August 27, 2020

Abundant Generosity Begets Abundant B2B Sales

At the beginning of 2020, Pluralsight decided it was going to give away all of its online tech courses for an entire month. The education company knew that this might negatively affect revenue, but that was a risk worth taking. After all, unemployment numbers were soaring and non-essential workers had to stay at home—this was an ideal time to learn some new skills and level up.

Pluralsight’s offering came to be known as #FreeApril, and so far it’s yielded remarkable results. 1.1 million users took advantage of the offer in markets around the world, and it didn’t cannibalize sales either. In fact, it’s helped close deals in unexpected ways and helped Pluralsight fulfill its altruistic mission: To democratize tech skills across the globe. In this episode, CMO Heather Zynczak shares how they did it, how they plan to nurture these new seeds, and why abundant generosity is the way to go. Check it out!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How abundant generosity can yield abundant B2B sales leads
  • Why #FreeApril was a mission-driven initiative
  • How Pluralsight is nurturing 1.1 million #FreeApril users

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 203 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:29] Planting the Seeds for Demand Generation
  • [4:17] Why Pluralsight’s CMO Owns E-commerce
  • [11:40] Why Pluralsight Launched #FreeApril
  • [18:10] How #FreeApril Got 1.1 Million Users
  • [22:06] How to Nurture 1.1 Million Seeds and Generate Leads
  • [26:20] Why A Free Offer Won’t Necessarily Cannibalize Sales
  • [31:45] Following Up with Special Offers
  • [34:15] Creating an Even Better Experience for First-Time Users
  • [36:44] How to Nurture 15,000 New Logos
  • [41:39] Pluralsight’s 2021 Plans

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Heather Zynczak

[0:29] Planting the Seeds for Demand Generation

“In that environment, it pays to plant seeds today that you might not be able to harvest right away.” @drewneisser #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! Right after the lockdown in March of this year, I found myself starting to think about my garden and wondered if it would be safe to go to Home Depot or Stew Leonard’s where I usually picked up the herbs and annuals that we put in our garden.

I thought that probably wouldn’t be safe, so I went on Amazon and I ordered some seeds. The two seeds that I found were basil and impatiens. Now, I had never ever raised seeds from scratch, and it was a little more challenging than I expected. By the way, I didn’t actually put them in the little cups with dirt until May and they didn’t sprout till June. By then, I’d already made two trips to Stew’s to actually fill up our garden.

I did learn some important lessons, though, that I need to share. First, I could indeed raise basil and impatiens into viable plants from these seeds, which is really cool. I just needed to start earlier and actually read the instructions. Some wanted to be on the topsoil, some needed to go underneath.

The good news is that I now have enough basil in the garden to do gallons of pesto. Now, as for the impatiens, the variation I chose— one I found online—needed more sun than my urban garden can provide. They’re out there flowerless, which is the whole reason that one might want to plant them in the first place. Okay. Lesson learned.

Meanwhile, our hydrangeas, those are perennials, came back with a vengeance, so I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out. All right, fine. What does this have to do with marketing? I’m so glad you asked. First, the social and economic impact of the pandemic has forced marketers to look at their metaphorical gardens in a very different way. New customers are really hard to come by because of the CF-“No”, the CFO who is saying no to almost every purchase possibly presented by someone else in an organization.

In that environment, it pays to plant seeds today that you might not be able to harvest right away. Second, not all seeds are created equal, so you really need to think through the offers you’re putting out there. Third, don’t overlook your perennials, aka the customers you already have. These may be the best source of incremental revenue you’ve got this year. And with that tortured analogy, it’s time to introduce Heather Zynczak, the CMO of Pluralsight, a training company that has planted a heck of a lot of seeds this year. Heather, welcome to the show.

Heather Zynczak: Thanks for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

[4:17] Why Pluralsight’s CMO Owns E-commerce

“If that person running e-commerce didn't also have the responsibility to understand that we have a B2B lead gen goal to hit, they might not be willing to charge as much.” @hzynczak on the #RTU #podcast. Check it out! Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Before we dive into your demand generation efforts, I want to step back. You have a somewhat different portfolio as a CMO than a number of the CMOs that I’ve talked to on this show. I know e-commerce reports to you. Can you give an overview of what’s in your portfolio?

