A golden rule of marketing: Be the answer that prospects are seeking.
That’s the advice of Patrick Ward, VP of Marketing at Rootstrap, in this week’s Growth Marketing Chat. But it’s easier said than done, right?
When trying to scale a business from the ground up, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what needs to be done, how to attract the right prospects, and even what channels to focus campaigns on.
The key to figuring it all out? Take a walk in your prospects’ shoes. What are they looking for? Where do they go when they’re searching? What is your competition showing them?
When marketers start asking the right questions and developing a growth marketing strategy focused on appealing to the right leads, they can acquire loyal clients and prove the kind of ROI that will grant them respect and flexibility within their organization.
“By proving that you can tie your results to sales and therefore revenue, this is the number one skill for any marketer to do, you are allowed to get investment for some of the more exploratory areas. This is the key.”
Acquiring Customers and Proving ROI in Growth Marketing
Join Ward as he details his own growth marketing journey and shares his tips for finding the ideal prospects and proving ROI as a marketer. He reveals:
- The best way to acquire clients
- How to create a predictable pipeline
- What marketing’s relationship with other departments should be (especially sales!)
- What the real job of SEO and review sites are
- Why narrowing down to a few marketing channels can help business
- And a whole lot more!
By paying attention to what prospects are looking for and speaking to them in a way they’ll relate to, marketers can prove their worth in no time.
Watch the full interview now for invaluable expert insight into what you can do to drive leads at every stage of the funnel.
NICK: Welcome everybody. Today, we have a very special guest, Patrick Ward, vice president of marketing at Rootstrap. Rootstrap uses outcome-driven development to help companies scale people, processes, and products. Patrick, welcome to Growth Marketing Chat.
PATRICK: Thanks for having me, Nick, really excited to be here.
NICK: Thank you for being on. So Patrick, maybe we can start by having you tell us a little bit about your journey through marketing. What led you to your current role with Rootstrap?
PATRICK: Yeah, so I started my journey in marketing, like many people in the advertising industry. I worked at an ad agency, as my accent belies, in my home country of Australia, and I'd done that for a number of years. It was a fine agency. We had a lot of interesting clients, most notably Fiji Airways. I can tell you that was probably one of my most memorable experiences in my early career. But I really wanted to test my marketing skills and what better place to go than the home of advertising, the United States of America.
So I packed up everything. I left my family, my friends, and the job that I had at the time and I just decided to chance my arm, come over to America and see what sticks. And so I'd been through a couple of different industries. I'd done some stuff with ad tech, which is an offshoot of advertising. I'd done some stuff in finance. And then I really found my home in the space of technology, which is where I am currently. And I think what attracted me to technology is one, it is a very necessary industry. I mean, you look today, it doesn't matter what industry you are in, there is always some level of technology component to it.
And I think the other thing that attracted me is unlike other industries that are a little bit more transactional, the way that you are truly successful in the world of B2B technology is you have to build relationships. And I think that was always critical for me as a marketer to want to get to this fundamental idea that marketing is really at its roots about human behavior. And I wanted a field where I could flex that muscle and that's where I am today.
NICK: Excellent. Excellent. That journey is pretty cool, you dabbled in different things and then you found your home. I'm also curious to hear about your process and your journey within Rootstrap, because I know you were the first full-time marketer and since then you've grown the team to 10 plus and you've gotten yourself promoted to a VP role. So how did you do it? What were some of the big milestones there along the way?
PATRICK: Yeah. So like you said, Nick, I was marketing hire number one, and it was a pretty simple mandate at the start. Traditionally, Rootstrap had been involved in a lot of growth hacking. It had been involved in various forms of what I would call the Silicon Beach tech scene selling to other startups, but what they really needed to do was move up market. And this is a pretty standard story within B2B, that many companies, they start off servicing other entrepreneurs when they're early stage and they try and move to bigger and bigger clients. And why do you do that? You do that because you want more stability for your company, you want steadier cash flows and all the other benefits that accrue to a business by doing that. So they tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You've done this for a number of other companies. You've come from the corporate world. You've understood working with really large clients and how they think." And I think that was certainly the initial attraction for Rootstrap in hiring me as marketing hire number one. And essentially the mandate was figure out our marketing.
