What does customer experience have to do with marketing? In the case of Atomic Reach, the answer is “everything.”
In this week’s episode of The Inbound Success Podcast, I’m interviewing Paul Blamire, the VP of Client Experience at fast growing SaaS company Atomic Reach. Our discussion centers around his work to understand the customer journey and solicit feedback, and how the insights he has uncovered have led to changes in the product roadmap, the company’s positioning, and its overall marketing strategy.
For me, this was a fascinating look at marketing through a different lense, and a valuable reminder of just how much audience research and customer feedback really matter.
Listen to the podcast to hear more about how customer experience is driving growth at Atomic Reach, or read the show notes below for a quick summary.
Kathleen Booth (host): Welcome to The Inbound Success Podcast. This is Kathleen Booth, and I’m your host. Today my guest is Paul Blamire, who is the VP of Client Experience at Atomic Reach. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Blamire (guest): Hey, it’s good to be here, Kathleen.
Kathleen: I’m super excited to have you on because I just recently completed a demo of the product, which I think is incredible. I learned some really interesting things about impacts content, but I’m also excited to have you on because you’re, I think, the first person that has come on as guest to the podcast whose job role is really client experience and not marketing per se. I’ll turn it over to you for a minute. I would love it if you could tell us about Atomic Reach and also about your role there.
Paul: We’re a SaaS-based marketing platform. We’re based up in Toronto, in Canada. We’ve been around since about 2012. I joined the company in 2013. Essentially, what our platform and the purpose of the company, therefore, is to really help anyone who’s producing online digital content learn, essentially, what really works for them. What’s their magic recipe with regards to how they’re producing content for their audience and what’s allowing that content to perform extremely well.
Our platform’s continually learning what you’ve produced in the past up to now, what the engagement around that content is, and you can define us, or the user can define to us what that engagement is. Is it click-throughs to download an ebook? Is it signing up for a newsletter? Is it page use? Is it time on site? Whatever those key metrics are to the marketer, we essentially basically allow a platform to learn what is it about the content you produce and the attributes about that content, how you’re writing, what you’re writing about, the topics, the structure of the content, what’s driving more engagement, and what’s actually deterring engagement.
Once the clients can understand that, we have writing tools within our platform that the users could then use to refine and draft and write copy before it’s published following that magic recipe, that secret sauce. Essentially, that’s the ongoing experience that the platform’s continually learning over and over again.
The clients keep producing new content, it keeps learning what’s going on with this new content, what’s working and not working, and delivering that feedback back to the clients so they continually produce … I hate the word “optimize” because it’s so overused, but it really helps you understand if you’re going to write something and spend the time to write content, landing pages, blog posts, marketing emails, you might as well get it right the first time, which we want to uncover that mystery of what is right the first time.
Kathleen: I love how Atomic Reach explains what you are. I was on your website and on the about page, and I noticed that it says, “We are a company dedicated to perpetual innovation and delivering scientifically driven products that improve your content and audience engagement.” One of the reasons that, that really resonated with me is that I feel like so many people, especially when they’re early in their careers and they’re thinking, “I’m going to go into a career in marketing,” a lot of people are drawn to it by what they perceive as the creative aspect of marketing.
People watch things like Mad Men and they see all this ideation and they think, “Oh, I’m bad at math and I’m bad at science, so I’m going to be a marketer because that’s creative,” when, in reality, the direction that marketing is going these days is so scientific and so data-driven. It’s not that there isn’t room for creativity, I think there absolutely is. In fact, in some respects, creativity is the thing that machines can’t replicate, right?
Paul: Yeah, that’s right.
Kathleen: But you really have to be somebody with a little bit of a scientific mind these days to be a great marketer.
Paul: I think that the key for us is building out a platform that can communicate that, whatever, analysis, that feedback, but deliver it in a way that’s not intimidating; it’s usable and meaningful in a way where, like you say, you don’t want the end users to be so put off and overwhelmed by all the information delivered back to them, whether it’s data, whether it’s writing feedback, whatever it may be, in a way where they just don’t want to use the tool. It’s so cumbersome to use.
Yeah, it’s an ongoing exercise and evolution of our product over years just to figure out how do we get better at doing that. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons over the years of how do you deliver that feedback to marketers, writers, editors where they can actually use it in a meaningful way.
Kathleen: Having just finished the demo of the product, that is so true because when I went in there, I mean there’s a lot of information. It crawled five years of blog posts on our website, and we publish a lot of blogs. We publish two or more times a day. What I really liked about it was the visual interface of the results. It was really easy to just, at a glance, understand the key takeaways.
I definitely learned some things that I did not know before. I think the big standout for me was whereas the vast, vast majority of the content that we publish is ranked at, what you would call the knowledgeable level, in terms of content, what performs the best for us is more at the academic or genius level. Immediately the takeaway was we need to change the level of content that we’re producing.
