Dec 30, 2019
What's the best - and quickest - way for a B2B business to gain marketing traction and turn contacts into customers?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, boomtime CEO Bill Bice talks about his approach to word of mouth marketing. A serial entrepreneur, board advisor and one-time venture capitalist, Bill has seen what works across a wide range of companies, and now his company boomtime is helping B2B businesses grow by leveraging content and LinkedIn to generate buzz.
Check out this episode to get the details of Bill's process and learn how you can use it to improve your own inbound marketing results.
Highlights from my conversation with Bill include:
Resources from this episode:
Listen to the podcast to learn how word of mouth marketing can help you increase the ROI of your marketing strategy.
Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.
I'm your host Kathleen Booth and this week my guest is Bill
Bice, who is the CEO of Boomtime. Welcome to the podcast,
Bill Bice (Guest): Kathleen it's great to be with you. Thanks.
Bill and Kathleen recording this episode.
Kathleen: Yeah, thanks for joining me. I love your story because you scratched your own itch and solved a problem that you were having and I always find that those are some of the most interesting conversations. So I'm really excited to dig into it. Can we start by having you tell my audience a little bit about your story, who you are, what you're doing now with Boomtime, and what led you down that path?
Bill: So I feel like I was born an entrepreneur. I started my first company when I was 18, a software company, and of course I had no idea what I was doing, but over enough time, got a great team, and built a great company, and out of that we had enough success in selling that company that I got to be part of an early stage VC fund.
And so I have founded and invested and been on the board of a whole host of companies. I actually sat down and counted them up so I could say it's 27 companies, and there is a not shocking correlation in those companies, which are the ones where we've had the most success are where we really focused on going to market and nailed that.
And so you do all this really hard work to create an amazing product or service, and yet how good you are at marketing is going to determine what kind of reward you get for doing that. And I just got really frustrated in trying to get great marketing for my own companies, and so I decided to tackle that problem.
Kathleen: I love it. And I think probably most of the people who listen to this podcast would agree that great marketing is important for growing your company. So that's awesome. So can you talk a little bit about specifically what Boomtime does?
Bill: Yeah, so we've really focused in on B2B, we have a history in doing some work in B2C, but most of my experience has been in B2B. And the thing that I really like about B2B is that we've been able to take sort of the core framework or playbook and apply it to really any sort of highly complex, valuable transaction.
So it doesn't really work for things that are volume-based. But if you're selling something high value, then the approach, I mean, I'm really a programmer at heart, so to me it was all about the data. And one of the things that I have found really challenging about marketing is unlike every other discipline in our businesses, here we have one that just refuses to accept scale and efficiency.
It's just a core problem with marketing. And we do it everywhere else in our business, and it really has to happen in marketing also. And so I just tackled that from the standpoint of following the data in a very iterative process and learning what works.
We don't really have to, although experimentation is key, we don't have to you, you've got bigger competitors who have spent millions of dollars figuring out how to do exactly what you need to do. You've just got to figure out what's the smaller version of that for my business that's going to work for me.
And so that's what we've been doing in the B2B world. It's very much a B2B content marketing inbound approach that is what's really compatible with most of the sort of small, that two to $20 million a year business that really does a great job of taking care of their customers, but would like to grow. Or maybe has been growing in that sort of plateaued and didn't really quite understand what was making that work before, and what was making it work was word of mouth.
And so we now live in this great era where we can actually really amplify the effect of word of mouth because we're all connected digitally. And so that's the thing that we have focused on.
Kathleen: So let's take it to another level of detail. I love that you said that the challenge that you're trying to solve is making companies go-to-market strategies repeatable, scalable, more efficient and really focusing that around the power of word of mouth. What does that look like in practice?
If somebody is using boomtime for example, and this isn't necessarily a commercial for the product, but obviously you were trying to solve a problem that you saw through the product. So I'm curious to know, in detail, what does that really look like?
Bill: Well, so the three things we want to accomplish is we want to build our audience, we want to follow up on all of, we would be much better at capturing and following up on all of the prospects that we're generating. And then we want to stay top of mind with that audience.
And if you do those things really well and you do it with this focus on, let's take the thing that's already working, word of mouth, and let's just leverage digital tools to accomplish the same thing. So we think of it as social currency, like we're going to create a lot more referrals.
