May 30, 2024

Pump Up the Product-Led Growth! 

Are you ready to see how a shift to product-led strategies could unlock new growth for your business? Dive into the dynamic world of Product-Led Growth (PLG) and discover how it’s turning the tables on traditional B2B business approaches. This episode with Smita Wadhawan from SimplePractice is all about how marketing can lead a PLG motion, driving revenue and fostering customer loyalty through innovative product-centric tactics. 

SimplePractice has successfully harnessed the power of PLG to not just participate in their market, but to dominate it. Whether you’re building a startup or transforming an established company, the insights shared here will give you the tools to elevate your marketing game and pump up your product-led growth. Get ready to be inspired, energized, and equipped to propel your company to new heights!

What You’ll Learn 

  • What marketers can learn from PLG (Product-Led Growth) 
  • What to look for when hiring product marketers 
  • How to build brand awareness via customers 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 399 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned 


  • [1:14] About SimplePractice: SaaS for Behavior Health Professionals
  • [4:40] Firmographics & Evolution
  • [6:44] PLG & Marketing
  • [9:56] Converting free trials
  • [11:28] Journey mapping
  • [14:52] SimplePractice’s PLG marketing team
  • [18:49] Where to find great product marketers
  • [21:15] Applying PLG to enterprise
  • [24:39] Ad break: CMO Huddles
  • [25:22] Adjusting to Google updates
  • [31:35] A winning experiment: Empathy
  • [33:48] Capturing customer stories at scale
  • [40:17] SimplePractice’s customer advisory board
  • [41:51] Community building
  • [44:08] Dos and don’ts for PLG CMOs

Highlighted Quotes  

“You don’t have a sales team in a PLG-led structure. Marketing is a revenue generator, and works closely with product and customer success to make sure that the customer comes into the funnel, gets value through the product, is successful, and continues renewing.“ —Smita Wadhawan, CMO of SimplePractice 

“A great product marketer is a problem solver. They’re innately curious and have the ability to zoom out and say, “What does the landscape look like? What’s my target? How do I get to a very refined understanding of their pain points?“ —Smita Wadhawan, CMO of SimplePractice 

“The more you understand the customer, the better informed you would be at tweaking your messaging, tweaking your channel mix, tweaking your strategy.“ —Smita Wadhawan, CMO of SimplePractice 

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Smita Wadhawan

Drew: Hey, it’s Drew and I’m excited that you’re here to listen to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. If this is your first time, then welcome. If you’re a veteran, thank you for coming back. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to inspiring B2B greatness, and that has a logo featuring penguins. Wait, what? Yeah, a group of curious, adaptable, and problem-solving birds is called a Huddle, and the leaders of CMO Huddles are all that and more, huddling together to heat up the coldest job in the C-suite. There’s a pun in there. If you’re a B2B marketer who wants to outswim your competition, please check out Now, on to today’s show.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade, Drew Neisser.

Drew: When we think of B2B marketing, we often think of sales-driven organizations targeting large enterprises. But there’s a whole other world of software companies that target small businesses with minimal to no human-to-human sales interaction. In these cases, marketing is often in the driver’s seat, accounting for a huge percentage of revenue, not just pipeline. This is the land of PLG. And on this show, we’re going to explain what exactly that acronym stands for and what non-PLG businesses can learn from this approach. Our guest today is Smita Wadhawan, who has been at SimplePractice for three years now. Welcome, Smita. How are you? And where are you this fine day?

Smita: I am doing well. Super excited to be on the show. I’m based in sunny California.

Drew: You know, if you’re not a therapist, there’s a chance you haven’t heard of SimplePractice. So let’s just start with the basics. What services does your company provide? And who do you serve?

Smita: Yeah, great question. So I didn’t know what SimplePractice was before I took this job. So I don’t blame anyone listening to this show. Unless your therapist uses SimplePractice, it’s highly unlikely you heard of SimplePractice. Surprisingly, we are not, even though we are not a well-known brand as a mass brand, we are the brand leaders in the space. Our product essentially is a SaaS solution for behavioral health professionals. So think therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, the entire gamut. And we are the market leaders in that space. There are lots of other verticals who also find our product attractive, whether you are a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist, or you are a dietitian, right, you would come to SimplePractice organically and sign up for the product and just make it work for you. So we like to think of ourselves as definitely the core audience is the therapist, the counselor, the behavioral health professional, who is running their own practice, be it one person’s home office or a small practice or a larger practice. But the other health and wellness verticals also find our product extremely attractive. Now on the consumer side, we do have an option for you to look at therapists. However, having said that, as we know, America doesn’t have a problem of people looking for therapy, we have a problem for people who are providing therapy. So that’s kind of where our core bread and butter kind of focuses. The other area that SimplePractice is getting into, and as you can imagine, very key to solving the mental health dilemma, is partnership with insurance companies. So that’s kind of how we make access easy for the average American. And if you’ve ever been in therapy, you know how difficult it is to get a therapist that is covered by insurance. So that is another area that’s a big focus for us.

