What's the secret to building an inbound marketing campaign aimed at the elusive CEO audience?
In this week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast, I'm interviewing Kuno Creative co-founder John McTigue, a leader in the inbound marketing space whose SaaS Marketing for CEOs campaign brought in a half million dollars in new business to his agency.
John is sharing what the campaign's goals were, how it was developed, and which specific tactics worked well (and which didn't), along with key takeaways you can use to improve the results of your campaigns.
Listen to the episode here, or read the show notes (below).
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Welcome to the Inbound Success podcast! As someone who has been a practicing marketer for 15+ years, I know first hand how challenging it can be to continually improve the results you’re getting from your marketing efforts AND innovate when your schedule is busy and you have a million things to do. Like you, I’ve heard tons of stories about other companies or agencies that are crushing it and wonder, “what are they doing that I’m not?”
I’ve always found myself wishing that I could learn the secrets of other marketers who were getting great results and “pull back the curtain” on their campaigns.
That is the purpose of the Inbound Success podcast.
Each week, I’ll be talking with REAL inbound marketers who are rolling up their sleeves and getting great results. My guests include marketing directors and CMOs, entrepreneurs and C-level execs, as well as marketing agency owners and consultants. These are folks who develop marketing strategies, but also know what it takes to nail tactical execution.
This week, my guest is John McTigue, the co-owner of Kuno Creative, a Diamond level HubSpot partner and inbound marketing agency based in Ohio.
Kuno’s SaaS Marketing for CEOs Campaign
You can’t grow a successful agency without doing your own marketing, and at Kuno Creative, the agency has targeted SaaS companies via a marketing campaign aimed at SaaS CEOs specifically. John himself has a background in software sales and has blogged about marketing for SaaS companies for years, so he is able to leverage his experience in creating content for this audience.
The focus at Kuno is on B2B SaaS and initially, the agency was targeting the full range of SaaS companies, from startup to enterprise-level providers. As part of the research they undertook in preparation for the campaign, the Kuno team identified CEOs as key decision makers when it comes to purchasing agency services and growing their companies.
The objectives of the SaaS Marketing for CEOs campaign were to generate 20 sales qualified leads (SQLs) and five new customers totalling $200,000 in annual recurring revenue for the agency.
Understanding the Target Audience
Before launching the campaign, the Kuno team focused on identifying and understanding the buyer persona that would be targeted. As part of this process, they interviewed a number of stakeholders within SaaS companies to identify who the buyer really was. They also leveraged their relationship with HubSpot, a SaaS company for which Kuno is a value added reseller, to better understand how to get into the heads of SaaS CEOs. The result was a detailed profile of the buyer persona that the campaign would target.
What did they learn? SaaS CEOs are great entrepreneurs who love their product idea and are clear about its potential, but for the most part, they have no idea how to market or sell and don’t know what to expect in terms of short term or long term goals and results.
In effect, they are flying blind.
For this audience, the key challenge is how to get started and what to do first.
Building the Campaign
Kuno’s approach was to think about what the SaaS CEO should do for themselves, rather than what the agency could do for them (sidenote: I love this because as marketers, too often we focus on ourselves and forget that its not about us - its about the buyer!). John researched what successful SaaS CEOs have done and this led him to Shopify, an ecommerce SaaS platform that has had great success with its marketing efforts. Much of the information about Shopify was publically available, and John paired this with his own analysis of the company’s marketing and social media efforts. He used Shopify as a best practice example, pointing to their marketing results and impressive growth.
What makes Shopify special? The company sticks to what it knows. It has a very well defined market and stays focused on serving that market. All of the company's content is around helping its audience to be successful as small business owners. The focused content strategy, coupled with a strong overall business strategy and great customer service, are what made Shopify successful.
Building on what he learned about Shopify, John created an ebook called “SaaS Marketing for CEOs.” This was Kuno’s primary “top of the funnel” tool for generating traffic and leads for the campaign. The ebook included the story of Shopify as well as information about other SaaS companies.
Campaign Promotion Strategy
Kuno’s team explored a number of avenues for promoting the ebook, including publishing articles (with associated calls to action) on related topics on their own blog, sending emails to their database, and using social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, ...even Google Plus!). They also used retargeting and paid campaigns (via GoChime) with the goal of increasing the audience size but later learned that their target audience wasn’t very active in social and therefore didn’t respond.
The Kuno team built ten individual landing pages for each channel that the ebook would be promoted on and drove traffic to the landing pages via keyword targeting and messages meant to hit on the persona’s pain points.
Why build ten different landing pages when a single landing page with tracking URLs would have sufficed? Kuno was using HubSpot to manage their campaign and felt that separate landing pages would make it easier to immediately see and attribute leads by channel. To avoid being penalized by search engines for duplicate content, they varied the messages on the landing pages based on the channel (ex. If a social media channel, it might have been lighter or more fun), but for the most part the content was pretty similar.
