas and chemicals, like what makes them want this molecule?
That’s so interesting because for a while I was a Yeti person and then somebody said, that’s not cool anymore. You need to be a Hydro Flask person. Well, who said? So I went out and got a Hydro Flask and now apparently, it’s Stanley. I can’t keep up. I don’t have a Stanley water bottle.
But that’s exactly what you’re saying is that we’re creating the language, the message that takes something that’s relatively, I’m sorry Yeti, I love you, unremarkable, and makes it more remarkable, more of an object of desire.
Imagine at Air Products where you’re talking about something as intangible as hydrogen. You can’t even see it! How do you influence someone to make that more desirable for them?
It’s the same through any career choice I’ve made. I’ve looked at the company like you’re a lemonade stand, you’ve got inputs and outputs, but there are people out there that are thirsty. So what are your inputs? What are your outputs? How do you talk to the people that are thirsty and get them to come to you versus grabbing some water or whatever alternative.
So no matter what career choice I’ve made, that’s always helped to boil it down. How do I make people more money, save them money, or keep them safe? It’s always come down to those three areas.
That’s really transferable as you move forward because you can do that with any business. It doesn’t have to be a CPG product. You could do that, well, where you are now. It just transfers that there are people that are thirsty for sales enablement platforms, and you have to let them know that there’s one and then bring them to your well.
And there’s no one more thirsty than sales reps that are trying to hit quota. It’s even more interesting because now you can talk and stir that kind of emotion that really makes them take action. We’re talking about you going home to see your family. We’re talking about you going to the President’s Club, going to that next career move. So it’s a lot more exciting. You create content that’s a little bit more provocative and moving.Understand that problem to the point where you know what impact it's going to have, the people that it'll impact, that comes first. Click To Tweet
And rather than just create marketing material, you manage something called Sales Hacker, which is a community portal brought to you by your company. But not essentially a company website. Am I getting that right?
Yes. Sales Hacker was acquired in 2018 by Outreach as their community. And so Sales Hacker existed prior to that as a B2B media company, like a community for and by salespeople. And it still exists in that way. Now we’re powered by Outreach. So we can take some of those learnings and some of the information that as an observer, as a sales execution platform, we see salespeople are struggling with.
So we understand like, “Okay, these are the things you want to talk about.” Here’s your community where you can suggest things to peers or ask peer questions or get advice from experts from Outreach. And it’s really great because it’s community led, it’s very community focused. So all of our threads, all of our articles are contributed by salespeople.
We have research that’s focused on revenue generating topics, everything we do, including our Sales Hacker podcast, is really about how do we help elevate that salesperson? There’s some connection with Outreach. It’s not, “Here’s where you’re going to get pitched Outreach all day.” It’s, “Here’s where you can talk about all the things that we know you’re challenged with because that’s why Outreach exists.” But here’s where you can talk about it with your fellow sales reps and leaders.
But at the end of the day, it becomes a really interesting resource for you as a marketer at Outreach or for product management at Outreach. You’ve got a direct connection to your community, of both users and potential users, because it’s not closed to people that don’t use the product.You can get to the right channels or use the right language, but don't get too into the weeds of a persona until you understand that core problem. Click To Tweet
So you’re hearing in community forums, you’re hearing through posts and comments what the challenges are that need to be solved, by specifically a company just like yours.
Exactly. And because we’re a community, we’re not restricted to talk about just sales execution, software, and SaaS. As a community, we can branch off and talk about more topics that are on the fringe.
So, for example, we did a state of the sales tech stack survey. What’s in your tech stack? What’s working? What’s not? What are you thinking about consolidating? And where that might not be a primary focus for our core marketing team, our community team can really talk about that and understand like, “Oh, okay, there’s not a lot of people in our community that are using sales enablement,” for example.
Understanding that and what challenges they’re facing, what they’re really focusing on. That’s not something we would probably look at in our core marketing team, but as a community, we can talk about that and bring them closer to the brand.
It’s been with the company now for what, five years, four and a half years. Is it working? Would your CEO say, this is a great thing?
I would say yes. In January we had this recharge event. It was a moment where we were like, “Okay, you’re almost at the end of the quarter or you’re ending your year” and you just want to get a shot in the arm.Don't burn your personas. Don't even concentrate on all those nuances until you understand the core problem. Click To Tweet
And so Manny Medina, he came on with an AMA (ask me anything) and was so excited to see all the questions that came in, which weren’t just Outreach focused, but community focused. They were just real conversations happening and I think that’s what he’s expecting from the community. And I think he really appreciated that event and some of the learnings and some of the people that we’re bringing in closer to the brand.
