Talking Content Marketing, SaaS, Sales, And Bots With Hiten Shah

Hiten Shah has started three SaaS companies over the course of his career (Crazy Egg, KISSmetrics, Quick Sprout) and now he’s also one of our advisors here at Drift.

And since he has a wide range of experience in SaaS — including competing directly with Drift CEO David Cancel back in the day — we thought it would be fun to sit down with Hiten, hit record, and talk about some of the hot topics in SaaS today, from sales to content marketing to chatbots.

So, here’s a made up segment we did called Hangin’ with Hiten. Enjoy.

“I think bots will make sales more efficient. I truly believe that.” – Hiten Shah [Click To Tweet]

Hiten Shah On SaaS, Sales, Bots, And More

Here’s the full transcript from our conversation.

Dave: “Hey, I’m Dave. I’m the Director of Marketing here at Drift and today I’m going to sit down with one of our advisors, Hiten Shah. We’re going to talk about everything from content marketing to SaaS to sales to podcasting to why he thinks chatbots are not just about the hype. He’s going to join me right here in a minute so stay tuned.”

Hiten Shah: “I’m Hiten, I’m just visiting.”

Dave: “That’s perfect.”

Hiten Shah: “It’s the truth.”

Dave: “Hiten is one of our advisors here at Drift, and I had this idea since you’re going to be here, let’s do a little segment called “Hangin’ with Hiten.”

Hiten Shah: “Okay.”

Dave: “That’s good, right?”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, great.”

Dave: “I have a couple different questions I’d like to talk about, all different topics related to SaaS.”

Hiten Shah: “Can we talk about, like, life?”

Dave: “If you have something that’s on your mind, I want you to bring it up. Actually, we were just talking about learning. Repeat what you just said about learning, like in your own style of learning.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, I think people learn different ways, so you know, if someone’s being prescriptive, like your boss was, about a way to learn I think that can actually damage someone’s ability to learn because they start conforming to someone else’s way of learning. So, you should know your way of learning. For example for me, I actually learn better with audio, than reading a written book.”

Dave: “This might be stupid … How do you figure out how you learn?”

Hiten Shah: “So there’s a really simple way, which is like, when you try different ways. So try an audio book and try to see if you can be like me and get to 3x on audible. Right? I can listen at 3x and still pick it up. Other people can’t. Or go watch educational video and see if that works better for you, or go read a book. And, one test is what did you retain. Write out what you retained after. Just explore different ways.”

Dave: “I want to ask you about content. Every company in Sass, every marketing person says ‘does content’ and most people are just not good at it. What do you think you need to be able to do in order to be good at content today? And also, what does being good at content get you? Is it conversions, is it awareness?”

Hiten Shah: “What is being good at content though?”

Dave: “It’s building an audience and building a brand around things that you’re creating, as a company. There’s videos, a piece of our content. Even if you didn’t look at our traffic and you just looked in my inbox or other people’s inboxes, you just have this sense of people are really digging what we’re doing. But it’s harder to map that all the way to like … this person converted. I think a lot of people get caught up in the blogging as a direct response channel when it’s not.”

Hiten Shah: “No, blogging is not a direct response channel. You’re not blogging to get conversion, you’re actually blogging to build brand. It’s one of the easiest ways to get in front of people every day. While people only convert about once a month. Right, or whenever they feel like it. So if you treat it like every blog post I’m going to do is going to get me paid sign ups, you’re doing it wrong.”

Dave: “How do you coach people on what they should be measuring? If it’s not conversion, because I think a lot of people have trouble with that. Okay, it’s not conversion then what am I…”

Hiten Shah: “If you’ve got content you’re writing and there’s some form of a response. So one form of a response on a blog, is that they actually shared it. Another form of a response is they commented. On an email, it’d be nice if you got replies, unless you’re one of those people that uses no reply to sent email, which is not good. A lot of people waste a lot of time thinking they’re going to get conversions and then they fail at content marketing and they stop doing it. Early on you should just focus on building that brand, and you’re trying to build that early audience. That’s really your main goal.”

