How a B2B SaaS scaled paid ads to reach a $1B valuation in less than 1 year – with Jonathan Bland and Jason Steele

Speaker

Jonathan Bland is a seasoned veteran with nearly 15 year’s experience working for, or consulting with, SaaS startups. Jonathan attended his undergraduate at James Madison University, before recieving an IMBA from the IE Business School in Madrid. His wealth of experience in the startup world lent a hand to Jonathan Co-Founding Omni Lab Consulting – a demand gen agency that helps early to mid stage B2B SaaS companies grow pipeline and revenue.

Quotes

“People are very visual. They process visual information faster then they do text based information. It’s really important to make sure that whatever visual you’re using somehow aligns with your headline, so that if they looked at the visual, they could maybe even get some of the message straight from that visual.” 

Key Points

  • There are four different types of content you can share on social media to help build your brand, validity, and reputation.  
  • How to foster the customer experience through the ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ stage, until they buy in.  
  • Ads need to be outcome focused.  
  • Provided real-life example budgets for successful paid ad campaigns.  

Transcript

Jonathan Bland:
All right, cool. Everyone, welcome to this little chat here, with Jason and myself. So we’re going to chat about of the pretty interesting how a B2B SaaS brand scale paid ads reach $1 billion valuation less than one year. So we’re going to be getting into all the little nitty gritty stuff in terms of strategy, nuts and bolts, what we actually did, budget allocations and a whole number of different things.

But before we get into that real quick, as mentioned, I’m Jonathan Bland and I’m the co-founder of Omni Lab, and then Jason, who’s my co-founder as well at Omni Lab. We’re a demand gen agency that works predominantly with C to Series C companies, all B2B companies, in the SaaS space and we work to drive pipeline ideally for all of those people and not just leads, and that’s a big focus for us in terms of optimizing for what’s happening inside the CRM. But we work across paid pay channels, so Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, you name it. So we’re going to be getting into this story a little bit, but before we actually get into the nuts and bolts, I think we need to set the stage on the before and after in terms of what actually happened before we engage with them and then what happened after.

Jason Steele:
So yeah, just to say they were a great company before. They’re a great company after they had everything lined out perfectly right, a good team, a good product, and that helps. That just really does help when you’re trying to scale to $1,000,000,000. Clearly, without those fundamental things, you might not have the same results. So we, we lucked out working with a great team.

So before 15 demos per month, 23% lead conversion rate, $400,000 roughly in pipeline after 300 demos per month, just phenomenal, 67% lead to operate again, growing that with the evolution of the company as it matured to the $1 billion and then 2 million in monthly pipeline created. And the numbers I believe it was a 1900 percent increase in demos and 400% roughly in the paid are the monthly pipeline created just a really great case for the company and just a lot of fun to work with.

Jonathan Bland:
Exactly. Exactly. And I mean, I think the big thing is always maintaining those lead up conversion rates really high. So to be able to not only maintain but grow if not triple that huge so well.

Jason Steele:
And also important on that is, you know, when you scale significantly, oftentimes you’ll see the opposite happen, because you’re kind of you’re not ramping up the internal team well enough to support the growth. And so what they did well is they ramped up in pace with the marketing plan.

Jonathan Bland:
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, 100%. So I think the important things for everyone is like to kind of split up like where do we actually run content in terms of like what buckets were we creating and we really think about them in four different layers and there’s really thought leadership, there’s regular content, there’s product marketing, and then there’s social proof.

Now for them, when we started out, we actually didn’t have a whole lot of thought leadership content in which really is what we would define that as is like something that’s really expressing your narrative or your point of view, things that you might do seem like a podcast or an event or something like that. They didn’t have a lot of that content starting out, so we focused predominantly on product marketing, which about 70% of the type of content and that stuff.

That’s like, you know, I’m getting demos or value props, outcome based messaging, things like that. Or you might do even a before and after of like, hey, this is what the world looks like. Now here’s what it looks like after with x product or x company, as we do a lot of that in the beginning because it’s really important.

People need to understand what the company actually does right? And if they don’t understand what the outcomes are, then it’s kind of hard to move forward. And then the content side and we did a little bit, I’d say 20, 30% on any given day, you know, we were going to give a month rather was being dedicated to that type of content and that’s blogs and guides and templates.

I think we had some quizzes and some other things that we ran for them as well as just blog posts that we’re answering. Predominantly pain points or questions that buyers had around the product. And that’s really important, right? Because ultimately you want something to tie back to the product so that, you know, once they’re reading it at the end of it, you can kind of figure out what the next steps are.

