SaaS Breakthrough – Featuring Andy Lambert

demio saas breakthrough featuring andy lambertAbout Andy Lambert:

Andy Lambert is Director of Growth at ContentCal, a Social Media Marketing technology software, that since launching in January 2017 has achieved:

– March 2017, won the award for the ‘best newcomer in B2B Marketing’

– August 2017, expanded our user base in to the US, Europe and Asia

– November 2018, Crowned Content Management Tool of the year

– March 2020, close £2.5m investment from Fuel Ventures

– Today has over 1500 paying customers in over 100 countries and continues to grow at 100% YoY

Andy has over 10 years’ experience of creating markets, building profitable businesses and leadership roles in industry-leading SaaS organizations.

meetdemio · How ContentCal Increased Lead Flow by 33% with a Small Automated Webinar Tweak

Show Notes:
02:50
Creating The Perfect Content Marketing Workflow
06:00
Focusing On A Minimum Viable Audience
08:40
The Feeling When You Got Product Market Fit
"Quite a challenge to really focus your mind and not get distracted by the shiny objects that are constantly available to, you know, to early stage business employees (...) So keeping focused on that audience, which keeps on saying yes is critical until you started to drive enough revenue enough, credibility, enough reviews, and you create a really nice foundation. So that was the sign of our first initial traction. And I can't remember who said it, but I remember reading a quote where it says, when you, when you find product market fit, you'll feel it. And I never really knew what that meant until you really feel it (...) when you can say the same thing to different people in different businesses, and they all answer the same way, same way back. So you become like you get into a rinse and repeat model. That's when you know, you've got early stage product market fit."
10:55
Expanding Without Custom Features Built For A Specific Audience
"It's very business dependent, but my advice would be stay away from any kind of custom features built for a specific audience. If you, if you think broadly about where you're going as, as a product, that's definitely one word of caution."
14:35
Like Many Startups Within A Startup
"It's kind of like many startups within a startup. So, you know, you imagine you've got this agency model, agency, customer persona working really well. You've built all your use cases and case studies around it, reference points, you've got your marketing nailed on for it. And that's now a repeatable funnel that the sales team can go and convert all day long on that. And then you've kind of got another team focusing, or usually it's usually myself as the kind of lead of growth where I'm kind of pushing at the edge of different markets, showing them what we're working on, trying to get face time with other individuals in larger businesses or in different segments."
16:35
Finding The Right Messaging
21:45
The Common False Belief About Paid Media
26:25
Two Hard Lessons On Paid Media From Experience
29:20
Amplifying Customer Reviews
"I think that's one of the strongest things that any small businesses, small business slash startup have in their armory to get customers enrolled in part of their journey and believing into the story. Cause that's, yeah, that's definitely the thing where, you know, startups are incredible at. And then in that process getting, people will love to write reviews and people love to share the things that that they liked the best."
"Every single successful business that I've spoken to, been on a kind of similar growth path, have all said the biggest growth avenue is word of mouth, but it's also the hardest thing to scale or engineer really. Because you can't engineer good sentiment, how people feel about you, all you can do is every single opportunity that you interact with the customers, for them to come away with a feeling like they care, they've added value to me and my word when they were responsive."
34:40
The Full Strategy Behind Delivering Short Courses As Automated Webinars
"We're trying to educate a whole market around the way to think about content marketing and a way to own your growth really. So thinking about that education was key best way to do education outside of, you know, blog content, for example, is gonna be, going to be webinars."
"(...) so switch these to be short courses, fully automated webinars, which run entirely on demand. I have a series of experts that I get in each week to talk around a certain subject of content marketing. (...) So now we get literally thousands of people watching these. So and they run on demand. So they sit evergreen."
"We've got some workflow set up in HubSpot, which the moment that someone has watched this webinar at Demio, they are then sent like, you know, go into our funnel that educates people, sends them more short courses and nurtures them over the course of 90 days into really with the key objective of either them starting a trial on ContentCal, which is our biggest source of conversion, or booking a demo with the sales team. So yeah, that's, that's transformed our lead and has actually grown our leads by 33% in the last three months alone."
47:35
Next Stage: Going Deeper Into This Educational Orientated Approach
50:25
Lightning Questions
Transcript:

DA (02:38):
Hey Andy, thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS breakthrough Podcast. Excited to have you and ContentCal here, how you're?

AL (02:45):
Doing very well. Thanks, David. Pleased to be here.

DA (02:48):
Yeah. I'm excited to talk about what is working in marketing over at ContentCal this year. But before we do that, why don't we get started by explaining a bit about what ContentCal does, when it was founded, who your customers are and what you're doing uniquely in the marketplace?

AL (03:04):
Right. Well, let's dive right in. So yeah, ContentCal is a business that was founded by my colleague and current CEO of ContentCal Alex Packam. He founded it as an agency in 2014 as social media agency. And Alex spotted an idea, think about 2015. He came up with the idea of ContentCal and a way to systemize content production processes from working as an agency. It became quite clear some of the challenges around content marketing, especially when you have multiple people involved in the process that he came up with this idea for ContentCal. Put together the designs and a minimum viable product. Got me involved. And this was in 2016. So I was one of the founding teams. So the three of us. I liked the idea. I'd done a couple of startups before and I thought I'd get involved.

