Episode 005

Diagnosing a confusing experience in 5 seconds with Bill Macaitis (Ex-Slack & Salesforce)

Who knew one word could create so much confusion? Bill Macaitis shares how a drop in website sales caused mayhem and how he discovered the culprit by getting feedback from strangers in 5 seconds.
In this episode, we cover:

Who knew one word could create so much confusion?

Bill Macaitis, who served as a marketing  executive for 3 of the fastest ever growing SaaS companies (Slack (CRO/CMO), Zendesk (CMO) and Salesforce (SVP Marketing)), shares how a drop in website sales caused mayhem and how he discovered the culprit by getting feedback from strangers in 5 seconds.

You might not associate the Silicon Valley culture with putting people first, yet the story Bill is going to share with you is deeply rooted in human-centricity.

In today’s episode, you’ll learn about the effect that one word can have on a marketing strategy, and how the reactions of strangers who have spent only five seconds looking at a site can explain a lot about how potential customers are reacting to that site.

You’ll also learn what Bill uses to align entire teams around one core strategy, what a cohort is and why it’s important to your business, and what a five-second test is.
Show notes
  • [00:02:02] Bill’s role at Salesforce in 2010-2011
  • [00:03:20] The V2MOM acronym
  • [00:04:32] Marc Benioff and his vision for Salesforce
  • [00:08:05] The messaging around Salesforce at the time of Bill’s story
  • [00:09:35] Bill’s feelings and concerns about Marc’s new idea for Salesforce
  • [00:12:38] What made Bill realize something was wrong with the new messaging for Salesforce
  • [00:14:32] The size of the drop in leads at Salesforce
  • [00:16:52] How Bill decided to approach finding and fixing the messaging problem at Salesforce
  • [00:17:33] What is meant by the term “cohort” in marketing
  • [00:18:42] The five second test
  • [00:19:37] How confusion over the word “social” was causing Salesforce to lose leads
  • [00:22:47] Resources that Bill recommends

[00:00:35] Louis: Hey, it’s Louis here from Hotjar. In the fifth episode of 'The Humans Strike Back', I’m talking to Bill Macaitis who’s been a marketer for three of the fastest growing tech companies in the world including Salesforce, Zendesk, and more recently, Slack.

If I ask you to think about Silicon Valley, my guess is you wouldn’t necessarily associate it with human-centricity, yet the story Bill is going to share is deeply rooted in putting people first. In this episode, Bill tells the story of how the number of website inquiries plummeted and caused mayhem, how a single word on the home page was the culprit, and how he diagnosed the issue in five seconds by getting feedback from complete strangers.

What else are you going to learn in this episode, my fellow human? You're going to learn what a V2MOM is and how it helps teams to be organized, what a cohort is and how it can be useful to you, why you shouldn’t necessary trust the press and what they have to say about your product, what a five second test is , and finally, what a brand is, according to Bill. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.

Let's go back to the story and when it was. What year was it, first of all?

[00:01:58] Bill: It was a little while back, I wanna say this was 2010-2011 timeframe.

[00:02:02] Louis: All right. Can you remind us of the role you had at this time for Salesforce?

[00:02:08] Bill: Yeah, sure. I was in marketing, specifically, I was running online marketing. I was running the website, program management, a lot of the demand generation, a lot of the backend web analytics, a lot of the content, a bunch of different of the online components there.

[00:02:27] Louis: And did you have a team?

[00:02:29] Bill: I did, yeah. It was about, I wanna say it was a team of maybe about 30 people.

[00:02:33] Louis: And your objectives would you say, like, when you were in this role, what was your main objective if you had to select one?

[00:02:39] Bill: Oh, I think that at Salesforce we follow the process called the V2MOM where Marc would come every year and kind of say, "Hey, this is my vision for the year. Here are the methods we wanna go tackle. Here are the metrics that we're gonna measure." We would try to align to that top-level vision. It would vary per year.

I would say some years it was about building certain products. It might be like the sales cloud we wanted to build out or get greater market penetration. I would say generally in marketing we were about momentum, awareness, lead gen, those were usually some of the three big drivers.

[00:03:14] Louis: All right. to go back to one thing that you said that I know of because we do use it in Hotjar, but many of the listeners or viewers might not know about is V2MOM. V2MOM stands for vision, values, methods...

[00:03:27] Bill: Obstacles.

[00:03:28] Louis: Obstacles, and...

