Q&A with Marketing Leaders: Cathy Patalas, Chief Growth Officer at Woodpecker

Here we go with another Q&A with Marketing Leaders, our interview series built to provide SaaS marketing leaders with the best insights and actionable tips on how to improve their marketing planning by learning from the best marketers in the industry.

Today, we get to learn from Cathy Patalas, Chief Growth Officer at Woodpecker.

Woodpecker is an email outreach and follow-up automation software that allows B2B companies to personally contact ideal prospects and build human-to-human business relations at scale.

Cathy started her career as a content writer and she’s the author of over a hundred articles on various aspects of email outreach and follow-ups, most of which have been published on the Woodpecker blog. Now she’s coordinating the marketing and sales departments at Woodpecker, where she plans and oversees all the processes connected with customer acquisition and growth.

What was the best marketing advice that you’ve gotten in your career?

I remember that one of the first things I was taught, as a young marketer, was to always start with learning as much as you can about your target audience.

Get to know your prospective customers, look for the places where they gather to talk and exchange their ideas and problems. Discover what they talk about. What are their problems? Needs? Desires? Learn their language, especially the words and phrases they use to describe concepts characteristic to their business.

In a nutshell: start from the customer, not from the product. This is crucial because only with a deep understanding of your potential customers, can you plan an effective marketing strategy. This approach was heavily ingrained in my mind and it’s been leading me throughout my career in marketing.

How has your role – and the marketing landscape – changed in the last few years?

I started as a copywriter and then became a content manager in a start-up company focused on building a web application for personal fitness trainers. After some time, the company decided to pivot and we started building an email and follow-up automation software – and that’s how Woodpecker was born. From the very beginning, I was responsible for creating all the marketing content at Woodpecker and content still is the core of our marketing strategy. When we decided to build a marketing team, I became the leader of the team and then Head of Marketing. Over the last 3 years, the company has grown significantly. All the existing teams grew, and some new teams were created.

One of our main goals at Woodpecker has always been maintaining consistent messaging across all the teams and all the communication channels we use. We also respect the mutual dependency of all our teams, from product development, through marketing and sales, to customer success and support. Keeping the teams synchronized is getting more challenging as the company grows, which is why I was designated as the Chief Growth Officer and given the responsibility of coordinating and synchronizing the work of marketing and sales teams at Woodpecker. Now my job is to make sure “marketing and sales alignment” is not just an empty phrase, but a living concept around which we center all our customer acquisition activities.

Only with a deep understanding of your potential customers, can you really plan an effective marketing strategy.

Who was the biggest marketing influencer / inspiration in your career?

My roots are in content marketing so I always admired people who are great writers. One of them is for sure Alex Turnbull, the CEO and Founder of Groove. I always loved the way he described his company’s journey and his blog posts were a perfect combination of sharing personal experience and providing universal practical value to the reader. The same I would say about the blogs and videos by Bryan Harris, the Founder of Videofruit and Growth Tools. I personally adore the way he writes his emails and I learned a lot about marketing and building a strong list of subscribers from his content.

Lately, I’m in awe of the knowledge and the level of expertise presented by Patrick Campbell – the Co-Founder and CEO of ProfitWell. I consider him the number one expert in the field of SaaS pricing and I admire the way he talks and writes about this complex subject. I’ve had the pleasure to attend his presentations live at two events so far, and both times were absolutely stunning. I guess my goal over the years has also been exploring a narrow field so thoroughly that my company becomes the brand people associate with the topic. When I think “SaaS pricing” – I immediately think about ProfitWell and see Patrick Campbell. I wish one day people see Woodpecker’s logo when they think about “email outreach and follow-up” (my name and face are not an obligatory association in this vision, as I’ll never be as fluent a speaker as Patrick is).

And last but not least, there’s Matt Tarczynski, the CEO and Co-Founder of Woodpecker, whom I consider the person who actually made me a marketer and taught me what marketing is all about. If it wasn’t for Matt’s patience, a natural gift for explaining the complexity of marketing processes and crucial assumptions, and his trust, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

As the Chief Growth Officer at Woodpecker, an email outreach platform, do you see the relationship between sales and marketing closely aligning for Outbound?

Absolutely. Outbound really falls somewhere between sales and marketing. You can often see people referring to outbound activities as “outbound marketing”. Personally, I usually use the term “outbound sales”. But those two are very close to each other.

To give you just a few examples from my experience: firstly, outbound sales reps can draw their knowledge about the best customers from marketing and customer success teams. By doing this, they will be able to target accounts that are the best fit for the product. Secondly, their job may be considerably easier if marketing works to build a recognizable brand within specific markets – it’s just easier to get a response from a stranger if you reach out from a renowned company as opposed to a company whose name doesn’t ring any bells with your recipient.

On the other hand, a marketing team can improve their ideal customer profile and their marketing personas based on first-hand information from outbound sales. Sales reps talk to potential customers on a daily basis, which creates a unique opportunity to gather data. This data can also be valuable for marketing and it’s not just quantitative but qualitative as well. Additionally, in pre-sales, there’s constantly online research that’s taking place, the results of which may be then passed to marketing. Such an exchange of information may be helpful in adjusting your marketing messaging to the very specific niche you want to reach, and hence improving your marketing results in the long run.

What is your biggest challenge in planning your marketing?

I work at a company which is at an initial stage of development – we’re not at the very beginning, but I still feel that the processes going on across our marketing and sales departments (and the company as a whole) are changing very dynamically. Therefore, making long-term plans have been very challenging for me. When I’m asked to make predictions for the next year in terms of marketing and sales results, I always feel like I’m asked to read from coffee grounds.

