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"Get $64 Million in Revenue From a $6,000 Marketing Budget Ft. Ryan Bonnici of G2 Crowd" (Inbound Success Ep. 60)

Kathleen Booth

VP of Marketing, Speaker, Host of ‘The Inbound Success' Podcast, Leader of the Annapolis HubSpot User Group

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Get $64 Million in Revenue From a $6,000 Marketing Budget Ft. Ryan Bonnici of G2 Crowd (Inbound Success Ep. 60) Blog Feature

Published on October 15th, 2018

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What if I told you that you could invest $6,000 in your marketing and get a ONE MILLION percent return on investment? Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Ryan Bonnici Profile Pic
Ryan Bonnici

This is exactly what Ryan Bonnici did during his time at HubSpot, and what he is planning on repeating now that he's taken on the role of CMO at G2 Crowd.

This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Ryan shares exactly what he did to deliver unheard of results and how you can do the same thing for minimal investment. His approach is simple, accessible and something that any business can replicate quickly with a bit of out-of-the-box thinking and the help of a web developer.

Listen to the podcast to find out how Ryan helped HubSpot generate $64 million in revenue from a $6,000 marketing investment - and what it takes to get similar results for your company.



Transcript

Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to The Inbound Success podcast. My name is Kathleen Booth, and I'm your host. This week my guest is Ryan Bonnici, who is the CMO at G2 Crowd. Welcome Ryan.

Ryan: Hey, Kathleen. It's so great to be here.

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 11.17.53 AM
Ryan and Kathleen recording this episode

Kathleen: Yeah, I'm excited to talk with you today. Before we jump in to our topic, tell our audience about yourself.

About Ryan Bonnici

Ryan: Absolutely. So, I'm the chief marketing officer at G2 Crowd, and I've been here for, gosh, a little under a year now.

G2 Crowd is the world's largest business intelligence software reviews platform. We do a lot of different things, but ultimately, we help millions of buyers every month find the best software and services to use for their business because, I think we all know, just like you and I right now Kathleen, are speaking on software to make this call happen. Software really fuels business today. You can't really run a business without software, even if it's a top of the line. So, software's huge. It's a $4 trillion industry each year. And so, yeah, we're right in the heart of that, and it's a really fun place.

A little bit about me and background, gosh. I started my career at Microsoft doing consumer marketing, loved that, and then I moved to a company called ExactTarget, which was an email marketing service provider that folks might remember. It was acquired by Salesforce a couple years ago for two and a half billion I think.

I was at Salesforce then for a couple of years leading their APAC marketing team - Asia Pacific marketing - which was fun so, got a lot of experience with link building, marketing, and demand generation in different regions and launching in new countries, and no cross language fun.

And then from Salesforce I moved to HubSpot, where I was doing a similar role leading their APAC marketing, and then I moved over from Australia to HQ in Boston and was leading their corporate marketing.

So running everything from all of their social media accounts, to all of their PR strategies, to their campaigns, so all things digital and brand marketing really. So, that was a crazy time and a really fun time, I mean HubSpot was an amazing company.

And then I moved to G2 Crowd late last year and have just never been happier Kathleen. I just love this role, I love this company and it's been such a crazy year.

When I started, there were five marketers on the team and now I have thirty marketers. I've hired like 25 people since the start of the year. And the team's just like-

Kathleen: Wow.

Ryan: ... Yeah crazy growth. I've hired a lot of people over the last decade, but never have so many people, so quickly ... and it was kind of a whirlwind, but we hired some amazing people and we had to relocate a lot of different folks from different places. I'm really happy and excited and so really happy to be here with you.

Kathleen: Yeah you know it's interesting. I've been familiar with G2 Crowd for a long time.

Before I was at IMPACT, I used to own my own digital marketing agency that I had for eleven years and we were HubSpot partners, so I certainly reviewed HubSpot on G2 Crowd, as well as a number of other software platforms.

But where I really found G2 Crowd could be extremely helpful for me, both at my agency and then at IMPACT when I first joined, I was on our sales team, was in a sales capacity. We were looking to sell marketing services and we always did marketing on HubSpot. It just so happened that that was our platform of choice.

So, inevitably, when I would be talking to a prospective client that didn't yet have a marketing automation software platform and I would mention HubSpot, the question would always come up, "Why HubSpot, why is it so great?" And I always found that the most powerful thing that I could do, instead of signing HubSpot's phrases or sending them to a page on my site or HubSpot's site - I mean I of course did all that - but the most powerful thing was to be able to just say, “Here's this third-party review site. Look at how it's ranked. This is completely impartial and you can compare and contrast it against everything else here.”

That was the thing that always seemed to seal the deal for people, because as much as you can establish yourself in a position of trust as a sales rep, they're never going to trust you quite as much as the thousands of other people out there who've reviewed the product. So, it's a great platform.

