Notion’s Head of Marketing on building a growth marketing engine at a PLG company — Rachel Hepworth
Episode 88

Notion’s Head of Marketing on building a growth marketing engine at a PLG company — Rachel Hepworth

Our guest today is Rachel Hepworth, Head of Marketing at Notion. Rachel currently runs growth marketing at Notion, and sees her job as bringing process and control to all of Notion’s different marketing channels.

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Our guest today is Rachel Hepworth, Head of Marketing at Notion. 

Rachel currently runs growth marketing at Notion, and sees her job as bringing process and control to all of Notion’s different marketing channels. Before joining Notion, Rachel launched the first growth marketing team at Slack, laying down the tracks for a well-oiled go-to-market strategy that could be measured easily. 

Much like Slack, Notion has made a name for itself largely through customer love and a powerful word-of-mouth recommendation engine. As a metrics-focused marketer, Rachel opens up her playbook on how she lassos that kind of word-of-mouth growth and the analytical approach she has toward acquiring and retaining customers. 

In our conversation today, we focus on the nuts and bolts of what growth marketing looks like inside an organization that’s driven by product-led growth. Rachel shares tactical advice on:

You can follow Rachel on Twitter at @rachelhepworth. You can email us questions directly at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @firstround and @brettberson

Brett: Well, thanks so much for joining us.

Rachel: Thanks, Brett. Really happy to be here.

Brett: I thought one place we could start, is maybe talking a little bit how you think marketing fits in specifically to product-led growth. I feel like when people explore the topic, given the name, they tend to be very product-oriented or product manager or feature and functionality oriented.

And so I'm curious, when you think about a product-led motion, how does marketing fit into that? And maybe on the back end you can talk about marketing product, and sales and kind of how they fit together in the work that you've done.

Rachel: It's a good question. I've thought about it a lot after spending many years at this point in product led growth companies, kind of running marketing teams. You know, what is our purpose? What is our value? And I think, one of the challenges for marketing at a really successful PLG company is that you have this, quite enormous top of funnel, at least certainly at Slack and Notion, and even at LinkedIn that was the case.

And so for marketing to meaningfully add to that top of funnel, which I think oftentimes is marketing's traditional role, right? Bringing people into the product, building awareness of a company and a product. It can be really challenging cuz your natural base is so large. And so one of the questions is, is there a place for marketing to do that?

I think it notion, we found a lot of really interesting channels and mechanisms to drive meaningful top of funnel growth. things like, affiliates, influencer community, but some companies don't have that as much. Those are often slightly more b2c, strategies. . And one of the things I've thought about is that, marketing doesn't just have to be about the top of funnel.

It can also be about how do you make sure that the people who are coming to your product and trying it out actually stay, which is one of the big challenges for PLG companies. It's very easy to sign up. It's not as always quite so easy to understand what you're supposed to be doing and getting value.

And so with my teams, I've spent a lot of time on the in funnel part of it, education and lifecycle and sort of conversion to pay to make sure your users become customers. Because for a lot of PLG companies, the signup metric can almost be a vanity metric. It's so easy to achieve, just add in your email address that the true company value actually comes later in the funnel through like an activation metric or an upgrade metric.

Brett: And there's a lot of work that marketing can do, particularly around kind of education and lifecycle that adds a lot of value to that funnel. So maybe kind of picking up and pulling on that thread maybe a little bit more precisely in the context of what you've built at, at Notion and the PLG motion there. I wanna learn more about what marketing is responsible for, and I really wanted to talk more about that idea of the role of marketing as user becoming customers, users becoming customers.

But maybe first you could kind of shrink down your worldview of what marketing is responsible for.

Rachel: So there's a team notion that focuses on kind of community and comms and brands, like really, really top of funnel awareness building. and just for clarity, that's a separate team from the marketing team. And so I think of the marketing team it's much more of like a funnel revenue focused team.

So things like product marketing, growth, marketing, demand gen and content. International notion is very, very international customer base are all part of the marketing team. But it's really about, sort of driving and controlling a lot of the channels and mechanisms versus more enabling the community, which is a lot more what the brand team does.

In some ways that's a lighter touch. You don't control it as much, you just light a fire under it and give them the resources they need. the community drives itself. The marketing programs are where we take a little bit more control. So one example where there's some overlap is we're building an affiliate program.

And the affiliate program really gets a lot of oomph from the community. People who are already really enthusiastic about notion and who love it and who build templates and who talk about it. But, we manage this program of materials and compensation and tracking in a much more deliberate way.

And that's one of the big differences between the teams, the level of direct control you exert over some of these things. but the marketing team at Notion is fairly metrics based. a lot of it is, how do we understand the value that we're bringing to the business though if we're building up performance marketing or as I mentioned in, affiliates, or if we're investing in s e o, what's the time and, dollar investment that we're making.

and then what's the value to the business that's coming out? And we track that really by customers. So we don't track that by signups because it's really easy for somebody to sign up and then not stick around. And that is not particularly valuable to the business. We track it by the number of people who are actually getting so much value that they are paying notion at that point.

And it's really important that our success metric is that far down the funnel.