Drew: Interesting. That’s a lot of ground. And so there’s B2B & B2C here. It’s funny, because as we think about it, the minute you’re on the consumer side, suddenly the awareness issue matters a lot, lot more. And certainly, there is increasing attention on your industry and the importance of therapy, particularly now. It’s just there’s so many seemingly causes of the increase in need for therapy in our society right now. So you’re in a timely place in a hot place. And that’s exciting. Give us just a sense of the company size, your ownership structure, and sort of growth over the last couple of years.

Smita: The way the company is set up, we are certainly very focused in terms of self-serve, right, or PLG. So product and making sure the product is the hero, right? It’s very, very important for us. The size of the organization, I would say it’s kind of between like, classifying mid-size, right? 500 plus employees. Right now, last reported revenue, kind of close to 212 to $220 million range. We were public, no longer a public entity. So we just got bought over by Vista Equity, which as we all know, is one of the leading private equity firms with majority stake between Vista and General Atlantic. So the organization is kind of at an interesting point right now, where as we think about what’s ahead for SimplePractice, it is a really exciting time to be in this space, like you pointed out. The options in terms of charting the course of what the organization could evolve into are just seemingly now more obvious, right? With the Vista partnership, kind of coming into the picture. The way the organization is structured, you will probably think of your classic, you know, SMB consumer kind of emotion with product marketing, customer success, engineering, tech being the critical functions. Of course, for us, it’s extremely important that marketing, product, and customer success work hand in hand, right, that’s the core go-to-market as you think about the space. And my team works really closely with product and CS to make sure the customer experience is seamless. And we go to market as a unified brand.

Drew: Amazing. And there’s so many things that we could do a whole show on PE-owned companies, but we’ll get to that later. In fact, a number of folks in the CMO Huddles community are Vista-owned, so we’re gonna have to get all of you all together and just talk about that. And maybe we’ll get someone from marketing at Vista to talk, we need them. I want to hear their voice too. But anyway, let’s just talk PLG. For someone who doesn’t know what that is, can you talk about what that model looks like and how that applies to you?

Smita: So the way I would think about PLG land, it’s essentially saying the product is how revenue gets generated. So you don’t have a sales team in a PLG led structure. So marketing is a revenue generator, and marketing, product, customer success, work very closely to make sure that the customer comes into the funnel, the customer then drives value through the product becomes successful through onboarding and customer success experiences. And then they continue renewing the product, right, as it’s a monthly subscription. But the customer then renews the product, and they are happy and satisfied with what we offer. So referral is a huge acquisition source for us. But very simply, I would probably break down PLG as your product is the revenue, right? You are not counting on somebody like an external sales team or an inside sales team to do the marketing for you.

Drew: I mean, you sort of spend a dollar in marketing and you see it either comes out the other end or doesn’t. I mean, there’s obviously things that are not direct response. But in many ways, there’s no fighting over who owns the lead. There’s none of this stuff that your peers in B2B marketing often face. The real question really for you is, you know, how can you use marketing to drive more revenue? Right? I mean, that’s got to be what keeps you up at night?

Smita: Yeah, well said. So because there isn’t a sales team, the job of the marketing team is to generate revenue. So of course, I have a performance marketing and growth marketing team, who is an extremely data-savvy and really smart group of marketers. We just kind of call them as our sales team, right? So we are like, “Guys, if you were thinking about sales, right, like you are the sales team. So think of yourself that way.” The way we think about performance marketing essentially, is our job is to use a lot of the digital marketing channels to get customers to come to the site, and then the team owns the site experience. So when the customer lands on the site, it’s the marketing team’s job to make sure they get into the free trial experience. Once they get into the free trial experience, then we partner with the product team to make sure they realize the value during onboarding and adoption. Also, the partnership with the customer success team is extremely critical, because the first seven days or thirty days are critical to your experience. So you become a paying customer. And then once you do become a paying customer, right again, it’s important that you continue to realize value. So lifecycle marketing then steps in to play a very important role in terms of the communication of the features and how you should be attaching, how you should be thinking about plan upsell, so it’s definitely the ARPU component that also becomes very critical. And then churn prevention, right? Thankfully, for us, the product is very sticky, right? It’s how you run your practice and it’s a great product. Churn, of course, is not something that we are extremely worried about as an organization, but at the same time, you don’t want to have a leaky funnel, right? So making sure the realization of value happens during that critical stage. So when you come up for renewal, you are considering to stay with the product.

Drew: My understanding on free to conversion in the industry, the numbers are really, really low. First of all, do you require a credit card to get a free trial?

Smita: You don’t require a credit card to get a free trial.

Drew: So then to the extent that you can share, I mean, I hear numbers like 2% of free trials convert. 

Smita: Yeah. 

Drew: And obviously, that’s a hard model to work.