I try to make the most accurate predictions on the basis of last year’s results, but in the end, I’m never confident to say “yeah, this is how it’s going to look like in a year”. So I prefer to plan for three months ahead, tops. But the very process of planning, even the long-term planning that always makes me feel a little insecure, allows me to actually stop and think about our strategy from a broader perspective. And that’s what I consider valuable.

The very process of marketing planning allows me to actually stop and think about our strategy from a broader perspective.

What are two things you’ve done well in terms of marketing strategy?

The first thing I can think of is keeping focus on a narrow and specific subject matter and creating content around this subject. We could have made another blog on marketing or sales in general (or marketing AND sales – there’s plenty of those, too). Instead, from the very beginning, in my articles I was trying to deeply study and explore the topic of cold emailing.

I remember a small event where I met with a group of marketers from other Polish companies where I shared the number of blog posts I had then published on our blog. They were asking, “over 80 articles about cold emailing?! How’s that even possible? How do you find the topics to publish every week?!” I was trying to help them understand that even a narrow subject may be analyzed in detail and divided into numerous aspects. All of those aspects deserve their own sections on a blog. I wrote about cold email copy, follow-ups, finding prospects for outbound campaigns, interpreting statistics, managing responses, cold email deliverability, etc.

Creating content for a very specific group of people, or around a narrow subject, allows you to attract the right audience and makes it easier for you to start being recognized as an expert in a field. How many blogs on growing your business can you think of? And how many about growing your SaaS business through improving your pricing strategy? (ProfitWell reference again, cause they’re a perfect example here.) I’m sure you see what I mean.

The second thing was to focus our marketing strategy around our customers and their goals – not around our product or our imagined sales goals. Our marketing and sales activities focus very much on educating our present and future customers. We’re aiming at sharing as many practical and actionable tips as possible – both in our content and in conversations with our users.

We don’t focus as much on keywords’ potential as on the value we can potentially deliver to our audience so when we develop a list of topics for our blog articles or a series of webinars, we don’t start from checking out the most popular phrases and buzzwords that are probably going to bring us the most traffic or signups. Instead, we listen to our customers and analyze what our present users keep asking us about. We ask them what they need. Then we create content around it. And it turns out that not only does the content help the present users, but it also attracts new potential customers who have very similar problems, needs and business characteristics as the group that currently benefits from our solution. And I believe that’s one of the things which have been allowing us to achieve sustainable growth as a company.

What is your process for building your marketing plan?

I’ve described it to some extent in the answer to the previous question and to the first question of this interview. I like to start with the recipient of my marketing message. I need to know as much as I can about their business, their needs, goals, and problems. Then I can come up with some content ideas and choose the right channels to spread that content to make sure it gets to the people who’d be interested in it.

I also try to remember that our ideal customer profile evolves along with the growth of our business and the development of our product. Every year (or sometimes more often than that) we go back and analyze our current customer base and brainstorm about some adjustments we can make to the processes that we have already up and running.

How do you know that you planned well?

I believe you can only know that after some time when you are able to observe the actual impact of your marketing strategy on your business. Many marketers nowadays feel like they should go for actions that bring measurable results after quite a short period of time. “How many trial signups has this blog post generated?” they ask themselves after three weeks from publishing. “How many of those trial signups converted into paying customers?” – they may check that after 5 weeks. I believe the customer journey is so much more complicated than that. Especially in the B2B domain.

If I based my decisions only on such short-term statistics, I guess I would give up blogging after three months. I didn’t, though. I was persistently publishing more and more content that I believed would help people grow their businesses through email outreach. And now our content is the number one source of trials for Woodpecker. I guess you can only say your marketing strategy is successful when you see your business growing. And that’s not just trial signups.

Trial signups are just a start. Then you have the users who decided to pay for your product or service, the users who stay with you for a long period of time, the users who grow with you and recommend you to others. I’m trying to keep an eye on all those numbers and observe trends to answer the question “Does our marketing strategy work?”

Two of the main rules that guide us in marketing planning are consequence and consistency – we respect all the activities that worked for us in the past and we build on the content and processes we’ve already created

How do you select which marketing channels to invest your time and effort in?

First of all, I try to observe what has worked so far and ask my team to develop that. I’m also open to their ideas on new ways and marketing activities that require experiments. We try to balance the invested time and effort in reference to the results.

And last but not least, we check what works for our competitors and what they invest in. I’m not saying you should do everything your competitors do – we definitely don’t. It’s not about doing what they do. It’s more about observing what they do and figuring out how you could do some of those things better.

If you analyze for a longer period of time you can learn from other companies’ successes and mistakes. This tactic also gives us new ideas on which channels to invest in.

How often you adjust your marketing planning after you create it?

We adjust the planning constantly. We try to assess the progress of our marketing projects, we observe some short-term results and we keep improving our processes. We also make changes if we see some organizational difficulties – sometimes we plan too much for the small team that we have at the moment, so when the leader observes some hiccups in the workflow, she optimizes the process. Our marketing team meets every week and works within scrum-like sprints. That’s the day-to-day planning perspective.

If you ask about bigger-picture planning, every year or so, we analyze what has been done, what the results were. Based on our conclusions, we decide which processes need adjustment and what new processes we’ll be able to start next year. Again, two of the main rules that guide us are consequence and consistency – we respect all the activities that worked for us in the past and we build on the content and processes we’ve already created. Personally, I prefer making changes step-by-step with loads of testing instead of jumping from one idea to another and changing everything at once to try something new. I value reason over risk.