Brett: So kind of on this theme of users becoming customers as opposed to, top of the funnel users. if another growth marketing leader came to you and said, I feel like our team and our company is too oriented around just user, just top of the funnel users versus sticky customers, and we wanna shift that, what advice would you give them?

or how would they operationalize that desire to be much more retained customer oriented versus I'm just sending leads in the top of the.

Rachel: So the, the challenge is often that you want a really quick feedback cycle. it's most simplistic if I'm creating a search campaign and I wanna know if the people clicking on those terms are worth the amount of money we're spending on those terms. Depending on your funnel, it can take a long time for people to convert from user to customer, depending on how generous your, freemium or free trial, product is.

And then it's hard to iterate because you don't, you have to wait weeks or months to understand if you're really attracting customers, you're just attracting kind of freemium users who will never convert. And so if you're in that, Quandary, which I think is a challenge for a lot of people. The question is, what is the metric that is the highest up in the funnel that is also reasonably correlated to upgrading to paid, if that makes sense.

So what's the, what's the indicator you can get as early as possible that this is very likely to become a customer? so that you can start iterating quickly and getting that feedback loop going very rapidly without optimizing off of metrics that are gonna point you in the wrong direction. And this is often that activation metric that people talk about.

Not always, but often because the activation metric tends to be created based on what is telling the product team that this is, they're encouraging people to become customers. . And so to me it's really important that's a metric that people hit in a week. And for a lot of purposes, you actually want them to be able to hit it within a day because that the speed of the feedback cycle is so important.

So that's generally what I recommend is understand what are the leading indicators that these people are, more valuable than your general user base. they're much more likely to become customers. What are the soonest earliest signals that you can get? So at Notion it's things like, inviting a second person to your team or editing a doc or creating a second doc.

And if you do that within a day of signing up, you're much more likely to be valuable. And if you sign up with, for instance, a professional email address versus a personal email address, like a Gmail, you're much more likely to convert into a customer. And so figuring out what these early stage metrics are and then goaling yourself around them becomes.

possible to do your work and also you have much more confidence that you're generating real value for the.

Brett: one piece that you're kind of getting at is sort of these activation metrics or leading indicators that somebody's gonna be a great customer in this case for notion. when you look out more broadly, when you think about getting in front of the right people, because I would assume you kind of have two variables that are somewhat overlapping.

One is that once you get a, potential user in the top of the funnel, how are you nurturing, converting and activating that person? The other one is maybe there's a lot of Janes out there that are phenomenal potential customers, and there's a lot of Allens out there that are never gonna be great customers and let's avoid them entirely.

and so how does it map back to like who you're getting in front of in addition to once you're pulling them in, what are the actions that you're getting them to take?

Rachel: I think that, that comes down to a segmentation or, ideal customer profile question at the end of the day. And those both help who you're targeting and the how to make them effective. So one of the things that is becoming very apparent at Notion, which was, pretty similar at Slack as well, is that thinking about people by, their, their functions is what helps understand what they're trying to do in their jobs.

And so, what are the goals they're trying to accomplish? And then how can you position notion to most effectively help them achieve those goals. So if you think about a marketer and some of the things that they have to achieve throughout their day, it might be like you have to create a launch plan or you have to organize a campaign.

You're thinking about a product manager. It would be, you have to write a P R D and then you have to build a roadmap around it. And so in terms of, outreach and finding these folks, Having those terms, having the templates that might help them, create and produce a lot of this material or get some of that work done, manage some of that work.

It's pretty targeted to what they're trying to achieve and who they are. And so that, when they're searching or when they're looking for things and they spot that, it helps build awareness and interest and notion for them because it speaks to what they're trying to do. And then when they actually create a notion team and then say, well then, how do I get value out of this product That tells us how we should customize that onboarding experience to bring them the value most quickly and help them be successful.

So the two are very, very linked. I think the challenge with a very broad product like notion is that it can do a lot of things. And then it's hard for people to figure out what to do with it. It's sort of that blank page problem. So the more we can narrow the world of possibilities and just proactively suggest how they might get value, suggest the templates, suggest the workspace setup, suggest the docs they might wanna start creating, the easier it is for them to see how they can use the product.

and if you do that from the point of acquisition all the way through your signup flow, all the way through onboarding, people are gonna activate at a much higher rate than they otherwise would.

Brett: what do you think Notion has taught you about marketing that was new to you? you spent most of your career working in different parts of marketing and really phenomenal companies, whether it be Slack or LinkedIn, et cetera. but when you think about your last couple of years at Notion, were there big ideas that were crystallized in working there in this role that maybe were.

New frameworks, worldviews, things that you've figured out for the first time.

Rachel: I think the way Notion has encouraged. and supported its community has been really eye-opening to me. When I was at Slack, we had a very similar viral word of mouth engine, but it was something, I think the company more observed and said, this is amazing. We hope it continues. Notion is like, it's amazing and we're gonna help drive this.

And that's something that Notion I think has done much better that companies that I previously was at. And it's been really eye-opening for me. And so, the Camille Ricketts who started the Notion Marketing team, I think her first hire was Ben Lang, who, leads community. And just that understanding and acknowledgement of how critical that is and how you have to invest in it and support it, not control it but feed it.

