SaaS Breakthrough – Featuring Ryan Bonnici

demio saas breakthrough featuring ryan bonniciAbout Ryan Bonnici:

Ryan Bonnici is the Chief Marketing Officer of G2 Crowd, where he’s driving growth of the world’s leading B2B technology review platform that’s helping more than 1.5 million business professionals make informed purchasing decisions every single month.

With previous positions leading global marketing at HubSpot, Salesforce, and ExactTarget, Ryan’s marketing and SaaS expertise has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and LifeHacker.


Show Notes:
04:20
Creating Access to Unbiased Trusted Data From Actual Users
06:40
Differentiators: Size and Not Pay to Play
08:15
Joining G2 Coming From HubSpot
11:45
Building an Amazing and Strong Marketing Team
13:15
Building Traffic and Demand Gen Funnel and Team
14:20
What The First 120 Days Looked Like
16:35
Hitting Big Traffic Goals With Really Strong Content Team
19:20
Experiments: Inputs and Outputs
21:10
Mistake To Avoid When Selecting Content to Create
22:20
Content Strategy: Hubs and Spokes
25:50
A System for Content Tracking
27:40
10,000 Words Content vs Quick Win Content
29:50
The 6,000 Dollars Marketing Experiment
36:45
Don't Try This at Home Without These
38:10
Nurturing Top of Funnel Leads
43:00
Next: Doubling Down Further On Content
45:35
Lightning Questions
Transcript:

DA: 02:55
Hey Ryan, thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. Truly appreciate you taking some time out of that crazy busy schedule I know you have. How are you doing today?

RB: 03:05
I'm doing really well, David. Yeah. Can't complain. It is. it's summer in Chicago at the moment there isn't snow, so I'm really happy.

DA: 03:13
I heard summer in Chicago is a time to be there. It's a cool city though.

RB: 03:17
It's a really cool city. I've been here living for about a year and a half. This was my second winter and, yeah, let's just say that like, they're really long hair in Chicago, so the summers are really very much needed.

DA: 03:30
What did they say, like 60 days of summer or something like that?

RB: 03:33
I don't really know. That's a good question. I want to say maybe like a little longer than that, about four months of summer and then just, you know, eight months of winter.

DA: 03:42
Oh man, it sounds brutal. I'm from the south, like Arizona and Florida, so I don't know what winters are like, I'm okay not knowing that, but that's awesome. Did you move to Chicago for G2 Crowd?

RB: 03:53
I did, yeah. I was living in Boston beforehand, when I was working with HubSpot. And then before that, obviously you can probably tell from my accent was living in Australia. That's where I was born and raised. So up until about two and a half years ago, I also was kind of oblivious to a real winter. And, I don't know, let's just say like, I think I have a couple more in me. but then I'll have to reevaluate. Yeah.

DA: 04:19
That's awesome. So you got an offer over at G2 Crowd, but for those of our audience who don't know, you know, maybe they're living under a rock, don't know G2 Crowd yet. Maybe explain a little bit about what you guys are doing over there. More about the company, when it was founded, who the customer basis is and you're specifically trying to do uniquely in the marketplace?

RB: 04:38
Yeah, sure thing. So we were founded in 2012, and back when G2 Crowd was founded, it was basically driven off this idea that our founders felt like, and still feel like the analyst's model is broken. So, you know, this idea of kind of analysts sitting up at the top of ivory towers deciding, you know, what CRM, email marketing tools, et cetera, is the best for everyone. A, is like a pay to play model that doesn't really scale and isn't affordable for smaller companies. And also, you know, every business is different. So the best, you know, accounting software for one company may not be the best for another company. So that was really what drove what drove G2 Crowd I guess formation was just this idea that people needed access to unbiased trusted data from people that actually were using different software platforms. So I'm not sure kind of the exact number of different software platforms that existed when G2 was founded back in 2012 but today we have something like more than 80,000 different software products on G2.com. You know, we're getting close to a million verified reviews on the site. And there's something like, gosh, I want to say 1500 different software categories. So accounting being one category, CRM being one category, email marketing and other social other, there's obviously, you know, thousands more than that. And so yeah, the site kind of like really just makes it easy for millions of buyers every month to work out what is the best offer for their company. So yeah, millions of people come to G2.com every month and they'll input a few things about themselves. So what size of company they are in, what their challenges, you know, it might be they need to grow their leads or they need to increase the organizational efficiency or whatever that thing is. And then G2 helps recommend the best product for them based off reviews from other companies in similar situations as them, completely free for everyone to use. So yeah, that's kind of the background.

DA: 06:39
That's amazing. How did you find your unique place? There are some other competitors out there that kind of do that kind of crowd sourcing of reviews. Where does G2 Crowd really stand out uniquely?

RB: 06:48
Yeah, there's a few parts I guess. So G2 is one of the first, I think if not the first, sort of to start in the software reviews space. And so fortunately because of that we have the largest volume and the deepest quality of reviews im the space. So I'd say that's probably one of the biggest differentiators for us is the sheer depth and breadth of the reviews for all of those different types of products. And then the other really sort of key thing I think is that our platform isn't pay to play. So, you know, if you're a buyer and you're on one of our competitors' sites, most of the time you won't realize that the list that you're actually looking at. So if you're looking at the best CRM software, that's actually, a pay to play list still today so people can bid at an auction for a lot of our competitors. Similar to kind of like the Google model in the sense of, you know, the three results at the top are ads and everything else isn't. But you know, it's not so clear with some of our competitors that the top 10 or the top 50 results are paid. So, there's a quite a bit of misinformation and buyers will end up buying tools that aren't right for them. And we hear a lot of this from people that have actually been in that situation and then they realized that they bought what they thought was the best product for them, but actually it was just the company that was spending the most money on position one that day. And so then they come to G2. So, yeah, I think there's a lot of ways we differentiate.

