B2B Marketing for a High-Growth SaaS Startup with Emma Cimolini, Ep #66
Kayla: Hey everybody. Thank you so much for joining me on the Content Callout today. Choosing to spend your time with us. You've got Kayla here. Today, I have a really exciting guest with me, Emma Cimolini, the marketing director of Canadian SaaS startup, Routific. Today, Emma's going to be sharing some of her wisdom with us about B2B marketing in high growth SaaS startups and the most important things marketing teams should know in this space. So let's get into it. Hey Emma, thanks so much for joining me on the Content Callout today.
Emma Cimolini: Thank you for having me.
Kayla: Amazing. So before we really kick off here, I'd love to hear just a little bit more about you, what you do, how you ended up where you are, all those things.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. So I'm the marketing director at Routific. We're a B2B software that does route planning for delivery businesses. So think of us like Google Maps, but for deliveries. And I handle a small internal team, work with some external agencies here to handle everything from acquisition, strategy, planning, and research to demand gen and product marketing. So how I got here is I think a lot of marketers jump around a bit, trying different things. I was working, I did events and conferences for a long time, then moved over to an agency in Toronto for a little bit, and then eventually ended up in Microsoft for a little while. But then decided that the big corporation was not for me so I went back to startup life, which I really love. I love the small team, the fast paced, and all the chaos that comes with it.
Kayla: Yes. Startup life it's something.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah.
Kayla: Especially in the B2B and SaaS space, which you are well acquainted with. A lot of times, when you start, nothing exists yet. And I think that might have been a little bit of a pain point for you, creating marketing for a business that didn't really have any marketing materials to compare to. Is that the case?
Emma Cimolini: Yes. Yes. So for us, our software, route planning and route optimization, it's something that's still sort of growing since COVID. There's been a huge boom in this type of software, especially for things like groceries.
Kayla: Oh, yeah. Supply chain.
Emma Cimolini: Exactly.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. And especially for that something called last mile delivery, which is basically from that central ware hub to a consumer's doorstep, this is one of the most complex part of the supply chain and it's also one of the most expensive parts of the supply chain. It accounts for at least 50% of an entire supply chain. So if you imagine something coming from one country to another, to another, and going to all the distribution hubs, that last mile is about 50% of your cost. And we-
Kayla: Holy smokes.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. It's a lot. And then the thing is, is that a lot of small businesses, which are local delivery businesses, are by default last mile delivery companies and they're footing this really complex, expensive part of the supply chain. And they don't even realize it. And it's only now that we've had some democratization of software where these small businesses can actually start to access this type of software for the first time. And so it's very fun and an interesting problem to solve, but there really wasn't a lot out there because anything that was available was really archaic, old school. The content available was really bad. We're like the SEO blog posts that are less than like 500 words and nothing but like a sales pitch. It was basically that. And so for us, when we were trying to build out some marketing and we were like," Okay, let's do some inbound marketing. What's the story we want to tell?" Usually, the tactics that we were using or the story that you would typically use to try and even begin to build this out, like going on Quora, trying to find posts of what people are talking about, SEO keywords, search volumes, what are influencers talking about, what are other competitors talking about, trying to do a skyscraper technique, none of this was out there. There was literally nothing to start with. And on top of that, our customers were like," They're SMBs and they come from very different industries. They're all over the map," right? So it's not like you can even go down one vertical for your content. And so what we decided to do was we went to conference agendas, looking at the programs from conferences. That's a really-
Kayla: That's so fun.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. Because I used to work in events and I know that oftentimes, these conference programs are vetted by a lot of professionals within the industry. And so it's a great way to start to figure out what's top of mind for these people, what's keeping them up at night, this was a great place to start if you were going in blind for the first time. And then of course we would validate this against press coverage. And we would start obviously do customer interviews. Trying to get customers on a call sometimes is tricky. But usually, what we would do is we'd come up with an idea of what we wanted to talk about like what, generally, is the topic that we want to do. And then we'd ask them a bunch of questions, kind of related to it, and to see how... And use the answers that they gave us to structure the outline of the content we wanted to do. And then go through SEO and all that kind of stuff from there. But it took a little bit of work, but now, we're at a point where our blog went from, I don't know, about 1700 monthly website visitors to 20,000 monthly visitors. And our-
Kayla: That's amazing.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. And our competitors are copying our content now and trying to use us as the foundation.
Kayla: I think that's how you know that you've made it, right?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah.