So how does this continue forward? What’s the evolution that you’ll be going through as you move forward? What’s next with Sales Hacker?
I think we’re still going to branch out into different content formats. Making sure that we’re delivering content that’s challenging the status quo, helping people discover new tools and processes, and things like that. We’re looking at different channels and different methods.
We just brought in-person events back, which was something that the past few years weren’t really happening. But we saw like, wow, people are really hungry to just get back in person, shake a hand, and have a conversation face to face. And so that’s one of the things that we’re doing.
Looking at other social channels, for example, because we understand people consume media in different ways. And especially if you’re a sales rep, you might be on the go and you’re handling a lot of things between home and going into the office on certain days. So we’re looking at that.
During that January recharge event, we committed to delivering on four key topics that were, accelerating deal velocity and increasing revenue per customer, things like that. Things that we know are top of mind for our audience right now. And so we’re really focused on creating those topics and subtopics that bubble up to those key, marquee, those headlines there.
Where are you getting traction with social media platforms right now? Which social channels?
Always LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the main channel, but we recognize that there are other channels that are starting to get a lot more visibility, a lot more traction. But our ICP, if you will, is on LinkedIn. That’s where those conversations, the influencers within sales, that’s where they have the biggest platform.Last year what I really wanted to focus on with the content is stirring up the emotions around these pain points that you have, these day-to-day challenges. Click To Tweet
But Instagram reels and shorts and all those like short videos, even LinkedIn live, which we haven’t done very much of lately. Those are things that we haven’t done that I think are definitely worth exploring.
In a recent episode, I was talking to an identity management company and they have a TikTok account. I was like, okay, say more! I need to understand how that works. I haven’t been to that corner of TikTok yet, but they’re seeing some level of success because there’s something for everybody on TikTok as it turns out.
You can’t tell from my stream, I just doom crawl all day. But that’s another channel that people seem to see working. I think that it’s a direction that we’re headed in because there’s a whole “Word Talk” side of TikTok that we could fit into, but it’s just interesting. I agree, LinkedIn is where things seem to come together. We’ve never been a Facebook company, and I tried with Instagram, but it’s hard to balance there.
Yeah, it’s still got to be very visual and that takes a lot to add.
Right, we’re words, we’re not so much pictures, and it’s a challenge.
So that brings us to where you officially work at Outreach. Beyond that community, how does Outreach use content? What is the overall content strategy within the organization?
Our core marketing team really looks at our community as a way to understand our key personas. We’re talking to our sales reps, we’re talking to SDRs and beyond, all the way up to CROs. But they’re looking as a sales execution platform, not just as sales teams, not just the AEs, the people in the trenches. They have to talk to the CROs and the revenue teams, the entire go-to-market team in general.
So community is a way to bring people into that pull, the gravitational pull of Outreach. Like, here’s where you can get familiar with the brand and get a little deeper with the problems that Outreach solves, because we’re talking about them every day as an AE, an SDR, or a manager.
You’ve got that blog post that draws you in, or you have that webinar or podcast episode that draws you in. We’re talking about it in the community. But then when you start to think about “How do I solve that issue? How do I increase deal velocity?” And maybe you start Googling that, or we introduce you through some of the content to Outreach as that solution.
So it’s a very soft handover, it’s definitely a customer led handover. It’s not a direct CTA of “Hey, schedule a demo” type of thing.
But it’s such great information that you provide, that they have access to, as a result of this community. Most companies don’t have that kind of immediate intelligence. You have to go pay for that. You have to get an analyst relationship with an analyst that actually speaks to the persona that you work with and then gather all of that. It’s a project and this lives within the extended four walls of your business. It’s fantastic.
How is all of this measured? How does one know that this is working? Where does the impact really hit the road?
I think we’re still working that out because for us in the community team, it’s all about increasing that community size. Whether you’re a customer or you’re not in the ecosystem at all, you’re not in the Outreach pool at all, we want to increase our membership and our community size.We're playing the long game, we're bringing brand awareness that our core team probably isn't focused on right now. Click To Tweet
So we really look at that as community growth and then engagement, because we just don’t want a lot of eyeballs in the community. We want people talking to each other. And so for us, membership growth and engagement are the top line.
And if those work, what happens?
Well, because we also look to bring in other software or sponsors that means that not only are we introducing our community to new tools and processes that could help benefit them, but we’re also bringing in people that can help expose the cracks in the processes that they need help with and find Outreach as a solution, for example, or recommend Outreach as a solution.
