In many ways managing a social media presence has become just another thing all companies do, a mindless daily task to cross off your to-do list.
Partly that’s because doing it well requires a lot of time and effort. The activities that tend to take up a bunch of time don’t always result in value for the business.
Earth Class Mail is no different, so we took a lean and focused approach to managing our social channels.
There are a few basic fundamentals you want to build your social media presence on:
Listening – tracking what others are saying about you, your industry, and your competitors.
Engaging – communicating directly with others.
Sharing – building an audience that can relate to and appreciate content that you broadcast.
To execute them effectively we had to make some compromises, be clever, and maintain control while allowing for applications to take over some of the tedious work.
Key 1: Admit your limitations, and focus on one or two channels
Yes, many will scoff at this compromise, but it’s completely necessary unless you have a full-time resource dedicated to engaging across a lot of networks.
If you don’t, then you’re just turning in a half-hearted effort on many channels instead of a world-class effort on one.
That’s the triage decision we made, to focus exclusively on Twitter where our largest and most engaged audience has been.
Frankly, it was an easy decision. We have more followers on Twitter than any other network, we have been using it as a customer service channel for years, and Twitter is just easier to build an audience on than most other networks.
You may have a similarly obvious decision to make, or it may be more difficult. If you’re not sure, ask yourself a few questions:
Where do I hear from customers most? i.e. customers reaching out to you, or mentioning your company by name.
Where are my competitors most active?
Which network am I the most comfortable with? i.e. if you’re already a Facebook power user, follow many brands etc. and get the ecosystem then that could be for you.
Which network is most suitable for my skill set? i.e. each network has a basic premise that is hard to ignore. Twitter is all about short headlines and news. Facebook is extremely image and video heavy. Instagram is all about creating visual stories etc.
In the end, we decided to focus our efforts where we felt they could be most impactful – you should do the same.
Key 2: Automate as much as you can
Anything that you do on a set schedule or with a repeatable process can be automated. We decided on a basic toolset for our needs, here it is:
HootSuite – we use the Free version. There are more features in the paid versions, but we just need this to listen for certain keywords and occasionally reply to mentions or DMs. There are lots of alternatives: Sprout Social, TweetDeck, and Buffer to name a few.
SocialOomph – this is the foundation that everything rests on. It’s the only tool we’ve found that allows you to recycle posts and inject spun content, so that the network doesn’t bounce it back as duplicate. There are no great alternatives that we’re aware of.
Flutter – a great tool, still early in development, but it really helps automate posting content that you can’t easily get from something structured like an RSS feed.
Buffer – you can do a lot with this tool, but we use it primarily as a medium to post content that is being pulled from a structured data source like RSS feeds.
IFTTT – a great, free, conditional logic tool that lets you automagically post stuff to your social profiles via a tool like Buffer. (there’s a lot more you can do with IFTTT)
It’s critical that you take some version of this step to automate your workflow so that you can free up time for the activities that really need a human touch. Auto-replies to mentions and DMs always come off as robotic, so spend your manual time there and let the machines take care of the rest.
HootSuite, Buffer, and IFTTT are all incredibly well documented. We won’t spend time detailing how we use them here, but there’s lots of content already available with a quick search.
Get the most out of your existing content
Queuing up a bunch of content is day one of intermediate social media management, but we took it a step further by putting the content to work for us into perpetuity, or close to it.
That means if we have a slow content month, we don’t need to scramble to fill up our queue again or risk that deadly black hole of silence on Twitter.
SocialOomph actually makes it really easy. They use standard spun content schema, so if you’ve done something similar on the SEO side of digital marketing then you should be really familiar.
Basically, we load up the content of our post and format a bunch of alternate text variations that the program then randomly chooses to Tweet out.
We then set a recurring schedule for posting the content and voila! Suddenly our entire content library is on permanent repeat with multiple unique variations of the post. If you’ve been managing social media for a while, this tool is a game changer.
Use third-party content to improve your profile
Automating re-posts of content from RSS feeds is really easy. That’s how we use IFTTT and Buffer, it’s actually a standard integration you can just plug and play.
Getting content from a non-RSS source posted to Twitter automatically was a totally different challenge. We struggled for a while before accidentally stumbling on Flutter.
Flutter is a pretty basic tool, still being worked on so it’s rough around the edges, but extremely powerful for this use case.
It works by allowing you to choose a CSS selector (the id of an “element” on a page) that it will scrape on some recurring schedule and post to Twitter, or push to Buffer if you choose that option.
This is honestly amazing! You can scrape content from the web version of a newsletter, a subreddit, a blog without an RSS feed, and basically anything else.
Imagine how much more content you have access to that you won’t have to pull and share manually anymore.
Key 3: Communicate with others in a real, human voice
Since you aren’t wasting time with all those tedious tasks anymore, thanks to automation, you can start to have real conversations with others.
As a customer service channel, Twitter has been a great network for us. It’s really easy to react to negative feedback quickly and correct issues, or find those customers that are primed to become brand ambassadors.
We also take the opportunity to just engage with others in a conversational tone. It’s great for prospecting new customers, or simply developing a brand personality that’s relatable to your target audience.
The best part about this approach is the freedom it provides to focus on growing your audience instead of constantly keeping up with maintaining the content. That by itself was worth the initial effort to set it all up.
Simply put, a demand test is an experiment you run to see if there is anyone in the market for your product or service.
It can take many shapes, but for our purposes we focused on setting up a simple lead funnel by buying ads on Google AdWords and pointing those users to a landing page with a lead form.
