Interviews

MarTech Interview with Abby Hehemann, Director of Product Marketing at GetResponse

Explore the evolving landscape of AI and email marketing as we delve into the trends shaping marketing strategies and operations in 2024.
MarTech Interview

1. Abby, can you briefly outline your journey in product marketing, highlighting key milestones that led you to become the Director of Product Marketing at GetResponse?
I’ve been in product marketing since 2016, which makes it almost eight years this year. I first joined GetResponse as a customer success advisor back in 2012, and I didn’t intentionally dive into a career in tech. I was fresh out of graduate school with a new MBA and was looking for new opportunities after moving to Poland from the US. While adjusting to life in a new country, I came across GetResponse and saw they had an opening on their customer success team. I decided to take the plunge. Having studied journalism and assuming I’d use my MBA in some form of business reporting, I never intended to end up working directly in tech. Though now I’m thankful I pivoted to working tech, rather than reporting on aspects of it.

On the customer success team I was thrown into the world of SaaS, online and email marketing. I learned a lot about our customers: what they liked, what they needed, and what they were trying to achieve with our software. I also had a chance to get to know our product like the back of my hand. With this increasing knowledge and connection with our customers, I started hosting live weekly training webinars for our customers and building out a library of on-demand video tutorials. This had a two-fold impact: it created a connection and humanized our brand for our customers, and it put me in direct, weekly touch with the customers driving our growth and product enhancements.

It was through this intersection of product knowledge and customer insights that my passion for product marketing emerged. It was a natural transition from customer success into product marketing. I ended up, in my opinion, in the best role in tech – product marketing. Product marketing is the best of both worlds: a perfect mix of data and creativity. It allows for (requires!) human connection with your customers to develop compelling value stories, but then you need data competency to take your learnings and validate them across your user base to develop scalable motions that improve your product and GTM strategy.

After some time building up the product marketing function at GetResponse, I felt the need to get out of my comfort zone to grow professionally. I switched industries and sales acquisition models at a higher education tech startup in the US for about two years. It was an incredible opportunity to build up a product and brand’s positioning from the ground up. The startup vibe was so different, with its own pace and rules. I had to think outside the box and get scrappy to build up, validate, and execute on our positioning. It was a huge success, and a lot of fun.

All of this has led me to where I am today – returning to my roots working in SaaS online marketing tech and becoming the Director of Product Marketing at GetResponse, blending all the varied experience I’ve gathered to build new strategies and strengthen existing marketing processes.

2. As a leader in a male-dominated field, what insights can you share on changing leadership styles and your personal journey in product marketing?
Regardless of gender dynamics or representation in leadership within any organization I’m a part of, I strive to be a collaborative, motivational, and supportive leader. But on my journey as a female leader in a male-dominated field, I’ve had to intentionally suppress my “people-pleasing” instinct along the way.

First and foremost, I want to ensure that I am a place of support and clarity for my team. For any individual I manage or support, it’s my goal that they feel they can come to me in case of any doubts, concerns, or blockers so I can support them in terms of career development, knowledge, resources, or anything they would need to do their jobs well and grow professionally. By being an enabler and “unblocker”, I try to give my team extra motivation and encouragement, as well as much context as possible so they can work independently and effectively.

But this “people-pleasing” behavior is super common for new leaders, and in my opinion, among women. It was at least for this woman. I learned that by trying to be liked by everyone, I was overloading myself with additional tasks that could have been paused or delegated to another business unit. I took them on myself so I didn’t burden my own team with them but got to remain agreeable to the outside requestor by taking on their task. This put me on a fast track to burnout and made me a less effective leader because I didn’t allow myself enough time for strategic thinking and innovation.

As a new leader, you must learn how to say no and accept that you cannot be liked by everybody. As a manager, you must be able to identify what aligns with your organization’s top priority and overall business strategy. It’s always a matter of prioritization. It’s my responsibility as a manager and a leader to do that dirty work before bringing new initiatives and tasks to my team.

3. Transitioning from customer success advisor to product marketing director is impressive. Can you share insights into building successful teams and scaling products, drawing from your experiences in both Europe and the US?
I’ve been in product marketing since 2016 and built out those units in both US and European companies. I’d say the key difference between building teams in a US startup and a mature European-based organization like GetResponse is the scope an individual in a particular role should be prepared to cover.

With a startup, it’s about identifying “where’s the fire?” and hyper-focusing efforts and resources into that – is it all hands on deck to get a new feature launched, or is executing a customer marketing strategy the big bet? The same goes for scaling teams or product areas within the startup. If the ultimate priority is new sales growth (which about 99% of the time it is) that means a hyper-focus on new product development that aligns with the strategically identified market demand and enabling your customer and market-facing teams to sell it and ideal customers to buy it.

With a bootstrapped organization like GetResponse that’s been around for 25 years, it’s a stable, gradual growth. Of course, there are fires and priorities, but functions and teams are more resourced and built out. The name of the game is innovation and keeping teams staffed with A-player experts. I’m often looking for product marketers with great overall experience but with expertise in things like product activation, B2B sales, or CRO to add a needed skillset to our team. Whereas in the startup environment, I needed a “Swiss Army Knife”-style Product Marketing Manager.

