An interview with CMO of Relokia, Dmytro Lazarchuk

Outsourcing and product marketing: highlights, differences, peculiarities and approaches. CMO's and marketer's scope of work and responsibilities, their strategies and range of skills. Handling negative feedback and personal case studies.

What is the difference between the product and outsourcing marketing?

My personal view on this difference is based solely upon my own experience, and I don’t claim my ideas to be the absolute truth. However, it’s what I came across while I was working for different companies.

Outsourcing marketing is based on people, while product marketing is built around the product.

An outsourcing company “sells” people. Accordingly, the key element of any activity of an outsourcing company is people. People who are working on projects are promoted in the first place, their skills being the major object of promotion, and marketing pivots on creating content that is directly connected with the people’s skills promotion. Actually, I think that outsourcing marketing is more complex than product marketing. This is because there are a lot more outsourcing companies than those that develop a specific product in a certain niche. In particular, there are outsourcing companies in India that have a staff of more than 100,000 people, and that’s why it is quite challenging to stand out from the pack.

In addition, one of the major roles in the outsourcing company marketing belongs to employee-management cooperation, and the way the team is composed. A lot is anchored in the way in which the employer branding has been strengthened. 

Unless employees and management are public people, it might be difficult to hunt out an ambitious project.

Though, on the other hand, if we compare product and outsourcing marketing, there are some basic things that remain the same:

  • Creating content
  • Participation in events
  • SEO (it’s more about a product company, as it’s quite difficult for an outsourcing company to generate leads through Google search as the price of the project can start at $10,000).

Most often, people don’t look for an outsourcing company on Google, they read reviews on trusted websites in the first place. Outsourcing companies direct their marketing efforts mainly towards creating the company’s brand as well as highlighting employees who are the core of the company's success and enhance trust in their organisation.

Speaking about a product company, it’s easier to do marketing here as it can be quite diverse. SEO works great here, and if it is done in a proper way, you will drive sales from Google search (unless it is an extremely expensive product). Also, you can take part in niche conferences to find target leads. However, it is more difficult now as everything has switched to online mode. On the flip side, you cut down on company’s expenses as you do not need to buy tickets and book hotels for your employees as well as set up stands - everything happens online.

More differences:

Within product companies (if it is a niche product), many customers are acquired through other people’s recommendations. 

Clutch.co is a website where outsourcing companies are featured and ranked. For instance, you can find the top mobile app development company there. For products, there are other websites, such as  g2.com or Capterra.com. With the help of these websites, you can check the quality of a product or an outsourcing company. Nevertheless, the quality of an outsourcing company is determined by people whose reviews are not easy to receive as they are often bound by an NDA not to share any information. For a product company, it is easier to get customer reviews due to direct communication in the course of partnership. The product company CEOs often use the product themselves and can share their reviews. In an outsourcing company, the CEO never looks for a contractor on their own. An outsourcing company works with 10 companies while a product company works with 1000 clients. Consequently, the probability that one of the ten clients will write a review is considerably lower if compared to the thousand customers of a product company.

Product marketing can be done from scratch, thinking of the future, and even when the product doesn’t exist yet, you can build a clear idea of whаt your product will be like by creating the so-called MVP.

Conversely, large outsourcing companies started long ago with hunting for projects on platforms like freelancer or fiverr. That is why brand building and marketing start significantly later than the service is launched. In general, it is more difficult to do marketing for an outsourcing company than for a product, when you can develop a clear strategy from the very start. 

What are the key aspects of the outsourcing company marketing?

A marketer in an outsourcing company should focus on the relationship with the staff and their expertise. Actually, they are an unrivalled source of content that can be used in marketing. First of all, it helps to create unique content for the website, and secondly, it enhances trust in the company. Why? Because when a client visits the website, or sales representatives communicate with the clients, there is an opportunity to present people who will potentially work on the project as well as their expertise. If they write blog articles, tell the audience about the cutting-edge technologies, participate in conferences and webinars as speakers in particular, it makes the company’s rating grow. Fair enough, the prices of a no-name developer who works for a no-name company and of a smart speaker who shares their expertise at various conferences and webinars are different, even if they have the same expertise.

