#10. Eat-Your-Vegetables Marketing: How Claire Suellentrop Uses Customer Data to Supercharge Growth

Claire Suellentrop learned early on at Calendly that focusing on existing customers, instead of just acquiring new ones, is the best shot SaaS companies have at rapid growth.

Since then, she’s taken the same formula and applied it several times over for some of the fastest-growing tech companies in the world.

Here, Claire shares her firsthand experience and what it’s been like teaming up with Georgiana Laudi to create Forget the Funnel and Elevate.

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Brad: (00:00)

Okay. Claire, thanks so much for joining me. Could you just give a quick overview, a quick overview of your background, uh, so we can figure out kind of how you got to where you’re at currently today.

Brad: (00:00)

Okay. Claire, thanks so much for joining me. Could you just give a quick overview, a quick overview of your background, uh, so we can figure out kind of how you got to where you’re at currently today.

Claire: (00:08)

Sure. And thanks Brad. Glad to be here. Yeah, so a quick bit about my background. I, I am a marketing consultant specifically for SAS companies, which can get all the more specific and niche she if you wanted to. Um, but generally I’ve been in marketing since my very, very first like professional career days, um, and went into SAS in 2014 and that’s when I came on board, uh, with Calendly as the director of marketing and the second employee. Um, so I helped Calendly grow, um, quite a bit. And then, uh, after a couple of years with Calendly and helping the team go from, it’s, it’s first couple thousand users to a whole bunch of users, uh, and two employees who I think there were like 30 to 40 when I left. Um, I switched over into working as a consultant rather than taking them another in-house role. And the consulting journey has been about three years in the making now, which we can dive into. Um, I think the TLDR of like what I do in terms of consulting, um, is I take a,  I focused specifically on helping SAS companies figure out all of the nitty-gritty details about their customers. That internal teams often struggle to find. Um, so those teams can use those customer details, customer insights, whatever you want to call it, um, to make better marketing decisions, messaging and positioning decisions and everything else, all those other little pieces that are part of marketing strategy.

Brad: (01:38)

Perfect. Yeah, I think that’s super interesting because I think especially knowing a little bit about more about your story from when you initially joined Calendly and then worked with them for a little while, you had kind of an opposite experience. What more most marketers out, where most people are trying to focus on acquisition and they’re trying to figure out how do I get traction for a brand? Whereas you guys had, at the time there was already this like massive Beta list. The product is awesome, obviously. So instead it was more like your focus initially was more retention based, kind of how did that transition look like from like your private prior experience? Kind of doing a couple a few other things that were not as  like tightly aligned against.

Claire: (02:12)

It was super interesting. I thought I was, I thought I was going into one job and then I realized very quickly like, oh, this is not my job at all and now I have a new job. Um, so going into a marketing role, I assumed I was going to be focused on very standard, um, marketing associated activities, right? So generating demand for a new product. Um, but as you had mentioned when I joined the team, um, although we had, although the joined at the transition point from when we went to free Beta products, you paid sass products, um, that Beta program had been going for quite a while when I joined. So, um, the, the product already had like a very healthy number of users. And so when we switched over to the paid model, people in that Beta where a number of them were getting enough value that they were like, oh yeah, I’ll go ahead and pay.

Claire: (03:03)

Um, and so what I thought was what I thought I could come in to solve, um, which is typically for marketers a top of the funnel, so to speak, problem, um, or an acquisition problem, um, for me was actually an activation and then revenue and then retention problem, right? So my job became very quickly, way and less about how do we get more people into the product and much more about, of all these people coming into the product, how do we figure out what exactly it is they need to do or experience to be successful and become active users? Um, because the way the product works is like if I share my scheduling link with you, Brad, then you are exposed to it and you have an opportunity to start using it also. Right? So, um, the more active users or the more, um, I guess active users is the best thing to say here, but the more active users we could get into it. Um, the bigger and bigger and bigger our marketing engine group so to speak. Um, so that was really, really interesting and it shaped a lot of my marketing philosophy. In other words, that experience is kind of where I, um, where I first started to realize, oh, marketing isn’t just an acquisition play. Marketing is actually like a full customer journey play. Um, so that’s been really, really influential and has totally shaped like all of the work that I’ve done with clients since then.

Brad: (04:31)

I think it’s funny to you look back at like, you know, the 1960s definition of marketing and it’s packaging and pricing and all. It’s like all this stuff that, you know, we should be doing now, but we don’t like Margaret. Margaret was just advertising. That’s basically all we do now.

Claire: (04:46)

Yeah. Um, yeah, I, I understand the foundations of, of creating a good brand, but I am by no means a branding expert. I, when I look at, when I look at the work of people who really get like a brand in the traditional sense, I’m like, oh, this is such a cool skill  and I do, don’t have,

Brad: (05:04)

it’s almost like mystic, Huh? Like they’re reading or something and they’re just, yeah, I agree. It’s hard to, um, I feel like especially in digital people are very analytical and rational. Um, especially working with, I’ve had some experience working with like really large branding agencies and worked at like Hilton and all the other places. It’s just like two completely separate disciplines, really. Totally different process. 

Claire: Totally different process.

Brad: Definitely. So, um, right when we’re going to touch on kind of some of the things you did to kind of create that, that engine of growth that we talked a little bit about, um, kind of tied into what you do now, but before you leave that you’ve got Calendly to this point or you helps, you know, with the team obviously get at this point where it was almost like self-sustaining and that like seems like the time when you just like throw your feet up and work like four hours a day and maybe like long lunches and drink a lot of wine or something. And then you just left.

