SaaS Founder Interview with Jeff Coyle, Founder of Marketmuse

Jeff Coyle 0:00
Hey everybody, welcome to the SaaS Founders Show joined as usual by my co host, Andy Halko. Andy, when you think about content marketing, what are some of the challenges that come to mind?

Andy Halko 0:19
Well, you know what, when it comes to content, I’m a huge fan, because, you know, I love search optimization. But the hardest thing is actually creating the content, especially good stuff. Because there’s never enough time. Never right? You know, enough knowledge, all of those different things. So it’s a big challenge.

Jeff Coyle 0:37
Why do yes, I asked because we have some someone today and it’ll be very interesting to hear from it’s Jeff Coyle. He is the co founder and chief strategy officer over at MarketMuse. And MarketMuse is an AI platform that transforms how you research plan and craft your content. So with that, let me bring Jeff on, Jeff, how you doing?

Hey, how are you? Thanks for having me on the show. Looking forward to

Thanks for joining. So just, I gave a little descriptor, tell us about MarketMuse.

Sure, like you mentioned, we’re a content intelligence platform that really sets the standard for content quality. So we’re focused on giving you insights, that tell you what it means to be an expert on any given concept, and also give you you know, real talk insights as to how well you’ve done that so far. So where are you strong? Where you’re weak? Where do you have gaps on your existing site or collection of sites, we work with publishers, agencies, you know, companies of all shapes and sizes, and even, you know, solopreneurs, to give them kind of an unfair advantage with the content that they’re creating, so that it is differentiated. And it also has the chance to perform.

That’s awesome. And as I mentioned, you know, asking Andy, we, you know, in the in the marketing space, we realize content marketing is super important. There’s a lot of challenges, though, that I think you’re solving. So I would love to hear what the origin, where did you come up with the concept? And how did you bring that to life? What did that look like?

Well, the concept, wow. So it’s, I’ll give you the short version of the really long story that could go all day. But so I’ve been working in content strategy, search engine optimization, lead gen, inbound, every element of inbound, you know, whether it’s AB, multivariate testing, lead gen, paid organic, whatever you want, I probably have done it in, started doing that in about 99 2000. And really focused on lead gen in the early part of my career, and that converted into, you know, a heavy focus on the needs of content, huge unmet place in the market, the understanding of the buyer journey, and b2b understanding that you need content at all stages of the funnel, in order to be there when people care about you. So I tell that story, because upon the first company I really worked with for a long period of time knowledge on we were acquired by tech target, which is a major b2b Publisher. Again, in 2007, what I realized was that there was a huge, huge gap. In my knowledge, there’s a huge gap in the market for truly giving great advice to great writers and editors, which they had hundreds of right, because they were a huge publisher. So going through those manual processes, a tremendous amount of processes on editorial teams, on writing teams are manual. And we’re also we ask those people who are subject matter experts, who are product experts, who are just beautiful writers and storytellers, we ask them to do a lot of work that they can’t possibly be good at the stuff that is for conversion rate optimization, the stuff that’s for keyword research, or SEO. So you’re asking somebody who is you know, trained expert knows their stuff to do things that they’re not good at. And then the value that we provide, as you know, content strategists, as search engine optimization professionals, as demand gen, experts for lead gen or conversion rate optimization, or even will be very testing, it’s not put in a great format for writers to digest and embed into their workflows. So a lot of times what happens is shoot me the draft, I edit the draft, I make it worse, but for me, it’s better than we lose, we continue to lose trust. So after going through all those processes and living those pains, the pains of people not understanding the value, the true value of content, the true costs of content, the true value of editorial excellence, and of subject matter experts. I had started to research are there better ways to automate these processes? My co founder, Aki beloved had built some of the early technology that the infrastructure and foundation of marketmuse I reached out to him on and highlighted did it for myself. And it immediately worked. And I was like, Oh, wait, this is what I’m talking about. This is the thing, right? This is. And so a little bit after that, I left to go pursue an effort with a private equity firm. And Aki reached out and he said, Hey, Jeff, we’re gonna take this market, full blast, and you understand these workflows, because you’ve lived the painful, bloody ocean, right. And I’ve got to have in these cases, and I’m also I have a background in product management, as well as you know, computer science. So I’ve got kind of a lot of different experiences that was going to be in addition to being a subject matter expert, there were going to work out. So we then the two of us, you know, jumped off the cliff and began actively pushing this into market. In that first quarter, we picked up a number of mid market enterprise clients that, you know, told us that this was gonna work. And that was a huge unmet need. But it was super early in the market. So we were trying to sell something no one even knew existed in 2015-14. So that creates this whole other challenges. But what it did show was that these are problems that every writer has, that every editorial person has, that every subject matter expert has, they may not even still know it, and that every SEO and content strategist wish that they could solve.

Andy Halko 6:28
That’s really cool. So you know, one thing that I like to ask and I think helps our audience really understand your software, what’s a day in the life look like for one of your customers using MarketMuse?

