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How Close.io Wins In The Crowded CRM Industry With Content Marketing

Sales automation and customer relationship management (CRM) tools are popular. How does a new company stand out and attract new customers? Let’s answer that question by looking at Close.io – a CRM founded by sales expert Steli Efti.

Ryan Robinson, Close’s content strategist, shared his approach to growing Close through content marketing. If you are in the sales automation or CRM space, this interview is for you.

1) What problems does Close.io solve for its customers?

Our tagline says it all: inside sales CRM for startups and SMBs.

What makes it different from other products? Our product is mostly geared toward to sales teams that do many calls. If you do not make many calls, it might not be a good fit for you. There are built-in features for calls. If you are interested in cold calling, we have a free B2B cold-calling crash course.

In the sales world, productivity is a significant question. If you are only contacting a handful of people per day, your sales will reflect that reality. Close.io helps sales reps make more calls. To find out more on that, take a look at our blog post: Sales productivity: How to make 300+ calls per day without a power dialer.

2) How do you become involved in Close.io’s content marketing?

I initially reached out to Stelli in 2016. I asked him for a quote for a blog post on the best business advice I could collect from top entrepreneurs that I was putting together on my website. He responded to give me a quote. About a month after the article went up, I got a few thousand shares. After that success, I reached out back to the people who had been quoted.

I was not using outreach tools or templates. I went to each quoted person to ask them if they wanted to see their content achieve thousands of shares and pageviews. We started the relationship with a few test pieces. Gradually, Close.io became my largest client. In late 2017, I decided to join the company full time.

3) How do you develop content topics for Close.io?

This has evolved over years of work. Everything starts with keyword opportunities: how much monthly search volume do we see for sales related keywords. As a bare minimum, I want to see 1,000 monthly searches. I prefer to target topics that have 5,000 to 20,000 monthly searches. For example, I identified an opportunity related to “sales strategies.” It was my first piece of content for the company, and I went all out to achieve excellent results.

Over the course of a week, I outlined the blog post and reached out 10-15 influencers I already knew. I made sure that the keyword phrase “sales strategy” or “sales strategies” was frequently used throughout the post. For example, Robert Herjavec (of Shark Tank fame) provided an excellent observation about the value of giving a strong elevator pitch.

For SEO research, my go-to tool is Ahrefs. Occasionally, I use Moz as well.

4) What tools and services do you use to promote and publicize Close.io content?

It always starts with an email to our audience. We send out Monday and Wednesday emails, and we have about 200,000 subscribers. The Monday email tends to feature Steli videos and posts like What to do when your customers ask for a discount (and why you shouldn’t give them one). The Wednesday email email tend to focus more SEO oriented posts such as Ultimate guide to business networking (to grow your sales pipeline).  

We want to get a strong positive social signal right away.The business networking post mentioned above has 16,000 Facebook shares. Achieving that success involves tools like Quuu Promote and paid Facebook promotion. In addition, we spend a fair amount of time promoting the posts.

We typically schedule posts about one week in advance. To promote the posts, we usually will do a paid Facebook boost. I will then look for relevant online communities such as Inbound, Hacker News and other points. We also share the articles on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

I like to pitch my publications on shorter form articles that draw inspiration from the main article I write first. I maintain relationships with other high authority (and somewhat sales-related) blogs like SalesHacker, Predictable Revenue, Mailshake, and others that are receptive to guest posts from us. By linking back to Close content, I can obtain high authority backlinks for our content. Linking back from authority websites is helpful, but it is difficult to do. Editors don’t want you to be overly promotional. I approach it by looking at an opportunity to write something original that still references back to the main site.

5) How do you demonstrate the ROI of content marketing for Close?

We have not done an in-depth analysis comparing PPC to content marketing for Close. My view is that we get an outsized return on our content marketing investment. Every content piece – a blog post, a podcast interview, a Steli YouTube video – does bring in results. Our entire business is supported by content marketing and the leads we get from that content.

6) What are the most important metrics you use in evaluating the success or failure of content marketing at Close?

Our number one metric is the number of product trial sign-ups. We look at what is driving the most signups. Other measures – like the number of website visitors – are helpful but that is not the focus. I have not seen that single clear focus in other organizations. Other organizations have had a variety of metrics in place, and that has been difficult to manage.

7) What is a content marketing practice you have stopped using at Close and why?

We went heavy on participating heavily on Quora. For a time, there was a good return. Then, the return slowed down and changed our focus to our blog. That said, we are looking at using Quora again and testing it out.

