SaaS Breakthrough – Featuring Pinja Virtanen

demio saas breakthrough featuring pinja virtanenAbout Pinja Virtanen:
Pinja Virtanen is a Content Marketing Strategist at Advance B2B, where she helps B2B SaaS companies crush their growth goals with customer-obsessed content and brand marketing.
With a background in UX design and copywriting, she’s a self-proclaimed customer research nerd who loves to steal copy and content ideas from the end-users of her customers’ SaaS products.


Show Notes:
03:05
Helping SaaS Companies Get Measurable Results From Marketing
03:50
Having The Right Kind Of Customers Is The Best Way To Prevent Churn
04:35
Starting By Really Defining What The Specific ICP Looks Like
06:35
If You Gate Some Less Than Great Content, You're Not Gonna Get Any Sales From That
07:35
Joining As The Second Member Of The International Team
09:20
The Positioning Problem With Most Companies
10:05
Breaking Through The Noise
11:00
The Trickier Side Of Referrals In SaaS
12:00
Brand Marketing Has Become More Valuable
14:00
Some Customer Segments Are Massively Overlooked
14:35
A Research System Step-by-step
18:55
Using The Actual Words And Voice Of The Customers To Say Things
21:50
The Challenges Of Setting KPIs Without Historical Data
24:10
Do Something That Your Competitors Aren't Doing
25:30
Working In 2019: Email Courses
27:40
The Case For Longer Term Content Plays That Don't Have Immediate ROI
33:45
Hard Lessons: Don't Fall In Love With A Framework, Model or Thing
38:00
Opportunities In Content Marketing: Historical Optimization
39:40
Lightning Questions
Transcript:

DA: 02:56
Hello and welcome to another episode of the SaaS podcast. Thanks for joining me today, but how you doing today?

PV: 03:02
I'm good, thanks. Really excited to do this.

DA: 03:05
Yes, I'm excited to have you as one of our future speakers also on the SaaS breakthrough podcast summit that's coming up in the beginning of December. This is going to be a great conversation and we'll go deeper on it at the summit itself, talking about a lot of the topics that we'll cover today. But really I would like to start off by just kind of talking a little bit about what your company does, what Advanced B2B does, when it was founded, who you're mostly working with and what you're trying to do uniquely in the marketplace.

PV: 03:35
We're basically a B2B growth marketing agency for B2B SaaS, tech and subscription companies. Advanced B2B was founded in 2014 and we're actually celebrating our fifth anniversary next week, even though the actual date was in September or something. But yeah.

DA: 03:51
Congratulations. That's awesome.

PV: 03:53
Thank you. And so I think what we're doing uniquely is that we really only serve this like very specific segment. And for all these companies in SaaS, basically growth isn't a customer acquisition problem. It's also a retention problem. And basically, our job as marketers isn't just to acquire like any kind of customers, like anyone with a pulse. We want to help our clients acquire these good fit customers, that can get a ton of value from the client's products and services because in the long run, having the right kind of customers is kind of the best way to prevent churn. And so that's, that's kind of our story.

DA: 04:33
Yeah, that's such a good point. I was just on a call with Jason Cohen yesterday from WP engine and he was basically giving us advice on the exact same thing that, you know, you really just gotta find the right customers that you can give the most value to and that's the best way to build like value driven companies that actually, you know, reduces churn, increases lifetime value, increases your ARR growth, all that kind of good stuff. So really well said. Does that mean that you guys start by doing like strategy sessions with these companies? Do the companies that come in and work with you already have to have well-defined ICPs? What does that look like?

PV: 05:05
So basically we do help most of our customers define their ICP. They don't necessarily know that they should have one because we work with mostly these like scale up stage companies that might have something like one or two marketers in the team. So they're just really getting started on ramping up the marketing engine. And so, I think the very first thing that we normally do in the beginning of any customer relationship is that we go in and have a big workshop with like their founders, their customer success, their sales, their marketing to really define what the specific ICP looks like. And only then we can start like interviewing those customers and like building the marketing strategy on top of that. Because if we did it, vice versa, it would be more like growth hacking where you just like kind of throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. But that doesn't really make sense in SaaS.