Jeff Coyle 6:41
That’s a great question. I love that question. And it’s, it really tells the story of the difference between product lead growth, and enterprise software as well. And so I’ll actually weave it together to a common narrative in product management. And, and this wasn’t even planned. So this is a probably a really good story to just pull out, right. So the, the user of this type of technology, have a day to day user that’s touching content, right, they’re actually touching it, their outcome is in there for their appropriate experience, which I reference is that I want to every, every change, or every update, or every creation or update motion that I do with content, I want it to be informed by data that I get out of market news. So that can be information about ways to make this page better from a comprehensive missing quality perspective. It could be information that’s competitive, has a competitive angle, it might say, make sure that we only publish things that are equal to or better than our competitors, every time and you can have that that can be like a goal of yours that you can be successful with. It can also be the experience of a writer who’s receiving content briefs that are created by someone else. And I bring that on, because this is kind of that user perspective. For a I’m the one doing the work, I’m the one researching this, I’m going to want actually touching the content. In some organizations, that can be an SEO, or an editor doing that same role. So for those types of roles, they’re they’re strategic at the page level, or at the small collection of pages level. But maybe those people aren’t making decisions about what we create, or what we update from a, you know, high level view. So the experience for those persons would be they’re receiving briefs, and they’re writing content that complies with those briefs, and allows them to not have to do manual research, or to feel like maybe they’re writing something that’s not going to be successful. They’re always confident in the content that they’re creating, and the content that they’re touching. That’s the experience for the writer, the editor, the search person, the experience for the strategist or the CMO, or in some teams, editorial leadership, is that a little bit different. They can also do those things. They can also touch pages and do that research. But what we also provide for those personas, is insights as to where we’re strong, what our quick wins are going to be. If we need to achieve a goal, I want to own this topic, I want to defend against this competitive threat, I need to put my best foot forward on this existing editorial plan. That insight is there also in the form of an on demand content inventory and audit solution. So I can jump in, look at any page and understand exactly whether I should update this one. How should I update it and how much value that can bring me in a predictable way. So if you’re a content strategist, that experiences to say I can predict how much upside there is in doing this plan, and I can I can also put a why behind my content, the biggest myths in all the content marketing is people aren’t obligated to say why I’m writing this article. Okay, why do you have any data to back that up. And it’s not to stunt growth, it’s actually to empower the writer, and to empower the editorially, to say, we’re writing this piece, because it’s an important part of the buyer journey. And we’re missing it. Why are we missing it? Because people didn’t value expertise. They often value data points that don’t matter, like search volume. Well, there’s a fighter jet flying overhead on here. I’m in Jacksonville, I’m not in a war zone. So the, the, the that they don’t necessarily always have to a justify the creation, but they should want to, because in all cases, expertise, and subject matter experts and editorial excellence will often drive the bus because at the end of the day, that’s what’s successful with performance. So I think giving editorial teams content strategist and search professionals, the why for content is the easiest way I describe what we do.

Andy Halko 11:12
That’s great. I, you know, words stood out to me their enterprise, you talked about different personas. You know, since we’re talking to founders, one of the things I always like to think about is, you know, early on, how did you figure out who to target? And, you know, part of the question is a software like yours is valuable for any business. So was it like, we go after the agency market enterprise small business? I mean, there’s so many different avenues for you. How did you guys strategically look at where do we take our product?

Jeff Coyle 11:48
We still every day, it’s every day? All right. Um, it’s hard, because in content marketing, and in marketing and martec, specifically, you have to make the decision to niche down. You also a lot of teams aren’t there, they have no inbound machine. Right. So if you have an inbound machine, you have to be able to service people successfully from any walk of life, right? You can target outbound efforts or kind of resource based efforts. But you know, so just the short story is we started out, because the product wasn’t mature enough, we started out with a traditional sales lead growth model, where you would be interested in some way you would show your interest, your raise your hand, and then you would be walked through it with a sales representative. What that then tends to glean is the outputs are teams, you’re selling to teams, you’re selling to a particular higher end, what that turned us into is somewhat of a, a, you know, we got, we got high on our own drugs, right? We, when we were successful doing that, we said, Okay, well, this is really awesome, let’s not necessarily focus on the product onboarding experience, let’s not focus on automated sales enablement. Let’s not focus on maybe a free trial, or having a free product yet, because we’re doing this other part so successful. So we can make an edit, we can make a 10 person content team successful by selling them, right by having somebody do onboarding by them, you know, been making bespoke processes. And we can have a great business that way. But then we realized that that was very resource intensive. And we also realized that targeting was tough. So what happens in that scenario, you end up selling somebody who maybe is right at the early stage of being able to be successful in that zone, or you realize at the high end, bigger teams are really hard to manage and resource against from account management, customer success. So we lived that the hard way. And we ended up doing this whole thing. You know, from theoretical product, we did it backwards. Right? So then we said, Okay, well, let’s get down market. Because there’s so much opportunity there. Plus the product works even for the largest publishers in the world. So obviously, this is going to be an easier journey. Most startups fail because they start at product lead growth, they try to scale up the teams and then the system doesn’t work. What system it could be the product, it could be the marketing, it could be their ability to scale, the ones that do go from, you know, one person you know 9095 Right, they having a viable Oh team sale market, that is you know, the dream, right? We already had that and then we push down market which is very unusable, so you don’t see that happen. Um, so in our case, What we did was we really heavily focused on the user experience, we heavily focused on differentiated value. And having an experience where somebody can walk in the door, see the value, see that aha moment in a few minutes or less, and then either buy or become an advocate for their company. And in that scenario, when you have that situation, all I need is for somebody to have a culture of content, internally long winded way of answering the question to, if I have to put energy in, I want it to be targeted against people I know can be successful, right. But if it’s on the back of the product, I don’t care. As long as they have a culture of content. We’re not selling you that contents good.

