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Casey Armstrong on growing SaaS for eCommerce (lessons from BigCommerce & ShipBob)
   

Casey Armstrong on growing SaaS for eCommerce (lessons from BigCommerce & ShipBob)

Casey Armstrong is the CMO at Shipbob, an end-to-end fulfillment solution that brings the same 2-day shipping you know and love from Amazon to a wider array of businesses.

Previously, Casey was the VP of Marketing at BigCommerce, an eCommerce platform with over 50,000 SMB clients. He has consistently acquired millions in net ARR, managed millions in spend, and driven billions of organic pageviews. In short, he knows how to grow a business.

Our interview takes a deep dive into the BigCommerce funnel, covers why marketing is symbiotic with other parts of the business, and talks about why partnerships have been critical to his success. As a leader in the B2B marketing world, Casey also provides great insights on how to think about building out a marketing team. During our interview, he was in the early stages of building out his team after his arrival at ShipBob and he walks us through his mindset.

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In This Episode You’ll Learn:

0:36 — Introduction
2:30 — Inside the funnel at BigCommerce
3:50 — Testing customers vs stock images in paid ads
4:50 — Most marketers just drive people to the homepage. Why?
6:13 — Native integrations can be a growth mechanism
8:10 — How to add necessary friction for quality
10:06 — High-quality data helps marketing & sales teams be successful
13:25 — The product is a marketing & sales tool. Marketers need to think about the product experience
15:00 — Growing and structuring your marketing team
19:20 — Why marketers need to be able to do multiple channels
20:17 — The salty six

Full Transcript:

DR: Today we’ve got a special guest, Casey Armstrong here. Casey is the CMO at ShipBob and the former VP of marketing at BigCommerce. And he’s my new friend, he bought me a coffee when I moved into Austin a couple months ago. And so, grateful to have you here, man. Thanks for coming on.

CA: Thanks for having me. At 6’3″ I don’t often feel short and then when we met I was like, oh wow.

DR: I didn’t even think you were tall.

CA: Exactly.

DR: I’m 6’8″. Most people that probably are watching this don’t know that.

CA: I had to get on my tippy-toes. So nice to be here. Thanks for having me.

DR: Yeah, totally.

CA: This is an awesome space.

DR: Sweet. Great to have ya.

So tell us a bit about what does ShipBob do?

CA: ShipBob is, at a very high-level, trying to bring to Amazon-level shipping and fulfillment logistics to e-commerce businesses of all sizes. So whether you’re selling shipping a few products a month to thousands of products a month, we can bring same, next, and two-day shipping to e-commerce companies. And we have fulfillment centers, currently five right now. LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, New York. By using these distributed fulfillment centers we’re able to provide more cost-effective and faster shipping.

Amazon’s really just made two-day shipping a must-have. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting quip the other day, it was life, liberty, and two-day shipping. That’s now what we expect. And so we’re really trying to bring that to people and you don’t need to be a trillion-dollar business to provide that level of service.

You know you can use a business like ShipBob to provide that and we’ve seen customers, especially when they show it on their checkout process, their top of funnels see a 30, 40, 50% increase in conversions, so.

DR: Very cool.

CA: Yeah, it’s nice to bring that to the masses.

DR: Very cool. I wanna dive into specifically one of the funnels. We’ve got a recurring segment of the show called Inside the Funnel.

Inside the funnel

CA: Perfect!

DR: And I wanna talk through, we’ve chatted before, about a specific funnel that was related to the people that are using Square, right?

CA: Yeah, we can definitely dive into this.

BigCommerce Facebook ad

A BigCommerce Facebook ad pushing visitors to a Square landing page

DR: Sweet. Well, I will let you kind of talk through it, but essentially this funnel is a Facebook ad that’s kind of specifically for people who are using Square. It goes through to a landing page that’s specific about people that are using Square.

I guess that’s kind of like offline people, typically, is that right? Like people that are using Square–

CA: Square actually has an e-commerce solution as well that I think is, they’ve kind of put on a stall for a while, but yeah, most of the people are using it for the point of sale solution and selling offline.

