The way Amrita Mathur talks about marketing-led growth at Superside suggests that you could easily call it "learning-led growth."
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"There is something to be said about the early days just optimizing for speed of learning...and really setting up your go-to-market, your experiments, etc., in a way that you just get a ton of data back," she says in Episode 553 of Marketing Smarts.
Focusing on what you can learn rather than what you can win means having conversations, doing experiments, and marketers' least favorite thing—failing.
"I think we have this thing, I don't know if it's a chip on our shoulder or what, but we feel like we have to get it right, whatever we launch has to somewhat be successful," she says.
"I think it kind of doesn't. I think that we should be OK with not just failure but failing fast, calling it early, and then moving on to the next experiment."
In fact, you can even use the failures you learned from as part of your strategy.
"It's OK to talk about some of the missed opportunities; it's a lost opportunity cost," says Amrita.
"Hopefully the team is mature enough to have [those conversations] so that you can be like, I'm not going to make this mistake next time, I'm going to move faster next time, or I'm going to call the failure early next time, or what have you."
Listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
George B. Thomas: Does a playbook for $0 to $30 million in less than three years even sound possible? Does it excite you? I don't know, but you know I'm excited today because we're going to talk to Amrita Mathur about a playbook for marketing-led growth from $0 to $30 million in less than three years. Of course, we're going to talk about what keeps Amrita up at night, hurdles, success, some words of wisdom, and just a lot of good stuff that you'll be able to use for your B2B marketing inside your organization.
Amrita Mathur joined Superside as their first marketing hire in 2019. There was no product, no platform, and no recurring revenue. No stranger to being called in when companies are at a strategic inflection point with their growth strategy, Amrita did what she spent a career in B2B marketing learning how to do: implemented a marketing-led growth strategy that translated into $8 million in subscription revenue in the first year and 400% year-over-year growth since then. Now as VP of marketing, her team is revolutionizing design at scale for ambitious brands like Amazon, Meta, Shopify, and Coinbase. There are some great tidbits of information, so get your notepad ready.
Are you ready to talk about marketing-led growth? Are you ready to talk about growth just in general? I'm super excited today. I think everybody knows George B. Thomas gets excited when he gets on the mic to talk to these amazing smart human beings. Today I am sitting here with Amrita Mathur, and I have to tell you, the conversation that we're going to have for you is around a playbook for marketing-led growth from $0 to $30 million in less than three years. I hope you're teased and like, "Wait, what's about to happen?" But, of course, you know how I like to get started.
Amrita, I like to start with fun questions because it gets us to fun answers. When you think about marketing-led growth and the B2B marketers who might be listening to this, it might be a dream, it might be a nightmare, but what keeps you at night?
Amrita Mathur: First of all, thanks for having me on the show. I'm pumped, too. What keeps me up at night? The answer used to be different a couple of years ago, but it is certainly a very different scenario now. We're an actual proper company; we have 700 people, I have a team of 35 marketers, it's a whole thing. I think in general if I just zoom out and think about all the stressors of the day, really it comes down to one thing, which is this idea of how do you actually scale this to 100 million or 200 million or 300 million.
I know how companies are, and I know the environment that we're in, and everybody wants to grow, that's the whole point of doing this. It's a very different beast when you're trying to be a $100 million-dollar company. We've had good success, but now a lot of things have to change, we have to adapt, we have to invent, we have to innovate. Not just in marketing, but across the board.
George: I love this idea of change, adapt, innovate. Let's take a couple of steps back. One of the things that we try to do is simplify the complex, but also set the bar of this is truly what we're talking about. When I throw out words like marketing-led growth, that could mean about 50,000 different things, and there could be over 50,000 people that have no clue what we're talking about. When we say for the rest of this podcast episode marketing-led growth, what the heck do we even mean? In other words, how do we define marketing-led growth for this conversation?
Amrita: It's totally okay for people not to know what it means because I barely know myself. It's just a term that I coined. There's all these terms out there. PLG [product-led growth], that's been around for a few years now. Sales-led growth is well understood; it basically means that you have a sales team in place that takes various meetings and calls and tries to close those deals. You've probably heard community-led growth. There's events-led growth. Everything under the sun.