Unknown Speaker 15:44
That’s not our job. That’s not the software’s job. You got to you got to you got to already come in the door with that. But any other aspect of who you are, you can be successful with market news. And that’s super exciting. It’s completely ubiquitous. It’s like spellcheck, or, or grammar check, like when you first used them, it was completely immature. You were like, This thing could never work perfectly now. Yet. How many people you know that don’t use Hemingway or Grammarly? I mean, it’s totally ubiquity. Ubiquitous, right? Well, it was unusual for someone to believe that there are assistants at the site level for strategy or the page level that could give them advice about how to make their content better from a lens of expertise. So some people still don’t believe it, right? You’ll be writing an article about, you know, content marketing strategy, and you’ll written in this is pretty good, right? Because subjective quality is what we’re trained on. Quality is subjective, is in art and content marketing. That’s what people believe. Well, we inject an objective measure. And we say, You didn’t talk about target audiences or buyer personas, or the journey. Those are things that an expert would have, maybe you want to consider expanding your article, right. And that’s just a blind spot that a human will naturally have. It’s a blind spot that even an expert might have, but certainly a non expert, they need that helping hand. So once you experience that, and then you get more tactical, and you say, Whoa, nobody who’s writing about this has really talked about buyer personas. But I know that’s tremendously relevant to this, I’m gonna write that section, or add that article. It’s gonna make me differentiated. Once you experience those two types of things. You’re like, oh, wait, this is a, this is an augmentation. This is an amplifier for my expertise. It’s not someone telling me what to do. And once you make that leap, the game’s over for you. You’re hooked forever. Why would you ever want to live without that? It’s like saying, why would you ever want to live without spellcheck? Right? Why they can’t give me a good reason? Why would you ever want to live with someone telling you live without spelling? I can’t live I can’t live barely. I can barely live without grammerly. Right. But yeah, so that that’s the story and the kind of the spirit of and then you think about that at the site level? Why would you ever want to make a decision about creating a content item without knowing how much investment and content you need to make to be successful? Right? All right. Once you once you’re on that, you know, once you’re hooked on that, it’s saying, well, we might need to write five articles about this topic. But wouldn’t you rather say, I know that if we write five articles on this topic, it will have a success rate of N? Like where would you rather to without? I mean, how do you ever justify going back once you have access to those data points. And that’s how that’s what AI brings. It’s data points you never knew you needed, but you can’t live without them once you have.

Jeff Coyle 18:52
Jeff, fascinating stuff. And it’s interesting, because Andy and I were on a call this morning with our team talking about content strategy, right? So we’re addressing a lot of these things that you’re bringing up, right? So totally relevant for the day. But I would love to hear how did you get you mentioned, you know, Grammarly or spellcheck, when you first used it, you’re like, oh, this will never be accurate. Right? Right. So how did you get marketmuse? To where you’re at that mature point where content is somewhat of a complex, complex process, right? All the things you need to consider? How did you get it there? And then after that, I’m gonna want to hear about the MVP, but I would like to hear how you got it to this point, you’re you’re at today.

You know, really, first of all, certainly a lot of testing empathy, you know, thinking about users. But also it was examining manual processes. So for example, the first content briefs we ever sold, were manually built in you No word processing platforms, right? And then when we were able to sell those we said, Wouldn’t it be great if we could automate the creation of these outlines, and the development of these blueprints in these content briefs, we were the first person to bring an automated, brief to market as software. And, and that was exciting. People weren’t ready for it, right. But that’s been our history. It’s things that are manual processes that we can automate and make them get continuous. We want those things to get continuously better over time, both from manual efforts and product improvements plus, using technology that naturally sharpens its own knife. Right. And that kind of breaks people’s brains sometimes what am I talking about? I want the technology to know how good its own output is. So when we’re building a topic model that says what does it mean to be an expert on this topic, I want the technology to acknowledge how good its own model is. And say, this was a good one. This one was terrible. This one shows signals of fractured intent, for example. So some people who are writing about this or writing about it from an early stage awareness perspective, some people are writing about middle of funnel, there’s some ambiguity in this topic model. So I wanted to be able to self check, I wanted to know how good his brief is that it generates. And so when we are able to do that, we know that we are going to improve ourselves, but it’s going to also continue to improve. And when you combine those two things, you can really have an effective small product management team, which we have a very small product management team. But it’s very effective, because we’re constantly thinking about those things. But the MVP is have always been meant, except for that initial technology have always been manual outputs that then get automated. And that’s really a pretty great process. Our applications are unperson alized pieces of the brief. So if you really dig in, what’s the brief half the brief has recommendations for structure recommendations for Title recommendations for subheadings. Topics to include questions to, to answer, internal and external links, right? So those are personalized for you based on your effort. So what did we do, we built applique each one of those steps, we built an application for it to give you non personalized data. Right. So it was like we know this works all in one place. Now, in pieces, it will work for people so they can jump in, do one thing jump out. The inventory view is kind of the dream of all marketers, it’s to say I have an on demand Content Inventory. Most people believe you can’t do that. But once a year, they wish they could see a guy buried in a spreadsheet. I mean, I still work with publishers where they have, like they all work out of one big old spreadsheet or air table, it’s still a spreadsheet working on one big old spreadsheet, right. And you get data for that that is not personalized. It’s not for you. So when you’re making a decision on, you know, difficulty, for example, there isn’t a metric in the market that’s personalized for difficulty, except the market means there isn’t a metric for authority in the market that actually read the content on the site, and gives insights as to whether you’ve covered great content or not.