Paul: I’m glad you actually interpret it that way because you’re right. I think a lot of marketers feel like there’s a general rule, and that’s all content should be written for extremely basic English, really simple, keep it nice and simple, short sentences, small vocabulary. Therefore, it will resonate and people will understand and… Really understand the message you’re trying to deliver.
But it’s not as simple as that. You can’t say a marketer who is selling machinery that develops telescopes, and they’re basically reaching an academic audience, that you should be writing your content in marketing or creating your marketing materials in a way for the everyday common person. It’s ridiculous.
It’s all about understanding who you’re trying to write to and communicate to with your content, understanding what they’ve done in the past with that content, how they’ve interacted with it, and, again, what the structure is of those various assets that they’ve been interacting with to understand your sweet spot. It varies from client-to-client. I get surprised all the time on what I think I’m going to see when a client… We start setting up an account for them, and actually what the platform delivers as far as that information and the analysis of really what they need to do going forward with their content.
But there’s no hard and fast rule that we see that everyone should follow. It really is extremely unique. Like I say, that sweet recipe, that secret sauce, there really is a unique one for every one of our various clients. Again, it’s just been interesting over the years to understand that.
I think, too, the other thing that’s been good is when we first started developing our platform, we talked about what it did. We didn’t use the term “artificial intelligence” three or four years ago, because if you use that, forget about it. People would just be running for the hills. That’s just way over their heads. There’s no way a marketer or an editor for a publication would want to go that far. There was no comfort level with the notion of AI, even though that’s what we were doing in those early stages. We just wouldn’t talk that way.
Then things have changed. Now, as you know, AI machine learning, it’s everywhere right now. Whether you are intimated by it or not, you have to adapt or at least learn more about it. I feel like it’s much easier for us these days to actually market who we are and what we do without scaring off all these potential leads and clients, whereas three years ago, we had to communicate what we did in a very different way and hide the fact that there was AI going on under the hood. Now we could be more proud about it and not be, like I say, afraid of telling people what it actually does.
Kathleen: I think that speaks to one of the key value drivers of your product, at least in my perception, which is that what is right for you is also not static. I went through the demo with the product and it told me certain things about what’s working and what’s not, which is not to say that in three months or six months, those exact same things will be the things that work.
That’s why I think the concept of AI is so powerful because you could go into… I could extract all of the data from my HubSpot, which is what we happen to use, in a big CSV file. Then I could run a bunch of pivot tables, and I could probably come up with some of the same conclusions, not all of them. But there would be a massive amount of work required to do that. Then I don’t have the mechanism to do that on a continuous basis. Whereas your engine can just run in the background and constantly adjust recommendations.
I think the other cool part about it to me was then it also helps you take action on that. When I looked at it and I said, “Oh, we need to be writing more academic and genius content, not knowledgeable,” I don’t exactly know what that means, but I like the idea that I can go on the platform and start writing, and it’s going to tell me where it lands. I can adjust and wait for it to tell me I’ve hit the right mark.
Paul: You’re totally right. Over time, things change. Your audience changes, how you’re communicating, who you’re marketing to will change. It’s changed for us. I can tell you, in the past, who we marketed to and who we market to now, there’s no way what we write today and how we communicate would have worked to that audience three, four years ago.
You’re totally right. As time goes by and you continually produce content… And that’s the key with our clients. If they don’t produce content, this platform’s meaningless for them. But as long as they’re producing content on a fairly consistent basis, you’re right, that continually changes the set of correlations and analysis. That’s one of the questions we get with some of our clients or people trying out our platform is, “Great. You gave me all this data at this moment in time. Thank you very much. I don’t need you anymore.”
You’re like, “Well, okay. But a month from now, or three months from now, or six months from now, all of what we just showed you is going to change, but you’re going to be blind to that.” The way you recapped it there was really good, and that’s what we want people to understand as well is that it’s a never-ending feedback loop within an Atomic AI account of the data coming in, the analysis, and the feedback back to the owner of that data.
Kathleen: I guess the magic question is, are you eating your own dog food? I mean, are you using the product to help refine your own content creation and your own marketing.
Paul: Absolutely. If we didn’t we… you know, what credibility would we have? But no, we do and you know when we first started our building our platform it was really just designed to analyze blog content, or news articles, sort of more traditionally, where they have a headline and they have a body of content. And that’s still our primary… most of our clients to use it for that that objective. But then we realized, especially as we started getting more marketers on to our platform, less publishers more marketers, is you know content marketing isn’t just about a blog, isn’t just about a news feed on your website. It’s about the rest of the web copy, it’s about landing pages, it’s about marketing e-mails. There’s a whole variety of different content assets that are still content, but all make up a full content program.
So we’ve expanded the platform will continue to expand a platform to all various forms of marketing assets that any agency or company who has a marketing department is producing. And I think that’s just… yeah, it was a learning point to us of like, marketers are doing many things at once, and we do the same thing, we have a marketing department, so let’s make sure our platform becomes more sort of holistic around that and not just focus on one small group of assets they produce and ignore the rest.
