"Using Customer Stories to Drive Inbound Leads Ft. Zak Pines of Bedrock Data" (Inbound Success Ep. 32)
Many inbound marketers shy away from leading with product-centric content and customer success stories fearing that they will miss opportunities to capture top-of-the funnel leads. The team at Bedrock Data has seen great results doing precisely the opposite.
In this week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast, Bedrock Data VP of Marketing Zak Pines shares how the company's approach of creating content focused on product use cases and regularly publishing customer stories has fueled traffic while increasing the volume of qualified leads.
Listen to the podcast to learn more, or read the transcript below.
Zak: Hey Kathleen, great to be here.
Kathleen: I am psyched to have you here. Tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and about Bedrock.
Zak: Okay, I've been in mar tech for a couple decades now. I work in marketing technology, analytics, marketing automation, inbound marketing, so I'm maybe a bit of a lifer in this industry. And Bedrock, we've been helping companies sync data across applications for many years and we have a brand new product helping people, I'd say, solve the challenge of having data spread across many different SaaS systems that a lot of us are based in, and how you can unify that data into one trusted data set for analytics and other purposes.
Kathleen: Now is that new product, would that be classified as a CDP, a Customer Data Platform?
Zak: To me that term is a little bit loaded. The term "platform" gets a little overused. I'd say it's a little more self serve around the kind of movement and consolidation, and then ultimately feeding analytics products. We work alongside a dashboard tool or a BI tool like a Tableau or an Amazon Quick Site, or a Power BI, so we're actually very complimentary to those tools, helping people solving the challenge of getting data from all their applications into one data set for BI purposes.
Kathleen: Great. Now I first came across Bedrock, oh my gosh, several years ago. I want to say, I don't know, three, four years ago -- probably longer, I have a terrible memory. But it was when I was an agency owner and I was looking for solutions for my clients, most of whom were using HubSpot at the time, and needed to integrate with other platforms, typically CRM. So we had clients on SalesForce. We had some clients on Microsoft Dynamics. And of course, there were a handful of others as well, and the challenge is always, how do you build a seamless integration and how do you make sure that over time what you've created is going to continue to function smoothly?
I remember, I reached out to somebody at HubSpot, and I think it was with my client who was using Microsoft Dynamics because that's a bit of a beast, especially for somebody like myself who's really a marketer and not a technology person. There was no way we were going to try and take on integrating that with HubSpot. So I called someone in HubSpot and I said, "Who should I talk to, to help this client of mine? Who can build something that can connect these two dots?" And Bedrock was the number one name on the list. And I will say that you guys did build an integration for my client. It worked beautifully. And one of the things I really like about what you do is you provide ongoing support, because obviously these platforms change so much over time and things get tweaked. And every time you tweak something, it has the potential to break things.
So I was excited to interview you because I've been, not necessarily a user, but I've really brokered the relationship between Bedrock and the clients I've worked with, and they've been very happy with the service.
Zak: I appreciate the story and the kind words Kathleen. And yeah, the HubSpot ecosystem, the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem, have been really good to us and we're definitely supportive of users from both sides. And yeah, at the end of it we're helping people. By definition, if you're using Bedrock to sync data or to unify data, you're using multiple applications and trying to solve that challenge. And it's definitely a challenge many companies are dealing with these days.
Kathleen: Can you talk a little bit more about what some of the different types of integrations you've built have been? Share some examples. I think that would be really interesting.
Zak: So we have prebuilt connectors to over 50 different systems. With the Fusion product, we're spanning the whole gamut; marketing software like HubSpot that you're familiar with, CRMs, support systems like Zendesk or Salesforce Service or Freshdesk, financial data like QuickBooks Online or Xero, even a project kind of management system like Ezra. Any widely adopted software, especially one where customer data is living, is one that we're working with, and we have these prebuilt connectors for. We're bringing data out of those systems, in a common, consistent way, to help people have a standard schema for their data that they can use for analytics purposes. And that's a multi dimensional data warehouse.
