How to Create a Digital Strategy from Scratch with Cole Rieben
Cole Rieben outlines how he transformed and expanded Aptive’s digital marketing strategy. Website optimization, demand generation, forecasting, and brand awareness are discussed.
Cole Rieben, Director of Digital Marketing at Aptive, is a digital marketing expert with experience creating and optimizing digital programs. Prior to working at Aptive, he was SEO manager at Vivint Smart Home and managed campaigns at 97th Floor.
All right, everyone, welcome to Digital Conversations. I’m your host, Billy Bateman. Today I am joined by Cole Rueben, Director of Digital Marketing at Aptive. Cole, thanks for joining me.
Glad to be here.
Yeah, I’m excited to have you on we’re going to, we’re going to talk about some interesting things, especially around how you work with Aptive.
Which is traditionally like an industry that’s very like door to door, B2B sales to more of a digital approach. But before, tell us a little bit about your background.
So yeah, my interest in the digital space, especially search happened back in high school. It’s kind of a funny story.
How Cole Got Started in Digital
Back in about 2003, I was sitting sitting in a class next to my buddy, and we thought, hey, let’s see who’s more popular. We both played on the football team.
We both had stats out there on like, we have this network MaxPreps that we had our stats on. We’re like, hey, let’s Google our names and see who has the longest list of stats. And we thought we were his typical thing.
Anyway. We, he looked up his name, I looked up my name. And the first result on my name was not a football stat. It was it was an article that the spokesman review, which was up in Northern Idaho, Spokane, Washington.
Things Get Complicated
Yeah, that the title says, sex offender moves to North Idaho.
And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, what is this. Of course, by then I made a big deal out of it, the whole class is right next to my computer.
I was shocked, I read through it, what had happened was, I had a relative that was a registered sex offender, and share the same last name.
What this news article did was actually mentioned, supposedly, he was going to be moving to Idaho, and mentioned me and my sister in this article. Oh, and so I thought immediately, okay. I got to contact the network.
Taking Matters into his own Hands
I’ve got to get them to take this article down, because it is not tied to me whatsoever. Nobody got back to me.
And I was so frustrated parents were about to go and file lawsuit like, it was, it was not fun. I thought I’m going to take matters in my own hands.
And I realized at that same moment, when I googled myself that I did not have much about me out there. I did. I think I had a Myspace back then, and Facebook. Yeah, that was it.
SEO for Personal Reputation
So, I thought, you know what, I’m going to create a bunch of profiles. I started with, like, Prezi profile, and I took all of my presentations I did that year in high school, and I put them in that. I did an About Me page, I just created all these profiles.
And after the first couple days, I was like, oh, man, this isn’t working. still seeing the article be number one, I was applying for schools. Yeah, it was a big deal to me. And within about two weeks at it, it stayed high up there.
But I started seeing some of my profiles come above it that I was created. And within about three weeks, it was buried to the third or fourth page, when I googled my name.
And my sister her still showed up on first result. I kind of use as a gauge of if I was doing anything that that was working.
Manipulating the Algorithm
At that point, I realized, like through this reputation management side, hey, this search algorithms interesting. It’s an obviously can be manipulated, and I didn’t feel any harm done. Because obviously, there was slander against my name that wasn’t approved by me.
So anyway, it was an interesting experience that first got me started in digital and then I knew out of college that I wanted to get involved with search. I ended up going into the sales side where I was selling these packages. And I was not happy about the results of what I was selling.
I’d go and try to re up our local businesses, and they were saying, hey, this website’s not working, hey, the PPC programs not working. And I would go back to where it all started. We were outsourcing it overseas.
And I thought, well, I wish I could do this myself, but I don’t know how to and so on. Soon after that, I decided I’m going to go agency site and learn all this from scratch.
Learning with an Agency
And that’s when I moved to Utah and got started with 97th floor and learned so much there and learned. I really claimed a technical SEO.
And yeah, so that was kind of my upbringing into digital. Those four years at 97 floor agency side were crucial for me to learn. Exactly. How do I make the most out of a digital presence? Yeah, no, that do that. I, that was the last thing I expect.
You’re going to tell me is what got you interested in digital that whole story. With that, what got it true to begin with? So yeah, I’m a about 2017, or 18. Wasn’t 18, I was actually working at Vivint.
Getting Started at Aptive
And I had a neighbor of mine, who for months was kind of not pestering me, but he was pretty relentless about, hey, you should come check out the stuff that Aptive his brother was CEO is the CEO today, best Pearson, so his brother Drew, it’s my neighbor.
And he said, Yeah, you could check this out. I just kind of shrug it off. I wasn’t super interested at first. Then when it started to become appealing, the more I started to kind of see Aptive pop up here and there. I went and talked with ves.
