Building a marketing strategy from the ground up isn’t easy, especially when the product you’re supposed to be selling is still being developed. Here at RepIQ, we knew we wanted to launch and scale quickly, so it was important for us to leverage our time pre-launch to develop an effective marketing strategy. We utilized weekly marketing experiments to quickly test various tactics and determine which would be most effective.
This experimentation process helped up attract 1,000 users pre-launch and also helped us develop a scalable marketing strategy. And while we tested dozens of tactics that didn’t work, we also discovered some clear winners. From our marketing-experiment methodology, to the effective tactics we (eventually) figured out, to best practices for implementing these tactics, I’ll be covering all that and more in this post.
Mini Marketing Experiments (The Methodology)
Early on we decided the best strategy would be to test as many marketing strategies as possible in the time we had before launch. We devised a strategy of two-week marketing experiments. Each Monday I’d meet with our CEO to discuss a new tactic we’d like to start testing. We’d also report on the progress of our on-going experiments. This strategy allowed us to stay agile and avoid wasting too much time on ineffective tactics. The process works like this:
Prior to each new experiment, we would determine:
- Expected difficulty/time-intensiveness of the new tactic
- Tasks that need to be completed to implement new tactic
- Metric we’ll track to determine the effectiveness of the tactic
- Desired long-term result of the tactic
For the testing period, we usually spent two to five days implementing a tactic and then allowed an additional work week to observe its effects. After an experiment period we’d evaluate:
- What was the actual time-intensiveness/difficulty of the tactic versus what was expected?
- Did the tactic have a positive effect on our metrics?
- Can we see this tactic scaling long-term as we launch and grow?
- Can we see this tactic helping use achieve the desired long-term result?
- Should we kill this tactic or continue it?
This methodology helped us discover our key marketing opportunities in our first three months of operation. The most effective tactics we discovered were building relationships with key influencers, creating a newsletter, leveraging Quora, creating and promoting original blog content, and guest blogging.
I’ve dedicated the rest of this post to discuss the ins-and-outs of the tactics we discovered during our marketing experiments.
Building Relationships With Industry Influencers
Identifying, targeting, and engaging industry influencers was one of the strategies we tested early on at RepIQ. We had a hunch that without strong connections to the industry tactics like blog posts, newsletters, and social media campaigns would only get us so far. By understanding and connecting to influencers we were able to quickly expand our audience even in the early stages. Throughout experimenting, I learned that for influencer engagement to be effective, it should be done strategically. Here’s the system I developed to do it:
The first step in building relationships with influencers is to pinpoint the thought leaders in your industry. In RepIQ’s case, our target niche included sales leaders, B2B sales specialists, and SaaS sales leaders. We discovered a great place to start is with a simple Google search.
We used Google to develop a solid list of sales leaders. We then went to Twitter to discover additional big-names in the sales space.
I learned a great way to find additional influencers is to see what content industry leaders are sharing. Here you can see an example where inside sales leader Trish Bertuzzi shares sales leader Jim Keenan’s content. Another great way to discover influencers is the “who to follow” panel.
Create a spreadsheet
Once I had a solid list of influencers I turned to organizing this information and doing further research. I used an influencer engagement spreadsheet created by Alex Turnbull of Groove, with a few minor changes. For each influencer, I recorded their name, Twitter handle, email, blog, and newsletter (if they had one). I used RepIQ’s email-discovery Chrome extension to lookup each influencer’s email address.
I also added sections to my spreadsheet to track my target engagement with each influencer.
My engagement strategy was:
- Followed on Twitter They followed me
- Subscribed to their newsletter
- Twitter engagement
- Blog comment
Establish a goal
Once you’ve done the research and have a system in place to track engagement the next step is to determine the goal of your outreach. Some example goals might include:
- Try our product/provide feedback
- Promote our product on social media/email newsletter
- Read/share our blog content
- Feature our blog content in their newsletter
- Allow us to guest post on their blog
- Guest post/provide commentary for our blog
Once this system is in place you can get started engaging with influencers and tracking your progress. In my experience, the best way to get impact from your engagement efforts is to be truly genuine with it. For example, I came across a post sales leader Lori Richardson recently published titled “Sales Leaders Heads Hurt When Thinking about Tech Tools”. Being interested in sales technology, I figured it was right up my alley. After reading the post I provided the comment below. In my comment I focus on (1). acknowledging the value of her content and (2). providing my own personal perspective/thought leadership. As you can see, the comment warranted a response from Lori herself! This is exactly the type of two-way engagement that builds a strong foundation for influencer outreach.