Okay. Here’s the litmus test, right, go write the best article you that anyone’s ever written about? The new iPhone. Alright, go publish it on your blog. Good luck. Good luck with that, that producing performance. But if you go publish that thing on CNET, you better believe it’s going to be a lightsaber? Why? The answer isn’t just links? The answer is because they’ve already showed the world that they know that topic. They already have authority on it. They have historical momentum. They are covering other phones, they are showing the world that they have the ability to write great reviews. So why wouldn’t you account for that? Why wouldn’t you account for your existing footprint and expertise and authority in consistency and writing great content when you’re doing your planning? Right. And the world of tools for search don’t account for one’s own content. That, frankly, is bananas. It creates so many inefficiencies. And so that was the main problem that our strategic components of our platform solve. It’s no one thinks about that they use correlations, they use flawed lot Floyd logic pads, and they come in with bias. So they go, uh, I know, we typically do well in this space, so we must be able to do well in that one, or they use links. Well, even if you’re a 82 with link data, you still can’t go write an article about KitKats. If you’re a site about marine shipping theory, it ain’t gonna work. And that’s the truth. So anyone that tells you that you can do cohorting by just looking at Off Page factors, like links, I know I said a bunch of vocabulary words there. But they say you can’t just look at who’s in the search results and say, I’m bigger than them, or I’m equivalently big as them. Thus I should be able to write and perform. It’s not true. But that’s what’s spewed into the market. And we’ve built technology that illustrates that that is not true. A and shows you how to do it the right way. And that’s a beautiful thing. For those who have lived that pain of someone going, Hey, we can go write this article because it looks easy, right? I don’t even know who these companies are that are ranking when true story is probably not. Something you write little ranty today, but you got a real talk yesterday.

Andy Halko 26:32
Something you mentioned to me really stood out. Excuse me. You said in onboarding, getting someone to the aha moment quickly. So I love that we talked about that all the time. I started up for your software, I saw how, you know, when I got in there, it really got me in very quickly. So tell me, how was that a conscious decision to figure out? We need to solve that problem. And how did you do it for other people that, you know, have software products and are trying to do the same thing.

Jeff Coyle 27:05
You have a bunch of theories you have experienced if you’re doing manual demos of what’s that aha moment, but you don’t have what is, if you’re thinking about this from a product, lead growth, vocabulary words, I try not to use as many acronyms as most, but marketers are your LG product lead growth, I can just sit here a name of acronym. There, there’s a concept called PQ le, product, qualified lead, right. So that would mean when somebody has used the platform in a way such that you can be very confident that they desire to be either a paying customer or a paying customer at a different level than they’re currently paying. If everybody was used slack, for example, I forget the exact definition. But it’s something like once you work on a team with that has sent more than 7000 messages you are a PQ L. And that’s a beautiful PQ L. I mean, that drives that’s against the main usage factor. It’s validatable, it’s clearer and clearer to understand. So if you’re a product or a SAS founder your drive, if you are trying to get people in the door to buy without sales, intervention, or upsell without sales intervention fly wheeling them, which means they’re in one sale path. And they go up to a different sales, different group, maybe your manual sales group or another package level, right? So in slacks example, small team goes up to buying a team plan, paying per user, right. So you’ve got to strive for that. So what we had, we had theoretical, we had hypotheses of the experiences that it was off, it was actually by persona initially. So we knew the stuff that the SEOs loved. We knew this stuff that editorial leads loved. So we’re running a sales demo, you order the demo in the right order. See what I’m saying? Yeah, how can you make that happen in a actual product? That’s really hard, right? Um, and it also, you have to take into account whether you’re flying in a, whether you’re playing in a blue ocean, or you’re playing in a red ocean, right? So red oceans bloody, there’s a lot of competitors that do almost the same thing as you, right? You’re in a blue ocean, not too many. So when you’re in that blue ocean, you can communicate exactly what you want, and you build your own narrative. You don’t have to worry about anyone else. That’s why the dream, right? But if it’s very bloody, you have to consciously understand that someone having a first experience with your product is comparing it to other things that they know. Right? Those things may be good or they BBB may be bad for you. So I’ll use my example. I’ll use marketmuse his first experience example right? You may use a software product that uses is off the shelf. And I’m using a vocabulary word here, word vectorization models, you may use one that does that use this keyword density or correlations to show, they just it looks at the top 10 search results, smashes them together, does a sort descend by keyword density or CO occurrence, and then plop that on the page six years ago, you’d never seen that before, because it didn’t exist. But now in the landscape, there are technologies offerings that do that, right, you may look at something that provides competitive insights based on like, things like, how many characters are in the title tag, or stuff like that, right. So you may be comparing this to those offerings during your first experience. So it’s more important for the aha moment to illustrate both the aha moment and the differentiated value if you’re in a red ocean, and the red. By the way, if anyone’s never heard that analogy, go read 10x marketing or something like that.

