Epi 11: 3 Ways to Increase Email Marketing Conversions – Melissa Sargeant, CMO of Litmus

JC: Well, welcome everybody to another installment of The Future of BizTech. I’m your host, JC Granger. And I have with me here, Melissa Sargent. She is the CMO of Litmus. Melissa, thank you so much for coming on the show. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your experience and your resume, so they have an idea of who’s speaking.

Melissa: Thank you very much. I’m really excited to be part of the podcast. As you mentioned, I am the CMO of Litmus. I’ve been here for just a little bit over a year. Prior to my tenure at Litmus, I was the CMO of SugarCRM. And before that, I was the CMO of ChannelAdvisor in the e-commerce space. Even before that, I worked at a company called Avalara as a VP of marketing there and spent the majority of my career at CA Technologies, formerly known as Computer Associates for about a decade in product marketing. And I actually started my journey in marketing nearly 30 years ago and started on the agency side, and moved in from the agency world to marketing communications to corporate communications to demand generation and eventually product marketing.

JC: That’s fantastic. I’m sure a lot of people listening have heard of SugarCRM and ChannelAdvisor. What was it like working with those companies in particular and what was it about working with them that catapulted you to where you’re at now?

Melissa: Yeah. ChannelAdvisor was a fantastic experience in that they’re in the e-commerce space. And one of the things that I was so excited about going there was I got to work with Amazon and Google and Facebook and eBay and all these really important platforms. So it really elevated my experience in working with these super big players on a partnership level to be able to advance the business. And then at Sugar, it was interesting because we competed against Salesforce. And one of my friends, when I was leaving ChannelAdvisor said to me, “Look, wrestling with Amazon every day isn’t enough for you, now you have to go and pick a fight with Salesforce?” And I said, I really didn’t think about it that way, but there maybe is something in that for me, that I liked the challenge of coming in and doing that.

Melissa: And I think that experience was really great for me at Sugar. And we also were a company that had been acquired by private equity, so it was my first experience in a private equity company. I’d either worked in publicly traded companies or companies that were bootstrapped or funded by VC. So to have that experience, and then we were also a very acquisitive company. So I got to participate in a number of acquisitions. And we were expanding our portfolio into things like marketing automation, which was really obviously exciting for me being a marketer. So I got just a fantastic experience in these high growth companies that’s incredibly valuable for me and my role at Litmus.

JC: That’s fantastic. So tell the audience a little bit about Litmus. Me personally, I’m an email marketer by trade. I’ve been doing digital marketing 20 years in emails, it’s all there really was back then. So I took a special liking to when I saw you come across my calendar for this, I was like, “Oh yeah, email stuff.” So tell the audience, I guess a little bit about Litmus. That 30,000 foot view, but then also, what are the biggest pain points and problems that Litmus solves for its clients?

Melissa: Yeah. When you think about how much noise is in the market today, people are bombarded with an average of 5,000 ads per day. So breaking through that noise is really, really challenging for companies to connect to their audiences, to connect to their customers and their prospects. At Litmus, we really help them put their most effective channel email first. And we do that by enabling them to collaborate more efficiently, optimize their workflows and really drive effectiveness throughout from start to finish for their email marketing program. And that helps them. When you’re doing email really, really well, your entire marketing mix goes really, really well. Because you can take those amazing insights from what you’re learning from email and apply it to optimize your entire channel mix. And so we do that by enabling them to effectively test their emails. So when you think about the challenge of sending a single email today, there are over 90 different combinations of clients and browsers, all these different options and devices that people read their emails on.

Melissa: Historically, you might’ve sent, okay, Joe, in the office. I’m going to send you this. Can you please look at this on your iPad? Can you look at this on your phone? Can you look at this and this client. It becomes a math problem to be able to solve for those problems for just a single email and test it. And know that when that email comes into the inbox, it’s going to reach the inbox, the person’s going to be able to read it effectively and get your message is nearly impossible. So we’ve automated all of that testing and previews parts so that they can know, by the time they hit send that it’s going to arrive in the inbox and it’s going to be of the highest quality possible.

JC: So it’s really, if I’m simplifying it then, Litmus is that last checkpoint before you cross the border, so to speak. So they’re making sure everything’s in order and everything’s ready to go. And then you can move forward so that you have the best experience. That it optimizes deliverability, optimizes, I’m sure, layouts and whatnot, like you were saying for different devices and different browsers and whatnot. Am I right on that?

Melissa: It’s actually optimizing the entire email workflow. So even before you run that testing, when you’re building your email, we have the ability to use visual code editors to more quickly build your emails. There’s a collaboration component where everyone in your organization … at the average organization, we do an annual state of email survey every year. It takes the average organization two weeks to produce a single email, and that’s because the committees of people that have to review them are getting larger and larger. With Litmus, you can build, collaborate and test your emails all in one place. So when that email’s ready to go, instead of having to create a PDF, send an email, send it to the 20 people that you need to have review it and give you feedback, they can all go into Litmus, look at the proof, make their comments, their feedback right there, and you can streamline that entire workflow.

