John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.
John Jantsch: Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Jill Soley. She is a Silicon Valley based strategic product and marketing executive, happens to be the Chief Product Officer at a project management tool called Obo. And, today we’re going to talk about a book that she’s a co-author on called Beyond Product: How Exceptional Founders Embrace Marketing to Create and Capture Value for Their Business. So Jill, thanks for joining me.
Jill Soley: Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
John Jantsch: So as we were deciding on the topic for today’s show, you suggested marketing for non marketers. And, I guess it just makes me as a marketer want to know what’s the difference between non-marketing marketers, or marketing for non marketers and just, I don’t know, marketing?
Jill Soley: Specifically, I’m interested and I wrote a book about marketing. And, its audience is really startup founders, small business leaders, anyone launching new products and new businesses, who doesn’t come from a deep marketing background. And, that’s why I suggested the topic, that what I’ve seen is that most founders don’t come from a marketing background, and it’s, I think, obviously super important to the success of their business to understand.
Jill Soley: So, the idea behind the book is that, particularly here in Silicon Valley, there are lots of technical founders, who they have an idea for a company, they start a company, and they have deep expertise in the domain. They have deep expertise in the technology. They’re focused on building product. Maybe they’re sales people. But, most of them aren’t marketing people.
Jill Soley: And, what happens as a result is there’s … Well, there are a bunch of different sort of scenarios. But, many of them, and most of them, lead to companies that aren’t that successful, because there’s often this belief that if you build it, they will come, right? I’ve got the best product, so of course it’s going to be successful. Or they make mistakes that perhaps wouldn’t happen, and they have to do with hiring or mismatched expectations, et cetera, that lead to major points of failure.
John Jantsch: Do you statistics on startups? I mean, I know a lot of people talk about … When I started working primarily with small business, it was like 50% of all small businesses failed in the first three years. I don’t know if that’s statistics accurate or not. But, particularly when it comes to kind of the work you’ve seen with product startup folks, is there kind of a number that people use that … You talked about it not being as successful. But, I mean, is there a number for down outright failure?
Jill Soley: I’ve seen a few different studies that basically sort of are all kind of centered somewhere around this 80% number. I’ve seen some that go as high as saying 95% of startups fail, and some that are a little lower, closer to 70%. But, the upshot is more than half of … It’s not just startups. But, it’s new products in general. So that’s new products in large businesses fail.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Let’s talk about products and product marketers. I mean, you talked about in some cases that this was a scientist or an engineer or something that had a good idea, thought the world needed it, brought it to the market. Is that really much different than say the person that learned how to do accounting, that started in an accounting firm? And, do you see differences between kind of that service and that product in terms of really even what the go to market is?
Jill Soley: Well, differences in terms of the challenges that they face, or difference in terms of the go to market that they need, approaches that they-
John Jantsch: Yeah. I mean, probably the challenges are somewhat similar. But, in terms of the kind of the mentality of how they’re going to go out there and get clients and market the business.
Jill Soley: At the core, I think it’s pretty consistent, right? At the core, the approach is really figure out who your customer is. Figure out what their pain points are. Figure out what their needs are. Speak to those, right? Make sure you’re solving a problem for them. I mean, the fundamentals of marketing are actually pretty consistent. It’s depending on who that customer is, the approach is going to be wildly different. Are you selling to teenagers who live on their phones? Are you selling to moms or elderly people or you name it? These other demographics who may spend time, business people who are at conferences or whatever, right? Where and how you market may be different as a result, but the fundamentals are very much the same.
John Jantsch: Would you say also, I guess, another dynamic that’s at play here when we’re talking about product companies is that a lot of times … I’ll go back to my example of the accounting firm. I mean, there’s already a market established for I got to get my taxes done. I have to have X, Y, Z done. Maybe now I’m just looking for somebody to fill that need for me. Whereas occasionally, or maybe the majority of the time, somebody who’s creating a product that maybe fills a need for something that didn’t exist before, that they actually have to maybe even educate people as to what problem this solves. I mean, would you say that that’s sort of an inherent challenge with a product company?
