iCharts delivers business data visualization to companies worldwide. With iCharts, businesses can track and visualize everything from sales numbers to worker productivity to market fluctuations. Until recently, the company had grown organically with little to no marketing.
Act-On’s Director of Communications, Paige Musto, had a conversation with iCharts executives Ted Sapountzis, CMO, and Rico Andrade, VP of Marketing, about what’s changed since the company adopted marketing automation. This conversation has been edited for brevity.
ACT-ON: Ted, tell us what your role is with the company.
TED: I’m currently the chief marketing officer at iCharts, but I’m transitioning my responsibilities to Rico who joined us recently, and taking on new projects.
ACT-ON: What are some of the changes taking place in the industry for you right now?
TED: We are playing in a very noisy and competitive industry. Business intelligence and data visualization is not new; the industry is more than 40 years old. One of the fundamental challenges that we have is how do we rise above the noise and compete with some of our larger and more established competitors. Fundamentally, our value proposition is that we cater to business users, not IT.
The problem is that the industry has been claiming the whole concept of self-service BI and data visualization for many, many years. Unfortunately, nobody has delivered on it. We believe we’re delivering against that promise. But at the same time, the headwinds are against us. We’re competing with not just some of the established players in the industry, but also new entrants.
Starting from zero
ACT-ON: Tell us what things looked like before you started using Act-On. What was the marketing situation like?
TED: In the spring of 2014, we were going through a major change in our business strategy. We were about to launch a new product that was catering specifically to NetSuite customers that wanted to find an easier way to visualize their business right within that suite.
We were about to launch the product, but we had very little in terms of marketing. We had no content, no nurture programs. We had to build all that from scratch.
ACT-ON: When you were looking for solutions for marketing automation, what were you looking for?
TED: I had a very clear view in my mind that I wanted to implement something that had the capabilities especially for middle of the funnel, number one. Number two, I needed something that was easy to use because we had constrained resources, and I needed to get it set up by myself. And number three, we were looking for value in terms of pricing.
I had implemented (an Act-On competitor) in the past, so I had used another marketing automation platform. And I been pitched by (another competitor). I had done my homework quite a bit in terms of what I was looking for. And I came straight to you guys.
The challenges of high-velocity sales
ACT-ON: Tell us about the sales cycle for iCharts; what does it look like?
TED: Over the last 18 months, we’ve built a very transactional go-to-market business. Right now our sales cycles vary anywhere from zero days to 30 to 45 days. Our average is about 14 days. This is high-velocity transactional business, so we needed to figure out exactly how we get leads into the funnel, nurture them, and then bring them forward to the sales team to close.
ACT-ON: What were the challenges to nurturing leads in such a quick timeframe?
TED: The first challenge was lead acquisition; how do you get the leads into the funnel? Then, what is the content that we need to have in order to help nurture those leads? And then of course once you have the content, how do you put the nurturing programs in place to nurture those leads effectively?
ACT-ON: What about the Act-On solution to nurturing those leads mid-cycle was most attractive to you?
TED: The capabilities for automated programs. Webinars are a big, big driver for us, so I was looking for a solution that was well-integrated into a webinar platform.
Every two weeks we run a webinar. Having an integrated platform that allows us to minimize the manual work needed to get those up and running, and nurture the people once they go to the webinar, is important.
The role of content in nurturing
ACT-ON: Do you have a nurture track with somebody that registered and attended versus somebody that registered and did not attend?
TED: Yes. We have six or seven different pieces of content that we use to drive a lot of the inbound traffic and leads that we’re getting. Depending on how you enter, you have a very different kind of nurture program. Anybody that either registered or attended a webinar gets followed up by one of our SDRs, in addition to the nurture programs.
ACT-ON: When you first started using Act-On, what were some of the first programs that you set up? And tell me a little bit about how it was setting those up.