Heather Zynczak: I joined Pluralsight about four years ago. And you’re right, it’s not a traditional patch. At the time, Pluralsight hired our former head of sales and me to build out a true B2B enterprise motion. Pluralsight had started out as predominantly B2C. I call it B2D, business-to-developer, because we sell to developers.

They had significant revenue selling to individuals and they had built some really great revenue selling into companies, but they really wanted to expand that to enterprise. They basically built out a product line that was enterprise-ready. Now all they needed—to your garden analogy—was to hire a CMO and a CRO that could come in and grow the seedlings.

In my group, the first and foremost thing that we focused on was building a B2B lead generation motion. That’s huge. It’s everything from all the things you can think of, from digital to customer marketing to field and events. I also have all the traditional things you think of in marketing—product marketing, communications, etc.—and I own all digital revenue, which can be up to a quarter of our business. It’s not small.

We do little under half a billion a year in billings. Anything that closes digitally, I have a digital revenue team that runs that. At Pluralsight, I also run our inside sales team. That’s whatever acronym your B2B company calls them—your BDRs, your SDRs—the team that cleans the leads and creates appointments for your sales reps. Pretty strong influence across our go-to-market motion.

Drew Neisser: I’m so glad you shared all that because that is broader. It’s funny, in conversations of late, it feels with CMOs that about 50/50 have the SDRs or BDRs reporting to them. Those that don’t lament it for the most part because it’s just one more thing and that makes it easier when you’re handing over leads to know it’s a really good high-quality lead for sales. The real reason I wanted to talk about that was because you own e-commerce, you were in a sense you’re running a business unit. Do you have a P&L for e-commerce?

Heather Zynczak: We do. I have a revenue number that I’m accountable to and I have a budget and the headcount that goes into that. One of the reasons this has all stayed within marketing—and I hope the other reason is that I’ve done a good job managing all of this—but one of the reasons that our e-commerce or B2C business stays in that is because it would have to share resources with the rest of marketing. We have one website. We have one creative team. We have one marketing automation tool. I can keep going, but on paid search, for example, it’s difficult to buy keywords that are like “No, no, only look at this keyword if you’re a big B2B buyer” or “Oh, you look at this keyword if you’re purely just an individual.” We’ve gotten really good at that.

The truth is, the lines blur. Even in a normal world the lines blur, but we actually purposely blur the lines. One of our biggest motions is what we call “B2C2B,” or what a good friend and colleague of mine calls “paid freemium.” But basically, we can map over 80% of our individuals who sign up for individual subscriptions or what you’d call our e-commerce solution to business accounts. They work at the places we want to sell big B2B contracts to.

We actually have a goal every year of how much we’re going to churn out into B2B. It’s a healthy churn. We’re going to take x number of millions of dollars and move these people from individual subscription accounts and they’re going to be on B2B accounts.

It’s either that the B2B entity didn’t have an account, so it’s a brand-new lead for us—we walk into the door at a big company and say, “By the way, you don’t own Pluralsight, but did you know 80 people in the building are already using it? You should. Wouldn’t it be great if you could track what they’re doing and assess the skills they’re getting?”

Or it might be an account that’s bought 1,000 licenses and they’ve used 850. There are 150 people paying for it, and honestly probably charging it in for an employee’s expense, that we can move into a B2B account to make that account even more robust and more successful. It makes sense to have e-commerce when you think about how it’s a great motion for us to move into B2B.

Drew Neisser: It surprises me as you’re talking about it. I know what happens when that isn’t the case, and it’s probably not the case all the time. The problem is there’s this battle for real estate. You have marketing who thinks of self as brand or B2B and enterprise, and then you’ve got e-commerce which is sort of DTC. There’s a conflict in this battle and it’s silly, but it happens and it’s real. Sometimes you’ll see who’s winning because you can go to the site and it’s all e-commerce. It’s like, “Here’s our catalog and here’s the buy button.” Or you see the opposite where it’s all marketing and you can’t even find the darn store. It just makes sense, but I’m really struck by how it’s less usual than you would think, with the exception of companies that are all e-commerce.