DA: 05:55
Yeah, it definitely doesn't. Especially when it takes some time to see like how those customers do over time. And you're like kind of comparing them. So I love the fact that you guys don't just look at acquisition, you're looking at the whole picture. So does that mean when you are building through his five year journey, building the company out? I know you kind of may have come on later and we'll ask that question in a second here, but, did you guys have to find product market fit by struggling to do the processes differently in the beginning? Meaning did you start working with companies and like go the growth hacking away and like, Oh wait, this doesn't work. We need to change our process? Or did you guys have to find where you really fit in with the SaaS B2B marketplace?

PV: 06:36
Yes. I've actually, the whole market fit thing has evolved over the years, but we never did growth hacking. What we did was more like the very traditional HubSpot school inbound marketing. And, that worked really well for about the first three years. Actually before I even joined Advanced B2B, it was like always known as this like inbound marketing agency for Nordic all businesses or something like that. But you know, like the thing people say about marketers ruining everything. Well I think that's really what happened with inbound marketing. So like every marketer started doing it and then all of a sudden you were in a situation where like all these companies without even a marketer in house would start gating all this crap and then people might download it, they might not. But the fact is that if you, if you like gait some less than great content, you are not gonna like get any sales from that.

DA: 07:35
So quality was everything. And that's what you guys kind of realized through that process. You had the marketplace kind of shifted a lot of, I wouldn't say competition maybe, but just a lot of content coming out ruining what specialized content did you guys had to kind of shift a little bit, you evolved, to really find a new niche, by the way. When did you come onto the team? You mentioned, was it about three years ago?

PV: 07:57
I came on about two years ago, so I think it was November, 2017. Yeah.

DA: 08:02
Nice. Was that already after you guys had already made that swap?

PV: 08:05
So the interesting thing was that like I started as the second member of the international team at Advanced B2B. So before then we had only really done inbound for Finnish companies and that was still like working fairly well when I joined. But, my coworker Edward, who, is the host of our podcast actually, was the only one working for the international side of the business. And he had been doing it for about a year when I joined and he had over the year realize that like traditional inbound isn't what scale of stage SaaS companies who are going international should necessarily be doing anymore. So then we were faced with this like, okay, what are we going to do? Like we work at an inbound marketing agency, but we can't do inbound necessarily to all our customers. So what do we call this thing? What are we going to offer them? So I think back then like we would do experiments with inbound and then be like, well actually you can't really get results from inbound if you don't have your positioning. Right. So then we would like take a step back with our clients and like try to position the like really do customer research and, and like all those workshops with the founder founding team and like try to figure out how to make that work.

DA: 09:18
Do you find that when you come into a lot of these companies that positioning language is often off and they may think it's right, but you find it's off based on their ICP and you have to make a lot of changes initially?

PV: 09:32
Yeah, I think, I think the problem is that most companies want to target a massive audience. Like they only care about their total addressable market and they're like, well, we can't grow fast if, if we're only like targeting a small niche. But that's, that's not true because it's so much easier to start from a niche and then build up to some, some other niche. And I think that's like they consider it risky to kind of narrow down their focus, whereas actually that's the exact thing that would save them.

DA: 10:04
Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. Kind of specializing there being unique, differentiated with content especially. So with that in mind, how have you guys maybe broke through the noise yourself? I mean, being a content agency, you're definitely up against other competing agencies and other people doing content. How do you guys break through and how have you translated that? Like strategies that have worked for you guys, to your clients as well?

PV: 10:29
Yeah, so for us still most of our customers, we're like super picky about who we take on as a customer because we only really want to work with growth seeking B2B SaaS companies. And there aren't a lot in the Nordics or even in Europe and we, we right now we work with EMIA and like East coast us companies only because we only have a team in Helsinki. And so like serving somebody in LA for instance, would be borderline impossible with the time zones.

DA: 10:57
Time zones. Yeah.

PV: 10:59
The way, the way we do it, is most of our customers actually come through either just inbound or referrals. I think I would say probably 70% of our customers come through a recommendation from an existing or previous customer.

DA: 11:14
Is that to be said that you think the best part of marketing for you guys is your product? Like the best way to market early on is the product itself.