DA: 08:15
It makes a lot of sense. I know exactly the companies that you're talking about there. When did you actually join the team? You mentioned you were at HubSpot prior over in Boston. Why join the team? What were you looking for? Like a change or what kind of thing sucked you in there?

RB: 08:29
Yeah, that's a good question. I mean it was a few things. So I was always obviously really familiar with G2, you know, well before joining the team. You know, being a software marketer, for almost my entire career for the last decade, was very familiar with the G2 of the world as well as the other analyst businesses out there. So it was really familiar with that. Obviously use G2 myself as a customer to buy software. But I also use G2 whenever I was looking at companies that I wanted to potentially work for so that when I was at Salesforce and I moved to HubSpot, the two sorts of online review as platforms I always go to are GlassDoor to see what the employee culture is like. And then I always go to G2 to see what the product is like, because ultimately if the company has a great company culture but it doesn't have a great product, then revenue won't be coming in for a whole lot longer.

RB: 09:23
And then that company culture will eventually break. Like it's, it's inevitable. So was already always really familiar with the marketplace and the platform. And it wasn't until, gosh, maybe about a year before I actually made the decision to jump, but, that one of my ex bosses, who was the CMO at ExactTarget, his name's Tim Carbon. Awesome dude who's on the board of G2 touch base with me and said that, yeah, they were looking for a marketing leader. And yeah, and you know, I connected with the G2 team thought they had an amazing product and amazing leadership team who has sold multiple companies to the likes of Oracle and Salesforce. So definitely knew what they were doing. The things just weren't really at the stage for me at HubSpot where I felt like I could leave, had just taken on a new role running global digital marketing with like social and PR and a few other things rolling up into it and really want it to give that a go. And, you know, long story short for me, when I moved from Australia to Boston with HubSpot, you know, it was an amazing opportunity and I'm so thankful for my boss, Kip, who was the CMO there for giving me an opportunity and I just literally cannot say more positive things about HubSpot because I, I just love the business and the leadership. But yeah, when I moved out there, my role changed, you know, and, I wanted that at the time. But what I didn't realize was when I was always in regions, so in Australia running marketing for Eight Pack, I really loved how, you know, I was functioning as a CMO in the sense of my team ran PR, ran (inaudible) ran social in region, they ran email, they run blogging. It was like a full stack marketing team. And when I moved to the US you know, I wanted a global role, but that also meant more specialization in terms of what I was doing and I was less connected to revenue. And I think that was just something for me is like a marketer where I get, I think, you know, pride at work from it. I love to be able to see the impact that my work and my team's work is having on the bottom line. And so when I moved to this kind of more top of funnel, softer brand campaigns, social stuff at HubSpot in that last role, I really enjoyed that element of it, but not having the revenue component just was lacking for me. And so, yeah, when kind of things sort of got to the right place with G2, it felt like it made sense for me to move and to kind of step on up to that global CMO role, which I kind of was working towards my career.

DA: 11:46
Makes sense. So you got that CMO role, you get that offering, they reach out for an opening in leadership. What was the biggest challenge going on over there? What were you actually being brought into to help manage?

RB: 11:59
Yeah, good question. I mean, I think with any sort of fast growth business, I often find that marketing is one of the least understood business functions. And I think that was definitely the case at G2. So, you know, when I joined they really, a marketing kind of was this was this small organization that really hadn't been invested in all that much. And I think the team didn't really know how to leverage marketing and there wasn't a, a marketing leader running the team when I joined. So you have like a lot of really smart, you know, young, agile marketers that wanted to drive impact, but then they didn't really have someone that was able to kind of set the focus, set the strategy and kind of really help build their rapport and their kind of function within the company. So, you know, the few things that the board asked me to do when I joined was, you know, firstly, you know, build a really amazing and a really strong marketing team. And I think the board would agree that we've done that. So on the last year and a half, the team went from about five marketers to about 60 marketers now, which is pretty crazy. Yeah, thanks. I really am really proud of, where the team is now. And I think the business is too, and we've got just an amazing team of marketers now. So that was kind of like one of the big sort of rocks they asked me to build and focus on.

RB: 13:18
And then the other two were really much more focused around business results. So, you know, for us we're a marketplace, right? So as I mentioned earlier, we have millions of businesses, you know, and employees at those businesses coming to G2.com every month to find software. So, you know, for our marketplace to work, I not only need to increase the number of buyers, those visitors, those millions of people coming to the site every month. But then I also need to be able to make sure that our sales team can sell the value of why vendors should work with us, why they should have a profile on G2, why they should reply to different reviews they're getting on the site. And so yeah, focusing on building traffic was sort of one of the most important things I needed to do alongside building the team. And then also building that demand gen team and that demand gen funnel for our, our own sales teams. So that you know, they could drive demand and drive revenue for the business. So that was sort of, yeah, the three core areas of my focus when I first joined.