Heather Zynczak: Absolutely. When I joined, I had this conversation with my boss and our co-founder, Aaron, and I said, “Look, we could split that group and put it as a revenue unit underneath the CRO, but then it’s going to compete.” Instead, we actually make really great decisions. We will decide, for example, to have a lower growth rate on our e-commerce business than some of our B2B because the B2B might have better unit economics and because we’re churning out accounts.

If that person running e-commerce didn’t also have the responsibility to understand that we have a B2B lead gen goal to hit, they might not be willing to charge as much. “I can’t turn. I don’t want to turn this to B2B. I need to keep all my customers.” That’s one example, but I could give you a ton where, if you don’t have a common view, it ends up competitive. It’s been nice having it in one place.

Drew Neisser: That’s everything there. You really summed it up because it is always about “follow the money.” If one person is getting paid for this and one person is getting paid for that, it’s going to be problematic.

[11:40] Why Pluralsight Launched #FreeApril

“What #FreeApril did was give anybody, anywhere the ability to use our entire platform with no limitations completely free for the entire month.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: It’s March. It’s pretty clear that everybody’s going to be in a work-from-home environment. From a brand standpoint, from a marketing standpoint, what did you see out there? What was your situational assessment?

Heather Zynczak: We went into the mode of what COVID means for our employees, what it means for our office locations, and how we can keep everybody safe. And we went into the mode of what this means for our business, our big B2B buyers putting budget on hold, etc. But we also went into the mode, very quickly, almost immediately—look, we’re very mission-driven company. Our mission is to democratize tech skills across the globe. We honestly believe the adage of “brilliance is equally distributed, but opportunity is not” and a lot of the people including myself that work at Pluralsight are here because we’re giving opportunities to everyone, everywhere to better their skillset and to make a better life.

We quickly went into the mode of what this means from a mission perspective, what we have the responsibility to do. We watched employment rates plummeting, unemployment increasing, we watched people struggling to stay at home and flatten out the curve. We thought, what can we do for the bigger community? That’s really where #FreeApril came from. It came from this altruistic place of how do we support the community at large, and how do we be true to our mission?

Drew Neisser: One of the things that struck me, Heather, as you were talking about how helpful it is to have a mission and one that is so clear, what that did was it set you up for this world of what I call “abundant generosity.” That is a frame of mind for B2B marketers right now. It’s all about what can you do for your community, what can you do for your employees, what can you do for your customers, and what can you do for the world at large that’s unique to your brand. Let’s dive into #FreeApril for a second. What was the gestation of #FreeApril? How long did it take you to get from “We can make a difference” to “Oh, we’re going to give our product away for a month”?

Heather Zynczak: Days. Maybe one week. It was probably three to four days to decide how we do what we do and then a week of execution to get us ready. We started talking about it mid- to late- March and it launched at the beginning of April. What #FreeApril did was give anybody, anywhere the ability to use our entire platform with no limitations completely free for the entire month. You didn’t have to give a credit card, just your email. This wasn’t a trial to buy. It took a couple of days to decide because we are a publicly-traded company and we have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders. We had to say how much this was going to impact our revenue.

This didn’t come to bear, but when we launched #FreeApril, we actually believed it would be negative to our revenue, to our top line. We actually thought it could be in the millions, $5-10 million off. That was a hit we were willing to take to live to our mission. It didn’t end up that way. We just had an earnings call yesterday, we actually exceeded revenue goals set way before #FreeApril was a twinkle in our eye. It didn’t come to bear but we thought it might. We still chose to do it. When I look at all the offers—what did you call it? Excessive benevolence?

Drew Neisser: Abundant generosity.

Heather Zynczak: Abundant generosity. That’s nicer than excessive benevolence. When I look at all the offers that were out around those times and are still in the market around COVID, a lot of them felt really self-serving. They weren’t really giving back. They were like, “Hey, we’re struggling for a tough time. We’re going to extend our normal promotions to be a little bit jazzier so that we get more people that we can sell to.”

#FreeApril wasn’t that. If you look at who signed up for it as well, it was people all over the globe and countries and markets that we don’t even have a strong presence in. It really went viral. I think that the generosity terms that went out to the marketplace that really resonated were ones that came from a place of “No, we really are doing this to give back.” And that’s 100% why we did #FreeApril and 100% our expectations of what would come out of #FreeApril.

