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The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022

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The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
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When should startups invest in marketing Ft. Nicolas Vandenberghe of Chili Piper (Inbound Success, Ep. 136)

By Kathleen Booth

Kathleen Booth also recommends this free guide: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022.

When should startups invest in marketing Ft. Nicolas Vandenberghe of Chili Piper (Inbound Success, Ep. 136) Blog Feature

How did Chili Piper grow to become one of the hottest new sales software providers, and what would the team do differently if they had to start all over again?

Nicolas Vandenberghe Chili PiperThis week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Chili Piper Founder and CEO Nicolas Vandenberghe shares the story of growing his company, from his early days bootstrapping, to what he is doing now that he has secured venture capital funding, and what he would do differently if he had to start over again today.

One of the biggest things Nicolas would change is his approach to marketing.

Listen to the podcast to learn why he would have started investing in marketing much earlier than he actually did, and how he thinks that would have changed the company's growth trajectory.

Free Guide: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022

Highlights from my conversation with Nicolas include:

  • Nicolas started Chili Piper to help solve the problem of companies not booking meetings with interested inbound leads.
  • The solution he developed helps his customer double their bookings.
  • Nicolas credits his early success to achieving product-market fit quickly.
  • The company gained traction in the US market by using what it calls the "bullseye" strategy, which involved targeting highly influential customers to establish social proof.
  • This strategy was successful in helping Chili Piper bootstrap its initial growth.
  • Now that the company has secured venture capital funding and Nicolas needs to scale it, he wishes he had made a larger investment in marketing earlier.
  • Chili Piper calls the category in which it plays "buyer enablement" and is focused on creating products that are so good, buyers will demand to switch to them.
  • This is how Nicolas believes they will unseat the incumbent providers, like Microsoft and Google, that their prospective customers currently rely on. 

Resources from this episode:

Listen to the podcast to learn why startups should invest in marketing early, and how even an unknown startup can take on the industry giants.


Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.

I'm Kathleen Booth and I'm your host, and this week my guest is Nicolas Vandenberghe, who's the CEO and co-founder of Chili Piper. Welcome, Nicolas.

Nicolas Vandenberghe (Guest): Thanks. I'm happy to be here.

Nicolas Vandenberghe and Kathleen Booth
Nicolas and Kathleen recording this episode.

Kathleen: I’m excited to have you here. I've been sort of watching you and your company for a few years now and I have a personal passion for startups.

It's something that I've invested a lot of my time in, and I really especially love following startups that bootstrap for some of their time and find success, so I'm really excited to talk to you about that, and how you fueled your growth, and what the company does.

About Nicolas Vandenberghe and Chili Piper

Kathleen: So let's actually start out, if you would, by having you tell my guests a little bit more about yourself, your background and story, because that's pretty interesting as well, and Chili Piper and what the company does.

Nicolas: Sure. I'm originally French, as I'm sure everybody will guess. I came to the US in the mid '90s. I went to Stanford Business School with the idea of traveling the world, and when I was there I met Steve Jobs.

He was invited to our class. He sat on the floor. At that time he was CEO of Next, going next to nowhere.

It was an amazing experience and I thought, "That's what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be like him, doing tech companies."

And so I proceeded to do that and I've done several startups, not quite as successful as Apple, I must say, but enough success to be happy and done three different startups.

I also had spent a lot of time in sales, so I funded my studies. I say that I sold newspapers in the streets of Paris. It's a true story. I am very proud of it because I outsold everybody else; this newspaper that sold more than anybody else.

So I have a passion for sales and more recently I got to know the world of sales is going to be completely changed. Digital is going to have a big influence and it hasn't happened yet.

Right now we are still at the stage where records have been put in place. That's what you call CRM. But it's a different role for crossing the chasm and I make a distinction between a system of records and system of action.

The system of action is what should be used to do your job, and that is yet to be invented. So that is the business of Chili Pepper is to say we're going to be the company that will bring central revenue to the scene.

Kathleen: I love that, and it's one of the reasons I was excited to talk to you.

I've been working in marketing and actually sales, I've been in sales roles as well for a long time, and technology and tech stacks have become an increasingly important part of the daily lives of anybody who's in marketing or sales.