Today, things are much simpler with conferences: there are a lot of them, and they take place online, so it is quite possible to speak on the same topic at several conferences in one day, and get a lot of content for social media and the blog. That is why an outsourcing company marketer should focus their attention on working with people. To be honest, it is quite challenging, because most tech-savvy people are not very good at expressing their thoughts, and it might be difficult to get material that is worth publishing. All in all, a marketer has to be very persistent and focused on people. They are the major source of content and trust.

For an outsourcing company, it is worth categorising content according to buyer personas, as different people search different things. CTOs, CEOs and CFOs look for different content. While a CEO typically looks for solutions, a CTO wants this solution to be safe, technical and reliable, and a CFO wants it to help cut down on cost. And the one who is just looking for companies, picks up the top ten sites in Google search results and gives this information to the customer who will take the final decision.

As a rule, marketing in both outsourcing and product companies is based on the same 4Ps as the general marketing.

Within outsourcing companies, niche events work well. For instance, a company specializes in salesforce development and they hold cool annual expos where three or four places for sponsorship can cost $1 million, and it is up to salesforce to decide who will get these places. So it’s definitely worth paying attention to such events. Of course, different companies have different needs and opportunities, what is also worth taking into account. Also, many companies promote themselves through websites like freelancer.com, where potential clients publish their projects and search contractors. These are usually small projects, however, if the company starts its work, you can look for clients there, but it is important to have a well-tailored profile. It means that the profile has to contain a concise description, client reviews if available, and quality content. All these things will come together with clients, and while there are no projects yet, you should start by properly filling your profile. 

What are the key aspects of the product company marketing?

The problem of product marketing is that it is easy to make a mistake and “kill” your product. An outsourcing company changes clients, and a product company can sell a one-time service. For instance, we provide Help Desk Migration, a service of cross platform data migration, which is used by our clients only once, or, as an exception, twice during the company’s lifetime. There are also recurring services, when a client pays a fixed price each month to use the service. In this respect, it is more difficult to work with a product. Why? Because if the client is once dissatisfied with your product, there is a huge probability that he or she will not buy your product any more. That is why product company marketing is not only about attracting new customers but also retaining the current ones as well as the so-called upsale, i. e. offering them additional services to use and thus to pay for. That is why we can divide marketing into two following categories.

While you do marketing that aims at driving new customers, it is important not to abuse customer’s trust by promising things that do not exist, and avoid encouraging unrealistic expectations. Product companies do not typically charge prices that deprive customers of choice. If the client is not satisfied with the product, he or she can find another option on Google, for the same price.  

Speaking about customer retention, it is a permanent process that involves crafting content that will engage your current clientele and keep them interested by informing them about new functionalities and smart customizations that can be tried out right away, free or for a fee, or offering them to pay more but get impressively upgraded. All in all, you should constantly keep your clientele informed about what is going on with your product.

Client retention strategies are based upon buyer personas, as they have different needs that influence their decision about whether to buy this product or to look for another one. The more buyer personas, the simpler it is to create content, because you have a clear understanding of what this person wants to hear, where this person wants to hear it, and finally, whether this buyer persona influences the decision to buy this or that product. 

Actually, it's difficult, especially if it's a new product: nobody has bought it but you need to create content for someone. You should always communicate with your clients. It is one of the major tasks of a product manager - to keep in touch with the client, conduct customer interviews, ask whether the company can help with its services, whether the customer is satisfied with the product or service, whether they are ready to pay for the company’s new solutions. Though, keep in mind that these questions have to be asked in 4 or 5 stages. If the clients say that they are ready to pay for something, it does not mean that they will pay when they are presented with this function.

It’s essential to conduct customer interviews in a recurring manner. Customer interviews are an important component of product marketing. The same is about price segmentation, as large companies set some limits: an employee who looks for solutions may not be allowed to make decisions without the CEO's approval.    