We have a fair number of people within our audience who are already Outreach customers and so they can start talking about how they’ve solved their problem. “Oh I’ve experienced that same thing, this is how we solved it or this is the process that you need to do.” They have great recommendations that are field tested.
I don’t know if you have an answer for this question, but it just sort of struck me. How would Outreach feel the impact of Sales Hacker going away? As the CEO of Outreach, how would I see that it doesn’t exist?
Right now, I think we bring in a lot of people or bring brand awareness to people that aren’t in the market. Our core team, they’re looking for people that are looking to make a decision within six to nine months, for a regular sales cycle. They’re looking for people that are in the market.
We might be talking to people that are SDRs now and in two years they’re going to be in an AE role using Outreach or maybe they’re talking to we’re talking to AEs that are going to be in a manager role somewhere down the line who needs to make that decision. So I think we’re playing the long game, we’re bringing brand awareness that our core team probably isn’t focused on right now. We’re, I would say, grooming that next generation of Outreach users and decision makers.Talk to your developers, there's nobody else in the company that has more excitement around a button or some line of code than your developers. And why they created it in that way to solve a specific problem. Click To Tweet
Well, there’s no Outreach “try and buy” model. You can’t just log into the website and play with it, right?
So this is your bottom up sales model then. Because the thing that I struggle with is that we don’t have anything like that right now. There’s nothing that you can play with on our website. And we talk about the difference of being an enterprise player and so there’s an enterprise sales cycle, but people that work at enterprises are people that happen to also have a job and they wanna go touch things and play with things.
And there needs to be that bottom up engagement because they might not be a buyer, but they’re a potential user, they’re an influencer, they’re somebody that recognizes inside the business what’s happening. And if we’re not the one, they’ll find something else. That intelligence, like you said, might not be this year, it might be next year, that they get tasked with solving a problem and we were never on their radar.
That’s part of the reason that we do this, but in general, I think that’s just a hard thing for B2B companies that don’t have that PLG (Product-Led Growth) approach. How do you engage from the bottom up? And I think that’s a great use of what you’re doing is to drive that early connection with somebody that doesn’t know that they want to buy a product yet.
It’s funny because I know that we’ve got Outreach customers, AEs, and direct users who will say, “I will not accept an offer unless they have Outreach.” It’s that powerful, but unless you’ve been in it I don’t think you understand how much of a difference it makes in your day-to-day workflow. And even myself, as I’m an Outreach user, I’m like, “Wow, how would I ever not use this!”
Last year what I really wanted to focus on with the content is stirring up the emotions around these pain points that you have, these day-to-day challenges as an AE or an SDR. To the point where it’s no longer comfortable to live with this kind of pain, I need to find a solution. And now I’ve been invited to attend this webinar and there’s an Outreach person on there and now I have visibility into this brand and understand how this solves that problem. I want to make sure we talk about it to the point where it’s like “I can’t stand anymore, there’s so much discomfort I can’t live with this pain anymore.”
The best way to do it!
So I like to end these episodes with something called a PSOTD. That’s the Provocative Statement of the Day. Something that’s a closely held opinion that you have or maybe you don’t even have, but you just think people might not agree with, or maybe they will.
What would your provocative statement of the day be?
I would probably say burn your personas.
Oh! Go on.
We’re taught as marketers that you have to develop these personas in depth. Like, what do they watch, where do they watch it, how many kids do they have? But don’t burn your personas. Don’t even concentrate on all those nuances until you understand the core problem. It’s so ingrained in that core problem, like I just need to do this one thing, this job.Amazing content is easy to digest, delightful to read, and stirring enough to make somebody want to take action, whatever action that is. Click To Tweet
Then you can bring in all the nuances so that you can segment appropriately. So you can get to the right channels or use the right language, but don’t get too into the weeds of a persona until you understand that core problem. And for me, it’s like save me money, make me money, keep me safe, you know?
So what I’m hearing is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know that I’m pitching to a male aged 45 to 54 if I don’t have something that solves a problem for somebody. Solve a problem first.
Find a problem first. Like most companies, they find a problem and a large surface area under that bell curve they need to solve, right? What’s that problem? Understand that problem to the point where you know what impact it’s going to have, the people that it’ll impact, that comes first. And then the person who has to solve that problem, how does it affect them? That’s the persona.
I like to really get ingrained. That’s why I like to talk to the developers and talk to professional services and customer service. What are they experiencing? How are people experiencing this problem in different aspects? I just try not to get too deep in the weeds until I understand that core problem.
I love that. Marciela, thank you so much for being on the show! This was great. You were great. Thanks very much for coming.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.