The majority of companies are laser focused on marketing and sales, but there’s much more that should be going into your business plan. Sujan Patel is the co-founder of ContentMarketer.io and Narrow.io and a leading expert in digital marketing. Sujan discusses how growth hacking is more important to the overall success of your daily efforts. He shares his tops on how to identify your goals, create an action plan, generate profits and succeed.
Hello, and welcome to Marketing Speak! I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, and today we have Sujan Patel. Sujan is the co-founder of ContentMarketer.io and Narrow.io. These are tools that help marketers scale their content marketing and social media efforts. He’s helped companies like Mint, Turbo Tax, Sales Force, and others land more customers, make more money, and grow their business. He also writes for Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur. He’s got a great personal blog as well that you have to check out. Sujan, it’s great to have you on!
Yeah, likewise! Great to chat with you finally after all these years of kind of dancing around knowing each other.
Yes! We never actually met in person, but now we’ve met via Skype so it’s great to have you on! Let’s start with growth hacking because that’s an area that you know a lot about. I think we need to define it for our listeners because growth hacking isn’t the same thing as marketing, and how are they different? Let’s dig into that.
First and foremost, growth hacking is often misused, misunderstood, and it’s fairly saturated with people who just don’t get around, but I think, to me, growth hacking, really, is a mindset of rapid and fast-paced growth-related initiatives and anything around growing your company or a company. Now, the difference between growth hacking and marketing is, marketing is one part of growth hacking. Growth hacking encompasses leveraging the product, and working with multiple teams at an organization to accomplish growth so leveraging the product, the product team, the user experience, and designers. You’re also working on customer support, sales-really, everyone under the sun you can get to help you further grow a company or further grow a product. Funny thing is, I’ve done a lot of growth hacking most recently at a company called WhenIWork.com, where I was serving as a VP of marketing in the last two years, and unlike most businesses, there’s not really people searching for our solution. There is nothing really we can do. Our main channels, our SEO, SEM, and email marketing-we have to go kind of differently and I think a lot of people are facing that same challenge. That’s kind of where I started to practice a lot of the things. I’ve been kind of involved in efforts. I’ve done a lot of email marketing. I’ve worked with support to do various marketing initiatives, but really, the last two years, I’ve been solely doing growth-related initiatives, and I’ve seen so much more impact from working with customer support in growth than I have actually on marketing channels. I want to emphasize that growth really can come from outside of marketing.
Right. How did you think differently? Because in that environment, you had two years trying to build a customer base without them actively searching for you-they didn’t know that you had a solution and that they needed that kind of solution so what did you do that was outside the box?
Yes. I looked, first and foremost, of all the touch points-people who were finding our site and where the touch points were. “Okay, were they having a touch point with a support person?” They were having attachment with the sales person-and this is a self-service SAS, meaning, this is not an enterprise model where the company can afford to go spend hundreds of dollars on closing a transaction because its products are roughly under $100 a month, and so it’s fairly economically impossible to kind of put heavy sales and personalization to it so the challenge is automation and trying to process everything. The other part was, I had to figure out where people were actually finding us, and where people who would find us, or where people need this solution. First and foremost, the audience or the customer bases are small business owners. I’m talking brick-and-mortar businesses-restaurants to hairdressers to doctors or whatever. It’s a really broad kind of audience. We found a couple of industries so realize who those people were, and find out what their biggest problems are. Because people were not looking for our solution of scheduling software, but we knew that they would be looking for other solutions-let’s call it, payroll. They may be looking for how to hire-so we started coming up and marketing in areas where that will kind of circling the actual our solution really still solving the pain point, and introducing the content of our software rather than, “Hey, go buy our software!” or doing direct ads. We would do lots of look-a-like audiences. On Facebook Ads, we would exchange kind of pixels with similar companies that have similar audience. We would try doing a lots of outreach. We would, literally, do a lot of outbound emails and then match that with a superior onboarding process where it’s partly the product is doing systematical things, but also people intervene to help kind of flow people along in, and we just listen to that feedback, and create a kind of a framework for a very rapid testing so yeah, I mean, that’s kind of how we got started. I kind of said a lot there, but at the end of the day, while marketing was working on getting automate email marketing set-up, or working on figuring out how well these ads are performing, that took time, I switched gears, and said, “Let’s go while this is collecting data or in progress. Let’s go figure out how the support team and there are four, five touch points so that customer can help convert customers, or potential customers can convert customers, or can turn customers into kind of happy customers and advocates.” We moved a lot around growth and departments while other things are happening so we’re able to do very rapid evolution and improvements while data was collecting in some areas.
Right, so rapid iteration, essentially. What would be-let’s say, somebody is running a brick-and-mortar business. They’re listening to this podcast and they want to apply growth hacking to their, I don’t know, dry cleaner business-how would you apply growth hacking, rapid iteration, and integrating these multiple touch points to grow your dry cleaner business?
Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, you have to figure out who your customers are and who your audience is. You have to understand their personas, right? No matter what type of business, you need to really grasp that. And then, figure out where they’re hanging out, and how can you penetrate them. It doesn’t always have to be online. It doesn’t have to be, “Google like, local SEO” for a local business. That’s a great way-there’s Yelp, there’s Facebook location-based ads, which are great, and you can do burst of them at certain points. You can do coupons. I mean, the direct mail still works. Yes, it is expensive, but be creative-get a summer intern, get some of your employees, and go pass out flyers. I mean, I was talking to a company the other day, which is a startup that’s launching a kind of class pass for kids model. It’s like, karate classes, soccer, and various activities. They wanted to kind of get an MVP built and then get 100-200 customers. We kind of worked at the math, and what it came to is, we needed to get 5,000 people to visit the website so, what’s the best way to do that that doesn’t cost anything with the least amount? We found out that it’s to go to the parks and leave flyers at all the mini-vans or all the cars that kind of looked like they would be moms, right? One, you’re qualifying the user because the person you’re leaving the flyer on is taking their kid out to do an activity so they might be interested in another activity whereas, going to a neighborhood door-to-door or leaving it at random places might not be the best place. It’s very, very direct so you can get a higher click-through rate, and in this case, the click-through rate was flyer to visitor, right? It’s just kind of a weird metric, but at the end of the day, I mean, the test proved successful, the click-through rate was much, much lower, meaning they had to go hand-out a lot more flyers and go to a lot of parks, but it was fairly low cost. I mean, the whole approach cost less than $5,000 to validate their initial MVP.
And, MVP is not “Most Valuable Player,” it’s “Minimum Viable Product.” Let’s define a few of these kind of growth hacking terms-so you’ve got MVP, you’ve got Agile, you’ve got SCORM, and things like that so, what’s sort of terminology do you hear all the time in growth hacking in kind of the startup world versus in stodgy, conservative, and regular brick-and-mortar businesses in their marketing departments?
Yeah. C.A.C or C.P.A so, cost per acquiring a customer and cost per acquisition-more on the kind of startup world. There’s still R.O.I. At the end of the day, that still fits into the R.O.I, but for the kind of startup world, especially on the e-commerce or SaaS side, you’re looking at L.T.V, which is the lifetime value of a customer, and you’re looking at, because that you need to grow rapidly, but you also need to grow in a sustainable manner-meaning, you might be losing money to acquire the company, but the payback period would be, at a certain point, you want to have a healthy L.T.V. to C.A.C ratio, which is something that SaaS company is heavily reliant on and it should. Also, in the e-commerce side, it’s looking at retention cart abandonment and things of that nature that are logical and make sense, but often over-complicated and are mostly very difficult situations to solve because it requires understanding more of the psychology behind the process and everything. That’s kind of were what the next part of what I call a growth hacking, really, kind of anchors around is C.R.O or Conversion Rate Optimization-although in kind of earlier stage or in growth hacking, you might not be leveraging C.R.O in the formal way, but you would be testing and constantly poking and prodding and letting things kind of figure out what the best flow is to, let’s say, onboard new customers, or this flow of how they should-you know, what’s the content information and what kind of fields should you ask for. Some parts fit into the onboarding and post-customer acquisition information or process, some of it fits into formal C.R.O, and so it kind of ranges.
Right, so C.A.C, again, stands for what?
Cost for Acquiring a Customer.
Cost for Acquiring a Customer so the lifetime value to C.A.C ratio is something that gives you insight into what?
The L.T.V-to-C.A.C ratio would give you insight in, essentially, how long your customers are staying for, and if your C.A.C-to-L.T.V is too close together-the rule I’ve heard from most V.C’s are three or four to one L.T.V.-to-C.A.C ratio meaning, the L.T.V is 3-4x that of what it costs you to acquire the customer-but at the end of the day, you want those numbers to be as far apart as possible because your C.AC cannot be higher than how much the money-the revenue-you’re going to get from a customer, frankly. A lot of what’s been happening in the last few years is that, people have focused on growth, growth, growth and not as much on this kind of this this ratio, and as a result, cash flow gets tight. As a result, overhead is high, and people might not be spending money in the right marketing channels or sustainable marketing, I call it, which means if your company has no more money, can you continue to grow and earn back more revenue from the customers you got without spending more to get new customers.
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. In the growth hacking world, some of the stuff like the job development approaches-are those spilling over into growth hacking as well? For example, do you do daily SCROM meetings? Everybody standing up and trying to fit everything into a five-minute meeting each day or ten minutes whatever?
Yes. With growth hacking, it’s definitely taking parts of AGILE, taking parts of the LEAN, and applying with some marketing and/or growth, but a little different kind of approach is that, you have multiple kind of areas you need to work with, and you have usually finite resources to be maybe a bottleneck is on product or development or budgets typically causing further product and development resource constraints, but at the end of the day, you want to score what the opportunities are looking like, what’s the potential impact of something, what is the time it takes to get out there, what’s the time and does it require a test, and what’s it going to take to get this thing out the door. At the end of the day, I like to have 1-10 rating on all of these, and kind of choosing based off and prioritizing based off of that that metric. Sometimes, it requires meeting daily. I, typically, find that weekly has been a really good kind of pace where everyone’s checking in on weekly basis. Daily, there’s what I call the “ideation” phase where people throw ideas every day into whatever format. It could be Evernote, Basecamp, Google Spreadsheet, or whatever, right? You can use GrowthHackers’ new software, which is awesome. At the end the day, you can use anything you want, but you don’t want to decide on that idea at the time it’s been generated. You want to decide on it weekly, and you also want to prioritize it based off what else has been done or what else is being done because, at the end of the day, you want to choose the biggest growth that takes the least amount of time or resources to execute or you want to choose, let’s say-you can’t get around; this is a big opportunity; it’s going to require months of development and design time to get out the door, but at the same time, you might be able to do five other things that require other sets of resources so prioritizing that. I found project managers to fit well as almost like the kind of growth leader. Definitely, growth teams that have analytics so data people-data analysts-in the actual group perform much, much better because, at the end of the day, every idea coming from a marketer or growth, which could be sales, customer support, or product, has to be filled to do by the data person who says, “Nope. That sounds great logic, but this is the real data,” and can kind of validate that.
