Case Study - SoldOut
Inbound Marketing Reduces the Operating Costs, and Generates 150 Website Inquiries per Month
- 1. Challenge - Supporting Small and Medium-Sized Companies Across the Country Through Digital Marketing: A Major Challenge Was Lurking in the Shadow of the Overwhelming Sales Force
- 2. Strategy - Adopting Content Marketing, and Leveraging SEO Expertise. Choosing HubSpot Tool for Its Pull Marketing Philosophy.
- 3. Results - Getting 300,000 Monthly PV After 6 Months of Consistent Hard Work, and the Secret of the Inbound Style Business Getting Flooded with 150 Monthly Inquiries.
- 4. Explanation - The Reason to Use Ad to Get Quick Results, and Why You Should Consider Using Both Inbound Marketing and Ad.
Supporting Small and Medium-Sized Companies Across the Country Through Digital Marketing: A Major Challenge Was Lurking in the Shadow of the Overwhelming Sales Force
Since its establishment in 2009, SoldOut provides web marketing service to small and medium-sized companies across Japan. They are thoroughly fastidious about "investment vs. profit". Fuminori Kobayashi, PR Department Chief Advisor, explains their reasoning as follows: “We started with the online advertisements as an investment, preparing fo the digital marketing support services. But our services were cheap and low-quality, hence we couldn’t solve our customers’ problems. So, we went ahead with automation to optimized the efficiency of our internal processes, and we took “Consistently Offering High-Quality Service At A Low Price” as our motto. We see our mission as solving the problems of venture customers and supporting all the small and medium-sized businesses, which represent about 90% of all the businesses in the country, in growing and taking on challenges.”
Another of our SoldOut’s strengths is their "outstanding sales force". From 24 sales offices across the country, through regionally-focused meetings and operations, they boast results achieved in solving challenges for a large number of businesses. However, the scope of their business ability backfired and a large problem was appeared. Kobayashi gives the details: “For a long time, we talked to customers on the phone, and we did business making call appointments in a push style, but starting from 2013, as the scale of our business expanded, problems arose including the size of our personnel expenses, the weight of the mental toll, and our results being heavily dependent on individuals. At this point, it was clear that, sooner or later, intrusive, push-style business was going to reach its limits, and we decided we would switch to a pull style of business, making customers to come to us.” However, for a long time, this company, which relied on the business skills of individual employees, did not have a platform for switching to pull-style operations. Kobayashi laughs that “It’s an embarrassing story for us as a business which provides digital marketing services, but our company’s header website was made and not updated for several years. And a mailer popped up when someone clicked on the “Inquiries” button, but we were lucky if we got a few inquiries a month. So, becoming a pull-type business was absolutely out of the question.
The corporate site before the HubSpot implementation. A mailer pops up when the “Inquiries” button was clicked.
They were failing to follow their own advice -- something which might be unimaginable for a company specializing in digital marketing. Nonetheless, they certainly accumulated a long list of achievements, and, turning them over, the height of their business prowess becomes clear. This great ability is one reason that cynical people have trouble seeing this company’s challenges.
Adopting Content Marketing, and Leveraging SEO Expertise. Choosing HubSpot Tool for Its Pull Marketing Philosophy.
From push to pull. This company, which decided to switch its business style from push to pull, began an investigation on how to attract customers. Kobayashi looks back on this time, saying “This was a totally new challenge for our company. It was impossible for us to use brute force techniques like increasing our profile by throwing a lot of money at it or bringing in customers by developing mass advertisements. On the other hand, with content marketing, we could use the SEO expertise we’ve been cultivating since the earliest days of our business. So, if the content we are creating can reach the search engine top results for keywords related to digital marketing, and with a deep connection to our business, we would definitely be able to bring in a lot of customers.”
Continuing on, foolproof marketing automation tools were selected to manage content marketing, which was a goal they chased from the beginning. Kobayashi explains the selection process: “We’d had an interest in marketing automation tools since a long time, and since that time we had been interested in HubSpot, which boasted a lot of success overseas with inbound marketing. Even by just experiencing the free trial, we felt that we absolutely wanted to use it. There are plenty of marketing automation tools that are crammed with features, but the majority of them aren’t very user-friendly. But HubSpot, which has a pull-style customer attraction design philosophy, can be understood from looking at the management screen, despite being a all-in-one marketing software package. It can all be managed in one place, even by people who aren’t able to use everything, which is the strength of HubSpot compare to other Marketing automation tools.”
They started implementing inbound marketing with 24-7 inc, a HubSpot partner who had done work for them before. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t any problems. Kobayashi highly estimates the value of bringing in 24-7: “First, because no one at our company used marketing automation tool previously, it was necessary to learn about HubSpot from the very basics. Also, in addition to learning the fundamentals, there was some trial and error working with it and we had several consultations with 24-7, who are well-versed in HubSpot. They helped us a lot, providing specific answers to very vague questions.”
