Growing Up with Your Customer Base Without Having to Recode
What is product hierarchy and why does it matter?
In this week’s episode, Christian and Anna are talking with Nick Tippman, VP of Marketing at Greenlight Guru. Through smart use of thought leadership marketing, Nick positioned the company as a leading influencer in the medical device industry—and subsequently spurred impressive growth.
This growth created new opportunities to offer additional value to its customer base. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Nick uses smart messaging to sell the exact same product to the same person, but at different phases of the relationship. In doing this, Greenlight Guru is able to grow its offering without having to code a new product.
Listen to this week’s episode to gain a deeper understanding of product hierarchy and how product marketers can use this framework for positioning.LISTEN NOW
Christian: Where are you being pulled, and where are you being stretched too thin, and then where do you need to invest?
Anna: Better Product. The only show that takes a behind the scenes look into how digital products are created.
Christian: The business that's built around them and how you too can innovate better products. I'm Christian.
Anna: I'm Anna.
Christian: Welcome to today's show.
Anna: Storytelling builds connection. It creates an art that unifies people to common goals. It entertains, it educates. It's one of the most powerful ways to put ideas into the world.
Christian: If you're in the business of marketing, selling, designing, or even building products, then you're also in the business of telling stories.
Anna: Or you should be. Our guest today is Nick Tippmann. He's the VP of marketing at Greenlight Guru. Nick positioned the company as a leading influencer in the medical device industry and spurred impressive growth. In this episode, you'll hear how. But before we get to that, what is Greenlight Guru?
Nick Tippmann: Greenlight Guru is B2B SaaS company. We have a quality management software platform designed specifically for the med device industry. And so what we do is help medical device companies bring new products to market.
Christian: Nick is what we would consider a true product storyteller. As a company grows, he is able to develop new positioning, new messaging, new products, new everything while keeping the overarching story and mission intact.
Anna: I think Nick is able to accomplish this not just because he's a brilliant product marketer but because he sees the opportunity to create real impact. He believes in the mission founders David DeRam and Jon Speer are on, a mission to improve the quality of life.
Nick Tippmann: So a couple of different aspects, but one, I really think that the mission of what we're trying to do and then really trying to change an industry. So the medical device industry, and then specifically around quality and management, there hadn't been a ton of innovation. And so when we looked at the landscape we saw that there was a lot of room for improvement. So what we saw was a great opportunity to start at the ground floor, and have an opportunity to change the industry, and then really do some good for people too.
Christian: Now to tell a good story, you have to know your audience. So when Nick joined, the first thing he did was learn the market. He had to get inside the head of a medical device engineer, something he is not.
Anna: Because the team is so clear on their mission, early on, they were able to identify the right adopters who come on board as the first customers. Nick shares an interesting perspective when it comes to using this customer feedback to build a marketing and product roadmap.
Nick Tippmann: It's kind of an art and science to take what they were giving us and turning that into messaging and positioning, and how we were going to build out our product, and then how that was going to inform our roadmap.
Christian: As we jump into the conversation, we're talking with nick about how he balances innovation, a core value of theirs with consistent messaging.
Nick Tippmann: It's always a delicate balance and as a marketer and specifically in this instance a product marketer, if you are not the persona that you are talking to or that you're building your product, you have to lean on other subject matter expertise. And so, one of the things that we were lucky as being Greenlight Guru, the guru side of it, is that we had medical device engineers and medical device experts on staff. And so a lot of it came from talking with and interviewing them, and taking back the feedback and the messaging that we were putting together, and testing it out on our own team and seeing if it would resonate with them. It's a lot different if I'm a marketer and I'm selling a marketing product to marketers, then I can just talk like I am and be Nick, right? If I'm talking to medical device engineers and medical device quality leaders and medical device founders, I need to make sure that I'm speaking their language, and they were speaking it intelligently. And so I have to lean along a lot of the knowledge of our team to make sure that it is resonating with the market.
Christian: I think you're in an interesting position being in product marketing, and you are a new sort of function to Greenlight Guru, and you've been along as they scale. I think a lot of our listeners, what we're hearing is people want to see and understand what it's like to scale these things as they grow. So in these early stages with Greenlight Guru, what did product marketing look like? Was it just you or did you have a team also helping execute on what you were doing?