Claire: (06:01)

That sounds really Nice.

Brad: (06:02)

Yeah. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? So what, what was it, what was that impulse? What was that like, kind of internal thing that initially triggered where you’re thinking, you know, maybe this isn’t exactly what I was on board for or, or maybe there’s this other challenge out there that I need to explore a little bit.

Claire: (06:17)

So it’s a really, really good question. I for a very long time and way, way before even Calednly um, always knew that at some point I would want to own and operate my own, for lack of a better word. I don’t want to say venture because venture is a very loaded term. It can mean lots of things to lots of people. So I’ll just say business. I knew I had known for a very long time that I wanted to run my own business. Um, but prior to Calendly, all the different things I had tried were very much dabbling. Right. Very sandboxy. Um, so going into Calendly, um, and having the opportunity to be in a director position to me seemed like a free Mba. Um, I was like, this is awesome. I’m going to learn so much about growing a company from two people up to way more, um, going from no paying customers to lots of paying customers and all kinds of things that go with that.

Claire: (07:19)

Um, of course I didn’t learn everything. That’s, I think that’s impossible. Um, but I got a couple of years in and the team had grown. Um, and where marketing needed to go at that point was, was, um, w with the marketing team needed to do was scale up to being a more complex organization or more complex department within the company. And I thought to myself, okay, I could do this. And then, you know, for years on into my career, I can, I’ll, I’ll be able to get a job as like a marketing leader wherever I want, but do I want to be someone else’s, like in house marketing leader? That doesn’t really align with what I’ve, what I’ve quietly wanted for a very long time, which is to run my own thing. Um, so I was kind of at this crossroads and I was thinking, okay, how long do I keep this up?

Claire: (08:11)

Um, and I, you know, looking back, I can’t remember what the exact moment was or like what the like trigger was. Um, but I was just having an honest conversation, um, with the person I reported to at the time and the conversation about the fact that I’ve always wanted to run my own thing came up and it just seemed like a really opportune time, um, to explore, hey, should someone else be in this role that I’m currently filling? Someone who really wants to build out a large team and do that in the name of this brand. Um, so, uh, so yeah, it was, it was something that I had always leaving and starting my own company or something I had always known I wanted to do. Um, and it just so happened that where the company needed to go at that point and where I want it to go, um, it seemed like a good time to kind of like jump into this unknown and start doing that.

Brad: (09:09)

because you’re a masochist and you like you like not sleeping and. Um, do you think part of it too, I feel like once companies start scaling the leadership becomes more like product managers. Uh, and I don’t mean that in like a negative way, but, but you start to get removed from the stuff that you enjoy.

Claire: (09:31)

Yeah. Um, yes. And, and I, and I, that’s a really good point. Um, and I knew that I knew that at least I didn’t, I didn’t know exactly what starting a consultancy would look like for me, but I did know that, hey, if I can work with clients one on one, um, then I can be on those front lines for clients and build up my, like, I don’t know if book of business is the right word or I can build up my experience creating marketing, um, for more companies and learning so much more about how creating marketing needs to look different for different business models, different types of customers and so on. Um, so yeah, that, that aspect of it was really appealing rather than only having the experience of helping this one company grow.

Brad: (10:19)

Gotcha. Yeah. So you decided to make a leap at that point. Did you have a name in mind? Did you have it cause you have it crystallized like, Hey, I’m just going to, I’m going to zero in on this retention based stuff that people should be doing, but they’re not, whic in my experience, always a really great sales tactic because when you try to sell people stuff they need versus what they want. Yeah. It’s like how much of that did you actually have flushed out before you, like we’re out the door, you know?

Claire: (10:47)

I can be very, very like in the weeds about this. So what I, I knew that I would, um, I knew that I had a really, just from my work in house, I’m doing a couple of like, what am I saying? Doing a lot of partner marketing projects. Um, and just like the relationship that I had relationships I had already built in Sass, I figured somewhat naively, I don’t know. It worked. I knew, I knew there was a lot. I did know, um, and then I could figure out, but at the time what I really was afraid of was not having like a step by step. Like, what do I, what is the number one thing I do? And then the number two, and then the number three. Um, so one of the very first things I did was buy, um, Paul Jarvis’s course called creative class.

Claire: (11:38)

Shout out, Paul Jarvis. I don’t know if your course is open right now. I’m pretty sure it’s like a thing where he closes it and then he opens it and then he closes it. Um, but it works if you’re considering like going out and running a service based business and you’re like, where do I start? Um, buy it because it’s, it’s really helpful for just like giving you a process. Um, so the first thing I did was buy that and that helps me figure out like, okay, step one is, is, um, like do some direct outreach to people you know, who are likely to know the types of people you want to work with. Right. So I was like, okay, I can do that. So I made a list of people. It was, it was extremely tactical and that’s what I needed at that time. Um, in terms of the name for the business.

Claire: (12:25)

Um, I jumped to project after project and that is just been a trait that I’ve had for a very long time. And so I didn’t, I actually didn’t spend very long on my legal business name at all cause I just, I needed something really generic that could show up on like invoices and everywhere else. I would use something cool depending on like what stage of life I was at at that time. Um, so my, my legal business name is super boring. It’s just Claire studio LLC. I wanted Claire LLC, but that was taken in the state of Georgia, unfortunately. Um, so, um, so I got a super boring business name that I knew I would never like use anywhere except on invoices and in contracts. Um, and then I came up with the, the consultancy named Love Your Customers because so much of the work that I had done in house that I, I found most meaningful and useful all had to do with customer.