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. It's a great platform. Software is kind of going through this really interesting renaissance and progressing growth, and I think that if you think maybe back twenty or so years, software was in its infancy and it was really clunky and it was typically very enterprise focused, with a long sales cycle, and complex, long implementations.

I remember when I was at Microsoft, which was only ten years ago, the implementation time for a Dynamics CRM, which wasn't in the cloud back then even, was just very different to how technology is today.

I mean all people that have bought software, have been burned by software that they were told will do one thing, and then when they get it, they realize that it actually doesn't do that.

So yeah, I think marketers, we do a really good job at marketing products and sometimes we do too good of a job whereby I call it vaporware. It's like software that a product marketer has made look really pretty on the site, but the reality is that the product doesn't actually exist today.

That's what I love about moving from software companies to now, you know, G2 Crowd, where we're really impartial to your point and we're this marketplace that helps connect buyers with sellers. It's a really fun place to be.

Kathleen: And I will say the other thing about marketers, is that we do have a little bit of 'shiny object syndrome' when it comes to software. I'm responsible for my company's marketing software spend and I get a case of angina every time I look at the recurring monthly expenses of that budget, so I'm constantly trying to figure out, do we really need this? 

Ryan: Yeah.

Kathleen: Being able to vet those expenses before they come on, is fantastic.

So, you came on to my radar when somebody said this is a guy who is able to generate - what was it? - 64 million dollars in revenue, from a six thousand dollar marketing budget. Somebody said that and I was like, “That is someone that I need to interview.”

Because that's like the perpetual challenge as an inbound marketer right? Every company of course has a goal for their marketing, but not every company has a budget to match their goal. It's that old 'champagne taste on a beer budget' kind of conundrum.

And so, when I heard that, I thought, “Wow. There's got to be some really great lessons to be extracted here, that really anybody could use.” Because six thousand dollars is an amount of money that's incredibly acceptable for the vast majority of my listeners.

So, let's start at the very beginning. Where were you when this happened? What were the goals that you were going after? Who was the audience? 

How Ryan Generated $64 Million in Revenue from a $6,000 Marketing Spend

Ryan: So, this all started in early 2016 and at the time I was living in Sydney Australia, which is where I'm from originally as you can probably tell from my accent. I was with HubSpot for about a year at this point.

I always find this as a random side note that when you move to a new company, I feel it takes the first six months to just learn the basics of the company like how things work, how the strategy works, like get programs up and running.

It was kind of at that one year mark where I was finding really cool, creative ideas that maybe will surpass what others in the organization are thinking.

I don't know why, I'm just an ideas person. I love thinking outside the box and doing fun things.

And so, at that year point I was starting to get to know the business and I was hitting all of my goals really easily. I had an amazing team under me, and our goals at that time were to drive marketing qualified leads to the sales team.

So, that was kind of the core goal. And one of the things that I always said to my team was that generating MQLs isn't that much thought, it's pretty basic.

You create content, that content converts to a lead, and then you write an email to them saying ... we would send emails every Tuesday and Thursday, and they would have a download for the person. And then there'd be a follow up CTA of like, “Hey, you've enjoyed this email marketing ebook, would you like to chat with someone from HubSpot who can help you assess your email marketing strategy.”

So very value ad ... and helps when you have a sales team that understands this approach. They do a really good job of actually adding value to the person while also obviously trying to prospect them and see if they could buy HubSpot's tools.

So we'd been doing that for a while and we started to consistently hit our goals, and I think to me, in any job that's when the fun begins, once you've worked out, "Okay, I know what I need to do to hit my goals."

Hitting the goals is typically the boring part. It's the creative testing outside of the standard that you can have a lot of fun with.

So, the team and I sat down ... and I remember just thinking back, we kind of sat down and said, "Okay, so the people that buy from HubSpot are businesses, typically small businesses, but businesses of all sizes can use HubSpot."

And so, we said, what are some of the things that business people do? Because we kind of exhausted the typical things that marketers and sales people do, right?

So, as we were sitting down, we're thinking that, okay, where a business starts, like let's just think of a very early stage business. What does someone do? They buy the domain name, they probably buy Google apps, or maybe in the minority they buy Windows or Microsoft 365 for their email. And then, they get business cards and then they set up an email signature for their Gmail. And that's stuff that everyone does at every company.

When I joined Microsoft I remember ... I vividly actually remember designing my email signature and looking at other people in the org, and copying and pasting what they had. And, I noticed that at HubSpot that was the same and everyone had different email signatures.

And so, this is I think what I try and teach people to do, that we I think did well at HubSpot, and I've had my team do as well here. When you have an idea about content to create that you think your buyer persona might like, don't just create it because you have a gut instinct or you know they will like it. Use a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs to actually work out whether people searching for this term in a high volume.

And so, we looked at it and the search terms "email signature" and "email signature generator," they both have combined on hundred thousand plus monthly searches in the US alone I think. Globally it was much larger than that.