That was a really critical insight and it's been quite inspiring for me to watch it. it's incredible what notion is built, like the notion community just dwarfs any other B2B company. I know like even if you combine them all, it dwarfs them and it really, it feels it's like a B2C motion for a company that really generates all of its revenues from companies.

So that combination is really interesting and I don't know if I've ever seen it at a company before. I think it's very innovative and has been quite incredible for notion to harness. So that's something that I've really, taken away from my time here is how important that is. And it's not something that you can measure.

I'm a very metrics focused marketer, but you can't really measure community in terms of dollar in, dollar out. How much time do we spend on it? How much revenue did it generate? It's a little bit closer to brand in that way, but the contribution is, is undeniable. despite that. And so it's been pretty incredible to watch.

The other thing that we're still learning about and I'm really intrigued by is the fact that Notion has this very unique model where the vast majority of our users are personal. they're individuals using it in their own time, we don't expect them to pay, we don't need them to pay.

All of our revenue comes pretty much from businesses. And so when you think about the personal side is what builds the buzz, it builds the awareness, just millions and millions of people who are using Notion and talking about notion very vocally and lets notion play bigger than it otherwise would, based on the actual size of the company.

how does that translate into building a really enduring business, with a really strong revenue model. , there's definitely connections and there's a lot of opportunity for creativity and things that you wouldn't normally be able to do if you were just B2C and just b2b. And I think Notion is really pioneering thinking about how to make that combined B2C B2B model work.

Brett: Could you talk a little bit more about that? Like how you operationalize that or how you think about this role of B2B versus b2c, and do you think about that as discreet personas and discrete lines of business? Or do you view it as a different flavor of land and expand? I get somebody who uses for whatever personal use case, for example, and they also have a work life and they're gonna bring it into the office.

Or do you just view those as separate personas?

Rachel: so a little bit of both, but much more the latter. We have a lot of students who use us and, long-term students graduate and become members of the workforce, but certainly, For many years, potentially they have a unique persona of students. Um, and it's, that's less about the land and expand.

We have a lot of prosumers who use Notion and are huge advocates and that's also a distinct persona. But for the most part, I would say the thing that's really interesting is watching people hear about notion, use it in their personal life. The way you use Notion in your personal life is often pretty simple and easy to get.

Start with, you make grocery lists, you make to-do lists, you track your week, and then they start to think about, okay, well this can actually help me get my job done. So for my own individual work at a company, you can start using Notion, and then Notion has so many collaborative features. You write a doc, you invite people to it, and then you have that very natural expansion motion into multiplayer.

And so that's the way a lot of it will work, is that people go from personal to like, Personal, but in a professional use case to working with your coworkers. And there's a lot of, modeling that's done where people see what other people are doing and they say, oh, that looks cool. what is that?

I want to use that as well. and that was very similar. Slack also had a modeling aspect to it where, if you sit and you look at what your coworker's doing and you're like, what is that? I wanna try that out too. So it ends up being very important. The way that you can build awareness when you have that personal use case is, there's a lot of opportunities for incredible scale that can be much harder to achieve on the B2B side, and that's something that's really interesting.

So, how do you get this scale and brand awareness that's equivalent to a B2C company? I mean, notion has a top of funnel. It's millions of people. It's just huge. Like B2B companies tend to just, they don't have that unless they're, huge and established. And that's the benefit of that B2C kind of motion.

and then it trickles down into the B2B revenue through the land and expand model over time.

Brett: One thing you mentioned was this idea of this life cycle of personal to business or professional, and then to multiplayer. when you think about that journey, who owns what between product and marketing

Rachel: so marketing is responsible for, I would say getting to the signup point, so, And turning in your email address on the website and creating an account with Notion, the product team partners with growth marketing, but I would say the product team is primarily responsible for taking those signups and ensuring that they understand how to use the product and get value out of it.

In those earlier days, that they, that first day, in that first week, they have kind of, um, enough understanding of the product. They hit that aha moment so that they will stick around and return week after week. And the product is the main driver, I would say, of expanding for those initial signups and small teams to add more and more people.

The in product prompts and experience is so powerful, so marketing and a lot of other teams will partner with product and help and drive impact. But if you're thinking about who is the, the primary owner and has the primary amount of impact to any time in the funnel, at that point it would be the product team.

And then once they get to a stage where, we know that they are a mid-market or enterprise company and they're kind of deeply engaged in the product, they have like at least 20 people who are active. Then it starts to transition more to the demand gen and the sales team to reach out to decision makers, champions within those companies and try to engage them for a more enterprise conversation.

So then the responsibility shifts again to a different set of teams.

Brett: Can you talk in a little bit more detail about planning and how product or growth, product and growth marketing work together on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis?

Rachel: Yeah, so we do quarterly planning, and then the teams meet weekly and the growth product team, for instance, has a couple of different sub-functions, a team focused on acquisition and a team focused on monetization. The growth marketing team has people who are focused on different, channels like, lifecycle or website optimization or affiliates and things like that.

So depending on, where people's mandates overlap, they'll also meet one-on-one. I think the important thing is they operate on a sprint cadence. where you're doing, it's a series of testing and learning and sharing out the learnings. I think the sharing out the learnings ends up being the most important part of these growth teams, because the whole point is most of your tests are gonna fail.

