One of the things we have the pleasure of doing day in and day out here at Ceros is talking to marketers about what kinds of technologies they’re using to run their departments and achieve their objectives. As a startup, there’s a kind of existential quality to getting marketing right—if you fail, the company fails. So it should come as no surprise that we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into getting this right. I thought I would share we’ve set up our tech stack.
Before I begin, it’s important to set the context for what we do here at Ceros. We’re an interactive content creation platform that companies buy to improve their content marketing and lead generation programs. That being the case, our marketing and sales teams have two major goals:
- Make sure people know a company like ours exists.
- Find lots of interested potential buyers to get engaged with.
Marketing Automation: HubSpot
The foundational technology for any good marketing program is a proper Marketing Automation Platform (MAP). Most of you have one, or at the very least some kind of email tool. In my past life, I had gotten pretty comfortable with Eloqua, but when I arrived here last year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ceros had recently implemented HubSpot.
For a small and nimble team, HubSpot offers a lot of advantages over the usual MAP players. What you lose is some of the programmable customization you might see in the bigger Enterprise players. What you gain is a TON of off-the-shelf functionality that’s easy to execute and doesn’t require an “expert” on your team to do it.
The components that have had the most value for us have been:
- Integrated A/B testing on emails, which makes it extremely easy to test different approaches to email campaigns and optimize on an ongoing basis.
- Dynamic CTAs that allow us to offer up different messages based on lifecycle stage.
- Lead scoring that allows us to create rules about demographic, firmographic, and behavioral characteristics to help decide when a lead should be considered “qualified”, and help our inside Sales team prioritize their efforts based on qualifications.
- Real-time dashboards to track leads created, MQLs, and SQLs in real time so we can set weekly targets for the teams and display them in the office.
It’s not so much that these three things don’t exist in other platforms. But for us, we’ve found that HubSpot’s ease of use and implementation has made it much easier to get these things up and running. And more importantly, it’s easier to tweak things on an ongoing basis so that we’re continually improving.
Now, I’m about to say something controversial. In the last 6 months, we moved off of Salesforce and adopted HubSpot on the CRM front. This is controversial for two reasons:
- It makes this article look like a HubSpot fluff piece. I assure you, it’s not—it’s just one guy’s opinion of what’s working.
- EVERYONE uses Salesforce, but no one is willing to admit what a complete pile of junk it is.
I’ll admit that Salesforce has lots of friendly features for execs; an epic universe of plug-ins; a great partner ecosystem; an amazing reporting engine; and as much customization as any person could ever possibly want. But have you ever watched one of your people use it? Have you ever been told by a sales rep that they “don’t have time” to do something with their contacts/accounts/opportunities in SFDC? Do you know why? Because it’s PAINFUL.
Salesforce is painful for marketers, too. Why are there two objects for people: Leads and Contacts? And how many awful conversations have you had about how to work both objects? It’s one person—why can’t that be managed as one record throughout their lifecycle as a lead and customer? It’s ridiculous.
HubSpot’s CRM, while still in a nascent stage, offers much less customization and partner ecosystem options than SFDC. What it does offer is an extremely streamlined user experience that puts SFDC to shame. Not only does it make our sales and inside sales reps’ lives easier, it’s also removed any tension between sales and marketing about updating and maintaining records. Why? Because it’s REALLY easy to update a Contact record.
That’s not all, though. Through HubSpot’s Sidekick add-on (I’ll come back to that later) and built in telephony, all sales outreach to prospects is tracked in one system of record. No one has to ask a salesperson if they’ve followed up with a lead—you can check directly in the CRM. You can also create automated workflows to update things like lead status and lead queue based on automatically logged activity. So whereas in the old days, we used to have to hassle reps to log calls and manually change lead statuses, it now happens automatically. It’s true that, with a bunch of customization and add-ons, we could have built the same thing in Salesforce—but we set up the above in hours instead of months, without needing a whole ops department to implement custom workflows and fields. Time is the enemy of all startups, so this is huge for us.
Guess what else? With HubSpot’s CRM, you’re dealing with one contact record. There are no sync issues, no messing around with the APIs, no deciding which system is the master and which system can overwrite data in the other system. It’s one database, one set of records that are completely consistent. This has empowered us to stop wasting time on integration challenges and focus on getting the process right.
Lead Generation and Nurture: Interactive Content
Marketing automation and CRM tools are only as good as the content you use to move people down the funnel from lead to opportunity. Since the beginning of time (at least since I started my career), B2B marketing has consisted of a pretty common workflow:
- Create content.
- Gate it behind a lead capture form.
- Drive traffic to that form.
- Market to everyone who fills out that form.