It might just be me, but I feel like on the marketing side, there have been just substantial advancements in making the technology a lot more user friendly, but on the sales side, maybe not as much, for the most part.

You see that with CRMs and systems of records as you referred to them. Things like Everyone I talk with kind of both loves it and hates it, and the problem with these platforms, if they're not user friendly, is they don't get used.

Your tech stack is only as good as the decisions of the person who is meant to be using it. If they choose to use something else, then it's garbage in and garbage out. So that's my little rant but what I like about-

Nicolas: You're absolutely right, and still to this day the service is so bad that these days you have companies saying, "If you don't put your data in Salesforce, I won't pay your commission." It's like threats and punishments to use the software.

I mean, imagine if I had to tell my kids, "If you don't use your iPhone, I won't give you any candies."

Kathleen: Yeah, it's ridiculous.

Nicolas: Right. That's right.

Kathleen: It's ridiculous that we're in that position. Yeah.

Nicolas: That's why I'm trying to change the system.

An introduction to Chili Piper

Kathleen: I read an interesting article that said that today every individual, marketer, and salesperson is their own CIO because of this exact problem. Because as a company, you can choose to put software in place but every individual person on that team is going to decide what software they're actually going to use.

If there's friction in the process, they're going to find a way around it. It's sort of like water. When water hits an obstacle, it goes around it and carves a new river. And I think that's what people do with software.

So tell me a little bit about exactly the problems that Chili Piper solves for because you mentioned that it's great for revenue teams, but what exactly does it do?

Nicolas: Yeah, so I started the company to help sales people, and we accidentally stumbled into inbound process. It's something relevant to this podcast.

What's happening is we started with helping people schedule their meetings. So especially with complex situations where there's a big SDR team booking a lot of meetings for a big company team, which they should book with the routing being fair with a round robin distribution. So that's how we get started.

And I was talking to some of our customers and saying, "What's your job?" and they say, "I am an inbound SDR, and what do you do?"

"Some people come to the website, marketing people spend a lot of money to bring them to the website. There's a form to request a demo or talk to somebody. I submit the form and my job is to call them and to book that meeting."

I said, "How is that going for you?" and they said, "It's going great. We're converting at 40%." To which I said, "Wait a minute, you're telling me that out of a hundred people who want to have a meeting, only 40 of them get a meeting? Because somewhere they got lost?"

That seems completely crazy to me but it seems to be accepted in the industry. That's what it is. You have a 40% conversion rate inbound, you're doing great. I didn't even have the... beat yourself up! I don't want to touch it. I'm 40% right. Thinking like it would be the ultimate achievement.

So we decided to build a solution for that and what we did is a small piece of JavaScript that companies put in their webpage, in their form, and when the form is submitted, we get the data from the form.

We can augment the data with solutions like ZoomInfo and Clearbit, these kinds of data sources. And in real time, based on this data, we need to find the right rep who should handle that prospect. We can dial the rep and dial the prospect and connect them in real time or we can retrieve the calendar and show options of the prospect and book a time.

So instead of saying, "Thank you I need to call you," say, "Just pick a time that works for you," they pick a time they're all set.

That seems obvious, but we are the first - and only to this day - company doing it.

When I launched it I said, "That seems too obvious to be true. I must be missing something." It turned out I wasn't.

All of our customers doubled their conversion rates. We had people at 80% conversion, a lot of people at 70% conversion. We had a company that was at 23% and went up 55% which is a very high volume.

So it just works. It was just a matter of innovating, coming up with a new way to do things.

The reason why it stayed at that level for so long is because we were just at the junction between the marketing and sales. So marketing thought we were bringing a good job bringing a lot of leads. Sales thought we were doing a good job filling up the leads.

The reference point was outbound, right, so all these companies you reach, you convert maybe 10% percent of meetings. In inbound we were getting 40%; that looked good.

That was a disconnect, so we're putting that all together with all inbound solutions to do this, handle it very efficiently and improve conversion rates.