Then how do you take what's successful and expand that so it has even greater impact. So, the growth, product leader, growth marketing leader, meet themselves as a leadership team to make some plans, and then the people on their teams will meet individually and there's a, self-serve weekly meeting that's done.

The growth product team is quite new at Notion. our product leader just joined the team itself is, like basically a quarter old. That's one thing that's kind of surprising about a company like Notion. It's a PLG company that didn't really have a growth product team until very recently. And so a lot of these rituals are candidly still being defined. But I think the important part is gonna be the sharing of insights between the teams and then how do we take what one team discovers and ensure the other teams are leveraging it? How do we focus on the same types of audience? So if Lifecycle is gonna build out an experience for product leaders, the product team, should probably build out a functional experience for product leaders as well, versus an experience for marketing leaders, right?

Where the two are kind of disconnected. So making sure they're sharing like the audience and persona, the goals jointly that things can be cohesive in the entire customer journey.

Brett: Was there a specific rationale on pushing out, building out a more formal growth product team?

Rachel: So what's fairly unique about Notion is that the product team itself is relatively new. When I joined about two and a half years ago, there was no product team, which I found very surprising. I mean, that's how scrappy and small. This company was, that had already been very successful.

so the product team holistically is pretty new. A lot of it was being driven by design engineering when I joined. And then the growth product team. I think there have been some internal debates about whether or not we needed that team. can the growth responsibility sit within the core product team?

And, the core product team has a lot of work to do to build the core product. And so it and skillsets are a little bit different, right? Core product folks, they're often building things that take months. it's not a test and learn environment. The velocity is in some ways lower. They're just building different things.

So it's hard to combine those responsibilities. But, I think notion experimented with a couple of different. Concepts before settling on growth product. I think the other thing that probably made it take a little bit longer is there's a strong aversion to anything that resembles growth hacking like notion really wants to build valuable experiences, not experiences that just trigger people into engaging because you flash something up in front of their faces.

And so I think there was a concern that if we brought on a dedicated growth product team too early, could devolve into that kind of work, moving a metric for a metric's sake, flashing a popup in front of people, hurting the overall experience of the product because they're trying to hit some metric.

So you wanted to be confident that people were going to build valuable experiences, help the users access more value from the product rather than do any of this growth hacking things. And that was some of the concerns that delayed the development of the team.

Brett: What do you think . Are the differences between what makes a great growth marketer and a great growth product manager? If you remove technical skills that somebody's figured out in terms of how to do the job, do you think there are orientations or general attributes of the type of people that tend to be excellent in one of those roles versus the other?

Rachel: my general feeling is, they are not necessarily that different and I think sometimes it's somewhat luck and happenstance what function you end up in, right? The things that make a growth marketer and a growth product. Leader, great. Are, I think it's like a lot of curiosity, a lot of bias to action and speed.

A desire to experiment. you're not afraid to be wrong. Thinking about what's gonna have the most impact. So, you don't wanna throw random things at the wall. How can you be, disciplined and deliberate about where you invest your time to try new things? is the volume even high enough to make a difference?

Even if you like, doubled your metric, where's the thing that seems to be underperforming? What's the thing that you can do quickly versus the thing that will take huge investment? What are you gonna learn if this fails or succeeds? Do you know what that, what's the next step? I think all of those are quite similar between the two functions.

So I don't know if I actually believe that there's a big difference between an excellent growth marketer and an excellent, growth product manager at the end of the day. versus just kind of where they've ended up. The people I've seen who are really, really great at one have would be great at the other as well.

Brett: Something I wanted to loop back on is the topic of metrics, and I'd be interested to have you talk in some more detail about, if you think about the three, five, or seven metrics that you think are most important in your world, what are they, and maybe why are they important? And are there any that you've figured out in your career that you think are underrated or overlook?

Rachel: it's gonna depend on the business. I guess that's my first answer is the metrics are never the same company to company, although there's some areas that you will see pop up over and over again. and one of the challenges is figuring out what's the set that are really important in all the rest are just noise.

Because what you end up seeing is you have these reviews with, people looking at a dashboard with 300 metrics and they're overwhelmed and they just don't pay attention to any of them. It feels good that you're tracking 300, but it's not actionable. you just kind of say, okay, well I saw that, let's go on with our week.

And that's sort of a sign of failure. So when I think about the metrics that I pay a lot of attention to, it tends to be things like, the, um, kind of rate metrics and then there's just the measurement metrics from week to week. So like how many people are signing up? Money are activating and then what is that activation rate in between?

And I often spend more time on the rates than I do on the actual numbers. But both are important and they'll tell you different things. it's really easy to gain things in plg, like if you just paid attention to signups. What inevitably happens is you do something that spike signups and then you realize that your activation rate went down, right?

Cuz the quality is lower. So the signups didn't necessarily give you the business impact that you hoped they would. So things like signup, activation rate activated users or teams is really important. and then the number of customers you're creating and that monetization rate within a certain time period.

