How to build a community, according to Terminus’ Nikki Nixon

As is our regular practice, tonight at our digital marketing class, we had another guest speaker to enthrall the class about how they get things done in their particular space. This night, Nikki Nixon, the TAG 2015 Marketing Technologist of the Year and Marketing Manager at Terminus Software, gave a fantastic presentation. From her days deciding to double major in Marketing and CIS to Terminus’ latest effort at “Drinking their own champagne”, Nikki shared a wealth of knowledge in just over an hour. I’ve tried to capture the most pertinent points below.

  • When Nikki was trying to decide her future, Sangram Vajre (now Terminus’ CMO) told her, “In 5 years, every company is going to hire a ‘marketing technologist.’ So it was decided: Nikki would double major in marketing and CIS.
  • Nikki left the fastest growing SaaS startup in Atlanta (SalesLoft) to join the second fastest growing SaaS startup in Atlanta (Terminus), as their first marketing hire.
  • Traditional B2B marketing – driving as many leads as possible to the top of the funnel and hoping a certain percentage close – is not the most effective marketing strategy, albeit the most popular.
  • Terminus is trying to change B2B marketing: identify the best-fit accounts, expand your reach in those accounts, engage all the decision makers, and create advocates.

Nikki focused on the “engage” portion of Terminus’ current strategy for the remainder of her talk. Because Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is such a new space, they decided that, before they could truly scale a sales and marketing strategy, they needed to create a community as the foundation of the ABM space. This community would not be a lead pool for Terminus exactly, but a community focused on connecting, sharing, and learning about all things ABM. The next few points illustrate how they went about creating and now growing this new community.

  • They decided that LIVE events would be the best way to create, gather, and grow the community. One of the influencers they identified was the author of the book, “Flip the Funnel”, and they liked that phrase so much that they chose “#FlipMyFunnel” as the name of their community and their series of events, and invited the Flip The Funnel author as a speaker.
  • They identified an “A” list of influencers to invite to speak at the conference, as well as a “B” and “C” list. They created a personal video invitation for each “A” lister, and sent them each a link to the video. Every single “A” list influencer responded, and they never had to move to the “B” or “C” lists.
  • #FlipMyFunnel was not to be yet another boring conference, so they created engaging activities, including a DJ, ‘MarTech Jenga’, Team Zoomba over hot coffee (only did that once), as well as a homemade rap video by the Terminus Engineering team featuring Vajre’s son. This part was key to the success of the entire effort: involve the whole team.
  • Because the actual name of the LIVE event contained a hashtag, it was natural for every tweet during the conference to contain the entire name, and hence the hashtag, of the event. During the first #FlipMyFunnel event, the Terminus team trended higher than Kim Kardashian on Twitter, for obvious reasons.

Nikki and her team created monthly Twitter chats. To make sure their influencer invitees attended, they sent text only emails that contained calendar invite links, trackable in the Terminus CRM, so they could see who had added it to their calendar, and therefore who to expect to attend and participate in the Twitter chat. They use AddEvent software to insert custom calendar invite links.

  • The emails are text only because Terminus sells to marketers, who can smell marketing a mile away and sooner when it arrives in the form of an HTML email. Text only emails are not as pretty, but are also more personal and less salesy.
  • In the email and the reminder, they inserted a usability link that specifically linked to the “LIVE Tweets” tab in twitter rather than the “Top Tweets” tab, which is the default for a hashtag search.
  • In their A/B testing, they learned that using an animated GIF on a landing page earned 20% better conversion, and presenting a landing page with no footer increased their conversion even more.
  • When operating a Twitter chat, treat everyone as if nobody has ever participated in a Twitter chat before. It’s still a relatively new method of engagement that most people are not familiar with the ins and outs of it. Teach everyone what you want them to do on the Twitter chat.
  • It’s Twitter, so sometimes you’ll get participants who are not so nice, or even outright haters. Let the Twitter community police them.
  • Always have a team working a Twitter chat, and use 3 columns in TweetDeck: the hashtag, your own tweets, and mentions. This way lets you see every aspect of the chat, and your team is there to back you up in case your WiFi goes south.
  • They recap every Twitter chat on the blog, pointing out the most popular tweets for those who couldn’t attend, and use WordPress as their blog to embed the tweets into the blog post instead of using something like Storify.

Nikki and her team then created an exclusive “club” for the #FlipMyFunnel community, the #FlipMyFunnel VIP Club, offering participants a weekly ABM digest email, discounts on events, first access to events, and entry into an ABM community on Slack.

Sangram Vajre and the Terminus team created a book, published by Wiley, called “Account Based Marketing for Dummies“, making it easy for new B2B marketers to learn the basics of ABM.

Finally, Terminus “drinks their own champagne”, which is the nicer way of saying they eat their own dog food, meaning that they use their own product to market to their own prospects. According to Nikki, “If you’re a tech company, you should use your own technology to do business.” Most recently, Terminus has begun sharing with their VIP Club a transparent look at what works and what does not work in account-based marketing.

Thank you, Nikki for delivering an extremely smooth and informative talk tonight. It’s always great to learn not only how marketers are using the most popular tech tools in their particular space, but also the wild ideas and simple tweaks to existing ideas, to make their own marketing engine work. If you work anywhere close to marketing technology, you’d do well to keep tabs on Nikki, Sangram, and the rest of the Terminus team. They’re doing something right to go from product launch to $1.1M ARR in 9 months, don’t you think?

What do you think?