Welcome to Marketing Lego Thought Leader Interview. Today we will have a word with Rajagopalan Chandrashekar, Head of Inbound Marketing & Strategy Znbound, about his journey and how he came up with his agency. We will also talk about the valuable insights on inbound marketing methodology, strategy, tips and more.
Hey, everyone, and welcome to today’s marketing legos thought leader interview. My name is Harshit and I’m the director of business alliances of two brilliant marketing SaaS tools, RankWatch and WebSignals. Today’s special guest is Inbound Specialist, a HubSpot Platinum Partner, founder of a marketing agency in Mount mantra. Raj, a big welcome, and I’m so happy to speak with you today.
I’m sure you will. Years of experience with you, Raj, would love to know your journey so far. How were you as a kid and how did you get to where you are today?
I never worked abroad just for a few stints as part of my banking and GMR journey. When I did some short stints in. I felt that the internet could essentially add a lot of value to businesses there, not just in terms of maybe growing revenue, but also to become more productive. Since I’m an industrial engineer, productivity is very fascinating for me. That was the intent. I did not have very clear ideas of what I really wanted to do, but I left my job and I thought I’ll figure it out.
What made you that initial kick to… Because once you have that regular paycheck and that took for 10 years, your mind gets used to the idea. And then taking that leap of faith itself is really tough to do. So what was that initial source of the Market?
I don’t know. I just felt that I have to do something. It was not an easy decision for sure. But the way I thought about it was that I was living with that thought all the time, I have to start up. And then I said, okay, let me start up, fail, and then I’ll get back to a job and end our story.
It’s been more than a decade now.
They also think even if they train some of their internal team members, what if they leave? You might as well become an agency which does this full service. We transitioned and we became this social digital agency which was very hot in 2012, 2013. We became something like that. When we were going about doing some of our work, I wasn’t able to see the value that we were creating. Discussions around likes and follows and so on and so forth. We’re very difficult conversation and somehow I was not able to see any value in it. There were ridiculous conversations saying, I don’t know, one cent, one like, or something like that. Since I came from a consulting background, I always felt that there needs to be a business problem that has to be addressed alongside that. With that mindset, I started looking for people who are doing it already. That is when I landed on HubSpot and understood what they’re doing with respect to inbound marketing. That’s when I felt like, Hey, this is exactly what I’d like to perhaps do as an agency. I think this was 2013 and we started running in that direction.
That’s way too early as well.
The point of time I remember, just like you mentioned, people are just figuring out what to do with social media marketing. Cloud was something which was way ahead of the time, I believe.
So we took up… So in inbound marketing, what I realized was that whenever the purchase cycle is long or a product or a service is difficult to understand, that’s when inbound kicks in. So, we went after retail, which was mostly luxury real estate. We got a chance to work with Soho and they were… I’m grateful that they gave us the chance. So, in the initial 2014, 2015, we were doing all kinds of work without being very discreet. But after that happened, 16 onwards, this pattern started emerging of SaaS companies needing inbound marketing to grow in North America. That pattern started emerging. That pattern over the years has solidified into our global market, wherein we continue to work mostly with SaaS companies, helping them grow their business revenue from inbound marketing in a predictable fashion.
Let’s talk a bit more about all the service offerings that currently the agency has. What do you guys do?
So, that is what we do mostly on a project basis.
Got you. Just curious, Raj, the HubSpot consultation that you guys do, is it something which is more or less, or the set up thing, is it more or less a one time service, or is it a recurring service in nature?
Got you. And as an agency, right now, are you 100 % practising inbound or if there are any outbound strategies that you are still trying to do for your clients?
We don’t do any calling, but if we have to do email prospecting or run LinkedIn ad campaigns or Google ad words campaigns, which also are a little outbound but also a little inbound.
Google ads are now mainly considered inbound.
Just curious, how exactly is your onboarding process? What’s a typical client journey, like the first 30 days in your organization, look like? What processes do you have in place to engage the client, set the expectations, and move forward?
That’s a much better fit because people are recurring in their job.
If there is no potential for revenue and ROI suspect, we then communicate that to the client, saying that, Hey, ROI is looking difficult, but if you are keen to still try it out, then maybe we can do a small three month, four month proof of concept. For them to ring fence their investment and do all of that.
