Jean Marie Richardson, CEO @ iFolio; Gary Amaral, VP of Marketing @ Chargify; Julie Hansen, CEO @ Babbel; Rob Pegoraro, Journalist @ Yahoo
Ascent Conference 2019
Rob Pegoraro [00:00:09] Like for each of you all to introduce yourselves and talk about your company, what is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Julie Hansen [00:00:16] I’m Julie Hansen, I’m the U.S. CEO of Babbel. We are solving the problem of language learning, which is a difficult one, especially in America, and we’re about a 12 year old Berlin-based startup.
Gary Amaral [00:00:31] Gary Amaral, VP of Marketing at Chargify, we are a building in revenue management platform for SaaS companies. The key problem we’re trying to solve, modern SaaS companies are struggling with this revenue management concept and we try to remove this business blocker by providing the tools to optimize pricing and building strategies over time.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:00:53] Jean Marie Richardson, founder of iFolio, so five years from now, 70 percent of business will be done over Esme’s. We just all have so many flooded email boxes. So iFolio, the way that that helps is it delivers a private portfolio that tells a digital story right to mobile. And the SMS feature is really the amazing feature that’s really taking off for us. But it is a marketing and sales enablement platform.
Rob Pegoraro [00:01:26] Thank you. So the first customer experience issue I wanted to talk about was something I mentioned in the panel this morning, the fine and changing line between customized, personalized and creepy and clingy. And one example that comes to mind, there is another language training app who has it has as its mascot, the screen owl. That’s very, very judgmental. So that one may be going a little too far down that line of being creepy and clingy and scolding me. So have you gone about that? You want to keep the customers interests? Do you want them to be happy, to feel that they are if there are a number of them, at least a number that’s been memorized? But not go overboard.
Julie Hansen [00:02:10] Yeah, I suppose being German helps in a way, because with GDP are, we tend to error on the side of not being too creepy. But what we do do is we use a lot of big data to analyze where people stumble, stumble. So if we know that many of our users are having a problem in a certain part of the lesson, we will work to optimize that lesson again and again. And it’s pretty exciting to see, you know, teachers, we call them are we call our linguists, the didactic folks, to see them poring over data and finding, you know, this lesson that we optimize. People are still not getting through. We got to do better. So we tend to do a lot of that big data work to make things better without scolding.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:02:55] And I could add to that I think there’s a fine line as well between creepy and the convenience factor. And we all want something to be convenient until it’s creepy. So is it interesting element of being able to anticipate your buyers questions and package something that directly speaks to what they will want and then deliver it in a way where they don’t have to go looking for it? A folio does this with packaging a portfolio as best we can. We we can to design, to tell a visual story for data that often is just a whole lot of words. And then we try to personalize that SMS message, which is delivered right to a phone. But some people say estimates, well, are you invading? Privacy is an interesting line where packaging it and delivering it to them, but then being very just aware.
Rob Pegoraro [00:03:52] I guess it depends on how much of the message shows up on the lock screen notification when the owner of the phone doesn’t realize they’re advertising that.
Gary Amaral [00:04:00] Yeah, I think a big part of it is the definition of clingy and creepy has changed this notion of digital savageness that that level, that bar so much higher now and taking that into consideration with just being contextually relevant, understanding how that person is interacting with you, why they’re interacting with you, and using that as the barometer in terms of how personalized you can get. And literally applying a common sense principle to that, I think is the secret to avoiding the creepy factor.
Rob Pegoraro [00:04:34] And the next issue definitely applicable to a discussion about text messaging, everyone’s declining attention spans, we have we’re also interrupt driven and we will have six different things going on at once. We you were trying to get the customer’s attention without being in their face, embarrassing them all the time. No one seems to have figured that out, have you?
Julie Hansen [00:04:58] Well, something we’re working on both. I mean, it applies to new customers, but also the existing customers. You know, how do we make sure that we’re bringing them back to the app frequently so that we can encourage their learning? I mean, at the end of the day, the mission is all about learning. So that’s what we really focus on, is making sure that happens. But, yes, I think actually funny enough, one of the important roles that the US division of this German led company does is help my colleagues understand that you might have an attention span now, but give us five years and you won’t, because we know we are the future. So we tend to pioneer in our marketing more kind of timely and short and sweet that I think will infiltrate the whole organization.