This type of test is great because:
You can simply buy exposure to users likely to be interested in your product, very inexpensively. That means you don’t need to organically build an audience and you don’t need to have a product, just a pitch.
You can use the landing pages to funnel users through the various value points of your product, from a high-level pitch down to pricing. That means you can gain insights into what exactly is drawing people in or turning them away.
Most importantly, it’s really easy to setup. A focus group or even a basic functioning product are way more expensive and time consuming.
Step 3 – Did Any Customers Show Up?
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you ran some ads to a landing page. Now let’s dig in to the results.
To refresh your memory, we want to answer a few simple questions to better understand if our business idea will be a success:
Question: How many potential customers exist looking for a solution to this problem?
Answer: Ad impressions
Question: How well does your business solve the problem for potential customers?
Answer: Ad click-through-rate (CTR)
Question: How many potential customers can you get to your front door?
Answer: Ad clicks
Question: How many potential customers are interested in pricing for your product?
Answer: Landing page CTR
Question: How many potential customers indicated they would pay you money?
Answer: Pricing button clicks
Question: How many potential customers are ready to buy now?
Answer: Email leads collected
Question: Can your business be profitable? How profitable?
Answer: The metrics from your demand test will help build an initial forecast
Let’s dive into our data to see what it tells us.
The very first question is probably the most important, how many potential customers exist looking for an answer to this problem?
In our test this data is easily accessible, and there’s good news for the future of ClaimSender. Google AdWords shows that there are thousands of daily searches related to healthcare claim forms.
We dig in a bit more and find that our $50/day budget produced 48 clicks/day, with an average CPC of $1.08 (this data is for one day, but it’s representative of the other days in our test).
Our limited keyword test produced a solid number of impressions. A bunch more search volume likely exists for a few reasons:
We set our daily budget at $50, and hit that somewhat early in the day.
Adwords budget alerts told us we could double our budget to get double the clicks at the same cost per click.
We can expand our keyword set to include other health care companies and more niche terms.
This is good news. It means we have plenty of room to grow through paid acquisition.
A quick trip to Google Trends tells us there’s perhaps at least double the volume if we include other healthcare companies besides United and Aetna.
Adding Cigna alone would produce a lot more volume, and a bevy of others exist – Humana, Centene, HealthNet, WellCare, Molina, Magellan, etc.
So the answer to our question is: “enough to keep learning”. No red flags on this step, let’s keep moving.
How well does your business solve the problem for potential customers?
I’ve seen click through rates from 0.01% up to 8% for AdWords campaigns. Our ads clocked in at a robust ~2.9%, a great result for a first attempt.
Hitting nearly 3% on our initial go shows that our ads appealed to people searching for a remedy to their health care claim filing pain.
We struck a nerve!
You can always improve on your first attempt, so the answer here is two strong thumbs up.
How many potential customers can you get to your front door?
Don’t sugarcoat this number. Is it enough to support a business if we convert a reasonable percentage of tire-kickers into customers?
Our ads delivered ~50 clicks per day.
However, our budget and keyword set constrained us. If we cranked our budget up and expanded our keyword set to include other healthcare companies, we could likely make that 50 turn into 150-200 per day.
Pencil in a conversion rate of 0.5% – 2% (some rule of thumb averages, your mileage may vary) and you have your likely customers per day.
If we get 200 interested people to the site, and convert a handful to paying customers, will that be enough to build a business? Perhaps, but let’s cover that in the spreadsheet section. Stay tuned.
How many potential customers showed interest in seeing how much your service cost?
Here’s what they saw after clicking an ad and landing at http://try.claimsender.com/
26.67% clicked the “Get Started” button, one-in-four is not bad at all.
How many potential customers indicated they would pay you money?
As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding” and it’s pudding time. We’ll measure this by looking at two things:
Unique users clicking on one of the sign up buttons
The specific sign up button they clicked
These actions tell us the person showed interest in signing up, but you can’t count your money yet. The best thing to do here is to apply a reasonable conversion percentage to calculate signups.
More importantly, looking at which pricing plans people clicked on tells you a bit about what they would pay.
Using the data from Unbounce, we can see that 24% of people that hit the pricing page clicked one of our pricing buttons. Nice!
Diving into Google Analytics to look at the events reveals which pricing tiers prospects clicked on. Most clicked on our free plan (some free will convert to paid when they hit usage limits), a few clicked on the $29/mo option, and one clicked on the $9/mo plan.
The clicks on the paid plans are encouraging. The data lacks enough volume to be valid, but even this amount of data is enough to show that we have something worth further investigation.
How many potential customers are ready to buy now?
These prospects display the strongest interest in your product. Three of the nine people who clicked on the pricing buttons left their contact info for us. Not bad at all.
Even better, it gives you a list of prospects to email so you can rack up some easy signups when you launch.
One thing did surprise me – two of the leads were from 10-25 person healthcare companies. Perhaps there’s a business-to-business product here?
Can your business be profitable? How profitable?
Time to break out the spreadsheets. I’ve created a simplistic one here for you to look at. Our example is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) based business that charges people a recurring fee per month.
For this type of business, we want to model the following numbers:
What we plan to spend on ads
How many customers we can acquire for that cost
How much each customer pays us per month
How many customers leave us each month
The resulting numbers give you the money you’ll be left with to pay for everything else. Those things include every other cost of running the business – per unit costs (if any), all provider costs (hosting, email, rent, software, support tools, etc.), taxes, compensation . . . you get the idea.
By playing with the assumptions in the spreadsheet, we get a sense of how profitable the business can be, and what it takes to make it so.
