FIVE BIG TAKEAWAYS
1. Five metrics in SaaS to drive predictable revenue growth: MQLs (or demos), number of logos, annual contract value, churn rate, upsells
2. How do we make our product more sticky, such as with quarterly business reviews?
3. Solving for customer pain points is key to customer-led growth
4. Claire Suellentrop and Georgiana Laudi are the founders of customer-led growth
5. Truly understand what your customers want and sell and scale to that across marketing, sales, customer success, and product.
Holly Dechelle Smith is Sr. Demand Generation Manager at Subsplash. She has worked at many startups and churches. She founded one company and co-founded another. She graduated from Brown and Brandeis in Anthropology and has an MBA from Quantic.
Connect with our guest, Holly Dechelle Smith, on LinkedIn
Check out Subsplash: https://www.subsplash.com/
[00:00:20] Islin Munisteri:
[00:00:20] So Holly Dechelle Smith is the senior demand generation manager at Subsplash. She has worked at many startups and churches. She founded one company and co-founded another; she graduated from Brown and Brandeis in anthropology and has an MBA from Quantic.
[00:00:38] Holly Dechelle Smith: welcome. Thanks. Thanks so much.
[00:00:43] Islin Munisteri: So I remember in one of our earlier conversations, you've had quite the journey. How did you start your career in your rev ops journey?
[00:00:50] Holly Dechelle Smith: Yeah. So I guess start my career. So going back to college days, I, no, I hate anytime someone starts with the college days story I'm like, oh is that really where we wanna [00:01:00] start?
[00:01:00] But for me I found my first company, when I was in college and I had been doing some work as a event planner, And realized that I actually had a pretty good skill for that. And so I started planning corporate events and built my own business around event planning. Grew the business up to about $900,000 in revenue, which sounded fantastic at the time.
[00:01:22] But at the end, as I was signed, do I go to grad school? Do I keep doing this business thing? I found out that I actually only made like $20 in profit that entire time, it was really bad. So like massive fail. I said, no, I don't love event planning enough to be completely broke. It wasn't even like a business decision.
[00:01:41] I don't think that at the time I had the vocabulary to say anything about like business at that point it was just a fun thing I was doing and enjoying and. Making, what I thought was a little bit of money on the side. It was really a little bit of money over four years. So one of going to grad school [00:02:00] continued my my degree in anthropology.
[00:02:02] And during the time I came up into a business course and I was like, no, I don't know how I feel about business at this time. I tried it. Not totally sure, but this was like It was a, almost more like a psychology class of like why people buy what's the culture of buying. So it did tie more into the anthropology side.
[00:02:22] And once I got in there, I thought I'm like, oh, I really love this. I really love doing this type of work. And about the same time I'm considering then, okay. Do I continue down my grad school routes? Get my PhD, or do I go down the route of you? Maybe I try my hand in business, but maybe not as the leader of a business.
[00:02:44] And so a friend of mine. I have hosted a internship opening, and he had a branding agency. And so I was like, oh, let's let me try my hand here. I was supposed to come in as a graphic designer and learn the basics of [00:03:00] graphic design. And I found out I'm really bad at it. Like my designs I did for events were great.
[00:03:05] I will say that I'm not. I'm not shy about saying like I had some pretty bomb designs, but I bombed my designs on going into graphics. So he was very sweet, very generous after a month or two of seeing I was not gonna be a quick turnaround. So like you have a really strong skill in writing. So how do we get you writing and how do we leverage your anthropological background and really connect that ability to connect with the customer.
[00:03:35] And so started to develop my formal marketing skills in content, inbound marketing. And at that point that was all that involved. It was like basic client management from time to time helping create inbound strategies, then develops a little bit of like SEO skills.
[00:03:57] And every once in a while, helped [00:04:00] offer critique on graphic design. I had the eye for it. I just couldn't technically execute anyway. So a couple of years into that My friend started to think through his wife was a Florist and he started trying to figure out how can I create a program that will help her.
[00:04:17] And so he created of like this MVP of what was then called stem counter and myself, my colleague, we were in the branding agency, we were both trying to figure out how do we position this to the early audience? How do we like create the logos around this, all that sort of strategic work.
[00:04:37] And so that started taking up a law of the focus and so much so that some of those other clients started to fall to the wayside a little bit, and we decided to shut down the branding agency. And so a couple months after we shut it down, I got a text from my friend asking me if I would come on as his co-founder and really just helps the startup from a marketing perspective.
[00:04:59] And so that [00:05:00] was really the first time that I was able to shift in from just doing. General inbound into what we would now probably call like more product marketing. And thinking through both like product marketing and inbound marketing, combine them together. I was also at the time doing like customer success work because startup world, you wear all the hats and do all the things, yeah. And so early on, I remember this was probably my first time thinking through rev ops was at this point a couple months into, we had some good sales and, but we weren't sure, like on the churn side, like how do we think through our total revenue in terms of what's the value, if they sign up.
[00:05:46] Annual versus monthly. We know that if they're annual, they're gonna be around longer, they have a longer LTV at time. I don't even think we knew the term LTV meant lifetime value. Yeah. Like we, we weren't [00:06:00] sure of how to think through any of these things. And so we slowly but surely develop processes.
