Kyle Lacy is a strategic marketing leader, published author of several books and an international speaker on marketing and digital trends. Having led the content marketing teams at ExactTarget and Salesforce before taking on the role of VP of Marketing at OpenView Venture Partners, it’s no surprising that he’s been named one of Indiana’s Forty-under-40 by the Indianapolis Business Journal. We were excited to sit down with Kyle recently to discuss personas, KPIs and developing a personal brand.
ML: First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be where you are today?
KL: Well let’s start from the beginning. After failing to get a job out of college, I started an agency for survival. This agency started doing a lot of design and social media work in the Indianapolis area. Towards the latter half of 2011, we were hired by a software company called ExactTarget for social consulting. When I decided to leave my firm, I was recruited by ExactTarget and started in early 2012 on their thought leadership team. Over the course of three years, we built a content team from the ground up. That team went on to produce content in six countries and generate close to $15M in sales pipeline per quarter. In 2014, we were acquired by Salesforce for $2.7 billion and spent a good year and a half integrating.
I was enjoying my work at Salesforce, but I was looking for the next big thing. That’s when OpenView came up. OpenView is a venture capital firm based in Boston that invests exclusively in expansion stage software companies. I run marketing at OpenView. On any given day, we are running marketing for OpenView, but also consulting with our portfolio companies on how to best scale.
ML: A lot of people struggle with figuring out how to do marketing for one company, and you advise a portfolio of organizations on how they can be better at marketing. What’s your secret?
KL: That’s a great question. OpenView has been investing in the same type of companies over ten years. Over that time, we’ve been able to build processes around different pain points that expansion stage software companies have, whether that be pricing and packaging, customer acquisition, or building out a BDR team. So, we can be very prescriptive.
ML: When an organization joins your portfolio, what do you see as their number one marketing challenge?
KL: Understanding the buyer. I think a lot of CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and marketing executives spend so much time and energy trying to figure out the customer acquisition side that they forget to focus on who they actually should be speaking to. I think persona work is number one. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done around truly understanding the buyer of the software. Even if you’re growing spectacularly, there’s always work that needs to be done around market segmentation and developing a better buyer persona.
Also, we do a lot of hiring for our portfolio companies because hiring the best talent and retaining it is one of the main issues that any company has. The same goes for customers: acquiring the best customers and retaining them.
ML: Do you follow a certain methodology when developing an ideal customer profile? There are many organizations that talk about it and even books on the matter, but it still seems like a challenge for a lot of organizations.
KL: I think a lot of it has to do with doing additional research. When a company is growing fast, it’s because they’ve found product market fit. But, they could be even more focused with who they’re trying to sell to, so we help them identify the market for even more focused efforts. Without being focused, it’s really hard to create the best experience for a potential buyer of a product. You could think of tons of different ways to reach prospective buyers, but it’s really hard to create a meaningful experience unless you truly know who that persona is. In the global world of today, that’s what you have to do. Experience is everything.[bctt tweet=”Without being focused, it’s really hard to create the best experience for a potential buyer of a product.” via=”no”]
ML: If one of your portfolio companies does something well with analytics, what does that mean to you? How do you think they can use analytics to their advantage?
KL: It really depends on what you mean by “analytics.” If you’re talking about using analytics from an engagement standpoint, whether it be Google Analytics or any type of engagement platform, I think understanding how a user is experiencing your website is extremely important.
If you’re talking about analytics from a product perspective, there are a lot of companies experimenting with what we’re calling product-led growth. Product-led growth is essentially understanding the nuances of how somebody uses your product’s software, and then being able to up-sell those individuals based on product usage. That’s another way to use analytics. It’s like the engagement side from a prospect perspective, but it’s also the engagement from a customer perspective of how they’re using the product. Even with internal product analytics, you can make your software better if you feel somebody is having an issue with a button or other UI elements. That’s how I separate the two.
ML: That’s a great point. A lot of times when we talk about digital analytics, it comes down to merger and acquisition or engagement. As you pointed out, it’s just as important to determine what you can up-sell or what product features are not being used.
KL: I think it’s a pain point for marketers because they often forget to consider what happens after somebody becomes a customer. If marketing can get further involved farther down the funnel, the leads at the top will be that much better. You should understand the unit economics of your business as well as the CEO. You should understand customer acquisition cost, lifetime value, and all these different things that a CEO is talking about. It will not only help make better decisions, but also help the product team.