Andy Halko 31:01
I’m a huge blue ocean.

Jeff Coyle 31:05
So there’s bloody there’s blood in the water, because they’re actually in a product comparison persona, when they’re using your product for the first right. And that’s a scarier thing for a product designer, it’s because they might not understand that. So that’s where the aha moment has to be. Aha differentiated Aha, instead of just Aha. So you need a hot differentiate a hot or a differentiated Aha, when you’re walking through that experience. So in our case, while we’re walking, but we want you to go through if you’re a walk in, if you’re a writer, I want to see that the solutions giving me insights, as I write on a topic, to make me more of an expert, and make me have to do less manual labor on research, and also protects me of writing content that isn’t good enough. It also I want you to analyze a competitive landscape. And that aha moment is when you see the heat map. And what I’m describing is basically a an experience where I actually view the top 20 search results through the lens of the way that an expert would, if I’m a writer, and I have those two moments, I realize I can’t live without this. I may, though, have used something similar to it before. So what I have to do better in that experience is make sure I communicate a differentiated value. And that’s your you should take your own product. And really, really focus on that experience to say also, am I expecting some someone to to input. So Luke Wroblewski, for example, is a writer he wrote a web form design, if you’ve never read any of his work, Luke W. Online, he’s one of my, one of the people I’ve I value the most in the usability space. Um, one of his things is is not reliant, don’t be relying on inputs most directly to forms, right. The more fields in your form, the more and more the worst your stuff, right? But don’t for product, the analogy there is don’t rely on something to come out of a user’s head, because you don’t know them. It could be pissed off today, they could just not be very creative. They could write the wrong thing. You don’t want it to be contingent on them doing something really well. For you to have an aha experience. That’s another piece to don’t make them enter something in an empty state, don’t make them come in to an empty room. Give them an option for an assist, but don’t react poorly. If they do operate it wrong. When they operate wrong an operation of wrong for me if someone types in a really crappy word, they go right mortgage, like okay, you know, there’s a lot of intent fracture in mortgage, right? Are they right, cat or bat? I’m gonna test this AI blah, blah, blah. Yeah, that’s a great thing to do. Why would you care? What value does that bring the world for you to test the AI? Give us a real use case? How do you get these out of your garage? Right? You know, what’s, you know, what’s the capital of North Dakota? You know, give give us something real. Don’t just write you know, dog. I’m gonna trick this thing, right? And so those are the experiences you still have to handle elegantly. If you’re a product manager. I bring them up tongue in cheek, but you’ve got your own dog cat right? In your in your experience that go watch them. And by the way, I’m a huge advocate of DVRs and I call DVR ng is the industry of watching things like hot jar and abusers. Yep, full story. Watch them, like

Andy Halko 34:41
Experience

Unknown Speaker 34:42
Or get the popcorn. And just watch my full story. super nerd. I can’t wait to see what Microsoft does with that new offering clarity of tickets called which is free I can’t believe it. So I’m watching them work and and watch them make mistakes. stakes and rip the ego out, um, you know, you’re a founder, you got an ego, whether you like it or not get the ego out of there, get the emotion out of there, really try to be empathetic and, and the outputs gonna really it’s gonna show it’s gonna show and I struggle with that all the time I struggle because I’ve been doing this so long. I’m pretty good at this stuff. You know, I’ve I know, I know SEO pretty well, I struggle to try to, you know, put myself in someone’s shoes, right? Who’s used a TF IDF tool only? Or who’s used a, you know, name, another piece of software? And they come in watching them and I’m just like, No, no, that’s not it. Like you’ve clearly used the are you You know, and this is why you’re gonna have a problem. But the reality is, that’s your problem. That’s my problem. That’s not their problem. And that’s the key, like realizing that their problems are your problems, and you can’t use excuses. When you’re building. No more excuses, no more they did it wrong. They figure it out.

Andy Halko 36:18
Mentioned red ocean, how much do you think about your competitors? Because I’ve seen the space that you’re in, expand a lot the last couple years? Yes. How much? Do you pay attention? How much do you care? You know, how much do you use that in your strategic planning?