AL (03:57):
So from that day in 2016, we've now built the business to being used in 140 countries by 40,000 companies. So yeah, the problems that I think we came across seem to be universally experienced. And that problem is trying to create the perfect content marketing workflow, whether it's social media marketing, whether it's organic blog, content emails, ultimately there, there seems to be no consistent coherent way that businesses operate to ensure that they've got a clear strategy across all channels, getting lots of stakeholders involved, running approval processes, making sure everything's aligned with certain campaigns and initiatives make it incredibly visual and publishing that content automatically to the various different platforms. So yeah what we're doing differently in the market is making all of that, which actually is quite, I make it sound simple, but it's actually a lot of moving parts and quite complex, but we make it really simple. So we've created something that people spend their whole day using. So really simple, really intuitive, real focus on, on UI and simplicity. So we're used by like solopreneurs, used a lot of free plans used heavily by like hobbyists businesses up to the likes of the national health service in the, in the UK or businesses like like Sky, for example, that's probably something that's quite well known in the UK rather than the US but yeah, so that's our story

DA (05:31):
That makes a lot of sense. And I love the fact that you guys found this problem from the agency, is such a great idea. So you probably had a base of customers to start with. So when you were coming in, did you utilize a lot of the agency customers as your initial kind of test group, and then going out of that as you came in to help with growth, how did you have to find product market fit? You know, this is a product that fits for everyone. So did you have to narrow it down along the way? Or like, how did you initially start to organize what that marketing plan would be?

AL (06:02):
Yes, it's a real challenge in the early days. So you would assume a couple of things. So one I'd mentioned this, this company called Sky, which is really well known, one of the biggest media companies in the UK and Europe and Alex used to be the head of social there and naturally Sky ended up being like our first beta customer, right? So that's basically Alex had landed that before I joined and also naturally you would think that our agency, customers or agency clients, as we would call them would be a great fit for ContentCal too. Cause you've got already (inaudible), both of which ended up not being the case, where what we found is that our agency clients didn't have enough interest because they're paying us to do content marketing for them.

AL (06:51):
They didn't have enough interest or time really to think about the product. They didn't really care quite frankly. Then you've got the kind of large enterprise size Beta client that we'd landed, which you'd think, and our investors at the time got very excited because we landed our first kind of tranche of investment in 2016. Our investments got very excited that we're actually an enterprise play product at that time. And that sent us on a bit of a the term would be wild goose chase where you're kind of chasing something which doesn't really exist. So we didn't have product market fit at that point. So we did something which would have been, which in hindsight seems incredibly obvious where we just focused on what we class as our minimum viable audience. And that's a term taken from Seth Godin. Actually. I know, I really love his thinking around that concept of a minimum viable audience.

AL (07:45):
And essentially we just targeted other people that would face exactly the same problem that we had in our agency. So we just targeted content marketing agencies, quite frankly. And we didn't deviate from that. So from the first, first kind of three months, I would say of getting ContentCal to market, a lot of confusion, a lot of wasted time going after larger businesses, which quite frankly, we weren't ready to approach at that time. So lots of time wasted there, but fantastic feedback. And that's, if that's one thing in doing the sales bit of, of startups is like sometimes no's are just as valuable as the yeses because the amount that you learn in someone telling, you know, is incredibly valuable and I'm going to return to that in the moment. Anyway, so product market fit didn't really work with our agency. Clients didn't really work with kind of our large blue chip clients, our beta clients that we had landed.

AL (08:41):
We actually subsequently lost that. And yeah, so ultimately we then focused purely on this agency focus place. So feeling that we could talk that language intrinsically because we know exactly what it's like to build and scale an agency that became our ideal customer persona. And we could tell, we suddenly lit the touchpaper because you would say the same thing in every single meeting and everyone would nod at exactly the same point. So essentially you could just kind of rinse and repeat your sales pitch when you'd be invited into these agencies and they all nod along and they would all buy and then suddenly you're like, okay. So we now have a perfect story to tell around this ideal customer profile, but that isn't, you know, as, as you kind of alluded to, it's ever evolving. And the ideal customer profile stays for a, for a period of time and evolves where we always knew that this is a mass market play a content, a product like ContentCal is applies to any business, right?

AL (09:47):
There is, there is no limitations. So actually becomes quite a challenge to really focus your mind and not get distracted by the shiny objects that are constantly available to, you know, to early stage business employees where you're like, Oh wow, there's so much stuff you could go and do. So keeping focused on that audience, which keeps on saying yes is critical until you started to drive enough revenue enough, credibility, enough reviews, and you create a really nice foundation. So that was the sign of our first initial traction. And I can't remember who said it, but I remember reading a quote where it says, when you, when you find product market fit, you'll feel it. And I never really knew what that meant until you really feel it. And for us, that, that feeling is, as I said, when you can say the same thing to different people in different businesses, and they all answer the same way, same way back. So you become like you get into a rinse and repeat model. That's when you know, you've got early stage product market fit.

DA (10:55):
I love that. And it's so, so similar to so many stories I hear on this podcast. Of just like when you first start, you go after everybody, you have to then learn and hone in all the right lessons. You guys learned some incredible things there. Now what caused you to then expand out of that? If you have this great product market fit, you can build great messaging. You can great, you can build great features in product for that audience. What makes you then, or when is the right time to then say, Hey, let's go after this next audience and this next audience.