Gary Amaral [00:05:48] I don’t think we I don’t think we have to figure it out, we’re definitely constantly working on it and it’s. The clue that we use or the tool that we use is really one that’s key to customer experience in general, which is listening to the customer as much as we possibly can. The feedback loops that we have built into our programs really give us the insight into is this too much? Is this too often or is this too wordy? And listening, I think is one of the most important skills that a modern marketer can can have.
Rob Pegoraro [00:06:20] Is that feedback loops in the sense of just, I guess, telemetry in terms of what people click and where or actually talking to customers later on.
Gary Amaral [00:06:28] It’s a spectrum. So, you know, leveraging the technology and all of the different ways that customers can interact as old school, as unsubscribe rates on emails to, you know, a lack of customer engagement in your applications, watching your monthly average user deal, average user accounts drop, or like your CSI teams and their interactions with customers and making sure that that information is coming back to the relevant parts of the organization.
Rob Pegoraro [00:06:57] You’re saying the customer support shouldn’t be outsourced to some low wage drones who don’t take notes about any of those charges?
Gary Amaral [00:07:03] Chargify was very proud of a US-based support team. It is one of our key differentiators in the market and one of the reasons that customers come to us. They are our point of contact, our human point of contact with our customer base, and no, I don’t think shipping off shore is the right approach.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:07:24] So I actually would echo something that you just said, so the analytics are so important to actually help you listen better, right? So like what Gary was just saying is there are so many analytics available in our platform, makes analytics available to users of our platform so you can learn what is resonating when. But then at the end of the day, having that human touch point is so critical. So we made a decision as well to have that human support be right here and be available. And in some cases, they are actually proactive to hold the hand of our customers. And we’ve seen a lot of success from that. But the interesting thing is the analytics are different from every human being is a different there are different recipe of a person. They have different types of interests, different content that excites them and engages them. So it’s just really important across the board to be thoughtful about that.
Julie Hansen [00:08:25] The listening is so important. And it was we’re actually just now working on a new product feature. And to make the argument for it, we were able to quote the customer service team this many times. In the past 20 months, U.S. customers have asked for this that is so powerful. If they say no, I’ll never forgive them.
Rob Pegoraro [00:08:45] We were talking earlier about the challenges of reaching customers in different social platforms. And, you know, would it be terrible or unintentionally great to shove your LinkedIn ad material into Instagram or Snapchat? You know, I guess we’re all still figuring out which of these channels works like, I could imagine in the case of babbel. You’ve got an audience that’s all over the place, you were saying, for instance, Gary, that I guess. Instagram works better for you than everything else I would have liked. So let’s talk about which of these the surprises you found in trying to meet your customers in the social platforms of their choice.
Julie Hansen [00:09:26] Yeah, do you think that the customizing to state, the obvious customizing for the platform is pretty important, although you can often reuse the same piece of content with small changes in a lot of different places, we create a ton of content babble. We have a Babble magazine, which is a fancy word for a blog. And someday I think I’d like that WordPress installed to have, you know, the article and the Facebook post and the tweet and the Instagram post and the Tumblr and the Reddit and just everything hanging off that one piece of content so that the social team had a totally holistic view. If anyone’s a WordPress developer out there, I’ll buy that plug in if you if you make it. But but the point where the point is that that same nugget of an idea has to be expressed differently. And all those platforms, what hasn’t worked for us, we definitely have not yet nailed Reddit yet. But I think that we should there’s a large language learning community there, kind of love Snooki, love quiara, tons of engagement on that platform. And then Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter, they’re all awesome.
Gary Amaral [00:10:34] Uh, yeah, I think. I think the interesting thing about social particularly is how it relates to how marketers look at persona and persona marketing. I think it’s very easy for persona based marketing to become kind of one dimensional stereotypes almost. And humans are much more multidimensional and much more complicated. So understanding that, you know, the CMO or the CEO of a company who you’re trying to target to sell your product to is also an Instagram user who’s on there wasting time just like everybody else is important. And of course, tailoring the content slightly to each of the channels is probably a good idea. Our testing shows that it is a good idea, but avoiding kind of that that stereotyping that personas can lead to I think is important. And then investing in channels. Quora, for example, is a channel that we’re very interested in. We’ve dabbled, but it takes a lot of effort. Good quality content on Quora is what drives engagement and what drives value. And that’s a that’s a strategic decision whether you invest the time and energy into content specifically for that for that channel.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:11:51] Yeah, so one of the things that my team has done and I’m so proud of them is I’ll give a shout out to Chloe, who’s here. She’s worked really hard on our social.