And we were thinking about it like, what better to create than an email signature generator because all the things that go into creating an email signature are the things that typically go into a lead form - you know, your name, your job title, your cell phone number, your email address, et cetera.

And so, we worked with a HubSpot partner in Sydney - there's a guy called Ken that runs it and I still work with Ken today, he's building a tool for me right now at G2 Crowd, which is gonna drive lots of leads in the traffic for us here. Which is a secret for now, but I'll tell you about it when it's live.

Kathleen: We'll have to do another episode.

Ryan: We'll have to do another one when I complete it and have results. I've done this a few times now, and it's never not worked for me yet.

And so, yeah we made it, it took maybe a month or two to build, six thousand dollars like ... crazy cheap money.

I had a rockstar on my team, her name was Alissa, and she, over the course of the first month of launch, she looked at generating links to our email signature generator from other sites that ranked highly for that term. And then, yeah, gosh, from when we launched it like I think in April 2016 till about August 2016, we were generating upwards of 50 thousand organic visitors a month.

Kathleen: Wow.

Ryan: And it has something like a 50 to 70% conversion rate to lead, which is crazy high for a landing page. But, this wasn't like your typical landing page, this is a tool, and anyone that clicked through kinda knew what they were getting into.

And yeah, so over the course of two or three years while that was up and running, I emailed this friend recently, maybe a couple months ago, my colleague who is on the ops team over at HubSpot ... “Hey, like can you give me the latest stats for the tool, I wanna see how it's doing.”

And yeah, it's still consistently the number one organic lead source driver to HubSpot. It generates something like 50 thousand monthly leads, and 64 million dollars in net new source revenue.

So, these are people that weren't in HubSpot's database before they came organically through ... found it through the tool, then started getting nurtured by HubSpot and then became customers.

Kathleen: That's incredible to me because I have worked with HubSpot long enough to know that it has this mammoth contact database. Sometimes I feel like the entire world is in HubSpot's contact database.

Ryan: Yeah. It's about seven million contacts I think.

Kathleen: ... it's a huge number. And so, it's pretty incredible that such a high percentage of the leads that were generated through this were brand new. When-

Ryan: Yeah. Well it makes sense if you think about it cause this is kind of a different topic than the persona, that we would normally always create content that marketers were actively looking for. But, I think what we realized on the inside was that marketers are just people in business, they search for other things.

That's where I think most businesses go wrong. They only think about offers where the content or free tools are really close to their offering.

When I went to my boss at the time - that was HubSpot's CMO, Kipp Bodnar, who I just absolutely adore, loveliest, smiliest human ever and one of my best mentors - he thought it was a stupid idea, and he was like, “No, that's crazy. That's going to attract really low quality people to our site and generate low quality leads. It has nothing to do with marketing.” And I just fundamentally disagreed, and I had my own budget, so I still went ahead with it.

And I remember five months before I left, him saying to me like, “It was really good that you made that tool.” Because the year before I left, they were really struggling. They were hitting their goals, but it was really tight.

They hacked through a lot of proactive campaigns, and I remember him saying like, “If it wasn't for that tool. That tool is making up like 25% of our total leads being generated every month. Thank you.” And I was like, “Oh, that's a good feeling.”

Kathleen: Yeah. Now, to that point. So, that was kinda gonna be my question. When you build something like this, I imagine that there are a fair number of leads that come in that probably aren't great leads.

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff because if really what you're doing is just generating email signatures - I assume you're asking for basic contact information - so you don't know a lot about that contact. Are you enriching that data using a third-party tool to figure out is this a good fit for us or ... what do you do to get that information?

Ryan: Yeah. Good question. So we had a very long list of optional things that people could put into their email signature.

If anyone listening here wants to check it out, if you literally search email signature, you'll see HubSpot's email generator ranks like first, second or third on Google depending on when and where you're searching from.

But, we ask a lot of different things. You'll see some options as well, like would you like to add a social link, would you like to add a banner image, a headshot, et cetera.

Regardless of what they actually gave us, once they clicked the button they would get a visualization at the time of doing that of what their signature looked like, and they could edit that.

When they wanted to download it to go to their email or to their Office 365, they clicked a button and an iframe/JavaScript popup would pop up and would say, "Hey. Thanks so much for this. One more step, we just need to know a few more things."

And depending on what they had told us, like if they'd given us the email address and phone number, then those fields wouldn't be shown, obviously.

But the key questions that we ask are never on the form because we wouldn't get any signatures, was how many employees do you have? Do you sell ... What was the question? Do you sell services? Are you a marketing agency? And then there was one more question, was what CRM do you use? So it basically was like the final form fields from your typical HubSpot lead form.

And the reason why we use those is because when you have five thousand, five million, seven million contacts in your database, that was the way we would filter them between different sales teams, different geo's, different verticals things like that.

And so actually, once they'd given us that information, that was all we needed to then nurture them accordingly. And we just had smart nurture set up ultimately, so yes.

