InsightSquared has been growing quickly over the past 6 months. When you are rapidly growing, new problems in your business arise quickly and demand quick solutions. Just such a problem arose for us around our marketing.
For the first year or so in InsightSquared’s history, lead generation was not an issue. We primarily relied upon partner relationships for lead flow and as such we had not invested heavily in our marketing. We only had one full-time marketer at the company. But as we’ve invested in our sales analytics product, we expanded our addressable market and sole reliance on channel partnerships was no longer a viable strategy. We needed to generate leads on the open market for our new solution for Salesforce.com reporting.
As a company, we knew this needed to happen, but realized we hadn’t invested enough in actually making it happen. Leads had not magically arrived simply because we changed our strategy.
We needed to jump-start our marketing. Here’s what we did.
First, we put bodies on the problem.
We have 3 full-time product managers and a product management intern at the company. Two of the full-time product managers (myself included) and the intern all turned their attention to helping out in marketing. We went from having one, single full-time marketer and one part-time marketing intern, to having two full-time marketers and 3 part-time marketers.
None of the product managers were truly professional lead generation marketers. But two of us came from HubSpot, land of inbound marketing. Us product management refugees also knew a thing or two about web design and our customers, as it is knowledge we need for our day jobs building InsightSquared’s product.
With that in mind, to jump-start our marketing, we put our efforts into organic methods as opposed to paid tactics. Also, we knew that organic efforts tend to have a longer pay-out – the blog posts and content we create benefit the business in long-term, in multiple ways. Strong content would provide a foundation of credibility and value to any paid visitors we might attract in the future. We also reasoned that the creative process of writing blog posts would help us sort out our positioning and messaging.
Around October 18, we analyzed the performance of our website for lead generation purposes. We judged how many inbound leads we were getting. We dug into what keywords and other sources of our visits were (lots and lots of branded search visits and other keywords from unqualified visitors; people searching for video game logos).
As a swag, we set a goal of doubling our flow of inbound leads as the key business goal to which we were committing ourselves.
We sketched out a general commitment to blogging and creating compelling offers, including tactical goals around our blogging frequency (five times a week) and the creation of new offers. We also set out to refresh our website.
Our marketing team is generally judged on the number of qualified leads it delivers to the sales team. A qualified lead is someone who uses a data source for which we can provide reporting.
Despite this definition, we decided that we needed to walk before we run, when it comes to inbound lead generation. Our initial plan to improve our marketing revolved around improving the top of our marketing funnel. We focused on attracting more visitors to our website and converting more of them to leads. Once we get good at generating traffic and leads, we figured we’d revise and improve our marketing to better nurture and target for qualified leads. In short, rather than focusing on qualified leads, we were going to start by focusing on simply generating more leads.
Get some offers in place
First, we hit the really low hanging fruit. The only offers related to our new market segment on our website with landing pages were our basic demo and trial offers. And the blog posts we were putting up (at a rate of 2-3 posts per week) did not even direct readers to those landing pages.
We created two offers for our new Salesforce.com market segment using existing assets we had on-hand from our own business practices (a Salesforce.com Best Practices offer and a Salesforce.com Data Quality Scorecard) and quickly redesigned our blog sidebar to provide calls-to-action to those landing pages.
Next, we started to revise our website to better present our product to the visitors we attract, especially for our new market segment. We keyword optimized each of these pages for visitors looking specifically for a solution. If you’re searching Google for “Saleforce Reporting“, you’ll hopefully be coming to an InsightSquared page.
Blog like hell
In parallel, we ramped up our blog. I don’t mean blogging twice a week. We had been doing that. We went at this hard. Spencer (our intern) and myself put out 4 posts the first week of our “jump-start” project and then 5 – 6 posts a week for the next three weeks.
We didn’t blog, willy nilly. We built out an editorial plan based on the keyword research. Based on this research, we planned four themes of content. The reason we grouped content into “themes” was so that we could re-use content from each theme to create eBooks in the future.
We wrote posts with long-tail keywords in mind. Our blog posts had not primarily been keyword driven in the past. Given the middle-of-the-road authority of our domain, we knew we couldn’t hit competitive keywords like “sales forecast” or “sales pipeline” right now. We targeted keywords with 100 – 300 monthly searches (exact match) in order to start to own those longer tail keywords for traffic. We tried our best, using our WordPress blog, to follow SEO best practices by providing internal links to our other content, especially directing visitors to the website page devoted to our Salesforce.com reporting solution (see what I did there?).