[18:10] How #FreeApril Got 1.1 Million Users

“This gets back to altruism. People shared it because it truly was helpful and people who have used it massively spread it.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: If you haven’t been to Pluralsight’s website, how many courses are we talking about that users have had access to through that month?

Heather Zynczak: Over 7,000 courses. They could be anywhere from 30 minutes to several days long. This is a significant amount of learning that we gave away for free.

Drew Neisser: During this period of time, how many people actually came and took advantage of this offer?

Heather Zynczak: 1.1 million

Drew Neisser: 1.1 million. How do we get from launching this to 1.1 million? How did you spread the word on this?

Heather Zynczak: The first couple of days, let me tell you, we almost broke every system we had. We didn’t and everybody a great experience, but it was late nights and middle of the nights. We did not expect 1.1 million. At best, based on some promotional things we’ve run in the past, we thought that if we were really lucky, we’d get about 100,000, 150,000 people. We got 1.1 million and a large percentage of those were within the first week.

We didn’t use one extra dollar of marketing spend beyond what my normal budget was. In fact, our budgets in Q2 got cut by about 15%, so I actually spent less money in Q2 than I normally would have. This was all within our normal budget. We did do a few paid things but not many, and it was mainly on social. We really leveraged it. The virality of it was unbelievable. We paid a few social influencers that weren’t that expensive for us because they’re really big in our space. Like, the Kardashians aren’t big in our space, and I’m sure the Kardashians are very expensive.

We did use some social influencers and we did a day called “Tech Skills Day.” We have a Tech Skills Day every year, but we really promoted #FreeApril on that day. One big thing was just the virality of it on social. Having really good content, really getting your community together. All of our authors, the people who teach the 7,000 courses, they’re not employees of Pluralsight. They all promoted it heavily. And then it just got picked up by a bunch of people who were like, “This is a really great thing.”

This gets back to altruism. People shared it because it truly was helpful and people who have used it massively spread it. In fact, we had over 10 million branded images on social media. The press picked it up significantly as well. We had over 750 million press impressions. The natural things you do that happen when something goes viral were in massive high gear. That was one.

The second thing we did was really look to our customers. A bunch of our customers really used it. We had a ton of really big companies that use Pluralsight within their tech teams. They massively promoted it to everybody in the company. The largest retailer in the world—I won’t say their names without permission—it was promoted on their internal general Slack channel. If you’re a cashier at a Home Depot or Walmart or one of those, they were promoting it within the company. We had a ton of people come from our customers that weren’t on their tech teams sign up for this. That was another surprising one. Just how much our customer community really promoted it as well.

Drew Neisser: When you get something like nine times the response that you expect, obviously things are pretty good.

[22:06] How to Nurture 1.1 Million Seeds and Generate Leads

“Of the 1.1 million that signed up, over 200,000 used business emails. That’s 20 plus percent of business leads for us.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: In our prep call you mentioned that of those 1.1 million, a good percentage of those ended up being business emails. Those are the seeds there. Talk a little bit about that group of people and what that meant for your lead gen.

Heather Zynczak: Two things on the business side. To the point you’re talking about—of the 1.1 million that signed up, over 200,000 used business emails. Even more than that, we’re still working and can map back to business accounts. That’s 20 plus percent of business leads for us. Those folks were super active in the product, so this has been a great lead generation tool for us on the B2B side. It was also 15,000 new logos. 15,000 logos that we don’t have a B2B contract with. Of those 200,000 contacts, there were 15,000 new accounts, which is huge for us in terms of customer base.

Now, to be fair, back to your seed analogy—we had to plant a seed versus we didn’t get the plants ready to put in the ground—these are users, and they’re users who wanted to leverage a free account. A typical B2B buyer that’s going to buy a couple hundred thousand dollar to a million-dollar contract with us isn’t most likely to use a #FreeApri offer. But people work at those companies, so now we’re growing the seeds. “How do you get more people in your company? Did you enjoy your #FreeApril experience? Can you get more people on your team to do it? Could you maybe do a free trial for your whole group?” Then we’ll eventually take it up to your dev manager will take it to your CTO. We’re in the process of grooming the seeds.

Drew Neisser: Nurturing.