Kathleen: It's really genius and it's funny how you mentioned that nobody thought of it sooner. You know, it makes me think of an experience that I recently had as a buyer, and I should preface this in saying that you referred to this under the umbrella of buyer enablement because I do think it's all about giving the buyer choices and allowing them to choose the path that they want to take, and not then putting things in their way.

It makes me think of, I was recently looking to vet agencies that do pay-per-click marketing and I went on to a website of a particular agency who I will not name and they had sort of like a quiz that they needed me to fill out instead of a contact us form, and I get the logic behind it so I filled out the quiz even though I was sort of annoyed.

I just wanted to talk to somebody and then at the end of the quiz, it was like, "We'll get in touch with you to set up a meeting," and I thought, "Well, no." Now I really want to talk to somebody and there was no way for me to go to any kind of a contact form or find any phone number.

It's interesting. By the time they emailed me to set up the meeting, I had already found somebody else that I was really happy with.

So there's like a perfect example of how the 60% of people who can fill out a form, who say they want to talk to you and then don't actually turn into a viable, bottom of the funnel lead/opportunity, because you've allowed that time in between to be filled with another solution, or they've talked themselves out of purchasing, which I'm sure happens a lot.

But it's frustrating. It's frustrating as a buyer.

Nicolas: It's crazy, it's crazy.

Something similar happened to me. I submitted a form to talk to somebody at LinkedIn. At the time, it was a while back, I wanted to buy a license of their solution, and you had to talk to a sales person, so I submitted the form and they said, "Somebody is going to call you," and to my knowledge, nobody did call me.

It turned out that two weeks later, it's not that somebody did call me the next day, but it was a 408 number and I got my setting that it go straight to voicemail, because I didn't know the number, and so I never knew that somebody had called. And it doesn't make sense these days.

So with our solution, a company has the option to connect in real time. We even have what we call real time video.

So if you... it's used a lot by companies for their in-app solutions, so if they're the free service, or paid service, somebody wants to talk to somebody, the most efficient in-app format for conversation is Zoom Video, because you can see each other, you can share your screen you can really engage with others.

We have a real time Zoom Video connection, where you can submit a form and say, "I need to talk to somebody," boom, so here is your Zoom Video link and you're connected to somebody over Zoom.

So, that's such a better experience for the potential buyer to be in real time connected to Zoom Video as opposed to waiting and wondering when they're going to be reached out to.

Kathleen: I want to make sure I understand. Are you telling me... I get that you guys through this JavaScript code can do this on a website, but you're saying that in-app, somebody can also use Chili Piper and immediately spin up a Zoom conversation with...

Nicolas: That's right.

Kathleen: That's a game changer. I mean, just like when you talk about trial to customer conversions and adoption and eliminating those friction points early in experience... that's amazing. I did not realize that it did that, which is very very cool.

Nicolas: Yeah. I think we need to market it a little bit better.

Kathleen: Well, there you go, we're talking about it on the podcast.

When should startups invest in marketing?

Kathleen: One of the things I am fascinated by is your earlier story with the company, when it first started, because, as I mentioned, I work with a lot of start-ups. I am a head of marketing for a start-up right now, and the conversation always revolves around, in those early days, before you have really deep pockets or VCs have thrown a lot of money at you, what should the approach to marketing be?

I feel like there's really two schools of thought from the founders I've met.

Either they believe in throwing all their money and resources at sales and having an entirely sales led organization and they defer marketing until after they get a lot of investment money, or they really really believe in marketing and make an early investment in content and building out their top of the funnel, etc.

And that's a bit more of a long game but it's a leap of faith so I'm sure there's an in between but I seem to talk to those two people who fall in those two courts.

So I'd love to hear what your experience was, because you were successful in your early days bootstrapping.

Nicolas: That's a great way to put it, and I will say that I think the right approach is to do the second, the all in, in marketing. I mistakenly did the first and went to sales, so I'm here to exemplify the mistake.

We did something right at the beginning — the strategy that I call the "Bull's eye." When we came up with the first product — and the first product was around handoff between teams, so distributing between SDRs and account executives -- we had a company come to us and say, "I have this problem, can you solve it for us?"

