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#4 MarTech, ops, and ABM with Adele Kurki - MarTech and ops at Aiven

November 17, 2023 | Jimit Mehta

Join our discussion with Adele Kurki who is in charge of Martech and marketing operations at Aiven, a developer-first SaaS product that uses the PLG strategy effectively.

What is Aiven?

[00:00:00] Teemu Raitaluoto: So what is Aiven and what is your role there?

[00:00:04] Adele Kurki: Well, first of all, nice to meet you. My name is Adele Kurki, nice to be here today. I'm working as a MarTech lead in a marketing operations function in Aiven. So Aiven provides open-source data technologies for all the major clouds.

[00:00:19] So basically we let developers do what they can do the best, and they can focus on their work. We are a Helsinki-based company, but we are operating in all the continents. And we just finished, I would say a couple months ago, series D with ($3B) valuation, $210M (raised). So very, very interesting high hyper-growth company where it is a very, very curious place to be as a MarTech lead.

[00:00:43] So in my work, I'm leading a team of professionals in MarTech and automation. So we are responsible for all the marketing technologies that we have in use. As well as support the other teams to create strategies and operations around them. And of course when saying already we have the automation, so we are also responsible of the lifecycle and, and communications on that part.

[00:01:10] So, so it's a very, very interesting position to be in this kind of hyper-growth environment.

What is marketing ops at Aiven?

[00:01:16] Teemu Raitaluoto: You had a special mention of marketing ops in your profile. What is marketing ops exactly?

[00:01:23] Adele Kurki: So marketing operations is actually a very, very interesting role. In Aiven, it is function so that we have content, then we have marketing technologies, web and marketing analytics as sub-functions under the marketing operations. Marketing operations as such takes care that we are implementing the marketing and business strategy into actionables. We support and create campaigns, support the analytics around them, actually try and show the results of the activities that we are doing in order to have the main vision in action.

Learnings from MarTech implementations

[00:02:03] Teemu Raitaluoto: And as a MarTech lead at Aiven, you must have seen a ton of different MarTech implementations. So what are some things you have learned during that journey?

[00:02:14] Adele Kurki: Well, first of all, I have been here now nearly a year, and I must say the growth has been amazing. We are around 500 employees at the current moment. I would say 520. And when I came, I think I was number 300 or so. That said when we are responsible of the marketing technologies, we have to always look how are we scaling.

[00:02:37] What are the exact purposes at the current moment, but also give ahead already. Like, what is the vision? How are we going to move this train towards the long term actions? And how are we going to show the impact of this whole growth? Of course, the marketing team is also evolving. There are a lot of moving puzzles on like, okay, there is a new team established and they have a new activity or a new focus point. How are we kind of like enabling that how are we reporting that into actionables? And then numbers that can be connected to the top. So, very, very interesting.

[00:03:18] As well as very good learning points on a way on kinda like how important it is able to be, having both short and long term strategies, constantly playing and constantly implementing and improving new strategies, which also brings one of my key values on the table: extreme transparency. So it is very, very important that we are connected with all the teams across the company in order to be efficient and in order to be able to predict where we should be.

[00:03:51] The marketing operation function and MarTech especially is working also as a consultant for many, many campaign buildings. Providing kind of like the technical understanding, but also the frames as we have a good understanding what is happening in between the teams. And we are kind of focusing on collaborating, focusing on showing.

[00:04:13] All of kinda like our cards in a way that we show like, okay, these are the project that we are working on. These are the next steps. Trying to give a little hint also for the other teams, like, hey, we would see that this kind of solution would benefit the whole company in the future due to these factors or due to these projects that are happening in other teams at the same time.

[00:04:36] Teemu Raitaluoto: So do you help other teams kind of coordinate together so that the technologies fit together as a kind of a larger (whole)?

[00:04:44] Adele Kurki: Yeah, exactly. And of course, like when we are thinking about hyper-growth, there are a lot of excitement and a lot of expertise, a lot of experience also within other teams, like how to combine that and how to enable that in practice so that in most cases we could say like, yes, let's try this out and we suggest that you, for instance, use these tool stack that we have in use.