Claire: (13:21)

This is the unsexiest topic out there. Um, and no one likes it, but it is so valuable. Um, it’s very much like an “eat your vegetables” type of topic, but all the most valuable and useful work I had done. It stemmed from customer research, weather and largely that was one on one customer interviews, which I’ve now spoken at length about different conferences and I teach people in house how to do that now. Um, but I started even back then I had this little like kernel of a philosophy, which was like a good marketing strategy is not formed unless you really understand the customers you’re trying to reach. Um, so I came up with love your customers, love your customers.co domain was available. I jumped on that. Um, and that was like, that was how I was off to the races so to speak, in terms of like having a consulting presence. Those were the baby steps.

Brad: (14:17)

Good. What was the one thing that surprised you most? Like did you have this expectation of how you thought it was going to go and you jumped into, you start working with companies and then you’re like, oh, this is not what I had in mind.

Claire: (14:28)

Two things were very surprising. Um, one thing that surprised me was how willing my contacts were to refer me to like people in their network who might need marketing assistance with marketing strategy. Um, and I think that speaks to just like the fact that I work really hard. Um, and I tried to take care of relationships. Uh, so, so people my network, we’re willing to stick their neck out for me. Um, and to, it speaks to the fact that like if you, if, if you kind of show ahead of time that you’ve done the work, like I had, I had several years of experience with an in house company before doing this, you’re going to be much better off than if you just like decide one day that you’re a guru at something. Um, it’s a lot harder to be credible in that way. Um, so I was, I was, I was gratefully surprised at how quickly people in my network, um, referred their context to me.

Claire: (15:23)

Um, what I was surprised at and did not account for and thankfully passed me at like saved up enough money to it to like cover this. But what I did not account for, um, was how long it would take for deals to close. Uh, and so like the second month that I can save it for about like three months of like cushion and month one I got a bunch of like referrals. Uh, and I was like, this is going to be so awesome. In month two I was still kind of pushing those through the pipeline and I was like, oh my God, if these deals don’t close, I am in so much trouble. Um, so I wish I had saved up more pipeline or I’m sorry, I wish I had saved up more like buffer of money. Um, I’m now in a much better position that like, that like two to three months of runway is no longer the case. Um, but that was really, really scary in my like baby baby consulting days

Brad: (16:15)

For sure. I feel like, I’m glad you brought that up because it’s something that a lot of people don’t talk about and especially if you’re working at a house, a place like you don’t get it. I remember, I think I’ve been self-employed for like eight years now or something. Uh, and the same kind of shock realization where you think you haven’t figured out and it’s like, no, you don’t know anything. People you don’t know. Net 30 really means like net 90, uh, deals. People are going to tell you like, oh yeah, like let’s do this deal, whatever. And then they flake on you and ghost you, people break you sign big contracts and get it all done on this like professional contract proof by a lawyer and then they just break the contract and bail and you can’t do anything to sue. There’s all this, Yeah, there’s all these things, but you kind of have to figure out the hard way about you and you’re out of time too. It’s hard to explain, but the time you’re just like,

Claire: (17:01)

you feel like just,

Brad: (17:03)

you’re like, I have no idea. I’m going to go out of this.

Claire: (17:05)

Yeah. You’re kind of like, is it my problem? Like am I the age year or is if I’m missing something. Yeah. So yeah, you’re right on the money.

Brad: (17:13)

So you just, you start with this kind of initial, somewhat broad kind of messaging. You start by reaching out to a few contacts. Did that kind of messaging resonate with people when you’re like, hey, you guys just need to talk to your customers more?

Claire: (17:28)

Yeah, the order of events was, I was afraid to say I was afraid to specialize and actually like that is my lifelong Achilles heel. Um, that will probably haunt me forever and I’m going to have to work on it forever. And like that’s the mistake that I will always make. Um, but as afraid to specialize and say like, I do this one skill, right? Like some people are really good at, like they, they niche down to some piece of SEO or they do conversion copy or they do. Trying to think of, um, did you like a particular channel of advertising or PR or a million other things? And I was really afraid to niche down, um, because what I wanted to niche down on was so far like it was so, it was so far removed from like money specializing in customer reaching who bites we search.

Claire: (18:17)

No one buys research because research doesn’t immediately point them money. Right. Um, so I was really struggling and I just kept like saying things like marketing strategy, like what the hell does that mean? Um, and, and I was lucky enough with my first couple of clients, um, to be able to weave customer research into the projects. Um, and what that did, like what I found really interesting was that I would weave customer research into the projects and I would say, okay, this in particular, um, I, I did a project with full story, uh, and they had the head of marketing at the time. I think now she has a different role in the company, but the head of marketing at the time was like, um, she was trying to figure that out. She was like, so what is your specialty? Like, will you do, what’s the, what do you do that no one else does?

Claire: (19:07)

And I was like, well, I, I don’t have that figured out yet. I’m really early in this consulting gig thing, but a couple of things that I did very, very repeatedly at Calendly that that really moved the needle, um, were x, y, and Z. And one of the things we worked into our agreement was a series of case studies. Um, well case studies require customer interviews. And so, um, I ended up doing these customer interviews and, not only were the case studies were useful at the time, but the, the customer research itself was so valuable. Um, the internal team like, Whoa, no one has talked to our customers this way before. No one has ever kind of sussed out like what the, what they were struggling with in their words and why our product fixed it in, in, in their words. And they were like, we can use these in so many places.

