Episode 7 of How I Work features a conversation with Eva Dixon, Director or Marketing at Kipsu, a SaaS company that provides a unique customer relationship platform through messaging.
how Kipsu integrates their sales and marketing into a single holistic ‘Customer Partnership’ model.
about their unique approach to email marketing.
how they view company culture as a key differentiator and driver of financial success.
Eva Dixon: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eva-dixon-a808163a/
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or visit Augurian’s Blog: https://augurian.com/blog/
Josh: Hi, everybody, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. This is episode seven of How I Work. I’m here with Eva Dixon from Kipsu. Thanks for being here Eva.
Eva: No problem. Thanks for having me.
Josh: You’ve got an interesting history. You jumped into the Minneapolis startup scene pretty much after undergrad. You were the first employee in a Minnesota based startup and then went on to work with dozens of other startups and customer success, marketing, and design and about five years ago, you joined Kipsu on their customer success team, and a year and a half ago moved to be the director of marketing. Way to go. I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, I know what Kipsu is all about. Basically, it’s a guest and customer relationship messaging software. Looks like you guys predominantly in hospitality, higher ED, shopping centers, and airports. But I imagine with COVID and things, some of those different industries have gone up and down. Thanks for being here. I really appreciate it.
Eva: No problem. I’m excited.
Josh: One of the things that you and I talked about leading up to this conversation was this idea of integrating sales and marketing teams. You had a really interesting perspective on that. Can you tell us a little bit about how that looks at Kipsu?
Eva: Yes, absolutely. The first thing is that we actually don’t have sales or marketing. We have what we call the customer partnership team. We refer to all of our customers as customer-partners because we truly believe in this partner relationship where we work with each individual partner and make sure that our solution is working for them. With that comes this customer partnership team, which we are all responsible for bringing on new customer partners to the Kipsu world. What’s unique about that is those who are traditionally on a marketing role and those traditionally in a sales role are actually all part of one team who share both staffing and goals and managers and everything else. We’re really integrated all into one ecosystem.
Josh: That’s awesome because a lot of times, marketing and sales can have conflicts or sales can be like, “Hey, you’re not sending us good leads,” and marketing’s like, “Well, they’re all super qualified.” It’s just an interesting way to think about marketing and sales for sure.
Eva: For sure, and I can’t say that we never have those discussions. What’s interesting is, everybody’s seen the conversation from both sides. Most of our team actually has started at Kipsu in some sort of entry-level role. Very few folks have come in at a manager level or above, which also means that we have a lot of empathy from the very– Entry-level role of sales and marketing, which on both teams can be an intense job and-
Josh: Yes, for sure.
Eva: –a lot of elbow grease goes into both of those roles. That’s a big piece of it, is that we have all started in the same place and worked our way up. As far as that conversation of like, “Oh, you gave us leads and we didn’t close them,” or whatever that looks like, generally speaking, what’s interesting about our team is that everybody’s coming at it from both angles. We’re able to look at that problem and say, “Yes, we got the leads, and no, they didn’t close. But what does that look like?” Or, “They’re closing, but we’re not able to bring in more similar leads. What does that look like?” And approach it from a much more 360-degree view.
Josh: It’s really cool. That’s why I thought it was a great first question.
Eva: For sure.
Josh: Another thing we talked about was email marketing. I know that you guys do a lot of email marketing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have that set up and how it’s driving results?
Eva: Yes. Interestingly enough, especially in the industries that we work in, specifically in hospitality, five years ago almost nobody was really doing email marketing which sounds crazy in the world that we live in where everybody’s doing it and that’s filling up everybody’s inboxes. But when we started five years ago, it was really a new platform in some ways. We were able to create this system where we had very highly personalized email campaigns, sometimes down to even a group of contacts working a specific campaign.