TED: We started by building a lot of gated content specifically to start to drive the inbound leads that we needed. The first piece of content that we developed – it’s still there, it’s been a workhorse in terms of performance for us – is called The NetSuite Reporting Tools Guide. This is a mid to top of the funnel piece of content. If you are looking to improve how you actually report on your NetSuite business, reading this gets you 10 quick hits, suggestions that you can do to improve your reporting. It’s actually firmly objective, so it’s not really a promotional piece for iCharts. iCharts is featured there, but so are some of the other players in the ecosystem.
Since then we’ve developed quite a few more. We have a quick overview of our product capabilities. We have an on-demand video that’s actually performing extremely well for us. We have the webinar. And then we have three or four different pieces of content that speak to specific roles. We have best practices for sales, best practices reporting for finance, professional, customer service, supply chain. Once you fill out a form, you enter into a drip campaign, and the drip campaign starts based on the action that you just took.
ACT-ON: How gated is your content? I know a lot of companies will start by asking just for an email address, and then the next time you visit maybe asking for job title. Are you doing anything like that?
TED: I’ve done a lot of A/B testing on forms, which fields to have in front of the gated assets. For most of the forms we have first name, last name, and email address, unless you’re bottom of the funnel, where we ask you for more information including your company name and so on. For instance, to register for the webinar you have to give us a lot more data than you do to download that first reporting tool guide.
Act-On and the sales team
ACT-ON: Which CRM do you use?
ACT-ON: Do you have integration set up?
TED: Oh yeah. [LAUGHTER] We now even have Act-On Anywhere and our sales team loves it. It’s increased efficiency because they no longer lose time by going to another tab to type in the lead’s name and find out their activity history, number one.
Number two, as a result, by being able to bring in the activity history right as they’re drafting the email, the can be a lot more targeted in their responses, which increases obviously the chances of the email getting read and responded to.
ACT-ON: How big is your sales team?
TED: If you count the SDRs, I think it’s 10. Everybody has an Act-On sales seat.
ACT-ON: What’s the process? How do you, your marketing team, work with your sales team? How are you qualifying those leads? And what’s it look like when you’re passing them over to sales? And what is sales’ process from there?
TED: Our SDRs try to touch every inbound lead that comes in. While they’re trying to connect with them, those leads still get nurtured. And then based on certain kind of behavioral characteristics in terms of the pages you’ve visited, the assets you have downloaded, and so on and so forth, we have a scoring mechanism in place.
Once a lead becomes an MQL (marketing qualified lead), then the SDR gets an alert from Act-On through Salesforce. And then obviously these leads get first priority when it comes to getting followed up by the SDRs. Once the SDRs establish contact, if they’re able to book a meeting, that’s when we convert the leads to an opportunity. And that’s when our sales team takes over from the SDRs.
A bit more about Act-On Anywhere
ACT-ON: What about Act-On Anywhere? Can you talk a little bit more about using that and how you discovered it and what the benefits are of using that?
TED: I discovered it through one of your customer nurturing emails. So good job on that. [LAUGHTER] The way we’re using it now –which I personally think is tremendous value – once you open an email, you can basically select that email address and you can see the activity that this person has taken right within Gmail, without really having to go back to Salesforce to see what they’ve done recently.
ACT-ON: And that is crucial when you have a 14-day sales cycle.
ACT-ON: So speed seems to be one of the major benefits that you’ve gotten from using Act-On.
TED: Well, I mean, speed and everything else. Because in order for us to be able to continuously backfill our funnel and bring more qualified leads, in order to achieve that speed, we have to be able to identify who the right leads are, and we have to put them into the appropriate nurturing program so that they continue to get nurtured. And obviously without Act-On we wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Measuring what matters
ACT-ON: Do you have open rates and click-through rates and all that good stuff that you’d be willing to share with us?
TED: Yes. I have some of the high level numbers. We have all the nurture campaigns that we’re running, but we also do a lot of outbound. Over the course of the last 18 months we’ve gone from a database of zero to almost 100,000 names. A lot of them have been more list/research based. But we have a healthy flow of inbound leads as well. I was just looking at the numbers this morning. When we first started we had 45 in August of 2014. I think this month we’re up to 400. Over time we’ve built this pretty large database that we’re trying to nurture.