DA: 14:21
That's challenging. So you're coming into a new role, a higher leadership role. You have three major areas to attack, you know, what does that first 120 days looks like? You know what, what does that look like when you're trying to come in? You have to I guess figure out the product and all the ins and outs. Is there a specific strategy that you tried to implement when you're like you're coming in and setting up?

RB: 14:41
Yeah, I mean gosh, I think for me, you know building the team was something that I just knew like would, was one of those things that was super important that could easily become like a back burner item because you know, you don't really, the board at the end of the day doesn't care if I don't build a team like they ultimately care about if I hit my goals, which with relation to traffic and revenue. And so I think I knew that like, because there would be a lot of pressure on those two goals, I wouldn't be as kind of focused or they wouldn't be I guess like a foot up my butt, like making me focus on hiring the team. And so I think I had to be pretty diligent about making sure every day I was spending a good few hours recruiting and finding great candidates for roles. Because if I didn't do that then, you know, six months or more down the track, I'd, I'd be in a situation where we, we started to move the metrics, but then I didn't have the team to support scaling those metrics at a faster rate. So that was, I guess one thing that I thought about pretty quickly.

RB: 15:44
But then I think the other for me was more so just like rolling out some pretty basic playbooks around content to help us start to grow traffic as well as rolling out, you know, a pretty standard demand gen field marketing playbook to help our sales team close deals faster. So, you know, I think, you know, we started kind of crawling with, with those items and walking and then running. And I think now we're kind of like, we're sprinting in a marathon at the moment. Like we've got, you know, a really amazing team. All cylinders are firing and you know, we're hitting all of our goals and the goals that we were set with weren't small, so, so yeah, it was, it was a nice feeling to finally get there. But you know, I think I was really fortunate to have some pretty strong playbooks from my time at HubSpot and Salesforce and ExactTarget and, and even Microsoft to lean on to help me hit those goals quite quickly.

DA: 16:36
I love it. Congratulations. That's a lot of hard work a lot of time, like you said, crawling, walking, running, sprinting. So fantastic job. So I guess from where you started kind of coming and getting everything going to, to where you are now, you're sprinting, things are working. If you look back and you look back over that whole time, is there a major marketing experiments that you've been most proud of? Anything that really stood out to you as like, man that really exceeded our goal?

RB: 17:04
Gosh, I mean I think there's, there were a few. I mean I think for me, once we hit our traffic goal at the end of the last fiscal year for us was a pretty big, I don't know, it was a pretty big milestone to accomplish. And the reason being was that part of the reason why traffic was something that the board wanted me to focus on was because traffic had been predominantly flat the year before I joined. You know, so G2 had grown really, really quickly and then, you know, as we sort of touched on earlier, a bunch of competitors, so they came into this space that are doing a lot of pay to play tactics and some sort of shady tactics even from an SEO perspective that we just categorically weren't going down the route of doing. So that, that, the traffic, the G2 is getting in 2017 was it was quite a little bit lower or just flat out then the growth rate it was at previously. So, you know, I think when I stood in front of the board at the start of 2018 and said, you know, we're going to 2x traffic growth, you know, that was something that they kind of, you know, we're excited to hear. But I think also didn't totally believe because, you know, it wasn't like we were, you know, things were growing at a really nice rate and I could just, you know, continue on the same trajectory and things would double, you know, things were kind of headed in the opposite direction. And so, you know, I think we spent a lot of time, and we focus a lot of headcount hiring on building a really strong content team. And so, you know, now we're publishing, gosh, I want to say like two dozen different pieces of content every week almost for our learning hub, which is driving millions of visitors to our site now. And that's, you know, something that we only launched about six months ago. So to see something, you know, this new property, it's a subdomain learn.g2.com to see that go from, you know, zero visitors a month, which for our blog to now, you know, millions a month, and that's growing at something like 20 to 30% month on month, was, was pretty remarkable to see.

DA: 19:08
That's insane. When you sit down, there's like so many different experiments to run content. There's a bunch of different things to do. But you said you had a playbook already from HubSpot. You know, what was your hypothesis coming in saying, hey, we're going to build, you know, this content center. I think we're going to double down on it. Here's what my hypothesis is on what we can actually generate. Here are the KPIs we're going to review. How do you pick that experiment out of all the different playbooks that you can take?

RB: 19:33
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I kind of was really fortunate to work pretty closely with the COO at HubSpot and he's a guy called Jay D. Sherman who just was like, you know, the most fascinating dude ever. And he used to always talk about, you know, every problem, in business and a life ultimately relates to inputs and outputs. And you know, so for me, right, if the, if the output that I was working towards was increasing traffic, there was, you know, very few set of inputs that I could work with, right? Like I could look at different distribution channels, you know, looking at advertising, you know, doing a lot of different things. I think for me and my experience at HubSpot kind of showed me that content and content when done right, is really the most sustainable and like, and this is a bit counterintuitive, but it's like the fastest growth sort of strategy that you can do if you want to drive traffic in the long run, right? Like, it might not be the fastest in the short term, you know, advertising and pay will always drive traffic much more quickly, but, then, you know, it, it dies off once you start paying daddy Google. And, and so, you know, for us, we really wanted to focus on building sustainable content that we owned on our own assets so that, you know, we could drive traffic from them in evergreen, organic manner. So I think we kind of knew that pretty quickly from the get go that that was where we wanted to focus. And I think why I said earlier that, you know, it was a pretty basic playbook is that, you know, it's basic in the sense that, you know, everyone sort of knows, I think that they should be doing content marketing or blogging or whatever you want to call it.

