When you first arrive in a startup, you’ve got to find ways to grow.
Often with little budget and limited resources.
So where do you focus your time to get the biggest results?
In this episode of the B2B Rebellion, Alice de Courcy, CMO of Cognism, shares the key areas she focuses on when first arriving in a startup.
Andy Culligan: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of B2B Rebellion. Really happy to have with me today Alice de Courcy, who's the CMO of Cognism. Myself and Alice are both marketers, so it's actually... I'm super happy to be speaking to a fellow marketer today.
Typically, I end up speaking to a lot of sales people on this and a lot of the content we do is very much sales focused. But actually, what we offer here in Leadfeeder as well is quite a lot of stuff that's interesting from a marketer's perspective. But Alice, tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us a little bit about Cognism.
Alice De Courcy: Yeah, thanks for the intro, great to be here. So I head up marketing at Cognism. Cognism is an end-to-end all-in-one prospecting solution. But the big thing that we do is data. So we are a GDPR compliant data provider, 40 million B2B profiles, all fully GDPR compliant. And so, I guess in the context of this, data feeds ABM, data is absolutely the fundamental, so, quite relevant, what we do, and I guess what Leadfeeder does as well.
Andy: And is it GDPR compliant? I'm joking.
Alice: It's very GDPR compliant, don't know if I said that, maybe I should say it again.
Andy: So yeah, in our world it's super important to mention that over and over again. We also have the same question all the time, "So are you GDPR compliant?" "Yes, we are GDPR compliant, 100% GDPR compliant" But it's important to bang that message home, for sure. But Alice, look, I invited you here today because we're quite similar-minded when it comes to a lot of things, especially around the topic of account based marketing and what not. We've had some great conversations about that over the past couple of weeks alone. Being on one of our webinars last week or the week before, with Dec and Alex from Reachdesk.
But if you were to offer up some advice to some marketers today in terms of things that they could be doing that are cost-effective, things that won't harm the pocket too much, maybe some strategies or things that are easy to go away and implement. What are some of the things that you're doing or some of the tips that you give fellow marketers?
Alice: Yeah, so I think about this in preparing for the interview and I think the biggest thing that I've always done when I go into any scale-up startup business is the content strategy and content doesn't need to cost a lot of money. And so if you can get your content strategy right, it can have a massive impact. And actually, that is the one thing that people... You can really add value without having to go and buy expensive tech, and it can feed your lead generation campaigns, and as you actually do grow and become a bit more advanced in what you're doing, building that bedrock in content is really important. And for me, I know some people disagree with this, but I always invest in that early, and I invest in SEO strategy and content early as well.
So I guess if I could just go through like what I do, when I first come into the business, the first thing I do is go away and spend a couple of days on Ahrefs, you can literally do a free trial, it doesn't need to cost anything, and just deep dive into keywords, and I'm looking for one of those high intent search keywords that are relevant to my business that aren't impossible to rank for and that actually have meaningful volume.
And when I say meaningful volume, it doesn't need to be massive. If the intent is right, you could actually build out a pretty clever SEO content strategy around keywords that don't have loads of volume, but can still deliver you a really consistent number of leads. And for me, the key to a predictable marketing engine is having that SEO piece running always and then feeding into your demand generation and your campaign's piece. So that would be the first thing I'd do and I map that out.
And then what I do is I work out what are gonna be the key pillars that I want my content to sit around for the next... You could either do it quarterly or half yearly. I tend to map it out across half a year, because SEO does take time to build up equity, but you'll start... I'll go into this. But you'll start to get results from that before obviously six months, you'll start getting them month to month. But what I would then do is build out these pillars, normally three to four pillars which are embedded around that keyword strategy, and then I'll start planning out, what are the content pieces that are gonna cascade down from these pillars?
What are the really helpful bits of content material and tasks that I want to produce that's gonna be interesting for my target audience, but also are going to help us with that SEO strategy? So I'm trying to actually tie in two things, both the demand generation piece and the SEO piece, so that I can drip-feed the value throughout that whole period. And then we'll have... We actually have a content calendar available over at Cognism, one of our blogs, which you can take for free, and this is how we map out our strategy.
And then what we do is we will start producing that week on week. Some of them are blogs, some of them are templates, some of them are infographics, some of them are mini guides. And at the end of that six month period, what you have are what I call these chunky, big rock assets, which are full of all your SEO juice and because you've been distributing, delivering that content throughout that time, you've been building up equity across all of these keywords, and I have done this several times and never not attained a page one Google ranking by following that strategy.
