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Setting up marketing for your SAAS business

An Interview with Miruna Dragmoir

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Miruna Dragmir, CMO at Planable.

Miruna is a marketing expert who knows all the tricks to set up and scale marketing for your SAAS business. She takes us through her journey thus far before taking a deep dive into her work. She even tells us how she has delivered a 35X revenue growth at Planable.

Find out more about what makes a successful holiday marketing campaign, Miruna’s favorite content assets and more in this interview.

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.

Customers are going to come if you have the product market fit.
I think the difficult part in a holiday campaign is to find a way to stand out from the crowd in an efficient way, in an interesting way that fits your brand and attracts the customers.

Miruna Dragmoir
CMO at Planable
Hello, everyone. Today we have with us Maruna Dragomir, CMO at Planable. So happy to have you today and thank you for taking out time.

Hi. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Well, I really want to dive down deep into what you do, talk about social media collaboration, but before that, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and Planable to our viewers.

Yeah. So as I said, I’m CMO at Planable. At the moment, I’ve been here getting close to the four year anniversary. It’s been a while and I joined super early. Before plannable, I was part of Uber’s marketing team. Before that, the way I started my professional life was at Oracle as part of the social media team. It has an interesting group to it in my career, the fact that Planable is a social media collaboration tool which made me relate to the problem that the company is solving very fast during the interview process as myself being part of about 20 people at work. I really got the struggles and the bumps that come with social media.

I understand how the experience at Oracle and then plannable would have helped. But day to day wise and experience wise, how has the shift been from Uber, Oracle to now SAS? SAS is a totally different ballgame. How has that experience been?

I think it helped me a lot, even if it’s very different. The main difference is that Uber is very B2C and Plannable is very B2B, and the fact that Uber in itself had marketplace difficulties with it. We had to always kind of balance out the drivers with the riders. Back in my day at Uber, it was a very data driven team and very gross marketing kind of mindset to it. It was all about data. It was all the actions that we made, all the acquisition tactics had some sort of insight behind them.

I learned a lot from that experience. The level of data smart that you could get if you wanted to was quite high. I remember we used to kind of SQL our way into finding the right metrics, the right insights that we were looking for. I kind of took that with me all the lessons learned there at Planable. I mean, at the beginning there was a struggle with it because there’s only so much data you have at first, since you don’t have that much usage at the beginning when you’re just starting out. But afterwards, it really helped me make the decisions that as of CMO you have to make. What tactics are you going to introduce? What’s the long term strategy? What are you going to do this year? All of that kind. My geekiness and my love for data and everything I learned at Uber helped me take that and have the data focused at all times.

I understand. What does the typical marketing team for a SAS look like?

I think the way I split the marketing mindset at tasks, it depends on the business model and the way they drive revenue. If it’s a SAS with a big ticket price, and very often it turns into a sales driven SAS. In that case, the marketing team fills a different role. What it has to do is bring as many leads as possible and smooth out the sales process. What you want to do is make the brand recognizable, aware, bring awareness so that the sales team has an easier job and you don’t have to be that kind of like, “What is this? What are you doing?”

But, if it’s a marketing driven SAS and that usually happens when the average ticket size is a bit lower. It’s more a self service kind of business model, and it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the sales team. In that case, it’s usually a marketing driven business and that turns into growth marketing most often and most successfully. The way most growth teams are split is they kind of unbundle the acquisition and retention. That’s the easiest way to look at it. You have people fully 100% focused on acquisition and 100% focus on retention. That helps in many ways, because otherwise you’re always going to prioritize acquisition and never retention. That’s a very slippery slope. Sorry. That’s kind of how our team looks. At the moment, we have about four people full on acquisition. We have one person for now fully focused on retention. Then obviously there’s me who’s just in everything. But it’s just natural.

I understand. Well, tell us more about Planable. What is its USP? How is it different?

Yeah. So Planable is a social media collaboration platform. What we do is that we operate this environment for all the behind the scenes to work smoothly, because usually just to bring a bit of context before the post can go live. There’s like 5 to 10 steps that happen. So usually have your team, the people that are actually creating the posts or thinking about the editorial calendars. Then you have all kinds of stakeholders, such as the designer or the PR team or the brand team or so many other people that contribute to that editorial calendar with ideas and feedback. So you kind of crowdsourced your way into a calendar. After that, you usually have to collect feedback from either managers for the purpose of simply giving their input and ensuring that everything is okay. Depending on the industry, you could also have an approval process that involves the legal team. For example, if you’re in a very regulated industry. It’s a multi-layered process.