Rob Pegoraro [00:11:59] Raise your hand.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:12:00] So she invites people into our own team experience at the company. And I feel like there’s something at first there is a high risk level to inviting someone in because the dynamics of a startup, they’re up and down. They’re exciting, but, you know, good things and bad. But I think there’s a transparency to take a day, take a step with us as Timo Foleo and see what’s going on. That’s that’s really cool and interesting. And she’s had I would say she’s had better success with within certain LinkedIn than even I would have, which is awesome. The other interesting thing is Facebook is just. You know, everybody used to say, oh, you need to buy ads on Facebook, but. We’re not like it’s just it’s it just seems like it’s yesterday’s platform, it doesn’t seem the platform.
Rob Pegoraro [00:12:52] Didn’t show you don’t need to spend that much on this because.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:12:56] Maybe we should get our help elsewhere.
Rob Pegoraro [00:13:01] Alright. It’s interesting, you mentioned bringing readers in because that is to speak about my profession. A lot of news organizations are not great about explaining how they come to decisions, and it might help to have readers see how newsrooms work. On the other hand, journalists we saw like a lot. So that might not go over so well. Actually.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:13:18] I think it could with the millennials.
Rob Pegoraro [00:13:22] You think, OK, awesome.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:13:25] Don’t quote me on that.
Rob Pegoraro [00:13:30] We’re also talking about, you know. Frictionless commerce, is that a good thing or not? And we were bantering around that maybe it’s not always that great. We’ve all had experiences, we’ve bought something on Amazon or the place where after a few beers that we regretted, maybe not the beers, but the purchase itself. To what extent are you finding that you want to sort of induce a certain amount of deliberation among the customers so that they’re like, yeah, I thought about this. This is what I wanted the service of the product I wanted to buy.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:14:01] So I’ll add just a quick note and then pass it to Julie, because I know you had some thoughts on this, I think any time that we can assume the best about our customers or just people that were thoughtful human beings, but that we deserve to have the convenience of something packaged for us. It’s a great and so let’s serve it up in a way where, for instance, if I could text message right now somewhere and order that thing that I need tomorrow, I would love that. Now, if I might misuse that after a couple of cocktails at the happy hour and that would be on me. So I, I would rather take the convenience and then understand that, yeah, I may order 14 tubes of deodorant when I you know.
Rob Pegoraro [00:14:46] It’s a really good refund policy.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:14:48] Right. Right. I put I say air on the side of less friction and enabling quick actions, because today as humans we have so much digital noise. So they say that email boxes are just completely flooded and now open rates are down to two percent. And so people are shifting to over three hours a day on mobile devices, which means we have to be able to get that grocery shopping done. We have to be able to do those basics quickly and easily. Right, from our device.
Julie Hansen [00:15:20] Yes, I have actually a 15 year old daughter, and no one is better at reminding me of the ideal of friction free than today’s teenagers. I mean, they just expect everything to be so easy. She actually went out shopping recently and I reminded her to take her credit card that we have, which has an app that we can watch what she does. And she said, oh, I can’t just use Apple Pay, like as though it were a hardship to use a credit card. So and so that’s a very useful framework to view our customers through. We do find the really interesting thing. And I guess what it really boils down to is lead qualification. So, you know, that tradeoff between making it super easy to become a viable lead and then maybe asking you to do a few things, answer some questions to become a more qualified lead, which is better. I think that’s something we as an organization are frankly grappling with and testing around a lot. And I’m sure we all saw the IPO Smile Direct Club. It’s super interesting to look at their funnel and like, go ahead and you have to answer a lot of questions. Actually, you have to sort of be honest about your teeth configuration.
Rob Pegoraro [00:16:28] And I don’t want to be honest about that.
Julie Hansen [00:16:31] They make you work for it. And the whole point, of course, is qualification. So that to me is a very interesting question. Friction free versus qualifying. What’s the right ratio there?
Gary Amaral [00:16:43] Yeah, I think, you know, I’m a little bit biased on the panel when it comes to this, where we’re a billing and revenue management platform, our job is to make it as easy to monetize a product as humanly possible. So we’re constantly working on ways to remove friction from that kind of value chain on a broader kind of with a broader view. I know for us we are a complicated product that integrates with, you know, many parts of a company’s stock. So having an appropriate level of qualification, you’re your topic accurately. Qualification is super important to us because our our resources are finite and valuable. So, you know, when you’re looking at it from an operator’s lens, I think finding that that right balance between bringing enough people into have valuable conversations with versus, you know, the the trade off of wrong the wrong people.
