Hey, Marcus, thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS Breakthrough podcast. Excited to have you on Albacross here. How are you doing today?
I'm doing fine. Thank you, David. I'm happy to be here.
Yeah. I'm excited. I love having on great SaaS companies, especially ones that are in our own marketing stack. We do use you guys. Love your service, love what you guys are doing. So, I'm excited for today's interview to learn more. But for our audience who has not heard of you yet, has not utilized Albacross, talk to us a little bit about the company. When was it founded? Who are the customers? And what are you guys trying to do uniquely in the marketplace right now?
Oh, that's a good question. Yeah. So, we found this end of 2014. And we started off as account based marketing software, so you can target ads to specific companies. And that was our first face of the company. And we started getting sales people and bigger clients to spend like 20, 30k per campaign, and so on. And at the same time, we had this account based marketing software, we also had this lead generation tool that help the account based marketing software to be able to target different companies. So, we were like collecting data. We went through and target it with ads with other tool. So, that's how everything begins from the beginning.
And the more time went by we saw like, okay, the account marketing is quite tricky because the buyers need to be very educated about it, because it's not like the same clear arrival like normal paid advertising as such Google, Facebook and so on, and a lot of them expected to pay per click in somehow. And so, we happen to end up like middle range, just like you have those ABM softwares that are really expensive that take full control of the whole funnel, creating the content, creating landing pages and so on. And then, I would say it'd be easier to set the right expectation from the ABM campaigns.
So, we did a transition to focus more on the lead generation product, and we launched it first for free and get the like massive spike, like 20,000 plus users and so on. And then we turn to like a premium all the (inaudible)and started charging for it , put all our focus on making the best of the general product out there.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think today, we’ll spend a lot of time kind of talking about that journey. So, very interesting. What exactly does the lead generation product do right now?
Right now, what it does is that you use Albacross and set with your website, we take the IP address and reach that with a lot of our internal information, other sources and put like a company profile on it. And you'll be able to see like, what the company have done on your website, like who's working there, what industry they are, what was the revenue and so on. We are trying to like reach that profile as much as we can with all different sources we have to make it easier for our customer to filter it out and for them to know if this is interesting lead or not. And with that information, some send to like CRM to push for the salespeople as something to do with marketing department to like some outreach campaign and so on.
Love it. Yeah, absolutely. That's kind of exactly what we're doing. We're putting them on anyone who goes to our pricing page with buyer intent, looking at the customer profile, trying to read down to our ICP, moving it over to… We’re using (inaudible) as an outreach program and then additionally to contacts. Yeah, so that's kind of how we're doing it. But that's fantastic. When did you actually join the team? I know you said the company was started end of 2014.
Yeah. So, I started roughly three years ago. It's actually quite a fun story. And since we have like quite a big office here in Stockholm, I rented a part of it with my own company. And so, me and the other Victors that founded a company, we started chit chatting, sharing different, growth hacks, ideas, like things you could do to like grow a business and so on. So, it ended up like I was sitting in the room, I flew down with them to crackle where our MD office is and they’re like, let's go down for a few days. We used to make something fun together. So, we are stalking those growth tacking famous like going to build lead, see what competitors’ customer are, and creating emails for them with separate landing pages and different companies, so on. And we got a mass amount of use from that.
So, this is really fun, because we went to sit back from this trip where I was sitting on the airplane with shitty Wi Fi, and click like refresh an email every five second to see all the responses and all the new sign up. It really felt like, you know… Have you seen like the Facebook movie when you hit refresh, refresh, when you hit like, well, I'm going to use you. Yeah, this is the thing and rest is history from that. So, that's how I started joining the company.
That's fantastic. So, you kind of come in as this growth role. You kind of come up with experiments. You joined the company. At this point, the company is doing a free model at this point so?
Yeah, great. We made a free model and we still had quite a big... In that period of time, we were still focused on that campus marketing. But we, me and other Victor that founded the company, we were playing around with how can we increase the number of use for our lead generation tool. And already before this, I was into all those enriching information and so on, and just recently found a few tactics and pushes as hard we could.
