Don't Just Do More

Alfred Lua / Written on 22 April 2021

In the first few years of my career, I thought the way to get more results is simply doing more of the same thing and doing it better. For example, if I were to write more blog posts and write better blog posts, I can get more traffic and shares.

While that isn't wrong, doing more of the same thing isn't the only way to get more results. I have managed to increase our blog traffic while writing fewer blog posts at Buffer. Also, in the past year, I have observed a few changes that have increased the team's output without making us work more and harder. (If you know more examples, please let me know!)

1. Adopting better tools

You might not believe this but for the first eight years of Buffer, we didn't have a proper email marketing tool to communicate with our users. We had Mailchimp but it was used for our blog newsletter. Our engineers built an in-house tool for sending a few onboarding emails to new users. Marketers could edit the subject lines and content but we needed engineers' help if we want to change the audience or timing of the emails. To be fair, that worked for us for a long time (eight years!)

About two years ago, we started to invest in a couple of tools that have since enabled us to do much more. The first was Segment. Our Data team created a data governance framework so that we would track things neatly. Things can quickly become messy and unusable if there isn't a naming convention and people enforcing the standards. We now track actions such as Trial Started, Post Created, and Subscription Started. This enabled us to use the second tool, Customer.io, effectively. We, non-technical marketers, can now easily create and experiment with new onboarding campaigns and lifecycle emails to increase activation and product usage.

This was an important change because it expanded the scope of what the marketing team could do. Before getting the tools, we weren't even thinking about lifecycle emails because we couldn't do anything about it. Once we got the tool, it suddenly felt like the world opened up and we have a whole new set of things to try.

2. Changing the team structure

I mentioned an example of this in my previous essay, Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and Product Teams. By creating the product marketer role and embedding product marketers into product teams, we managed to improve the collaboration between the two teams.

Another example is that of a teammate at Buffer who took on the role of Customer Advocacy Operations. She helped to improve the customer experience by collaborating with our EPD (Engineering, Product, and Design) organization and our marketing team. She keeps the Customer Advocacy team informed of product changes, supports the product teams so that product changes are smooth experiences for our customers, and works with me to communicate changes to affected users. Simply answering more tickets better wouldn't have the same effect.

3. Reallocating work to the right people

I recently learned this from our Chief Product Officer. I asked her something along the lines of how is she planning to help our product managers get better results. I was expecting her to say she would get them to do this and that new things.

But she replied, "they are doing too much and don't have time to really think about the product strategy." This blew my mind. She noticed that some of the work that our product managers are doing are better suited for other teams. For instance, our finance team is more experienced with financial modeling and our data scientists know more about data analysis. By reallocating such work to people who can do them better, she can elevate the output of the entire team.

Optimizing the organization chart

I didn't understand the impact of such changes because I was focusing on only my area in the early stage of my career. As I grew in my career, I started noticing these changes. If you can spot and understand them earlier in your career, it can be a great advantage (especially if you can help make such changes).

The lesson is nicely summarized by my friend, David Fallarme, who told me A-players will perform at C-level if the system is bad. Conversely, a good system can elevate everyone.

"A bad system will beat a good person every time." — W. Edwards Deming

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