To give the context that I was looking for, that usually happens in spreadsheets plus all kinds of documents and communication channels. So you usually have this monster sheet unless you’re an agency in which you have dozens of monster sheets. And you send that sheet, hopefully a sheet, if not an Excel across on email, and collect feedback in a huge thread. Then you have to make your way through that feedback and understand what they’re talking about and what they’re referring to and they have to understand telling you about sheets and comments. Then you have that kind of cell and row number 500 and column AB. It gets insane very fast. That causes the social media manager’s role to become very different from what they signed up for or from what they hoped for. They end up spending a lot of time collecting and putting pieces together rather than being creative and being strategic or up to date with their industry. We talk a lot about the industry in the social media industry, about real time marketing and how you can react to whatever is happening. That becomes very impossible if you have so many other administrative tasks to handle.

So, that’s kind of the problem that we launched ourselves at. The way we sold it is that we offer an environment in which people can both create, plan their content, invite everyone involved or anyone who could have any kind of input, and then from the same place, gather feedback, gather approvals, and then finally schedule it and publish the content.

Right. Well, during your tenure, you have grown 35 X in revenue and the trend is still upwards. What has been the main driving force behind this growth?

Yeah. I don’t even know if I can say that it was fully planned or not. Some things just happen in an organic and hopefully successful way. I think what we managed to do right is strike a balance between one time tactics and long term evergreen revenue streams. So we have the performance marketing, which I don’t necessarily find to be evergreen because it’s a clear transactional tactic. The more you put in, the more you get out.

We managed to find a successful model with that, a mathematically legit way of doing things that constant ROI and so on. But we also invested in SEO from the beginning, which I know you are an expert in. At the beginning, it didn’t bring close to no results whatsoever, but for some reason we decided to keep at it, and sooner or later it started bringing real customers constantly. It became a revenue stream that’s more or less evergreen. You obviously have to keep your articles updated and you have to rebound them, and you have to constantly do link building. But at the end of day, that’s a piece of content that brings you customers with little to no effort from your side, once you’ve managed to make it rank. So this balance helped us. Then we focused on the right things at the right time. I think very early on, we didn’t know what’s going to work and whatnot. So we went to the very common behavior of let’s do it all as much as we can, and we’ll see what comes out of it. But then after a year or so or two years, I think of doing this. We finally kind of began to see a constant wave of new customers, which kind of allowed us the peace of mind to evaluate what we were doing. At that point in time, we looked at the most important revenue streams for us, and we made an entire year. We focused for an entire year to simply scale those.

We made the dramatic choice of almost giving up on anything else and focused on what really demonstrably worked. That was performance and SEO and content. We just decided to invest 30% more and get 30% more and so on and keep that rate. I think only 20% of our time during the past year has gone into experimenting.

Makes sense. I think that's also one thing a lot of people get wrong. I mean, I know a lot of things work, and normally marketers try to test everything at one time and then ultimately they're not maximizing anything. So you can have multiple tests going on, but if something is working, you need to first fully expand that and plan it well to actually get the ROI that you're looking for.

Yeah. You have to take it step by step. I mean, it depends. There are businesses that do it differently. There are businesses and SAS, especially that raise billions from the beginning almost and just spray and pray. Go on TV, subway, and all over. Customers are going to come if you have the product market fit and if you just spray and pray. That kind of model works, if you have a lot of money. If you look at any company that had a successful IPO, you’ll see that after the IPO, what they first did was scale down on all their investments mostly because 90% of them actually didn’t really work or didn’t have a positive ROI. So you can then think on ROI and look at your efficiency and what not. But, I think 1% of companies get that kind of investment and want to go that route. You don’t have the 99% that have normal, decent investments in which you have to be rational about your investment in order to not die after a few months.

Right. The holiday season is here. Talking about holiday campaigns, what makes a successful holiday campaign?

