We’re back 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.
In this edition, we spoke with Jeanne Hopkins, CMO at lola.com.
Lola.com is the new business travel initiative from Paul English, co-founder of KAYAK. Led by CEO Mike Volpe, previously CMO at HubSpot, Lola.com makes every facet of corporate travel easier for managers and employees.
Prior to lola.com, Jeanne was previously Executive Vice President and CMO at Ipswitch and has held executive marketing roles at HubSpot, Symmetricom (now Microsemi), SmartBear, MarketingSherpa and Continuum. At HubSpot, Jeanne’s leadership helped the company land on the number two spot on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies by generating 50,000 net new leads per month. Jeanne is also an accomplished writer, advisor and speaker. She co-authored “Go Mobile” and has won several industry awards for her achievements as a marketing leader.
Who was the biggest marketing inspiration in your career?
Early in my career, while working for Milton Bradley/Hasbro, I learned a ton from Judy Matt, current President of Spirit of Springfield. I grew up in Western Massachusetts and was very young. She taught me a lot about doing BIG events and that concept of planning, communication, and reporting inspired me. Now I’m able to coach new members of my teams in a similar manner.
What is the most important skill that marketing leaders need to have?
I don’t think it’s one specific skill but a variety of skills that work together.
For me, it boils down to creativity, the ability to think critically, initiative and the ability to present information.
Unfortunately, I feel a lot of these elements are missing in the higher education system and you see graduates with marketing degrees who do not possess these skills and never even tried to develop them because nobody told them it was critical to the role of a marketer.
How do you establish your team’s marketing goals?
As a company, we try to plan things out quarter by quarter. At the executive management level, we all have goals that we’re trying to hit like new customer acquisition, product releases, number of leads, growth of the database, customer success, churn rate…all those kinds of things.
Once those are set, I go to the direct (and indirect) channel leaders “What are we trying to achieve as a company?” What would success look like 90 days from now? I look at that and then plan it out…plan it out with a content strategy, plan it out with a demand generation strategy, etc. Not every detail of course because stuff happens and you need to be able to have some flexibility built into your program for the more urgent tactical things that might come up like if Product came out with a new release that was really ahead of the game, I’d like to be able to make an announcement and promote that.
There are a lot of things that we are trying to achieve but as a young company, customer acquisition is number one for us in marketing at the current time.
Ultimately, I need to make sure marketing is doing its part to hit company goals.
How do you prioritize which channels and activities in your marketing planning and decide where to invest your time and resources?
This can be dependent on the stage of the company.
When you’re a newer company, like lola.com, we prioritize things that work towards building the marketing and branding foundation of the company. You want it to be that in five years from now, people will look back and say, “Wow. I’m so glad we did it this way.” For us, we had clear, immediate needs. Our priority was to fix our website and create a better structure for visitors and search engines alike. We had a lot of the web pages located in subdomains and they had been built by engineers, meaning they were all hard-coded. When I joined the company almost a year ago, we moved fixed the website to give us much better SEO. That enabled us to spend time on creating a lot of content to stand the test of time and that could be found through Google.
The other thing that we prioritize is paid marketing to generate leads. We tried a lot of different things within paid marketing but now focus on the sources that deliver us high quality, high intent leads for our sales team.
We’re constantly evaluating our priorities as a marketing team and we have to look at everything that we’re doing daily and get honest feedback from the sales team. This helps us to set our priorities as a marketing team.
What do you think is the most overrated marketing channel?
That’s a hard one.
My first reaction was to say social because I think a lot of marketers treat social as “one and done”. They publish a piece of content, post it on social and it’s over with. There is no engagement and when social is done this way, it can be a waste of time and resources to focus on it.
Social, however, can be a great channel but you need to have the right kind of individual to run it and treat it as a way to communicate and build a community. When social is done like this, you can more effectively amplify your messaging.
At lola.com, we use social for employee branding. I want to make sure that our employees are the stars of the show.
How much does testing factor into your marketing planning?
Testing is pretty much built into everything that we do in marketing at lola.com.
We have some tools in our marketing stack that enable us to easily run tests. An example is HubSpot. We use HubSpot as our CMS (content management system) and they make it very easy to A/B testing of different pages and different calls to action.
Our testing goes beyond simple A/B testing of pages. Sometimes, we use Google Ads to test different offers because it an effective, low-cost way to be able to do it. Same goes for Twitter, where we can see what gets clicked on and can help us understand what’s going to generate buzz.
With our marketing channels, we are always experimenting with which channels deliver the best results for our business. This includes within our well-established channels and new marketing channels.
How often do you just do your marketing plan after you create it?
We review everything during weekly marketing meetings and discuss what’s important and what our priorities are. These meetings help align the team around our goals and priorities.
We have our marketing plan broken down to a monthly view, as opposed to quarterly, which might be a more common way of marketing planning. My feeling is that if you can’t hit your month than you won’t hit your quarter.
When we have everything broken down into what we are trying to achieve, I also take a daily view. I make a note on my calendar of how many business days are in that month. So September has 20 business days. You have to think about what you have to do and what needs to happen each day. What often ends up happening is that marketers wake up in the middle of the month and go “Oh crap, we haven’t achieved what we planned to do” and all of a sudden start operating with a great sense of urgency. “Let’s get these emails out, let’s do this, let’s do that”.
When building the monthly plan, I like to front-load it. This gives us the best chance to achieve what we set out to do.
Do you have any advice for young marketers looking to become CMOs one day?
I’ll say three things.
Number one…long before you become a CMO, figure out financial stuff, figure out a P&L and become best friends with whoever heads up your finance department. Most marketers overspend their budgets. They don’t know where the money goes and can’t show ROI. When you as a marketer come upon some wonderful channel that’s knocking it out of the park, you need to be able to go to the leader of finance and say to her, “Okay, if you give me $100,000, I can give you back $500,000. I know that I can do this investment and for every dollar, we’re going to get back $5.” If you haven’t built that trust and authority with the head of finance, they’re not going to give you the time of day because they are so used to marketing not being responsible on the financial side of things.
The second thing is to make sure you know how to sell. A really good marketer has got some sales experience. It’s the only way that you can have any degree of empathy and understanding of how hard it is to sell. I think there’s this dissonance that happens between sales and marketing because sales is very short-term focused. Marketing is both short-term, medium-term, and in many cases long-term, but sales have got to hit their number every day, every week, every month and your job is to help them do that.
And the third thing is to learn how to present information. Learn how to talk in front of a group in a way that gives you ownership and position yourself to become a trusted person for data and information. Many people in a marketing role just blather and don’t provide real, valid information. A good test would be if your finance leader believes it. If she does believe it, you’ll be able to confidently present to the executive team.