First Steps to Building a Strong Growth Marketing Strategy

Published on: | Updated on: | Trisha Marks


When it comes to growth marketing, the first steps matter most. Forming a strong foundation that you can build on is so important, that sometimes, you have to sacrifice doing everything at once to get the ball rolling quickly and consistently.

Luckily, regardless of budget or company size, there are always growth marketing strategies you can implement from the get-go to grow your audience and drive revenue. Whether that’s switching up content creation, starting to build processes where there are none, or even implementing strong marketing automation, there are always early actions you can take to form an effective strategy.

Our latest guest on Growth Marketing Chat shares one example of a low-hanging fruit to tackle:

“Instead of just doing another blog, why not do a LinkedIn article? LinkedIn articles get so many views because there are so many people on LinkedIn and relatively few content producers. So if you really want to get views, that's a great way to do it.”
-Annie Wissner, Chief Marketing Officer of Whispir


The Fast Track to a Growth Marketing Strategy

In this week’s Growth Marketing Chat episode, Annie Wissner, CMO at Whispir, pulls from her experience of moving from a large company to a mid-size one to give insight into early steps you can take to build a growth marketing strategy. She suggests:

  • Initially focusing on finding the quickest path to revenue

  • Making the most of tried-and-true marketing methods, like emails

  • Optimizing what’s already working

  • Forming the right relationships so people can trust you

Taking quick initiative is the best way to develop a growth marketing strategy that’s actionable and scalable.

Check out the full interview to learn how you can use the tools you’re given to set your growth and revenue marketing on the fast track to success.

Video Transcript:  

NICK: All right, welcome everybody. Today we have a very exciting guest. Annie Wissner, CMO of Whispir. Whispir is a software platform that seeks to make communication at work human again. Annie, welcome to Growth Marketing chat. 

ANNIE: Thanks for having me, Nick. 

NICK: Really appreciate you making the time to join us today. I know you have a very interesting background. You started your career at Oracle and Microsoft. These, you know, tech hegemons and since then, you've kind of drifted into leadership roles at mid-size companies. Can you talk about, at a high level, talk about that journey and what you've learned along the way? 

ANNIE: Sure. Well, it was an interesting journey, you know, when you go from something like a Microsoft down to a mid-size company, there's a lot of infra structure that's not in place. You don't have people that are specialized in their specific function. And at first that can be a little bit daunting because you're used to operating within processes and procedures. And when you move to that smaller environment, you just don't see that. And pretty soon you realize, "Well, this is my opportunity to build." And so, I think the tendency is to leverage your enterprise skills in this smaller environment, and sometimes that can be overly done, meaning that you don't need that much process. And I think that for me, after a while, I realized what I could leverage from enterprise, you know, large software companies and apply to smaller companies while still remaining agile and flexible. So, I found that I really enjoy that environment. 

NICK: Yeah. So do you think starting at the big company first and seeing how things are done at that level, and then transitioning to the kind, the midsize level, was that a good transition? Or do you think the other way could have also been interesting? 

ANNIE: For me. I would definitely... Well, you know, it's interesting because if you're coming from the enterprise space and going to the mid-size business, usually these businesses wanna grow, and I think some of these enterprise tactics can help them grow, because it's sort of what they're missing, you know, you're bringing in that next set of skills that maybe the people there lack and what's kinda interesting. Cause initially I was just thinking, "Oh 100% start at the big companies go small". At the same time, I really think that if someone was coming from a smaller environment and going to one of those larger companies, they could help them be more agile, help them speed up, help them avoid too much red tape. So, I think it could be beneficial both ways. 

NICK: Absolutely. And it sounds like you went from kind of following process and procedures to then building and implementing process and procedures in the teams that you manage. What are some kinds of tips there? What are some best practices that you've learned? 

ANNIE: Yeah, well in a smaller environment, typically, you know, I've been head of marketing. I mean, job number one is to get leads. And typically I come into environments where there's a lack of leads. So, one of the things that you have to really focus on is how to find the quickest path to revenue initially, so that you can basically buy yourself time to build the lead engine out the way that you would like, to make it sort of a repeatable process.  