AL (11:27):
Right. Great question. And I think the key point here is building these features in product. We've always been really reticent ever to build any feature specific to any customer, every so one of the, one of the three founding teams, so Alex is CEO, I'm Director of Growth and one of the founding team. Then there was Lawrence. Who's product director. Lawrence is incredible at distilling feedback from lots of, and in creating a solution to a problem that is universal to lots of people. So thinking it, thinking about a challenge that our customer has, they say, they might ask you for a certain feature, which allows them to maybe change the time zone, for example, what, where Lawrence as a great product lead is, is incredible at is distilling that information. And then thinking about it in the abstract to think, actually that is an agency asking for a question, which is specific to their use case.

AL (12:24):
How can we answer their need, but think about a broader feature where our heads, you know, we've got one eye looking, you know, five years down the track around what those features will be for, for that audience in the future. So just a kind of word of caution, stay I mean, it's very business dependent, but my advice would be stay away from any kind of custom features built for a specific audience. If you, if you think broadly about where you're going as, as a product, that's definitely one word of caution. But in terms of how our ideal customer evolved, it feels like it was a very natural thing. I would say. We probably spent the first year within the social media agency and content marketing agency space. But very quickly you start to realize that your, your leads dry up in that scenario. And we'll talk about leads and marketing and inbound marketing in a bit, but you start to realize that there isn't enough scale to continue growing at the rate you were and as soon as you start to feel a bit of growth tail off, then it's important to start thinking ahead of that, to start thinking about the next audience that you want to go after.

AL (13:35):
So for us, it was quite, we've been quite broad in that perspective. And I would probably say that we haven't had a real specific focus. Maybe to a degree outside of agency has been like our core. And now we've moved into more kind of social media focused individuals across a spectrum of brands, which is really targeting quite broad. That's just targeting a job role really. But where, where we're headed now is, is a lot more broad, a lot more up the the scale let's say so larger businesses targeting enterprise organizations. And I think that's probably the biggest shift in terms of when, when we start to gain enough credibility within the market to feel like we've earned the right to start moving higher up the value chain. I would say it's a, it's a natural thing. And it's also a big push from, from our investors to increase average sales price of our products.

AL (14:36):
So we're, we're always experimenting and, you know, we're, we're quite a sales led business and sales driven business. So we're, we're always experimenting getting out in front of customers, showing them what we're thinking about, not just the product today, but the product in the future and gauging people's feedback because it's actually only recently, we started to find that we're now starting to gain traction within businesses with more than like a thousand employees, and we're starting to get a consistent process with, with larger organizations. And the way I think about this is, it's kind of like many startups within a startup. So, you know, you imagine you've got this agency model, agency, customer persona working really well. You've built all your use cases and case studies around it, reference points, you've got your marketing nailed on for it. And that's now a repeatable funnel that the sales team can go and convert all day long on that.

AL (15:32):
And then you've kind of got another team focusing, or usually it's usually myself as the kind of lead of growth where I'm kind of pushing at the edge of different markets, showing them what we're working on, trying to get face time with other individuals in larger businesses or in different segments. We've tried public sector, we've tried B2B focused businesses and all of which we started to see good traction with. And it's just a case of when you start to see that consistent thing, like I said earlier, where you can start to say the same thing again and again, and start to gain traction. And we've started to see this within like larger B2B focused or organizations now. And, you know, we're four years onto our journey and we're still learning a huge amount, but ultimately once you get these, these cycles running around this ideal customer persona, build the marketing flywheel around it, and you start to see, you know, that audience evolve. So imagine having like lots of different plates spinning and it's your job to try and get those plates spinning, you know initially, start to kind of create that momentum around them.

DA (16:36):
That's a super helpful, that was really well said. When you're talking about going into these different markets and testing them, how are you bringing in messaging, obviously, messaging it gets harder and harder, the wider it gets, right? Like when you can be super narrow on your messaging it becomes very easy to talk about value exchange, unique benefits, how are you doing that? Or are you just using kind of those sales calls to test that messaging before you put it on the website and is like your website messaging, universal language for everyone? Are you kind of trying to segment that for different use cases? How does that look?

AL (17:09):
Great question. So, so yeah, I would say our messaging is very much defined in road testing it with, with customers. It's definitely the best way to do it. Like I remember, we'll come on to this, but the book that is basically my Bible was called the Startup Owner's Manual. We'll talk about books later on, but there's a, there's a phrase on the first page of that book where it's like, no business plan will survive first contact with customers. So one of those has rang true in my head for the last four years where, you know, you might think amongst your team, you have a fantastic narrative. Fantastic message. And you might well do, but until you go out and test this with customers and start to talk about this narrative with those individuals that you're trying to target and trying to drive revenue from, ultimately nothing else matters other than that.

AL (18:03):
So once you start to feel that your customers are all saying the same thing or sometimes as, as was the case recently with us, it's when a customer mentioned something that just rang true. Absolutely. Because I asked the question, like, why did you buy us? Because it was one of our largest clients that we'd want. And I was like, what, what made you choose ContentCal? And the way they described us is like, was revelationary for me. I was like, wow, that is exactly what I had in my head, but I just haven't put it as simply as that. And, and that's one of the hardest things I would say when you're, as your business is evolving is because you have all of these nuggets of gold that will be uttered by your customers or your prospects. That is absolute marketing gold.