The hard thing about PLG is that people can upgrade within a day, a week, a month. And so you have to pick a timeline when you're gonna measure it. So like what percentage of customers monetize after one week or one month or whatever is the time period that kind of makes sense for your business model. One of the things that I have learned is really, really important in a PLG company that is trying to move upmarket versus stay SMB is to segment your users coming in by company size. Because what you'll find is you'll say, oh my God, we doubled the number of signups, but they're all at companies that are for people.

That's not actually that valuable for your company and your sales team definitely doesn't care that you doubled those signups, but if you're just looking at number of signups, you'll feel really good. And so trying to, filter some of this to say, I wanna see how many, companies of a hundred employees and more.

how many, new account creations are we generating every week? Because that's what's gonna feed the sales team and that's what's gonna drive our, market business. That number can often look really different than what the self-serve team is measuring, and that helps you get a better read of your business.

And so that's sort of a less typical metric that I think is really, really important for these companies that have kind of a self-serve and sales hybrid model

Brett: Do you have a process for landing on these metrics or adjusting them over time?

Rachel: for activation rate, it's what is most correlated. With paid customers. that's what I strongly believe. So what's going to identify the customers or the users most likely to become customers and not over-identify? Like not I, you know, grab a bunch of people who end up never converting. So that's how I think about activation, right?

And then it has to be something that is, within like a one week time spann, because again, that feedback loop is really, really important. You can't wait longer than that. And would often, again, prefer like a day, but sometimes you really need to wait a week, otherwise the number means nothing.

Or how much are we going to be driving the sales business, three, six months from now? I think a lot of this is about feedback from your sales team and then literally looking at the deals you're doing and saying when is the product usage?

Meaningful enough that it helps our team close deals at like a consistent and high rate. And when does it seem like they haven't gotten enough value or engagement that it's, equivalent to doing cold outbound? So that's a little bit less precise because the volume is lower, but that can be as simple as an ongoing conversation with the sales team of like, when are you interested in reaching out to people, what is the trigger that you want to use?

and that will vary. So at Slack it was, we called it qualified free teams, and it was a team that had at least 50 active users on it. That's what our sales team wanted because it, slack is such a, it's a daily use case. Deep, deep engagement. If you didn't have that, it just, it wasn't very meaningful, for a company and the sales team couldn't leverage it.

Notion the number is a little bit different. It's lower cuz we're a different type of use case product. but again, if you have like three users on a team, it's just not that meaningful for sales for a PLG company that indicates they haven't gotten enough value yet. So they wanna see, 20, users for these mid-market companies at least because there's a team then that's really using notion to do their work and that's something that the sales team can have a conversation around.

Brett: Charlie Munger's famous for this idea of incentives rule the world. and you touched on this a little bit when you've been talking about metrics thus far, where if you pick the wrong metrics, you can quickly align everyone around it. They will move the metric and they're incentivize the move, the metric, but it takes you in the wrong direct.

because either the metric is vanity metric in some way, or it doesn't fully capture how you think about creating business value. and

so I'm interested in how you think about that topic. And is it sort of something you're constantly watching and trying to get into the equilibrium, or how is it a consideration when you think about metrics, when you think about managing the team, when you think about sharing context with team members?

Rachel: one of the things that I feel strongly about is that, not everything can be measured. Certainly not everything can be measured in a way that matters or makes sense. And I'd rather be very clear that there isn't a good measurement and just stick a number down and then people can, feel good about hitting it or not.

And it, it's not actually getting it. what's important? So like one example is our content team. A lot of what content does, it's hard to directly measure the value of it really, really hard. And you'd end up with like the number of blog visits or how many people view this piece of content. And it's really unclear if that matters at all.

And it can encourage you to do things that aren't helpful, like, try to spam a lot of people. And I'd rather not have that than as a metric because it's going to incentivize people to spend time on things that aren't important. And instead it's more do we believe it's important that people understand this feature?

Do we believe it's important that we have an educational video, on this feature? Some of it is just applying rational thought and saying, this is how I think this will move the business. Does it make sense? Like just take a step back and as a human being, does this make sense?

And honestly, sometimes that's enough cuz you really can't measure everything. And sometimes that does harm than good. I'm a verynumbers oriented person, but I don't wanna get too caught up in the numbers Um, and the other thing I think is being very careful that you're not picking metrics that are easily gamed or changed.

And so one example is a lot of companies have an activation metric and they change it quite frequently. Like they change the definition of the metric. And it doesn't really matter if your activation rate is 70% or 30% in isolation. The question is like, What does that metric even mean? Because I can create an activation metric that's a pretty low bar and then you're like, oh, everybody activates.

It's so amazing and we have a great business. But of course, you don't necessarily have a great business. You just created a bar that was too low. So that's things like, we want an activation rate that needs that 50% of people who activate turn into paying customers. That's at least a little bit closer.

And there's more understanding of why do we pick this metric? What is it doing for the business? Because in isolation, when it goes up and down, it doesn't necessarily tell you that much.

Brett: how does your thinking on metrics apply to companies who are rolling these type of things out for the first time? And so let's assume you joined a company that was 20 people, there're starting to really grow. They have some level of product market fit, but they're not well instrumented in the marketing department.

Where do you begin? or how does someone in that role start?