[00:05:07] Let us educate you. To be able to try and test in an agile way instead of like taking the whole kind of like responsibility. Or the responsibility is pretty much on us, but so that we wouldn't be the people creating blockers for others to try out things. So it's just an interesting kind of like balance in between, like, okay, how to vision, empower, educate, keep everybody on the loop, central kind like knowledge point.

[00:05:40] Teemu Raitaluoto: And is there any recurring themes when it comes to implementing something new?

[00:05:47] Adele Kurki: Well, of course, well the theme, the main theme is the hyper-growth. And how do we kinda like respond to the growth needs. So for instance, when we're thinking about certain technologies, they like work for a certain phase of a company, but when we have maybe bought them first place they were having a totally different purpose and they, they might not scale in the same level that where the vision is in, in a certain time. And that's kind of a discussion then comes in different terms, like is it a six months, one year, two year, five year.

[00:06:24] And then also when we are thinking about a stack. It's a puzzle, basically. So when we are moving one puzzle piece somewhere, okay, what is connected here? Or when we are evaluating some other asset, how is it tied to our key strategic pieces? For instance, are we able to respond to these pieces that we want to see here? Is it creating the value we want to see? Is it the most efficient way?

[00:06:52] Teemu Raitaluoto: I can imagine it's similar to a product management role where you have some kind of roadmap of here's where we want to be in couple of years and here's how the path looks like towards that. And maybe, for example, how to, let's say there's new legislation, GDPR, and you need to be in time for that.

[00:07:15] Adele Kurki: Yeah, exactly. And in our business, it is one of our key priorities and it is the basic, basic requirement that we are always, always taking the secure way. We want to respect our customers and prospects. So we have certain frames on where we are working around or not working around, but working inside these frames that, hey, okay, first of all, security, then is it actually serving the purpose?

[00:07:43] How is this fitting to our opex calculations? But it was good when you said about the framework. Something I found extremely important is that you have, when we are thinking about an organization that scales this quickly, also, also in the number of employees which means that you have constantly somebody to onboard.

[00:08:04] And then at the same time, some are still kind of like developing the next phase of their skills. And as I said we want to enable that. It is beneficial for the whole organization. It is extremely important that you have the roadmap shared with all the stakeholders. So they're in all secrets and kinda like what are our priorities? Where we are focusing at the current moment, what we are filtering actually out because we are a team of three at the current moment for the whole organization. That is something I find. Very, very important and also some, a message that we also bring to our managers and to the upper parts so that there is a visibility.

[00:08:46] We have a project management system in place. We add our quarterly goals there, OKRs. You can follow each task that we are delivering. In Monday calls, for instance, we shared for the whole marketing audience like, hey, these are the key priorities we are working on this week. And everything else is in Asana or in, in our project management system.

[00:09:09] Go check it out. If there is something flying, we might have to reprioritize or then we respect the SLA which is coming in a certain time. So kind of like everything we do is visible. Key priorities are there. We have an integration map. We have also kinda like, okay, this is the vision where we are heading to.

Lessons from failed MarTech implementations

[00:09:30] Teemu Raitaluoto: Do you have any learnings perhaps a failed MarTech implementation? Something that you can share?

[00:09:35] Adele Kurki: Yeah, we, I mean, it is always trying new things and testing. I would say that we have a quite good system on kind of like getting the alarms quite quickly in a way that we very rarely go to the set of implementation.

[00:09:54] So, I would say that we have been lucky enough, at least within the time I have been in the company, that we haven't been that far in the creation process that we would have been, we would have purchased a tool that would have been integrated to systems and then after that be like, sorry, this is not maybe our case.

[00:10:14] In a long-term when I'm thinking about things we have had tools that are not scalable, and then hence we are moving them around. Also one thing that I notice is that it's very, very important to follow your contracts that are going on. So that it may be a one for myself and where learning the hard way is that one contract starts actually running already when you had kind of like a vision to replace it in, let's say half a year and you have a year contract. No harm done in a way, we were still able to deliver our bigger strategy or bigger vision in inside the budget, but there was a little uncomfortable situation in a way, or kinda like not optimal situation in a way.