AL (18:52):
And it's how can you as a business as you scale, because we've got a sales team of five, six people now, which might not sound massive to some, but it is big in our context. Is easy when it was just me going out and listening to people. But you're trying to make sure that your sales team, that you've kind of scaled up to say the same thing again, and again, like we were talking about product market fit with these different personas. But you still want them to listen and feedback that kind of stuff. And that's still a challenge that we've not yet nailed. Definitely not. So that's something we're working on, but it's, it's that kind of narrative that comes back from customers that helps hone our marketing messaging. So of course we have dedicated landing pages for, for certain demographics.

AL (19:36):
We are, our agency focus page gets viewed explicitly by by agencies typically because it talks their language, takes them through a flow of how to scale our agency using ContentCal all of that stuff, similar kind of things for the B2B focused marketers. So we've got a concept called the content marketing flywheel cause B2B businesses specifically are really poor content marketing because they don't have typically huge online audiences that are hanging on their every word, like large B2C brands. So so yeah, we've started to build out quite a lot around that. So dedicated, dedicated funnels, dedicated education around those individuals. And then we've got a separate segment for both landing pages and educational content, which is probably where Demio comes into this. For our, you know, what we class enterprise and the way we class enterprises anyone with more than a thousand employees, because how we want to talk to them is different to how we typically position our business, but it, but it isn't absolute massive challenge.

AL (20:44):
Cause if you looked at on ContentCal's website today, you know, whilst the message is absolutely consistent across all, all demographics, because it's quite clear what we do. And we bring the same benefit to everyone at a high level, which is simplifying content marketing and helping people scale it. So whilst that message rings true for any one agency, large business B2C B2B brand, whatever the reality is when you go a level beneath that, there is the kind of the nuance level of detail where, you know, are small business and consumers will just, they just want everything to get out of the way and go ahead and try our product for free. And we, you know, we drive, you know, thousands of leads per month through that process, but what we've got is dedicated funnels, specifically set up for like B2B orientated businesses and enterprise orientated businesses whereby we communicate with those slightly differently. But ultimately the landing page still remains kind of universal, but then again, we're also split testing our landing page copy pretty much on a weekly basis.

DA (21:48):
Yeah. I'm assuming you're using what paid media to drive some of that unique demographic like demographic audiences to those landing pages? What's been your experience so far with a paid media and any lessons that we can talk about?

AL (22:00):
Yeah, lots, lots and they're usually actually quite bad lessons that we've experienced. So good lessons for everyone else. We wasted a huge amount of money over I think when we really started doing paid media heavily in 2018. We dropped huge amounts on Facebook ads, huge amounts on Google PPC, Instagram ads too. And I think what the main learnings can we get from that? We ultimately had a really poor conversion rate. So, and we were trying to think as to why was that right? Because we have great product market fit. I mean, we have better product market fit now as it's ever evolving. But back in 2018, I would say we're in pretty good stead, but we, we then were under the false belief that I think lots of businesses fall, fall prey to, where we have some, you know, big growth ambitions as everyone does. We made the presumption that many businesses do that, actually paid media will scale because we were converting really well, our costs of customer acquisition to lifetime value, conversion rates or ratios rather were absolutely spot on. And that was great when we were doing paid media probably a budget of maybe three to five grand a month. This is pounds there. So what's that about $7000 or something.

AL (23:30):
And, and then we, we, we ramped that up to about $25,000 a month. So we really put the pedal down on it and it didn't scale, right? Because conversion rates we found didn't remain linear. And your cost of cost of sales starts to go through the roof as a result. So then suddenly because we have quite sensitive ratios between cost of acquiring customers and lifetime value. Because we operate quite a lot at that time, cause this is 2018, a couple of years ago, quite a lot within like the smaller business segment, less so like in the enterprise kind of world that we are now as well. So, you know, the cost, the sale prices weren't massive. So what we saw is that, you know, us falling into the trap that so many small businesses do. And so many startups do thinking that Google and Facebook will cure all marketing ills, which it really doesn't.

AL (24:28):
And it's great for like campaign orientated work around a certain focus. We didn't test enough either. We should have done loads, more campaigns, loads more split testing. We ended up rushing things out because we wanted to, you know, we had big growth targets to hit. So we just, you know, just put fuel on the fire and just basically set fire to money as a process. And it's taken us a long time to get this right. So we essentially cut all our Facebook advertising cause we were seeing barely any conversion and conversion that we were getting were predominantly small businesses buying our lowest price plans. So we gave up. Google paid search (inaudible) did much better. However, that was great. It was bringing much more relevance. We were driving as you know, to your point, dedicated traffic to certain landing pages.

AL (25:21):
And but it's taken a lot of refining. It's taken about a year's worth of refinement to get to a, you know, an ad set that converts well, keywords that we're bidding on that convert well and convert in a really good both conversion, right, and a realistic price as well. Cause we've seen our Google price go all over the place. We've been up as high as like 150 pounds per conversion. And now we kind of leveling out around 16 or so, 16 or so pounds. So you can see that the unit economic shift massively. So yeah, unit economics is key to this kind of stuff. Making sure you are, you are absolutely all over your cost of acquiring customers, your lifetime value ratios. I'm sure everyone listening to this podcast is all over this kind of stuff, but yeah unit economics we overestimated it. And as a result underperformed. So any questions on that? Does that make sense?