So those two buckets and the last one really most important and we’ll tend to talk about where this content actually gets layered on a second, but we got testimonials, clearly text based, we did some video testimonials. So those are the types of assets that we created, case studies, clearly. So a lot of the traffic went from testimonials or videos to those case studies.

If we didn’t have a case study for it, we just sent it to a landing page or the home page or something like that. And then third party validations, really anything like G2, Capterra, or things of that nature. And for them they had a very good YouTube reputation in a lot of the different badges. So we just kind of included those as additional third party validation in the same ads that we were running on social.

So that’s kind of the high level in terms of like buckets. But how this kind of all boils down in terms of the multiple layers is you’ve got really what we call the cold layer and then the warm layer, cold layers. Basically, people that haven’t heard of your brand before haven’t been your website, let’s say, in more than 90 days or 180 days, depending on how you set it up.

And what we want to do in this layer is really build up some more brand awareness and make sure people know who we are, what we do, and also use it as a distribution channel for guaranteeing distribution of content to our ICP. So the things that we did predominantly for them, where they had a webinar series that kind of started, wasn’t an intense focus for them.

But we did some webinar promotions in the cold layer for them – nothing related to podcasts and clips. But I wanted to put that there to kind of get you guys thinking about some of the other things that could be an events and then obviously product marketing, we just talked about that and what it is. So there’s a lot of focus on that in the cold layer and then obviously blogs and then the quizzes that we use around their product, they kind of brought people in and gave them a little value. And then everything below – now we’re in the warm layer. There’s people that interact with your ad, they’ve been to your website. Now we want to remove any uncertainty if there is any. So things we were doing there is again testimonials. Case studies were put into that layer, G2 badges and other things and awards and things like that that they had won before, and then obviously the big thing is like, well, wait a minute, product marketing, you’re doing them a cold layer. Why would you do that? Retargeting? Well, the reason is simple. You ultimately want people to remember you over time. You need to continue to deliver a message so that it builds up familiarity. It just plays into the familiarity bias.

So this is why we do this. We need that messaging to kind of continue to rotate and remind people, Hey, cool, like I know what this company does, so on and so forth. So that’s kind of the general layout. But we’ll talk about objectives now and kind of how that’s all set up.

Jason Steele:
You know, I will say also, they had a really strong value prompts for product marketing messages and then really strong social proof. And that is help. They had a clear understanding of their product, which always clearly helps, but they knew how to quantify that and make it qualitative for people at the other side of the of the message.

Right. So that was just a ‘game on’ which was a winning combination. But yeah, the objectives are super important as it relates to the content that we distribute website visits, it’s kind of a no brainer type of situation. If you want website visits, you use website visits as an objective and they’re different. They have different mechanisms throughout all the different channels.

Brand awareness is really great for reach. You have an audience size of 100,000 people. You want to reach the most of them. Now there’s other versions of brand awareness depending on the channel that you’re using, but that’s going to give you the ability to really hit them at scale the most of your total audience. Because you got to remember, the algorithm is trying to narrow down the audience that you’re going after based on the criteria that you’re trying to choose, the objective, right?

So brand awareness is going to reach more people, whereas you got to narrow those people down to find those that are going to click. And then finally, those who are going to convert. And it’s not a perfect size. The algorithms of the channels are going to use things that may or may not represent your total or the engagement you’re looking for, but it’s the best. The best methodology is to use this trifecta of the three, in our opinion, and we did this really effectively for our client. So brand awareness was there to support the brand and get maximum reach. Website visits filled the retargeting layer for our future warmer audience to convert in website conversions and again Facebook, LinkedIn display and YouTube variations of the three.

Jonathan Bland:
Exactly. And it’s very much like depends on your goals too because like some people might have like Legion campaigns. We didn’t run a lot of Legion, but you might have that in October. So there’s others given objectives. So it’s really important to always think about like, what are your campaign goals and what are the objectives that align with those goals.

So that’s important to take into consideration with this. But to kind of get a little bit about targeting, obviously the probably the most important thing, right, because we don’t target right from the beginning all the other crap down funnel is all going to suffer. So the place that we started really is a lot of in channel native targeting predominantly.

So the channels again where LinkedIn display and Google ads were the starting kind of stories. Obviously Google ads is a little bit different with regards to this slide. We’re all talking about paid social, so we use the basic demographics, company size, titles, industry locations, things of that nature. But then as we kind of progressed, we started adding on other types of things.