As a result, the person who searches on Google is not the decision maker, it’s the CEO of that company, so the marketing has to work in a totally different way. You have to provide the user with information about the functionalities of free and paid versions, comparison with your competitors, your unique selling proposition etc. in PDF so that this person can pass this information on to their manager for decision making. You have to take care that the person who collects information can easily pass it on to the person who makes decisions. For this, it’s essential that there is efficient coordination between marketing and sales departments, as sales representatives keep their finger on the pulse of the clientele, and they are best familiar with their needs since they directly communicate with the customers. On the other hand, marketing department personnel communicate with the clients indirectly, through texts, advertising, messages on landing pages or external websites. It’s a good idea to hold weekly meetings between these two departments to understand what is going on. Such an information exchange should be a continuous process.

To be honest, I’m more into product marketing because it gives more opportunities to communicate with real people. Outsourcing doesn’t offer much of it. Sales representatives don’t let anyone communicate with the customer. It’s a very complex process. In product marketing, things are a lot simple: you can go to a forum, write something about your company and product and ask people to share their opinion about it. There is also product hunt, where you can find hundreds or even thousands of potential customers for your product, if you present it in a proper way. What I mean is that product marketing offers a closer connection with the customer due to the opportunity to communicate with real people. It’s not b2b, it’s b2c and c2c.

Product marketing is more interesting, it gives you an opportunity to watch how the product grows. It generates new leads, it’s easier to track the customer journey, and if you have a well-tailored website and work with external sources, you’ll understand where the customer comes from.

However, I had an experience of communicating with a company that was the leader in its field and had a traffic of 10 million users per month, and they still didn’t know where their potential clients came from. They didn’t care about analytics although they made a really cool product and had a whopping number of clients. Later on, they hired experts to work with the company’s analytics and it helped them grow not by 2 or 3 times in a year, but by 10, investing into analytics by 10 times less cost than before.

Grapevine works pretty well within product marketing too, though it often depends on the product. We have a positive experience in this sense. We work with platforms between which we conduct data migration, and employees of the company recommend us to one another as a service in order to attract their customer. In other words, they have a client on platform A, they work on platform B, and realize that they have us who can help them switch the platform.

Speaking of large companies, grapevine works well there too, although in outsourcing it works even better because everything is anchored in building interpersonal relationships. Sometimes projects last for years and you need to communicate belly-to-belly. With poor top management, an outsourcing company won’t generate the desired profit.

In which ways is the work of a marketer different from CMO’s? Which are the strategic skills of a marketing officer that a marketer doesn’t have?

The major difference is that as a CMO plans far in advance. A marketer plans for a quarter, an CMO plans for years. To be more precise, the CMO determines the strategy, and the marketer is in charge of implementing it. The CMO sets goals of the number of leads, target traffic or other goals, and the marketer has to achieve these goals with the help of certain actions. 

The marketer develops a strategy of how to implement the CMO’s strategy. The marketer looks for tools and sources - social media, search traffic, external resources, and events that can drive relevant traffic and leads.

CMO is more about strategy, while marketer is more about its implementation.

In general, the marketer’s task is to make a plan that will help achieve goals set by the CMO by using tools, resources and sources. This is what the marketer’s strategic thinking means. 

Strategic planning takes place in the end or in the beginning of the year, when the plan for a year, two or three is determined. It happens with the help of strategic sessions, which serve as the basis of the promotion strategy. Only a marketing director or a CMO takes part in this session. Afterwards, he or she shares the information from the strategic session with the team and together, they work on tools, media and sources. This person understands what the company needs, and experienced marketers help to achieve these goals with their skills and knowledge. They come up with the solution to where the company can get leads and traffic from. It’s especially efficient when the company assigns separate marketers for social media, Google promotion and events, so that each of them is focused on a single direction.

