The 'Pre-Inbound' Situation
Since its founding in 2009, SoldOut had focused on telemarketing and other conventional methods to win online marketing contracts. In October 2013, however, the company changed its marketing strategy to enable it to add inbound online marketing to its services for customers. The company’s CMO, Satoshi Hasegawa, explains how SoldOut came to switch its own marketing to inbound: “Before the end of 2013 we won appointments simply by phoning —it was very much an ‘push’ sales approach. And, despite offering online marketing services to our customers, we weren’t even using any web advertising for our own marketing. Until around February 2013, all we were using was an inquiries button that could be clicked to launch e-mail software, plus Google Analytics.”
At that that time, the biggest worries for Hasegawa included the personnel costs and arduous time commitment on employees imposed by this conventional telemarketing, as well as its heavy reliance on human input. SoldOut was using e-mail software for online inquiries, but it outsourced the creation of the e-mail form to an external production company, such was its lack of technical expertise even as it was trying to find a way out of telemarketing. All of these factors put their sales reps in a very demanding situation, as Hasegawa explains: “Sales reps back then had to do many other tasks, as well as make their own phone calls. One day a week they would focus on making calls to arrange appointments, spending non-stop hours on the phone."
The sales reps also often had to make SoldOut’s services cheaper to secure orders from customers, which required even more phone calls to offer discounts, to negotiate, or to follow up - which led to the sales team becoming quite exhausted. SoldOut needed to find a systematic solution to challenges such as these: “With labor-intensive telemarketing our growth as a company was eventually going to reach its limit, so in 2013 we decided to switch our marketing strategy to what we referred to at the time as ‘pull’ marketing, as a means of becoming more efficient.”
Preparing to Acquire Inbound Leads
SoldOut decided to start using HubSpot from October 2013. To prepare, Hasegawa investigated online resources, and the books on inbound marketing and HubSpot just starting to appear in Japan. He was drawn to HubSpot because its design concept was based on pull marketing: “At the beginning of 2013 we were making an online form and advertising online, but that was all, so we were still using no specific inbound marketing tools. When it came to choosing a tool, we did have marketing automation-type tools, but they weren’t capable of handling inbound marketing. I was convinced that HubSpot was the only tool capable of handling inbound marketing, so I was really keen to try it out.” Since SoldOut was starting its own online marketing from scratch, he adds, HubSpot was ideal because it integrated everything including management of social media into a single package, making it the easiest option to implement as well.
Once HubSpot was installed, the first step for Hasegawa and his team was to create a mechanism for capturing leads on the company website. Previously, SoldOut had outsourced the production of its landing page and form at a cost of approximately 100,000 yen (approx. $800 USD). Having installed HubSpot in October, however, by the end of the year SoldOut had produced five or six sets of landing pages and forms internally. It had also established a process to obtain e-mail addresses by enabling site visitors to download marketing literature and corporate materials. Hasegawa describes the next step: “Then we launched three blogs to really start generating leads, and the third one was successful. We had decided that we would commit to blogs as a team for about six months, and we kept on writing them every day. We started the blogs in November 2013, and it was in June 2014 that we started to see the results from all our work. It then took about another four months for us to make our best possible content available for downloading, and in 2015 we started receiving a steady flow of e-mail addresses and names.”
Cold Calling Virtually Eliminated
According to Hasegawa, SoldOut does virtually no cold calling now that they have adopted inbound marketing, and as a result they have benefitted in a number of ways:
Previously the sales reps used whatever means were available to put together their own lists of potential leads whom they then called. But now the sales reps are interacting with potential customers who are already leads, so there is far less of a burden on them. And in terms of the effect on business itself, I think it is fair to say that business has expanded. The huge number of worker-hours previously expended on telemarketing can now be used to serve existing customers, and as an added bonus we can now cater to people who are already interested in our products and services, enabling our new customer unit price at the onset of business to approximately double. But most importantly of all, it means our customers are more likely to thank us for what we do.
These benefits are thanks to the large number of good-quality leads SoldOut has managed to acquire using HubSpot. In January 2014 SoldOut had only three leads offering potential for a visit by a sales rep. But now (in August 2015) it has acquired 152 leads for the month. Moreover, when it started the blogs in October 2013 it had about 5,000 visits to its website, but by continuing to write the blogs, and putting effort into various growth hacks and other initiatives, by July 2015 that number had reached around 400,000. So in less than two years SoldOut recorded an 80-fold increase in visits.
As Hasegawa points out, SoldOut was therefore able to target its approaches toward its own ideal buyer personas. And not only that, but it resulted in personnel expenses previously allocated to telemarketing, now being diverted toward production of web content, enabling even more inbound marketing to be implemented.
Future Inbound Marketing at SoldOut
SoldOut has already come a long way in launching a blog and establishing the capacity to generate leads, and it has plans to develop and expand further. Hasegawa describes the outlook for the company as follows: “I really want to continue building scale at this pace and acquire 10- or 20-times the number of leads we are getting now. I think there are still plenty of markets we could be in, and I want to take them on. In terms of our use of HubSpot, I would like to deepen collaboration with our internal sales team and make good use of scoring and customer stages to create a reliable process for nurturing the leads we acquire.”