So let's assume that referrals are really valuable to your business. And the vast majority of business owners I sit down with and I say, well, one of my favorite questions is, where'd your last couple of new clients come from?
And the answer, 99% of the time is, "Oh, it was a referral from so-and-so." Because that's what really works. And if you focus on giving your audience social currency, giving them a reason to talk about you, there's a really wonderful thing happens, which is you get more referrals. And the way you do that is just flip your content, flip your marketing on its head.
So most marketing for most companies, 100% of what they do should be 10%, because it's all about them. It's the number one mistake in marketing is talking about yourself. Nobody cares. I mean, honestly, your clients just don't care about the new person you hired, the new client that you won. That should be 10% of your marketing.
If you put 90% of your effort into sharing your expertise, then suddenly your marketing becomes this really valuable way to communicate with your audience and you give them reasons to talk about you.
Kathleen: So can you give me an example of a campaign, for example, that either you've done or that one of your customers has done using the system that you have in place, just so that we can maybe have a mental model through which to understand how it all works?
Bill: Yeah, I'm going to use ourselves as the example, because we had the classic problem that a lot of, we don't really consider ourselves a traditional agency, but you see agencies do this all the time, which is you're really good at marketing and yet you don't apply it to yourself.
Kathleen: Our first child.
Bill: Yes. The thing that's really helped us grow is when we, we actually changed our internal processes to be able to treat ourselves as a client and give one of our marketing strategists credit for us as if we were paying ourselves as a client. Because only by doing that did we actually put the priority in our own marketing. We're literally having the same problem that every business has, which is marketing's always the fourth or fifth thing that you think about, and everybody gets stuck in this same cycle of you focus on marketing when things are kind of slow and then they pick back up.
And yet the second biggest mistake in marketing is inconsistency. And it's just clear in the data that being consistent in your marketing is the number one thing you can do to make it pay off. Whatever you're going to do, do it consistently. Pick a longterm strategy you can really commit to and be serious about it.
And so when we started doing the same thing for ourselves, which is literally just laying out everything we've learned and following the data, I mean, it's amazing what happens when you bring several hundred like clients together, put them on one platform, be able to aggregate that data and see what's happening. It's so difficult, even if you can have the best marketing director in the world, you only have the data in your one company to work with. Being able to multiply that across several hundred companies, it's incredible what you learn. So we've just taken that and started sharing what we've learned.
I'm very passionate about small businesses. It's where innovation comes from, it's what drives our economy. I would love for every small business owner to be doing exactly these things. And our version of this is to share our expertise and what we've learned and layout exactly what you want to do in your marketing.
It's the best way to promote what we do, just to share. I mean you can literally take this and go do it yourself. You will be better off if you do that. And that's my number one goal with every one of our clients is we want their prospects to be better off because sat down and got exposed to that company. Whether they ever choose to use their product or service or not, because that's what's going to create word of mouth.
Kathleen: So you guys used it for yourselves and what did that look like? Talk me through your campaign that you did.
Bill: So it's very content oriented. So in B2B, one of the things that I love about it, it's actually pretty simple. Because if you do three things well your marketing is going to work.
If you build a responsive mobile website that really pays attention to the customer journey, if you do really good email marketing and you build an audience on LinkedIn, and if in particular, if you stitch those together and understand the customer journey across those three channels, you will really understand what's working, what's creating engagement and you will be able to get new prospects and pull them down the funnel.
And so when we started doing that for ourselves and putting out regular content that was just sharing what we know how to do, it created a different perspective in our audience about who we are and what we do. And it started bringing to us prospects that are much better educated, that were ready for much deeper conversations when we got started.
It's one of the core problems in marketing today, which is our prospects have access to so much information, and there's so much that they can learn. You've really got to decide do you want to be an order taker or do you want to be part of that educational process? And the only way you can really create new sales opportunities is to start at the very top of the funnel and be part of that educational process.
So that was the change that happened for us when we really started talking about here's what works, here's what we've learned, and just laying that out and doing that consistency thing. When we started doing that really, just week in and week out, every single week. It takes a while. That's the problem with it.
I don't believe there are any miracles or short term fixes in marketing, but if you commit to it and then the results start to come in over time and it really changes the trajectory of your company.