So the sales team really wanted to make sure that we had one on one alignment with the same exact accounts that they were actually targeting with cold emails and all of the stuff that they’re doing. So we use then a targetaccount list within some of these same campaigns or alongside the demographic campaigns that we had running to make sure that there was 100% alignment with sales, and that’s really, really important for any client that we work with, but something that we try to do with everyone if they have it. And then the next thing is obviously Zoom intent some data. We tried that out which, you know, there’s a whole bunch of different in data providers like Bombora – A whole bunch, right. But the key part there is the ultimate goal was like, okay, cool, like zooms, release, identify that these people are in market.

So we try to create some campaigns around very kind of more bottom of the funnel type activities with creative and all sorts of things that a lot of people that maybe you’re a little bit closer to moving forward and getting a demo. And we so we ran those. There’s another point of retargeting, or targeting rather and then clear bits.

The last piece to this is we kind of started initially with Facebook doing a lot of retargeting, then we moved into prospecting on Facebook and obviously the native targeting in Facebook is not that great, especially for B2B. But, if you use third party data like Clear, then there’s other platforms out there that do this too, it gives you a much better ability to target the exact people you want to go after.

So that’s a little bit about targeting. And then in terms of like the actual split budget, which is always interesting, then obviously big caveat is like clearly, these numbers changed along the way. It wasn’t always this way from the start, but, in general we had the split between two different market segments. One was mid-market and SMB with it.

A lot of focus in the beginning of the company started to expand to the Enterprise segment. We split that 70 to 30, and then prospecting retargeting was an 8020 split across all channels. Again, sometimes these numbers will be a little bit different based on the amount, based on performance or things like that. But ideally we don’t want to choke out the prospecting layer and make sure that gets enough money, but then at the same time, we don’t want to give too much money to retargeting because then the ad frequency goes up too much. So it’s a kind of constant balance of making sure things are split the right way. And then in terms of the channel distribution, you see 30% to Facebook. That was kind of more after we ramped it up.

It wasn’t that much in the beginning. LinkedIn was always a heavy channel for us, straight from the beginning. Just given the nature of LinkedIn and the success we had with it. And then obviously a smaller budget for display and YouTube for some of the content there. So that’s kind of.

Jason Steele:
To add to that. Just real quick, it’s important. Even though YouTube only had 10% of the budget on this slide, important to note that YouTube was a performer for us. It was a key player during this time period because not only did you have the ability to kind of build audiences off of the queries from page search to just really hone in who your target you’re targeting on YouTube.

It converted for us. And so even though 10% was kind of the average across the time period, we did fluctuate that quite a bit and saw a really nice return from a lead gen perspective from a channel is typically reserved for branding.

Jonathan Bland:
Exactly. Now YouTube is great. I think, if I remember correctly, one of their biggest deals. I think you’ve been in the business from YouTube. So, so yeah, pretty cool. And then obviously created a lot going on in the slide. I’m not going to go to every little nook and cranny here, but obviously want to chat a little about the creative look to show the examples, but unfortunately couldn’t reveal that all in this presentation. But the key takeaways here are making sure that your ad is always outcome focused. And we’ll talk about how to create headlines in a more outcome focused with literally on the next slide. But that’s the biggest thing, right? We want to make sure that we layer those things in from the beginning.

So that’s not focus just on your product and what it can do, but also what is ultimately I’m getting out of this not just fluffy stuff like increased sales or decrease time or things like that, something that’s specific. So that’s that’s key. We still always keep our ads roughly to like 8 to 12 words. And that, again, just helps make sure the message is punchy, clear and short, because people don’t have a lot of time.

They go into the newsfeed to sit there and read a long paragraph. So those are some things we think about. The other one that’s really important is CTAs as well. So a lot of people use like the standard, like learn more or download whatever, right? In terms of the CTAs that come right out of the box of LinkedIn, Facebook and other platforms, but you can actually play around with CTAs in the ad creative, make it a lot more specific. And we did some testing and notice that, you know specific CTAs that better aligned with ultimately what they were going to get when they clicked ended up performing a lot better. So that’s another thing to kind of keep in mind. And then the last part is obviously people are very visual.

They process visual information faster, they do text based information. So it’s really important to make sure that whatever visual you’re using somehow aligns with that headline. So the best you can, if they looked at the visual, they could maybe even get some of the message straight from that visual. So those are a couple of little takeaways in terms of ad creative.

Obviously, a bunch of different stuff in here that we kind of do our regular process.

Jason Steele:
A picture is worth a thousand words is not a statement that was created without reason.

Jonathan Bland:
100% psychological proven. So yeah, you’ve got to keep that stuff in mind. But I mean like the example back to like outcomes is this is just an easy thing, that easy kind of trick that we use and I think helps a lot of people. But if you were just to literally take an Excel spreadsheet out right now or Google Sheets or whatever you use and write the words “I want”, and then fill in a whole bunch of different outcomes that ultimately each persona or each type of ICP is looking for.