Heather Zynczak: I hope it turns into basil and that we have an abundance of pesto. Early indications assume it would. The second thing I’d say on the B2B side that we didn’t think about either is, remember how I mentioned all those accounts that have some tech teams that were using it who push it out broadly? It created a large number of expansion opportunities for us. Say they had 500 people using it and they had a contract of 500,000. Now, in some accounts, they have 1,000 extra people using it in different groups. They’re like, “Hey, we probably we didn’t realize that so many of our cashiers wanted to learn JavaScript.”

Home Depot does a program that turns cashiers into engineers. Other companies similar to Home Depot looked at expanding their contracts. The other surprise for us was how big of an expansion tool it was.

[26:20] Why A Free Offer Won’t Necessarily Cannibalize Sales

“Two of our biggest sales leaders that own the largest territories stood up and said #FreeApril helped them make their quarter.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We planted 1.1 million seeds; we expected to lose millions. You didn’t. What’s interesting to me is, I think when people put out a free offer, they sometimes hide it from their customers because they don’t want it to somehow or other depress the value of what they’re doing. Instead, it seems like you went to your customers and said, “Hey, we’ve got this. Knock yourself out. Go expand.” As we think about the broader lessons here of giving something away, what would you say were the lessons learned for you?

Heather Zynczak: To your point, when we first came up with this idea, it took a couple of days. One, I had to convince our CFO because he was going to have to potentially get on an earnings call and talk about how we missed revenue. It was actually the opposite, we exceeded revenue, but at the time we didn’t know that. The second tough conversations were with our head of sales. The good news was that our CRO, my counterpart, was fully on board. He’s fully mission-driven. He was great, but some of our enterprise sales leaders were worried about hitting quota. They had the concern that you’re laying out. Is this free offer going to cannibalize my sales? Is it going to slow down?

Here’s the learning. In the past, free offerings that we’ve had—free trials, free weekend—they have cannibalized sales a little bit. We’ve had a little bit of tension in the channels. This didn’t at all. In fact, at our last quarterly business review, two of our biggest sales leaders that own the largest territories stood up and said #FreeApril helped them make their quarter. I think the learning here is, because it truly was altruistic and it was giving back and it wasn’t something that people viewed as “They’re offering some free things. We should get our procurement team to drop the price because they’ve got this free program.”

No, I think everyone in the community viewed it as giving back. It was helping people. Because it was so unlimited and so generous, everybody recognized, like, “Wow, this is a good thing.” A lot of people refer it to their furloughed employees to help them when they do come back. I think the altruistic part is what made there be no channel conflict, and in fact, it furthered some deals along. There were several customers that ended up being willing to buy or being pushed to buy even under budgetary constraints because of the goodwill and the trust that it built with our brand.

Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. These extraordinary times that we’re in warrant extraordinary actions, and you will be rewarded in ways that you didn’t really expect. Had you said this is “just a week” or had some limitations to it or “just these classes” or “I’ve got to get your credit card,” any of those things would have made it feel like there was a catch. That would have removed the altruistic goodwill.

Now, I think the other part that’s so interesting in what you’re doing and the opportunity for other companies to think about is: If you get more users, one way or another, this is trial. This is trial on an epic scale. Suddenly, 1.1 million people who had not tried any of your courses did so. It’s interesting that it was heavily weighted to the first week, and it makes sense because if I were coming in the fourth week, I’m not going to be able to finish the course, I’m not going to bother. They got in early. In theory, they learned something. You made a lot of friends.

Heather Zynczak: We did. The cool thing was that we also didn’t know, like when you’re selling a house, are these going to be lookie-loos? Is it just your next-door neighbors coming by to finally see what your bathrooms are like, how much your house is going to sell for? It wasn’t.

Our usage stats on this cohort of people were higher than some of our regular usage stats. These were people who got into the product super-engaged, took advantage of their month, took courses got their skill IQs, which is kind of like a certification. They wanted to leverage it. That usage on it was extremely high.

If you are giving something away free and it’s not for altruistic reasons—which for us, it was—but now that we’re looking at these users as seeds that we’re nurturing, you want people to come in and heavily use it and have a great experience. And we had that. It’s made some of our nurturing easier on the back end. I think that’s the other thing with free programs. They’ve got to be targeted or set up in a way that people can have a great experience with and heavily use and heavily take advantage of the experience.