I'm sure a lot of low quality leads did come through that tool. But that's kind of part and parcel of in their marketing is that you're going wide so you're gonna be getting your ideal target for sure, but you're also going to get people that aren't there.

But I think that's key to our velocity and growth, when you go after everyone in that kind of an instance as opposed to just going after a small segment. Because all the students that like the email signature, that wanted to set up a fancy Gmail signature when they were going out to look at job hunting, now, all of them know about HubSpot. They're all in the database. They're all learning. They, maybe five percent of them, become marketers later in life. Now, they've got HubSpot.

It's a long game, this idea. This isn't a quick win kind of strategy. Content is not about that. But it's the most sustainable and long-term way, obviously, to grow your business. 

Kathleen: So talk me through what happened after somebody hits submit. You mentioned then they get nurtured. Give me a sense of how you take the lead that converts on something that and shepherd them through a journey that ultimately leads them to a point where you're encouraging them to enter a sales funnel. Obviously, that's a delicate thing to navigate, so I'm curious to hear about how you manage that.

Ryan: I guess I don't know, to be honest. To be honest, most companies over-engineer and over-complicate journeys, in my opinion. If you're giving high value, high quality content, it doesn't actually need to be as personalized, I think, as people think.

Because we had so many contacts in our database, we knew what kind of content worked really well for new leads. The moment any lead came into HubSpot, regardless of whether it came from the email signature generator or website grader or a standard ebook, naturally they would always get a kickback email immediately that said, "Hey, thanks so much for using email sig generator or downloading an ebook. Here's a link where you can go back to that resource. And PS, if you would like to learn more about HubSpot's marketing automation software, you can click here."

We would always have in everything that we did a fast-forward link, if you will, to basically allow people that were interested and ready to buy to do that, and that would push them to a standard MQL page to book a demo.

If they didn't click that, then they would just go into the standard onboarding / nurturing of all new contacts. I don't know the exact format and content of these, but one email might say, "We're HubSpot. We create all this great content, and we have these free great tools." And the second email might say, "Hey, would you like to subscribe to our blog?" And the third email might say, "Hey, here's one of our most popular downloads. It's a free infographics template with a hundred different templates that you can use to make infographics at your business".

They were very general downloads, right, but really high value in a sense that they were things that anyone could get a value out of.

And then once they moved through that, each of those conversion points would always have a MQL offer within it. So, if they clicked through the landing page and downloaded the templates, they would get a kickback email, or on the thank you page, saying, "Hey, would you like to learn more about how you can accelerate your marketing in other ways? Click here." Kinda just went, then, from that normal flow, if that makes sense, Kathleen.

Kathleen: Yeah, it does. And I have to laugh because I know Kipp. He's great. He is very smart, as you say. And I did notice that they must be now drinking the Kool-Aid of this whole concept, because in the last few months, I saw that they released the out-of-office message generator.

Ryan: I created that. Just let me put it out there. So, I actually-

Kathleen: Nice.

Ryan: Yeah. I'm so happy to see that go live 'cause I started building that, it would've been in ... It was the start of 2017. So, email sig generator started crushing it at the end of 2016, start of 2017. Worked with Ken, the same guy, to build that. We got it to kind of like an MVP stage where it functionally was working, but the landing page hadn't been built, and we hadn't worked out the quirky responses for different things. And I remember before I left, pinging it to - 'cause at that point in time, the team I had moved onto was no longer the one that did that kind of creative stuff - I think I forwarded it to the HR team to say, "Hey, this could be a cool recruiting tool for you. People that are looking to take holidays use it." And so I think they then ... I don't know.

It took them a year or so since they left for them to then finish it off. I'm sure this wasn't a high priority, and it wasn't someone's dedicated role.

But yeah, I saw them bring that out. I've been meaning ... I have it in my to-do list to try it out, 'cause I wanna see where it got to in the end. But yeah, I remember doing that.

The big thing that I tried to teach my team was, "Hey, you wanna try and work out a way to make the tool give you the info that you need in your lead form." So, you would ask a question like, "What industry are you in?" in our normal lead forms. In my mind, I thought, okay, cool, a really creative way we can ask that question for this tool, I was gonna say, was we should say, "Hey, we wanna personalize your email signature, and every industry is different. Some are more corporate and boring, aka finance, and some are more creative and fun, aka marketing. Tell us what industry you're in, and this will help us personalize your out-of-office message."

And I don't know if they actually built that into it or not yet. I need to check it out and see if that was there.

But yeah, so, we did that.

And then one tool I wasn't involved in but was always on the list was the invoice generator. They launched the invoice generator a little bit after I left. I think they launched a business card generator, which was just basically a re-skin of the email signature generator, but basically now it's a straight out visual that you would print as opposed to something you paste into your Gmail. 