Claire: (19:55)

Um, so I know actually that to this day, um, the, those documents are still used internally in terms of like helping people align themselves with how customers really described the product and how they described their own problems. And so I was like, that’s interesting. So, so they found the research valuable after the fact. So now I have to do is get people to understand the value of it before they take me. Um, and actually it’s funny doing customer interviews leads New People to learn that you’re doing customer interviews and um, and so I actually ended up closing a number of clients who were my interview subjects for previous clients. Yeah. Um, so I kind of, that’s when I first started to think, okay, can I sell research? Can this be like a business or do I need to stay like marketing strategy level? Um, and you know, through the first, through the, even now that’s still not fully flushed out. Um, on my website, uh, my website, I don’t know, does everyone hate their own website? I hate

Brad: (20:59)

well I think especially in this industry, the focus, because everything is so like low touch, 10 bucks a month, you don’t talk to sales people. People don’t realize that a service company, like no one gives a shit about your website. Like the least thing. Every lead I get through my website is terrible or most like a lot. Like they know me somewhere, they are referred to me somewhere. They see my work somewhere. Like that’s how,

Claire: (21:28)

 they need to be warmed up to the fact that like, okay, this guy’s legit. Yeah,

Brad: (21:32)

yeah, exactly. So I, I stopped trying yeah. Years ago.

Claire: (21:36)

So like, I’m trying to think of where I was going with this explanation. So I guess that all goes to say, even now, I still don’t have, like the way I’ve positioned my services through Love Your Customers perfectly laid out. Um, and that’s actually why I’m transitioning to serving clients in a different way, which we can talk about later. Um, but the common thread was that the, the projects that I consistently found to be like the most impactful for clients, um, impactful in the sense that like they looked at the work and they were like, wow, this is useful. Like we’re going to, we’re not only going to use this for our marketing, but we’re going to use it in all these other ways to, um, we’re always projects in which customer research was involved. Um, so I continued to kind of champion that idea. And whenever I like speaking events, I always include the fact that like if you’re including research in your marketing planning process, you’re the marketing you actually do, we’ll be so much more effective than if you just choose to run Facebook ads because somebody on your team knows how to run Facebook ads, um, or make some other kind of like, you know, kind of inside the echo chamber decision.

Brad: (22:46)

Yeah. It’s more effective because it’s not just like we’re not talking about conversion rates, we’re talking about like a lifetime value. We’re talking about how much it’s going to cost to actually acquire those people. I think so it’s almost sounds like the, what’s valuable for companies is like the output of what, of the research, not the research is like the stuff you have to get through to actually get the insights.

Claire: (23:08)

Yeah. And that’s, I don’t know, this is really just like you and me riffing. I’m not, I’m not trying to like go anywhere with this point in particular, but the challenge is that the research part is very much like eat your vegetables. Um, and so what I like I guess my marketing philosophy so to speak, which I’m still kind of crafting the, like I’m still kind of figuring out like what exact words to make up my marketing philosophy. But if you can, if you can centralize really, really getting to know your customer and use that as the basis for everything in your company, your marketing and using customer research in order to inform product. Um, which surprising it’s happens surprisingly less than people think. Um, and everything else, the way that the customer success department is organized, the way that the sales team like speaks about the product and um, and the, and its benefits and customer pain points.

Claire: (24:05)

If you can centralize customer research as like the foundation that all those departments work from together, you’re going to be so much more effective and you’re going to grow so much faster than you would otherwise. Um, so I guess my, like my, the angle I’m, I’m coming from more and more is not like, oh, you have a project first. We need to spend eight months on research. But like, Oh, you have this project. Do you, do you know how your customer, like let’s say there’s a feature release, but I’m actually, I actually am working with a client, um, right now who recently released, released with a feature. And at the beginning of that, um, the team, the team had like their internal description of, of what the feature was and why it was useful. And I was like, well, what, what are, what would the customer say? Like what are their words they would use to describe this? And they were like, Huh? Right. Um, and so I’m, I’m, I’m as much as I can I’m trying to help clients and companies in general understand that like research isn’t so much of a pill you have to swallow. It’s something that if you prioritize, um, it’s, it’s going to, it’s, it’s going to make, I don’t know, is it like, is it like a Popeye eating spinach analogy here? Is that what I’m trying to say? Um,

Brad: (25:30)

I mean in a roundabout way because it’s like I’m, most companies go through a good enough job with it. And then the problem, the problem compounds when you do try to scale, so you try to like hire people. And you trying to like bring on vendors and try to run? You tried to do the tactical stuff. Well what do you like? What, what kind of headlines should you write, right. It’s not like the headline you should write is not some bullshit like headline template, blog posts that you found. It should come from somewhere like the actual customer and how they benefit from this and this and that. That stuff doesn’t work and they think like, oh, it’s because you suck at Facebook ads. It’s like, no, Facebook ads are fine.

Claire: (26:06)

 You just don’t know how being creative with no baseline.

Brad: (26:10)

Like you just don’t know what you’re supposed to say. And like no outside vendor outside. Usually you’re like one of the exceptions to this, but like it’s so hard for anyone else outside of the organization to actually grasp all that.