Yeah, so some of this came from your own tactical marketing, which I think we should definitely talk about how you're using Albacross the right way. But it sounds like early on, there was still some struggle to find product market fit and you had to change pricing. So, how does the ICP change over time? And what kind of struggles are you looking at when you're when you're building that, especially in the growth role, because that really changes what you focus on, right?
Yeah, that's a very good question. So, I think they should separate in different faces. Because in the beginning when we're like going for as many users as possible, we haven’t even thought like make money on the later and so on. But then we were like the world's free lead generation too right, so that works so well. We're like product up Sumo, a lot of like (inaudible) users that was sitting on the tool themselves, like, oh, hey, I got these good leaders on. It was easy to get started, sign up was free and you could see quite some value from it, but many of them didn't really know like how to get the true value from it. It was like very nice to see, nice to have in some confirmation that, oh I’m driving campaigns and the extra visitors to website.
And that made us like quite big in users. But literally then we transformed to actually a product that people are paying for. We started to narrow down, like okay, who are like the ones that are able to pay for ourselves and so on, then we really understand that to make the most of Albacross and we tried to like jump in any company and fit a tool in a process that they have, like either it is for helping the sales people to generate more leads in their CRM and so on. And once we saw that was quite good way for them to increase revenue, we started to investigate the integrations more and more to make it more streamlined for them.
And with that, we saw like okay, like the demand generation people are like the head of sales or so was quite interesting in this because the way from new singles to actually see the revenue for the company was quite short, or at least they could get a good understanding of what the values are from it. So, that have been quite a customer group for us. And they are mostly like sauce companies, not like 10 employees more like 20, 50, and like we have bunch of like 500 boss. But like for saying who are like either customer profile is today, I'll definitely say the ones that have already set up processes and have people responsible for driving leads to the company and from there splitting up in different ways.
I love it. So, two very different, I guess sides to your company. There's the free type or the free model, and then the paid one. I want to talk about like marketing strategies for both. But I think there's an important lesson in here that I want to bring back in is that you guys had to evolve you initially thought, Hey, we're going to do this free model, you bring in a ton of leads, but there's something going on where you guys say, oh, like we need to swap to a paid model.
What was the thing that popped up that made you guys recognize you needed to convert? Are there things that you had to pay attention to or the things that stood out as like a red flag that made you stop and take that decision? And I only say this because a lot of growth team, marketing teams often focus on like, what can we do to bring in more users, more leads, but that doesn't always result in bottom-line change or maybe the KPI that really matters. So, what was that for you guys?
Yeah, your thoughts are right there. It sounds like we're idea from being like, Oh, he's bringing a bunch of users and then we try and convert them. But the problem is if you go for that model, you don't care that much who the users are from the beginning, because you have the assumption, you can convert them, right? And I will say, we started really to realize that like, okay, we actually need to focus from the beginning to find what they want to pay for it and not doing the opposite around like getting as many people as possible and then convert them. Because you have seen all the big customers would, like millions of customers out there, and they struggled to make money.
And that was like… we saw that so we were like we need to take a stand here. We need to make money because it costs money to run a business, right? So, we shifted a product a bit and focus the more like a forbade commonsensical, like from now we will stop charging. And yeah, I guess that's what happened.
Yeah, that makes sense. So, like conversion rate wasn't great. You were bringing in unqualified people. It was kind of all across the board. And I think you're right. I think there are dangerously, like companies that have really IPO that are on like public market still don't have a profitable way to drive traffic or drive customers, they just have so many users. But that's a really good point.
And you were able to drive a ton of those free users into the platform, which I still think has its time in place, but there are plenty of articles that talk about like the danger of freemium and like the fact that it's like going free first and trying to figure out paid after is always a dangerous model. But a lot of people still do it. I know you guys kind of executed that well, being that kind of free lead generation tool. What type of marketing strategies were you guys doing to drive that traffic? I mean for those people that are on a free month, do have that freemium? What was working so well for you guys?
Yeah. So, if we talk about it like free users first, when we get tons of them, we positioned itself like the world's best for lead generation tool and we use a lot of those, you know, Facebook channels, Facebook ads. Like, we spend quite some money on Facebook ads and like 90% of our traffic comes from here but it was super cheap to buy it, right? And we did a lot of Sumo things product, but I will say like most of these are the same space that you can pretty much buy it from Facebook. And I mean you can buy it like bigger companies from there as well, but that's a general feeling about it.