I also created a free tool for my own personal website. I have a website, executiv.co. It's basically a site where I curate content from executive coaches and just experts in their field to help other executives that are moving on up in their career to learn from folks that have already been there.

And personally, I'm big into reading books to help me get better. I remember a few years ago reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, I think his name is. Really good book, a lot of execs have read it.

There's this assessment in the book that I really liked. It's basically like, "Hey, answer these 25 questions, and we'll tell you if your team is functional or dysfunctional." And so I converted that into a, I don't wanna say a tool, 'cause it's more simple than that. Basically it's other questions, a lead form to give me your email address, and then I ask you, "Does your team do this?" yes, sometimes, no.

There's 25 questions like that, and they then click a button at the end that says view analysis. And then they get an email with their score. And in the email, it says, "Hey, these score results will be better if you can share this with your team and get your team to do this as well."

And so I created this free tool two and a half, three years ago, and I still get thousands of net new leads through it every month. Because what happens, it's crazy. Someone at Microsoft will do it, and then they'll get my kickback email that says, "Hey, why don't you share this with your team and see what they think."

And then you'll see if one person comes in from a new company, and then 10 or a hundred net new leads will come in from that same company. And then that gets shared to someone else, and then the same thing that happens. It has this really interesting virality effect.

I don't need to generate any press for it because people are always reading the book. So that's Five Dysfunctions of a Team assessment, and I'm the only one that has a free tool for the assessment.

I haven't touched that website, literally, or published any blog posts on it in three years, and it still generates thousands of leads a month. It's crazy.

Kathleen: What I find really interesting about this is we've talked now about three different tools. We've got the email signature tool, the out-of-office generator. Those are in one category targeting individuals, individual leads.

And then you have the one on your website which, as I listen to you talk about it, it's striking me that that is a very good example of a type of tool that somebody could build if they were interested in doing more account-based marketing. Because obviously with account-based marketing, you're looking to saturate as many contacts within a certain organization as you can, and you've got a tool that has that built into it. So, that's really interesting.

Ryan: It's pretty cool, yeah. It's pretty cool.

The way this business works, I work with executive coaches in different cities. And when leads come through from different people, I have them sorted by geo, and then I can connect executive coaches with people that indicate that they have dysfunctional teams. So, the executive coach comes in and trains them.

It's a really nice way for me to make passive income without doing anything. Obviously, they come to me for assessment, and then I connect them with executive coaches. I function like a matchmaker in that I make money from every time I match make someone from the coach.

So, it's a genius, on the side kind of thing. I shouldn't say genius. It's incredibly simple, which is, in my mind, what is so cool about our tools and so genius about them is that they're really basic.

And the point is most people just don't know how to think about their persona, right? So, executive coaches want to find people that need help, and people that need help read help books around leadership. So, this beautifully connects them.

I just love getting in the mind of a buyer persona and working out what they're looking for online.

Kathleen: Let's dig into that for a second, because I think if somebody listening is sitting here thinking, "Okay, I wanna do this. This seems like a great idea," the first thing standing in their way is how to conceptualize the tool itself. So, can you spend a second and just walk me through the thought process that you go through or how you approach this to figure out what is that right tool for the audience you're targeting?

Ryan: Totally, totally. Why don't you select a persona or someone that you want me to attract, and I'll just do it live on the spot. So, you can say-

Kathleen: Cool, okay.

Ryan: Maybe create a company. It could be a legal firm or it could be ... You choose, and then I'll think about it and go live with you and try and work it out.

Kathleen: Sure. Well, let's use my company as an example. That's an easy one. So, we're targeting marketers.

Ryan: Okay.

Kathleen: And they can be anywhere from mid to senior level marketers who run marketing for a company. So, they're the in-house person generally leading the marketing team.

Ryan: Okay, cool. That's kind of easy, though, just 'cause a lot of the tools that I've created in the past are for marketers from my experience at HubSpot.

Kathleen: I'm throwing you a softball.

Ryan: Yeah, that's a real softball. In that instance, what I would be thinking about is okay, so I'm trying to attract a lot of marketing managers. And you're selling the marketing services, is that right, Kathleen? Like, you wanna be their agency and help and support, yeah? Cool.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Ryan: So, the easy thing for you to do that most people would do, which won't work as well, is create content about why you need a marketing agency to help.

Now like this, I would say that you should have that, obviously, on your side for people that you attract through other content to then help them see that and work out why they should use you.

But before that, to get more people to your site, I would be thinking about, "Okay, marketing managers - what is something that they need to do?"

They manage marketing budgets. What's something that's hard about marketing budgets?

They have to hire people, so marketing job titles, marketing job descriptions.

They might be going to Google and searching for marketing job descriptions to work out if they're hiring their second marketer or third marketer, who that would be.

They might be going online and searching for marketing templates or marketing greetings.

