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Martech Stacked Episode 25: The Collaboration Whiteboard For Distributed Teams For Your Next Event - with Aleksandra Panyukhina

Blog Post Author – David
12th November 2020

I’m joined today by a lady who’s passionate about events, and inspired by marketing. She’s the former Head of Event Marketing for SEMrush and a current SaaS event marketer and Head of Event Marketing for Userlane - welcome to Martech Stacked, Aleksandra Panyukhina.

Listen to Martech Stacked on Apple, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Here are the 3 top tools in Aleksandra's current martech stack:

#1: Yet Another Mail Merge The best and easiest mail merge tool for Gmail. Send mass emails with high deliverability directly from Google Sheets and Gmail.

#2: Miro Scalable, secure, cross-device and enterprise-ready team collaboration whiteboard for distributed teams.

#3: SEMrush SEMrush offers solutions for SEO, PPC, content, social media and competitive research. Trusted by over 6000000 marketers worldwide.

Full transcript:

David Bain: I'm joined today by a lady who's passionate about events and inspired by marketing. She's the former head of event marketing for SEMrush and a current SaaS event marketer and Head of Event Marketing for Userlane. Welcome to Martech Stacked, Aleksandra Panyukhina.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Hello, David. It's my pleasure to be here.

David Bain: Great to have you on, and you can find like Aleksandra over at Aleksandra, explain what Userlane does and how you use marketing technology to make it better.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Right. Userlane is a digital adoption platform. And if to say it in simple words, interactive guidance for any type of software to make it easy to use and easy to get started. Basically for something like Salesforce or SAP, you can implement Userlane as an additional layer of guidance and let your employees or your customers complete any task really easy and in fun way and accomplish what they wanted to.

David Bain: Great. Okay. I haven't actually used Userlane before, so I'm just imagining what the typical use case scenario would be and really what it involves. Does that mean that it involves additional training on top of a SaaS brand's own training? Or how does it actually assist with giving people a better user experience?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah, it actually helps to eliminate those additional hours of training or videos or PDFs with that so it's allows you to build the flows that you want your users to accomplish right into your software and let them choose What they want to do. If we take an example of Salesforce, if you want to create a lead and you don't know how to do that, Userlane assistant will prompt you and say, "Okay, we want to create a lead, let me guide you through it." And it will show you exactly where you have to press the button or where you have to write something and you will actually accomplish the task. It's not like a separate training, but it's actually doing your work within the software and actually accomplishing it without prior training. Without knowing it before. As we like to say that even your grandmother will be able to operate within Salesforce if she has Userlane installed.

David Bain: Wow. Okay. We're focusing in onto certain degree event marketing today and the marketing technology tools that you use to support that particular sector that you focus in on. Let's ask you about the common tools, the top tools that you tend to use in your job role. Starting off with number three, what are your top three tools in your current martech stack and why?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah. And for these episodes specifically, I tried to choose the tools that will be universal and not just a specific for the event so that anyone can benefit from them. And if to start with number three, I think I will be a little bit biased here because I will say I SEMrush. I keep using it and I think it's really great tool. In particular I love topic research for events because it allows me to analyze any topic really fast, understand what's trending right now and help me form the agenda or provide some of the suggestions for the speakers, what we can focus on or what questions we can discuss during their session. Really great way to set up the agenda, to make some research, especially if you're new to the industry in which you have to create the event. I would say this is my number three.

