High Output Marketing
In my first 90 days at my new job, I managed to grow the number of SQLs we’re getting by 177%.
I consistently get asked: how do you get so much done?
And while I’ve written about the specifics of that challenge elsewhere, I want to talk about the theory behind it.
The approach I’ve developed to marketing – because I’m usually working in a marketing team of one or with contractor support – is about focusing on the output.
I call it High Output Marketing.
In this article, I’m going to talk you through how I think about creating leverage in solo or small marketing teams so that you can have a huge impact on the business’ bottom line.
What is High Output Marketing?
If you’ve looked at any list of the best books on management or strategy, you’re probably going to have seen High Output Management by Andy Grove.
Andy Grove was the legendary CEO (and co-founder) of Intel. During his time as CEO he grew the market cap of the company from $4B to $200B.
Which is… a lot.
In High Output Management, Grove talks about the principles of management which he used to manage 64,000 employees.
And while we’re not talking about running 64K people, it certainly can feel like we’d need that many people to run marketing effectively at a company of even modest size.
So what can we learn from Grove and apply to marketing work?
I think there are two main things:
- We should try to find ways to perform marketing related activities at a faster rate
- And we should try to increase the leverage of each of those activities
If you want to read a summary of Andy Grove’s book, you can do that here.
On the other hand, if you want to learn about how to start building a high output marketing system, read on.
The levers of marketing
Much of Grove’s theory is illustrated by what people call The Breakfast Machine analogy.
And I’ve got to admit, it’s the best 40 page detour I’ve ever read besides Proust’s description of his childhood in Swann’s Way.
If you’ve got 40 minutes to spare, you can hear a reading of it here:
Let’s assume that you don’t though.
The concept is that if you want to cook breakfasts for an increasing number of people, you’re going to need to find ways to optimise the system that you use to cook eggs.
You can do that by creating leverage or by optimizing what’s already there.
Examples of activities that optimize your breakfast making:
- Move the cook closer to the prep cook
- Move the plates closer to the server
Examples of activities that create leverage in breakfast making:
- Increase the power you apply to heating up water for boiled eggs
- Add a machine that whisks eggs for scrambled eggs
You can take these ideas and apply them to marketing.
But before you do that, you have to know what leverage points are available to you currently in your marketing system.
Typically, there are five levers:
- Go to market strategy
Before we get into how to increase leverage in each of those areas, we should talk about two problems that marketers commonly run into when they’re aiming for high output.
Avoid focusing on the wrong output
People say that the MQL is dead.
My take is that it’s certainly less useful than a lot of marketers think it is. Personally, I have interest in MQLs only to the extent that in 12-18 months, they might become an SQL > Opportunity > Customer.
There are so many things that marketers like to measure.
And, in my experience, the majority of them are really just vanity metrics – they look good but they’re just skin deep.
It’s hard to give examples of completely useless vanity metrics because lots of them are actually useful when combined with two or three other data points.
That said, you know the kind of thing: page views, open rates, CPC
Instead, marketers should focus on measuring output that is as close to the money as is possible or useful for them.
I would not recommend anyone wanting to make an impact focus on anything higher up the funnel than SQLs.
In fact, SQLs that are well defined are actually quite a useful metric when you’re in the early phases of developing a marketing system.
Move down the funnel as fast as possible though.
Ideally, work out how much revenue is generated by your marketing output.
(Simple heuristic: go into your CRM/CDP and work out what all the SQLs you generated are currently paying the company in MRR)
If you fail to measure the right output, you’ll be left wondering:
Why do the numbers show I’m successful but the business is failing?
Don’t optimize before you create leverage
You know those people that are obsessed with Fast and Furious and want to be like Vin Diesel or whoever?
They keep adding things like go faster stripes. Maybe they add some new wheels. Neon lights. A spoiler!
But the problem is: the engine is still a 1.2 – it might move. But it’s never going to make you look like you’re in Fast and Furious 112 (or whatever number they’re on)
Same thing with your marketing machine: you shouldn’t optimise it before the levers are strong.
If you don’t have a solid go to market strategy, it’s pointless working out how to repurpose content.
Even if you increase traffic 100% by optimizing distribution, you’re not going to sell a thing. Your levers aren’t well tuned in.
And on that note, it feels like a good time to talk about all the levers you need for high output marketing to work.
Let’s do it.
The 5 marketing machine levers you need
The majority of SaaS marketing (admittedly this kind of cuts growth out) can be categorised into one of five levers:
- Go to market strategy
I’m assuming you are already in a SaaS marketing job of some kind and so you know what each of these mean broadly.
In the next section, I’m going to talk about how to improve your output by increasing leverage of each lever.
Heads up: because I work in content a lot, I'm using a lot of content marketing and SEO related examples in this post. But you can also apply the same principles to whichever channel you're working on.
Go to market
Many marketers think that once go to market (GTM) strategy has been defined, it can be more or less forgotten as long as the parameters of the strategy stay front of mind.
In reality, SaaS marketers should be especially keen of the changing market that they might serve, the needs of those customers and the specifics of how they like to buy and pay for things.
Why SaaS marketers?