[00:10:58] Teemu Raitaluoto: Understanding when contact contracts expire and then, perhaps, preparing for the future at the same time?

[00:11:07] Adele Kurki: Yeah, I mean maybe here the learning point was that you have to have, like even when we are working, and especially when we are working in a very, very hyper-growth environment where the pace is very, very fast. Like the changes are coming weekly basis, constantly to keep up to date. Also, that you have actually focused and used the time in documentation. I mean, it's very boring topic, but it is extremely crucial in order to create the transparency, the technical transparency around kind of like, so that everything is not behind your head or behind you being in a meeting.

[00:11:49] So here, basically, do you have detailed enough roadmap? Do you have detailed enough vision so that every single date and time are also included to this roadmap.

How to get senior leadership buy-in?

[00:12:04] Teemu Raitaluoto: And how do you loop in some maybe senior leadership when you have an idea of improving some piece of the MarTech stack?

[00:12:14] Adele Kurki: Hmm, very, very good question. And we are actually working at the current moment within the project which is actually having a similar kind of a situation. We have quite low hierarchy, luckily, in Aiven at least now. And that has been so far, quite easy to get to the people straight away in Slack or in a corridor depending if you're located in the same place or a different place, or even in a town hall meetings to go within your idea.

[00:12:46] Of course, when we are, think about any idea. For any stakeholder, it is cool that you have some sort of a reason why do we wanna do things. You have some sort of a calculation. How would it benefit? How will you kinda like, integrate to the other systems? What is the short and long term vision? Who should be involved?

[00:13:05] So basically creating this kind of a map or a vision of like what would it actually mean in practice. Then if you have a good explanation, at least so far, we are very open to try new things. Test it out. If you really believe in, have the ownership, try it. So, and this is also a message I give to my team.

[00:13:31] It's like, okay, let's keep the wheels rolling. Try the things that you find. You are the experts on your field. As long as you have a reason why you're doing things and you're able to explain that open, go for it.

[00:13:45] Teemu Raitaluoto: So having open company culture that embraces kind of this experimentation culture and also having low hierarchy helps.

[00:13:54] Adele Kurki: Yeah, it helps.

How to present new marketing initiatives?

[00:13:55] Teemu Raitaluoto: What does the actual process look like? Is there maybe a one-pager that you give out and, and say, Here's the reasons why we need to implement this.

[00:14:04] Adele Kurki: Yeah, very, very good question. And I said like it's always easier said than done, the transparency, for instance. It's always personal and technical, I would say.

[00:14:13] One-pager is a very, very useful skill also for yourself if you are able to answer all the questions. The form itself, it doesn't kind of like matter of course, if it's in a very top level. It's easier when it's always in the same form. We have a template for one-pager.

[00:14:29] What I also found useful, especially because I'm working heavily within integrations. Creating the roadmap of the tool stack is to have, for instance, a Miro board where you have this connected to each other. Then add kind of like the new tool, like how would it look like in the environment.

[00:14:47] It's also way much easier in my level to sell it to my peers who are working in CRM teams, in analytics teams, when they see, like from ones, they're like, Okay, well hey all requirements for this are. So that makes a lot easier to have the one-pager with kind of like business related topics, impact, stakeholders as well as as good plan as you can and will make regarding what would it mean for your peers also in analytics or stakeholders?

Who champions to implement new MarTech?

[00:15:18] Teemu Raitaluoto: And who typically comes up with new initiatives in your organization, typically, when it comes to MarTech?

[00:15:27] Adele Kurki: Good question. They are coming quite, or it really depends. So as we said, like we are working also as consultants in quite many projects. And for instance working heavily with trial programs, customer lifecycle campaigns, ABMs, implementing new strategies, for instance, within a chat or so. Those pain points, you usually are something that you can identify in these calls and especially if you have several touchpoints that, okay, well I think we're not maybe having this problem currently in that bad, but soon it's gonna be a problem.

[00:16:06] Then we start developing like, Okay, what kind of functionalities would we need and what kind of things we or what would be the tool or a solution to solve the problem. Of course, sometimes some team might have kind of like already an idea like, Hey, in order to perform our team needs an asset management system.