Rob Pegoraro [00:17:43] So throughout this, you can always say your definition of success is how many people signed up, but it’s not just that, it’s also who might sign up, who might recommend what is the what is the key here? Is is it still your net promoter score? How do you know that this is working not just in terms of business you generated right now, but what you might get in two weeks? What are the numbers you look at their.
Gary Amaral [00:18:08] Yeah, good question, because we’re actually we’re talking about that a lot. We have a decent sized customer base, but there’s a certain kind of statistical significance that comes with NPS that only comes from large numbers, really. So we’re talking a lot about customer advocacy and the role of customer advocacy in measuring success. How many people are actually willing to invest time in your business because of the benefits they’re deriving from your business? So we’re really thinking about that a lot. And we’re kind of we’re playing with this notion of a percentage of your customer base that’s actually an advocate willing to take time to participate in a panel or give a customer reference. So we’re not sure what that metric is yet, but it’s definitely something we’re thinking a lot about just because NPS is outmoded for us.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:19:04] So there’s an interesting metric that we just started tweaking, which was a little bit of a risk for us, so we are we are a content platform for marketing and sales enablement. And so the question was, can we help our customers be more successful if we provide the creative content, the creative talent to them to build the content, for them to get them started, and then they can tweak it as an expense on our side because we’ve got to have that talent and and design skills available. We went ahead and went with that, and then we saw an interesting shift. So we started to see the analytics on average across the whole platform went from, on average, two minutes and 40 seconds engagement, which is a lot of time for us to look at anything to over four minutes and twenty four seconds engagement. Now, if you think about this and I it was like a business presentation, so it’s not like something just very, very fast. But I think that is an important KPI to measure success for us as well. Obviously, the renewals are really important and you get into how do you how do you target and segment. But that was an interesting metric. I didn’t know what to expect there. And it was it was very rewarding to make that investment and see that the engagement and therefore our customer success using those values went up.
Julie Hansen [00:20:37] Sounds like you have some good copywriters and designers. I have the the to perspective, so we look at, you know, we measure in the millions of users and we look at our own proprietary metric, a weekly average paying users. So pretty straightforward stuff. But that metric, when you think about it, combines both engagement and new sales because both can our sources of usage. And I had a great conversation with the founders recently where we were talking about that metric and what it means in the U.S. and maybe here in the U.S. where language learning is even more challenging. It’s OK for a user to have a viable subscription, kind of like a New Yorker subscription, like it piles up on the table. You know, you’re never going to quite get through all of them, but you feel really good having it when it’s you know, it’s there when you have time and you feel good about it. And the founders kind of thought about that and said, no, we really want our users to learn with babble. So we have a published metric and then we have what we really care about, which is the learning piece.
Rob Pegoraro [00:21:37] Well, it’s not enough for them to have the app icon ostentatiously on the home screen like a copy of The New Yorker. Not quite so I guess the last thing I wanted to touch on, because we’ve talked a little bit about the whole notion of getting everyone’s attention, you’re trying to go from email. In the case of a Foleo to text messaging, everyone’s moving to mobile apps. But of course, the notifications bar on my phone, he gets stacked up over and over again. So we’re never going to see the end of this particular competition for everyone’s attention, for that for that little microsecond of their their personal focus. Are we.
Julie Hansen [00:22:12] No, we never are having been in your business, the journalism business, I, I firmly believe that the greatest gift anyone could give you is their attention. So it’s definitely on us to make sure that that experience, when we’re given that gift of attention, is friction free and delightful and full of learning in our case.
Gary Amaral [00:22:31] Yeah, no, I have to agree, and it is about trying to deliver value in delight with every opportunity because you never know when when someone’s actually going to engage. So you don’t you don’t want to disappoint. And we strive to make sure that everything we deliver adds a little bit something extra to someone’s day.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:22:53] They said it perfectly.
Rob Pegoraro [00:22:54] All right, well, that’s a great way to end it if you want some individual responses from each of us will be around outside. Thank you all for your attention and thank you for your answers.
Jean Marie Richardson [00:23:04] Thanks.