[00:06:05] My, my co-founder, he was our CEO. We eventually wound up bringing in three other co-founders to really. Build it all up and with the expertise in all of us working together and all of us finding those different resources and saying Hey, what does it actually take to run a business? And some of us had like more technical SaaS backgrounds and were more How do you say a higher business acumen in that sense of these are the metrics that actually matter.
[00:06:34] And so we started to take it from we're tossing spaghetti up against the wall. There was still a fair amount of that that's gonna happen. But taking from that to saying, Hey, these are the metrics that. This is working and this isn't working from a marketing and sales perspective and from a client success perspective.
[00:06:52] And so now we have hard numbers that we're gonna be accounted accountable to. [00:07:00] And from there, then we started shifting, okay. All of our processes need to be. Pushing towards these numbers. And so we started now, this is like four years into the process. Three, four years in, we started shifting a little bit away from more of the content as a brand engine to content as a truly trying to serve that sales funnel a little bit more directly which in some ways was like really cool.
[00:07:25] And it's a good portion of what helped get me into demand gen as it is. But then there was also like that pool of the brand experience that was missing, thankfully as a small startup though, like we were still able to like me personally able to touch all those pieces from brand to performance.
[00:07:46] So yeah, that was basically where I got my start. And then Throughout that time. It's just been a continuous piece of. We have a business problem in front of us. We need to figure out how to fix it and how to grow [00:08:00] revenue and not wind up in that same place where I was when I founded my first company of $20 profit.
[00:08:08] Like how do we keep growing the company and making a sustainable that something. Investors will wanna pour into and that people eventually wanna acquire the company. So that was that mindset shift that really got me pulled into the rev ops
[00:08:25] Islin Munisteri: type of work. That's great. And I guess what were the metrics that mattered in that role?
[00:08:31] Was it. NPS scores or what what were some of the metrics that really mattered that, that told you churn was coming or we could get more customer lifetime value or,
[00:08:43] Holly Dechelle Smith: yeah. So for us, we had five metrics across the three different revenue generating teams that we were looking at. We had our MQLs, which for us were more like Some people might call sales qualified
[00:08:55] some people asking for a demo like how many people do we have asking for a demo is how we defined an MQL [00:09:00] number of sales. So raw number of like logos sold average contract value, churn rate, and then upsells. Those were those five levers that we sort. Had to pull in order to keep everything running.
[00:09:22] And so everything, all the other metrics. So like for customer success, that, that might mean if they're responsible for upsells and churn that mean might mean that they're trying, they're working on How do we get more people in a quarterly business review or something like that, so that they're aware of how they can use the product further and keep them get them more sticky.
[00:09:44] And that the, those are some of those things that they're looking for. On the marketing side specifically, I was looking at how do we get to this MQL number? And that MQL number being the demos, like I said, so the MQL [00:10:00] number had to go play backwards. Okay. We needed this many page views based on our conversion rate.
[00:10:05] We needed this many impressions on our ads. We needed this many impressions on our website and pretty much pulling all those numbers in so that I could. Figure out at the bottom of the funnel, this is what was needed for month over month growth. And then once I had that laid out, then I was able to work backwards to say, in order to get this many impressions on bottom of funnel pages, I need to grow my top of funnel audience by this much in order to get the overall impressions, start nurturing people down whether through email or retargeting ads or whatever that might be.
[00:10:41] So that was like, Marketing became the numbers game, right? It was just, yeah, reverse engineering, the entire funnel from total revenue that we needed back down to average sales size, and number of closes back up to MQL up [00:11:00] into all these other metrics that stack into that. Cool.
[00:11:06] Islin Munisteri: wow. So it really well, okay. It is pretty difficult running a software SAS business, but when you break it down like that, it's oh yeah, I wouldn't say anyone could do it, but it's a lot more it's not quite as scary if you just have five main metrics you're looking
[00:11:21] Holly Dechelle Smith: at.
[00:11:21] Totally. And I would say so that was when, at curate that those were sort of those things that we were looking at, but then. At Subsplash is very similar. Like we're also a b2b SaaS company, much larger. So I went from when I left curate, it was about 24 people. I think it was maybe closer to like 30, we were hiring on some a lot of developers at the time.
[00:11:42] So then going to an organization that's was two 50 and is now closer to that 300 range and just like a nine month period. And. even at scale though, I was able to see like at the core of it, that's what we care about as well. We don't necessarily call it the five numbers [00:12:00] that we're accountable to, but everything does stack up into that.
[00:12:06] So that's what we're looking at is how do we pull all the pieces together to make our revenue goals? And these are the different levers and some months. We may have, and this was similar here. I think this is probably similar across every SaaS company, if not every company, like some months, you may not have the sales.
[00:12:25] But you, your client success team just went and saved a whole bunch of churn that was expected and that makes up for it. And so you're still on track for that revenue growth. And I think that's such like an undervalued part of. The rev ops piece, like being able to help the key stakeholders, see what levers are in front of them, that they can pull to help with the collective
[00:12:53] Islin Munisteri: goal.