And so knowing that marketing is obviously many different things to many different people, you've got all the different channels, you've got all the different approaches, you've got all the different areas, whether it's B2B, B2C, B2B2C, all the different ways that marketing can be formulated. But what I intrinsically understood from the get go is, where was the weakness? The weakness was in predictable pipeline. At the time, Rootstrap was having an issue when it came to how they were acquiring clients. And this is also a typical agency story of feast and famine. They'd get a really large client, it would bring a lot of people to the business, it would allow them to hire lots of staff, but then they'd go through some lean times and then they're not sure where the next deal is coming from. So with that being in mind, that's where I started. I needed to create a predictable pipeline of qualified leads for my sales team to have those conversations and ultimately convert them.
So needless to say, while marketing is not a service to sales, it's a service to many parts of the business, I knew that's where I had to start. So I started very quickly with focusing on growth. And how did I do that? I focused on two critical hires that I made very early on in my time at Rootstrap namely a demand function and a content function, because the thing about B2B services, especially B2B technology, is it's not a new industry, it's not greenfield. It's very mature, there are lots and lots of competitors, which means there's a lot of demand already out there to capture.
And so I focused in on, let's not be doing 10 different channels, 15 different channels, let's focus in on three channels, which we know work. And we focused on these three, paid channels, such as Google AdWords, SEO, and review sites, review sites, being things like G2, Capterra, in our case, it was particularly Clutch, but there's a number of different ones. And what the strategy was, was we needed to apply both a short, mid and long term across those three channels in order to get that pipeline engineered pretty swiftly.
So let's go through each of them. First one, paid. What we found when we inspected a number of the paid campaigns that Rootstrap had done previously is they were targeted at that motivated entrepreneur. And how do we know that? Because it was the type of language, got an idea, or bring your vision to life, all of these are not necessarily wrong, but targeting the wrong audience. Suddenly we switched around the language in our ads and we started focusing more on increasing ROI, revenue generation, helping your business scale, these types of terms that are more appealing to a corporate audience, as opposed to an entrepreneur audience.
So there's our short term focus and suddenly we start to see a massive improvement. In the previous year, we'd only gained about, I want to say 200 or 250,000 in pipeline from PPC, suddenly it was three million. So this sort of rapid transformation can happen in a short space of time with paid.
Then we look at something that's a bit more expansive, we look at the review sites. We noticed that our presence on these review sites was very diminished, it just hadn't been nurtured. And so we spend the time going through gathering those reviews from those clients, tapping the shoulder of those clients who maybe hadn't worked for us in several years, but who still liked the work that we did for them.
And we nurtured that presence, we build the relationship with the account reps and suddenly we're in a place where those prospective clients are looking because prospective clients are always going to be comparing us to other vendors. So we want to make sure that when they're going to some place that they might vet us, like a review site, that we stand out, that we look good, that we have a level of credibility that people are going to go, "Yes, I want to contact Rootstrap, I don't want to contact someone else." And then finally, the more mid to longer term, the SEO play. As anyone knows in SEO, you put out a piece of content, you might not rank for six, nine, might even be 12 months, but you invest in it because it's able to create a ready audience around different topics that are related to your business. This is where I was able to hire an SEO consultant, a previous friend of mine, who I'd worked with.
And again, just intuitively understood that the point of SEO is not to force your message or force a certain way of thinking on the audience, but really to answer their questions. The point of any inquiry that someone types into Google is they are looking for an answer to question. And if you can provide the best possible answer, the answer that suits what they're searching for, the answers they're seeking, you are always going to do the best. Now, what does that do altogether? All of that together created a pipeline that when I joined at the end of 2019 was 0, by the end of 2020, it was 18 million. Now you might ask, okay, that's great, you've supported the sales function, what does that allow you to do? By proving that you can tie your results to sales and therefore revenue, this is the number one skill for any marketer to do, you are allowed to get investment for some of the more exploratory areas. This is the key.
It's not that revenue is the only thing that is important, and certainly not for marketing. It is not the be all and end all of our function, but if you can show that you can care about the revenue of the business, you will be given grace, you'll be given flexibility when it comes to investing in more speculative areas, areas like B2B influencer marketing, areas like bringing new services to market, areas like a comprehensive video strategy, some of these areas that are really cool and exciting to do, but when you start them, you might not see immediate ROI. But you only get that permission from the rest of your company to do that, if you've proven that you can take care of the things that matter.
NICK: Yeah. No, I love the approach you took. Clearly it was very successful. If I can ask a little bit of a nitty gritty question about, what were the calls to action? Let's say you changed the messaging on PPC. You were probably driving a similar amount of traffic, but converting it better. How did you change the offer? How did you change the calls to action? And what were those calls to action when people initially found you? And similar question to SEO, you build up this thought leadership, you build up your organic traffic, your SERP, but then how did you convert that into leads and then pipeline?
PATRICK: Yep. So this is a really good question because the crux of the matter, as you're moving up market, ironically, is to make yourself more exclusive. So in the past, Rootstrap had sold one clear service offering, it was called Roadmapping. It was a three week engagement, it cost $15,000, and the idea of it was that you could go through this three week workshop or a series of workshops with us, and what you would get is you would produce a roadmap, you would produce a clickable prototype of your app idea, and you could then take it to investors, other VC and try and get the funding with the hope that you would then return to Rootstrap once you had the funding and build it from scratch. Everything in our messaging and every call to action we had was geared towards sign up for a Roadmapping session.
Now, the problem with this is that while it sold very well, again, it's speaking to that wrong audience. Now, as we're moving up market, it means our price point is changing and the biggest challenge here is to do two things. One, you need to make sure that that crowd of motivated entrepreneurs, people who have ideas, people who have a little bit of savings, realize that they need to aspire to work with you. They can't just throw $5,000 at a project and build the next Amazon, for example.
And then similarly, when you're positioning, you want to be showing that, hey, if you're a big company and you're coming to work with us, you will have the support, the structure, the processes, the experience that you are deserving of being a large company. You're not just hiring a ragtag bunch of misfits, you are hiring a very professional, sleek outfit.
So what does this look like into the call to actions? Ironically enough, you end up selling against yourself in the call to actions. You end up putting up front, hey, minimum engagement is $150,000. If that's not right for you, here's some other resources. You're constantly directing people to other places and making them raise their hands saying like, "Yes, I've got enough money to deal with you guys. Yes, I've got a comprehensive development plan. Yes, I have a clear roadmap of when this feature, when this app, when this application, software, whatever it is, needs to launch and by when and why I need to do that."
And so by constantly pushing the prospect to, in a way, filter themselves out, you end up getting a very small number, but a very highly qualified number of people who are raising their hand saying, "Yes, I can work with you." Because that is the number one thing in this high ticket type of selling, especially in B2B, you need to avoid, making sure that your sales team doesn't have to spend as much time with the tire kickers.
There'll always be some, that's always a case, but if anything, that is your number one job as a B2B marketer, because if you think about it, I can get the contact details of almost anyone in the United States. It is not hard. There is plenty of software out there that does this. So if I can get the access to the lead, really, then I need to make sure that the lead is good for us. Do they have a need? Is it a priority for them? All of these extra aspects are so critical before they even come in to that call to action.
Now, the second part of what you talked about, SEO. Obviously, as I've talked about with paid, it's very easy, right? You're targeting towards intent. You're targeting toward areas where you know a little bit about the mindset or the head space that your prospect's in. You know, hey, they're searching this particular term, so they're very much in an early stage of research. They're searching a lower, bottom of the funnel term, then it tends to be much more towards, okay, this is an evaluation of alternatives, maybe they're stacking us up against a couple of other vendors. When it comes to SEO, you obviously need to think a little bit more holistically than that. You need to think about it in terms of a couple of different areas of where it can help you. So one example, we have a lot of content around early stage developer how-tos, a lot of technical content. Now I can tell you, none of that is ever really going to convert into sales, but it does serve another purpose, it helps us attract developers. Being an agency, we are always constantly looking to attract new talent to us, so that's when those call to actions make sense.
