All posts by Uri Bar-Joseph

#F90D Week 5: Customer Interviews

My first 90 days as a VP of Marketing (#F90D), is a series of posts following my work as the new VP of Marketing at Mindspace.me, a Workspace as a Service provider. If you’re just joining, you can start with Week 1 here.

To learn more about Mindspace and the Flexible Space market, I started interviewing customers (you can read more about how you can find the truth about your company here). Before starting the interviews, I wanted learn what to ask and how to conduct an effective customer interview. After my LinkedIn cry for help yielded only a few likes and no real ideas, I turned to Google for some help.

Customer interviews are not a new thing. Companies all around do them for various reasons: market research, product feedback, customer service, new product scoping, usability testing and more. I wanted to focus on value and brand perception so I can compare what we think our customers like about us to what they really do.

After a short search on Google, I found these two great posts on customer interviews. The first one, by Emily Palermo of Drive Research, offered 5 questions to ask in a Voice of the Customer interview. The second, a great post by Dustin Walker on CrazyEgg, offered tips, questions, and ideas on customer interviews. Between these two posts, I felt I had everything I needed (I did read/skim about 20 other posts though, just to be safe).

My Initial Interview Questions

To my first customer interview, I prepared the following questions:

  1. What is the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you hear the name Mindspace?
  2. On a scale of 1–10 how likely are you to recommend Mindspace to a friend or colleague?
  3. Which of the following factors matter most when selecting a company for co-working/flexible space (please only choose 1)? (I listed 6 factors I collected)
  4. How satisfied are you with each of the following factors with Mindspace? (I listed the same 6 factors)
  5. How did you hear about us?
  6. What made you sign with us?
  7. What would make you stay?
  8. What would make you leave?

I went to the first interview armed with these questions and the tips I collected and after the first few minutes of introductions and pleasantries, when I tried to jump right into the questions, the customer simply started talking about Mindspace: what they liked, what they didn’t like, why we’re different, why they chose us, what we’re doing great, what we’re doing badly, and a bunch of other stories and information I was trying to capture as fast as I could. It was a goldmine of insights and information, and I didn’t even had to ask a single question. At the end of the 30 minutes I scheduled for us, I looked down at the questions I wrote, and realized I had most of the questions answered, but trying to ask the questions I didn’t get answers for seems too forced, so we ended the interview and said goodbye.

Back at my desk, I organized my notes and prepared for the next interview. I rearranged the questions and changed a few of them to make them “flow” better. The next interview was nothing like the first one. This time, I had to lead the interview and follow my list of questions until I finished all of them with about 10 minutes to spare. I then improvised a few follow up and deep-dive questions and ended the interview a few minutes early.

The other interviews I conducted were also very different. Some were organized and structured, some were free form and flowing, and some were simply a mess. At some point, I started recognizing the connecting themes that I was looking for. It wasn’t explicit, but once I recognized a theme, I started asking more questions about it to uncover more insight on that topic. For example, the sales experience was brought up in the first two interviews as a positive highlight of their overall experience. So in the next few interviews, I purposefully asked about it to see if there’s a common experience that we can build on. I tried to identify more of those themes so I can use them in future interviews.

My Final/Current Interview Questions

After several interviews, I started having a better structure to the interview and the list of questions I needed to ask. Since I will continue to conduct these interviews in the next few weeks, I suspect that these structure and questions will also evolve.

  1. Tell me about your company and about what you do
  2. Tell me about your first experience with Mindspace
  3. What is the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you hear the name Mindspace?
  4. What made you sign with us? Did you look at competitors or alternatives? Why did you choose us over them?
  5. What were the most important factors for you when you chose Mindspace?
  6. On a scale of 1–10 how likely are you to recommend Mindspace to a friend or colleague?
  7. How did you hear about us?
  8. What would make you stay?
  9. What would make you leave?

I plan on interviewing a dozen more customers in the next few weeks, cultivating insight and feedback that I can use to clarify our value proposition and the areas we need to work on. For now, it feels that with every interview I get closer to the truth , I just wonder when it will start feeling repetitive or confusing.