No matter your personal approach to engagement, it’s important to develop genuine two-sided engagement with an influencer before making that big “ask” you determined in step #3.
Resources we found most useful:
Integrating Quora in our SaaS Customer Acquisition Strategy
Quora was a goldmine for us pre-launch. For those who don’t know, Quora is an online question/answer platform that currently reaches over 21 million U.S. people monthly. It has quickly become a hub for thought leaders in almost every industry imaginable. During our time experimenting with Quora we discovered three main use-cases:
- Promoting your content
- Promoting your newsletter
- Promoting your product/raising brand awareness
Using Quora to Promote Your Content
Because Quora is organized by topically-based feeds, it’s a great way to get your blog content in front of a targeted audience.
I followed about a dozen or so feeds related to sales, SaaS, and startups. I soon realized Quora is a hub for those looking to hone their sales skills, especially in the SaaS space.
Quora’s search box can help you discover questions related to your content. I tried about a dozen variations of “how to sell SaaS to enterprise” and discovered quite a few relevant questions.
Another great way to discover questions related to your content is to use the “related questions” panel on a question page.
In this answer I provided a list of techniques for selling enterprise to SaaS and then included a CTA for my complete blog post at the end.
One thing to keep in mind is that Quora moderators highly frown upon self-promotional content. You can see in the above example that I thoroughly answered the asker’s question with unique information, and then added that they can checkout my post if they’d like information on pricing enterprise SaaS. In this way, I’m adding additional value rather than being strictly self-promotional. Always promote your content in a way that’s genuine and helpful to the asker.
Using Quora to Promote Your Newsletter
Quora can also be a great place to promote your email newsletter. But because Quora’s rules forbid overly promotional posts, the best way to do it is to answer questions that specifically ask for newsletter recommendations.
Usually when answering these types of questions I like to provide 3-5 recommendations (including RepIQ Insider), to provide the most value possible to the asker.
Using Quora to Promote Your Product
I also found that Quora is place where many professionals come to discover and discuss technology tools they use. We leveraged this to promote RepIQ and increase awareness around our brand.
I used Quora’s search box to discover questions related to RepIQ’s functionality. Similar to promoting content, Quora makes it easy to find other relevant questions with the “related questions” panel.
Another great feature to leverage is Quora’s “answer wiki.” Although you won’t find it on every question, when you spot one you can hit “edit” and add your product (but only if it’s relevant to the question).
In my answer to this question, I was able to rank first (in Quora answers aren’t sort chronologically, they’re sorted by value determined by Quora’s algorithms). Here are some key things I’ve figured out about getting answers to rank higher in Quora:
- Be unique—don’t say what’s already been said. In the answer above I focused on only free tools to differentiate my answer.
- Write a lot—provide a thorough answer. In my example, I provided six different tools, rather than just promoting one tool like many of the other answers.
- Include images—make your answers visually oriented. In my example, I provide screenshots from each tool. Don’t be overly
- Don’t be overly self-promotional. Of course, the point is to promote your product, but you should do it in a way that’s most valuable to the asker.
Resources we found useful:
Tools we found useful:
- Quora (free)
Creating a Newsletter
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to create an email newsletter to drive interest and grow our sales pipeline. After testing, here’s the method we came up with:
Clearly, define your niche & value proposition
One of the major obstacles with creating a newsletter is making something people actually want to read. There are millions of newsletters out there, so we knew we had to do something to differentiate ourselves. While researching we noticed many influencers and sales leaders focused their newsletters on promoting their own content. There weren’t many well-curated sales newsletters out there. Even worse, there were few B2B sales newsletters and nearly no SaaS-sales focused newsletters to be found. We realized this aligned perfectly with our niche and decided to move forward with the concept of a B2B SaaS sales focused newsletter.