And so the product market fit was easy because somebody came and said, "I have this problem", and we check if other companies have this problem, and we finally did, and so there was no question of having an idea and-

Kathleen: I was going to say, because that's the danger of having that one customer who's the squeaky wheel and you build out a product just for them only to find out nobody else wants it.

Nicolas: Right, right, so the worst part of that, we actually went to SaaStr. Only SaaS companies, and I went around and said, "Do you have that problem?", "Yes", "Do you have that problem?", "Yes", so more than half had that problem.

Then we did something that was inspired by the fashion industry and namely I was exposed to, in the early 2000s, Louis Vuitton, the luxury brand, built their business in the U.S.

They targeted the most influential people in the world, the celebrities, so they were not so well known in the U.S. except for a few people.

They went to famous actresses and got them free bags and free jewels, so these actresses were photographed. That was the center of the bull's eye.

From there, they went to what they call socialites. In every city there are people who are more visible than others. They're social, they're visible.

They targeted these people, and from there they extended it. So it was a top down, concentric circle.

That worked really well and we did the same and thought, "Okay, which companies are the most influential in our space?" Obviously it's not Beyonce that helps you sell software.

It's companies like Square, Greenhouse in New York, Segment in the bay area -- the companies that people look up to and say, "These guys know what they're doing when it comes to sales and marketing."

So we targeted these companies. It may have taken longer to get the business from them, but once got the business, other companies came to us and that built our early inbound flow from these companies saying, "Hey I booked with Discover Org," "I booked with Discover Org, that was awesome, that was the same experience," "I booked with Segment and it was great, I just did one yesterday. That was a good experience."

So that's what did well to get started to build the foundations. And back to your question from there, what we should have done was build the marketing and expand it, our content and case studies.

Instead, what we did is extend our sales team, so that worked. Every rep paid for themselves. We were able to bootstrap. We passed two million without funding.

It worked well but now two years later we think, "Well we have to build these foundations," because if you want to grow to the hundreds of millions in revenues, you can not do it without a strong brand, and a strong marketing presence, so we waited too long to build marketing foundations at the outset.

Kathleen: This is such an interesting conversation to me and I appreciate your candor in saying you would have done it differently, but I think if somebody is listening they might be thinking, "He says that but they were successful," and so I'm curious what you think would have been different had you started marketing earlier?

Would there have been a different outcome or would it have been the pace that would have changed?

Nicolas: I expect that we would have grown faster.

We typically double over a year, and  expect that we would have done even better than that.

You have to think, the number one problem for us starters is product market fit. If our customers more than double their conversion, they have a return investment that is massive.

That's obviously the first place to get to, but once we have that then the question becomes, how fast can I go and what's the most effective way to go so for all you listeners, you can bypass the product market fit.

The question we're addressing now is how to go from there and the marketing investment is more leverage, so for the same investment, you're able to serve more people.

Initially it doesn't work, but when it does work then you have more leverage right there. A piece of content can reach 20,000 viewers. A rep can not be in touch with 20,000 viewers at the same amount of time.

That's the leverage you need to get and how you're able to grow at 3x or 4x instead of 2x because you get this leverage from marketing, that's big.

We just hired a CMO a few months back, and we're putting all these things in place. That's why I say, we'll see if it all happens, but I have a lot of trust in our CMO and his team to make it happen. I can see he is already putting in the information and I can see how it makes sense.

About the "bulls eye" strategy

Kathleen: Well I definitely think you have a good team, I did a little bit of stalking on LinkedIn to see who was on your marketing team and it looks like a really qualified group of people so I'm sure you're going to see fantastic results from that.

I want to go back to something you said earlier, about the bullseye strategy. That's interesting to me because you talked about how Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy used that to bring Louis Vuitton into the US.

I've seen it also with one of the people that I sort of idolize who is Sara Blakely, who is the founder of Spanx, she did the same thing. She sent products to Oprah and other people like that.

In some respects, that can be really risky, and those are examples of product companies, but if you're sending product to somebody you don't really know, if they're going to do anything with it, if they're going to evangelize it... In your case it was going after really high value accounts.

While it's one thing to say, "We're going to do this, we're going to land the biggest fish in the industry," it's another thing to make it happen.

