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12M Users & Beyond: Designing a Marketing Team for Slack’s Parabolic Growth

In our most recent episode of the Demand Gen Visionaries podcast, we were joined by Julie Liegl, CMO at Slack. Julie is no stranger to driving cutting-edge demand gen tactics. As the former EVP of Global Marketing at Salesforce, she helped create and oversee the world-class corporate event that is known as Dreamforce. Today, she’s currently orchestrating a complete transformation in the way that businesses communicate as the CMO of Slack.

Slack has rapidly become a household name as a massive portion of the world’s population transitions to remote work. Slack is a collaboration hub that brings people, information, and tools together to help millions of users around the world get work done. With over 2,000 apps and a robust API, Slack has endless use cases to help teams of all shapes and sizes streamline work and automate mundane tasks.

So what does it take to design a demand gen engine that fuels Slack’s impressive growth? Julie advocates that delivering an integrated experience across the entire funnel is a fundamental key to success. Tune in to Julie’s episode to hear how she built Slack’s demand gen team from scratch and more, including:

  • Why “demand gen” is different than “lead gen”, and how to approach it
  • How Slack thinks about personas and segmentation
  • Ways Julie uses events to amplify demand gen efforts, particularly during COVID times
  • Why developing a great relationship with Sales should be every marketer’s job

Want to skip ahead to the highlights? Check out these cant-miss moments:

Episode Highlights

(1:49) How Julie Got Started in Demand Gen:

  • Julie’s first demand gen job was working for an enterprise software company called Trilogy, based in Austin
  • She was tasked with figuring out whether the company should invest in direct mail
  • This sparked a lifelong interest and obsession with building demand gen campaigns to help move people through the funnel

(5:09) Julie’s Demand Gen Fundamentals:

  • The first key to demand gen is that it has to be integrated. You have to think of it as a comprehensive program rather than a set of tactics
  • Used to be called “lead gen”, and that was reflected in what it was: marketing throwing leads over the wall, then yelling at sales over why they hadn’t followed up, and sales yelling at marketing that the leads were no good
  • Demand gen is being smarter about the entire funnel
  • You need to understand what the funnel looks like, what the customer experience is like, where marketing has the biggest role to play, and then how to make a program integrated and consistent throughout that funnel

(6:27) Slack’s Marketing Team Structure:

  • Prior to joining, marketing at Slack had been split into different groups that were operating relatively independently, and there wasn’t an established demand gen function
  • Today, the marketing team includes:
  1. Demand Gen
  2. International Marketing
  3. Brand & Creative
  4. PR & Communications
  5. Product Marketing
  6. Marketing Operations
  • The demand gen team owns email, website, paid digital, and integrated campaigns
  • There’s an integrated campaign team that’s part of demand gen that thinks about how Slack is reaching top audiences in an cohesive, consistent way across different parts of the buyer journey

(13:11) How Julie Uses Events to Amplify Demand Gen:

  • Events are demand gen tool, but also one step in a larger demand gen campaign 
  • Must think about how events play a role in the larger journey you want to have with your prospects
  • Must also think about how the event becomes an engine for demand gen content
  • Next wave of virtual events will be around creating 1-1 interactions and opportunities to ask questions, network, and engage with execs

(19:21) Julie’s 3 Uncuttable Budget Items:

  • Brand: Brand is especially critical for a company like Slack in their mission to create a new category
  • Content: Content fuels demand gen, helps customers realize value, and builds love for your product
  • “Innovation pocket”: Uncovering new ways to reach audiences using creative tactics (ABM, content syndication, etc.)

(22:22) How Julie Measures the “Brand Engine”:

  • Julie uses several tactics to measure brand, including brand studies, research on consideration and sentiment, and then slices the findings by target audiences and geographies where Slack is and isn’t present
  • Science only takes you so far. You can’t ever get to a point where you can say $1 of ad spend turns into X return on investment
  • Brand is also an art. It’s a full-funnel experience. It creates buzz, emotions, and connections that aren’t easily measured

(27:25) Julie’s Most Memorable Campaign Success:

  • When COVID-19 hit, Slack did a rapid pivot to launch a campaign around remote work
  • Centerpiece of the campaign was a TV ad with the tagline “You got this”, which offered a live 1-1 consultation to help people transition to remote work
  • People from across the company volunteered to run these live consultations with customers and prospects
  • This gave people a sense of purpose in the bigger mission, but also helped to fuel future content by uncovering common questions people had about remote work

(29:35) Julie’s Most Memorable Campaign Learning:

  • In her first job, she launched a direct mail campaign that mailed out remote-controlled cars to sales ops and IT people with the tagline “Drive more sales”
  • The campaign was phenomenally successful with response, but no one converted beyond that
  • Her lesson learned: make sure your campaign offer ties to the outcome you want to drive. Flashy things can work, but they need to fit in with your product beyond a flashy tagline

(31:05) How Julie Develops Relationships with Sales:

  • As a marketer, if you don’t see building a relationship with sales as a huge part of your job then you aren’t doing marketing right
  • If sales isn’t aligned to your marketing plan, neither side will be successful
  • Sales will always want more than what you can deliver. As a marketer, you have to prioritize and be realistic about tradeoffs
  • It has to be a partnership. You need to co-plan, co-create, and iterate together
  • The relationship can’t solely sit at CMO and CRO level. It has to cascade down through the organization so junior sales and marketing people reinforce the relationship.

(32:54) Where Slack’s Website Fits into Julie’s Demand Gen Strategy:

  • The website is critical, but it’s tough because you must prioritize the various objectives: demand gen, investor relations, customer support, recruiting, etc.
  • One of the great things about websites is that they’re a great grounds for testing. You can try new ideas with subsets of audiences to learn how to better target and convert visitors

(34:36) The Dust-Up:

  • During Julie’s Dreamforce days, the joke was that her team were the “dream busters”. They had to say no to endless requests for stage time, backstage access, product placement, etc.
  • She built up a thick skin!

(38:32) Quick Hits: Getting to Know Julie:

  • Favorite binge-worthy show: Watchmen
  • Hobbies during quarantine: She’s become a runner! 
  • Alternative career: Something with writing. Julie wrote the student comedy show in business school
  • Favorite motivational phrase: Julie has young kids that are very into Frozen. There’s a song about doing the “next right thing”. If you keep doing the next right thing, you’ll get back on track
  • CMO advice for someone trying to figure out demand gen: First, hire someone good and ask a lot of questions! Second, talk to other CMOs--there are so many out there willing to help. Lastly, focus on the problem you’re really trying to solve and ensure you have the right tools and systems in place to succeed.

Episode Quotes

“We used to call it ‘lead gen’, and that very much reflected what it was, which was marketing throwing leads over the wall. Then a few weeks later yelling at sales that they hadn't followed up, and sales yelling at marketing that the leads are no good. Demand gen is really about being smarter about the entire funnel.”
“My brand budget is very sacred. Brand is pretty binary. You invest in it or you don't. Cutting it 30% or 50% and there's diminishing returns. There’s a threshold you have to invest in. We're serious about doing that in a very targeted way. It all aligns to our sales targets and we're focusing on cities and areas where we really want to have the most expansion.”
“As a marketer, if you don't see a huge part of your job as building a partnership with sales—investing time with them, getting feedback, doing an iterative planning process—then you're not doing marketing right.”


Ready to hear from more Demand Gen Visionaries? You can subscribe and find all episodes here.

Posted on
September 3, 2020
by
Megan Guy

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