DR: Cool, okay, so Facebook ad to a landing page and then into the signup flow. But, just kinda walk us through why you think certain elements work, why this specific funnel was one that you brought up as a really successful one.

CA: Perfect. Oh yeah, so here we are. Yeah, I don’t know how old this ad is.

DR: Two years old. This is the most recent one I could find.

CA: Two years old, okay.

DR: We’ll assume there are newer ones.

CA: Yeah there are newer ones. Let’s just say we tested this and then we would test call-outs of like, maybe stats that customers have. So this looks like a fake customer. But we’d often use a real customer. They would be a BigCommerce and Square user so we try to test that–

DR: The company that’s using it.

CA: Call-out stats. It could be whatever, like 181% year over year growth. Just like what would work better top of funnel then how could we align that to the landing page. And so let’s just call this the standard Facebook ad.

DR: And would you grab a lot of people in this funnel through Facebook or would you also have all your channels feeding into it?

CA: It depends. I think we were doing some probably SEM as well and of course trying to rank for different broad POS e-commerce terms and stuff like that. We could use those to pull people in the funnel as well. I did some interesting tests on the blog with large CTAs at the top and stuff.

So from here yeah, we’d bring people in. Of course, I see so many people that just drive people in and I’ve done this in the past as well and sometimes it’s a bandwidth reason or maybe it’s just an excuse. But people just drive people to the homepage and–

BigCommerce Step 1

The landing page visitors land on after clicking the BigCommerce Facebook ad

DR: That’s where everyone drives.

CA: What?

DR: Most people I’ve interviewed here are just driving people to the homepage.

CA: To the homepage.

DR: And honestly, like we do it, and it is effective, but then you get certain things like this, it really makes sense to have a landing page.

CA: Yeah, I guess it also depends on how much volume are you even driving — so is it worth it?

Square was a very strong partner of BigCommerce’s as well and so there’s value there as well, so they see that you’re kinda going above and beyond. It just helps to develop more rapport because certain partners can be so helpful both in the short term and in the long term. And so here, of course, it’s 15-day free trial. We did some things here especially with the free trial, so we test different CTAs of course. And this one’s not center aligned like I mentioned prior. We have some others that were more center aligned that we would test. And these people were often not really doing much, if anything, online. And so it’s definitely more of a small business focus here. There’s nothing mind-blowing about this page.

DR: This is a really native integration you guys are trying to put this together.

CA: BigCommerce did a lot of things really well but just like the native integrations with companies like Square or Amazon or Facebook, just really trying to take those to truly like a world-class experience.

DR: That’s awesome. Okay, so they come, click start your free trial on this page and they get taken into a really clean signup flow. I was honestly impressed as I was looking at this. You just ask for the email address up front, and then send them to start your free trial. Which I was thinking, okay, that’s all that they’re gonna ask. But then you go to kind of a second form that asks a lot more information. How did you guys think about this signup flow when they come through?

Step 1 of BigCommerce’s signup flow

CA: Actually if you go back one, what’s interesting here, of course, we’re trying to reduce some friction to get people. Maybe I was cookied when we were taking some of these screenshots.

We actually did quite a bit of testing on having progress bars at the bottom and instead of saying start your free trial, because you don’t literally start it just by putting in your email, it was like, I can’t remember what it was, like move to next step or something like that, and actually those changes provided a pretty significant lift.

DR: Oh, cool.

CA: And so just it’s just us being more transparent or–

DR: Or open context for right where they are in the flow.

CA: Exactly. Because these people — if you’re doing e-commerce — not everybody but many people are usually somewhat tech-savvy. And so yeah, this way, how can we capture your email address? And because of GDPR we couldn’t really email them just off of this alone, but at least we were able to start the process.

BigCommerce signup 2

Step 2 of BigCommerce’s signup flow pushing for additional info for qualification

DR: So simple first step, enter your email address, then move to the next step. And here’s where you’ve got store name, password, first name, last name, phone number, what country you’re in and what size is your online business. Why do you ask all this information?