If we use monthly ad spend of $1,500, a CPC of $1, 1% conversion, an average of $12 per month per customer, and 3% churn, we break even in month 10 and generate a positive $337 in month 12.
If we use monthly ad spend of $6,000, a CPC of $1, 1.5% conversion, and 2% churn, we break even in month 5 and generate a positive $7,563 in month 12.
Results vary DRAMATICALLY with changes to each of those numbers. It’s impossible to know what they will be at this point, but we can use this template to get a sense of what’s possible, and what it will take to make that happen.
Let’s Drop Everything and Build Our Site! Right Now!
No Larry, hold your horses. It’s not time to build yet. Stay strong, and FIGHT THE URGE TO BUILD, BUILD, BUILD. Let me repeat myself, DO NOT BUILD ANYTHING YET.
Let’s dig into the data to deduce our most intelligent next step
Here’s what we learned:
We can buy plenty of clicks at a reasonable cost.
A lot more keywords, forms, categories (dental, vision, pharmacy) and providers exist than we tested.
The strong CTR on the homepage and pricing buttons show demand lurks, ready to turn into signups.
That’s a solid foundation to build on. Let’s make an action item to research how much more search volume exists, and note that optimization can improve our conversion rates significantly over time with testing.
Our financial model gives us a sense of how big this can be. On the low end it appears to deliver a few thousand dollars a month after many months of ramping up.
A more generous interpretation of AdWords demand and conversion rates gives us a nice solo lifestyle business.
Getting leads from small healthcare companies surprised me. Perhaps these types of companies need a solution? Mark down another research item.
This data told us that a good number of people want this problem solved, and will pay enough to make it worthwhile for us to solve.
To paraphrase my good friend and investor in Earth Class Mail, Jonathan Siegel, “the best investments have little risk and high return”.
If we channel our inner Jonathan, what questions do we need to ask to reduce the risk and build confidence in a profitable business?
I want to know:
Is our core idea technically possible?
Is our core idea legally possible?
Will people really buy this? For real? For really real?
How can I get those questions answered most simply?
That’s it for today, but stay tuned for our next post where we dive into the questions above.
Everyone out there has a big idea. If you count yourself as an entrepreneur, chances are you have an idea for a startup.
The problem is that few ideas are actually any good. Even with a great idea the reality is that it won’t necessarily translate into a great business. But, you can save yourself from a lot of heartache and wasted effort.
That’s why you need to validate
Validation is when you actually put the pressure test on your idea, to see if anyone even wants what you’re offering in the first place. Too many would-be entrepreneurs make the mistake of keeping themselves in a bubble and fall out of touch with the real world.
The goal of validation is to find the true fans of your product. A true fan is someone who would put down money for your product even if they don’t have it yet. You should get at least a hundred of them to validate further investment in your idea.
When it comes to validation, it’s important to remember these rules:
The goal is to find 100 true fans.
Always listen more than you talk.
Keep in mind that great ideas don’t always translate into great products.
Talk to your customer
Here’s a quick little exercise to get started. Quickly write down at least five people you know who would use your product. That’s five people who would fall over themselves in order to do business with you. Then talk to them.
If you can’t think of at least five people, then maybe that’s all the validation your idea needs.
Don’t stop at this step! It’s a good first step, but for the most part you’ll probably get a load of people telling you that they could see themselves using your product.
The first mistake entrepreneurs often make is they rely solely on their friends and family for feedback on their idea. This is exactly the reason you need to expand your validation beyond friends and family.
You need to ask people who are complete strangers. In fact, you need people to tell you that your idea sucks. You need to find a way to actually get in front of your target customer and start asking them what they think.
For that you need to clearly define, in writing, who you believe your target customer is and get in contact with some of them (this could end up being totally wrong, but you need to start somewhere).
That means actually go to the places where they’re hanging out, online or offline. Come armed with questions, ask them to fill out a survey, or maybe even convince a couple to be beta testers for you. Develop a 15 second pitch for your idea, that’s all the attention you’ll get from people you don’t know.
It doesn’t really matter how you approach this, as long as you’re actually listening to them and taking what they have to say seriously.
One of the best ways to validate your idea is to start selling it, even if you don’t have a product to sell. It’s never too early to start selling.
A smoke test is super easy to do and is often used by some of the best in the business before they even start building their products.
Make it so that the landing page actually has a strong call to action like, “Sign up now” or “Get a free consultation” that people can actually click on. This will become very important data for you later.
Now that you’ve set the bait it’s time to start casting the line out.
Remember to go after your target customer here, so don’t just do a social media blast linking back to your page and hope for the best. Actually find out where your potential users hang out and seed it out there.
Come up with a real pitch, sell the value of your idea and incentivize people to visit your page. Early-bird discounts are a great incentive, so is exclusivity.
Some common messaging examples: “Sign up today and get 50% Off”, and “Join our waitlist and be part of the beta test”.
This whole process shouldn’t take you more than a few hours of work, PPC campaign excluded, and a couple days of patience. After a few days, it’s time to check and see if you got any nibbles.
Remember the goal is to find 100 true fans. How many people visited your page? How many people actually clicked through on your call to action?
Developed by the tech-heads at Google, the Usability Cafe method is a very effective and cheap way for you to validate your idea. The best part is that you don’t even need any special tools to implement it.
Even though this is a method primarily designed for apps and developers, you can easily use this for other types of products and ideas as well.
Although, unlike the smoke test method above, you will need a functioning version of your product. Remember to go as lean as possible, no need for any bells and whistles yet.