Kathleen: I read that you just added the capability to also help with crafting pay per click marketing advertisements?
Paul: Yes. So it’s interesting you say that. In February we’re launching a new module to our platform that, yes, will analyze this. Right now it’s going to focus on Google ads so how you’re crafting Google ads. And we know Google ads are written obviously to keywords and you select keywords. But this other stuff that you go producing that people see on that ad. And we would be trying to get into the art and science of what are the words you’re using, which ones are more effective for you. Again, always based on your particular data. So, if you’re spending a lot of money on ads, and we spend money on Google ads, and it’s amazing how much we spend per month, you don’t even want to know, but if we can make those ads 15, 20, 30 percent more effective just by changing certain words, or crafting the content in a different manner, that’s a massive increase in effectiveness of that campaign. Versus, say, we write four blog posts a month and we change the four blog posts, but blog posts are a less direct way to bring in leads.
Google Ads, there’s hardly anything more direct than that. So, yeah we’re trying to experiment and expand our platform to encompass, like I say, more than what it does now and Google ads are our next frontier we’re trying to break.
Kathleen: That’s very interesting because I would think that, from a sales standpoint, if you’re successful at that it would be incredibly easy and quick to build an ROI case for investment in the platform. If it helps either generate more results off of what you’re spending, or helps you spend less on paper, to get the same results.
Paul: Yeah absolutely. I mean, we’ve all known that battle especially agencies who are pushing a client to get into content marketing, and the owner of the company, he or she is like, “well what’s the ROI on this?” And it’s like, well we… it’s long term, and it takes time, and blah, blah, blah but we think it’s going to work. And it’s all it’s still a bit foggy, that one. So yeah, this is… it’s a different, more direct way like you say, to make an immediate impact on our ROI. And whether it’s a lower cost, or more clicks, whatever it may be, it should be really interesting over the course of the next thirty days when we release that and get a lot of feedback from users on that whole experience and how we would be helping them.
Kathleen: Let’s shift for a second, so your title is VP of Client Experience and, normally, on this podcast, I talk to a lot of marketers, and I would love to understand how client experience relates with marketing, how you see it relating, how it should relate, and what role you play in that.
Paul: I’m directly dealing with our clients. So what that means is obviously we… people will either sign up to our platform for a free fourteen day trial, they may talk to one of our sales reps, and if they want to proceed beyond the free trial stage and become a full time user, then, at that point if they fall into my lap or my department’s lap. And really, it’s all about learning what goals they’re trying to achieve with their content. Learning all the different assets they’re producing and how their producing goes, and who’s involved, and do they outsource, the copy, the content to other writers, or is it all in-house.
But we learn all these details about kind of their programs. And then really what I’ll do is set up an on boarding program, which is really a training and continual relationship between myself and them, on taking them through the platform, the different elements over a course of time. We can’t do it all in one call, nor will we ever try… Well, we used to actually do that. We used to actually bring people on board have a long big call until… training them in every element the platform in one call. And, of course, that was ridiculous but we learned the hard way.
So now we just spread out that whole relationship for an ongoing experience But what it’s allowed me to do is, as I have more touch points with our clients, I just learn more. I learn more about how they’re evolving their programs and their goals around different types of clients. And what type of assets they’re producing, and how they’re measuring the effectiveness of these assets. And what it allows me to do is, because I’m directly involved with also the development of our platforms, so how we build it going forward. It’s learning what the end users are doing right now, what the platform is not doing, and what voids we could fill, if we could… with additional functionality, for example.
So, help them with Google ads, or help them better understand how to write more effective subject lines for their marketing emails. All these different things that we are doing right now is directly… it comes from the feedback off our clients who are essentially asking for it, or if they aren’t directly asking for it, I’m just learning about what they’re doing and figuring out, well if that’s the case we should get into these other elements of content they’re producing and how to help with that. And the only way to learn this is talk to them. You can’t tell this stuff by watching people’s… by looking at how many times people use certain modules, and don’t use other modules and what buttons they click. You literally have to be on a call, you have to communicate directly with these people to have a relationship where they can tell you this, and you can ask the questions.
And that really has given us… I don’t want to take all the credit, I’m not going to take all the credit for this, by the way, but just getting more feedback from our users has just really been the key to how we’ve developed our platform now. And we have a lot more confidence in what we’re doing, we have to spend a fair bit of time and money in developing these different modules, and things we need to expand upon. But two or three years ago, a lot of times we would have… we came with those ideas ourselves and we really weren’t sure if that was going to work or not, because we were still kind of developing a platform from scratch. And we didn’t have enough users to get the sample size of feedback to give us a direction of where they want to see the platform develop.