Nick Tippmann: Back five years ago when we got started and really what I've been describing so far, it was basically a core founding team that we had maybe five members at that time, and so I was leading wearing all the hats in marketing. So demand generation, product marketing, brand. You really just got to bite off what you can and prioritize what's most important at that time. As you scale and you move away from... You found product market fit and you kind of move away from that startup phase and more into the scale up phase. That's when we really had more defined roles and you really look at, "Okay, here's what we're going to do for demand generation. Here's what we're going to do for product marketing. Here's what we're going to do for buzz. Here's what we're going to do for brand."
Nick Tippmann: And so as you grow, you really need to right size your team and right size the functions and prioritize what you're going to bring in-house, and then where you're going to partner with people like Innovatemap on the product marketing side, of when do you lean on the expertise and when do you bring that in-house. And so I think you've just got to understand where you're at in the life cycle of your company and match the function with where you're at.
Christian: So if you were to describe to somebody who's starting in year one of a five-year journey today, what would you be telling them to look for in terms of knowing when they need to take a step back and start to rethink that? When they have product market fit and they need to start adding these other areas? When was that for you at Greenlight when you said, "This isn't working." Or, "We need to do more." What was the catalyst for knowing you need to evolve?
Nick Tippmann: I think it's the growth. As you continue to grow, processes start to break, or you have to start defining processes. And then you start to have important projects that you know are super important, but if you don't end up getting to them. And so that's when you start to realize, "Okay, maybe it's time to bring on the rest of the team." And then just from your customer growth, and you start to see that your customers are succeeding, and they're succeeding in similar repeatable ways, and it's when you say, "Now we're on to something. Now how do we take this to the next level? We know that we've built something that's valuable and that our customers are finding success with, and so how do we scale that and how do we make that larger?"
Nick Tippmann: And as you're growing, they're just more jobs to be done. You've got to figure out, "Okay, now maybe if I was spending 90% of my time on demand generation and 10% we got the initial messaging, packaging, positioning set up. As we continue to grow and continue to roll new products out and talk with larger customers, now I'm going to just spend more time in that product marketing function." And then you really have a decision to make of how are you going to start that. How are you going to get those projects done? That's really the way that I look at it. Is where are you being pulled, and where are you being stretched too thin, and then where do you need to invest?
Christian: So at this moment in Greenlight's journey, there was a moment where you realized you had product market fit. You've described that's when customers were succeeding in similar ways and all that. At that moment, what are you trying to do? What was happening in Greenlight's story where you actually realized there was opportunity or there were problems?
Nick Tippmann: This probably was about two years into Greenlight Guru, when we really started to look to the future and define who do we want to be when we grow up? Who do we want to be when we're scaled up and we're this growing company that wants to be this lasting company? I think that transition really happened when we started from or became from a one product company to a multi-product company. And so that was really the genesis.
Christian: Why did you go from one to multiple products?
Nick Tippmann: It's going back to talking to our customers and then looking how our customers were using our product and how it was evolving. And so we started out solving a very specific pain point around design controls and risk management for medical device engineers. That was just the beginning of a larger vision that we had. We knew that that was a place where we could get our foot in the door and start providing value immediately. But we knew that there were many other aspects and departments in a medical device company that's related to quality management, where we could provide value, and we could build product that they were currently doing on manual paper-based processes.
Nick Tippmann: So what we did, we found that product market fit with product number one, and then we knew that we had product number two coming out. And so we had to define, "Okay, are we talking to the same persona? Are we providing the same value? Is the pain points that we're solving the same?" What we found is no, we were evolving, we were growing. And so at that point we really transitioned from a single product company to a multi-product company and we're looking to expand our capabilities with that.
Anna: How does that affect your messaging and positioning?
Nick Tippmann: A lot.
Christian: So you couldn't just take what you had been doing for the next several years and use that same messaging to these other departments?
Nick Tippmann: No, because we were providing new value. It truly was a new product. We were talking to new people inside of medical device companies. And so while the messaging, and the way that we had put together the positioning for the original product might not change very much, there are new benefits that we talked about. What we ended up coming up with, we have a pre-market medical device quality management product, which are design controls and risk management, and then you have processes that you have to do post-market. That was really what our second product was.
