The client was a SaaS startup whose all-in-one marketing software aimed to make online marketing easier and more accessible for small business owners. When I joined the company, they had an established sales team of 20+ individuals in various BDR, SDR, and AE roles. The sales team had early success driving acquisition through cold calling and emailing — however, this approach was wearing thin and couldn't keep up with aggressive growth goals and new hiring initiatives. They needed passive pipeline generation to keep the team busy, productive, and focused on selling.
The team turned to me to help them create an inbound marketing engine that produced warm, ready-to-close leads without as much manual labor. My ability to develop a strategic plan and then follow through with it on a day-to-day, tactical level made me an ideal fit for the project. My broad skill set in planning, content development, SEO, conversion optimization, and design skills made it easy for me to implement a framework for a scalable marketing program.
The goal for this project was simple: develop and implement a content marketing program that would increase the number of inbound, ready-to-close leads the company was acquiring through our website and social channels.
The first step in this project was to understand our client's pain points. I did this by speaking with sales, researching search behavior, and evaluating the content on our website that performed the best over time. I used this information to create a hypothesis: marketing a small business is hard, and owners want clear, actionable advice in the form of how-to articles, checklists, and similar content.
Many of our ideal clients didn't want to learn the ins and outs of digital marketing, nor could they afford to hire a marketing employee. My job was to bridge the gap between marketing education and the value our SaaS product provided, to give them the confidence to invest in a tool that would simplify the process and help them increase sales.
I knew we had to confirm this approach with real results to get executive buy-in on the strategy. I tested our new content approach with small-scale events in NYC, Boston, and other cities to see if nearby small business owners were showing interest. These hour-long "lunch 'n learn" sessions started with a 45-minute presentation, followed by lunch and product demos.
We evaluated success in many ways, including attendance numbers, crowd engagement, sales activity over lunch, and most importantly, sales opportunities created. When a particular session performed well (for example, "Twitter for Small Businesses" and "Local Search 101"), we'd then move it into the next step in our content funnel.
The most successful presentation content was then mapped out and turned into an online content plan. I did this by transcribing the talk track, reformatting slide images, and taking notes of the Q&A sessions to help beef up the information.
I matched this content up with the different customer segments we had and the research we had conducted in step 1. Content needed to fit into certain formats (i.e. SlideShare presentation, blog checklist, downloadable template, etc.) and needed to be optimized for passive performance (i.e. using the right search keywords and social hashtags).
I put an emphasis on visual content that would stand out on social and in Google Images, as well as action-oriented content that could easily be shared or printed out.
Finally, I made sure to include product tie-ins throughout, showing screenshots of our software, including links to case studies, and prompting readers to learn more from our team of experts.
The most visible - and time-consuming - part of my work was developing a "cascading content" tree for each piece we wanted to share. In layman's terms, we'd start with a big, exhaustive piece of content (think an eBook or white paper or guide) and put it behind a lead form on our website. From this tentpole content, we'd then develop a series of blogs, infographics, social snippets, and other media that could link back to our tentpole content.
All of this was supported by a dedicated resources page on our website that housed the content, serving as a funnel to lead customers to a form they could fill out to learn more.
Once the cascading content was developed, I had to get to work on distribution. I needed to reach as many small business owners as possible in order to build a constantly refilling pipeline.
These distribution methods included automated email nurture programs, search engine optimization, planned social scheduling, third-party forums (such as Reddit, Slideshare, and Youtube), and others. Since our SaaS platform made the promise of being all-organic marketing for SMBs, we had to avoid paid distribution channels that would not align with our core messaging, making it critical that we could optimize our content on all owned and earned media channels we could find.
Once we had distribution in place, we could focus on conversion optimization. This included things like looking at click-through rates on email to see if we could use different subject lines to get more people to open them. We would also focus on SEO, where we were ranking, and if we optimized our headlines, could we improve that ranking over time?
We also looked at what happened when people came to our website. Were they filling out a form? Could we make it easier for them to do so? Could we change the offer or the language or the amount of information collected?
By focusing on conversion rates, we could drastically increase the number of inbound leads collected without having to scale traffic at the same rate.
The initial results from the program came fast, with each month's "tentpole" content continuing to perform after we stopped doing active distribution. My approach helped increase website traffic by over 50% in the first six months, driving tens of thousands of new SMBs into our funnel. Inbound leads grew at an even higher pace, increasing by over 250% in the same time frame. More importantly, these were warm leads with sales intent and had been prequalified by answering specific questions in our lead forms. This meant a faster sales process and a higher closing rate for the team.