An intent marketing operation contains many moving parts, each crucial to overall success. There’s PPC, UX/UI, data analysis, and more. Behind each moving part is a person responsible for making sure it works effectively. Naturally, each role in an intent marketing team involves different skill sets and attracts different personalities.
Nir Bar Sade, Head of Business Sector at Natural Intelligence, manages a cluster of 24 employees who run dozens of comparison sites for products and services like antivirus programs, home warranty, and medical alert systems. We spoke with Nir about his approach to managing a team dedicated to implementing intent marketing best practices.
NI: What is an intent marketing “cluster”?
NBS: Up until a couple of years ago, Natural Intelligence’s marketing team all sat in one place, business development in another, and so on. But then Natural Intelligence made the decision to have employees sit in clusters comprising people with different areas of responsibility, but all rowing in the same direction and having a shared goal.
We’ve seen tremendous growth in synergy and activity because within a couple of square feet you’ve got the person who targets the high-intent users and the person who manages the relationship with the brands or companies we send those users to.
NI: What are the various roles in your cluster?
Our business development managers are responsible for Natural Intelligence’s relationship with partnering brands. They fly to the partners’ offices, learn what types of users they wish to attract, and bring that information back to Natural Intelligence’s offices to put it into operation.
Our marketing analysts run Google PPC campaigns targeting high-intent users (people with immediate intent to purchase the product or service – N.S.).
Our content managers write reviews on each brand. Their job is to highlight each brand’s unique value proposition.
Our product managers are responsible for the look and feel of various comparison sites. They ensure that the UI/UX serves the target audience. For example, most visitors to Natural Intelligence’s medical alerts website are senior citizens, so we’ve implemented a larger font on this website.
Finally, our business analysts do deep dives into the data we collect from our marketing campaigns and clients. If a client asks us to target one type of user over another, it’s the job of our business analysts to find out where those users are coming from. They share that information with the team, who incorporates it into the marketing strategy.
NI: Do you have any winning strategy for managing all these moving parts?
NBS: I practice what I call positive management or positive leadership. It’s all about empowering employees to develop synergy with one another, deal better with crises, and drive innovation.
The people in my team come from a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets. Most of them spend 8 to 9 hours a day in the office. My main mission as a leader is to make sure they’re happy coming to work every day, encourage them to speak up, pay personal attention to their growth, and spend time knowing them on a personal level. It’s crucial to our success that every one of our team members finds a second home at the company; that we become almost like a family.
NI: Is this a company-wide management strategy?
NBS: It was my decision and I see more and more directors in the company who are aligned with my agenda. My inspiration is a book by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, called Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Some of it also comes from my own life experience.
Hsieh teaches how company culture is more important than most other things and how positive management drives people to excel, to get them out of their boundaries, to be better, to support one another. At the end of the day, it comes back to driving better financial performance.
NI: Could you provide examples of positive management in action?
NBS: For starters, I force myself to say yes when people put forward ideas—even if I’m not 100% sure it will succeed. For example, a marketing manager is responsible for marketing strategies and campaigns. This person might speak up in a meeting and suggest a change to the header image on the website, based on their idea or perspective of the client. Although it’s not their territory—it’s content and product—I’ll say, “Okay. Let’s try that.” It might not be a great idea. It might not bring huge success. But for that person, it’s a win because someone listened to them and was willing to allocate time and resources to their idea. They’ll feel better about themselves and the next time they have an idea they’ll know someone will listen.
Another good example is involving the personal lives of the team at work. A team member was about to get married, so we began our weekly performance meeting by tracking the progress of her wedding preparation. Husband, yes, wedding dress, no, list of attendees, yes, and so on. The more people get involved, the more they have a personal investment in the team and will be there for one another. If someone’s on vacation immediately someone else will cover up because they feel obligated to help.
Another point is to encourage employees to treat mistakes as opportunities. This means seeing each error as an opportunity to make an additional improvement or sign up an additional client. If someone stands up in a meeting and says, “Listen, guys, I screwed up. I made a mistake on that campaign,” or “I sent the wrong message to the client,” the team’s immediate response would be, “Great! This means we’ve found an opportunity to grow.” When you encourage this type of mentality, team members are more likely to come forward and admit to mistakes; to say, “Hey I found an opportunity, we’re missing a big portion of clients because I failed to target the right audience in a specific keyword and specific campaign.”
NI: Tell us about a time when withholding the ‘no’ has paid dividends.
NBS: One time, we were having a group discussion on how to bring more high-intent users to our medical alerts comparison site. A marketing analyst put forward the idea of paying extra to move the site’s paid search ad from third to second in the rankings. He admitted that he didn’t have any proof or numbers to back up his idea. All he had was a gut feeling that if we positioned ourselves higher, we would bring in more high-intent users, because the people who click on the top 2 ads have higher intent than those clicking on the third ad. His theory was that this vertical is made up mostly of women aged 50 to 70 who are more likely to purchase from the higher ads. He asked if he could run a test.
At first, I said no. But eventually, we—my intent marketing team leader and I—agreed that we trusted the guy and that we should go with his gut feeling. We understood that if we kept saying no, it would take the wind out of his sails. We gave it a week and it actually performed exactly as he (the marketing analyst) had thought. Although he had no numbers to support the theory, it proved itself.
NI: What’s the farthest you’ve ever gone in the name of positive management?
One time, our cluster was assigned to write a 6-page memo on how Natural Intelligence could achieve hyper-growth in one of its verticals. The project was based on something Jeff Bezos does with his execs at Amazon. We assigned the project to a team of 5 people, comprised of representatives from marketing, biz dev, business analysis, product, and content.
I edited and presented the plan to company management, who decided to move away from it because of the attached costs. Then I went back to the intent marketing team and told them that management didn’t want it, but I would let them execute the plan anyway. I asked them to cut out the parts that would lose money but to execute everything else in the plan. Every KPI had been written by the stakeholder who was supposed to execute it. The result was the team executed the plan to the max and we were able to meet the targets that management thought we would need to lose money to achieve.
Because every intent marketing team member had a personal stake, they did everything better than planned. They thought that targeting specific keywords on Google to acquire specific users would cost x amount of dollars and it actually cost a bit less because they paid more attention to details. The business development person who was supposed to onboard a few of the clients to take part in this plan was able to get these clients to invest more money out of their own pocket and to ask more clients to join the plan.
Everything was even better than we initially thought, and all the optimistic scenarios came to life because the people were so invested in this plan. They performed out of their minds to make sure everything was built.
In the end, management was fine with it because we pushed the vertical and generated more high-quality user leads without losing money—while still meeting hyper-growth targets.
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