Finding Your ICP through Oubound: Jori Maurer of Uplevel

Today, we’re thrilled to interview Jori Maurer, who leads the Go-to-Market team at Uplevel, overseeing their Marketing, Sales Development, and Customer Success teams. She also manages all the HR initiatives at Uplevel – including their transformation to a 4-day work week. Jori joined Uplevel when the team was still in Stealth mode and has built the Marketing team from the ground up since then.

Prior to Uplevel, Jori led the Demand Generation and Sales Development functions at Limeade, ran the Marketing team at Koru, and worked in the Product Marketing team on the Employee Experience team at Qualtrics.

Jori Maurer, VP of Marketing at Uplevel

Uplevel is an engineering effectiveness platform. They leverage machine learning and organizational science to champion behavior change with insights, coaching, and actions integrated in your daily workflow — all based on best practices and data from tools such as calendars, code repos, project management tools, messaging apps, and engagement surveys.

Uplevel has partnered with Relevvo over the last year to help improve its account prioritization and Sales effectiveness. We were thrilled to get a chance to sit down with Jori to get her thoughts on building a GTM engine from scratch, using Outbound to identify your ICP, and structuring SDR incentives for success.

Aashish Dhamdhere (AD): Jori, welcome, and thank you so much for joining us! My first question to you is when you think about taking the account-based approach, is there a set of things or something that you would do differently, based on what you’ve learned at Uplevel or even going back to your time at Limeade?

Jori Maurer (JM): Absolutely, thanks for having me! I knew that joining a company where the category was not created would be difficult, but I didn’t realize just how different the go-to-market motion is when you have a truly new solution. Limeade sold into a more established market with a recognizable solution so we were primarily selling to get people to like our brand or our unique features, but the developer insights market that Uplevel sits in is totally new. 

We’re solving a problem that people are aware they have but don’t know that they can solve. They likely haven’t established a budget to allocate towards solving that problem and if they have, it’s most likely a budget spent on a person. So we need to do so much more education throughout the sales cycle. 

There have been some associated lessons learned in getting to product-market fit, marketing goals, and SDR goals that I can share here. I’ve also learned a lot about communication from this role. Whether it’s to the board about expectation setting or to prospects on how to effectively communicate the use case. 

AD: Oh this is so good! There are like four different vectors we could go down here. Can you tell us more about the early days at Uplevel and the steps that you’ve taken to build your GTM engine?

JM: Definitely. When I started at Uplevel there wasn’t a Sales or Marketing team so I worked directly with the CEO and the two of us became sort of a mini sales team. We would approach people with our pitch directly and from that, we learned more about the market and really just how much developers and technical leaders hate being sold to. This led us to realize how important brand awareness was in the market. 

We hired SDRs before we hired a marketing manager and were using SDRs to find product market fit. You can do this, and it can be a really effective way of gathering that information but it should be thought of that way rather than expecting to build a big customer base quickly. One early mistake I made was that I initially used the same performance and comp plan for those SDRs as I had at other more established companies. The number of qualified opportunities I measured the team on was similar to companies that already had a flywheel going and were companies budgeted for those types of solutions. We quickly realized our expectations were off and it caused us to reevaluate how we were looking at it. I’ve since changed the comp plan three times and I think it’s important to be transparent with early hires that you’re still figuring this out and “reserve the right” to continually adjust. Now we have a much better comp plan in place, one that fits at Uplevel and we really started seeing results. It just took some time to figure out. 

Another tactic that’s really helped our sales outreach is one that I really want to credit our marketing manager Cassie. She had the idea of leveraging marketing automation to send campaigns with certain messaging and measuring by opens and clicks, rather than on meetings booked. We then sent over that “engaged list” to our SDRs to run more traditional outreach. 

AD: This is really interesting. You talked about outbound and using it to identify your ICP which I want to talk about more but first I wanted to dig into another metric that is thrown around a lot, MQLs. Could you please tell me a little more about your thoughts there? 

JM: Yeah for sure. This was mentioned in the Jonah-Kai blog post but I agree, Marketers are always more successful when they’re tied to revenue. I feel like if a marketer is measured on MQLs alone you just get into this position where marketing and sales are not on the same page and marketing is seen as a team chasing vanity metrics. 

