Let’s talk about marketing
So you’re a foreign startup launching in the U.S, and you need to get your sales pipeline started? Maybe you’re cold calling, or cold emailing, and of course you’re networking. That’s all great but do you remember what we’ve been preaching over and over again throughout Impact? Do your homework. Have you been doing yours?
There’s so much to talk about on this topic, I wouldn’t know where to start if I hadn’t arbitrarily decided to write about marketing today. Well not arbitrarily, I have my reasons. The main reason being that Americans are experts in marketing, whereas other countries aren’t as good.
Let’s take France as an example. In my home country, marketing often sounds like a dirty word, probably because we’re a nation of engineers, and deep down, we’re still uneasy about money – and marketing is often thought of as a way of generating more revenue. Yes, that’s a cliché. Fortunately our mindset is slowly changing because marketing encompasses so much more than just making money. It’s about understanding your market, pinpointing your customers’ problems, figuring out how to solve them and communicating your value proposition in an attractive way. Yes, it’s also about spreading the word about your world-changing innovation, selling more, creating wealth and opportunities for yourself and the people joining your company throughout the process.
For the sake of your attention span (and mine too), and in order not to write a 10 pager, we’ll assume you’ve got the basics covered. You know the market you’re about to launch in, you are well aware of who your competitors are – their strengths and weaknesses, and what makes you different. You also have a clear idea of who your U.S. customers will be, what’s the best vertical to focus on, and whether you will be going after large corporations or SMBs.
So now you just need to get in front of prospective customers and sell a solution they’ll fall in love with and start signing contracts, right? Well that’s easier said than done. If you’ve already tried cold emailing in the U.S., then you know. That’s when marketing comes in. Yes, one of the many roles of marketing is to be the key supporter of your sales strategy. Marketing can help you fill your pipeline with inbound leads, qualify them, and nurture them until they’re ready to commit. So let’s make sure you tap into this strategy before actually setting foot in the U.S.
Today I’ll focus on how to make the most of your digital real-estate – your website which will support your sales strategy. That’s part of a marketing branch called Demand Generation. I’ll skip the critical issue of attracting traffic to your website, as it isn’t as overlooked as what I’m about to cover below.
Have a website in working order (if you’re wondering, that’s not demand gen, that’s just good business sense)
First things first, you’ll need a website adapted to the U.S. Sounds obvious? Well, I would give you stats on the number of typos I spot in the English versions of foreign startups’ websites, but that would be depressing. Don’t get me started on design, content, or that 90’s look and feel we see all too often. I’m not asking you to be fancy either – but please have a look at your competitor’s website and try to make sure yours doesn’t look like it’s from the 19th century. Also make sure it looks great on mobile. Your website is the lens through which prospects are going to evaluate your company. In a competitive market like the U.S., you probably have dozens of competitors (and a handful more you don’t even know about yet). You cannot afford to overlook your website if you want to be considered. You can’t afford typos, poor design or cultural mistakes like advertising a webinar without specifying the hour AND time zone. Take in consideration that the U.S. spreads over 6 time zones, or it will just show you don’t belong.
Attract leads into your funnel
Let’s talk about putting this website to active use. Your website isn’t just a passive window; it’s not about just displaying your product. If you are familiar with the concept of sales funnel – your website should be built to lead your prospects within that funnel. After all, why let all the traffic it generates go to waste?
Chances are, you’re already converting some of that traffic- if visitors can sign up for a newsletter, a free trial, a paid plan, or ask to be called back, you’re half way there. But like most things, there’s always room for improvement and optimization.
The key to it all: publish valuable content
Let’s take a step back – your mission is to solve your customers’ problem, right? And your product does just that. But there are many more ways to help your (future) customers with that problem. One great way is content. Not just any content – quality content that brings great value. Creating and sharing that content for the world to see should be part of your mission. Here’s why:
- You have legitimate expertise on the subject, and therefore you are more than qualified to create this content. Reciprocally, publishing this content will strengthen your industry leadership and bringing value to your readers will spark the kind of relationships you want.
- If you do the job well, this content should help prospective customers figure out why they need your product and how to use it.
- You‘ll give out some of this content for free, but not all of it. I am not talking about cashing in just yet – but exchanging information. That’s called gating content. In exchange for that really helpful whitepaper, prospects will happily give you a name and email address. That’s where it all begins.