CA: This is really to help the sales team. Whenever you’re testing it’s like, how fast can you get somebody through the form, versus what is, and this is a really tough part, what is the necessary friction you need to create so you’re actually getting quality?

Because if we just ask for email address and password, we’d probably increase our signups by, I don’t know, 50%. But it’d be a lot of suboptimal signups. And especially if these people are truly looking, they’re gonna fill this information out.

And again, you gotta call it pretty quickly. Instead of them just saying hey you, they’re gonna say, hey Dave, how can I help you?

DR: Dave’s Burrito Shop.

CA: Exactly, Dave’s Burrito Shop, they were hungry. And especially with ‘what is the size’, again I don’t know if the exact drop-downs are there, but you know, it’s–

DR: Just getting started–

CA: It’s probably zero to 50, 50 to 100, and then something, 10 million or 50 million plus. As that, of course, would help us route. And sometimes we’re actually gonna be running soon at ShipBob is the progressive forms which Clearbit’s saying they can help us with.

DR: Where it auto-fills and removes certain fields if you already have the info.

CA: Exactly. And so we actually tested also, surprised it’s not on here, to be honest, but we actually tested removing the country field. And the impact that had because we were pulling that from your IP address anyways, and so those are interesting.

DR: ‘Cause that was auto-filled already.

CA: Yeah, perfect, so there you go. But we were just removing it because it’s like why show it? But then we use a segment of BigCommerce as well but then also at ShipBob so it’s like how can we kind of port this data in any direction that we want just so we can just continuously be smarter about how we’re using all this data.

DR: Yeah so tell me, so when you’re talking about hiding forms and auto-filling information and enriching leads with Clearbit or Datanyze or whatever, what are best practices? How do you think about doing that?

CA:

The reason behind it is mostly you wanna get, for both the marketing team and the sales team is just the most high-quality data as possible.

Because especially if you have a sales team, you wanna provide them with all the necessary data they need to best provide value to the customer once they call. And the reason I phrase it like that is, I mean, that’s the sales person’s job is to provide value, not to sell.

With the information to show, I guess that depends on each business. Maybe you’ll show these but behind the scenes, you’ll be pulling in a lot of other data. So whether it be Clearbit or something else, it can pull in based off of the email address that they have, it can pull in their tech stack or their estimated tech spend. And so we won’t ever show those here because most people would find that super weird and it doesn’t provide them any value, but we would definitely show that within the Salesforce lead or opportunity record for the salesperson to be able to look through.

Because if they sign up for ShipBob and they’re on Shopify versus BigCommerce, that will definitely change the conversation. If they use things such as Acalvio or another very well-respected e-commerce tangential solution, that just helps them kind of be, okay, they’re a little bit more sophisticated or they’re spending a good amount of money on technology and that kinda changes the game there.

DR: Love it, love that. Okay, then one final step here before they get kicked out into the dashboard is do you have an existing website, what will you be selling? Kind of industry, I guess, what you’re asking there. And what best describes how you currently sell your products? Thoughts on this last? Just to get a little bit of information at the end?

BigCommerce signup 3

Final page of BigCommerce signup flow

CA: Yeah, just get some more information, help the salespeople. If these people had some more information. They can skip it, this isn’t required. But it’s just some good, nice to have information.

I’d say the most interesting part too is that a lot of companies don’t necessarily do is the next slide. And these are some things we’ll be testing at ShipBob quite shortly is right when you get here you get your import products from Square. This is what I talked about at the beginning, the landing page, there are actually some flows where it does, it’s actually pretty slick. Even in the visualization of the experience and how it can import stuff from your Square store and this is just import products. And we have this for a few other integrations and other high-impact opportunities. And so it’s not just straight one-click, but it’s pretty cool where you can just single sign-on and kind of just get everything merged.