Having marketing and sales measured by the same thing or maybe measured similarly but at different stages is the way to go. At Uplevel, I like measuring marketing by two factors. The first would be qualified opportunities. Meaning they’ve moved from a hand raise to an actual opportunity. The second factor is closed Revenue. This is especially relevant in a market like ours where the education aspect doesn’t stop once a lead is qualified. We are constantly providing education throughout the entire sales process and marketing is such a big part of that process. 

However, I will say that I was so anti-MQL for the past three years but I am actually bringing it back at Uplevel. The sales cycle for selling a developer tool is around 18 months so how well people identify with your brand becomes really important. We are spending so much more money now on brand awareness initiatives but we’ve had so many instances where a prospect comes back and requests a demo after three or four months since we finished sequencing them. So looking at our tools it would seem like that sequence failed but actually, it just took a long time. 

We want to invest more in seeing engagement and knowing that somebody just might not be ready. Before we weren’t really compensating or measuring people on that engagement so we just weren’t paying attention to it. I think they ended up not getting credit for all of the work that was being done which eventually led to a conversion. So for that reason, I am bringing it back but more as something to highlight as a leading indicator of success. We weren’t even bringing up MQLs in meetings before and I think that that was probably a mistake.

AD: That makes a ton of sense. So really the story here is that measuring MQLs alone is problematic but you want to keep tracking the progress of MQLs through the funnel. Sometimes they take a direct path whereas other times there’s more of a gestation period and it takes a bit longer. Moving on, it’s been really impressive to see you at Uplevel get to a point where you’ve really honed in on your target market and ICP. Category creation is really difficult, especially with a product like yours that can really be sold to everyone. How did you get to that point? What was the process that allowed you to really hone in on the right kinds of companies? 

JM: Yeah, I think the best way to do segmentation and targeting is to look at your customer list and then see who is showing the most success with your product. For better or for worse, we were seeing success across every single industry. That’s awesome but it made it harder for us to hone in on specific segments. 

Instead of looking at industries, it’s been helpful for us to group companies by certain characteristics. Specifically, rapid growth companies that have trouble onboarding engineers because of how quickly they’re scaling. Typically, they’ll also want to retain the team they have. We’ve seen that if they’re growing quickly, the head of engineering is also very interested in hiring a person who’s really focused on productivity. For us, when we know that an organization is putting a budget for people towards a problem then it’s something that they really want to solve and it’s a problem we can help them solve. 

So short answer is that we looked at what was working with the current set of customers and instead of focusing on industries we looked at what all of our customers had in common and targeted new business opportunities based on those characteristics. 

AD: I get that. Especially the point you made about finding the signals that would make a company good for you because I believe that’s something that Relevvo was able to help you with. A lot of this goes beyond the firmographic data which is really just the starting point. Where you can say we’re looking for companies within a particular industry or of a particular size. The next thing becomes the hiring point or why they’re hiring certain positions. 

JM: Yeah, totally! That’s where I think we can say that the tool has really helped us with finding companies that are hiring a certain persona because we then know that they care about the problem that we’re trying to solve. Are they hiring just a sheer number of developers or are they talking about certain things on social media? I think we see it because it’s a new category. Since it is, you want people that are at the forefront of category creation because if they are they tend to be very vocal about their opinions on it. That can be picked up with data as well.

AD: Absolutely, that’s so good. You’re looking for inferred intent as we call it. It’s great if they show up on your website because that’s intent but what you’re really looking for is where they are in the problem definition stage. If they are then you’ll have a group of people that you can educate and get them from there to a solution identification one in the next nine, twelve, or fifteen months. Maybe they’re going through some sort of digital transformation or something where they just hired a bunch of engineers and they need to be really productive otherwise the company will be held back. There’d be a big push to get things right. 

JM: Yeah, I think we can really help with digital transformation but also, and I think a lot of companies are scared to go after this group because everyone wants the Fortune 100, but we have a great use case for the smaller companies that just aren’t quite at that level yet. They have some really good ideas and solutions but they aren’t quite unicorns or aren’t necessarily top-performing in their industry. They have good aspirations and they need help getting there. Which is another area where Relevvo has really helped us. 

We’re too early for traditional intent data companies. We can’t just go do what other companies do and spend money on the intent data of people searching databases for certain software products. Maybe in the future, but that’s just not an option for us right now. So we need something more customizable which is why it’s been really great to work with you and the team on this. 

AD: That’s Phenomenal. I also posit the pool of people showing intent will continue to grow, but because of where you are in your journey, there will always be more people who are showing inferred intent over the next three to five years. And then, at some point, you’ll become something like a GitHub. Everybody knows who they are. You don’t need to convince people that you need a code repository but that takes time to get there. That’s like a 10-year journey. 

