My thoughts on Basecamp new head of marketing position

Khalid Saleh

Khalid Saleh

Khalid Saleh is CEO and co-founder of Invesp. He is the co-author of bestselling book: "Conversion Optimization: The Art and Science of Converting Visitors into Customers." Khalid is an in-demand speaker who has presented at such industry events as SMX, SES, PubCon, Emetrics, ACCM and DMA, among others.
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I have been a fan of the work from Basecamp for a long time. Started using some of their products back in 2006, read all the books they published and tried to implement some of their suggestions at Invesp.

Ayat mentioned that Jason posted recently about a new position at Basecamp – a head of marketing. So, before reading the job details and what it entails, I thought to myself, if I were responsible for hiring a “head of marketing” at Basecamp, what would I ask him to do?

This would also make for an interesting case study away from many of the tactical marketing advice that is abundant on the web.

Before I answer that question, I will discuss my view on Basecamp, its product offer, and the challenges the new head of marketing will need to solve.

Let me set the stage by saying that we share a common friend and someone who influenced the work both at with Basecamp and Invesp: Bob Moesta. I have been running Invesp for 13 years and been consulting for almost 20 years. It is rare for me to find someone who will have a significant impact on our business strategy of philosophy. This is because most of the advice business advice I hear or read is just regurgitating the same basic points over again in different ways: we most likely have considered it, tried it or followed it closely. Bob is a gem! Every time I sat with him, I learned something strategic and impactful.

I have also been looking at switching to Basecamp for the last couple of month. We currently have a distributed team that operates in 4 countries. I have used Basecamp a while back, and I follow signals vs. noise and read 90% of its posts since 2004. It makes sense to consider Basecamp when thinking about switching. Here are the tools we use on daily basis:

  • Slack: We use slack for both internal and external communication
  • for daily check-ins/ checkout, so everyone knows what team members are working on
  • Trello: our client delivery and marketing teams use Trello to track project tasks
  • Google drive: this is our central file repository for all business docs and processes.
  • Github: this is our file repository for development work.
  • Jira: this is our primary tool for the development team sprint planning and tracking

What is missing?

Reporting: We get different reports from different tools. Some of the tools are better than others.

Client Access: some tools allow us to easily manage client access (Trello) other tools have been horrendous (try to share an entire folder in Google drive with a client).

Single location discussion: As the team grows and becomes more distributed, this becomes a more critical issue. Where should have a single location to discuss a particular topic? Our team was working on the design for new customers wizard in FigPii. The discussion involved 5 people and went back and forth in Trello. By the time I opened the Trello card to give feedback, I was perplexed. I could not figure out the original requirements from the team commentary.

I considered Basecamp (and still), but I am not sure if I should switch to it or not. 

Switching platforms is a headache: It is much easier to change software when you are one or two people. As the team grows, switching from one platform to the next becomes a massive headache. There is always migration headaches with switching platforms.

But more critical is this question: Does Basecamp provide all the features that we need?

I am not sure. Our team had used Dropbox for almost ten years, and then after what I thought was a careful analysis, we decided to switch to Google drive (Gsuite). I said, “what I thought was a careful analysis,” because I spent a long time looking at Google drive, and I thought that I have everything figured out. Migrating nearly 200 gigs of docs was a headache, but we did it in a couple of days. But after we switched, I discovered that Google drive does not allow us to share entire folders with clients. The personal edition will enable users to share folders, but the business edition does not. This might sound like a small thing. But in a business that relies on sharing a lot of documents and designs with clients, this turned out to be a huge problem. We eventually found a workaround. It is not ideal, but there was no way to go back to Dropbox. The question I heard from the team right away when I talked to them about Basecamp was what features do we rely on which Basecamp does not provide? I am not sure. And this worries me.

Basecamp offers a free product trial so that potential users can test their product before making a full commitment. In theory, this sounds like an excellent way to evaluate the product.

But in practice, it is a lot harder to implement.

For me to test the features of Basecamp, I need to have one of our client delivery teams use the platform on an actual client project. How would that work with an existing client? Do we tell our client that we trying Basecamp? What if we use Basecamp and then discover that it does not support all of our needs? What do we do for all the documents and communication that now lives on Basecamp? I plan to ask our marketing team to try Basecamp for a couple of weeks, but I am worried that this will not test all possible features of the product.