So, what I typically do is like come in and I find the thing that's generating leads today, or the things that are generating leads today, and then double down on those, and then build some other mechanisms. And sometimes it can be stuff that people don't think is very sexy or en vogue, so to speak from a marketing perspective. But you kinda have to bite the bullet and do what works initially. And you know, sometimes I found myself wanting to start with the brand and style guide, but you don't have that luxury. I really, you know, I walk in and I'm thinking, "Boy, this website really needs to be done." Well, nothing slows down, and a lead engine as much as rebuilding a website. So, sometimes you have to control yourself and really think about that. And that's how I think I've been successful in these environments. 

NICK: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. Email, you know, it's not sexy. It hasn't changed much over the last 10 or 20 years, but it works, it worked, email is one of the best channels. 

ANNIE: It's so funny because I was on another podcast recently and they said, "If you had no money, and you know, what would you do?" And I said, "I would do plain text ABM emails." And I said, "You're not gonna like this answer cause it's boring." But yeah, and you know what? Sponsored events, once we get back into in person, that's an important thing because you're actually talking to a human being face to face, you know, especially if you have good salespeople there. So that's tough to beat as well. 

NICK: Yeah. And I know kinda one of your superpowers is building out these lead engines from scratch. Can you talk about your process, how you approach that, and kind of the different phases of implementing these lead engines? 

ANNIE: Sure. So what I do typically, like I mentioned, I'll look at the different engines we have in place when I walk in, and then I'll figure out which ones are working, so I will optimize each one, one at a time, ultimately, you wanna sort of place a big bet on one or two engines, and that's gonna be the one that's really gonna get you there, but you don't know that initially. So, you wanna, for example, let's say I'm walking into an environment, and this is a specific example. They had a sales loft in place and they had a ABM program in place and they had made a big bet on ABM, they had actually pulled out their water demand, gen waterfall, which I don't recommend. But it hadn't generated any leads. And so the first thing I did was optimize that and I realized, you know, they had three to six steps in their ABM emails. Well, you need 12 to 14. 

In fact, I met with one of SalesLofts experts, salespeople, and they had the most statistics, and then the golden triangles, 12 to 14 touches. Everybody thinks you're gonna get somewhere with six emails, you're not. So, you know, the first thing I did there was get every email to 12 plus. Then, of course, it's a matter of, in that content what are you saying? You know, you've gotta be selling in those emails. You know, that type, ABM is really selling in digital format. So just think about, if you were looking to buy your solution, how do you break that down into unique differentiators, value propositions for people reading it, and then how do you make that really engaging and easy to consume, and fun to consume? Without playing games, without trying to be a comedian. You know, that kind of thing. 

So, you know, once you get that engine cooking, then you can do things like add demand base to it, add high spot to it, so that you have customizable portals for people, or add Sendoso, so that you're adding that launch certificate, or a specific gift to someone. And then once you've got that engine going, you sort of move on to the next engine, and that could be webinars. I had an example of where we had a... I came into a business and they had a webinar engine. And they were... it was real inconsistent. Sometimes they did one, sometimes they did two, once in a while they did three. And some of the webinars were successful, and most of them weren't. And so, you know, I just looked at it and I thought, "Wow, okay, well, the webinars that are successful have one thing in common, they all feature third party speakers." And all of these third party speakers are in sort of this compliance legal space, it was a CPG company. So, simple solution. Let's do every single webinar with a third party. And then, why don't we be consistent and try to do three per month? And then we are recognizing that the webinars that are successful, we're launching demand gen at T minus six weeks. 

So every single one has to be T minus six weeks. You know, we have to be done, and we have to have the abstract done, it has to be posted, we've gotta start driving demand at that point, etcetera, etcetera. And then, "Oh, how many steps do you do to invite people before? Oh five." And you know, so we came up with this process and then what do you do afterwards? And then how do you promote them on demand? And then how do you make them consumable afterwards? Well, you've gotta edit them. You can't just put acold webinar on there. You've gotta edit it to make it a real repeatable engine, and then you can take snippets of that. And there's even tools. I'm sure you're familiar with, Nick, where you can take webinars and break them down into sound bites and put them on social, and put them in different places. And so, then that engine's done. And, you know, you're sort of just moving. Same with sponsored events. You look at your sponsored events and you think, "Wow, the first, most important thing is, what are the lists of people that you're seeing at those events? Where do you have overlap? Do you need to do 20? If the same people are at four of 'em, why are you doing that one?"  

