How I Buy – Elle Woulfe, VP Marketing, LookBookHQ
Elle Woulfe is a brilliant marketer, a strong leader, and always at the forefront of her discipline. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Elle, and when I caught up with her for this #HowIBuy conversation, she was VP Marketing at LookBookHQ.
The conversation itself was very interesting, and the fact that at the same time I was interviewing her colleague Scott McNabb, the VP WW Sales, made the contrast in decision styles and approaches all the more interesting. I hope you have a chance to read both conversations and enjoy them as much as I did.
First, tell us a bit about LookBook – what you do and a bit of a rough approximation of size to set some context.
LookBookHQ is an Intelligent Content Platform that gives marketers a smarter way to deliver content across every channel. We make it easy for buyers to self-nurture so they become educated and qualified faster and more efficiently. We’re also transforming how companies define “sales-readiness” by tracking what happens after a prospect clicks and delivering insight into how content is consumed. We believe that great marketing is at the heart of great companies and that marketers should have the power to generate transformative outcomes for their businesses, their audiences, and themselves.
We’re a growth stage business based in Toronto, with a pretty distributed workforce across the United States. I was the first remote employee to join the company a little over two years ago and the first American to work at LookBook.
And as for you, Elle, what is your role and what kind of things do you spend money on throughout a year?
I’m the VP of Marketing and I’m responsible for what I would call “full funnel” marketing – from creating awareness and general market education at the top of the funnel, to much more structured programs designed to cultivate consideration and enabling our sales teams. As a result – I spend money on lots of different things. We’re a very data and process driven marketing team so we spend a fair bit on technology and infrastructure – some of that is data and services but a lot of it is the software that helps us to operate and scale. The rest is loosely what I would call programs and media – much of that is channel cost, content creation, some consulting and lots of events.
How do you find out about what’s “out there”? How do you discover the latest solutions and approaches that might have a chance of making your world better?
The most common and reliable way is from people I know and trust. Marketers are a pretty social bunch and I’m lucky to have a strong, smart network so I take a lot of cues from folks who have had paved the way and had success with different tools and programs in their own marketing. I’m also in a unique position because we are a marketing technology company so our customers and prospects are a great source of information – we sponsor and participate in lots of marketing events and I often find myself wandering around a trade show floor, checking out what the other vendors are up to.
I have a 3X rule. If I’ve heard about a particular idea or technology three times or from three different people, I always investigate it further. When something keeps popping up on my radar, it feels like I shouldn’t ignore it. I am also a big proponent of empowering my direct reports and it’s the job of everyone on my team to bring their ideas and make recommendations for the new tools, technologies and programs we should be investing in so it’s not just me making these decisions. I have several people on my team that are responsible for driving innovation in terms of how we allocate our budgets.
How does a decision play out? What role do you play? What role do your front-line leaders play?
It really depends. When I first joined LookBook – I drove most of the decision-making and worked collaboratively with my Senior Demand Gen Manager to research and implement a lot of the technology we purchased, but as we’ve grown, that has changed. Now it has more to do with what kind of purchase it is.
We have a pretty strategic initiative going on right now that’s a good example of where I’m really the owner and have been from the start – I selected the vendor, handle all the communication and manage the day to day on the project. For most of our technology decisions, I am always involved but often it’s at the end to give it the green light. I still bring a lot of problems to the team that require solutions and ask for their help in finding the right tools to address our needs. Last year we wanted to build our own ideal customer profile and needed some very specific data, so I tasked my demand gen and revenue ops managers with sorting through all the options and bringing back their recommendation. They will ultimately own the project so it makes sense for them to handle the due diligence. Similarly, I wanted to add some automated direct mail capability for the sales team so I asked them to go and investigate the options.
But sometimes it will work in reverse. My Revenue Ops Manager recently asked for a new reporting tool that he felt would add some insights he was missing and my content marketing folks requested an SEO tool they were lacking so it works both ways. I trust my team to do their research so if they bring me a request and it works with our budget and fills a need, I’m usually pretty open to approving things.
From a program and channel perspective – we are always experimenting and trying new things. We tend to brainstorm those ideas on a longer-term basis. For example, at the start of 2017, we outlined several different media channels and programs we wanted to test and then as we started to see how things performed, we would kill stuff that wasn’t working. We’re very agile so we’ll look at the calendar, see how we’re tracking against our funnel goals and figure out if there are new programs or channels we want to add to the mix. It’s a fairly collaborative process.
Obviously there are a lot of great ideas. How do you prioritize what initiatives are “now” and what are “later”?
