As the chief revenue officer for AIIM International – a membership association offering training and certification for information professionals – Tony Paille is responsible for managing the sales and marketing teams while driving revenue growth.
He is also a featured speaker at our upcoming Learning • Technology • Design virtual conference where he will be talking about how to get more visitors to click the “buy” button.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, Jeff talks with Tony about his role as chief revenue officer and how AIIM was able to dramatically increase the conversion rates for its training catalog. They also discuss the challenges related to selling education and the evolving role of the sales function in learning businesses.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – This is an episode that is very much focused on marketing, so before we head into it, we’d like to highlight a free resource we’ve created to support your marketing efforts, and that resource is the Market Insight Matrix.
The Market Insight Matrix is a tool—a worksheet of sorts—that can help your organization manage a rigorous and practical market assessment process, through three stages and three types of activities, to identify learning products that will address market needs.
[01:30] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Jeff interviews Tony Paille, chief revenue officer for AIIM International and a speaker at our upcoming Learning • Technology • Design virtual conference.
[02:48] – You might consider the reflection question/assignment below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- Tony discusses some of the ways in which the design of some of the catalog pages on AIIM’s Web site were really interfering with the prospective learner’s journey toward purchase. So, we challenge you not just to think about it, but also go take a hard look at your own Web site and ask, “How does the design of our site interfere with the learner journey? What changes might we consider?”
[03:46] – Introduction to Tony and some additional background about his work at AIIM.
Why AIIM Chose a Chief Revenue Officer
[05:28] – Tell us a bit more about the title “Chief Revenue Officer.” I feel like we are definitely seeing that more in the corporate world, but I don’t see it as much in the association world – at least not yet. What does it mean and why did AIIM decide that was a role the organization needed?
Tony shares that, generally speaking, the title of Chief Revenue Officer is a relatively new position. It’s a role that oversees both marketing and sales and it’s becoming more and more common in tech, even in consulting agencies.
They chose to adopt the position at AIIM mostly because they found their structure to be very siloed, which was exacerbated by the fact that they have a totally remote work environment. So it was really easy for people to form these natural clusters.
And he points out there’s no place that you want a silo any less than between marketing and sales. But it definitely existed where they weren’t speaking the same language, didn’t have common processes or shared goals, and it was really inhibiting them to really sell and market their offerings as best as they could.
Because of this, they decided to merge their sales and marketing into one giant department and start to create processes that weave in between them. And Tony was selected to oversee both departments to make sure they are really aligned in every way possible.
[07:24] – There always seems to be that standing battle/tension between marketing and sales, struggling to understand each other. Would you say you identify more with the marketing side or more with the sales side? Or do you have to be Switzerland at this point?
Tony admits that he’s supposed to be Switzerland but coming from a marketing background, that’s definitely his bread and butter and where is heart has always been. This makes it a lot easier for him to lean on his marketing background and expertise but he’s trying to grow into this position and be a little bit more Switzerland.
[08:13] – How did you get involved in marketing originally? What do you love about it?
Tony discusses that what he loves about marketing is that historically it was very creative-driven and artistic. But as things went digital, it became a lot more analytical and scientific. So it’s really a great blend of the two and he says he’s lucky to be involved with both sides, noting that it’s a great way to work both sides of your brain—the creative side and the analytic side. And that variety is what he loves about it.
Getting Visitors to Click the “Buy” Button
[09:35] – On the topic of getting more visitors to click “buy” – a topic you’ll be leading a session on at our upcoming Learning • Technology • Design virtual conference – you’ve had some specific success in this area. Without completely spoiling what you’ll cover at LTD, can you tell us a bit about the challenge AIIM was facing when it came to getting people to buy, and then what you did to address that?
The challenge they were up against, Tony says, was it was taking a lot more effort to get the same results over time. If they were to compare a campaign they ran a couple years ago with one they reran more recently—all of the exact same effort, same amount of social, similar email messages, similar paid advertising—they would see that the results were significantly less.