And then at the end, you have this big piece of content which you can chunk up lots of different ways. You can be creating videos and all sorts of things and deliver that value in a lot of different ways, as well as gating it and generating leads that way. You'll have also generated lots of data content throughout that period as well. So you weren't just waiting till the end of that time to start having something that you can start generating leads from. You'll have had these mini guides, etcetera.
And the effort is pretty low because you're actually breaking it down into small blogs or small chunks. You're never sitting down and committing to a huge piece of content that you don't know if it's gonna resonate or have any value at the end. And you're actually just building that across time and you might be iterating on it, like we look at our blog rankings every week, and we see what is resonating, what's not, and we start building on the stuff that is and we kind of cross out the stuff that isn't. So you're actually always testing as well. And you're making sure that you'll continue to build content that is resonating, which in the end will lead to a more effective lead magnet and also a better SEO page. And so at the end of all of that, you have your pillar page, which is your... Which is what's gonna bring you all of that SEO equity, and my big key tip here is put a schema mark-up on any SEO pages that you produce.
These are relatively... Well, it's free to generate a schema markup. You can go to... It's something called a schema markup generator, just Google it, and that is what tells Google the bits of that article that you would want to read during the snippet or that matter. It's basically making Google able to read that piece better. And again, we've never failed to get a snippet by adding that into our pillar pages, so I'd say that's also a really key thing to do. But yeah, so that's how we build on our content and our SEO strategy together, and how it plays into the demand gen piece as well.
Andy: Oh, super. It's super simple approach, actually, which is great. I think, when it comes to SEO, a lot of marketers are afraid of it 'cause they don't... And I understand that to a certain extent, because SEO changes quite a bit. You need to be quite well-read in terms of what's happening, what are the latest changes from Google, and so on.
But things like what you just mentioned there and pillar content and whatnot, that is... That's not gonna change, that's stuff that there's in the rulebook, like this is the type of stuff that you should be building your marketing strategy on, or at least when you have a website that you want to perform well, that's there, the basics that you need to be getting right. And it doesn't take a lot of manpower, and people are worried, "Oh, I need to bring in an SEO agency and all this type of stuff."
Alice: No, yeah, definitely.
Andy: You don't, don't... And I've got a... The SEO agencies for me are... They cost a lot of money. If they don't cost a lot of money, they're not gonna be very good, and if you're going with an agency that typically costs a lot of money but you're not paying a lot of money, they're not gonna care about you.
Alice: Exactly, yeah, yeah.
Andy: So I've got a similar view on PR as well.
Alice: I've got the same on paid, so yeah.
Andy: There you go. So I think, yeah, it's super simple the way that you put it, and it's also... It's feeding two areas of the marketing team, so you've got your demand gen piece covered and you've also got your content piece covered. We're constantly on top of our SEO. We have one person on the team that's responsible for that, our head of content.
Like you, as you said, she's checking this weekly, and if there's anything that looks like it's trending downwards at all, then we're making changes. So it's about being able to react really quickly. From her side, she works with a number of contractors who she trusts in terms of writing the content, and we also fuel the content strategy myself and herself based on the way that we want the company to go as well, like it's... It's a good strategy, this is super advice.
Alice: Yeah, I think it's just... And the thing is, I guess it's inexpensive, like you just have to put the time in at the beginning, and then that's it, really.
Andy: Exactly, and I think a lot of people don't know where to start with it, and people think, "Oh, it's gonna be expensive." Or marketing needs to be expensive. It does if your SEO strategy is pretty shit, because then you're... Basically what you're doing is you're putting all of your attention to paid, which is like a sugar rush when it comes to driving traffic, and you're not gonna have any sustainable marketing model there by just focusing on the paid piece.
Alice: Yeah, and to put this into context, so when I joined Cognism, we didn't have this in place and we didn't have any. We'd make... Maybe close one or two deals from organic in-bound a month. We now close the majority of our deals from organic in-bound, and that's purely because of the strategy. So we've tripled the number of organic in-bounds that come in, we know they're relevant because we've actually optimized for that, we've optimized for those keywords with intent, and we're closing more deals, so it works throughout the funnel as well.
Andy: That's amazing. That's really good.
Andy: Okay. So what else have you got there?
Alice: So one other thing I wanted to talk about is, again, I would say it's inexpensive and not costly to do, and my biggest piece of advice in this is do not overthink it, which is what I talk to my team about all the time. And it's experimenting with CTAs. So you may have a trial offering, you may not. You may have a demo and that you might think those are the only CTAs that I can use, I could either do that or I'm asking for a download.
