24 Nov 2015

Alex Berman Interview: Growing InspireBeats From Lead Generation SaaS to Agency

Alex Berman Interview: Growing InspireBeats From Lead Generation SaaS to Agency

Today in this post, I interview Alex Berman, Chief Marketing Sumo at InspireBeats, which was a lead generation SaaS turned into a (lead generation) agency.

After my previous post on cold email outreach, Alex tweeted it, we talked a bit and we decided it would be nice to have him share with WeeklyGrowth’s readers a few pro tips he learned from his journey.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the interview!

1) Hey Alex, it’s nice having you on WeeklyGrowth! You are Chief Marketing Sumo at InspireBeats, a lead generation agency which is ideal for giving leads to SaaS startups and agencies.

I first heard about you when I saw you interviewing Neville Medhora from Kopywriting (his teachings have helped me tremendously) and later from Jaana at FirstOfficer.

How did you end up talking with Neville and interviewing him?

Interesting question. I found Neville back when AppSumo was just starting up and bought his original copywriting course, back when it was around $99. If you get to the end of that course there’s a paypal button at the end where you could hire Neville to go over your web copy for something like $50.

I wasn’t too into copy at the time, but was really into starting a business, so I bought the hour and he helped me get my first couple freelance clients – just from one call (Neville is super good hah).

About a year later I sent him an email asking if we could sit down for an interview, and we did. It’s surprisingly simple how receptive people are to being interviewed 🙂

2) Nice. Neville is indeed a pretty cool guy. I have taken his copywriting and autoresponder course, both with great results.

I heard you started working at InspireBeats “by accident” meaning that you talked with InspireBeats about using their services and somehow you ended up working together.

Could you give us some details into how this happened and how other people could adapt it to their strategy? Was it pure serendipity, perhaps with the correct mindset?

I was (and am) the founder of a content marketing company called Experiment27 – and yes I reached out to InspireBeats to have them find us retainer clients. We started working together and me and Wilson Peng, the founder of InspireBeats, started talking over Skype. Over the course of about a month he was talking about how hard it was to find both good sales talent and good marketing talent, I loved the usefulness of the product, and it just sort of happened.

In terms of mindset, it’s good to be flexible. If I was 100% committed to growing the content marketing firm full time, I would have stayed with it. But my goal isn’t to have the best content marketing firm in the world – it’s to be a part of a business that delivers real value to people. So I pivoted and InspireBeats continues to grow like crazy!

3) Good to hear that you are growing fast! Content marketing is indeed a very crowded space, yet so many businesses need help with it.

At InspireBeats you started as a SaaS and you found out that although your users liked your software, they were not very inclined to use it themselves, so you decided to do it for them.

Why didn’t you keep offering it as a self-service SaaS with an option to upsell your users with a done-for-you service?

There are a lot of SaaS tools out there for lead generation or lead scoring, so we were playing in a very competitive niche. Hundreds of products promise that.

What we found talking to early customers was that business owners are buying from these tools to save time – even though most SaaS lead gen tools still end up taking hours to find the right lead. So we pivoted towards a managed solution that takes founders less than an hour a month to manage.

Also.. would it be strange to say our SaaS tool has evolved to a point where it’s way too complex to give other people non-managed access?

4) Ha, not strange at all! I heard you are gathering data from all kinds of sources along with some very sophisticated metrics and data changes over time, so I assume it must have a steep learning curve.

How did you get your first paying users as a SaaS and how as an agency?

Wilson, Kevin and a few other team members had connections with funded startups and accelerators that gave us a few early customers. But, during the coffee shop days our head of business development David would literally walk up to people he saw browsing LinkedIn, ask them what they were doing, strike up a conversation and get them onto the platform.

Once that stopped being sustainable he started cold emailing – and now we regularly send out over 150 emails a day to prospective clients.

5) Talk about hustle… Is it a game changer being in San Francisco or just “nice to have”? What percentage of your customers in the early days came from offline/connections and what from purely online incentives?

A lot came from offline in the early days. But I wouldn’t say being in San Francisco is necessary for all businesses. For us, our target early on was funded start ups, so it made sense to be here. But for other companies: say you sell to restaurants, or dentists, or even digital agencies, SF might be the worst place for you because of all the competition.

Cold emailing is a great way to acquire the first few customers – earlier this week we launched a paid mailing list offering leads to mobile app development firms. Our team found 100 leads, I drafted up a cold email, and by the end of the week we had one sign up with more in the pipeline. One client at $400 a month from 100 cold emails.

6) Sounds pretty good. In one of your other interviews you mention that you are attending conferences for growth, networking and lead generation. I think that’s really important, because most marketers abide by a marketing tactic religiously and don’t mix it up.

For example, you might be a content marketing agency which is doing speaking, except from content, to drive leads. Whatever it needs to grow your business. How have conferences worked for you? Do you use cold email outreach before attending a conference?

Conferences have worked very well for us, and not just talking to random attendees. Our target market is sales people and business owners, you know where they hangout at conferences? Behind the exhibition booths pitching their product.