We are also looking at getting into podcasting again. Steli co-hosts The Startup Chat podcast with Hiten Shah, but the focus is not on sales per se. Past efforts to run a sales oriented podcast did not have a good result. However, we are looking at starting another sales podcast and seeing what we can achieve from that.

8) What other SaaS companies do you consider successful with content marketing?

Baremetrics stands out to me. They are doing good work. They offer a metrics dashboard for startups. Many companies are publishing their metrics everything. For example, they have profiles such as ConvertKit: How to go from freelance to founder of a $10M company.

9) What websites, books and other resources have you found most helpful in learning content marketing?

I’m a big reader of blogs when it comes to keeping myself educated on content marketing—but not necessarily of reading articles that are actually about “content marketing.” Rather, I follow people like Noah Kagan, Sujan Patel, and Joel Gascoigne (and their brands Sumo, Mailshake, and Buffer) who are excellent content marketers & have built kickass teams of people who are equally as great. I learn more through observation and pick up on little tweaks, new strategies and tactics these people are regularly trying out. Couple that with constantly shifting up my own content marketing strategies, I’m often trying new little ideas to see what sticks.

10) Where do you go online to connect with other B2B SaaS marketers?

Most of the communities I used to frequent, like Inbound and GrowthHackers have declined in popularity quite a bit over the past couple of years. I’m a member of a few Slack channels, Facebook and LinkedIn groups with other B2B SaaS marketers, and that’s become my best way for connecting & building relationships with others in my space.

11) If readers want to find out more about you and Close, where should they go?

For more information on Close, visit Close.io or the Close blog. My website is ryrob.com on freelancing and content marketing. Ryan also runs an excellent podcast called The Side Hustle Project.

 

B2B SaaS Marketing Insight: How ProsperWorks Uses Software Review Websites

Quick: how do you prove your B2B SaaS product is worth using?

One answer: point to reviews by other users. Even better, show those reviews on a third party website that you do not own. That’s why software review websites like Capterra are so popular.

If you are looking for more users, leads and customers, paying attention to software review websites makes sense. Yet, you don’t want to leave it all to chance. It’s a sad fact: online reviews have a strong negative bias.

Don’t believe me?

Look up your favorite restaurant on Yelp. There’s probably more than a few complaints there. In fact, negative reviews may outnumber the positive reviews. Don’t let that happen to your B2B SaaS marketing. Just because you don’t own or control Capterra doesn’t mean you can’t influence it.

To find out how software review websites work in SaaS, I interviewed Morgan Norman, CMO at ProsperWorks for his perspective.

1) What process do you use to encourage positive reviews?

Start by understanding how end users tend to use reviews: Reviews are used for those who are in the educational stage of the buying cycle. They are going to be thinking “Why is your product different?” and “Will this work for me?” We have to give people evidence that these reviews feature customers like them and that they can drive the outcomes they are looking for. To gain more positive reviews, we ping heavy users of the product and ask them to review a review.

2) What is your perspective on managing negative reviews?

In our system, I regard any review of 3 stars or less as a negative review. [Editor’s Note: this is similar to using a Net Promoter Score approach.] The challenge with negative reviews is that you don’t know the whole story. For example, the user may have had a poor onboarding experience. Alternatively, they may have signed up for a trial and never went for an in-depth exploration of the product. In my experience, users find reviews most helpful when the reviewer is similar to them.

4) What is the ROI of paying for sponsorships on software review websites like Capterra?

Paying for sponsorship on a review website is valuable. For this technique to generate results, it is critical to have reviews in place.  In addition to Capterra, we are also active on G2 Crowd. Ultimately, it is valuable to get your customer voice out there.

Editor’s Note: Sponsorships generally focus at the category level. For example, a sponsorship on Capterra puts you at the top of a list. That’s worth considering in some categories. In the example below, ProsperWorks appears in a category with more than 500 products!

5) What is your take on the quantity and quality of leads from Capterra?

The quantity is good from a paid perspective. The audience – people who are actively researching software products – is strong. It is a delivering a steady flow of leads once you get the review program working. If you don’t incorporate this into your program, it may not be that effective.

6) Any other comments to share about using software review websites?

The main thing with review websites is for companies that have a self-serve or trial product. If you do not use that model, it will be more difficult to make use of reviews. The next consideration is whether the reviews and reviewers you’re getting match your goals. For example, if you are seeking large company clients and all of your reviewers are from small business users, those reviews will be less helpful. Ultimately, not all reviews are equal. A small business review probably will not influence an enterprise company.

