Leveraging inbound marketing to grow in red ocean markets

19 min read

We have featured Nivas Ravichandran on Limitless Podcast episdo leads the Startup Partnerships Program at Freshworks (Customer Engagement SaaS Software Company). He also volunteers with IEEE (430,000+ members) as the Vice-Chair of IEEE Young Professionals Global and previously led the Young Professionals Community for IEEE Asia Pacific(Region 10).

Listen to the complete podcast here:

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Key Takeaways from the podcast:

  • Why inbound is the best way to tackle a red ocean market?
  • Is backlink building still the best way to improve ranking?
  • What are the common mistakes when it comes to inbound marketing?
  • Sourcing original content is often a challenge. How to go about developing valuable original content?
  • Most companies struggle with content distribution. What does an ideal content distribution strategy look like?

Host: Nikhil Premanandan

Speaker: Nivas Ravichandran

Nikhil: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our weekly episode of Limitless podcast, a place where we bring together the global leaders in sales and marketing. My name is Nikhil and I am the host of Limitless podcast. Today we bring in a great guest. Today we have Nivas Ravichandran from Freshworks with us. 

Nivas is currently taking up the startup partnerships and growth at Freshworks. Prior to that he had a completely different challenge. He was heading the product marketing at Freshsales. He has been with Freshworks for close to four and half years now and this is something we will be discussing in detail in our podcast as well – how did he grow Freshsales, a product in the sales category, cluttered in the red ocean market with just inbound marketing. That is something we will take a deeper look at in the podcast. 

Nivas, as I said earlier, he is prolific with startup outreach as well. He is the city leader for SaaStock local and also one of the main organizers of SaaSBoomi which is Acia’s largest conference in SaaS that is by founders and for founders. It is a hot bed for startup applications as well as venture capitalists. 

He is also contributing a lot of articles at Inc42, HackerNoon and TechinAsia. Tune in to this episode with Nivas Ravichandran on how you can leverage inbound marketing in red ocean markets. 

Nivas: Thanks, Nikhil. Thank you so much for having me on the Limitless podcast. 

Nikhil: It’s great to have you here. So, you know, I know a lot about you. I know about, you know, what you have done with Freshworks and Freshsales. So I want the audience to know a little bit more about your journey. So what is your role at Freshworks currently? What are you doing there? What are your goals at the Freshworks?

Nivas: Today I take care of the startup program at Freshworks, a startup initiative. But the majority of my experience has been with marketing for Freshservice service. The IT service product, that’s when I started off the previous get used to do B2C marketing. So I really did not understand how we could be marketing and post which I kind of moved into Freshsales, the CRM product and I have been there since its inception and I was with them for about two and half years. And about three months ago I kind of transitioned into the Freshworks startup initiative.

Nikhil: Awesome. Awesome. So the topic that we’re going to discuss today is very interesting. We are going to talk about how to leverage inbound marketing for red ocean markets. Now, very interesting that you brought out your role in Freshsales. All right. So Freshsales, as I understand, is a growing CRM currently and CRM is a very crowded space. So how did you navigate that? Because when you were given this particular challenge, what was your first thought? And, you know, how did you navigate that and how did you put it an inbound marketing machinery to actually navigate that. 

Nivas: I think one of the best things or I mean, the pro and the con right, because when I was working on an established market like the CRM market, where you already have a lot of strong or more mature players who’ve been there. And you’ve just launched a product to say that it is very difficult.

In fact, if you go to the G2 Crowd, the grid and look at such CRM item category, it’s such a crowded grid that you will be very difficult for you to even identify your own brand because it’s all the other logos that are out there. But I think the most critical thing about playing in, is the volume that it brings, when you finish playing in an established market like the CRM be it Helpdesk, Freshdesk, our first product to come out from Freshworks. 

I think we’re kind of late to our friends there where we have played in established markets and gone after a concept that was, I mean, that kind of existence. So I think when we launched Freshsales in 2016, the most important thing at that point of time, or at least the challenge that we were facing and when we spoke to a lot of companies, and what they were facing was the CRM by itself – the product was very broad. The data was in silos and probably like, let’s say I don’t want to name competitors, but what happened was let’s say if you have a CRM and your emailing was being done separately, calling was done separately, and chat was being done separately. And even things like lead scoring were being done by another source. And even from our company standpoint, we were actually struggling to kind of get one single view of the data.

