Miles Ahead Sessions

How inbound marketing is key to accelerate SaaS success

Just like the first Miles Ahead Session on Artificial Intelligence, this event brought together over 40 deep tech enthusiasts, founders of start-ups and potential investors. In the casual atmosphere of de Sociëteit De Verloren Kost near the center of Ghent,they did not only learn how inbound marketing drives growth, but also how investing in SaaS companies pays off. After all, PieSync was acquired by marketing automation leader HubSpot in 2019, just five years after it was founded.

Self-service product, making customers successful

PieSync built its business on integrating disparate systems and bidirectionally synchronizing data from these apps,creating one database across all cloud apps to work with. While this connectivity was something that many organizations were craving for, it took PieSync a lot of effort to build a constant revenue stream. Effort in the way of attracting investors to support PieSync’s R&D, but effort also to market the solution to thousands of small businesses. That’s why the company adopted the mantra of product-led growth, where the product sells itself. “If you have a customer paying a 50-euro subscription per month, as soon as you jump on a call with that customer means you are losing money,” says Ewout Meyns. Inproduct-led growth, features and usage of the product are the primary drivers for customer acquisition, retention and expansion. Rather than talking to a sales rep, prospects download a trial from the website, see if the products work for them or not, and take a subscription if they like the product. Quoting Basecamp’s Jason Fried, Ewout Meyns said that, “In the world of small business software the product — not the salesperson — does the talking.” At one time, PieSync did hire a sales rep, but quickly found out this did not have any impact on the conversion rate whatsoever.

Product-led growth also means Marketing is less focused on generating MQLs, but rather on making customers successful.Once a customer has downloaded and bought the product, Marketing needs to inspire the customer by alerting them to new use cases and answering any question they may have in a knowledge base.

Concept Validation

Building the inbound marketing machine

To attract potential customers to their sales site, PieSync relied heavily on a partnership model. As its product added value to the products that it integrated with, PieSync used the reputation of its partners by building high-quality backlinks and getting included in their partners’ blogs, newsletters…  On its own site, PieSync built hundreds of landing pages, one for every integration they had, asking their partners to also refer to these landing pages to drive SEO and improve the ranking in Google Search. Explaining this in just a couple of slides, Ewout Meyns made it look quite simple, but in fact making this marketing machine really work took a lot of time and effort, not least in just convincing their partners to go along in that story. Ironically enough, HubSpot was one of the most difficult companies to get the partnership going with. “HubSpot had always been our dream exit partner,” said Meyns. A dream that came true in 2019, when HubSpot acquired PieSync.

 

SEO and inbound marketing roadmap

Building further on PieSync’s case of how startups can grow better with SEO and inbound marketing, HubSpot’s Head of Content SEO Rory Hope, set out detailing what content roadmap will bring success. He did not avoid inconvenient truths (SEO results take time, SEO is not ‘free traffic’, content production scalability is your biggest concern), but brought actionable insights to the marketers in the room. His 12-month roadmap is built up in 8 steps:

-       Your company name, website, CRM platform & SEO foundations

-       Resources & budget planning

-       Buyer personas, audience intelligence & user research

-       CRM, email marketing & marketing automation

-       SEO market research, competitor intelligence, strategy and roadmap development

-       Content publishing, ongoing SEO, inbound strategy & scaling production

-       Community management, contentdistribution, social media & influencer marketing

-       Ongoing backlink acquisition & digital PR

What surfaced most during his talk, is the sheer number of tools that are available throughout the marketer’s journey,from well-known solutions like Google Analytics, to tools that help you build and segment buyer personas (audiense, SparkToro), services to perform social listening on influencers (MeltWater, Pulsar), all the way to Artificial Intelligence writing tools (Jasper, frase) that complement your internal content writers and freelance contractors. (By the way: do you think this article was written by an AI tool or by a human writer?). Another recurring theme in Rory’s presentation: weighing the pros and cons of performing tasks like SEO analysis or content writing in-house, or outsourcing parts of that work or ad-hoc projects.

No shortcut to hard work

Inbound marketing has been professionalized over the last few years, as Rory’s best practices and tactics clearly showed, and much can be automated. But, in the end, it all comes down to meticulous planning, thorough analysis, sticking to your strategy and taking a long-term vision. It’s that ‘infinite game’ mentality that also brought success to PieSync, and eventually had them acquired by HubSpot, paying off for both the founders and their investors.

The next Miles Ahead sessions will be announced shortly. Keep an eye on our social media for more details.

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