So, I am curious, did you have another approach, or what did you do in those early days that you were able to get those meetings, especially as a company, at the time, that these other companies haven't heard of.

Nicolas: Yeah, it's actually not so much high value accounts we went after, it's highly visible accounts. It's a strong difference.

You get a lot more licenses from selling to, say, I am thinking of an example, HP, than you get from selling to Segment. Both are costumers actually, and HP came much later, so we got a lot of licenses. Equal industries, these days.

Marketers look up to Segment to what they should do much more than HP, HP is known for other things. The target was not so much larger deals, it was very much who do people look up to.

It turned out that you think that, "Well how did you get about getting these costumers," people look up to these companies because they are forward thinking, and because they are forward thinking, they are interested in trying new tech.

I remember Segment had this French guy, Gillaume Cabane, and there was this discussion and he pushed back and I said “Hey Guillaume, you're super, and on the leading edge. Surely if I am right, you don't want to have missed it."

He said, " Okay, fine we'll do an AB test", and boom, we did an AB test, he went across 61%, it was super successful. He led a team that was known in the industry as forward thinking because he would try new things.

That helped us, because we would go to companies that would try new things, because they would implement these practices, and to implement these practices you have to take some risks.

You have to go and squeeze new solutions, you have to explore, you have to be willing to try new things.

So that's how we did it, and more practically, since...we implemented, and immediately, I did most of this in person. I actually went to events, meet ups and met in person in the early days.

It's not really scalable, but in the early days that's the best way to do it. Nobody knows who you are, if you email campaigned people will ignore it, so you have to go in person and engage in person, and try.

Once you get a few reference accounts, of course the game changes, and you can go online.

How Chili Piper gets customer success stories

Kathleen: Well, it definitely seems to be working because, I think, when Chili Piper came on my radar screen, I actually heard Udi Ledergore from Gong talking about some of the results they have gotten.

I am curious, you're going after these highly visible accounts, they're having some success. Do you have a particular way of approaching them and asking that they talk about those success stories?

Nicolas: Yes, Udi is a great guy and Gong is definitely one of the visible accounts that we love.

We do case studies. We have a case study with Gong, it's on our website. We have one with Grow. We have one with Segment.

So we definitely package it as success. Then we ask them to share with other companies in the community. Often you have questions in the community say, what should I use, partner with them? That's something we could have done better, but we did pay attention to make sure that these champions would serve as references and would talk about us through case studies, and other type of discussions.

How Chili Piper is approaching marketing today

Kathleen: Now, you got your first round of funding last spring, was it April of 2019?

Nicolas: Yeah.

Kathleen: Since then, you've gone on to hire some folks for the marketing team, you mentioned you have a new CMO, and I saw a few other roles. How big is the marketing team today?

Nicolas: We just hired....It's four people now.

Kathleen: Okay. As you think about looking forward, what is your approach to marketing, what are you looking for in the year ahead? Are there particular things that the company is focused on in terms of building its brand, its content, etc.?

Nicolas: Yes. When we took money last year, we were cash positive, so we didn't need the money from the existing business.

What we wanted to do was to invest in product development because we developed the new IDs that we thought were mature enough to bring to market, or to start building.

I should preface with that our inbound solution is growing. Of course we want to keep growing the business.

We're about to launch a very bold take on inbox, so we're taking on Microsoft, Outlook and Gmail.

With the new inbox, the difference is a collaborative inbox. The idea that revenue teams will be able to, we syndicate account-related emails across email boxes, so if you take a common account, you can see everything being discussed within the account, directly in the inbox.

Let's just say an account, let's say Gong, so if it's just for Gong, I'll see every email that's been sent to Gong, every meeting with Gong directly into my box from everybody. Then I can chat, comment on it, so ask somebody, "Hey, what did you do, say, when you talk to him at that meeting?"

It's a collaborative inbox. We think it's exactly the type of approach that sales and revenue teams need, especially the account manager, or CS. We need to know whether that's happened before.

We're about to launch that, and back to your question, we have this marketing team of four, what do we expect from the year?

Well we have this dual mission of building the business around our solution. As you pointed out, not everybody knows about everything we do, like the in-app solution. And start to position that new product line around our inbox, our collaborative inbox and revenue teams.