We had to kind of look at multiple screens kind of at the slot for what it was. So I think the messaging that we went with as soon as we launched Freshsales was you don’t need CRM plus five other tools to be doing a six persons. I think a lot of the companies have generally I think the most popular ones, it’s important for you to go after a concept or either a leader right? Because that’s when it actually Girish calls it really well when he calls it getting invited to the party.

All right. So how he defines it is let’s say there are four brands like let’s say if you were to think of which mobile phone to buy, you can only think of three to four brand. If you were to think of an extra brand needs to have done something different or it has to come in with a separate messaging, which kind of resonates with what you do. I think that is where Freshsales started off, where we said, okay, you know what, we will go after anyone who has a silo CRM and who kind of has to integrate with ten other applications.

When we say, hey, we can get your sales process done. You know sales is a very large process. You can get everything done. But I think the major at least you’re got to engage with it. It should be within the CRM because that’s where your data will lie within the CRM and not 10 software applications. 

Nikhil: So interesting that you mentioned one key aspect of, you know, an established market where you mentioned the keyword one.

You know, these are some of the challenges, you know, startups face when they’re in a new category, in an emerging category. So, you know, evangelizing that particular category and the problems faced by it. So you cannot go with the, you know, traditional stack of marketing value of money in AdWords will put money in your, you know, label a few generations and then you start seeing traction. But then you have to spend your marketing dollars in evangelizing.

Great that you brought about that particular point, because many of the startups currently are facing that particular problem. So great that you’ve got the, you know, the Keywood one you part as part of your strategy. 

Now, that is something that you also did, you know, when you were part of the Freshsales team that is you engaged with these big brands. And you engaged with these sales leaders in, you know, this sales community. Now, what was your thinking behind that particular strategy?

Now, the first question like somebody would ask is if they are a big influencer or they are a leading voice in that sales community, what would I get out of it. And because you are a, you know, a relatively new entrant in that entire landscape. All right. So you have nothing to offer. So what was your pitch and how did you build that particular strategy?

Nivas: I think there are a couple of questions, I’ll probably take one by one. 

Nikhil: I’m sorry. You know, it’s really exciting. I know. 

Nivas: I think the thought process behind that was we knew the sales, okay, so if you look at different personas, I find IT service management is a closed group, like our other IT service management products. So it’s a very close group.

They don’t really post away. Because these are all CIOs that CIOs generally don’t post a lot of information. I mean, they’re socially, just socially, a little shy. But on the other hand, we knew sales was a very outbond or they’re very proactive on platforms like LinkedIn, you see every day the number of videos or the number of posts that are being made on social right. 

We were definitely leveraging our SEO, Search Engine Optimization strategies and even, let’s say, Google AdWords, for that matter, to make sure we were banking on the inbound traffic that we were able to generate because of the high volume such volume in this market, but the other challenge we are at, the other problem that we wanted to go after was how do we make ourselves aware among these sales leaders or sales. I feel influencer is a very overused word, but I think these are sales functional leaders who’ve been there, done that. And I think it’s very important for them to have a say, in at least you know your brand, they don’t. 

For example, a lot of these sales do a significant amount of coaching, sales, training and sales. They did talks, they do sessions, they do webinars, seminars everywhere. And it’s very important for them to be aware of what you do. Need not be that they should definitely be an advocate. That’s a great thing to have. But asking someone to be an advocate of a brand is a very steep ask. And you kind of end up not achieving that.

So not that we were being tricky or anything, but just that we were also one of the things that we noticed because Freshsales were very significantly catering to the SMB market in its early days. Now we’ve kind of moved upmarket as well. But when we started off, we knew a lot of SMB customers were using Freshsales. We knew that a lot of them still did not have their entire sales process taking second place or they had a lot of learning to do.

I think that is where we kind of knew that, in fact, bringing in good sales leaders to talk about very practical plus strategic topics, to kind of address these as part of either interviews, webinars, blogs. I think it was a full stretch where we did close to, I think 40, 45 webinars and we had like sales leaders from companies like Zoom, Slack, Quora, Pandadoc, Evernote, a lot of these companies and they were actually open to kind of shedding their playbooks. They were sharing some of that. In fact, we were very particular about not sharing numbers because it does get into trouble. But some of them were actually fine sharing some numbers. And we wrote articles about how companies went from a million dollars in revenue for 10 million by using a particular strategy. That doesn’t happen day in and day out. I think your question about why would they care about a strategy?

Freshworks is now a big brand. But when you think about Freshsales, when we’re just landscape, we were still a very, very early product if I were to say we did bank on the Freshworks brand, it did help. 