There's actually a really famous chart that shows how companies that have grown really fast, particularly in tech, which of these growth motions they've employed, and there's a huge variety of them. What struck me when I was viewing this chart, it was put together by Lenny Rachitsky, who has his own podcast, I think he put it together in 2021, I was looking at that and it was fascinating. I was like, we're on the right path, everything is good, but nobody really ever talks about how, particularly in B2B—my background is B2B, so my lens is very B2B—what DNA did the company have, what bets did they have, what team structure did they put in place that was perhaps marketing-led that actually catapulted them to the next level.
It's crazy to me that B2C companies have figured this out. If you think about a giant like Coca-Cola, they have marketing or the brand manager who drives everything for that particular brand. There's probably a guy who is brand manager for Vitamin Water, and he owns the P&L, the brand, the product, the packaging, the campaigns, you name it, he's almost the CEO of that brand and it's a very marketing-led process. But we don't do that in B2B. Someone else makes the decisions for what product is, someone else makes the decision for the go-to-market motion, so on and so forth.
We did things differently at Superside. Marketing not only had a seat at the table, but we made most, if not all of those big decisions.
George: It's interesting. I do immediately want to go off the beaten path. At Superside, why was that the choice? Maybe pair that with what mindsets do you feel like B2B companies would have to embrace to be able to actually make that kind of change or decision moving forward?
Amrita: Great question. I don't know everything that was going on in the founders' heads when they first decided this. What was strange to me was that here's an early stage company, they had been around the block for a couple of years, tried a bunch of different things, and they knew that they wanted to pivot to being a subscription business, which was a lot more stable than sticky, and they knew that they wanted to stay and go deep in the design and creative field. Those were the two things that they weren't going to budge on, but everything else was up for grabs.
The key interesting thing and ingredient was they were like we're going to hire someone like yourself, a VP of marketing, which is unusual as a marketer number one. Usually, people hire a couple of marketers and then they go hire a VP maybe later down the line after you've gotten product market fit. They didn't have any of that. They said we're going to hire someone like you and we're going to figure out what this thing is, what is the actual offer that we're going to put out in the market, who we're going to go after, and how we're going to after it. We're going to do it all in parallel and you're going to drive the bus on that.
So, I felt like that brand manager at Coca-Cola, like I had the keys to the castle.
George: Super interesting. I want to dive in. It's kind of a little tease. We're marketers here, too, we like to create titles that people want to click on. We mentioned the word playbook, a playbook for marketing-led growth. What are some of the elements to marketing-led growth that B2B marketers should be paying attention to that you've implemented along the way?
Amrita: This is in retrospect. Obviously, I had no idea how things were going to play out. When I first joined the company, it was a very early stage company. I had never worked for such an early stage company in my career before. So, this is all in retrospect. I don't know that this is the perfect playbook for everybody, but it could be interesting, particularly if you're a marketer that is joining a company very early in their journey.
I'd say there's a couple of key things. Number one, kind of what I already mentioned, develop the product or service in parallel to the go-to-market. It's the best time to be able to say I'm going to go figure out who we're going to sell this thing to, who are our ICPs are, who our buyer personas are, what their willingness to pay is, figure all of that out, I'm going to develop the go-to-market process based on that, what are our channels, what are our offers, what are our hooks. We're going to do all of that, but based on what I find, we are going to actually change the product.
That's exactly what we did at Superside. We said wait a second, it seems like all of the conversations we're having and where people are struggling, particularly in this one segment of the industry, people are struggling with the execution layer of a campaign, so that's where we must play. So, the product that we ended up putting a ton of money and attention to and how we developed the service was around the execution piece.
What do people care about? They care about speed. Great, we're going to do 12 to 24 hour turnaround. Wait a second, people really seem to care about the cost because it's so low-level execution that price is a big factor. They don't want to spend countless hours of time and money on developing three banner ads that are going to go on some website.