He notes there are lots of reasons for this—the market is constantly changing, there’s new competitors entering the space all the time, and the fact that people get used to marketing—what might have been effective a couple years ago isn’t as effective anymore so you have to find new tactics, and that was the challenge they were up against.
The way they combated that challenge was to ask themselves:
- Is our Web site really working as hard as it needs to be working?
- Do we have the write copy in place?
- Is the user journey through our Web site as easy and clear as it needs to be?
- Have we set up the proper funnel where we’re catching a lot of people and moving them towards certain product pages and getting them to check out?
- On those product pages, is it clear and concise what the goal of that page is/what we actually want the user to do? Or, is it a jumbled mess full of lots of information that actually isn’t helping them make the purchasing decision?
Tony says when they were honest with themselves, they realized there were areas they could improve. They followed a handful of steps and a framework of asking themselves these tough questions and making these changes on the Web site, removing as much friction as possible, while making the web copy as clear and compelling as possible to ultimately see the conversion rates on those pages increase.
This means that any traffic they have coming into the page – although it will fluctuate – a certain percentage are going to convert. And that’s a much better place to be than they were before.
[13:53] – What were some of the key ways you went about understanding that you had a problem and evaluating the problem? Were you looking at, say your Google Analytics over time, were you doing user testing? What types of things did you really have to figure out to see what was going on?
Tony says there were a lot but even though marketing books advise not to lean in on your intuition, he tends to be on the other side of that believing that you can look at something and know whether it’s right or wrong. They went through their page and first started to make some hypotheses, asking, “Does this make sense?”, “Is this confusing?”, “Does this belong on this page?”
And once you start to get a good understanding of the Web site through the mind of your user, you can turn to some analytics tools. Some of the analytics tools AIIM uses are:
- Google Analytics (a big one for them)
- Heat maps – allow you to look at your particular web page and see (by colorations on the page) where there’s a lot of activity/less activity.
- Scroll tracking – gives you information such as where people are clicking or how far down the page they’re scrolling.
- Software to obtain anonymous user recording – (AIIM used Lucky Orange) helps you see what users are doing on your specific page.
Tony says this data allows them to extrapolate information and ideas. It then leads to some more advanced A/B testing (where you set up two versions of a webpage – or email- to see which version does better) to try and see if they can structure the page differently or change the copy in a certain way to get users to do your desired action.
[17:01] – So you went through all of this to get a sense of what’s working/what wasn’t working and then trying to get people to that point where they will click the buy button to make that decision to purchase from you. In your situation (specifically), what help changed the game? And then maybe generically what tends to help people convert more than they would otherwise?
A lot of people – us included – have a need to mash as much information onto a page as they possibly can. We wanted to answer 100% of people’s questions, leaving no stone unturned. But that’s not going to help most of your users. Most of your users are going to ask the same 80% of questions that get asked. So you’re actually cluttering up your page making it very difficult, very challenging for them to understand what the action is you want them to take.
Very similarly, Tony says they wanted all of the pages on their Web site to mash into the navigation—and that’s a mistake. This was an area where they saw a tremendous amount of clutter that needed to be scaled back, rethought, and simplified to make it really easy for the user to know what the important pages were and the path they were being urged down.
If there’s a way for them to get out of the flow that you want them to go into, they’re going to find it—they move like water. But if you can start to eliminate those options and pair things down, only giving them the information they need to know, that’s when you’re going to see the results that you’re looking for. And Tony says this was a huge success for them.
Jeff notes that he loves this description and often talks and writes about hoe there’s so many similarities between effective education and effective marketing. So scaffolding the process and trying to avoid cognitive overload for the user as you would with a learner.
Challenges of Selling Education
[20:10] – Is there anything different or particularly challenging about selling some form of education or training product as opposed to selling a consumer product or some other type of service? What, if anything, is challenging about selling education?
Tony discusses how the hardest thing is that the market has changed so much even over the past few years. People are so used to getting everything for free online—YouTube videos, blogs, ebooks, etc.—that they are becoming less inclined to want to pay for things. And it’s gone so far in this direction that even asking for an email address is getting harder and harder.