We’ve been able to scale that where we’re hitting– We’re reaching bigger markets and more people but still containing that personalized piece of it. But what is interesting is that over the past five years, email has actually become less effective for a lot of people, ourselves included. We’ve actually had to pivot and we’re starting to bring back in pieces of marketing that, in some ways seem antiquated where we’ve actually started just picking up the phone and calling people and talking to potential customers and working that into our email process because it is a channel that’s starting to be a little less effective, maybe than it was five years ago when we first started and felt we were pioneering into something that was new and exciting.
Josh: For sure. Well, that’s very cool. When you’re doing some of these other tactics and things, what are the tools that you’re using? What does that look like? What’s your email platform? Just talk to me about your tech stack.
Eva: For sure. We have a unique tech stack in some ways. Our email platform right now is actually built on a home built– A home ground solution that we built internally. For many, many years, we actually worked with a vendor that we had a great relationship with. One of the things that we look at when we look at vendors and we look at Tech is it’s actually less about the tool. Yes, we need tools to do certain things and they can be great. They can enhance your team but one of the things that we really qualify vendors on is our relationship with the people there because as a company, a small company that we’re growing, we oftentimes will partner with companies that are maybe small on their end or growing on their end.
We get a lot more personalized attention, we’re able to grow with them and have more of an influence into their infrastructure. We had one of these great working relationships with our email provider actually, until about a year ago, when, like many early-stage companies, they raised money and they got– They may have gotten acquired even. It really changed our relationship dramatically. We were reaching out with tickets saying, “Hey, this thing isn’t working, or this is broken, or you changed this feature that took away a functionality that we used.” Whatever that looked like. At some point, our goals diverged and we ended up moving away from them, which was, in some ways, actually a step for us that we had worked with them for so long and we are very loyal to the folks that we work with.
Eva: We ended up leaning into our national control-freak state and building it in us so that we could dig into everything from domains to spam filters to everything and really have a very deep control over how we send our emails.
Josh: That’s very cool. Besides email, what other things are you doing or seeing where there are great returns? You talked about, picking up the phone and calling people. That is an old art form that’s been lost for sure.
Josh: Tell me about that or other marketing— Where are you spending your marketing dollars?
Eva: The phone thing, I have to say that we’re still pretty new at and it’s maybe not quite as rolling and proven as it was right before COVID because that’s changed all of our marketing tactics. I will say actually, my unconventional answer to that question is that the thing that we invest the most in is actually our team and our people. When I look at the thing that makes us the most effective, it’s a combination of our hiring process as well as how we develop our team over time. As I mentioned, we often hire folks fairly early in their careers and grow into more senior roles, which creates this really deep institutional knowledge and forces everyone on the team to really understand our product and our customers in a really deep way.
No matter what tech you’re using, although, like I said, tools can be really effective and important and enhance what you’re doing. The fact that the people that we have on our team are– I have to say, I work with a whole bunch of rock stars, and that makes us as effective as we can be.
Josh: That’s awesome. We are big believers at Augurian in team and team members, for sure. It is great to have people come up in the organization because it’s not just the understanding of your product, it’s the cultural fluency as well, that makes it easier and I’m sure that’s why when you have these teams that are both sales and marketing embedded together, it’s that cultural fluency that probably allows for really good conversations to unfold and you guys get to the bottom of things. That’s really cool.
Eva: Exactly. One of the things that we invest heavily in is our hiring process. For instance, on our combined customer partnership team, my counterpart on the sales side, we both interview every single person that comes onto our team, we both have to agree that that person fits. We interview a lot on core values, where we interview less on maybe prior experience or capability because those are all things that we feel that we can teach in-house. We can’t really teach, “How do you get along with other people and how do you work and how do you innovate and think through things?” We hire a lot more based on what we call potential or core values than on specific capabilities and capacities.
Josh: That’s awesome. Super smart. You mentioned COVID. We’re living in a crazy world. Given today’s context, what are you seeing as the biggest challenges you’re facing today?