As part of that nurture program, for the last four or five months, we’re doing a lot of AB testing on outbound emails. We’ve tested everything from subject lines, to the content, to the image, to the placement of the image, I mean everything. As a result our open rates are anywhere from nine to 20 percent. And obviously we’re trying to drive them up to the 20 plus percent range. And our click-through rates are anywhere from one to five percent.
Inbound: Moving from paid to organic
ACT-ON: What is your inbound strategy? How are you getting your leads?
TED: We started with a fairly simple strategy. Initially, we had very little presence, we had very little SEO value, which has obviously significantly improved over the last six, nine months. We started with a lot of paid on LinkedIn, we did paid on Twitter, we did a lot of AdWords paid. We found our sweet spot over time with LinkedIn sponsored content in particular. Paige, you and I have commiserated about sponsored content enough in the past.
ACT-ON: Oh, I know. [LAUGHTER]
TED: The interesting part is when we first started, 80 or 90 percent of all the leads we would bring in would be paid. We’re now at a very good place where the majority of that is organic. So we’ve gone from 80 percent of 45 a month being paid, to 70 percent of 400 that we saw this month, inbound leads being organic. We have a very rigorous attribution process in place. We really want to make sure that we’re spending the right amount of money so we can tell you exactly kind of which campaign, which channel brought in which specific lead, down to the campaign and channel.
ACT-ON: So you used paid advertising to build that strong base to sort of kick start the lead gen.
TED: Correct. And in the last month and a half we started doing YouTube advertising as well, because we built a lot of videos; when Rico came on board, he built a lot more video content. We’re now doing a lot of YouTube targeting and re-targeting as well.
The importance of ease of use
ACT-ON: Can you talk about the ease of use of setting up campaigns, making them really granular, and using the tool itself? Especially from a salesperson’s perspective?
TED: The sales team doesn’t run any campaigns, obviously. They do have their own nurture programs. I encourage them to run them through Act-On so we can track them properly. The programs themselves are all handled by us, all the automated drip campaigns. We went through a major revision in all the content in the summer, and the email copy, and some of the setup of the nurture campaigns.
Rico, maybe this would be a good place for you to give your response on how easy it is, because you were not familiar with Act-On before.
RICO: I think some of the learning curve has to do with the fact that it’s fairly powerful, and we have tied it in with so many systems. But once you actually get through it, it’s fairly straightforward and intuitive to use. You can customize it so much, and that’s not something that’s easy to just start overnight. But that’s where I am.
TED: I don’t mean to beat up on (an Act-On competitor), but one of the main reasons, frankly, why I decided to go with Act-On this time around was exactly that ease-of-use element. I remember when I had installed and implemented (the competitor), every time I had to go in and create a new program, it would take me 10, 15 minutes to figure out exactly how to get started. And I really didn’t have the time and didn’t want to have to go through that again.
The end game
ACT-ON: How do you measure success?
TED: My philosophy is that for any demand gen program to succeed, you need to measure the output, not the input. So things like click through rates and open rates are great, but for me they’re kind of leading indicators. And while they’re important, what we ultimately care about is the number of opportunities that our sales team is able to create through the programs that we have in place.
So I mentioned that given that we were very inbound heavy from day one because we had nothing. But if you go down the funnel, this month we created more than 140 opportunities. And 230 MQLs in November. These are ultimately the numbers that we obsess over. How we get to these numbers is by looking at the programs that we have in place, by looking at the content that we have, and we’re working very feverishly now on updating and creating new content.
But ultimately, for me at least, success is measured by the number of deals that we close. We can’t influence the deals; but everything about the deals we can influence, we are influencing.
ACT-ON: If you could encapsulate the whole Act-On experience that you’ve had, what would you say?
TED: I would say that I don’t think we would be where we are today had it not been for Act-On. How’s that for a sound bite? [LAUGHTER]