RB: 21:09
But I think most people make a mistake when they're actually selecting the content that they're going to create it around. And so they can't really do a good job at forecasting the impact on traffic and, and they can't necessarily guarantee that they'll drive much traffic. And a lot of that comes down to is that I think just most people don't really understand how to do content and blogging in a way that will drive results on Google. And the reason for that is ultimately that there's, you know, a lot of people from journalistic sort of comms backgrounds that are brilliant writers, but they actually don't really have the experience most of the time to be able to select the content topics that they should write about. So they just kind of like choose them at a whim. And, you know, that was sort of what our blogging team had been previously doing at G2. And, you know, I just, you know, I think that was the direction that they were being given that they should be doing. And so they did that. And so I think coming in and having seen, you know, some of the different ways that we grew traffic on HubSpot and at Exact Target I was able to sort of make some changes there and, and build a, you know, a playbook that's scaled traffic for us really quickly.

DA: 22:20
Is that primarily using like a silo SEO approach so you guys are picking your primary keywords, outside keywords that you want, like long tail keywords that you want to relate to that primary one and then coming up with like creative topics for each of those keywords? Or are you looking more in a general approach to SEO like in a different way. Cause I kind of have read a couple of articles on HubSpot, about how they've done that kind of siloing technique and it was really good for like long term content generation.

RB: 22:47
Yes. So I think we, we take a similar approach to sort of the, the idea of content strategies of hubs and spokes. So, you know, I think we know intuitively what some of those big topics are for us. Right. And those big topics for us, it's pretty simple and that they relate to just the big software categories. So I think we're quite fortunate in that, you know, given we have, you know, tens of thousands of different products on our site and thousands of different categories, you know, we can really target any business persona that, that is out there ultimately because there's almost no function in business today that can't be supported or replaced by software. And so for us, that comes down to looking at, okay, like what are some categories of software that you know are important to us? And you know, it's no surprise that like the software platforms that are the types of software, sorry, that, that are seen in every business. So, right, CRM, email marketing, social media expense, software, accounting, software, kind of the, the fundamentals, they're often more so always our biggest categories because they relate to every single business. And then, you know, bigger businesses might get more specific in their needs and they might go into more niche categories of software. so once we kind of know those different categories at the high level, you know, I'd say we then use a bunch of different SEO and keyword research tools. So then identify what are the specific shorter tail parent terms that we want to rank for. And then what are some of the longer tail terms or mid range keywords that relate and can kind of, you know, I guess become the spokes around that parent keyword.

RB: 24:26
And so we'll then kind of assess each of these topics or these like hubs and spokes as at a higher level to say, okay, how many, how much like traffic can each of them drive in their entirety per month? What's the quality of the traffic for those hubs and spokes, like how much revenue did we generate for each of visitor for those things? And that helps us then work out like, okay, one category might have a slightly lower amount of traffic potential than another, but the other one might have 3x the amount of revenue potential. And so, you know, we're, we're not just looking at it from a monthly volume perspective. We're also factoring in revenue. And so, yeah, that was I guess how we went about doing it really. And then, you know, it took some time for our content creators who are all sort of new to get up and running with this kind of approach to selecting the topics as well as writing the right kind of content. But ultimately it's just all about kind of creating content that's better than everything else that ranks on the first page for that term right now. And if you do that right and then you build a good like link building strategy or strategy to help distribute that content and get people sharing it and linking to it, then you'll see your rankings improve quite quickly.

DA: 25:37
That's amazing. And I'll make sure that we link to that resource center as well so we can kind of explore that in, in the show notes and stuff like that as well. It's a huge lesson, obviously a great success. You guys are crushing it with that. You know, we're working here a lot on content, so I'm continually trying to understand ways to do things better and absolutely love that. I'm sure the tracking system sounds like it probably took a lot of time to set up as well.

RB: 25:59
It didn't, you know, I wouldn't say it's necessarily perfect right now to be honest. You know, we started it in Google Sheets and it worked well when there was, you know, five to 10 people on the content team. And right now we're at around, gosh, I want to say 20 people in content. So right. Like about a third of the team are writers. So because of that, I think we're starting to look at how we can build our own, maybe like internal kind of software, something just basic that can sort of connect a few different elements together because there's not really any great search slash content slash content strategy tool that helps you not only select the tools, sorry, select the keywords that you should go after, write the content, optimize the content, and then predict kind of when that traffic will, will rank and when it will reach sort of like its highest potential. And so I think as we're getting more advanced with this, were starting to realize that your Google Sheet and yes, you can, you can do a lot of like pretty smart calculations with Google and pull in, you know, different assets from different sites and whatnot. But, I think we're kinda getting to the point yeah. Now where we might need to build something ourselves. But I think we're...

DA: 27:08
Definitely share that.