PV: 11:24
For service companies yes cause they don't scale indefinitely. Like it's really hiring is one of our biggest bottlenecks. But when you're in SaaS that situation is completely different because like servers scale so you can, you can basically sell on as much as you want to. I think in some cases like referral loops are great if you can do something like Hotmail in the early days or Dropbox or whatever, but in B2B SaaS, that's of course a bit trickier because the person who's buying the product isn't always the person who's using it.

DA: 11:59
That's true. Yeah.

PV: 12:00
And so for content marketing in, like for our customers and for ourselves, it's, it's slightly different. So for our customers, we understand that their business model is so different than that, like what we do has too much what they're doing.

DA: 12:16
Got it. So is that mostly the inbound?

PV: 12:20
No, it's, it's, well, it's a combination because right now it depends on competition too. Like five years ago, if you started a B2B SaaS company in a niche, you probably wouldn't have that many competitors but right now they're popping off left and right. It's like you can start a SaaS company in a day, basically. You don't even have to code. And so, the situation is that I think brand marketing has become more valuable. Like if you look at what Drift has been doing, for instance, they're not, they're not like going down the traditional inbound route. They're doing the opposite. So they're like trying to get the brand through Seeking Wisdom, their podcast, through all these different channels. Like they're on social media, they're talking about it constantly, organizing events, all of that. So that's like kind of like going back to the roots of marketing, but that's only working because there's so much noise already in the markets that they had to do that. Whereas like if I was starting something that was completely new and something that I knew that people wanted, then I could maybe go down the traditional inbound route. Does that make sense?

DA: 13:31
It does. So I think that the thing that you're trying to say is when you're looking at your strategy for marketing to look at the marketplace itself, now that it's so competitive in certain niches, especially in like specific verticals and SaaS, you may have to abandon traditional inbound strategies because you're just going to be you know, in the noise with everyone else. And with that competition, customers won't know like who's different and why they're different. You need to do something that stands out.

PV: 14:02
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it also depends on the audience. Like some customer segments are like massively overlooked still. Like we just, we were working with a customer who's ideal customer profile happens to be in the finance sector and like nobody's doing interesting marketing to finance people because they're like, Oh, finance is so boring. But it's not, it's just a matter that nobody has done it interestingly before. So it's like you also, like you have to understand the market, you have to understand the competition, but then also the audience. And I think that's where like the answer lies to which approach you should adopt.

DA: 14:38
So I want to ask about kind of maybe a little bit of your research methods and how you're kind of figuring that out because I think even we struggle with that cause we're like, Hey, we're webinars. You know, we're kind of boring like the topic is so boring. And I think a lot of our competitors are very

PV: 14:54
Boring. What? No

DA: 14:56
Webinar topics I think are boring and not webinars themselves, but the topics around them. And we've struggled for a long time to find unique, cool, brand specific ideas to be unique with our identity. I think we want to break away from the mold. That is kind of like enterprise webinars and I think we've done a good job on that, but we still sometimes struggle to figure out exactly how to do it well. So what are you guys doing to kind of research these and figure out the right positioning, the right voice, the right strategy that could break through and obviously there's some experimentation in there, but is there a system that you guys kind of go through when you're talking with these customers initially?

PV: 15:36
Yeah. So let's take Demio as an example. Like let's say you were my customer now. So what I would do is I would start by asking like how many, how many customers do you have at the moment? Like looking at a list of your like MRR, ARR or whatever, figuring out which customers are the most profitable to you and not only not only in money, but also in like how much value are these customers finding from you because you want to ideally sell to customers who find your product as a must have, rather than just like a nice little lips here and there. So like, what I would do first is really look at like the hard numbers, but then also talk to like CSM and sales to find out like who the people are who find value in your product intuitively, but then also like who are kind of easy and cheap to serve.

DA: 16:32
Got it. So yeah, finding that, finding the customers that have initial product market fit, getting the most value.

PV: 16:37
Yeah, exactly. And then on the next thing I would do when I, when I know who those people are and when I can kind of like, or there might be several segments to it, it's not just say that there's one, but like you have to start finding patterns between those groups of customers. And then when you have that, you can start, collecting like one-on-one research. Like you can do interviews or surveys. I prefer like phone interviews or like zoom interviews because it's just, you can ask like more questions when they say something interesting. You can be like, are you sure you can kind of like get to their heads a bit better in a conversation than you could in a survey and so what we do is then we, if we find out that there are, okay, there are these two like two good segments of customers, but they're completely different from one another.