David Bain: Let's dive into SEMrush and why you chose SEMrush as well, a little bit deeper and also your use of it as well, because I'm intrigued that you're not an SEO. You're largely an event marketer, but you still dive into the tool. You still use the tool. And that's I guess, a demonstration that these kind of tools can be useful to different job roles than I guess how they were set up traditionally to begin with, to support primarily SEO. What's your use case? Just diving into specifically how you do that. You mentioned topic explorer there as well. How would you go about helping a speaker refine what they're speaking about? Would you take a subject from them and then suggest certain subheadings in terms of topics from SEMrush?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah, basically when I approach event creation or event programming, I do the research off what is currently trending, what topics we really need to tackle in our agenda. And that's where SEMrush in particular comes in play with topic research. Let's say I need to make an event. I have great example from Userlane, because was really new industry for me. I had to set up an event about software rollouts. About how to rollout SAP or Salesforce in your organization of 100,000 employees. And I went into the topic research just to understand what do people talk about when it comes to software rollouts? What problems there are, what's trends that were out there. And it helped me to find really amazing topics about putting people first or how to succeed. Some of the strategies, the questions that people are asking.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: And then it helped me to form the draft agenda with which I could already go to potential speakers and see where their passion is and what they will be in particular interested to talk about. And once they would choose it, I could again, refer to topic research and gets the specific titles because as you know for sure as a marketer, getting the right headline and making it really attractive for potential attendees is the key. And it's really hard to do. This is a great place to get some inspiration, especially if you feel stuck and you don't know how to name it properly. That would be one of my workflows, this topic research in particular.

David Bain: Okay, great. Just to clarify, you will decide upon the overarching theme of the talk first of all, you will then reach out to potential speakers and then work with them to hone the topic. Again, using SEMrush to ensure that you're covering every aspect of the category of topic that people are actually searching for at the moment.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yes. Of course there is also part of talking to customers and talking to experts within the industry to ensure that I have as much input as possible for agenda programming, but as for the tools, this is my go to.

David Bain: Okay. Good stuff. And I guess just understanding a little bit more about how you use the tool. Are you looking for topics that are trending and particularly popular at this moment in time? And will SEMrush actually give you a flavor of a topic that happens to be particularly popular and has been popular maybe just for the last three months or so, as opposed to the last year? Can it hone into that kind of level of granularity in terms of when the topic was popular?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Basically you will I guess see there are always the topics that are, let's say generally popular and usually they would be more generic, like what is customer onboarding versus customer experience? Or there are some new topics that are popular in particular right now. But of course the tool gives you the information and then it's up to you also to analyze it and understand if it's really something that's will be trending right now. You can go into the search results that it provides. You can actually look at the SERP and see when it was training or when were these articles published?

David Bain: And just one final question in relation to SEMrush. Now I know that you did work for SEMrush for about three years too. To a certain degree, you may just have been exposed to that tool compared with other similar tools in the marketplace, but are you aware of any other similar tools out there? And is there a reason apart from the fact that you worked for SEMrush, that you actually decided to select SEMrush over another tool out there?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah, I think there's definitely the piece that I've been studying all these tools in and out for almost four years, actually. 100% that affected my selection, my choice. I actually don't know the same tool that could be out there that would provide the same functionality. And to be honest, I was not exactly looking for alternatives because I was really happy with what I can get because apart from topic research, I'm also using all of the other tools within the content toolkit. And I can use some of the other toolkits as well for SEO, for example, just to also within the marketing team, not just for myself. That was also one of the reasons, the variety of what you can get within SEMrush. I think the other tool, what my coworkers used before I introduced them to SEMrush, they would just Google and try to see it. But I think topic research gives you just much better overview, much easier and much faster plus you can have this clearer selection and more in depth visibility into what's in there.

David Bain: That's SEMrush, tool number three in your martech stack, what is tool number two? Aleksandra Panyukhina: I think tool number two is my recent addition, is Miro, which is not 100% martech. It's more of a collaborative tool, but I totally love it and use it for different purposes. I use it for my own planning instead of whiteboard with stickers. I use it for workshops and for the brainstorming. I use it for events for initial ideation and then I also use it to make sessions more interactive and to let people get some actionable outcomes and actionable insights right afterwards because you can basically do an ebook right after the event with the input that people provided to you. They really feel as co-creators of your events and co-creators all the value that they get out of it. There are multiple use cases. And really right now, whenever I think about setting up an event, I think how to incorporate a brainstorming session where I will use Miro for that.

