A Conversation with Andrew Smith, VP of Marketing at PowerReviews
In today’s conversation, we speak with Andrew Smith, the VP of marketing at PowerReviews, a SaaS company that offers brands support with user-generated content. Smith tells us about his day-to-day approach to building a brand and his thoughts on the sales-marketing divide.
We enable brands to collect, display, and analyze user-generated content.
This means ratings and reviews, but also things like questions and answers, which is where consumers can ask questions, and then consumers can also provide answers to those questions. There's also imagery: real, authentic images created by consumers. If you think about how social has become more and more pervasive over the last five years or so, everyone is suddenly a videographer or a photographer and people are much more used to seeing imagery from real consumers rather than brands.
We help brands incorporate this type of user-generated content onto an ecommerce site. We've found that this creates much more interaction and much more of a conversion uplift than a brand-submitted image.
We provide collection, display, and analysis of this content. First, we provide the technology and support for companies to go out and secure content. Then we run code on our clients' websites, so they can display the content in an attractive, compelling way. And then we offer analysis, which is where we're strongest in comparison to our competitors. We've built a bunch of tools over the past 18 months to two years that enable customers to really go deep on the content, which can help them understand how to display user-generated content so it has the biggest impact, and how to improve the product itself.
We launched in 2005, and then we were bought by our nearest competitor, Bazaarvoice. But then the DOJ saw it as being monopolistic, so we ended up being bought out by a private equity firm that still owns the company today.
In terms of our competitive landscape, we have two very, very close competitors. We have one competitor at the high end of the market and then we have another lower-end competitor. And that is tough. We have fewer people and smaller budgets than them, so what it means for us is that we have to be really smart and efficient with what we do.
We have a growth percentage target that we're shooting for. In marketing, we are responsible for supporting retention, and we're also responsible for generating opportunities that convert to revenue that map to that figure. I look at sourced meetings that convert to opportunities and sourced revenue on top of that.
I've been at the company for about a year, and in the last quarter, we've really started to get more sophisticated, since I now have the people with the skills and expertise. We're working on deciding what the right targets are for us to hit that metrics figure further down the funnel.
The VP of marketing role is always going to be very different at every company with very different expectations. For me, it's about the goals that we measure our success by as a team. We've been hitting our goals and I'm proud of that.
We have a team of six, including me. I have a product marketer, and she's great. I have a designer/web manager—since I inherited her, I've realized how important she is. She enables our team to move really fast. So, if we're creating landing pages or content or anything, she's absolutely crucial. If I was outsourcing that or if we were working off a template, it wouldn't look nearly as compelling, the messaging wouldn't be as good, and we would do it way slower.
And then I have my growth marketing team under me. On that team, there's a growth marketing specialist; she runs and executes campaigns. Then I've got an inbound meeting scheduler—we call her a marketing development representative. That's almost like a sales role.
In terms of the channels we operate across, we do email marketing and also social and display advertising.
Our main communication method is Slack. From a generational perspective of our workforce, Slack is really in tune with where we're at, so we use that more than email. On a typical day, I spend a lot of time on Slack, a lot of time on calls, and just generally supporting my team members. I also do a lot of editing because I do content marketing and strategy. I don't write anything myself, but I have a couple of really good freelance writers who used to work here, so they know the subject matter inside out.
We have our own very distinct responsibilities. It's mostly very black and white. But there is a part in the middle where there is discrepancy and clashing.
In our company now, I would say that there is a little friction between marketing and sales. The way I'm managing this team is creating friction, because it's challenging established viewpoints. For instance, what's a bad lead versus someone who's worked a lead badly? Sales has always owned that commentary because they're the ones who had the meeting.
In SaaS, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on new business and sales. But most of your revenue is in your existing customer base. I honestly don't understand why marketing isn't structured that way. Why don't we have bigger retention marketing teams and customer marketing teams? Why are we focused on growth marketing or demand generation? That's a narrative I'm trying to shape and shed light on in my company.
I'm on the executive leadership team, so I'm challenging myself to have more of an influence on the broader organizational strategy. I believe that a marketer isn't just marketing. More and more teams and marketers are becoming much more focused on the sourced revenue metric because that's how you demonstrate the impact you're having. But I think in sales, it's easy. When you see a sales number, very rarely does a salesperson say, "Yeah, I couldn't have done that without X, Y, Z," when they're presenting their numbers to the board.
In marketing, we have to sell ourselves a bit more. And I think that's how we get more of a seat at the table at the executive level, which is what I'm trying to do in this company. I also want to make sure I'm not just thinking about marketing in terms of our own individual silo, but also about how we can be more aware of our broader impact elsewhere in the company.
For me, brand is everything. And how you create a brand will differ depending on where you're at and what customers you're trying to reach. For me, the brand I'm trying to create is that we are the single biggest authority at what we do.
When you think about smaller companies, ratings and reviews will be a very tiny component of their job. They will mainly be running the website and the shop. So that leaves a void in knowledge that we can fill by being the experts. So, the brand I'm trying to create for PowerReviews is that we are the authority on ratings and reviews.
Of course, establishing a brand doesn't happen overnight—that's a long-term commitment to a content marketing strategy. If you're building a brand, what you're doing is valuable. It builds and builds and builds the longer you do it. If you have a long-term commitment with a clear vision, the short term takes care of itself.
As I touched on earlier, I want marketing to be more credible and more impactful. I would love to see a CMO be a CEO. I'd love to start seeing a CMO being a sales leader's boss. And I think we're equipped for it.
Building a brand with content is how I look at it. And the content has to be valuable to whoever is going to consume it. Now, that means a lot of things. It could mean giving customers and prospects stuff that will make their jobs easier and make their lives easier and make their day-to-day easier. It's providing advice and guidance. And then, once you've got that, just cranking up the volume and cranking up the engine.
And don't make it hard for people to get to your content. I think it's becoming less popular, but gating content just feels a bit old. The idea that someone who fills in a form to get to one of your ebooks or whatever you're promoting is a buyer is not realistic or accurate. All they're showing is an interest in a business problem that you solve. It doesn't mean that you're right for them or that the timing's right. You don't want them just reading one piece; you want them to rely on your content and come to you when they're ready to buy.
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