JM: Yeah, then you’re just targeting companies that are at a particular growth stage and it’s a much simpler sale. Sometimes, even in my job when I’m buying tools, I just get a little FOMO of those companies with easy sales journeys and have to remind myself that I signed up for this on purpose.

AD: Oh yes, it’s definitely more challenging but certainly more rewarding and you’re learning so much which makes the payoff even bigger. Speaking of which, congratulations on Series A! That’s a really amazing validation of the product-market fit and it’s a serious series A too which is tough to do in this market. You rarely see early funding rounds of that amount these days so kudos! 

JM: Yeah, thanks! I mean we’re always going to evolve the product but we’re confident that we’ve developed something that we hope will scale so now’s the time to really put gas in the engine. It’s scary and fun at the same time! 

AD: Of course and you know that we’ll be there with you every step of the way. I have all the confidence that you’ll figure it out because you’re looking at it in a sort of scientific process type of way, right? You’re not just throwing things out to see if they stick. We’re working with you to build an account list that meets certain criteria and then tracking the results. As we’re talking about this journey, is there anything else that you’ve learned along the way that has been pretty instrumental in that success? 

JM: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve really benefited from testing different levels of leadership in our outbound campaigns. Ultimately, our contract signer is the CTO, but we’re seeing the best engagement at the director level. So now we know that we’re probably going to get that engagement with a director first and then leverage that engagement to go higher up in the prospect account. 

Another thing that’s had a big impact was simplifying our product when we begin our initial outreach. Obviously, we don’t just have one key benefit but we’ve found that if we simplify what we do, almost in the most barebones way, then we’ll get better initial engagement where we can then expand on the different features and use cases we have. It’s so tempting to try to explain everything in emails but we’ve found it just overcomplicates the early messaging. 

AD: Got it, so you throw out that first hook, and then when you get them, you can then build on it from there. Sort of a “land and expand” approach to outbound. Are there any books or blog posts that you’ve found especially helpful on this journey that you’d like to share? 

JM: Honestly, just talking to people has been the most helpful. I think the playbook that I was using at Limeade doesn’t really work here. HR professionals think of marketing as gifts like, “oh you sent me this direct mail, thank you so much. Of course, I want to take a call with you.” At Uplevel we’re selling to developers and they look at marketing in a totally different way. I’ve just learned that what might’ve worked with another industry just doesn’t work here. So we’ve had to figure out how to approach people working in this space. I feel like the dev space is so unique that it’s hard to just copy from other personas.

AD: So true. Actually, this is something we should talk about. Outbounding to devs is probably the hardest thing you can do. It’s not just the developers themselves though, you have managers, directors, and VPs, all of the above. Any lessons learned in that Journey on what does and doesn’t work?

JM: Yeah, I think developers can smell bad marketing from a mile away. Not sugarcoating things and getting straight to the point is essential because you tell them upfront how you’re going to solve the problem. I went to a great webinar that talked about how marketers try to be so clever and try to disguise things into a nice tagline but it’s really just seen as bad marketing. 

You need to just get straight to the point. It may not be interesting or creative but devs just want to know exactly what you’re trying to sell and why. Making it simpler and even showing them some of the code behind it can go a long way. 

AD: That’s phenomenal. A follow-up question to this. SDRs typically tend to be earlier in their career journey and are not developers but you seem to have found two people at least that I’ve talked to, maybe three that are really good at it. They seem to enjoy these tough interactions with devs and dev managers. How have you done that? How have you gotten them comfortable with having these conversations?

JM: Well, first of all, some people hire SDRs as their first job but for us, we knew it was really important to hire people who have had at least one prior SDR experience. We also looked for people that are naturally curious and want to be product experts. One of our SDRs, Tony, always sends me articles that he’s reading that have to do with developer marketing or he sends me something about different types of code. He’s just naturally interested in the space that we’re in. Also, part of our sales training includes having the SDRs certified to run product demos. They won’t typically be doing that in each meeting but the product knowledge helps with better prospecting. I think the team is just naturally curious about the audience that they’re selling to and you can pick up on that when you’re talking to them.

AD: Fantastic fantastic. I’ve loved following the Uplevel journey and I hope we can be partners for a long, long time. Thanks, Jori, this has been really great.