DA (26:25):
It does. It does. And I guess my question would be is the major lesson that you're taking away from this that you need to reset expectations when approaching campaigns like this, how long it's going to take, how many tests you need to do? You know, how slowly you need to scale it up or is the, that you just need to like scale a lot slower. You can't just exceed budgets from, you know, 7,000 to 25,000 and expect the same results.

AL (26:54):
I would say. Yeah, a bit, a bit of both because not always. And I speak from experience so others might see something differently, but to think about paid media as a way of turning it off and on and suddenly you will see results, it doesn't work like that really. So growth is more sustainable and measured than that. And you need to be learning. It's like one more testing, smaller budgets at the start, more testing, more ad sets, more, more entrenched analysis as part of that, understanding exactly what's converting, spend more time on split testing, different copy, different creative, and put little budgets on that. And then, then start to optimize. Whereas what we found we were doing is that we had some, some data points, but we're just like, you know, let's just go for it. You know, we knew the audience that we're targeting and Facebook tells us that there are a lot of them, but we also found that, you know, it isn't necessarily the right audience.

AL (27:54):
And I would also argue to anyone with a, like a paid focused, you know, paid media focus that actually, I mean, it's not a sustainable path to growth. We've got Google PPC now down to a point where it is a core part of our strategy. But the point is that we only want to have, we want to have a 30, 60, 30 paid to organic ratio. That's what we've established as the right ratio for our business. And what I mean by that, we want to drive 30% through paid traffic and 60% organic. Because you naturally see a good organic lift when you're doing paid media anyway. But the thing that really scales is organic content. So we've gone, we've gone deep into SEO of late. And so in answer to your question, yes, it takes a lot longer. Yes, you need to have a more granular approach to it, but just the word, the word of caution here is, you know, don't rush this. Don't suddenly just think you'll put in a load of money and suddenly get results and it's not paid media and just on Google and Facebook and giving money to the duopoly is not a long term sustainable solution as to your predominant source of growth. And really if, if all of your growth comes just through paid channels, then for me personally looking back on it, that's a, that's a really concerning place to be.

DA (29:21):
Yeah, that's really interesting. A lot of people would kind of have that converse view, but I I'm a hundred percent on the same page with you. And I think we're similar also that we put a lot of our focus on organic growth and more than anything word of mouth that for us has been by far our best kind of referral network growth network for us. And I know that's been a big thing for you guys too, which leveraging reviews that kind of helps build your, your brand, your reputation. And that probably adds on also with the you know, reputation that you need for PPC. When people are looking you up after they're finding your ads online, what has been your strategy behind leveraging reviews? How are you guys amplifying the impact for that?

AL (30:00):
Yeah, great question. It was absolutely core and probably the thing I'm most pleased that we did early on right at the start of our business. So every single person that became a customer in the early days, we would give them discounts to write reviews, to say, well people aren't going to say nice things, if they don't believe in the product, but ultimately giving giving incentives for individuals to write reviews, be that on G2crowd, Capterra, Trustpilot, whatever, basically everywhere. And encouraging people to talk about us. So basically for every single customer that we would land because they're social media and content marketing folk, anyway, we definitely would always get them to do a review. And we'll always be asking whether they have their own blog, company blog, or their own personal one, you know, they'll be happy to write about us there.

AL (30:52):
Could we do any form of like webinar or joint content together, basically thinking about our, our customers as our content channels ultimately. And that's given us a fantastic base of organic growth and it's, it's wonderful for a customer as well to feel that they're, you know, they're part of a journey. And I think that's one of the strongest things that any small businesses, small business slash startup have in their armory to get customers enrolled in part of their journey and believing into the story. Cause that's, yeah, that's definitely the thing where, you know, startups are incredible at. And then in that process getting, people will love to write reviews and people love to share the things that that they liked the best. And we've also put together a load of, the best way to describe it is probably maybe offers, other names probably the best way to describe it, giving, giving, or empowering the people that want to talk about ContentCal because there's lots of people that have communities that use ContentCal like membership groups, be it, you know, a Facebook group that they might have, et cetera. And, you know, encouraging them to share it and also telling them that, you know, if you, if you share us with, you know, share this link and anyone who chooses to, to select ContentCal will get 90 days for free, for example.

AL (32:14):
So that really incentivizes people to share you because certainly rather than people wanting to get money through like affiliate links, what we found is that our customers were much more willing to share us when there wasn't a revenue upside for them. But when actually they feel like they were doing something good, they were sharing something that they believed in, but also they were going to benefit their community by giving their community something of value, which is maybe what a couple of months free on ContentCal or 90 day trial, whatever that might be. And that just encouraged word of mouth. So loads of, so we just saw more and more people talking about us and then for every single interaction that someone has with you, you need to live and breathe your brand. Now because I've used Demio live chat quite a bit because obviously we're a Demio customer, I know you guys get this and using, using customer service as your differentiator, right?