It can even be a bunch of static landing pages with links, laid out how you imagine the app working, for example.
The Usability Cafe is based upon the principle that up to 85% of your core usability problems can be found just by observing five people using your product.
The method is simple: Just find a popular cafe nearby and ask the first five people you see to test your product for you.
All you really need is a couple hours of time, a simple (i.e. MVP) version of your product, and some rewards for your beta testers. Remember, all you’re asking them for is ten minutes of their time, nothing more, nothing less.
Give them five minutes to play with your product and ask them to talk out loud about their experience, any problems they’re encountering, and to be as honest as possible.
After that’s done, just spend another five minutes getting a bit more in-depth about the app and their thoughts. When all’s said and done, treating them to a muffin or a coffee for their time can be a great reward.
The entire point of the Usability Cafe method is to take yourself out of your own bubble. Sometimes what’s obvious to you isn’t obvious to someone else.
Getting out there and speaking to people can not only help you develop a better product, but open your eyes as to what’s possible with your idea.
Too many entrepreneurs out there make the fatal mistake of jumping without looking. While it’s important to have confidence as an entrepreneur, it’s also important to have the common sense to pack a parachute too.
By using these validation methods, you’ll be able to take your ideas out of your head and into the real world. See what works and what doesn’t, and make sure to double down on whatever it is that works best.
Again, remember these simple rules:
Find 100 true early adopters that would buy your product.
Collect feedback from people you don’t know, lots of it, and take it seriously.
Understand that great ideas aren’t guaranteed to turn into great businesses.
If everything goes right and you have yourself a validated idea, take that bold step forward. But always make sure to keep on iterating, pull yourself out of your bubble whenever possible, and always be listening.
You’re minding your own business when BAM, the-best-idea-ever-created slams into your brain. You’ve got it! You’re rich! Step 1 is the idea. Congratulations, you’ve reached the point almost everyone on earth has.
I hate to break it to you, but your idea is worth a lukewarm cup of coffee. Now let’s talk about what to do with that idea.
Before we jump into the how, you’re probably wondering what grand inspiration slammed into our heads. Well…
I loathe how insurance companies force you to print out their forms, write out every detail in pen, sign them, and mail (gasp!) their claim forms to get reimbursed.
Do you like health and dental insurance companies? I don’t. I rank them right up there with putrid cabbage and elevator farts.
Hmm…I wonder if they make that process painful on purpose? I harbor a sneaking suspicion that they make it just annoying enough so a certain number of people won’t file claims.
Do I have proof? Nope. Am I annoyed enough for my inner developer to want to build an app and stick it to them? You bet!
Here’s my idea: a website that makes it super easy to submit your medical and dental claims online.
Why print out the form, fill it out by hand, stuff it in an envelope, find a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox? That’s a huge hassle.
Often you can’t find stamps, your printer’s out of ink, or you decide to watch Turd Ferguson videos on Hulu instead, and as a result you never file your claims.
What if you could enter your information just once, and make a few clicks to file new claims? I’m betting you would file your claims faster, file more of them, and appreciate it when you get reimbursed faster.
Wait, it gets better. Did you know that most insurance companies accept claims by fax? Perfect, because we can send faxes online so you can submit your claim forms immediately, nothing to mail.
So that’s the idea, let’s fix insurance claims and make people’s lives better.
Finding The First Customers
Enough about us, let’s get back to you. What do you do right after your idea hits? Do NOT do any of the following (I am guilty of all):
Start building anything
File a patent
Spend weeks talking to potential partners
Write a business plan and begin courting investors
No no no, do not do anything on that list. You’re wasting time and indulging yourself if you do.
Instead, your sole mission is to find out if customers will pay you for what you’re offering.
Setting Up Your Test
The ONLY way to find out if your idea has any demand is to let potential customers tell you. The fastest, cheapest, and easiest way I know to do that is to throw up a landing page, point some ads to it, and see how prospects respond.
Go online and do some research
You want to answer a few questions in this step:
How many people search on terms related to your idea (i.e. market size)?
How many of those people can you convince to visit your page (i.e. does your product solve the problem)?
How much do you have to spend to get them to visit your page (i.e. what will it cost to acquire leads)?
How many of them convert (i.e. show interest by submitting their contact info)?
This isn’t an exact science, but it gives you enough data to get a sense of the interest and appetite for your idea.
Once you’re logged in to the account, navigate to Tools > Keyword Planner. Think of every possible search term people could type into Google. Better yet, do a couple searches yourself and see what comes up in the auto-complete recommendations for even more ideas.
Once you have your search terms set go to the “Get search volume data and trends” section in the Keyword Planner, then drop in all those search terms and submit. Here’s our example:
Take a look at the projected search volumes and suggested bids. Keep brainstorming to clean up the terms until you get a good set that maximizes searches, and minimizes your suggested bids.
I recommend forcing yourself to modify your list at least 5 times. Try ultra specific terms. Try wacky terms. The point is, keep trying until you get a good set of terms.
If you can’t find a grouping of search terms that generates at least a few hundred searches per month, you may want to stop and reconsider. It is important to note that the volume in here is not exact, and usually underestimates searches by some multiple.
Building a landing page
Great, you’ve done some research and there is demand. Don’t go measuring for blinds in your new mansion yet! Your next step is creating a landing page for your idea.
You need to be able to sell your idea in one page. Distill everything you imagine it being down to a single value proposition that you can verbalize simply and succinctly.
If you can’t explain it easily, you can’t sell it easily.