Additional Resources

Weeks 3 & 4: The Search for the Truth

or: How I became Sherlock Holmes and found all the bodies

I had a total of 6 business days in weeks 3 and 4 combined, so I decided to group them into one post. I call it efficiency, you can call me lazy. These weeks can be titled: “The Search for What is True.”

There’s always a gap between what you learn during an interview process and what’s real. You hope that the gap is not too big, and that the fantasies and dreams you were sold to, are not nightmares but simply an embellishment. In the first few weeks you should be on a hunt for the truth and finding where all the bodies are buried. It’s best if you have someone who knows where they are and can show you the way, but usually, it’s a task you will need to take on your own.

I deploy several methods for finding the truth. I categorized them for simplicity.

  1. People (listening — in the company)
  2. People (listening — outside the company)
  3. Data (analyzing)
  4. Documents (reading)
  5. Projects (doing)
  6. Presentation (talking)

People (in the company)

This method is the fastest and easiest, but also has the lowest level of credibility since people are extremely biased (as you will become too in a few weeks), want to make a good impression on you, or have an agenda. However, they hold the keys and knowledge to thing you will never find out without them. For example, you will not find the history and context of certain decisions without the people who were there. You can’t learn the truth about the culture without seeing it in action. You won’t find the truth about skills, competencies, gaps and issues, without observing your people and talking to them. They are your first and most important path to uncovering the truth. But remember, it’s their truth; you need to find yours.

When it comes to people, I set 1:1s, join meetings, set meetings, go to informal events (happy hour, lunches, etc.), ask questions and conduct interviews. I also like to be direct and ask them about issues as well as ask them to surface EVERYTHING to me. It can be, and it is, a lot, so you need to be prepared to capture a lot of information, categorize it and also communicate the fact that you are just listening at this point. But if you listen carefully enough, the truth will start to emerge. Just remember, the truth is in the eye of the beholder, so just make sure you talk to a lot of holders.

People (not in the company)

A few years ago @ScottFallon told me that “the truth is not in the building” and I love that sentiment. If you want to know what people think about your company and your product, you need to go outside the company to find out. There are several ways and methods for doing it, which is not as important as simply doing it. You can talk to customers about their experience; ask random people, family and friends about the category and product; join sales calls and demos to listen to leads and how they react to the sale pitch; connect with partners to learn about how they see the company and the market; reach out to ex-customers or lost opportunities to learn about their experience and what made them go with the alternative. There are many ways to learn the truth about your company, product and market that is not by listening to the people in the company. Even if you don’t do all of these, at least do one.

Data

Personally, diving into the data is one of my favorite ways to learn the truth about performance, challenges, opportunities, and deficiencies. It’s relatively easy to do, it provides an objective* picture of the situation, and when presented back to stakeholders, it usually draws reactions that help you find more truth. The funny thing, though, is that in the last few companies I joined, as well as the companies I interviewed at, I found that the data was flawed in many ways, or simply didn’t exist. However, that’s also a truth that needs to be uncovered and documented.

Even with flawed or missing data, there’s always some data you can use. As a B2B marketer, I try to figure out the funnel (or micro-funnels) and construct it using the available data. It helps me identify the key areas of breakage and establish a baseline performance. I also look for customer data like revenue, churn and retention, upgrades, CSAT (customer satisfaction scores) and any other data about customers. I research online to find data about the market to understand market size, market trends and market projections. I ask for other marketing data like website data, landing page data, email performance data, budget and paid campaign costs. Finally, if there’s any HR data, I tend to look for it as well. Internal surveys, employee satisfaction, peer reviews, and other information that can help me paint a better picture of the team and culture.

I surround myself with data that helps me identify some of the core issues and corroborate or debunk some of the truths I heard so far. But the biggest benefit of searching for the truth in the data, is the journey to get the data. I uncover more hard truths about the business when I ask for the data, then what I can actually find in it.

*philosophically, true objectivity doesn’t exist. Data can be misleading and whoever entered it as well as the person who’s reading it, bring their own biases. So while it’s more objective than people’s opinions, it’s definitely not pure of bias.