[00:03:30] Bill: Metrics.

[00:03:31] Louis: Metrics. Right.

[00:03:32] Bill: Hold up.

[00:03:33] Louis: It's a way to align your team and yourself towards the same objective. It's a way to know what is going on and it's a way to really push in the same direction, should I say.

[00:03:42] Bill: Yeah. I'm a huge fan of the V2MOM, it's got a horrible acronym and it's sort of hard to remember. The basic idea behind it is just, hey, set priorities in stack rank order and everyone knows about them and you'd be surprised.

I think the litmus test is whatever company you're at, here's a little exercise like, "Go walk down the hall or slack someone," if you're more virtual. Just say, hey, what are the top three priorities of the company. If people can get it all consistently, then you're pretty aligned around what the most important things are. But if you're getting 50 different answers or headshakes then I would argue the company might have an issue with making sure that you've got full alignments and what's the most important thing.

Marc would do that. He was a great visionary from that standpoint and it was one of the best companies I've ever worked at from a standpoint of just understanding what the biggest priorities of the day were.

[00:04:32] Louis: let's introduce Marc because once again, you know him very well, I know who you're talking about, but let's define who this Marc person is.

[00:04:39] Bill: Yeah. Marc Benioff, he is the CEO, founder of salesforce.com, a great company out of San Francisco. I think he's actually a fourth generation San Franciscan. Incredible person, one of the most admired people that I look up to beyond just a visionary for the product and just this entire cloud concept which so many companies are built on the cloud now. Marc was really the pioneer behind the cloud. He's al just a great guy. He's a philanthropist. He has tons of great causes. A children's hospital that he's donated so much of his own money to. Anyway, great guy.

[00:05:21] Louis: He's actually from San Francisco. He didn't go there to create a startup?

[00:05:23] Bill: Exactly. He was there. Well, a few people could say they were born there and raised there.

[00:05:29] Louis: Yeah, absolutely. Right. this is the situation then. You said maybe it was six years ago?

[00:05:36] Bill: Yeah.

[00:05:36] Louis: Right. Around six years ago you had a team of around 20-30 people, you were in charge of aligning the marketing team, you were helping product sales sometimes and you were working directly with Marc, you were reporting directly to Marc.

[00:05:48] Bill: In that case actually, I was reporting to I think it was either the CMO or COO at that time. Well, maybe one layer off, but we certainly had a lot of interaction.

[00:05:58] Louis: All right. And something happened around this time where Marc had this kind of big idea and made a big push for something in particular, can you tell us what it is?

[00:06:07] Bill: Yeah, sure. Marc, as I talked about before, he was a visionary. He was always looking 10 hills ahead while the rest of us were looking maybe 2 hills ahead. If you're in sales, you're looking like one hill ahead. You always had a quarterly number to hit. That was fantastic. If you kind of look at throughout the years, Salesforce is like the highest number of most innovative companies in the world.

I think when Fortune does their rankings and he's been in this space for long that he's always looking, again, really far down the road. I think he saw a pretty early, this idea of social collaboration connecting, your users together in new ways, connecting your customers together in a new way. He also saw the rise of Facebook, of Twitter, and he was really one of the first ones to say, like, "Hey, how could we apply this in an enterprise setting? How can we apply new modern enterprise collaboration?"

Chatter—a product that Salesforce had launched—was a very early version of that enterprise collaboration. The basic idea was to connect people via messaging. I would argue a little bit similar to Slack very early in the day. He had this idea, he went out and he talked about this idea of the social enterprise. Marc was always talking to different press, to different analysts and that message really resonated with the analysts.

It really re nated with the press because it was a very long reaching vision, this idea of connecting your users together, the social enterprise. As most things when you start to have a new piece of messaging, it starts to filter down and we needed to go ahead and put this up on the website.

[00:07:55] Louis: let me stop you right there because it's important to take a step back here. What was the messaging around that time, the initial messaging?

[00:08:06] Bill: You know, that was a great question. I was actually trying to go on a Wayback Machine right before this call and go, "What was the original messaging?" I couldn't find it. That being said, I wanna say it was more matter-of-fact messaging. It was more sales and marketing for your company or it was a message that most people it resonated with. It was like, "Okay. I understand this, leverage the latest sales and marketing ftware to power your business." Messaging like that.

[00:08:37] Louis: And we are talking about the Salesforce suite of products, not only Chatter.