It’s mostly goal driven – my plans and budgets are built around opportunity targets, which are modeled based on revenue goals for the year. We’ve gotten pretty good at building models with a high level of accuracy and we model out program return so I have a good idea of what I need to do each quarter.
Certain things are table stakes – those are the fixed costs that are non-negotiable. Our marketing automation cost for example, or the platform we use for response management and attribution reporting. We start with that stuff because it’s essential to how we operate. Then we look at our big programs that our essentially the cornerstones of our marketing mix – a lot of those are events which drive a significant amount of qualified demand, but there are some other types of programs in there too that are essential to other elements of our marketing mix.
When I build my budget at the beginning of the year, I code it: red, yellow green. Green needs to happen. It’s how we keep the lights on. Yellow is pretty critical to how we’re going to hit our goals. Red is stuff we’d really like to do but if you told me to cut 30% from my budget – that’s the stuff that would go and I could still probably hit my SQO targets. The “now” stuff is the Green and Yellow. The later is Red. If the red stuff makes it into the plan, then it becomes a now thing. Obviously, that’s also resource dependent so we sometimes have plans to do things that get forced onto the back burner simply because we don’t have the man power to get them done even if we can fund them.
Tell us a little bit about your evaluation approach. How do you dig deeper and evaluate a solution?
It usually comes down to a pretty hands on approach to comparing various solutions side by side. Sometimes it’s an easy decision. We don’t kill ourselves on due diligence if we have a strong preference for a given tool. For example, we are Full Circle Insights customers and I had previously been a Full Circle customer and didn’t really feel the need to look at a bunch of other solutions.
Typically there’s some upfront research to narrow it down – this is more necessary when it’s a crowded space like data for example. We might look at the review sties like G2Crowd or Trust Radius or check out reviews in the Marketo community. If we know people using a tool, we always make sure we talk to some references. That’s a quick and easy way to narrow it down. But then it’s really about getting into the sales process, doing the demos, comparing the features, the cost, the integration, etc. I have a CFO who is a shrewd negotiator so I tend to leave the final mile to him.
What is different about buying today than buying a decade ago?
The noise. There are so many options out there and it’s so hard to tell on the surface what makes various tools different. Anyone can say, “yeah we do that too” but often that’s not the case so it makes buying technology a lot more arduous. Just trying to figure out what your options are to solve a particular problem can be really difficult. Getting to a short list of vendors can be a long process.
Where do salespeople play a role in your overall buying process? What is the most valuable thing a salesperson can do in selling to you?
Respect our process and listen to us. We’re very upfront about where we are in our evaluation, what we need from a vendor and what we don’t want. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to request a new rep because someone was too pushy, or unhelpful. You job as a sales person is to help me buy, so do that! If I ask for examples or case studies, send them to me. If I tell you to follow up in a week – don’t call me the next day. Don’t be so focused on closing the deal that you ignore my needs as a buyer.
I can’t believe how often I am handing over exactly what our requirements are or what our concerns are about a given tool and then the rep glosses over it. When we tell you something – use it as an opportunity to react, respond and educate. The best reps will restate what they heard. They will follow up with information that accurately reflects the things we care about. They will connect us with people or information that can help us make a decision.
What is the biggest mis-match between what you need and how salespeople try to sell to you?
A lot of sales people assume that by the time you’re having a conversation, you know nothing about what they sell and the reserve is true. If I’m a qualified buyer – I know a whole lot about what you sell. Don’t pander to me and give me some hour-long spiel about why your thing is important. I’ve already figured that out. Ask me some questions about how I got to this point – what’s going on with my business that’s driving this need.
Every sales call I get on starts with a slide whipping these days. I don’t need to see 40 slides about who you are. I already know! I’d rather not see any slides. Let’s have a chat – ask me some questions. Do some discovery. Let’s figure out if I came to the right place.
How do you leverage your network in understanding the landscape or individual vendor offerings?
If we’re looking at a particular tool, I often shoot an email out to my most trusted contacts and just ask if anyone is using it. Most of what I learn about new technology comes up over cocktails and small talk to be honest. Someone I trust will mention something they’re doing or some new tool they love and that will prompt me to look into it. I’m completely voyeuristic when it comes to anything stack related – if someone shares a slide or a blog post that talks about their tech stack, I’m all over that.
I am also lucky because we’re part of the Edison Partners portfolio which includes a fair amount of marketing tech companies and it’s a pretty active community. There’s a Slack channel where marketers will share information about tools they use. I’m also a bit of a fan girl of a few thought leaders in my network and I watch the new tech they’re talking about it so it’s really just about keeping my eyes open and trying not to get too overwhelmed.
Thanks, Elle, for the depth and clarity of insight into your process!