Nick Tippmann: But what was really cool with the way that our product is built is, one plus one equals three. And so now the interconnectivity of these two products provided a whole new set of values. So it wasn't just saying, "Okay, we have a story that we have for product one, and we have a story and benefit for product two." But what is this new overarching story in this new overarching value that we're providing medical device companies? What is that message and what is that story? That's where we really worked with you guys on leaning into this new message of true quality. And so what we found talking to customers and looking at the market and really where FDA was heading and these different regulatory bodies, was putting more of an emphasis on quality products over complying with regulations.
Nick Tippmann: And so that was really the overarching theme that we found, that our customers were telling us was, "Now your products are allowing us to put the focus on quality and not compliance." And we came up with this analogy that we like to use is, you go to a restaurant and just because you have a meal that's compliant with food regulations and there's no health code violation, it doesn't mean that's a high quality meal. And the same thing happens with medical device companies. It's really what the FDA saw, and they came out with this new program called the Case for Quality. And so that was really about showing the medical device industry that there's all these benefits that come along with building quality into your product rather than just following the rules.
Nick Tippmann: And so FDA had to take a look internally and figure out, "Is our method of enforcement and regulations actually serving our duty to provide safe and effective products to the public?" That's the mission statement of the FDA. And what they found was that might not be the case. People were more just checking compliance boxes. So we saw the same thing, and our product really enabled that shift from compliance to quality products. And so back to all of that from having a single product to a second product, it was the combined new value proposition that really spurred that.
Christian: It sounds like you were at a moment in Greenlight where you saw another market opportunity present itself and you had to come up with the positioning and messaging for that new audience. But what I find compelling about what you're describing is you didn't just create the new messaging for them. You actually found an overarching story. Was that always the goal?
Nick Tippmann: Like to think it is. It was. Our founders David and Jon, and Jason McKibbin our COO, really had a vision for this product, and we knew longterm where we wanted to head. And so that was always on the horizon of what's going to be next. So it's one thing to look tactically out three months, six months. It's another thing to look through a vision lens of where's the market going to be in three years. And so we always knew that we were going to be a full functioning quality management software platform. It was always in the back of our heads at the company of how are we going to put this message together and combine these products. We didn't set out to just solve this single problem for medical device engineers. We looked at the medical device industry and saw that there was an issue with quality management in general and took a longterm view of how are we going to help solve that.
Anna: So not only was your positioning and messaging around quality for the pre-market/post-market features of the product or the two different products. It was also that the FDA was going in that direction. How much did the FDA's direction tie into the messaging and marketing? How much did you pull that in? Because I think it's such a, you have a governing body like a lot of entrepreneurs don't have to worry about. So what did you want to accomplish by bringing in the FDA movement as well?
Nick Tippmann: One of the things that we've found a great benefit that we provide, and one of the things that our customers really appreciate about us is they see us as more than just a software company, but truly a partner in their success. And one of the things that comes along with being the "gurus" and being their partner is helping keeping our customers ahead of these regulatory changes. We say it's our job to stay ahead of where the industry and where the regulations are heading and help guide our customers there. And we take where the regulations are going and build that back into our product. And so we can provide peace of mind for a lot of these startups. That's one thing that we found is they wanted a partner to hold their hand in their success, whether they're experienced medical device entrepreneurs that have been through this three times and have exited, or if they're a new biomedical engineer coming right out of school with an idea that they put together in their PhD program.
Anna: How do you bring the market along with you? If you are really thinking forward, pushing forward, knowing where the FDA is headed. How do you bring your customers along?
Nick Tippmann: One of the things that we like to say is we're selective on who we want to work with. And so we really only want to work with people that are focused on quality and that are trying to do the best and they care about patient safety and they care about the quality of their devices. Jon has a great saying that, "When you get done building a medical device, the ultimate check on it is, would I use this on a family member." So we like to work with people that are taking that same mindset. And so when you're thinking about, "Who do we want to work with and how do we stay ahead of the innovation and pull them along with us?" You find partners that are thinking the same way. The people that are stuck in their ways and that have been doing it the same way for 30 years and they know what they know and they're not willing to change and evolve, probably aren't the best fit to work with our company. And so it's really a mindset that these companies have to have. And so when we're talking to companies and we're talking to potential prospects, we're trying to figure out if they have that continuous improvement mindset and if they have that quality mindset, what we're lucky to find is most of them do. That's kind of how we're able to pull them along.