Kathleen: Now, how does the content that you're creating feed into word of mouth?
Bill: Well, that content is that social currency. It's giving people really concrete things that they can do. So let's take LinkedIn, for example. Like no matter how much effort you're putting into LinkedIn, you should be putting more.
If you just look at the engagement data and the growth over the last two years, it's incredible what's happening on LinkedIn, and they really made the switch to getting people to really put time in depth into LinkedIn. And I look at LinkedIn as the ideal networking event, right? I get to meet exactly who I want. I don't have to eat high calorie food at the same time, and you need to approach it like a networking event, which is you're really there to build your network and be helpful, to that note.
And if you take that approach and you say, "Okay, I've got an audience now that I'm going to build on LinkedIn, I'm going to run an aggressive connection campaign to get connected to every great prospect for me that's in the market." And then you say, "Okay, now I'm going to share the thing that I know, that I'm an expert at because I've got perspective across..."
You might be the CEO or CIO, whoever your decision maker is in your prospective company, you're running your one company. But I work with hundreds or thousands of companies like you, which means I can bring perspective to you that's really valuable to you. And if you're willing to share that, to give away whatever you consider the most valuable thing that you have, give that away as your marketing. That will dramatically change how prospects see you and it will create sales opportunities that didn't exist before.
And so executing it on that on LinkedIn is the primary way that we grow. This is very meta, because that's how we grow and the way we do it is to describe exactly how you should do it.
Kathleen: Got it. So it's an education play through LinkedIn, then?
Bill: If you're in B2B, it's really the best way to grow your company. You'd have to be in a really strange niche for the prospects you want to not be sitting out there on LinkedIn today. Now there are quite a few other software platforms that help B2B and other types of companies with content marketing, with inbound marketing, companies like HubSpot, you've got SharpSpring, there's a ton of them out there. How does the solution that you've built fit within that ecosystem?
Well, sort of the short answer is HubSpot with help. So we're not selling a piece of software. What we're doing is selling the end result, the service. So the big surprise with HubSpot, and HubSpot's a great platform, there are a ton of really good marketing automation systems out there, and if you're going to do this internally, you absolutely should implement one of them.
The problem, the surprise, after you start paying for that subscription is then the two people you have to hire to get any value out of HubSpot. And a lot of companies, what they really want is just the end result of that as opposed to having to go through all of that process. And one of the things I've seen over and over again, so if you're going to do that internally, one of my strongest recommendations is everybody tries to create the content internally and unless you really put tremendous focus and resources behind that, it almost never works.
You really need to go. So the way we've done it is we've built a network of 300 subject matter experts. We don't do any writing internally. There's always somebody out there who already knows your audience really well. Go find that person who you don't have to teach them your market, they've been writing for it, they have been working with the industry pubs or the events in that area, and you can, half hour brainstorming session, you can come up with six months of editorial.
What you need is a great stream of regular content that doesn't require you sit in front of a blank screen and have to come up with it yourself. So you can implement all of this yourself, you just, you need to put in the marketing automation system. You need to find the resources that know how to do that. And then you've got to follow the data to really understand what's creating engagement and keep testing every piece of it so you get better with every turn of the cycle.
Kathleen: So if somebody is using Boomtime, do they also need to have these other platforms or is Boomtime really a replacement for these things?
Bill: So if we're doing that as a service for somebody that you don't really need a marketing automation system. It's great if you have a CRM.
One of our biggest challenges is that nobody really uses their CRM the way that they should. And so our approach is to integrate with the CRM and put the end results in the CRM system.
One of the challenges with that building your audience part is that your sales team always has many more opportunities that they're working on than what ends up in the CRM. CRMs are really designed for sales managers. And if you put somebody in the CRM, you're going to get questioned about it.
So what most sales people do is they only put people who are fairly deep into the funnel into the CRM, which means we're not building our audience and we're not following up with all of the prospects that we have.
So one of the tricks that we do is go mine the email boxes of everybody who's customer facing in your company and feed that into your CRM so we're getting that central database. Because particularly if you're in B2B, your sales people are talking to those early prospects via email. So there is a record of it and we can go capture it and we can make their job easier by filling that information in for them. And it's amazing what happens if you just follow up on all those prospects that are already in your firm. It's great low hanging fruit, you just got to go get it.