Smita: For us, fortunately, we are a vertical SaaS solution. I did work at GoDaddy, which was a horizontal product, right? The free trial conversion numbers were pretty low for the same reason. Anybody in the US could get a website with GoDaddy. In our case, because we are a vertically tailored SaaS solution, we do see very healthy conversion rates. However, having said that, we spend money on getting traffic. So as a marketer, of course, I want to convert as much of that traffic as possible. So one big focus for us in the organization right now is as we continue to open up the funnel, how can we maintain the healthy conversion rates that we’ve always had? Because that is truly where the magic happens, right? And that’s kind of where we are saying partnership with product coming up with experiments during that early stage are extremely critical as an organization. So if I were a marketer, who was thinking about the experience, like one thing that’s worked well with us is mapping the customer journey from the first touchpoint all the way into conversion. And that’s just measuring that funnel and saying, “What are the friction points? Why are they dropping off? How can we come up with marketing, product and CS interventions and experiments to convert as many of them and get them through the next stage in the funnel?”

Drew: I have so many questions. Oh, my God, I’m so excited to be talking to you about this. So the first thing I want to just observe for folks is the power of having a vertical and owning a vertical and having a group of people who actually—that’s part one of this. Part two of it is, my sense is that when you get these people the reason the product’s so sticky is as they’re running their business, essentially through you. So you’re like a business partner. So there’s this proposition that starts with a free trial, I want to talk about journey mapping. Before I do, I have to make one other comment, which is, the more you broaden the aperture, the more people you bring into the funnel, the less qualified they’re going to be. Right? And that’s just flat out the reality. You can’t fire a laser forever, right? 

Smita: Well said.

Drew: So alright, let’s talk about journey mapping. How did you do it? How many touchpoints typically, do you think it takes for someone to go from landing on your homepage? Or maybe even before that, to signing up and subscribing?

Smita:Yeah, that’s a great question. I should probably give you a context, I am deeply analytical by nature. And my team is also deeply analytical and very customer research oriented. So the first few things that we did when I took the job was invest in a product marketing and a research capability and marketing analytics capability in the organization. So having said that, the first few months, we did a robust segmentation study, then we said, “Let’s map our customer shopping journey.” So we have a great understanding of what are the touchpoints before they land on our site. As you can imagine, right like therapists and these professionals, they are a close-knit community. If I tell you and I am a therapist, that I use this product, you are more likely to then come for a free trial. So what we observe from our research and customer interactions, and also shopping journey mapping is, if the first touchpoint is a recommendation or referral that you trust, then you get into a free trial, almost immediately, you will not do a Google search, you will probably not read up and do as much research because the trust already exists. But if your first touchpoint, say is a plain old Google search. Then of course, you will have another touchpoint which might involve reading up on forums, or it might involve a referral assistance or something around that. So for us, we typically see it varies between one to three, depending on who you first have the conversation with in terms of brand exposure. Fortunately, we are the market leader. So therefore, we get a lot of the traffic and initial consideration. Once online on the site, most customers would make a decision on the homepage itself, because they understand what we are offering right there. There are a few who would probably go to the second level pages as we call them with whether it’s reading up more about the product or the features. But typically one to two pages, three pages is when they kind of get into the free trial. And that kind of to your point goes back to the fact it’s a vertically tailored SaaS solution. So if you’re not in that vertical, right, like hopefully you will not come to our site if you’re a plumber or something like that. So by the time you land on our site, you already know what you need, what you’re looking for. So it’s more a question of “Am I ready to commit? Am I ready to start my practice, or am I ready to just decide on this right now?” It’s not as much a question of, “Am I qualified or not?” Right? It’s a question of “Am I ready to commit?”

Drew: Okay, there’s several things I want to go back through on this. This is so fascinating to me. So first, I have this issue with the term performance marketing and growth marketing, because I have this feeling that if someone is in your department and they’re not working for the performance group, they don’t matter. And so it’s like saying, “You’re the performance people, and you’re not the performance people.” And I feel like these names matter. Because if I’m a CEO, and I’m looking well, there’s a performance people, they matter, because they’re driving revenue you over there or whatever you’re doing. Yeah, your your, your jazz hands fluffy person. I have a problem with that. But help me get over that. 

Smita: Yeah, I do agree with you, the team does think of themselves as largely responsible and we share goals across the marketing organization. So for example, just the VP of Growth Marketing would not have a goal, right? Like the entire marketing organization would share, share the goal. So in that respect, because we are highly matrixed, the way we are set up, right, there is definitely that component around, you are working to deliver against the goals of the organization. But having said that, the VP of growth marketing is sleeping, waking up every single day thinking about how do I get that new customer? How do I help them realize value, so they become a happy, thriving paying customer? Whereas I would probably argue the head of creative is not thinking day in and day out because we also ask the head of creative to think about other aspects of marketing, other aspects of the customer journey. But I do agree with you that in principle, right, the entire marketing organization, especially in a PLG setup, it’s all about delivering the goals that will make us successful as an organization in service of our customers. So from that perspective, I agree with your sentiment, which is why the way we are set up, goals are completely shared, right? You could do a great job with the best creative but if the creative did not deliver value and hit our goals, then was it really the right creative?

