At Foothold I have refined an approach to growth marketing strategy which can be tweaked and replicated to drive results at other B2B and/or SaaS companies. Since I started working with Foothold at the tail end of 2017, I have led substantial increases in the number of MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads), and related sales funnel stages.
Read below to see the impact that this has had for Foothold and how you can use this approach to drive growth in your business.
Put simply, this approach is designed to attract ‘in-market buyers’ by targeting transactional keywords through a potent combination of SEO and CPC advertizing. These high-intent visitors convert to MQLs at a high rate, and are likely to move through the funnel relatively quickly as they actually want to hear from your sales team.
This is complemented with automated lead nurturing through email marketing and other direct methods which builds awareness and interest in organizations that are not yet looking for the solution you offer. Account-Based Marketing and traditional sales methods can be used in conjunction with this to start building mind-share with ‘out-of-marketbuyers’.
“Ronan led Foothold’s ‘increase leads’ effort and saw dramatic results – with lead volume increasing by 44% y/y during the latter 9 months of the year. This was one of our critical goals and we could not have done it without Ronan.”
Christina Martinez, CMO, Foothold Technology
SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Keyword selection is at the core of the SEO strategy. Comprehensive keyword research is the first tactical step and the selected keyword targets will run through many other parts of this strategy. A tool like Ahrefs is crucial to find and effectively track your keywords, and analyze their progress over time. Monthly volume, difficulty, and semantic variants are some of the key elements you should be aware of when prioritizing keywords. Use these metrics to guide your content strategy.
For brainstorming, using a simple spreadsheet can be helpful to separate promising keyword opportunities from the noise. This means you can upload just the important keywords to Ahrefs (or your tool of choice) and keep your dashboard clean.
Once you have a clear sense of the relevant keywords it’s time to review your website. Your site should be fast, mobile-friendly, and well-designed. The URLs and folders of the site should be structured to reflect your target keywords and content clusters. Make sure that Google can crawl your site, and check site auditing tools to reduce and remove as many errors and issues as you can while maintaining the function of your site.
At Foothold, I lead the transition from the legacy site to a brand new, SEO-centric website. The site was restructured around ‘pillar pages’ as the primary subfolders, and which corresponded to our primary transactional keywords and content clusters.
From there you should implement a content marketing strategy that attracts buyers across the Awareness, Consideration, and Decision stages of the buyer journey. Again your keyword research will play a vital role in guiding your content priorities.
At Foothold, I work with internal content marketers and outsourced content writers to scale up content production and take advantage of the keyword opportunities identified. If you have conducted comprehensive research it is not uncommon to have 600+ keyword opportunities – this requires a content production engine to match. Content can take many forms including standard blogs and topic pages, but also multi-media lead magnets such as video, checklists, infographics and even a podcast. Each of these lead magnets has it’s own landing page and lead score which allowed us to do effective lead nurturing, which I go into more detail on below.
Finally, it is crucial that you spend time building the authority of your site. Ideally this will be through organic backlinks primarily, but you can also use paid link-building and strategies like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to increase the visibility of your site.
The organic backlink opportunities at Foothold constituted vendor partners, industry associations, clients, and media partners. However for most companies this will only get you so far – working with a reputable link-building company will allow you to consistently build links over time and in different ways, which is incredibly important to maximize your success.
Over 8 months, Foothold’s Domain Authority (a key ranking indicator) jumped from 38 to 53. Below you can see the growth in Referring Domains over that period, and the exact point at which we started working with external link-builders.
CPC – Cost Per Click / Ads
There are two distinct strands to the paid advertizing approach for B2B SaaS – SEM and software review sites.
SEM – Search Engine Marketing
Using your transactional keywords as the base, your aim is to create campaigns on Google Ads and Bing Ads that narrowly target searches that show buying intent. Depending on the industry the Cost Per Click can be high, but if you have effectively targeted the right people this should still provide a positive ROI.
Detailed reviews of the Keywords and Search Terms report is crucial to ensure your spend is focused on high-intent search terms. Following this, optimizing each keyword for Quality Score will help you to keep your Bids low while remaining competitive. When your campaigns start showing a positive ROI the competitive metrics (such as Search Impression Share) become all-important.
With an effective sales strategy, retargeting in Google Ads and LinkedIn can offer great air support to outreach efforts. Retargeting is a method of advertizing that shows display ads to prospects who have previously shown interest in your product, or from a pre-defined list of accounts you wish to target. On it’s own it can lost in the noise, but it’s a great complement to direct email or phone outreach, or as part of an ABM (Account-Based Marketing) campaign.
Software Review Sites
Publishing a profile for your software on third-party review sites such as Capterra, Software Advice, G2, Sourceforge, and others is a great way to round out your marketing efforts. Because these are third-party sites with verified reviews buyers are going to have a higher level of trust in what they read here.
While you can lose some control (it is extremely difficult to have a bad review removed for example), if you approach it correctly you can minimize the risk while achieving a good return from this spend. At Foothold I have tightly managed our review profile on Capterra to ensure a high rating and positive sentiment, while optimizing bids in their CPC program to generate leads with a reasonable CPA (Cost Per Acquisition).