Those kinds of conversations allowed us to tailor the products that we were developing alongside the go-to-market. It's not perhaps inconceivable that this could be done for any kind of product. Again, CPG has already figured this out, and this is how they've been operating for years. You can do this for a tech software product. You could do this for a platform. You could do this for an app.
You might have a notion for what this thing is, but if you keep it open-ended and you're a little bit agile, and your engineering team is okay with running with what is found and then developing features based on that, if the marketer is almost like a product manager in some ways, then everything is flexible and agile and you have this amazing tight feedback loop.
That's one takeaway. I would try to set up the culture of the org, the feedback loop, and this notion of let's change the product based on what we hear from the market because we're trying to find product market fit. Our number one objective as a company as a whole is to find product market fit.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, I hope you rewind there because Amrita was riffing. If you write down some of the things that she was saying and then turn around and ask yourself, "Do I have that in my organization? Do people think that way in my organization? Am I able to do this thing in my organization?" that's going to give you the places that you might have to start to tweak, change, or modify. It really was a little bit of a blueprint or a roadmap. There's a couple of things that I want to pull out of there.
You said see where people are struggling. As you were telling the story of see where people are struggling, I could tell that there was a caring, an empathy to the fact that they were struggling in there and so we need to make this product to help their lives be better and enable them to do the thing that they want to do. Then you said the word that's going to take us off the beaten path again for a hot second, and it was the conversations.
I once had an episode with Nate Brown where we talked about voice of customer, but I'm super curious when we say the word conversations, how were you talking, listening, asking, pulling this conversational data or insight to actually be able to understand how to navigate and move around as you move forward.
Amrita: That's a great question. That's the thing, I think it's a bit of a lost art. I think companies just have not prioritized it for whatever reason. Because there is big data available to us, everyone gravitates to let's look at the numbers. Whatever happened to just picking up the phone or reaching out to your LinkedIn network to say, "Can I just pick your brain for 15 minutes," or what have you.
Because we were so early and we had no idea how this was going to go, we had developed a hypothesis for who we think our ICP would be. We named them all, we called them Designer Dan, Content Marketing Brenda, Marketing Molly, we had these names and these personas developed in our minds. Then I was like wait a second, before we go all in on this, why don't I try to validate if there is, number one, a pain, and number two, willingness to do something about that pain? Because sometimes you have the pain where you're like, "That's not my job, that's actually Pete over there." It was like who is it that's actually going to make the decision and get the ball moving, so I was trying to discover that.
Then the third thing was do they have any budget or keys to the castle? How can they wield it, do they have to go up the ladder, who are they talking to? I wanted to figure out all of these things. Based on the hypothesis we had developed for who might buy this thing, and it wasn't even clear what this thing was at the time, I just said let me find every single person that I'm connected to on LinkedIn that kind of fits one of these molds.
I think I must have spent maybe three full days on LinkedIn messaging people. Some people that I didn't even know that well, you know how you're just connected to kind of pseudo acquaintances, maybe you saw them at a conference or something. I blasted everybody and was like, "I just joined this company. Can you help me? I want to understand your life, your world, in the context of design and creative." I just set up these calls, and people were really willing to help me because they saw me as 'oh my god, she's going to get fired in three months,' they just wanted to help me out because they were like, "Holy shit, she's going to get fired, so let me try to help her out," so I think the sympathy card kind of worked.
I just set up a ton of calls. I think I did something like 57. At least, I had 57 very built-out responses. It doesn't seem like a lot, but what it allowed me to do is spot all of the commonalities and spot all of the patterns in what people were saying and validate is this buyer persona a blocker, are they an influencer, will they be a potential champion. I was able to kind of get there through these conversations.
The best part about it was I was talking to people in a variety of different industries. They were a little bit more concentrated in tech because that's my network, but I talked to all sorts of people. People at Walmart, people at LVMH, a bunch of retail companies, and then tons of tech.