And now, when we’re building additional functionality and features, like I say, we are a lot more confident that what we’re building is actually going to be used and valuable versus, like I say, three years ago where we were still trying to… it was a bit of a guessing game. So it’s nice to have a feedback loop of, we bring these leads in through our inbound and outbound marketing efforts we have a sales team talk to them, eventually some of them will pay to use the platform, and we learn as are using it, and what they’re trying to do, how do we actually build a platform out so it becomes easier to market, for our marketing team, because now they can say, “hey, we’re not just a blogging platform we’re a platform that can help you with all your content marketing needs”. That’s a lot of easier to sell than just a platform that focuses on one type of content asset.
Same with the sales team, now they can actually… they’re getting better leads because these leads are coming in with the expectation that this platform is going to help them, so many different parameters of the marketing efforts, that they can… the selling process becomes easier. And also because you’re doing more things that marketers want because your platform becomes more from becomes more… it fulfills more of the needs they have when it comes to content. And then obviously, at that point, once you have these people coming through the marketing department, the sales team, and then when they finally become clients, what they think they’re going to get is actually what we’re actually selling and teaching them how to use.
So it’s a… it’s all just a big giant feedback loop but the good point about this last year or so is, just we’re getting more feedback from the users of their likes and dislikes and sometimes there’s dislikes but that’s a good thing too. So you want to see, okay, if they don’t like this, they hate this button, they don’t like the way this module is designed, so we’ve got to rebuild it. It’s just too confusing and you say right now, early in the call, “you like our UI? Well I’ll tell you that’s the ninth different version of our UI in the last three years”. Every four months it feels like we’re re-doing our UI and I’m sure it’ll be re-done many times again. But again it all comes back to get that feedback on the client server side of things to make sure that when we’re going forward, we’re going forward in the right direction.
Kathleen: I have what might sound like a dumb question, but I am curious to hear how you can answer this. As VP of Client Experience, where does… where, or when, does the client experience begin, in your definition, and when does it end?
Paul: It’s really good question. It definitely begins before they start paying, there’s no doubt about that. When they really touch the platform is when they actually sign up for a… so we offer a 14 day free account, and you get full access to the whole platform for 14 days. And after that certain modules start locking. So either, if you want to keep using it, you can use the free version, or if you want to open everything up again obviously you have to pick a plan and everything opens up.
That 14 days has to be a good experience. So when they log in to an account and they create one from scratch, whatever they’re seeing is really their first indication, or first flavor of what we are as a company, what we are as a platform. So that, in itself, has to be… that’s one of the early touch points and therefore that’s still part of my responsibility, I believe, and really the whole organization. What is that first experience, and is the platform even usable for people who sign up on their own?
Now the thing is our platform is not… it is designed for businesses and marketers, so there are certain things… like I say, we have this sort of long on-boarding process, when I say long I don’t want to make it sound arduous, but just a continual on-boarding process we like to do with our clients. We start talking to people as soon as they start signing up. So we’re going to reach out and make sure that everything’s okay, can we help them, can we give them a demo, don’t worry there’s no sales catch here, just help them understand what the platform’s able to do for them. And then, at that point, they can make the judgment call if they want that call. Or not, or they just want to thump around with the platform on their own and they can do that.
But definitely when they touch the platform the first time, that’s… and then every time after that, up to me, it’s, as far as I’m concerned it’s all part of experience, client experience. But even before that, they’re obviously seeing our ads, they’re seeing our landing pages, you’re seeing our website, and we have copy. You start listing off some of the copy of what we explain what we do. When they get into the platform, their expectation is whatever they read beforehand, and it might be a Google ad, it might be a landing page, it might be a blog post. There has to be continuity between what they think they’re going to actually experience, and what they actually do experience. And this is of the blessings of working for a relatively small company where we’re a big open concept office and Michael, who leads our marketing department… if I put my head up over my monitor, he’s right in front of my eyes.
So that connection between myself, the client experience, the marketing team, the sales team, the product team, it’s about as tight as you can get. We can throw an eraser and hit anyone in the office. So that making sure we have that continuity between all different touch points of the company, whether it’s the product, whether it’s the people, whether it’s the website, it’s an ongoing thing, which we’re always trying to perfect. And we know we have some holes, we know we’re not there quite yet. But really, whenever you’re touching anything that says, or is branded with Atomic AI, it has to be a continuous clean, I guess, experience where there’s continuity from start to end. And if there isn’t, and people come through the process, they start paying to use the platform and in two months they cancel, something went wrong.
So their expectations are off, or I drop the ball, and my team dropped the ball in the client experience, something was off and therefore… and that’s a real painful lesson, because it takes a lot of effort to get someone up to actually start paying and using the platform. And we don’t want that, we don’t want attrition in two months. So that’s a key metric for everyone in the organization, it’s not just client experience that is accountable for attrition, it’s all the elements that lead up to client experience, and, of course, client experience too.
Kathleen: The company has been around for several years and you touched a little bit earlier on how much it’s evolved in terms of the messaging, and the audience, and the user base, and even the product itself has really changed considerably. I would love it if you could speak a little bit to the marketing side if things and where you’ve seen the growth come from, what’s worked well, what hasn’t. What’s delivered results to you as a company. You mentioned Google AdWords and, inbound, it sounds like you’re just you’re trying all different kinds of tactics.
