In this episode of ‘How I Work’, Josh talks with Ken Marshall, Chief Growth Officer and Managing Partner at RevenueZen. Ken’s shares his perspectives on why SEO and Content Strategy are so important – especially for SaaS companies. He identifies some of the finer points of SEO that he believes Saas marketers need to pay attention to. Ken also talks about common pain points he’s seen SaaS companies run into and makes recommendations for overcoming them. Lastly, you’ll hear about the tools and data sources that Ken believes all SaaS marketers should have in their toolbox. Tune in to hear Ken and Josh geek out on all things SEO and Content Strategy:
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Josh Becerra: Hey, everybody. This is Josh Becerra from Augurian. This is episode 11 of How I Work. I’m here with Ken Marshall, chief growth officer, and managing partner at RevenueZen, a company that provides content marketing lead generation services. Thanks for being here, Ken.
Ken Marshall: Yes, man. My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Josh: I wanted to kick this off by going back a little bit in time, ask you about how you even got into digital marketing in the first place, and then the path you took that’s now led to RevenueZen.
Ken: Yes, absolutely, which we were talking about it on our first conversation before this, but I actually went to university to be a salesperson. I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I get through school, I’m in a sales competition from Herman Miller and I go toward the office. Great company, but I got the sense like that wouldn’t really be for me. I went and spoke with a career counselor, I guess. They were like, “Hey, you’ve seen your kid, you should see this whole digital marketing program thing.” She had no clue what it was.
It took me one information architecture class, and it blows your mind that somebody can manipulate the search engine, that it’s not wizards and magic behind the scenes. I was pretty hooked from there. I worked at a few agencies. I got my hands dirty, got my feet wet, but I realized, at some point, I could do a better job. At least I knew I cared a lot to not say anything about the agencies, but I just knew that I had a certain level of QA that I think is missing and transparency from the SEO industry in particular. Then four years ago, that’s when I started Doorbell. As you mentioned recently, about a month ago actually, signed on with RevenueZen as the chief growth officer to take us up into the right.
Josh: Well, it’s an awesome story that you just got moved from one thing to another at one point when you were young and you’re just like, “Oh, this is for me. This is where I need to be.” I think that’s awesome. You mentioned SEO and I know you’re heavily steeped in SEO and content strategy, especially from a data and paid structure perspective. This How I Work blog is all about its all for SaaS marketers. What are some of the finer points of SEO and content strategy that you think SaaS marketers, in particular, need to pay attention to?
Ken: I think there’s a few repeatable sort of north stars that I consider that I think can be repeatable across B2B SaaS products, B2C, P2P, whatever the case. I think the most important thing is to understand whoever your ICP is, whoever your target customer is. They’ve got this set of problems that makes their life awful every day. You’ve got your XYZ widget that you invented or reinvented, but that XYZ widget, that’s not actually their solution. They’re their desired solution.
Their desired solution is to reduce the QA engineers a lot of costs because of the lack of efficiency, right? You’re actually selling them that use case. I think helping the companies like Reverse Engineer, those use cases, those buckets of solution, use case, feature sets, that’s where the real magic is of SEO and a good content strategy. Then mapping that to each stage of that user’s buying journey once they landed on your site, that seems to just be lost when we speak to prospects in the beginning. They’re like, “Okay, so we just write some blog posts, right?”
Josh: What are our keywords?
Ken: Yes. Again, the tactics are there. Anybody can go do query research or something or competitive analysis, but mapping that to how users are actually going to go through discovery, learn about a solution, decide that you’re the right solution, and then convert to a demo or contact, that’s the magic.
Josh: Yes, for sure. Each stage of that customer journey has just a whole different set of topics that you really have to speak to. Understanding what those are and then trying to figure out how to be the best answer to those topics, I feel like is where the special sauce is, for sure.
Ken: Yes. That’s a good way to put it. It’s like that top 10, 5% of diving in and saying, “Is a white paper the right way to answer that person’s question even though the industry is doing it? Is evergreen content of the top 20 trends in MarTech really the way to go, or is G2 going to eat up that surf?” [chuckles] We actually could go in another direction because just because it has volume doesn’t mean anything. I think that’s where the good companies and strategies win, is in that top 5% to 10%, and I guess that’s the secret sauce, it’s actual strategy.
Josh: Yes, exactly. You can’t just always be chasing the high-volume stuff because many times, it’s just really hard to unseat the biggest players who can really just land in those top positions. Strategy matters, for sure.
