If you’ve ever given yourself the freedom to focus deeply on something, devoting dedicated attention and energy to it, you know the power of focus. In marketing, it’s easy to feel like you need to do everything — all the strategies, all the tactics — and if you can’t, to feel like you’re falling behind. But it’s often more effective to focus on just a few things and put your resources into those few things. In this episode, Sesame Mish, Growth Marketing Director at Intellimize, is going to share how she and her team have harnessed focus for impressive results.
(2:46) When choosing where to direct your marketing focus, high-quality leads are key.
We have a very high bar for an MQL (marketing qualified lead) here at Intellimize. The lead not only has to have requested a demo of Intellimize, but they also have had to take that critical next step of scheduling that first call on the calendar with our sales team. So at any given time, I am focusing on the right channels and opportunities that come my way that have the best chance of producing these high quality leads for us.
(4:39) There comes a point when the way things have always been done in the past no longer produces the same results.
Over time, our email strategy had become stale. And unfortunately, the open and click rates were dwindling. When COVID hit, everything changed, and there were other circumstances that meant that I was going to have a lot more trouble generating MQLs. I really was thinking deeply about this, and I envisioned the recipients of our nurtures getting to a point where they were actually excited to receive our nurture emails and would even look out for them in their inbox. What could I create, what could I offer, that would create that great situation for us?
(8:06) Create email nurtures that actively involve your customers by answering the exact questions they are already asking.
It seemed like a no-brainer to answer these frequently asked questions through a series of emails. And this was also our way of going back to the customer, listening to the customer, and giving them literally exactly what they’ve been asking for.
(14:56) Make your target accounts list more manageable by narrowing down your criteria for adding accounts.
I look at technographic data to see whether the account is already using competitive tools. And therefore I know that that account is probably experiencing pains and challenges that our solution can solve for. Second, I look for a customer of ours that’s in the same industry or has a similar use case that I can put in front of that target account and know that it’s relevant to them. And the third thing I look for is whether or not we have any relevant personal connections into this potential target account, because that would help facilitate an intro that much easier. And so, therefore, if one of the accounts that is showing buyer intent also meets these three other criteria, then they go on the target accounts list.
(27:47) You can’t do everything at once. It’s much more effective to put all of your energy and focus into just a few projects or channels than to spread yourself thin trying to do it all.
Once I embraced this mindset that you can’t do everything at once, I became much more effective. At any given time, I’m only focusing on about three or four projects or channels at a time, so that I can go full force in each of them. If you’re trying to do every last thing, then you can’t go 100% — or anywhere near close to 100% — in any of them. And you’re not going to be as detailed, you’re not going to be as personalized, you’re not going to do the follow-ups as well. And things are going to fall through the cracks. That’s how marketing is. You need to be fully focused on the channel that you’re in and completely embrace this mindset.
(Laura 0:51) Welcome to Episode 4 of What’s Working Now, a SaaS marketing podcast. If you’ve ever given yourself the freedom to focus deeply on something, devoting dedicated attention and energy to it, you know the power of focus. In marketing, it’s easy to feel like you need to do everything — all the strategies, all the tactics — and if you can’t, to feel like you’re falling behind. But it’s often more effective to focus in on just a few things, and put your resources into those few things. In this episode, Sesame Mish, Growth Marketing Director at Intellimize, is going to share how she and her team have harnessed focus for impressive results.
Sesame, so happy to connect with you! Thanks for coming on the show.
(Sesame 1:42) Yeah. Thanks so much, Laura, for having me. I’m excited!
(Laura 1:45) Yeah, I’m excited too! As we were talking offline, you had so many good things to share. So I’m very excited to share these with the listeners. So, to start, could you tell us just a little bit about Intellimize and your role there?