Drew: So I kind of see this as there’s demand generation, which we’re thinking about all the things about selling the category, because I’m imagining that most of your customers, you’re replacing a spreadsheet, right? They’re doing everything else by hand. So it’s a sort of demonstration of business maturity. So that is demand creation, like they might not even have known there was a solution that did this, you know, so you’re sort of helping educate them on the problem. There’s that, and then everybody else that is demand capture, and they’re in the friction removal business, right? That’s what they do. And I liked those terms, because everybody’s committed to demand. One is generating it and the other is capturing it and in that way we’re all in the same game together but we’re just doing it in a slightly different way. And in many ways, you know, the demand—And this is why I think it’s such a problem to call it performance, is that if you believe the numbers, only 5% of the actual market is actually out there buying, the other 95% still contemplating, thinking, and so forth. So the bigger opportunity is creation versus capture. And so anyway, that’s just me on my pulpit. But curious if you have any thoughts on that?

Smita: I think thats exactly right. One of the things that we kind of decided to think of ourselves as, we don’t even though we are the brand leaders, right, we want to make sure we are top of mind and to your point, two-thirds of our customers are coming from non-consumption. Certainly, that is a very critical component to stay top of mind for them. The way we think about brand is we almost call it brand gen, your job is to make the customer continue the awareness, continue to consideration so that when they are ready, they come to us and make a decision.

Drew: Yeah, I like brand gen. I mean, most companies if you go in front of the VISTA board, it’d be interesting. I don’t know if you could necessarily use the word brand, without them sort of rolling their eyeballs, whereas they’re all in on, yeah, talk to me about removing friction from your from your funnel. I want to sit back for a second and just talk about product marketing, because I think it’s one of those areas where one, it’s a really hard hire to do. And I’m curious when you look for good product marketers, which there seems to be a shortage of, where do you find them? And what do they do? 

Smita: So product marketing, like I said, was the first, so when I started at Simple Practice, I had to build my entire marketing leadership team. But the first person that I made the hire was the product marketing leader. And why was that? Right? So we all know, especially when you think about PLG product, is the most important component, understanding the target, understanding what features to be building to solve the target’s problem, also thinking about how do we position and message such that it captures their pain points, and product marketers that are trained in that skill, do it so beautifully. And I of course, have an appreciation for that because I’m biased, right? I started my career in product marketing, and I spent tons and tons of time in product marketing. Although I would say that I’ve seen the entire flavor of product marketing, and VISTA it was like more brand marketing. At PayPal, it was pure play product marketing, and GoDaddy it looked very different. So we all know the flavors of product marketing, but in terms of what I look for, I am essentially looking for somebody who’s a problem solver, right? Who is innately curious and kind of has the ability to zoom out and say, what does the landscape look like? Who is my target? How do I get to a very refined understanding of their pain points? How do I do the best messaging research, which solves the pain points and communicates in a way where I can just make that headline or that little space that I have count? A lot of my approach is relying on a case study method in marketing, we do tend to do a lot of case studies, especially when we think about finalizing, you know, the the candidates, that helps a lot, because then we can put a real-world problem in front of them and see how they think about it. Where we look forward to your point around demand shortage, I mean, my network is a massive source of reference for me. So from that perspective, I would say all of us working in some of those industries are very lucky, besides referrals being an important source, I think just being open like we have used executive recruiting firms also when we’ve had to fill critical hires. But I would certainly say that the ability to make sure that you’re hiring for the fact that somebody is innately curious, to me is a very important skill set in a product marketer. 

Drew: Yeah. it’s so interesting. In many ways, I can see why it’s such a strength to come from product marketing to be the head of marketing, particularly at what you do. But when you said the product is at the center of, you know, PLG, what category isn’t product at the center of? And I wonder if this is the big lesson here for other marketers is what you do and how you think about PLG applicable to like a true enterprise sale? And what would work and what wouldn’t from your world of PLG?

Smita: We’ve been having very similar conversations with VISTA right now. So there are inherently some similarities, right, that we all can probably agree on. So even if we kind of think about the classic B2B world, you still are thinking about your target, you still are thinking about the product, you still are thinking about the messaging, I would say where there’s a little bit difference is that I have the luxury of testing that message in research settings, I have the luxury of testing that message on my site or in marketing channels, whereas maybe a classic enterprise B2B marketer will be relying a lot on one-on-one conversations to get real-time testing and response on messaging, they will probably be doing custom product builds as well. Whereas in our case, most of the time, we are not custom building the product, we are listening to customer feedback and then saying, what are the features which will deliver the max impact for the customers and then prioritizing a roadmap. But certainly, there are those elements of similarity, which are absolutely translatable. The other areas where I do see a lot of similarities is when it comes to certain channels, right? So whether it’s the PR stories, or it’s the trade shows, conferences, events, whatever we want to call it from that balance, they are important because even for us, because our practitioners are part of those associations by state level and national level. So very similar to a classic B2B marketer, we would sponsor those events, we would make sure we get a free trial of a product and we give the audience a chance to play around with the product at these conferences. We also invest a lot in thought leadership, white papers, and you know, demos, certainly there are a lot of similarities, as you think about it, probably the nuances, we can run campaigns on Google and get tons and tons of traffic to our site, right? Whereas if I had a B2B product, maybe I won’t be able to run campaigns on Google from that perspective. I would say principles of marketing largely seem very translatable.