Get a domain name that prospects will believe. Services like InstantDomainSearch.com can help you find a reasonable domain for your idea. We aren’t affiliated in any way, they just have a great product.
Don’t stress about the exact domain at this point, just grab something reasonable. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy an expensive domain yet.
Find an available one and shell out the $12. WARNING – I recommend you register your domain somewhere other than Google Domains, as you’ll need domain forwarding to setup the page properly. I tend to use GoDaddy and NameCheap a lot.
Sign up for a free trial at Unbounce.com, choose a responsive template, and whip up your masterpiece of a landing page. Channel your inner Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross and sell, sell, sell!
I recommend creating two separate pages: 1) a primary landing page, and 2) a pricing page. The aim with this strategy is to test both low-friction demand, and early-adopter demand in one experiment.
The primary landing page should be the main sales page, and what you’re looking for here is how many visitors click through to the pricing page. You can track that directly in Unbounce, and the results are considered your low-friction demand as these visitors show interest when the barrier to learn more is low.
On the pricing page, you will want to embed a lead form that collects visitor information. This is how you measure the early-adopter demand since they are willing to give you contact information, with a higher level of friction it’s likely these leads could become customers.
A few tips:
Your page should pass the “eye test” – meaning a regular joe should be reasonably convinced it’s for a real company. It’s not a high bar to clear.
Force yourself to set pricing. This gives two benefits: 1) it forces you to think of what to charge, and 2) it gives you more valid results.
Ask a few people to look at your landing pages and explain their interpretation of the product to you. This will put a check on your messaging and help you catch any glaring issues that you’ve become numb to.
Make sure your root domain and subdomain work, or Google may not let your ads run.
Google may ask you to put a business address on your landing page. Luckily, I know just the company to recommend for that.
Done is better than perfect. The point is to test your idea with real people vs. obsessing over minutia.
Once your landing page gets to the “it’s not completely horrible” state, STOP working on it.
Now that you’re armed with a good terms list and shiny new landing page it’s time to create some ads!
Go back to that search terms list you built and save your keywords to a new campaign. Set your default bid and daily budget, create a new ad group and click “Create new ads for your ad group“.
Bids, budgets, and AdWords campaign structure are a nuanced field with no shortage of opinions on the topic. This is not an AdWords tutorial, but AdWords is one of the best documented platforms on the planet so there are plenty of resources.
You will want to let your ads run for at least a week to allow for any day-of-week fluctuations, so set your daily budget appropriately. Make sure you understand how AdWords budgets work too.
Channel your inner Don Draper and whip up some ads! Create at least a handful, trying out different headlines and different ad text. You want to find out the terms and hooks your target audience responds to.
A great place to start for this is to look at ads from competitors on similar terms. If your idea is so unique that there’s no ad competition, search for terms that will bring up ads for big brands and see how they do it.
Save your ads and wait for Google to approve everything.
Verify Tracking and Wait
While Google takes its time approving your ads, run through your landing page and make sure all of your tracking works. You may have done this already, but do it now if you haven’t. Make sure the following works:
Unbounce visit & conversion tracking (go to your live page, click the CTAs, submit some leads)
Unbounce lead tracking (submit some leads)
Once you’ve confirmed that all the tracking works, sit back and be patient. In our next post we’ll talk about how to evaluate the data and what to do next. For now grab a coffee, pull up a chair, and watch the show!
Building a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business, just like many other B2B verticals, is all about leads. Yes, Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is the central measure for a business like ours, but it’s a lagging indicator and can be a red herring when used to predict future growth.
Here’s an example. You’ve been tracking two key performance indicators (KPI) for your business, MRR and Lead Volume. Let’s say you look at the last 6 months of MRR and it’s totally flat. It would be reasonable to assume that next month will be flat too.
Now let’s say you take a look at leads, and they jumped 50% from last month. If you know how long it will take you to get through those leads, and how many leads convert to sales, you can estimate that impact to your business in terms of MRR growth.
Same goes if your lead volume went down, or stayed steady. What’s most important is, if you start looking at leads as the growth indicator instead of MRR then you can build strategy around lead generation that ties directly back to MRR growth.
Get a 15 minute crash course from the B2B Growth Show with James Carbary. Listen to Mike Beck, Head of Growth & Marketing at Earth Class Mail, talk about getting started with Twitter and Facebook lead generation campaigns.
Facebook and Twitter are often overlooked by small B2B businesses, from a paid advertising perspective.
It could be because they assume these networks are mostly recreational or because, at least in our experience, they aren’t particularly effective at generating revenue directly.
What’s really important to understand, especially for experienced PPC operators, is that the advertising model is very different.
Advertisers on networks like AdWords, Bing and the like generate the majority of their results from ads in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
SERPs are easy to target because someone goes into their browser and searches for something very specific, thereby providing the advertiser with a clear and explicit intent for ad targeting.
Here’s a specific example for “po box in washington” on Google. We know exactly what the user is looking for and what to write in the ad.
On Facebook and Twitter, you are not targeting search intent.
Rather you are finding cohorts of users that are likely to be interested in your product. You then have to tailor messaging, including visuals, that resonate with the audience and convince them to take a step that they had no explicit intention of taking.
It’s a lot like display advertising, but on steroids. Lot’s of steroids, like the kind that would even make the Russian olympic program say, “Wow, that’s a lot of f***ing steroids”!
To figure this out you’re going to need to setup some tracking. Both Facebook and Twitter offer proprietary tracking pixels that will collect data on the visitors to your site and group them into cohorts that you can define.
