This week Brandi Starr is joined by Emily Maxie, CMO at Very, to discuss Service-Market Fit. Emily is a builder who loves solving problems that no one has ever solved before. Emily has led product-market fit strategy at two high-growth tech start-ups,...
This week Brandi Starr is joined by Emily Maxie, CMO at Very, to discuss Service-Market Fit.
Emily is a builder who loves solving problems that no one has ever solved before. Emily has led product-market fit strategy at two high-growth tech start-ups, resulting in five-year revenue growth of 1200% at Very, an Internet of Things consulting company, and successful Series A and B rounds for a total of $31.6M in funding at Skuid, a SaaS platform for customizing Salesforce applications.
From the nitty gritty of product-market fit vs. service-market fit, to figuring out your total addressable market, to team building, Brandi and Emily dig in to using the service-market fit model to form or re-shape service businesses.
So, get settled on the sofa for Episode 15, Service-Market Fit: Mastering Market Fit Isn't Just for Product Orgs for a thorough and illuminating discussion in this latest episode of Revenue Rehab.
Emily’s key takeaway is a book recommendation. She suggests listeners read Crossing the Chasm; it’s an “amazing book all about this and about just bringing a product to market. And it's a game changer”.
What’s the marketing term Emily wishes we would never say again? The term Integrated Marketing. “It should be a given”, Emily says, “all marketing should be integrated. It's just called doing your job and doing it well’.
Welcome to Revenue Rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita, Brandi Starr.
[0:33] Brandi Starr:
Hello, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Revenue Rehab. I am your host, Brandy star and we have another amazing episode for you today. I am joined by Emily Maxie. Emily is a builder who loves solving problems that no one has ever solved before. And one of the hardest problems that B2B technology startups face is finding product-market fit. When you uncover the right fit between your target market and your product, it feels like magic. But without it, it's a good idea and can die on the vine. Emily has lead product-market fit strategy at two high-growth tech startups, resulting in five year revenue growth of 1200% at Very, an Internet of Things consulting company, and successful series A and B rounds for a total of $31.6 million in funding at Skuid, a SaaS platform for customizing Salesforce applications. During her career, Emily has held almost all key marketing roles as she grew from individual contributor to executive. She has built high performing marketing teams from the ground up at three B2B tech startups, always focusing on scalability and agility. Emily believes in investing in her team members, providing each team member with structured career coaching and a customized career path. She has found that this approach improves retention and engagement and conveys to her team that she truly cares about their development. She actively mentors a variety of marketing leaders to help them build their confidence to advocate for their ideas, and themselves. Emily, welcome to Revenue Rehab, your session begins now.
[2:32] Emily Maxie:
Hi, thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
[2:36] Brandi Starr:
I am excited to have you. As I say I talked to so many heads of marketing that are at product companies. I'm always excited to talk to someone who is in services like myself, so looking forward to this conversation and what an impressive bio. I know that our audience is going to learn lots from you today. But I like to break the ice with a little woosah moment that I call buzzword banishment. So Emily, tell me what industry buzzword you would like to get rid of for ever?
[3:17] Emily Maxie:
Yeah, I have thought a lot about this, and the buzzword that I would like to banish is integrated marketing. And the reason is that all marketing should be integrated. It's just called doing your job and doing it well. So that is the buzzword that I'd like to banish.
[3:43] Brandi Starr:
Awesome. Yeah, it is interesting when I come across companies who have an integrated marketing team, and so I'm like, well, what so the rest of the people? Are they just kind of [overlapping voices 03:55]? Why exactly would we have a special team that does it right? So I'm with you on that one. I am happy to put that term in the box and banish it forever. So now that we've gotten that off our chest, tell me what brings you to Revenue Rehab today?
[4:18] Emily Maxie:
I'm really excited to be here to talk about product-market fit and how you can lead that effort, how you can find it, why it's so important, why it's so hard to get right and to give some practical tips for people who are tasked with finding product-market fit. It's something that I firmly believe you cannot learn in a blog post or a podcast, but it is something that you can start that journey and start that learning process through a blog post.
[4:57] Brandi Starr:
Awesome. I was going to say we don't try to solve World Peace on Revenue Rehab, but we at least like to get people moving in the right direction. So I think we'll be able to do that. And I believe in setting intentions, it gives us purpose, it gives us focus and most importantly, it allows our audience to know what they should expect from our conversation today. So what are your hopes for our talk today or what would you like to be different by the end of the session?