And we saw too like collaboration with other tools in a similar space and similar size. We quite could bust from that. We need to transform from like a free to business to earn revenue and validate the business model and like them doubled down on the growth. And that's pretty much where we are now and we are still moving even like the bigger from business like a more growth model, like bigger contracts, but then we need to involve sales people to having a lot more meetings with the customers and like really hold them in a hand to make sure it works in their processes and so on. So, it's a huge different from now to the biggest free lead generation tool back in days.
Right. So initially, you're doing Facebook ads. Did you see like specific copy or specific languages that helped you guys? like you said the first free lead generation tool opt in 100% free and then they just went to a landing page where they just quickly signed up for it, like it was just like first name and email, basically?
Yeah, basically. We saw that like when we are sending free product from like the visitors to do sign up for like less than two days and didn't need any like on hand experience. And we focused a lot on having very good support, because we know that using Albacross you still need to add a (inaudible) and so on and go to Google tag manager or WordPress plugin or whatever fits you. So, it does focus and have a great support and like really pushing the world best free lead generation of it's very, like using the exactly word that's quite broad, but for most of the business are related to, okay, give me more customers.
More customers more leads. Yeah.
Yeah, kind of that way. And I think that was the way how we could evolve to bigger business. And we always push a lot at that part, like showing how the tools look like to get those smaller companies that were interested actually in a short period of time, see what they can get from it despite the curiosity. So yeah, I think that was kind of the things that made it work really well.
Nice. I got it. And then you mentioned when you did make this change, you're like, oh, look at the metrics, you make the change in the paid model. Obviously, that's going to change the entire marketing approach. So, you have to re shift everything you mentioned. You're doing more hand holding more meetings, more qualifications. Let's talk about that stuff. Like initially, what do you have to shift for your system to now bring in the right customers? I know you guys do a lot of content. Is that kind of what you focus on? Or how do you even sit through that process to figure out what the right approach?
Yeah, sure. This is a good question as well. So, we're just talking about free when we spend like most of the time on paid ads, and so on. Now, when we shifted our business way, we actually started setting processes, got developer and designer in the team, and we focus a lot on the content process, we had a very well defined by link building process, we choose our collaboration very wisely, and we always think about how we communicate with people to actually get the right expectation when they are signing up.
And since we're driving still quite good traffic to the web page, we spend a lot of time having content upgrades and get people to different funnels to know, okay, we could actually help this customer. And so we try and really focus on these ones, and spending time having meetings with them and so on. But to make it short, we actually set up good processes for the whole call to strategy, how to build content, how to build links, how to drive organic traffic, and also how to convert the traffic. And I think that was what's making us even grow very good today.
I only know this because I've been in the position where I've had to like shift the marketing focus. We did that at Demio, too. But when you start that process, it can be overwhelming because you're basically starting from scratch again. For you in particular, you may obviously have experience with growth ideas and stuff like that. But what made you directly say, hey, let's double down on content, let's build out these processes, I truly think that This is going to be the right way. Like why did you feel so confident that it was going to be content that was the right thing to do?
To be honest, I wasn't hundred percent sure about it. I saw what's happening in different space and what other people do good in. And I mean, I love reading content. I see what very good competency in space is doing. And the biggest part I would say is, if you want to drive paid ads for like Google ads for something in our space, we’re talking about 30 bucks a click or something. Let's say our conversion like 5% or something, that's six policies for potential trailer meeting, right? and then you still limited. So, to be honest, our only option was to grow organic.
It makes sense. So, you're kind of weighing the decisions also based on the financial options, what real opportunities you have. So, that makes a ton of sense.
You mentioned that you do a lot of the content promotions, you do like…I don't know if you're doing guest posts or like kind of Collaboration as you mentioned. How does that process work? How do you get collaborations working? And how are you finding the companies? How are you getting them to promote? What's that look like?
We get started with guest posts. But in general, we have quite a good network there, because all of us are working out because promotes quite some content, specially my myself, so we know a few people in the space. And from there, we started to building those relationships that we created with a free product. So, even my network today is a lot of things for like being that big when was free.
