The First 100 Days of Marketing to a New Persona with Brett Li, Tonkean

Brett Li, the Head of Marketing at Tonkean, shares how to identify and go after a new persona. What is on Brett’s cheat sheet? Tune in.

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The hosts:
Trinity Nguyen
Trinity Nguyen
Co-host
A profile photo of Christian Kletzl
Christian Kletzl
Co-host

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to define a customer persona for a new product
  • How to perform customer research with limited resources
  • How to effectively market to a new customer persona
  • How to efficiently share new findings to internal stakeholders

What to listen for:

  • [03:12] Defining a persona for a new product
  • [07:21] Creating a persona with limited resources
  • [08:37] Direct mail marketing to a new audience
  • [12:03] When and how to use display ads
  • [14:40] Sales enablement while scaling up
  • [17:21] Useful tools to educate your team
  • [18:55] Performing effective customer research

Prefer to read instead? Check out the blog post: How To Identify And Market To A New Persona

Reference Links:

Guest headshot

Brett is a business-savvy, product-oriented technologist with extensive experience in B2B marketing, product, and sales. With a diverse expertise from product to marketing and sales, he's highly motivated and passionate about bringing innovative products to market.

Read Transcript

Brett Li: When you're starting off, there's no magic bullet to be like, here's an ad. You haven't heard about us. You have no idea. You're talking is. But all of a sudden, you get a wave of traffic coming in.

Trinity: Welcome to the first 100 days. A show for revenue practitioners by revenue practitioners, giving you unscripted access and exclusive resources to help you navigate any new transition or initiative. I'm your host Trinity. Newin from user gems. In this episode, we're examining the first 100 days of going after a new persona.

Knowing your target persona is one of the most fundamental tasks for a company's go to market strategies. You need to know your audience and what they care about in order to effectively market and sale. Now, imagine having to change that persona while working at a startup where every change could be riskier, as there are more unknowns and resources are limited.

And that is exactly what Bradley head of marketing at Tonkin face. When he joined the company. As you will hear Tonkin is a no-code platform for process orchestration that's mostly used by operations teams. What's interesting. However, is that they realized that in order to be truly successful with an enterprises, they couldn't just sell to ops.

They needed to win over an entirely different persona. For context, I asked Brett to explain the situation. 

Brett Li: So in the early days, when I joined Tonkin, we were still a seed stage company and got just closed a couple of enterprise customers. And at the time none of this was baked. Um, so we really didn't know who were the, that we were going after.

I think these companies, we had some stories, we had a couple of customers that were doing things in customer support and trying to. Streamline the entire support process coming in from Entercom and opening up a ticket and Zen desk and conversing and Slack. And how do you escalate and coordinated document all the things that are happening with support processes.

And so we thought, okay, great. Let's go out for support. What's take this use case and let's try to replicate it to as many people as possible. And what we quickly found is that our strength is in being a platform. And is it being a flexible platform, not a point solution to all only solve a specific use case.

And so very quickly we came out of selling directly to the head of customer support to actually looking at the operations team within support, because they're dealing with this one particular challenge, but also a number of different challenges related to customer support. And so the pivot really early on is realizing that operations teams.

We're our primary target and that we were realizing operations teams were growing up in every single function within the enterprise. 

Trinity: So what was the pivotal moment when Brett knew a shift was needed? Let's jump into the rest of the conversation.

Initially. You said there were a number of early adopter, like a few customers. How did you make that realization? That. Hey, now this is the adjacent persona we need to go after, instead of going deeper in the same persona, like most 

Brett Li: companies startup it's a process, right? But one of the biggest challenges in trying to define a persona when you're a startup, is that you don't have that many resources.

You can't just dial up and call 50 customer support people, or dial up and call 50 ops people and you have to recruit them and you have to try and get as many of those conversations as you possibly can. So the first thing we did was try to just talk to heads of customer support. And basically tell them the story of the use case that we were doing with them.

And we got mixed results. Some were like, this is interesting, but it's quite specific. It's not something that we're prioritizing right now. Other folks are like, this is interesting, but we haven't solved in this way. And as we had more of these conversations early on, we realized that being a one trick polling specifically for this particular use case, What's not going to get us to where we needed to be.

And also the heads of customer support didn't have enough details over what a process looks like. Or how do you build a process or what are the systems involved in the process? All of those details. And we heard this over and over again. Was like talking to my alpha person, talking to my obsolete fighting so that we found a pattern over and over again.

And we were getting intros because we were trying to not put our eggs in one basket. We were looking at other use cases at the same time. Cause we did have this understanding that this technology could be applied in a lot of different areas. And we also heard similar things. We would talk the head of sales and they'd be like, talk to my sales ops person.