Ken: That’s actually a good point about those big players. Some people call it Barnacle SEO. I just call it good old-fashioned– the business listings are business listings. It’s like knowing that they’re going to take over those, it’s going on there, helping companies understand like, “Let’s set up a review strategy for your existing customers.” They’re like, “Isn’t that for local companies?” I’m like, “No, it’s not. It’s just as important.”
People are going to use those as their own process of vetting a vendor. I think we’re going to probably getting into this a little bit later around tools, but some people have never heard of search console. When you’re dealing with B2B SaaS, these amazing humans who are inventing categories, knowing that this term gets 20 clicks but doesn’t show up on a keyword tool could be the difference in a $100,000 contract. The nitty-gritty matters.
Josh: Yes, for sure, especially when it’s B2B niche stuff. I know that RevenueZen has a lot of SaaS customers and so, you’ve got a great line of sight on what’s working and what isn’t for those companies. Let’s talk a little bit about common pain points that you might be seeing or strategies that you’re recommending to overcome those pain points.
Ken: Yes, totally. I guess I’ll start with the two biggest things that come to mind. First is that these companies, typically, they’ve gone through their seed round or series A. They’re smart. They have a great product-market fit. They have a good market but it doesn’t have anything to– it usually doesn’t have anything to do with inbound. They maybe got a team of SDRs. They’ve hired a company to do some outreach or email list, like list management and outreach, and it’s actually great.
I think that’s actually a great strategy when you’re doing paid ads, you’re doing LinkedIn or Google Ads from it. What we have to get them to understand is even if you’re doing outbound, what’s the first thing somebody’s going to do when you pitch them? It’s what all of us do. We go, we pull up your side, and we subconsciously vet you. We have to get them to understand that a website isn’t a brochure or an afterthought, it’s a sales tool, at least it should be. That conversation is always fun of just saying, “Hey, you should treat this as an extension of your product. When somebody’s a prospective customer, that they’ll land on that and be more well-informed.”
I would say the second biggest thing is they’re super focused on thought leadership and positioning self in the market, which amazing, they should be, but it’s like 80-20. Thought leadership content is going to be that extra 20% that helps somebody convert, but it’s not going to bring people, it’s not going to fill top of funnel or demand gen as much as that top foundational pillar content is. Getting to understand the right mix is very hard and very protective, as they should be of what they’ve built, but we have to get them to understand. We need to do both, research across that strategy work. Those are the two that come to mind.
Josh: That’s cool. I think the stage of where the company is as well. If it’s big enterprise SaaS and it’s a long sales cycle and all these things, and it’s a company that’s been around for a while, there’s certain ways to– they’ll have a certain set of pain points, but then there’s the brand new upstart SaaS company that’s trying to create a category and it’s all about trying to actually develop the language that you want people in a future state to start using and recognizing that that’s your solution, that’s what you can do. I do think that the two things that you mentioned are highly applicable for both of those kind of stages and cases.
Ken: That’s actually a very excellent sort of frame to work within because it is interesting. I’m sure you’ve had this where sometimes, your research is informing their product messaging or the feature sets, and then you get to that weird zone where you’re part business partner. Of course, you are, as far as a marketing company goes, is helping them out but it’s like we’re forming this language that we need to use, like you said, into the future of who your ideal customers might be together.
I guess I should have mentioned that our target, our ICP, is B2B SaaS companies 2 million to 50 million in revenue. Typically, they’re in the seed or Series A round. That is who we go day-to-day in. Like you said, for those enterprise-level companies, they may have just been doing so well off the back of having such good product market fit and PR that they leave out some of those elements around messaging or user experience on the site. That’s really fun because they’ve got the infrastructure, and the money, and the desire to grow, and they’re just like, “Here you go, make it happen.” That’s a lot of fun.
Josh: We saw it bubbling up now with COVID, because a lot of these larger well-established B2B SaaS enterprise players, they were showing up at conferences with a big booth and bunch of people who are shaking hands with others and handing out cards, and they’re doing deals that way. Now, it’s like, oh my gosh, that has run dry. It really exposed the whole other side. If what you’ve done has always worked, then why change it? Now with COVID, there’s been a realization, I think, for some of those legacy, bigger SaaS B2B players that had a model that just totally was crushing it, and now they have to rethink that entire thing, right?
Ken: Yes, absolutely. I think that it’s a good thing. I think it’s a net positive. COVID, obviously, is devastating. It’s terrible. It’s difficult for all of us, but I think somebody dropping like 50,000 on a trade show. I’m not going to name any names, but that’s a real figure of like 50,000 on a trade show. Well, how many qualified prospects? “How much did that fill your pipeline?” “I don’t really know.” “Would you say 5, 10, 100 prospects?” “Well, probably less than 10.” “Do you know what you could do for 50,000 from a context strategy standpoint? Well, probably project it.”