PV: 17:30
Then we also treat those interviews separately. So we would interview like eight people from the first segment and eight people from the second segment. You don't have to do like a million interviews. We've also found, we started, when we started doing this, we were doing far too many, but I think like you're not trying to look this like statistically valid sample anyway because we would never have time to do that. You're just trying to find out like golden nuggets that these people say. And when you start seeing, like when your research starts to get kind of saturated, like you start getting the same answers over and over again, then you kind of know that, you don't need to do anymore. But that might be three and it might be 10. Like it's not always eight,.

DA: 18:12
Right? There's no like exactly number to go by. Yeah.

PV: 18:15
So then, after that, what's best is to just like start analyzing the data to like basically I would pull it in a spreadsheet and just like to start organizing it by theme. So I would look for kind of like the reasons to buy objections these people might have during the sales process. The basically the basic job they're trying to achieve with this product, all of that. And then pull that into a messaging like the first version of the messaging deck and positioning statement and stuff like that. Not like a traditional positioning statement, but, but more like the job statement.

DA: 18:53
Do you guys do like the jobs to be done framework?

PV: 18:55
Yes.

DA: 18:56
Okay.

PV: 18:57
We used to do these like buyer personas, but then we were calling them buyer personas and they weren't really buyer personas. They weren't like managing partner Michael who's 47 drives a Volvo has two kids and a golden retriever. Like it wasn't anything like that. So calling them a buyer persona was a little bit misguided. And I think a lot of our customers were like kind of worried initially that they would get this like, blanket statement of this like completely fictitious person and be like, okay, what am I going to do with this now? So we'll be doing instead is that we just like wrap up the research in a Google doc or, or like a presentation for a month and try to make it, as like swipeable as possible. So we would include like a bunch of quotes from these actual people and like, of course we will, like what I use the most is like the actual Excel I just go in there and like copy paste things to my copy. I don't actually write it, I just copy paste. That's another secret. But,

DA: 20:02
Using the actual words and the voice of the customers to say things that that's amazing.

PV: 20:07
Oh yeah, exactly. Like that's the only way to write copy. That's the only way I know how.

DA: 20:11
And then you write around it. So you get the positioning, you get the ideas from your best customers, which I think is kind of the secret there is you're finding that the most valuable customers. And then you're going in, you're kind of creating these outlines of their copy, putting it together, you're making the positioning and making the strategy and then how you decide, you know what I think the best thing to do here now that we have our messaging is let's do a show or let's do a lead magnet or let's do a, a very large, really advanced guide that I think comes from what researching the marketplace itself too.

PV: 20:43
Yeah and to be fair, like I also always ask, I've seen all these like templates for jobs to be done, interview questions, but with most of them don't have is like questions about where do you hang out online and stuff like that. And then the good thing about doing interviews is that you can actually like stalk these people on LinkedIn and Twitter and stuff like that. Is in (inaudible) but I don't mean it in like a terrible way. I just mean that, I go actually like take a look at what they've shared. See what kind of content they interacted with, stuff like that. And based on, based on that, we kind of come up with recommendations and ideas and sometimes they fail. Like sometimes we're totally wrong. We're like, okay, so these are, these are, specialists and this and this field. And I don't think they watch webinars because they have such busy schedules, so maybe they're reading eBooks and then we make an ebook and then we realize that, okay, well we weren't totally wrong about this. And what they wanted was a video. But then like the good thing is that you only have to make the mistake once and then you learn from it. So.

DA: 21:50
When you're dealing with mediums like that, are you putting a test together and looking for specific KPIs to be successful or fail? Are you creating like an MVP version or are you just like, let's just try it and you're just, you're just writing the whole thing?

PV: 22:03
It depends on like I find it really hard to set KPIs if you don't have any historical data cause, like where do you pull that information out of? Like you can't just like whip it out of thin air. So we wouldn't necessarily like set any specific KPIs if we're doing it for the first time around and if the specific customer has never done it to the specific audience before. Cause again like it might be like, in the example I gave before you had like two customer segments. It might be that eBooks work really well for segment one, but it just totally fails on segment two. So you can't even like, unless all the variables are the same, you can't even really like prove these tests to be successful or not. That's a convoluted way of saying that. We, we just sometimes have to try things out and see if they work. Of course the less effort you can put into an experiment, the better and the more quickly you can do it, the better. But that's not always possible.