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SaaS Marketing Insight: How Megaventory Uses Blogging, Email Marketing And More To Grow

What works in SaaS marketing? Is it content marketing? Ads? The tried and true cold call?

Instead of guessing, why not reverse engineer what other companies are doing?

This new blog series, SaaS Marketing Insights, will cover strategies and how companies are putting them into practice. To start our series, let’s dive into Megaventory, a SaaS company founded in 2010.  Eirini Kafourou shared her insights in the following Q&A interview.

Megaventory

1) What does Megaventory do and what is your role?

Megaventory is a software provider that helps businesses with their inventory and order management. I’m in charge of Communications, meaning I manage customer onboarding processes, I run e-mail marketing campaigns and of course make sure we maintain the right profile on social media and press.

2) Who is an ideal customer for Megaventory?

The ideal customer is the small-medium business owner who wants to grow their retail, wholesale or manufacturing business.

3) What are the most helpful marketing metrics that you track on a monthly basis?

I used to be obsessed with the number of monthly subscriptions to our trial version but soon realized that marketing efforts take some time to show results. Now, Google Analytics is my go tool to check which referrals get the most valuable traffic – people that signed up for a trial or became customers – and try to focus my efforts, by allocating more time and budget to those or similar sources.

As far as the onboarding process is concerned, since we usually do an a/b testing with e-mails, I frequently check the opening and click rates to see which version should be kept. I also check the how many and which walkthrough guides our users complete. If for example several users abandon the guide at a certain step this is an indication that instructions were not clear and need to be rephrased.

4) How has the Megaventory blog contributed to the company’s success?

The Megaventory blog has been a great contribution. Even articles written 5 and more years ago, they still attract visitors that turn into leads and customers. A significant percentage of signups comes from blog posts.

5) What is your email marketing strategy?

We try to automate things as much as possible in order to save up time for actual support problems. At the same time, sending the same message to everyone is not the way to go anymore and a little personalization can go a long way. That’s why we use a CRM to help us send targeted e-mails according to the funnel stage the recipient is. We also do communicate with former customers and leads to inform them about new features. There are cases where a customer needed three to five trial accounts in a course of three years to finally decide on a software. Businesses grow and their needs change and you never know when the customer is ready, unless you ask.

6) Walk us through one of Megaventory’s worst marketing mistakes and what you learned from the experience?

It was my first try with Facebook Ads. I was excited that my ads were attracting a great number of new followers with a cost less than $0,01 per like, only to realize that I was attracting likes from fake accounts and like farms! At the same time, the resources online were very few and no one could really helped me. After some trial and error I found out that the best way to tackle this is to create very specific advertising personas and target them, and then incidents of fake likes quickly vanished.

7) What resources do you use to learn about SaaS marketing and growth strategies?

Helpscout Blog, Hootsuite Blog and Moz are my top resources, along with some great articles that can be found at Medium by searching the related keywords. Intercom also has some great ebooks that has helped a lot. If you are a podcast lover like me you may enjoy ADLANDIA. [Editor’s Note: I love podcasts! It’s great to discover a new one!)

8) What is your marketing strategy regarding software review platforms such as Capterra, CrowdReviews, Crozdesk?

We encourage customers to write reviews and we have found that we get the most chances to have a review when we ask them right after we have solved a difficult problem for them. This way, although we are a small company with no funding we have managed to be in the top ten in some software reviews sites (GetApp by Gartner), leaving behind more than 200 competitors. A happy customer can be the best spokesperson and brand ambassador for a business! We haven’t tried paid advertising in those platforms yet, but it sure does look promising. These sites bring great leads since those visitors are usually actively searching for a software solution.

9) What is your favorite business book and why?

That is the now-classic “Marketing to the Mind: Right Brain Strategies for Advertising and Marketing” by Richard L. Fulton and Richard C. Maddock. The book’s main focus is the unconscious side of human behavior – often unheard and unexamined, but very powerful when making serious decisions, like going forward with a purchase or business proposal. Written by psychologists, it gives a great base for the professional that want to acquire a deeper understanding that goes further than the usual marketing buzzwords.

 

 

Marketing For A 8 Million Member Loyalty Program: Shoppers Drug Mart Email Marketing Case Study

How many loyalty cards do you have in your wallet? I have six of them, not counting credit cards that come with rewards. Email has made these cards even more useful to me—and even more powerful for companies who use email marketing to get the most from their loyalty programs. Shoppers Drug Mart, a Canadian retailer, does excellent work in the email marketing department. But before we dive into their email strategy, let’s take a step back to understand the company and its goals.