But there were some people who did not know our brand. I think what really worked up in that aspect of it is that we kind of wanted to show them in good light. It was not about us, but it was about them. And if you see the majority of the cases, if I were to ask hey who was the CEO of Zoom, you’d be able to say it’s Eric Yuan.

But if you would, if I were to ask you who’s a sales leader or the V.P. of sales and Zoom or the CRO of Zoom, the chief revenue officer or the chief sales officer? Yeah, right. They don’t get a lot of that. They don’t get a lot of visibility. It’s not that they, I mean, because generally the PR or the media audience want to kind of cover the founders or CEO which is a great thing. But I think these factional leaders have established a lot in their market.

They can go a long way. And they are the ones with more, the nitty-gritty of things. We want to bring those stories up. And in fact, with each go to any of these large brands, like the pitch was that, hey, we want to feature your team on our blog and that’s that. I felt they were genuine. If we were being genuine as well, where we wanted to kind of showcase how that sales team functions and then of where they could be a billion dollar company, that could be a million in revenue that could be wherever.

But this particular team functioned so well. What are some good things? What are some probably mishaps that they could get avoiding and things like that? I think it was really working out very well for us and even from a sales leader standpoint. 

Because we were an emerging CRM player in that market. I think the messaging of showing them in a good light among a larger audience, because as long as you’re able to show someone in good light I mean, this podcast, if I’m able to kind of reach a larger audience, I’m a marketer.

So I think I would make use of the opportunity to. So you just have to look at what excites them as well and kind of bring them onboard is the right thing. So in fact, our messaging was just more about them rather than us. It was not about where we are, but a big brand of our tactics. 

Nikhil: And so I totally agree with that. I mean, it goes back with the old adage of, you know, the soldiers win the party’s agenda.

Yeah. Exactly. So it goes a great pitch that you actually bring these sales superstars out and know put them in the limelight, put them first. Well, you know, the additional about the CEOs and everybody is taking the cake.

Nivas: I’m not blaming them. 

Nikhil: Obvious strategy on top down. But then there is somebody out there who’s, you know, putting in the hours and executing those strategies.

And, you know, actually beginning the actual result is actually a win win for everybody. So excellent about excellent strategy

 that you guys also followed. But now that you mentioned that the kind of articles you have created are the kind of content that you created around sales, around the CRM community as well. And what you did with the influencers. Now, these are some things that, you know, have clearly made for you. But what are the common mistakes that you see when you see companies leveraging in bound but not getting the right results?

So what are the kind of mistakes that you’ve seen when it comes to implementing an inbound strategy? 

Nivas: I think that the mistakes are two to three folds. I mean, not that we’ve also made some mistakes, but also guilty of them. But I think that I think every team is an evolving team. I think I’ll probably put it this way maybe three mistakes if I were to call them. One, I think I’ll start off with where I think this happens a lot, where there is an emerging ecosystem out of a talent pool.

Not a lot of them have done B2B marketing or B2B sales. So when you’re in that market, what happens is you bring a marketer and expect them to write on a particular domain and they either expect them to think leadership or domain content or create some sort of content be it a podcast. 

The challenge is the person actually has never done that before, like they’re a marketer writer. And if you’re expecting them to create great pieces of content, they will obviously write without any authority.

They will probably see it. They can do brilliant research they can probably put everything together. You would not have any authority over what you see. How I think this is the biggest flaw that I see a lot of content marketing teams. In fact, I was speaking to a friend of mine who was a founder. He was like, hey, I’ve hired this writer and I want them to create the pieces around influencer marketing. I’m like the person, has she done influencer marketing? Oh, no, I’ve just hired but she’s a very smart kid. FairPoint smart kid.

But if you were to really have a 10 year experienced person who’s done influence on marketing, to write about it, that’s gonna sound super different from what the person who is a fresher can actually write. 

Again, it’s a you can’t kind of optimize for everything. So how we kind of managed it was bringing some kind of content from the leaders and leveraging it different formats. I think the second mistake I think I have three to four mistakes, though, is that we don’t repurpose content enough.

I think I’ll probably put it this way that we don’t distribute content outside. We kind of get into this flow of creating content, but then kind of get lost in the process of it that we don’t figure out how to go about distribution or actually who are going to be my readers or who are going to be my viewers who are going to be my listeners. We don’t really think about that too much. We like how it kind of aligns with my audience, target audience, and it goes that.