People want and expect education to be free. And at the same time, education is getting easier to provide so you’re having a lot more competitors spring up out of nowhere. He notes that even the vendors in their space at AIIM are competitors in a certain way. Everybody can offer a Webinar or a training session and that makes it really hard to differentiate yourself in a very competitive market space.
Working with Product Designers to Effectively Market
[22:08] – Some of that’s going to come down to the design of the learning experience and making sure you’re creating really compelling experiences that are actually going to achieve educational outcomes for people—that’s one side of the equation. The other side is what you’re doing, and presenting that to the world, making sure they are aware of it—hopefully to the extent that they see the value and they are then willing to take that chance on the learning experience. How do you work with the people there who are designing the educational experiences? What’s the conversation like between your function and the people who are actually creating the products?
Tony says that marketing has a very close relationship with the product side, their training team in particular. But they have to. And they have to work hand-in-hand in order to deliver the absolute best experience.
At AIIM, they have a lot of conversations before they launch a new course about how they want it to look and feel. They throw around a lot of marketing lingo at them such as asking them, “Who is our buyer persona that we want to target?” and “Where are they in their customer journey?”
They identify all of these things up front to really focus in on who this is for, what they might be doing, what their interests are, what they’re reading, etc., so they can start to plan the marketing after the fact of it being created.
But they also spend a lot of time talking about what the experience is—not just for a new course, but for their courses generally. Tony talks about how marketing is always sharing experiences of their own and that they are always talking to the product side and training team about ideas and new ways to totally change their user experience in how they interact with their training experiences.
A Reliance on Sales
[24:32] – It seems AIIM does so much right from a marketing perspective, but I know marketing seems to be getting harder. Have you seen an increase or felt a greater reliance on selling (meaning somebody is making a phone call or showing up in person, it’s not just an email or webpage showing up) your educational products? And do you anticipate the focus on selling increasing over time to really make sure you’re going to get the customers?
Tony says absolutely and that people are expecting and demanding a more personalized experience and you can only do so much of that from a marketing standpoint. That’s really where the sales side can take over and have one-on-one conversations and start to put together learning plans for individuals.
He points out that in marketing, they are communicating one to many. But sales has one-to-one communication and can offer a more personalized experience that marketing isn’t able to. So they are definitely relying on sales to have those conversations more than they ever have.
Jeff notes that he’s encountered more organizations, many of which have never had a sales function, that are now starting to put one into place—or a business development function in some cases. And there’s an emerging trend of more organizations selling B2B that may have typically sold B2C.
[27:06] – Speaking of trends, what are you seeing out there in terms of overall trends or emerging areas that have you excited? Or on the flipside, perhaps even have you worried when it comes to marketing and sales?
Tony shares that the trend that has him most excited is this continued sales and marketing alignment. More companies are merging those two departments (like AIIM has) and as a result of that, there’s a lot more education on what those processes look like, how to get those teams working together—and that’s super exciting for him.
The trend he’s most nervous about is artificial intelligence (AI). All of the marketing conferences over the past couple of years have been talking about it and there’s a few case studies/examples of how it’s being used.
But there’s this broader idea of how AI is going to affect marketing—like what kind of day-to-day tasks will be driven by AI in the future which, he admits, makes him a little uneasy. Uneasy in the sense that you start to lose control where in marketing, they currently have so much control.
[30:40] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Tony shares about his experience taking a class at General Assembly, an organization that specializes in technology and business/digital marketing classes specifically for individuals who are interested in changing career paths. This course was laser-focused in preparing people to get a job in that field, which he says was mind-blowing and such an amazing experience.
[33:52] – How to connect with Tony and/or learn more about his work with AIIM:
[34:29] – Wrap-Up
- Find a few minutes to take a hard look at your own Web site and ask, “How does the design of our site interfere with the learner journey? What changes might we consider?”
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[36:23] – Sign off