Drew: We’ll come back to the Google thing. I can see the other CMOs salivating at your sales cycle, because it’s the single decision maker and that’s key here. You don’t have multiple decision, you don’t have a buying committee. And while what you do is incredibly important to these individuals, and as a percent of budget, it’s a big deal to them. It’s still one individual or two so it’s a much shorter sales process. The funny thing about your testing, and so I do believe that B2B can do more of that. And there are firms that are doing this at scale. So I think you can get that. And the custom build point, every big company that I know that does custom build always regrets it to the extent because it’s not scalable and repeatable. And so to the extent that you have a platform or something that you’re adding, and just you’re building modules on top of, as opposed to “custom build,” the better your launch is. So I still think there’s a lot of things that those folks can learn from what you do. Okay, I want to come back because there’s so many more issues, but we’re going to take a quick break. And then when we do, and stay with us, because we’ve got to talk about the “Googlepocalypse” if you’re depending on Google ads, what’s going to happen there, so stay with us. 

Okay, it’s time for me to talk about CMO Huddles again, launched in 2020. CMO Huddles is a close-knit community of over 400 highly effective B2B marketing leaders. Through CMO Huddles, CMOs gain confidence to make faster and better decisions, connections to sustain their careers, and invaluable PR coverage via our exclusive high-profile media properties. If you’re a B2B CMO and need a shortcut to B2B greatness, take a second to sign up for our free starter program at

Okay, we’re back. Let’s just go into the Google thing for a second. Because I mean, at some point in time, you can’t spend another dollar on Google. That’s the old Google, right? Where it’s just no longer cost-effective. But let’s assume you haven’t gotten there yet. We enter this new world where suddenly Google is trying to look like ChatGPT, and you’re below the fold no matter what you do. Talk a little bit about your strategy or thinking or planning to keep the Google goodness flowing for your business.

Smita: Yeah, great question. I mean, like you rightly said. If we are, and that is one of the challenges that we also face in our business, we are very heavily paid search dependent. So yes, to your point, have we reached a point of diminishing returns? Maybe not yet, we do benefit from being the brand leader where our CAC is extremely efficient when it comes to brand search. Non-brand search, like every other category out there, it’s competitive. So we have to constantly experiment to figure out what are the keywords we are competitive on? Where do we kind of—how do we move around budgets? But the challenge with something like search is when you are so heavily dependent on search, of course, there is competition, and every year it gets more and more expensive, right, which we do see in our year on year CAC. But at the same time with search, specifically, you are totally capturing customers when they are ready to make a decision. So it’s very, very, very lower funnel, right. And that we know is just tapping into a portion of the market. The challenge that we have kind of taken on ourselves right now is we didn’t have an attribution platform before, we were just onboarding an attribution platform. But one of the things that we want to get better at expanding outside of Google, how do we crack Meta? And for us, Meta is critical because 70% of our customers are women, right? Guess where women are? Of course, they are on Instagram. So you want to crack Instagram and Meta properties from that perspective. But as we onboard attribution, and we kind of get a good sense for how are these channels performing for us, I would definitely like us to move and be a little less dependent on Google, right for that same reason that we touched on efficiencies with costs, etc. Being an important factor.

Drew: You mentioned attribution platform, can you share which one you’re using?

Smita: Yeah, we are onboarding RocketBox right now, after an extensive research, we narrowed down on RocketBox, that’s something that we want to move ahead with.

Drew: Okay, that is sort of the Holy Grail. And all of this thing is to have really good attribution. In your case, you can because again, it’s not 120 different touch points before they make a decision. It’s a couple. Again, the power of PLG targeting a smaller group, smaller dollar transaction things. I want to ask you, have you tried Bing?

Smita: We do. We use Bing as part of our strategy as well.

Drew: Because I have heard recently, I mean, yeah, the problem is, it’s a tiny percentage of all search. But I have heard CMOs talking about having great success. And yeah, I would be shocked if you didn’t figure out a way to take advantage of Instagram and it even good old Facebook. Beyond the blocking and tackling of the Google and so forth, what initiatives have you undertaken that are sort of you think are going to get you either to continue the growth pace that you’re on or even accelerate it. Any experiments in the works?