David Bain: I love that actually and I don't believe that I've used Miro before so I always love finding out about tools, technologies that I haven't used before. That's just, just the four letters. And the pricing seems very affordable as well. And they start off with a free plan as well. They talk about where distributed teams get work done. There's lots of different scenarios, I guess, that you can use it for. And my mind certainly goes to content when I'm creating different experiences as well. And I loved the fact that you touched upon involving the audience in the creation of content and the creation of other content in addition to the events that you're producing itself. Where did you find out about Miro from?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: I think I had it on my radar for a while, just because probably I'm this tech nerd and I'm always researching what's out there. What the new tools are out there. Also, because actually it's heart is in Russia. One of the offices is in Perm in Russia. Maybe as well, it was closer to home, so to say. However, it's super global right now and it has team and offices all across the world. And it was just a very, very easy to use. And the use case was clear and it was something that I was looking for because at SEMrush, for example, my team was distributed and at that time I didn't have the tool to run planning or to make the stickers on to do, in progress, done lists, which I really love to visualize and to have team actually write the stickers and put them across the board.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Actually I started using Miro after I left SEMrush and then I was like, oh my God, I really needed this one back then. I'm definitely going to use it and definitely going to try it. And I love the design, like the way you can utilize it, ease of setup and the amount of use cases that you can apply it to.

David Bain: What's a specific example of how you've incorporated Miro into an event? What's a success story that you've had in the past? Can you give me an example of a piece of content that's maybe been created collaboratively as a result of using this software?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah, for sure. Once again, I will refer to an event with a software rollout, which was really, really fun because the topic seems to be not so exciting and not so fun. And you don't expect people to have a good laugh and so to be really excited about some sessions, with such events. But what we did is the brainstorming session, which we also did in two languages, in English and in German to serve the customers at its best and allow people to choose the language they feel most comfortable in brainstorming. Because it's different when you consume the content or when you actually have to produce. With the two parallel sessions and each of them had the Miro boards created, where there were certain steps people had to make. First there was an introduction then there was the brainstorming of all of the problems that you may encounter during the software rollouts. People had to then split them into the specific stages of software rollout, whether that was pre-rollout stage during the rollout and afterwards.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: They would assign those problems to different stages and then the most interesting part started. They have to brainstorm the solutions. And the main rule of the brainstorm is that every idea, even if it's crazy one counts and it's a good idea. Really we have people coming up with great solutions for every single problem that was listed out there on every stage. And as a result, we got the kind of crowdsourced checklist of what can go wrong at different stage of the rollout and the list of solutions. Some of the solutions they were kind of from their own best practices. Some of them were more ideas and solutions from the ideal world, but still it's a lot of food for thought. And then we easily exported it into the PDF. That's also one functionality of Miro that allows you to just export it and you have an ebook and you have the crowdsourced ebook of what you can do.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: And then you can also turn it into another piece of content into an actual design checklist. And then you can write a blog post or then you can discuss it with an expert during your livestream series. There is so much opportunity to also repurpose this content. And also I think people really enjoyed using it afterwards because they got an actual piece of content right after the event that they could use further down the road. And that's one of the pieces that is often missed at the events that, okay it happens but then the momentum is over and there is nothing happening afterwards, but there is this continuous value that event delivers.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: And we also ask people for key takeaways and some of them were referring to okay, we see that actually we experience the same problems. Or okay, great solutions out there. But also one of the key takeaway was a Miro is so much fun, please do more sessions like that. Since then I definitely encourage every event organizer to utilize that. And the thing is it's really easy to use, easy to explain and creates this collaborative atmosphere. And you feel, you see all these dots moving around the Miro board and you feel like in a room with real people, which is something that is hard to recreate right now with virtual events. But that's one of the ways to feel closer to people.