Kathleen: So do you typically work with smaller companies? Because it sounds like really this is a solution for companies that don't have a large marketing team, for example, that really need the external help and that don't have a super sophisticated tech stack already in place. It sounds like it's a good way for a company that recognizes that they need to be able to make their marketing more scalable to really get started with that. Is that accurate?
Bill: Yes. So you sort of have two groups. It's the kind of $2 to $5 million year company where we're really doing it for them. And then once you get to the point where you have a marketing director, often we're just working under their direction doing this one piece that I recommend you get automated and process around it no matter how big you are, which is just this regular flow of really great content.
The ideas come from in the company, come from the executive team, but we get the content creation outsourced because it's so expensive to do it internally. And if you do this well, that of course is the hard part. Doing it well is difficult. But if you do, then having this regular flow of great content come in, no matter how big your company is, just feed your whole marketing operation in a really wonderful way.
So unless you're to the point where you can have a full time staff of writers doing that for you, and even then I would argue it's going to be really cost effective to supplement that with outside resources. So we'll often work with a larger company where that's the piece that we do, because we've gotten really good at it, and there's just, there's a ton of value for you getting that piece essentially automated. From the marketing director standpoint, you just have this great flow of content that shows up and gets distributed and you get data behind it. So I recommend making that happen no matter how big you are.
Kathleen: So it's very interesting, because there's a lot of debate around this topic of should you insource or outsource content creation and you are definitely falling on the outsource side.
It's interesting, I am building a team right now at my company and I've chosen to totally insource it. So I've hired a writer. For me-
Bill: You know what you're doing.
Kathleen: Well, let's just say for me it's also that we're in a very technically complex industry and I feel like I need somebody who can, it's a big learning curve and I want somebody who's full time in it, really learning it. Have you found success in addressing that through outsource content?
Bill: Yeah, but you have to avoid the copywriter problem, which is the somebody who was working, really good writer, but was working on a car dealership last week and he's going to figure out your very niche enterprise SaaS solution this week. And so the way to do that, we do a lot of work in professional services, law firms.
So if you're going to work in a law firm where the partner, the practice head for that area of law is very particular about that content. The only way you can do that is to go find a JD who's practiced in that area before. But the law firms never going to create it internally because they could be billing $600 an hour instead of writing the blog article you want them to create, but you can go find somebody who's been in that practice area, didn't enjoy the practice of law, understands the area really well.
Get the ideas from the practice head in that 30 minute brainstorming session, give them five bullet points about the things that they need to cover. They can go do the research, and then all we have to do is get the voice right, which frankly is really difficult.
We've ended up dividing that into two levels. The expertise to get the content and then an editor who's really good at capturing the voice.
Kathleen: Yeah. I will say that when I've seen outsource content creation work, the only way I've seen it work is when you have a writer who's interviewing your subject matter expert. Anytime I see companies say, Oh, here's a topic, go run with it, I just see crappy, crappy results. because honestly whenever you're outsourcing and you're just giving somebody a topic, I feel like with that person is doing is they're Googling that topic. And so by definition you're not going to have anything new to add in your content, because it's coming from aggregations of other sources. Whereas if you interview a subject matter expert, you can get something original. But that does take a very strong writer and a very strong editor to really be able to do that well and in a way that is unique.
Bill: Absolutely. And if you just wanted a content farm, I mean 90% of the efforts should be on creating great content. And so by definition, you're not going to get there if you're cutting the corners there. If we don't have great content, all the tactics that we talk about aren't going to matter one bit. We have to start with really capturing the unique expertise that you have and finding interesting ways to communicate that.
Kathleen: So if somebody is listening and they're thinking, I want to improve my marketing results, I'm a B2B company, what are some really concrete things you think that they could do right now to get started?
Bill: Well, what everybody always wants is more leads, and the easiest solution is to go spend money on ads to generate those leads. And yet one of the reasons it's so difficult for that smaller company to ever get an ROI on that is that without the marketing foundation in place, that's never going to pay off.
So don't take the easy route. You got to focus on those core pieces first and build that funnel and actually be capturing and following up on all your prospects. And then the easiest way to expand your audience is to focus on LinkedIn.