Because SaaS products change fast! The positioning one year might be different in another year. The pace of change is increased by the fact that all the other SaaS products in consideration by your prospects are also responding to changes in the market themselves.
It’s like a kaleidoscope. The pattern you make is dependent on all the other parts of the pattern.
So how do you increase leverage for the go to market lever in order to increase output?
I once worked on a product that had a 14 day free trial. The trial to paid rate was almost 0 and so the output of marketing was also close to 0.
We changed the business model to a freemium model which actually fitted the customer's needs significantly better. Within 5 minutes of pushing all the changes that a SaaS product requires to make this happen, the output increased – i.e. people started to convert to paid.
By the time I left, we were converting about 10% of all free signups to paid accounts.
This is what it looks like to increase leverage in the go to market strategy.
- Innovating on the pricing model to improve the LTV – most commonly this would include increasing the price of the popular or all plans
- Repositioning the product and marketing for only the highest value or the highest volume segments
All of these changes create leverage because they literally multiply the amount of cash that you generate every time you hit a conversion event as a result of your marketing work.
If you haven’t got at least a napkin math marketing plan to explain how your tactics relate to the overall strategy – and in our immediate thoughts – the output of marketing, then you’re doing it wrong.
Firstly, don’t forget what we talked about above. It’s hard to make your optimization efforts count when you’ve got ineffective levers in the first place.
The simplest way to avoid this is to tie your marketing output to a revenue goal or a revenue related goal (SQLs, key conversion event just before paid conversion).
To create leverage here, ensure that the immediate focus of your work is around the right stage of journey.
Most commonly, this will be bottom of funnel content for people who are in the acquisition section of your funnel. If you’re working in growth, you may find this is at the activation stage or even the retention stage.
Let’s say you’re using content as a channel: here you should be trying to understand the specific pain points that your potential customers are feeling and then come up with ideas for content that shows how they can solve that pain.
Take this one step further and improve your leverage by:
- Interviewing customers about their work and the problems your product solves for them
- Mining sales tapes for questions prospects have asked
- Combing through support requests and customer support chats to uncover use cases your existing customers have
Even if you don’t end up writing for search, at least this will allow you to know what the actual keywords your prospects might be searching for are. This is useful for PPC.
In a practical sense, once the strategy is set and you know what channels you’re going to use, you’re going to need to think about the implementation.
The day to day of this is centered around optimizing your workflow and managing your time – this might feel like it’s verging onto a productivity essay and that’s because it sort of is. But we’re talking about building productivity in marketing so that you can create meaningful outputs.
I have a strong preference for creating automations that manage large chunks of my planning workflow.
Practically speaking I use Zapier for automation and Todoist as a central store for everything.
Every time I have an actionable thought or interesting idea, I send myself an email or save it directly into Todoist.
The specifics of what I do are probably for another post so let me give you some ideas of how I claimed back chunks of time that I would have saved planning:
A lot of what I do is thinking about customer pain points and how to explain our resolution – every time I see something in a sales tape, I clip the video/audio and send a link to it to my Todoist inbox. Once it’s there, I make it actionable by turning it into a task such as: ‘Create pitch for article from this grain clip’
Todoist allows you to use markdown to link to a file directly in the task by [putting the label in square brackets](immediately followed by the URL in curved brackets).
Linking the task directly to the material I need to review at a later date to action the task saves me a couple of minutes, sure. But on average I get about 20 tasks done every single work day.
Do the math. I probably save an hour or two a day just by doing this one thing.
That means I get more time to focus on increasing leverage in other areas of my marketing work.
Some other examples of planning for a SaaS marketer:
- Looking at conversion data to see where the funnel problems are
- Reviewing heat map data to understand where users are disengaged with key conversion pages
- Cutting off rabbit trail conversion routes to make the conversions higher value
Let’s jump off and talk about creation here.
Not all marketers have to create stuff. Many are purely managerial.
But let’s assume that you’re having to do increasing amounts with less resource and content creation in particular is a key part of your work. That’s the story for most SaaS marketers I know, anyway.
There are many ways to increase leverage in content creation.
The first thing I want to talk about is interviewing yourself or having someone else do it for you.
Writing content can be hard – especially if it doesn’t come easy to you. But talking is a lot easier for most people.
Rather than sweating at your desk, improve your output by standing up, putting your headphones into your phone and recording yourself talking through your ideas.
If you find it helpful to guide your thoughts, you can write down a bullet point structure of the content you’re trying to produce in advance. I like to do this.
Even more helpful is to imagine that you’re in the shoes of your ideal prospect and try to guess what questions they might have about the topic. Write them down and answer them aloud into your audio recording.
The benefit of doing this is that you avoid the potential distractions of a blank google doc and a browser window with infinite possibilities.
You’ve only got 7-8 hours every day to work – how many of them would you save by not refreshing Twitter because you’re walking in the park narrating a blog post into your phone? Many.
A twist on this is to have someone interview you. You could even have them ghostwrite the piece for you.
I have done both in the past and I found ghostwriting particularly enjoyable and productive for obvious reasons.
Another area where you can increase leverage in your marketing in order to increase your output is the formatting of your work.
