April 30, 2024

How Ten Speed’s Onboarding Process Offloads Past Agency Trauma

Ryan Sargent
Ryan Sargent

“But how will you learn our product?”

“We’re creating a category. How will you be able to support us?”

“Can you show us some of your success in our very technical space?”

“We don’t even know who our ICP is yet — so how can you know?”

“Do your writers have 10 years of experience in our industry?”

Until last year, these were the questions I was asking marketing agencies as an in-house marketing leader.

Now I’m on the other side of the table.

It turns out that answering these questions is as complicated as you’d expect, but not for the reasons I’d imagined. Sure, I can talk about using Jobs-To-Be-Done methodologies, leaning on collaboration, and asking for specific resources from clients. I can explain how my team will internalize, document, and execute using those resources. I can talk about how our lived expertise in B2B SaaS means we know how to scale organic growth across verticals and funding rounds. 

Potential clients still have concerns. “JTBD” has become a trite buzzword, a shell of Clayton Christensen’s elegant dream to understand the mechanics of innovation. No two companies are the same, and while Ten Speed doesn’t ever fall back on playbooks or copy/paste strategies, there’s still the challenge of getting things exactly right for each new client.

Worst of all, I don’t know a single in-house marketer who hasn’t been burned by an agency before. Missed deadlines. Scope creep. Weird payment terms. Poor communication. Low-quality work. 

Agency trauma is real, and it makes sense that in-house marketers have questions.

This article is my answer. 

Start at the beginning

When folks ask us questions about learning their product or ICP, my first feeling is relief. I want to work with smart marketing teams who care about things like audience and brand positioning and value props. Even if the company is young (maybe a marketing team of one) and they want help developing those things, it says a lot that they’re already thinking about it.

Working with a company that blissfully ignores the basic building blocks of marketing strategy never ends well.

The short answer to these questions is that we bake them into our onboarding process. We’re learning, cataloging, and implementing information about your ICP, product, and industry from our first proposal calls through the creation of strategic roadmaps and content. Each of those areas gets dedicated attention during our kickoff meetings.

Onboarding with Ten Speed means dedicated meetings with anyone remotely connected to your product marketing function. The content of those interviews is the result of JTBD frameworks, practice, and a lot of B2B expertise. 

JTBD hipster

I loved Jobs-To-Be-Done before it was cool. I swear. I miss the good old days of internecine Twitter fights arguing whether or not a “job” was fundamentally motivated by emotional triggers or by operational needs.

Who “invented” the concept probably remains up for debate. I haven’t checked Twitter in a couple of years. But I learned about it first from Clayton Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck, then through a course by Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek

I still use those frameworks, and so does the Ten Speed team. Why do they work? 

  1. They’re built with marketing in mind, not product development.
  2. They use language marketers (and customers) understand.
  3. They’re adaptable, with applications across industries.
  4. They focus on purchasing decisions.

Take Moesta’s concept of the “struggling moment.” When we frame marketing around the moment prospects realize they have a problem, we uncover all sorts of critical data around product differentiation, value prop, and potential positioning.

In B2B SaaS, that might look like a creative team struggling to streamline their approval process. Surely, there’s a better option for that than Google Drive notifications, right?

We ask every Ten Speed client these types of JTBD questions before we start building content. Other examples:

  • What’s the thing your best customer likes most about your product?
  • Why would someone switch to your product from a competitor?
  • What’s stopping people in your industry from getting more done faster?

We also discuss product-specific differentiators and features — and why they matter. Then, we fold that information into what you know about your audience.

They’re people, not a TAM

Dialing in a B2B ICP can be miserable. Product use cases don’t line up with ABM strategies. “Jimmy the IT manager” has a persona card that hasn’t been updated in three years. But when you go ask sales, they all know who they want to be on the phone with. For a PLG motion, you know how many trials convert to paid. 

Somehow, marketing is supposed to take that information and build great content. Here’s the information we gather instead so that we can write authentically in different B2B verticals.

We look for specific markers we can use to better connect with audiences, and vocabulary is a big one. Did you know that marketing teams in higher ed use the term “melt” to describe students who accept a university admissions offer, then disappear over the summer (to attend another school)? Every industry and audience has these types of words. Jazz musicians play “changes,” not “chord progressions.” We ask about these words and put them in every brief.

The same goes for subject matter. One of the things most people forget to include in briefs for writers is the relative knowledge level of the target audience. If we’re building content for DevOps engineers, we ask upfront about concepts that are table stakes. This way, we don’t sound like every other B2B SaaS SEO article explaining “What is continuous deployment?” followed immediately by an H2 outlining “3 benefits of continuous deployment.” (We also find writers with a background in software development.)

Practice what you preach

We have to catalog and document what we learn about your audience and product, surface them, and make sure they’re reflected in the content — or that effort during onboarding is wasted. We’ve worked hard to build a process flexible enough to handle whatever comes out of those onboarding meetings.

We do that first with a single source of truth using Airtable. Editors and the Ten Speed team have access to a one-stop shop with everything from your style guide to your most important product features. The source material for the table, including recordings of onboarding interviews and any documents provided by clients, live in a linked Google Drive.

We also customize our brief template for each client. Every writer on every brief sees details about audience and ICP, product positioning, and inspirational content in your industry. Our brief writers also include this information within the outline to make sure your unique POV weaves through the article (yes, even when we target TOFU keywords). Most importantly, we update that brief template and source of truth as we go so that learnings get documented and incorporated into future content.

Our production process includes article-specific SME feedback from each client before the brief goes to a writer. This async SME process is designed to help niche down the audience for each article so that we speak to search intent and build content designed for humans.

The power of experience

We’re humans, and we’ve learned from our successes, mistakes, and a whole lot of time driving organic growth for B2B SaaS companies. The beauty of agency work is that we get to peek behind a lot of curtains and build our processes on a larger data set.

That larger data set also applies to our daily work. Most in-house marketing teams don’t get a chance to intake large amounts of data about product and ICP, analyze it, and put it to use. That’s not a domain skill for in-house teams; they just need to internalize data for a single product. Because Ten Speed works with many clients, we get to practice (and perfect) our ability to quickly learn about a brand, product, and audience.

As good as those onboarding processes are, it’s the content that makes the difference. We’re able to learn about each new client — and fuel their organic growth — because we’re asking the right questions at the beginning. 

That’s the first step in helping folks recover from rough agency experiences in their past.

Discover how we can help.

Book a call with us and we’ll learn all about your company and goals.
If there’s a fit, we will put together a proposal for you that highlights your opportunity and includes our strategic recommendations.