Claire: (26:22)

Yeah. All of the best marketers I know include resource research in their process. Um, uh, oh, I don’t know how to say her. Her last name, she changed her last name when she got married a couple of years ago, but previously her name was Mars. Um, she is, she’s like renowned in Facebook ads and in her like user research is included, customer research, audience research has included, um, all of the best copywriters I know start with research every, anyone who has any, anyone who tries to, anyone who tries to like slap together a landing page or, or some other elements of marketing without that. Like I just don’t know where you’re pulling from. Seems so much harder. 

Brad: I could tell you but it would probably come off really up inappropriately. When does Forget the Funnel pop up? like coming up maybe like it was fairly early on, I think like maybe a year after going out on your own.

Claire: (27:26)

Yeah, it was fairly early on. So, um, I am not super active on Facebook. I am almost inactive on Facebook at this point. But, um, around the time that I left my in house role, I was still pretty active on Facebook and I was part of a networking group called tech ladies. Um, tech ladies is wonderful for those who are, it’s, it caters more to women who are looking to get hired within companies. But beside the point it was a great hub for women working in tech. Um, and it was there that I came into contact with Georgiana Laudi, um, who goes by Gia I and she and I were both wrapping up our in house marketing leadership roles around the same time I was leaving. I had left Calendly, she was wrapping up her time with Unbounce, um, where she had originally started as director of marketing and then moved up to the VP and she did a lot more scaling than I did.

Claire: (28:19)

She had built out a team of like 35 marketers. Um, so she knew a lot about the operational side of things and, and um, and we got on a call just to kind of like, she had put a, she had put a post in tech ladies. It was like, Hey, just wrapping up my full time role and going into consulting. Um, would love to just make some connections. Uh, and so she and I got on a quick call to figure out like, what are you about? Like what kind of clients do you work with? What’s your thing? Um, and it turned out that our philosophies are really similar. So, um, Gia has a lot of experience helping teams map out what she calls like the customer journey, which is not a, it’s not a unique phrase. Like you can see customer journey mapping your examples all over the Internet.

Claire: (29:04)

Um, but surprisingly not a lot of companies really understand the value of creating one. Um, so a customer journey map is, um, similar to customer research there their projects that go hand in hand. It’s a tool that helps teams get aligned around what customers need versus just what the internal team like thinks might be a good idea. And so we were like, Huh, our philosophies are like really similar. Maybe there’s, maybe we can work together on a project sometime or like maybe one of us can bring the other person in to help with a client. Um, and we stayed in touch as we like built up our client bases, and um, we had noticed a recurring problem, not students. It’s actually, it actually steps away from the, like customer Centricity, a topic for a minute. But we had each, we had each seen, this recurring pattern happening with the clients we were working with, which was often that we were working directly with a founder, um, sometimes with the head of marketing, like brought into the conversation.

Claire: (30:04)

Um, but oftentimes the head of marketing at these Saas companies we were working with independently at this point, we did not work together. Um, oftentimes the head of marketing who was brought in really didn’t have the experience or the resources they needed to be that great at their job. Um, so typically it was someone who had spent, you know, the, the formative years of their career, like doing a lot of execution, but they didn’t have, this was maybe this was the first leadership role. Um, you know, so they’ve taken this exciting job at a startup and they like really, really want to make an impact. And so they’re just doing all the things they’re executing as fast as they can, but they’re totally in the weeds and they don’t really know how to kind of step back out of that and think more strategically about, okay, what should our marketing look like?

Claire: (30:53)

What, what kind of hires do I need to put in place? Or is our messaging even right? Is this resonating with customers? Um, not to mention that someone who is in that role for the first time often struggles with like the second job that a marketing leader has, which is building bridges with product and pitching marketing to the leadership team and really like being an internal champion for marketing. Um, so we were seeing over and over that like we would work with clients. Um, and our main contact would be the founder and the marketing person really didn’t have that much agency. Like they, they were struggling to be a leader themselves. And so we started this content series. It’s just weekly video workshops, um, called, Forget the Funnel, Forget the Funnel, speaks to both of our like customer centricity, um, mindsets that like a funnel where you acquire someone and then you activate them and then you stop worrying about them. Like it doesn’t actually make sense. Marketing is across the entire customer journey.  It was also really beneficial that prior to even meeting each other, GM had thought to herself like, forget the funnel sounds like a cool domain name. So she’d already parked on it. So it was like, you know, it was there waiting for us? Um, that was a factor too.

Claire: (32:16)

But we ultimately with starting, forget the funnel. Our goal was to figure out like, is this, is this problem where marketers don’t have the resources or the training, they need to think strategically and be chance inside their organizations. Is that real? And if it is, can we create enough? Can we create the content that helps them feel that strategic gap? Um, so we wrote a blog post that kind of explained that problem that we had been seeing and announced it was part of our like launch of Forget the Funnel. And as you are well aware as we’re doing right now in creating video and audio content takes a lot of time. Um, so we were like, we’ll just see if this resonates with people. Let’s see if we can get like a hundred people to sign up for our waitlist or forget the funnel. Um, and if we can, then we’ll move forward and start creating these weekly workshops.