[5:29] Emily Maxie:
By the end of this session, I would love for the listeners, the viewers to feel confident talking about product-market fit, feel confident that they know the right questions to ask, and to know how to chart that journey to learning about product-market fit.
[5:50] Brandi Starr:
Awesome. So I will start with, you know, we talk about product-market fit and its counterpart service market fit. What's the difference? What do you see, besides the fact that you're selling a product versus a services, that's the self-explanatory part, but what do you really see as the difference between the two?
[6:12] Emily Maxie:
It's a really great question. So the interesting thing about service-market fit is that depending on your organization, it's a little bit lower of a lift to test a new service, versus testing a new product may require a lot of development, testing a new service may just require some people dedicated and you're also able to potentially give that service away for a discount or for free in order to get that learning experience. Product-market fit, there is a lot more literature about it, there's a lot more existing information about product-market fit. And really, I view service-market fit, I view services in my company, and similar companies as our product. The people that we are serving come to us because they have a problem they need to solve in the same way that they would with a product, but it just so happens that problem, that job to be done, is solved through a service. And so that's sort of how I see it.
[7:31] Brandi Starr:
And I am the same. And in thinking about why I think about it that way, I actually think just because the majority of my career has been in product, largely software. And so it's kind of like that's what I know. But even thinking about it from a services perspective, we're consultants and so, at the end of the day, the only thing that I sell is an hour. I sell some number of hours in different capacities and so the thing is always the same, but if I really think about how I talk to people about what we actually sell, because no one's like, hey, can I get some hours? No one is like, man, I really need to find somebody who could sell me an hour. That's not a thing. And so it really is what's that problem and how are we packaging the outcomes, you know, the steps that go along with that? I see a lot of CMOs and heads of marketing, who are kind of like us have a long history in product, and then find themselves in more of whether it's leading just marketing for the services arm of the company, or for a services company. Any advice on that mental shift in really thinking about defining your market and how your service fits there?
[9:06] Emily Maxie:
Yeah, absolutely. I think the first thing that is really important to think about when you're making that mental shift is that with services, it can almost be overwhelming the number of options that you have, the number of things that you could do with that hour. And so my advice, especially for smaller companies, that are really establishing themselves and trying to get to service-market fit is to focus, focus, focus. If you try to be everything to everyone, you are nothing to anyone. And so that is really, the big key takeaway. You can't do everything you shouldn't do everything. Become really good at something, whether it's serving a particular market or whether it's a particular service for a variety of markets, and then build upon that once that's a really stable and healthy business.
[10:06] Brandi Starr:
Okay. And I know when we first met, sort of happenstance, ended up at the same table at a dinner. I don't even remember what led to the conversation, but you were talking about how you led a workshop or an exercise or some sort of formal thing that helped your company to really go through and figure out its service-market fit. I'd love to hear more about what you did, how you came up with a plan, what the outcomes were.
[10:41] Emily Maxie:
So I'll be honest, I learned this on the job through trial and error. The most tangible example is a couple of jobs back, I worked at an electronic signature company. So they were competing with DocuSign, EchoSign, these big, big names. And they had a very technical differentiator, but they didn't know who really cared about that technical differentiator. And so I did a lot of research. First I got really into the product, I worked with our VP of product, and I was just like, tell me everything about this differentiator. Explain it to me and just ask questions again and again, until you really understand what makes it different, and why someone might care. And then I looked at the market and said, okay, who cares about this differentiator. And it turns out, for that particular situation, pharmaceutical companies, highly regulated industry, they needed this particular flavor of security that we offered that no one else offered. And so then once I had that hypothesis, the hypothesis is, this is a big enough market and they will care that this thing exists. Then we started to do tests. And so we started to interview potential customers, we started to interview industry experts on why haven't pharmaceutical companies gone paperless? And it turns out regulatory issues and things like that. And so, really doing small tests to learn and really with the goal of, I want to prove that this is not true, I want to prove this is not a market I can go after. And if you're not able to do that, after you really try, then you know you found the place where you fit and where you really have a differentiator. So that's sort of an overview of what I did. Since then I have become much more methodical and scientific about how I've approached going after this problem. And I can talk a little bit about that. But that was the genesis of me working in product-market fit and really partnering with the product team very closely.