DA: 23:03
Well we started to do, and I'm not sure if you guys have done this as we would do like baseline guides like we would build out, you know, we had an idea for it. We built out like the bare minimum that it could be like, like instead of an ebook of 50 case studies, we do three case studies, design it nicely. You still have a lot of value in it. Put together the opt-ins and landing pages, run the tests and just see like are people downloading, is it worth us spending more time on it? Have you guys approached it that way or do you guys really just kind of go all in on the eBooks or lead magnets or whatever initiative you're doing?

PV: 23:35
I think it depends on what we're doing. Like if we're doing a video for instance, which we do a lot of like not as a lead magnet necessarily, unless it's like a course, like a video course thing. Let's say it's a video course. Like you can't really do an MVP on that or it doesn't make sense because you might as well like shoot the whole thing. I think it's about the production costs too with an ebook that makes total sense. I can't remember ever doing that myself, but I'm actually like looking at myself in the mirror now being like, why not? Because that's genius. So yeah, so it depends on

DA: 24:10
Why am I the way that I am?

PV: 24:12
Who am I?

DA: 24:13
So with that statement being said, it depends. And that makes total sense. With video. Have you guys seen, and again this is totally based on the type of company and the needs of that position and all that kind of stuff. So this is a very loaded question, but have you seen different types of mediums work better than others? Are there, have you seen like any types of lead magnets that have really taken off that have been uniquely positioned? Any kind of key takeaways that we can learn from? Just things you guys have done with your SaaS customers?

PV: 24:44
I think it's also a matter of like doing something that your competitors aren't doing. So, for instance, we worked on an actual physical book with one of our customers and then there are all these like virtual summits like SaaS Breakthrough for instance, that I think, are working really well right now. But it's funny because some industries just lag behind and then things like physical events work really well for like management consultants, consultants for instance, like it's hard to get them on a webinar but they will rock up to an actual physical event if you serve them breakfast. So it's it's so much to do with the audience and what the competitors are doing that it's hard to give like a straight up like cut and dry answer.

DA: 25:37
Yeah, no, I totally, I totally agree. I knew that was going to be a tough question. It's so just dependent on the marketplace, that customer base and I think the key lesson to take away with is just because your competitor is doing something, it's probably a good reason not to do that. Even if it's working for them. Try to find something they're not doing.

PV: 25:53
Yeah. Unless you can do it better than the competitor, unless you're like, you're recognizing like a clear flaw in what they're doing. And actually now that we're talking about this, I can come up with one thing that has been working pretty universally in 2019 and that's these like email courses. So it's like a five steps, four or five days to better customer experience or something like that. And it's funny cause it's so simple and you don't have to use like a lot of re design resources. You just have to write the thing and send it like on five consecutive days. But the reason why it works is that because it's email, you have to gate it. Like there's no other alternative. But then it's also like I've seen, I like actually subscribed to a bunch of those and they're all good. Like I think by splitting it into five smaller sections you get more value than like trying to write this like massive 30 page ebook or something.

DA: 26:48
Yeah. I think marketing is so cyclical too. I mean, those kinds of daily guides have been around for what, 10 years since email has really, you know, and it's funny how these different strategies work and like you said, marketers overuse them. Then they go by the wayside and then they come back because they're not being used as much anymore. And then in probably a year they're going to be used a ton and the next thing is going to be out and keeps going down that pathway. And so again, I just keep hearing from what you're saying is just, you know, make sure you're understanding where you are in your marketplace, what the competitors are doing. What they're not doing and trying to find ways to add value uniquely for your customers and clients in ways that they would actually like it like and talking to them to learn what they would like and what they wouldn't.

PV: 27:39
Yeah, exactly.

DA: 27:40
That's fantastic. Now you guys are also, you mentioned this before, you said your coworkers doing a podcast, how has that been working for you? That's, that's inbound in a lot of ways, right? How does that work for you guys? How does that fit content strategy and is that something you've started to recommend to customers, clients, like other types of medium specific inbound marketing?