Similarly, you might put out a piece of content around machine learning, for example. This is one of our newest practice areas. In fact, we recently got our first major client in this space. Now you put out that content purely because you are trying to demonstrate thought leadership so that you can then pitch conferences, so you can pitch press, so you have a ready body of your work. And more importantly, when you get that referenceable material, then suddenly you're doing the classic SEO interlinking, you're supporting your core sales pages. It might not be the thing that converts, but it gives enough of a signal so that your pages that do convert, pages that tell, okay, here's our service offering, here's what we have available, here's why you should contact us over anyone else, suddenly those pages are converting at a higher rate as well.
And then finally, you also can be a little bit creative in terms of the terms that you target. So giving people strong, comprehensive breakdowns is perfect when you're thinking about large, mid-market and enterprise customers that are likely to do a lot of research upfront before they come and engage with you. Classic example of this, we wrote a piece about the pros and cons of outsourcing to Latin America. It was a very comprehensive piece. It detailed all the different regions of the world. It was very unbiased in how we put it together. But needless to say, we put that content together for a particular purpose. Well, what do you know when we had Wolters Kluwer, a 3 to $4 billion, I believe they're a healthcare company, they came to us. And when I went back into our HubSpot to track, sure enough, the first place they saw us was because they looked at that piece about the pros and cons of outsourcing to Latin America.
Now, why does that work? That works because while it is a piece of objective content, there is still a level of subjectivity. The subjectivity being our developers are based in Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia primarily are our three big countries. And so we're going to put those countries in the best possible light, we're going to make our case for them. But by presenting that information with the pros and cons, you're actually giving people the information they need to make that purchasing decision. I think this is one of the biggest fallacies that companies fall into. They always try and tell every customer or every prospect, oh, we're so amazing, and they try and ignore any downside. They think it's bad to talk about downsides. I've always been of the opinion that actually, if you are radically honest in your marketing, if you're acknowledging where you exceed and where you fall short, you are going to build way more trust with a prospect because prospects are not stupid. They know, they know there are always trade offs every time they make a purchasing decision within this field. So rather than ignore it, why not highlight it? Why not say, if A, B and C is what really matters to you, we're great, but if X, Y, and Z is what matters to you, maybe you'd be better off choosing someone else?
NICK: Yeah. No, I think that's a really refreshing approach rather than we're always talking about qualification of prospects, but you're taking a little bit of a counterintuitive approach here, disqualification, making them essentially qualify themselves to work with you. And that radical honesty piece, number one, it establishes trust and it's just effective because it's rare, but number two, it weeds out bad fits, bad quality leads that you don't necessarily want to waste time on.
PATRICK: Yeah, I couldn't agree more on this piece because the funny thing is I would've thought it was intuitive and yet, I see so many companies avoid this. And especially the transparency, it just keeps winning for us over and over again. I've seen some of the biggest players in our space and without being too harsh, I've often noticed it's tied with when they've recently got investment. And perhaps that's been, they've got unrealistic growth targets, but suddenly-
NICK: ... starts to come through.
PATRICK: Exactly. The service offering really starts to flounder, and I've seen that be a wonderful advantage for us at Rootstrap. I remember very fondly at the start of the pandemic, we got three leads in quick succession, right after one of our biggest competitors got a huge round of funding and all three leads said, "I got screwed over terribly by these guys. I've got a broken product. I still need to deliver this by September or my ass is on the line. Please, can you help me?"
And that is the best testament you need, because as much as we might think that yes, we live in a capitalist economy, yes, there is a lot of competition, but there is still a way to do business in an ethical and responsible way that actually helps people accomplish their goals without having to tread on people. As much as I like to believe that, it's nice to see demonstrable examples where people who have acted in the wrong way get punished for it, and then when we act in the right way, we get rewarded for it.
NICK: Yeah, absolutely. That's the best case scenario, but it does take, I think, a certain level of comfort and a certain level of confidence in knowing who those ICPs are, the ideal customer profile. And you were marketing hire number one, did you play a role in formulating those ICPs? Was that part of what you did in the beginning? Because it sounds like you understand the ICP really well, and you've really customized the entire funnel around this persona.
PATRICK: Yeah. So for us, the key ICP is VPs of engineering. This is kind of ironic for myself as a non-technical person, but I have it on good authority that our developers have really rigorous and high coding standards. And the great thing is, it's very transparent. You can go to our GitHub repository if you are a technical person and you can see the standards that we apply. And I think that's why we've been really good with that particular ICP.