Think of it as you're a contact Kathleen. You're part of a given account. That account has certain sales opportunities, certain support tickets, certain projects...maybe there's products that you've purchased from a given company. So all that data gets unified for analytics purposes, because that's the data that holds all the insight that companies are looking to mine and visualize the key intelligence around.
Kathleen: Is it fair to say that a good client or prospect for Bedrock is a company that is suffering the pain point of having their data in different silos, regardless of what those silos are, and you're kind of building the bridges between them?
Zak: Yeah. That's a huge point. Siloed data is definitely one of the underlying problems, one that we hear about quite frequently. So yeah, that's a huge point.
Kathleen: Got it. So now, when exactly was Bedrock founded?
Zak: Bedrock goes back to 2012, so six years now.
Kathleen: Okay. And you started out as any company does, and the challenge becomes finding those first customers. And then, over time obviously, growing that customer base. And anybody who listens to this podcast knows that we like to talk about marketing, and what has really successfully worked for companies that are practicing inbound marketing. Can you talk a little bit about, just broad brush first, what have been the marketing approaches that you've used with Bedrock, and what have worked well for you?
Zak: So Kathleen, we've been very use case focused with the problems that we help people solve. So that's going to fuse a lot of our content talking about the problems we've solved. And getting very specific, things like if we're helping people connect HubSpot and Microsoft Dynamics, or syncing HubSpot data to Power BI, building out content, building out videos, building out landing pages, and even paid search campaigns and SEO optimization around that specific use case or that specific problem -- that's been a common theme to where we've generated strong demand and success.
Kathleen: That's really interesting to me because I talk to a lot of people on this podcast. And I would say the majority of them tend not to see success with very product-focused content. And I think that's because, in many cases, those are the types of companies where the right prospect maybe knows they have a pain point, but they don't really know what the solution is. Whereas, it sounds like in your case, if I'm understanding you correctly, your prospects have the pain point and they know that what they need to do is to connect these two things. They might not know that you're the one to do it for them. Or they might not know that there's a connector. But it sounds like what you're saying is there's enough people actively out there searching, "How do I connect Microsoft Dynamics and Hubspot?" for example, that you can optimize for that very specific search. Is that right?
Zak: Yeah. And not saying that's the exclusive focus of the efforts, but I do think ... back to your point about product ... I'm all for top of the funnel. I'm all about leadership content. But you also need to balance that with, "Lets be very clear with how we can help people." And if people are actively searching for a solution, or looking for a specific solution, you want to be there to capture that demand as well.
Kathleen: Absolutely, yeah. You don't want to slow down their buyer's journey if they're already at the middle of the funnel, don't send them back to the top. Right?
Kathleen: When you and I first started talking, I asked you, "What's worked really well from a marketing standpoint for Bedrock?" and you had several different examples, but one that really intrigued me was customer stories. And on the surface, it doesn't sound like there's anything flashy or new about that because lots of companies do case studies. But you have a really interesting approach, and I'd love it if you could talk a little bit more about how you guys look at customer stories and how you use them.
Zak: Yeah. Great topic, one I'm passionate about. I wrote a blog on my personal blog, Kathleen. It was over a year ago. And I titled it, "Arms Tied Behind My Back, If I could Only Do One Marketing Activity, It'd Be This" so I'm a big believer in customer interviews. Let's start there. So the thing that I have found really interesting is many marketing teams I've been part of, they've struggled to get the volume of customer stories or case studies. It's often times a battle with sales. How can we find these customers? How do we get them to speak on the record? So the process that we've put in place is once a customer is successfully onboarded, I'm reaching out.
It's a very light ask. It's basically, "Hey, I'd love to hear from you, love to chat for half an hour, learn a little bit more about how we're helping you, what you're doing with it. Maybe it'll be an opportunity to share your story." And just start with that conversation. In that conversation, I'll wind it back to how their buying journey started. What problems were they facing? How did they talk about those problems? Who was involved in the project? How did they discover Bedrock Data? Straight through to what it was like getting onboarded with the software. What problems did they solve? How would they characterize the problems that Bedrock Data is solving for them today?