Kayla: And I think that's what's really exciting about startups and SaaS is that a lot of this stuff doesn't exist and you do get kind of get to build it from the ground floor. And I think it's just really interesting because you're trying to solve a problem for your customers, which are businesses. So trying to get to the root of what that problem is when, like you said, there's many different verticals. So were you finding that there was one common thread, one kind of problem to solve?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah, I think it... You have to sort of use your... There's going to be limits to how far you can take a certain story or a certain theme. And so for us, because we're going up with all these different verticals, we had to kind of keep things... We couldn't do a lot of tangential... We were really focused on SEO. That was the wanted organic traffic when we wanted the inbound traffic, so we were using our blog as the main foundation. And there's a limit to which keywords you can target. There's a limit to the search volume of what's available and what's out there. And then on top of that, you have to look at okay, what makes sense for our customers and trying to marry those two things. So for us, we ended up keeping things really focused around route planning. They were really trying to figure out how do I do this? And we were able to figure out through our customer research. A lot of our customers start using Google Maps, and then they scale up, and then they're trying to switch over to route planning software for the first time. So SEO is really good. When people are searching for things, they are often searching for how do I do this, they're often very new to-
Emma Cimolini: ...what they're doing, right?
Kayla: Mm- hmm(affirmative).
Emma Cimolini: And so keeping that context in mind, you're not going to get the experts. You're going to get the people who are like," Oh no, I have this problem. What am I doing now?" And so you can provide content around that. Keep in mind, you're going to get a certain type of customer from that. For us, it was very small businesses that were doing this for the first time. Not necessarily established businesses that already had a program going. I think it was probably one of our biggest learnings as we were building up a blog is like," What type of audience are we going to attract with this?" But we had to keep it very focused on route planning and very high intent, high conversion type keywords. We did try tangential keywords, but because our audience is so broad, it's very difficult to get the right type of audience in, through such a tangential type of topic, right? So really was struggling. It was like," Can I find another word?" So we eventually were like," Okay, we've hit our peak. We're like what? 23,000 monthly visitors." We have no real interest to grow up beyond that. We could. We could write all the content and grow into this massive thing, but then we're getting to small business operations and things like that. And suddenly, we're now competing with blogs, like Shopify and things like that, and we don't... When you're a small startup, that doesn't necessarily make sense. There's probably some other avenues that are going to be a better opportunity.
Kayla: So I really like something that you said there, which was, it was great, you got the content out, people were coming to you, people were reading it, but it wasn't necessarily the customer that you had in mind. It was someone that was at the beginning of their journey that didn't really know and didn't maybe have the budget. So what I took from that, the first tip was like," Oh, just start creating the content," but it seems like it goes a little deeper. So what is your biggest tip to someone that has to start from scratch?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. I mean, you're going to try... If you're doing this for the first time, everything's going to be an experiment, right? You want to try a bunch of different things. So this is what happened for us, this is what we learned. Probably my biggest tip is just to keep on experimenting with different things, but do it in iteration processes. Don't be like," We're going to build a blog and then just run with it," right? So you know that... It's typically going to be for beginners if you're doing at least that type of content, but whatever type of content you're building, do this in an integrative process. Start small, test it, see what type of traction you're going to get, and scale it from there, and don't be afraid to let something die. In fact, you're going to fail more times that you're going to succeed. So basically, you want to try and fail as fast as possible.
Kayla: Right. Yeah.
Emma Cimolini: Right? So that you know you're going to move on to the next thing. So I think in marketer... Marketers often like to build up these... We're going to do... We love to plan everything. I find, a lot of times, we love to go into all the details, and it's going to be so fabulous, and it's going to be wonderful because we don't like to put out things that are scrappy, and quick, and dirty. I mean some marketers do, but there's also a tendency to-
Kayla: No, totally. I mean, there's something crosstalk.
Emma Cimolini: ...over point.
Kayla: There's something to be said for that stereotype, that marketing makes everything pretty because, well, we do, we want to do more than that, but we do.
Emma Cimolini: Exactly. And we can often get excited over the next fun thing that comes down the pipeline, I-
Kayla: Something shiny.
Emma Cimolini: Exactly, right? And so we're like,"[inaudible 00:10:16], this is will be fun. Let's build this in." But they're like," Is it really worth that extra two weeks or a month to do this? No."
Kayla: I mean-
Emma Cimolini: And we-
Kayla: Yeah, I think we can all relate to the client that calls and they're like," I saw Gary Vee doing this. Can you do this?"
Emma Cimolini: Mm-hmm(affirmative).
Kayla: But you said don't be afraid to fail and try of fail fast, how do you know what that point is?
Emma Cimolini: Yes. So, I mean, it comes down to your planning, right? You understand what you're trying to do. So I like to do my testing in three... I like using the bullseye framework, if you've ever heard about this, but-
Emma Cimolini: So for anyone out there, the book Traction, if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I think it's a good startup book, it's a good marketing book. But essentially, I kind of break it up into three phases. There's exploratory phase, validation phase, and then scale. So exploratory is when you're just," Okay, I'm going to run an experiment. I need it to be super, super scrappy." And this book even gives you some guidelines about how you do it, but essentially, create some metrics. What does success look like? What does failure look like? And if you set that up beforehand, it makes it very easy to call whether or not this is something you want to explore. If you have a little bit of traction in the exploratory phase, you move it into the validation phase, which is like," Okay, think this might work. Let's see. Is this actually going to be something worthwhile?" And you invest more resources at that point. Not full. You're not putting your foot on the gas pedal too much at this point, but you just want to know, is this something worthwhile? And if yes, then what you do is you put all of your eggs in one basket and you scale that up. And essentially, reason why they call it a bullseye is you usually want one channel to really drive your acquisition or your marketing efforts, because most marketing teams are relatively small. And even when they're large, there's never enough resources to do everything you need to do.
Kayla: That startup life.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. And so basically, it's like you don't want to spread your efforts too far, you want to make sure you're focused on one area. So the idea is that you're going to be testing a bunch of different things to find that one channel or that one activity that's really going to drive you up to the next level of growth. And then that'll inaudible and you'll do the whole process, so over again, and you find the other channel that you're going to add on top of it, but it just keeps you really focused.
Kayla: So let's chat about those metrics for a second, because metrics are something that I see consistently being a struggle for a lot of businesses because they are important. We need to have them. And vanity metrics, I mean, they kind of get a bad press because we still need those metrics too, however, if you only got five views on your blog and one of them turned into a customer, then do your vanity metrics matter or what matters? So how do you set metrics that matter, what matters?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. No, I think that's a great question, because it is easy to get lost in things like blog subscribers and ebook downloads. Yeah, we got engagement, but does that drive business volume? No. Maybe, maybe not. And so really, at least here at Routific, what we do is we focus on our MQLs. But our MQLs are not just like," Hey, they did all these marketing activities." They're actually based on like," Okay, they signed up for a trial." We have a little questionnaire. We know that the product is going to fit, this it's about product fit, more than anything else. So they've raised their hand to say," I'm interested in the product." We know that they should, theoretically, fit the product. So therefore, it's a really high value lead, right? It's not just some random person downloaded an ebook.
Kayla: I love this. I love talking about MQLs because so many people are like," Yeah, we got a thousand MQLs." And I'm like," Does that mean a thousand people signed a form?" What does that actually mean?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. And at least how we define it as product fit, and then they've raised their hand in some way, that they wanted to engage us at a relatively bottom funnel. So reached out to sales, signed up for a trial, or hit our contact us like they're asking us for details and information. If they're a blog subscriber, that's great. They're a subscriber. Or they download an ebook, they're a subscriber. They're in our contact base, but they not an MQL yet. And it doesn't matter how many activities they take until they're... We're going to nurture them to take those reach out to us, or contact us, or raise their hand, but only once they kind of get there, are they really engaged with us on that level, at that point, right? And then sales kind of might step in or they do their self- serve, depending on the avenue, right?
Kayla: Right. So I mean, another thing that kind of goes along with that MQL conversation, it seems like, a lot of times, marketing is kind of siloed and their efforts aren't really connected to other departments, specifically sales, and there's sort of a disconnect there.
Emma Cimolini: Yes. Thank you for this question. This is exactly the next point I wanted to make, which was MQLs are great. But what if marketing is focused on MQLs and sales is focused on revenue? While you would think in theory, these two things are related, but in some companies, maybe they're not, right? So especially if your company defines an MQL based on just marketing like I downloaded a form and an ebook, and whatever, I visited the blog, that has nothing to do with revenue, right? And so you want your MQL, either A, marketing a sales should work towards a revenue goal together so that way you're aligned towards the exact same thing, or your MQL should incorporate revenue within it. For us, we base things on like," Okay, how many stops does this company complete deliveries, do they complete each month?" This is directly tied to our pricing. So we already know that that's the pricing, the revenue, that those things are tied together, right? So an MQL makes sense with revenue, right? But what I find is that every company struggles with silos, whether it's engineering-
Kayla: For sure.
Emma Cimolini: ...product, sales. And whenever you want to create some alignment... I mean, there's so many different ways to do it, you can do it through your team, the company org chart, you can do it through who sort of sits on top... However you want to do it. But one way, which I find helpful, is making sure that you have shared KPIs, right? You're working towards the same goal collectively, because as soon as you give people two separate north star metrics, guess what? They're going to go in two separate directions.
Kayla: Right. Yeah, no. Valid point. So do you have any examples or tips for setting those KPIs that create alignment?
Emma Cimolini: It's going to be unique to every business. I think, like I said, if you're talking about marketing and sales, yeah, it's going to be some kind of revenue KPI. Exactly how you do it, whether you incorporate revenue into the MQL definition or marketing is just responsible for revenue pipeline. However, sales pipeline, however that looks, going to be different, but something that's going to be shared between the two. And ultimately, it has to feed up to a higher company objective. I think that's an obvious one. But it depends, like if you're working with product, say like product marketing, and the product you're looking at, engagement rates or retention, things like that, right? So you might want to take a look at how all of these pieces fit together within the whole company, because retention is a huge piece. What if sales wants to go after all the leads in the world, but they don't retain super well? That's a problem too, right?
Kayla: Starting all over in the funnel and the pipeline all over again. Yeah.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah, exactly.
Kayla: That's not efficient. That's not great.
Emma Cimolini: No.
Kayla: And look, I know you said you think it was an obvious one, but the problem is when you are in startup life or when you're in a really large established business, a huge organization with lots of red tape that's not very agile, that's slow to change, it's actually not obvious because you're in the trenches doing the work and it's kind of hard to take that step back, because everybody's busy.
Emma Cimolini: Everyone's busy, and then people get territorial, and then people get hung up on the things that they want to do, and they're so... I had this marketing idea and we got halfway into it. We were going to do this big industry survey, benchmark report. And I was so excited about it. And our content guy was so excited about it. And then we changed strategy all of a sudden, and then we just had to let it go. And I've been wanting to do this thing for a year. inaudible I was almost there and then we crosstalk.
Kayla: Do you ever really fully let it go? It's like the one that got away.
Emma Cimolini: I know. And that's the thing, when you start shifting KPIs, and metrics, and things like that, people have to let go of their mental models. They have to let go of the things that their... Maybe some of the things that they were really excited about. And it's depending on the side... Even when it's a small company. Our company is like 30 people. It's not large. But there's still organizational change or transformational change.
Kayla: Of course.
Emma Cimolini: It's not easy.
Kayla: It's startup life. It's like you said before, you have to try things out and fail fast and then adjust. The same thing goes with your structure and your teams when you're in startup. I mean, we all wear many different hats and I hate to say this, because this is the word of 2021 that's so obvious, but we have to be agile. We do. I'm like," Yeah, I'm that guy right now."
Emma Cimolini: Trust me, the other day in the meeting, I couldn't stop using the word synergy. And I was like,"[inaudible 00:19:16]. Why?"
Kayla: Yes. I saw this post on LinkedIn last week that was talking about the grossest marketing terms, like what are your least favorite and grossest marketing terms? And the one that came up that I just thought was so funny, the snackable content.
Emma Cimolini: Ooh, that one's bad. I don't like that one.
Kayla: I know. Picture the CEO telling you that he needs some more snackable content. Anyways, sidebar. But something I heard recently, I worked with a startup and they were kind of like... I guess they're not a startup, they're a scale up. And one of the things that they did to kind of align those pieces on the MQL is that I thought was really interesting that I hadn't heard of anybody really doing before, and maybe I just haven't heard of this, but they actually put their BDR in the marketing department. So their business development person was actually part of the marketing team, not on the sales team, which I thought that was kind of cool, actually.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. I mean, there definitely is a debate going on, or I mean a preference debate, however you want to call it, but of where an SDR or a BDR might inaudible. And some people put them within marketing because marketing tends to be top funnel and they also are relatively top funnel. And if marketing is all about generating leads and qualifying leads, then that's one side of market, one aspect of marketing. I shouldn't say all marketing. But yeah, it makes sense to sort of sit them there, but it comes to who's best to manage them, how does it work? Here at Routific, one of the things we're we're kind of playing around with is that we're playing around with the idea of Shopify's org structure, where there's teams, which are around, say like a growth objective. But then you also have chapters which are around like the efficiencies. So say you have someone who's focused on demand gen, you can have a cross- functional team. So a salesperson might sit on that team, they're all focused on demand gen, but they sit inside the sales chapter so they still have the sales excellence and you don't have necessarily a non salesperson trying to coach the salesperson, right?
Kayla: Yeah. Right. That doesn't make any sense. And let's be honest, we mimic the things that are best and Shopify's killing it. Everyone has to admit that that's a thing. They're Canadian too.
Emma Cimolini: Shopify or Spotify? Shoot. I can't remember-
Kayla: Well, they're both killing it, to be honest.
Emma Cimolini: You're right.
Kayla: I think what's fun the sales marketing piece too, it comes down... And I don't ever know whose response ability this is so I kind of like to take this on and be the person blowing the trumpet for this. But it's sometimes really helpful to educate sales how they can actually use marketing as a tool, and use the department as a tool, and building that synopsis. So I think that's a trick that we kind of miss sometimes. And it goes back to what you said about the territorial thing.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. I know. It just depends on how leadership sets things up. It depends on how you set up the teams or the chapters in our case. But I think education plays a huge role just in general, whether you're trying to work with other departments, whether you're trying to talk to your reports, whether you're trying to talk to leadership. I think new managers anyways, or new people managers, I should say, often think of education as like," Oh, if I have people that I'm training, I need to educate them." But at least for me personally, I'm like," Oh, wow, I have to educate so many more people than I was expecting." And it's just a different style, right? When you give people more information, it gives them more context around why you're making certain types of decisions and helps to build alignment, right? Instead of just saying," Well, marketing just wants to make the website pretty." I'm like,"[inaudible 00:22: 57 ]. Conversion rate optimization is a thing."
Kayla: We do. But also this.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. Exactly.
Kayla: Yeah. I mean, I think that education piece you said is so key, but there's just so much information and so much out there. So how do you actually choose what's relevant? I know that you mentioned before we started recording that you read a lot.
Emma Cimolini: Oh, yeah. Yes. So we have a... At Routific, we set up a book club, because I think that's probably one of the best for your own personal development. Read a lot or listen to podcasts, like Content Callout. But you're going to... But if you're in marketing, everything's going to change. If you're in startup life, everything's going to change. And so the more you read, the faster you're going to learn, which is going to be great. We set up a book club because it's more fun to do things together. I do a marketing book club, but then we also have a company book club. So depending on the theme that we're reading, we'll set it up that way. But it helps to get everyone sort of marching in this... Suddenly everyone can use similar terms, everyone has a similar frame of-
Emma Cimolini: ...of reference. It's very helpful to sort of bring everyone on board.
Kayla: Were they using the term synergy?
Emma Cimolini: I know. And it's a fun way because you... It also depends on the culture, right? Here at Routific, everyone is quite curious I think. And so I've had people where they're... I've gone out, live interviewed people like," Hey, do you have this at Routific, because I would like this." Do you know what I mean? Everyone's like quite eager, and interested to level up, and figure things out. So I've had a chance to... Some of my favorite books I've read. Bullseye Framework was really good. The company level one that I really liked was the 10 Lessons of Conscious Leadership? Ooh, I've got to figure that one out. But that one... It's basically therapy, but for the business world. Like how to process emotions and talk to people in a healthy way?
Kayla: Oh, this because it's really important. It's important in marketing as well. You have to learn these little bits of behavioral science and how to kind of deal with people to be effective.
Emma Cimolini: It's like 10 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. That's what it is. But I found that one particularly useful, especially because in startup, things are moving so quickly. They're so chaotic that it's very easy for... Tensions can run high, people can misspeak, emotions are running high, all these things. And so when everyone reads a book like this, now you have all have the same frame of language to explain why something is the way it is, and you have a way to communicate to each other in something that makes sense to both parties, instead of one person. Because communication, I think, is... Everyone has a different style of communication. Everyone's going to process information differently, right? So it can make all of it very tricky. So having the same language helps a lot.
Kayla: Yeah. Totally agree. I loved what you said about having the curious environment. I think that's so key, especially in a startup and especially in marketing, because things do change really fast. Never have I felt more like my grandmother's grandmother than when I'm typing NFT into Google a couple months ago being like," What is this? I don't get it."
Emma Cimolini: It's true. You know what's funny is everything changes, but you know what I... Someone's going to tell me I'm crazy. But what blew my mind is I recently read out one of Ogilvy's~ book. Like it was Ogilvy on Advertising, I think it was. This book was written back in the'80s basically. And I'm reading through it and he's talking about TV as this new medium, right? But a lot of the things of like how he does print ads and how he write, it's all the same stuff we use. He's talking about buyer personas. He's talking about content marketing. He's talking about direct marketing, like ads. He's saying like," Hey, direct mail is the best form of marketing," blah, blah. Just like we're using PPC ads where you get the direct conversion and you can optimize your headlines based on it.
Kayla: I think direct mail still has a place. I know a business that uses it very effectively, but problem that they have is they can't measure it because it's not digital. So you send out 50, 000 mailers and you don't know how many phone calls you're going to get. And it backfired because they got so many that they couldn't man the interest, but it totally worked. And to your point when something's good, we don't have to mess with it. And the basic rules of marketing are still that. It's like when you have Thanksgiving dinner and your mom or whoever decides to start putting cranberries and raisins in the stuffing, and you're like," Listen, this is good as... I don't need these fruits in here. This is good as it is."
Emma Cimolini: Keep the basic. I know. I just found this book interesting because I'm like," Oh, so these are the fundamentals." I already knew these are the fundamentals, but it was such a nice reminder of exactly why and how it gets structured. Because there's also a few things I'm like," Oh I didn't think about that. I bet that's a fundamental."
Kayla: Yeah. And I want to bring that back to what you were talking about before, about blogs and SEO. Because look, I don't really care what anybody says. SEO is like... It's almost like the one that got away. It's like the ever changing, ever trying to attain it, there's so much conflicting information about it. And what we do know is that when someone creates a quality piece of content that ticks those boxes you were talking about before, like to answer a question and provide information, it ranks. So what do you consider quality content?
Emma Cimolini: Yes. I mean, everyone's going to have a different style based on what makes sense for them, but long form of content that answers a pain point and a struggle that someone's having, that is relevant to the search intent of the keywords that you're targeting. Search intent is becoming more and more... I mean, it's super important now, it wasn't maybe five years ago, it is super important now. It also makes a lot of sense because why would you write a piece of content that doesn't fit the intent of the searcher? You're not going to get the same amount of clicks.