Produce low fidelity formats instead of worrying about the high fidelity so much.
- Hi-fi: A beautifully produced podcast that takes 1 month to produce (beautiful as it may be)
- Lo-fi: A podcast format that takes 20 minutes to record, 10 to edit and whose distribution can be largely automated
And while we’re on the subject of creating audio and video, setting up your workspace in a way that you can easily start recording and then tidy away afterwards is a strong move.
Example: buying a mic boom arm for your podcast mic means you don’t have to always be fiddling about with the setup.
It’s an optimisation – like moving the plates closer to the egg machine!
Ross Simmonds has popularised the term DREAM (Distribution Rules Everything Aroud Me).
But it should have needed to be popularised. It should be second nature.
If you create a piece of content, you absolutely should turn it into as many things as is valuable to your prospects.
Why is it so important?
Firstly, every time you repurpose a piece of content that is intended to convert, you actually decrease the cost of acquisition – which is kind of wild.
1 article might cost $1000 to produce. But if you also manage to get an additional 10 pieces of content (of varying formats from it), you increase leverage because you’ve got more to show your ideal prospects.
The likelihood of them seeing one of those 11 pieces of content is significantly higher than of them seeing just 1 piece.
The CAC decreases because there are more opportunities to get in front of the people you care about becoming your customers.
Some people like to put this on autopilot and hire a repurposing service/agency to do this for them.
I dislike that approach as I feel it’s a race to the bottom. There’s only so many ‘quote images’ one person can take.
Using one of these services is more like an optimisation of a poorly functioning lever.
Instead, I take an editorial approach because it’s really not hard to repurpose content.
What works for me:
- Publish an article
- Turn it into a podcast episode
- Talk about the topic on other podcasts
- Turn it into some slides to share on LinkedIn etc
- Maybe get a webinar out of it
- Pull a couple ideas out and turn them into tweets for company, personal and coworker accounts
- Create a banging and comprehensive thread of the article – sharing the link in the middle obvs.
- Writing a short post sharing a section of the topic angled to specific communities where I’ll post it
This is about taking a thing that’s meant to be put to work for your company and multiplying the probability that a prospect will stop and think: that looks like something that appeals to me.
Once you’ve got the repurposing lever set up, you can optimise.
To do that, create templates or SOPs that you could meaningfully hand off to someone to do this for you or alternatively that saves you a couple minutes here and a couple there in doing it yourself.
Repurposing and distribution go hand in hand as I alluded to when I included the acronym DREAM in the repurposing section.
You have to have stuff to distribute if you’re going to get it in front of people.
But I was actually doing this wrong for a long time.
I would just publish something and then think of all the different ways I could distribute it. I didn’t have a structured approach to explain what I’d do on any given day.
And then I thought: I could systemise my distribution. That would create huge leverage because I’d be outputting heaps of stuff but not have to spend any time thinking about it.
To do this, I wrote down a list of ways I might distribute an article, podcast or video.
Then I turned each one into a task, gave myself a relative date to do it (e.g. 2 days after publication) and also an indicator of how long each task might take me (5mins, 30mins, 60mins) so that I could plan my day effectively.
I turned this into a template in Todoist and then started to replicate that every time I published something new.
The result is that traffic on our website grew about 13% in the first 90 days of me putting this system in.
Why? Because we were talking about our content everywhere and multiple times.
People were seeing it, sharing it, interacting with it, talking about it.
And when they did that, they would sometimes turn into SQLs by engaging with us directly.
I recently automated the 99% of creating these todo lists. Again, probably the subject for another post, but basically: I used Zapier to create a task in todoist anytime a new item in our RSS feed was detected. The task reminded me to create a distribution list from the template and also gave me some variables that I pulled through using Zapier that help me save time (like the post’s URL, for example).
You’re probably itching and thinking: I could automate ALL OF THIS.
And yeh, you could do that. But you probably shouldn’t.
The reason? People sense that this stuff is automated. We’ve all had enough of Buffer etc. Everyone knows when you’re trying to add value to their lives and when you’re just putting your link in front of them asking for their attention.
I would avoid the automating the actual sharing and instead focus on optimizing the task management of that process (i.e. creating tasks that remind you to do things on specific days or times and give you any relevant information)
As we’ve drawn a lot of parallels to High Output Marketing in this post, it won’t hurt to have one more.
Andy Grove puts across the concept of Task Relevant Maturity. The basic idea is that you should delegate tasks to the extent that a person is able to meaningfully manage the task.
Automation is actually a great way to delegate the stuff you might give an intern or a junior to do – but it’s not usually great for the meat of the work itself.
The goal of High Output Marketing is to increase leverage and optimize your workflow so that you can have a more profound impact on the bottom line.
To do this, we want to increase the rate of production and also increase the value of production.
A simple heuristic you can use as you begin to evaluate your marketing output in the light of this post:
How could what I’m doing right now be more effective in moving the bottom line? And what do I need to do practically to speed up that impact as well as increase it?
If you enjoyed this and you want to talk to me about it, I’d welcome a conversation on Twitter. I’m @iammarcthomas
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