What would be one of your favorite examples of an idea coming out of customer support and turning into a huge, successful marketing initiative?
Yes, a couple of things-one of the things I’ve done is on the NPS side. We, at WhenIWork.com and other software companies as well, have implemented the NPS score, which, at the end of the day, they’re telling you how likely they’re going to recommend you to their friends or family but, really, they’re telling you what they think about your product or their experience.
Just to interrupt for a second-NPS, for those who aren’t familiar or for listeners who don’t know what that is, it’s Net Promoter Score.
Okay, sorry, this is the language I use every minute of the day…
Well, like SaaS. We’re talking about SaaS, and people are scratching their heads like, “What is SaaS?” If they’re more traditional marketers, it’sSoftware as a Service. Yeah, so, we’re all about TLA’s as geeks.
Yeah, definitely! So, kind of going back to this-going and leveraging the NPS survey while someone’s using, let’s say, your software or they are on your website, and after they’ve, let’s say, completed a transaction on the e-commerce side, asking how likely will they recommend your software solution to a friend or family, anyone that’s 9’s and 10’s are the promoters. These are people who are likely to recommend you and/or are already recommending you. Well, the great thing about that is, you know those people’s contact information so you can use existing SaaS solutions likePromoter.io or SatisMeter. There’s a few dozen that are really good. At the end of the day, you have those people’s information. You can simply send an email and ask them, “Hey, would you be willing to share this on Facebook? Would you be willing to do this?” or you can give them a better experience and simply ask them what they think. Now, the ones that are not 9’s and 10’s, frankly, that’s an opportunity to leverage your customer support team to improve their experience. If they’re answering a 3 or a 5, they’re telling you probably what the bug they’ve just experienced and why they’re not happy. Often times, you’ve given them a place to kind of vent and instead of making it a vent session, you can, literally, try to solve their problem and that’s where support can come in. What I found is, you’re leveraging detractors and those that are passive, which are essentially I believe are 7’s-6 to 8’s-could be wrong. I’m just looking at this at the top of my head, but at the end of the day, you can solve their problems, and the great thing is that, they won’t probably be thinking you’re going to solve their problems so you’re going to surprise them a bit and turn their kind of bad experience into maybe in that neutral or even a positive one. I’ve seen kind of the qualitative stuff and information from looking at chat logs and kind of support software like logs of this, and I’ve found that everyone’s kind of happy about people solving the problems that they’ve just blatantly said that they have and it’s a simple way. Now, on the 9’s and 10’s, you can offer free t-shirts or swag to turn those happy customers or promoters into advocates. Again, those people are already telling you like, “We love your product. We will help you!” but they likely don’t know where to help you.
Right. You’re going to guide them in the right direction. I have my first experience with Net Promoter. The company that I sold Netconcepts was acquired by Covario. Covario was really keen on Net Promoter (NPS), and so that was my first exposure to it. I’d never even heard of it before-frankly, I wasn’t really sold on it, but then I just recently had an interview with Jared Spool on Marketing Speak here, and he just railed on Net Promoter and said that it’s just a bunch of bunk, and instead you should use the Gallup CE11. Have you had any experience with the Gallup CE11 scoring or is it just Net Promoter? What’s your take on Jared’s position that it’s a bunch of bunk?
Yes. Look, at the end of the day, I think there are multiple ways to quantify how satisfied or happy your customers are and how to solve the ones that are not. I also think Gallup and there is a couple new ones or better ones or probably better, but at the end of the day, what I find most companies get stuck at is implementing something-not like one or the other-but anything like implementing and executing. I think that’s the problem. I believe, in my approach to kind of growth and maybe because I have such is such a growth hacking kind of mindset of rapid iteration and a rapid testing and iterating, that I want to get, let’s say, NPS down. I want something out the door that’s simple-something I can implement easily and leverage immediately and then improve upon that. Now, if I find NPS is not simply working, we can move on. Now, at the end of the day, I found most companies struggle at the executions stage so I get stuck and I just kind of stop at the NPS. I’m sure there’s a lot more ways to kind of measure and improve it, but I like to focus on just kind of executing and iterating from there.
I love that! That’s a really great point. If you are focused on getting to perfection, you’ll never launch anything. Having such high standards that you don’t launch anything is equivalent to having no standards because nothing gets done.
Yeah. If you’re having a meeting about NPS and if you haven’t executed by the second meeting, it’s probably wrong. You’re probably overthinking it. Just do it, test it, and iterate because the plug-and-play solutions that are out there now are so easy. Literally, before I jumped on here, it took me 30 minutes to work with the client and we got it out the door. I’m on the platform right now and just happened to have a tab open, and I’m seeing responses so yeah, there is a better scoring system, but I have 15 responses that happened during the last 20 minutes of our conversation.