(Sesame 2:00) Sure! So Intellimize is software. We offer intelligent website optimization. And what that means is we use machine learning to automate testing and personalization and accelerate conversions and revenue through both b2b and b2c websites. So we’re actually driving an average of 46% lift in website conversions among our customer base. And we’re getting them this success about 25 times faster than older website optimization methods like A/B testing are capable of.
(Sesame) Yeah, it is a wow.
(Laura 2:39) Awesome. So as Growth Marketing Director, what responsibilities do you have?
(Sesame 2:46) Yeah, so I’ve been at Intellimize for a little over two years now. And, ultimately, at the end of the day, I am responsible for driving both MQLs and SALs through various different programs. So everything from webinars and virtual events to strategic partnerships to social media, paid ads, email nurture, website optimization, and ultimately ABM strategy.
And we have a very high bar for an MQL — so marketing qualified lead — here at Intellimize. So the lead not only has to have requested a demo of Intellimize, but they also have had to take that critical next step of scheduling that first call on the calendar with our sales team. So that being said, the quality of leads is incredibly important to me. So at any given time, I am focusing on the right channels and opportunities that come my way that have the best chance of producing these high quality leads for us.
(Laura 3:46) Nice. I feel like that is an area where a lot of companies fall short, with the MQLs. That’s a whole other conversation, how you define MQLs so the sales team is not mad at you!
So, as we were talking offline, there are a lot of strategies and tactics that marketers can pursue. And it can be really overwhelming. It’s also really easy to fall into the trap of trying to do too much. So today, we’re really focusing on the power of focusing, which you guys have done with really outstanding results. So let’s talk first about what you did with your email nurture campaigns. What drove you to shift your strategy with the campaigns?
(Sesame 4:39) Yeah, thanks for asking. So with email nurture, this was actually one area that I unfortunately had abandoned for quite some time. When I first designed our nurture, I was eager to promote our content, which a lot of marketers think about. And I thought this was the most important thing, because that’s how I had always been taught to do email nurture in the past: basically sprinkle some top-of-funnel content in in the first few emails, then some case studies to offer proof, and then ultimately, at the end of the nurture, landing the plane on the Intellimize solution and prompting people to request a demo. And that’s exactly what I did. That’s how I had set it up.
And that nurture had done well initially. But over time, it had become stale. And unfortunately, the metrics were dwindling, the open and click rates. And so this had for a while weighed on my mind. But like I said, I hadn’t had time to devote to updating it. I was being pulled in different directions, and I just never seemed to have time for it. However, when COVID hit, everything changed, as we know. And we were dealing with more restricted budgets.
I had also lost the ability to do in-person events, just like everyone else, which was a big lead generator for me. And there were also just other circumstances that meant that I was going to have a lot more trouble generating MQLs. And so I needed to find some no-cost ways to fill the funnel at that point. And so that’s when I had that epiphany where I realized, okay, this would be the perfect time, perfect opportunity, to shift focus to finally revamp our nurture — which was free of cost, which was definitely important at the time — and use our nurture in a very strategic way to drive MQLs to get us through those initial COVID months and beyond.
And it further made sense to do so to justify spending time on this, since all of our other channels that we were using ultimately point people to our nurture. So at some point, everyone is going to be on our nurture, and so it made sense to optimize it as best as possible. And so now we have this new strategy. But the question was, how are we going to update it? How are we going to make it stand out from our competitors’ and other vendors’ nurtures and give our audience something unexpected, and something of value that they can’t get anywhere else.
And so I really was thinking deeply about this, and I envisioned the recipients of our nurtures getting to a point where they were actually excited to receive our nurture emails and would even look out for them in their inbox. I don’t think that typically happens, where people are anticipating receiving nurtures and waiting for them. But I was envisioning this perfect situation where that was actually taking place. And I’m like, What could I create, what could I offer, that would create that great situation for us?