Who Is Shoppers Drug Mart?

Originally founded as a pharmacy, Shoppers Drug Mart has changed its offerings in recent years in the face of government restrictions on drug sales as well as increased competition, like Costco’s prescription-drug delivery service. As a result, the company has expanded into beauty, personal care and groceries. With more than 1,000 retail locations and 10 million loyalty program members, it’s no surprise that Shoppers Drug Mart was acquired for $12 billion (Canadian) in 2014 by Loblaw, a supermarket chain.

While the company has significant assets, 2017 has seen its share of bad news. In October 2017, Loblaw Companies Ltd. announced plans to cut about 500 jobs across its divisions. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market also threatens Shoppers’ tentative steps into grocery, especially in prime urban markets like Toronto and Vancouver.

Amidst all these pressures, Shoppers retains a critical advantage: its Shoppers Optimum loyalty program and the associated email marketing asset.

In 2018, this program will be merged with Loblaw’s PC Plus program. Analysts point out that not all customers are members of both loyalty programs, so merging the two may draw customers of one chain to shop at the other one too.

Email marketing has been a strong point for Shoppers Drug Mart. Time will tell if that strength continues after the consolidation. But for now, you can borrow their successful email marketing strategies to get the most from your loyalty program.

1) Tailor Your Marketing Offers to Existing Customer Behavior

If you need a cup of caffeine to get your workday going, then you might have a favorite coffee place you visit every business day. But if you’re like many consumers, your buying patterns vary considerably from weekdays to weekends. After all, you have more spare time on weekends to run errands or get organized for a trip or event.

Snipp analyzed 2.5 million grocery receipts and found that Saturday accounted for the largest share (17%) of purchases. The number of weekend-oriented offers I’ve received from Shoppers suggests they are well aware of this consumer habit.

This email copy works because it employs a classic copywriting principle: Join the conversation already going on in your prospects’ mind. In this case, the prospects are thinking about weekend errands, and the emails slide right in with weekend shopping deals.

Lesson: Don’t work against yourself by trying to change your customers’ behavior. Observe your their existing habits and link your marketing to those patterns.

2) Personalize Your Offers With Habit Psychology

Once derided as “creepy,” personalized email marketing is here to stay. Once a marketing email sells you on a tempting subject line, will the offer insider resonate with your purchasing preferences?

This is where Shoppers does excellent work again. They’ve detected that I like to shop for humdrum necessities (e.g., toothpaste) as well as guilty pleasures like M&M’s. Take a look at the coupons they’ve sent me:

Our discussions about Big Data, data science and AI often revolve around a simple truth: Most consumers are creatures of habit. In fact, Science Daily reports that “about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations.” If you’ve bought a certain brand of toothpaste every month for a year, you are probably planning to buy it again. Sending you a coupon for that toothpaste is called repurchase marketing. Companies that sell food or other consumable goods—in other words, products that we use up and replace on a regular basis—are in the perfect position to take advantage of repurchase marketing.

Lesson: Asking customers to buy the same product again works, especially if your company sells consumable products.

3) Market for the Holidays

Unlike a typical weekend, holidays stand out in our memories. You might have fond memories of enjoying pie on Thanksgiving (guilty!) or dressing up as a pirate for Halloween or stocking up on Christmas decorations.

For a retailer, there are two kinds of holidays to think about: official holidays when most businesses close (e.g., Christmas Day, Labor Day and special Canadian holidays like Canada Day and Victoria Day), and special days that are marked in other ways like (e.g., Halloween).

How does a retail store best known for prescription drugs and personal care products connect to Halloween? Let’s see how Shoppers Drug Mart does it:

 

Though the products featured in the offers aren’t strictly Halloween-related, the subject lines take advantage of the holiday theme. The “BOO!” in particular stood out to me because it was unusual for Shoppers. Then the email followed through on the subject line by delivering relevant offers for candy.

4) Drum Up Excitement With Deadlines and Scarcity

 

If you have been in marketing for a while, you know that scarcity and deadlines work. Think about those Black Friday sales that gather so much attention each year. Consumers know the sale will not last long so they get excited to go shopping.

 

Scarcity and deadlines are mainstays in Shoppers’ email marketing copy. Take a look at the following examples:

 

 

Notice the specifics in the example: “tomorrow” and “3 hours only.” If you are going to use deadlines, be as specific as you can.

 

Tip: If you haven’t read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, it’s a must-read for serious marketers. Cialdini explains that scarcity works as a persuasive technique because we place a higher value on things that are less available. Cialdini explains how longstanding techniques like scarcity, reciprocity and consistency work.