[00:08:41] Bill: Exactly, yes. Before then, Salesforce has always had a pretty wide range of products. They started off Salesforce with sales automation and then it moved into the service cloud. It had service and it had a platform, they eventually brought in marketing, analytics, a whole bunch of other products and suites, but they were launching this Chatter product, if you will.

[00:09:03] Louis: Okay, right. This is the situation, you had a message that was working. I suppose you had a lot of inquiries coming to the website and things were not broken per se.

[00:09:15] Bill: No. You know, things were going great, leads were up significantly year-over-year, everything's, the train's moving fine.

[00:09:24] Louis: All right. the train was moving fine, but yet the CEO had this big new idea about social enterprise. What was your feeling towards it, honestly though, what was your feeling towards it when he introduced it?

[00:09:36] Bill: When they originally brought it out I, was a little bit hesitant partly because I think at that point I'd been at the company two or three years but I always had at least my personal belief. A lot of it actually was influenced by Marc with this idea of just customer centricity, and putting yourselves in the customer shoes, and understanding their pain points and knowing what they're going through. I think what happens a lot is you get caught in this trap where the longer you work for a company, the longer you just intrinsically know that space, you know that industry, you know all the catchwords, the buzzwords, the acronyms.

I think what would happen with Salesforce at the time and what already happens to a lot of companies out there is you know your company, you know the product, the language, the messaging, but a lot of times a prospect coming to the site has maybe heard about you once, maybe a friend recommended or a colleague recommended you and they don't even know what you do, and then they come to your site.

[00:10:35] Louis: you had this feeling that it was maybe too much or you had this feeling that it wasn't connected with the vision or like what was the...

[00:10:46] Bill: I was worried a little bit that sometimes we would do at Salesforce, again, we had such a charismatic CEO, such a great visionary. That would work for a lot of if you're marketing, that worked for me great personas. If you're in the analyst space, it worked great. If you're talking to press , it worked great. If you're talking to people that had been in the CRM space for a long time, it worked great. But I was a little worried, would this work great for net new prospects that were coming for the first time?

[00:11:18] Louis: All right. net new prospect i.e. people who've never heard of Salesforce.

[00:11:21] Bill: Yeah. Or maybe heard about it once but are coming to learn more like, "Hey, what do you guys do?"

[00:11:27] Louis: Right. And the push was, well, let's update the messaging on the website. When we say the website, it's like for the full suite of services,  

[00:11:37] Bill: Yeah. Certainly, salesforce.com was our primary homepage and that's where we got the bulk of our traffic, too, but you know, obviously, we had a lot of daughter pages. When you do a messaging update, it's not just a homepage, it's throughout the entire site you're thinking about how you can infuse that messaging in.

[00:11:54] Louis: And then how long did it take to update the messaging?

[00:11:56] Bill: It took some time, you know. I don't remember the specifics. I wanna say maybe a month at that point. You understand the bigger the company gets, the longer things take because you're going through a lot of different people, a lot of different product divisions, a lot of different approvals. At Salesforce, we were always very methodical about the language we used. We were very careful about the positioning, the narrative we were trying to tell. It wasn't a one day change. It took a little while to put in there.

[00:12:26] Louis: Right. And what was the final product? What was the main headline if you remember?

[00:12:30] Bill: Yes. The main headline was Salesforce, The Social Enterprise big, giant font, right smack-dab in the middle of the homepage.

[00:12:38] Louis: Right. You pushed a button and then how long until you realized something was wrong?

[00:12:48] Bill: Well, it's interesting. For anybody that's in web analytics, there were a couple forces at action here. One is that Salesforce, just like any other company, we have seasonality, things go up and down. We would often get influenced on the homepage just like, for instance, if Marc was in the news we might get a surge of people in that day or maybe running a local conference and we do an announcement.

You couldn't always use these perfect, linear, year over year or week over week type analysis. We would get me more fluctuations and noise there. The second thing that was always a little bit challenging, I think in a good way, was that we didn't just look at visits to the website, we looked at visits, form completes, leads, opportunities, pipeline. We would follow all the way through. When you follow anything all the way through the funnel, it takes some time.

You need to methodically test these and not just see you might have less formal completes but you might have more qualified leads and better pipeline. We were always running tests, too. I was a big believer in data-driven testing and we would follow things through and that might take another couple months, to follow these people that first arrived to how much do they end up actually buying.