(Laura 7:37) Awesome. Yeah. And for b2b, I mean, it really is moving through that buyer’s journey, like you said. First email, top-of-funnel, second email, mid-funnel, third email, bottom-of-funnel. I mean, that’s how I have frequently done it, how I’ve always seen it done. So it’s super interesting that you have taken this different approach. So how would you describe the new campaign, the campaigns now versus what you were doing before?
(Sesame 8:06) Yeah, so what we ended up doing is we changed it from that typical top-of-funnel, mid-funnel, bottom-of-funnel, content-focused nurture that you just mentioned and which I described earlier. And instead, we started focusing on sharing website optimization ideas in the nurture. And so Intellimize, as a reminder, we help our customers optimize their websites. And because of that, prospects are always coming to us and asking, which ideas work? What should I be testing to increase conversions on my website? Which pages should I be testing on? Which ideas on those pages? And we’re constantly getting these questions. And so it seemed, at that point, like a no-brainer to answer these frequently asked questions through a series of emails. And this was also our way of going back to the customer, listening to the customer, and giving them literally exactly what they’ve been asking for.
And this frequently asked question was consistent and never went away. So we’re like, okay, let’s double down here and see if we can make something out of this. So what we did was, in each nurture email, we present one website optimization idea to basically inspire our audience. And so we share the thinking and story behind the idea. And each idea — I didn’t mention this — comes from one of our customers. So we put that story and the thought process of the customer into the email. We provide before-and-after visuals to make it more inspiring.
And last, we actually provide the percentage lift and conversions that our customer experienced in real life from running this idea on their website. And so the added benefit of this nurture is that we’re also highlighting our customers and putting them on this pedestal for the great work that the marketers on their team are doing on their respective websites. And so I think from this, like an icing on the cake is that our prospects receiving the emails can see how much Intellimize cares about our customer success. So we’re doing that at the same time that we are answering a frequently asked question. And so I think it was a slam-dunk approach.
(Laura 10:17) Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so interesting to me, because really, by focusing, you’re able to get that top-of-funnel content in. You know, here’s one idea to optimize. But then you’re also adding in that social proof of, here’s a customer, one of our existing customers, using this and what they were able to achieve. So by focusing in, you’re able to really do more, which is really powerful.
(Laura 10:44) So let’s talk about your results, which are really impressive. What were you able to achieve with this new approach?
(Sesame 10:51) Yeah, absolutely. So the question you’re saying is, has our audience been more receptive to this approach? Did it work smoothly? And short answer is, it worked. So from the old nurture to the new nurture, we’ve experienced a 79% lift in click-through rate, which is just absolutely phenomenal. I mean, I couldn’t have even made that up. So we definitely see this as a signal that the content in these emails, answering this frequently asked question, sharing these ideas to inspire them, we’re seeing that it’s working. It’s compelling enough for our audience. And they’re wanting to learn more about Intellimize because we’re sharing these ideas that they know Intellimize is helping facilitate on these customer websites. And so they’re clicking through on these emails to go to our site, to read more about us on our site.
And the other thing that we’ve seen, as far as metrics go, is that we’ve experienced a 63% decrease in our nurture unsubscribe rate. I know unsubscribes is definitely something that all marketers struggle with and never want to see, and are always looking for ways to decrease that percentage. And that was just an added benefit behind this nurture, that our unsubscribe rate decreased by 63%. So we see that this new content is definitely resonating. And it’s also a signal that people are actually looking forward to receiving that next email. So they receive an email, they don’t unsubscribe, they want to receive that next email and the next email.
And so within the new nurture itself, the last metric I’ll share is that we’ve seen a 200% increase in click-through rate over time. So the emails are catching on. We put the number of the idea in each subject line. So if someone comes across, for instance, idea #4 in the subject line, and they look at the email, and they like the email, and then they realize that it says “idea #4” in the subject line, it’ll naturally occur to them, “Oh, wait, I might have ideas #1, #2, and #3 in my inbox floating around that I want to go search for.” And that also signifies to them that there’s probably more ideas coming as well. So that’s another reason why we think that click-through rate has increased over time within the nurture itself.