Documents

This method is not for everyone, and I know people who can’t follow this tip and do just fine without it. But I’m a reader and a process-enthusiast (the least offensive term I can use for my obsession with finding processes that work), so for me, it’s one of the most effective ways to find the truth or at least uncover where it might hide. I like to ask and see all the documents people can share with me. Planning documents, research papers, presentations, briefs, debriefs, summaries, and any other company document. I don’t necessarily read in details all of them, some I skim and some I ignore, but I do read a lot of them. It helps me identify themes, tribal truths that need to be challenged, logic and rationale (or the lack thereof) in planning and analysis, existing processes and areas that will benefit from appropriate process. It also gives me an impression of how people approach projects and challenges, and a sense of the culture in the company and my team.

My biggest challenge with documents is finding the right way to categorize and “index” them so I can find them later. I have not found a good method yet, and find myself asking for the same documents again and again. I still ask for more documents though.

Projects

I know this is the preferred method by most people, and I highly recommend it as well, just don’t use it exclusively.

Starting with a project allows you to put to test a lot of the stories you heard from people and get close and personal with the truth. Projects that force you to work with many people, preferably cross-functionally, are the best, but you want to choose a relatively contained, short-term project since the purpose is to learn the truth and not get involved in a major project (you will have enough opportunities to do so soon). You want a project that will allow you to learn about the organization, people, product, culture and market, and find the truth about them. If there’s no project available, you can make one up or join one that is ongoing. It’s important though, that you take an active role in the project and not just join it as an observer. If you’re not leading the project, take a role that forces you to get something done. It will stress-test all your assumptions and shed better light on what you think is true.

Presentation

At some point, you will need to stand in front of your stakeholders and present what you found. You need to confront them with what you think is the truth, and let them poke holes, support or debunk it. You might find out that your truth is missing context or information; you might surprise them with your findings; you might realize that you are way off or dead on; more than likely, it will be a mix of all of these and some other realizations. In any case, your truth needs to be discussed and tested, and more importantly publicized so it can become the truth of the organization and not just yours.

It’s your job to be the Sherlock Holmes of your on-boarding, no one will do it for you, and if you don’t do it intentionally, you will be surprised when the truth smacks you in the head.

Week 2

This is the second entry in my journal documenting my first 90 days as a VP of Marketing at Mindspace. You can find the first entry here.

Week 2 — Frameworks and Research

September in Israel has only 13 business days, and my week-2 included only two business days due to Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). However, I spent most of it reading and thinking. My goal for the week was to finalize the framework for how to approach the marketing audit and how to organize my on-boarding process. Following the playbook outlined in the First 90 Days, my goal for the first few weeks is to evaluate and ensure the alignment (or lack thereof) among five components on the marketing team.

Strategy -> Structure -> Systems -> Skills -> Culture.

For the team to operate efficiently, these elements need to be in concert. In case they are not (and that’s usually the case), I will need to define and align them, simultaneously. For the evaluation part, I needed a framework that can help me organize my findings and then communicate them to the team and the rest of the leadership team.

I considered two options: a functional rundown framework, and a strategic overview framework. The functional rundown framework is a fancy name I gave a simple process — I meet, learn and audit each existing marketing function and I summarize my observations, findings and recommendations based on those functions. It’s easier to follow and explain, and it’s much easier to coordinate since you don’t need to bother people multiple times. The downside of this framework is that it’s reliant on what exists and not what should be in place. But it’s faster than the other framework I evaluated.

The strategic overview framework is another fancy name I came up with to describe a framework that takes a more holistic/strategic approach to the audit. It evaluates the marketing functions through the lens of what components should be in place. The challenges with this framework are that it takes longer to complete and it assumes that there are some universal principle to marketing. It’s also more theoretical and pseudo-academic which can cause some people an allergic reaction.

Obviously, I went with the pseudo-academic and much harder one.


Why Framework?

First of all, because I love frameworks. They help, well, frame your work, and when you’re dealing with a lot of information, frameworks help you organize the information and place it where it makes the most sense. Additionally, the right framework helps with “sense making” both for you and for your audience, and creates a common language that increases efficiency and speed. Finally, it helps define not only what is in, but even more importantly, what is not relevant. Since we’re wired to think and look for patterns, we use frameworks all the time. For example, in demand generation we use the funnel as the most acceptable framework to describe movement of customers through stages in their buying process. You can’t have two demand gen marketers meet without the funnel being mentioned at least once.