Paul: You’re absolutely right. If you go back in time… Right now, one of our most successful markets is digital agencies. And that only really started as of, maybe six months ago, we really didn’t focus on agencies in the past because we felt like it was an extra… if you try to sell to a digital agency then they would have to sell to their clients first this… we just thought it would be more trouble. Because there’s not one buyer, it felt like there was a potential buyer but it was other people within that process who was paying the buyer to use our platform. So we just didn’t go there. So we were essentially marketing directly to marketing departments and publishers.
So if I.B.M. had a… well, I.B.M. does have a marketing department, whether you aim at them, or if it was a health care company in Ohio, we would market directly to their marketing department. Or if it was a publisher for, say, an teenage, online magazine, we’d go after the publisher. And over the years we’ve tried different things. Because we were a startup back then and you don’t… sometimes you have a great idea of a product but you’re not quite sure who you’re selling to or your marketing to. So we went from the very beginning, back in 2013, marketing to enterprise clients. We didn’t know enterprise clients take for ever to make a decision. And there are so many different loopholes to go through.
So we learned the hard way of that’s not the way to start selling a product right away, at least for us. So then we went the total opposite way and we said, listen let’s actually forget about that, we’re charging too much, let’s go to right after writers. Freelance writers, bloggers, let’s make a price point super cheap, focus on the writing app, the writing experience, less so on the data. And sell to them, and that’s market like crazy for people to spend 25 dollars a month. Well then we realized, doing that, well guess what, writers, freelance writers they don’t make a lot of money. In fact most of them make no money, so the last thing they going to do is spend 25 dollars a month on a writing tool where they can probably try a few different tools that are free, and at the end of day…
Kathleen: It’s not enough.
Paul: It’s not enough, yeah, because they don’t even know if they’re going to have any work every month. So, again, we learned the hard way on that one. And we were doing all sorts of inbound marketing on that and we just weren’t getting leads, we had people signing up and downloading our product, but they would never convert. And then the effort required to have a sales person call a freelance writer to convert to 25 dollars a month is ridiculous, but we were…
Kathleen: Part of me wishes that I bought the product back then, so that I could be grandfathered, and at that pricing.
Paul: Well, yeah, you still probably wouldn’t have bought it. But it just didn’t work. So then we, over the time, we realized maybe we should be going more small to medium businesses. And, again, they weren’t agencies. And we started to get some traction on that. And that was kind of where our sweet spot was. And then interestingly enough… and that was a combination of inbound and outbound marketing, so we were very active on our blog, very active on social, started producing e-books and white papers, that kind of stuff. And it was working, we started to feel like we’ve got a bit of a groove here. But we still had to keep building on our platform, this was talking about two years ago, two and a half years ago. We still… this was when I was… you couldn’t mention the word AI because suddenly people were freaking out.
Kathleen: Now it’s like the thing, it’s super sexy to say AI.
Paul: Yeah, but in the spring of 2014, 2015, no way. So we… but we said, listen we’ve got these small to medium businesses, let’s keep going after that and it started to work. And we just are continually changing our messaging and our marketing assets. But it was working. And then interestingly… but it kind of… it didn’t really take off to the degree we thought it would. So it was growing but not at a great rate, and then interestingly enough, we hired some new sales people a couple of years ago and one of them had… he was going to INBOUND in Boston, I guess it was in the fall of 2016. And he was going for another company, he’d just joined us but he had this commitment for the company he left he had to go to this inbound conference. But he said, listen, I’ll take some business cards for Atomic AI, Atomic Reach at the time, and I’ll mention you guys but I really have to work for this other company.
It was like, no problem, go ahead. And he came back and he’d had a few conversations with certain people, and he met one of the guys actually from HubSpot, who works for HubSpot, and the guy’s like, well, at the end of the day what they actually did was they sold HubSpot to us. So, we became a HubSpot user, because we wanted to get more serious about marketing and we were using some cheaper products before HubSpot but realized, you know what, we’ve got to do marketing better.
Kathleen: Yeah it does make life so much easier.
Paul: Yeah, we were using bits and pieces of different platforms but were like, let’s use one platform and this guy did a good job so we signed up for HubSpot. And, interestingly enough, we did get a few leads and clients from that INBOUND conference, and they were digital agencies. But we didn’t really think anything of it, we thought were just lucky. Anyways, HubSpot became one of our clients… or we became one of HubSpot’s clients and about six months after we did, our rep, our account manager at HubSpot said “listen, I’ve been on-boarding you guys into HubSpot for a number of months, what you guys are doing is really different, we think it would be a great complement to HubSpot if you guys did an integration with us”.
So, they have… they have of thousands of integrations but really what the guy was saying was, listen if you get into the sort of early integrations pool and we like your particular integration, we’re going to move it up to a special category where there’s only like sixty or a hundred key integrations they have, but you have to go through all these hoops to get there. So last summer we essentially spent a whole bunch of dev time devoted to building a really nice integration to HubSpot. And it’s kind of de-railed our whole plans for the summer of what we wanted to do dev side, but we’re like, let’s give it a go and HubSpot’s not an insignificant marketing platform, so maybe we can get some potential referrals from there.
And yeah, we released it last September, September 1st, 2017 and…
Kathleen: So was that just before the INBOUND conference this past year right?
Paul: Yeah exactly, they wanted to make sure it was done beforehand so we raced to do that. And we did and then the next thing you know, yeah, we’ve we’ve had a really good experience with the people in HubSpot who managed the integrations and over a couple of months we moved from that big pool of a thousand integrations to now a selected 100. And within the 100 we’re the only platform that does anything like we do. So we don’t blend… we’re very unique with all the other integrations and we’ve had a lot of traction on that. So we said… we were like, okay, these digital agencies, they’re actually all doing inbound and HubSpot digital agencies are all doing inbound and that’s really what our platform is designed to do is help sort of optimize inbound marketing.
And these people are right in front of our face right here, who are actually doing it. So now it’s all… we’ve really sort of focused most of our marketing efforts, not just about HubSpot marketing and HubSpot integration, but digital marketers in general. And we’ve had way more success communicating to, and selling to, agencies than we really have pretty much for everything else combined. And it was always just out of a whim of one of our new sales guys going to HubSpot, which we would never have gone to. We just never expected there to be a market. And talking to these agencies now, and the other thing too is they have lots of clients so we come on… if they use our platform for, say, five or six of their clients, we are integrated into five or six of their clients and their workflow. And if one of those clients, for whatever reason, leaves that agency we’re still involved with the other four.
And what’s good about that is, you’ve got your fingers into how they run their content program for multiple clients at once. And that helps us because, first of all, that increases our user base, which is always a good thing and we get more data, we always like more data in our platform because we always run some pretty cool analysis of what the trends we see in content are the first half of 2017 to the second half. The more uses we have the better. But also it helps us just maintain a client base where, if… in some of our clients who are not agencies, if it’s one person and that person leaves the company, suddenly you’ve lost your whole company. And then the next thing you know the next person comes in, you either have to resell to them, and they usually want to start their whole content program from scratch because they want to make their mark. So the risk of losing clients is much lower when you’re spread out over a number of agencies, or a number of clients.
Kathleen: Now so you basically went from a direct sales model to a channel sales model through agencies?
Kathleen: How… did your marketing adjust and how did it adjust? I assume that there might have been some differences when you made that shift.
Paul: It’s still evolving. I’d say we’re… I guess it’s more of the messaging. The messaging before, it would be like, hey, your a marketer of this health care organization, or this toy manufacturer, we can help you do this with your content. And now we’re actually selling to the agency who’s now responsible for the marketing efforts of a number of different clients. So essentially, what we’re trying to do, is we’re helping the agency do a better job for their clients, when it comes to all this effort their putting into content we’re really another tool they can use to help, whatever. Improve the efficacy of their marketing programs by 25 percent whatever it may be. And it takes the pressure off them, from the clients knowing they’re trying things, or using tools, or using technology AI to keep up with what’s going on in the forefront of marketing.
Because they’re getting this pressure from their clients, how come our, whatever, how come our last quarter, the number of leads is going down. We’re another tool they can use to sort of turn that around. So how we… in a way we’re selling to digital agencies, but also helping them sell to their clients. A lot of times we have to give materials and whether it’s a one pager, or a case study to the digital agency to then hand to the client, going this is why I think we should adopt this platform. So even though there’s a middleman there, believe it or not that middleman I said we wanted to get away from five years ago, is a key part… is really the key lead we have these days.
Kathleen: That’s interesting because it makes me think of what you said earlier about trial users. So somebody signs up for a trial and you feel like you’ve got a yes but there’s really no guarantee they’re going to convert into a paying customer and so you have to kind of hold their hand through that trial and make sure they’re really using it. And I feel like the same principle applies to a channel sales strategy, just because you have a channel partner and they’ve said yes doesn’t mean they’re going to be they’re going to be successful getting their clients to say yes. And so you really have to hold their hand and guide them, and make them successful in selling your product in order for that to work.
Paul: Yeah and I think, HubSpot, they’re busy people there, so they have been very helpful for us to be recognized and acknowledged within their, whatever, because fear of integrations. And they want to be even more helpful, so we’ve… there’s thousands of HubSpot users and we’ve just scratched the surface of their user base. But in a way HubSpot wants it’s many useful integrations because they want to they want to reduce attrition as well. So the more we can make their platform, or elements of their platform really work well, it keeps HubSpot happy.
And the interesting thing too, is this integration with HubSpot, as now we’re doing integrations with other CMS’s because you know HubSpot’s a big… we all know what HubSpot is but there are other tools and CMS’s out there and marketing platforms that also have a large client bases that we realized integrations is a really good way to get your foot into a door to a large user base really quickly. Versus trying to market directly to those users, which is, well it’s so time consuming.
