Kate Atty is the Vice President of Marketing at Persio, Inc. (now Clutch). Below is a transcript of her presentation at the January 27, 2017 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where she shared advice for developing lead generation.

I’m going to talk about the history of my company with Persio and how I did lead generation wrong a couple of times before I got it right. So we all know lead gen is hard, but one of the nice things about it is if you’re doing it wrong, you’ll know pretty quickly. You’re either not going to get any leads or you’re going to get the wrong kind of leads. We experienced both of these situations during our history with Persio.

Persio is a mobile promotions platform. Our primary demographic is teenage girls who sign up to receive text messages from a brand, but we also do things like shipping notifications and app content and mobile wallets. So the software platform lets retail marketers upload content, design it and send it out over those mobile channels, and of course, we capture data and we personalize everything. So it’s a multi-channel platform. But my story actually begins before Persio was Persio.

I started with the company when it was IRIS Mobile, which is not, even though it sounds like it, a cell phone store. It was a text message platform only. So we just sent rich text messages, images and videos and we were trying to educate retailers on the value of mobile messaging as a marketing channel. This was several years ago before anybody was doing it. When I started at the company, I was new to the startup space, it was before they had funding, and they had built the product already. So the product was pretty mature. But we had no real demand in the market.

So, my job was to come in with no funds and educate the market on why mobile messaging was a good marketing channel and also promote the brand. Our primary marketing tactic was content creation because it’s free. So we would write a lot about mobile messaging, what you could do with it, different brands that had started to use it and we would pitch these stories to mobile marketing publications like, Mobile Commerce Daily, Mobile Marketer and Retail Dive. Those were places where we knew retailers were hopefully engaging and trying to learn about the mobile space.

But as you can imagine, we didn’t get a ton of traction. We were trying to make strides to just use the content to educate the market and build demand for the product. This phase I call, “if you build it they will come, but sometimes they don’t.”

In take two, things brightened up a little bit for us. We realized at this time that the mobile-messaging-only strategy wasn’t really working. We needed to take a step back, pause and think about the market that we were trying to reach and what their real needs were.

This is generally how it’s advisable to create a product – to understand the market and build the product for the market versus the other way around. So my take two is kind of an inside joke, “let’s take a step back guys,” to get full perspective. Here’s what we did:

  1. I did some math

So we have this more expanded platform, we have a new brand, new website and this new go-to-market strategy. So we’re really excited, we feel like we’re really prepared to hit the ground running. And our new CEO was also in sales at Yahoo–a very sales-focused guy–and we created some marketing goals that were going to inform our plan–so 45 marketing qualified leads a quarter and a 25 percent increase in web traffic.

We got to these numbers by doing some math. We knew we wanted to close a certain number of sales a quarter and some of those leads that would turn into sales would need to come from marketing.

So the way we backed into the numbers was we looked at how much website traffic we needed to drive to get people on our landing pages to convert. And then, how many of those conversions can we assume will be qualified leads? So that’s how we got to 45 qualified leads. We knew all the people that converted weren’t going to be leads, we knew all the traffic that came to the site wasn’t going to convert, so we backed into the numbers.

  1. I created a plan and started executing it

We did this rebrand and we even named the company based on what we discovered and what we wanted to do. So Persio is actually kind of a play on the word personalization and the little i we played with is like the individual. We’re really like a one-to-one marketing platform, and we’re using a lot of data, as I mentioned, to personalize and customize these promotions so they’re, of course, more effective. Everyone’s familiar with personalization in the marketing world. So we did that and then we also built out some other channels within mobile beyond just messaging. So now we’re doing app, we’re doing wallet, we’re doing mobile web, and we did some stuff with desktop as well.

Then, we created a marketing plan. A marketing plan is one of two things–it’s either what you did last year or a series of guesses. I don’t think I need to tell you which kind of plan ours was, but it was an excellent plan. We were touching all media channels:

  • HubSpot
  • Paid search
  • Social media marketing
  • Paid social
  • LinkedIn–we did InMail and some sponsored posts
  • Email drip campaigns

We had our website set up with a bunch of nice paths to get to different types of information and landing pages. We did some email campaigns, and obviously, we’re doing conferences and sponsored content.

We were really hitting all and doing everything because you never know what’s going to work. We started off the year hitting the ground running. We were producing content, putting it out all over these channels and a couple of things started happening. First, we definitely were driving website traffic. So anybody who’s invested in paid search after not having invested in paid search, you know that your numbers look really awesome, but sometimes those aren’t the right numbers or those aren’t the right visitors. We were also increasing our conversion rate on our forms, which was awesome.

But we were not getting the quality of leads that we had hoped.