Why is that? Because a lot of agencies won’t confront that this is something which is not achievable. You keeping that transparency is really worth remarking. That’s awesome.
Saying that, hey, month one traffic so much leads this much, so on and so forth for 12 months. So, we give a 12 month projection. So, when we get started, the idea is to… Obviously, I think one thing that we do very differently is we tell the client that, hey, you need to give us autonomy. There is no need for you to do agency management. If you’re doing agency management, then I don’t think you need to hire us. Once you’ve given us that input, you leave it to us. If you’re not achieving our monthly KPIs or quarterly KPIs, then you can take us apart and fire us. That’s not a problem. But the thing is you should not waste time in agency management because we know what is to be done. Which is why what happens in the first quarter, our focus completely is on getting quick wins. Whether it is increasing traffic, increasing leads, growing keyword ranking for important commercial keywords, running social media campaigns on LinkedIn, etc. To make sure that quality leads are getting generated. Then we also follow through some of those inbound inquiries to make sure how sales is talking to them and is sales getting the right conversations?
The progress of a lead from an inquiry, from a lead to a sales acceptability, to an SQL to opportunity to customer. The first quarter is completely that focus. In terms of transaction, how it works is we typically have weekly review calls. We have a certain agenda template. We typically also put open communication channels mostly on Google Space. Other than that, some clients insist on using project management like Asana. Whatever it is, we try to align with that. That’s how essentially the initial few months are.
Don’t mind me asking, what’s the current retention rate of the agency?
They bring someone in who also understands the business, can understand the work we have already done, and then they like to move on.
That’s very wise. If a client is not a good fit for your agency, they don’t understand the way you guys work and there’s a lot of difference on that front. Instead of doing good, it makes your life miserable and you end up wasting too much time. So, it’s good to say no to a business before and then making your team members’ life miserable.
I completely agree with you. At an initial phase of the agency, because you need to sort your cash flows and so many things. So at that particular stage, definitely for you, every business is important. Once you mature, then you understand with experience that it’s good to say no, that particular business is not a good fit for yours. That’s a wise thing to do. Let’s talk more about inbound methodologies.
One of the really good things and I was fascinated by it was your website development approach. Please share a bit about that and how you go about taking up a new project and developing things.
Our website needs to be our customer facing touch point. That’s how we approach it. Typically, my colleagues in the industry will approach it from other perspectives as well. One which most of them do is visual design. My website needs to look good. Our approach has… Obviously, we like our website to look good, but that’s not the driver. The driver is completely about… For example, when we get a chance to look up our website, inbound mantra, which we redesigned two years ago. It’s only made for those guys who want to do business with us. For example, if you come to a website and you don’t find something relevant to you, it perhaps means that we will not be doing business with you.
Content obviously is, then the copy is. The third element is about conversions. How easily people can get in touch with you. Then there is this technical aspect and I don’t know how you guys are thinking or your current set of customers, is the speed of the site.
Yeah, it’s called growth driven design.
How exactly do you do that? Like collecting thoughts onto what the customer wants? How do you go about that?
Definitely. Makes sense.
Raj, please share a few tips related to the inbound strategies that every business should use. It’s a must in this digital age altogether.
That’s definitely one. Second, I think this is more when I’m giving these suggestions, it’s more for an audience which is running a SaaS business, but it would also apply for others, but definitely for SaaS. This is a mistake, at least I have done, is focusing too much on performance and not enough on the brand. Got you. I think the brand building has to start from the very beginning. You have to be really conscious about the perception you’re building, what you stand for, and some of that should get communicated often time and again. One is continuous publishing, third is brand building, second is brand building. Third, you really need to get good at business strategy. If you really want to make inbounder success, you really need to get good with business strategy right from reading some of the strategy models, whether it’s Polter, five forces, Swa, this and that. Whatever it is, you should at least get an MDF crash course and get some of these strategy models in place. Fourth, when I say 1, 2, 3, 4, they necessarily don’t have to be 1, 2, 3, 4. They can be any five, six, seven, eight also.