That’s awesome! Which platform is it that you’re using?
I’m currently using SatisMeter-S-A-T-I-S Meter. It’s a great plug-and-play solution, but there’s a couple of others. I like this one because it’s super, super simple and the pricing is actually fairly competitive. I think it starts at around $50 a month.
Cool! Very nice! When you were talking about having this rapid testing and iteration kind of mentality and just put stuff out there and seeing almost like just go in with your gut-that reminded me of the book by Malcolm Gladwell, Blink, and how he describes this phenomenon where an art historian or art expert, by overthinking, would get it wrong more often than getting it right. They just go with their gut like, “Is this piece of art a forgery or is it real?” If they just quickly answer the question and go with their gut, they’ll get it right more often than if they kind of belabor that question, and really focus and try and analyze it so thin-slicing is what Malcolm has referred to. I’m curious how you incorporate thin-slicing into your growth hacking efforts?
Yes. I look at metrics, and my thin-slicing kind of comes from the metrics I look at. Again, I try to keep things from a kind of an executive marketer and above. I try to keep things at an arm’s distance and an arm’s length as well-meaning, I want them to be far enough where I can barely grab them, but I also want them to be close enough so that if I need to grab it, I can get hands-on and go deeper into something. However, I don’t want to always overthink a problem, I want to start to execute. Realistically, in a business, there’s really only a few metrics that matter, right? There is employee-customer happiness, revenue, growth, and business may vary, but bottom line is, you could get to the point where you can measure a hundred metrics and then improve upon those, but you’re iterating. If you improve upon the three to five core metrics, you’re not always iterating. You might be growing at a faster rate and likely, we’re going to get faster rate. Going back to your question, I kind of live by this 80% rule-meaning, go tackle 80% of the problem and you can probably do it very, very quickly. It’s not going to be perfect, it’s going to be far from perfect, but people will perceived as good and, probably, on the bottom-end of great, depending on how savvy your customer is or the kind of perception of your brand. You can make it your great experience by having a better and bigger brand experience. Anyway, getting back to the point, that next 20% takes a lot of effort, and to perfect it, it’s going to require a lot more time and, probably, a person or a more specialized person-meaning, it’s like when I think about hiring SEO for a startup or any company. Look, let’s get the best practices down. Let’s get the audit-the technical things-on the site down. You’re probably doing a hundred things wrong, but let’s get the big things out of the way. If you have somebody internal or reading your book or based of what’s out there now, you could probably tackle 70% of technical SEO. From that next 70-80% to 100%, you’re going to need an industry expert-somebody who’s been there, done that. Your developer is not going to be the guy who’s saying, “This is what schema has to be structured like and what not,” or “This pay structure is the best way and the load time is here.” I like to go into that 70-80%, and then if that channel or that tactic or strategy pans out, invest deeper by hiring a very specialized person-either a contractor a full-time employee to go way deeper-assuming there is ROI in going deeper into that, but if not, move on to the next thing that I can slice at 80% and continue integrating that way.
Yup, so focus on the basic blocking and tackling, and if you can move on to something else that’s going to be a high value or another low-hanging fruit opportunity, go there before you start engaging the experts and spending a ton of money when you’re a startup and you have very little funds to hire that exp6ert. Try to get as far as you can with that blocking and tackling approach is, basically, what you’re saying.
Yeah. A quick example from my end because I do a lot of SEO, of course. Thin-slicing, for me, could include, for example, just banging out a bunch of new title tags without having done a lot of keyword research ahead of time-not that I’m against keyword research and putting together a really strong keyword strategy, I’m just saying, you can use the thin-slicing approach to quickly bang out a bunch of improved title tags when you have not yet optimize your title tags, instead of belaboring all of the aspects involved with the brainstorming different kinds of synonyms and all that sort of stuff, you can just go with your gut and go, “This is probably a better keyword than this,” or “This is probably a better focus or theme to go after than the current one,” or “This one has no theme at all, it’s just kind of amorphous and not really focused.” Bang through a bunch of title tags in an hour-like spend 30 seconds a piece or something like that-and that’s not a bad strategy to start to move the needle. It’s not perfect, but that’s not what’s called for at that moment.
Yeah, exactly. We all know age and time with SEO is such a big part that if you were to implement that close to perfect or good enough kind of titles with your gut and then maybe continue to iterate, you gain time, right? You’re getting it out the door faster and hopefully, that does help at some point.
Yup. It’s more aligned with being outcome-focused rather that activity-focused because there are so many things that are, quote-unquote, best practices-whether it’s SEO or CRO or some other discipline, you don’t have time to implement every single best practice. A bunch of them aren’t going to move the needle so why do them? Just go after the low-hanging fruit-to use consultants speak-and just get the big things out of the way and iterate as you have time. Let’s jump now to a topic that you briefly, briefly covered at the beginning of personas-what is involved in developing really solid personas of your ideal customer base?