And just you know how it is, data cleanliness is so important and so any time you can kind of remove that friction and just make it as clean as possible is pretty helpful. And it’s just also a good first impression when they’re like, well, is this the right solution for me? This is at the center of my e-commerce business. And then to show them this type of sophistication and ease of use out of the gates, it’s quite helpful.

DR: Yeah, that’s what I liked about it, I feel like the whole flow felt very specific to a Square user. It felt all very seamless, you’re into the app and it’s actually like, import products from Square was right there. It seems seamless and I think as marketers, you can’t just dump them off into the dashboard and then say your job is done. You gotta get them activated.

CA: I think that’s what a lot of people don’t think through (and again I’m very glad that our CEO at ShipBob actually kicked us off before I joined) is building out a true product growth team where they actually have revenue KPIs and they’re trying to create the most seamless experience in the product.

And the product is a marketing tool and it’s a sales tool.

A lot of people don’t do that and that’s because maybe they’re not thinking about it that way or they don’t have the bandwidth or they don’t think they have the bandwidth, but it’s such a– If you’re driving anybody into the product you need to be thinking through that experience. Again, I don’t know what the default state cool buzzword is, but if you send people into this…

With LinkedIn, I haven’t signed up for that in forever, but if they dumped you into this empty profile versus asking you a couple questions along the way.  I think Slack does this, they’ll pull if you use your Gmail address or your business address, they’ll find profiles you’ll have elsewhere that at least pull in the picture and your name and some other information. So at least you’re not throwing them some blank state, what the heck do I do now?

DR: Yeah, well I love that, I love the whole seamlessness of that flow and how it kicks them right into importing their products. And I could see how if you were using Square you’d feel like this company already knows me and this is built for me.

Not like I’m trying to hack together my situation with BC. So very cool, so I wanna talk about the team here kinda last. I think a lot of people listening are the single marketer of their team or they got a small team of three or four. You just moved over to ShipBob and I think you guys have what, a team of five right now?

CA: Yeah, it’s like five or six marketers.

DR: Five or six marketers. How do you think about building a team? ‘Cause I think a lot of people listening to this have a couple people on a team and they’re looking to grow that growth marketing organization.

So how do you think about putting together a team?

CA: So, fortunately, I get to oversee all partner and biz dev, so that’s like another role and then there’s an inbound sales team which is like five or six people that currently kinda dotted line in both marketing and sales.

And then I mentioned there’s a product growth team which at least as of today doesn’t report in marketing but that definitely could report in marketing in the not too distant future. And so we know that’s marketing, that’s biz dev, that’s sales and that’s product. And so those things all, I think as marketing evolves today, those are four functions and there’s more.

They can all roll up into marketing and it would create a very seamless marketing and sales process. And especially a company like ShipBob that has a lot of salespeople. Here it was the current team members focus on content and SEO, demand gen, marketing automation, all of the digital channels and I don’t think I’m forgetting anything. And then some of the web dev stuff. Then there’s the product and biz dev team which works very seamlessly with them. The roles that I’m opening, which are I think just went live yesterday or something, it’s ramping up more people on the digital front–

DR: What does that mean?

CA: So the paid channels, so SEM, possibly paid social, something like the CRO work. Or conversion optimization work. And then some partner marketing people. What’s interesting with the ShipBob is the average customer value is pretty high.

And so on a yearly basis, it’s pretty much always at least… It’s pretty close to five figures. And we can have six-figure and up to seven-figure customers per year. And so just the partnerships can have such a big impact and so it’s both on the technology side, so that’s partnering with the BigCommerces or Shopifys or ShipStations of the world. And on the agency front, so those are e-commerce-focused digital agencies, end-to-end e-commerce agencies, maybe design and development agencies.

And so anything we can do with them to help us to provide value to their customer base or potential customer base and vice versa. And so anyway, back to digital, then there’s the partner side, bringing some more people on like the demand gen side helps support. And there I’m being pretty broad but that’s both creating that demand top of funnel, but then also nurturing it. Because somebody needs to own all of the customer marketing, what do you do when people are in your trial process, what do you do afterward, what do you do if they make certain changes, is it the holiday season, which is when e-commerce stores make 30 to 50% of their sales, so what’s the value we can provide there?