And finally, I’ll say that the other cool thing about this nurture that’s different than the previous nurture is that the previous nurture, you couldn’t add to it. I mean, that last email was asking people to basically convert and request a demo of our solution. You can’t really pop in a top-of-funnel email after that one. That’s really the end. And the cool thing about this nurture is that I can continue to add new ideas to it. Because each email kind of stands on its own. It’s just one idea, one idea. And so I can continue to add new ideas to the nurture, so it’s never-ending for those who want to keep receiving these emails. And also, the track just never becomes stale, because there’s always new ideas being added to it that people can anticipate.
(Laura 14:05) That is super smart. And no wonder you’re achieving these results. Because really, the value that you’re delivering is incredible. And you really are answering those key questions. So very, very cool.
(Sesame 14:22) Yeah, I think my next step might be to take all these ideas and actually create a landing page out of it and keep this gift — for us and for them, you know — keep it moving in a positive direction for everyone involved.
(Laura 14:37) Yeah, that’s a great idea. So you were also telling me offline about your ABM strategy. And I know ABM can be incredibly overwhelming. But you have focused very specifically on just a few core components. So could you tell us about that?
(Sesame 14:56) Yes, absolutely. So before I get into those components that I think you’re referring to, I want to start by first talking about the target accounts list and how that gets compiled in the first place. Because I think this is a really important point that seems obvious to a lot of marketers, but I think there’s better ways to approach it. And I want to share these ideas to see if it resonates with anyone else. So I’ve seen a lot of target accounts lists, mine included, get out of hand. And what I mean by that is where it’s just hundreds and hundreds, or even a couple thousand, accounts in length. And it becomes pretty much a who’s who list of every account that meets your ICP criteria. And it’s like, yeah, it’d be nice if you could really reach out to all these accounts and hyper-personalize your interactions with all of them, and then all those accounts convert. But that’s not really practical and realistic.
And so I’ve gone through all of that. And I have felt the lack of effectiveness with that method. And so I have focused on the strategy side about how we’re reaching out to these people. But I’ve also taken that step back and revamped how I’ve approached the target accounts list. And so I’ve first off made it a lot more focused on making it much smaller and more manageable, so that I can really focus on personalization.
And so what I do is, in order to even get an account on the list in the first place, the very first foundational thing I look for is that the account has recently shown multiple instances of buyer intent. And so what I mean by that is we purchase buyer intent data from G2, which is the software review site, many marketers know about it. And so we can see in real time if an account is searching for our solution directly, or they’re searching for a competitor’s solution, or they’re showing interest in our solution category. And we can see when they’re performing these searches, and how many times they’re performing these searches.
And so in this sense, I am reacting to intent signals, and that’s how an account gets on the list in the first place. And I’m doing that versus just adding an account at will to a list just because it fits our ICP. So I’m being much more reactive to intent than I am just willy-nilly adding accounts to a list because they have the right company size or company revenue.
And then what I do is, of those accounts that are showing buyer intent, I whittle that list down further. And so I look at a few other criteria. One is I look at technographic data. So this is really important. I see whether the account is already using competitive tools. And therefore I know that that account is probably experiencing pains and challenges that our solution, Intellimize, can solve for. And I can use that in my messaging to them.
Second thing I look for is that we at Intellimize have current customer logos or case studies or metrics that we can use that are relevant to that account on the list. So, a customer of ours that’s in the same industry or has a similar use case or something like that, that I can put in front of that target account and know that it’s relevant to them, that it addresses the right use cases, that it talks about metrics that that target account cares about. If I don’t have this, a customer to support a target account that’s on the list, it’s going to be much harder to compel that target account to think that Intellimize can help them. So this is critical.