David Bain: Great job. I love it. And almost the limits of this technology is the limits of your own creativity. You can do a lot of things with it. I've produced a lot of digital marketing training programs in the past and I think that this would be a wonderful piece of software that you could use for different breakout sessions. You do a more formal presentation, formal training then after that you get a group of people together to, I guess, ensure that they demonstrate what they learned as part of this and they pull their own ideas into it. There's so many possibilities there. And so we've got SEMrush as your tool number three, Miro is your tool number two, what is your martech tool number one?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: My martech tool number one is actually very simple solution that is designed for one task to send personalized emails as if from your inbox. It's called YAMM or Yet Another Mail Merge. It's an add on for Google Sheets. And when I was thinking how to rank which tool, which would be number two or number one, I realized that this is number one because wherever I go or even for my own personal use, I get this tool at once because I don't see any other alternative for it. And it's super easy to use, but it provides tremendous value. That's in my opinion. It's super easy to set up. You just add first name, last name, email into the Google Sheet of people you want to email, then you create a draft message in your inbox, save it in the drafts and you start mail merge. It will pool your first name or you can even personalize the topic that you want to include in the subject of the email and it will send out an email that looks like you've actually written it and you've actually addressed it to this particular person.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Not a single, I think kind of email automation tool will create the email looking this way that feels really personal. That looks super plain, super simple. There are no banners, no HTML included, nothing like that. And it costs $40 a year. I think it's one of the best investments you can make with that. What I've seen and why I stick to that my open rates would be around 60 to 80%. It also depends on when you send, is it before event? After event? And also click rates are high and what is in particular nice is that there is response rate and people are actually responding to this email because they see the real person behind it.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: People sometimes receive an email from me and then they connect on LinkedIn with me right away answering there and I pick up the conversation there. Or they respond to me and I can in email and I respond right away. And this message still looks the same. It's still the email thread. It's not like you got this automated message and if you respond it will probably get to this generic mail at, and nobody will ever get back to you. Here, it's really personal. It's really like connecting real people. I stick to it. You can send, I think 1,500 emails per day. I've never hit the limit so far, because of course, if you have an event for 10,000 people, you will use automation tool to send the updates. But at the same time, if you have an event with 10,000 people, most likely you will have certain personalization on your agenda or certain groups of the attendees that you want to communicate to differently with a different message to provide different experience. That's also something you can use.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Plus what I've found as another benefit of this, when you run this type of pre-event communication from your personal inbox, when you respond to people, by the time you meet at the event in person or even right now in virtual, when then you appear on the screen or you are in the chat, people feel connected to you. They feel that you've had some kind of connection beforehand. You discussed some things, even if they were minor questions, but they got their response from you, they feel this personal connection and it increases the level of engagement people into the event because they know here is Aleksandra. I talked to her in the email, he or she is in the chat and that's the work that she has been doing and she put her heart and soul into this event. Okay. I'm going to listen to what they have to say.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: And after the event as well, people will message you sometimes on their own, not because they respond to the followup, but they will messenger on their own saying, "Thank you for the event." Or maybe they have some additional questions. And this is I think the best that you can get out of the event, this level of connection. And I definitely see a kind of contribution of yet another mail merge in it.

David Bain: Love it. Yes. You certainly have to ensure that people feel as if they're communicating with you on a one by one basis. And you're obviously achieving that by getting 60 to 80% open rates for your email. That's very impressive indeed. I've heard of this software. I haven't used this particular software. I've used Mailshake, which is quite similar in that it integrates with Gmail. Obviously you mentioned that the upper limit of the number of emails that you can send per day is 1,500. I thought it was less than that actually, you're obviously right with this bit of software. Do you know, if you have to warm up your Gmail account in order to be able to send that quantity of emails per day?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: You mean in terms of the warmup, have some traction on it?