My advice to you would be no, there are other CTAs you can try, get creative. What I always push my guys to think about is, what CTA is gonna add value that someone's gonna take that action, and what could we reasonably, actually, give to them? And don't worry too much about how you wanna scale that.
So for example, we're playing around at the moment with these master classes and offering reviews of people's content strategy. And straight away my team were like, "I don't know, how are we gonna actually manage that if we suddenly get those demand?" I was like, "Let's create the problem." I wanna create a problem, and then I'm gonna solve it. I don't want us to be afraid of trying something and never see if we can actually deliver on that.
So we are always experimenting with our CTAs. We're getting even more creative now, like we offer... We created this free leads offer, which wasn't something that our business does, and we just thought, well, worst-case scenario, I'm just gonna go into our product, download a list of ICP customers for these people who request freely, and I'm gonna give it to them. And I don't mind doing it, 'cause I just wanna see if it works. It's our most successful campaign, it closes the most revenue now. We've now automated the process, but we created that problem first. So get creative, start thinking about things that you could offer that potentially aren't just a trial or demo. Yeah, and see what happens.
Andy: Yeah, I think that happens quite a bit in B2B marketing in that people think, "Okay, our number-one focus should be demo requests." Yeah, everybody always wants more demo requests. Like ask any salesperson, "Hey, how can marketing help you more?" "Oh, give me more demo requests." Well, of course, 'cause it's businesses coming to you that wants to close. There's no work in it, it's so simple. We were speaking before this that those type things are gold. That's the gold rush you made. You wanna make sure that you're closing that. But they're coming to you being like, "I like your product, show me the product so I can give you my money."
Alice: Exactly, yeah.
Andy: So that's... Yeah, like, I put them to a different, to a separate side. A lot of companies, what they do is they forget that there's other options apart from that, and they're not interested in any other options because there's too much work to get them up to that level. We've tried, we sent them out an email afterwards, they signed up for our newsletter. I'm like, "Yeah. Okay, they signed up for our newsletter, but then was I offering any value? Probably Not." Like what you just mentioned there, what you have there is like lead gen tools.
Like Hubspot do it really well with their website grader, for example, not part of their website model at all, or not part of their business model at all, this website grader. But it basically gives you feedback on whether or not your website is performing well from an SEO perspective, you just pull up your website address in and it gives you a backfield of feedback. But it's like a lead magnet.
And again, I probably started with somebody coming up with an idea at the end, like "Hey, let's give this a whack." And then they absolutely smashed it. They probably didn't have anything in the background that really supported it. Like, I've done these lead magnets before. If you try to have something that will support it in the background, you'll spend six or seven months developing it, putting it all together. And then if it doesn't work, what do you do?
Andy: You have to waste six or seven months putting the whole thing together, and you're wasting a lot of, probably a lot of cash as well, to try to get it developed.
Andy: I want that process...
Alice: And like half of these CTAs might flop but you'll find the one, like we've found three leads, that... And it actually interestingly only resonates with our sales audience, and now we're looking at how we create one for marketing. And you just... You've got to test, you've got to experiment, it's literally text of an ad, and that's it. And like the spec nano page. And that's nothing, like that's so easy to do.
Andy: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's a really good tip. And I believe you have one more, right?
Alice: Yeah, actually just on that, I was thinking I was just gonna follow up with... Obviously creating tools is quite... It's actually, like pretty, could be really time consuming. But, one other tactic that we've used, which really works well is to create a list of software providers and like categories. I put like a list of tools on a page so essentially... And don't be afraid to put your capacitors in there as well. So, obviously maybe tie into like, whoever your target audience is. So we've got one for marketers and we've got one for sales and then we've actually segmented it further, so we've got like an ABM one and then we've got like a lead generation or prospecting one.
And then we've just categorized them and listed out all of these software vendors. And then what we've done is we've implemented that into our social strategy. So we call out all the software vendors, we also outreach to them. They link through to that page because they're listed on the site "top vendors in X" page, which you've just put together, and you can literally... If you don't wanna invest even in creating like a nice-looking landing page, just create a blog post and literally list them.
And then have a form at the end which asks people if they're not listed and would like to be, to just submit their requests. But you'll be amazed at the amount traffic you end up generating, organic reach you get from just having other people linking up something like that. It's also really easy to do and you can come up with lots of different new categories and pages. It's in our most top performing page that we've got, so... And I did that at my most previous role and it was the same thing. That's also something that's inexpensive, easy to get going and well give it a try.
Andy: Super tip. That's super. That's really good. We also do that with Leadfeeder as well, and that would create these mysticals of different software providers that we backlink to. And typically what they'll do, as well, then they'll also see that and say, "Hey, they're linking to us, maybe we'll give them a nudge as well, say hey we'll link to them." And you get more organic load from that perspective, more search or SEO, when you have backlinks from bigger websites as well. So, it's definitely something that works well for us as well.