On a side note, if you happen to be reading this out of sheer curiosity, and not because you are launching in the U.S. yet – if you’re still a French-based company but your team is thinking of crossing the ocean at some point – do not waste time creating content in French if your market allows you otherwise. It’s tragic the amount of work that goes into content that will never cross borders (we see it every year). Do yourself a favor and start thinking bigger right away, you’ll be thankful when and if the American dream when the American dream gets closer. The CEO of Dashlane, Emmanuel Schalit, said it best to our 2016 Impact alumni: “The ideal would in fact be to totally switch to English, the sooner the better.”
Back to producing content, let’s meet obvious objections right away: no, it’s not easy to create quality content; yes it’s a job in itself. Like everything else, it’s an investment. What kind of content? Anything that will bring value to your customers in the various challenges they may experience. Infographics, white papers, webinars, case studies, market analyses, videos… the choice is yours. If you’re trying to gather some ideas, feel free to refer to the article I wrote about content marketing. In fact, even a free trial of your product is content and totally fits in the process I’m describing here. But it usually isn’t enough.
Trade that content for data, goodwill and interest. and data.
Release this content on your digital channels and you’ll get results sooner than later. Some of that content will be given out for free, but you’ll still get something out of it.
- By putting some analytics in place, you’ll be able to gather data on your visitor’s online behavior and consumed content. That will help you create better content and gain some insights on your visitors / prospects.
- Optionally, you can then retarget them thanks to cookies. Retargeting means displaying customized ads on other sites to visitors, in order to drive them back on your website.
- Even if you don’t retarget them, they will know they can get valuable insights on your website, and will come back for more.
Some content, your most valuable content should be gated – i.e. make accessible only upon filling out a form. That’s a way to get qualified leads within your funnel. Form design is critical: ask too much and you’ll lose conversions, ask too little and you won’t be able to use the data. In this insightful interview, Meagen Eisenberg, CMO of MongoDB, suggests having 5-6 fields. You’ll need a name and title to properly address and tailor content to the lead. You’ll need an email address and probably a telephone number to organize your outreach. Any data that you can get on the backend with the IP address should not be asked for: company name, size, location etc.
By the way, the link I just mentioned is gated content – you have to provide your email address in order to access the video and transcript. This is a great example of content worth your contact details.
Use the data to optimize conversion: personalization, qualification, nurturing.
Let’s go back to the idea of displaying content on your website, gated or not. Ideally you should deliver tailored content and call-to-actions to all visitors. You should personalize the experience for each of them based on what you know about them – how they arrived on your website, what content they spent the most time on, what data they filled in the forms, etc. There are great tools to manage all of this. It’s called conversion optimization, and I had the honor of being introduced to it by one of the leaders in the field, AB Tasty (Impact 2016 alumni).
Once you’ve got the lead’s data and email, you can then qualify and nurture it. Qualifying means determining whether (and where) the lead fits in your customer segmentation. Upon that information, you can evaluate the amount of effort you should invest to convert it. It also means defining how far along in the pipeline the lead is, and if it’s “warm” enough to be handed over to sales. Nurturing is still about serving the right content and creating the right call-to-actions, whether by email or on other channels, to move the lead along your funnel until the handover.
If this sounds overwhelming, let’s chat again after you’ve tried cold emailing the entire U.S. market J
Of course, you should only pick the parts that fit your strategy and resources. Start small. Start by having a website that does not sabotage your business. Then set up a few basic hooks to get some data from some visitors. Then work from there. Take some time to look up the best technologies to fit in your marketing stack.
And to make it work, human resources are just as critical. Your marketing team should be fully aligned with your overall strategy. It’s important to have clear and attainable objectives in terms of lead generation numbers and keep track of your KPIs. Sales and marketing teams should continuously be in sync on what exactly qualifies as a “warm lead” so the handover goes smoothly.
Although we’re not used to doing marketing this way in France, demand generation is a great technique to master. It might just be the difference maker once you arrive on the territory. And the best thing is you can get a lot done before even landing in the U.S, so you can hit the ground running once you get there. Remember, do your homework.
If you want to dig further, here are a few great resources – and please note how they are all part of someone’s demand generation strategy 😉
- The inspiring interview of Meagen Eisenberg, CMO at MongoDB
- The Marketing Stack of CB Insights
- A Product Marketing Guide for SaaS businesses on Automizy’s blog