Jeff Coyle 36:38
Okay, deep breath. Um, okay. So early on, not enough. Um, and SaaS theories are a lot of times super theoretical. And they’re not practical. There’s a lot of SaaS theory that says, you know, put your nose up, keep walking, you know, the priorities, keep walking, don’t worry, if you’re doing things the right way. They all come out in the wash. But I feel very, very strongly in the other direction and always have I my new job at MarketMuse is Chief Strategy Officer, we reordered the team so that I can focus on products we haven’t launched yet, horizon scanning, and competitive analysis, both for purposes of partnership, a partnership, intro in type networking, plus, staying on the pulse of what’s going on. It’s not just for competitive stuff, but it’s true, you got to know you got to really be thinking about why people are doing what they’re doing. And so for us, we we always want to understand all the different places where we kind of fringe into where we are, you know, directly in, and why think about why somebody is making the decisions they are, when you have a competitor who’s making decisions to fill your gaps. That’s the number one thing you need to understand. Okay, in content, competitive analysis, and competitive cohort profiling is, and this, people would blast me on this, it’s the number one skill you need, is competitive analysis. Because if you have no site, you haven’t built anything yet. You the only way you can predict outcomes and do a good expectation setting for your investors or for the money you’re putting in is to do competitive analysis. It’s it’s the base, and you have to understand to predict outcomes, you have to understand competitive. So in product, it’s no different in product, though. Other challenges you have is, um, you may have a huge monster, you may have direct competitors or adjacent competitors. But you may have adjacent competitors who become direct competitors. And so you got to know that and you got to figure out why are they doing that? What’s the reason for it? You don’t want to burn too much time.

You know, with speculation, but you do want to understand what’s going on? Are they worth your time right now? And also, are they worth the time of your employees? That’s really the key. If they they need to know your confidence level and being able to be competitive and differentiated, that needs to be communicated from above what you don’t want. Is somebody on your team thinking, Oh, wow, we have a third rate offering and here’s why I’m reading this stuff. I’m reading these reviews, some of them are fake. Most of them are fake. Some of them are real. By the way, most of them are fake. You want to know how whether a reviews fake user a link grabber and look at all the links, check out the wrap That’s how you know for reviews, reviews fake or not. If you want to know if a Facebook reviews fake, go to their website, right click on all their links, see if they’re wrapped. I’m not saying that you can’t do an unbiased review, if you’re paying paid for it. But you ought to know whether something’s bias or not. And if someone’s selling somebody else’s advice, and that other person has wrapped links, that’s all part of their flywheel. But anyway, I digress. So in this case, you basically have to get to the point where the competitive landscape is good. The tough part about this is not for every product manager, or every product owner or founder here, convincing your team that parody based releases are a part of their journey. And what does that mean? I’m releasing this because it exists somewhere else. And people think it’s something that is part of the product. For it to be competitive. It’s not coming from our own brain, it didn’t come out of our own product prioritization, it didn’t come out of our own, maybe we use smart Google smart math, or Google heart methodology. Maybe we use MRR plan methodology where you actually apply revenue, or prospective revenue to each feature, right, maybe didn’t come out of there. But part of your journey. Part of the frustrating part of your journey is you’re going to do stuff solely because someone else did something. And that hurts. That hurts morale, that hurts product, morale, it hurts development, morale, but you got to be real. When you are operating in a painful competitive environment. Sometimes that’s a reality. You wish it wasn’t you wish, it wasn’t part of the world that you live in? The teams that do that well, and move fast. Usually, when the last thing, they usually win, because they’re not hung up on their own egos. And they can they can accept when someone else has done something really well. And that they haven’t. And that’s real hard. It’s still it’s hard for me every day, but no product manager wants a release or a sprint or an epoch to be solely competitive parody focused, none of them do. But depending on the love the number of players in your space, sometimes it’s inevitable, you got to you got to get real with them.

Just to dive into that a little bit, right, that competitive parity, needing to you know, focus on that area? I think, question I have, this has been some sage advice, really good stuff, you’re sharing, really eye opening? You mentioned, you know, looking where others, your competitors are looking to fill the gaps. Now, in that regard, those are competitors that are critically looking creatively thinking, how can we take advantage of this situation? So you, as you know, the leader of an organization that others are looking at in that respect? How do you keep your team where they have the awareness of the different perspectives that the product might be looked at?