It took a little bit of time but I think pretty early on you started to notice like, okay, things are going down. Well, maybe this is a one-time thing, maybe it's this. Of course anytime something goes down, there's tons of different theories on what's happening and while we stopped advertising at this point or maybe it was this and there was a lot of detective work happening but there was definitely a little bit of like, uh-oh, leads were going down.

[00:14:30] Louis: leads were going down, what was the magnitude of the leads, the number of inquiries?

[00:14:37] Bill: I don't remember the exact percentage. I wanna say it was significant though. When you're a company of Salesforce's size, anytime you have a drop of leads that gets below 10% or 10% drop, it can be significant. I don't remember if it was 10, it might've been a little more than that but I just remember it was significant. There were warning bells coming around via the marketing department.

[00:15:01] Louis: You were in the same office, the marketing department was working from the same office?

[00:15:06] Bill: Yeah, for the most part. We are a global company at that part and I had a lot of directs in different regions of the world, this is something I think we're actually testing out on the U.S. site first, wasn't quite a global thing that had shifted. We usually tested the messaging up first and then rolled it out, but certainly, all the marketing team was on the same floor.

[00:15:24] Louis: And what was the feeling then, like, I wanna know what was the emotions running? Was it the panic, was it more like, "Okay. We need to fix it." What was the emotion?

[00:15:32] Bill: Not good. Well, you gotta understand, I mean, for a lot of companies, and Salesforce included, we had a massive sales team. That sales team, they're depending on a steady flow of leads coming in.

A lot of times, sales get paid on commission. Your mortgage payment is based on you being able to close these deals. When you have a drop, that's significant. You have numbers, you have Wall Street, there are significant ramifications from that.

[00:16:11] Louis: There was massive pressure.

[00:16:13] Bill: Oh, yeah. There was definitely pressure. You gotta understand, too. We had, over the last three years, we had built an incredibly sophisticated marketing tech stack. We built up this massive lead engine, we had a ton of content creating, a lot of different tactics, very sophisticated advertising and arbitrage, but we had built a lead machine. This was the first one where it wasn't working. It was dropping and we were definitely very concerned about it.

[00:16:38] Louis: Right. You're using a lot of words that are very technical and not oriented towards people because this is marketing sometimes. But the way you solve this issue is really most oriented towards humans and the way people behave. Can you tell us what you decided to do in order to try to understand what was going on and how to fix it?

[00:17:00] Bill: Yeah, sure. I'd say the first thing that really helped us was we had built out a pretty sophisticated marketing tech stack. We had a lot of different tools to both understand, "Hey, something's going wrong," and hey, something’s going wrong following these cohorts down the funnel. Like, these cohorts coming in, we're getting less of them and they're not converting as well.

I think depending on the company you're at if you didn't have that marketing tech stack built, had the right tools, you might not even have caught it until much later down. It would have had a much bigger implication there.

[00:17:32] Louis: Just to cut you there to talk about cohort just quickly. Cohort is a group of people that share the same characteristic than another group and you basically compare like for like, such as a cohort of people who have been exposed to your ads versus a cohort of the same type of people who haven't been exposed to your ads.

[00:17:49] Bill: Yeah. Exactly. People that came in of April 2011, how much did they end up going to buy and sell versus people that came in April of 2010. It's really interesting. I definitely recommend for anybody out there follow your cohorts, it's really interesting to see as time goes by, are you selling more to them? Are they converting as well? It can help you understand discrepancies as time goes on.

[00:18:13] Louis: Right. I was cutting you, but you were saying.

[00:18:18] Bill: Yeah. No worries. Yeah. Anyway, I think it's important to have the right market intelligence, the right customer listening, the right tools just to understand something's happening. We started looking at this and we had a lot different tools we used at the time and even now I'm a huge fan of Hotjar and kind of the analytics and inside of brains but at the time we did something really simple.

I think there was a site out there, I think it's called fivesecondtest.com. I'm not sure if it's morphed, if it's still there, this was like five years ago and...

[00:18:51] Louis: It's still there.

[00:18:52] Bill: Yeah. Okay. Awe me. The basic idea is they have a panel of users and you will show the homepage to someone. They will see it for five seconds and then literally the screen turns dark. And then it says, "Hey, what does this company do? What do they sell? What is the name of the company?” The basic idea, which I like because I'm a very customer centric person, you know what, people don't read your pages, they don't spend five minutes trying to understand what you do.