Yes. I think it’s, first and foremost, finding out the different types of people that would come in the door-figuratively or literally speaking-and coming up with questions. I mean, I wrote a blog post, I think, earlier this year or late last year on almost 100-actually 150-questions you can ask people or yourself to really come up with and nail down that persona. However, you need to know who they are generally speaking and what their high level background is. I try to keep things down to three to five personas, and then if you really need to iterate from there, you could, and break down into separate personas. I like to keep things manageable with one hand when counting as well just to keep it very, very simple because if you’re trying to appeal to 10 personas, you’re probably missing out on and lightly touching or not relevant enough to all 10 so again, three to five. I think understandingmaybe a little bit about their background like what sites they visit. If it’s a web-based business or you’re conducting business online, what are some sites they visit, what are their hobbies, what do they like to do for fun when they’re not working, what are people’s pain points. Professionally or in that business so if it’s B2B, what’s that business’ pain point or what’s that person’s pain point on their job?
Yup, and what are their objections too? Typically, we have the objection of “It’s too expensive,” or “It’s too complicated,” or “I can just buy the book and I don’t need to hire you for that.”
And understanding that as part of their personas is really helpful.
Yeah, and to that point-what are the friction points between you and a sale? It’s also going to tie to personas-meaning, one of your personas is, you are always going to be price-sensitive. I very rarely found a situation where there is no price-sensitive persona, but price-sensitive, maybe it’s low-tech. At WhenIWork.com, all of our personas-everyone but one-were all low-tech because these are brick-and-mortar businesses. Some of which have never used a computer and jumped straight to using an iPad and running a business because you don’t need to use a computer to run a brick-and mortar-business. You can run a business the “old school” way, which is just fine, but at the end of the day, there were so many kinds of low-tech user that means we can dumb down our advertising. No one cared about the bells and whistles of this fancy report. They cared about the outcome. Again, the outcome-focused kind of approach of what are the results from the bells and whistles of our fancy reports-meaning, because of our fancy reports, people were late less; you could easily find a replacement for somebody who didn’t show up or you can call in sick easier; and your manager can do XYZ. Anyway, those types of things came out of the personas. I also think how big of a pain point is this, right? If you have, again, a software product or you’re selling too in the B2B side, how big of a pain point is it? Is this a “need to have”-like, I cannot run a business without this? Is this an “I really should have this. I want this really badly” because I can improve my business and focus on other things? Or, is this a “Yeah, this will probably help” kind of solution? It’s okay if, yeah, this would kind of help because there’s plenty of room, you just have to kind of tackle it differently. Also, kind of thinking about the time management of that persona-how much time do they have and where do they kind of roughly spend it? Now, at some point, you’re going to actually have to talk your customers, right? This is, again, where customer support kicks in. You can take some of those happy customers-the 9’s and 10’s-and ask them questions. Ask them to fill out a five-question survey like what do you do for a living? What’s your position? What do you do for fun? How many kids do you have? You can kind of cut someone up to a short and easy-to-answer surveys and then, maybe, get their phone number and go deeper later or conduct further research, but the preliminary kind of support team with a simple Google form or type form can get you some of the basic questions for you to kind of create some high level personas and then iterate off of.
Yeah. I like your point about “Is it a must-have or a nice-to-have?” That’s a critical distinction because there’s no urgency and drive-like, there’s no fire under their butts-if it’s just a “nice to have.”
Exactly. You have the motive. You have to, then, kind of target them differently, right? Urgency might not be the best way to get them.
Yeah, exactly. Let’s jump to a topic that, I know, is near and dear to your heart because you have a whole website around it-content marketing. You have ContentMarketer.io, can you describe what that sight is and what its main value proposition is? And then, let’s dive into a discussion around content marketing.
Yeah. ContentMarketer.io started off as tools for content marketers so we have a couple of tools all around email outreach and Twitter outreach to connect with influencers, and there are many ways you can tackle block and tackle that tool. Now, we kind of expanded onto new training around content marketing and how to do it-more tailored for startups and solopreneurs. Then, we added agency services. How those two additional services and training came to be was, frankly, we launched these tools for the last-probably, we launched last June or July-11 months, we’ve been working onboarding, improving the conversion rate, and better education for the users as we found that most of the common problem was like, “Look, this is great but how do I use it?” and reality is, the answer is different for almost every customer. We solved that problem over time with better onboarding and whatnot, but we kept getting feedback saying, “Well, okay, that’s great. That’s a great explanation, but can you give me more on how to do content marketing?” so we found that using our tool wasn’t the problem-it was actually people didn’t know how to leverage content marketing or properly do content marketing, and that’s where training came from. We, literally, just asked our customers what they first started asking us like, “Can you tell me more?” so we sent more education articles. I spent lots of time on the phone with customers, and I’ve finally realized, “Holy crap! You know what? We just need to train people on how to do content marketing our way or our way, we’ve thought, that we’ve seen be effective,” and that’s where training came from. We added that service, and people kept knocking on our door saying, “Hey, well, this is great but I just don’t have time-can I just pay you to do this for us?” In my prior life, I had a marketing agency called, Single Grain, where we did a lot inbound marketing and such so I know how to run an agency so we pretty much added agency services to the mix. Oddly enough, with the agency and the training, revenue comes probably around 60-65% from that. By adding that offering, our growth dramatically increased and at the end of the day, it all came from listening to our customers, and then kind of iterating, and kind of adjusting, but our main…
Just to jump in here-that’s a great example of growth hacking. It’s to look for opportunities to branch out into other markets, create new services, and do things differently because you’re eating your own dog food. You’re teaching people how to do growth hacking by doing your own growth hacking and creating whole new markets in the process so a whole new revenue streams. That’s really cool. It reminds me of an example with my previous agency. We had been doing SEO for audits, and monthly retainer-type engagements, and so forth, and then I saw an opportunity to create a Software as a Service that allowed us to do cost-per-click-based pricing for SEO. We had this middle layer based on a proxy server that would interject SEO changes into the site without having to do the major invasive surgery to the underlying sea of master content management system, and our clients loved it. It ended up being the majority of the revenue of our agency. It was through this cost-per-click-based proxy SEO service. If you’re not open to new opportunities and you don’t have that growth hacking mindset, you’re going to miss out. Please continue.