We wanted to know:
All visitors to the site
Visitors that submitted a lead form
Visitors that purchased
If you don’t have resources, or just have limited technical skills, then start with “all visitors”. This will be valuable regardless.
Segmenting the visitors by how far they made it in the funnel was important to us for targeting purposes, but it’s not critical to get started with this.
Who are our current customers?
This is exactly what it sounds like. We pulled a very large CSV file of all of our current and even canceled customers. We then segmented that list by customer status, again for targeting purposes, and pulled out the emails and phone numbers.
Those two identifiers are all you need, and frankly email is enough most of the time. It’s much more likely to be matched to an account than a phone number is. If you have both then use them, if not then just the email will work fine.
Who are the influencers in our niche?
We already have a good pulse on the industry, but there aren’t a ton of people excited to talk about virtual mail. A much sexier and equally aligned niche is startup and SMB digital marketing.
You might think, “why does that matter”? Well, Mr. Question McQuestionFace, you can actually target fans and followers of other profiles on these networks!
If you don’t know who the influencers are, you can cheat a little with a tool like BuzzSumo. Search a topic that’s relevant, then dig in to the top sharers for the most popular content.
There’s a free trial, so if you plan ahead you can get all you need without any added expense.
Who’s engaging with our ads on other networks?
If you’re already running PPC ads on AdWords, Bing and the like then you have data to lean on. We’re not going to deep dive into website analytics for this, sorry that’s for another series.
Simply put, we used Google Analytics and applied segmentation to our audience demographics so that we could see what the PPC visitors looked like from that perspective.
You can do this with pretty much any website tracking application on the market, Google Analytics is the most popular and it’s free.
We figured out very quickly that our audience leaned heavily Male, older, and within a more affluent income bracket. We also learned some things about their interest and affinity categories that helped later on in targeting.
We looked at the best performing PPC ads, the best email campaign messaging, and the top landing pages on our site.
Here are a couple of easy tactics you can use if you feel like you have nothing to start from:
Survey your existing customers. Just ask them “How would you describe our service to a friend?”, or “Can you explain the value you get from our product?”. Make sure to offer an incentive if you want a good sample set, and stick to open-ended questions.
Search on Google for keywords related to your business and click on the ads. This will give you insight into what advertisers are using in their ads and, more importantly, on landing pages.
Nailing down the imagery
More important than the marketing copy are the visuals you choose. We know, from past surveys and feedback, that we have two primary demographics: 1) nomadic professionals, and 2) SMBs that hate dealing with paper mail.
To start, we narrowed down two images that we felt represented the main value proposition to each segment. Then we added in a few stock photos we already had laying around from previous design work.
To start, two images and several variations of copy are plenty to test for your first run. You will need to create more as you optimize campaigns and if you have stock photos you can repurpose, even better.
Another great feature of these networks is that you don’t need a ton of design work for the ads since you have plenty of space to write copy around the visual.
Below is one of our ads with just a stock photo and marketing copy.
You will very quickly see which images perform better than others, and the difference is usually clear. However, you want to remain data driven so you should rely on testing for statistical significance in your results.
Ads and targeting are half the battle, you will need to optimize the other half as well. You can have fantastic ad performance and terrible conversion because your landing pages are being neglected.
Now, the beauty of these networks is that you don’t necessarily need to start with landing pages at all. Native lead collection means you just have to figure out audience and messaging to start.
A few big differences between native lead forms on these networks:
Lead forms collect email addresses only. They are high quality though, because a lead can only submit the email on their account.
You pay per lead, so impression volume is irrelevant from a cost perspective – especially in the beginning.
Depending on the audience type you select, your reach may be throttled by Twitter until they collect enough data on campaign relevance.
Lead forms have many fields, and are totally customizable.
You pay cost-per-mille (CPM), so if you get a ton of impressions it will cost you even if you don’t get leads.
The full reach of your audience is available immediately, assuming your budget allows for it.
Optimizing your landing page can be pretty easy
Honestly, we’re not making light of a difficult task here. We use Unbounce, it’s a powerful tool that lets us test outside of the walls of our main site.
They also have built-in responsive templates, dynamic text substitution, and a lot of cool integrations. If you are really trying to bootstrap, then you can always just create a custom page on your blog with WordPress or whatever your blog service is.
The least work, but least flexible, is to choose an existing landing page that works well with the messaging in your ads.
Most importantly, you want to preserve context from the ad to the page. The tone should be the same, the fonts should be the same, imagery should be related, and the page should really extend the ad’s message while closing with a strong call-to-action (CTA).
In the beginning, with lower volume, you want to test big changes to see if there is meaningful impact. Changing one line of copy, or the text on a CTA button isn’t likely to yield significant results (remember, we’re looking for statistical significance with our optimization).
We had three very specific pages we wanted to test: short form, long sales letter, and video supported.
As you can tell each page is very different in layout and focus, but they all tie-in to the ads that are being served. You don’t need to be this aggressive, but the more effort you put in the more reward you get out.
The first step in setting up your campaigns, on both networks, is going to be your audience. You will want to upload CSVs of your existing customers and any other prospect contact information you have.
Make sure that the tracking you implemented for remarketing is working, and that the audience is large enough to market to. For low traffic sites, this may take a while so you are going to lean on building new audiences in the beginning.
Why existing customer lists are valuable
You can use existing customers for a few really beneficial purposes:
A list of active customers can be used to create Lookalike audiences of similar users for targeting.
A list of canceled customers can be used to try to win them back with special offers.