  1. I got frustrated

This was six weeks into the year and we had 12 qualified leads, which was nowhere near our goal of 45. So we started to get a little bit frustrated. We were like, “why isn’t this working? We’re doing everything.” We had all this great content that we thought was really meeting the needs of our market because we’d done all this research. We knew they cared about breaking down data silos, we knew they cared about reaching their customers one to one, personalization, running smarter promotions, post-recession economy. Consumers are really discount sensitive, so retailers are doing tons of promotions, which is eroding their margins and we felt like we had a lot of value to add in that area.

But we had a lot of different messages we were taking to the market because the product could do a lot of different things. So one of the hard things about marketing–marketing to marketers is really hard because they know all your tricks. But marketing a marketing technology product is hard because it’s complicated. It does a lot, there’s a lot of really jargony complicated language that you have to use that sometimes only people in the industry use and not your actual prospects.

But it’s difficult to explain what it does without using these terms. And you also don’t know who’s actually using these different channels right away, so as an enterprise sale, we were looking at big brands like Express, Abercrombie, American Eagle, these kind of retail brands with brick and mortar and e-commerce with a lot of different stakeholders in the organization.

  1. I encountered “The Cowboy”

One day, we were sitting there and if anybody uses HubSpot, you know that when you get a lead form that comes in, you can set it up to email people in your organization to let them know. At the time, we had the marketing team on the email and the sales team. So we get this blog subscription and we’re all excited and we’re like, “Alright, let’s check this guy out.”

So we see it and the guy’s name is Tomas Redlinger and he says his occupation is hobbyist and his company is Cowboy Collective. So I’m like, “Alright, maybe this is a story I haven’t heard of. It’s like in the South or something. It sells cowboy clothes. I don’t know. It could be a big deal.” We always get excited. Anyway, we’re trying to Google this guy. Cowboy Collective–nothing,  Tomas Redlinger, Cowboy Collective, still can’t find him. We Google Tomas Redlinger, hobbyist, Cowboy Collective and end up finding this guy on some obscure Facebook page and it turns out he’s an actual cowboy. So his job is being a cowboy.

  1. I stopped doing everything

At this point we’re like, “Okay, something’s wrong here.”

Actual cowboys are finding our marketing technology SaaS enterprise platform website and they’re actually subscribing to our blog, so we’re doing something seriously wrong. I still have no idea how he found us, but it was a sign. It was a signal that we needed to take a pause, read the signs and re-evaluate our strategy.

So, the thing that we really noticed was that we were focused on those two goals in the beginning and it made a lot of sense, right? Drive a bunch of traffic, you’re going to get the people that you want. You’re using all these search terms and you’re doing all these paid campaigns. Somehow, it’ll whittle down into these people that you want.

And I think at some scale, that works, but a couple years in, Series A funding, you don’t necessarily have the resources to drive that kind of volume. So we decided that we we’re going to stop worrying about the traffic and we were just going to focus on the quality.

  1. I started doing less…and got more!

The second thing we decided we were going to do was we we’re going to hone in on one message. Which I know is like, “Okay duh, hone in on your message, figure out what that is.” But like I said before, with the product and the different aspect of the product, the data problem, the mobile problem, the personalization thing, there was just a lot to talk about. But we did look at our content and what had had the highest conversion rate and that was around the problem of margin erosion with your promotions.

This was kind of an insight into different ways we could talk about protecting margin with smarter promotions.

We produced exclusive content about ways to do that. In our platform, you could do single-use coupons. You could do set validity dates of your offer, so you could start and end a promotion. You could prevent fraud in a variety of ways. And also, you could capture data so you were learning that this subset of the consumer base might have purchased something without an offer and this subset needs 20 percent instead of 25 percent. So there were different metrics we could use within the platform or features within the platform to do that.

So we just focused on that message and we stopped doing paid search and we focused in on really niche publications, doing sponsored content. That was the first way we thought, we’re like, “Alright, we’re just going to get in front of these people.”

We invested in that. We made sure our story was prominently featured so we weren’t buried within the mass and we really honed in on this margin problem. And we started to get results right away. We used things like retail focus publications, like NRF and Retail Dive and these kind of things where we knew there was a retail marketing, really focused readership, and we just kinda hammered that home. We ended up getting a lot better results out of it.

So, we met our MQL goal of 45 leads a quarter. I actually think we exceeded it by a few, which was great. And we found these really high ROI marketing channels, $100 per lead, which is way less than we were paying when we were doing all the paid initiatives. And we drove the right website traffic.

It didn’t look like a huge spike. We had modest growth over time. But it didn’t really matter to us as much because we understood that the website wasn’t necessarily going to be the thing that we could measure our success off of, it was going to be obviously the leads.

And then we got acquired, so obviously, this marketing strategy had everything to do with that. But, now I can say that Persio, which was formerly Iris Mobile, is now Clutch. So we just got acquired by a company in Philly last December and if I do my job right, I’ll be up here talking about a different topic next year.