Yeah, I know. It’s been fun. The funny thing is, we’re also in the middle of divesting one of our products. We started off as ContentMarketer.io, which is one company and one product. It was the one product that we had at the time. It’s kind of complicated. You don’t get this “aha” moment-well, frankly, you don’t get this “aha” moment easily enough. You kind of have to have a good content and you have to know how to use a tool. There’s a couple precursors to being able to effectively leverage our tool, which, hey, look, we would solve them-and we are-and we’re growing faster because we solve a lot of those things. We started creating these micro tools, which are essentially simplified and dumbed-down versions of our tool, but then they give you that aha moment sooner, and so our main goal was, “Let’s get people to an aha moment sooner, and let’s take some of this functionality that our main tool offers and just take it away.” Oddly enough-well, in hindsight, not at all-they were hits. I mean, we made them one. We made them free to start, and we may intend to keep them free so the first tool was a micro tool that’s called a Notifier. The second one was Connector-both from theContentMarketer.io brand. It helped us solve a problem, but also created another problem-I’ll get to you in a second. The great thing was that it was lightweight and easy-to-do. You get this “aha” moment where you go, “Oh, cool! I did this, it works. I can see the results.” A Notifier, what it is, is it scans your URL and it finds the people you’ve referenced-it’s the Twitter handles-in the article so if you referenced a company or a person-it works better with people-it will find the Twitter handle and then you simply tweet it out, referencing them in the tweet. What I found is, that alone can get you some pretty good results. You’re going to likely get some of these influencers or people you’ve referenced attention and frankly, hey, you’ve referenced them-you should be reference to them in elsewhere in social media-so anyway, we did that and it worked. People instantly started using it, and a few months in, the usage kind of matched the usage of our flagship product, which was renamed Marketer, so we’re like, “Let’s do this again! Now, instead of the Twitter outreach part of our tool, let’s do the email outreach,” so we created Connector. One of Content Marketer’s core value props is that, it finds a contact information based of a CSV that you have maybe gotten from Followerwonk, what-have-you, or a URL that’s maybe your own URL or scanning a list-type URL-we could find a contact information. The next step is, you can use our email outreach to go send an email to them, and we have templates and all that stuff. We found that most of our customers and users-free trials we had at the time-spent most of the time not sending emails, but finding all this information, exporting it out, and sending it another way. We didn’t have anyone using our actual email outreach product, which is 80% of our service. They were using just 20% because they would get stuck or kind of move elsewhere because there’s a long process so we created Connector solely for email outreach. It’s kind of like you, guys, but outside of your inbox and we have templates and everything, set-up flows Because it’s outside of your Gmail or email inbox, we can a cleaner UX and experience, but oddly enough, within 30 days of launching that and getting us free to start-it was freemium-the usage surpassed both of our products. A few weeks after that, that was our fastest growing product, and then things just started happening. We launched an app, AppSumo, and that gave us a few thousand customers that were like kind of one-time pay, but because of the word of mouth from all these users and customers, we got another thousand customers in a very short period of time. We realized that, “Holy crap! This is a whole different business and a whole different audience,” and so, we’re kind of divesting Connector from ContentMarketer.io, and kind of launching that as a spin-off and standalone product. It’s been interesting. Launching one company kind of ended up launching four which are: ContentMarketer.io’s flagship product marketer, training, agency services, and then lastly, Connector. We didn’t think it was going to happen last year, but it’s been an interesting turn of events.
Yeah. Quite a ride! There’s so much talk about bundling and yet, unbundling can be even more powerful-like, taking this huge kind of overwhelming suite of tools and pulling out, like you said, micro tools out of them, and launching those as separate and standalone things could be a powerful marketing strategy.
Really cool! Back to content marketing, what would be some of the best practices that are ones that you would most recommend to our listeners?