PV: 28:02
Yeah, so so our podcast was actually originally more of an awareness building and brand marketing move more than anything because back when Edward started at, he was the only person in the international side of the business. And so we needed to like gain traction to the in the SaaS audience and we really wanted to do something that would provide a lot of value and also would be like fairly easy to kind of produce cause it really like it takes him an hour to record each episode. Of course he has to plan for the questions and do all the scheduling and stuff like that. But it's still a fairly cost effective way of getting really, really valuable content out. And, and so originally it was just a matter of like getting the name Advanced B2B out there. But I think like as you said, it has kind of evolved into this like lead generation move as well because actually we closed our first podcast generated customer this fall like 3 years into the podcast. Mind you. So it wasn't like a quick thing. It wasn't, we always knew that it was going to take, take a while, but it's now it's working and every time we like go to inbound in Boston and meet people there, they're like, Oh, I know that podcast. Like nobody would know Advanced B2B without it. So it's, it's definitely been working for us.

DA: 29:27
That's awesome to hear. I love those like longer term content plays that don't have immediate ROI but are critically important to your brand and Wistia's episode on the SaaS Breakthrough podcast here talked a lot about that and talk a ton about that. My question to you is when you're talking to these SaaS companies, you're talking to leadership or marketing leaders, how do you guys convey the importance of doing something that doesn't have immediate ROI? For us, we did the same thing. Obviously we're doing a podcast like this too, knowing it's going to take time. And we are okay with that because we did the same thing. We want brand awareness, you know, overall, you know, marketplace, you know, awareness to go higher for us. How do you convey that to them and make it worthwhile for them to invest in things that won't have immediate ROI?

PV: 30:19
I think it's a balancing act to like some of our customers, like when they're still prospects, they come to us like saying like, okay, it's Q4 and we need these and these many leads and these and these many SQL, these and these many opportunities within the next three months. Can you deliver? And we're at that point we're always like, okay, hold on, hold on. So who like, do you know what your ICP is? First of all, like we said, do you know like what you're selling to these people? Like what you should actually call the product. And like if they're like we know and if we can validate that, then we might start like working on those like short term things. But I think even then like you should always, always like kind of balance the longer term activities with like the shorter term ones.

PV: 31:07
So like I think Demio is a great example again because you're doing the, you're doing this podcast, which is a more longer term move and you're recording this, I don't know how many times a month, but like a lot, right?

DA: 31:21
A good number.

PV: 31:22
A good number. So you're doing this constantly and you're like not planning on stopping it anytime soon. Right. And then at the same time you have this like virtual summit, which has a date and so you're not going to get any like leads after the actual summit day is over. So I think it's always like you should work on both things at the same time. And I think that's what, what sometimes is a hard sell, especially as founders, I think marketers have started understanding that, especially if they're fighting for, attention and they're like specific marketplaces. But I think with founders it's sometimes a harder sell. And the problem also is that when you're trying to do brand marketing, it really helps to have somebody from the, like a C level person doing the brand marketing with you. Or for you to get that like thought leadership going because they just like have more authority than somebody who's working in marketing who might have three years of experience or something.

DA: 32:21
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense actually. Yeah, I totally love the idea of having C-level in there and I guess that's buying from the company itself. Like these are the values that they have and they're already in a place where they're, they're ready to invest in that. And I think in our last episode with Albacross, you know Marcus mentioned something really interesting, you know he said at first they were just really focus on the number of leads and they open their product to be free and they just wanted a bunch of leads to come in cause I thought they couldn't convert them. But that was like a very painful process and they shifted their mindset to being like we can have less quality leads or no less leads that are more quality, do have better customers and actually build a real business that way. And I think there's oftentimes we can fall in love with like the idea of just quick, immediate results in numbers on paper and it really has to go back to the long term strategy and the balance of like you said, short term and long term together.

PV: 33:13
Yeah, exactly.

DA: 33:14
Awesome.

PV: 33:14
Exactly. And then like think about yourself right now. If you were only spending time on the virtual summit then what would you do after it's over? Like you'd have to start from scratch and like just like scurried together like a new campaign basically. But if you're doing the long term thing too, that also like place you some time, usually with the business too you will get some like leads from the brand marketing, not as many as you would from like a more aggressive type of marketing, but you will still like get a solid stream of them over time.