Any product, I mean, this is like every product needs marketing, right? I mean, it could be a BMW or even a Zoom or or anything for that matter. Even Zoom does, Zoom is a great product, but it still does a lot of advertisements in airports and they do good marketing there. I’ve seen the advertising for cars like BMW and all that. They still spend a lot of money on marketing. Similarly, how, I mean, how product needs marketing? Content definitely needs distribution. It’s about how much distribution is made if it’s a good piece of content. If you distribute it at the beginning, it will automatically get picked up. For it to get picked up, you’ve got to do that distribution. I think that’s the second mistake we had on even repurposing the content distribution kind of flows into the repurposing of the content. Let’s say when you do a webinar or even a podcast.

This podcast, for that matter, don’t look at it just as a podcast. How can you distribute it into different formats where your audience would be paid? In fact one of the things that we did was as soon as we finished a webinar we kind of broke it down into smaller videos and we put it all on YouTube with we optimized it for search.

We kind of transcribed the entire webinar to do a blog and published it as a blog article. We put out social media cards with quotes in them. We did three to four things that kind of repurposed the content in different formats where our folks were available where our audience were available. Any kind of activity each day. That’s when they were like, okay. Someone who watched a smaller video came back and saw the larger video and then signed up for a webinar. And that’s that’s the flow. That’s how any sign of acquisition also happens. So that’s the second part of it. I think I’ll keep it to two. 

Nikhil: Excellent point. Now as you already mentioned, that, you know, if there is a fresher or somebody without experience, but still a smart kid, you know, writing content, people will be able to smell that. Let’s say there’s a difference between a young graduate writing about startups and, you know, Peter Thiel, you know, talking about Zero to One, it’s a completely different thing. If Ben Horowitz is talking about startups, then, you know, a youngster talking about startups.

People will be able to identify with that. And the other part that you mentioned about continuously, repurposing the content. You build that economy. That is something that, you know, maybe startups should look at, not the, you know, working hard to create the content. But then, you know, smartly around content. And how to create that good authority content with the resource constraints you guys have. So you guys actually created that particular thing and you delivered that.

So that is an excellent strategy. But there is something that you also did that is you created a community with these sales influencers and everybody. Now you have the inbound content and then you build that particular community off, you know, the people who are associated with these sales leaders?

And you drove that and, you know, messaging and positioning around that. So how important is building that, you know, community, that engaged community and how does it help your inbound strategy?

Nivas: I think this is, again, probably just goes back to another mistake that where a lot of people think about influencer maybe I think the influence of marketing is great. Getting them to speak in one of your webinars or things is a very transactional thing. They’d be like okay I did this, they did this. Done. It doesn’t work. Life doesn’t work that way. You need to really look at why someone has to actually come on board your webinar and things like that?

Even when we did a lot of this we still maintain relationships, in fact, I don’t belong to Freshsales marketing team but I still in fact, if I am traveling to a particular city and I know that my customer or let’s say a sales leader or that of someone who participated in webinar is in that particular city. I actually reach out to them saying, can we meet? I would love to kind of grab a cup of coffee.

Yeah. So I think the most important thing about that part, it’s I think LinkedIn is a great platform to do that where you regularly engage and not just do it because you’re trying to follow that seven steps to kind of get in front of them. No it’s not that way, but it’s about trying to build genuine relationships where you think, hey, how can we build a long lasting effect on the sales community? We love to support them in different formats.

They expect or we anticipate for them to support us as well somewhere. So it’s never that, hey, I reached out to this person, they gave me a backlink on a blog and we are done. You cannot build relationships like that. And in fact, I think. It’s just become a quick win game, but it’s not like you have to think about it from a long shot. I would do it. So say we have a long way to go for actually building a very solid community.

But I think we had a good start inplace where we’ve built a strong community around sales leaders, where even today a lot of them actually wished me for my birthday and new year. I was familiar with them. I think that’s a very warm thing to happen. I never expected a large sales leader that the US can remember. I mean, it could even just be a notification on Linked-In, but it still means a lot from our relationship standpoint.

Nikhil: So developing that relationship is a key part in making that. Excellent takeaways, Nivas. I mean, we are coming to an end all of this podcast. So of quick questions, we ask these questions to everybody who’s been on as a guest on Limitless. So what are the two books that you recommend for the young and aspiring marketers who actually get it to grow and take it forward? Just some things, it’s a book that is really inspiring and helped you, you think and, you know, build that particular outcome in marketing?

Nivas: I think from a very marketing perspective, I think there’s something that I posted on Linked-In as well. Marketers should also understand business. I don’t really have, I have not read a lot of marketing books except for maybe things like David and Goliath. It is something like a Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Those are definitely good books. But I think good startup books are also very important, the start up business books. 