I just tried to figure out what the commonalities and patterns were, and then I took that back to the founders in the company and said, "Here's what we found. This Designer Dan persona that we thought would be an amazing one to sell to, they're going to be a blocker, they fear that someone else is going to come in and take their job. I think it might be an issue now, it might not be an issue in the future, but for now, we should lay off this person, not target them in any way, not speak to them in any way. Here are the three that have emerged."
I think that type of qual data, especially since we had hardly any big data ourselves because we were a new company, that qual data really helped us steer the ship a little in a direction and be very clear with ourselves about what are we hoping to learn, these are hypotheses for how this is going to go, let's follow the data now, once we have some sales, and see if that pans out.
George: So good. The idea of being able to get enough conversations to see the patterns. When you see those patterns, that's super powerful. You mentioned it helped you understand, and understanding, oh my gosh, it just enables your brain to go in the right ways. Like you said, steer the ship. It's like you're navigating that course, you're plotting the course for your future success. By the way, we'll talk about success in a little bit.
What is a common myth, when people sit around the tables and talk about marketing-led growth, what myth would you want to debunk here on the Marketing Smarts Podcast to be like I wish people would just stop saying this or stop doing this? What is that for you?
Amrita: This is not really a common term, so I don't know that there's any myth specifically around this. I think just thinking about myself, I'd say a lot of marketers feel like they have to get a ton of things right.
Just to give you an example, "I'm going to crack TikTok this year. We have to crack TikTok because it's the next big thing and I would look foolish if I don't do that, so of course we're going to try to crack TikTok this year." Even the best of us sometimes are like wait a second, this may not be a good idea because our audience probably doesn't live there. Then the hype makes you go in a certain direction.
I think we have this thing, I don't know if it's a chip on our shoulder or what, but we feel like we have to get it right, whatever we launch has to somewhat be successful. I think it kind of doesn't. I think that we should be okay with not just failure, but failing fast, calling it early, and then moving on to the next experiment. Again, this is not necessarily the right way for everyone. It depends on the DNA of your company, etcetera.
The way that I try to do that is to say we're going to launch this "experiment," maybe we're trying to crack TikTok, we're going to set up very basic milestones for ourselves, we have to achieve these milestones in the first three months. If we achieve that, then we move into the next stage, and those might be slightly different goals and milestones, and then we'll move into the next stage.
I always say output before outcomes. Particularly if it relates to content marketing. There's no way you can be like I'm going to launch TikTok and generate this much revenue. What is the path to getting there? It's going to take a certain amount of time. You actually have to get your cadence, your output, the quality, the creative, all of that stuff figured out before you can even produce a single view, a single lead. There's so much to figure out before you get there.
A lot of marketers, especially revenue-driven ones like myself, I think we pride ourselves in that and the tendency is to jump the gun and to go into that revenue territory, "How many leads did this generate?" Just scale the output and the quality first. Just do that first. If you can nail that, then you move to the next stage.
You need this map almost that you want to draw up with your team and say here's what we're going to do in the first few months, and only then will we continue to invest. If we don't figure that out in the first three months, we're going to cut this. Then it aligns everybody around here's what we're gunning for, this is the thing that we're all in together for.
George: I love that entire section. At the end there, you were talking about how to align the vectors of the team to head in the same direction together. You were talking about marketers feel like they need to get a lot right, and my brain went to how many marketers I've seen feel like they can't get anything wrong, and you started to talk about failure.
I have this thing, I don't believe there's failure, I believe there's lessons. If you have a mindset as a marketer of I just need to learn the lesson quick and pivot, be a transition specialist like Amrita was talking about in that section, then you will win more times than not, even though historically you would have thought it was a failure, but you're winning from the lessons. Such a good section. Hit the rewind again. I swear, this one is on fire.
When we think about this topic of a playbook, there's going to be things that you do in a playbook, there's going to be strategies that you're trying to pay attention to, so a playbook for marketing-led growth. Talk me through any tips, tricks, templates that B2B marketers can use when trying to achieve or implement in their organizations this marketing-led growth mindset.
Amrita: There's no universal tip. Just picking up from where you left off in the last section, there is something to be said about the early days just optimizing for speed of learning, kind of like what you said, and really setting up your go-to-market, your experiments, etcetera, in a way that you just get a ton of data back. Then you can observe that and refine a bit further.