Claire: (33:10)

And if we can’t, like if a hundred people aren’t interested, we won’t worry about it. Um, and within the first day we had something like 400 signups for Forget the Funnel. Um, and we had emails from subscribers, pouring into our inbox and they were, they were just, there were, so they were so like, clearly we had struck a chord. I remember one was this head of marketing at a start up explaining that like she had been thinking about quitting her job because it was so stressful, like, and um, and she felt like she was never good enough, even though she’s trying really hard. Um, and so our workshops had, had given her like this extra bit of courage to hang on a little longer. And I was like, Ooh, there’s a lot to unpack here. Um, so that’s how Forget the Funnel kind of came into the picture.

Claire: (34:02)

And what we thought was that, Forget the Funnel would be not only like a great, you know, altruistic project but also get us leads, right? We would, we would be able to establish ourselves as people who know how to think strategically about Saas marketing. Um, and that did happen. Um, but forget the funnel has kind of taken on a life of its own. Um, we have thousands of people who watch those workshops every week now and we’ve actually built out a more involved like 12 part training. Um, that goes deeper into the process that we run our clients through. And if either of us were to take an in house role again, um, which is not in the cards but um, but if we were,  essentially this training walks through here is how we would go about planning out a marketing strategy, um, on like first the annual and then like a quarterly basis.

Brad: (34:55)

Gotcha. I think it’s really interesting because as you’ve mentioned, there’s no, I feel like I got a couple of issues that all converge. I feel like in this, in this tech industry where like things are moving insanely fast, it’s hyper-competitive and there’s a lot of money in it, but then there’s also a lot of turnover. So we’ve never formal training. Like there’s never, there’s never a formal training. Um, most people, what’s funny though too, is like, in a way, I think of like Michael Scott where people get promoted because they’re good at, they’re good at doing, you know, they’re like a good salesperson. So they’re like, oh, you should be a manager now. Or like you, like we see this all the time on the content side where it’s like, oh, you should get an editor. It’s like, yeah, well they’re pretty shitty at editing. They’re going to show me exactly like maybe they don’t understand production. They don’t understand like how to get vendors on board. They don’t like all those other pieces of the pie that no one talks about. And again, it’s like, you know, a new job maybe comes round eight months later that they take or it’s just really difficult to, to create that, I don’t know. Curriculum for lack of a better word.

Claire: (35:59)

Totally. And I don’t think anyone who has hired a marketer is trying to intentionally like set them up for failure. Why would you do that? Why would you waste your own time and money? Um, but when you’re running a, a young technology company, like you often don’t have the luxury of hiring someone who’s really experienced and expensive. And so you hire people who are junior or midway in their career and those people just learn on the job. Right? Um, and if all you’re doing is learning on the job, without that training, it’s so hard to know what am I doing wrong, what could I be doing better? Um, so that becomes a whole different discussion around like, how do we get more, how do we get more? Like how do we make, how do we normalize training and mentorship and resources for internal hires. Um, which could be a whole different podcast.  

Brad: (36:55)

Does a small topic. So you and Gia are starting to collaborate a little more in terms of like actual client work and stuff. How do you, how do you decide or how do you figure out like roles because I feel like it’s the simplest things like that that I had a business partner and we’re still great friends because we were friends before we worked together. But just figuring the little things out like okay, this week you’re busy, so I’m going to do sales. And then like next week, okay I’m busy. So like you gotta get sales this week. It’s like the theory of how to do it and then the actual practice of when you are just busy. And there’s a lot going on or are two separate things. So how do you guys, like, how’d you eventually start to figure out that out? Because you have very similar philosophies but you have different skill sets in terms of like maybe operations versus whatever.

Claire: (37:36)

Right? Um, well we should check back in in a couple months and see how it’s been going. Over the time of running, Forget the Funnel. It was very clear that like our work was complimentary. So my work being so focused on helping companies like figure out how to incorporate research customer research into their process and then use that and um, and actually like turn it into marketing strategy and product positioning and messaging on landing pages and so on and so on. And then Gia’s work around taking that same information and using it to map out your customer journey and then turn that into operational documents that help people scale marketing teams. They were super complimentary. Um, focuses is, focuses a word plural, of focus. And

Brad: (38:32)

Is’nt that like an oxymoron, the plural of focus? I saw this tweet. I didn’t want to be an asshole. I saw this tweet one time from someone, uh, and he was talking about like essentialism and he had like, like three epic monitors and I was like, isn’t that right?

Claire: (38:46)

Yeah,

Brad: (38:47)

yeah. Like isn’t the whole point of essentialism  to focus and you have like eight monitors in front of you like that. These are completely opposing ideas. Anyway.

Claire: (38:55)

Anyway, so what we realized, wow, we have these really, really complimentary skillsets and if we were both able to come in and help a company like apply, apply all the things we know, like holy cow, how effective would that internal marketer or marketing team or whatever it may be, how much more effective would they be? Um, and the way we were working individually didn’t really make that possible because my, my way of working with clients who is, has been very project focused. Um, so a good example of that would be, um, like I would say to a client, okay, I’m going to come in and I’m going to help you do this customer research and map out what the strategy needs to be and then I will, and then we’ll work together to figure out what are those deliverables. I can help you bring into reality, right?

Claire: (39:42)

So you’re going the research, you’re getting the actual things that will create the results. Um, and that’s really time intensive, right? So I can only work with a handful of clients a year. Um, her style of working with clients, on the other hand, was much more of an advisory type of agreement where, um, what she would do is meet with the like, let’s say head of marketing. Um, that’s who’s in house at a company on a weekly basis and help that person figure out, okay, what, what are the roadblocks that, what’s roadblocking you from leading your team? Or what’s roadblocking you from building out your strategy? And she would really act as the person who helps them get over those roadblocks. Um, but then they’re doing and championing the work internally, which creates different types of value. So whereas my work is helping people learn while customers are research is important.