And some of those companies that we talked with almost like monthly basis have grown as well. So, we have a bunch of companies working in similar industries that we're helping to promote each other, sometimes do some collaborations. You know, not too pushy, but it's more healthy with content. Okay, how can we use this tool to help each other. Because I'm not too much for those that do collaboration in terms of like, okay, you need to try these tools and so on. Because that’s not genuine and that will never work. Maybe you get like, a few trials or something from it, but it's not worth just setting up a process and the all time and everything that will be included to get it working.
Yeah, I will say that’s our process like unfolding guest posting and collaborations. But if you go into more like link building and so on, I'm quite interested in the whole SEO space myself, but we've seen a lot of (inaudible) links is popping up, the possibilities being mentioned for someone else and including us and really having good understanding of how what's happening from daily basis if you’re using like Ahrefs, SEMrush and so on.
Got it. So you're just kind of reviewing what's out there. Are you reaching out to companies to get your link swapped out with like older links? Do you have like a different link building process or is that mostly built in with just the guest posts and guest swaps and collaborations?
I will say that’s mostly big part of it, and some creating quite a lot competence herself and like no, we’re creating list of like the best tools and so on. That also create relationships with others. So, I think it's like combination of everything. Once you start getting into work it’s quite easy to like maintain it and use quite better and better structures.
So, you mentioned that you also went through when you did a bunch of new I guess the lead magnets or lead generation options for people to come in. How did that process go? How are you building and changing your lead generation process because you now had maybe a more mature ICP, maybe you weren't fully like damn what that was, but you were starting to understand that we need something more segmented. What did that look like? How did you go through that process?
I mean this is quite interesting. I can have extra good example. So, we created actually a tool called a lead estimator, right? And you go to one of our pages and you type in your website and we tell you roughly how many leads you have. And that gives user an instant value and somehow getting good estimation of what's going on with your business. And from there, we also get like information, you know, how many leads they have and so on. And we got a bunch of traffic to that.
So, that was one of the first steps to start qualify the customers. And from there, they got an email saying like, Hey, you’re having 4500 leads that you maybe not notice and so on. And then we started with the whole, I would say email automation system, to really qualify them. And after that, we like (inaudible) try to send them to either a demo depends on how beta companies and how relevant we think they are. We're actually talking one of the sales reps to see how we can do good solution for them.
To say when you're building all that process, did you have to do a lot of this manually to figure out like which segment went where, like if they're over this size did you like send them to your sales team initially and then realized that wasn't good enough. Like how did you end up building that qualification?
Yeah. So from beginning I will actually say that was a gut feeling. And then again from like the more meetings we had, we could see like how was the conversion rate there and like how happy they were with the tool. And with all those different factors, we changed a qualification. We even change it today sometimes, right? So, I do believe qualification isn't always ongoing process, because you learn more and more about your customers. And we want to be as efficient as possible, but also giving the best result to our customers.
But yeah, when people sign up, we check in what type of company and we’re trying to categorize them in, like what tech stack do you see, how big they are, what revenues they have, what people are signing up for it, and how their department looks like. Yeah, sometimes we try to get more information than we have in most cases. But when we do it so, we are able to try new things and learn more than we already know. Because, you are also limited on how much we can ask us sometimes, because that will somehow, not in every case, because relevant question will still have a good conversion, but too many could decrease the commercial. So, we tried to do that with some of them to actually get not better understanding what's going on and be a bit from there to improve the qualification processes.
Is that qualification process a form that after they sign up for that lead gen tool or the Legion estimator, I believe it was? Or is that something in the email sequence? When and where are they filling out this form? How many questions is it?
First, when they sign up, we all fill like you know the basic questions to be able to open an email, company name, URL and so on. But once they signed up, we ask them like if you're an agency, if you're working on the sales and marketing, number of employees. That's just to get us started. But that's one of the funnels in that actually go to trials. But it wants to come in for trying to book meetings, we're trying to understand like what tech stack and so on. Because like something we all learned lately is, it takes a company hour is quite relevant how they’re working with different things.
Because if they're using Hubspot, marketing automation, for example, then you know okay, they have a sales department, they have a person that is obviously responsible for it. They actually have a real organization to run those things. And then we approach it in a different way, but then we'll also learn okay, they can probably pay it. They are a bigger company. They have more money to spend and they need a more solid solution.