AL (33:09):
Because having that ability of having, having that interaction with someone is incredibly valuable and people will talk continually about great experience of service that they've had. So, you know, every single time we land a customer, we do a review. We give our customers a link to share us with other people or when a customer comes in because they've had a tech issue and they need it resolved. You need to live and breathe your brand. Every single touch point. So being super helpful, super friendly, and also encouraging our customers to share us as much as possible. So and it's, it's really hard to try and make this a really actionable point because what I'm saying here is just best practice and I'm sure everyone would nod along saying, yeah, this is pretty obvious, but that's, you know, word of mouth is pretty obvious, right? Because every single successful business that I've spoken to, been on a kind of similar growth path, have all said the biggest growth avenue is word of mouth, but it's also the hardest thing to scale or engineer really. Because you can't engineer good sentiment, how people feel about you, all you can do is every single opportunity that you interact with the customers, for them to come away with a feeling like they care, they've added value to me and my word when they were responsive, so.

DA (34:41):
I agree. That's, it's one of the hardest things to build. And I think it comes from the DNA of you guys being the founding team, kind of what you want to do for your audience base, right? Like you care, you want to do those things. You want to build a great product. That core piece is where a lot of those referrals and that customer experience comes from. And so I commend you guys for doing that. I love the idea of utilizing those, you know, especially initial customers, initial customer base, as content distribution you know, just new leverageable parts of your business. I love that. We didn't, we haven't done that, but that's a really good idea. And I know you also do a lot of educational content. That's part of that experience to have a great value exchange and to use the platform in the best way possible. You have, I think, 15 short courses on the website, all are teaching all different types of topics and you're using automated webinars, as you mentioned through Demio, which I think is freaking an awesome idea. Why did you guys choose to do courses in this way? How have you designed them and what kind of results have you seen?

AL (35:43):
Yeah, great question. So initially we called these webinars and we started this at, towards the end of last year. Whereby we, we typically had been a real kind of conversion orientated business. So we attract great leads. We've got good content marketing, and pretty much as soon as anyone interacted with us, signed up for a trial, we're trying to convert them to a sale. Which, which is, which is fine. It's probably what you should do. But now as our business is growing and evolving and our demand for volumes of leads is increasing as growth targets get bigger revenues, get bigger, yada yada. We needed to create a proper, a proper marketing funnel. I channel people into business, into our business at the more the education stage of the funnel, right?

AL (36:29):
So when I call it education, some of you might call this awareness, right? So helping people understand the importance of content marketing and the impact it can have for their business. So we wanted to start attracting that kind of audience. And also this was going to be key. Well, this is key. For us moving our business up-market to B2B orientated businesses and to enterprises because ultimately a lot of these, these decisions at these larger businesses are built off the back of, you know, do a 14 free, 14 day free trial and converting off the back of it. That is built through a process of nurturing. So that's what we wanted to do. And we also really wanted for us to own the space as the go-to, which is quite a punchy ambition, but own the space as the go-to for education on all things, content, marketing, organic content marketing, right?

AL (37:23):
Because, you know, having been through our journey and spent a lot of money on paid media and, you know, learn our lessons as we've just been talking about, we're huge advocates of what we'd class as content driven growth. So kind of owning your growth through real good content marketing and understanding of how to do content marketing correctly. So reducing reliance on paid media. So that's the whole narrative of the business. And, you know, basically we we've actually shifted our narrative based on our own experiences as well here. So to educate around that is, is absolutely critical, because we're trying to educate a whole market around the way to think about content marketing and a way to own your growth really. So thinking about that education was key best way to do education outside of, you know, blog content, for example, is gonna be, going to be webinars.

AL (38:19):
So we started launching these webinars towards the end of the last year. I looked around at a few tools that are doing this. I wanted something that could run in a semi automated way, basically how our classrooms do simulate events is how I wanted to do it right. To have a prerecorded event that runs at certain times. And that prerecorded event was basically driven off the fact that it was myself doing this content planning master class. I ran it a few times just as a live event. Had quite good attendance, maybe our class quite good as in our contexts 120, 150 people turning up. 200 on the, on the best one. So that was great. So, but I just realized that I know I can't do this every single day, running a separate live webinar. So I started running a simulate, so the same content but it would appear live to the audience and they would still have the live Q&A, people would never use the Q&A.

AL (39:17):
And I also found it an actual, like a bit of a nightmare in the way I had it organized. So we, we initially you would have people selecting through a predefined list of when the simulate events would run. And we just found that the viewership rates just dropped off a cliff. So at that point I was thinking, well, will I have go back to doing live ones, which I really don't want to do cause they don't really scale or or maybe can as a, as a potential option. But I tried one thing cause I saw on Demio that you have the ability to run completely automated events. So I feel actually, you know what, maybe we can just run these in a complete, on demand way, rather than people choosing a simulate life event to join at a certain time, maybe it would make sense that people can just tune in as, and when they want.

AL (40:08):
So I thought about this in February and kind of pivoted all of our all of our webinars on Demio to that model and also changed our phrasing of webinars. And we called them short courses. Because webinars spills to me. I don't know if it's just me, but you know, it feels to me quite salesy, like someone's gonna basically get sold to over the course of the next hour or whatever. Whereas short courses I wanted, I wanted to perceive, or I wanted it to be perceived as someone's going to come onto something for half an hour and leave with, you know, being further forward than they were, you know, half an hour ago. And come away with something of real value and, you know, hopefully getting a good impression of ContentCal on the way. And they'll also have entered our lead funnel of which I'll talk to about a little bit about that in a second.