RB: 27:09
Yeah, we will. We're, we're kind of doing, actually, we're trying to really be really diligent about all of the things that we're learning in scaling up outside with people externally. So, you know, I know we've got something like, I want to say like a 10,000 word piece of content coming, which is literally our entire content strategy, with all of like the kind of data and visualizations to show, like how are we grew traffic so quickly. So yeah, you'll find that on the Learning Hub when it's live in the next sort of month or two.

DA: 27:40
Do you find that outside of like the hub and spoke posts, you guys also do, those bigger articles like the 10,000 word pieces and then just drive a ton of distribution to that versus trying to distribute every single post that comes out uniquely?

RB: 27:53
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think so one of the lessons that we learned really quickly was that we sort of as we were building the Learning Hub and it wasn't a, you know, it didn't have a very strong domain authority because it was a new site. You know, it took us a while to really start to drive traffic. And I think that was a bit of an error on my behalf of, you know, I wanted the team only focusing on these really big parent terms and because we didn't have that domain authority, you know, we were creating amazing content, 10,000 word pieces on, you know, really good topics. You know, let's say the example is like social media right then 10,000 words on social media, going into everything about social media, the statistics, the different social media channels, the different strategies, et cetera. But we didn't have enough yet distribution for it to like organically start to rank given you know, a term like social media is obviously really quite competitive. And so, we found that we really had to start to focus on, you know, yes, some of the spokes almost first and then build the pillars or like kind of the hub off of each of those individuals spokes to then kind of like get traffic on the topic at the lower difficulty level and then start to focus those posts on our final post that was kind of, you know, an amalgamation of all of them together and with more information and those posts are starting to now rank more quickly for us. But, yeah, I definitely kind of, I think the lesson we learned was, you know, while the best practice is to be creating content around these really long form topics that have super high volume, high difficulty in the long term but maybe in the short term actually doing some kind of like quick win content to start to get users and visitors to site that you can then maybe convert to subscribers that the signals of that will give Google about your publication will help you in the long run. And I think we maybe underestimated that early on.

DA: 29:51
It makes a ton of sense. Always a great lesson to learn. Really good one to share. Obviously this whole thing has been a great success. Looking back though, I guess maybe through your career, even with G2 Crowd, are there any other major experiments that you are just super proud of? I know, I heard of a story I should say, that you did something crazy with about $6,000 in budget with some ridiculous outcomes. What, what was that experiment?

RB: 30:14
Yeah, so that was, that was something that, gosh, I think, you know, it was our email signature generator. It was basically sort of you know, HubSpot starting to really focus and double down on free tools. 2.0 I would say. So you know, everyone kind of I think had in the marketing industry had heard about the success that HubSpot have with marketing grader and website grader. You know, there were sort of some of the first few marketing tools out there that that helped HubSpot build a, build a database quite quickly. So you know, if anyone hasn't heard they should check it out. You know, if you got to websitegrader.com you can see it, you basically put in your email address and you know, your homepage or your, your, the main URL for your website and HubSpot has a tool then that kind of ranks your site on a bunch of different factors around SEO and mobile optimization, security and, and several others. You know, that was a super successful tool for HubSpot, which drove lots of leads for them. But I think part of like what I saw when I kind of delved into the data was that it actually wasn't doing a good job at driving net new organic leads. You know, HubSpot launched that a few years into sort of their kind of a crazy growth trajectory. And so they already had a database of millions of people. So it was easy at that point in time for their sales team and their email team to distribute that free tool to people to get them using it. But the reality was that no one actually goes to Google and searches or a very small amount of people go to Google and search grade my website, like rate my website because it's not something that they ever knew that they could do. So they naturally don't think to go to Google to search for it. So, you know, it was a great tool and it influenced a lot of sales for HubSpot, but it didn't drive net new growth. And so I was kind of like thinking about that when I was at HubSpot and you know, we were kind of coming up on a year where growth was slowing down a little bit and we had some pretty aggressive lead gen goals and revenue goals. And so, you know, part of like what I did was, and I wrote an article about this on Entrepreneur magazine, called the marketing metric that you're not measuring I think is what it was called. Which kind of breaks this down into more depth. But I basically did like a, a pretty big analysis of, you know, how successful the different content topics were for HubSpot and what, and, and my hypothesis was that, you know, we had created so much content out HubSpot around these core terms that were so connected to us like inbound marketing, email marketing, marketing automation, social media. And my hypothesis was that, you know, we had reached a ceiling with a lot of those terms whereby we will already ranking in the first position for all of those terms. So creating more net new content around those terms wasn't really helping us and if anything, it might have been cannibalizing our existing rankings. And so, you know, I basically did this, you know, in depth research, which I wrote about and screenshot it a lot in that article which showed that yes, like that there was a bunch of topics where we had kind of maxed out as much as we could on them. And I also then found through that exercise, there were a bunch of different topics that were, you know, the ceiling for them in terms of the monthly searches for certain terms was, you know, 10x 50x higher than the amount of traffic we were generating from our content around those similar topics.