There’s win-back stuff, people that hit their trial and then drop out, there are peoples that churn, and so there’s just a lot of customer marketing that has to happen there.

DR: Do you have any designers or engineers on your team?

CA: So our designer/developer role is also open. We, fortunately, have an amazing one at BigCommerce, he’s still there, who could also do video. He was just next level across the board. Every talent that I wish I had that I don’t. He played the guitar and stuff and I’m like, I can’t do any of that stuff. He could probably sing, I don’t know.

And so yes, we’re getting that technical function as well. And then a fast follow will be another partner marketer that can also do content and then a marketing automation person. This is something I always look for in people is because sometimes people will want very specific people like you are the SEM person and you are the SEO person.

If you can’t do, you should be able to knock your channel and maybe another one out of the park, but if you can’t do a handful of others at least pretty well well, I don’t really see a place for you even in a company like BigCommerce where there’s 40 plus marketers or ShipBob where there’s, let’s say, after with all these open roles, like 10 to 12 marketers.

And then here, again because I think business development will be so impactful, we’re opening some channel managers. And what we like with that is they’re really sitting in between marketing and product and sales. Because they’re bringing in those partnerships and then they’re working with the product team to figure out if or how different integrations need to be built and then they’re also needing to help provide sales collateral and information to these partners and then hand them off to the sales team. And so those are what I’m focused on most right now.

DR: Love it, love it. All right, man. Well, we are wrappin’ it up. We’ve come to the end, slidin’ into home base.

CA: Perfect.

The Salty Six

DR: And we’ve come to the Salty Six.

CA: Awesome.

DR: The Salty Six is my favorite part of the show here.

CA: Yeah, I thought it was the Wild Turkey but now that I think about it maybe it’s like tequila shots or something.

DR: Yeah, it’s more tequila-focused.

CA: I’m on my way here, quick transition. So when I was walking down the street there was a big sign and it was free AC with your margarita. And so that’s how they were trying to get people in–

DR: And that’s the market here.

CA: Extremely hot Austin. I was like, wow, that is pretty good. So.

DR: Well this doesn’t have any tequila but maybe after this?

CA: Awesome, let’s go for it.

DR: That would be nice. So this is six intense, rapid-fire question.

CA: Okay.

DR: They aren’t that intense. But for us to get to know you a little bit better.

CA: Perfect.

DR: Sound good?

All right, so first and foremost, what do you do for fun?

CA: Well now I have two little boys, one’s one and one’s four, and so I get to, after trying to be serious and professional all week or all day, I should say, I get to act like a little kid with them.

DR: Go wrestle.

CA: Exactly, mess around with them, swim in our pool, go on hikes. And then I need to do it more, but I like to get outside, well I actually do a lot of this, but get out and hike around Austin and everything. I get to travel quite a bit and then play basketball and volleyball when I can.

DR: Love it.

What’s the best business conference you’ve ever gone to?

CA: Hm, business conference. So the way I view the business conferences is, you’re getting longer answers than you probably wanted, is the most value I’ve ever seen from those is it’s regardless of business conference it’s how can you get the most value for yourself or your company.

And so something that I’ve done that I enjoy is the night before a business conference, host a happy hour or something like that. And so that’s just such a great way to meet people that you’ve always wanted to meet, and so the speakers are often coming the night before or there are other cool people coming to the event, there are friends of yours that live in different cities.

And what’s happy hour cost? Most of the time people will just pay for stuff on their own but you spend 100, 200, $1,000 or something on a happy hour, you get 10, 20, 50 people that you haven’t seen in a while or have never met before in a room that’s like–

DR: Perfect.

CA: The shaking hands and meeting cool people. So regardless of the event, I think that’s–

DR: So you bring the hype to whatever conference you’re going to.

CA: Well, I mean, sure, we’ll say that, but I don’t know that’s the case, but at times it’s a fun thing to do.