The combined lists can be used to exclude these users from seeing your ads, and potentially wasting money.
The same goes for users in your tracking cohorts, not only can you retarget them, but you can create Lookalike audiences from those users as well.
On Facebook specifically the Lookalike audiences are really large, no less than 2 million potential users. That’s way to big, so this is where all of that other data comes in handy.
You will want to narrow that by using demographic data. In our case we excluded gender, geo, and age groups. Similarly, you will want to narrow by interest and affinity data where it makes sense.
An example audience might look something like this: Lookalikes of our current customers, Male, 25-55 years old, on the West coast of the U.S., that also like Tim Ferriss.
You will want to narrow, within reason, to an audience that is less than 100,000 in potential reach to start. This will be easier on Twitter than Facebook. It’s a unique challenge, because you don’t want to accidentally filter out a big cohort of good prospects.
If you’re skipping the landing page
Your next step is the imagery and copy for the lead generation ad. Take what you worked on and set a couple of variations of each visual.
You should test:
Promotional messaging and special offers
Different CTA language, like: Free Trial, Learn More, Buy Now
On Facebook, you should have multiple variations of the form with more or less fields
For those using a landing page
The most important thing you can do here is to make sure you are collecting data. Without it your efforts aren’t valuable.
If you’re not using a landing page service like Unbounce, then add UTM tracking parameters to all of your links. Set a proper tracking taxonomy so you can dig into campaigns later and know what is going on.
If you’re using Unbounce, integrate all of the tracking pixels directly. They have great help content on this, so it’s actually pretty easy. Similarly, here is what you should be testing on any landing page:
You’ve got all of your assets in place, now it’s time to see it work. You will need to spend some money, and in the beginning it may feel like you aren’t seeing results.
Give. It. Time.
This is a process, and optimization takes time. Pull data from your campaigns regularly, not just in the canned reports but that actual raw CSV files and segment it yourself.
You will learn things you never new you could learn. Take that knowledge, and build new campaigns. Then learn some more.
A safe budget expectation is at least $1000 to learn something from your first run and hopefully collect leads. It will take some multiple of that to optimize the campaigns further, find new audiences, and grow the channel.
This process helped us cut our lead cost by 50%, and in some cases generates leads at one-fifth the cost of what we expect to pay. You can do it too.
Doug Breaker here, CEO of Earth Class Mail. One of my favorite video clips is a South Park episode where a few entrepreneurial gnomes come up with the next great startup idea. Their plan goes something like this: Step 1. Collect underpants, Step 2. ?, Step 3. Profit!
I love this because it illustrates really plainly the most common pitfall budding entrepreneurs make, that is how they’re actually going to make money. I’d find this funnier except that almost every entrepreneur and founder I know has fallen prey to this.
I know I did, multiple times, stubbornness is both a strength and a weakness.
The pattern goes like this:
Inspiration hits, “Wow, I’ve got it!”.
The soon-to-be-rich-and-famous founder jumps immediately into building, planning, strategizing, and daydreaming. Big funding rounds and massive success here we come!
Months or years later the business launches, woohoo! They’ll shout “My creation is alive!”, “Revel in its beauty!”, “Kneel down to its glory!”. Then some time passes…a week, a month, maybe a few go by.
In that time some customers trickle in, just a few, if at all. “Where are all the customers?”, asks the founder. Oops! Sounds like someone forgot Step 2.
What is Step 2?
I’ve personally had to survive more than five failed product launches: a monthly pickle service, an accent training service, a moving company website, and I could go on. It took those failures and more for me to break this habit and finally focus on Step 2.
So again, what is Step 2? It’s customers! More specifically, it’s finding a lot of customers at a profit. That is Step 2.
The goal of any for profit business is to collect more money than you spend. To collect that money you have to find customers that will pay you money. Let me hammer that point home…
You. Have. To. Find. Customers. That. Will. Pay. You. Money.
Your business must find enough customers that pay enough to cover everything your business needs to operate in the black, i.e. above breakeven. That is salaries, benefits, technology, the costs of goods sold, taxes, rent, and etc.
It’s also important to remember that it costs money to find those customers. You must figure out how to find enough customers at a cheap enough cost so that the money those customers pay is more than all the other costs to run the business. Sounds pretty simple right?
To understand Step 2, ask yourself:
How many customers can I get to buy my product or service?
How much will it cost me to do that?
Will the money left over be enough to run and grow the company?
Only AFTER you understand that should you start building. Put those daydreams on hold, and let Dr. Math tell you what your idea is worth.
Great smartypants, so how do I do that?
Ah! Great question. I love the internet. It’s the perfect tool to answer Step 2 cheaply, quickly, and confidently. You can get your answer for less than a $1000, a few hours of work, and few weeks of testing. Which option sounds better to find out if your idea works?
Spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and months or years
Spending less than a thousand dollars and a few weeks
I am going to save the specifics for my next post, so I can get to the point of this one.
What the heck does this have to do with Earth Class Mail?
As CEO of Earth Class Mail I own ultimate responsibility for how awesome our product and service is, and how much value our customers get from it. We want to make SMBs, startups, independent entrepreneurs, and digital nomads more amazing.
We especially want to knock it out of the park for our business customers who crave efficiency and reliability. We want them to spend more time growing their business, not stressing about mail.
The best way I know to do that is to walk in their shoes and use Earth Class Mail ourselves. We already use Earth Class Mail for all our inbound company mail, but I want us to really feel what our customers feel. I want us to experience their joy, and their pain.