Yeah. I think that’s quite a difficult topic, although it doesn’t seem like it is. There’s a lot of noise during holidays from all brands. I think there are very few brands that don’t make special campaigns or special tactics during the holiday season. So I think the difficult part in a holiday campaign is to find a way to stand out from the crowd in an efficient way, in an interesting way that kind of fits your brand and attracts the customers. It is an important season for most industries because people are very open to buy. People have their wallets ready. They have good finances, they have a budget especially dedicated to buying presents. You just have to find your way. What are you solving for them during the holiday season? I don’t think that just doing a discount campaign is the secret to all holiday seasons. I think you have to figure out how you help them get through this period. For Planable, the Holiday season is very busy for most marketers. So what we can say is that you have to prepare for them and become efficient. But it wouldn’t necessarily be too smart for us if we do that during the Christmas season because it’s way too late. So we did a content marketing campaign that’s kind of evergreen. We launched it about August or September every year because that’s about the time that you start planning all your holiday campaigns. It’s kind of a kit for all marketers. So that was our way to do a campaign during the holidays or regarding the holidays that offered value to our customers. If you have a jewelry store, it’s most probably a lot more about right before Christmas. Get a lay time present or something customized or whatnot. It’s just about the problem that you solve.

Right. What do you mean by social media guidelines and how important are these to have?

Yeah. So we recently launched a piece about this. An article on our blog about social media guidelines. What it’s really about is that regardless of the size of your company, you have an internal way of getting your message spread more, and that is your employees. Your employees have their own fan bases, even if it’s just their moms and friends. It’s a few people that may or may not be part of your audience. So you have this way of using your employees in a good way. But what happens most often after a certain size is that it gets so crisp, so regulated as part of sharing social media. Either employees just don’t share anymore because they just don’t want to get into it. They really don’t want to complicate their minds with what they could do wrong, or they simply copy paste it all. If I just share the same message, I can’t go wrong, which defeats the purpose. People are more effective on social media because they’re genuine. They’re looked at by their friends because they have an interesting thing to share. If they copy paste it is no longer effective. It’s obvious that it’s a corporate message. So social media guidelines can help you ease things. It can help you stay protected if you just clearly state a few things such as, don’t get into fights with trolls that swear about the company. Don’t give any confidential information on social media, which are very straightforward things. Other than that, you can help them find their own voice when talking about the company. That’s kind of what social media guidelines are. You can also build a system in which your most visible employees engage. The social media team can help them. I know that there are companies that actually do this. They have people that they decide they’re going to build a brand for. They’re going to help them build their own personal brand because they’re credible in their industry. They get help from the social media team to build that brand. There’s a balance between their own voice and the company’s interest.

Right. Talking about various forms of content, videos are becoming very popular. They are effective as well. Where do you find videos most effective?

I don’t think there are many places in which videos aren’t that effective unless it’s kind of the on the go environment in which you want to be more connected to your audio rather than your video. Social is pretty much all about video now. It has been for some time, but it just keeps growing. I think back when I was at Oracle, video was still the main concern for most social media marketers six years ago. The central point now is that it comes in more formats, more ways. It’s 15-second videos or 1-hour long videos. It’s the way to share information or to entertain or anything. What I think is constantly hard is to make it scalable. I think brands should trust their audience more. The audience is not necessarily looking for insane quality videos, but they’re looking for insane quality content. So it’s more important what the video contains and then how professionally it is made. You can have a million dollar studio and say nothing in a video, and it’s not going to help in any way.

Right. Marketers and companies are creating a lot of content. But then you also need to have a system in place where you are ensuring that as a brand, you are producing content that resonates well with the target audience. How do you strategize it? As a CMO, how do you take care of that?

There’s two parts to it. The first, I think, is the topic. That’s the most important thing. You have to ensure that what you are telling people is actually useful for them, and it’s good for you, too. So that’s kind of that Venn diagram of what people want to know and what you want to say, which I think is honestly the simplest concept. But, I think so many teams actually fail at it, myself included. So I think a lot of the first iterations of our content marketing did not necessarily meet that intersection. We thought it did, but it didn’t because what we did was always start with the things SEO wise, the keywords. We thought, “okay, so this is obviously interesting to our audience. They want to find freelancers. That’s great. We can write about that.” The part in which we declared or understood if it’s part of our interest, too, is where we failed. We kind of wrote about anything our audience was interested in, but there was no intent in it because people didn’t really look for our solution or anything. They were offering only free content. It didn’t bring results. I think that’s a huge part of it. The intent has to be strong. You have to think about not only in the keywords, but in the mindset that the person is in. If someone is looking for a freelancer at this point, they’re not looking for a tool to manage with that freelancer. It’s a long way to go. They have to find them, hire them, work with them for a while, and maybe after that, think about technology.