RB: 33:33
And so that kind of helped kind of validate that, hey, there's probably a bunch of other topics out there today that we haven't created content around that we could, that our buyer persona is probably searching. And yes, it might not relate exactly to our core product in the sense of, you know, a marketing automation platform or a blogging platform. But it doesn't really, I think what I kind of believed was it didn't really matter as much about the content relating to our product as much as it related to us getting in front of our buyer persona in relation to whatever it was that they needed help with. Snd so, you know, if you think of, you know, HubSpot has quite a bit of success selling to new businesses, whether they're really small or kind of fast growing. And so I kind of put myself in the shoes of a business that you know, is starting out or growing quickly and I thought about what are some of the things that you have to do? You know, typically you buy a domain name for your business once you've settled on a name. And I was like, oh, you know, there's a lot of searches for that, but Godaddy obviously is pretty big in that space. And that is pretty complex obviously, right? You need to connect up to like the worldwide web in the sense of, you know, acquiring domains and that was going to be too difficult. Then we thought about like, what other things do people do? Well, they set up, you know, their email address. you know, we kind of contemplated, do we make something to help people identify what like business names are available out there, but there was going to be a lot of APIs required to check different business names on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. And then we kind of settled on this idea of like, well actually something that everyone does is, you know, once they set up their email address, they have to set up an email signature in their email address, right? So their name, their title, their company name, maybe their phone number, their email address. And so we did some research using SEM Rush and Ahrefs and basically validated that, wow, there's like, gosh, 50,000 to 100,000 people every month searching for email, signature email, signature template, email signature generator. And there was a bunch of kind of, you know, averagesque tools that they could use to build their email signatures, many of which were paid tools. And so we worked with a little agency in Sydney. And I think yeah, it costs us around 6,000 USD maybe. And yeah, created this an email signature generator, which you know, anyone listening to this can, if they Google email signature email signature generator, we'll find on the first page of Google. And what was really different about that tool was it was far less impressive than a tool like website grader. But it was far more impactful in driving net new leads to the HubSpot funnel because it was built off of a, of a topic that was validated that yes, there are lots of people searching for this term, let's create this tool and that will then get all of those people every month and lots of new people into our funnel every month. So yeah, we did that and you know, I guess a few months in, once we were ranking in the first position, you know, we were seeing anywhere from 50 to 70,000 visitors, I think, I want to say every month. And then something like 40 to 50,000 net new leads coming into the HubSpot funnel every month, completely free and organic.

RB: 36:43
So, you know, that $6,000 metric is definitely true. I like, that's all we spent on building that tool. We then I think like, I want to like, you know, share a couple of like asterisks with people maybe or some like conditional thoughts to think of if they are wanting to go down the same path is that, you know, we definitely cleaned up that tool maybe a year in internally just with our own Dev and design team and made it look a little bit nicer. But it was already so successful before them. But you know, that's obviously, you know, man hours that aren't factored for it and that 6000 number. And maybe the other thing I would suggest is that I wouldn't recommend anyone go down the path of creating a free tool, before they really have built a strong domain authority with this site first through blogging. Because, you know, those sorts of tools are typically more difficult from a ranking perspective. And, I mean, I'm sure you can find some that are really easy and if they have, you know, have difficulty under 20, maybe then you know, go right ahead. If you're starting out and you don't have much domain authority that might work for you. But if it's, you know, a difficult term and you're going to be competing with other people in the space, then it might take you quite a bit longer than it took us to get ranking in that first position because we were fortunate to have, you know, a domain authority of 91 back at the time. Which was, you know, as a result of, you know, years and years and years of content on the blog. So kind of like my two asterisks, I think just for people listening to this and thinking that they might want to do the same.

DA: 38:11
I freaking love this, this case study. So I love like engineering for growth kind of tactics there. My tactical question would be, how do you get them in the funnel? Their level of awareness is very low, right? They're coming in for a free signature tool, low level of awareness. How are you moving them and getting those unique organic, net new leads in, is it an email sequence, an in app like education? What is getting them over to that next step? You have to increase the level of awareness and get them ready for it.

RB: 38:44
Totally. Totally. And I think that's a good point. And I think that's, that was kind of one of the push back. So when I kind of pitched the idea to my boss Kip at the time as I mentioned earlier and like, you know, he didn't feel like it was a good idea that I should proceed with because of just that simple factor. I like, it doesn't really relate to them doing marketing necessarily. I mean, yes an email signature is kind of like, you know, it's marketing you, it's branding your company in that little small sense. But you know, there's a big distance between setting that up and wanting to buy HubSpot. And so I think for us it kind of came down to, you know, focusing on yes, exactly what you just said. So A it was like getting them into the right nurture tracks afterwards. So, you know, I think after they did that thing, they would then receive, you know, a link back to that site where they could, you know, go back to edit their email. We would really like lean into the virality of the email signature. So if they didn't tell us a few additional questions we ask, we would kind of print a, you know, a bit of a stamp at the bottom of their signature saying this was built with HubSpot's free email signatures generator, get yours now, which helped us, that didn't help us increase the conversion rate obviously of those people moving down the funnel, but it helped us increase the total net new volume of people at the top of the funnel, which that's the other way, obviously you can get more people to close for your business is by just opening up the top of the funnel so significantly. Even if you know, only 1% of those people convert into sales opportunities. If that total addressable market is that big, 1% can still be a lot of revenue. But then we would obviously then follow up with, you know, an email that said, hey, thanks so much for getting this (inaudible) download our ebook to see how you can use your email signature to drive more sales for your business. And then we would talk about different things there. And from that we would help them understand how to do email marketing better. And so we educated them with a few different things to help move those people through the funnel. But I think the other thing that we had, you know, working in our favor was that we, you know, obviously had a sales team of 300 plus people. And so, you know, once we were getting this information from the lead form generator, from the email signature when they filled out, that would then go into all of our standardized lead scoring models to then suggest like, hey, who is the right fit for sales to them proactively email and reach out to directly. So we know that obviously helped to drive a lot of revenue to.