Create a master content curation spreadsheet
We knew that rather than using our newsletter to promote our own content and product we wanted it to be a valuable information source for readers. We decided the best approach to achieve this was to curate high-quality content from around the web.
To implement this process we created a “master content curation spreadsheet.” It’s essentially a spreadsheet with links to hundreds of blogs I use to discover content for our newsletter. Although it may seem a bit archaic, it’s actually been an effective (and 100% free) way to curate a huge amount of sources for our newsletter. I currently have roughly 150 blog links on my spreadsheet.
Creating this spreadsheet took time, and I still add to it regularly when I discover a new blog with great content in our niche. Initially, I started by leveraging the blogs of the key influencers we’d already identified. Google came in handy here too.
We also looked for other companies in the SaaS/sales technology space that produce high-quality content on their blog.
Add opt-in form to website
After we had a system in place for curating our newsletter, we used MailChimp to create a basic template and add an opt-in form to our website.
Cross-post on Medium (including a clear CTA)
During this test period, we also discovered the power of Medium. Medium is an online blogging platform powered by niche topics like productivity, entrepreneurship, and business.We quickly identified and honed in on the content topics related to our niche and started cross-posting our newsletter on Medium. The great thing about Medium is that people don’t have to follow you to see your content. Popular content will automatically pop up in people’s feeds.It takes about two minutes to throw a post into Medium and we’ve found it can be a valuable way to increase our readership. Just don’t forget to include a CTA at the end!
Resources we found useful:
- How to Create an Email Newsletter [Checklist]
- How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read
Tools we found useful:
Content Creation & Promotion
We knew creating original blog content was key for our long-term SEO strategy, so we got started on it right away. First, we tested somewhat generic sales-oriented content, and then we tested data-driven list-type posts using data from our company database. Finally, we implemented the skyscraper technique. Created by SEO-genius Brian Dean, the “skyscraper technique” is creating content that’s exponentially better than anything else out there. This can mean it’s more well-researched, longer, more in-depth, or better organized. Brian covers a step-by-step process to creating skyscraper content in this post.
During my research phase, I noticed there was a lot of content out there about sales tools, and free sales tools in particular. Upon further investigation, I realized a lot of the “free” tools these posts were promoting weren’t free at all. Many of them only had a free trial or had other limitations. I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to test the skyscraper technique.
I set out to write the all-inclusive list of (actually) free sales tools. The finished result (40 Free Tools for Sales Prospecting) performed better than a majority of other posts. As an added bonus it has continued to drive traffic to our blog since publishing months ago.
While the skyscraper technique may have solved our experiment of what type of content to create, it still didn’t solve our struggle to promote our content. Since we were just getting started we didn’t have much of an audience beyond a few hundred Twitter followers. We knew we had to get creative about promoting content.
Through testing, we discovered our best means to promote content were email outreach and Quora (see the previous section).
Email outreach helped us leverage the audience’s of other larger companies to spread our content. In the example of my 40 tools post, I emailed someone from each of the tools featured in the post and asked them to share it.
I got a positive response.
I also used the same strategy to promote a data-driven list-style post. Again, I found that responses were overwhelmingly positive.
The components that made this email successful were:
- A clear link for them to view the post
- A clear CTA
- Sample tweets to make sharing as easy as possible
Resources we found useful:
Guest blogging can be a challenging, time-consuming strategy for early-stage startups just starting to build credibility in the industry. However, I think it’s an uphill battle worth fighting for.
Here are the major benefits to guest blogging I’ve identified:
- Drive targeted traffic back to your website.
- Push forward the narrative of your brand/company.
- Win backlinks for SEO purposes.
- The more guest posts you do, the better your credibility and you can land progressively better opportunities.
Identify and research opportunities
This post by Kissmetrics outlines an effective strategy for using Google to discover guest blogging opportunities. I also used their suggestion of “guest post” + “keyword” Twitter searches to discover other opportunities. Finally, I leveraged the list of industry influencers I’d previously created. This list was a great source of potential target-niche blogs to guest post on.
