How we're using technology and automation to turn high-quality leads into product demos for our business development team.
Larry Wall, founder of Perl
“Can we set up a demo?”
This phrase is the lifeblood of CB Insights. But before customers shell out $30,000 to $100k+ on a CB Insights subscription, they want to see how it works and more importantly how it can make their life easier.
A demo is a key step in the path to becoming a CB Insights client, so as you can imagine, we’re very focused on getting more demos. What we’ve realized is that we can use automation to increase the likelihood of a potential customer taking a demo with our biz dev team.
Our Marketing Stack is the set of technologies/software we use to enable this automation, and it has a few primary goals:
- Generate more leads for the business development team
- Educate a huge volume of potential customers to move them closer to demo
- Reduce our cost of customer acquisition
We’ve spent a lot of time automating bits and pieces of our sales and marketing processes to make it more efficient and get more demos. Here’s our Marketing Stack flow diagram with an explanation of each step below.
To start, we have two primary methods to bring people to CB Insights:
- “Free inbound” marketing channels
- “Paid outbound” marketing channels
1a. Inbound Marketing Channels: Search / Email Newsletter / Direct / Social / Referral
We drive a lot of our leads through a variety of “free” inbound channels, which are our best channel for a number of reasons. For one, they’re “free.” And while “free” is perhaps not the most accurate characterization, as a ton of work goes into initial build-out of these channels, the upfront investment yields evergreen traffic. Second, inbound traffic tends to be high quality because people who come through these channels tend to either have a solid understanding of what CB Insights offers before they land on our site or have some degree of purchasing intent (this varies widely based on the inbound source of course).
Search accounts for roughly one-third of our traffic. Our insanely talented in-house content and research team creates high-value, unique, data-driven research that we publish via our research blog. The blog generates a lot of organic search traffic.
Our second most popular acquisition channel is email. Our newsletter just crossed 62,000 subscribers. It’s free and features data-driven content on technology trends, venture capital and the startup investment/exit market. Sign up for free here.
Weapon of Choice: MailChimp
Why? Incredibly intuitive UI and automation tools, awesome customer service, comprehensive API that enables us to do things like cohort analysis on our subscribers.
No special sauce here – just plain old brand awareness which has increased as a result of our research blog.
Social is comprised of the usual suspects: Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook in that order. Beyond those, it’s mostly diminishing returns although we have toyed with Flipboard and Pinterest. It’s too early to determine if they’re fruitful. We post our content across all of the big three. Follow us on Twitter here and Facebook here.
Weapon of Choice: Buffer
Why? Simple set-it-and-forget-it distribution of content across multiple social channels
Our portfolio of press referrals has become a solid contributor to traffic over the years. From the New York Times to Bloomberg to prominent blogs like TechCrunch, our data has become a go-to source for journalists when it comes to data and trends in tech, venture capital, M&A and more. Links and citations to our data from the sources help us with both brand awareness and lead generation.
1b. Outbound Marketing Channels
While the bulk of traffic arrives via the inbound channels detailed above, we do supplement these efforts with advertising on Google, Twitter and Facebook. The downside of paid channels is that the traffic stops as soon as we stop pouring fuel on the channel. Despite this drawback, ads simply cannot be ignored because they scale rather quickly and effortlessly.
Weapons of Choice: Google AdWords, Twitter and Facebook
Why? Only shows in town.
2. Landing Pages
Now that we’ve explained how we acquire traffic, the next question is: how do we turn visitors into leads?
In short, depending on the channel, we push the user to specific landing pages that increase their likelihood of signing up for a trial.
Inbound traffic (1a) typically flows through our blog pages, home page, or other public pages we have. We are always working on optimizing these pages for higher conversion rates via A/B testing of colors, calls-to-action, etc.
The bulk of traffic from paid (outbound) channels (1b) is directed to pages we create using Instapage. Using Instapage’s WYSIWYG editor, pages can be spun up by our marketers with little to no time investment from our development team whose time should be on product priorities. As you can imagine, this involves lots of trial and error, A/B testing and a variety of tweaks to ensure we’re serving up the stickiest, most convincing landing pages possible.
Weapon of Choice: Instapage with Mailchimp integration
Why? Super flexible templates, A/B testing, and no engineering resources needed.