It's a lot to do. We are going to invest in content because we see that, obviously content marketing stuff works well, but in case there are lot of questions from companies, a lot of the things we do are new, leading edge, the idea of specializing revenue teams... What should the account managers do, what should the CS, costumer success do, how should the head off be done, how to be the best account manager of the best CS?

We are fortunate to have a lot of customers who are very smart and have great ideas, so we can bring these ideas, write them up and bring this content.

That's a big piece of what you're going to do in the future to lead the change... We said earlier on in the podcast, I'm a big believer that sales and revenues are going to be completely transformed with a new set of tools, so we want to make sure that we evangelize that.

How Gong is building the "buyer enablement" category

Kathleen: Now, it's interesting to me, because you coined this term buyer enablement and a lot of what you're doing, as you explained rightfully, is new. It's something that hasn't been done before. This inbox, totally different than what anybody has constructed. You know some of the functionality that you have in your initial tools, totally different.

I am selfishly going to ask you this because I am fascinated by the topic of category creation. So, as a smaller company, you're thinking about this concept of buyer enablement. I assume you're also talking to analysts, companies like Gartner or Forrester, what have you?

How do you look at that, because everything I've read, and I've researched, and seen about category creation, it's an incredibly difficult play. But if you can pull it off, it can be huge. But it's not a quick thing to build a category.

I just would love to hear your thinking about that, and how much of your strategy revolves around that term, buyer enablement, which you're really coining and introducing into the market, versus drafting off of existing searches and things like that.

Nicolas: I'm smiling because I had a long discussion with our CMO yesterday about the category creation and the role of analysts. You have to think that an analyst is not going to come up with an innovation that's in your category currently. An analyst is not going to say that, "the new way of doing inbox is collaborative inbox, and this is the new category, and players come play in my new category."

Kathleen: Right.

Nicolas: Their job is to observe where the market is going and say, "Oh there is something new happening there, it's real," and, "I'm going to call this category, I'm going to explain it within there." That's typically useful in crossing the chasm when you're moving to mainstream. When you move to mainstream, you need this clear explanation of what it is about, but when you build a category you're not at that stage, moving to mainstream, you're at the other stage, the early state.

Our focus is to provide a solution to an existing problem. It's going to sound boring, but the fact that this problem is big enough that it's worthy enough of being labeled its own category is unintentional.

We think that sales people should have better tools, and we think that inbox and calendar, we are also going to launch Chili Calendar, should be specialized for them. Because it works, we're going to solve the problem, and we're going to help them coverup their revenues better.

Hopefully someday Forrester, one of our costumers is Forrester, will call that a new category, will put us in the right quadrant.

It works the other way. Once we’ve done it, they'll say, "This is what's happening and we'll do it," so for now we focus on the solving the problem. It's not as hard as it seems in a sense to create a category because if the problem is real, you're going to have real movement in the market.

A great example, that has happened recently, is sales engagement. Sales engagement is actually, in effect, is synonymous with sales development, it's the tool for sales development. Their job is to prospect and to engage the initial engagement.

A bunch of companies can request tools early on in to us, CalTAP and Yesware, they were doing templates. Then SalesLoft and Outreach which came with a better way to do it, which was cadences, multi-touch cadences, it's the right tool for this team.

They did that tool. Then they got a lot of costumers, high growth.

Somebody, I'm not sure who, called it sales engagement. They thought, "Oh, that makes sense, I like it," and then the category was born, but it didn't come the other way around, it didn't come the other way around.

So buyer involvement is a term we've used because we strongly believe that the focus has switched on the buyer, and that's what we do with our inbound solutions. You can't let your buyer wait two hours or two days to get that.

It’s a focus, but it’s more of a philosophy. We don't expect that somebody is going to come up and call this category buyer enablement. Some day the category will be called, and as a mission, we hope that we'll be in the right quadrant when that happens.

Kathleen: I think that's the right way to look at it, because everything I've seen is that even if an analyst sees it as a new category, they're not going to spend the time to coin it as such until there is more than one player in it. You can't have a category with only one company, at least in the eyes in most analyst firms.