We also took some tactical steps to do things like link our personal Google+ accounts to our blog posts such that our Google+ profile pictures show up in the Google search results.
Further, we ensured that we published content across the major social media channels: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook were our focus. We came into the “jump-starting” project with company pages and accounts on each channel. Given my experience researching the impact of LinkedIn on inbound marketing, I put special focus on publishing to LinkedIn groups that would be relevant to our new market segment.
We set up an account with buffer for social media publishing and posted content from the blog there multiple times per day. We’ll tweet the same blog post 2-3 times each day, with different hooks and headlines. We also began consistently posting content to Facebook.
Be timely and take a stand
Though we had an editorial calendar in place based on keyword research, over the past four weeks we’ve made an attempt to be timely and jump on stories relevant to our target audience. This has proven to be an effective measure for attracting new visits to our website. We responded to a blog post by Brad Feld (he of 100K+ Twitter followers) which goaded him into tweeting the post and commenting on our post on pipeline management. We wrote a quick reaction to the latest news from Groupon involving layoffs and that also did very well, owing to a couple of tweets from two of our investors with large Twitter followings.
These two posts each received 10 times the pageviews of the typical blog post published around the same time.
Impact on Traffic
The impact of increasing our blogging frequency from twice a week to six times a week was definitely noticeable. In terms of beginning to attract more visitors to our site, we could see the improvement in our basic metrics from Google Analytics:
As you can see, we saw a 30% increase in the number of unique visitors to our site.
To track the impact of our blogging in attracting organic visitors, we created a custom report that filtered out branded searches, the dreaded “(not provided)” keyword and a swathe of unqualified traffic looking for fictional company logos. You can see that as we ramped up our frequency of blogging, we saw a 50% increase in this measurement. Desired keywords started to show up when we researched our sources:
Incidentally, with the increase in blogging frequency, we noticed our new content showing up in Google search results within approximately 30 minutes, instead of a day or two.
We saw an even better increase in visits via social media sources, increasing our social media visits by 300+%:
This is all well and good, but what about leads?
We saw a significant increase in form submissions. In our planning process, we measured our form submissions per day on our website (new and repeat leads). We had set a goal to double form submissions.
By the week before Thanksgiving, we were far exceeding that goal. Though other marketing efforts were also using these forms, we saw a 345% increase in our form submissions. Most (not all) of that is attributed to our inbound efforts.
Furthermore, our conversion rates on our existing landing pages rose over time. As we blogged more and more on the topics of interest to our target market, the conversion rates on our new landing pages rose. Our best performing landing page started out at ~15% conversion rate and reached 40+% after we had increased our traffic. Our read on this? Not only did our visits increase, but our visits from more qualified prospects increased. The more we blogged, the better we got at attracting the right kind of visitors.
In terms of net new leads, we saw a 2.5-3x increase in inbound leads per week relative to September.
What did we learn?
1. Having top-of-the-funnel offers available, with calls-to-action from your blog posts is critical. You might be attracting traffic, but if you are only asking them about demos and trials (akin to asking them to marry you) instead of whitepapers, ebooks and kits (akin to asking them out on a date), you are squandering your traffic.
2. Blogging, in a substantive way, can quickly improve your traffic. That said, it takes a lot of effort. It became my full-time job writing and editing every day, publishing to various social media channels and analyzing the results. We put a lot of effort into writing blog posts. It paid off, but its not something we could have accomplished with a portion of one or two people’s time.
3. Personally, I found that I liked it more than I would have expected. Coming from my focus on product building, I received immediate feedback on the success of a particular post. I got daily metrics on whether something was attracting visitors or not. This isn’t always the case with measuring the impact of a product, whose key metrics tend to lag quite a bit more.
4. There are always ways to improve. This is just the beginning for us in terms of organic marketing efforts. With more time and effort, we need to create more offers, start doing more webinars and do a better job of nurturing some of these leads. We are handling our inbound leads through brute force and manual handling right now. We can be more efficient (once the scale demands it).
5. We are now much better positioned to experiment with paid efforts to attract traffic now that we have a stronger foundation of content on the website, both in terms of blog content, website product marketing and compelling offers. We are also better prepared to pursue speaking engagements and other PR as the demands of blogging every day have helped us stake out strong thought-leadership positions on topics like sales forecasting.
I’m happy to answer questions in the comments. What do you think of our experience?
Want an easy way to measure Marketing’s impact on your business? Check out InsightSquared for Salesforce.