Dave: “Related to content, the new thing that you’re doing, we’re doing, everyone’s been doing … podcasting. Five years ago, every body had a blog. Now everybody has a podcast. Are you doing your podcast for business reasons? Are you getting business out of your podcast?

Hiten Shah: “No, I think it’s more like the podcast you guys do here. It’s for fun. You can tell on a podcast if the person’s having fun or not.”

Dave: “That’s so true! It’s so true!”

Hiten Shah: “Right? You can just tell. You’re like, “I don’t want to hear someone whose not having fun!”

Dave: “Which is like, they get their list of questions and are like, “So,”

Hiten Shah: “And they’re always the same.

Dave: “I noticed in 2007 you started a company called KissMetrics. And you’re like “Yes.”

Hiten Shah: “That’s 2008.”

Dave: “Yeah, sorry.”

Hiten Shah: “So you don’t have your facts right, do you?”

Hiten Shah: “I hate to give this advice, to be honest. The reason is, I think, people want a tactical conversion or they want a purchase when they do these things.”

Dave: “They want something.”

Hiten Shah: “Because they think it’s a marketing channel. It’s a human channel. Let’s not call this a marketing channel. If you want to get in peoples ears, podcasting is the easiest way. People are at the gym, listening to your podcast. They’re in the car listening to your podcast. They’re not ready to sign up for your crap, right. You get to build your brand that way, right? And that’s like if you get excited to talk and do a podcast. If you get excited to write and blog, but don’t do it if you don’t get excited about it because it’s one of those things that it pays off in the long run but it never pays off in the short run. At this point, you and I are talking about converting from a blog, but we wouldn’t be talking about that 6 months ago when you had 10 visitors.”

Dave: “Next question I want to ask you is about sales. The best sales reps today understand that helping is the new selling.”

Hiten Shah: “Helping is the old selling. We’re supposed to help people, period. This is humanity we’re talking about humans, right?”

Dave: “Yeah, but then something happened where we fell in love with MQL’s and lead forms.”

Hiten Shah: “Predictable revenue I think it’s called?”

Dave: “You think that’s what it is?”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, I mean once something gets formulated everyone else does it because someone wrote a book on it. Not dissing the book, the books great, but we’re now beyond that. Just because …”

Dave: “Just the process though.”

Hiten Shah: “Just think about it, do you want to get a cold call from the sales rep?”

Dave: “No.”

Hiten Shah: “Do you want to sign up for a service and get like a phone call?”

Dave: “This is the thing that we say a lot, which is like think about yourself as a person. We hate all of those things.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, so don’t do it.”

Dave: “But then we go to our jobs, and then we go do all of the things that we hate every single day.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, so I mean, you just have to think about it, like, think about a more human way to do it. I agree it is helping, I don’t like the new word, because we should always be helping. The best sales people have always been helpful.”

Dave: “Yeah there was the old school example where the guy was selling vacuums door to door, which he’d just come up and dump a bunch of shit on your rug and be like, “How you gonna clean that up?”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, but he’s helping. Maybe he put the shit there, but you put shit on your rug too. And shit happens. And vacuums were a new technology so you had to demonstrate. I think that is helping.”

Dave: “Have you noticed a shift in Sass sales? Or are people sticking to the predictable revenue model? Because it is predictable.”

Hiten Shah: “The predictable revenue model has become unpredictable. And the reason it has become unpredictable is that’s what happens when everyone does something. So, what I think about sales today is that if you go look out there in companies that have been really well funded, many of them have actually contracted their sales team. So they’ve actually made their sales team smaller, even though they’ve raised a bunch of money. Why? It stopped working. Everything gets saturated.”

Dave: “Traditional sales hiring model is, it’s very scalable because it’s quantifiable so you have 10 reps that are working or we can drag the spread sheet and all of a sudden, fifteen, 10. But all of a sudden when those numbers don’t catch up, then you have to lay off sales people.”