The first feature they used when they implemented HubSpot was the Form. “When starting with inbound marketing, you first have to accumulate customers data. So, we prepared several forms with different fields depending on the purpose, and collected all the inquiries in HubSpot, where the leads are stored. Also, to accept inquiries, we decided to start up new owned media website,” says Kobayashi.
The reason they decided to start up a new media rather than using the corporate website was that their main purpose was to provide high-quality articles which could solve readers’ problems. From on objective viewpoint, they didn't want to the articles look like sponsored articles associated to their company's name.
WEB Marketing Improvement Support,
PR Department, Chief Director Assistant,
Getting 300,000 Monthly PV After 6 Months of Consistent Hard Work, and the Secret of the Inbound Style Business Getting Flooded with 150 Monthly Inquiries.
In inbound marketing, it's extremely important to build a media that can attract customers. Hence, understanding how to create interesting articles is the key for lead generation. At first, SoldOut partnered with another company to create content, but this did not produce the expected results. So, they decided to stop outsourcing the content creation, and doing it in-house instead. They felt that employees of company had obviously a better understanding of the service, therefore they would be able to create articles which could solve readers’ problems. Kobayashi explains what goes on behind the scenes of starting up the content production: “In the six months after we started up this results-oriented project, we reached 300,000 page views per month, but we were still struggling with the process. also, we had to put a lot of effort to write good articles. As a company employee, and understanding well our service, I can write a lot of articles about it, but that would be useless if I don't write about the kind of problems we can solve. It’s necessary to write from the point of view of readers who have problems, so I create articles which return to the beginning and dig deep into services.”
At first, they started narrowing down the topic to problems related to listing adverstisement and landing page, and a small number of chosen employees were aiming at publishing one article per day on LISKUL, their owned media blog. As their SEO gradually improved, their articles were getting a better ranking, and they increased the number of writers. Now, that they are getting 500,000 page view per month, it is not unusual for them to have the new hires writing articles. An editor-in-chief has been chosen, and due to the active participation of the employees, the company regularly organized writing study.
LISKUL, the owned media blog managed by SoldOut
Kobayashi comments that “the basic premise is that managers of small and medium-sized companies will read our owned media blog, and it takes on roles in internal training and knowledge sharing. Young employees read those high-quality and easy-to-understand articles. They learn and begin writing articles themselves. They improved their general skills and know-how, hence they can reaching a higher level of development.”
LISKUL is a blog that does not require membership. Anyone can read the articles. They get the email address of the people who want to subscribe to the blog or want to download documents. They nurture leads through sending out them the latest information by email. Kobayashi’s feelings on the results of implementing inbound marketing: “Continuing to send out emails allows us to receive inquiries from interested people. Our business is a stream of consultation calls with people who want to discuss things deeply. Incidentally, when we relied on push-style business, we had a few inquiries. But after swithching to pull-style, we are getting 150 inquiries per month. Moreover, all the time we were speding to acquire new customers dropped to zero. Best of all, because inquiries come to us because of our expertise and understanding of their problems, the quality of our leads has also risen.”
The Reason to Use Ad to Get Quick Results, and Why You Should Consider Using Both Inbound Marketing and Ad.
When starting with inbound marketing, it is common to first create personas. However, it is not necessary to create extremely detailed personas at the very beginning. After implementing the strategy, you will be able to refine them and add more details. Kobayashi’s view: “When we first started using HubSpot, we only created rough personas. Afterward, while managing our owned media blog, we got a better understanding of our readers(’ tendencies), and we are planning on creating more accurate personas to reach broader target audience. But with the problem with too much fragmentation is that it will take us more time and will be more costly. In the other hand, using more generic personas will allow us to create a sustained content strategy, and our efforts will compound."
First, they created an owned media blog, and provided quality content to generate leads. Then, they used marketing automation to nurture these leads. Finally, they had sales people closing the highly qualified leads. According to Kobayashi, this flow is a winning pattern for B2B companies struggling with customers acquisition. But he also says that whether or not every B2B company should implement inbound marketing immediately, this is another story. Kobayashi advises that "you should first think about it as an investment. In terms of investment, online ads will bring results quickly, while SEO, as a part of the inbound marketing strategy, will take time to show results. It depends about what results you are looking to get now. But as a business, we’re supposed to do both, so we try to have level-headed discussions of this with customers who are concerned with SEO and advertising.”
To be successful at inbound marketing, it's important to choose the most suitable marketing automation tool and the right partner. Kobayashi concludes that "you need to pay attention to the UI when choosing a marketing automation software. HubSpot interface has been updated seveal times, giving it an extreme ease of use, down to its smallest details. it is also necessary to partner with an agency that has a thorough knowledge of the software, like 24-7, and who can provide correct answers, even to unreasonable questions."
In inbound marketing, the ability to attract customers with high quality content is essential. If you can create great content, you will be able to attract a lot of leads without sales activities. Also, in order to be able to concentrate on the essentials of one’s business decrease the amount of time needed to do the work, one must increase the company skills used in accomplishing that work.
First, try to get the employees having the deepest understanding about your products and services to create the media (blog). This should reduce the friction, and the challenge left to implement inbound marketing should be valuable.