Emma Cimolini: And then I also like to throw in this idea of what is the from to journey that you want someone to take with your piece of content? Because if you're just going to post a content for the sake of posting, that's cool. But ultimately, as marketers, we do have an ulterior motive, right? We want them to take action in some way, whether it's to sign up for a blog, sign up as a blog subscriber, download an ebook, check out... Something, right? So what is that from to journey that you want to explain to them so they feel like," Okay, this is the state of mind that they were at when they started reading the post, what's the state of mind we want them to be in by the end of it?" Right? And so that's also a quality content. You also have to tick all the boxes for SEO, make sure that all your technical SEO is really strong. We actually... Because there's quite a few different avenues that we kind of think about of what makes up a strong piece of content, we created... Everyone has a content brief. If you don't create it now, even if it's a small team, it's still going to make a difference-
Kayla: Because that's important to the process.
Emma Cimolini: But we also use-
Kayla: That's really... I just want to stop you for a second and say, those kind of things are really important for process, especially in startups. And perhaps, we'll come back to that, but you were inaudible.
Emma Cimolini: And then the other thing we have is a quality framework. It's an Excel sheet of what do we define as quality and there's points around it associated with it. And so anyone on the marketing team can read through someone's blog post or a written piece of content, and we go through... It's just this checklist to be like," Okay, does this make sense? What's the from to journey, what's the target keyword, what's the search intent?" And we literally go through it line by line so that we can create some... It's not fitting all in one person's head and it's easy... Even when someone knows everything that they're supposed to do, it's so easy to forget all the little pieces. My goodness, I've done it a hundred times. So it just makes it so much faster and so much easier. And the quality of the content goes up like gangbusters. And then anyone who's writing for you, it makes it so much easier for juniors to come in, for third party writers to come in and deliver the same consistent quality that's being published, right?
Kayla: Totally. And again, we've already touched on, when you're in the trenches doing the work, it can be really hard to keep an eye on things like process and creating these little things, but there's a lot of benefit to doing it and you got to do it. So what's your biggest tip for a high growth startup that hasn't created any marketing process or content guidelines?
Emma Cimolini: Ooh, start now. You'd think that... Even if you're like a one, two person team, as soon as you're two people, even for yourself, you need a checklist and like," Did I do this correctly?" But as soon as you start to have other people trying to produce content and you know you figured out a process that you like, start building it now, it helps, right? Whether it's third... Like I said, third party writers are hard to find, you're going to hire juniors who are still learning. Creating these frameworks helps to coach and train the juniors and also helps to alleviate some management overhead on your site. And the other thing too, with small startups is people come and go. Not even small startups, all companies. People come and go. But especially when you're a startup, their processes, especially the good ones, will stay. And the good ones and the bad ones, right? Especially when you're moving quickly, people find a process, they run with it, and that's it, and it starts to become a foundation. And so if you lay shaky foundation, five years later, it's going to be bad, because it's going to scale on top of shaky foundation. So you want to make sure that what you're building is good and make sure... Take some time to really think about it even when you're small, because going back and trying to change it when you're at scale is very hard.
Kayla: It's impossible.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah.
Kayla: So listeners don't do that.
Emma Cimolini: No.
Kayla: And another valuable lesson that I learned about that, it's like," Okay, great. I'm going to take a step back. I'm going to force myself to create this process even though I feel like I don't have any time to do it. Doesn't matter, I'm going to do it." So get the process created, get it on paper, make the manual, it's all good. And then start adding people to the team. And they're like," You know? Maybe this isn't the most efficient." And you have to actually take the new faces that have joined and ask them," Is this working for you? What would you change?"
Emma Cimolini: Mm- hmm(affirmative). Absolutely. We often ask people here at inaudible because someone would be like,"I don't like this," or," This is bad," or like... So what are you proposing? And then they sit back. They're like," I don't know." I'm like," Okay. LOL."
Kayla: You got to at least have a have something. Right.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. Makes it tricky. But yeah, getting feedback from people because if you're creating these guidelines, you don't want it to be one of those things that you're like," Okay, I've written this up. It sits somewhere, I don't know, in a shared drive and no one ever looks at it." It has to be part of your... It has to be usable. It has to be-
Kayla: Another good point.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. If no one's using it, it's useless, right?
Kayla: Okay. So what's your biggest tip to get people to use it because it's like taking pictures on a digital camera. Great, we all have 10, 000 photos in our phone. Has anyone ever in the world printed one of those photos? I'd like to find the guy.
Emma Cimolini: Well, I mean it comes to... I think the quality framework, right? We have a score that's associated with it. No one wants bad scores, right? And I think too, if someone wants to produce a good piece of content, they want a tool... Okay, they want guidance of how to do it because they don't want us to have someone come back and be like," Well, doesn't do this." And they're going to see logically like," Okay, cool. We know that we want..." It's also associated with a brief, does it line up with the brief? Is it all these things? And yeah, you got like five out of 40.( beep). Sorry, I can't... Sorry. I swore.
Kayla: Well, that's okay. You can swear. All of good. I do it all the time. So what should be on your content guideline? What are three things that should be on there, that anyone should have on there?
Emma Cimolini: Your SEO criteria, for sure. The structure, the from to journey, what does the brief say, what is the meat of the content, what are you going to say and why, and your persona type, who are you actually writing this for, right? So I would say, at least those three things.