[00:16:28] Like, can you help us to figure out what will work? And then we are kind of like taking this given always also. So of course we want to make our stakeholders work in the best they can. We provide our expertise in validating, evaluating, creating the process through and mapping it within the existing stakeholders.

[00:16:48] And challenging sometimes a little bit like, okay, so what is the exact problem we are trying to solve. Maybe we can find a solution from existing stack or even like from sales operations side, is there something from the IT side? So of course we collaborate within the whole Aiven stack.

[00:17:08] Teemu Raitaluoto: So just to summarize it I guess your team is usually not the originator of the new projects, but it definitely is the gatekeeper for implementing certain products and making sure that they fit together nicely.

[00:17:22] Adele Kurki: It's kind of like both of course, like development programs, kinda like how do we develop the processes? Should we create a process around these kind of things that are owned by our team and usually the initiator. Around something 40/60 is also from the tooling or implementing new tooling coming from our site proactively. And then from the stakeholders. So there is a fine balance in where the projects are coming from.

[00:17:51] And of course, a big, big part is developing the existing (tool stack). To be used more efficiently inside the organization or serve the different purposes that it was first, for instance, both. So connecting the dots basically.

Customer journey for a developer-first product

[00:18:06] Teemu Raitaluoto: And if we shift the conversation back to the more high level business a bit. Who is a typical customer of Aiven and what does an average customer journey look like?

[00:18:20] Adele Kurki: A very, very good question, and I like really answer quite in a high level because Aiven works in quite various markets and with quite many different stakeholders. But the typical customer is a digital native who is searching for information. And is quite proactive already and has some sort of an intent or a need.

[00:18:44] So, the journey usually starts with our trial. So you search for some information. If you are engaged with the brand or you find the brand, you are a person who wants to try already what is happening inside the free trial that we provide. So a person can try for a month's time any of the products. And build the solutions and then figure out if this is a solution, then we have kind of like a monthly based contract that you are basically paying only the number that you are using the product. So nothing else. So that's and kind. An easy way to implement, take into use, get familiarized within the products.

Customer segmentation at Aiven

[00:19:30] Teemu Raitaluoto: When it comes to marketing Aiven, how do you think about customer segmentation?

[00:19:37] Adele Kurki: Well, segmentation is of course, like I would say, and this is maybe a bold one, but you don't do marketing that segmentation nowadays.

[00:19:46] So, of course that is a key in any of the messaging we sent out. We have as said quite big of a market which has different kinds of players inside that. So we are playing, of course, quite heavily within the roles. We have an ICP profile defined. So targeting also inside that different assets and different campaign structures and content pieces for these segments.

[00:20:13] And of course when we are thinking about marketing, we have this funnel model. So also where in the intent or where in the journey the customer or prospect is moving, the campaign or the assets change a little bit of course during the journey. So it is a matrix where we are playing at at the current moment.

[00:20:37] Teemu Raitaluoto: And that's about lead nurturing? But if you think about, let's say lead generation. How do you segment customers there? How do you create different types of content?

[00:20:49] Adele Kurki: So, the content is created based on the funnel. And then of course, we are working quite heavily, for instance, within SEO, within our web developers, how do we attract?

[00:21:01] And of course, the growth team works very, very closely within us. Like how do we attract the right people to land into the assets we really want them to be in? Kind of like all the marketing we are sending out. Is this in a social media or is it in an email or is it a webinar? How do we find the target audience? Where are they based at? How willing they are to, for instance, give their data? What kind of data should we ask? For instance, even forms you can focus on kind of like from different assets in different funnels or different purpose of the page. Have a different form, have even a form. Prefills and ask different questions depending on where in your journey you are located at.

[00:21:47] I think those kind of assets are quite important to play around and combine in a suitable position. And of course there are a lot of trying things like we don't know until we know. So we are also experimenting quite a lot.

Industry-based content personalization

[00:22:02] Teemu Raitaluoto: And on the Aiven website, I saw some of the key industries mentioned that you're serving IoT, retail and, energy. What is the extent of that content? Do you personalize the rest of the marketing content?

[00:22:17] Adele Kurki: Yep. So we have, for instance case studies and blocks for different industries. Of course, the use cases are very different depending on are you working in a team of five or are you working in a team of 500? So also considering that, and well, let's take in the case studies, for instance.