DR: Cool, cool, love it.

What podcasts do you listen to?

CA: I’m blanking on what he calls it, Patrick O’Shaughnessy has a great one on finance and investing. I love trying to find things that are kind of tangential to the world that we live in all the time and he has just some great people. He has the former GM of the Sixers that really brought the sabermetrics movement out there. And a handful of others that are just next level. And then I’ve recently got sucked back into the Bill Simmons world so I listen to his. He’s had some unreal guests. I’m listening to the one he has with Matt Damon right now.

DR: Yeah, I almost started that one yesterday.

CA: It’s good. And then there’s one with Steve Nash prior. They just get into– ‘Cause Bill will say something, and I say Bill as if I know him, but what’s up, Bill?

DR: He watches this.

CA: Yeah, I’m sure he does.

DR: I think he does.

CA: So as I’m sure Steve Nash does too. He’ll have an opinion and Steve Nash will say something like no, well, it’s actually like this, and it’s like, okay, well like, Steve Nash knows everything about the NBA for the past 20 years, so. Okay, that’s pretty awesome.

DR: Yeah, love it.

Cool, what book are you reading right now? What’s on your nightstand?

CA: As most people, our brains are always running all the time and we look at the computer way too much and so I read a lot of fiction before I try to go to bed.

Some of these sound weird, like espionage books. This guy Ross Thomas and this guy, oh, I’m blanking on his first name. I’ll think of it. McCarry is his last name. He actually used to be a deep cover guy and then he wrote fiction. And then what it– I actually just finished this book called… Something, what was it called? Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, it’s basically about how the settlers were moving West and how some of the different Native American tribes really helped stunt that movement West for quite a while and so much of it centers around Texas and it’s not that long ago, maybe 150 years ago, just like how savage we all were. And also it’s interesting because they use concepts like the horse, he writes about it in the view of like it’s, as technology and how different tribes and different settlers or people from different countries adapted to the horse and then the gun, different types of guns differently. And so anyway, it’s kind of a play on technology as well.

DR: Cool, love it, sounds like an interesting book.

CA: It’s cool.

DR: It’s moon, something moon?

CA: Something moon, we can post in the thing.

DR: We’ll put it in the show notes below. You seem like an NBA guy.

CA: Yeah.

DR: Michael Jordan or LeBron?

CA: Oh jeez. I mean, I was born in the ’80s so you gotta go to Jordan. I don’t know. Plus you can’t go six for six in the finals and pick somebody else. Even though LeBron looks pretty good. I’m from Southern California, I’m not just some crazy Lakers fan, but he looks pretty good in the Lakers jersey so we’ll see.

DR: He’s definitely good in the Lakers jersey. All right, final question. What’s one person that you’d invite to a dinner party, dead or alive?

CA: Oh jeez. To have an interesting night. Um… I don’t know, that’s a good one. Gosh, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about that. Bill Simmons. I randomly met, well, he signed his book of basketball for me. I went to a Clippers game–

DR: How cool.

CA: And he was signing them over there so that was pretty cool. But I don’t know, probably someone he’s had on podcasts, not Bill even though he’s done some cool stuff, so.

DR: Beautiful. Okay, well there you have it, folks. Casey, thanks for being on Scale or Die. If people wanna find out more about what you’re doing where can they find ya?

CA: Yeah, Twitter @CaseyA or [email protected] Thanks a lot for having me.

DR: You’ve got a pretty sweet domain name actually.

CA: Fullstackmarketer.com?

DR: Fullstackmarketer.com. I saw that and thought, that’s kind of a nice marketer domain.

CA: Not too bad. I bought some similar ones for pretty cheap and somebody offered like five figures for one and I’m like, okay. I don’t know why he bought it. So there we go, domain name. That’s where the money’s at, not in crypto, domain name.

DR: Next episode, come back and talk about domain.

CA: Exactly.

DR: Cool, man, thanks for being on.

CA: Thank you.

DR: Yeah, yeah. All right, folks, thanks for watching. We’ll see you in the next episode.

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