AL (41:02):
Anyway, so switch these to be short courses, fully automated webinars, which run entirely on demand. I have a series of experts that I get in each week to talk around a certain subject of content marketing. Maybe it's like how to do how to like unleash your creativity, might be how to use Canva. It might be how to use Google My Business or Pinterest, basically every both channel and execution orientated strategies around content marketing. And we'd run these for free. Since we pivoted to that, also lockdown has helped that too, because obviously we got hit hard by Corona Virus in the UK and lots of people found themselves with time to educate. So now we get literally thousands of people watching these. So and they run on demand. So they sit evergreen. So you can go to short courses on ContentCal and basically download, don't even download, just click to view any of these.

AL (41:59):
And when people click to view, they're taken straight into this they'll put in their their email address and we've got a integration between HubSpot and Demio. Which we use Zapier for, where anyone that registers on this short course, Zapier takes that email address and throws it directly into our CRM, which is HubSpot, sends a trigger to the salespeople that there's been a conversion event where it might be a prospect that they're working that has watched this webinar, or it might be a brand new contact. And in that basis, we've got some workflow set up in HubSpot, which the moment that someone has watched this webinar at Demio, they are then sent like, you know, go into our funnel that educates people, sends them more short courses and nurtures them over the course of 90 days into really with the key objective of either them starting a trial on ContentCal, which is our biggest source of conversion, or booking a demo with the sales team. So yeah, that's, that's transformed our lead and has actually grown our leads by 33% in the last three months alone.

DA (43:08):
Well, congratulations. That's amazing. You just put the biggest smile on my face. I love hearing all of this. The different testing types, how you're doing it. I think that's fantastic. Fantastic idea. And I was gonna ask how that the results have come from warming those leads up, you know, basically through this kind of process. I want to ask about, you know, the educational process once they become a lead. Once they're in your platform, are you mostly like in your onboarding pushing them to features functions, are you also pushing them back to this webinar content, short courses for education? And if so, do you ever get like KPIs or numbers kind of mixed up in there? I'm only asking because we're trying to figure out the best way to handle our educational content through that onboarding process too.

AL (43:53):
Yeah. Great question. So HubSpot's really good because it doesn't double count leads. So if someone is currently in our CRM, so they might well be, you know, they might have downloaded another piece before, maybe a white paper, they might be on a trial of ContentCal it doesn't double count leads. So even though I still reports our numbers out with Demio on a weekly basis, so we can see the overall consumption of our short courses, but in terms of HubSpot, HubSpot will only report the brand new contacts. So there's a clear delineation between people that we're nurturing and you know, existing customers just finding extra value in us, which is absolutely brilliant for retention purposes too. But also there is a clear delineation around the new leads that are coming into the funnel. And the new leads that come into the funnel, we treat them differently.

AL (44:49):
So we treat what we'd class as subscribers. So these are people that subscribe to our blog to, or watch one of these short courses, you know, download one of our content pieces, right from exit intent. So, you know, someone's about to leave ContentCal, we give them a little kind of pop up to say, you know, have you downloaded your social media or content marketing, master class guide or whatever. We change it all the time, but allowing people to download that. All of these people go, all these leads go into a subscriber pot. Now those subscribers have a nurture funnel set up, and this is really in its infancy. I would say we've only really started building this year. So we're, we're really, we're probably behind the curve a little bit because we've been so hot on, you know, free trial to paid conversion of which converts at 10%, which is which I think according to typical SaaS logic, that's actually quite a high conversion rate from free trial to paid.

AL (45:49):
So we've spent so long honing that, that we haven't really spent that much time honing our funnel. So we treat those people that sign up for a free trial of content, how we treat those. And we classify them as a marketing qualified leads, marketing qualified leads, get a different cadence both email cadence, and they also get direct contact from the sales team to book them into meetings of which then they get qualified as sales qualified leads. Whereas anyone that's watched a short course downloaded a piece of content, we see them as subscribers of which we're nurturing them with more educational content. We also do like a weekly social media Roundup, that kind of thing. Anyway, I won't bore you with all the things we do, but ultimately we're just getting them warmed to a point where they feel like they've got enough affinity with us as a brand to to then take a free trial.

AL (46:44):
But at the moment we're running at about 10% like subscriber to free trial conversion, which I think there's a lot of room to optimize that. Cause if you think about it, if we've, if it's now kind of 10% conversion from free trial into paid, and then you've got a 10% conversion from subscriber into free trial, we're actually running a 1% conversion rate from subscriber through to paid. So I think there's, there's a lot of optimization in that, but the very fact about that we're pouring people into the top of the funnel now, then the fun starts because then you can start playing different chains with different types of content and different ways of nurturing people through your engagement funnel.

DA (47:34):
That's super exciting. I mean, literally small tweaks could be huge results. If you keep that 10%, you know, free trial conversion rate and great that you have all those leads coming in, it sounds like everything is kind of in place. Now it's just about optimizations and saying that, I mean, looking forward this year, are there new challenges or opportunities that you guys are excited for? Things that are you know, coming up, it's going to be an interesting year obviously with everything going on, but does the landscape look exciting?