David Bain: Yes have some traction to demonstrate essentially that you're not a spam provider, because if you open a Gmail account and you suddenly go to sending a 1,000 emails per day, then Google are likely to potentially treat you as a spam sender. And I was just wondering if there's any work that you had to do to send a growing number each day and work up towards the high numbers per day that you can perhaps deliver.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Actually, it's a good question. I don't know, precisely, because probably I've never ran into that problem. I've always installed it already on top of the account that was in action. It was not a new account, but it was my real inbox. I think there are certain requirements that's regarding maybe domain being used or the time that you've been using this inbox. But I can't say right now for sure. Also, because I've been using it for so long. I remember them since they launched and the price was about $15 per year. Now it's going up, 40 all ready. You can still get your deal maybe at the 40, who knows if they raise the prices again. But yeah, so it's hard for me to say right now about the specific requirements, because I've been with them for so long.

David Bain: Okay, it's always good when you can lock in software at the initial price and then pay that every single year or perhaps just pay one price forever. That's a possibility as well, if you go through our AppSumo or something like that to lock in software deals to begin with. I would assume that this particular software YAMM, is available in G-Suite as well with just regular Gmail.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah. Should be.

David Bain: Yeah. I'm sure. I'm sure it is. And the only other question that I've got in relation to it is can you automate follow ups so if someone hasn't responded to an email, can you send an automated followup or chaser within a certain number of days?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: I think they do have some sort of functionality like that. I haven't really done it because I always prefer to spend a little bit more time, but to look at what was their relation with that person maybe, or personalize the message accordingly. Normally what I would do is I see the tracking, which is another great feature is just the tracking in Google Sheets. Okay if the mail was delivered, if the mail was opened or actually clicked or responded. The status updates. And then I'll just create another tab saying it's okay, second follow up did not respond. And I would make another list in there and just copy paste people who let's say received an email, but did not click on it and so on and so on.

David Bain: You're such a white hat marketer. You're such an ethical, hardworking marketer. It's great stuff.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: I guess at events, you care about every single detail and try to create this white glove experience for all of your attendees. I really see a lot of value and probably because I interact as these people, I understand that it matters and that it's hard, but it's rewarding.

David Bain: Great stuff. Okay. Well, let's bring your thinking back to Userlane again for a second and I'm just asking you the question, as Userlane grows, what's an example of a process that you currently do manually that you may wish to automate as a business using marketing technology in the future?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: I guess I will also refer here to my day to day job and every event marketer will relate to that. It's preparing information for on the leads on this content that you got from the event for the upload to CRM. Usually the data comes to you, especially if it's from a third party, it's quite a mess to be honest. You really have to do some cleaning up. You have to break down by the columns and ensure that the fields correspond to what your CRM requires. And it takes quite some time to put it all together. If there was a tool that I could feed the unpolished CSV file or any other type of data and that will prepare a nice list that is 100% aligned with what my CRM requires and ideally would also run the synchronization, that would be perfect.

David Bain: Okay, great. I'll try and get a magic wand to deliver that piece of software, but it would be useful for many marketers to be able to take data that's fairly messy, that's not in the same format that they want it in and immediately detect what's the name? What's the email address? What's other forms of data? And just enter it into their database without any manual shenanigans. Okay. Let's move on to asking you what is something you have in mind that would be a wonderful piece of marketing technology that perhaps doesn't even exist yet, but you would love to see created?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah, I think here, I would again, bring in my event mind for that. I'm dreaming about the event technology that would allow for very interactive meetings. And so when I think about it, it's not just this ability to interact in the chats or said the reaction was thumbs up or hearts, that you can do on LinkedIn, for example, or in some other tools, but actually something that will bring in the mirror as a part of it, that will allow people to create their own breakout rooms and not the organizer to set them up, that will allow people to move around or have some conversations and some sessions that they initiate themselves. At the same time, there will be broadcasting of the main speakers into one.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Something that's will be highly directive, also will look really good and modern and will have a lot of inbuilt integration so that you don't have to jump through different tabs and also make your attendees jump through the different tabs, which can be a little bit hard and distracting when it comes to virtual events. I see tools coming to the market that have some part of this functionality, but I would love to unite them all together in one piece and have all of them working as one in one platform where people just have to log in and it's browser based 100%. Nobody wants to download any specific app. And ideally it's available not just on Chrome browser. Please support Safari, please support Firefox. Okay, Internet Explorer can be out.