And also we have the visitors, have a website to go into the blog and so on, even doing some content upgrade, and sometimes a quiz pop up and then we ask a bunch of different questions and using a leader (inaudible) in the quiz to give them some instant value, at the same time to learn more about them and how we can help them. So, I will say we have a few different ways. And I think that's one of our strengths right now. Because then we can try different qualification process in different ways to signing up for. So, that also means that we have different amounts of information when it comes to signing up.
Yeah, it sounds like you have to create different filtering systems for the different processes that you use for qualifications. So, it sounds like traffic is still really strong. You use some engineering as marketing, which is a great initiative. I love the idea that you did that. And then so your big focus is really just on qualifications and lead/trial conversion rates, making sure people are coming into customers, utilizing the process in a strong way. What about Albacross’s stuff? How do you guys actually use that tool through this qualification system? You guys probably, you know your own cookie utilize it in a smart way. Any lessons or thoughts that you guys have taken away from it and how other SaaS companies could use Albacross?
Yeah, so we of course use our tool. So, when people are visiting our website, we have like different filters depends on what they have done on the website and if they have more revenue and bigger employees and what the industry they are, and how active they’ve been. So, we have something we called like the enterprise list, like the bigger companies and those one of them we are reaching out manually because we are sending information to our CRM system.
But also we have like maybe a little bit smaller doing trying to approach automatic through like email outreach, as you told, for example with (inaudible). And since we get the information, it’s quite easy to like personalize good introduction to them, because we are at least… I'm, and the whole company, an huge believer like in personalization and like us getting as much relevant data as possible on things, because they can create better custom solution for people.
Definitely. It’s is a huge thing and personalization is becoming bigger and bigger. Definitely, your tool can definitely do that. Any examples or maybe lessons for other SaaS companies basically to look at maybe page usage, like what pages they're going to and build campaigns based on that?
Yeah, that's very, very good. It looks like most of our traffic comes obviously to the blog, because we're driving a lot of traffic. And so what we've done, we usually try not to target all the peoples in blog, because they’re interesting to learn about the subject of writing and that's the reason we’re writing it. We're not writing the things to like, Hey, use our records, we're writing it to trying to share values, right? But if we see like they come and learn new things, and the young, more between the different topics because we categorize or hold blog and if like B2B sales, lead generation, lead nurturing, and so on.
And it's quite easy just to see them follow up to two different information channels, and from barely, maybe like actually pricing installment. And then we started tailoring. We have automated tailored campaigns for them. And I think that's a good way that most companies should try it.
No, no, I totally agree. And I think one of the big lessons that you guys told us is the pricing page. Because I think that's such an interesting thing. It's like you can track the number of pages they visited, which blog posts. Like if there's basically buyer intent, or like levels of awareness are being passed, and then go into the pricing pages, buyer intent if they're there for a certain amount of time, which I think is a great idea.
So, that's a really smart system to use, and then you can segment it down by company type or, like you said, revenue size, employee size, but all of that has to be kind of filtered into Your ICP that you already have. But awesome. We're looking back over the past few years since you joined. Are there any things that you look at, hard lessons you learned, things you wish you had known prior before doing the maybe marketing experiments, maybe anything in the past year that you missed at all?
Yeah. Actually, I have quite a good thing. And this was, I will say in the summer to be honest. So, what happened? We made a test. So, we removed the credit card prior to starter trial, and we hope like we got more leads and more revenue, and like…But we got tons of signups, tons of leads, but it didn't, the result it was not what we hoped for. The deal was great and I still do believe the idea was great, but execution was not very good. Like we did a lot of different changes, like the price change, like without credit card, we didn't have a proper test for it, and we didn't have like proper way to communicate, we didn't have a good plan to actually take care of that many leads and to be able to convert them.
Like now, I remember we already knew before that we need to talk with as many people as possible, because then we can increase the conversion rate. So, that go actually against our test. But yeah, we just focused like okay, more leads more money, more revenue, help more people. But yeah, good idea. Execution was bad and the planning was bad. Yeah. So, that’s not a very, very successful test. But it might be successful in the future when we have a proper process for these kind of things.
