Hana Abaza on Tactical Marketing

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Hana Abaza, Head of Marketing at Shopify Plus on Tactical Marketing.

This interview took place while Hana was VP of Marketing at Uberflip.

Hana Abaza - VP of Marketing at Uberflip

Hana Abaza - VP of Marketing at Uberflip

Who are you and what do you do?
I am Hana Abaza and I'm the VP of Marketing at Uberflip.

Uberflip is one of my favorite brands and online voices as a marketer. I’d love to know how you developed that marketing strategy?
Well we just wrote it down on a big white board “Be an awesome brand!” - sometimes it feels like people think that’s how it works... but no. It’s an ongoing, iterative process like anything else in marketing. Whether we’re talking about optimizing your website and landing pages, or building your presence and brand. 

When I joined Uberflip we were kind of starting from scratch, Uberflip was focused on a very different product. We were just dipping our toes into the content marketing space and starting to really target B2B marketers. With that came a shift in strategy. We had to learn who we were talking to, figure out positioning, and how we wanted to be perceived - and at the end of the day, our strategies and tactics stem from those learnings. Brand is really one of those things that needs constant reinforcement and nurturing. Being really consistent in everything you put out there is as essential as making sure you are talking to the right people. 

Your really seem to be the face of the organization on the outside - you're running the webinars, writing blog posts, and doing slideshares. How are you finding the time to do that and what prompted you to dig so deep into doing tactical marketing?
It's probably a bit deceiving and only seems that I do everything. For example, I do host the webinars but there’s a lot more that goes into them than what you see on the day of. When you’re looking at webinars for lead generation, there's actually a lot of operations that go into it. So using that as an example, you see the end result and it might seem like I'm doing everything but my time is actually very little compared to the time my team spends on coordinating guest speakers, distribution, landing page setup, integration with our webinar tool etc. I think that applies to a lot of our things - you see the end result and it looks effortless, but the reality is that a lot goes into it.

As for blog posts, I actually don't write much anymore (need to carve out time for it!) and if I do I'm very selective about what I write. So if I am going to do it, you're probably going to see it everywhere because I'm going share it everywhere and I'm probably going to cross post it on a bunch different platforms. Same thing with slideshares, any slideshares I put out are typically repurposing the webinar content that we're doing.

So trying to keep it efficient in that way but I do have to say I do love the tactical side of it. As Uberflip has grown and the marketing team particularly, I definitely am not involved in the day-to-day tactical stuff and nor should I be because we have a great team in place to do that now. I do think that it's important for senior marketers to be aware and have an understanding of the execution and tactical side of things because it's changed so much. How you execute tactically can also help how you make strategic decisions. 


"Event marketing is going through a bit of a renaissance."


While we’re on the topic of team and operations... Operationally, how are you executing all of these things?
So just to give some people some context, at Uberflip we are over 60 people and our marketing team is nine people right now - soon to be ten. There’s essentially four different functions in marketing. There’s demand generation and under that we have focus on inbound marketing, lead nurture, and optimizing conversion rates once we’ve got people into the funnel. Then we’ve got focus on marketing programs and marketing operations - so that’s really the demand generation side of things. 

Then we have content marketing which is essential to what we do. Content fuels a lot of our demand gen strategies and tactics, so content is the heart of our strategy. I think it's pretty clear we are a content marketing solution - we help people manage content experiences so we want to make sure that we're setting a good example. Not only in how to use our product but also how to execute in content marketing as a whole. Because we've done the work and put the time in, it's really paid off and it really works well for us on all fronts. 

We have events and communications which is a newer role for us because in the past couple of years, we've really scaled the number of events we’re attending. Having somebody focused on it full time - total game changer. I think event marketing is funny, it’s going through a bit of a renaissance, for a while people were like "trade shows, conferences... that's so old school - you can't measure that". 

Its funny, because we're throwing one that you're speaking at and it's our first really big lead gen effort as a company and its turning out surprisingly well...

I think people are back to appreciating that one-to-one contact that you don't get online. So event functions have been great for us. It helps fuel demand generation but it also helps broad awareness and messaging. We also have product marketing so really - demand generation, content marketing, events, product marketing are the four main functions of our marketing team. 

We also have a couple of ad hoc groups. For example, customers marketing is handled by a team made up of marketing and customer success people. We’ve also got a cross functional team that deals with product which includes product marketing and engineering roles. That's how we're structured right now, and obviously as the team starts to grows that will evolve and shift but it seems to be working well. 


"Marketing has evolved to the point where CMO's own the entire customer experience."


It's a really modern structure for a team, there's only two of the historical marketing roles in there which is product marketing and events, and the rest are new - sort of digital marketing roles. How has that changed the way your role is versus how a VP or CMO would've been running their team in the past?
That’s an interesting question. I think now, if we were to speak broadly about marketing and its function and place within an organization, we’re seeing that its evolving to be a very different role. I don't know that I would say that this is necessarily the case in every organization because there's always those laggards that haven't quite evolved their marketing processes yet. 

One quote that comes to mind is from Seth Godin and he said that "Marketing should be in charge of everything… it should be the first step" which is a pretty profound statement. It’s basically saying that if you're the VP or CMO, the breadth of what you touch is no longer just that top end of the funnel where your building awareness and maybe get some leads through the door and then forgetting about it. I think marketing has evolved to the point where CMO's are really owning the entire customer experience. Part of the reason they can do that is now we can actually start to measure the impact of our marketing a lot better than we used to. 