I'll just use a simple example for that. When we were launching Superside, we had spent a few months what's the messaging, what's the positioning, how are we going to talk about ourselves, what's this website going to look like. We didn't even have the name Superside, we didn't have the dot com, so we did all of that set up. Then we were ready to launch in September 2019.
We did, and I'm freaking out, is anyone going to want this thing, what's going to happen. I remember I was freaking out and my boss said to me, "Listen, don't have this thing about leads and revenue in your mind. Just optimize for your speed of learning." That gave me permission to say where can I invest from a channels perspective that gives me that speed. I said because I'm optimizing not for revenue, but for tons of data, I'm going to go all in on paid social. I know that this can get in front of a lot of people very quickly in the right way on Facebook, Instagram, etcetera, so let me try that first.
We tried Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Within four weeks, we were like Instagram is where it's at, that's where we were getting a ton of the data, that's where we were getting tons of traffic coming through. We were like let's just put all of our miniscule budget that we had against Instagram, and we went full throttle. Anybody that came to our website and converted, we had a conversation with. The main call to action was to book a demo. We were trying to make sure that people understood what they were getting a demo about and it wasn't this nebulous thing. Then we just clocked every single conversation.
We discussed it. There was a very tiny sales team that was like two people at the time, I think, so it was them, head of sales, me, and a couple of other people. We would just go through every conversation and learn, learn, learn. We looked at where they came in, what website pages they visited, what kind of questions they had, what objections they had. It would be like, "Everybody asks about this one thing, we should put that on the homepage or the landing page."
We had this amazing tight loop and really optimized for as much data as possible rather than be like I'm going to optimize it for the best quality leads or the most amazing revenue in the world. That's going to come, the revenue will follow once I've learned. My boss gave me that permission to do that.
George: The revenue will come once I implement what I've learned. First of all, there's something that I hope the Marketing Smarts listeners have threaded along this whole way. We're talking about marketing that equals revenue. We're talking about growing a company through powerful marketing, where marketing teams are looked at as a revenue generator, not the first people to lose their jobs in an economical downturn because it's not tied to ROI. I know that was probably a two-by-four moment for some of you out there listening, but that is what we're talking about. That's where we want to get you with success, and we're going to talk about success here in a hot minute.
Amrita, you've traveled this, you've probably seen other people travel around it, friends and coworkers. What are some of the hurdles that you would sit and think I just hope you pay attention to this? What are the hurdles, potholes, call them what you want, that you've seen B2B marketers face when trying to do this thing that we're bumping into that is marketing-led growth?
Amrita: The most common one and the notorious one that we've all been part of at some point in our lives, I certainly have, is that you can very easily become a sales support function. Or if you're a company that is almost entirely product-led growth, you can just become a brand person where your entire job is to make things look pretty, the voice and tone, and really it's the product team that's calling all of the shots and driving the bus on how people experience the product and what the path from the first trial or whatever freemium it is up to upgrades. In both of those scenarios, whether it's sales-led growth or PLG, marketing becomes a support function.
There's actually nothing wrong with that, but it's extremely important to clarify the role of marketing, and it's very important for you personally to clarify how you are going to tie yourself to actual revenue and actual dollars, and optimize your entire roadmap, your marketing plan to working on the things that actually enable that. If you come to the conclusion of I want to do all of these five or ten things here and I don't know if it's going to actually drive revenue, maybe you shouldn't be there. Maybe you should be like these are some side things that should be taken care of, but maybe the product team can or maybe the sales team can.
That's a long way of saying you don't need to be a marketing team at a company that doesn't do marketing. If you're literally sales support or product support, that's not marketing, you're in the wrong place.
George: We're going to land the plane here. We have a couple more questions. This has been an absolutely amazing interview. I think there are a ton of gold nuggets for the Marketing Smarts listeners. I've teased in that we would talk about success along the way the entire time. When you think about marketing-led growth success, what the heck does that look like, how do you know you've reached nirvana, how do you know that you're living the best life of marketing-led growth?