Rachel: It depends a little bit on, how you're growing and what channels you're using. If you're growing through this marketing, in some ways my answer is quite different than if you're growing through, content or seo. But I think my general advice actually is to be careful not to over instrument and over-complicate things, especially for small, early stage companies.

unless you can actively do something with the data, it's not that helpful. Like what you don't wanna do is observe that numbers go up or down, but you just sort of shrug and you say, that happened and you go on your way, then that's a waste of everybody's time. And it's really hard to track things perfectly,

It's a pretty big investment. And I think the question you always have to ask if you're a smaller company is that worth it or should we just build things and launch them? so actually my recommendations often to be very careful and very judicious about what you wanna measure and make sure it's the most important things and people try to overcomplicate this stuff all the time and it's just not actionable and it's just not helpful.

But depending on, what you're investing in, on the marketing side, you should have a general idea of if we launch a campaign or we open up this channel, How do we know if it's doing anything for us? can we measure the number of people who are signing up? Can we measure the number of customers?

Can we measure the dollar value of business coming in? At least if you know what you spent and then what you got, and it's most basic, that at least lets you know that you're not, burning budgets for absolutely no purpose. it gives you some guardrails, but I would actually spend less time on the numbers.

Like just do the bare minimum to get the indication that you're doing something positive or something that's a waste of time. And then move on to just shipping things. Cuz at an earlier stage, I think that's the most important thing.

Brett: How do you think about planning as a marketing team? you talked a little bit about how, uh, marketing and product tend to work together, and I

think, it's fairly consensus. If you're running a product team, you have some version of a product roadmap that takes on all sorts of different flavors.

what's sort of your analog and the way that you think about roadmap mapping and planning, making decisions, and then reflecting on the quality of those decisions over time? When you think about running a marketing function,

Rachel: there's the ongoing work and then there's the kind of more moment in time work. So there's that part of things sort of always on and then kind of pulsing that might have more to do with like product launches or, market entrances or calendar events. And then there's the thinking about building up the capabilities as a team.

So, first the marketing planning doesn't happen in a vacuum. Like what is the, what's the company strategy, what is the company trying to achieve? And then how does marketing fit into that? So the marketing planning comes after the company planning. In terms of, you know, we're all aligned on the audience, we're aligned on the um, markets we're going after, the types of companies, the types of products we're gonna be releasing, things like that.

And then it's like, how does marketing best support those company goals? And then there's the really foundational things of okay, if we're aligned around the audience, do we understand that audience? Do we understand what they care about? Do we understand how to speak to them? Do we understand where they spend time?

And how is marketing both adding to that understanding and then taking advantage of it? Notion has a lot of people on social media, a lot of people on Reddit, a lot of people on TikTok, a lot of people in kind of the more technical communities, the spending a lot of time in those watering holes versus strangely enough, one, another company that does some work similar to Notion, has a lot of people who are in the construction industry that is not notion's audience though.

So we wouldn't spend any time in those watering holes. So just understanding that as a marketing team and building up the foundations like. Audience and messaging and channels, which is, actual work that we have to plan for, especially for these earlier companies. So I'd say it's hooking into the company strategy and planning, covering your foundations,

And then understanding the always on work that needs to be done. Like we're iterating on performance marketing, we're iterating affiliates, we're iterating on our nurture campaigns. And then here are the two or three big launches and calendar moments that everybody's gonna swarm around. during the quarter or during the year.

Brett: When you think about this topic of planning and organizing, have you adjusted your thinking or changed your mind over the past five or 10 years? around what good looks like?

Rachel: I don't know if I've changed my mind. I think I've gotten. More set. In my perspective, that planning always feels painful and bad at every company I've been at. It's an unsatisfying experience because it's very challenging to align many, many people and functions and, desires, around a set of activities.

Like, it's just hard. There's a lot of people and personalities involved, so it's almost like an acknowledgement. That planning often feels messy when you're going through it. And I don't know if I've been in a company who, where that wasn't the case, even when the planning was relatively well done. So just acknowledging that.

I think the other thing is that it is very important, but very hard to be specific, opinionated and focused about what the company is prioritizing. And so there was one point I remember at Slack where we had. company objectives. And then within each objective there were like five sub objectives, which is 25 different things.

And they weren't prioritized. And so part of the planning is making trade-offs and saying, oh, if I only have limited resources, where do I put my time and money? And it, should help align everybody. But that doesn't help because there actually were no trade-offs.

And so one of my strong opinions is if it doesn't feel painful and if you aren't eliminating things that you really wish you could do, but you know there's something else that's more important, then you haven't actually made a choice. You've just kind of said, do all the things. And that's really not optimal.

We've gotten a lot better at this, uh, notion. I'd say our last, planning cycle, we, had three main objectives. And there's still work to be done, but they were relatively, clear and specific, which was important. And they help, you could articulate what didn't fall into them and what wasn't a priority.

And that's a really important kind of gut check to do. can you actually say what you, what the company is saying no to? And so I think that's the thing I'm most opinionated about, like, planning in some ways should be painful because it is a way to focus your resources in people. So if it doesn't feel painful, then you probably haven't made those hard choices.

Brett: How do you get a team to move in that direction? I think you know that one tactic is obviously explain why that matters. The other is operationalizing. And so a group of people gets together and behaves in that way.