AL (48:03):
Yeah, I'm really optimistic to be honest, the landscape does look exciting. And I think really this, this educational orientated approach, we're just going to go deeper into, because we haven't really spoken about SEO as well, but, you know we really doubled down on SEO. We actually employed, we've shifted most of our budget out of paid into hiring a bunch of freelances to create content around certain keywords related to SEO. And we're going to be focusing more on this educational stuff, because really this was an experiment of which seems, it seems like it's worked really well. I need to take it now to the next stage, which is now starting to think about how do we potentially monetize these courses? How do we then create more, maybe premium content off the back of that, or maybe rolling some of this educational content into more premium priced plans, for example because it's definitely pulling through a higher caliber of company to us, definitely making us more attractive.

AL (49:05):
So actually maybe that, that there is an opportunity there to increase the value of our, some of our higher price plans wrapping in some of this educational content. We're starting to look at like accreditation's off the back of these courses, it seems like a natural journey. So yeah, owning this space of educational in the content marketing space is, is absolutely where we're headed, helping customers own their growth, which you've heard me say a couple of times. So I think that's really exciting because there is, there's a lot of need around that. Marketing budgets are getting tighter, doing more with less will become a thing because we're, we're heading, you know, head on towards another recession. But one thing that's that isn't going away and that's only increased as the importance of content marketing. You know, we've seen a 66% increase in the usage of social channels across all social channels, which is insane considering, considering how, how how well utilized social media was before, how it could grow 66%, I have no idea, but my word. It just goes to show that I think we've just leaped forward a couple of years, we've been forced to leap forward a couple of years. So yeah, really excited, huge amounts of opportunity.

DA (50:25):
That's amazing. I'm excited for you guys. I mean, like you said, we've, I think the whole world has leaped forward and how we work, how businesses are going to be, you know, what's important now for businesses. So that's incredible. I'm excited for you guys, but based on time, what I want to do now is I want to switch over to the lightning round questions. Just five quick questions that you can answer with the best first thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?

AL (50:47):
(inaudible) quickly.

DA (50:49):
All right, let's do this thing. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?

AL (50:56):
Get customers to pay early and quickly. Until someone pays, you never know if you've got a prospect. So getting people to pay early, not giving it away for free or trying to generate loads of free users, getting people to have to part with their money and people will tell you what they really think.

DA (51:13):
I love that. I've heard that called the minimum viable economic product. So making sure that you can sell that product, right.

AL (51:20):
Love it. Exactly that.

DA (51:21):
Yeah, exactly. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?

AL (51:27):
Obvious answer for me is nailing your organic content marketing strategy across all channels. Yeah, I don't want to go too much further into that, but too many people think, think more about paid than organic, but if you want to grow a business over the long term, you need to think organic.

DA (51:48):
Best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about marketing growth or organic traffic?

AL (51:54):
For me, I've mentioned already the Startup Owner's Manual, if you're really early stage just getting a concept of how you can go through what's called a customer development process. Absolutely loved it. Only read the first three chapters and that gave me everything I needed. Marketing growth. I'm a huge fan of Intercom and HubSpot's content around that. But the reality is I'll typically only read when I'm stuck. It's all about experimentation and just doing really. That's that to me, you only learn the best by making mistakes and just getting out there in the trenches and getting it done.

DA (52:32):
Couldn't agree more. That's a great answer. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?

AL (52:37):
I'll say ContentCal, but of, course cause I can´t do a content marketing without it, but outside of that Demio for sure, critical now. HubSpot, it has helped us scale. We ditched Salesforce to HubSpot and I'm so happy we did and Intercom as well because we can deliver the level of customer service we do without it, which is probably the same for you.

DA (53:01):
Yeah, no, definitely. That's amazing. And I would say you know, HubSpot Demio integration in the works to make everything even more smooth. So that's awesome. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today?

AL (53:15):
For me, I admire everything that HubSpot have done. I sound like a broken record, but I keep about the same business, but yeah, it's the fact of them owning and creating a category is the thing that I most admire. Owning the word inbound and building your whole business around one single term. It's just, it's just genius. It repositions you, it gets you known for a certain thing. Everyone has complete clarity on what you stand for as a business. And of course, making a really clear stand on something to say, like, we believe in inbound marketing, we are focused on this. This is what we do. Here's what our framework is, here's how you nail it. You know, and that's kind of, that is absolutely what we're doing with this whole content led growth and owning your growth type of methodology within ContentCal, because when people understand, understand your mission and what you're about as a business that makes you so much more easy to buy and buy into.

DA (54:14):
I love that. Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And I think in the book play bigger. They talk about that as a category King, right. Kind of owning that space and being recognized for that thing. So that's a great business. I'm excited for you guys like I said, it's going to be a great year for you as you continue to grow. And you know, let us know if we can do anything on our end, but Andy, I just want to say thank you so much for jumping on the podcast. It was so great to chat with you. You shared so much knowledge, obviously this is a longer podcast, but you did fantastic and shared a lot of knowledge. So thank you again for jumping on with me.

AL (54:43):
Amazing. Amazing. Yeah. Thanks very much. Yeah. Great questions.

DA (54:47):
All right, Andy. Thanks so much. And we'll talk to you soon.

AL (54:49):
Alright, take care. Thank you.

DA (54:53):
Thank you so much for listening. (...)

Resources:
Check Out ContentCal Short Courses on Social Media and Content Marketing:
https://www.contentcal.io/webinars/
Learn More About ContentCal:
https://www.contentcal.io/
Connect With Andy:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/andy-lambert-70a09219/
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