After creating a list, I turned it into a spreadsheet to track all potential guest blogging opportunities.
For each opportunity I recorded:
- Blog name and URL
- Topic (for example Sales, SaaS Growth, Customer Success, or Inside Sales)
- Alexa rank
- Total number of sites linking in (I used Alexa Traffic Rank Chrome extension to discover this)
- Twitter handle
- Number of Twitter followers
- Newsletter Name of key contact to pitch post ideas to (this could be a content marketer, marketing manager, CMO, or even the CEO depending on the size of the company)
- Email address for key contact (I used the RepIQ Chrome extension again)
- Most popular posts (I used BuzzSumo to discover this)
This research process is important for identifying the highest potential guest blogging opportunities. The best guest blogging opportunities will be in or related to your niche, have a sizeable audience and good SEO standing, and will partner with you to promote your content.
After I went through this process I identified four blogs I wanted to land guest posts on to start with. All the other options were still viable, but I wanted to narrow my focus for the time being. I set a goal of doing one guest post per week.
Identify and research opportunities
For each opportunity I brainstormed 10 post ideas, and then picked the best 3-5 to pitch. I used the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to create compelling headlines.
The next step was to actually pitch my ideas. Since I’d already identified a key contact in step #1, all I had to do was draft an email and hit “send” (and then hope for the best). Here is a template I’ve used and found successful:
The key parts from this template include:
– Starts off with a genuine comment about their content.
– Pitched ideas are targeted towards their topic/audience.
– Multiple pitch ideas so they can pick which one they like best.
– Validation with samples of my previous work (so they can examine writing style and quality)
It helps to have a few guest posts under your belt to use as validation when pitching new opportunities. It’s even better if these samples are long-form, high-quality content. But when you’re just starting out you won’t have any sample guest posts to share. In this case, I’d say something along the lines of “I’ve written on topics similar to this before,” and then provide links to high-quality content from your blog.
When it comes to guest blogging, I’ve found that producing high-quality content is key. The better quality content you’re producing, the more quickly you can grow your reputation as a guest blogger. Here are some best-practices for producing high-quality guest blogs:
– Do your research and link to lots of high-quality sources.
– Link to one or two of the host blogger’s other posts if possible.
– Avoid being self-promotional (remember there are other benefits to guest blogging besides promoting your product).
– Write long-form content (1,500+ words).
– Include images/graphics if possible.
– After it’s published, help your host promote it on social media and in your newsletter.
Resources we found useful:
Tools we found useful:
- BuzzSumo (not free but it’s awesome!)
- Alexa Traffic Rank Chrome Extension (free)
- RepIQ Chrome extension- Email Finder (free)
- Hemingway App (free)
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
I know this post was a lot, so I wanted to highlight some of biggest key takeaways I’ve learned in the past few months of marketing experiments:
- Being agile is everything. Quickly identifying which tactics work and which don’t is key to success.
- Building relationships with industry influencers is essential during the early stages of a startup.
- Being genuine and helpful in everything that you do—from commenting on blog posts to reaching out to influencers, to answering questions on Quora—can have a big impact on success.
- A newsletter can be a great way to drive leads into your pipeline, but only if it has a unique value proposition.
- Quora is a goldmine for early-stage startups and can help with everything from promoting the product, to expanding a piece of content’s reach, to pitching a weekly newsletter, and more.
- The skyscraper technique is the single most effective technique for maximizing the ROI of your original content.
- Guest blogging is one of the most effective strategies for early-stage startups to drive SEO and build brand awareness among a targeted audience.
If I did it all over again, here are the things I’d be doing from day #1:
- Completing short, targeted marketing experiments to determine which tactics work best
- Targeting and engaging with industry influencers
- Creating content using the skyscraper technique
- Leveraging Quora to promote content and the product
- Guest blogging
Building a startup’s marketing strategy from the ground up isn’t easy, but with these insights hopefully, it can be a little simpler.