Rachel: Mm-hmm.

Brett: thoughts on how to shift a group and move them in that direction?

Particularly if you're the owner of the org or the leader of the org, you can choose to move The way in which you behave and work together in, in sort of one that really thinks about trade-offs. What about as you're shifting a group or a leadership team in that direction?

Rachel: So it starts, at the top, the executive team being really clear and united about what they wanna achieve. And why they want to achieve it. And in the best of circumstances, you get people really excited about it so that it feels less like you're killing my darlings for the things that we're not doing.

And ooh, we all wanna swarm on the things that are really important because it's gonna open up so much opportunity or the company. So that's sort of the ideal. And then thinking through what does this mean for every individual function or team in terms of how it changes what they work on.

Because no matter what, not every team actually is gonna align to the company priorities. There are teams that, particularly have to do kind of business as usual work or have to do, very important, but more focused initiatives that would not be a company priority, but they're a specialized team.

And so acknowledging that and making them feel comfortable with it. But for the major teams of, product, marketing, Design research, things like that, making sure that when they're developing their plans, right, those top priorities get resourced first and get resourced fully. And then if there's leftover time and money, you can think about what other things are really valuable to do.

But in the best of worlds, you're getting people really excited about it. and then understanding that there are some people where their particular areas are not gonna be highlighted as much, and how do you make them feel included in the company priorities. And they're still important in driving things forward because that's where some of the risk comes in, is if people feel, alienated.

And so for me, going through the plans, a lot of it is are we doing everything we can for these top three objectives? And then for the work that doesn't perfectly align, are we very confident that it is valuable and that it's not taking away from the things that the company has determined as a priority.

Brett: What about on a related note, the topic of stopping things and narrowing focus? I think it's clear that as human beings, we like optionality. We like as many doors open and status quo. Bias is an enormous part of the way that the average person behaves, right? We like to continue the status.

there's something specific about stopping things. It could be a marketing campaign, it could be a metric you've been tracking. It could be almost anything in a marketing function that we just don't like to put a line in the sand and stop. Do you think about that topic?

Rachel: I do. I think it's, easier at notion than, some other companies purely because there's so much opportunity that. The question I always ask is, if you weren't doing this, what is the other thing you could be doing that might be even better and more impactful? And when you have a very clear answer to that, it's much less painful to stop, partly because what you're moving towards is more exciting.

And partly because the opportunity cost of not making that change, becomes very painful. And so there are a couple of examples of that that I can think of. One is, maybe not quite a year ago, notion's always invested a lot in startups. they're a bullseye audience for us.

They love notion. Notion works incredibly well for them and for various reasons. We'd assembled quite a large team of people who were focused on startups and a lot of their work was duplicative of some other functions. And it wasn't always clear, what they were really trying to drive other than sort of a we want startups to love us type of thing.

Which is, We do want startups to love us, but we didn't necessarily need this large team of people focused on it. And so we had an opportunity to redeploy people and move them into different areas that were really under-resourced. And then the people who remained focused in the startups area, all of a sudden their S scope increased because they didn't have to, own a tiny slice of this initiative.

They had much more that they could do. So it was this kind of lovely situation where it was a win for everybody. The people who moved off of it got, really meaty new roles where they could learn a lot. And it was very clear how they were driving impact. And then the people who remained on the initiative all of a sudden themselves had a lot more impact because it was fewer people, with this area of focus.

But it, initially there. , it's not like everybody loved the idea of change at first cuz this is what you're familiar with. so it's sort of being able to paint the picture of like, what impact do you wanna have, what do you wanna drive? And then how are you gonna get there with either what you're doing now or what you're gonna do.

And that's, I think relevant towards people's roles and also towards the projects and initiatives that people are running. So just really saying why are we doing this this way? Do we need to keep doing this? Is there something else that we can be doing that's more impactful? And at a pretty lean companylike notion, it's really, really important to do that because you never have enough people or time to get everything done.

So you have to make sure that all of your work is really on the highest leverage things.

Brett: Are there other questions like that that you tend to ask yourself a lot as a marketing leader in this case, are we constantly focused on the highest best use of our time? Are there other things like come back to or rituals like that, that you find useful in the way that you think about running and leading a marketing team?

Rachel: I like to spend a lot of time thinking about if what we're doing makes sense for the context of the business we're in. so you'll always have this where you see companies doing certain things and, oh, that looks great, that looks fancy. I wanna do it too. But if you just brought it into your context, it wouldn't work as well.

Right. It's like taking one stool of a three-legged stool. It doesn't, the things don't work together. And so inevitably people come in or initiatives are started. Based on past experience or what else is happening out in the market or with competition. And I think understanding the context in which your business is operating and where your very unique strengths are and where you are not as strong as maybe kind of other companies, other products is really important.

And so one example is, maybe a year and a half ago we had some people who were sort of lightly focused on SEO o but very much in the context of writing blog articles and that can produce some things. But I wasn't convinced that this was, gonna be a really effective way of building kind of a growth motion because, SEO is really powerful when you have things like, user generated content.

the business is set up to really be successful. So with LinkedIn, like it's public profiles, very powerful. Seo like Pinterest, all of its different pages. Yelp, its user reviews, like these are companies where the context of their business SEO makes an incredible amount of sense for notion. It didn't feel like a compelling strategy.