At our company, the marketer is truly multifunctional. This person can make an informative video about a service, write a good quality text using the right keywords so that it ranks high in Google’s results, and create an interesting post for social media. In larger companies,  these responsibilities are usually distributed among several employees.

Speaking of skills, a CMO is more about numbers, he or she analyses growth and decline, and directs the marketers towards creating growth where there is decline, and facilitating growth. On the flip side, marketers are more about action: they think how to improve content, how it can be strengthened or updated, where it’s possible to use a new type of content, where it’s necessary to prepare for an event, create a webinar etc in order to get more traffic.

The marketing director of both a product company and an outsourcing one has to be able to speak and know where and what to speak about, and know the company’s strengths and weaknesses well.

Such people can participate in various conferences or events, and promote a product or an outsourcing company with the help of their image. Publicity is an essential aspect. At an outsourcing company, it’s necessary that the top managers are public people. Also, sales representatives have to attend all possible meetings and conferences with quality business cards, materials and presentations supplied by the marketing department.

Although it sometimes happens that the wrapper is better than the candy, however, if there is no bright wrapper, no one will try the candy. It’s definitely worth working on the brand from different perspectives.

Dealing with the negative comments

Also, it’s very important to be able to handle negative feedback. I remember a case from Lviv Business School. Someone told a story about a pizza restaurant employee who spit on pizza ordered by customers just before serving, and got caught. It went viral on the Internet, and only because the company didn’t respond in the first 12 or 14 hours, they didn’t manage to stop the growing number of negative comments. As a result, a great number of restaurants were closed because people gave up eating there.

People didn’t understand what was really going on. What happened to this employee? Was he punished? Did the company do anything to prevent this from happening again? Did it happen only in one restaurant or in every one? It was the lack of communication between the brand and the customer that made them lose so much. That’s why marketing and communication play an immense role here. If there appear negative comments or complaints on social media or external resources, the marketing department needs to react. In outsourcing, such things aren’t very likely to appear online. If there are any disagreements, everything is usually settled down through email. Speaking of a product, all negative things quickly spread on social media, external sites, people post negative reviews and so on. Although handling negative feedback is more about PR and branding, at small product companies, marketers are typically responsible for that.

One more example. At the time when Twitter allowed no more than 140 characters, there was a customer who started expressing her negative feelings there. The company used Twitter to explain everything to her in order to resolve the issue, in 140 characters and attaching images. It was a genuine competition, as they needed to be concise in expressing their opinion on the situation and not to insult the customer, in order to avoid an irreconcilable conflict. It took only 4 or 5 tweets to transfer their conversation to email or phone calls. 

One more situation: we had an experience when it seemed to a customer that the company had lost his data. Everything was happening inside Facebook. Actually, it was an ambiguous situation, because the client misunderstood something, and the company failed to explain the process of work to the client. The client didn’t want to resolve this issue personally with a company representative, and decided to express his negative emotions on Facebook. The client asked his friends to give the lowest ratings to the company on Facebook, who did it without having used the company’s services, just to “help” their friend. However, the conflict was successfully resolved, we explained the situation to the client and all the ratings were corrected. Still, it’s experience. The companies put a lot of effort in order to achieve high ratings, and a couple of “1”s on Facebook can make the rating drop from 4.5 to 3. And this is a signal for a potential customer that it isn’t worth partnering with this company. 

Such situations help companies to improve their services and internal processes to prevent this from happening.

Successful companies make conclusions, change their internal policy in order to eliminate similar situations.

Actually, a negative experience is more valuable than a positive one. A satisfied customer compliments, pays, says “Thank you” and goes away. And a negative client will tell everyone about you in detail: how long you don’t respond to a phone call, that you didn’t react to three emails in a row, that you gave the answer only after the fifth email. We use several types of client surveys: a survey after using our service (if it’s a one-time service), regular services client surveys, the so-called NPS, and, in addition, our marketing and sales departments send emails, questionnaires, interviews. In the west, it’s normal to devote time to clients’ reviews, however, it’s not so popular here.

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