We've talked to somebody in legal and they'd be like talk to my legal ops person. And so we started seeing this pattern. And as we had these ops conversations, they all had very similar challenges. And that was one of the early aha moments that we have is that today, when you think about operations, sales, ops, and legal ops tech unit sales ops, and marketing ops, a lot of times they're siloed.

They're like marketing. I have my own little world, I have my own little set of systems, my own little set of processes and data. And while there may be connections to sales, We only collaborate somewhat, but early on, we realized that sales and marketing have a lot of things in common, a lot of challenges in common, but sales and legal also had a lot of things in common.

We think about operations. So we started doing some pattern recognition early on and understanding that ops all have similar challenges. And no matter what part of the organization you sit in and we started to codify and I could find some of those challenge 

Trinity: across the board. So now that the decision was made, what were your first 100 days?

Priorities. It's 

Brett Li: interesting because I even think this idea of the decision is made I'm somewhat uncomfortable with, because you pick a path, but it's when you try to commit to it, but it's not necessarily in your mind. Okay. We made this decision. We're all in. Always hard when you make persona Pinots early on.

So it was the gradual, we had a hunch, we saw some indication that characteristics of ops being a thing. And then we started trying to go down this path and exploring it with always the thought that if it didn't work out with our hypothesis to use it, didn't play out. We would be able to pivot and switch.

So it wasn't necessarily like we made a decision or we're all in here's what we're going to do. So I just wanted to make that point. But then once you did, I think the obvious thing and the thing that always product marketer or sales, you've got to talk to people. Great. Of course you have to go interview and do market research and those types of things.

Going back to my earlier point, it's challenging when you are a startup, you don't have the resources or the time, by the way. To do some kind of focus group. That's going to take three months to put together. It's just doesn't work that way. And we had to get really scrappy and I was pleasantly surprised at how successful we were able to be by being scrapped.

And what I meant by scrappy is in addition to leaning into the resources that you always think about as. Having your VCs, introduce you to folks to talk to trying to look at your own network. But I was looking at, for example, cold LinkedIn connection, requesting people I tapped into my, I had on the Haas alum and in trying to tap into my kind of alumni network.

But then it's really scrappy and hands on. So I started sending out a lot of these cold connection requests on LinkedIn, just asking for 30 minutes of time to chat. And I was very pleasantly surprised by the response levels that I got. And so that's the first thing that you did in the idea of being scrappy was something that was pleasantly surprising at how I was able to do that.

So once you have those conversations, because you only have so many of them, every one of them is precious and you really have to. Put the time and effort, but also the mindfulness into each of these conversations to try to dig deeper into why people think a certain way or what their motivations are or what their emotions on all of those things.

So trying to take the limited number of conversations that we can get and synthesizing as much out of, as we possibly can to try to build a profile of these ops people was critical in those first days. And then you start testing. So here it's trial and error, and I think. Honestly, I would say we were a little bit naive early on.

We thought that we could take a hypothesis about some emotion. And that, for example, support ops was feeling of having to triage the support tickets and build a creative Facebook ad with a video. And we would get a mass volume of people coming to our website and wanting to talk to us that didn't happen.

We spent a number of weeks trying to build like a really nice video and like an ad and pushing it out there and those types of things. And it just. Didn't work. What ended up working is still one-on-one outreach and conversations. So a hundred days in startup world is actually quite a long time. So we were able to try a lot of different things that try to target people the most successful thing.

Was sending direct mail, which was quite interesting. And you would think that was an old school idea, but it's not. I think people are craving personal touches. So we created this nice little pillow with our logo and. We tapped into, and at the time we were going deeper into legal operations, it was a burgeoning field, a lot of similar care sets that we saw, but also we saw this common frustration that they just didn't feel appreciated.

They didn't feel supported. Legal was already on the backs of people's minds. It's like legal is the last to innovate and a lot of cases on top of that. You're the ops person. You're not even the high paid lawyer and they just don't feel appreciated. So we tap into that. Emotion sent a pillow, a letter applying to help be their virtual assistant, to help with some of their manual work.

And that got a ton of responses. 

Trinity: The direct mail part. I really want to click onto that one because I've heard this. There's tons of like statistics about how direct mail is so effective. Now, are you still doing that doing since the COVID or is it pre COVID? Because now people you have to ask what their home address is.

Brett Li: So that was pre COVID and pre COVID. It was a lot easier cause you'd send it to their work mail and wouldn't be weird. We're still doing it, but we're doing it exactly the way you said, which is send an email, sign up and register for a gift and then give us your home address and we'll send it to you. So it's less of a first ask.