Claire: (40:34)

But then I’m also taking the work off their plate in terms of doing something with that research where she would bring in value is teaching this person what they need to do and then having by having them them own it, she’s giving that person, she’s helping that person build their own competence. Um, and so we were looking at those styles of working and we were like, it is so hard to work together because our schedules are so different. Um, so that’s what sparked the conversation of, well, what if we, what if we merged? What would that look like? Um, and in terms of just talking about like matters of scale, her way of working is a more scalable way of helping companies. Right? Um, it’s much more, it’s much less, um, it’s much less expensive than working in a project basis. Um, and so now, uh, in terms of how we work together, when we work with, when we work with a company, um, we’re either, there’s, uh, there’s, we can dive into like the nitty gritty here, but I don’t know if that’s helpful. Um, essentially we’re meeting the client where they’re at. Um, oftentimes they don’t have customer research in place yet and so I’m, I’m the one who’s helping whoever our internal contact is. I’m the one who’s guiding them to like, do that research work. Um, rather than doing it myself. And then once they’ve done the research work, then then Gia is the one to say, awesome, you’ve learned all this stuff now. How are you going to turn that into like a big roadmap and start executing on this stuff or helping your team executing on this stuff?

Brad: (42:09)

Definitely. So you’re, you’re hoping to figure out what they should be doing in the first place? I’m going, she’s kind of helping them figure out how to actually get it done.

Claire: (42:16)

Exactly right.

Brad: (42:17)

Got It. That’s super interesting. Um, because I feel like, especially on the operational side, it’s uh, getting people to understand their own like self-imposed limitations at a certain point. Like it almost sounds like geo would have to be like part coach, part therapist to like help people understand uh, how they do. Sometimes some of those roadblocks are real for sure. How, how some of them are self-imposed in a certain way and how they need to become aware of that before they’re ever going to actually like kind of work through it.

Claire: (42:47)

Yeah, you nailed it. That’s a lot of what she does. Um, as well as helping these people figure out like, okay, how are you going to propose this to like the leadership team, how are you going to show the value of this work? Right. I’m helping them build those like VP level director level or VP level skills that as we have discussed earlier, there’s not currently any real like training for.

Brad: (43:11)

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I think you mentioned too Forget the Funnel is going to kind of stay separate. What was the, what was the thought process, and I know it’s still evolving, but why not just like turn, forget the funnel into a consultancy brand name?

Claire: (43:25)

Great question.

Brad: (43:25)

You know what I mean? Like what was the thought process behind, no, we don’t want to have it be to commercialized or I don’t know. Like what, what was the kind of idea behind that?

Claire: (43:35)

I would say it, there’s multiple, there’s multiple facets to that decision. So, um, one very going back to like going back to like, um, very, very tactical level in starting to work together. Um, we are working together under a shared name. Our company name is elevate and elevate speaks to a whole bunch of things. We help elevate, like we help elevate the idea of making a customer-centric company. We help elevate internal employees, right? There’s, there’s, there’s a lot packed in, there’s a lot of layers to that name, but I’m launching a new website. You’ve got a website with no domain authority and, and forget the funnel is rich with content, lot of domain authority. Um, so we didn’t just want to scrap all that first. Um, so our thought process, um, is one along those lines, like how do we preserve this huge, really asset that we’ve already built up.

Claire: (44:33)

Um, and then two, when it comes to how we think about our own customer’s journey, um, there are a couple of different ways that people can like go through the experience of finding out about like Claire and Gia and how they help. Um, so if you look at it from a, uh, the, the people that were most often serving our marketers who are in house, um, or founders who don’t have a marketer yet, or maybe they have a marketer and they know that person isn’t performing as well as they could, but they don’t know what’s wrong. Um, they don’t know, like, did I hire a bad employee? Do they just need some training? No. One, they, they actually never know their employee needs training, but, um, they know there’s a problem and they don’t know how to fix it. Um, so if you look at like the, if you look at actually either one of those people’s journey, um, it is more likely that they’ll find, forget the funnel.

Claire: (45:24)

Um, because Forget the Funnel already has so many little like farms out on the Internet. Um, and we want to preserve that because it’s so valuable to us and, and we consider Forget the Funnel, kind of the first stage of people learning about working with us. Um, so Forget the Funnel helps marketers realize like, oh, it’s not, it’s not me. Like I don’t have a problem. It’s just that like, I have these things I still need to learn. Um, and then they can either, if they were actually going through a relaunch of it right now and we’re trying to make it as affordable to people in that role as possible, um, or at least affordable enough to where they can put it on a company credit card without needing approval. Um, because we found that to be like a big blocker. Um, but anyway, if they, if they want, if they want more into, if they feel like they’re getting value from, Forget the Funnel alone.

Claire: (46:16)

Awesome. Like, watch, binge watch all the workshops. Um, if they want something a bit more in depth, they can, they can purchase our training. And that’s a fairly like DIY way to get inside of our heads and like get this, get this high level or strategic level help, um, on a, on a like on a lower and lower dollar basis. Um, for a founder, forget the funnel is the first place that someone that found her fingers out like, oh, these people know how to think about marketing from a high level as opposed to independent, not independent individual channels. Like these people aren’t Facebook ads experts or SEO experts or this one thing. They’re thinking of it like at an organizational level. Um, and then we have, this is, this is like in the perfect version, we right now have the MVP version live.