Kayla: Yeah. I agree. I like to also add keywords onto there as well. Doesn't hurt. We don't want to stuff, but sprinkle a few of those babies in, please.
Emma Cimolini: Mm- hmm( affirmative). Absolutely. And we even go so far, especially if it's like we're getting an external writer, we'll even provide the headlines that we want them to use because this is one of the things I find really useful is because... Create the headlines we want them to use and let them fill in the rest.
Emma Cimolini: You'll get consistently much better content back.
Kayla: That's a great point. The downside to doing that, I think, is when people hire an agency, they really want it to be done for you. They just want to plop it out there, let it go, and not think about it, which I totally get and it's totally fair. What I think people don't understand is that marketing and SEO, it's not a magic wand. And you do have to have some level of buy- in and input to make it successful. So like you said, if you could do something like provide a couple of headings, provide a couple keywords, a framework, what you get back is just going to be so much better. And as you're developing that relationship, then you know what? You can kind of let go of the reins a little bit as you're moving along. But I think a lot of people, they just want it done. And it's all tied back to time and everything else.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. But I mean, if you're going to do content, you've got to accept the fact that you're going to invest time. It's going to be hard. You can only outsource certain things. Third party writers are really hard to find, that are going to be good, right? So for us, we have three... We're a marketing team of three right now and we have one writer. Then we have one external writer who specializes in fleet management for us, which is an area that's very big and we're not great in it.
Kayla: And that's what crosstalk.
Emma Cimolini: And then we-
Kayla: ...someone not specialized, it's hard to find that.
Emma Cimolini: It's very hard. There was a lot of trial and error for us. And then we also have our SEO agency, but we just only give them very top funnel type of stuff. Like,"Hey, what are the top e- commerce trends of 2021," or something like that, because they don't have the domain expertise. So we have our internal writer for anything that's related to our company, like case studies, bottom funnel content, anything like that, they're that specialty writer, and then top funnel stuff, we do outsource because it's easier to do it. But that's still a lot of management overhead to make sure that those voices are consistent, the quality is consistent. It's definitely sped up our process, but you still have to take the time to manage it.
Kayla: Yeah. I mean, look, there's plenty of freelance writers out there, and we work with some excellent ones, and they're not experts in all things. They can do research and things like that, but having the buy- in from the person that knows the information, really, really is helpful for everyone.
Emma Cimolini: Absolutely. And it also depends on how much research is this person going to do? Because not everyone is great at research either.
Emma Cimolini: And so-
Emma Cimolini: It's going to be very trial and error for a while.
Kayla: I think we have to consider too, everybody is what's in it for me. What's in it for me? And that's fair. The writers are what's in it for me too. They don't want to be doing three days of research for an 800 word blog that they're getting paid$ 80 for. And that's just how it is.
Emma Cimolini: Oh, yeah. You get what you pay for. Absolutely. And the more specialized niche the writer is, the more you're going to pay for them, but it's worth it. Because if you think about how much time it would take you to write it or create that content, it's worth that investment. If you're trying to get the cheapest writer out there, your quality isn't going to be great.
Kayla: I can't even believe some of these writer postings I've seen lately. It was like$ 5 per thousand words. And I was like," What? What is this?"
Emma Cimolini: Wow.
Kayla: This can't be serious.
Emma Cimolini: I know. I mean, that's actually one of the other things we include in our brief, when we hand it out to an external writer, even an internal writer, but external especially, is we actually go through and do some links of pieces of content we think are good. Like," Hey, this is what we mean by the research. This is sort of the avenue we want you to go down," just to get them started because if you just leave them, you leave it wide open, they could go down a rabbit hole that isn't quite correct.
Kayla: And that's an important process I think too, that you've created it, right?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah.
Kayla: Yeah. Totally.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. It's been great. We operationalize long form quality content. Even our specialized writer who does the fleet management work, she'll even do interviews with people within the industry. She'll like... You pay for it, but it's so good. We love her.
Kayla: Well, and then you can use that content for other things too, right? You get it made through a transcript, now you have a couple of social media posts. It all ties, right?
Emma Cimolini: Absolutely. You should not be just creating a huge volume of content, you should be trying to create one really meaty piece of content, and then splitting it apart, and using it in various different ways. When we do customer interviews, especially when we're going back to the idea of how do you even validate your content, and we're trying to figure out how we're going to write this, and what's that topic, when we talk to our customers, we are getting a blog post, a case study, testimonials, press quotes, we're getting everything in one go. And it's a great way to build that relationship with them as well, right? So you get to really go very deep with them and you get a lot out of it because again, small team, small resources, you got to make everything count and go twofold.
Kayla: Well, look, before we wrap up, I can't even believe how fast this has gone. I feel like I could keep talking to you forever. You said something that I want to hone in on because it sounds like you have some really valuable tips there. You said you had a lot of trial and error when you were looking for the perfect content partnership. So maybe you can walk us through that a little bit. Things that people should look for, things to avoid, how do we do it?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah. Avoid the cheap guys because they'll do more damage than good. Definitely-
Kayla: And what is cheap?