People's behavior is—and we all do this—we skim, we look at pages pretty quickly and then we're gonna bounce if we don't find what it is or we think it's something and it's not relevant to us, we bounce. We show the sites on the fivesecondtest.com and we start looking through the responses and the responses were fascinating. I'm going through these and we start to consistently see this pattern, people are saying "Well, what is Salesforce or what is Salesforce selling?" And they go, "Oh, they sell software for nonprofits."

At that time, they were thinking the social was more like social causes. And they are the social enterprise, enterprises are businesses, they sell nonprofit software to businesses. Of course, many of them are like, "Well, I am not a non-profit, therefore this is not relevant for me, therefore I'm bouncing and I'm exiting the page and I'm not spending time to learn more."

I think that was the first really clear piece of data. We knew something was wrong but really it was something that was just actually talking to our users and listening to them, that's when we first started to get really solid data that, this isn't like me seasonality thing, we moved advertising from this channel to this channel or went up or down, or wasn't that we didn't have the conference that we thought we were gonna have at this time. It was like, "No. We have an issue with just our core messaging."

[00:20:50] Louis: Let's pause here for a second because I love this story for the reason that one adjective in the messaging of a homepage of a very, very popular product really created so much confusion that it led to a loss of business. You probably lost, we can't really say how much, but easily maybe tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds thousands of dollars of inquiries and leads that didn't go through the intent that they had initially.

This is a big deal and you found it out not by trying to find some growth hacks or not by trying to track metrics or pages or whatever. Do you found it by just listening to what people had to say, random people?

[00:21:35] Bill: Yeah.

[00:21:47] Louis: I'm just curious how did you find out about this service and was there anything else that you considered to understand what was going on?

[00:21:45] Bill: We had an incredible Director of Analytics, Adam Greco, at the time and he had built out just a great analytics suite, listening tools of heatmaps, just understanding what people's experience were as they're going through the website. We learned a lot about just what things they hated about the website, what things they liked, where were they going. We would always have a lot of debates, too, I remember just on where pricing should be. We can see through talking to people and heatmaps. People would always click on pricing. I was always arguing like, "Look, it's like water. No matter where you put it, they're gonna find pricing." Like, "It's okay, put it up there." Let's just be transparent, this is a good thing. We actually have the amount of value we provide, well, it's as if the price is important, but yeah, just having these tools that would allow us to listen and understand the customers and understand their journey, I think was really important.

[00:22:45] Louis: And from this story, do you think there are any other resources that might help the listeners or the viewers or even the readers to do the same thing? We mentioned fivesecondtest.com which is still available. You also mentioned V2MOM early on which is not necessarily related to that one nor that alignment and how to make sure that your team shares the same priority. Do you have anything else in mind that you think would help people?

[00:23:09] Bill: Yeah. I would say just, in general, marketing is usually tasked with listening. A lot of times, we're the closest to the customers and there are incredible tools out there right now to help build a modern marketing tech stack that can help you understand the people coming to your sights and experiences they're having. Certainly, I'm a big fan of collecting net promoter score, I think that's great. I'm a big fan of doing like CSAT or customer satisfaction surveys. Basically, trying to understand that within a point of time wondering how are these people doing, what is their experience.

I'm very biased. I love Hotjar. I think it is like the preeminent tool out there when you're looking at heatmaps , listening, understanding your customers, where they're going. The replays are just invaluable. But really I think the core idea behind it is just listen to your customers, whether that's through old-school surveys, whether that's just talking to people. Understand that the experience is of the website can be the experience of a sales, experience of dealing with someone in support.

All these little experiences build up to what your brand is. The brand is the sum of every single micro experience that someone has with you. And in many cases, that first interactions with your website is going to be a very influential experience to them. You have to ask yourself, when someone just wants to come and find it, are they using words that they would understand? Are you locking everything behind forms and gates? Can they find stuff easily, you know? Have you flooded the homepage with 17,000 links?

You want someone to have a good experience. People are doing 90% of the research now before they even reach out to you. If you don't have a website and app or whatever it is that gives people a great experience and helps them through that buying journey, you're kind of putting yourselves behind the eight-ball.

[00:25:06] Louis: This is a perfect way to end this interview, Bill. Thank you much. Before you go, just to mention to the listeners, the viewers, the readers that all of the things we said, all of the resources you mentioned and even more details can be found under hotjar.com/humans. Bill, once again, thank you much.

[00:25:22] Bill: Thank you much for having me on.