Smita: The one thing I would give credit to substantially is GoDaddy, right, was teaching me how to think about the art and science of marketing, how to balance the science with the art. And one of the disciplines that I picked up there was experimentation. So besides kind of investing in an awesome team and leadership team, I got the experimentation muscle and framework from GoDaddy. So my marketing team runs a lot of experiments. And we have a forum set up every month where we just share learnings from those experiments. So we can cross-pollinate amongst various channels. But speaking of experimentation, like we talked about, we feel we are very good at typical growth/performance marketing, right? The area where we saw an opportunity is how do we make sure that there is a story that we are telling for our customers? So if you step back and think about our therapists, they’re very passionate about what they do. They love what they do, right? And the reason they went to school was because they really wanted to serve customers and solve those mental health problems. So when we talk to them, we’re like, well, we have great stories to tell, but we were not telling those stories, right? We were not getting our therapists front and center and giving them an opportunity to share why they do what they do, why are they so excited? So the thing that we started doing more so last year was thinking about very similar to how you would think about in a consumer space, think about the entire funnel from the brand exposure all the way into performance and say we are going to run integrated marketing campaigns and offer more of a 360-degree touchpoint experience to a customer. Then we said, what are some of the big moments that customers deeply cared for, whether it was Pride or Women’s History Month, or it was World Mental Health Day. And a great campaign that we did was a World Mental Health Day campaign. It’s a big one for us, especially as a mental health company, where we saw an opportunity to shine the light on our practitioners. And today, if you think about, right, there’s a lot of conversation that happens in consumer media around mental health, as it pertains to teens, right, or consumers or some of the other areas. But nobody’s talking about the therapists, they are also very, very exhausted and they are burnt out. And there is a dearth of therapists, so they are certainly very overworked. So when we spoke to our customers, we said, why don’t we commission a study with 500+ of our customers and try to get a sense for how are they feeling in terms of the sentiment? So then we created a campaign around World Mental Health Day to shine the light on the burnout that practitioners face and how important it is for them to take care of their health so they can actually show up well for their end clients. And we had a great response rate in getting the conversation started in terms of, you know, shining the light on our customers, we got coverage on Good Morning America, 18 million reach, with kind of good coverage across mental health trade podcasts. We used our customers in the campaign, which is something I’m really proud of, right. We don’t use actors, we don’t use models, we use our customers always. And I think the thing that we feel really good about is bringing brand and performance together as one story when it comes to these campaigns.

Drew: I love it. And there are many things I want to break down in this. First of all this was a vocal, I’ll call it a tentpole idea, right? We’re going to celebrate our customers, we’re going to celebrate them on a day that celebrates them. So good for you for picking up on that. We’re going to do research behind it so we have data that we can share with the media that will help. But you took it a couple of steps further, sort of touching on the pain point of your customers, and the fact that while they’re absorbing all of this pain and burnout from their customers, if you will, it can’t help but bring them down. And that’s a fascinating sort of fact. And so you’re showing tremendous empathy for your customers, which is never a bad thing. You touched a nerve, and then you built a whole campaign around it. So yeah, kudos. That is the campaign thing. And again, when you looked at that, overall, you mentioned some of the classic PR things. But did you see as a result of that spike in not just site traffic but conversion all the way through the funnel?

Smita: Yeah, we did see a spike in site traffic, we did see a spike in conversion. However, what was so interesting with the campaign, right, and again, I would go back to thinking about marketing as an experimentation. Right, we will probably, it’ll take a few turns before you figure out what is the right mix. In our case, what we saw, even though we were on Good Morning America, and a ton of these publications, a good amount of traffic that came to our site was actually customers, right? So they came to our site, the campaign just kind of brought the brand top of mind for them. And we also saw people converting into paying customers who we call as expired trainers, right? Meaning the trial experience has expired, they came back to the site, and they said, “Okay, now is the time for me to become a paying customer.” So I would say that I think that’s the art and the science, where the work that we need to do is figure it out, great that our customers came, great that people who were already considering us came, but how can we continue to refine our media mix so we can get the exposure out in terms of prospects’ consideration as well.

Drew: Going back to one thing. So in my book, I talk about putting aside 10 to 20% of the budget for experimentation for so many reasons. One of the stories that I tell in the book is about a CMO who had a certain amount of money in experimentation right before COVID struck, and because she had that test running, she was able to flip it. And that became the major part of the marketing when you know events and other things weren’t part of it. So do you look at experimentation and say, “Oh, yeah, Drew, 10 to 20% is actually pretty good for what we’re doing.”

Smita: That’s exactly right. So ours ranges between 10 to 15% range, but that’s exactly what we do at the beginning of the year. We earmark dollars and say, “This is what we are going to allocate as experimentation funds,” which would get allocated either to new channels or they will get allocated to new tactics, right, new programs, or even expansion in other verticals. So at the beginning of this podcast, I touched on trying to get more of, you know, the other health and wellness verticals. So we also set aside our experimentation budget to decide, “Can we get speech language pathologists to use Simple Practice? Can we get occupational therapists to use Simple Practice?” So that is also the way we think about the experimentation budget.

Drew: Right. Because you’re expanding and looking into new territories. Now, CMOs listening to the show will say, “Yeah, I love the experimentation budget, Drew. But that’s the first thing that gets cut.” So they often hide it. And you know, and I could see it for you, you could even call it a vertical market expansion. And it’s no longer experimentation. And it’s just one of these dances because the pressure to be more efficient is huge, right? Because the people who make the decision don’t realize that that’s future growth, it really is. So anyway, I want to go back to the research. So one of the things about these research studies is if you do it year after year after year, they become that much more powerful. Will you continue to do that in a year from now? And so that when it’s World Mental Health Day, you’ll have new data?