If you take the same approach and you're very helpful and you're sharing expertise, then you can run a LinkedIn connection campaign where you're adding 1,120 new connections a month, every single month, growing this audience of exactly the right prospects that you're now sharing really valuable insight with and that will do a wonderful thing for you. It will create sales opportunities you didn't have before. It'll be the right sales opportunities with people who are much further down the process and are really ready to have a serious conversation with you.
So what we see in the data is with a well optimized profile, we'll get between a 35 and 45%, sometimes in the low 50% acceptance rate on on the connection requests, sending 40 to 50 connection requests a day, and six to 8% of those people will start a conversation either from the connection request or we will often send a followup message with whatever our best performing inside driven piece of content is. None of this can be salesy at all, we all get those kinds of connection requests.
Kathleen: I was going to say, are you doing an InMail? What are you doing there?
Bill: It's not InMail. It's really building the network of people you should be connected to, because you have expertise that's directly relevant to them. And it's sharing that, it's not selling them. I mean, I see that all the time of we get something back from a client who just wants to dive right into the sales pitch. And that would be the same thing as walking into a cocktail party, meeting somebody for the first time, and then starting to give them a sales pitch.
Until they ask for it, that doesn't work. You've got to build the relationship first. But if you take that approach, this is the easiest, most concrete thing you can do in B2B to get more sales opportunities. But ironically, the way you do that is stop selling.
Kathleen: So what kinds of results have your clients gotten from doing this?
Bill: So that those are kind of aggregate numbers across the hundreds of of connection campaigns that we're running in just sort of any kind of high value B2B, a lot of professional services, a lot of high end products. And so the thing that we really look at is how many new opportunities are we creating and so, oh, a really good campaign, so my connection campaign, I'm running at about a 54% acceptance rate on connections, which is great.
One of the things you often have to do is optimize your profile specifically for that audience that you're going to go after. If you're going after multiple niches, do one at a time, because you'll get a much higher connection. And then we're getting our primary source of new clients is off of the connection campaigns that we run for myself and our chief revenue officer.
So this works much better for the executive team in your company, particularly for smaller companies. It's really not about your company profile at all. That's just not where we're going to get the activity. And even in a larger company, the more you can get the executive team and people higher up in the company to participate, the better the results that you're going to get.
People want to connect with other people on LinkedIn and it just, it works so much better. And so that six to eight percent of new conversations, when you think about that coming from a thousand new connections a month, this is really the new form and you can run this yourself. You can take an hour a day and do a golden hour of prospecting around LinkedIn connections and you will get much more value out of that than making cold calls for that same time period.
But if you're a salesperson who's responsible for doing that for your company, you will get better results if you can get the VP of sales or CEO to do that and let you run it for them.
Kathleen: So you have about a 54% connection acceptance rate. And you mentioned that those turned into clients. What is your conversion rate from the people who accept your connection to your leads and then to your customers and how are you measuring that? How are you, how are you tracking?
Bill: So there's a plus and minus to LinkedIn, which is the data's really easy to follow, but for personal profiles, the only way you can get it is logging in and looking at it, and it disappears after three months, which is kind of annoying, but it's really easy to see what's working to create engagement.
And the LinkedIn algorithm is really simple. Likes and comments are essentially equal value and then you can just chart it and see how many likes and comments you get versus the percentage of your network that gets exposed to that feed. It's just a direct relationship.
So I call it going everyday viral. Like our goal isn't to come up with the one piece of content that just explodes. It's to have regular content that does well over and over again in this really specific audience is exactly the people that you want to talk to. And that gives you two bites at the apple.
When you make the initial connection request and sometimes you just happen to be reaching out to somebody right when they need your expertise and so you get lucky. But now, because they belong to your network, if you follow that up with a regular flow of insightful content, then you get to talk to them forever so you get a second forever bite at the apple, and both of those are really effective.
You get sales opportunities that come right out of the gate and then it just comes with that regular followup. As long as you're good at getting exposure to this audience that you've created. And so many people do work on LinkedIn where they only focus on the first part, building the network, and they don't really focus on the regular updates to that network that really leveraged having created it. And if you do both, you'll get a much better pay off from that effort.
Kathleen: How quickly should somebody expect to see results from something like this?