 

I’ll be the first to confess that these scarcity-based offers work on me. Before getting an offer, I might have a vague notion to go shopping for a few essentials. Vague notions don’t do anything for the bottom line. The prospect of missing out on bonus points—i.e., free products in the future? That’s a different story entirely. While deals and deadlines do work, you can have too much of a good thing. If you have already used several deadline offers in the past few months, it is time to use a different technique.

Lesson: Use time-tested principles like scarcity and deadlines to drive sales.

5) Don’t Be Shy—Send a Lot of Email Offers

“Timid salesmen have skinny kids.” —Zig Ziglar

When you first launch an email marketing program, it’s easy to get lost in debates over how often to send offers. Is one per week the ideal amount? Should you follow Gary Vaynerchuk’s rule of thumb from Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook that direct offers should be outnumbered by value-added content? I admit that I like the “add value before selling” school of content marketing. However, that’s not the only path to marketing success.

Shoppers Drug Mart is not shy about sending direct offers. In the first 10 months of 2017, I received over 200 marketing emails from the company. If you think you must restrict yourself to a monthly or weekly email, think again.

Now, you might be skeptical of this approach. Is it smart to send that much email? Would that approach work in other fields?

Ben Settle, an email marketing specialist, has an excellent perspective on daily email. He advocates (and practices) daily email marketing. His main focus—selling subscriptions to the “Email Players” print newsletter—is about as far from Shoppers Drug Mart’s focus as you can be. However, his “infotainment” style means you look forward to his emails and keep reading them. Whether your business sells information products like Settle’s newsletters or consumer products like Shoppers, look for ways to increase the frequency of your email marketing.

Lesson: Look at your email marketing frequency over the past three months. How many offers have you sent to past customers?

How Could Shoppers Drug Mart Improve Its Email Marketing?

There are a few areas where Shoppers could further improve their email marketing and add value to the customer experience.

1) Experiment With Content Marketing

As I just mentioned in point #5 above, Shoppers’ email marketing is all business: offers, offers and more offers. While this approach is working reasonably well for them, there is a gap when it comes to content marketing.

For example, they could send out makeup tutorials and other grooming how-to’s featuring products they sell. The rise of YouTube beauty vloggers like Jaclyn Hill and Makeup Geek illustrates what you can achieve with makeup content.

Or Shoppers could publish more health content like tips to avoid sunburn in the summer. After all, pharmacy and health products are the company’s core offering.

2) Reduce Friction: Add an Option To Automatically Load Coupons

Did you notice the “load coupon” copy in the email screenshots above? As a customer, I find this to be an annoying intermediate step. Why not offer the option of “auto-loading” coupons instead of making customers click through to the website to load them?

I can see two reasons why they may not have implemented this. First, they want to collect “intention data” (i.e., which coupons people intended to use). Second, they may not have the technical capacity for automatic coupon loading. That said, removing friction from the loyalty program strikes me as an idea worth trying.

3) Follow Up After a Customer Uses an Offer or Coupon

Shoppers Drug Mart knows how to run a sale. Like Old Navy and Macy’s, Shoppers has conditioned their customers to expect a steady stream of promotions and coupons. But in the flood of offers I received last year, I can’t recall a follow-up email. How about copy like this:

Well done on earning 5,000 points last weekend! You now have enough points to redeem $100!

On that note…

4) Reward Loyalty Members With More Point Redemption Options

Picture this: You use a credit card and build up a huge points balance. You have vague travel plans and unused vacation days… Then you receive an email reminding you that you have enough points for a flight to Europe. I don’t know about you, but I would welcome that kind of marketing.

Shoppers Drug Mart could do more in the redemption department. They do periodically offer additional rewards for redeeming points on certain days, but with all the data they’ve collected on their customers, they can do better than “receive $100 in value”-style offers.

Speaking of data and personalization…

5) Rethink Blanket Offers

I’ll be blunt: I’m not interested in receiving offers about makeup and cosmetics. Yet Shoppers Drug Mart keeps sending them to me:

If you are operating a multi-million member loyalty program, think through such offers. Are you quietly irritating parts of your customer base by sending them totally irrelevant offers?

How Will You Use This Case Study?

Shoppers Drug Mart has built one of Canada’s most successful loyalty programs, and email marketing plays a key role in the program’s success. You may not have millions of members yet, but if you want to get there, take note of Shoppers’ successful tactics.

What email marketing practices do you like to see from your favorite retailers? Share an example in the comments below.