We’ve had luck targeting conferences that have a large number of these booths, and then going to every single one to pitch our service. Recently we went to SeattleInteractive, a small conference with around 8 exhibitors. Every single one of them turned into a lead and we were able to more than pay for our flights and hotels out there.

In terms of cold emailing, we’ve found emailing a couple days after the conference works best. In most cases, the team is able to find names and email addresses for every single conference attendee, then we run through the list to see who would be a good fit for our service and follow up with a quick “sorry we missed each other!” and a description of what we do.

7) Nice! That’s a pretty good tactic. If you had to give 1 tip to someone attending a conference to grow their startup, what would that be?

Pick the right conference. If you’re a content calendar app that sells to dentists, don’t go to the Content Marketing convention.. there aren’t any leads there and you’ll be one of dozens of other calendar apps. Instead, go to the ADA convention where it’s all dentists, and you’re the ONLY calendar app.

8) That’s so true, thanks for bringing it up. It’s very easy to get confused and attend the wrong conference. The only reason to attend a content marketing conference in the example above, would be to learn new tactics.

At InspireBeats are you just offering leads (with or without outreach), or doing other things as well, like pitching for media coverage and being compensated based on results? If not, have you thought about offering that?

At InspireBeats we do lead generation, finding the right people to buy your product or service, and also outreach to book them onto sales people’s calendar. We’ve found retainers are the best compensation because there are so many ways a sale can break down even after an appointment is set.

Most of our clients from the early days are still with us, so something’s working 🙂

We focus mostly on B2B appointment setting or free trial sign ups, media coverage is a whole different game with different ways to measure ROI. It’s more straightforward to just stick with leads and outreach for now, but who knows what’ll happen in the future.

9) Fair enough. Have you had success with C-level executives of 7 figure (or higher) businesses? If yes, what are some good tips to remember when reaching out to them, that don’t necessarily apply to other professionals?

So you’d be surprised how many companies with less than 25 employees have over 7 figures in revenue. Check out the yearly lists on INC 5000 – they publish all of the revenue and the number of employees for every company that wins.

I mention that to bring up this point: we’ve found that in any company under 50 employees, the founder is still:

1) easily accessible via email and

2) either makes the final purchasing decision for every tool the company uses, or is able to get any team to buy any tool

The thing to remember when reaching out to them is respect their time by sending a short email, and come to the table with ideas on how your product could improve their business. Respect them by not doing a demo if they’re a bad fit, and they’ll respect you by often becoming a customer.

10) Great answer. I didn’t know about the INC 5000’s yearly list. Also, what you said about smaller companies with over 7 figures in revenue is 100% accurate (the startup I work at is a very good example of this).

Let’s make a scenario:

Say, I sell a CRM software for restaurant owners. Most of them are not very tech friendly, but I need leads. How would you approach this and what percentage % of those leads do you believe would result in an appointment or demo?

While we mostly handle online SaaS companies, we do have a few companies doing exactly what you described. For them what we’d do is run through yelp reviews to find busy restaurants, or use a tool like builtwith.com to find restaurants that use a competitor’s product and qualify based on that.

After that we’d enter into a series of cold emails and calls to get their attention and pitch them on our service.

My advice is not to sell to restaurants though, in my experience they hate new technology and don’t really have the budget to spend on new tools even if they liked new technology. Better to focus on a company you can target online: funded startups, law firms, agencies, SMB or enterprise.

11) Aha, I see (the yelp trick was pretty clever by the way). You have been 3 years in the industry. What is one thing either in marketing or in startups that happens/works and no one is talking about?

Old school marketing tactics are coming back strong: billboards, live events, even offline emails are so underused now that people are going online, that there are huge rewards out there for people that use them. That includes cold emails and phone calls.

12) We will have to keep an eye on them. And to close this interview with a light touch, I saw on your Twitter picture you are eating a scorpion. How come? 😀

I was in Thailand and they had candied scorpions on display. Just had to see what it tasted like.

It tastes bland and full of shells if you’re wondering.

13) Well, I was. Then, I guess I will avoid it if I have the chance to taste it!

So, if someone wants to contact you for lead generation how can they contact you? Could you give us a quick breakdown of your services that you don’t include in your website?

(For example I have heard that you can extract the majority of attendees of a conference, which is pretty cool!)

Totally – check out our lead gen and outreach services on http://inspirebeats.com – we also have a free course called 10 Sales Hacks in 10 Days that readers can get at http://inspirebeats.com/course.html.

Ask us about your company – there are a surprising number of ways we can find leads including: making lists of everyone attending a conference, subscribed to a podcast, in private facebook groups and sometimes even subscribed to a certain email newsletter.

There are also hidden enterprise packages not listed on the site if your company is in a place where you need 1000’s of leads a month.

Great, thanks for being on WeeklyGrowth and I hope we will work together on lead generation soon enough!

If you have any questions that you’d like to ask Alex Berman about lead generation, startups or anything else not covered above, leave a comment below and he will get to you!

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