Drew Neisser: It’s tricky with courses. But again, this was a unique time in that people weren’t commuting, people were furloughed, people were trying to upscale because they might need to find a new job. All sorts of things were at play.

[31:45] Following Up with Special Offers

“We’re figuring out how we nurture these people because it's a fine line between that and now selling to them when we gave them something to be altruistic.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: When the month ends, were there any deep breaths, or just this sense of “What just happened? How did this happen?”

Heather Zynczak: No, it actually was worse. We did this thing to be altruistic and be wonderful. You think, “Oh, the month is over!” But then, because it was so off the charts successful, it’s set up all this pressure from our CFO and our CEO and our head of sales. I felt a little like Glengarry Glen Ross, like “Give us the good leads!” We were like, “No. We didn’t go find these people. We can’t do a hard sell to them. That’s not what this program was about.”

It’s been an interesting balance to really make sure we keep those people engaged. The easy thing for us was the people who switched to B2B accounts. That was a nice offer to go back and say, “Hey, did you know you have an account? You just go get on it, it can still be free. You don’t have to pay for it. Your company will.” That was an easy one. We’ve seen a lot of switches, a lot of people moved onto B2B accounts.

We also did special offers. We waited a couple of weeks, but we did special offers because a lot of new regions were hit for us. India was a really big user of #FreeApril, so we put in some very, very discounted pricing around the globe for #FreeApril users, but very discounted in geographies where we already have special geo-pricing. But we went even further. There was Brazil, India, others, where we put #FreeApril special pricing. That wasn’t free but wasn’t much above it to continue.

We’re figuring out how we nurture these people because it’s a fine line between that and now selling to them when we gave them something to be altruistic. But we also do want them to continue their learning journeys. A month and done will be helpful, but they could do more. We were walking the balance of “How do we really help people continue their learning journeys?” and “How do we help our business by maybe expanding our B2B accounts?” but not feeling like we really just did this so we could sell to you in May and July.

Drew Neisser: It’s this ease them into some kind of paid relationship and remove any kind of friction, which is pricing, which you can control.

[34:15] Creating an Even Better Experience for First-Time Users

“The big things on our investment list for future freemium offerings are mainly product related to make the experience even better for people.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: As you think back on this experience, is there something you wish you knew at the beginning that you know now?

Heather Zynczak: I wish I had known how viral it was going to go and how big it was. It was great, but in the first few days it was so massive to our product and usage. Had we seen that, we might have set some things up. Going forward, if we do free offerings this big again, we’ll definitely do a lot of the things we did from a marketing perspective to get the virality, like engaging key audiences that are going to authentically push it out. But I think we would do more. We would have time to prep and we’d do more in the product.

We might create some things in the product to make it an even easier experience for first-time free users. Maybe there’s a special path or special tutorials. We did a little bit of that with landing pages, but with a week’s notice, we didn’t create a whole new channel on the product to ease people through it. I would say, going forward, the big things on our investment list for future freemium offerings are mainly product-related to make the experience even better for people.

Drew Neisser: And conceivably stickier. In theory, it could be “You’ve just finished this course, here are two and three. We know you want to continue, and because you got this free, here’s this special 50% off” kind of thing.

Heather Zynczak: We have a lot of that now in our product, but I would do it specifically for first-time users. On the e-commerce side, we have a monthly subscription and annual one, and we see a lot of people come in and buy a month and then come out. Then a couple of months later, they buy a month and come out. It’s whatever project they’re working on, so there are a lot of new users that aren’t new users.

This #FreeApril cohort was truly, truly new users. We would probably create some experiences in the product for a first-time user that maybe has no tech skills. The other thing is that a lot of them might not have any tech skills at all. Curating experiences where they can see the very basic beginning courses: “Don’t be afraid. Here’s the one you shouldn’t be afraid to take.” We would have done some of those things.

[36:44] How to Nurture 15,000 New Logos

“We've never had this kind of data before, so our old lead scoring algorithms didn't work as great for this.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m haunted by when you said 15,000 new logos. In a number of conversations that I’ve had with CMOs lately, net new logos is this sort of magical thing because it’s the great equalizer if marketing can show that it delivered that. What is it that is going to help you turn this into net new logos?