However, a common mistake is to try to force reality into your framework. Frameworks are designed to help you make sense of the world around you, not to make it fit your framework. So flexibility in choosing the right framework and in how you use it is important.


The Strategic Overview Framework

This framework comes all the way from my marketing professor who taught us this framework in my first marketing class. And when I say taught, I mean brainwashed. This framework simplifies all of marketing theory into these concepts, which makes it both powerful and memorable (the brainwashing also helped). I since have used it in various formats and versions in almost every marketing role I had.

(I apologize in advance for the poor design on this slide. My professor was a great teacher and marketer, but an awful designer.)

On the left side we have the Situation Analysis, also known as the 5 C’s. You start with analyzing the 5 component that will help define your objectives and later the strategy and go to market — Context (that’s the market and market forces), Customers (market size, addressable market, serviceable market, market share and other customer characteristics), Company (your current situation, employees, assets, etc.), Collaborators and Competitors. The output of this analysis can be summarized in the form of SOWT, yet another famous framework, that covers your Strengths, Opportunities, Weakness and Threats.

The middle part of this framework is the audience analysis in which you research and evaluate the Segments in the market, choose (or evaluate) your Target audience, and define your positioning and the value proposition. This work should lead to your Go To Market (GTM) strategy as represented on the right side of the framework by the 4 P’s (feel free to read more about 4 P’s and the new additional P’s here and everywhere else you can Google).

The GTM review should focus on all the P’s, but in my case, it will focus primarily on Promotion and Places — where do we sell our product and how we promote it. This should include the channels, tactics, process, measurement and optimization, and other factors of the tactical work the team is doing in launches and day-to-day.

Finally, and possibly the most important for me in the next few weeks, the framework asserts that the entire marketing strategy and GTM should adhere and be inline with the brand, as the umbrella that covers the entire framework. Auditing the brand and the work on the brand will include answering questions such as what is the current brand recognition and awareness in our market? What are the key brand attributes? What should they be? What are the current brand assets? What should they be? What is the approach to building the brand?

Another terribly designed slide, but it serves its purpose.

From Framework to Activities

Having the framework in place also allows me to outline my on-boarding process better and plan the next few weeks of learning. While it seems very clean and organized, learning is not as linear and my process feels more like osmosis than following a recipe . I like to immerse myself in the information and let it “flow” through me. Having the framework in place will allow me to categorize the information and place it where it makes the most sense and will be easier to recall and find when it’s needed.

I spent the last week reading, I have a lot more reading to do in the coming weeks. Since Yom Kippur is next week, I will have enough time to catch up on a lot of it.

Here’s another picture of one of our beautiful offices.

My First 90 Days as VP of Marketing  – Week 1

Learn vs Do

One of Mindspace’s gorgeous office spaces

As I was packing my bag the night before my first day at Mindspace, a global provider of boutique, upscale flexible office spaces, it occurred to me that even though it’s my fourth company in 10 years, it’s the first one I join as the VP of Marketing. I’ve been through the “first 90 days” scenario a few times — in new companies and in new roles — but this time is different for a few reasons. First, it’s not a SaaS company, so I will have to learn a new business model. Second, it’s in Israel, a country I grew up in but never worked in, so I will have to build my network from scratch. Lastly, it’s in the flex-office/co-working/office-as-a-service/please-come-up-with-a-better-category-name market which is rapidly growing but completely new to me. As I was having those thoughts, it also occurred to me that my situation is not unique (well, maybe the moving to Israel is…), but with the exception of books on the topic (First 90 Days is my bible for this process as you will notice if you stick around), there are almost no blogs, posts or stories that share the process of starting a new marketing job. So I decided to write and share mine. This will be my attempt to give back to a community of marketers that have given me so much over the past decade in forms of knowledge, content, ideas and inspiration, connections and support. Selfishly, it will also give me the benefit of having a documented journey I can come back to in the future, and will allow me to tap into the collective wisdom of my fellow marketers (and non-marketers) on the topics and challenges I will surely face. For example, should I get a Mac or PC? Just kiddin’, of course I’m getting a Mac.