To make all that happen we’re going to go through a real world example of starting a business, from idea to launch. We’ll start with testing if our idea can attract enough customers, and share all the things we learn along the way.
Then we’ll walk through everything from the techie things like creating a website and the actual service, to the mundane like registering a corporation and setting up a bank account.
Along the way we’ll dig deep into the Earth Class Mail service, and the ways it can make running a business easier.
Hopefully this process will help a few entrepreneurs launch more successful businesses. I can’t wait to see how it helps us build a better service for our customers.
HealthyHearing.com connects its 2,000,000 visitors to a national network of hearing centers and clinics. They also provide industry leading thought leadership on hearing loss and hearing aids. It’s estimated that 28 million Americans are impacted by some degree of hearing loss.
With a demographic that trends older, 55 and over, HealthyHearing.com struggles at times with generating the online engagement they need from their users.
Although that age group can be tech savvy, it’s still a generation that appreciates a handwritten note over an email. – Dr. Paul Dybala, President at HealthyHearing.com
In 2011, Healthy Hearing rolled out a new feature allowing users to leave reviews for the more than 2,000 clinics in their directory. The review process was simple and completed entirely online.
The jury was still out on whether users would remember to come back to the site and leave a review after visiting a clinic. Would they respond better if they had the option to submit a handwritten review instead?
To give their users a more traditional option for leaving reviews, Healthy Hearing implemented a solution that allowed clinics to provide postcards to their patients. The patients could write their review and then mail it in. The postcards would then be transcribed and published online.
Since the Healthy Hearing team is completely virtual, they initially used a PO Box located near one of the editors. Hundreds of postcards started to roll in, but managing all that wasn’t ideal.
It worked ok, but there was a delay as the editor would pick up mail once a week from the post office and then it took a while to get the information from the postcards entered into our system.
Soon, Healthy Hearing would learn of another pitfall. The editor in charge moved to another company, leaving behind thousands of postcards and a PO Box nobody else could access. This would inevitably lead to delays, and likely frustrated consumers and clinics.
They needed a solution that was scalable, accessible for a virtual team, and reliable.
With a real problem on their hands, Healthy Hearing reached out to Earth Class Mail for a solution. They needed a physical address with virtual mail management for their team.
New postcards were printed with the Earth Class Mail address. Those were distributed to the clinics in the network, while the old ones were recycled.
Knowing that not all of the old postcards would be dropped from the network, mail forwarding was setup from the old PO Box to the new address.
We then had mail forwarded from the old mailbox to the new ECM address and monitored what addresses were listed on the postcards coming in.
About 3 years later, with virtually all of the postcards coming direct to the Earth Class Mail address, they shut down the old mailbox.
More importantly, the postcard reviews don’t live in a silo anymore. They can be accessed from anywhere, making transcription scalable.
Postcards now account for 50% of all reviews posted to HealthyHearing.com, and it’s increasing. There are two team members currently monitoring and managing the program, both completely remote.
The use of these postcards are important for the demographic that we serve and ECM has enabled us to do this in an efficient way.
The Healthy Hearing team focused on what their users wanted and, based on their research, found that the paper reminder and process would resonate well.
They also knew that the address transition would not be a clean one for the clinics, and the time it took to filter out mail from the old address confirmed that.
ECM helps us to deliver on our promise to help serve the consumers and clinics that use our website and to do this efficiently with our virtual team. – Dr. Paul Dybala
Earth Class Mail has been around for a long time, longer than most tech startups at least. In that time the product, site, and marketing strategy have gone through a lot of iterations. It seems though that the longer an organization exists, the easier it is to neglect the things that seem to “just work”.
Our site did exactly that, it just worked. The common pitfall there is that your audience changes over time, even more dynamically over a 10 year span. For some added perspective, 2006 was the year that: Amazon launched Web Services, the Nintendo Wii debuted, and Google bought YouTube.
Now our site definitely had some facelifts since its inception, but we never really sat down and focused on making the site better at doing what it’s supposed to do – sell the product and get people to sign-up. Partly that’s because the tools that make it easier have only really evolved in the last few years, and partly because it just worked.
In early 2015 we reached out to Conversion Rate Experts to help us get the most out of our site and implemented some shiny new tools like Convert.com, Hotjar.com, and live chat. Working with the CRE team, we conducted a lot of due diligence on our audience and existing user base. Tools like Survey Monkey helped with that, as well as diving deep into our web analytics.
Just like any business we have to prioritize and allocate resources to our projects, so we zeroed in on the three most impactful visitor touchpoints on our site: the home page, the pricing page, and the first step of our sign-up path (our “Basic Info” page).
What resulted is an iterative approach that seriously impacted our site’s conversion rate and revenue potential, without driving any significant additional traffic to the site. That’s right, we made more money without investing in marketing just by doing this. It’s something any business can do and, frankly, should do.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. First impressions often based on appearances, so it’s important that your business’s first impression is a professional one.
What pops into people’s heads when they see your email? What impression do they form when they call you? What do they think when they see your website? The more professional you look, the more customers will choose you and the more money they will spend with you.
But how can you make a teeny, tiny business look ultra professional? Here are 3 quick steps that will have you well on your way.
Earth Class Mail CEO Doug Breaker goes on to provide three excellent tips on putting your best foot forward:
Get a great domain name
Sound like a business when people call you by setting up a service like Grasshopper
Get a business address that says, “This is serious business” using a service like Earth Class Mail
A professional business address says, “we’re a serious business”, and ensures that random prospects won’t be showing up at your house. Having a separate business address will also help you keep track of business versus personal mail.