The big issue with this workflow is that, 9 times out 10, that content sitting behind your lead gen form is a PDF. And in case you weren’t aware: PDFs are an AWFUL marketing format. They’re awful for the following reasons:
- They look terrible on both desktop and mobile.
- They are completely untrackable. You don’t know who even opened your file, let alone how far they got into the piece before putting it in their trash can.
- They’re static, long, and boring. In a world where people are ingesting content in bite-size chunks, the B2B community continues to try and force 20 page ebooks down their uninterested prospects throats.
Why Interactive Content Works for Lead Nurture
We have a strict no PDF rule here at Ceros. All of our premium lead gen and lead nurture content is some form of interactive content. Whether it’s a microsite, an interactive ebook, or an interactive infographic (to name just a few), we aim to create content that stands out, provides value to our prospects, and tells stories in engaging new ways. But that’s not the most important reason we use interactive content. The most important reason is that interactive content massively expands the tools you can use—and the information you collect—as you guide a prospect down the funnel to get them sales ready.
Content quality is vital to a prospect’s first engagement, to their likelihood of future engagement, and to their perception of your brand. Creating interactive content makes it cooler, yes. But measuring and benchmarking what you create so that you can compare future pieces and optimize on an ongoing basis is even more important than creating something cool.
Using interactive content throughout the buyer journey also gives us a bigger set of tools to experiment with as we try to find more leads and qualify them faster. We’ve seen that, when your content is inherently built for interaction, it tends to accelerate the lead to MQL cycle because people engage with more content more quickly.
Lead Capture and Retargeting Tactics We’ve Been Testing
If every lead needs 5-10 touches to get to qualified, there are ample opportunities to capitalize on the first engagement and drive multiple touches in a short timeframe. Here are a few innovative things we’re trying out by using interactive digital content for lead gen and lead nurture:
- Placing multiple CTAs within an interactive experience. We can do this with buttons or using time-triggered pop-ups with a tool like SumoMe or OptinMonster.
- Using retargeting to serve tailored messages to those who’ve consumed content from us versus those who’ve just visited our website without becoming a lead. We know content consumers are further down the funnel, so we adapt our messaging accordingly.
- Dropping our HubSpot tracking tag in all our interactive pieces allows us to:
- Score people who interact with premium content differently than those who just visit our website. This, in turn, makes our overall lead scoring more accurate since we’re appropriately giving more points to content as people progress through the funnel.
- React in real time to prospects who are visiting or revisiting content, making the timing of our sales team’s outreach much more relevant.
- Placing forms inside the content, rather than in front of it. Typically, marketers spend money to drive people to their content and then put up a landing page to capture information. Then 90-98% of traffic bounces from the page. They never read your content or engage with your brand. But what if you could capture information inside your content? You’d still allow those people who aren’t ready to convert to engage with your brand and see what you have to offer. priming them for future touches, while also achieving the goal of capturing information from those who are ready to give it to you.
The combination of quality content with the right toolset to capitalize on it has had a massive impact on our ability to turn names into engaged leads.
Contact Activity Tracking: Sidekick
The final piece of the tech stack puzzle is the HubSpot add-on Sidekick. This is a browser-based plugin that gives users insight into what HubSpot contacts are doing, such as opening emails, visiting your website, or interacting with your digital content. This has immense value throughout the lifecycle of our prospects. Our Sales team can see when prospects are clicking through on personal emails and marketing newsletters, when they’re visiting the website, or when they’re interacting with content. This results in much more relevant follow-ups and more meaningful conversations.
Sidekick also has a huge impact on timing. A salesperson can see when a prospect who hasn’t been responding suddenly looks at a piece of content. The salesperson can then follow up at an appropriate time when the prospect is more willing to engage with someone from the brand. It also can make the lead to MQL cycle time extremely tight. Someone who fills out a form and interacts with a series of content pieces will quickly reach the MQL lead score threshold. Then they’ll receive a well-timed outreach from someone on our team. In some cases, we’ve seen the contact to MQL to SQL process take just a few hours instead of days or weeks.
Summarizing the Ceros Marketing Tech Stack
To summarize what’s working for us on the marketing tech stack front:
- An integrated CRM and MAP system built on one shared database..
- An easy-to-implement and easy-to-update CRM/MAP setup.
- Using interactive content to generate leads, capture interactions, and optimize our content creation process.
- Arming the Sales team with tools that help them capitalize on real-time user interactions.
For us, this tech stack has had massive impacts to our productivity and ongoing improvements to our marketing and sales processes.
Before you go, I’d love to hear your thoughts about our tech stack and what’s worked for you and your team. Leave me a comment below!