You could project with a high degree of confidence what the demand that you can generate possibly lead gen if you have the back of a napkin on that. I think that it’s been eye opening for some of our prospects, like you said, who came in. The typical model trade show to webinar to live event to getting on their email list, it’s a bit broken. I think having more of an inbound focus has just given a lot of people confidence, but also obviously helped us out in just being able to educate people. I think that’s cool. It’s like the light bulb going off in somebody’s head of, “Oh, wow, so I don’t have to drop 50,000 on this trade show. They’ll come to me, and they’re qualifying themselves. Got it”
Josh: It’s predictable, and scalable, and repeatable. It’s a beautiful thing. You and I both know it. [chuckles] Let’s shift gears into MarTech. I know that our industry is just full of tools. What are some of your go-to tools or data sources that you would say to those SaaS marketers who are listening like, “You got to have these in your toolbox”?
Ken: I’m going to be boring and start out with the basics, because I don’t see them enough, but then we can get into it. If you’re not tracking demos and user actions and phone call as conversions on your site, do it like yesterday. Google Analytics, Oribi, Adobe Analytics. Use HubSpot as a platform for your CMS. It’ll do it for you. I’m astounded by some of the projects we come into, and I’ll start doing some discovery, I’m like, “Hey, what’s your conversion rate on the site? What’s your average lead value? How many are you getting per month inbound versus outbound activity?” just to orient myself.
I’m getting blank stares from brilliant people, brilliant engineers, [chuckles] people that will put me to shame, but it’s that simple baseline of understanding that you can build into an actual strategy. Analytics getting conversions down, user actions on the site. I would say just from a basic standpoint of search console, Google search console, go look it up. Most of you have probably heard of it, but if you’re a scrappy startup on your own and you don’t have a marketing firm, that’s the way to understand how people come to your site, what the terminology they’re using to find you, and ultimately, do business with you so you can map that to your strategy.
Getting into second tier tools. All the SEO basics we have, so like Ahrefs, SEMrush for competitive analysis, keyword research, all that good stuff. Again, the more information we can get to make decisions about the site, about the content, the better. I would say a level past that is I like tools that automate certain functions that people do regularly. We use Google Data Studio as our data management and being able to visualize information and make sense of it.
There’s other ways, like I said, to do that, but that one is free. A lot of companies, that’s very accessible. What Data Studio allowed you to do is pulling all these different data sources, put them together in a way that makes sense, and begin to notice trends particularly year over year. That allows you to make more inform decisions. That’s something that we use day in and day out. I would say any quick tool in your toolbar. We use SEOquake for a quick competitive gap analysis right there in your search results. Anything that you can have handy.
Then content tools like Content Harmony is great for building out not just understanding shooting from the hip of what are competitors doing, what should I build out, what kind of content, but it will say the lexical similarity or semantic similarity of this is frequent in these top 10 competitors. Then with a high degree of confidence, you can determine how to build out those content assets instead of just guessing like, “We should write a 50,000 worth of blog posts.” “Well, why?” [chuckles] All of your competitors are doing 823 and they suck. Just learn and see the gaps.
Clearscope does the same thing. SEOsurfer is something we use to determine optimization. Basically, all these tools are just saying once you have a theory, what is that based in? Can you point to a data set that inform that theory? Then once you produce the landing page, the website, whatever, the titles, I don’t know, any of those basic SEO elements, what are you doing to confirm that that’s correct? Then post, how are you tracking those results over time? Those are my favorite top of mind tools to do that but as far as CMSs go, I love HubSpot, I love Webflow. WordPress, some people give a lot of flak, but honestly, I like controlling and that’s the highest degree of control you could get.
Josh: Yes, I think it’s awesome. I think that there are so many tools. You even mentioned, I think, one or two that I’m going to go look up now myself. I do like some of the writing assistant tools that exist there today. We use something called Grammarly and Hemingway Editor. It just helps you ensure that the page that you’re actually going to publish has that level of readability that it needs.
MarTech, we could have a huge conversation about MarTech. You’ve mentioned Webflow. Now, there’s this no-code solutions that are showing up on the scene. Anyway, it’s super fun. This has been super fun. You are a plethora of information and a guru of SEO. I really appreciate you taking the time to hang with us here on this episode of our work. Thanks so much Ken. This has been great.
Ken: Yes, man. It’s been fun and yes, always happy to nerd out about this stuff.
Josh: That sounds good. We’ll see you next time.