Twilio, a cloud communications company based in San Francisco, is reinventing telecom by merging the worlds of cloud computing, web services and telecommunications. Twilio hosts a telephony infrastructure web service that allows web developers to integrate phone calls, text messages, and IP voice communications into their web, mobile, and traditional phone applications. DemandResults recently utilized the Twilio API to develop its call marketing and sales platform, RingDNA.
As Twilio’s Product Marketing Manager, Dan Kaplan is responsible for its inbound marketing and its enterprise go-to-market strategy. Before diving into his first product marketing job at Salesforce.com, he was an entrepreneur, a magazine journalist and a tech blogger. We recently spoke with Dan Kaplan about some of the marketing strategies that have played a role in Twilio’s success.
Dan Kaplan: Twilio has taken marketing seriously since its inception. Our Director of Marketing, Danielle Morrill, was the company’s first hire. Everyone who is familiar with Danielle’s work knows she’s a rockstar who has pushed tirelessly and effectively to capture developer mindshare.
In the early days, Danielle handled almost all aspects of our marketing. She was on all the forums, blogs and social channels and at all the local developer events, working them like mad. She helped build and lead what I consider to be the world’s best team of developer evangelists. Together, they basically wrote the book on connecting with developers through hacktahons and other targeted events. It’s genuinely amazing how much buzz she was able to generate early on, considering that:
A) Twilio is essentially a B2B infrastructure company.
B) We didn’t even have a PR agency for our first two years.
That being said, even though I’m in marketing, I’d say the most critical component of Twilio’s early success has been the simplicity and power of our products. Twilio’s engineers took the arcane, complicated mess that is telephony and made it accessible at scale to anyone with basic web development skills. Developers that use Twilio become vociferous fans. That’s all about the product. All the marketing in the world doesn’t get you that.
Evidence-Based Marketing: What are the performance metrics that are most important to Twilio?
Dan Kaplan: The performance metrics we care about are pretty standard for a B2B startup. We look at traffic volume to our site, how well that traffic converts to trial accounts or leads, how well those trials convert to paid accounts, how much those paid accounts spend per month, how much they churn, how much they cost to acquire, and so on.
As we’ve started to focus more on inbound marketing, we are also looking closely at where we rank in organic search for our target keywords, the quality of our inbound links, the reach of our blog posts and our effectiveness at generating, capturing and converting new leads.
Evidence-Based Marketing: Twilio’s core market seems to be developers. How is marketing to developers different than traditional B2B marketing? Does Twilio market to specific developers?
Dan Kaplan: Because our core products are web-services APIs, developers are the natural initial audience. We don’t have to explain to most of them what an API is. They get it. We do, however, have to clearly explain how to use what we offer.
Twilio has expended a lot of resources designing our voice and SMS APIs to be simple, powerful, scaleable and accessible in any programming language. We’ve also devoted significant time and care to making our documentation utterly easy to comprehend. We have detailed walkthroughs and sample code for every product.
Meanwhile, our crack team of developer evangelists sponsors and attends tons of developer-centric events. Placed in key cities throughout the US (and now in Europe, as well) our evangelists spend their time preaching the good word of Twilio everywhere they go. And they go everywhere.
Evidence-Based Marketing: I understand that Twilio was recently investigating marketing automation solutions. What questions should B2B companies be asking themselves when looking into marketing automation solutions?
Dan Kaplan: Essentially, you want to find the tool that matches the depth and scale of your needs. Don’t get sold on feature-loaded products that go beyond what you need in the next 1-2 years. You want something you can spend time in every day. For example, Eloqua is crazy powerful, utterly customizable and full of all sorts of access controls and other things big enterprises require. It is also fairly hard to just dive into and use, which is probably why they have elaborate training programs.
On the other end, Pardot is much more affordable and has a simpler and more intuitive UI. Compared to Eloqua, however, Pardot is relatively inflexible. I’m a huge fan of what Hubspot/Performable is up to. Performable particularly, which Hubspot acquired, has the best UI in the game. However, it’s still a fairly young product and can’t meet every requirement.
Evidence-Based Marketing: How does your background as a journalist in the tech scene help you as an evidence-based marketer?
Dan Kaplan: I’m not sure it does. Actually, I’d say that having been a tech journalist is a gift and a curse. Since I started writing about tech, at VentureBeat, I’ve had my finger on its pulse. I keep up with pretty much every interesting startup and relevant technology product that launches and what they do. I know the ad and marketing technology worlds pretty well. As a journalist, I also learned how to consume and digest information like crazy. I got good at communicating clearly. That’s the upside.
The downside is that at every professional turn since making the decision to abandon the writing profession, I’ve had to combat the assumptions that because I was once a writer, I don’t know how to use data or don’t get technology. To be fair, these aren’t entirely crazy assumptions. I spent a fair amount of free time teaching myself web analytics, content marketing, landing page design optimization and SEO. Those aren’t things you learn writing. The road away from journalism has never been clearly paved or well-lit.