Thinking of a #JTBD analysis, here are the main issues the new head of marketing at Basecamp will have to think about and solve:

Concept credit: The Re-Wired Group

The push of the current situation: Too many tools with different levels of reporting and too high monthly spend ($1k/month)

The pull of Basecamp: love what the guys at Basecamp have done over the years

Habile of the present (status quo): We are comfortable using the existing toolset – and although I dream of something better, I am worried about all the headache of switching to a new platform.

The anxiety of the new solution: the guys at Basecamp have a clear product philosophy about what they will work on and what features they will add to their platform. They believe that their product is suitable for certain size companies and that at some point, companies should switch to other platforms as they outgrow Basecamp. That means they will consciously not add certain features to their platform. I like the product philosophy because too many companies continue to add more product features instead of focusing the primary drivers for customer demand. Yet, in practice, this philosophy product tells me that we will have to switch one day to another service. I do not feel comfortable with that thought.

Having said all of that and before reading what Jason wrote, I wondered what the new “head of marketing” focus on. Here are the main tasks I think he or she would focus on:

1. Brand positioning: Outside of Basecamp culture and business philosophy, it is difficult to figure out how Basecamp distinguishes itself in a very crowded space. I am a big fan of Basecamp and subscribe to most of what they stand for when it comes to running a business, but the rest of our company (some know Basecamp, some do not) were more focused on how Basecamp will solve their problem as opposed to its culture. Figuring out the brand positioning and story will be the most critical job for the newly hired head of marketing to figure out, test, and implement.

2. New customer acquisition: How can Basecamp reach out to new customers, let them know about the platform and get them to try it. Having an existing userbase close to 3 million subscribers is powerful, but the full market potential is significantly larger than the current user base. The new head of marketing will need to figure out what channels to use, what messaging works in each channel, test different campaigns to determine what works, and what doesn’t.

3. Conversions: how do you covert more of the potential customers to subscribers? How do you convert more of free trial users to paid ones?

4. Customer retention/ lifetime value: Similar to any other SaaS, retention rates and LTV should be a significant area of focus for the head of marketing.

Now, let’s see how Jason describes the role:

And it’s no surprise: We haven’t really advertised. Or made it easy for new people to find us online. Lately, we haven’t explained our brand particularly well. Or thought much about how we’re perceived in the modern market. We don’t show up in places where potential customers hang out, and we haven’t gone far enough supporting and sponsoring events and like-minded organizations. Basically, we’ve never deliberately focused on actively getting the word out, making sure our brand is appropriately positioned in the market, or meeting customers where they are.

Most of the ideas I had remained on target.

Jason is clear that the team is thinking about brand positioning and brand story.

They are also thinking of new customer acquisition.

developing and executing a broad strategy to bring more people to the front of the funnel by increasing awareness and interest outside of what we’ve already built.

The general idea about awareness is excellent, but some of the details on how to execute it are a bit murky:

we haven’t gone far enough supporting and sponsoring events and like-minded organizations.

In another section of the job post, Jason adds:

Reaching out to groups, organizations, movements, events, and other brands we should be partnering with.

I am not a big fan of supporting or sponsoring events. Yes, it provides exposure; however, quantifying the RIO for doing so is difficult. It would be worth exploring the idea, but there might be better ways to attract new customers.

I understand that these are initial ideas that Jason mentioned and that a new head of marketing will flesh them out, add new ideas, and remove some. But I have fallen in the trap of hiring someone to come with a strategy and never gave them enough space to do so.

In addition to the general tasks I mentioned above – here are some questions the new “head of marketing” should think about:

  1. How do you use the existing customer base to attract new customers through product evangelism?
  2. How do you use current product features or a freemium model to attract new users?
  3. How do you use the Basecamp team members to further strengthen the brand voice?
  4. How do you expand your current customers to include non-users? Which potential customer segments are out there which are not served by all the different platforms? How do you persuade them to try Basecamp?
  5. What role does paid advertising plays in the marketing mix? While I am not a big fan of sponsoring events – I stand on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to paid ads: all you have to do is figure out the cost of customer acquisition through paid advertising, fine-tune it, and then open the faucet.

Where would the new head of marketing start? There is a lot to do, but it is clear what the first step needs to be. The head of marketing will need to conduct a new series of #JTBD interviews to answer some of the questions I mentioned above.

I will be watching the updates from Jason about this position and update this post accordingly.

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Khalid Saleh

Khalid Saleh

Khalid Saleh is CEO and co-founder of Invesp. He is the co-author of bestselling book: "Conversion Optimization: The Art and Science of Converting Visitors into Customers." Khalid is an in-demand speaker who has presented at such industry events as SMX, SES, PubCon, Emetrics, ACCM and DMA, among others.

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