JC: It’s a flipping tool. Awesome.

Melissa: Yeah, it’s absolutely. It’s a workflow-

JC: Collaborative.

Melissa: Yeah. Collaboration workflow optimization, drive efficiency, and then effectiveness, knowing that it’s going to get there. And then on top of that, once you hit send, we have powerful email analytics capabilities to tell you how that email is performing. Above and beyond what you’re traditionally used to seeing in terms of … we all know to look for open and click-through rates, but how much time did that person spend reading that email? What did they do after it? Were they viewing it in dark mode and was your email optimized for them to view it properly in dark mode? All of these insights are really, really helpful so that you can take them and use them to personalize, not just your next email campaign and make that even better, but actually take those insights and leverage them in your other marketing channels. What’s working well? If a message or an offer is working well in email, why wouldn’t it also work well in paid search?

JC: Okay. I could see that. And then now, to clarify too, are you guys also officially an email service provider? Does it send to or are you piggybacking onto whatever their platform is? Like Mailshake for example, piggybacks onto Gmail and Outlook, and this is its own dashboard and it plugs in. Is yours an actual email service provider and it has its own servers and IPS and it’s sending out, or is it piggybacking on other systems?

Melissa: Yeah. We are not an email service provider, so we partner with all of them. So Marketo, Eloqua. We basically, as you say, piggyback off of them. And Litmus allows you to sync automatically back and forth. So you can do your building, testing, collaboration, and Litmus sync that with your email service provider and then hit send from there.

JC: Okay, cool. I’m going to pivot a little bit here. I’m curious. I want to go back to you. What motivated you to join Litmus? I mean, you have an incredible resume, you’ve been through significant companies in the industry, why the change? Why go from SugarCRM, for example, to Litmus? What was it about the company and where they were going that really enticed you to join them?

Melissa: It was interesting because I wasn’t looking for a new gig. And when I was at Sugar, we were doing well and I was happy and they called and I thought, wow. Litmus called and I thought, well, this is really interesting because I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I’ve marketed all sorts of things. When I was at CA, I did networks and systems management, security management, project and portfolio management. I feel like I’ve done a range of things in the technology space, but this is the first time that I really get to market something that helps people in my job. And that was very, very exciting for me. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Melissa: And Litmus had always been in my technology stack. I knew the company really, really well and how important it was for us. So it was nearly impossible for me to say no at that opportunity because I come to work every day with 180 other marketing geeks, and we talk about marketing all day long. And you just don’t get to do that at other technology companies. It’s a geek’s paradise, it’s a marketing geek’s paradise.

JC: Now with Litmus, when you joined, was Litmus already a big company? Were they smaller startup? Where was that entry point when you came in and then where are they now fast-forwarding to today?

Melissa: So I’ve been here a year and we’re about the same size in terms of the number of employees. The company is 15 years old and for a long time, we just basically sold things on the internet. So you would give us your credit card and a lot of companies still consume our services that way. About five years ago, we introduced … well, I guess it’s been three and a half, four years now, we introduced a direct sales organization. So we have a mid-market and enterprise sales team that goes through your more traditional B2B sales cycle. And again, for me as a marketer, it’s great because I get the best of both worlds. I get that e-commerce B2C type motion marketing programs that I get to run and the traditional B2B direct sales motion marketing programs that we run.

JC: And I’m curious, the first … this might be obvious. But other than let’s say email, obviously, what types of marketing are you guys currently doing at Litmus to promote Litmus? And I ask this because most of our listeners are really into B2B tech, but a lot of them are also listening because they might want to purchase this or whatnot, but maybe they haven’t heard of you before. So I’m just curious, other than email, which would be the obvious one for you guys, what else do you guys engage in and what have you found effective for promoting your system, your software?

Melissa: So we have a really balanced marketing mix. We are bought into all of the channels. So we have a combination of things that we do with paid search, paid social, SEO. We have a really strong content marketing machinery. Ultimately, content is the thing that fuels all of these different channels. We have a strong webinar program that’s widely participated in. We even have, like a lot of companies, we have a big annual event called Litmus Live and had big plans for it at the beginning of this year and had to do the online pivot that everybody else did. It worked out really, really well for us. Typically, when we do the in-person event, we get about 1500 people. And this year with the online format, we got over 5,000 people.

JC: Wow.

