In this series, brought to you by the Toronto-based native advertising technology company StackAdapt, you’ll join Vitaly Pecherskiy as he meets with top minds in the marketing and advertising industry to uncover how Canadian companies use innovative strategies and software to break through the digital noise.
In this installment of Canadian Growth Hackers, Vitaly speaks to Amy Martin, Head of Acquisition at Shopify.
Amy, tell us about your role at Shopify.
I currently lead the Acquisition team at Shopify. We are responsible for the programs that drive customer acquisition across all touchpoints, from anonymous user straight through to customer.
To do this effectively and maintain sustainable growth we also look at TAM (Total Addressable Market) Expansion opportunities that run adjacent to our existing product offering. It’s a fine balance between driving a healthy merchant mix and maintaining effective costs, while always looking to unlock or simply capture new demand potential along the way.
Customer acquisition in my head boils down to having a deep understanding of your customer. What do you do to learn more about your customers, and how do you then use this data?
You are spot on with your customer-centric way of thinking! Our team also spends a lot of time strategizing and constantly re-evaluating their needs as we scale.
One of the most effective ways I have found to understand our customers is in the data. We look for micro-moments that accelerate their ability to move through the lifecycle and use them to deliver intelligent personalized content. This can happen through examples like custom email onboarding journeys, checklists, and front-loading education to continuously drive down the CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost), reduce friction, and maintain relevance along the path to conversion.
Front-loading education is an interesting concept but it sounds more like it would affect the lifetime value of the customer, not customer acquisition cost, which I imagine is one of the main metrics you look at. Am I getting it right?
You are halfway there in my opinion. For sustainable growth to happen you should always be looking at a healthy CAC to LTV (Lifetime Value) mix. There’s obviously a longer tail to understand the true value of the customers acquired, which is why we maintain a strong feedback loop from CRM (Customer Relationship Management) back into the acquisition flow.
Front loading the education ultimately serves both ends, it will drive down your CAC because you can get in front of users across cost-effective channels like email, owned and operated, in admin, etc., increasing the likelihood of conversions. It also serves as a functional layer surfacing product value, and how users can engage with your product while still in free trial, which tends to drive higher LTV downstream.
I imagine for a big brand it is incredibly difficult to figure out proper attribution for each customer – there are potentially so many touchpoints, brand awareness, and worth of mouth! How should the digital team think about attribution, from a big-picture perspective, for a brand like Shopify?
Attribution is the dirty “A” word that everyone loves to talk about, but there’s no universal code that works across the board. The first step is to land on a single source of truth. For us, it originated as first-click attribution, which for most felt pretty archaic. It became the easiest way to launch new channels and quickly measure the true lift of net-new eyeballs and customers through those channels.
As we evolved and our product became more robust, so too did our diversified channel mix, and alongside it our marketing tech stack. We are now looking at multi-touch attribution (which would require a standalone article to dive into) to develop a method which more adequately takes into account channels that have more of a halo effect on other channels like search lift, or simply are not measurable in the traditional sense (like out of home, podcasts, IRL, radio, etc.).
The truth is, attribution will never be static. It’s rapidly changing, and sheer amounts of data could lead even the best into analysis paralysis. Make sure that effective tracking is centralized, naming conventions are upheld, experiments are controlled, operate under a test and learn mindset with the ability to pivot and you too will align on the right methodology to put into practice.
Let’s shift gears a little. Tell us what your team currently looks like.
Our team is currently being built from the ground up. In its current state, I have one lead managing all of the programs that run across the pillars: Awareness, Engagement, Evaluation, straight through to Activation globally. The core goal here is to broaden our reach, pull users out of the market, nurture them, and drive more customers at the point of activation where our handshake with CRM commences.
I have another person managing all of the CRO (Conversion Rate Optimizations) from session to customer at various touchpoints. The goal here is to optimize all paths that lead to conversions, identify opportunities, and close any gaps that lead to drop-offs.
We are a highly interdisciplinary team that works cross-functionally across the whole org with dotted lines into the paid team, data scientists, engineers, UX and product line owners, to name a few, that help us scale growth through various acquisition programs.
Sounds like you have a very well-rounded team now. But if you were building a team from scratch again, what would your first hire be?
If I were to do it again I would probably do it the same here at Shopify. Conversion Rate Optimization Specialist was my first hire because I believe there’s a lot of scale that can be had from doing the research, laying the foundation and optimizing already existing traffic flows.
If I was NOT at Shopify, however, and was limited in dotted line resourcing, my first hire would be a Tech Ops Specialist with a background in marketing tech who could help us stand up the appropriate tech, build the reporting visualizations, and allow for us to accelerate our ability to build the right solutions to help us scale for the long term.
Hiring starts with understanding the future needs of the organization and the trends you expect to pick up in the near future. What trends are you observing now that you think will play an increasing role in your work?
The biggest trend is the constant shift in Marchitecture – a term that is near and dear to my heart. This to me involves a combination of the capabilities, mixed media models, customer journeys, data science and how it all fits together to serve the customer. It’s constantly on my mind as we look to create sustainable growth, stay ahead of the game and truly develop acquisition programs that are built for a 100 year plus company.
On the hiring front, I am always looking for people that have a growth mindset, can see around corners, and don’t stop at complacency but always look to make things better for all.
You mentioned “growth mindset” – can you tell us more about what that means?
Someone who has a growth mindset stays curious, embraces challenges, and develops resilience in the face of adversity. They are constant learners, and get just as much joy from the process as they do from the results. They are actually quite hard to find, but when you do, you will not stop at anything to have them alongside you on your team.
How would you interview a person to find out if they have that growth mindset in them? Any tactical know-how that you can share?
You either love or hate my interview style because it’s very casual. I find that if you keep it real, you tend to have the most authentic interviews and really start to get at the root of how the individual got to where they are today.
I like to ask questions about situations from their past where they’ve led something that failed, and if they could turn back the clock with the knowledge they have today, what would they do differently? I like to ask what books have had the greatest impact on their life, and if they’ve ever worked with a professional coach before.
On the more technical side, the easiest question is simply what improvements would they recommend in whatever discipline they are applying for, and what their 5-year, 10-year plan is. The growth mindset usually can be sensed, and the conversation should be fluid. They should ask a lot of thought-provoking questions and respond to yours through a highly self-aware lens.
Sometimes, depending on the role, you will need to take calculated risks, where you see potential in people who might not have been given the right opportunities to have unleashed. Trust your gut. Understand your vision. Put them in front of the right problems and you too will find your next unicorn!
Bonus, rapid-fire questions! 1. If you were to give one piece of advice to other executives on building a great company culture, what would it be?
Listen, action and lead transparently (I guess that’s three but they kind of go hand in hand for optimal results).
2. What are you currently reading?
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
3. Finish this sentence: “[…] should keep more CMOs up at night.”
Attrition should keep more CMOs up at night.