Smita: Yeah, no, that’s exactly right. We have been doing the study for the past couple of years. And this year around, we have a plan to do it. And the thing that we have been thinking, though, is that burnout is a topic under maybe the research that we want to kind of expand to a state of mental health, right? So then we can be topical about what is the current issue that we see, like burnout was really big, especially with COVID and after COVID. Last year, we weren’t expecting such high burnout reporting by therapists, but as the technology and especially companies like us solve their administrative problems, right. That’s why we exist so we can solve their administrative problems. So they are not burnt out, right. That’s the least we can do in terms of helping them. So our hope is that with all the tech that’s coming to their table, and especially what we are bringing, they will be able to free up the time to focus on themselves, right. So the burnout trends, hopefully, will continue to look better.

Drew: Yes. You would like to be able to show the numbers are better. And even if among your customer base, that the numbers are even that much better. I will say it’s one of those things that it’s funny because often the marketer gets tired of the story faster than the market does. And so to the extent that there are questions you ask year after year after year, your value to the media increases because suddenly you’ll have it changed. It always changes, something changes. And that becomes part of the story. But I appreciate your desire to expand on that. The tricky part here is that someone say, “Well, it’s just one day,” but I got to believe that you got months of value out of that program.

Smita: That’s exactly right. The other thing that we were doing is because we are a mental health company, we were like, “We have more leeway to talk about this,” right? Rather than thinking about the day, it’s like the pre and post and continue that conversation. Even this quarter, right? Like World Mental Health Day was October 10 last year, even this quarter, we had some customers go on podcasts as guests to talk about burnout. So to your point around that momentum because it is so topical and the conversation is so important, it kind of continues, right? The media continues to be interested. Like one of the things that we do really, really well, I would say kudos to my team at SimplePractice, we offer up our customers for conversation with the media, we have great relationships with our customers, super deep relationships, they love our brand. They love what we do. They are our power customers, right? And say Wall Street Journal, when they come to us, we’re like, “Why don’t you speak to our customer and get the customer to tell the story?” Right? So if it’s a mental health podcast, we don’t want to talk about our product and what we do, let’s have the customers talk about how it helps them. So I think just getting customers to tell the story, right, is also a great way for us to continue to elevate and the brand.

Drew: Well, it’s brilliant. And it’s it seems selfless, but it’s the opposite because there are undoubtedly going to be talking about your product or service. And it’s so much more believable from them. But also, because you’re helping the media, you’re a source to give them that because they’re not going to be able to find qualified if people easily. You’ll be on speed dial, and they want to cover that story, assuming you keep going with it. And the customer here is such an important part of what you’re talking about. You have a lot of customers, how do you capture video from them at scale?

Smita: Yeah, such a great question. We do have a studio in our offices in Santa Monica, right. And as I mentioned, just having super deep relationships with our customers, I do say that we are very fortunate from that perspective. My team is extremely customer savvy, right. And a lot of brands, a lot of companies say that. But in our case, literally, we will make decisions and say, “We will not do this because it’s not right by a customer,” right, or “It does not feel right by a customer, this communication may not land well.” So from that perspective, having those deep relationships and we just kicked off a customer advisory board, which is even more formal of an approach to deepen the customer relationship. But we’ve always had a list of power users, great customers who are based in the LA, Santa Monica area. And then we travel also for shoots, which is kind of investing in an in- house creative team with the right equipment, the right talent, having those deep relationships. And then we do outsource to production houses when we need some of their support as well. But I would say largely having that expertise in-house and this relationship in-house builds a lot of trust, because at the end of the day, you want the customer to be comfortable on camera, right? And how would they be comfortable if they knew you, if they have that relationship, and if your team knows how to get them to feel comfortable. So I would say that works really well for us investing in the right talent, both in-house and in our customer relationships

Drew: They just must love you for it. It’s nice to get recognition and it’s nice that you’re able to deliver recognition, and it’s a hard job, a little bit of recognition goes a long way. Customer advisory board certainly was in my book and playlists in terms of how to do it, how often does your customer advisory board meet? And are you just getting that off the ground?

Smita: We have always had ways to listen to our customers, but it was kind of fragmented, like the product would do all the testing—marketing would have a list, customer success would have a list. So we said, “Well, can we approach a customer relationship a little bit more strategically?” So now, we said officially kicking off the customer advisory board. So to your question, we are just getting started. But our plan is to get them together in the LA offices once a quarter, right, and also to give them a sneak peek of our products, get their feedback on our roadmap, get their feedback on our marketing communications. So I would say while the formal thing is just getting started, the informal relationship has always existed. And one of the things that the team just shared with me yesterday was all the customers that we approached for the customer advisory board, each one of them were so grateful and so appreciative. Not one said, “This is a time commitment that I cannot deliver.” They were like, “Thank you for approaching and making sure that I’m always involved in the process.”

Drew: I don’t think I can think of a company that wouldn’t benefit from having a customer advisory board. Some of your customers may resist because of time, but most of them, assuming your product has a significant part of their lives. And if it doesn’t, you better fix that because you’re not sticky enough. If your product isn’t sticky enough to have a customer advisory board, you’ve got a problem, I think is a different way of phrasing it.