Hiten Shah: “Right, and the thing is if you have a lot of sales people and your marketing hasn’t caught up and you don’t have enough lead than you have a different problem. If you have a lot of money and you haven’t figured out how to spend it to get you more sales, besides just the sales people component, you’re screwed. And as there’s more companies doing it, it basically gets saturated. And people, the customer gets tired of it, so I think predictable revenue is great if you caught it early. Now it’s late, so basically if you just look at a sales funnel, figure out where your problems are, you’ll notice a lot of the times the problems are not getting the lead and the problems aren’t getting on the first call. The problems have to do with whatever happens on the first call and when someone actually purchases, and so you asked me about what happens next? I think we optimize those areas, without humans.”

Dave: “The bottom of the funnel.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah.”

Dave: “Man, you are good at this game, because my next question was going to be about bots.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah. I didn’t even cheat.”

Dave: “I know you didn’t. Bots, are the big topic in SaaS right now. How much of that is real and how much of that is hype?”

Hiten Shah: “People come up with something new and there’s a new set of technology, whether its the fact that Watson exists or now, I mean, now we know it’s real because Amazon has put out a bunch of services around machine learning and AI and all that. I mean, it’s awesome. I am so thankful for that.”

Dave: “Do you have an Echo?”

Hiten Shah: “I do.”

Dave: “And you use it?”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, my kid uses it. You know the number one use for an Echo?”

Dave: “I don’t know.”

Hiten Shah: “You’re a marketer, think. Come on, music.”

Dave: “Oh okay, that’s pretty good.”

Hiten Shah: “So, my thesis on bots today is it’s definitely a great movement because it enables us to do seemingly human things without a human getting involved. But we’re still very far away from actually having artificial intelligence.”

Dave: “Is that the point? Do we want … the thing we talk about at Drift is we don’t want to have bots replace humans, it’s like how do we optimize you, so if you are a sales rep, how are you only spending time on the people who actually want to buy. Vs. oh Hiten has done this, he works at this company, they have this much revenue. Let’s call him. Are bots going to replace sales function? Maybe?”

Hiten Shah: “I think bots will make sales more efficient. I truly believe that. So people think, yes bots are going to replace humans, but bots should augment them as you’re saying, and you have this bottom of the funnel problem. Once things get down to the bottom of the funnel and people have these dozens of questions about how to integrate your thing or whether it can do this or that, why should a human answer them? Because a bot can probably do a better job answering them than a human. So yeah, I love bots, I think bots are great. We are in the hype cycle where I think we’re starting to realize that all these companies that have been funded that are making bots are going to fail. Not all of them, but most of them, just because the promise of, we’ve been over sold the promise of bots. We, as in, we’ve collectively made this problem. That happens with everything. Everything gets over sold and then there’s this period where you have to come back to reality and then you start seeing some interesting things creep up and you’re back to reality.”

Dave: “Cool, all right. Have you got a book recommendation or anything that you’ve listened to lately that you love?”

Hiten Shah: “I have an old book recommendation.”

Dave: “Hit me. You know that we were just talking about old books.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, we like old books. There’s a book, it’s not that old, it’s called the Five Elements Of Effective Thinking. It’s one of my favorite books, I read it quite a bit. Literally every quarter, every six months. I’ve given the recommendation to you before.”

Dave: “Do you read it or listen to it?”

Hiten Shah: “I listen to it. I consider that reading. And the reason I like it is they’ll tell you things like whatever you think, think the opposite and it gives you a bunch of these tools that are really effective.

Dave: “That reminds me a lot of you.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah. Works really well.”

Dave: “That’s pretty good.”
Hiten Shah: “I like being counter culture, so.”

Dave: “Yeah. Cool. All right thanks for being here.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, thank you for having me.”

Dave: “That’s Hangin’ with Hiten.”

Hiten Shah: “Yeah, there we go hanging with me.”

Dave: “Trademark.”

Hiten Shah: “Cool.”

Dave: “All right.”

Hiten Shah: “It’s the truth.”

Dave: “Get me off this couch.”

Hiten Shah: “This couch is great.”

Dave: “It’s nice.”

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