David Bain: I love that. I love that. And I can relate with you because I produce online events as well and I produced an online event just yesterday actually, for an IP firm. And the platform that I used was Demio. Now Demio are very progressive. And to me, they look much more modern and intuitive than a platform like Zoom. And I think there are a lot of good things about Demio. In fact, I interviewed David Abrams for episode 15 of Martech Stacked. Great guy, great discussion that we had there. But the one frustration that I had was users not being able to immediately see who else was online and immediately private message people as well. And I think your suggested additional functionality of creating their own breakout rooms is even better as well. But simply the fact that on Demio at the moment, you can't actually private message people unless that other person has already publicly commented on the platform, which seems like a very strange limitation to have. But I guess it's difficult to think about every single scenario, but I love your suggestion there.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Yeah. That's true that there are many platforms and many great platforms. I love this Rally Video where you can actually hear other people talking in another breakout room like this rumbling talk as if at the conference or Run the World offers great functionality for interactions and for very sleek and social media platform style design. And then, as you said, Demio looks really nice. I think they also have limitations for the number of people on the platform. That was one of the things that I was not maybe so happy about. And then then there's Vebinar with great functionality and then tons of other event platforms and event technology that is suitable for either thousands of people tuning or for smaller number of people Meet Butter was the direct integration of Miro actually. There are great tools out there.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: The problem is that when you want to put an event with this and that and that, you have to put five tools together and then you have to ensure that people can smoothly move from one platform to another, but it doesn't happen. They have to create an account on every platform, they have to log in. Each platform has different requirements in terms of the device or the browser. And it just turns into a mess. And majority of people are still not that tech savvy, unlike event organizers that just turned into monsters of technology this year. People are still not entirely sure how to upgrade Zoom on most cases. That's where the problem comes in place. You can't really put together five platforms and make people use them. You have to choose one, two maximum also to minimize the risks of something going wrong or something being down, which also happens even with some of my favorite tools as well. Yeah, that's the thing. And that's why I dream about the day when I can see that event to come and get it.

David Bain: Yeah. It needs to improve still. Going back to the event that I produced yesterday as well, I used Zoom for the breakout rooms and Demio for the core platform. But naturally when you ask people to move from one piece of technology to the next, you're going to get a big drop off rate and that's frustrating because you want to keep people as engaged as possible. Okay. Well, a lot of great thoughts shared as part of the discussion today, Aleksandra. What would you say is the key takeaway that you would like to share with the listener from today's discussion?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Well, I think that it's important, one takeaway is it's important to always look out for the tools that are out there. We tend to as marketers and just as busy people to stick to what we have, to what we know and with the routine and amount of work that we have to do every day, we don't look around and we don't explore what's happening out there. And I see many people not knowing about some of the amazing tools out there just because they have something in they're kind of set and they're happy with that. But I think it's important to look out and get something new once in a while and test it out and see how you can upgrade what you have. And yeah, I think that's number one.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: As for number two, is that there are always different use cases and something that you might consider being the tool for developers to run their planning remotely can be an amazing tool for a brainstorming at your event. Look for different and unconventional ways to utilize the tool and to surprise your attendees in my case, or maybe to make your team's life easier or your own workflow better. Yeah, so I would stick to this main takeaways.

David Bain: Love it. Well, thanks so much for your time and your tips. What's the best way for the listener to find out more about you and what you do?

Aleksandra Panyukhina: I think the best way to connect with me is on LinkedIn. I'm there every day. I share lots of stuff about events and virtual events in particular. And my direct messages are always open. I'm happy to connect with people to discuss any ideas or any problems that they might have and happy to help, especially if it's relates about events or event marketing. And also my website You can go there, explore some of the articles or some of the things that I can help you with.

David Bain: Lovely. Thanks again, Aleksandra.

Aleksandra Panyukhina: Thank you so much, David. It was a pleasure.

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