We didn't have any unique advantage there, and I wanted to kind of redeploy efforts elsewhere. But recently, there's been an initiative to think about SEO in the context of our community and all of the people who are creating templates and use cases. So really a scaled, effort that doesn't involve us manually creating all the content, but leverages the benefits of this kind of viral word of mouth engine and incredible community that Notion has.

And that I think is much more interesting and exciting because it's a, notion has a unique benefit here. Like we have an advantage that not everybody can instantly copy and it's much more interesting sort of a business strategy. So that's one of the things always wanna keep in the back of my mind is, it's less interesting to do the things that everybody is doing, although some of that blocking and tackling is important and foundational, but what is unique to your business that gives you advantages?

And then how do you lean in really, really hard to those things? Because people can't copy them, they can't deploy them as easily, and it gives you a leg up on your competition.

Brett: How do you go about helping your team learn about the business? And to the point that you're making, get outside of their functional orientation and understand the business. Study the business, understand the nuances of the business as a starting point versus I need to generate leads. I need to do a positioning exercise and so on.

Rachel: . Mm-hmm. . One of the ways we do it is we have biweekly all team meetings where we actually go through how the business is performing and not just a, how many teams did performance marketing create, how many leads did demand gen generate, but literally let's look at the funnel of the business and see what's happening, and then talk about why the numbers might look good or less good this week or last two weeks.

what happened in the business, what happened in the larger market that made things look the way they are. So try to build an intuition of the business and how it's operating, particularly for people who are not on the teams that are very, very numbers oriented. if you're a product marketer, you're not staring at the growth metrics all day long.

So you may not actually know, very deeply how the business is doing from a week to week basis. So that's one. Another one is having a lot of leaders come in. We started doing this recently for like AMAs with the team where you can get sort of a better understanding of how other functions operate and how your world interacts with theirs and impacts it.

Because I do think to be a really effective marketer, you have to understand the context of the company and the business and how everything comes together and not just your own isolated world. Marketing in particular is very, very cross-functional. So understanding, when you have a product launch, what does that mean for the support team and like the ticket volume when the war in, Ukraine started, we have a lot of users in Ukraine and Russia, how did that impact the legal department all of a sudden?

And the fact that we had to, turn off upgrades in those areas. So getting more intuition about, how other functions are operating in the company, I think helps widen the aperture and give people a better appreciation about the complexities. Of the business. And then the third is, encouraging people to talk to folks at other companies who will have interesting learnings and observations.

So a member of our growth marketing team has done a great job reaching out to leaders at other collaborative or project management related companies, saying how do you do lifecycle? How do you do growth? What have you seen in your business? what are some learnings you've had over the years?

Sort of cross pollinating from the experiences of other organizations can really help kind of accelerate your growth and how you think about how the business operates.

Brett: maybe sort of, we could just wrap up with sort of a question that I always enjoy on this, people topic, which is, when you think about your career thus far as a marketer, is there a person or, or people that have had an outsized impact specifically about the way that you think about the job?

Brett: Not necessarily were particularly kind and helped you in your career necessarily, but specifically shared ideas with you that really pushed your thinking in a way that was super meaningful and maybe what are one of the one or two of those things that you learned from that person or people?

Rachel: I think there are two people who come to mind. One was, this person named Greg Smear who came in as the, uh, VP of marketing and then eventually became c o o of this, very early stage company I was at many, many years ago. That was called Weather Bill, then turned into Climate Corp.

Brett: We were their first investor. Actually, funnily enough, in Dave's

Rachel: yeah, I,

Brett: years and years ago,

Rachel: a, it's a small world, but, I was a really junior marketer who basically knew nothing at the time and was flying solo and flying blind.

And he came in after I'd been at the company about a year and he was looking through the website and a lot of materials and he just said, What is the value that you're trying to convey? who are you talking to and, and what is the benefit? And it is just so basic. Now looking back on, it's horrifying to think about, but I couldn't answer his question and it just really stuck with, and he wasn't, mean about it, he was just perplexed.

He was like, let's start talking about this. you have this product and you have all these features and these innovative things, but like, why do people care individually? And it just really got me thinking about the customer in a way that I hadn't, I'd been thinking a lot about channels before in like individual, you know, marketing hacks, but not the fundamentals of who is the customer and what is the value?

And so that really stuck with me. And I think the second is, notions first. Marketer Camille, who built the initial version of the team because her love of the product and the community and the amount of commitment she had to, very early stages, building all of the material, writing all the entire website, all of the features, spending time with the customers.

You really you can't fake that. kind of deep empathy and connection. And I think it made her really effective in the early days of helping build this incredible community that notion had, you can't do it from a distance. Like you have to get in and be a part of that user base and really understand them and what's compelling to them.

And she's really excellent at that. and I still think about her a lot when Doing work at Notion and thinking about the people that we serve. I think she really modeled that in a way that very few people are able to do.

Brett: Great place to end. Thanks so much, Rachel. It's a great conversation.

Rachel: Thanks so much, Brett. Really enjoyed it.