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What I Learned at the 2019 BoS Europe Conference

Last week I attended the Business of Software conference in Cambridge, England. BoS is a conference that takes place in both the US and the UK each year and draws software professionals with its promise of “bringing together the world’s smartest software entrepreneurs for learning, listening, and networking.”

The conference is smaller than most that I’ve been to, which ended up offering a better atmosphere for networking, given the more intimate setting. A diverse group of presenters was curated for the audience and separated by networking breaks and meals.

Since Think Better’s customers are B2B software companies, I chose to attend the conference because I wanted to hear from and talk to leaders of software organizations regarding their challenges and the state of the software industry. The event gave me a good sense of that—at least in regards to software companies in the EU.

The themes that recurringly came up were:

How to Scale

Poppy Gustafson, co-CEO of Darktrace spoke on the company’s growth over the past five years into a company that’s valued at $1.65B. The underlying theme of what she shared was “don’t stay connected to the way that things have been done in the past.”

While, I think many companies give lip-service to the value of “thinking differently,” from what Poppy shared, my impression is that they live this value. They have two female co-CEOs. A female CEO is highly unusual in the technology industry, but co-CEOs?! Both female?!

Mind. Blown.

She shared how they rethought their hiring process. The work they do requires skills that a limited number of people possess, so they reframed their hiring strategy to focus on hiring sharp, young employees and train them up.

Moreover, when considering their sales process, they hired a greener sales person who showed passion for the industry and an experienced enterprise sales executive. They monitored their performance over a set period of time, and the greener sales person ended up outperforming the enterprise sales executive.

While Glassdoor reviews might suggest that they still have some issues to figure out in the area of hiring and training, it’s pretty incredible that this company was able to scale so quickly and successfully. The DarkTrace story is a good reminder that lightening your mental load by not being weighed down by the obligation of doing things as they’ve been done before can open up new opportunities.

Hiring and Remote Work

This topic was so hawt. I think every single conversation I had involved some discussion of hiring and/or remote team management. As a leader of a team that works mostly remote, I found the presentation by Doist’s founder, Amir Salihefendic, most interesting.

Amir built a fully-remote team, seemingly successfully. He shared his list of requirements for successful remote work. A couple that struck me were:

  • Define your business first-principles and make them known. Almost every business has defined vision, mission, values that they’ve established, but I really like Amir’s focus on first principles.

  • Seek talent from all backgrounds and locations. This one got me thinking. Amir suggested that Doist hires employees all over the world and the salary that some of his employees can make with Doist, in areas with less opportunity, can be community-changing. I’m always looking for ways that business can make broader, more human-first impacts, and this struck me as one of those opportunities.

  • Hold company retreats. I’ve experienced the value of this first-hand with some of my clients who run remote businesses, but it was validating to hear that Amir sees the importance in in-person company retreats to create personal connections.

In other conversations that I had about remote work, I received a few suggestions for where and how to find remote employees:

  • Toptal

  • Upwork

  • Dribbble

  • Advanced searches on LinkedIn

  • Graduating students

Marketing and Message

I heard several questions throughout the conference and discussions about marketing, B2B software marketing, and brand, but it was an under-represented topic in the speaker lineup.

There were a couple of great talks on the topics of pricing and sales, which I found both validating and insightful. But when it comes to marketing for software, I find that there’s not enough education around the purpose and power of marketing.

A lot of the work that I do with clients is education about what marketing is and, in an effort to answer the questions that I heard at the conference, I’d like to share my answers to a couple of the inquiries that I heard for anyone who is running a software company and is looking for guidance on the role of marketing in a software company.

What role does marketing play in a software business?

This is a big question, and I could take a lot of different paths to answer this, but I’ll start by sharing what marketing is not. Marketing is not just graphic design and social media. I cringe when I see marketers relegated to “making things pretty.”

Yes, one of the things that marketers do is make things look nice, but it’s primarily in service of improving communication.

Or, when someone approaches me because they know that I am a marketer and says “we don’t have marketing and I know we really need to be on social.”

There are so many other things to figure out before you start posting to Instagram.

The job of a marketer is to understand who your customer is and to provide the clearest, most compelling and caring communication to those people to attract them to your business, educate them about what you do, earn their trust, and ultimately support the sales of your software.

We (marketers) are professional communicators. That’s our job, and we work to make sure that people know who your business is and what you do.

The role that marketing plays in software business is to make sure more people—customers, prospects, employees, prospective employees—know, understand, and trust your company and what you’ve built.

How do I create our marketing strategy?

Before creating a strategy, it’s helpful to define what “marketing strategy” is. I define marketing strategy as a definition of:

  1. Who is our customer?

  2. What are we building for them?

  3. How are we talking about what we’re building?

Answering these questions will get you most of the way to a marketing strategy. Yes, there are nuances to be considered like your brand design, the competitors, how you’re different, your channel strategy, marketing budget, etc, etc. But, don’t get caught up in that yet. Just answer the questions and the rest will come.

How do I define my company’s message and positioning?

This is tightly connected to the third question above—How are we talking about what we’re building?

Your message should be a clear definition of who you are and how you serve your customers. I often find that the best way to begin to tackle this challenge is to perform the exercise of building your official sales or pitch deck.

In this process, you’re forced to face down what your company truly does and a prospective customer needs to know. This exercise can’t be done in a silo and should involve your leadership, marketing, sales, and support teams.

Ultimately, the resources that you should have after this exercise is a new sales deck, a positioning doc, and updated language for your website and brand assets.

Marketing is about clarity, frequency, and consistency of communication.

If you have a marketing strategy and clearly defined messaging and positioning, the right people will know how you can help them.

If you have frequent communication, those people will know about you.

And, if you have consistent communication, people will trust you.

And, when in doubt, do what Derek Sivers suggested, take on a “Mensch” mentality and go above and beyond to serve your customers and prospects with the utmost integrity and word will get around that you’re a great company and people will pay you for being great.