Yes. First and foremost, I think most people fail at the ideation and the research side-ideation based off of a research. A lot of people I talked to are just kind of writing content, they’re letting the freelance writer or the blogger come up with the topic and not the marketer, and what that means is, no matter how good your marketing is, if your content can’t stand up, then you’re not doing content marketing or you’re doing a poor job at the content part of content marketing. I think it’s a struggle most people kind of face. It’s 2016-there’s Vine, there’s Snapchat, there’s Twitter, Periscope, YouTube, there are people writing content all day long, long-form content pieces of content-that’s the bar. I mean, the bar has increased over the years. Lots of people are writing underneath that bar and writing subpar content where you can’t market it because it’s not really unique or not enough interest. I think that’s a big thing-not unique enough. People should be writing, in my opinion, 10x content-I think Rand Fishkin talks about this-around something that’s, at the end of the day, significantly better than whatever else is out there so do your research. Secondly, make sure people give a crap about that topic. Make sure there’s a demand for it or there’s been success in the past. When you’re doing research, don’t 10x something that didn’t do well. Don’t 10x something that’s like-if you can rank forward a SEO keyword to go after, make sure it doesn’t have a low volume. Make sure you can promote it. That kind of stems me to the second part of where I see a lot of people are struggling with, which is the marketing part of content marketing. Frankly, I think people are struggling because they’re releasing content onto their site and spending so much time on that, and then not enough on the marketing side-meaning, they’re not doing anything to get it out there. Well, frankly, it’s great that you can create the best piece of content in the world and your audience will see it, but they need to share it, you need to get the word out, and so I think people need to do a better job at content promotion. I think content promotion can start as simple as, if you reference anybody on your site and on your article, simply let them know. I think I’ve emailed you once or twice just letting you know that. Now, that gets old so the core of that is not to get shares or the short-term value, it’s to build a relationship. The second part is, you can get people who already have an audience so get a writer or a blogger who has an audience and invite them to blog on your site so you’re leveraging that person’s audience. Lastly, think outside of the box in terms of the content you’re creating. Make sure that there’s mixed media. Like I said, there’s Vine, there’s Periscope. There’s a hundred different formats-maybe not a hundred, but there are dozens of formats of content these days-written, audio, and video. How many different image formats are there? Embed Instagram images, embed tweets, and do Facebook Live video if you want to repurpose your content that way. Embed YouTube videos on to your article. Content doesn’t actually only have to be written, and those are all different ways you can spread the word. People could share it with a click-to-tweet. If you embed something that might resonate with people, at the end the day, it helps the content work harder for you by just leveraging different formats, and I’m a big fan of that. I think those are the simple ways to get started. Obviously, I can’t go without mentioning building an email list, right? You build your audience that you can then begin to simply email every time you write a blog post. If people are so in the “Let’s produce as much content as we can,” probably not email them every day, but probably just do a weekly newsletter at some point. It’s really about the quality these days in my opinion, and a really meaty, quality content can get you tens to hundreds of thousand visitors. It will take more work and investment but frankly, the one that invested on that one piece of content is far less than what it takes for 20-30 pieces of content doing them right to add up to the results of that one.
Yup. It really is how well you execute, and that goes with the content you’re producing and it goes with the marketing of the content that you’re producing. You mentioned click-to-tweet. There are ways that you can implement that in a less than stellar way, and there are ways that you can implement it that is just screaming to the reader, “I have to tweet this!”, or “I have to click this button and send this on!” Do you have an example of a great implementation of click-to-tweet?
I don’t have off the top of my head, unfortunately. I mean, there are lots of companies leveraging that, right? I see so much content these days, I kind of have like “content blindness” where I can only spot out the badly-executed ones and all the good ones kind of blur together. I think that states that people are going to have this “content fatigue” especially in the B2B side. I remember, and this is kind of my point in content marketing, and really, all things growth-I remember back in early HubSpot, when they became really known for executing these well-oiled content marketing or inbound marketing tools-and again, content can be tools. They created these e-books and guides, and then they kind of evolved into checklists because, from talking to few other marketers who have realized, “Well, okay, e-book is great, but the checklist is the essence of an e-book, and then it just helps you take action on it so we’re provoking action,” and that action makes a better customer. They created HubSpot Academy, which makes their customers smarter, which means they advocate the cause so they don’t have as many problems with the software. The potential customers become smart enough or savvy enough to leverage their platform. Anyway, what I’m getting at is, the education piece and the actionable piece was what they evolved to, and marketing and growth in content marketing is always evolving, and frankly, things are always dying. “Content fatigue” is kicking in so take a different format. I mean, these days, I’m on SnapChat testing out various formats. I’m taking the exact content that I write about and that I’m talking to you about here, and I’m putting it down into 10-second iterations. I do random snap storms and yes, the engagement is truly high percentage-wise, but in terms of meaningful numbers, it’s not that high. However, it’s an emerging platform for marketers, and writing 300-600 word articles is a dying kind of trend. Even on growth hacking, there has been, probably, 30 kind of guides or books on growth hacking, and if you got it early enough-luckily, I got in a year-and-a-half ago. I published an e-book on growth hacking and that did, but after that, another 15-20 companies released-it kind of ruined the buzz. I got the credit for being early, and it helped me build my brand, but if you see that-and I talked about how that helped me build my brand-but if you try to copy exactly word for word what I did, it’s probably not going to work because of the evolution and death of most marketing tactics that are always happening.
Yeah, you have to look ahead. You don’t want to drive the car just looking 10-feet ahead of you, you want to look 500-feet ahead of you too. I like the point about checklists. We’ve actually incorporated that into what we’re doing with our podcast. I put a lot of time and effort into getting transcripts nicely-formatted and designed into a PDF. I found that leading with the checklist as the precursor to the first part of the transcript PDF made it more enticing so I totally agree with you that checklists are really hot. People want actionable takeaways so speaking of which, we’re going to have a checklist pulled from the content that you’ve shared in this episode so there will be some actual takeaways. It will be part of the PDF download that people get when they download the transcript. I agree with you too-the 300-600 word articles is dying. Those days of pushing that stuff out on your blog, it’s just kind of a dinosaur.