I think intent is a huge part of it. And, in terms of just finding the topics, I feel like the information is out there. It’s groups, it’s social media communities. People write to you. SEO gives you a lot of that information. You just have to look for it and outstress it. You can also ask people. That’s a very obvious one that people kept.

Right. Any special tips or advice you would like to give to social media marketers or content planners to kind of create editorial calendars?

Start with what you’re trying to say and go to the value that brings. This fear of being too salesy that we all have can become a bit irrational. End of day, whatever you’re selling, in theory, it provides value in itself. That’s what the product market fits. You provide value to some people looking for that solution. Start with that value and offer people information about that and complementary information around whatever you’re selling. So that’s kind of obvious. Start with the low hanging fruit. That’s the advice that I’d give.

Right. What are your thoughts on influential marketing? Does it help every business?

Probably not every business. I’m sure there are so many industries that it’s not about that, especially the big B2B businesses in which you have all businesses. I really doubt influencers can help with that. In my own experience, it depends on where you are at the company and what your purpose is. If your purpose is to go big and make brand awareness, it doesn’t really matter at this point for you if it’s the essential core audience or not. Then go big. Go to the big influencers and just launch whatever you want to launch. But if you first want to prove ROI, and if you want to find customers and acquisition, then I would most likely go to the small influencers that have a very well defined niche, which is very rare for big influencers to have a clearly super segmented audience.

Absolutely. I mean, micro influencers work better for such cases. What are the top three signals that should be leveraged to help your SEO? From an SEO point of view, how do you leverage your social media to even help your SEO?

I think firstly to crowdsource your topics again, just look at what people are saying on social. Just do some listening in your audience, find the influencers in your industry. To communities, groups, you should be a stalker in all the groups that your audience is in. Don’t necessarily join groups just to plaster your message on top. Simply looking at what your audience post is going to give you a very good idea on what they’re interested in. This is what led us to. I’m not necessarily looking for a plug, but just giving an example of how we do that.

We launched a pricing calculator for agencies that offer social media services. So what that does for us is the first thing that it’s very well targeted towards our audience- a part of our segment of our audience agencies that offer social media services. The way we reach that is that we decided, “Okay, we want to build something dedicated to part of our segment- social media agencies. That’s a segment for us.” The next question was, what could it be that they really want to know? So SEO research was a part of it. Just looking at volume for keywords. Even starting to look for those keywords can be difficult. What do you start with? Agencies don’t normally use agency in the keywords. So we looked at groups. We just joined a bunch of digital marketing agency groups on Facebook and looked at their questions. What were their pressing struggles and pricing was a huge part of that. People always ask each other, what do you price for this? How much do you offer for this? How do you go about an offer? We just partnered up with a pricing expert and built a calculator for them to make it really easy. So that’s kind of how we use social to find our ideas.

Right. What about TikTok? We see TikTok being used a lot. Some people are finding it very successful, even from a lead gen point of view. What are your thoughts on TikTok?

I think it can definitely be very successful. I think as with any social network, it’s important to really understand it before you go on it to avoid that cringe factor of simply trying to fit into the crowd with whatever your brand messages. Spend a lot of time on it. Think about how you can fit in and not show up to people just for the sake of showing up.

Right. Well, Miruna, thank you so much for your time. I know we are short in time. You have another call after this, but I like playing a quick rapid fire in the end, like three or four questions. Whatever comes to your mind, just say it. Are you ready?

Yeah, I’m good.

Describe yourself in three words.

Ambitious, funny and obsessed with data.

That was quick. Texting or talking?

Talking.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Spiderman.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Probably depends on the day.

Okay, but like, any inclination?

Morning. most likely.

Favorite day of the week?

Thursday.

Well, Miruna, thank you so much. That was a good rapid fire. Overall, a very good chart. You really shared some knowledge bombs with us. I'm definitely excited to see what the viewers have to say about it.

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, and I hope they like it.

Thank you so much.

Have a great day. Bye.

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