Eva: It’s definitely been a whirlwind the last couple of months. We, as I mentioned, work predominantly in the hospitality industry, which I know industries all across the globe and all over the place have been impacted by COVID, but hotels, in particular, have really been hit hard, obviously when there was shelter in place right at the beginning, and even now, people are not really traveling. They’re not staying in a lot of hotels.
I think the CEO of Marriott mentioned that the impacts of COVID were worse than 911 and the Great Depression combined. It’s probably the worst impact on hospitality in the history of recorded mankind or whatever. I think, for us, one of the things that we faced with right away was this balance of having to do our jobs and wanting to do our jobs. In fact, knowing that keeps you as a digital messaging platform, but actually probably helped these hotels communicate more safely and more effectively with their guests. Balancing that with not being a total jerk by shoving our product to people’s faces.
I think that was really hard, especially at the beginning because the world was changing so fast. These hotels were laying people off at phenomenal rates. People were losing their jobs. Some hotels were closing their doors. They didn’t know what that was going to look like. We really had to balance that messaging, which we actually at some point turned off our marketing completely in our outreach because we really live and breathe by this thing, customer-first mentality.
We felt that no matter how much we thought we could help, and we probably put out, that was not what was going on in their heads at that moment when they were worried about their staffs and their team and just keeping their hotel running. Now it’s like restarting the engines as we started to see certain markets open back up, especially internationally, we work in about 45 countries now.
Just starting to see what those ecosystems look like and actually trying to figure out, “Okay, where do we go first?” It’s been a lot of digging into data and figuring out where our occupancy is, what that looks like, and how to tackle where we’re going next and how to restart this engine that we paused for a little while here.
Josh: I think it’s super smart to take an empathetic approach to this at this point in time. Even today still we’re not out of the woods and I have a few friends who work in the hospitality industry, and yes, it’s decimated. Let’s take a positive spin. Do you have any fun things that you’re thinking about from a marketing perspective? Any ideas or experiments or what you might be most excited about now for the second half of 2020 and beyond?
Eva: Yes, for sure. One of the things that’s been a really interesting thing that’s come over the last couple of months is you mentioned that we work in higher ed. It’s a somewhat new environment for us. We’ve only been there last couple of years. We’ve seen really great results of helping or raising professional staff connect with their students through the dorms and that living situation.
The interesting thing that’s happening right now is all of those institutions have to pivot dramatically based on what’s happening with COVID and whether or not students could even be back on campus and what that looks like if they’re not on campus and how they stay in contact. I think what’s really interesting about the opportunity is that these are institutions that in some ways haven’t had to pivot for 100 years.
I think they’re really starting to shift into this digital world in a way that they’ve never really been had to or been forced to in the past. We fit into this really great niche that we’re helping them to actually connect with students and maintain that engagement and maintain that communication, despite all the chaos that might be happening on campus. I think we’ve really been building great relationships with universities. It’s been a new piece of the puzzle for me because I’m traditionally more in the hospitality world. It opened a really new, interesting puzzles to be solved on that side.
Josh: I just think messaging is so ubiquitous. It’s so easy for them and these institutions are probably like, “Oh my gosh, how can we even do messaging?” You guys can step in and say, “Hey, we got a perfect solution that you know that your students will love.” I think that’s cool.
Eva: I think universities have so many unique challenges around privacy and compliance and everything else. We’ve really built a solution that’s tailored around that, which allows us seamlessly fit into that world. I think there’s even more players besides students these days where parents are sending their 18-year-olds off to college and the college may send them back home in two weeks or who knows what and being able to maintain that communication through a channel that’s more effective than an email or, anything like that. We’re pretty excited to see how that’s been fitting into this new normal as they’re calling it.
Josh: That’s so cool. Eva, I really appreciate your time. This has been awesome. Your insights about how to even create these sales and marketing teams in partnership, how you guys are really focused on your people and focused on your values. I think those are all things that anybody who’s running a SaaS company and trying to grow their company can take from. This has been great. I really appreciate your time and we’ll wrap up Episode Seven of How I Work.
Eva: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Josh: Thank you. Bye now.