With startups, everything goes so fast, and you need to be ready to hold on and go for the ride. With a well-established business like GetResponse that has been on the market for more than 25 years, you have the benefit of historical benchmarks, hindsight, and resources to guide your approach and decision-making more readily.

Salesmark Global

4. Being the only female leader in many tech settings, what strategies have been effective in your success? How do you navigate challenges in the tech industry?
It does hit me when I’ve been in large, group meetings and I look around and realize, “Wow, I’m the only woman here.” It’s a bit startling for sure, but I do see women in leadership positions more often now, so I think it’s changing and evolving. It seems like the tech industry in general has been slow in terms of catching up on this, but it’s getting there.

There’s so much more access to knowledge and different resources to gain knowledge and insights from women in leadership especially compared to five or 10 years ago. LinkedIn is one of the great sources to keep track of all the key insights and updates. I follow a lot of women leaders on LinkedIn who inspire me: April Dunford and Elena Verna are two excellent examples. I read their stuff daily.

I feel like their, among a great many other female voices, contributions to the space are creating an evergreen, expert community where female leaders can share their thoughts on ever-evolving leadership styles and support one another. Those influential female leaders on LinkedIn are a near constant source of inspiration and idea generation for me. I try their approaches and see what works for me. That’s how you end up creating your own leadership style, in my experience. Mixing and matching different theories and approaches of those people you look up to and align with in terms of your leadership and growth values.

I also very much enjoy the mentoring side of things – I’m currently a mentor at the Product Marketing Alliance, and I enjoy sharing knowledge directly with up-and-coming women in product marketing and doing anything I can to support the new, great talents coming through.

In terms of strategies, I think as a leader you must be a source of truth to your team that they can rely on. I also very much enjoy being a part of the team and being close with my teammates. I’m a light-hearted manager; I like to have fun. I think we should be our authentic selves at work, as much as we’re comfortable with and within the natural bounds of the organization you’re in. But I try to make our meetings and time together less stiff and serious. We’re here to do a job of course, but we’re also humans, and that’s why I believe it’s important to be real in the workplace. Share a smile, make a corny joke, try and lighten the mood before diving into the work at hand. I don’t want each meeting and day at work to feel like slog and actively think about how I can help create a more enjoyable work environment for my team.

Another strategy that’s worked well for me while developing as a leader is to get my hands dirty first, show my teammates how it can be done, and go through all the processes together. But once I see they get it, I tend to completely let go and give them freedom to manage and innovate the process or project further. And they often have better ideas than me, which is excellent and essential. I love working with and supporting people who are smarter than me in different areas so that together can go and do something more impactful as a team.

5. Share trends you’ve observed in the B2B SaaS industry’s growth over the years. How has GetResponse evolved, both in terms of growth and product portfolio expansion?
The B2B SaaS industry is forecasted to generate approximately $232 billion globally in 2024 according to Statista, with expectations to reach $908.21 billion by 2030. This growth trend indicates market expansion, as well as intensifying competition. All newcomers and established SaaS companies must carefully refine their offerings, as well as maintain a high standard of service and customer support to keep their clients happy. And we’re still adjusting to the post-COVID reality check that’s put an emphasis back on profitability, efficiency, and moving away from the “growth at all costs” mantra that reigned supreme during the pandemic SaaS-boom era.

No doubt the latest and most prominent trend that has taken the SaaS world by storm is generative AI. Though its long-term application and impact are still being shaped, there’s no doubt that it’s here to stay. Generative AI presents huge opportunities for SaaS companies to enhance their data processing and analysis, personalize services and offerings, and optimize automations and increase their team’s efficiencies.

When considering GetResponse’s journey, it somewhat mirrors the trajectory of the SaaS industry’s evolution. GetResponse started with our founder and CEO Simon Grabowski back in the 1990s with the launch of a simple yet powerful email autoresponder. GetResponse was among the frontrunners in the early email marketing industry and last November we celebrated 25 years of email marketing innovation. From our humble beginnings as a local Polish startup with just six employees, we’ve evolved into a global email and marketing automation platform with a diverse team of over 370 professionals. Today, we’re more than just an email autoresponder, and have evolved into a multichannel marketing automation platform with an emphasis and speciality of proven, premier email marketing solutions. Our international brand proudly serves nearly half a million customers globally in 180+ markets, including Red Bull, Autodoc, CD PROJEKT RED among some of our most prominent clients. Our expansion strategy through the years, in addition to expanding our product lines, has also been in developing a robust infrastructure so we can best serve mid-market and enterprise organizations with custom, high-volume email and marketing automation solutions through our GetResponse MAX enterprise offering. We are also proud to expand our market reach through our affiliate marketing services with the GetResponse affiliate and agency partner programs.

Our suite of tools has grown exponentially over the years in direct response to the needs of our customers – most recently by natively integrating OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology throughout our platform and in particular in our email, landing page, and website editors to drastically decrease the time it takes our customers to create new content. Our customers can now create and send a new email 85% more quickly. In the past handful of years, we’ve launched native webinars, marketing automation, SMS marketing, web push notifications, sales funnels forms and popups, and a native Shopify integration to further empower our customers with multichannel marketing solutions that increase the effectiveness of their online marketing campaigns. Last year we also launched our AI Campaign Generator, a first-of-its-kind, automated solution created specifically to facilitate and speed up the whole online marketing campaign creation process for marketers of any experience level.