Christian: This isn't the first time we've heard if somebody's talking about, you find that people that are innovative, the prospects and focus on them. The question I always have in the back of my mind is, well what happens if you exhaust all those, when you get all those? Do you bear any responsibility or accountability on the marketing side to also be bringing those along? Because you talk about the industry pulling them in the quality sort of way. But does Greenlight do anything for the other people who maybe aren't fits for the product right now, but do you take any accountability over the rest of the market to help bring them along in any way?
Nick Tippmann: Yeah, I believe that we do. One to one of the values that we provide, again, outside of just the software and being more than just a software company is a lot of our thought leadership. Jon Speer is really the leading expert out there in the industry and influencer right now in quality and regulatory. And so we take great pride and responsibility in spreading this message of quality over compliance, and like to think that we play a small part in changing the mindset of the industry of how they view quality, not as a necessary evil, and not as a policing force, but a way to do better work and to build better products.
Christian: Somebody else is talking about sales enablement being tied to marketing, and you had just said that. But it might be better because... Is that more true now than it was before or have you always felt that way?
Nick Tippmann: I've always felt that way. What's the difference is the difference between being in the very early stages of a company and scaling up the company. In the early stages, you might have one to two reps and so they're bought in there, they're a part of the company, they're in the meetings every day with you. You're small insular group and information shares and gets spread a lot easier. And so there's not enough as much enablement that needs to happen. When you go from two reps to 10 reps, now all of a sudden, it becomes about consistency and repeatability. And so now you're working with your sales team to get them to say things in a repeatable way, to say things in a way that's going to resonate, and so everybody's not doing it on their own. You don't have the lone ranger that is just figuring it out. They're the salesperson there, they're doing it themselves, they're doing a great job, but how do you bring a whole team along with you? And so that's where I really believe product marketing provides a tremendous value, and has a huge role to play.
Nick Tippmann: Sitting really in the middle of product management, marketing, and sales, and then specifically in our company, customer success, because our customer success team, our gurus all have that medical device engineering knowledge and this quality and regulatory knowledge. And so we see product marketing sitting in the middle and really taking information from each of these groups and then being the one that disseminates that information. So we might be taking what are we hearing from the market from customer success, product marketing is taking that, translating it back to product. Product is taking that, turning that into roadmap, and then product is coming back to product marketing saying, "Here's what we're going to be rolling out next. How are we going to talk about that?" And then it's product marketing's job to turn that into messaging that is going to resonate with our customers and our prospective customers, and talk to the sales team and educate them on what this means for our clients, why they should care, and how they should talk about the new product.
Christian: Talk us through between the early stages into scale up where brand and refreshing the site and all the messaging there comes into play.
Nick Tippmann: Again, it goes back to we were about two years into the company, knowing that we have this new product on the horizon, knowing that we had this new market that it opens us up to, and knowing that we were growing and scaling as a company, it just felt like a logical time to refresh our branding and refresh our messaging and refresh our positioning. And so you say we did the website, the messaging, the refresh, and it was all a lot to take on at once, but we thought that that made logical sense to make a clean shift rather than that having progressing over two years and kind of confusing the market.
Nick Tippmann: When we looked at that, we identified how can we take the knowledge and expertise that's gained across multiple clients, and apply that to what we're doing, and accelerate what we're trying to do. And get all of that done in a short period of time to be able to have this launch of all these new assets combined all in one. And so we're really thinking about it as a company strategy and a company progression, is that everything does not live in a silo, and that's where you really need to have the cohesiveness between teams. And then that's why your executive team really all needs to be on the same page and have alignment around that vision and around where you're heading. So then you can talk with whoever you end up working with, whether that's internal or external, on executing what that vision is.