Melissa: So we were able to bring Litmus Live to a whole new group of an audience that we didn’t get to reach previously. So we have a very balanced mix, our demand machine is basically like a lot of other companies where we focus on the website is the centerpiece of that and trying to fuel everybody to go there and either start a trial, make an inquiry to talk to a salesperson, engage with our content, do their self qualification since we know that 60 to 70% of that qualification happens in the background before they even want to raise their hands. And to provide them with a wealth of success stories, blogs, really useful content that’s helpful to them in their jobs, regardless if they become a Litmus customer or not.

JC: I wanted to also then ask, with COVID going on obviously, how has that affected, not just Litmus as a company, but email marketing in general from your experience? I know what I’ve seen, but I’m curious, what have you seen as far as how email has either done better or worse or changed because of COVID right now?

Melissa: There’s definitely been an evolution this year. So at the beginning, and I think we all got these emails in our inboxes when companies were sending them out and using it as a communication vehicle, because it was the one way that they could touch their subscribers and their audiences to tell them what was going on with their business. And then I think a lot of companies took a beat because there was so much happening. We had social unrest that happened over the summer as well and everything with COVID. And people were really thoughtful in how they were messaging and how much they were messaging and really wanted to think through that a bit more. And I think now over the past few months, particularly in certain segments like e-commerce and things that have continued to thrive during this, do well during this period, we started to see certainly an uptick in the back half of the year in terms of not just the volume of email but the effort that’s going into, and to truly personalizing and driving those into a more targeted segmentation strategy.

Melissa: So historically, email has had this overall evolution where it was one too many, batch and blast style. Then we went to one-to-some and really now the trend is one-to-one and using it as a way to create those human-to-human connections with your subscribers and audience.

JC: I agree too. Like I said, I’ve been doing email for so long and what I’ve seen on the COVID side is I’ve seen that email got better and bigger as far as I saw, just because people were just stuck at their computers. And people who lost their jobs were now on their computers looking for jobs. But now if you’re blue-collar, you found yourself on your computer sending out resumes, which means you’re checking your email, which means email marketing had more of an audience before. So B2C really picked up on that aspect, as far as I saw. B2B took a hit in that March to June area. But after that, whoever was left standing knew they would be okay and then they went even bigger in to gobble up that market share. So I saw B2B pick up around June, July time. So that was my experience with that.

JC: But pivoting back to you again real quick here, what’s the best marketing, maybe email or whatever, what’s the best marketing advice you’ve ever been given before? Thinking back to all the people you’ve ever talked to, you’ve been doing this a while, what’s probably the best thing that you’ve heard that really just resonated and stuck with you through your career?

Melissa: I think it’s, “Run to the dumpster fire.” And if ever-

JC: I love that. I don’t know, I’m trying to get out of 2020 alive here, okay? I’m not trying to do another 2020, I’m trying to run away from this dumpster fire.

Melissa: And the reason I say that is, in every company that I’ve worked in, there’s always some program, some project that no one wants to touch. And it’s probably a longstanding problem that they’ve been trying to address. And my advice is to raise your hand and volunteer for that program. Because one, you’ll either make it better or you won’t. If you make it better, you’re a hero. If you don’t make it better, no one will blame you because it’s been a hot mess for a really long time.

JC: Yeah. They considered it impossible anyway.

Melissa: And you will stretch yourself in ways that you won’t do in other projects. And no one ever got better by doing things that are easy.

JC: That’s true.

Melissa: And so, run towards a dumpster fire, be the brave one who goes in and says, “I’ll take a run at this.”

JC: No, I agree with you. And I’ve done a lot in my life too. If you asked my parents, I’m pretty stubborn. I did everything the hard way, no matter what it was. I was like, “Oh, is that the easy way? Well, what about this over here?” I had an old boss of mine before I started my company, because I was doing this, because I was running towards these dumpster fires. And I remember one time, I accidentally basically did great. What everybody thought was impossible, just cracked the code, fixed the problem. And then they asked me to do more with it. I didn’t want to do it. I attacked it because I wanted to beat it, not because I wanted to own it.

Melissa: Right, right.

JC: The boss pulls me to his office and he goes, he says, “JC,” he says, “Be careful what you volunteer for. If you do a really good job, you just might be asked to do it again.”

Melissa: That’s right.

JC: And I had to. So the lesson learned both ways, which was funny. So obviously, as part of this podcast, the title being The Future of BizTech, I have to ask the main question here. So with Litmus specifically, what’s coming down the pipeline? How is Litmus going to affect change in the future for the industry? I mean, there’s a lot of email companies out there, we know this, you have a lot of competition. So what is coming up soon that’s going to put Litmus ahead of the game and how are they going to change the future of this BizTech?