Alice: Great. And then, yeah, my final one is email. I just wanted to talk about email because I think it's always sort of underrated. In the days now where we are, in like sexy sass and like growth packets and everything, I feel like sometimes email gets overlooked as a channel and how important it is. So it's kind of two ways in which I would suggest that you start using email.
So, the first is for contacts that are within your database. So, make sure you have actually taken the time to map out nurture campaigns across your lead life cycle. We have these always-on nurtures, which actually bring us like consistent numbers of those "Holy Grail" direct demo requests. Just because we're actually pushing them along with journey. There, it's just ticking. Once we've put the work in to build that out, that just sits in the background and works away. And as the leads move through the stages, they are generating demo requests. So the number one thing, put a bit of time in building out some interesting nurture programs for your lead life cycles. That's not expensive at all.
Think about plain text email over context HTML, that's what we find. Be human. We actually just like joke a little bit in our emails. We say, "Look, I know it's another email from us, let us know if it's getting too much." Like, just be honest and like talk to them as if they were a person, not a business. I think those would be the top tips that I have. And then email for... And net new leads tactic can be very effective, but I would just, I'm gonna explain how we use it.
What we do is, you go to a database provider, obviously you're gonna need lots of data for this net new data that you can then feed into it. And I'm not saying it has to be Cognism, but they're not expensive, they aren't, it's not an expensive investment to go into. And then, what we do is we set up programs where we're consistently putting in our ICP based on certain triggers into these like cold email campaigns month for month.
And then, we actually send them through, like it depends what data provider you go with, if they have this email tool that you can use as well, send them through that. If not, then a SendGrid would do a really good job, again, not very expensive. But, you wanna protect your IP address from your automation marketing system. You don't wanna put those cold leads that don't know you into that. So make sure you separate the senders that you use, like, use a different tool for that list. But, the idea being that all you're trying to do with that list is get them engage in something that pushes them into your marketing automation tool, where you have your engaged contacts, and then they start fill into all of your nurture tracks and programs. But it's a great way to continually be building that database.
And also to make sure your data is up-to-date, etcetera. So that's how we run these sort of cold list email campaigns to continually build net new leads into our database that we can then run our webinars to, etcetera. 'Cause I think as a marketer, a challenge I've always had is how do I... It's great, I've had a webinar, and I've had 700 sign-ups, but how many are net new, how many of those are not an opportunity, not a customer, and are a prospect I can go after now?
And that process has been a really good tactic, much more so than going into these sort of really expensive content syndications, where you go and get one email blast with some newsletter for 5K, no proven knowledge of what the quality of that data is. And most of the time, and for me all the time, they never work, so yeah.
Andy: Yeah, that makes sense. With the SendGrid piece, I just wanna dig into that a little bit in terms of what you guys are actually doing there. So what is the content that you're sending out there?
Alice: So for example, so we've got this whole... Say, we've got a whole list of leads who've never heard from us. They don't know us, but they sit in our ICP and we really wanna get them across into our database. So we'll just literally be giving, giving, giving. And at the beginning, it'll often be ungated pieces of content 'cause we wanna build up authority with them and get them to understand that we're not spamming them. And then we actually use this software called Turtl, where you can gate content pieces halfway through.
So often, we will be delivering high value pieces of content, but then we'll be asking for details halfway through. And actually the amount of form fills we get from that is huge. I think people are, even if they don't know you, willing to offer their details to you more readily if you've actually added some value. That's kind of the flow. And then they would come across into our database, we see them as like net new, and then we go on and promote the next webinar to them, or be it like our next... We'll run the next campaign towards that audience that fits in the next bucket, so that's...
Andy: There is a classic question for you on this, how's... So compliancy there... Like a lot of people have been watching this and saying this maybe doesn't sound too GDPR compliant. What's the...
Alice: Yeah, but the data that we're using is GDPR compliant. I'm confident. So it's fine. It B2B legitimate interest. We're marketing to businesses that... And we're marketing something that is a legitimate interest towards them, and then once they've actually filled in their details, then they've actually given us their consent to be marketed to, and that's when they fall into our database.
Andy: Okay, okay, interesting. Okay, that's super. Thank you for that. Really, really interesting. Alice, it's been a real pleasure to speak with you today, by the way. I've really enjoyed it. And thanks for sharing those insights for our users here.
Alice: Cool. It was really good, great fun. Thanks Andy.
Andy: Perfect, thank you.