[13:15] Brandi Starr:
And it's interesting that you say that you aimed to prove that there is not a market, as opposed to proving that there is one. Because I think about -- people talk so much about TAM, what's the total addressable market, and how do we go after TAM and what percentage of the TAM we have, and there's all this focus there on identifying the market. But really flipping that and saying let's prove this is not a thing, is a really different mentality in how you tackle that. Because I've always struggled with TAM especially as a services company, because the addressable market is really infinite. Because there are so many flavors of what you can sell, it's like, yeah, here's the sweet spot of a market, but is that truly the total, but really actually saying here's my hypothesis, and let's prove I'm wrong, I think it's more finite, in that you can actually get to a conclusion. Because at some point, you're going to be like, no, this really is a thing and we should make it a thing as opposed to the other way. Is there any catalysts or input to you thinking about it that way as opposed to looking at what is the market?
[14:53] Emily Maxie:
Yeah, absolutely. So I always do start with what is the market but then I go -- I'm trying to think how to phrase this. We are so susceptible to confirmation bias. We want the thing that we found to be the right thing. We want to have the solution be the thing that we're already thinking about. And so if you can flip that on its head and say, no, I'm poking holes in this, I am going after every crack in this and really, really trying to see if it holds up, I think that that reduces the risk, it doesn't eliminate the risk, but it reduces the risk of confirmation bias. Now obviously, that's not how you're going to position it to once you have done that hard work, and you have found a market that you think is very lucrative, then that's not how you position it to your board or your investors or things like that. You go back to that TAM that you found and what percentage do you think that you can get and things like that. How you would go about getting it. But even those things, you can test. You can test your way into those things and say, okay, do these value props resonate with this audience? Do we think that we can reach these people through these channels, let's test. So I'm a really big fan of hypotheses and hypothesis testing. And it's not a test if it can't fail, is a quote by Eric Rice. And I think that that's a great quote. If the only outcome is it's good, or it's varying flavors of good, then it's not a true test. And so that's sort of how I think about it.
[16:54] Brandi Starr:
Okay. Product-market fit is a little more self-explanatory in terms of how you do that. In testing service-market fit, you did give a couple examples of offering it for free, discounted, whatever in order to get it in the market, but talk more about how you test these hypotheses. If I'm a service organization, and let's say I got a new idea for a way I can package hours, what would you suggest in terms of actually being able to put it out there and validate that this is a good or not viable thing?
[17:37] Emily Maxie:
So, the first thing I will say is that the best, the absolute best thing that I have done in this area is hire a badass, I don't know if I can say that, but a badass product marketer onto my team. She is amazing. She lives and breathes this. It is what her entire career has been dedicated to. And so that has been the single best thing that I've done in this. But I can tell you what she and I have done together on service-market fit at Very. So we started with TAM, obviously, see if the there's the market there for a hypothesis that we were testing. And then we started customer interviews. And what we did was we chose look-a-like customers for what we thought was what we were going for. We didn't tell them what company we were with, we worked with a research firm and had very solution and company agnostic questions around that problem statement to see, is this a pain point for them? How are they solving it now? How are they thinking about it now? And that was the first step. So then once we had identified that there was a problem, and that the people that we had identified were interested in solving it, then there's the question of can we service this market? So it's this big opportunity and there's these things that we already do, but do they match? So we had the market piece of product-market fit or service-market fit but did we have the service piece? And so what we did to tackle that is we went through a series of simulations. And so we got our engineering design machine learning team together and we said okay, if we were to go after a project that looks like this, what are the gaps? What are the technical gaps? What are the capabilities gaps, or industry knowledge gaps? What would be the things about this project that scare you, that you say we're not ready for it? And we did several of those and then went to an actual client that was sort of a friendly -- not a current client but a prospect, and said we will do a consulting engagement for you for free and basically did the same thing for them. And said, okay, for your industry, can we come on site? Can we watch you try to solve this problem today and see what that looks like, and see where it gets frustrating, and see what language you use around that frustration. And then provide an output for them that will be -- we're still in the process of it, so we're not sure exactly what that output is going to be. But something that is of value to them, so that we are testing into that market. And then the next step after that will be to take on clients in that space. And to do it slowly over time, instead of just changing. One day we're a vitamin company and the next day we're, a soft drink company or whatever, I don't know, neither of those things are true, just the difference between the two. We're able to make us a slow shift and the deliberate shift between markets and that's what we're doing.
[21:27] Brandi Starr:
And I like the methodical approach here in, you're able to keep doing what you've always been doing and servicing the markets that you already have penetration, while having this controlled effort of let's try and go down this path, and you're not throwing all your resources at it. Because I do think a lot of companies and places I've worked in the past, it feels like there's this constant pivot. Like we're going to run really fast in this direction, then we're going to like stop on a dime and run really faster the other direction, and you almost feel kind of jerked around. And so I think this approach avoids that because the opposite is, people don't want to have that and so they just stay the same. And neither of those things is really good. You've got to be growing and evolving but you also don't want to give people whiplash. And so I really like that methodical, we're on take our time, we're going to vet this thing while we're still doing the rest of our business.