It's more, here's a hook to help incentivize you to want to talk to us, but we are still doing direct mailers 

Trinity: even today. So you guys basically using account-based marketing as a main driver instead of like display ads and content, because you have a list of accounts you want to go after and send mails to these people in those accounts.

Okay. 

Brett Li: Depends on the science of ABM versus elements of ABM. Right? We're not following ABM to a T, but we do have a targeted accounts and we pull emails out of those broad list of accounts and we're sending stuff targeted to those. Set of people within those targeted accounts. So it's a level of ABM, but it's not to the point where we're like creating custom landing pages for every single account that's in that list.

So it's a balance, but yes, it's a lot more of hands-on is what we found to be successful. And going back to my earlier point, I think, especially with B2B product marketing, trying to find a persona, those early touch points have to be super personalized. That's the. Only way that I've found that you can get success and to try to get these conversations going, because you don't need a huge volume right.

With B2B, but you need the ones that you have to be really high quality. And so it ended up working out that way and because it was the small scale, we were able to do things fast. So just to finish that story of the direct mail, or we literally went to USP as ourself. We got the pillows, made ship it to our office, went to USBs, packaged it up and send it out.

And we were already see how many responses came back in a couple of weeks. And then we would try again and then test them in those 

Trinity: ways. That's awesome. I love that story. And thanks for sharing the child. When you guys experimented with like display ads and then content and it didn't work. Usually when you hear success stories, you always hear success stories.

You don't really hear all that stuff. They tried that didn't work, but I think we all need to hear about the ones that don't work so that we can avoid those mistakes. Right. So did we get to find out why it didn't work or how it could be improved? 

Brett Li: I think just display ads always take time. And I think that's one thing.

The more I work in display, the more you realize is that results don't come in a couple of weeks, especially when you're just starting out. You can make tweaks. And a couple of weeks, once you have an established brand, people know who you are. You've had a months long of touchpoints already. So you have that awareness.

Then you can start making tweaks to be like, okay, this messaging increase conversion rates by X percent. Versus not when you're starting off, there's no magic bullet to be like, here's an ad. You haven't heard about us. You have no idea. You're talking. But all of a sudden you get a wave of traffic coming in.

It just doesn't work like that. At least based on my experience, especially in B2B B to C something different, right? I think B2B has its own particular enterprise buyers are more meticulous. They have to fit into the enterprise sales cycles and buying cycles take time and et cetera. I've just found that with B2B, you don't do tests using digital formats in kind of an ad format.

The number has the depth or the speed really, that you would want to see to help you test our hypothesis 

Trinity: and you guys target enterprise, right. Do you also target mid-market or is it mean for definition? Enterprise is over a thousand or what's your segment? 

Brett Li: Yeah, I would say we're predominantly now targeting enterprises, that thousand people almost like at a minimum because of what we find is the operational challenges and the need for business teams to be more empowered, grows the larger company and some at a smaller company, you can get by with having a few developers on an it team, help the entire company.

There's not that many projects or the projects don't have enough volume. To really justify having dedicated folks on each of the business teams. So it is more of a larger enterprise type of type of problem, type of challenge, not to say that eventually we won't go into the lower market and a different kind of go to market model.

But for now we're focused on the upper,

Trinity: the first 100 days. Interviewed users get to feedback, synthesize a feedback into like different marketing campaigns. You tried out with display ads and then go into direct mails and one-on-one outreach on this kind of like change in persona. Right? You got to enable salesmen marketing sales always go hand-in-hand.

So were there any key learnings in enabling sales? And then after that, I want to ask you about working with products because I'm sure there might be some changes. 

Brett Li: My experience here is a bit unique because we are not a huge company and it becomes hard, especially the, in those early days we had two, one sales rep.

And so they were part of that discovery process with us. We're larger now. So I can share the stories, post this a hundred days of trying to get the entire company enabled, but that iteration loop. Could be much faster, early on, and it's much harder to have that loop be quick. Now, a lot of times my understanding of the market, my CEO's on the, during the market is probably five steps ahead of the rest of the executive staff, which then it's five steps ahead of the rest of the team.

And it's on the product marketer to try to shorten or minimize that gap. Right. And make sure that the team is up to speed on the things that you're learning in the market. But that's a challenge as your company grows. So the sales enablement early on was, they were part of the discovery process. And so you didn't really have to enable cause we were talking all the time.

Now, as we scale, I have a lot more visibility because I'm talking to folks like Gartner and having more of the synthesis conversations that it's important for us to have ongoing sales, enablement discussions, and presentations, and making that a very, a really explicit part of the process to make sure that the sales team is up to speed.