[00:12:54] Gotcha. Yeah. I think that definitely helps as well. It's not just sales [00:13:00] bringing in or marketing, bringing MQLs it's remember customer success also is a huge part of the revenue number too. and speaking of which that would be a great dovetail into . You, we had mentioned Claire selling trope and Georganialattas customer led growth.
[00:13:17] Holly Dechelle Smith: Yes.
[00:13:18] Islin Munisteri: Yes. And I'd like to pivot into that for last bit of the podcast so that folks can really understand what customer led growth is.
[00:13:30] Holly Dechelle Smith: Yeah. So Claire and GIA are just two incredible women that I owe so much of, especially my recent career growth of being able to just I spoke to this technical side, of, we need to reverse the numbers and come back. But there comes a point where you see. Either any of these metrics, like that could be critical business opportunities. So maybe you're not getting consistent MQLs not getting [00:14:00] consistent sales and all the numbers are up and down or your're, bleeding out the other end because your churn so high Customer led growth is really a process that is able to put the customer at the center of all your growth.
[00:14:16] Instead of just saying we're gonna have more marketing tactics or more things that the customer success team is doing, and just more and more and piecemealing these tactics together customer growth says, Hey, no, we're gonna start with. Who is our customer, what who's like our ideal customer.
[00:14:38] And what is it that they really want? What, at the core of it, it's the jobs to be done concept. It is. What is it that is going to pull them from their way of doing things to this better way that my system provides and my product provides. [00:15:00] And so the book is coming out soon. I feel like I'm gonna just give a big plug for this.
[00:15:05] Go to forget the funnel.com click on the book tab. You can get chapter one today and I think it's gonna be in pre-order pretty soon. In this though, like they're laying out the framework that they also have a membership program that you can go through step by step. How do you gain alignment on from key stakeholders in your company a about this?
[00:15:27] How do you gather internal. Context about what your customers want and what they need, and what's driving, buying decisions. How do you go about doing customer interviews and customer interviews? For me, given my anthropology background. I was all about doing those type of interviews and understanding like, Hey, so how do you do this?
[00:15:47] And asking a lot of questions to get to the heart of the matter. And so it really resonated with me as a way to truly understand what my customers wanted. And [00:16:00] so when I've implemented this framework, I've been able to see more consistent revenue generated because of it, because now I'm not guessing what my customers want.
[00:16:12] I'm not guessing how they're feeling about us. I can speak directly into their pain points and really unlock some incredible value that for them. Even if they aren't gonna buy with me. Like that's part of a long both. It goes to that longer term brand play, but it can also go to that sales.
[00:16:31] It also speaks to your current customers. How do you get to them to expand? It's because you're showing them the value and the value is helping get their jobs done. Not just what you, your product team think that they wanna get done. We just finished up Q2 board meetings and presented the research deck that had come out of this.
[00:16:50] One of my team members had conducted all for me and our board members that, you know, most of. The other companies in our portfolio, most companies generally [00:17:00] just make big guesses. They throw spaghetti against the wall and they say, I hope this sticks. I hope this works. And there's not a really good, scalable, repeatable.
[00:17:13] Wave to grow and customer led growth just really helps make it super scalable and it makes it so easy for everyone in the company to be saying the same things to the customer, whether they're on the marketing team in sales, customer success, if they're on the product team, they know what. Pain points to be solving for, with the product.
[00:17:34] And so we're, once we align everyone around those pain points, we're really able to make a huge difference in both revenue, but also for our customers. And so at the end of it all, that's what it's all about. So yeah, one last plug here. Forget the funnel.com. Go check it out. Claire and GIA are amazing.
[00:17:53] Joining the membership by the book. Use them for advisory that's my spiel. [00:18:00]
[00:18:01] Islin Munisteri: awesome. Yeah. I think that was super helpful. On customer led growth. Cause cuz you're right. Like a lot of companies don't actually know what's the problem they're solving and they don't have the jobs to be done framework.
[00:18:16] And I for think from Christ. I forgot the guy's name, but Christen. Over Harvard business school. Yeah. But he has a jobs to be done framework about what the McDonald's milkshake job is actually solving for was like, having something quick and sippable while driving to work which is what the job that the milk milkshake in the morning was solving for.
[00:18:39] Holly Dechelle Smith: Exactly. And so it'd be so easy to just be like, oh, this is a delicious milkshake and it's gonna fill you up and it's going to do ever, okay what if I don't wanna be filled up? What if I'm just, I have my milkshake, my job to be done is because I've had a really bad day and I just need something that's enjoyable and a pick me up.
[00:18:57] In that case, the product marketing team can [00:19:00] position. This over into a this is a great for the afternoon. Pick me up. This is great for on your way. Home is easy sippable whatever that, that was identified as like you said, for them, it was that easy pickup in the morning.
[00:19:13] Islin Munisteri: Exactly. Cool, Holly.
[00:19:15] It was like great podcast with you. And I look forward to talking with you more on, on other
[00:19:20] Holly Dechelle Smith: topics. Yeah, totally. Thanks for having Me Islin thanks.