Nicolas: Yeah.

How to unseat the incumbent solution provider?

Kathleen: I think you're right. Last question, and then we'll kind of move into the wrap up. The thing that you're talking about doing, especially some of these new products around inbox start to get into the territory of taking on very well entrenched existing tools.

If I'm an enterprise level sales person, I have an inbox already, well I mean if I am anybody these days I have an inbox.

Nicolas: Yeah.

Kathleen: Often, in these larger organizations, it's generally Outlook, it's Gmail, and these platform, Google, Microsoft, have their tentacles into just about every aspect of the business.

So, how are you accounting for the fact that there is going to be an incumbent product in everyone's hand already, and does what you're building play with these other things, or how does that work, because that would seem very daunting?

Nicolas: That is a great question and it's for sure that the feedback we're getting from a lot of people, especially in the investing communities, are people who've never switched from our product, they get so attached to our product.

Kathleen: Well I don't know about that, Outlook is like SalesForce, people love to hate it.

Nicolas: You must be a Mac person because it doesn't work very... But the world has changed.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Nicolas: People adopt new tools much faster than they ever did. You see this on the iPhone, the level reduction, but look at Slack. There was email, there were also a bunch of messaging solutions like Skype and PICCHAT, but they came up with a better one, and people switched must faster than they used to.

It's up to us to come with a solution where the benefit is so obvious, it's a better way to do it, that people will switch intimidatingly.

That is much less of a risk than the investing communities sees, because people do switch. If in the inbox, this company called Superhuman that launched, say took after the inbox, and they've been successful.

Now there are so many new apps that users are accustomed trying new apps, changing new apps, and if it's better, they will do it. The job is to do something that is obviously better, and that's the challenge. If we do, then companies will switch, and usually will switch.

Kathleen: You just said something interesting, and this is my follow up question. Users might switch. This goes back to how we started the whole conversation about every person being their own CIO, because, especially in larger enterprise, I could see a sales rep saying, "Oh, I want to use this."

But at the end of the day if you want to get enterprise adoption, particularly for something like inbox, isn't the CIO, or the head of IT the key decision maker in that process. Which is a different audience than maybe you've dealt with in the past so-

Nicolas: Yeah, yeah, but there are two privileged citizens in the world, software developers and sales people. The software developer or sales person say, "I want that tool, nobody gets on their way," because you don't want to mess up your software development and you don't want to mess up your sales.

The reason for that is because obviously the software developers build the product, and you want to make them happy, but sales people, they bring the revenues. If they say the tool is going to help them, then it's very measurable.

That's the thing that's beautiful with our inbound solutions, that Chili Piper for the work sites. When conversion rates double, it's directly twice as much pipeline from inbound, the return investment is very easy to calculate.

It's not the feel good solution where you think, "Oh. That is helpful." No, you have twice as much pipeline, and that's easy.

So, same thing. When we launch our inbox, you're going to see shorter sales cycles and higher conversion rates.

I mean obviously it will be more subtle, I don't expect that it will double conversion rates. It will be a few points, but it's a few points on your total revenue. So if you can increase 5% your revenue, then the company making $200,000,000, that's 10 million, we'll charge less than 10 million.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Nicolas: We'll all make money.

Kathleen: Well I think you're probably right about software developers and sales people. I am just waiting for the day when the marketer becomes the privileged citizen as well. I have a feeling I shouldn't hold my breath.

Nicolas: You're right, marketers on a budget also, but for some reason, they struggle a bit more.

Kathleen's two questions

Kathleen: Yeah, yes. This is the path we choose though. Well, all right, so... Shifting gears, there are two question that I ask all of my guests and I would love to have what you have to say about these things.

One is the core of what we talk about in this podcast, is inbound marketing. Is there a particular company or individual that you really think is killing it right now with inbound marketing?

Nicolas: Well, I am going to be boring and name the king, and the king is HubSpot. They've nailed inbound marketing. To a large extent, they've been so good that they've been able to hide the weaknesses of their product. It took the longest time to... But now they have a reasonably good marketing product, a reasonably poor sales product. They've written the book on it, and I think all the other companies that are doing well...