Drew: What about community in terms of virtual or gathering? And what are you doing in that area?

Smita: Yeah, no, I’m glad you asked. So as you can imagine, 80 to 85% of our customers are solo practitioners. They’re sitting in their home offices, right, or small offices, and they are lonely. So anytime you get them together, they are so appreciative. All they want to do is have a conversation among themselves. We’ve done quite a few events like these meetups, right, in the past, using our LA offices, we have a beautiful space in Santa Monica. We’ve done panels with our customers, we’ve kind of, you know, brought them together and we’ve done mentor-mentee programs because again, when you’re early in your journey, you don’t know small business. So with Women’s History Month, last year, we tested our mentor-mentee program, we got so much more response than what we had expected, they were so thankful for that connection. So to your point, and we are very active with events. It’s a key part of our marketing strategy. We do customer appreciation, when we go to these events, we do customer appreciation evenings or cocktails, happy hours, etc., that we are experimenting with. Meetups we have not done outside of our LA office but this time around, we are doing our first meetup in New York as a part of our American Psychiatric Association event. So that’s kind of our thinking. As we get more of these off the ground, we can scale, right? Like you can invest in an events team that can do meetups across the country. So we are definitely looking for partnerships with either customers or influencers who can be our arms and legs, right there. And we give them the tools, we give them the sponsorship dollars, so they can kind of do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of getting people together. But to your point, it matters to small business owners, it is extremely important to get them together.

Drew: You are a category. And one of the definitions that I have for folks who are thinking about creating a category, it’s not a category until there’s a community of people who depend on you and want to come together to celebrate themselves in what it is that you all do. So having a community and a customer advisory board exists from a product standpoint, but in your case with this, these folks coming together on an annual basis. I mean, I just want you to think about like Dreamforce. It’s a $14 billion business for Salesforce. And that’s just community coming together. So it’s really an interesting thing and part of the role that you play.

Drew: Well, I have so many questions, but we’re gonna run out of time here. So I have a lot of key takeaways. But I’m curious from your standpoint, if you could give us two do’s and one don’t for CMOs, who work at PLG companies.

Smita: The one thing that I would say, first and foremost, understand your customer and your product really, really, really, really well, right? So don’t short-change that learning process for you or for your team. The more you understand the customer, the better informed you would be at tweaking your messaging, tweaking your channel mix, tweaking your strategy. Then the other piece that I would say is that because it’s PLG, you have to have a seat at the table. In our case, Product Marketing reports to me, and we are also responsible for monetization. So our partnership with the product team is extremely strong. We literally work hand-in-hand and co-create, to say, what is it the customers are looking for, because at the end of the day in PLG, your success depends on a successful product, right. So if you don’t have that, you won’t be able to generate marketing impact. So getting that seat at the table, if you don’t have product marketing, I would invest in one. And if you aren’t able to invest in one, for whatever reason, and Product Marketing sits in another area of the organization, getting that seat at the table, it will definitely be very important to determine your success with PLG. In terms of the don’t, actually going back to one thing I would say from a PLG perspective, right, is being very nimble with your go-to-market. So to your point around community and meetups, we are actively listening, our community is on Facebook, and I’m in it every single day to see what our customers are talking about. So being super nimble and able to adapt your go-to-market is also very critical, and especially in PLG, land and then to your point around “don’t”, don’t have a very fixed mindset. Be extremely, extremely open to learning, now with marketing, everything is changing so rapidly, right? Like third-party cookies, first-party data is important, right? So AI content generation, right, just be extremely open. Because the way we all grew up in traditional marketing and business schools and what we were taught, those playbooks are kind of antiquated, they’re not working as well as they used to. So the more open you are to learning, the more open you are to experimentation, I would say that that is for both me personally, that is how I think about my own success. It’s about just being very open and curious.

Drew: I have so many things that I want to sort of—if you’re a non-PLG marketer, but I feel like you’re the canary in the coal mine on the leading edge of what it means to have a great website. What it means to be able to convert and follow somebody through their customer journey and get them from awareness and need to landing page and you use the term “brand gen”, which I love. And I want to trademark and I’m sure others have used it, I just haven’t heard it. So there’s a certain wonderfulness about looking at PLG because your product is doing the selling. Well, again, I asked you, you have a product, why isn’t your product doing the selling because we’ve got a new generation of folks who would rather click on Amazon and buy something than they would spend any time with your salespeople. So think about this mentality, bring your customers together, if you can at scale. Don’t forget about your customer advisory board. And now more than ever, nimbleness, right? We got to be agile and that’s, that’s a lot. Smita, thank you so much for being with us today. I have one last thought which is we got some friends over at TeraLeap, who do customer testimonials in an extraordinary way at scale. So I just want to mention them because that came up. Thank you listeners. If you found this episode of value, please thank Smita on LinkedIn, you can find her there and do me a favor, rate us on your favorite podcast app.

Show Credits
Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me. This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, and Ishar Cuevas. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro VoiceOver is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests and learn more about CMO Huddles or my CMO coaching service, please visit I’m your host Drew Neisser. Until next time, keep those renegade marketing caps on and strong!