I would be thinking about that, and then I would be going to your SEMRush, your Ahrefs and saying, "Okay, I put in those keywords." And then I would start to look at that and all related keywords, and then I would just go through them from top to bottom from which has the most following to the least following. And then I would start to identify which ones could be tools.

So, marketing job descriptions I know is one. Marketing salaries is a big one. Maybe you create a tool that allows a person to select their job title, and it shows them the estimated salary - things like that. Like how to become a CMO, they might search for. I'm trying to think of other tools. I already have created so many of these tools for marketers.

Kathleen: I always thought that ... It's funny. So, I used to work with clients in all different industries. I always thought that a great tool would be an RFP builder, so like, if you wanna try to build an RFP for marketing support services. Go in, and there's prebuilt modules that you can choose and drop in, and then it spits out your complete RFP. You could do that for so many industries.

Ryan: Totally.

Kathleen: It could be network engineering RFP or construction RFP or what have you.

Ryan: Totally. You know that thing I told you that I was working on? That's literally it.

Kathleen: No!

Ryan: Yeah. If you think about it, it's perfect for us because our site replaces the RFP process. So, who better to attract to the site than someone that's old school still and thinks they need to do an RFP? So, we're actually building an RFP generator for different industries that customizes the questions and the outputs. You're onto it, Kathleen. You've got this.

Kathleen: Great minds think alike, Ryan. I'm telling you what. I used to, prior to my career as a marketer, I did government contracting in international development.

Ryan: Nightmare stuff, those contracts.

Kathleen: Totally different sector. So, I used to have to respond to RFPs, and I always thought no one in their right mind who has to write an RFP ever wants to write it from scratch. So, everybody is working off of something, right?

Ryan: Totally, yeah. So, the way it's starting is they come to our site, and they're gonna select "Are you looking for a content marketing agency? Are you looking for content marketing software?", et cetera. And then from there, it'll personalize the questions we ask, et cetera. And it will just spit something out.

But then it also says, "Hey, did you know that G2 Crowd has live data from X many companies itself (insert the name of the RFP thing that you're doing)? Click here to learn who is the number one based on customers like you."

It pushes them straight into our review process. Which then, we wanna obviously then be the matchmaker to find them and connect them to the best supplier for what they need. That's how we make money, right? We don't care where they go to, 'cause we make money regardless, but we wanna connect them to the best person for them.

Kathleen: Love it, love it. Well, I obviously think it's the best idea ever because I came up with it, too.

Ryan: Yeah, exactly. Good job. Should we split the commission? I think we should.

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. I didn't have to do anything, but I will 100% take half of the credit.

The other question I have is if somebody is listening, and they are thinking they might want to do this, the first thing, like we just said, is figuring out how to get to what that tool should be. But then the obvious next challenge is how do I build it? And most companies that I have spoken with don't have somebody in house who could be like, "Yep, I'm just going to build that tool."

Walk me through anything you need to consider when you're looking for somebody to build it for you.

And you talked a little bit about how much you spent building these things. Is it $600, $6,000, $60,000? What are the elements that most affect how much you're going to have to pay for something like this?

Ryan: Yeah. So even at HubSpot when I was there we had a 200 person marketing team, and we didn't have the resources ourselves in house. So I definitely don't think you need to do it in house.

I think for this kind of a thing, the thing that makes it expensive is if it's very complex, and simply just because the more complex the tool is, the longer hours of development you need to basically buy from the agency.

So like if you need an email signature generator it's pretty basic, right? You're allowing a text field for someone to insert text, and then you are just showing them that same text, but in a more stylized way.

So pretty basic kind of like, rules, and if they want to change the color, you just change what the color looks like of that text, so pretty simple.

Also I'd probably say that, in general, I think they would cost more than six grand, maybe they'd cost like, on average, 10 to 20 grand.

I think we got a really good deal partly because this partner wanted to work with us, because they thought it was a cool idea and wanted to be a part of that.

So let's say the RFP generator that we're building right now is costing around 30 grand, so quite a bit more. And that's just because it's much more complex, and the applets need to be very custom based on what the person says, and we're pulling in live data. That was one thing that the email signature generator couldn't do. So the complexity would change, so like if you want to create an image, something that creates images, or outputs a media file, that's gonna be more expensive probably. If you wanted something that outputs something basic, then it's very easy, so that would be the main thing I would be thinking about.

The process of building it though is pretty simple. So what I'd typically do is I'd get a pad, a small pad or a big pad, and I'll literally just get a pen and draw out the pages of the app, so like what the home screen would look like, and then what the first page of the app looks like, and what the buttons will be, and that will evolve over time, but I just create that and I turn that into photos into like Google Slides, and then I share that with different developers and say, "Hey, this is the tool I'm trying to build, this is the goal of it, it needs to be built on HubSpot."

Then I would literally find out from different developers who get what we're trying to do, who can do it, but then what are the different costs, and then I kind of go from there.