DA: 41:06
Absolutely. That's a, that's a really big factor. That's awesome that you guys had that team.

RB: 41:10
But the other thing I actually should add as well is, you know, we also were then able to refer those people to other free tools that we had. Right. So after they did email signature generator and were in our system then it was like a really easy ask for them and value add to say, hey, did you know we have a free website grader that will help you work out what your website's doing well and what it could be doing better? And you know, most people then would be keen to try that out naturally because it was, you know, a value add to them. They didn't have to fill out any new forms because we had already cookied them and gotten their information. And so that then started kind of moving them down the path of that. And then once they went through that free tool, if they score badly, they would then get emails helping them with how to build a better website. And obviously HubSpot has a tool to help with that. And so, you know, I guess it's all about really kind of like pulling them into new content and new assets and then moving them through like the funnels that are specifically route relevant to those assets in my mind.

DA: 42:04
So it's demand generation all the way through, but really you found an amazing top of funnel item that just brought you a crap ton of new leads that you can then just really nurture through the process.

RB: 42:18
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, and if anyone wants to, you know, see that obviously, you know, I'll send you the link so you can see it in the, in the show notes. But if you just Google, I think, you know, the world's most effective B2B marketing campaign. I wrote a pretty big blog post on it with all of the screenshots of like the data and the results and the lead gen and revenue and stuff to help people at least see how they could maybe do this. And I kind of also walked them through, I think some examples of how they might ideate a certain kind of tool for their own industry or in business.

DA: 42:50
I love it. Absolutely. We'll put that in the show notes as well as the HubSpot website grader and you know, the SEO Strategy we talked about in your resource center. So that's fantastic. And I guess looking forward with G2 Crowd, now that you have your full team assembled, you guys are sprinting, what do you see changing in marketing for you guys? Like is there something changing in the space itself or are you guys going to just going to continue to double down on content?

RB: 43:16
Yeah, good question. I mean, so for us at the moment where we're definitely doubling down further on content just because it's been working so well for us. And I think part of, part of what that means for us is now how do we look at improving conversion rates of you know visitors to leads, leads to opportunities, et cetera. Because I think sometimes when people build, build content assets, they over index on the conversion of those assets. So they'll basically try and put popups everywhere and sales offers everywhere. And that kind of I think stifles the organic growth of those tools and those assets early on. And so I'm always a big advocate for like pushing it back against the business and saying, hey, we don't want to kind of like turn on conversion too quickly only because it will potentially slow down growth. But I think we're at the stage now where we, we definitely can turn on those conversions. So I think for us, the team now is, on the content side anyways with regard to the marketplace in the buyer's side of the marketplace is really focused on how do we, yes start to convert those people more into like known contacts, how do we get them to become, you know, fans and advocates for our learning hub so that they are sharing our content more regularly. They're coming back to our site, often they're bookmarking us. So you know, that means using a bunch of different, you know, social technologies and messenger subscription technologies and in app subscription tools. And so that's sort of really, I think where the team is focused on that side. And then on, you know, the demand gen sales side of the house where, you know, which is the other side of our marketplace, the team there right now is really focused on how do we build really strong predictive lead models that will help sales workout you know, how engage a certain accounts, certain people within those accounts and how can they more proactively reach out to people at the right time.

DA: 45:14
It's exciting. It sounds like a lot of optimization, a lot of expansion on the opportunities that you guys have. But this is kind of the fun part. Now you have so many systems in place, you got the team together, you've got the rock stars, you're ready to go. So that's, that's really exciting and congratulations on the hard work and the effort that you put in to get here. So I'm just really excited to see.

RB: 45:32
I appreciate it. Cheers mate, yeah, it's been fun.

DA: 45:35
Well that's awesome. Well, what I want to do now just for sake of time is flip over to our 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? Do you wanna do it?

RB: 45:47
Yeah let's do it.

DA: 45:47
Awesome. Let's do it. All right. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?

RB: 45:56
Gosh, good question. You know, I think early on, you need to focus definitely on really strong all rounders would be kind of like my first pro tip, focus on all rounders. People that can do a lot of different things that are really smart. I would say like don't focus too quickly on kind of like the easy win channels in marketing, like paid. And I'd say start to like focus on the sustainable elements of your strategies so content. And I think the third thing I'd say is like for early stage companies, I think they should spend more time thinking about kind of product marketing and messaging than they probably realize that they should spend because that's one of those things that can be easy to forget when they focus so much on demand early on. But oftentimes, I don't know, I think can just become a bit more of a problem later on if not addressed sooner.

DA: 46:43
For sure. Building a pipeline and not having enough product fit it's tough. Awesome. What marketing skill do you think is vital for teams to improve and build on today?