I think Zero to One was a great book. But going back to the outback community building what? Actually building relationships? I think I’ll go back to a classic. I think it’s just holds true for years to come Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends. Yeah, Okay. Because it talks about so many very basic fundamental things that we genuinely care about. The conversation must address the person with the name. Think about what you will win out of this. Because it’s not always about you. Make it about them. I think those are things that actually kind of help me in my marketing journey. Because honestly, I’m very thankful to Freshworks for giving me the kind of platform to play around and it’s amazing as a playground. You kind of play around with a lot of things. I came in as a B2C marketer and clearly did not understand the fundamentals of B2B marketing.

But I believe I might be able to, I’ve been able to kind of build maybe around it. Yeah, but I think I will go with these books. 

Nikhil: So what are your goals for 2020? So you want one professional goal because we know that you’re taking on a new challenge. And what is a personal goal for you? Because it’s just something to run on. So we didn’t want to lose following your resolutions or not. 

Nivas: So I think as I mentioned in the beginning of the podcast, I’ve been wanting to set up a startup program for FreshWorks. We tried it in different formats. I tried it within Freshsales where we partnered with Combinator, a couple of others. 

But we kind of hide it deep in saying, okay, we should do it at Freshworks level. And very recently, I moved to this initiative, Freshworks to startups. And we have we’re actually working with a lot of early stage companies through these accelerators and incubators and kind of opening up credits to Freshworks products. And also, we want to kind of help them get access to more customers who are well and also hopefully fit able to open up some of our playbooks for some of them to learn.

And I mean, build more companies which kind of grow bigger and better. We’d love to create that. I think we have a great opportunity sitting in front of us because the best part about Freshworks for startups like Freshworks is really what magical for SMB customers. That’s been a major target audience and we know startups are the core of I mean, they’re kind of the SMB businesses and they are going to emerge into maybe like a mid-market and enterprise company.

But I think having them use our products early and understanding how it works and not really having to depend on a spreadsheet if we want to kind of save them from that and probably put them to a better understanding, we understand because I’ve been through two startups myself. So it’s exciting for me to kind of have this. I don’t really have a we have no goals, but I don’t want to kind of reach those in the podcast.

But I think just driving adoption for the program and helping more startups would be my professional goal. I think the personal goal may be spending more time with family and maybe being more a little more health conscious. So just skipping sugar and a couple of things. 

Nikhil: Was this part of your new year resolution?

Nivas: I’m someone who’s heavily against the new year resolutions. I actually used to do that earlier because everyone recommended it, but I never believed in it.

So why do you have to wait for 364 days to pick up resolutions? I mean, it totally. But it’s I just came across this like a week and a half ago and I was like, okay, you know what? I think I should probably take a call on certain things. So I think those are in my head.

Nivas: To all our viewers again, I would like to thank you Nivas for coming as a guest. And we know that your schedule is very busy and turned out fine.

Nivas: But I think. Thank you so much for accommodating me. I think I’ve definitely known Hippo Video since its inception. LyceumInc is the name of the company. But I think what you guys are doing is pretty interesting. It’s in a very. Yes, I try to I mean, ideally, I wouldn’t say that a lot of players in this category. That’s where I don’t think people are gonna search for video in sales or sales for videos.

It’s still sending out texting emails and it’s a long way for us to go. But I really wish if we do well, we’ll become a very big company. Not really a believer of unicorn but a good revenue company

Nikhil: Thanks a lot Nivas for your wishes. So tell our audience how they can find you and reach you. So you are on LinkedIn, you are a prolific contributor on LinkedIn. So just tell us, what is the best way to reach out if they have any questions they want to ask on or something?

Nivas: I think LinkedIn the best platform is definitely available on LinkedIn the majority of my day. The one request or maybe a book hack also is to personalize this friend requests or the connection requests that they send is a lot of people sent, click on and connect and then they send out the next request. 

But if you can actually add a single line about how you met the person at how you got to know both the person and why you would want to connect, it will actually make a lot more sense for us to connect rather than just sending all the connection to post because otherwise it just gets lost in the other requests that come in.

We’d love to connect with the lot more people more in a contextual way. 

Nikhil: Totally understand. So on that note, we end today’s episode, you know about inbound marketing for red ocean markets. Thanks a lot again Nivas for joining this particular part. smartcast. And the issue of very good luck for 2020. Thanks a lot. 

Nivas: Thanks a lot. 

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