Virtual Coffee with Knak’s CMO

When your company was founded by marketers, created a marketing product, and works with enterprise marketing teams daily, your own marketing department had better be on point.

Fortunately, the leader of the Knak marketing team is one of the best. We wanted to share his take on the current state of marketing, so we sat down at an appropriate social distance for an interview. Check out our chat with Knak’s Chief Marketing Officer, Pierre Hage

Knak: Thanks for joining us! Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get your start in marketing?

Pierre Hage: My first few jobs were in sales actually, but I had an opportunity to get into marketing early on in my career and I jumped at the chance. Marketing changes constantly: technology and trends change, customer needs change and your competitors are constantly changing. You have to think quickly and be a great problem solver, and I love that challenge. Plus, a good marketing department is critical to a company’s success, and I’m glad to be part of that journey.

KN: What brought you to Knak?

PH: I’ve known Pierce (Ujjainwalla, Founder & CEO) for many years. I was actually one of the first Knak customers 5 years ago when Knak’s first product, email templates for Marketo, came to market. In early 2019, Pierce approached me about leading the marketing team, and the rest is history.

KN: What makes the Knak team unique?

PH: The culture here is one of a kind. I’ve worked for a lot of companies in many different industries, but the people here make it an incredible place to work.
I think the thing that stands out the most is that everyone, from the top down, truly cares about making life easier for our customers. There’s a real passion to help others here, and it shows in the way each of us approaches our job. I’m genuinely excited to get up in the morning to get to work.

KN: Let’s switch gears and get to marketing. Knak lost a significant source of leads when Adobe Summit was cancelled. How has that impacted Knak’s pipeline?

PH: We refer to Summit as our super bowl event for the year. Sixty percent or more of our sales opportunities for the quarter come from that one show, but the connections we make there ripple across quarters and generate new business months and sometimes years down the road. Like everyone else in our situation we’ve had to pivot our strategy and make up what was lost, and our early results have been encouraging.
Just as importantly, it’s also one of our best opportunities to connect with current customers and show them how much we appreciate their continued support. We had some incredible partner appreciation events planned, and the cancellation definitely stings. We’ll be making up for it when things turn around, so stay tuned.

KN: What have you done to recoup some of the losses?

PH: We’ve actually reworked our strategy quite a bit. We invested some of the money we would have spent on Summit into strategic partnerships with key marketing influencers, and we’re working with other partners to produce joint content, like webinars and blog posts. We’re also updating our core digital assets, like our website and blog. Once we start to emerge from the cloud of COVID-19, we’ll reevaluate the market and see what opportunities make the most sense on a quarter to quarter basis.

KN: Has your definition of a marketing “win” changed recently?

PH: We’ve been fortunate in that the demand for a SaaS platform like Knak hasn’t diminished. If anything, it’s actually grown over the past several months as teams around the world double down on digital communication to help regenerate their pipeline. Knak hits a sweet spot for these marketing departments since we deliver on a critical operational need.
We’ve also been partnering with our sales and customer success teams to connect with customers and make sure they’re taken care of – this is a win-win for us.
As far as our KPIs go, the definition hasn’t changed. It still means that we’re seeing our customers succeed, and we’re producing a predictable stream of opportunities for the sales team.

KN: What’s been the biggest challenge for your team over the last two months?

PH: Navigating the business world during something like COVID-19 is a bit of a minefield. We absolutely didn’t want to come across as tone deaf in our messaging or give the impression that we were looking to capitalize on this tragedy.
Maintaining a balance between letting people know we’re here to help and giving them space to adjust to a new reality is tricky, and quite frankly, it’s a completely unprecedented situation. We’ve worked hard to communicate effectively and authentically throughout this crisis, and from the feedback we’ve received, we’ve struck a good balance.

KN: Has it been tough to adjust to working remotely?

PH: Knak has always had a hybrid office model with most of the team working from home a couple days a week. We do miss the social connection though, and I think that’s really key to building a strong team, so we’ve introduced Knak Brews on Fridays. Everyone joins via video with their favorite beverage, and we catch up on the week’s craziness.