And the third thing I look for is whether or not we have any relevant personal connections into this potential target account, because that would help facilitate an intro that much easier. And we can always have that waiting for us if needed. And so, therefore, if one of the accounts that is showing buyer intent also meets these three other criteria, then they go on the target accounts list. And so that’s how our target accounts list comes together.
(Laura 19:08) That is super, super smart, because you’re really focusing in on the ones that are most likely to convert. And then also it gives you information on how to personalize effectively. And I also think it’s super smart, what you said with making sure that you have a personal connection.That is just brilliant and something I have never heard of before. Very cool!
(Sesame 19:32) We find that if other people are saying good things about your solution, it puts you up there at the top of the list versus other solutions that you haven’t heard any proof or justification on yet.
And I think the other thing you asked about are those components, you know: what is that strategy for getting in front of and engaging contacts from these accounts? We’ve definitely shifted our strategy over time as well and become much more focused. So what I used to do, I think I mentioned this briefly earlier, is I used to rely very heavily on these in-person executive dinners that I would put on. And a big portion of our MQLs for any given quarter were coming from these dinners. Because contacts from these target accounts were invited to the dinners, and they were very effective at converting them to be interested in our solution. So obviously, now, with COVID, these events completely got eliminated overnight, literally. And I had to completely shift the ABM strategy.
The other reason I’m shifting the ABM strategy is we used to send direct mail, which is a typical component of a lot of ABM approaches of other companies. We used to send direct mail, but it was very impersonal. Meaning that we were sending the same box with the same contents to everyone. There was no difference between them. And obviously, it was not standing out among other vendors or competitors that were also sending packages to the same contacts.
So, based on those two things, we have shifted our strategy to account for the fact that we can’t do in-person events anymore, and we also want to create a much more personalized experience to stand out for our target contacts. And that also aligns nicely with the fact that the Intellimize solution’s value proposition is one-to-one personalization. So there’s nice alignment there.
And so today, we’re carrying out this new strategy by integrating four different channels. So those channels are personalized email, personalized direct mail, targeting contacts through LinkedIn ads, and then also, fourth, using Intellimize to do website personalization when these contacts come to our site. So with the personalized email, we’re doing a lot of research on the account itself, but also on the individual contact. And we incorporate all of this research and findings into creating these very personalized emails.
So for instance, we speak to their perceived pain points with their current solution that Intellimize can help with. And another thing that we do is we also give them a glimpse of the estimated conversion lift that our solution can drive for them. And that’s based on their current website traffic and assumed current conversion rates. So that really piques their interest when they see, oh, wow, Intellimize can potentially drive this metric north for us and what that estimated number is. That definitely is an attention-grabber and gets them to engage with the email.
The second thing I mentioned was shifting from the impersonal direct mail to the much more personalized direct mail. So we’re using a really cool tool called EvaBot. It’s a newer up-and-coming tool — definitely recommend it — and it sends a personalized box of goodies to your contact. And the compilation of stuff in the box is based on that contact filling out this short, fun questionnaire that indicates their likes and dislikes and preferences, basically. And so, the contact only knows how they filled out the questionnaire. They don’t know what’s going to be inside the box until they actually receive it on their doorstep.
(Laura 23:34) How fun!
(Sesame) Yeah, exactly! It creates a really cool unboxing experience. And they see how the contents of the box relate back to what they wrote in the questionnaire. So it’s a very fun experience. And, of course, the box is branded with Intellimize, and there’s a personalized handwritten note in there from us. So they relate that back to the emails that they’re receiving at the time.
And then, third, I mentioned that we’re targeting our contacts from our target accounts list with LinkedIn ads. And then based on them clicking on those ads, we’re driving them to landing pages, where we’re optimizing those landing pages with Intellimize, knowing that they are part of our ABM program. And so at that point, with Intellimize, we can personalize their experience on the site, on those pages, by meeting them wherever they are particularly at in their buyer journey with us.