And one other thing to note here, which is interesting from a product marketing perspective is that don't assume anything. One thing that I realized is what may be obvious for me just cause I'm in it. And I'm constantly thinking about this stuff. Isn't obvious for somebody who isn't thinking about it constantly, who is trying to chase deals.

Who's thinking about how do you build a good sales process, et cetera, et cetera. They're not always thinking about the persona and the positioning and competitive in the messaging. As deeply as you are in the product marketing shoes. And so I've found multiple times where I tell somebody something, a month later, they asked me the same question.

I'm like, why didn't you get that? I told you a month ago, but I think it's important to put yourself in other people's shoes, even internally as well, and realize that there are certain concepts that are more nuanced and deeper than it could be obvious to you, but it's not obvious to them. So it's important just to be explicit and patient and how you explain things to the rest of the organization.

Trinity: That's great advice. So we're going to flip it over to the product side. So what, was there anything like maybe key learnings that you experienced that you advise other people when I've had to deal with, with like expanding the target persona, how do you work with products? How do you partner with product to make sure that you funnel all that user feedback back and that shaped the product roadmap, but also helps in a timely fashion so that as a marketer, you can hit your numbers as well.

Brett Li: So number one is the desire to want to do that on both coasts, but make sure that in the business side, you're making a diligent effort to share learnings to the, to the dev and product teams and that product team, the dev team that they're making decisions in and building stuff that they're constantly staying in close to.

The business side right now. Well, VAT is there's certain technologies that can help with that. So Slack is really good at helping to do that. So we have channels for feature requests for bugs for even down to the granular level of having a channel per customer or per opportunity, such that we can collaborate on each opportunity.

And there's a mixture of sales plus marketing plus. Devs and product listening and collaborating all of these channels that makes that feedback a lot faster. The other piece technology that we found really successful is golf golf. So being able to record all of our calls and have that automatically send off to the entire organization, and now from a product perspective, they have access all these calls.

They can glance the transcripts and they can listen to recordings. So they can very easily put themselves in the shoes of not only our go to market team, but also the customer and hearing firsthand. Or at least hearing secondhand the conversations that are happening. So that makes them closer as well. I know my product team lives in a lot of the time to listen to these calls

Trinity: based on your experience. Now, if you were to create a cheat sheet for a marketing leader, who's developing a go to market plan for a new persona or new vertical kind of distilling everything you've learned and high level it, what would be on this cheat sheet? I 

Brett Li: think it depends. It depends on a number of factors where you are as a company.

Are you early? Are you late where the market is? Changes the ingredients a little bit, but just from my own experience, I think with Ontario, of course, number one is you need to do customer research and more curries with us. The obvious thing, the question is, how do you do it? And I think you have to take into account.

Where you are in the market, or do you have a huge customer base or are you just starting out? How much resources do you have? How much time do you have? How quickly do you need to move all factors into how you do this market research? And you have to balance the qualitative and quantitative feedback, because there are many cases, especially early on that you're not going to be able to get anything quantitative that's anywhere, remotely close to just this statistically significant.

And so. You rely more on just the qualitative aspects of it and trying to put yourself in their shoes and thinking about whether things make sense or not. I would say in that work of research, when you're making the deductions, there's this debate between data-driven versus not data driven, but you also have to be grounded in reality of how much data can you have to generate early on, especially with persona analysis and InMoment market research.

So I would say on this cheat sheet, work in hypothesis and test hypothesis, I think that's. That mode is important. If you're planning a huge percent of rollout, kind of huge launch from day one, that's probably not the right approach because you're going to sink in three to six months, maybe even longer.

Only to realize that maybe you got to the end of that and you missed the Mark somehow. So breaking it down into iterative processes that build on top of each other. You never make one big decision and that's the way you go. Yeah. You make hundreds of small decisions that build on top of each other to ultimately decide where you end up.

And I think that's the iterative process is important. The umbrella under this is empathy, right? I think the more you can empathize and truly put yourself in the shoes of the persona that you're trying to reach the better. 

Trinity: So just to wrap up, we usually ask our guests if they have any tips or any words of encouragement that they want to share with our audience.

Brett Li: Marketing has no magic bullet and just trying something it better than overthinking things. So my bit of advice is don't try to make things perfect. Just go try it. And you'll be surprised.

Trinity: The first 100 days is sponsored by user gems, a software that helps companies identify buyers. That are more likely to buy your product, use the jams, tracks your current and past customers for job movements so that when they switch companies, you can sell to them again. And based on your sales and product usage data, it also finds prospects that are similar to your existing customers.