A lot of companies have spun off of HubSpot and are doing well. In the case of Drift, they take the playbook, they replicate it, and it works for them.

That's definitely the company I would mention.

Kathleen: Okay. Well I've definitely heard those names, HubSpot and Drift, a lot on this podcast.

The second question is, the biggest complaint I hear from marketers, or the biggest pain point I should say is that digital marketing is changing so quickly, mostly driven by technology. They feel like it's trying to drink from a fire hose to keep up with everything and to stay on top of latest developments.

How do you personally stay on top of things?

Nicolas: On top of all marketing and technology, all the tools are there?

Kathleen: Right. Marketing, but also you're kind of in that sales and marketing technology space. Are there particular blogs, or podcasts, or people you follow? How do you stay up to date?

Nicolas: Of course, since we're in the space, we want to know what's going on at anytime, so it's almost our job to stay open. I do that with all the tech, I was looking at whatever tools can help us.

We have this concept of decision memo, so whenever we look at the particular piece... For example, I want to train my salespeople better right now. The first reflex we have in the company, at Chili Piper, is to say, "Is there a piece of software that could help us do that," and of course we’re biased, because we are software developers, but that's how we do it. That's the answer to your question, we go outbound looking for solutions.

There'll be different places where we can find good advice. Podcasts are a great one, yours in particular.

We listen to what other people do, say, and you learn a lot more from podcasts because people leave more practical description of what happens.

Look at the vendor talk, often abstract. Then there are also online communities where people discuss the best tools, and we pay attention.

Then we do, we take, random demos. Right now we are in the process of taking tons of demos from Learning Management Systems, for this particular solution.

We have tech savvy people in the operation, that also makes a big difference. I see companies that don't invest in operations, or don't put the right people in operations, and they're held back by that choice. It's a super important opinion that all companies over sites get tech savvy strong people in their operations.

These people are able to bring in new technology.

Kathleen: Yeah. I think that makes a particularly big difference in the early days, when everyone has to be willing to roll their sleeves up, and not just strategize but do a lot of the work as well, and understanding how to use technology is very powerful for that.

How to connect with Nicolas

Kathleen: Well, we are coming to the top of the hour, so I wanted to make sure I ask you, if somebody wants to learn more about Chili Piper or reach out and connect with you online, what's the best way for them to do that.

Nicolas: That is to come to our website, because we use our own tools. Chili Piper is a play on word, chili pepper, Piper as in pipeline, so it's C H I L I, Piper, Chili Piper, and if you request a meeting with us you'll see our technology in action. It will pop up for you so you will be able to book it.

Kathleen: Great, I'll put that link in the show notes. Also, I didn't tell you I was going to do this, I also want to give just a small plug for Gipsy Time, which is another company that you are involved in founding. I just submitted my request to get in on the early access, it looks really cool, because one of my biggest problems is I have a million tabs open on my computer at any given time, plus Slack, plus inboxes, and it's super distracting, and it looks to me like you're solving that. Is that right?

Nicolas: Thank you, I am really delighted to hear that. Yes, yes, it's a typical case of solving your own problem. I have ADHD, I have a focus problem, and these to-do lists, they keep accumulating tasks, and I needed to manage a way to do that. On the side, I did this other company, Gipsy Time, to help people focus. It's not about capturing the task in the long to-do list, it's about getting it done.

We have the distraction blocking, where you can block, close all your tabs, and reopen them when you're finished. Make sure how much time you spend on something, make sure you spend the right amount of time. Did I tell you... When you requested that... Invited, it's very promising and it's helped me a lot in getting more done.

You know what to do next...

Kathleen: Well, I need it for sure, so I can't wait to get my invitation. Well, thank you so much for joining me this week, this has been so much fun, if you are listening, and you like what you heard, please head over to Apple Podcasts, and consider leaving in the podcast a five star review, that's how we get in front of new listeners.

And, of course, if you know somebody else who is doing kick-ass inbound work tweet me @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next interview. Thank you so much Nicolas, this was a ton of fun.

Nicolas: Thank you, great fun, yes.

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Inbound Success
Published on March 30, 2020

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