Nick Tippmann: And so we all as leaders get executive coaching, all of our teams get coaching, and it really all is around building the culture that you would want to work at. We say culture isn't the foosball table that you have, the kegs. It's really how you work, and how you feel about each other. And so you ask how do we get that cohesion? How do you get that alignment? Well, it's something that you work at and you be different on purpose. It's not easy. David has a saying that, "Culture isn't something that rains down on you. It's something that you have to participate in." And so to get that cohesion, you really have to have the buy-in of the full company or of the executive team or of the execution team, whoever you're working with, you really all have to be on the same page and you have to care about what you're doing. And so I really think that's a big thing of how we're able to have those cohesion, and able to do really complex and hard things, is that we're all on the same page and that we're all pulling from the same side of the road.
Anna: I was like, how did adding a new product affect the brand? We've seen where sometimes when people add... The product is so associated with the brand, that when a new product comes in, there's some confusion there. How did you guys address the idea of bringing in this new product and how it kind of tied up to the Greenlight brand?
Nick Tippmann: The way that we looked at it really was we had to evolve as a company. We talked about going from a single product company to a multi-product. Typically, with a single product company, the company brand and the product brand are the same thing. And as we evolved, we knew that we had to make the separation and this was the time to make that separation from Greenlight Guru, the company, to Greenlight Guru's products. And so what we ended up doing is branding two products, our Go product, which was our traditional or our first product, which was our design, controls, and risk management. And then our new product Grow, which is our post-market quality processes product. That being said that there are two products, it's all one platform, and it's all meant to provide value and to help our customers along the life cycle and journey of building and bringing a medical device to market, and then keeping it there once you have it on the market.
Nick Tippmann: So we really looked at how do we separate the Greenlight Guru brand from these two product brands that are on one platform? What we found is the use cases and how people were being successful with these two products, and who actually were using the two products, were vastly different. And that was part of the driving force that came behind why we chose to do a Go and Grow. And actually what came out of this exercise as well from talking to customers that I talked about a little bit earlier, being more than just a software company, but truly a partner of our customers were our Guru services. And so that was really a three-prong approach that we took with Go, Grow, and Guru. And it's really all three of those products that gives you the full medical device quality management solution that Greenlight Guru, the brand offers.
Anna: What does better product mean to you?
Nick Tippmann: Better product means to me a billing and innovative product, and a product that's going to provide value and helps your customers succeed in what they've set out to do. And it's also about building a quality product. So being innovative and true quality are two of our core values at Greenlight Guru, and I think that translates fantastic to building better product, and it's how we look at building better product for our customers.
Christian: You can learn more about what Nick's up to by visiting greenlight.guru.
Anna: Nick talked a lot about when Greenlight started, they were really building to their early adopters, and then their early adopters grew up I guess. So what are your thoughts on that growing and basically growing up with your customer base?
Christian: He definitely had a good story there. I think on the surface is not too different from other people we've had on the show about having to grow up. But in other cases, like with Eric from Pacsafe, it's about figuring out who your best customers are and what you're doing well. But I think in this case, I don't feel like Greenlight had any uncertainty about what they were providing to medical device manufacturers. I think they understood what they did well. Instead, it was like their customers were literally growing with them. So there were testing devices that hadn't been to market yet, and so they used the Greenlight product to support that. And then when they were out in market, all of a sudden like, "We need something that supports that." So when they talk about growing the Greenlight product, that really was kind of growing alongside the customers they had in the very beginning.
Christian: And I think what's different from other people we've had on the show is that they didn't know what they were doing well, it's just that the needs matured. They didn't change. It wasn't like, "Oh wow, everything's changed in our world. We need to rethink our product line." It was more like, "Wait, they have new needs now. There's still people that are in our original bucket of customers, but now we have this new bucket. What are we doing to serve them?" So they had to figure out whether a new product was needed.
Christian: This is a story I tried to tell people a lot because when you think about this new market, especially people maybe come from engineering or work with engineers a lot, think "Okay, we just need to build a new product, or add something new, or build new feature sets." Some of that may be true, but in their case they handled it a little bit differently. They started with a product hierarchy that really packaged up their offerings in a little bit tighter way rather than actually going off and coding an entirely new product for people. They were able to keep their same product line, but changed the way that it was messaged, and created a hierarchy around it that helped them speak to customers that were at different phases of their life.
Anna: Obviously, they redid the hierarchy. Kind of repackaged things. How does the messaging play into that?