According to reviews and G2 crowd. And I quote, use a gems is a prospecting miracle. If you're in a revenue role, check out user jams.com.

And that was our interview with Brett. What do you think, Christian? 

Christian: I think it's very interesting to see just the, I think so easily we jump into the assumption that if I market to a new persona, like I already know what they want. I understand what the product is doing. And he just showed how important it is to.

Go in there with a beginner's mind and really try to understand what does my new persona want and how does my product solve it instead of already going in there with the solution and trying to force it on them. 

Trinity: Interesting. That's not my take, 

Christian: I mean, because he's like, he talks about this beginner's mind, like right.

The way he described it is for me, similar to, if I launch a completely new startup, that's the same steps I have to do. Right. I need to be very mindful of who I'm reaching out to. I need to do things that don't scale, like reach out to my friends. Treat every relationship that could matter here, very high value send out the packages.

That's all that I'm doing that I would be doing if this is a completely new startup. And so he's treating this new persona as a new startup. 

Trinity: From the marketing standpoint, a lot of time when you talk to other marketers, especially in larger organizations, when they talk about going after a new persona, go, after going after a new market, the first thing they would say, Oh, hire a research firm.

Doing user research, do a market research, but what if you, in a smaller startups or you in a smaller business unit of a larger organization that don't have a lot of resources. So how else can you figure that out without relying on an external party? So I like his breaking down of how do you get the inflammation without having to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars?

Christian: I think it's also important to actually do this yourself. Because I think so much is listening between the lines of when they tell you something that I would be really worried that if I'm only. I'm getting a report of the six weeks of, Hey, here's my summary of customer research. Then I'd be worried.

Like, did you really do a good job? And listening are these really the things that matter to them? And so often the like the customer research for me is hearing what they have to say, hearing what matters to them and then actually figuring out like, what part of this is really a problem? Like what part of this should I be.

Listening more into, and so if I just get a summary report at the end, then I think there would be so much context missing. So I think it's, it's, it's not only operating on a budget. It's, it's actually operating with the best outcome in mind. 

Trinity: So switching gears to the second part where he talks about enabling sales.

And it's such a good reminder because when you're in the weeds, you're the one who in who's involved in every decision, every meetings, every research, then you kind of forget that other people don't have the same context. So his advice for. Don't assume anything. People usually not in the same conversations as you do.

And especially when it comes to enabling sales. One mentor that someone told me years ago was tell them once, tell them twice, then tell them one more time. So, Christian, you were a product manager at Google. So did you experience any type of switching or marketing to a new persona? How did that impact from the product organization standpoint?

Christian: I wasn't involved in a new persona. But more of a new product, which really looking at it. It's very similar. Like I think if it, if it would be marketing to a new persona or marketing a completely new product, it's the same things that I need to be doing. I need to figure out who's the persona. And then I need to figure out how can I talk to as many people as possible to understand what matters to them.

And. Regardless of whether this product already launched a different persona and not the steps at the same time. The good thing about Google is I just said, Hey, I want to talk to 10 people. And then someone organized these 10 calls. So that was really easy. 

Trinity: So, what you're saying is you don't relate with any of the struggles that Brett shared because you had everything on a soba bladder.

Christian: I relate to the struggle of having to talk to people. 

Brett Li: I don't think 

Trinity: bred had that struggle. 

Christian: No, but just the comparison, like for me, the comparison is always at a startup. The hard part is actually getting people to talk to you versus at Google there, they already have so many. Connections. And it's so much in the interest of them to actually be like, I want to be the first one who hears about the product, because then I can benefit from this.

So it's really, really easy when you're at Google to get people to talk to you about new product functionality versus it is so hard. If it's a startup and you're a nobody, and you want to talk to people and nobody wants to talk 

Trinity: to you. It sounds personal.

Brett Li: You 

Trinity: got a little bit emotional there. 

Christian: I've seen both sides of 

Brett Li: this. 

Trinity: So we did this interview about two months ago. So coincidentally, last week, Tonky just made an major announcements and introduced several new products to address this new persona that Brett talked about. So I reached out to Brett and his team and they share that their new tools help bridge the gap between it and business teams, allowing.

Tompkins customers who create a truly composable enterprise. So this is kinda interesting that this interview provided a glimpse into how the sausage was made. So I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. Are you going through a major transition within your organization or your career? Do you have a first 100 day journey to share recently on the past?

If, yes, I want to hear from you email me at podcast@usergems.com. And if you're looking for the ultimate revenue leader, cheat sheets, sign up to receive them@usergems.com forward slash podcast. .