Or if there's a niche market, but the average deal size is $150, you know, you'd have to get, you know, so many deals to pay for the cost, to have the sales people there. That really doesn't make sense. And again, and how do you pre-campaign to do appointment setting, and to also make people aware of your brand? And sometimes how do you even pretend like you're sponsoring event? You know, we're gonna be there, we're gonna have cocktails, but avoid the 50K booth. That's really not gonna get you anywhere, anyway. You know, you can be more targeted, spend less money, hedge your bets further. So, and then of course, there's the one that's the most important, which is the inbound digital journey. And that's all about looking at your different content. So you're from an organic perspective, looking at your different content mechanisms and how they're working, if it's a newsletter, or blogs, or eBooks, or whatever, checklists, whatever you've got, just going through each one and then optimizing that particular content channel. And then, you know, obviously, if you've got the budget, cause it does take some money, you know, you're gonna get into the Google analytics in that engine. Did that answer your question? 

NICK: No, that was great, that was great. Sounds like you have a really good handle on this and you know, you kinda touched on this a little bit on the ROI piece, and here at Proper Expression, we're really passionate about marketing themes generating and impacting revenue. So, how do you, beyond kind of lead and traffic measurements, how do you count ROI? How do you measure revenue impact with these lead engines? 

ANNIE: Well, you know, it's really about making sure your marketing automation solution, and your Salesforce are set up correctly. I typically spend a lot of time with either, I own Salesforce, or it's in sales operations, or, you know, could be in some sort of digital transformation function. It doesn't really matter. The idea is to really look at your Salesforce instance and make sure that it makes sense. You know, I've walked into environments where there's 30 sales stages. How helpful is that? We can't track anything, we don't know where anything is. There's tons of little parking lots for people to hide things. You know, you don't want that. So, you know, I spend a lot of time working with either my team, or whomever is managing Salesforce to really make it smart, and make it short. And to ensure that we have visibility at every stage. A big part of this is SDRs. I think that setting that up, so that you have that, you have contact, a subscriber active lead, and then you have sort of a handoff process, whether you call that MQL or connect, or whatever you call it, you know, and then it has to meet that a certain criteria, a little bit back to the BANT, but obviously that changes per vertical and per industry, and you can make that whatever it is.  

I tend to like my SDRs to take the lead pretty far down the cycle, to 30 to 40% stage. I find that if that doesn't happen, then a lot of leads, you know, slip through the funnel. I think people sometimes underestimate just the amount of cycle sales takes, and how hard that is, and where to engage an account executive, where it's gonna be useful for them. Account executives are trained to close, and they're trained to close within a given period of time. So if they go to a lead that's at 20 or even 10, you know, 15, 20%, that lead probably isn't gonna be ready to close. So, ultimately they're gonna go to something else and you're gonna lose momentum. That's why I think you want your SDRs to nurture in a little bit longer of a period. So, you know, I can't emphasize enough the amount of work you have to put into that piece, and it is charting, it is training, it is really being regimented on that process, it's meeting with sales every week, and your SDRs, and saying, "How's it going? What are you seeing?" I find that having, you know, monthly reviews with each account executive, depending on how large your organization is, that might not be realistic, it could be every region. But having those one-on-ones, you can really see, you know, if there's any issues with the handoff, you know, the one is always, they're saying it's qualified and it's not. But, the key there is you just have your SDR document, exactly everything in there. Here's the role, here's the company size, here's the vertical, here's the conversation. And so, then it gets into a situation where people are really utilizing Salesforce as a system of record, which really helps. So. 

NICK: Yeah.- That's a big part of it. And then I can track everything, you know, once you do that, you can track everything. 

ANNIE: Yeah. I think that's an often underestimated step, and then, of course, it's easier to say than implement. but that transition between marketing and sales, and then really the two departments working hand in hand, as a growth organization with common goals, I think that's so important. And wherever we've seen, especially on the B2B side, things really work out, is when those two departments are working very closely together. And, you know, we are a marketing agency, but when we come into an account, one of the first things we want to do is meet the sales team, and talk to them, and understand their process, and so I think that's a huge piece of success. 