And what it does is it creates some really good authentic content. In our case, we just call it a customer interview series. And we're regularly publishing out those pieces of content. I've found it to be a fantastic foundation for a bunch of specific marketing deliverables, and a whole lot more. And I'd be happy to share more about that, but I'll pause there for a moment.
Kathleen: So let's go back to where you started. Clients hire Bedrock. And after they've been onboarded, you're reaching out. And at that stage, are you telling them that this is something that is going to be turned into content, or is it really more of a conversation and you see where it goes?
Zak: We package it as a customer interview series, but also let them know, at that point, that we're not asking for hard permission -- meaning we're going to have a conversation. If you're comfortable with it, we'll share it back with you for you to have a chance to review and edit and ultimately approve, but keeping it as a pretty low bar for what that ask is at that point.
Kathleen: What's interesting about this to me is that I think the majority of companies put a lot of pressure on themselves by waiting until they have a true success story...like an outcome. And depending upon the type of product or service you're selling, that can take a long time. At IMPACT, we're a marketing agency. And having outcomes from marketing agency work can take sometimes six months, a year, sometimes longer. So it can take forever to get a success story, whereas it's intriguing to me that you're going to them right after onboarding. And it sounds like at least the first conversation is more centered around what got you here and what are you looking for us to solve, than it is about what the outcome is. Is that correct?
Zak: I'd say yes. We may have a conversation just about the problems, the issues, other trends in the industry. If there is a strong endorsement at that point, all the better, but that's not a prerequisite. So there's an authentic content element to this, but there's also continuously understanding your customer and their buyer's journey. There is no better time to talk to them and get insight around why they bought, how they found you in that point of time.
Another huge benefit to this is if you're always engaging with customers, talking with them, you're going to really get key insight that's going to help you inform marketing strategies connected to that buyer journey.
Kathleen: That's so powerful. And I say that because right now my team at IMPACT is actually in the thick of revisiting all of our own audience personas, and I have everybody on my team calling a couple of people and asking them all kinds of questions. And it's not something that we've done frequently, and it's a big effort right now to try and really learn a lot about our audience. And so, it's interesting to hear you talk about this because I can see the value in treating your persona research as a very agile strategy.
Zak: Always on, yeah.
Kathleen: It makes all the sense in the world, especially when the product you're selling is technology, things change really really fast. And so I can see that you almost have to take that approach, otherwise, you could be doing a lot of work based on assumptions that are faulty.
Kathleen: So you're having these conversations. Tell us a little bit about what type of content you're creating from that first conversation. What does that look like?
Zak: So essentially it's a conversation ... It's like an interview style article, that has typically like a four part structure. It's about that company and that person in their role. It's then talking about, in our case, sort of their sales and marketing approach. So what's your approach to sales and marketing. And then it gets into underlying things that may have led them to come to Bedrock. So, in our case, it's, "What technologies were you using?" We decided to invest in XYZ marketing automation systems for these reasons.
We were using this CRM and then we stumbled across this need. How did we find Bedrock? And then getting into the "solution", in air quotes, so what did they do? How did we help them? I ask questions like, "How would you characterize what Bedrock Data is doing for you today, how it's helping you?" And then, kind of replaying or rephrasing some of that back to them. We'll edit that up, put it in a google doc, share it with the customer, have them review it, approve it, publish it to our blog as part of this interview series. The sales team loves it as well because it's good authentic content that they can share with prospects that are facing similar problems. We'll also then mine that content for good quotes that can be repurposed. I'm very straightforward with the customer. It's like "Okay, well once this is published, what's nice is we can repurpose that."
The sales team loves the content Kathleen, because they can use it. It's authentic content they could share with someone going through the buying process. It's like, "Hey! You might be interested in this article 'cause it sounds like it's ... they went through a similar thing that you guys are discussing right now." Or maybe even working with those exact same technologies that someone else is challenged with.
And then also, once that article is published, then we as Bedrock, we could compile them. We could mine from them. We could repurpose from them, and even quote quotes from them and use for other purposes. But like I said, it's sort of that nice first step with a customer. The other thing it does is it's the start of a relationship with that customer. So we've had many cases where once you get that article out there, and I've actually been amazed that some people really latch on to it. They post it to their website. They post it to their LinkedIn. They post it to their social media.