Kathleen: Yeah, so it definitely sounds like the costs can vary. I guess in terms of if somebody's listening and thinking, "Well, is it worth it for me to do it?" it comes down to the costs per lead, and it sounds like the example you have from HubSpot, the cost per lead is like so infinitesimally tiny.

Ryan: That's the other key is that you need to then work out before you build it, part of the validation process is is there enough demand to pay this back? So when I say demand, is there enough monthly searches around this topic specifically, and also how competitive is that topic?

So that's the other thing to think about is I speak at conferences all around the world really often, I love keynoting, and I talk about this a lot. The big thing I say is that you probably shouldn't be doing this if you are just starting out.

If you're just starting out, start with a blog, get a blog up and running. You need to build domain authority. Because if you don't have domain authority, a tool's not gonna rank, you know, realistically, unless it's a brand new thing.

So the five dysfunctions of a team, my personal website, Executive.co, has a very low domain authority, and I mentioned I haven't blogged for three years, but it still ranks number one, because not that many people have created tools for that. No one has, sorry, so it's the first thing that comes up.

So you can start with this strategy from the get go, assuming it has a domain authority maybe under 20 or 30, but if it doesn't, sorry, domain difficulty, like difficulty score under 20 or 30.

So I've been thinking about that, but this should just be supplementary to your content strategy, just be another thing you're doing, in my mind.

Kathleen: That makes sense. You gotta tackle the building blocks first before you can get fancy.

Kathleen's Two Questions

Kathleen: Well this is so interesting. I love the strategy, I feel like it's definitely something anybody could do, especially given that it's pretty easy to outsource the development of it.

Shifting gears for a minute, so there are two questions that I always ask my audience, and I love hearing these answers because I always learn something new when I ask them.

I'm particularly curious to hear your answers because you have such an interesting background. You're at G2 Crowd now, you've worked at HubSpot, at Salesforce, at Exact Target, at Microsoft. You've written for - I looked at your LinkedIn profile - you've written for Entrepreneur Media and Business Insider, et cetera. So you have such an interesting diversity of marketing experience.

The question - this is a big buildup - the question is, company or individual, who do you think is doing inbound marketing really well right now? Who is a great best practice example?

Ryan: There's a few folks. So inbound's a pretty broad term. I think some people that are doing inbound or content marketing well - like attracting audience, which is what inbound is, I guess, at its essence - on social, I think that you've obviously got your big media companies, like your Buzzfeeds, but they do a great job at working out what are the exact formats for content that are really sharable, so they all go viral.

I think Gary Vaynerchuk is a really interesting person. He's a little bit annoying, I think, but certainly, no offense, Gary, love you long time. But, he gets the whole idea of being controversial and saying things that are shocking and that gets people sharing his content. He's also a master at persona-based marketing. So he does his rants and he selects a specific persona for each rant. He'll choose marketers and have a rant about why marketing is broken. He'll choose the education industry and do a rant about why schools are broken, and because he gets really specific in his rants, those personas then share - like people in education, teachers - will share his content like really crazily viral because it's so targeted to them.

When marketers see his rant about marketing, they'll do the same thing, like "Oh my god, I can so relate to this," et cetera. So I think he does a really good job at inbound marketing when it comes to social.

I'd say like in terms of web content, like in owned channels, like website blog, I think that G2 Crowd is doing a really good job now. The team has grown blog traffic in the last year by like 50% month on month, so we really approached it with a new strategy here after I joined and the team has just been rallying behind it and we've got 10 content marketers now, so they're doing an amazing job with everything we just talked about, but less so in the context of tools, more in the context of just content, so working out what our different personas want, and validating that with search volume research, and then creating content around those topics, and clustering it as well, in the same way that HubSpot thinks about content clusters, content hubs. Who else?

HubSpot's obviously doing really, really well. There's a lot of different companies, there's so many, gosh.

I think Drift is doing a great job, so Dave Gerhardt over at Drift is doing really cool LinkedIn content - a lot of good LinkedIn videos at the moment - which go quite viral because LinkedIn still doesn't have a whole lot of video content. So if you're one of the first people to move on a platform when they launch new format or content, typically you can game the algorithm because they want to get more of that content on there.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah, I don't know, got a quick list of some of them, but I'll think more and let you know if there are any others that come to mind.

Kathleen: Yeah I had Dave Gerhardt on as a guest, and he talked about his LinkedIn takeover strategy with video and how it worked is really interesting, and I have to laugh because he's done a few videos since then of when people send him swag in the mail - the unboxing videos. And the greatest thing ever was, so he did a few unboxing videos, and sort of drew out their swag and unboxed it. And one guy sent him, the swag was an actual branded box cutter, because he was like "You're unboxing all of this stuff, you need a branded box cutter."

Ryan: I remember seeing that, that's freakin awesome. That is very, very smart.

Kathleen: So, second question, obviously digital marketing is changing so quickly, how do you stay up to date and keep yourself current on everything that's going on?

