By Shiv Narayanan, Wild Apricot
One of the biggest corporate acquisitions of 2015 was LinkedIn’s $1.5 billion purchase of Lynda.com — the online education giant offering courses and training to foster the development of a wide range of professional skills.
The scope of the Lynda.com acquisition isn’t surprising, as it comes at a time when online training and education are becoming fundamental to businesses in just about any industry or vertical you can think of.
Why is online training and education so hot right now? The answer is that, as never before, people now intuitively search the web before looking anywhere else to find the tools they need to solve the problems they need to solve. This insatiable demand for solutions is precisely what’s driving the content gold rush on the web.
What’s been lacking for a long time, however, is the wide scale availability of trustworthy online information to actually solve those problems, particularly in a business-to-business environment.
However, the tide is beginning to turn. For instance, most business marketers know they can turn to Hootsuite to manage their company’s social media activities. But how do they learn about the best way to engage customers on Facebook? Or how will they learn about the best times to make posts to Twitter? Enter Hootsuite University — a portal where users can learn all the ins and outs of the software, be exposed to industry best practices and get certified in the process. The rationaleis the same with Lynda.com — empower end users with the knowledeg to succeed.
Simply, more people than ever are looking for online resources to show them how to do things. If, as a provider of a product or service, you’re not showing your customers how to get the most of your offering, someone else will … and they will capture the lifetime value of your customer in the process.
That’s why for Wild Apricot, providing online education to our customers and prospects has become our most important strategic priority.
How we got this far
Wild Apricot was founded in 2006 and, since then, we have amassed a client list of over 15,000 organizations that use our cloud-based software to manage their membership activities, including events, payments, marketing emails and more. Our steady growth has been achieved by predominantly two marketing channels: paid search and content marketing.
Search engine marketing (SEM) has always driven potential customers to our 30-day free trial offer, with automated email marketing being our core conversion tool to get them to a paid subscriptions. However, content marketing is the more interesting of the two channels. Our knowledge hub houses hundreds of articles on topics of interest to membership organizations such as volunteering, events, board meetings and sponsorships.
Listening to our customers
One of the defining characteristics of Wild Apricot has always been to listen and respond to what our customers tell us they want from our product. In May of 2014, we began holding focus groups with our clients to glean insights on what we could do to help them succeed.
To our surprise, we discovered that while most customers had common concerns that could be solved using our software, its features were not the primary focus of discussion. Rather, our customers made it clear that what they wanted most was to have easy and affordable access to trustworthy association management expertise to help them do their jobs better … and how they could implement the expertise using our software.
New Marketing challenge
Based on these interactions, we shifted our company focus to being the preeminent resource of trusted advice and expertise for small organizations to succeed.
We began working more closely with our long-time online lead generation, marketing automation and analytics partner, Envoke.com, which has helped Wild Apricot since our earliest days to get the right people to find us through search engines, automate the online engagement process and measure the source of every lead.
Together, we began looking at how we could significantly build the number of new contacts entering our database through an education-based content strategy.
Launching expert webinars
We wanted to give our customers exactly what they asked for: Access to expertise to help their organizations thrive.
To do this, we began holding webinars with the leading authorities in the association space on topics such as volunteering, social media engagement, membership incentives, procuring sponsorships and more. One of our most recent webinars — how to raise more money through sponsorships — had almost 1,000 registrants and about 500 people (at least half being new prospects) actually attending the live online event, numbers that dwarfed our initial expectations.
The webinars have taken on a life of their own. The experts on each webinar deliver cutting-edge content to help our clients’ and non-clients’ organizations grow. It’s no surprise that they’re turned into a significant source of leads (non-Wild Apricot clients who are interested in our software).
With Envoke’s help, all leads from the expert webinars are automatically invited to see a product demo and, when they agree, we have new inside sales team in place to convert them to a paid subscriber of the software.
Meeting the integration challenge
The result of all this is we now need to capture, record and track a whole raft of new lead generation and conversion performance metrics, including who is attending our webinars, where they’re coming from and how effectively we’re managing to convert them into customers.
To do this, we have to establish seamless integrations between our custom back-end systems, our new CRM system, the de facto standard GoToWebinar tool from Citrix, Google Analytics and the Envoke marketing automation and lead management system.
The technical challenge to get this done is far from easy.
Fortunately, Envoke’s expertise in building integrated marketing technology stacks has really stepped to the fore for us in this area. Ultimately, everything from the initial webinar registration form to the confirmation process, multiple tracks of follow-up marketing automation emails, demo registrations, lead categorization, lead alerts with visit timelines and CRM integration are automated by Envoke. They also provide completely customized closed loop tracking and reporting we need to determine how effectively our marketing campaigns and new inside sales force is working for us.
Although we’re not quite at the finish line with our CRM and GoToWebinar integration efforts, we believe we’re very close to having everything connected through Envoke’s lead management system for our inside sales team to be able to close new sales and upgrade existing customers.
This integrated marketing stack allows us to continuously fine-tune our marketing strategy to make Wild Apricot the number one online resource for small membership organizations and to propel our business to new heights.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.
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