DA: 33:47
Exactly. Totally. And what about looking over the past, maybe year this, this year is almost over, which is crazy, but looking over maybe the past year, any initiatives, campaigns, things you've done with amazing SaaS companies that maybe didn't work out the way you expected, missed opportunities, but things that you learned from?

PV: 34:07
Yeah, so there is, there's like a ton I could do a whole episode of things that I've tried that didn't go as planned.

PV: 34:16
Perfect.

DA: 34:17
But I think a big thing that we did was that we would like, I think it was early this year or maybe late last year, but we kind of like collectively fell in love with, I don't know if you're familiar with , HubSpot like topic cluster thinking? So like it's, it's basically an SEO framework that's saying that instead of targeting individual long tail keywords, you should focus on like, shorter core, core terms and then build clusters of content around those. And

DA: 34:50
We tried it this year too. Yeah.

PV: 34:52
How, how, how did it go?

DA: 34:54
It didn't worked great for us. I mean I think that we have a lot of work to do on our SEO plan in general, but we definitely started on it. And so what I felt like as we started forcing content into clusters and it felt weird a little bit instead of trying to create content that was valuable.

PV: 35:08
So I did exactly the same thing except for like I screwed up in a bunch of different ways too. So for the first cluster I built was like immensely successful and like everybody at Advance was like, Oh my God, what are you doing? How did you do that? But the thing was that we did it for an fairly unknown scale upstage company with a specific category that was already like kind of gaining traction but there was not a lot of competition and we did like, it was a good term to target at that point because the number of like the volume of searches was increasing, but there was not a lot of competition. And like if we know something, we know how to produce good content on basically any given topic. So like we got that ranking. It's still ranking number one, like there's a bunch of traffic coming for that still.

PV: 35:56
But then like after that we kind of just collectively fell in love with the topic cluster model and like started producing content. Like I did a ridiculous thing for the same customer. I did a cluster around something like organizational transformation or something like that. Do you know how many searches that gets a month? Do you know like how much the competition is like incredible. Like of course I can't rank for that. I like knew that but then didn't trying to think about how much work it would be to get that ranking. And again, like not even, I could probably get it ranking had we not like killed it, but the actual search term has nothing to do with the customer's product anymore. It's like far too top of the funnel to actually bring any good traffic. And so like why was I doing it? I do not know and I like still regret it to this day.

DA: 36:53
I mean always when you look back on those, it's always topics you feel like you missed a lot time and effort. But I think that the takeaway there, just kind of listening is just because something works for someone else or works for you in the past you do have to take a moment and you know, reanalyze is this going to work for this specific item, this specific initiative, what's the competition looking like? Is this worth it? And sometimes because time is your most valuable asset, you know the answer is no, but I think that's a lesson we all learn, especially with SEO and content.

PV: 37:27
Yeah, exactly. And there's like, we still have a couple of like cluster pieces, like the longer tail keywords from that cluster are ranking really well and they're actually more closer to the search. Like the buying intent. So like it, it wasn't wasted and I'm not, I'm not like being too harsh on myself, but I'm also like don't fall in love with a framework or a model or a thing. Just like actually think about the business end, what you're trying to do rather than falling in love with something and thinking of it as like this quick win, like an easy thing to do.

DA: 38:03
That's an amazing insight. I love that. That's really well said. And I guess kind of looking forward literally I think there's like 35 business days in the year or something, crazy I know and all the work we have left to do, it's crazy. But looking forward, anything stand out from the content realm that gets you excited for the end of the year? Maybe even getting into 2020, maybe new opportunities in content marketing?

PV: 38:28
Yeah, so I think I've actually like gotten back to my roots a lot this year. And the thing that has been working really well for me is like historical optimization because the thing is that these companies that I work with have existed anywhere from three to 10 years and they've published, you can only imagine how much content in that time they're like, their websites are like swimming in blog posts. But the thing is that not all of them are great. And so I've seen amazing results just by like pruning blogs and like killing things that are not working, optimizing existing content for search, combining separate blog posts into these bigger like pillar pages or guides or whatever that are just sitting there on gated, on the site. And then like using those to convert customers into, subscribers or maybe use the lead magnet or depending on the piece of content, obviously. But I think it's funny like to talk about content trends because the big trend that I'm seeing right now is like actually cleaning up. Like it's, it's terrible to call that a trend, but it's working. So I'm doing it.