NICK: And I think that as a marketer, you've gotta get, listen, vanity metrics are crucial, because vanity metrics lead to... 

ANNIE: Real metrics, leads NQL's, lead to sales. It's kinda like a whole process to get there. However, you've gotta be a revenue minded marketer. You can't care about clicks and then point the finger at sales. And if you're getting a lot of clicks and you're getting conversions, then it could be an operations issue that you have to investigate. But as a marketer, you have to own that. And, you know, part of,I think my background, that really benefits me is that I was in the field for so long, working side by side with sales. And so I have a real respect for sales, and I don't have any animosity towards sales. I can always, in my mind, envision what it's like to, "I have to hit this quota or I don't get my paycheck." And you know, that's a real thing for them. So, you know, are there times when sales could be more proactive? Yes. But typically if you build that trust in those relationships and they see that you're doing well, they'll do that. You know, at Microsoft, when I first came into, I was in a field marketing position at one point, and nobody in sales really wanted to meet with me. Well, we came in, we did it right, we were revenue minded. And within two years, if I had a field marketer out, I was getting calls from sales every day. "When are you gonna replace this person? When are they coming back?" And I almost got invited to too many sales meetings. And that's just because I really truly partnered with sales and we worked as a team, and they could really see the value. 

NICK: Yeah. I'm curious, when you've walked into kinda new situations, or you've taken over a new marketing organization, how do you go about the process of auditing where the leaks are? How do you understand? Because a lot of things could be working well, but if one sort of piece of the funnel is broken or leaking, that can impact your entire organization, how do you go about auditing where that is? 

ANNIE: Well, this is... you build relationships with people, first and foremost. And that's the first thing you have to do is you have to understand the people you have, you've gotta understand their strengths and weaknesses. You've gotta understand, you've gotta have them present their data to you, and then really build that trust with them, let them know that you're really, truly here to help them be more effective at their jobs. And then once you do that, they tell you the story. I mean, you can only get so much on your own if you really build that trust, and make everyone realize, "Hey, you know, my goal is to retain you here. You know, my goal is to help you grow to the next level. I'm bringing some new things in, but I also know that you know things that I don't know, that I would like to learn from you." And if you can create that partnership with your team, they're gonna help you find the leak. So, to me, doing an audit is a team effort, it's all hands on deck, down from, you know, CMO, all the way down to individual contributors, you know, down to marketing operations, to everyone. And everyone working together to kind of figure that out, on top of working with sales. 

"What do you think sales, how's this going? Are you getting these leads?" You know, and I think that it becomes fairly clear because you can see what's going in and what's coming out, and hopefully you've got the ability, at least fairly quickly, to figure out what channels these are coming from, and then you can just look at benchmarks for what those conversion rates should be in your vertical, or sub-vertical, or industry. And of course, you're bringing your own experience in terms of, Hey, you know what, at sales qualified opportunity we should be about 50%. If you're at, you know,30%, or 20%, or 15%, something's wrong, is it that we're not qualifying enough? Is it that we've got our qualification metrics wrong? Is it a SDR process, a sales process, a marketing process? So that's sort of how I attack it. 

NICK: Yeah. I'm wondering if you had a similar experience. A lot of times, we'll find that a single stage of the funnel, there's a huge drop off of conversion rate. And when we start digging in, a lot of times we find it's something trivial, or like a process thing that's holding things up, or like the lead score is too constricting, for example, and things don't get progressed to the right stages they should. Have you had similar experience? 

ANNIE: Yeah. I mean, typically what happens is we focus so much on the front of the funnel, and all the way to sales qualified opportunity. And then it's just like and then it's like the dark funnel. I'm just, I'm using... I know it's not the dark funnel, but, you know, even though it's in your organization. And that's when you really got to think about customer marketing. How do you help sales automate that other piece so that they can focus on closing? And I really believe the answer to that piece of it, that drop off, is just sales needing more support and more automation throughout the whole process. And typically you find that after, you know, you've really optimized the lead engine, which usually takes, you know, 18 months to two years till you're really, really killing it. 