But I will say when I joined, there wasn't a lot of focus. It was again, a standard agency where they look to everyone. Can we do things for this person? Yes. And are we in a position to turn it down? Not really. Now, that's all well and good when you're starting and I understand, you have to be a little scrappy in the very early stages. You just have to make enough cash flow, make sure that it keeps the business afloat. But one of the key areas that I focused on is no, we need to stop speaking to everyone, we need to hone in on one person that constantly gives back to us time and time again.
So we focused on this VP of engineering persona and more importantly, we focused it within the realm of ed tech. So for those who don't know our major client is MasterClass that has been our largest client for a number of years now. And slowly but surely, we're starting to win more and more business in that ed tech space. We got a company called Emeritus, which sells online certificates from various high level educational institutions. We also did one with Eye Level Learning, which again is a tutoring company based in the APAC region.
And so when you start to focus your messaging, when you start to focus on who you're targeting with that ICP and excluding others, the irony is you still get business from other places. You don't miss out on that, just because you're not speaking to them. You can still have compelling offerings, but more importantly, you really start to hone in on people who are going to care about you. And I think this was the critical thing for us because we know that, yes, we can control the marketing messaging that we ourselves put out, we control the channels that we focus on when we invest in them, but one of the biggest ways that agencies grow is that word of mouth. And in order to tap that word of mouth, you need to look not only at the clients who you get money from right now, but who do you impress so profoundly that they cannot help but speak to everyone about you.
And this is what we really saw in that VP of engineering persona. We saw constantly clients who would start at maybe a director level, they'd get promoted to VP. So they're very happy about what we've been able to provide them from that perspective. They go to somewhere else, suddenly they're dragging us along. They're opening a new account for us and a new account and a new account. Now, they're not on our sales staff, they don't have to do that, but clearly we're providing enough value to those people that they want to keep hiring us time and time again. And I think that's one of the biggest areas that marketing doesn't necessarily focus on, but it is the biggest flywheel effect. If you can start creating that messaging that targets the ICPs that really work for you, they'll start to do some of your marketing for you without you even having to. And this is the key of growth, especially as you're looking to hit big numbers. I know a lot of B2B companies, whether they have got investment or not have huge growth aspirations, many have that unicorn status that they're trying to reach.
If you're trying to reach those metrics, then it's enough to just constantly focus on the front end of the funnel, the marketing and sales function. You need to also be thinking about, okay, is my delivery team, is my customer service team, are all these other areas of the business creating enough of a compelling case that makes customers not only happy with the service, but raving fans of your service, because once they start doing that, the maths just adds up. Suddenly you're able to hit growth goals, knowing that, oh, well, we retain clients with such a high level that we don't have to replace them, we can just use that as a bedrock foundation of revenue and add more on top of it. And suddenly when we look at the big numbers, when we look, oh, we need 10 million in net new business, well, we can look with predictable reliability on the data saying, well, six of that is going to come from referrals and you can know that for certain.
And I think that's one of the critical areas is that people need to understand that it's not just about what you do at the top of the funnel, it's not just about sales needs to prospect more, marketing needs to drive more leads. It's not just about that, it is about the whole system of your business. And when you can start to bring that perspective as a marketer, suddenly you are talking the language of the business, not just the language of marketing.
You're going to set yourself apart from other marketers. You're also going to build a lot of clout with your leadership team, and you're going to rise in your career far more substantially than if you just focus on the areas of your core expertise. It's not that you can't do that, it's not that it's bad to be really good at what you do, but at the end of the day, all businesses, no matter what industry still measure themselves by fundamentally the same metrics, how much income are we bringing in? How much expenses are going out? How much money do we have to reinvest in the business? If you can start having those conversations, you'll do really well.
NICK: Couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more. And it sounds like you guys have hit that golden alignment between marketing, sales and customer success. And now the flywheel is essentially churning out ... What does HubSpot call them? Promoters? It's not the promoters. What is the life cycle stage I'm thinking of? Advocates. Exactly, exactly, people that are now promoting you and word of mouth becomes your best, best channel. So it's awesome to see that concentrated work over a few years finally get you to this point where you're now in that rare but elite group of marketers who can leverage the flywheel to your advantage.