Gosh, that’s such a great question. I’m not well enough. We don’t do that well enough. It’s one of my pain points. It’s one of my personal I’d say personal failures of currently is not doing that well enough. And I’ll give you a couple of reasons why one is too much. You got too much on my plate, just you know, but yeah, play the violin over there for me. Okay. But the other reason is, um, sometimes you get stuck in how to communicate this information and not from an Agnostic Front. Right. How do you communicate this in an unbiased way? How do you communicate this and have it be read as not me pushing, or me or the equivalent of me pushing an agenda? Or what I reference as toxic campaigning? And that’s really hard. Toxic campaigning would be a you know, yuck, yuck. Just released this pump this feature, the one that we deprioritize last quarter. They’re released release it, people love it. Right? And sometimes when I speak, it comes off that way, I get that. Sometimes. That’s actually the impact that I want. That’s super toxic. That’s not good. I, I own it. I own it. I own it that it hurts when we d prioritize something that I or members of my team, researched and said should have been prioritized. And for one reason or another, we don’t prioritize it. Right, and then we watched someone else do a better job at it, I own it, that that’s hard. But it’s equally bad for your business, if you don’t look at that, and you don’t think about it critically, versus is equally bad to, like, do a toxic comparison of it, you got to own it. And you got to be clear, a great example of that, for us is the natural language generation market. We were one of the first people with a product in the space. Awesome. And then we’ve been working on it, you know, have, we could have, we could have really, really dove in and, and, and put, you know, dozens of people on it, but we kind of, we wanted to see if it was if it had legs, we want to see what would happen in the market. Um, and, you know, then a billion dollars of investment into open AI can a billion dollars of venture money. And we’re like, oh, this is crazy, what’s gonna happen? Okay, then they release an API. And then like, anyone can buy it. Right? And so like, piles of people created these products that are based on only they’re not creators, really, they’re API owners. And so like this market went from zero to 100 players in, you know, a few minutes, and we’re sitting there like, hey, we look first. And you know, you don’t want to be a beta. You want to be a VHS Right. And, and so but what happens if you’re not watching the game, you’re not watching the competitive the horizon, you’ll become a beta. And that’s, you know, and when I say beta, I mean, Betamax, I’m 40 to 42 years old. So I’m, I’m talking about those big tapes that you put in beta, just so people know the reference beta was a better product had a smaller, a smaller, a smaller tape, higher quality, lost the war. You don’t want to be standing on that soapbox holding the Betamax tape going, mine’s better, because you waited. And so many SaaS founders are standing there going minds better, and watching the world crumble? Because they don’t have any product management expertise. And they haven’t watched the horizon. And the worst punch you take is the one you know, isn’t coming.

So how do you question along those lines? Like going back to the Betamax example? I think that ties into that whole putting the ego aside? Yep. How do you? How do you personally do that? And how do you work with your team? I’m working on that. So you guys can be more objective and remove that ownership. It’s human nature. Again, it’s you’re never going to figure out 100% But how do you improve because that’s so challenging?

I, I’m weird. I read all my flat mail. I reread all my sent mail. I reread all my messages. Um, I, after the moments that happened, God, people might think, what is he even talking about? I’ll get to the end. I reread it, I really, really do. I watch all tape, where I’m recorded. I use all all the products. I really, really use them as best I can. All the competitive products. I’ve used them all. I know how they all work. I probably reverse engineered components of them. I’ve used them all. I really, really I have so much passion about this, that I have to check it. And when I say why do I read it, I’m looking for my own biases. I’m looking for Team biases. I’ll give you a great example. I posted a release update for a product release from a customer of mine, who is also a partner who is also some people think we’re competitors, but we’re really not. I’m not gonna say who it is. I posted it in Slack. And the thread that responded was people taking a P O P on top of it. And I was like no, no, no, you all are bias. This is a good product release. And here’s why. And people when they think competitive the first inclination if their bias is to crap on them, right? I don’t know why I spelled out poop and said crap, but what I have I have a three year old and a five year old. And so I commonly spell words out for one reason or another. So, um, so I check my own bias. And I’ve got so many you know, like, you start thinking things about people and you just, you’re painted. So how do you do it? Hard work hard ass work, you know, and really be in trying to be real with yourself. I know. I know. I can be real rough on people. And I can, you know, I can, and I just, I want, I want to know where I have problems. I want to know that like when I look at a blankety blank, press release, I’m like, come on, that’s not what you do. Y’all are, you know, a boiler room sales org and you cold call people, and no one likes you like, like, get that out of your brain. Because if you think that way about your competitor, they’re gonna punch you in the face when you’re not looking. And it’s gonna hurt. That’s the truth.

Andy Halko 50:37
So in talking to founders, you know, what, is there anything that you can look back at, over the time that you’ve done this, that was a big catalyst for growth? I’m always looking for I know, one thing doesn’t do it. But is there something that was a turning point, or an inflection that you can point out that you know, other people might be able to look for?

Jeff Coyle 51:01
I got so many. One. For us, we’re in the midst of it, we launched our first free offering, that’s gonna be it, we’re gonna look back on that years from now. And that was a big point. That’s happening right now, by the way. Um, and that’s about being competent in products. Right, you can’t launch a free product unless you feel competent. And we feel very competent, it’s differentiated value. The other one, though, is heavily for founders take note, hiring people, hiring great people, hire people who are better than you at the thing, they’re being hired as their primary responsibility. And you’ll never regret it. That’s the inflection point, every time we do that. It’s a it’s a stair stepper, our CTO, better at technology than me better than technology, then my co founder, our CEO, who was hired as our SVP of sales than a CRO, he’s now our CEO, better leader than both me and my co founder by far, and our Vice President of Marketing, absolutely able to do these things better than what she with her responsibilities better than anyone else at our organization. When those things happen, you see the impact on the business. So I think one of the one of the big it’s so trite to say hire smart, so I’m not gonna say hire smart. I’m gonna say four key roles, make sure those people are better than you. Make sure they’re better than you. And you will never regret it. Make sure they know that and treat them with respect as much as you can. And you’ll never ever regret that. That is the ultimate check your ego at the door

Some really good stuff.