ML: With that in mind, what are three to five key PI’s or metrics that you consider to be the most important for marketing, from your experience?
KL: Definitely customer acquisition cost. Also, churn rate is important to understand as well from a marketing perspective because it will help find better leads. It can also help with alignment, depending on how large the company is. If you realize leads you brought in during Q1 are churning in Q4, it’s important that marketing understands why that’s happening to better understand the process itself.
ML: In your opinion, what makes for a good marketing strategy?
KL: Focus. If you understand the buyer, you can understand the user, influencer, and the different verticals. Take all of this together and you’ll be able to discern 100 customers that you want to get within that extremely focused persona. That is the first phase of an extremely functional marketing strategy.
The second phase is what happens after you get that person. The nurture campaign. Attribution modeling. At the core, a strong marketing presence, or a strong software company means actually understanding who that buyer is and the experiences we want that buyer to have.
Too many times, I think markets say,” We want to generate hype,” but don’t start with saying, “This is how we want somebody to experience our brand on a website.” I think that a great marketing team truly understands what they want the buyer to understand through the buyer’s journey, and have built that out. They have spent time, energy and resources on talking to current customers and people that they’ve lost, and allowed that feedback to influence who they sell to.
ML: Why do you think marketers lose this focus on the buyer that you’re talking about?
KL: The world is moving too fast. With the speed at which we move in software, it’s really hard to stay focused. In some cases, there are marketers that are just growth hackers. They like to get as many things done as possible, but I don’t think that’s the right way.
In other cases, you’re testing. You’re building your product road map and who you’re trying to decides who to target. Maybe the sales team brings in a whale that wasn’t on your persona list, and now you need to redefine. It’s really hard because of how fast the world works, but it all comes down to focusing as a company and saying, “This is our target. This is what we’re going to go after. This is our focus.”
ML: Speaking of focus, you’ve been able to really focus your career. In fact, you’ve won a number of creative awards, and have been named one of Indianapolis Business Journal’s 40 under 40. To what would you attribute achieving those awards?
KL: Networking. What I did at a younger age was survive, frankly. We had just started the agency and we needed business. I went out and said, “I’m going to meet five to seven people a week. I’m going to meet as many people as I possibly can in the professional world of Indianapolis, Indiana.” I stuck to that goal and it led to more contacts, customers and eventually a book deal with Wiley Publishing. Eventually, it led to my job at ExactTarget. Looking back, I focused on spending time and energy to develop my personal brand and what I was good at. When you can tell a coherent story about yourself to as many people as you possibly can, that’s really what networking is all about.
ML: You’ve written a number of publications: Social CRM for Dummies, Twitter Marketing for Dummies, Branding Yourself, and the “Retail Touchpoints Exposed!” research report. What motivates you to write?
KL: Each book had a different reason. We started selling social consulting, so it made sense to write Twitter Marketing for Dummies. I wrote Branding Yourself because we started talking more about personal branding and how it affects your social career. Social CRM was because I went to work for ExactTarget. Then all the publications, like “Retail Touchpoints Exposed” and other eBooks, were thought leadership pieces for ExactTarget. I was doing three or four speaking engagements a week, and the content in those eBooks led to presentations at conferences. It all came back to branding, inflections in my career, and what I thought would benefit my personal brand, as well as the company I was with.
ML: You mentioned that you have spoken at a number of different conferences. How do you prepare? What’s your niche, if you will?
KL: A lot of times it’s about doing the same type of presentation and having a theme. I like to focus on marketing trends, marketing disrupting software, and any technology disrupting certain industries. In terms of preparation, I’ve spoke at a lot of conferences. It helped me memorize and learn the nuances of the content and the audience. If you haven’t spoke at conferences before, then do the presentation multiple times by yourself in front of a mirror. You make sure the content you’re showing on the screen relates to the content you’re saying. If you practice, you usually feel better about it, but I think anybody is going to be nervous until they do it a lot. You’ll learn to know the cues of when people are going to laugh, when they’re not going to laugh, when they’re going to be confused, all that type of stuff.
ML: One last question. Are there any new initiatives that you are working on?
KL: We publish five times a week on our Lab’s publication, which is labs.openviewpartners.com, which consists of thought leaders, our executive network, and people at OpenView writing about growing software companies. We spend a lot of time and energy producing content for that, and our contributors do as well. It’s the one spot an entrepreneur, CEO, or founder can go to get any information they can possibly need about growing a successful software company.