Bill: You're going to get early positive indications. So you'll get some wins that show you you're in the right direction. We typically see it within the first 30 to 60 days. But the real payoff comes when you've been doing this for six months, 12 months, 18 months.
We really put a focus internally ourselves on LinkedIn starting two years ago and we're seeing a much more significant pay off today than we did in the first six months. Because you really get a reputation for providing valuable information.
then one of the great things you can do, somewhere about 5,000 connections, you should switch your LinkedIn button from being connect to follow, because you'll get enough organic traffic now that people will just start following you because of the content that you're sharing. And they won't even show up as asking for connection requests. They're just following you, you're not following them. And that's really when you sort of hit the point of getting a real payback on what you're doing.
Kathleen: And you do that in your LinkedIn settings?
Bill: I do. Yeah. And you need a big enough following where it makes sense that people would come and start just following you because because of what you're doing and you need to be doing those content updates very regularly. But I get about, right now, about 40% of the additions to my network come from people just following me as opposed to the connection requests that we're sending out.
Kathleen: Got it. Very cool. Well that's an interesting tip I haven't heard somebody mention before, so there's a new one for you. Switch your button from connect to follow.
Kathleen: Before we get too close to out of time, quick questions for you that I always ask all my guests. The first one is, we've talked a lot about inbound marketing here and content marketing. I'm curious, who do you think, company or individual, is there somebody that you think is doing particularly well right now?
Bill: What I want to do is, is turn that into a suggestion for, because there's somebody in your market that is doing that really well. And what I always find very valuable, anytime I'm starting to work with in a new area, is I want to go find whoever is the, I'm not looking for the biggest player, I'm looking for sort of the mid size company that is big enough to have weight behind what they're doing, they're really good at it and they're showing innovation. So I want to flip that around just a little bit and say there's somebody doing, I mean, I've always been able to find one in every single market we've gone into.
So even in legal, this enormously conservative market, there's always, we start working with an intellectual property law firm. We found a firm that is doing an excellent job of content marketing in that area and I find it so much faster to learn from somebody who's already doing a really good job of that then to figure it all out ourselves. And somebody is doing that in your market, so spend the time to go do that. And every single market we work in, we have found somebody who's really great at it, who's already doing it, that we've learned a ton from.
Kathleen: Anyone in particular who stands out, anyone who somebody wants to go online and see someone who's really best in class that they should look at?
Bill: So the IP example, Fish and Richardson does a really good example of, that's one of these really niche-y examples. That's a deep technical area that's tough to do well. And so seeing somebody do it well, it's really the best answer to the question you asked before, which is how do you pull that off?
Kathleen: Okay, great. And digital marketing obviously changes so quickly. How do you personally stay up to date on everything that's going on in that world?
Bill: So I've become a huge fan of podcasts, now. I'm finally following in your footsteps and doing a podcast. So I've learned from your podcasts, there's about 20 different marketing related podcasts that I listened to.
I really like, particularly in the sort of email marketing and LinkedIn side, I like Growth Hackers, because there's always somebody who's already run a test that's doing the thing that you're thinking about doing. So I'm just a big, so unlike when I was 18 and I thought I knew it all and it took me a really long time to figure anything out, I think it makes so much more sense to take advantage of this unique attribute we have of being able to find somebody who already is doing what we're doing, put ourselves in their place and learn from them. Like our ability to get where we want to go so much faster, because of that is amazing. So let's learn from everybody who's already done it before and Growth Hackers is just full of people who are doing exactly that. And I love, a lot of it's very data-driven, which obviously I'm big on, and just great way to learn.
Kathleen: Bill, if somebody wants to reach out and learn from you or has a question and wants to get in touch, what's the best way for them to do that?
Bill: So I'm a CEO of boomtime.com. I love talking about marketing. Happy to have you reach out if you want to. If you want to see the thing that I'm talking about, I'm easy to find on LinkedIn. Go look up my profile. You'll see exactly what we are talking about and of course we're at boomtime.com.
Kathleen: Great. All right, well if you are listening and you learn something new or liked what you heard, please stop what you're doing, take a minute, and go to Apple podcasts and leave a five star review for the podcast. It makes a huge difference. That's how people find us and I would greatly appreciate it.
And if you know somebody else who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next interview. Thank you so much, Bill.
Bill: It's been a lot of fun. Thanks.