And then you start having pressure on that other sales process. And really you just recognize that they need more support. And you see that in some of the brands that have won, you know, when you go into a sales cycle with demand base, or you go into a sales cycle with some of these other really successful companies, HubSpot, you can see that even after... You know, before the sale you're in a certain kinda ABM cadence with certain people, during the sale, they're still nurturing you. You know, a lot of companies say, "Oh, once it's with sales, marketing's done." The really successful companies keep nurturing. And then the truly winners, they're gonna have another cadence that they run as soon as you've implemented, to further help you activate. So there's that activation component, with customer success, etcetera, that sure, there's to be a human element to it, but it needs to be activated. And then once you're activated, there's other engines that should come in, like renewal, upsell, you know, "Hey, have you considered these features?" You know, if a person's activated correctly. And then, you know, if you have signals that say, you know, churn signals that say, "Hey, this person's at risk, they haven't activated, etcetera." Then you signal the sales person, the account manager, and bring them back in, cause there's obviously a disconnect or an issue. So I think, just automating that piece and realizing that nurturing your contact is never done, whether they're a lead, or a prospect, or you've closed them, or they're an active sales, if you've always gotta be nurtured your contacts.  

NICK: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And of course, one of the challenge that we run into sometimes with that is the less imperfect integration between the CRM, the marketing automation, and the product, especially the product. A lot of times people understand the need to integrate marketing and sales, but there like, "Oh well, the product, we don't need to send all this data back and forth, and it's challenging, and the dev team has more important things to do." And then, you know... but that limits you so much.  

ANNIE: It does. And I feel like some companies are getting it now and they're integrating marketing and sales, and customer success. That's sort of starting to come together. Some people are really nailing it, I know, you know, there's some businesses that are really focused on that. Now, to your point, product is still rarely in there. And so I agree with you, there's almost like a chasm to cross to get to product. That's really a good point. 

NICK: Yeah. And I mean, we work with HubSpot a lot and they're trying to solve that issue. And now they have the different hubs, service hubs, OP hubs, and other companies are following suits. So, it'll be interesting to watch that trend and how it develops.  

ANNIE: Yeah. We just chose HubSpot as our new marketing automation platform. I'm a huge HubSpot fan. I was watched inbound, you know, the Franken System, I think you were referring to, that they're trying to conquer. And, you know, all built, you know, for one integrated solution. So yeah. Definitely a good idea. 

NICK: Well, I think we covered a lot of ground and thank you for that contribution, sort of describing the strategic mechanisms that are required for building a successful lead engine. Can you kind of zoom in a little bit on the tactical level and maybe provide a few tips, a few sort of tactical recommendations for something that's maybe a low hanging fruit, something that can provide a quick impact, a quick, and sort of significant impact for some of our audience? 

ANNIE: Absolutely. So, you know, if you don't have a lot of budget, and you're looking to turn on another engine, one thing you can do is look at either your CEO, or your CMO, or someone else that has a fairly healthy LinkedIn following. And you can really double down there. And by that, you can just have them connect with all of your customers, all of your partners. It really creates an instant boost. And then you can funnel content through them, onto their channel. Instead of just doing another blog, why not do a LinkedIn article? LinkedIn articles get so many views because there's so many people on LinkedIn, and relatively few content producers. So if you really wanna get views, that's a great way to do it. And it's organic and no cost. I did that before, and we got our CEO from 3,000 followers to almost 20,000, and they were all industry contacts, C-level, decision makers. And we started getting revenue off of that. Not because he was selling, but you know, on there necessarily, but because it gave us a lot more awareness and visibility. So that's a really good, quick tactic, that people could do. 

NICK: Yeah, absolutely agreed. And I would just add, LinkedIn events, also are great tactic to supplement your webinar invites, your webinar events. LinkedIn is great, especially when you take advantage of their algorithm and they kinda help you promote your content.  Awesome. Well, you know, I feel like we could talk all day, Annie, but, you know, have to draw to a close, really appreciate you for sharing your time with us. This was very, very insightful. Where can people find you and find out more about Whispir?  

ANNIE: People can visit our website at Whispir, If you really want to have communications that focus on quality, and make sure that you get the right message to the right person at the right time, regardless of your function on the organization, please check us out. People can hit me up on LinkedIn, Annie Wissner. 

NICK: Awesome. Thank you so much. 

ANNIE: Thank you so much, Nick.