Email marketing and marketing automation are great tools to nurture ‘out-of-market’ leads into sales ready prospects. While SEO and paid advertizing are the ideal tactics for finding ‘in-market’ buyers, only a small amount of your TAM (Total Addressable Market) will be in-market at any given time. This is why it is important to build awareness and interest in parallel with attracting sales-ready buyers.
The first step to effective lead nurturing is building a clean database of contacts and accounts in your target market. A good database can be segmented based on relevant criteria such as buyer persona, location, service type, topics of interest. This can then be used for direct marketing efforts such as email, SMS, and direct mail.
Think about how you can build your dataset into a marketing asset that helps you communicate with your target market. Organic methods of list-building are always more effective, and will help ensure you don’t fall foul of data protection aws such as GDPR.
Done correctly, the process of email marketing can be used to clean your contact list and improve deliverability. At Foothold, the majority of our data had been was a Frankenstein of old conference and association member lists. Over a period of 8 months we increased the number of successfully delivered emails from 14.8k to 18.2k, in a dataset of 18.7k.
Visitors should be directed to content on your website where you should have lead magnets (gated content offers) designed to convert these visitors into leads (but keep in mind that these are not yet MQLs). Each content offer will have an associated ‘lead score’ that can be used to gauge which contacts are marketing-qualified / sales-ready.
Email Workflows & Nurturing
You can then use visitors’ activity to enrol them in automated dynamic workflows that are more relevant to their interests and challenges, that start to guide them to your solution. Good data can also be used in techniques such as automatically pre-populating forms and progressive profiling. A good marketing automation tool such as HubSpot is crucial to the success of these efforts.
At Foothold, our workflows were divided into 3 categories – content, internal processes, and audits. Here is a sample of the type of actions we have automated and I have included a snapshot below of how these algorithms look in practice.
New MQLs – Sending auto-response emails to contacts when they request contact from the sales team.
Lead Magnet Conversions – Enrolling contacts into email series based off their content interactions on the website.
Closed Lost Revival – Dripping content to contacts who have gone cold based on their Closed Lost Reason in order to get them re-engaged.
Campaign-specific – Designing workflows that trigger different content depending on a contacts activity, and related to a specific marketing campaign.
Internal Process Workflows
New MQL Notifications – Automatically notifying the relevant sales rep as soon as a contact becomes ‘sales-ready’.
Sales Funnel Automation – Moving accounts through our funnel automatically based on their activity, and then ‘recycling’ them back to marketing content when they fall out of the sales funnel as ‘closed lost’.
Data Population – Completing data points on the Contact and Account records to improve data fidelity in the CRM. E.g. using the IP address to auto-fill location, or using the UTM parameters in the URL to auto-fill tracking data and populate reports.
Audits – Basic workflows to act as a check and balance that the more complicated workflows are working as expected.
HubSpot Workflow Example
These inbound tactics can work hand-in-hand with Account-Based Marketing (ABM). With ABM you pre-select a number of accounts that are the sweetspot for your SaaS solution given relevant firmographic, technographic, or other factors.
Traditional outbound sales strategies such as direct selling and business development can also work in concert with, and make use of outputs from, an inbound strategy. E.g. the list of MQLs that have since gone cold are accounts that are likely ripe for cold outreach. Or the membership of industry bodies can be re-targeted with display advertizing through Google Ads. The potential is limitless.
You should also have a keen sense of the market landscape and carry out competitive analysis for each of these areas as well as more generally. For example, which organizations show up in the SERP for your chosen keywords? What is your Search Impression Share on Google Ads? How many reviews do your competitors have on Capterra?
“Ronan brings terrific ideas and thoughtful insights to the table that continue to move our digital footprint forward. Our digital results continue to trend in the right direction under his supervision, and his approach to planning helps to facilitate strategy for the whole team. Ronan does a great job of epitomizing our marketing mantra – nothing slips through the cracks!”
Nick Scharlatt, Co-Founder, Foothold Technology
Analysis & Reporting
A good CRM system is essential to tracking MQL performance throughout your sales funnel, and will also enable the lead nurturing tactics discussed above. At Foothold I created dashboards in HubSpot and Salesforce (which have a bidirectional sync) for a full view of how this strategy impacted the bottom line.
Google Data Studio is also very useful for creating dashboards and measuring the ROI of marketing inputs (activity outside the sales funnel) such as Google Ads, Capterra, SEO, website performance.
A/B testing your marketing (and email marketing in particular) is crucial to maximizing the results from your efforts. This is a process I call Growth Experiments – a systematic process-driven approach to improving results by testing everything you create such as page layout, colors, copy, subject lines, timing, and much more.
Keep testing your email subject lines until you consistently achieve a 18+% Open Rate, then focus on the body content to maximize your Click Rate.
This is just a snapshot of the tasks involved in executing this strategy. I could write a long article discussing keyword selection alone, but I hope this piece gave you enough of an outline to get started on implementing an inbound strategy for your own business.
There is no simple answer to the question of how to grow your business. Even in this case progress was slower than it might have been. Internal change, inefficient structure of the marketing team, the pandemic, and competing strategies internally all inhibited the digital-first, inbound-first approach. Only when you properly prioritize the activities and resources required to supercharge growth will you see the results you want.
Please contact me if I can be helpful as you think about how growth marketing can help you achieve your goals.