Ryan: Yeah, that's a great question. So I think to be really good at digital marketing, first, you kind of just need to be in the trenches, and you need to be playing with digital and living in digital form.

So that's kind of why a lot of people on my team will come up and ask like, "Hey, you know I want to get better at digital marketing, should I do a course?" I'm like, "No, do not do a course with anyone."

Digital marketing changes every other freakin week. Even if they have Snapchat in your course or something, in a month's time the content will be old, because they'll change the platform, so just don't bother with that.

The way I stay up to date, and I think the way I try and encourage my team to stay up to date, is I just block out time every day on my calendar to check Product Hunt and to check G2 Crowd to see the new platforms that are being published.

And so I find between G2Crowd.com and between producthunt.com, that gives me a really good pulse on what technologies are new and growing and people have liked, and so that helps me kind of work out cool ideas and strategies because the challenge of digital marketing is it's hard to think about cool, creative cutting edge strategies if you don't know what new technologies are available.

So thinking back, a nice win where I had with that, two years ago, it would have been the start of 2017, I ran an experiment with my team when I was in Sydney with the marketers in HubSpot, and what I did was, we sent out an email like we always did for an ebook download, and 50% of the people who came to our landing page, I swapped out the form with a Facebook messenger bot download. This was before Facebook Messenger bots were a thing, and I found basically this developer in India who created this hokey little tool to do it, and ChatFuel and all of those folks weren't around then, or maybe they were, and people didn't know about them.

Anyway, what we found was that there was a higher drop off in terms of conversions on the landing page, so people were more willing to do their email address than Facebook Messenger just because they were used to email, but what we found was the conversion flow once they'd become a Facebook messenger subscriber was crazy high.

What we would do is once people had subscribed by Messenger, instead of sending those people another email the following week with the new offer, we would send them the new offer via Facebook Messenger.

And I wrote a big blog post actually I think about this on the HubSpot blog after we did this, but what we found was that we had a 90% open rate on Facebook Messenger, and a 50 or a 70% click through rate, I can't remember, one of the two, click through rate.

And it makes sense, right? If you think about it, when you get messages on Facebook Messenger, and I get a little red circle, I check it immediately because it's not a branded channel. It's not a channel that you're used to getting branded messages from.

So if you have something there, you typically think, "Oh, okay this is a friend." But they'd opted in to Facebook Messenger alerts, so they'd always open it 90% of the time, and then 50% of the people would click through, so it was able to actually convert far more many people to MQL than email was.

So fast-forward. I remember sharing those results with our CEO, and our CTO Don Mesh, and saying "Hey, this is seriously cool shit. A we need to be doing this for all of our landing pages, and B, we need to build this technology into our tool for marketers," and then I think, gosh, eight months later, HubSpot acquired motion.ai, which was one of the worlds leading bot platforms out of Chicago, actually, which is where I am based out of G2Crowd.

So it's cool that my ProductHunt stalking and learning about new tools allowed me to have that really interesting experiment that had great results and led me to kind of take Hubspot down that journey or the start of the early stages anyways.

So I still am always on ProductHunt every day and I'm always testing out new things and flicking links to my team saying "Hey, check this out, we need to try this."

So that's kind of how I think I I started out. Yeah.

Kathleen: Yeah it's great, it's a great platform. Well, all of those are great suggestions, and I'm definitely going to check those out. I will include links to all of that in the show notes, as well as to the email signature generator, the out of office generator, all of those tools.

Ryan: Cool, and I'll send you a link as well, Kathleen, because I wrote a really in depth blog post on the email signature generator and how we created it, and I screen shotted a lot of my research as well, so for folks that want a really specific step by step process and folks that don't believe me on the ROI, I've got all the screenshots of the stats so they can see that as well.

Kathleen: That's fantastic, I would love that. I'll definitely include that as well.

[Read Ryan's blog here]

If somebody has a question, wants to learn more about G2Crowd, wants to reach out to you, what's the best way for them to find you online?

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, I'm a social ho, so I'm on every channel. I think I use the same handle on every platform, so it's just my name, Ryan Bonnici. That's b-o-n-n-i-c-I. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn or Twitter or Instagram, I respond to everyone that messages me, as long as they don't say, "Hey" or if they don't hate on me. If they disagree with what I'm saying that's okay. I love the discourse.

Kathleen: Great, well I'll include that in the show notes as well, and with that, thank you so much, this was really fun and interesting, and I loved meeting somebody else who also thought of the RFP generator, now I know this thing's got legs, I'm looking forward to seeing it finally come to life on your site. So we'll look forward to that.

If you're listening and you found some value in this conversation, I would really appreciate if you would give the podcast a review on iTunes or Apple Podcast or the platform of your choice.

And if you know someone doing kickass inbound marketing work, tweet me at WorkMommyWork because I would love to interview them. Thank you Ryan.

Ryan: Thanks Kathleen, thanks everyone!

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