Paul: It’s been really enlightening. We’ve always talked about doing integrations years ago, but we just put it off, and put it off, and put it off and now it’s like what we thinking? Why didn’t we do this in 2015?
Kathleen: It sounds like that the whole strategy has evolved considerably and you’re in the middle of forming new relationships now with other, as you mentioned other CMS’s, what are you most excited about for the next twelve months with Atomic Reach, where do you see the most potential?
Paul: I think it’s still early days on understanding now we have marketing agencies, that we didn’t happen to before. So I think we have a lot of plans to, for example I said we have an integration with HubSpot, there’s a lot more we can do beyond that current integration to even do more things within that platform. So after this Google Ad Words project gets out the next month we’re going back to even building bigger integration with HubSpot, so it really covers the whole HubSpot marketing platform.
We’ve got a WordPress integration that just went out. It’s now we’re finally tapping into these other groups of users. HubSpot, WordPress, Ad Words, that, like I say, six months ago we just didn’t, we went directly to each individual user and so I’m really excited to see how all those work out and what else we can do beyond that to really help all these different marketers. And that’s the one thing that I really learned as well in the last six to ten months talking more frequently to our clients, specifically to the marketers and the digital markers agencies, is how many tools people use. I was blown away by how… different social tools. We were trying to build our platform so it could do everything. It could do social, it could do content optimization, it could do all these different things, and what we quickly realize is there’s a million tools out there and each tool does one thing really, really well.
So we have to be careful, we have limited development resources we can only do so many things really well. So we kind of narrowed down our scope and said, well let’s do these five things really well, or these three things really, really well. And if this social tool shares this type of content better than us and we don’t share it to Instagram yet, but they do. At the end of the day, spend your time and spend your effort, and focus really on what you do differently and do really, really well and just like double and triple down on that.
And we learned that the hard way right? We learned that we spent a lot of time over the last five years burning away effort on the wrong things. But, just to get back to my point there, which was I was blown away by how many different tools marketers use and they don’t seem to be upset about that. Bloggers would all love everything to be in one tool but they also realize this is not going to happen. So that in itself caused us to say, well listen don’t panic, don’t try and do everything and be this one tool that does it for all these marketers because, at the end of the day, we can’t do everything really well in all parts of… we can’t just build our platform to do everything because they’ll always be someone doing something slightly better or much better than us for a different particular element of marketing, and focus on the content side, and focus on learning about the AI, content production, and editing, and optimization. And just like, that’s what you do and don’t worry about everything else.
Kathleen: I think you hit the nail on the head with the tools, because I owned my own digital marketing agency for eleven years before I came to the one I’m at now. And I noticed, markedly, that one of the most controllable, and yet out of control, areas in my P&L was recurring software subscriptions. And we would sit there once a quarter and go through the list and it was like watching death by paper cut. There were so many different things that we used, and each one of them help promise to make our lives much easier, but all of those little recurring monthly amounts added up so much and it’s hard, it’s hard as a marketer to not want to add more things then, because there are so many great products out there that can just make that particular aspect of your job simpler, faster or more efficient.
So that is absolutely a key point, but not everybody wants to solve it, as you said, people love their tools and they get very wedded to them.
Paul: You can’t do everything, so you’ve just got to make smart decisions. Because, we have a social sharing tool within our platform, it’s one of the modules. And it shares content just like any social sharing tool. It does a few things that are very different and very unique, but if we try and do that and then do everything else Hootsuite does then… Hootsuite has a massive team focusing a hundred percent on just building out a social sharing and community management tool. Do we really want to get in that race with them? That pulls resources away from focusing on what we do well and different.
So yeah, it’s… sometimes you learn the hard way like I say, and I think we have but, at the end of the day, our social tool for sure you’ll do your basic sharing plus a few little cool things that are different, but again, most of the users coming on board were marketing specific things, it’s not bad, it’s other elements of the platform that they know are pain points, and that’s what they’re really coming for. The other things are nice to have but focused on what people are coming for and what they need and don’t get distracted. But it’s so easy to say that, and the next thing you know, you’re down a path for three weeks …
Exactly, yeah we’re guilty of that. We have been all along but I think… but like I say, I think we’re… a lot of distraction is… we just learned to put blinders up a little more frequently.
Kathleen: When I do these interviews there’s always two questions I asked at the end, mostly because I’m fascinated by the answers. And I’d love to see what you have to say. The first is, who out there – company or individual – is doing inbound marketing really well in your opinion? Who should we look to if we wanted to see an example of the best practice?
Paul: We’ve been reliant on HubSpot just for so many reasons. One is we’re paying to use their platform. But how they’ve actually helped us understand how to more effectively do inbound marketing. I know it’s obviously using their tools, of course, that’s what they’re there for.
Kathleen: That’s what they’re designed for right?