Christian: Granted, neither of us are product marketing experts, but the way that I always think about things, well, most times I use a metaphor like a car. You can sell a car to several different users who are at different phases of their life, by just sort of packaging it differently, or talking about different aspects. So someone might buy the same four-door sedan because of the way that... Well okay, take mine, for example. I bought my car because of the way that it allowed me to put my laptop inside the door.
Anna: So specific.
Christian: It's so specific, very nerdy, but it's very true. When I saw the video of somebody sliding a laptop inside the door, I was like, "I am sold." But I'm sure that wasn't the thing that sold it for other people.
Anna: Tech bros are going to love this.
Christian: Yes. And you know me, I'm a big tech bro.
Anna: On the same kind of car metaphor, my aunt, she has Collies and she drives a minivan because she can put two Collies in their crates in the back of her minivan.
Christian: I wonder if the company advertises-
Anna: To women who show dogs.
Christian: To the women who show dogs.
Anna: Or just people. I mean, people who show dogs.
Christian: Well, and even in the minivan I guess too, if you think about it from growing nature of how... sort of like the way the Greenlight Guru was, you'd say you could sell a minivan to somebody who's got two kids and four kids, with the foldable third row seating to show how you can grow into it. So you can almost like sell the exact same product to the same person at different phases of their own sort of maturity. And I think that's what Nick described, and what they did really well at Greenlight Guru was figuring out that not every time do you actually have to code a new product. And there's new features that they added to the product to handle the new stuff, but you know from a technical aspect, it's not an entirely new product line that they had to create. They could handle it with the way that they talked about it at first.
Anna: That ties into what he said, the new product messaging is one plus one, equals three. I mean, it's taking what they had all ready, rethinking it, repackaging it, repositioning it, talking about it differently, and now it's a whole new, bigger and better thing.
Christian: What struck me about was when he's talking about how much he had to do to learn the industry. And I started thinking, "I wonder if that's advantageous for our product marketer?" Because if you come from that industry as a subject matter expert, we've seen product managers that do really well because they know the industry really well. But Nick is in product marketing, and I almost wonder if it's almost an advantage to not come from it, because then you're forced to learn it and then almost translate it for yourself.
Anna: See, the way you help yourself understand, is maybe the way that you could message it. But wouldn't he be messaging to people in the industry and therefore would want to speak their language?
Christian: I mean, sure, maybe you can kill my idea right now, but maybe there's something else there-
Anna: We talk about that with UX, right? We say that coming in, maybe not having all the industry knowledge does put us at an advantage because we can see things other people don't. So we can see things that people take for granted.
Christian: I think in the marketing in general. I mean, your point is right that they're still selling people in the industry, but may be there's something useful about coming at it with fresh eyes or having to sort of translate it when you're dealing with that.
Anna: I mean, I think just like the difference between the user and the buyer, maybe the buyers aren't always so heavily steeped in the regulations and the complexity. So maybe the CFO isn't from the medical device industry, but they're the ones making this buying decision. So being able to speak to them and the needs, I actually think that is an asset.
Christian: I don't know. It was just something that struck me because we get questions from people about what product marketing really means. I think ultimately it's being able to translate what our product does to people. I think you do bring up a good point. The buyers and the users are often different. And so in some ways... Well, Jon Gilman from Clear Software talked about that. He came from his industry of enterprise software, then starts a company and thinks it's going to be a no brainer. He's speaking the way the end users are, except he finds out the end users aren't buying it. All the ways he was thinking to talk about it, wasn't really going work.
Christian: So I think, I don't know, there's not really anything there. Maybe it's hope for anybody out there when you get in a technical field or are selling technical products and think that it's like, "Well, unless you come from that field, you can't really touch it." I do believe that [inaudible 00:31:52] shows there are ways, especially when it comes to marketing or customer support or anything like that, that almost not having that in depth domain knowledge can be an asset.
Anna: Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then, visit innovatemap.staging.wpengine.com/podcast and subscribe to learn how you can take your product to the next level. As always, we're curious, what does better product mean to you? Hit us up on Twitter @innovatemap, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christian: I'm Christian
Anna: And I'm Anna. You've been listening to Better Product.
Christian: To Better Product.
Anna: Drop mic.