Oh, brutal, but true. All true.

Yeah. Tell us a bit on that point. Hiring people tell us a bit about the team.

Oh, gosh, my team is just me. Because technically, I’m outside of the natural org. So that I always like to tell that kind of story, as is my co founder, but are the market news team. We are a kind of, I would call us an all star team who really excels at our responsibilities. So we’ve got myself my co founder, my co founder focuses on special project product usage. He’s also an expert in fundraising and business structures and operations. My see I’m terrible at that. I’m the I’m the color commentary. The dancing monkey the subject matter expert you bring in will have a specific question right now are my CEO is Chuck Frydenberg. He comes to us from he worked at Gartner Rosetta Stone Achra links where he led sales organizations were created successful sales organizations, right. You know, and Marcos Rocha, who leads our sales and account management. As our VP of sales, we have VP of marketing. And then we have an account management team. We have a very small professional services org and support org product, data science and engineering who are in Montreal, our Boston headquarters, and then we have other offices distributed throughout the US. What we’re remote team at heart but we find value in certain teams always being together. That’s why with the mantra Our data science team, we build all our own stuff by the way, we are almost almost fully independent. So but we love to build and we feel that that really protects us.

Andy Halko 55:18
So, you know, kind of a closing question that I always like to ask is if you were able to go back in time before you started the business and have coffee with yourself, what advice would you give?

Jeff Coyle 55:35
Oh man, that’s a great question. I’m so many so many pieces of advice, what would I say Holy cow.

Learn start with start more with your product management expertise then your search engine optimization and content expertise. lean, lean more into what you know is the best product decision verse the best expertise driver earlier my understand persona based marketing and team sales and communicate that more clearly. Another one I would say is I had a fundamental flaw in my selling practice and a lot of founders do. If you understand what value how value selling works, or IBM consultative selling or inflection point, buyer selling just you can go look those up Bob Apollo’s a good resource value selling.com, IBM consultative selling this resources. Oftentimes, in that process, you go from identifying a business issue or business problems to your plan or your solution. When you’re an expert, you can do that. But hopefully this isn’t esoteric, what you actually need to do is get the prospect or the potential buyer, their vision of the solution today as part of that process. So you need your content marketing to speak to one person’s current vision of the solution. And that also goes into sales. So why am I saying it this way? The punch line is you can’t scale sales, if you skip that step. If you skip the step of communicating the prospects existing version of the solution, what are you requiring, you’re requiring all of sales to be able to be an expert. And all of sales will not be an expert, right? Your your product. And this, your product itself, if it’s self selling, if its product like growth, won’t be able to sell as an expert. So the first salesperson right out of school, a 10 year veteran sales rep who’s never been in the market, equate them to the product. The product can’t sell it. The person salesperson right out of school can’t sell it, the 10 year veteran who’s not an expert in the field can’t sell it. If you skip that step. That’s what I would tell them because I thought I was right. In the early phases, I thought that step was right, because that’s what IBM consultative selling sells, because you’re selling consulting services. That’s not value selling. And so I would I would get I would get ahead of that as quickly as I could. And I would have learned that three years before I did. Yes. Hopefully that was super esoteric go go look at selling and and look at that box is that there’s four squares, I I was skipping the top right square. And I was successful. So was I doing you know, I’m successful. I’m I win. Why would there be another way? The reason is because I had the subject matter expertise. Why do you want to be reliant? That’s why SEO agencies by the way, Hot Tip hot splashing water in your face. That’s why salespeople at agencies who are subject matter experts do that. And then the junior sales reps are left in cold they’ll never be successful in that model. They have to learn the solution box. I never knew that. When a junior sales rep learns the solution box they can win until they learn the solution box they lose every deal and you’re like you suck I’m great because I know how I don’t know works. That’s not why the why is they don’t know how they Here’s the solution box Dave call from value selling owes me a big on this. But no, that’s the reason that’s the reason so yeah

Awesome, really good stuff. Jeff. Appreciate it. MarketMuse.com is where we go to check it out Sign Up.

Check it out. Free offering standard offering is unbelievable. On Jeffrey_coyle on Twitter, [email protected] I answer everything. Try to miss it says hey, I like your profile. You know? I like it, you know? And but yeah, so come check me out. Come check us out. If you’re a small team. If you’re a mid market team, feel free to shoot me a note on get you set up with the proper demo.

Tony Zayas 1:00:47
Awesome. Really good stuff. Jeff Coyle, MarketMuse. Thank you so much for spending time here with us today. Everyone tuning in. Have a great week. We will see you next time.

Jeff Coyle 1:00:59
Can I get one more? No. Absolutely. launching a brand new product. Next month, keep an eye out for it. The relaunch of Grep Words, which is a subsidiary of MarketMuse largest data solution available for keyword data SERP data, and it’s it’s a beaut, so keep an eye out for that.

One is, is there currently a URL people can go?

You can look at grep words today but it’s completely being relaunched Grep, Words. So go check that out. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing. It’s a vision we’ve been working on for a long time.

Awesome. Thanks again, Jeff. Really good to have you. Appreciate it. Take care everybody. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks.

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