So you can tell once people are really engaged around it. And then, those people you can do more with. So then once they are engaged with us, once we have that relationship, then talk about doing a webinar program with them. I've had cases. I had a customer where we did a joint speaking session at the MarTec Conference in San Francisco last year that got born out of this process. We've had customers from agencies that have written about the experience on their own blogs that were born out of this process. So it's an organic process that can lead to more and more things over time from this sort of initial spark.
Kathleen: Now, how often do you approach customers about doing this and get turned down?
Zak: I've hardly ever been turned down, meaning a very high success rate. There's been definitely some where the timing isn't right. But if I had to pin a success rate, it's gotta be around 75 or 80 percent of people that are reaching out to having the conversation.
Kathleen: That's great. So obviously you have some people, as you've said, who become almost evangelists in their sharing of the content, which is such a fantastic end result from a marketing standpoint. That's what you look for when you have any kind of content that mentions other people. What type of promotion do you do of the content yourselves. You've said you put it on your blog, and your sales people share it. Are you also putting it out there through your social channels, through any kind of paid promotion?
Zak: We're putting it out through our social channels. So the blog posts themselves we're putting out through social channels. For us, that's largely LinkedIn and Twitter. We will send it to our email subscribers if the piece fits their profile. For example, for Bedrock, a lot of our segmentation is based on what systems you're using. So if it's a story about a HubSpot or Dynamics customer, we would share that out with people that are working with similar systems or facing similar challenges. So there's an email sharing element to it. We'll also compile multiple stories around certain topics.
So one of the series of content we did in my first year at Bedrock, which was 2016 and 17, we created a series of guides. We called it "The Mega Guide to HubSpot Integrations," "The Mega Guide to Marketo Integrations," "The Mega Guide to Pardot Integrations." And a lot of that source content fed into those pieces. Those became like CTA assets promoted through paid search and other channels as well.
Kathleen: So were those pillar content pieces?
Zak: Yep. Those were pillar content pieces that were compiled from these original interviews.
Kathleen: Interesting. I would love to hear, do you have any data around what kind of traction these posts get, or what kind of traffic they pull to your website? How are you measuring success for this content?
Zak: I would say a good percentage of our leads touch this content in some way in their buying journey, whether it's the initial touchpoint for some, whether it's the engagement touchpoint for some, meaning they were already engaged but this sort of moved them forward, whether they were part of a nurturing process. A good percentage of leads and opportunities and ultimately customers are being touched or influenced by this content.
Kathleen: Great. Any plans to change the format as you go forward? Do you ever check back in with somebody after that initial conversation and do the part two sequel?
Zak: We've done some of that, but what I do want to do more of Kathleen is definitely more video or multi media content. That was one of the things that's been bugging me about this. We've strictly kind of repurposed it as articles, where I think there's a big opportunity to ... whether it's audio versions or video versions, that's something I'd like to do as part of that part two follow up in the future that we have yet to do.
Kathleen: Great. I love all of that. I think that's really interesting. I think I might actually try it. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then consider yourself flattered.
Zak: I'd love for you to try it. I want you to try it. And I'd love to hear how it works out for you too.
Kathleen: Well I'm sitting in the same shoes you are. I'm VP of marketing for IMPACT. I like the idea of reaching out to new customers shortly after they start working with us, and learning more about what brought them to us. Even if you're not creating published stories from that, I feel that there has to be so much value in keeping your finger on the pulse of what really are these pain points, and what did somebody go looking for when they started their journey, that ended with you?
Kathleen: We often have to rely on sales to give us that information. And we certainly do talk to our sales team, but if you can cut out one step in that loop and talk directly to the audience, I think that's even better.
Zak: I really totally agree Kathleen. And it really is ... it's a good time to reach out as well because it's a net positive experience for the customer as well, I've found, meaning it's a positive interaction with your company. So don't feel like you're burdening them or you're kind of inserting yourself. Maybe there's an outstanding issue. Maybe there's something that's going to come up. But don't be scared about it, because I've got to tell you ...