The most successful channel by far was a blog that they wrote and guest published on the HubSpot blog. Within a few months, that one post generated almost 800 new contacts. These were high quality contacts because HubSpot’s audience is full of SaaS executives, a great fit given the target of the campaign.
Nurturing the Leads
After downloading the ebook, leads were enrolled in an email drip campaign (workflow) consisting of five emails sent at a pace of one email a week. All emails were written by John in his voice, and signed by him. They were meant to provide follow on information and not be at all salesy - just John trying to continue helping them out (again that awesome shift from selling to educating!).
For example, one email was about the company GetApp and how it was going to market. John’s assumption in crafting this particular email was that the CEOs who downloaded the offer would really want to know more about what others in their role were doing.
One interesting thing to note about John’s workflow was that the emails lacked any form of corporate branding (no fancy image headers, thumbnails, visuals, etc.). Instead, they looked just like they came right from John’s own email account, and the idea was to make the prospect feel like they just got another email from their friend John.
I thought this was a great way to approach the nurturing campaign. While it can be tempting to add lots of bells and whistles to marketing emails, doing so can make them look too mass market and spammy. By stripping out all of the branded elements, John was able to convey a much more personalized feeling.
The Follow On Offer
In addition to the email lead nurturing campaign, John wanted to provide the CEOs who converted on the ebook with something that they could pass on to their CMO, so he created another ebook focused on what CMOs might want to know. This touched on things like: How do you get started with inbound marketing? How to build an SEO strategy? How long does it take to get results? Etc. The goal was to get both the main buyer persona (the CEO) on board, as well as key influencers (the CMO in this case).
Don’t Just Profile Buyers, Profile Influencers
Kuno saw a lot of success by publishing on the Hubspot blog, but if you don’t have a HubSpot you can turn to for help, what are your options?
The good news is that there influencers in every industry and for every product or service. John recommends that you start by researching bloggers who are influential, or professional speakers within the industry, or journals or magazines that might allow guest posts or syndication of your content. You can also explore comarketing opportunities such as jointly hosting events or webinars.
Once you identify your influencers, the best way to approach them is to start by doing something for them. Ask to interview them for your blog and shine the spotlight on them. Build a relationship first, and then ask to do a joint blog or cohost a webinar. The more you give, the more you get in this case.
Kuno ran the campaign from December, 2014 to December, 2016. During that time, they signed 10 new customers and brought in over $400,000 in revenue - double what they expected, and all attributable directly to the campaign.
The campaign included ten different landing pages (there was one landing page for each channel) which together generated 8,100 visits and 2,250 contacts for a 25% visitor-to-lead conversion rate. From these leads, the company identified 30 new sales qualified leads (SQLs) and the 10 customers I mentioned earlier.
The campaign wasn’t just successful because of the new business it delivered to the agency. One of the Kuno team’s goals going into this was to refine the process so that they could roll it out to their clients. From that standpoint, the campaign was a complete success.
Be Careful What You Wish For
With ten new customers and almost a half million dollars in annual recurring revenue, it's safe to say that Kuno got a lot of new business from the campaign. Ironically, after landing these new accounts, the team made the determination that many of them were a poor fit for the agency.
Why? SaaS CEOs are mostly hungry startup companies that don’t have a lot of money. They are living from Series A to Series B and are in a hurry to see results. In many cases, their expectations are unrealistic, but their budget limits them to a level of effort that lends itself well to building results slowly over time. This disconnect between the clients’ goals and the agency’s budget/level of effort resulted in friction with clients and in some cases, churn.
Seeing what was happening, the leadership team at Kuno polled their staff and found that most of them preferred to work in other industries where the companies are more mature and the client was more excited about the inbound marketing work that the agency is doing. As a result, they decided to turn off the campaign in late 2016 and shift their focus.
While on paper the campaign was a major success, John shared a number of lessons learned:
Identifying the key distribution point (in this case, the HubSpot blog) is one of the most important things you need to do to get great results. There is more bang to the buck in this than in almost any other promotional channel or effort.
If he were to run this campaign today, John would add more video content. People are more likely to consume this than long form ebooks.
These days, there is quite a bit of fatigue from blogging and ebooks. It’s more important to focus on creating great content than just “checking the box” with your content.
John feels like he should have shut the campaign down sooner. A big lessons learned for him is that campaigns should be finite in term. It's important to have fresh content, adjust course, etc., and that is not often accomplished with “set it and forget it” approaches.
Hopefuly, you can use some of these takeaways, as well as the strategies that John employed, to get results in your next inbound marketing campaign!
How to Reach John
John has been a leader in the inbound marketing agency world for some time, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to interview him for the podcast. If, like me, you have more questions for John, you can reach him by email at email@example.com.
Thanks for joining me this week!
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