[22:46] Emily Maxie:
Yeah, and it's good for, it's really good for the whole company. It's good for our employees, we're doing readouts to the employees on a regular basis on like here's the latest with this experiment that we're running. And that makes it something so that when we decide to make a change, they have seen it coming for a year. And it makes sense, and they feel prepared, and they feel up to speed on what's going on. Instead of just making a, like you say, a whiplash sort of decision. And it goes for training up your sales force as well. If you're going after a new industry or offering a new service, you need to train them, you need to provide them with materials, and all of these things take time. And so I'm a really big fan of looking forward a few years and then working backward from where we want to go.
[23:43] Brandi Starr:
I like that I know in episode three, for those who haven't listened, I talked to Tiffany and we talked a lot about change management. And exactly what you said is what she hit on repeatedly was, the biggest thing about making change management effective is getting people involved early and communicating what is happening so that it is not this surprise! We're doing this whole other thing, your whole job is going to change everything you know is going to change in an instant. So I really like that in putting that together being able to say like, this worked, we've tested it, you've been seeing it all along, now it really is a thing and let's move forward there. One of the things that I constantly hear when talking to CMOs and heads of marketing is you're constantly having to focus your time and energy in different places. You got your board presentations every quarter. You've got whether leads are up, leads are down, pipeline is here. How do you stay focused on all the things, the list of things that are always happening, while still giving proper energy to that forward looking, here's where we're trying to get to, which means we have to take these steps today? How do you balance that focus?
[25:08] Emily Maxie:
That's a great question. And I will say it is, the smaller the team you have or the more junior the team you have, the harder it is. I am very fortunate and that I have three amazing leaders reporting to me, who more or less go and do the thing and come back when they have questions come back when they have blockers. And I'm setting the strategy and the vision, and I am checking in on things and, and they each have very specific mandates. So my head of demand gen is the one who is like, okay, leads are down, here's what I'm doing about it, here's what I'm going to need from creative, here's all the things. And then I have a head of brand, and she is building for the future. And so we're in the middle of a rebrand, launching in October. And she is figuring out how to create branded experiences throughout the customer lifecycle, and how to really curate that experience for customers, how to support our sales team, all of these things. And then the Head of Product Marketing is looking five years out, where are we going? What do we want to do? And I'll also say that I don't think that this type of an effort in terms of product-market fit works unless you have executive buy in. So my executive team, my ELT is totally bought in, is happy with the direction that we're going, totally trusts me and my head of product marketing to execute on this work. And that is absolutely crucial. Because without that, you're not going to have it. Once you come to that decision point where you've done all the work along the way, and then you have a decision point, that's a scary point in time, even if you've done everything right, that's scary. And so having that executive buy in is just absolutely crucial.
[27:19] Brandi Starr:
And I do think that that is a key that impacts your ability to focus. Because a lot of times you will see executive teams and boards that are so focused on the right now, that any efforts that are more long term, almost get dismissed or get approached with a dismissive attitude. Because it's so what have you done for me lately, kind of thing. So to have that buy in, and that forward looking executive team is definitely a blessing and makes a difference in your ability to succeed. And then I do think you hit on a really key point, is having the right people on your team that are trusted and empowered to act and to keep you out of the weeds. Because I do think that that is -- just in one my clients, I have the VP of Marketing, who is the person that's reviewing copy? And I'm like, why exactly? Yep. And she's like well, I need to make sure that it's on brand and this -- And I'm like there's got to be a better way, you have people, figure out how to get your people to where they can review it the way that you do. But then that's also another time thing and the more junior your team is, the more effort it is going to take. But it's like you got to get there or you end up being a VP who reviews copy and isn't looking at service-market or product-market fit and where we're going to be in three years and how do we test these hypotheses?
[29:09] Emily Maxie:
And one thing that I think was a really big mental shift for me and hiring that has been so helpful, is my CEO has said, I want to hire people who intimidate me. Not because of the way that they behave, but because they're so smart. And because they have skills that he doesn't have. And I really have taken that to heart and each of my directors have very, very great skill sets that are far beyond what I have. And it takes, I don't know if humility is the right word, but it takes some -- I don't know it's uncomfortable to hire people who are smarter than you. But it is so important, because then they can take that germ of an idea to the next level, they can really go deep in their discipline. And that has been a mental shift for me, that's been really important.