We can show that we are getting measurable results so marketing can really make a positive impact on sales and customer success. It also means that marketing is much more accountable than ever before which brings the need for an evolved skill set when it comes to somebody running a marketing team. In the past, a CMO could've gotten away with a more narrow skill set that dealt with the first part of the funnel because that's all marketing was responsible for at that time. Moving forward we have to combine that strategic thinking, an analytical mindset, an eye for experience, design, and at least an understanding of how to execute on the tactical side. 

So if you dropped in a CMO with 20 years classical marketing experience, what are some of the hard truths they would learn trying to run Uberflip’s marketing?
Some of the struggles could be on the tactical side around the distribution strategies but to be totally honest - while they might struggle running the day-to-day, the fundamental concepts of (good) marketing haven’t really changed. At the end of the day you want to build good things that people want to buy (both laugh). So that side of it hasn't changed. I have to say, some of my favourite marketing books are actually written 10-20 years ago because they really get to heart of the issue. 

Now can they manage the execution on the tactical side? That might be harder. Can they actually take what they're doing on the marketing side and represent the metrics and  impact to the overall organization? Those might be some of the things they struggle with but again, when it comes to the basic concepts of good marketing - I don't think that's something that's changed much. 


"The incorrect assumption is that the funnel is a linear process."


I agree with that. You mentioned earlier about how much focus you have on metrics and the deliverables and tracking everything that's happening. How does that change your relationship with the sales team?
Our relationship with the sales team is one that we are constantly nurturing. Marketing here is probably more involved with sales than in a lot of other organizations. Our customers are marketers, so we're marketing and selling to marketers in organizations that have similar structures to us. As a result, we try to work closely with the BDR's on our team and give them as much support and insight as possible. 

The way our sales team is structured starts with the BDRs that initially reach out to leads we send over. We also have account executives that pick up the conversation once they’ve been further qualified as an opportunity. We meet with the BDRs weekly and give them as much context as we can in terms of outreach and they give us feedback around what is working, what isn't, what leads are most responsive, and from which channels. At the end of the day, all of that gets represented in our funnel. How many leads are passing through, what's the percentage conversion to our sales reps, what's the percentage conversion to our account executives (in terms of opportunities) - then it’s about how we can improve that cycle.

We talk a lot about that funnel, and in content marketing we talk about the buyer journey. So whether you're talking about the funnel or buyer journey, the incorrect assumption is that it's a linear process... it’s not. People jump around your buyer journey and people go up and down in your funnel - that's the reality. 

Thats where we got our company name from!
FunnelCake! Oh that’s great, I love it!

So you know better than anyone else that being able to have a pulse on where people are sitting and how to best cater to them is important. That traditional funnel where marketing was at the top, sales is in the middle, and customer success is at the bottom. That doesn't really work anymore - the reality is that marketing kind of sits everywhere. Some prospects might go into sales and then go back to marketing for nurture because they're just not ready yet. Those are some of the things that we've tried to look at from a marketing standpoint because marketing at Uberflip owns the duty of reporting that funnel. We really work with sales when we have those metrics to help identify areas where the process can be improved.


"Continued education is something that our entire team really takes to heart."


How are you keeping pace with the changing tools, tactics, and strategies that you're using at Uberflip?
It's like anything else - continued education is something that our entire team really takes to heart. We do regular lunch and learns within our team and our marketing team is constantly reading up on this stuff and they love it. My marketing team (in the best possible sense) is full of a bunch of marketing geeks - they are marketing to marketers, so for them they're naturally coming across this stuff. The challenge is that we not only have to make sure our marketers are marketing experts, we also need to make sure our sales reps are marketing experts (or striving to be) because they're selling marketing technology and the minute they sound like they don't know what they're talking about to a marketer, it kills their credibility. It’s the same with our customer success team. We really try and make sure everybody in the organization has a constant drip of marketing education.

What resources do you recommend for people to look for to get that knowledge?
Definitely come to the Uberflip hub. I have to give my team a shout out, they produce some really great content and resources. I know you guys put out a lot of good stuff specifically talking about marketing operations, which is something I think that is not talked about enough these days. 

From that point I would really recommend things based on what you're specifically interested in. So for content marketing - Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs are great resources. If you want a bit of everything but something that's very tactical - Unbounce and Kissmetrics have great blogs, those are some of the big ones in the industry that people have likely come across.

Last question - what's your favourite 90's dance song?
Here was my problem with this question, I couldn't choose one song because it's the 90's and they're all amazing and they all bring back crazy memories of me in the 90's. So I crowdsourced a few responses from my team and there was a lot of debate back and forth around what some of the best ones were. 

There was a lot of love given the Montell Jordan - This Is How We Do It, however M.C. Hammer's - U Can't Touch This came in at a very close second. After that things got a little bit ridiculous… anything Vengaboys, Aqua's - Barbie Girl, it’s a ridiculous song but you can't help but smile, Scatman, Lou Bega -  Mambo No. 5. I could go on and on but I think I'll spare you. By the way we haven't even touched Boys to Men, New Kids on the Block, or Back Street Boys, we haven't even got there.

Thats amazing...
So I feel like that was too long of an answer for that question but I'm happy with that.

We're happy with that too. Thanks for taking the time to chat today.

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