KN: What would you tell a marketing leader who’s struggling to maintain momentum right now?

PH: From talking to our customers, I know there’s a huge demand being put on marketing operation teams right now to execute campaigns and fill the gaps in their sales funnels. I think the key here is to get the heads of the other departments on the same page as you so they can coordinate their asks and avoid overwhelming your team and your audience.
Open communication and alignment between functions will help the organization regenerate some of the lost momentum and move forward together. The consequence of doing this poorly or not at all will do more harm than good in the short and long term.

KN: Best guess: What do you think teams will be dealing with in the aftermath of COVID-19, 6 months to a year from now?

PH: Even in a best-case scenario, companies will be dealing with the impact of lost revenues for the next 18-24 months. They’ll be faced with tighter budgets and an expectation to do even more with less while still finding time to innovate. I also think marketers will be expected to improve and update their skills so they can fill in where needed.
Since teams will likely be forced to reevaluate their tech stacks and consolidate them to save money, the smart strategy here is to invest now (if you can) in technology that positions you to be successful in the short-term, post-COVID world and into the future. Obviously from our perspective, a platform that makes it easy to collaborate remotely and launch email campaigns quickly while saving you time and money offers tremendous ROI now and will continue to pay off once you’re back together.

KN: If a marketing team is in a position to hire, is there a skill set that’s key going forward?

PH: Look for someone who is flexible, tenacious, creative, and customer-focused. Skills can be taught, but if you hire a self-motivated, intelligent, and passionate individual, you’ll have a great team member right from the start, plus someone who successfully adapts to the changing needs of your department in the short and long run.

KN: It’s going to be a while before large events return. How should smart marketing leaders strategize for 2021?

PH: I’m taking a conservative approach right now and putting decision-making on hold for another few months until I get a better sense of how long this will last. Even if we got a green light to return to “business as usual” tomorrow, I suspect we’re still a year away from returning to the live events we’ve come to rely on. Like everyone else, we’re leaning on a digital strategy for the foreseeable future and looking for creative ways to connect with customers and prospects.
We’re also looking at some new ways to introduce Knak to a broader audience through video content and collaborative opportunities with other organizations to help drive demand for our platform.

KN: What do marketing teams need to be aware of as they navigate the current reality?

PH: The demand on marketing ops teams has never been greater. Every department wants to send emails to help replenish pipeline, and they’re piling these requests on the marketing department with a stack of campaigns that are all marked “urgent.”
At the same time, marketers are being asked to do more with less. Senior leaders across every function are concerned about cash flow – something we’re hearing repeatedly from clients and prospects – and they’re looking for ways to save money.
The resulting trend here is something our sales team is seeing every day – marketers are looking for tech solutions to help them manage these challenges.
In my experience, the best tech solutions are the ones that help your team become more self-sufficient. If you’re paying an outside agency to design and build templates for you, a platform that helps bring that work in-house can have a big impact on your bottom line.

KN: Ok, last question: What good have you seen come from this situation? Any benefits you weren’t expecting?

PH: I hope business leaders realize that a hybrid office model offers the best of both worlds for their employees. Work/life balance is crucial, and as someone with two young children, being able to work from home a few days a week is a game-changer.
High performing teams don’t have to sit next to one another to be successful. Situations like this force organizations to be more innovative and adaptable – skills that are crucial if you want to scale quickly. There’s no better time to make sure you have the tools and the tech in place to help you succeed now and going forward.

With Knak, anyone can build beautiful emails that keep your brand at the centre. Want to see how it works? Let’s chat! Schedule a demo and let us show you how Knak makes it easy to create incredible emails from start to finish.

Not ready to chat yet? Browse our product page to learn more.

Tania Blake is Knak’s Marketing Manager, where she’s known for her strong attention to detail and unique ability to balance "process" with "getting stuff done". When she’s not juggling a million and one projects, you can find her cooking up a storm, doing yoga, or hanging out with her family.

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