RB: 46:56
Gosh. I mean I always look for when I'm like hiring people, like folks who have a growth mindset. So, you know, ideally they've grown something before, it could be they've grown their Instagram followers or they've grown the amount of views on their Quora account and posts. I think just like people, like with a mindset for growth, is really key because it means that they, they know how to kind of like interrogate data and, and work our strategies that are aligned to that. I think the other kind of skill that's pretty key in marketing today is around content creation and ideation and working out what content will work best. And that's not just important for them from a marketing strategy perspective. I think it's important for their company to be able to build, you know, a content and sharing culture whereby sales reps are creating content about their learnings, which might help attract like their buyers. The CEO is creating content which will help, you know, their employees understand who they are, how they make decisions, et cetera. I think content and, you know, writing skills is something that, that I think, you know, you can never spend enough time on.

DA: 48:02
That was a phenomenal answer. Great job. What about a best resource you'd recommend for marketing?

RB: 48:08
Oh, good question. I really love... So there's a book that I love that, any, any like really great marketer in my opinion has read it and it's called trust me I'm lying. And it's a book by, Ryan. Yeah, Ryan Holiday and it's definitely more focused on like kind of PR, in terms of like how to generate free press and it might not be, there might be some tactics in it that today which aren't super relevant anymore. But strategically and kind of the way of kind of like how to generate attention around you, your product, your business it has some really interesting lessons in there. Definitely there's some shady ideas in there as well. But I think like for any sort of person that wants to get into this kind of growth hacking mindset, it's a, it's a great book. And then, you know, I definitely would say, you know, in terms of a resource, if you're a marketer, there's literally a new marketing platform being launched every other week. So I would, you know, selflessly plug G2.com as like a good place to start, if you're looking for what, some hot and up and coming marketing tools that you could maybe leverage.

DA: 49:13
Love it. Absolutely. And what about specifically a favorite marketing tool you can't live without?

RB: 49:18
Okay. There's two. The first, which is like no surprise is HubSpot for me. You know, my whole team runs on HubSpot. we're big fans. We use all of their tools and love them. And then kind of the other tool that my team couldn't live without as a tool that we have for G2.com actually, and it's called Buyer Intent and it's basically kind of, it allows like our sales team to connect up their CRM with G2.com to see what prospects are looking at on our site. And so, you know, we sell that to marketers around the world. Lots of SaaS marketers already use it today. And yeah, it ultimately helps them kind of like work out who is shopping around before they maybe fill out a form on your website. So that's called our buyer intent product. G2 buyer intent.

DA: 50:03
We'll have to check that out. I'll put that on the show notes as well.

RB: 50:06
It's a cool tool. I didn't know about it myself personally before I joined G2. So the team hadn't necessarily done a strong job at marketing it, but it has been super useful for like our demand gen team working with our sales team to help them have the right data in sales and really trust marketing in terms of helping them sell.

DA: 50:28
Makes a lot of sense. All right, last question for you today. What about a brand business or team that you admire today?

RB: 50:36
Business or team. Gosh there's a few different ones. I feel bad I'm not giving you like a straight answer for any of these questions. So I think for, for, let me think. Like for branding, I in branding and messaging I think Slack do a really, really good job. And Airbnb too actually. I think they do a beautiful job with branding and just building great like UX products. I think in terms of like when it comes to PR companies, like a company that does a PR amazingly well is Salesforce. I don't think many companies do PR very well. It's kind of a, it's kind of this weird old school thing that like it's really hard to do today, but Salesforce just, they are the, the, the king at creating buzz around their products and creating conversation. Who else? I think Asana you know, another tool that I use at G2, you know, have done a beautiful job with branding. They have a great and strong marketing team. So yeah, I kind of admire what they're doing. Gosh, there's so many.

DA: 51:40
Yeah, there's a ton out there and there's a lot that we admire as well. But, those are some really great answers. Those are all like superior SaaS products, amazing companies that are all aspiring and inspiring as well. So, you know, I just want to say thank you so much for today. This is a little bit of a longer episode, but it's fantastic because you went into some really great tactical information, you shared overall strategy, a lot of lessons, which has just been fantastic. So Ryan, thank you so much for jumping on and sharing with us today.

RB: 52:08
Awesome. It was awesome to be here David, really appreciate your time and so glad that we finally got to make it work.

DA: 52:15
Yes, I am too and thank you again. We will talk to you soon and have a great rest of your day.

DA: 52:23
Big shout out to Ryan and the entire G2 Crowd team. Congratulations to them on the incredible growth and all the initiatives and achievements that Ryan has been able to do at a short time there at G2 Crowd, so it'll be exciting to see how they progress and what's actually becoming a more and more competitive marketplace. (...)

Resources:
The World's Most Effective B2B Marketing Campaign (+ How To Apply It To Your Own Business):
https://learn.g2crowd.com/the-worlds-most-effective-b2b-marketing-campaign
Topic Clusters: The Next Evolution of SEO:
https://blog.hubspot.com/news-trends/topic-clusters-seo
Email Signature Generator - World’s most effective marketing campaign:
https://www.hubspot.com/email-signature-generator
Check Website Grader Powered by HubSpot:
https://website.grader.com/
Book "Trust Me I’m Lying" by Ryan Holiday:
https://www.amazon.com/Trust-Me-Lying-Confessions-Manipulator-ebook/dp/B0074VTHH0/
Check the G2 Learning Hub:
https://learn.g2crowd.com/
Connect With Ryan:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanbonnici/
Follow along on Our Journey to $100k MRR
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