[30:15] Brandi Starr:
Yeah, and I think that shift comes a lot with going from being an individual contributor to really being a leader. Because you think about as an individual contributor, you know, having someone who's "smarter than you" almost can be perceived as a threat to your role. But when you're in a leadership role, that means you're doing your job well, when you can hire a bunch of people who are smarter than you at their thing. So that you can do what's your thing, which is more of the strategy, the vision, the direction. So it can feel uncomfortable, but it is definitely the right way to go.
[30:56] Emily Maxie:
I always know that I've hired the right person, if I'm in a meeting, and I'm googling what they're saying. Because I'm not in their discipline every day, and I'm not attending their conferences for their discipline and mingling with their peers. I'm doing other things.
[31:20] Brandi Starr:
I know, I'm good for saying break it down for me.
[31:22] Emily Maxie:
[31:24] Brandi Starr:
Tell me that, I can Google it later but right now, I need you to bring it down. Well, talking about our challenges is just the first step and nothing changes, if nothing changes. So in traditional therapy, the therapist gives the client homework, but here at Revenue Rehab, we like to flip that on its head, and we would like you to give us homework. So if you can summarize your key takeaways around finding your service-market fit. And what would be that one thing, that action that you would like each of our listeners to take?
[32:03] Emily Maxie:
So my summary would be identify your market, and then try and prove that it's not going to work. And do that through testing and hypotheses, and really remember that it's not a test if you cannot fail. And then the one thing that I would have listeners do is read Crossing the Chasm, amazing book all about this and about just bringing a product to market. And it's a game changer. I read it early in my career and I reread it pretty regularly because it's a good one.
[32:57] Brandi Starr:
I love that I am finishing up the book that I am currently on. So I'm going to put that on my list, I'm trying to get back into reading this year because the past few years have just been insane. And I was like, I don't know the last time I touched a book. But any who that's difficult for a different day. I like that that is a really easy one for everyone to be able to do. And before we go, I know that you also have a podcast, the Over the Air podcast. So we'll make sure to link to that in the show notes as well. But tell us a bit about that.
[33:36] Emily Maxie:
So that's a podcast with our CEO Ryan Prosser. He has people come in who are building IoT products, and he has really candid conversations with them about their journey because building IoT products is really hard. And these are mostly people who are not our customers but people that we just didn't really admire in this space. And I think it's a really interesting listen if you're interested in how products are built, if you're interested in the Internet of Things or if you just want to hear -- our CEO is kind of notorious for a lot of metaphors and like having a very -- I find it really fascinating way of speaking. And so if any of those things are your jam, the Over the Air podcast is a great lesson.
[34:29] Brandi Starr:
Awesome. I will have to give it a listen. I love a good metaphor or an analogy, and I can totally beat them into the ground. So for no other reason I will give it a listen to see if I've got some good metaphors I can steal from him. Well, Emily, I have enjoyed our discussion, but that is our time for today. So thank you so much for joining me.
[34:57] Emily Maxie:
Thank you so much for having me. This has been so much fun.
[35:00] Brandi Starr:
Yes, I always love this and I'm glad we got a chance to catch up. Thanks, everyone for joining us today. I hope that you have enjoyed our conversation with Emily. I can't believe that we are already at the end. But I will see you next time.
You've been listening to Revenue Rehab with your host Brandi Starr. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. Join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at revenuerehab.live. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at Revenue Rehab. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.
Emily is a builder who loves solving problems that no one has ever solved before. And one of the hardest problems B2B technology startups face is finding product-market fit. When you uncover the right fit between your target market and your product, it feels like magic. But without it, a good idea can die on the vine. Emily has led product-market fit strategy at two high-growth tech startups, resulting in five-year revenue growth of 1200% at Very, an Internet of Things consulting company, and successful Series A and B rounds for a total of $31.6M in funding at Skuid, a SaaS platform for customizing Salesforce applications.
During her career, Emily has held almost all key marketing roles as she grew from individual contributor to executive. She has built high-performing marketing teams from the ground up at three B2B tech startups, always focusing on scalability and agility. Emily believes in investing in her team members, providing each team member with structured career coaching and a customized career path. She has found that this approach improves retention and engagement and conveys to her team that she truly cares about their development. She actively mentors a variety of marketing leaders to help them build their confidence to advocate for their ideas and themselves.