Claire: (47:07)

Um, but or at the time that I think this will go, this episode will go out, the MVP version is hopefully live. Um, but at that stage, um, once, once those founders have learned like, hey, this is, this is who we are and how we think, then we can introduce the idea of like, also we have a consulting arm. It’s called elevate. It’s over here. This is how you can work with us more individually. Um, so the, the, the idea of dissolving, forget the funnel. Um, and replacing it with this other name that no one really knows yet just seemed like a bit too big of a jump to make. Um, so the operationally, the way that it kind of looks is elevate is the parent company and then forget the funnel is are like, it’s like our marketing arm I guess.

Brad: (47:53)

I mean it’s, it’s, it’s different but it’s no different than most other content players in the sense that it’s like top of the funnel Meta awareness. Getting people to understand how that issue or they have that problem first. Do you think we can kind of wrap this up just a second, cause I know we’re getting low on time, but do you think that from a service perspective it’s easier to separate the marketing are and the initial like Venus flytrap from the stuff that actually pays the bills? Cause that makes sense. Versus like, um, I dunno, I like if you go to, I don’t know, I’m having trouble if you go to like big commerce and you’re like, I feel like it’s easier to buy into their content and what they do versus if you go to LA. I don’t know any ecommerce service blogs off top of my head cause like my bias is like, they’re probably all bad. You know, they’re probably, they’re not all bad. They’re not all bad. But I feel like, do you think that that, does that exist? Do you think it’s easier from a service perspective to separate out the marketing arm? A little bit more

Claire: (49:02)

TBD. Okay. That will be very interesting to find out over the next several months, quarters, etc. Of running things this way. And I do think, not even just think, I am confident that like other forms of marketing will be needed, um, to attract companies that want that individualized service. Um, and so like for example, I still do a lot of, and Gia doesn’t do as many in-person events. She does a lot more podcasting and online summits. Um, whereas I do a lot of in-person speaking events, um, and we look at those really is opportunities to fuel like the services part of the, of the, of the operation. Um, whereas Forget the Funnel. I think depending on how we play it and what our email automation strategy can evolve into, I think right now, Forget the Funnel is best suited to serve marketers themselves. Um, whereas like those speaking events for example, is better suited to serve, um, companies who want one on one help. Um, but that’s a really good question. I’ll have to come back to you on that.

Brad: (50:12)

Don’t lose, don’t lose too much sleep over it. Um, if anyone wanted to get ahold of you, what is the best way to do that?

Claire: (50:21)

Uh, Twitter for sure. Uh, and I say that because like Twitter is where I go for my, like, like virtual, like water cooler. Um, you know, you’re in your basement in Denver right now. I’m in my like Home Office in Atlanta right now. Um, when you’re working solo and it’s at least location wise, um, Twitter’s great. Uh, and I’m, I’m @ClaireSuellen . There’s an e hidden in there because last name is weird. Um, Suellentrop doesn’t, doesn’t fit into a Twitter handle. Um, but I can send you the link to that Brad to include in the show notes. Um, and then if you’re interested in like  marketing, uh, in terms of like, how do I go build out a strong marketing strategy where all this, what is all this stuff you’re talking about really to customer research, then forget the funnel.com is a great place to go.

Brad: (51:14)

It is. Alright. I second that. So cool. I’ll go ahead and just, we’ll publish the email published phone number people. Okay, perfect. Thanks again. I really appreciate it. Like I said, I’ve known each other for a little while now, but it’s always nice to talk to you that to catch up and see all the awesome stuff you’re doing. So, uh, thanks again.

Claire: (51:35)

Thanks so much for having me on this. This was so much fun.

Highlights

13:30 Claire’s marketing strategy philosophy based on her years of experience is simple yet effective. It goes back to one key lesson she discovered. but all the most valuable and useful work I had done. It stemmed from customer research…  but I started even back then I had this little like kernel of a philosophy, which was like a good marketing strategy is not formed unless you really understand the customers you’re trying to reach

19:30 Customer research offers valuable insight that can be used now and down the line.  And so, um, I ended up doing these customer interviews and, not only were the case studies were useful at the time, but the, the customer research itself was so valuable. Um, the internal team like, Whoa, no one has talked to our customers this way before. No one has ever kind of sussed out like what the, what they were struggling with in their words and why our product fixed it in, in, in their words. And they were like, we can use these in so many places.

22:27 Is your marketing team making this common misstep? Strategy development should be customer- centric. If you’re including research in your marketing planning process, you’re the marketing you actually do, we’ll be so much more effective than if you just choose to run Facebook ads because somebody on your team knows how to run Facebook ads, um, or make some other kind of like, you know, kind of inside the echo chamber decision.

24:05 This should be central to strategy in order to supercharge growth in your company. If you can centralize customer research as  the foundation that all those departments work from together, you’re going to be so much more effective and you’re going to grow so much faster than you would otherwise.

31:40 Why Claire is re-examining the marketing funnel in her quest to drive real results for clients. Forget the Funnel, speaks to both of our like customer centric mindsets that like a funnel where you acquire someone and then you activate them and then you stop worrying about them. Like it doesn’t actually make sense. Marketing is across the entire customer journey.