[00:22:39] You must probably want to know how the companies have been using the products, what kind of use cases there could be. Is it even a suitable solution for our industry? So it is quite crucial that we are able to map the right industries, right content pieces due to the fact that it also gives an image of like, is this for us or is this only. Let's say if we were talking about banking industry, is this only for retail? So kind of giving the image of like, hey, we are there for you.

[00:23:16] Teemu Raitaluoto: Yeah, yeah. We talk about having the most relevant message and it is a very good question. What is the extent of the personalization. So you might have very high level company size and then you drill down into industry and get even more niche maybe after that, what to create, and how to kind of create some kind of buckets of customer groups, groupings.

[00:23:41] Adele Kurki: Hmm. Yeah, that's a good question. Like what kind of attributes use in order to personalize.

[00:23:49] Teemu Raitaluoto: What we've learned is that the, usually the best one is that if there's some common pain shared and some common values, for example, so there are certain industries that kind of emphasize security and compliance more than others. So that should be brought up more rigorously.

[00:24:06] Adele Kurki: Kinda like the industry intent in a way, kinda like what specific values are valued in certain areas or certain industries or even certain kind of like profile, like a personal profile or like department or your role in a buying process, for instance.

[00:24:24] It is quite important to be able to kind of like, for instance, give the right CTA for the profile. Or give the right assets related to your industry, give the right assets and the messaging related to these key values or even requirements that you have for the company. I mean, like for instance, the security thing, it's a key value. It's a kind of like very, very needy thing. Maybe we want to emphasize that or easy implementation.

[00:24:56] Maybe we want to kind of like emphasize that from the CTAs. What profiles are the ones that want to go to a trial? Is there a profile that would need more kinda like broad information. And what is this actually meaning on business wide? Kinda like what are the numbers, maybe don't know how to actually build the product or how to actually implement the product need to use, but want to know the business impact. So these kind of things are also important to to validate and recognize when we are talking about these technical products that we have in use.

Getting started with ABM

[00:25:31] Teemu Raitaluoto: And I heard that Aiven was doing ABM recently. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

[00:25:37] Adele Kurki: Yeah, definitely. I said like ABM being account-based marketing. I said we are doing segmentation and we believe really targeting the right people on the right time.

[00:25:49] We just have started something called ABM Pilot, so we haven't had like a long history of having a separate project around ABM, but the idea there is to be able to define the most or the key accounts where we want to focus on and start building a pilot programs for them specifically and focusing extremely to the segmentation and finding the intention there.

[00:26:21] Within different methods, of course. ABM is not an email marketing per se. It's not only social media marketing, it's not better marketing but it's a combination of different marketing techniques combined.

[00:26:36] Teemu Raitaluoto: And what led you to try out ABM?

[00:26:39] Adele Kurki: It's basically a curiosity, but also the need to have an extreme focus on what and where we are reaching to as well as testing on how to find more intention. There are several other projects combined, so thinking about ABM as one strategy to approach and develop these was found a very interesting challenge also for us, but of course this is something that we are working very, very tightly within the sales. So kinda like a common interest to see what can we achieve if we extremely focus on something specific.

[00:27:19] Teemu Raitaluoto: Could you tell me maybe step by step, how did you get started with the ABM program or the pilot?

[00:27:25] Adele Kurki: Yep. Well, as said, we are developing it at the current moment, so it's not yet on. But the main, where we start at is to sit together with sales. As said, this is definitely, definitely a nearly a sales activity, so, if we are committed, they have to also be committed.

[00:27:46] You start narrowing down, Okay, so what exactly do we want to achieve here? What are our key accounts we want to focus on? And also maybe you have seen this ABM pyramid? Is it like 1:1, 1:few, 1:many? What do we wanna do? Focus one of those in the first place when we're talking about the pilot.

[00:28:07] And then start narrowing your list. So what are the accounts? What are the key attributes here? Why do we wanna focus on here? What's the pain point? Then based on those create like, okay, fine. For these, we have these pain points here. We have these opportunities here, we have these threats. How do we cover this?

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