Here's How I Used PR and Thought-Leadership to Generate Sales
Ally Lynch is the marketing director at Project44, a Chicago based enterprise Saas company. Below is a transcript of her presentation at the January 27, 2017 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where she shared advice for creating demand.
My name is Ally Lynch, I run Marketing at Project44. Project44 is an enterprise SaaS company that provides network connectivity to the global supply chain. I’m sure you are not experts on freight transportation and logistics, even though it's quite a sexy topic, so I will give you a little bit of background about marketing in this industry.
This industry is very close-knit. People tend to go into freight and logistics and stay. Because of that, they're very hesitant towards outsiders and pretty much resistant to change. They've been doing things a particular way for a long time, and that's fine with them. So being a new technology platform trying to break into this industry was not necessarily an easy task.
Luckily for me, what this company realized really early on is that they needed marketing to drive that task and to basically create an entirely new category within freight transportation. And that's where marketing enters.
Like I said, I joined a company in an industry lagging 35 years behind the status quo. We, at that point in time, did not have any paying customers. We didn't even have a live product, much less a product roadmap. We pretty much had nothing. We were five people who wanted to change the way companies did logistics and provide a new way of doing things, which our potential customers didn't even know that they needed.
So how do you create demand? How do you generate sales and revenue for a product that nobody even knows they need yet? That was our task.
That was year one at Project44. We knew this product could change everything, but nobody even knew that they needed it yet. And that's where we came in. It's a tough question to answer, it's a tough problem to solve and I think a lot of people would solve it in a lot of different ways. What I did was try to find the most logical spot to start, and that was creating demand through education and thought leadership. I think a lot of people might think that's, in fact, illogical. It is a long-term game and it is not going to make money overnight, it is not going to make money over a couple of weeks, necessarily.
It is a long-term play, but if you're really looking to create change, especially an entire movement of change, you really have to be willing to invest in a long-term game. And luckily for me, I didn't run into a lot of problems with that because our leadership understood the value in that. The situation we faced was convincing everybody that this was the game we were going to play, and this is how we we're going to create an entire new category for this industry.
So, what did I do?
I'm gonna start by telling you exactly what I didn't do, because it was hard for me not to do this. I did not create a website, start blogging, build lead generation and an inbound funnel and then start lobbying educational content at my inbound traffic.
It’s not because that doesn't work or because I'm bad at blogging, it’s because nobody was searching for the solution to a problem that they didn't yet know they had. It wasn't time for that yet. It wasn't time for lead generation or inbound sales funnels, and Marketo, Pardot or Salesforce, and all those fun things that a lot of these speakers have already been talking about. We were too premature for that.
1. I started building actual relationships with industry professionals.
At first, I went to every industry expert that I could find. I reached out to every reporter, journalist, consultant, professor, anyone that lived and breathed freight transportation to try to get the word out about Project44. I even flew to New York and pretended to be there for meetings to have coffee with Wall Street Journal reporters.
I did everything I possibly could to just get to know the people in the industry that had clout. But, I wasn't from the industry and nobody knew who I was so nobody cared what I had to say. Hopefully, you guys care what I have to say, but nobody in supply chain did.
So I literally spent hours, days, months just talking to people that cared about logistics. And I wasn't talking about Project44. I, maybe 20% of the time, would get the chance to talk about what we were doing. I was simply building relationships and investing in people to gain credibility with these individuals.
It was a slow process, but a critical one, and over time they started asking me questions and started to believe in my movement. And they became a very, very critical part of my strategy.
And I know I'm still at number one here, but there's a reason why I haven't even brought up writing yet, and you would think thought leadership, content marketing and education writing is important.
And it is really important, but I couldn't forget about those people. I will say it over and over and over again, because it was so important for me, without those people, I couldn’t do the rest of this.
2. I created a thought-leadership-based editorial calendar, identified the key people within our company that were going to be our strong brand voices in the market, and then I wrote.
And I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and being a marketing team of one, I also leveraged every single word that I wrote.
I would write one piece of content, and I would re-skin it for seven different publications, because it was the only way that I was going to actually be efficient. And the cool thing that I did, without even knowing that I was going to do it, is I built what I call a "Trojan horse." I had spent all this time talking to these influencers and, all of a sudden, they became my entire distribution network.
We didn't have visitors coming to our website, nobody knew who we were, but all of these reporters, journalists and consultants were talking about us. And they became my vehicle to create an entire category. By me providing information to them, and them pushing it out, they basically created this category for us.
And that's the start of a really strong thought leadership and education strategy. That's the basis of that pillar of PR, and we didn't have a PR firm doing this. We were doing it ourselves because we were boot-strapped and we had no money. But as we gained momentum, we brought a PR firm in and we started to figure out how to scale this.
There was no silver bullet of content. I didn't create one white paper and change the whole industry. If anyone can do that, please let me know, I'll hire you on the spot. I'll do absolutely anything to bring you onto my team.
It was a lot of small steps, building relationships, bringing reporters on board, writing really strong content that didn't promote Project 44's project, but promoted our idea in the industry. And with that, we built an educational foundation and a need within the category.
And then, once we got to there, and that was at least 12 months, we were able to say, "Okay. How do we scale? How do we optimize? How do we build a marketing sales funnel that's gonna capitalize on all of this thought leadership and education that we've been pushing out?"
3. I structured our inbound funnel
That's when we said, "Okay, we need to attach a marketing automation system under our website. We need to attach it to the CRM, build a MQL, the sales-ready lead, and the opportunity pipeline here. We need to work with sales to capitalize on the leads that we were bringing in and build a really tight, clean, systematic marketing system."
But we didn't do that until 12 months after I started. And we're just starting to get really good at that. We're okay right now. We're getting better.
I can talk about two different sets of results: there's my PR results and my sales results. And I'm not going to read all of these to you, you can see them on the screen.
We grew our share of voice. We were in the Wall Street Journal and the CIO Review and we were pumping out lots and lots of content. Thought leadership was a big part of this, and it wasn't news announcements, product placements or sales pitches, it was us talking about why the industry needed this product.
And that parlayed into sales success and we grew lead generation by 337%. That's not all because of thought leadership, though I'd love to create that ROI, it was a combined effort but PR campaigns were our top referral source. 75% of the time, new business will tell us that they heard about us by reading a thought leadership or education piece. I can't really quantify that, but that's value, that's really important to us.
And then, the last thing that's not here and I can't measure it because I don't know how to, being a startup's not all about your KPIs, it's not all about what you want to measure, it's what you want to do.
I joined this company to shift a paradigm in a very outdated industry. That's why I went into freight and logistics. It wasn't because I like trucks or any of that, it was because I saw an opportunity to really change the way an industry functioned. And being able to be that pioneering voice in the industry is something that's really cool.
Personally, in terms of where I want to go as a marketer, this is key for me. We've created an entirely new kind of category within a market by using education and thought leadership.