Then you can start filling in and get outcome based statements like, Hey, I want firmographic targeting on Facebook. As an example, this is something that’s pushed for quite a while, and then all you have to do is remove the pro down place of an action verb and then you’ve got get firmographic targeting on Facebook.

This is what I want, what I desire, what I’m trying to do. And the more specific it is, the better people think. Sometimes I going to be vague because that applies to everyone like it like better to make sure that whatever you’re targeting in that campaign, you’ve got a message. The lines is as best as possible to that ultimate that ultimate headline.

So a couple of points there in terms of headlines, but we’ll get into the strategy now. I’m going to talk about all the details here.

Jason Steele:
Yeah, search was a player for us, RLSA. So, our framework around paid search is just brand name brand competitors in our list say it’s a very, you know, a typical structure. RLSA for those who don’t know it’s retargeting on search we’re targeting list for search ads and then of course praise and exact from a match type perspective represented about 90% of the budget broad was about 10%.

And that varied throughout the relationship as we scale to $1 billion. But you’ll see here that we combined phrase and exact just because of the nature of the match type and then kept broad in its own siloed container. And really the reason for that is because broad can get a little hairy, right? You got to really, really, really take considerations and many factors when working with Broad.

Otherwise you can you can far expand your reach out for sort of what you’re anticipating. But I think by sorry.

Jonathan Bland:
Yeah, waste a lot of money, potentially.

Jason Steele:
Waste a lot of money or, you know, give you the perception that you’re targeting the right audience through the queries. But due to the nature of Google’s, I don’t know, keeping us in the dark to a degree, you kind of have to manage the expectations there. But geo based campaigns were always important for us as we scaled and not a lot to say about this.

I’d say that the non brand side of the House represented the majority of the budget. When we were talking about brand, name, brand and competitors, I will say the competitors brought in a lion’s share of the leads. They became ultimately very competitive. At the end of the day, we’re starting out with clicks of a CPCs at 30 bucks and then CPCs were ranging up near $150 at times.

But we were able to maneuver around those waters and have some really great success with our paid search efforts.

Jonathan Bland:
Yeah, exactly. The last point on competitors, like most people, be like hundred $50. It’s insane. Like, I wouldn’t do that ever. But again, like we were carefully watching things in the CRM to try to understand, hey, is it worth continuing to spend money on these campaigns? And it was the amount of pipeline that was created, the amount of revenue that it closed from those campaigns ended up still being worth it.

We don’t see that all the time. Some competitor campaigns a lot of times can be losers and some of the campaigns we want to back away from. But important to keep in mind that we always need to track those things all the way back into pipeline of the CRM.

Jason Steele:
Well, a quick is not a click is not a click. And what that means is, you know, a 150 bucks may mathematically make sense for your organization. Your upper threshold may be 37 bucks. And it just kind of depends on the level of aggression that you’re willing to play, and the sales cycle, and the ACV and just everything that’s that’s there to play with, but so Message Match is a huge thing with paid search and really any advertising right across any channel. But we try to get search term the ad then ultimately the landing page to match as much as humanly possible to provide continuity for the end user and also to give us an edge from an algorithm perspective when we’re optimizing the account.

So a lot of people, they’ll just take an ad group and they’ll shove a bunch of keywords in there, and they’ll loosely kind of relate things. Maybe they don’t loosely relate things, maybe they just kind of cluster according to what they feel they want to go after. And that’s a perfectly fine strategy for a smaller account, or depending on your goals.

But what we did pardon me is SKAG’s – single keyword ad groups. So we’ve got an ad group, you’ve got a keyword and you have a series of ads and we’ll go into the ad format here in a minute. But then allowing us to match the headline, the description, the path and other variations of the text ad to not only algorithm likely be optimized, but when the user asks the question via a search query, you know, we can be there and answer that question for them.

Hopefully warm them up depending on the strategy or convert them into a lead.

Jonathan Bland:
Exactly.

Jason Steele:
Yeah. So the general text ad structure, impactful text ad structure we see here, was a three pronged approach for general text ad. So we get the product in the keyword, then you have outcome, then you have action. Another variation is the company followed by the keyword outcome in action, and then finally outcome first product and keyword and action, and what we mean by outcome is something you can see at the right hand side. The result that one can expect when using the product or service. So we always need to message all types of advertising, including paid search from an outcome perspective, right? People think that way. Human beings are thinking about what they can receive from not only clicking the ad, but engaging with the customer or the client that it’s in the the company.