Last question here: Where do you see the opportunities in terms of Snapchat and I know Gary Vaynerchuk is really bullish on Snapchat as a marketing channel. I know you’re just saying that you’re experimenting with it and trying some different things and not getting a great return out of it yet, but it’s an emerging platform so what should we, as marketers, be paying attention to in terms of Snapchat? What should we be doing? Is this going to be as huge as Facebook is now?
Yes. That’s a great question! I think in terms of direct ROI from Snapchat, it’s tough to exactly say what you’re going to get, but if I told you if could invest into spending time in building your profile and your fan page on Facebook day year one then, obviously, everyone knows that time and how great Facebook is, you could have five million followers and fans, I’m sure, and the engagement that Gary Vaynerchuk has, I think, people would have invested, but like all social channels and all emerging platforms, invest early tests, poke and prod to really learn what people are doing, and follow the leaders. I always think it’s great to invest early-even if you don’t have it figured out, make it a point to try to understand it because, guess what, the emoji generation is here, the selfie generation is here, and that’s a new way to talk to people. I mean, when I walk around the parks or go to the beach or when I travel and sightsee, I see more and more people taking pictures of their freaking self and in front of a beautiful scenery, but that’s because that’s the generation we’re kind of going into or maybe already in. At the end of the day, you have to figure out how to reach of people, and that is how you can reach them-through Snapchat. The next question is, how do I get enough meaningful traffic? You might not be able to. I found, so far, that Snapchat is a great way to engage your existing audience. It’s to nurture and lead kind of your existing audience so I have gotten very little direct ROI from Snapchat-meaning, I send a snap or I “snapchat” every day and something I did on there gets me value. However, talking about the “snapchats” I’ve done has got me writing about an article on Snapchat. Last year, it got me on TV. Because I got in early in Snapchat, it’s helped me build my personal brand because I’ve been referenced as the top marketer to follow on Snapchat so, indirectly, Snapchat is the greatest thing ever for me. It’s an easy way-I just talk about what I’m doing on that Snapchat. Now, directly, if I measure it from a revenue standpoint, it’s probably nothing, but if I measure it from an engagement perspective, I’ve seen so much engagement from it. Even though I have, I think, 700 followers, every video I’ve snapped, I do get around 150-250 depending on how active I am over that kind of period of time or day of the week it is and when I’m posting. Although I’m only getting 200 eyeballs on it, I got text with my company connecter app, which is divesting from Content Marketer, we have this trademark issue a few weeks ago, and I was like, “Okay, we have to rename the company,” and I got 30 people connecting with me through email, text messages, and phone calls. My previous CFO called me. He’s like, “Hey, I can help you. Talk to this lawyer blah-blah-blah.” I mean, I had no clue he was following me on Snapchat so it’s powerful. I also did the same thing when we announced the landing page of the website, and that we’re giving away a bunch of t-shirts. When I said, “Hey, I’m giving away free t-shirts if you just snap me your size and address,” I got around 75 people who wanted t-shirts and sent me their address, right? I think it’s a great way to engage your existing audience. I’ve seen small businesses like yogurt shops do coupons and discounts, and so I kind of refuse to believe it’s not doable, but at the same time, it may not be meaningful. However, it’s always great to kind of invest early and adjust your investment to kind of match the ROI at some point.
Yup. I agree. I think Snapchat is here to stay. It’s not going to be like Friendster or MySpace. It’s going to be a platform that you should pay attention to. All right, well, Sujan, this has been fantastic! The last thing I want to leave our listeners with is, how can they find you if they want to work with you if you’re available for consulting or if they want to take one of your trainings on content marketing-where should they go?
You can reach me at my personal site: SujanPatel.com. There’s a contact form at the bottom that go straight to me. Also, check outContentMarketer.io. There are, again, services and training to help you leverage a lot of this stuff I’m talking about. If anyone happens to be in London in July, I’m doing a workshop on growth hacking where I talk about a lot of these kind of fundamentals I’ve discussed today.
Awesome! Thank you again, Sujan, and thank you, listeners. Will catch you on the next episode. Stephan Spencer, signing off.
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
☑ Each day, connect with your employees on the impact of your daily efforts. How will your accomplishments of the day impact the business, and your customers?
☑ For daily team connections and to stay on top of ideation processes, use content and task managers.
☑ Check out ContentMarketer.io – there are services and trainings to help you leverage most of the topics covered in this episode!
☑ Create a survey for your current customers. Anyone that scores 9’s and 10’s are the “promoters”-they may already be recommending your company to others, and you can ask them to share your content.
☑ There are multiple ways to learn how satisfied your customers are and how to solve the ones that are not. Find out your Net Promoter Score or Gallup Score for a good measurement.
☑ Make sure people care about the topics you choose to write about on your blog. There has to be a demand to create viral success.
☑ Get to the core of sharing value and building professional relationships by inviting people who already have an audience to blog on your site, so you’re leveraging that person’s audience.
☑ Think outside of the box in terms of the content you’re creating. With all of the social networks available, you need content that succeed on each source.
☑ Develop the personas of your ideal customer base by first finding out the different types of people that would “come in the door”, then coming up with questions to nail down that persona.
☑ Get customers involved by offering educational or actionable pieces of content.
About Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel is the co-founder of ContentMarketer.io and Narrow.io, tools that help marketers scale their content marketing and social media efforts. He’s helped major companies to land customers, and scale their business. You can find Sujan on Twitter @sujanpatel.