And he said, yeah, we just started these PPC campaigns, our CTO is running them, and they are driving leads, and those leads cost less than what we’re doing on door to door. I think we want to start digital, you want to come along and start it.
And I said all of us, let me let me look into it, let me pull some data and kind of see what this looks like. As I did some research, it didn’t take long to realize that the grass is green.
Opportunity for Digital
And the opportunity was huge to be able to. I mean, at that point, they were the company was about just under 200 million in revenue, and annual revenue.
And so, this this door-to-door force was doing such a phenomenal job. But the cost is high. And that model is very, it’s a very expensive model. Profitability takes a while to be profitable.
And so, taking a digital strategy helps you get profitable quicker, though it takes that up from an upfront investment. That was the benefit from the very beginning.
And it was obvious to the founder, Dave, and to CEO vest that, hey, this is an investment up front. Usually, we’re used to paying on the back end with door to door.
And we have a customer by the time we’re actually paying out on that customer. Where with digital, we’re spending up front lower spends, but we’re actually spending up front for the first time.
And they never batted an eye. They had complete faith. Very, and then not knowing much about digital at all. That faith was really the catalyst to what we’ve been able to create today.
How to Build a Program from Scratch
Awesome, awesome. Once you got started there building out that that program from scratch, like where did you start? What did you start doing, man? What was step number one?
So, step number one was, there was a website. Unfortunately, the website was built on Angular. It was not really great force for search engines, even though that is a Google offering. That’s what Google uses, but its application base.
And so, it’s, it’s not very functional for bots, ultimately. I knew my first thing was Let’s redo the website. But that’s a long process. I thought, okay, got to create content, get a website, rebuilt.
Using Seperate Domains
In the process, I need to stand up some performance pages, probably on a separate domain that I can actually start driving leads today.
So, while I was doing this project of rebuilding the website, and the goal wasn’t to create something. That’s something sexy. Yeah, it was more of technically, I’ve got to have a website that’s functional. It’s fast. I mean, and even in a in a in they built it in Python.
Was still like a three second four second load time, which is just too much. Anyway, building the website.
Creating more Websites
Simultaneously, I hired a company to stand up another sub domain on another platform where we were able to just spin up pages inside of 24 hours and drive PPC campaigns. I stood up PPC.
Demand Generation Strategy
And then straight from PPC, for quick lead gen, I went the Demand Gen route and hired a bunch of companies selling leads in the space and they’ll some platforms with them, I partnered with some and said, hey, let’s stand up some generic Pest Control websites, and went that route.
And then I also went with people who are already driving leads and got into the, to the lead buying. Also, media buying space really quick, which Pest Control was still pretty newbie in the space till today, it’s actually…
Industry going Digital
I came from Home Security just before that our smart, smart home and you know that over the last 10 years, there’s been a great large evolution and digital presence and performance on that side. And then it comes to pest control and kind of see this almost archaic landscape of competitors.
Filling those Gaps
I mean, you’ve got large competitors that have been around for a very long time, and they’re still figuring out digital. I was able to identify these gaps.
Those gaps, like companies not trying YouTube, not trying, bidding on Sunday, these gaps that I was able to find where were pivotal for starting a program and and finding those low hanging fruits.
How does Digital Drive Acquisition?
They helped me forecast, hey, what can digital provide on the form of acquisition, you know, what, what can we project to see an acquisition on the customer side as well as revenue overall over the next couple of years? And what’s the trajectory and so I started with those gaps.
I was able to, because I was able to identify those gaps, I was also able to see seasonality, I was able to see competitive market share.
I knew exactly I could learn quickly what were my clips, were in my spend pivoting, daily bidding and I say I needed a team to be able to help do that.
So, between hiring vendors and bringing it in house team, we’ve been able to discover a lot of things and really start to I think the first time it kind of resonated one.
Early on my very first month I forecasted how many services we would have. We hit it on the dot. Then the other validation was when I started seeing Orkin and Terminix copying us. That was that was actually very validating.
Yeah, and just start to see that you have this, this… You start bidding on Sunday, or you start bidding in these certain areas, and you start to see your competitors follow suit. That you’re spending enough to, to make them notice and to make them feel it a little bit.
And that wasn’t the purpose of the spend. The purpose was to go and get leads wherever I could. Yeah, but it’s validating.
What do you do once you get the leads?
So, what were you doing with the leads? What’s the process after you get them? Did they already have a team, or did you have a sales team?
Yeah, great, great question. Um, the door-to-door sales force. Aptive is phenomenal. A first class ultimately, and I don’t just say that because I work for Aptive I’ve been able to observe them available to stack them up against what I’ve seen at Vivint and, and just stellar.
But to utilize that level of sales is expensive. It is important that we create it. And they’re used to a short season.
Shifting from Door-to-Door
Mind you, and I need to have an extended a full a full 12 months and so Some of them came on board that were doing door to door and decided, Hey, no, I want to have something a little bit more steady. I want to I want to be able to buy a home in Utah.