DA: 39:37
Yeah. I've actually heard a lot of guests on here talk about that. Just kind of going through, keeping content updated, re-reviewing keyword terms, making optimizations to the pages, exactly what you're talking about. So I think that's a great, great point. It's easy to just focus on the new new and not go back through and, and clean up what you have. But awesome. Great answer. Based on time here, what I wanna do is switch over to our lightning round questions. Just five quick questions that you can answer with the best first thought that comes to mind. You want to get started?

PV: 40:07
Yes, I'm ready.

DA: 40:07
All right, you're going to do great. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?

PV: 40:16
The one thing I would say is like actually get out of the building. Like don't spend too much time sitting in a meeting room with your team trying to figure out what your customers want but actually like go out and talk to those customers. And like I think if I started a SaaS company myself today, I would start it from an audience segment rather than a product. I would figure out like who I want to build for before I figure out what I want to build.

DA: 40:38
Looking back on our own journey, I would say that as an incredible lesson, something that we learned and very great advice. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?

PV: 40:51
Can I say, can I say two? I'm feeling greedy. Okay. So the first one, because I come from a content background, so I'm going to say the first one is copywriting. Because today and like in 2020 and beyond, there are so many things that you can automate, but I don't think writing really great copy and doing it based on customer research is one of those things. Of course, I already said that I copy and paste my copy. So maybe, maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's, maybe the most important thing that marketers should, spend some time on. And then the other thing is learning, which I know is kind of a meta answer in a way, but because these things change quickly and there's always going to be new technologies. There's always going to be like new algorithm updates on Google and whatnot. So what you need to do is learn faster than your competitors are learning.

DA: 41:45
Yeah, I love that kind of goes back to your other point being that like you can't fall in love with frameworks because they change so fast too. So you have to be fluid and not like functional. And just like try to stick everything in that foundation.

PV: 41:57
Don't fall in love with anything. Basically unlearn things.

DA: 42:00
Yeah. Constantly changing. Yeah, I like that. Unlearn things. What about a best educational resource you recommend for learning about marketing?

PV: 42:09
I love Forget the funnel. I think I like, can't believe why (inaudible) are not charging for it. Like I don't understand. It's so good.

DA: 42:17
Yeah, it's a great show. l love that one. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?

PV: 42:22
I have like, I would want to say Slack, but I think actually it's Trello because as a consultant I work with five or six clients at a time and if I didn't have Trello, I don't think I would get anything done. I would just like be here sitting on Slack all day talking to my coworkers rather than actually getting work done. So. Trello for sure.

DA: 42:44
Yeah. Trello is awesome. Big fan of Trello. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today?

PV: 42:52
I love Churn Buster. I don't know if you've subscribed to their email, but, it's actually hilarious. It's Kristen LaFrancis doing like an a major, amazing job with the email and like I can't get enough of it even though like it's for DTC brands mostly, but I'm still subscribing to it because I love it. So good.

DA: 43:15
Is it mostly around the humor that you like or like how they've decided to angle their copy?

PV: 43:19
It is just so human, like it's, it's the humor. She uses a lot of like gifts and pictures of her dogs and like all these weird things that like you would not associate it with like traditional B2B enterprise marketing at all. And it's not enterprise, it's SaaS, but like it's the kind of like very human thing that you don't see from a lot of brands today still.

DA: 43:41
Yeah, I think that's what we're trying to figure out how to be also that very human brand in webinar. So we'll have to check it out. That sounds amazing. And I just want to say thank you so much for coming on the show. Sharing your knowledge, things that are working. It's a crazy growing SaaS B2B marketplace right now. And you guys are doing some amazing things, but you know, you taught me some good lessons as well, and lots of great insights. So thank you again for jumping on the show with me., and have a great rest of your day and we'll talk to you soon.

Resources:
Learn More About Advance B2B:
https://www.advanceb2b.com/
Connect With Pinja:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/pinjavirtanen/
Follow along on Our Journey to $100k MRR
A shaky start? No doubt. Yet, three years later, we've got our eyes set on $100k MRR. We'll be sharing everything along the way.