The action is kind of a do x to result in Y, and it’s kind of an affirmation of what you can receive at the same time. And we’ll go into some examples on this in a little bit is kind of an inspirational hurrah as far as what you’re going to receive, the kind of complements the outcome quite well, but through this three tiered structure of product company and outcome, we were able to really hone in on the structure that had the best performance. And we really did see some some very good gains in differentiations from the CTR as it relates to these different styles that informed our strategy moving forward. And competitors, same thing – company and keyword than outcome than action company versus competition outcome in action, and the pink text there is just showing that we did have a pending strategy throughout the relationship as we grew to the $1 billion in valuation. It wasn’t always like this and we tested many, many, many variations. But this is the general framework.

Jonathan Bland:
Yeah. And for people that don’t what pinning is, it just means that one headline is fixed and stays where it is. The other headlines rotate around it. So a lot of times will pin the first headline and then have rotation on headlines two and then three if it shows up, which normally it doesn’t on Google ads, but that’s kind of the idea, and then ultimately we’ll get the best outcome and or action obviously went out and that’s that’s kind of what we do and some examples of that are these right. So you’ve got again product plus keyword, you get interactive product demos and then the outcome of what they’re going to choose and to to many times increase in book demos and actually bring your product to life, which is kind of another two degree outcome, but something that people want.

So that’s an example and there’s a lot of different variations here. You’ve got company was keyword again, which is important. We are now associating the search term and the keyword in the same headline, plus the brand, which is great because now people are then going to associate the brand with that specific thing they’re searching for. Right? And we want that to.

And then again, same thing outcome message 2 to 3 times, increase book demos and then another similar action on the inside. And then the last is outcome kind of starting in the front. And we’ll essentially then create these different ads and just rotate them and see which one is ultimately performing the best.

Jason Steele:
You know, this variation here was one that did win multiple times, and you’ll notice that action area back about about the the affirmation of the outcome. It’s kind of like saying, okay, you’re going to get 2 to 3 X increase in booked demos. But what you want to do is you want to bring your product to life. It’s an affirmation of the outcome in a way, and it’s relatable.

Jonathan Bland:
Exactly. Exactly. So in terms of like the questions always like what did we do to actually measure your success? What were the metrics of reporting on that to them? And ultimately, you’ve got two sections which are leading indicators of lagging indicators. I think marketers historically we all know what leading indicators read. We’ve all reported those four years lagging indicators, not so much, but obviously a lot of marketers are now getting a lot better doing that, which is great. Impressions, clicks, CTR. Many of you use the leaves or the primary things on the left hand side that really was inbound pipeline, both paid and aggregate. What I mean by aggregate is just looking at the full inbound funnel because attributions not perfect. So we try to measure what we can, but we also accept that it’s not going to be perfect.

So we really need to look at overall broader changes to the funnel. So that was the what that means is that obviously sales cycle length and ACB and with both of those, I mean, obviously you guys saw some of the data before and I’ve got one of the slide to kind of share some metrics. But with sales cycle, we saw that progressively actually decreasing over six months after working together, ECD increased around 55%.

If I rememver correctly, some somewhere around there, which is great and that was actually the result of moving upstream as well because as you remember, there was a slide between S&P in Enterprise. So that helped increase deal size. And again, create a lot more pipeline for the company. So if you look at the numbers, virtually a good share more than July 2021 in terms of data here.

But you still get the idea in terms of the progression. The one thing on this slide is I probably should have added the ad spend as we went month to month, but I can tell you that we were in of anywhere between like $15,000, roughly starting out and then into just under $200,000 per month, roughly in terms of overall ad spend.

And that just progressed as we saw some more success. But clearly, you’re going from 65 demos to 193. Obviously, these numbers are a little bit different than the before and after because this is a different time frame. And then inbound pipeline through to 99,000 of 1.4 million, so on and so forth. So these are the things that obviously we really wanted to see from these guys and it was great.

And obviously, again, hats off, like we said in the beginning, can’t do without a great product, great sales team and a whole bunch of other stuff, right? Paid ads is just one distribution channel, but we feel like we did an awesome job of those guys executing so good. But it’s a good story. Well, cool. Well, hopefully this was valuable to everyone.

I feel like we kind of ran quickly, but in a little 20 and 25 minute session, it’s kind of hard to get through all the details. So, hopefully guys got something out of it. If anyone has wants to talk marketing that either Jason or I or reach out at all from a paid perspective, specifically, feel free to scan a QR code or direct to our website or if you would just want to go to omnilabconsulting.com or find one of us on LinkedIn.

That works too, but I hope you guys enjoy the show. Cheers.

Jason Steele:
Cheers.

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