I live in Utah, and then others that Tony balluff was here already. He was already driving leads through an email campaign that he would go and retarget via email customers who are sold at the door, but never actually received the service.
They canceled some time in between that, that timeframe. It was fairly successful. He cut it.
Consolidating Customer Service
So, he took on the sales role, and started building this team. We together went and found software from CRM to a phone’s software that we could use right off the bat. We ended up going with click point, sales exec.
And then we’ve trapped we’ve transitioned since then. But yeah, we knew we wanted to send these to a call center. At first it was all direct phone calls, once we started forums, we started, he started to set his team.
And so now today, it’s kind of broken down between centers. We’ve got our closers if you will, on the call floor, but it’s all generating the call center here at Aptive.
Awesome, man. Awesome. How’s the team? Is that where the team is right now how things continue to evolve, evolve, as you’ve done?
Yeah. That first half of the year that I started, I think that sales team grew to about four people. Then the next year, we came out with our forecasts and needed to hire, I want to say about 20.
And then today, I believe we’re staffed up to about 60 to 70. Just on the sales side, it what it also necessitated.
Customer Solutions Call Center
So that was almost that was even an incubator for what we stood, what was stood up later was a customer solutions call center. We had our customer solutions out in the branches across the country, that would just be one or two people in a branch.
And it was so each one would be siloed. They’re all doing customer solutions at different degrees in different using different lingo different, it was just so sparse.
And so that got brought in house and using that same software at first, we not, we brought out some more, some more roles to go sustain a call center there.
But it was kind of cool that that the sales side was almost an incubator for, Hey, can we make this work? Can we hire the right people? Can we get the metrics that tell us what? Are we efficient on the phones? And sure enough, it was it was successful?
Advice for making the Digital Transition
Awesome, man. Awesome. You guys, man, you’ve come a long way. Let me ask you this, you know, there is a very old have a ration. If somebody is looking. They are saying, Okay, I’m going to help a company like make this digital transformation for sales and marketing. What advice would you give him?
Yeah, um, my advice would be to, don’t focus as much on where you’ve come from. It didn’t, it wouldn’t. It didn’t help me to know, okay, this company is a very is door to door, this is how they do things that would only slow me down.
Don’t stick with Archaic Systems
If I were to say, Hey, this is how you close a sale. This is how you. This is how a customer’s created in a system. All it would do is would roadblock where we were going because they were they were learning still. they were archaic systems.
And so, it’s all about speed. It’s about hey, what most viable product may not be what I want it to be in six months. But let’s get something up now. Let’s prove it.
Because when you want to transform something, you’ve got to drive ROI. You’ve got to get revenue streaming to be able to prove, okay, we’re doing something. where we’re moving in the right direction. Now it’s time to get now it’s time to increase velocity.
Cost of Acquisition
And so, with us, for example, I knew that there’s this there was this number up in the air of what We how efficient we wanted to get that cost of acquisition.
But nobody really knew. The more I dove into things it was, it’s obvious and it was explained, I explained it to everyone from day one.
What acquisition costs are today is not what it’s going to be next year. It’s not what it’s going to be the year after that we’re going to continue to get efficient.
This year, for example, is our first year jumping into branding, brand awareness. We started off with some pretty big sponsorships this year. we just did announcer sponsorship with Tony fee.
Now, we just announced our sponsorship with Zach Wilson. He’s got the draft today. We’re excited about that. We’ve got tons of content and campaigns tied to that to kind of add that exposure.
We’ve got other others other things in the works that connect even more to our customer base to establish brand as those things get going, once again, when I’m stacked up in a search result on a SERP.
And you see Terminix Orkin active before, after it’s not even a question, I’m going to click on these two that I recognize.
Driving Costs Down
But as we build brands, we’re going to get those clicks, which is going to drive down costs, once again, continuing to drive efficiencies on the cost side. So, at first, it’s going to be more expensive.
But you can, you can absolutely showcase how efficient that that machine can come out over time. And the optimizations are everywhere. Yeah, optimizing from the sales side optimizing from the lead gen side, optimizing from the service side.
Are we closing? are we are we actually not just driving acquisition, but are they retaining? and so retention is a huge metric for us. And so those optimizations are everywhere. Start with proving it out and then moving forward to driving efficiencies.
Awesome, man. Awesome. Cool. I appreciate you coming on and sharing your knowledge with us. If people want to contact you and continue the conversation, what’s the best way for them to get ahold of you?
I’d say LinkedIn, just find me on LinkedIn. Cole Rieben, Aptive. And that’s probably the best way to get ahold of me. I’m pretty well, I’m not like posting all the time. I’m a LinkedIn stalker. So that’s enough.
All right, cool. Well, thanks so much, and we’ll chat later, man. Okay, thank you.