Emma Cimolini: I mean, like if you're$ 500 for a blog post. Just to give you an idea, we'll pay, for our specialized fleet management post, we're spending almost two grand per article, right? Just to give you an idea. But highly specialized interviews with people... Actual phone call interviews and everything like that. So it is quite... That's where it goes. But that's like sort of the range we're talking about. You'd want to do tests with them. You're going to pay for their tests because why would you try and get free content from people, don't be that person. Pay them for their time. People think-
Kayla: You respect people's time.
Emma Cimolini: Exactly. Even if the quality that you get back is not great, you are looking for the right fit and you're going to pay for people's time. And you want people who are going to be consistent, on point, and who follow the process that you have outlined for them, and do it well. And that's why having that quality framework is really good, that's why having that brief is really good, because it can help align you and this third party writer in the same direction, and it makes it really, really clear for them to understand exactly what you want. And it's going to require quite a bit of handholding, especially in the beginning, but even throughout the entire process, because they're not in your industry, they're not in your company. And so the more guidance you provide them... You provide the structure, they can add all the color, right? And that's really how that working relationship should be. It should never be hands off because that's just a recipe for disaster.
Kayla: Yeah, totally. Well, and you have to expect a little bit of trial and error before you find the right fit and-
Emma Cimolini: Yep.
Kayla: I think a lot of people just don't expect that when they're working with a partner, they expect it to be perfect right off the bat, and it's just sometimes not that way. You grow together with a partner.
Emma Cimolini: Absolutely. And it's going to take a few pieces before they get really. You want someone who gets really close to the quality you want, but needs maybe a few revisions, and then it's, say over relatively short period of time. One of the pieces in our quality framework that we use is how many times did someone have to edit this before it got to a certain score that we agree on that is good, right? Because if it takes 10 edits to get there, it's probably not a good partner for you. Give them a grace period to get to one or two edits, but that's also a good sign of not a great partnership, that you might want to work with someone else.
Kayla: Yeah. I also think there's a piece to that though of how many people does it have to go through? Because I find, sometimes, on the other side of it, when you're producing content for someone else, there can be too much buy- in. The marketing team wants it this way, but then the CEO's like,"[inaudible 00:43:49], I need to see that before it goes out." And then the CEO starts messing around with copy and you're like," Oh, man."
Emma Cimolini: Well, I mean, absolutely. But that's why creating the content brief before you hand it off to the writer is so important because that's really the tool that you're going to use to get alignment from everyone, to make sure that this is exactly what we really want to say. And the more detail you put into that brief is going to help make everything easier for the writer because at the end of the day, you don't want them having to do... They don't want to do 10 revisions, you don't want them to 10 revisions.
Kayla: No. Nobody wants that.
Emma Cimolini: No. And so doing that planning up front makes it so much easier. And especially, it's so much easier because everyone can get to like," What is the structure? What is the purpose of this thing?" Instead of getting hung up on like," Well, should the therefore be in this paragraph or in the next one?" You don't want them focused on that problem, right?
Kayla: Right. Yeah. Totally. Well, look, this was a really great discussion. Before we wrap, do you have any final thoughts? Any key takeaways for us today?
Emma Cimolini: Yeah, I guess going back to what we were talking about before with education is just don't underestimate just how much you might have to educate your leadership, and the other teams, and build your credibility, and you'll build your influence when you do that. And it'll make getting your act initiatives pushed forward so much easier. So yeah, don't overestimate educating others, as well as yourself, so keep on reading too.
Kayla: Yeah. Amazing. Well, let us know where we can find you, and Routific, and all that good stuff.
Emma Cimolini: Yeah, no. I'm on LinkedIn. Very happy to chat with anyone if they have any questions. Routific, you can find us online, routific. com, also on LinkedIn. And yeah, love to hear from anyone who's listening and has questions.
Kayla: Well, amazing. Thank you so much for being here today with us and crosstalk.
Emma Cimolini: Thank you for having me.
Kayla: Okay, great.
Emma Cimolini: Thanks.
Emma Cimolini: Bye.
Kayla: Hey everybody, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of the Content Callout. I think we learned some really important points today from Emma. And one of my key takeaways was to remember when you're working with an agency, you get what you pay for, people. So thanks again for joining us today. Find us where you get all of your fantastic podcast content, hit the subscribe button, and make sure you tell a friend, until next time.
Emma Cimolini is the Marketing Director at Routific, a B2B SaaS startup that does route planning for delivery businesses. Emma was in the event industry for a long time before moving to agency work. She ended up at Microsoft for a time but knew a big corporation wasn’t for her. She’s one of the elite few that loves the chaos of startup life. In this episode of Content Callout, she shares some strategies she’s learned around B2B marketing for a SaaS startup.