Definitely. And I think it just goes back to the early lesson that you talked about moving from free to paid, it's just that we can definitely fall in love with the idea of ramping up like growth, because we just want more leads, we want more trial, account set up, but that doesn't always equal the quality of the trial or the quality of the customer. And it really depends on what your goal is of that campaign.
But oftentimes, you'd rather reduce the influx, increase the quality and have a higher conversion which could you know result in more bottom line return. It's tough, but cool. Well, we're in the final quarter, literally like 60 days left in the year. Something crazy. Any new challenges opportunities you guys are looking forward to rolling up before the year is over?
We have a few things. We're working in the HubSpot integration right now, that like how we see like in 2020 the personalization would be more and more important to get out of the noise out there. And we can see that more things go towards automation, and people are expecting like the same results or better with less work. And we also see like things are moving closer to end result. Not, not to only to be used to drive leads, but need to drive end to end value. For example, closing deals and make them mine.
I 100% agree. I think it's going to be all about just that value exchange. As more and more SaaS companies come out, more and more tools come out, there's so much no competition on like what tool to use and where to expand your budget. It has to be about that value exchange. It has to be upfront and easy. And last year, I think I did the 2019 like recap review and everyone thought 2019 was going to be the year of personalization. And so much has come out around personalization, but I truly think 2020 will see more and more website personalization, lead personalization, CRM personalization. That's where everything is really going. So, that's a really great point.
Yeah, I mean, that's the only way to get to the (inaudible), I'm hundred percent sure about this.
Yeah. Again, it's just that marketplace is changing, more tools, more opportunity, you have more companies than ever in your email inbox. How do you get through? Like you said, it has to be personalization. But Cool. Well, based on time, what I want to do now is I want to switch over to our lightning round questions. Five quick questions you can answer with the first best thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?
Yeah, let's do this thing. Okay, what advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
If I will do anything differently today, I will have started a content knowledge base a lot earlier, maybe even for a large difference of the product to have like a big huge pile of potential leads from the beginning, even though we managed to get good results for the free trial and the free tool from the beginning. I think that would help a lot. And if we have started with a premium product, it's already have this potential leads coming in from beginning. And also like talk with the customer community and with the whole process and not listen to the ones that is screaming the most.
Whoa, that's a really good point. Yeah, that's tough to do, especially on the early days. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
Being persistent and oriented and having like great communication.
Yeah, communication is such a key piece of this whole thing. What was the best educational resource you recommend for learning about marketing or growth?
I am a huge Quora fan, like I spend so much time reading about like different people and different topics and literally read everything like (inaudible) writing. And then I like to read a lot for like Drift and for my content and SEO, huge fan of (inaudible). And also, watching all the videos from (inaudible). That's a good start for me.
Where was the videos from?
(inaudible)There are like EYC agency doing really good videos.
Awesome. I'll have to link that in the show notes. I have not watched them. I'll have to check it out.
Yeah, do that. They are awesome.
And what is a favorite tool you can't live without?
Can I say Albacross?
No, you can’t.
But I don't know. I think Ahrefs is amazing. Because they help a lot of intros and they’ve helped us grow organic traffic, sends a lot of communication Slack. It's awesome.
Yeah, I know Slack is one of my favorites. But definitely, a couple of good companies there we use probably use those as well. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today?
I really think Drift is doing really well in terms of like how they position themselves, how they’re talking to people. I really like their focus on like now. And the starting like video first, now and we’re thinking that's the way to do it as well, so I really like what Drift is doing.
We love Drift, too. They're a great company and amazing guests here on the podcast as well, and they will be one of our amazing speakers and guests on the SaaS Breakthrough summit in December. So excited to have them and learn from them as well. Yeah, they're amazing. They're awesome. But I just want to say, Marcus, thank you so much for jumping on with me today, sharing so much of the knowledge and the growth initiatives and experiments you've done over the past few years. Really appreciate your time today.
Thank you, David. It’s a pleasure to be here.
It was a pleasure to have you as well. Thanks so much and we'll talk to you soon.
Take care, man.
Thank you so much for tuning in to another episode of the SaaS Breakthrough podcast. Big shout out to Marcus and the entire team at Albacross, a company we know, use and adore. So, thanks for coming on and sharing so much great knowledge with us. It was really a great example of how you make that transition from that freemium to paid model and lots of good lessons learned along the way. (...)