And in this post that I wrote, I had eight points. And my eighth point around why do it is, it's fun and rewarding. And it really has been excellent to connect with people, learn more about their situation, build these relationships, springboard, like I said, these other projects, webinars or even events where we're working with people. So it really has been fun and rewarding, and a great way to kind of build those personal relationships and insights into your marketing.
Kathleen: I imagine that it also must have an impact on the quality of your relationship as a company with the client. I think one of the things that I've been really interested in is how the conversation in the world of marketing is shifting. I think historically it's been so focused on everything that we do before we do a deal. You know what I mean? It's like, how do you track somebody in at the top of the funnel? How do you get them to convert? How do you get them to close?
And then after that, in the past at least, it felt like the marketing conversation kind of stopped. And that does seem to be changing. And there's more tools being put in place that help marketers to look at the entire life cycle a customer has with the company, and including while they're working with that company.
And that seems like such a healthy direction to go because one of the big challenges I see with all the marketers I speak to is not just how do you first attract a new customer, but how do we capitalize on opportunities to cross sell and up sell, and extract the maximum lifetime value out of a client. And that sounds really cold and kind of calculating, but as a marketer, honestly, that's your job. And then how do you also build a strong relationship so that when that client leaves and is no longer a customer, they're singing your praises and referring you to other great prospects? And so, it's an interesting approach that I think could lend itself well to solving for those challenges as well.
Zak: Yeah. And we've seen that exact scenario. It's a strong connection with your customer success or your account management function, whatever you might call it. So in my case Luke Owen runs that team, and he knows that this is a key thing that we want to do together. So he's making that initial hand off. But then, I'm also feeding back to him. So I'm bringing back to him, "Hey, here's the finished interview." He's involved. So it's a close partnership between marketing and customer success. And to your point, it's a net positive for customer success. He knows once someone, a customer, has been through that process, they're actually considered much closer to being an evangelist for the company, which is one of his goals as well.
Kathleen: The other thing that's interesting is, I find that the fewer individual people that a customer forms a relationship with, the higher the risk that client is, because their perception of their relationship with the company rests so strongly on the shoulders of that one person who's their account rep.
For example, whereas if you're able to expose that customer to more people from within the company, which this process does, then if something goes wrong with their account rep ... which inevitably, problems happen in any working relationship. But if you have other people that that customer feels they can talk to or they have a relationship with, that somehow serves to cushion and safeguard the overall relationship with the company.
Zak: Great point. I think, again, it's sort of a modern approach. The more ways to relate to a customer ... the more mediums too, which is now you're sharing content on Twitter, you're tagging them, they're sharing content. So it's more people and even more mediums to forge that bond with a customer.
Kathleen: Yeah, which is unusual in my experience in SaaS, because I feel like so many other SaaS companies I work with, the model is either totally touchless if you're a lower priced SaaS, and then they never talk to anybody. Or, if you're enterprise SaaS, you have your success manager or your onboarding person that you have your relationship with. The goal seems to be deliberately minimize the contact with the customer for scalability reasons, which makes a lot of sense.
Zak: Right. Good point. Good point. Different trends at play for sure.
Kathleen: Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing all that. That was so interesting. I'm curious. There's two questions I always ask each of my guests. And I would love to get your answers to these.
The first is: Company or individual, who do you think is doing inbound marketing really well right now?
Zak: Well, I'm not sure if it's inbound marketing technically speaking. But in terms of companies that I notice and I admire, Drift does an outstanding job. What David Cancel's done with Drift is the whole organization is oriented around communicating the value of conversational marketing. So whether it's HR or whether it's customer success, engineering, you see those folks constantly getting the word out through social media and other channels. They had a product launch today in fact, and just tons and tons of video content out there from Drift.
I think they've struck a chord around some of the key problems they're solving and they've done a nice job with creating content.
Kathleen: So you're referring to their Drift email product launch.
Zak: The Drift email product launch was the one that hit today. Yes.