Amrita: Wow. Is there a nirvana? I don't know. I think it's the journey, not the destination. Right?
George: Aw, snap. There you go.
Amrita: Do we all cheer and relish the fact that we hit our goals at the end of the year, or at the end of the quarter even? Yes, absolutely. That's a very important success metric.
Fortunately, at our company, we don't have to do this weird conversation around how much of this revenue is Marketing sourced versus Sales sourced versus Product sourced. We don't have to have that because we're an inbound shop, so everything comes through Marketing, it's 100% Marketing sourced. Various people have touched it, but it's 100% marketing. Thankfully, we're not that type of company.
I think the nirvana is actually hitting your goals. First of all, setting realistic expectations is a very important piece of the puzzle. I just want to address that for one minute. At companies, sometimes those metrics and those models are built by finance, sometimes they're built by Sales, sometimes it's a combination of the two. At our company, marketing used to build all of it from scratch, for many years, and only recently have we transitioned it to finance, but the model is set, how we think about it is set, and marketing has huge input in that. What that allows us to do is actually have a realistic target.
We sit there and say in order for us to hit this target, we would actually have to improve win rate from our standard 20% to 22%. Is that doable? Yes, it is. We'd have to improve our deal size from $9,000 a month to $11,000 a month. Is that realistic? No, not really, let's lower that and do something conservative to $9,500. There are all these levers. We understand those levers extremely well and we all align on what is actually going to improve, what is actually going to happen, and build in a little bit of buffer. What you get at the end of the day is here is a realistic target. Great. Awesome.
Once that's set, when you start hitting those goals every single month, it's important to relish that, it's important to celebrate that, it's important to reflect on what you did right that got you there, and some missed opportunities as well. It's okay to talk about some of the missed opportunities, it's a lost opportunity cost. Like, "Oh damn, I wish I had invested in YouTube earlier because it's really paying off," or, "I wish I had started this in May of last year rather than November of last year."
Those are the kinds of conversations that hopefully the team is mature enough to have so that you can be like I'm not going to make this mistake next time, I'm going to move faster next time, or I'm going to call the failure early next time, or what have you.
George: So good. Ladies and gentlemen, I know I've said this twice already, but there's multiple rewind spots. Notepads, tablets, chalk on your wall, I don't care what you use, you have to be writing notes down for things that are being dropped here. In the last one, did you hear if your team is mature enough? What does that mean to you, Marketing Smarts listeners?
With our final question, I always love to go with a fun one. Amrita, this could go in a couple of different directions. What are the words of wisdom that you would want to share with the Marketing Smarts listeners? This could be about marketing-led growth, it could be marketing in general, it could be life itself. Your parting words to the audience listening, what say you?
Amrita: Oh my gosh. Wow. I feel like there's way too much to say. I'll leave you with a fun one. Your buyer personas are probably wrong. They're probably wrong. What I really mean by that is they need to be revisited quite often, more than you think. People change. Industries change. There are macro trends everywhere. Things ebb and flow and shift in ways that you can't see unless you're deliberate about figuring that out.
Whatever buyer personas Superside had when we started this thing in 2019, we call them the same things, but how they buy, what they care about, what their selfish needs and desires are, they have absolutely changed. That's probably true for every single industry in every single space. I'll leave you with that. Find ways to know your buyer and know your audience.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with David Aaker about B2B branding, stories, social efforts, and distributive innovation for your company, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on July 6, 2023
Amrita Mathur, who joined Superside as its first marketing hire in 2019. There was no product, no platform, and no recurring revenue. No stranger to being called in when companies are at a strategic inflection point with their growth strategy, Amrita did what she spent a career in B2B marketing learning how to do and implemented a marketing-led growth strategy that translated into $8M in subscription revenue in the first year and 400% year-over-year growth since then. Now as VP of marketing, Amrita and her team are revolutionizing design at scale for ambitious brands such as Amazon, Meta, Shopify, and Coinbase.
LinkedIn: Amrita Mathur
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