Melissa: I can’t talk a lot about what’s on our product roadmap, but I can tell you, we’ve made some really strategic moves this year that are going to carry us through 2021 and we’ve got some pretty exciting things on tap there. The one area, and I think that it’s been … it’s probably one of the most challenging things within the marketing organization is, marketers are being asked to do more with less. A lot of people’s budgets were cut. We’re in budgeting season for companies that are on a calendar year. And trying to forecast what’s going to happen in 2021 is really challenging. So a lot of companies are forecasting very conservatively now until they see how things go in 2021. So this concept of doing more with less is going to continue. Because in marketing organizations, we know we’re the first ones to get our budgets cut and the last ones to get them increased when things get better. So-

JC: Which is ironic, given how money is made in a company. Chasing the tail.

Melissa: Yes. Yes. And so we’ve really been focusing on driving those efficiencies for the marketing organization so that they can get their emails out more quickly, they can collaborate more effectively, they can build them faster. And we’ve done that through our visual builder and our collaboration, our continued focus on improving and streamlining that workflow so that they can take that average time. It takes two weeks down to just a day or two to get an email built, approved and out the door. I think the other area that we’re focusing on is really this idea of marketing. It doesn’t end with send with your emails. And taking those insights that you get from email marketing and using them across your entire marketing mix to supercharge and get even greater ROI for the things that you’re doing, again, aligns really, really well with this, do more with less. The more insights that you can grab from all of your channels and leverage them, not just in that channel but across those different channels in a truly integrated way is really going to help you be more efficient, more effective and get better results.

JC: That’s great. And a question on top of that question with that in mind. Outside of Litmus, just the email marketing in general, where do you see email marketing in the next five years? I mean, things move so fast, technology is always outpacing sometimes the usability in some ways. Is there anything that you’ve been thinking about in five years, I swear … is going to happen. What would you say given your experience? Where do you see this going? What’s changing?

Melissa: I think the things that you’re going to see that are going to keep email marketing really, really relevant for the next five years are innovations around personalization. That’s something that as marketers, some people struggle just to get the first and last name correct, depending on the integrity of their data. But there’s going to be just a lot more evolution there in terms of, we know that subscribers and customers want us, they want more personalized experiences from us. They don’t want them to be too personalized so that they’re not creepy. But if you’re able to serve them content that’s highly relevant to things that they care about in a responsible way that they want to receive that information, you’re going to get better engagement.

Melissa: I think you’re going to see a lot of improvements and just a lot of focus on that from the email industry over the next five years. I also think things like AI are going to be very instrumental in doing that. Right now, it’s been companies that are using it in pockets but I think it’s going to become easier and more mainstream all with the goal of creating these personalized experiences that are personal, just not too personal.

JC: Sure. I’ve had this conversation with other guests about data and privacy laws, they only seem to be getting more strict.

Melissa: Yeah.

JC: So which would be a counterintuitive thing for personalization because to personalize, you need more data. But if we’re restricting data, I mean, now we’re almost at 20% of browsers that are now … people who are using the privacy version of their browsers and they’re not passing that information. So as marketers, we’re getting less and less information, we’re having more laws that are preventing data and data sharing. So how do you see the marketing industry or even email getting around that? How do you personalize more when you literally have less information slowly as you’re going?

Melissa: Right. And I think what all of these privacy laws are doing is really making us better marketers in this. We’re doing things in the way that we should have probably have been doing them all along. In that, to be able to personalize more, that means we need to ask for more information outright, for more first-party data or zero … some people even call it zero-party data from our subscribers, and let them truly opt-in to how they want us to communicate with them. And that way they know that we’re handling their information and in a responsible way, we’re only communicating to them things that they care about. And the things around AI and personalization are around insights that we’ve seen. That people who are interested in the same topics or same things that they’re interested in, they might also be interested in. So we’re really serving them up. It truly becomes a one-to-one human-to-human conversation. And maybe there’s fewer of them than there are today in mass as an organization, but they’re much more higher quality and we’re driving a personalized experience that’s a value to them.

JC: Well, I couldn’t agree more with that. So thank you so much for all that insight. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience to know about yourself or Litmus or the future of emails?

Melissa: I think it’s to think about your email program as more than just your email program. It’s your marketing program, and it can truly help everything that you’re doing across your channel mix. Don’t think about it in the total silo of email, or we need to get another email out on that. Think about it more broadly in how it can drive improvements across your entire mix and how you can use it in a more integrated faction to help elevate the rest of your mix.

JC: That’s great advice. So for anyone listening here … again, the audience is a lot more of the middle to top tier tech industry and whatnot. If somebody wanted to reach out to you personally with questions or for partnerships and whatnot, how would they reach you? What kind of information would you be able to give our audience here to talk to you?

Melissa: Sure. You can feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn at Melissa Sargent. I’m MH Sargent there, I’m also MH Sargent on Twitter. And then you can certainly reach out to us on the Litmus website at litmus.com. But if you want to reach me directly, I’m happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.

JC: Awesome. Well, listen, Melissa, thank you so much for being on this show. You gave a ton of great insights and I can’t wait for the audience to hear this.

Melissa: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.

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