Not everyone signs up at this step. If you don’t sign up here, this is where we employ:
Retargeting is a technology that uses a piece of code to serve ads to folks who have not signed up for CB Insights, but have visited our website. If you’ve heard of browser cookies, but never really knew what they did, this is it. Anyway, it’s a low-friction tool that allows us to focus our marketing efforts on a large group of people who have already shown interest in our product but aren’t quite sold on a trial.
We run multiple retargeting campaigns that enable us to segment users based on the content they’ve visited so we can serve up relevant ads later. For example, when a lead visits two healthcare blog posts and doesn’t sign up for our newsletter, we want to make sure to serve them ads that are super relevant to their interests. For example, our Global Healthcare Exits Report, or a digital health white paper. The general “Come back and check us out,” messaging is important for branding but the conversion magic happens when we get specific.
We run retargeting ads on multiple networks including Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Weapon of Choice: AdRoll
Why? Create segmentation on the fly, handles all of the major networks, easy-to-read reporting, and of course no engineering resources needed.
4. Activation Mails
Once a user signs up for a free trial, our emphasis shifts to demonstrating value quickly and enticing them to learn more. However, before any of this happens there’s a rather mundane and often-overlooked step inherent to any SaaS company: to get the user’s account activated.
When someone signs up for CB Insights, there’s only one way to ensure that the email we receive during registration is a real one and that’s via inbox activation. Surprisingly, however, this simple step has become a point of friction. Between email deliverability and the work required to click and activate, we sometimes lose good prospects – especially those with strict spam filters (which often happens to be enterprise employees who are among our best clients).
To solve this problem, we’ve done a lot of work to ensure our SPF records are in good shape, we’re not on any blacklists and that multiple layers of transactional mail services get us through the door.
Why? MXToolbox is a powerful, yet relatively inexpensive tool that helps with monitoring the deliverability stuff (SPF records, blacklist, etc.) while SendGrid and Mandrill both offer intuitive transactional mail services. The former (SendGrid) is our primary delivery service while the latter (Mandrill) kicks in if/when we receive notification that SendGrid has problems.
5. Automated Drip Marketing
Here’s where things start to get really interesting as we try to drive deeper, more meaningful engagement.
CB Insights uses automated drip marketing as a way to move users through the proverbial conversion funnel in a very hands-off manner. And despite the fact that there is no substitute for a human being on the other end of the line when it comes to email customization, some solid AI here we’ve developed goes a long way. It scales very nicely while at the same time retaining a high level of personalization.
This entire drip-marketing process is worthy of a post on its own, but in a nutshell we take into account the following factors when building a highly targeted automated drip campaign:
Email domain – we do a quick look-up on the user’s email domain and, if we have it in our database, we map it to an industry and that guides the content.
On-boarding preferences – anyone who signs up for CB Insights goes through an on-boarding process where they enter their areas of interest, including geographies, industries, profession, etc. which also helps to guide content.
Events – based on certain behaviors a user exhibits while on CB Insights, we might suggest others to help them unlock the additional potential of the platform.
The email drip campaign continues throughout the user’s trial, and if/when they respond, they are removed from the drip and directed to an individual on our business development team.
Why? Intercom provides a great platform for interacting with customers via email as well as inline through our web application. We can target messages based on user attributes as well as events, and also time those events to our liking. It’s quite customizable, but when we need to bust out the big guns, we turn to Zapier which seamlessly integrates with every service under the sun. We use it to hook into our MySQL database which enables direct querying of our tables and then couple it with SendGrid to send email messages. The Zapier route tends to require a bit more work than Intercom, but in many instances there’s a strong case for it due to the desire to share real-time data entering our system.
Now that we have the prospect interested enough to take a web demo, it’s show time. This is less about tech enablement and much more about having a killer product that meets the needs of the user and having the right in-house business development team that can demonstrate how CB Insights meets those needs.
Why? Simple web-based products that require no software installation on the attendee side, therefore making things seamless. Plus the price is right.
We’d love to hear from you. What are some marketing automation tactics that you’ve found to be effective in moving people from visitors to leads to customers? Any ideas or tools we should check out? Of course, if any questions, let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.
BTW, if this stuff gets you excited, we’re hiring.