Week 1

Over the years I learned that the first week should be dedicated to getting to know people and completing all my administrative set up. In the first 90 days two opposing needs compete for my attention — learning and producing. Naturally, I want to be producing value as soon as possible. After all, I was hired to deliver results. However, I learned that resisting the urge to jump in and do “stuff” is important, even if sometimes it feels like you’re not participating. For example, in the first week at Mindspace, I was invited to a meeting about new employee onboarding. The purpose of the meeting was to ask my team to help with writing and designing a welcome email to new employees with marketing information about the company — About Us, market information, value proposition, etc. — and a short welcome video. My immediate instinct was to jump into a brainstorm session, design the flow, and help with the content, but I sat on my hands (as my coach once advised me) to make sure I don’t jump in and take on a task that will only distract me from my real goal in the coming weeks — learn as much as I can.

The first thing I wanted to achieve this week is to get to know the team and reduce their uncertainty as much as I can. Leadership changes are always a source for uncertainty and anxiety, and the faster I can help answer question and let them know I’m accessible, the less anxious they will be. So in the first day I completed introduction meetings with almost everyone and by the end of the week spoke with all the international employees and held our first team meeting. In my introduction meetings I focused on getting to know each of them personally (who you are? what is your background?) and gave them an opportunity to bring up topics that are top of mind for them as well as ask me questions. Then, I reviewed the latest mid-year reviews to make sure I am not missing anything important. In the past, I avoided reading performance reviews or getting feedback on each employee as I was afraid it will create an unfair first impression they cannot control. However, I learned that the more information you can gather, the broader (and more balanced) picture you get. Now I try to collect as much information and feedback on each of my reports as I can. The main purpose is to understand what makes them tick and make sure that I am not missing any red flags. For example, if one of my reports has a tricky family situation that might impact their behavior, it’s important for me to know that so I evaluate and treat them accordingly.

I inherited a strong team, but a 6-month vacancy in the VP of Marketing position is showing its signs on them. They crave representation in the management team and strategic direction, but most of them enjoy the freedom that having no oversight create. One of the key topics I will have to address, is how to start providing my direction and influence without taking away from the independence and ownership they were “forced” into. How do I empower them to continue to take ownership and grow but at the same time create the structure and guardrails that are so necessary for the efficient operation of a marketing team?

This week I also started meeting with key stakeholders in the company to start building relationships and identify where the knowledge and influence are.


Joining Mindspace was not an easy decision for me, since I had a few competing offers to join software companies. When I started the job search, I set two principles that I tried to stick with as I was evaluating my options: I wanted to join a company that has great people I would love working with, and a product and market I believe in. Mindspace is not a software company, but it sells a premium, high quality product in a rapidly growing market. But the main reason I joined, and the one that “sealed” the deal for me was the people. Moving across the globe and starting to work in a new market is going to be hard enough, so having people around me I will get along with, and enjoy meeting every day, was the deciding factor in choosing between a few good offers. Call me vain, but loneliness scares me.


After meeting with all the VPs and several stakeholders I was happy to see the passion and enthusiasm they all have for the company. I was encouraged by the dynamic and the close relationship that I observed in the management team, and by the end of the week, I felt that I made the right decision. It’s too early to really know at this point, but I saw no red flags.

It’s clear that there are many challenges ahead, as I gathered more information throughout the week, some started to emerge. We need to organize and clean the brand, we need to identify the right strategy, build better structure, create the appropriate process and implement solutions. We will need to fill gaps in competencies, hire, reorganize, set roles and responsibilities, and the list goes on. I’m excited about the road ahead, and excited to start this journey with my team and the people around me. In the coming weeks, I will focus on learning the market and audit our marketing functions and performance. But the first step will be to define the framework for my evaluation. I already have a few ideas.

How to Avoid Data Analysis Paralysis: Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

Consider the following scenario:
You run an integrated marketing campaign promoting your new product. The campaign includes all possible online marketing channels – PPC, display, email, content syndication, PR and of course social media and SEO. You also throw in mobile ads and some in-app advertisement. You have a big budget and since this is a crucial campaign for the company, you run print ads that direct people to a unique landing page and invite your house list to a local meet up and a launch party.

Each URL is tagged and every campaign is tracked. Over the next several weeks leading up to and following the launch you collect all the data in your digital marketing solution and when the campaign ends, you have amassed mountains of data. Now what? Continue reading