Jill Soley: I would say those are … But, both of those companies have big, major challenges. But, they’re very different challenges. And, I’ve done both, right? I ran marketing for a company that sold customer support software, right? Very crowded market. And, the challenge is how do you rise above the fray? How do you show that you’re different and get people to pay attention to you versus I’ve done category creation where nobody is looking specifically for that product that you’re selling, and you have to educate them on what it is, and why they needed, and how you could help them and support them. But, I mean, both are inherently hard. They’re just hard in different ways.
John Jantsch: Because you have the word beyond product in the topic, I’m guessing that a big piece of your work and your education is to teach people that it’s not enough to just have a good product. So, how do you have to go beyond that? Or how do you begin to move beyond the fact that maybe you do have a good idea or a good product, I should say?
Jill Soley: Yeah. And, that’s really one of the common problems that I saw was that first stage of a startup, right? Is very much founders get very focused in on the product, building out that product and get the blinders on to the other things that they need to do, right? There’s a lot of stuff that you need to do, that you should be doing early on, and you could be getting benefit from sort of the work you’re doing early on, hopefully with discovery and testing with customers and stuff, that isn’t happening because they’re so focused on product. But, what happens is then all of a sudden that they deem that they have a product that’s ready to go to market, and they haven’t done all the other stuff that they need to do. And so, that launch doesn’t do so well, et cetera.
John Jantsch: Yeah. How important do you think it is to actually develop a product with an ideal customer in mind, or maybe even with feedback from an ideal customer to … So, instead of you’re just doing something in a laboratory, you’re actually doing something that somebody validates while you’re doing it.
Jill Soley: Oh! I believe it’s absolutely essential.
John Jantsch: I mean, is that a step that you see quite often gets completely skipped?
Jill Soley: Yes. I am surprised how often it gets skipped actually. Or there’s not sort of true validation. It’s, “Let me test this with friendly people, right? My buddies, et cetera, who are of course going to support me,” or who the product doesn’t have the … The founders aren’t truly focused on a segment, and they’re sort of trying to meet the needs of too large a segment. And so, they can’t really meet anybody’s needs super well, right? Because you only have so much bandwidth, right? There are bunch of challenges in there if you’re not really sort of focused on an ideal customer.
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John Jantsch: A lot of, I mean, you see it in the media occasionally. Somebody has an idea, creates a product, it’s a huge hit and they cash out, and exit do. And then obviously, there are people that that build a product, and then they decide they want to grow the category, and maybe they want to add more products, and maybe they want to have impact in a different way. Is there a completely different path to how you would develop those two companies? If I had the goal of, “I want to get in. Cash out on this thing as fast as possible.” As opposed to, “I want to mature this product or this company.” I mean, are you going to go about building those companies in different ways?
Jill Soley: Potentially. If you’re really trying to get a quick win, and you’re going to cash out, and you aren’t really trying to solve a problem, sort of really solve a problem and be there long term to kind of build it out and support it and so forth, then I guess maybe you cut corners and stuff such that you make it look good and seem good up front, but it doesn’t really scale, et cetera, ongoing. Maybe you can hear my voice the skepticism around that strategy. And, maybe that’s my own personal bias around … I’m pretty mission-driven, right? I mean, this book is mission driven. I’m trying to solve a problem that I’m seeing, right? All this waste products that are failing for the wrong reasons, right? I mean, you don’t make money on a book, right?
Jill Soley: I didn’t write the book to make money. I wrote Beyond Product because I’m trying to actually help people, offer some, some painful lessons learned, right? That I’ve learned, and that other people have learned along the way, to people who I think can benefit from it. So, I think if you’re really trying to go and build something that actually makes an impact, then you go out and really figure out what the problem is, right? What’s a real problem in the market? And then, work towards really solving it, right? Which isn’t going to be an overnight thing probably.
John Jantsch: If somebody came to you, and they really had what seemed like a pretty good idea, they’d done some research, they’d done some discovery, what would be kind of your five things that you need to make sure you do?
Jill Soley: If they’re at the really early stage, certainly, I would look into the kind of research they’d done, and try and just really understand it, and make sure that they had kind of dug in deeply, and they weren’t sort of suffering from confirmation bias, if you will, right? Which is common. The early research is either with people I know or I’m listening for things that confirm my beliefs instead of that refute it.