But I’m just telling you some of the important things I have learned. Fourth is analytics. You need to be able to analyze each and every thing that you’re doing and then decide whether you need to continue or stop it. I think these are some suggestions that are very important for someone who’s just… This is for people who are just getting started with it now. People who are already doing inbound, they obviously would know some of these things. But if you are someone who is already doing inbound, that is something I would like you to know and be disturbed.
And Raj since your agency is dealing with multiple tools when it comes to marketing, automation, and the CRM altogether. Hubspot is one, Marketo, a few others. How do you go about consulting a particular client? Which particular tool will be the best fit for their organization? What does that particular process look like?
The only decisions we have had to make has been HubSpot, Salesforce, or when people even don’t have the budget for taking HubSpot, then we have also gone to an open source tool called Motik and even configured those setups where people have taken those for their marketing automation, then integrated against with the three hub sports here. That’s my answer to that.
Makes sense. What are the common mistakes that you see businesses making when it comes to automation altogether? Earlier, it was more about businesses which already have a decent amount of traffic on their side. We used to leverage automations and all, but now, even entry level business, they do take part in to leverage such tools to optimize their processes and get more value. What are the common mistakes that you see in your experience and how to avoid them?
Now, the thing is when you do automation, whenever you take a tool like HubSpot, for example, it’s built for an efficient process. It’s not built for an inefficient process. Because you put automation into an inefficient process, you still get an inefficient process. These are some challenges I see where the expectation itself is not right. Second, there isn’t enough documentation of the process and the processes themselves are inefficient. These are some challenges we see when people look at automation. Then what do you call that? That excitement curve, which then teters off the curve of peak of excitement and then maturity. I am forgetting now what it is, but maybe I can send it over to you. Typically, when people take up automation, there is this peak of excitement, super excited. Then they see, Oh, okay, there are these problems and it looks difficult. We need people, we need to hire an agency, we need to spend more money. Then their excitement fall. Only when the excitement falls and people still put their nose into it and say, okay, now let me see how this can help me. That is where the growth actually starts happening. Many people, typically, think it’s called the truth of death.
Most of them potentially die there after that initial excitement about the machine. But like I said, the first point is the expectation itself is wrong. The processes are not documented, and even when there are processes, they are inefficient.
Got you. Raj a few tips on how to maximize inbound marketing efficiency. That is something which is again, like, critical and many businesses struggle to do it.
Frankly, at this point, I would like to go from RankWatch how you’re thinking. I don’t know whether this search engine play will continue for many years to come. I think marketers and my colleagues and my friends will have to keep thinking of more ways to be relevant. I definitely think that inbound marketing will change completely. Maybe it will be called something else, I don’t know. But it will not sustain.
See, even if you write it on, look into the search landscape, more ads have started taking positions and the whole landscape is actually changing. You see the snippets ranking, different spread, whether it be ads or whatnot. But then usually the feed is a source site. Google is taking that feed from the sites altogether.
One very curious thing I’ve experienced is that even though a lot of marketers believe that if you look into the search landscape, the position of organic research is shrinking. But then too, the traffic that people get from the organic source, that is really a thing. Still working on the fable, it’s just that it’s not too obvious right now. So, that’s the scenario.
How to do it quantity again, just like you said, that’s way too critical.
That’s true, actually. I was looking into the Ahrefs’ Founders video quite some time back, and they’ve been building their own search engine. I like the vision of the guy. The reason he wanted to build the search engine was for the fact that he wanted to share the revenue that the search business generates for him with the publishers and make it way too transparent. They are the source of knowledge. Basically all the information that the searcher needs, just giving the community back. That was his vision, which was very wise. Let’s see.
That will eventually end. Might take time, but that is something very hard to sustain.
That’s true. Even the searchers’ psyche is changing as well.
I think I’ve already taken a lot of your time, Raj.
Do you have a few minutes to have a quick rapid fire?
Very easy. You love it.
What is your last Google search?
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
At what age were you the happiest in life?
That’s nice. What career did you dream of having as a kid?
Did you join any of those?
What trait most defines you, who you are?
Thank you so much, Raj, for all the time. I really appreciate it and all the value that you have.
Thank you, Raj. It’s a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks.