SketchDeck CEO Chris Finneral recently sat down with marketing leader and podcaster Matt Heinz. Covering a host of topics including: B2B creative design, the intersection of design and technology and much more, this action packed, 30-minute episode is full of actionable advice and best practices. Marketing and sales leaders looking to level up and scale design at their organization - this one's for you!
Matt Heinz: We are featuring every week some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is absolutely no different. Very, very excited to have joining us today, the CEO, co-founder of SketchDeck, Christopher Finneral. Christopher, thank you so much for joining us.
Chris Finneral: Thanks for having me, Matt.
Matt: So let’s talk about this idea that the sales pipeline just appears over the horizon. In your experience as a serial entrepreneur, is sales pipeline development that easy?
Chris: In prospecting, generating leads is always something which requires work. Even if you have something that’s awesome that everyone wants, you need to really educate your market, educate the leads, and put a lot of work into that. I actually was reading a quote recently that was saying especially for startups, people always overestimate how hard it is to build the product and underestimate how much effort it is to acquire customers. I think that’s very true. It takes a lot of work to get your pipeline and get lots of customers for your product.
Matt: I love that quote. I love that quote that people overestimate what it takes to get a product to market and underestimate what it takes to sell it. I became familiar with SketchDeck a little over a year ago working with the folks at ON24 on the Webinar World event, and they got me in touch with you guys to help me with my presentation deck. And I was really impressed, not only with the quality of the design but the process. So talk a little bit about what you guys have done at SketchDeck to marry good design with good technology and process and why that’s working so well for companies that are just continuing to drive new innovation, new growth, new merit, new design and efforts there.
Chris: I’ll step back a bit and giving some context. At SketchDeck, we focus on company’s everyday design needs. The term everyday design is something that we coined to really reflect the things which are not enormous projects that you want to spend tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on in some cases, but you might work with a specialist boutique agency or a brand agency. But really focusing on those things just come up every day as the name implies. And what we realized about these types of needs - and these are things like presentations, reports, white papers, social media ads - is that here’s so many things which a business needs frequently that’s visual. And they help come with quick turnaround time needs, budget constraints. The actual needs around these types of design is different.
So with this in mind, we realized we actually didn’t just need a team of designers. You actually needed to have a way of managing this efficiently so that we could deliver projects quickly within the right budget and within the right quality. So that’s really what we’ve done with SketchDeck. We have this awesome team of designers that are all around the world that work with you, and we have a software platform that makes the whole process really easy.
So it starts with how you create a brief for a project. It’s really nice online ordering experience where you can describe the project, it prices out for you, and then you have a really great feedback exchange where you see your design inside the browser, and you can get feedback directly on top of design, add your colleagues to share and collaborate. And then finally, we bring everything together in one really nice interface where all of the design projects that we’ve worked on with us live together, and you can easily find that project that you did last year rather than try to search back through your email, which is the way it often happens today.
So we’ve really kind of believe in this marriage of both really talented designers and this powerful platform to deliver these everyday design needs.
Matt: You and I talked a little about this last year. After I used SketchDeck to get my presentation ready. Are you a design company or are you a technology company? Because you really do have good design, and I think a lot of companies, a lot of people have good design, but you marry that with a really efficient process, and a great tool that just makes it easy to review, makes it easy to submit new stuff. Maybe you need to find the old materials, like you mentioned.
How do you guys think about the business, how do you balance that where design agency but also focus on the process of technology that makes the overall process and means of getting the right design, the right deliverables done and done well and done quickly?
Chris: Educating the market’s very important, and that’s something we’ve had to do because we truly see ourselves as both. We really do see ourselves as a software company and a design company, and that’s what makes us unique. There’s lots of our companies that we work with, there’s a bit of education up front because they’re say things like, “Well, normally we work with only design agencies. Only design, nothing else.” But we’re like, “Yes, we have design, but the platform is a crucial component to it too.” But honestly, we really see ourselves as both of those things coming together, and that’s really what makes us unique and able to offer something that’s quite different to traditional services, which are just focused on design or some platforms only about the platform but you need to bring designers onboard yourself.
Matt: Love it. We’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Christopher Finneral. He’s the CEO, co-founder of SketchDeck, and we’re talking a lot about the intersection between design and technology. And because most of our audience is in the B2B space, we have to qualify what’s the difference between design and B2B design. Basically I want to talk about the blueprint for B2B design you guys have. You've got some eBooks around it as well. I think a lot of hardcore pipeline marketers think design oftentimes can get a little too whimsical, a little too focused on winning awards versus driving conversions. What’s the first thing that makes B2B design different and unique?
Chris: Yeah. I think it comes from that starting point, which is I think there is still a perception that design is something which is only important in B2C, and B2B doesn’t need to worry about design. I think we’re seeing that that’s changing a lot. I mean, the first thing I’d say is there’s growing research in this area around impact that design has. The fact that design can have real impact on the bottom line of companies. I know recently there was a report out from McKinsey & Company that references this exact piece, and it was talking about companies in all industries. I think they had things like professional services in oil and gas, services as far away from B2C as you can think. They were having design companies invested in and focused on design for having revenue impacts of upwards of 10% in comparison to their peers. So thinking about design for B2B companies is now something we’re starting to prove out that there is real value to a company in doing this.
And my perspective on what’s causing this and what’s driving this is actually the fact that millennials are now very dominate in the workplace, and they grew up in the ’90s would be surrounded by good product design in the B2C space. And now they have a strong connection with good design. They make decisions based on things they like and like the look of. And now these millennials, they’re in decision making positions in companies. And they’re playing that same design aesthetic that they grew up with into their B2B design making. And it’s true. People now in making B2B decisions are choosing vendors they want to work with based on how they feel about that vendor and do they like what they see from their brand and that’s obviously tied up immensely in the visual aesthetics that was coming across. So really B2B design is definitely something that people need to take seriously now. I think it’s going to continue to grow in importance.
Matt: I would agree. I think it’s always been really important. I think buildings don’t write checks, people do, and I think people, like you said, appreciate good design. Design implies clarity and confidence, and I think can differentiate you from others. I think a lot of B2B marketers that are maybe more focused on pipeline, maybe wondering where’s the intersection between design and performance, right? Design that actually sort of creates a level of confidence and differentiation and even beauty in a B2B audience, all of which are important.
But also if we’re thinking about tactical design elements like emails, like landing pages, how do you connect, how do you create something that is great design but also drives performance to a pipeline or to a map driven marketer?
Chris: When I come back to the fact that one of the things that we focus on with everyday design is this ability to deliver things quickly and within the right budget. Budget enables more iteration. Within marketing, we should always be thinking about A/B testing, for example, when we’re thinking about emails and different ads, etc.. And more traditional solutions might take months to get projects turned around. Whereas, we enable things to be turned around within a few days or a week or so. That enables the ability to test different things out and figure out within your own lead generation funnels which are the most impact. So you can optimize conversion rates and such. So yeah, that’s super critical for marketers.
Matt: How much education do you find that you are doing with clients on sort of the right balance of design, performance? Not watering down design to get good performance; not watering down performance to getting both sides. How much of what you’re doing is education versus execution?
Chris: Many of the marketers we work with do understand the importance of design. I think we’re still very much a startup and working with people who are innovating in their own companies. So those people often do understand the importance of design. So I’d say most of the education that we’re doing right now is about our model and how it’s different to a traditional agency. Most of them already grasp design. But I’d say within the broader market as a whole there’s still a lot of education that needs to be done, and we’re trying to do that with things like our white paper on B2B design because I think a lot of people in the market still don’t appreciate the importance of it. And also, what the challenges are to actually make B2B design happen and work at the scale that is needed. So yeah, there’s still more work for us to be done towards the broader market.
Matt: I do want to talk about some of the assets you guys have available. So if you want to learn more, I highly encourage everyone to go to SketchDeck.com. We’ll have a link to that in our show notes. Have a link also to your B2B design eBook. But I also want to talk about something you put together called the Blueprint for B2B Design. Talk a little bit about what that is and why B2B marketers and sales professionals quite frankly should be going and getting a copy of that.
Chris: Yeah. Sure. So, with this white paper we really wanted to take a look at what design looks like inside B2B organizations. So it covers the things we talked about initially - the importance of design and the research that points towards the actual impact that design has inside B2B organizations. So that’s where it begins. And then it talks about what are the challenges inside organizations to getting design happening because we see lots of organizations who now start to care about design, but they still struggle. And one of the concepts we introduce here is what we’ve called the B2B Design Pyramid.
So we really break down the needs of design inside an organization into three components. Imagine have a pyramid or a triangle; we break it down into the top section, which we think covers brand strategy. So this is the real tip, the most high profile part of a brand, and it’s about designing an organization. It’s really about just finding the look and feel of that organization. It’s your logo, it’s your color, color palette, it’s your kind of visual kind of storytelling that you’re doing. It really defines what that brand is. That’s really at the top.
And then there’s the second layer down that we really think of as flagship design, and this is things like if you were doing some big ad on TV or you’ve got some kind of big event experience. The projects that really stand out for the business, very large, tentpole events.
And then with that, the final section we think of then is this everyday design, which is all the things that go on every single day inside the organization, which don’t quite have the same individual recognition that a big site really has but with many of them.
And what we talk about is what do you need to do at each of these different phases of the pyramid. I think one thing that people fall into is thinking, “Oh, we just need one design solution. That will cover all of our needs.” The reality is that does not work. Typically what we really see is that very top section, that brand strategy section, that is where you want to be engaging with the best brand agencies out there, and they’re the ones that can really help cross that and guide that. And that’s normally in conjunction as well with some kind of internal head of brand or creative director as well who are kind of working on that.
And then this next section down, these flagship events. This is where some smaller agencies come into play and other agencies that specialize in these types of activities really come into own. Some companies build out teams internally to cover these types of activities as well. So you can see already the different set of needs and a different solution there.
And then finally with the everyday design, this is where we really feel we come in and can play strongly here. You need to have a solution which can keep up with the scale of those needs and deliver things at the speed and the budgets that are acquired for those design needs. And it’s often this bottom section which fails because organizations try and work with their traditional agencies for this and they can really struggle, or they try and build out their own internal teams to cover this type of work. And that again doesn’t quite work, and we go into details as to why that is the case.
So yeah, we really wanted to kind of create this framework to people to really think about how to think about the needs that are happening inside the organization, make sure they’re really taking the best solutions for each of those needs that they have.
Matt: I like the way you think about that, and I think it’s a good framework for people to do. You mentioned that too many companies will just go with sort of one design solution. What are some other mistakes that you see people making relative to B2B design either tactical or strategic? What are things that people should either watch out for or avoid?
Chris: Yeah. So I mean, the first one we talked about is not dependent on design at all. So that’s an easy one to fix. There’s lots of evidence to say that design has impact, make sure you value design, and invest in it. That’s one. The second one is appreciating that design is important but ignoring the problems. And this is one we see a lot. We primarily work with marketing teams, and some of the prospective customers we speak to come to us because they say, “Hey, I’ve got marketers in my organization who I’ve hired as marketers who are spending 25% of their time as designers.” And this comes from the fact that people are ignoring it. They’re like, “Ah, we don’t need to worry about this. It’ll solve itself.” And you end up having people in your organization doing things which they’re not best skilled at, trying to then be designers and taking a lot longer to do things, and not creating the quality of work that’s required. So definitely kind of watch out for just kind of ignoring the problems, sweeping under the rug because you do still bare that cost. It still needs to happen.And then the other thing- is cutting back on programs that should happen. Like they’re not doing enough A/B testing on things. They’re cutting back on brands when they really should be thinking about things that need brand and redesigned. So actually cutting back on marketing activities to try and save what they need to for only one design. So those are three mistakes that we often see.
Matt: Got it. We’ve got a couple more minutes here with Christopher Finneral. He is the CEO, co-founder of SketchDeck. He is a serial entrepreneur, has been doing this for a while. Spent some time at McKinsey before that. Just curious, in your career, who are some of the people that you have learned from, that you have benefited the most from, professors, authors, speakers, alive or dead? Who are some folks that have been a big impact on your life and career, and you might recommend other people check out as well?
Chris: Yeah, great question. So I’m actually going to talk to some organizations more than specific people. So my McKinsey experience taught me a lot about how businesses at the biggest level inside the U.S. and UK derives originally from how they operate. It really opens your eyes to how things operate and things that are broken. I think that’s really, really cool experience I had. We actually took SketchDeck through Y Combinator, which was their startup accelerator out here in Silicon Valley. And that really taught me a lot about how to start a company, getting real focus on product market fit, focusing on soft iteration and really getting feedback from your customers early on. A lot of those thoughts and thinking has really come in to how we built and grown SketchDeck. For anyone out there that’s thinking about starting companies or is an entrepreneur themselves, there’s a great resource on the Y Combinator website and programs that are a great source of inspiration too.
So yeah. Those are a couple organizations that really kind of help me as I’ve got in SketchDeck and growing my entrepreneurial career.
Matt: If we had another half hour, I’d spend a lot more time talking about just the entrepreneurial journey. I think it’s unique to those of us that have built and grown businesses. But there’s an awful lot to learn there for anyone that is just building their career, especially those in sales and marketing. You started the conversation by talking about the over investment in product and the under investment or the under appreciation in what it takes to sell it. I think is very good advice.
So want to thank again our guest today. We’ve been talking with Christopher Finneral. He’s the CEO and co-founder at SketchDeck