Heather Zynczak: To be honest with you, I think it’s now a nurture process with our sales guided motion. Of those net new logo users, how do we get them to come back and bring some team members to have some experiences, and then how do we use our sales guided motion to see if we can start to have conversations with other people in the organization? This really is the seeds. Normally when you buy a lead or pay for a lead through paid media or other things, you can put all kinds of restrictions in like content syndication: “I only want this level, somebody that I know has budget authority.” We don’t have that with #FreeApril. We’re really going to have to groom that. Then they’re going to have to work their way through the organization.

It’s interesting because we just had an earnings call yesterday and were prepping for it. While we’ve had great results on the B2B side with #FreeApril with pipelines created, I think it’s just scratched the surface. It hasn’t started to flower yet, back to your analogy. I think over the next 2, 3, 4 quarters—because I think it’s going to take that long—it’s going to take a combination of marketing and digital programs and word of mouth within their company and getting people to try a new thing, and maybe some free offers of certain courses. Then it’s going to take a sales guided motion once they hit a certain point to bring in the SDR team to do some calls with some offers: “Would you be willing to set up a meeting with so and so in your organization?”

Drew Neisser: As I hear you, I’m thinking of an episode from a couple of years ago I recorded with Meagan Eisenberg, who at the time was the CMO of MongoDB. I seem to recall that their business model has a free database that you can download at any time and they’d have 45,000 downloads a day. Marketing was using about 28 different technology stacks to look at those 45,000 email addresses, trying to figure out AI and all sorts of other things where the business value was. You could figure out what the good ones were and slice it up in real-time. It feels like, if you were to do this again, you may need almost a different tech stack than you had before.

Heather Zynczak: Meagan is a good friend and one of my favorite CMOs. She’s unbelievably data-driven and results-oriented. I just adore her. We’ve met at a few things and it’s like, like-minded people find each other like magnets. We’ve had this discussion. I remember the very first time I met Meagan, maybe she had just joined MongoDB, one of her requirements coming in there when she was negotiating her package was more technical resources. It didn’t sound like it was vacation days or stock—I’m sure she negotiated all that, too—but it was very important to her because she knew how important technology was to get the results. I’m the same way. I own our tech stack. And I’ve written blogs, done other podcasts. I’m a geek at heart. I started out as an engineer.

I was on a demo yesterday for a new technology we’re looking at buying. I look under the hood. I don’t think we need a new tech stack necessarily. We’ve never had this kind of data before, so our old lead scoring algorithms didn’t work as great for this. Our AI around our nurture paths didn’t have this kind of data before because we’ve never had 1.1 million people sign up free in a couple of days. There might be something in our tech stack we can augment, there always is. I already have 40+ things in my tech stack. There’s probably something we could augment, but I actually don’t think we necessarily need a different tech stack. I need the data for my tech stack, to be honest with you. All of my algorithms, my lead scoring, my AI, everything that’s set up for our normal users didn’t work because these weren’t normal. These were different.

[41:39] Pluralsight’s 2021 Plans

“I do believe that freemium and leveraging free products, because it was so unbelievably successful, is going to be a big motion for us.” @hzynczak #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: One last thought. Should we expect #FreeApril again in 2021?

Heather Zynczak: It’s funny. We actually had a conversation on this just before I joined this call. We have a large strategy offsite every year at our company, and it’s happening in two weeks with our leadership team, all of our C-level executives, and our board. That’s one of the big questions: how much are we going to invest in this free motion and our digital motion? I don’t believe we’ll have #FreeApril because hopefully, COVID-April was a one-time thing for our planet, that we will not be in that situation again next April. But I do believe that freemium and leveraging free products because it was so unbelievably successful, is going to be a big motion for us. What we need to figure out is not just how—I have a ton of ideas on how—but what are we willing to invest in?

If we invest massively in the technology to do more to promote free offerings, it takes away from other investments we would do. Ask me again on the 27th after our strategy offsite.

Drew Neisser: All right, you got it. I will. Thank you so much for just an amazing story. And for all you listeners, if you enjoyed this episode, you can thank me and Heather by writing a five-star review on your favorite podcast channel or by sharing the show with a fellow marketer. Let’s let this episode go viral.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio Production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey, and she does the YouTube version. The music was created by the amazing Burns Twins and intro voiceover is Adam Cornelius. To find transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.