Kathleen: Yeah. I just saw that on Product Hunt. And I have to tell you, it's very funny. The Universe is screaming at me to have somebody from Drift on this podcast, because I think you're the third or the fourth person in a row that I've interviewed who has answered this question with Drift.
Zak: They're doing a good job. And Kathleen, I'm sure they'd love to be on your podcast.
Kathleen: I was gonna say David Cancel or David Gerhardt.
Kathleen: If you're listening David Gerhardt, the universe is telling you and me that we need to talk. That's so great and obviously they're doing a lot right, because a lot of people are talking about them and saying really exactly what you're saying, which is that they have the messaging down. So if you're listening and you wanna see a great example, check out Drift for sure.
Second question: With the world of marketing changing so quickly, how do you stay up to date? How do you educate yourself? What are your go to sources for information?
Zak: I think I'm gonna give you a different answer than your past guests, although I don't know for sure. I'm a huge proponent of live events. I think I've read every blog. I've seen every article. But for me, how I actually get values these days is user groups. I'm part of the Marketo and HubSpot user groups and others here in the Boston area.
There's a really nice meet up called MarTech that happens every two or three months. So for me, I really like getting out there and spending time with colleagues and comparing notes, chatting up and just kind of learning what people are seeing and what they're up to. That for me is the best way to keep on the pulse and to keep learning.
Kathleen: Well you are in fact the first person to say that.
Kathleen: You win some kind of a badge. I'll have to make it up and I'll send you a little Inbound Success Podcast Original Answer Badge. And I would second that because I actually am the leader of the HubSpot user group in my hometown of Annapolis Maryland. And we're small. There's probably between 20 and 30 people that show up to any given meet up. But those are some of my favorite events. You get to have really good in depth conversations with people who are in the thick of it with the software. And they're doing real work and have very interesting questions and problem sets that need to be solved.
I just think there's so much that can be gained from peer learning, which is how I would characterize that, and those relationships.
And having that ... meeting those people, knowing who's out there using it, and having the virtual Rolodex that you can call when you run into something you can't solve yourself is incredibly valuable.
Zak: Yeah. And by the way, when I attend events, I will often, again depending on the type of event, I'm often actively tweeting at events, sometimes doing a write up post on my blog. So there's a nice tie in from the event back to social media and content as well. And often times that part's a lot of fun too.
Kathleen: Great. Well thank you so much for sharing everything you did. I definitely would like to include a link to your blog that you did on customer interviews in the show notes. So I'll make sure to put that in there. If people have questions about this and either want to learn more about Bedrock, or want to learn more about this customer interview process that you use, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Zak: Yeah. Reach out. My blog is moneyballmarketer.com. On Twitter, I'm @moneyballmktr, so feel free to follow, tweet at me, and then might as well throw in my email address Kathleen. It is email@example.com , and it's just Z-A-K, just Z-A-K for that one, which is not usually the way people spell Zak unless I tell them. So firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen: Terrific. I'll put all that in the show notes. And by the way, I do love the moneyball marketer moniker. That's great.
Zak: Yes! And there's a story there for another day as well.
Kathleen: I bet there is. Well thank you so much.
Zak: We'll keep that as a teaser.
Kathleen: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us. If you are listening and you like what you heard, please do leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher. And if you know somebody doing kick as inbound marketing work, please tweet me at workmommywork because I would love to interview them. Thank you Zak.
Zak: Kathleen, this has been so much fun. Thanks.
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About Kathleen Booth
Kathleen joined IMPACT after successfully exiting her own digital marketing agency, which she grew from startup to HubSpot Platinum level partner. As part of the sales and business development team at IMPACT, Kathleen leverages her 11+ years as an entrepreneur and inbound marketing agency owner to advise businesses on digital marketing and sales solutions that will deliver measurable results in the form of customer acquisition and revenue growth. When she’s not working, you’ll find Kathleen spending time with her children, taking long walks with her two rescued Labrador retrievers, volunteering on community boards, or devoting her time to mentoring other entrepreneurs and business owners.