Paul: Yeah, but I’ll be honest, they do a really good job of it and we’re really reliant on the account managers who handle our account, and have handled our account. We talk to them every couple of weeks, I mean it was every week when we first started being on-boarded and, they just have always seemed to guide us in the right direction and obviously they’ve got us in the right direction how to use their platform, but even questions beyond that. It’s amazing how many resources we’re like, hey we’re struggling about, I don’t know what it is, about this particular element of our marketing campaign, it’s nothing to do with your platform but do you have any resources that could help us. Then 30 seconds later they’re shooting us with articles and reference material, and it’s just they’re a well run organization.
And obviously they’re dealing with marketers all the time, but you can tell because they just can answer everything we need.
And it’s interesting too, because you know I was telling you about our on-boarding experience, how we have a continual one, not just a kick off call and then you’re on your own. The reason we changed that whole way we on-board clients and build a relationship with clients, it’s all because of the way HubSpot on-boarded us. We were blown away by how many touch points and how continual that relationship is between when we started to pay to use our platform, and even to this day, whatever it is, six, nine months later, we’re still like so tightly connected to them and our account manager and she know so much about what we’re doing.
And that whole experience, we said we got to do the same thing in the way we handle our clients and essentially, we stole their on-boarding program. We have our own flair to it, obviously and it’s a complete different platform, but the point is there’s… it wasn’t just about them helping us with inbound it was them helping us with actually client experience, which is pretty cool.
Kathleen: Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so, I think that’s great. Second question I wanted to ask you is, how do you stay educated? Outside of HubSpot, what information sources do you look to to kind of stay on the cutting edge?
Paul: It’s always hard to get the time to stay on top of everything you’d like to you know. I’ll be honest I rely heavily on… like if we’re talking about marketing, Michael who runs our marketing department, good friend of mine, like I say, can lift my head up and I see him on the other side of my monitor. We’re very tightly connected and we have to be with regards to how different apartments are fused together or connected together. So I rely heavily on him to kind of keep me updated of what the trends are, what we should be doing, how should we be focusing, the design of our home page, how that is suddenly dated now and we just revamped it six months ago. He’s like, no you don’t understand, things have changed, we’ve got to move. He’s just very attuned to what’s going on with regards to how to market effectively these days. Forget about HubSpot, it’s nothing to do with HubSpot. So he’s living and breathing that and he’s kind of my, you’re the ground on that and he doesn’t just educate me but he educates the organization as a whole on how we should be adopting, what we do and how we communicate and how we even send out sales emails in a way where we don’t look dated, we don’t look like we’re disconnected from the audience. And, yeah, so he’s my right hand man again in that I guess.
Kathleen: We just need to clone him right? For everybody, so we all have our own Michael.
Paul: Pretty much, pretty much, but he’s great.
Kathleen: Thank you so much. I feel like this has been fascinating, again, it’s the first time I’ve interviewed somebody, really, who’s got a client experience focus, and it is so telling because so much of the feedback you’ve provided has been about how the changes the business has made have really come from the feedback that you’ve heard from your customers. And so it does speak volumes for how important is to have a customer experience focus.
Paul: I learn every day, every time I talk to a client, what I think is going to be talked about and what I think I’m going to take out of the conversation is never actually what happens so that makes it kind of stimulating. And you know it’s always a… you’ve got to weight these things to because we have a lot of feedback so it’s all a matter of trying to decipher what the feedback is and what people really want and what the groundswell is versus what a nice to have thing is that just makes one client happy but everyone else will never notice the difference.
So… but regardless it’s a fun challenge to figure out that mystery or that sort of formula of how you take all this feedback and what do we do with it.
Kathleen: I had a mentor once who told me that the answer to the question, especially when you’re doing persona interviews, or customers experience interviews, the answer the question is never the first answer. It’s usually the third, fourth or fifth answer when you keep asking why. Why, why and eventually you get to the real reasons but I think it does take a special skill to be somebody in that kind of role. So it’s fascinating.
Well we’re about out of time so I wanted to thank you so much, I feel like I could go on forever, it’s been a really interesting discussion. If somebody has additional questions and wants to learn more about Atomic Reach or get in touch with you personally, what’s the best way for them to reach out?
Paul: So even on our website you know those little intercom icons in the bottom right hand corner, that’s that’s a nice easy way to reach out. Even I think, on our website in the footer we have an email address, there’s tools right in our website you can use, in our platform obviously it’s the same thing that can directly reach out to me and I get those emails right away. I get those notifications right away when people ask a question. So, more than happy to help, but yeah, just the website or within the platform you could directly communicate to us and we’ll get back and help.
Kathleen: Awesome, and it’s atomicrreach.com and I will put that link in the show notes. Well, that’s it for this week, thank you Paul for joining me and, thank you to my listeners for joining us. If you know somebody else who’s doing really kick-ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @WorkMommyWork and let me know. I’d love to interview them. That’s it for this week.
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