6. What AI and email marketing trends do you foresee shaping marketing strategies and operations in 2024?
No doubt that AI will continue to take the top spot in industry headlines and in marketers’ day-to-day work. OpenAI’s ChatGPT stands strong as a leading platform, though Google’s Gemini is poised to be a significant player and is predicted to rival OpenAI. Regardless of who ends up on top, 2024 will be another innovative and exciting year for AI. At GetResponse we’re using AI daily to significantly reduce time spent on manual data analysis to spot new opportunities and validate hypotheses and in our content creation process. We’re keeping an eye on OpenAI’s new Sora solution where you can generate video from text prompts. We are bullish on video in GetResponse, so we’re cautiously optimistic about a future where we can scale our video content – but also cognizant that it comes with some significant risks related to misinformation, copyrights, and viewers’ appetite for AI-generated video content.

Switching gears to email marketing, significant changes were introduced just in February. Gmail and Yahoo! rolled out new bulk email guidelines, focusing on authentication, spam control, and streamlined unsubscribing. These regulations are enforcing what have long been best practices in the email marketing world. Prioritizing authenticated sending domains and meticulous list management will set winners apart. It’s a dynamic landscape, and those adapting quickly will come out on top (of the inbox).

7. How helpful is AI in real-world scenarios, and can you share internal stats or experiences at GetResponse that highlight its effectiveness? What challenges and opportunities arise in implementing AI in product marketing, and how has GetResponse addressed them?
AI has proven to be incredibly useful and has revolutionized various aspects of our marketing work. While challenges like the tendency toward generic content and the risk of relying too heavily on AI do exist, we’ve found effective ways to address them.

A common temptation is to simply copy and paste content from a generative AI tool like ChatGPT which will water down the uniqueness of your content and message – causing your content to sail unnoticed in a crowded “sea of sameness” that all reads like it was generated through unspecific prompts fed into a generative AI solution. That’s the risky path of today’s “lazy marketer”. There’s also the threat of becoming too reliant on AI tools without fully understanding their potential or limitations. We tend to approach AI as a facilitator rather than a replacement for human creativity and expertise. AI complements our work by handling repetitive tasks and providing insights, but it’s the human touch that truly sets our campaigns apart. Our team uses AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney to accelerate certain manual processes related to content and graphic creation. For example, we use ChatGPT for brainstorming, scaling our own unique content into different formats, and data analysis. We heavily use the ChatGPT API integration with Microsoft Excel to systemically scale our prompts and save a significant amount of time in manual data analysis. It’s been a game-changer! We’re saving over 60 hours a week as a marketing team through our application of AI technology across these processes.

8. Any advice for readers aspiring to leadership roles in tech or product marketing? Key lessons or principles for professional growth?

  • The tech industry evolves rapidly, so make continuous learning a habit. Stay updated on the latest trends, tools, and methodologies through courses, workshops, podcasts, and self-directed research.
  • Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth rather than risk of failures. I’ve taken the largest leaps forward in my career as a direct result of challenges that could have been perceived and treated as failures, but I decided to treat them as an opportunity for growth and it paid off each time.
  • Always stay customer-focused: understand their needs, pain points, and aspirations. Customer insights should always be included in your product development and marketing strategies. It’s way too easy to let customer outreach and one-on-one conversations fall to the wayside when things get busy, and you’re loaded down with tasks. But the one with the most customer insights wins. Don’t forget that.
  • Encourage experimentation and creativity within your team. Foster a culture where taking calculated risks is encouraged, and failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a setback. Stagnation and stalled execution is more of a detriment to growth than small setbacks that came from taking an informed risk.
  • Develop the ability to see the big picture and think strategically about how your actions contribute to long-term goals. Prioritize tasks based on impact and align your efforts with the broader objectives of your organization.

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Abby Hehemann, Director of Product Marketing at GetResponse

Abby is the Director of Product Marketing at GetResponse, specializing in strategic product positioning and value-driven messaging in SaaS marketing. With over a decade of experience in the tech industry, she has worked in both Europe and the United States, contributing to the success of startups and well-established companies alike. Through her professional endeavours and as a mentor at the Product Marketing Alliance, Abby’s on a mission to empower marketers and business owners with the tools and insights they need to grow, engage, and convert their audience. LinkedIn.

Company profile

GetResponse is a comprehensive email marketing platform that provides small businesses, solopreneurs, coaches, and marketers with powerful and affordable tools to grow their audience, engage with their subscribers, and turn subscribers into paying customers. With over 25 years of expertise, customers choose GetResponse for its user-friendly solution, award-winning 24/7 customer support in eight languages, and powerful tools that go beyond email marketing – AI-powered content creation tools, automation, list growth, and communication tools like forms and popups, webinars and live chats to help businesses build their personal brand, sell their products and services, and build a community.

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