Jamie Gilpin is the Chief Marketing Officer at Envoy, the Chicago-based global immigration services provider. Read on for a transcript of her presentation from our September 19, 2017 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where she describes how she used surveys to showcase Envoy’s thought leadership.

I’m at Envoy. We recently made a name change from VISANOW. We’re a global immigration and services provider and our mission is to make it easier for people to work anywhere in the world. We work with companies to streamline the immigration process through immigration attorneys.

People always ask, “Are you just a tech company?” No, we’re a tech-enabled service. We have immigration attorneys on the back end of the platform and then innovative technology on the front, so think TurboTax but for immigration. We simplify the whole process and bring a better experience to employees, plus their HR counterpart that’s managing this process.

We work with large and small companies. Actually, we were founded on the idea of working with small companies but then pivoted a little with the name change, moving upstream to the enterprise and medium size. Our tech platform is much more relevant for a larger organization managing hundreds of foreign nationals or hundreds of visa sponsorships, so that’s really a product market fit change we made.

As you would imagine, people who need international talent or sponsor foreign nationals are high staff because they’re filling a skills gap within their organization. Think GrubHub, Dow Jones, Constant Contact, Here, Outcome Health, Nova and Stripe on the West Coast. They’re typically the type of organizations we work with.

Since our founding, we’ve helped navigate the immigration process for over 30,000 people. And 24,000 of those people have happened since funding in the end of 2014. Obviously, from a growth perspective, we’ve experienced consistent growth, which is exciting, but we get to help more and more people realize their dreams from a work perspective and life, and that’s pretty cool to say.

So we were VISANOW, and as the name indicates, we were focused on being transactional not on taking a holistic approach of managing immigration and managing talent within an organization. And so, like I said, the platform really lends itself from a product market fit to larger organizations. Making that switch was extremely important for us, but it was hard. Sales processes change, marketing changes, everything changes when you move upstream to finding really quality, large organizations.

To reach them you have to come from a place of advisory. You have to come from a place of thought leadership to gain that credibility.

We have an extra obstacle in front of us in our business because we are up against law firms. So we’re a tech company selling to companies where usually it’s a lawyer in front of them but we have salespeople. It’s an extremely important delineation to make because companies aren’t used to it. They have no frame of reference, they’re like, “I usually work with a lawyer. I’ve had this relationship for 20-plus years.” We’re up against really large law firms now because we’re going upstream.

So how do we really create this brand of thought leadership?

  1. We took the time to understand how to consult well on the business side of immigration

We can’t really compete with great legal services, but we understand how immigration and having a global workforce really impacts your organization from a talent management strategy. We needed to have more business conversations than, “Tell me the difference between an H-1B and a TN visa.” If you want to know, I can tell you all of those things but I’m not a lawyer. I’m not allowed to give any legal advice, which is another area where we have to constantly walk this fine line because our sales people cannot give legal advice. They have to be able to consult well on the business side. It’s a little bit of nuance but it’s extremely unique to our business.

The other big piece of this is that press did not want to talk to us, now they do. I guess you could say that there are some things Trump has done for our business, though many things he has not. Pre-Trump, immigration wasn’t a big deal from a media perspective. I had an internal team at that point, I wasn’t working with Propllr. I had a Director of Communication and PR from Grant Thornton, a really high pedigree from a PR perspective, and we just could not get interest in our business. So timing has been another really big, important part of it.

We wanted to create thought leadership because law firms aren’t putting thought leadership out there, they’re advising on law. There was no data from a benchmarking or from a business perspective. Think about how organizations are managing immigration within their companies? How many people do they have on it? How long is it taking to process a visa from start to finish? Benchmarking data like that is not in the marketplace today. We had done smaller surveys just on our own using Survey Monkey and would get around 100 responses from our database, but the media wasn’t really interested in that information when we pitched it.

  1. We partnered with a reputable firm

We found that you have to partner with a reputable firm because the press is obviously going to be far more interested in a survey that is backed by Nielsen, which is actually who we worked with, or one like Harris Poll. It’s expensive so this is an after-funding startup strategy that we deployed, but it is extremely important from a press perspective. It’s also important from a customer perspective because, again, we are a no-name brand, a tech service competing against immigration firms.