Jill Soley: And so, once I’ve kind of dug into that, and have some level … Either have a level of confidence or kind of send them back to do some additional research. And then, sort of as they get to that next stage, where they’re trying to sort of really define, “Well, what is that solution now, right?” I’d try and get them to segment among those early customers who they talk to, right? Who are you really solving for? Get a really clear picture. Maybe try and find some of those people who will be early beta testers.
Jill Soley: And then, figure out kind of what are some of the smallest … What’s that smallest thing that they could provide that might solve a problem? And, begin to do quick iterations maybe. I mean, they don’t even have to be product at that point. They could potentially be paper prototypes, et cetera. What can you put in front of people to really kind of test out your ideas in a cheap and quick way to iterate before you spend a lot of money to build out your solution?
John Jantsch: Are there some folks that you think have done this particularly well, maybe they learned while they were doing it, but in the end, they came out and did a really great job with what you think is a great way to go beyond product?
Jill Soley: I think there are certainly lots of startups that do this. I’m trying to … I mean, you can go back to something like a Salesforce even, right? I mean, their initial product wasn’t really much to speak of, right? I mean, at the end of the day, that’s a marketing company. They have done a phenomenal job of marketing. But, what they did early on is they saw a pain point in the market, right? They saw that there were these segment, these parts of companies, right? These departments and all whose needs weren’t being met, and they weren’t going to be met by this big enterprise product that was there, right?
Jill Soley: So, they went in with a smaller cloud-based product that these departments could implement, and they could get benefit from. And then, they built out their product. And then, they expanded, and they built a platform, and so on, and so on, until they became the Salesforce that we know today, right?
John Jantsch: Yeah. Then, they became the big enterprise product.
Jill Soley: Exactly. We argue about whether it’s a great product today or not, and so forth. But, I mean, if you’re looking at sort of a model for this, I thought that’s a pretty good one. There’s certainly lots of startups as well that are doing this today as well as the ones who are perhaps not.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I think HubSpot actually probably copied that model to some degree. I mean, they were voracious marketers as they were building out the product. And, I think a lot of people, a lot of HubSpot fans, I don’t know how familiar you are with them and their product, but early on, it was a pretty clunky product. And now, they’ve really continued to invest and enhance it. But, they were voracious marketers.
Jill Soley: Well, and one of the things … They got the marketing right. And, there are some interesting sort of marketing strategy that they did really well. And, one of the things that they in particular did is, I think, early on, as I understand it, they had some internal debates about who their customer was. And, Brian Halligan has actually written about this online that they eventually kind of had a heart to heart as a company, right? Internally, they sat down and kind of forced that decision. And, as I understand it from people there, right? It was forcing that decision and picking a very specific target market that really helped their business be successful.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I would agree with that. Let’s talk a little bit about Obo. Are you, as a Chief Product Officer at Obo, are you bringing kind of what you’ve learned? And certainly, anytime you write a book, and then you’re in this position, I think there’s going to be some people pointing to you, “Are we practicing what we’re preaching in the real world?”
Jill Soley: Yep. And, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do there. I mean, right now I’m actually … I’ve come in. Product isn’t out in the market yet. But, we’re close. But, I’m coming in, and I’m actually going back, and just validating some of what has been decided, in terms of strategy to, frankly, make sure that I buy into it, and to figure out sort of where we go from here.
Jill Soley: Its mission, and sort of where it started, was this idea of market first product, right? Focusing in on a market need and understanding the market as opposed to product out, right? Product first. And, there are expert market researchers as part of the team and so forth, right? And, that really, really believe this, inherently, and are looking at sort of how we include that in our process as well as include it in our product, right? That’s exactly what I’m trying to do at Obo.
John Jantsch: Jill, where can people find out more about your work, get the book obviously, particularly if you’re a product person out there listening, and really anywhere else you want to send people to find out more?
Jill Soley: Sure. You can learn more about Beyond Product at beyondproduct.co. Dot CO, not COM. And of course, it’s available on amazon.com and any of your favorite bookstores. I can also be found at jillsoley.com. And, if you’re interested in software for product managers, Obo is at obo.pm. OBO dot PM. Lots of places to find me.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well Jill, thanks for taking the time to stop by today, and hopefully we’ll run into you when I’m out there on the road.
Jill Soley: Awesome. Well, thanks John. This was fun.