PATRICK: Yeah, I really appreciate that. But as I would say, we're still just getting started because as much as we broke through a big barrier, 10 million is a big barrier within Gartner circles in terms of most companies within our space will hit 10 million or get close to 10 million and then decline. We smashed through that barrier, that was great. Now I'm looking at the next one. Now I'm looking, how do we hit 50 million? How do we hit 100 million?
And when you start thinking in those terms of scales, that's when it gets really exciting, because then you get to start envisaging, not just what my marketing team does today, but who are the people I need to bring into this organization, who can do what we need to do at those levels? And then you're building a really huge function, a function that you can be proud of, a growth story you can be proud of. And these are the really exciting times. I think one of the things that people often forget about growth, a lot of people get stressed by growth. I understand, it's in the name, growing pains. However, one of the things that people forget about growth is the benefits in that what it allows you to do is it allows you to ... You get to do really exciting work. You get to do that work at an even larger scale, make a larger impact and do it in a way that ironically has less pressure, because I can tell you, the most pressure I've ever felt in my career has always been when we've been so scrappy that we've had very little resources. Once you have a lot of resources, you've got more to play with.
NICK: Yeah. Then you can experiment more and test more. And by the way, that was evangelist was what I was looking for, the word.
PATRICK: There we go.
NICK: Well, I feel like we could talk about this stuff all day. This has been fascinating. And especially doing it in a service business is especially hard, when product you can almost sometimes stumble into one channel and it's the rev engine behind your growth and it can get you to those milestones. But in service, and I can relate obviously as a marketing agency, it's a grind because even if the channel is working, you still have to close every sale.
PATRICK: Yeah, couldn't agree more. I think one of the areas with SaaS, and no disrespect to many of my SaaS colleagues, I understand what they do is incredibly challenging, but if you become so embedded that you are the tool of choice, you'll seldom have to sell. You look at many of the areas that marketers have to spend on, something as simple as CRM, right? Well, HubSpot, Salesforce, you've got a few other startups in the space, but those are the anchors, right? Those are the infrastructure. It's a lot easier to sell that. Whereas if you're a services business, you've constantly got to be proving yourself.
I always look back at even the early stages of Rootstrap, like 2016, we worked with Tony Robbins and that was amazing, but that was then, this is now. Now we constantly have to think, okay, well who's the next client we go after? Who's the next big name we would love to get on our roster? Who are the other partners that perhaps are small now, but will be large in the future? That was the classic story with MasterClass. MasterClass, when they joined us, they were still an infant startup. They had raised ... I think it was after their series A, when they first started working with us. Now they're a $2 billion valuation. We didn't know it at the time, but we had a good feeling about it. And when you have those stories, you can really do some damage.
NICK: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. That's a nice logo right there. Great. Well, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. I just wanted to ask one last thing before we leave it off. What is one kind of growth hack? And you covered a lot of really, really great ground, but what is something that our fellow marketers watching can implement right away, next week, this month?
PATRICK: Okay. One thing that they can implement absolutely today is go and get the tool Crystal Knows, that's Crystal as in a shiny crystal, and Knows as in I know. That is my absolute go-to. It's a very cheap product. It's a extension that sits over the top of LinkedIn and it gives a breakdown of a person's psychological profile based on the DISC assessment. And it is so valuable because you're just able to speak to the person on the other end in ways that they would understand. So when you speak to someone who's a conscientious type, for example, a developer, you're able to use facts and figures. If it's an influential type, you're able to spin story and narrative and focus on that. It is one of the best tools I've ever had for outreach. I use it constantly. And I found it. The biggest reason I knew that this tool was going to work is I ran it on myself and the first thing it came up with was, appreciates a sarcastic comment. And since I knew that was correct, I'm like, "This tool is golden." So yeah, Crystal Knows.
NICK: I'm checking it out as soon as we close off here. That's great. Wow. Okay. Well, Patrick, thank you so much. This has been great, really insightful. Where can people find out more about you and Rootstrap?
PATRICK: So you can either visit our website, www.rootstrap, R-O-O-T-S-T-R-A-P.com, or you can find me on LinkedIn, linkedin.com/in/patrickjamesward.
NICK: Excellent. Thank you again.
PATRICK: Thanks Nick.