So even when we come out with stats like, “The majority of employers say that they are going to hire more foreign nationals this year than they have in the past,” people are like, “Well, sure you’re going to say that, you’re an immigration firm, right?” We could come back with, “Well, no, actually it’s a study we did with Nielsen and here’s all the other data points to support why organizations should continue in hiring and, most importantly, sponsoring employees here in the U.S. and around the world.”

Like I mentioned, it was not cheap. For the sake of full disclosure, we spent $40,000 on this survey. We’ll talk about some of the results in just a second, but this literally fueled every part of our marketing strategy.

  1. We collaborated with everyone we had

This was a bet that was going to help us elevate our brand and help us acquire more customers. So another big part of this is to not do it in a vacuum. We had to collaborate with sales, product, customers, customer service and obviously marketing. We got everybody in a room in a big brainstorm and asked questions like, “Okay, sales reps, if you had one stat that you could use on every one of your calls, what would it be? Would it be that 70 percent of organizations says that they have an extremely difficult time managing immigration? What would that stat be from customers?” Similarly, we got our customer advisory board in the room and said, “What do you want to benchmark? What do you want to know that other organizations are doing in managing this for their organizations?”

  1. We got the questionnaire right

So we compiled all of that and had about 100 questions, which is not possible for a successful survey. You have to dig that down to 20, which is another best practice. People at places like Nielsen, Harris Poll and other reputable firms will help you bring that down to a sizeable amount. It was important to get the questionnaire right.

  1. We got a strong sample

We’ve done this study on immigration trends for two years in a row now. For the first year, Nielsen had never worked on an immigration-type survey before, so it was a little bit of a learning process. This is really where that $40,000 jumps up because we needed a lot of people to take the survey. We needed over 401 to be reputable from a press perspective, but also to be able to cut the data between east and west coast because they have very different policies around immigration.

  1. We analyzed the results – what’s meaningful?

Similar to the collaboration on the questionnaire, analyzing the results is also an extremely collaborative process. We got everybody together again in a room and went over the results and said, “What’s most interesting? What story would you tell with this?” And that ultimately dictated the media content pieces that we had, which was tons of blogs, podcasts, infographics and two major reports that have both been covered by media. It really does fuel everything. We use these stats in almost all of our pain-point messaging.

  1. We armed our sales reps

A majority of the influencers we work with are in the HR space and they are far more interested in sharing a cool, pithy stat from us than they are anything else that we give them. So, similar to press being interested in the survey and stats, the influencer strategy that we deployed this year was also secured around this survey, so we armed our sales reps. This goes back to the fact that our salespeople are selling against lawyers, some of them are very smart but they are not lawyers.

So how do you give them data to open up those conversations so that they can say things like, “Fifty-nine percent of employers are expecting their demand-for-work authorization outside the U.S. to increase. Tell me about your businesses. Does that look similar for you?” and then not only do they say, “Wow, this person is really smart. They know this business,” but they also say, “Where did you get that stat from?” Which, of course, is where they can say share our library of amazing stats.

It gave our sales reps confidence. The number-one determinant of success, at least in my experience with salespeople, is their confidence in your product and also in their ability to have a conversation with a buyer.

  1. We tracked all the engagement

Obviously, this is kind of par for course in general with marketing, but think about the things that would be interesting to know. How many times are the salespeople sharing this? We use ClearSlide so we’re able to see all of that. Are they mentioning it in some of their sales pitches? Tracking whether all of those different engagement pieces will, for one, inform the next survey but will also tell us a little bit more about what other content we could actually extrapolate from the data.

The Results

We got 500 leads. So really, when you break that down, that’s 80 bucks, $80 CPL. For B2B, we hover right around that $75, so that wasn’t really outside of our scope. We launched this in February and we’ve already acquired three customers from those 500 leads, about four percent, which is good for us at this stage. Now, we can use this for reports, infographics, our blog, the end-to-end sales tool, the credibility, the pitch, etc. It really goes into everything.

It has helped us land nine feature pieces, including Forbes, and has given our CEO more credibility in interviews. So now every press interview that he’s on, he doesn’t have to cite opinions from a political perspective, he can just cite the data from the survey and not get us into some trouble because we are too political.