So what I mean by that is if they’ve been to our website before, we can identify that and we can serve them messaging and content that picks up where they left off. So they’re not seeing something that they already downloaded, or they’re not seeing something that is not relevant to them as far as use case or a case study that’s not relevant to them. We’re only showing them stuff that’s relevant to them or picks up where they left off the last time they were on our site.
Another example here is that if we know they currently use an A/B testing tool on their website, we can use messaging and provide materials that speak to how Intellimize performs better than A/B testing, as another example. So it gets much, much more personalized to that particular contact from that particular account than it would if that person had just come to our site without us running Intellimize on it. So again, we’re creating that personalized experience that was carried through the emails and the direct mail that they experienced as well.
And so, finally, I’ll also say that the last thing we do, besides those four channels and integrating those, is that, as the marketing team, we’re also tightly aligned with our sales team and account executives. And they have access to the account list, and they actually know about the account list before Marketing goes out and does anything. So they’re very tightly aligned around it, and they look through it and see, do I have any personal connections in any of these accounts? Here comes that personal connection thing again. And they let us know about those and actually take a step forward of reaching out to those personal connections, so that we can be multi-threaded into that account.
Multi-threaded meaning Marketing reaching out to them at the same time that Sales is reaching out to someone else at the organization. So we can come in at different angles. And so that also helps later on, if the conversation does transfer into a demo request, that we already have a sales presence on that account. So it makes that transition that much easier.
(Laura 26:46) That is amazing, from so many different angles and levels. Especially, I think one of the things that is the most powerful about this is that your personalization goes far beyond the identity of the target account. So often ABM is about who they are, the industry, etc. But you’re able to get so granular in targeting not only their pain point, but very specifics about their pain point: you know, what technology they’re currently using, and what topics they’ve already explored. And all of that all together creates a really, really powerful approach.
(Sesame 27:32) Yes, exactly.
(Laura) So, last question I have for you is, what would be your advice to other SaaS marketing teams who are experiencing overwhelm and want to start focusing in more?
(Sesame 27:47) I think that, going back to something you brought up earlier, which was the power of focus and that being the theme of today’s conversation, I think especially when you’re working on a small marketing team like I am, it goes without saying that it’s critical that you focus. You have to come to the realization at some point that you can’t do everything. No matter how badly you want to, or how many great opportunities fall on your lap, or how much you’re getting external pressure outside your team to do X, Y, or Z in marketing at the same time.
So I think that a lot of marketers experience all that stuff, and feel this immense pressure to be on every channel, to be doing every opportunity that comes their way, to be doing a project this quarter instead of next quarter, and not to wait. And I see that contributing to marketers being less effective than more effective.
And so, once I embraced this mindset that you can’t do everything at once, I became much more effective. And so at any given time, I ensure that I’m only focusing on about three or four projects or channels at a time, so that I can go full force in each of them. And this has worked so much better for me than trying to spread myself thin and spread my efforts thin across countless channels at the same time. And it kind of reminds me of that quote. I forget exactly how it goes, but it’s something like, if you’re doing everything, you’re not really doing anything.
And I think it’s so true, because, like I said, if you’re trying to do every last thing, then you can’t go 100% — or anywhere near close to 100% — in any of them. And you’re not going to be as detailed, you’re not going to be as personalized, you’re not going to do the follow-ups as well. And things are gonna fall through the cracks. That’s how that’s how marketing is. You need to be fully focused on the channel that you’re in and completely embrace this mindset.
(Laura 29:51) Awesome. This has been amazing. Thank you so much for sharing! I know people are going to take away a lot of practical things to implement from this. So thank you so much again for coming on and taking the time to do this and sharing your insights.
(Sesame 30:11) Yeah, thank you so much, Laura for this opportunity. I had a lot of fun speaking with you today, and I hope this is valuable to your audience.
(Laura 30:20) I’m sure you came away from that conversation as inspired as I did. Thanks for tuning in, and I will see you next month with another interview packed with actionable insights. Until then, happy marketing!