We started working with Zluri just after they raised their seed funding. The startup was founded only a few months ago. We were the first marketers on the team.
They were doing PoC with a few companies at that time and actively working on the product.
The co-founders—Ritish and Sethu—believed in content marketing as a growth channel and were ready to invest early on.
About Zluri: The Product & The Company
Zluri is a SaaS Management Platform (SMP) that helps software asset managers and IT teams manage the SaaS stack of their company.
The product helps IT teams optimize their SaaS spending. It also helps reduce security and compliance risks by identifying risky apps and users.
The problem Zluri was trying to solve for
Though the on-premise to SaaS migration was going on for a long time after companies shifted to the remote work model (due to the pandemic), there was a rapid growth in the adoption and usage of SaaS apps. But as is true with everything, too much SaaS also has its set of challenges.
SaaS apps help people improve their productivity and do their job better, but they can also lead to SaaS sprawl. SaaS sprawl means you have many more SaaS apps in your organization than required. Instead of helping you, SaaS apps start hampering employees’ productivity, causing overspending and bringing security and compliance issues.
Now there are SaaS apps for every niche task. Because now anyone can sign up for any app with a few clicks and a corporate credit card, there is the risk of overspending.
For example, take these two examples:
- Suppose one person is using both Dropbox and Google Drive for file storage. As the number of files increases, getting the files when required would be challenging.
- Consider that one employee uses Asana for project management, and the other uses Jira. In that case, it would be difficult to collaborate. Isn’t it ironic that using multiple collaboration tools is coming in the way of collaboration?
Additionally, since there is no visibility into what SaaS apps were being used (a phenomenon called shadow IT) inside the company, there is no control of data residing in those apps. This leads to security and compliance nightmares for IT and security teams.
Alignment on Goals: Leads and Traffic, in this Order
The average contract value was high since it was enterprise software (SaaS). So, they don’t need tonnes of search traffic. The goal from the beginning was to generate business for the company.
As VC-funded startups have to achieve milestones to graduate to the next round, we asked for the series A milestone and focused on achieving that.
Many marketers think they need hundreds of thousands of traffic for content marketing to work. So, they churn hundreds of blog posts in order to hit their traffic goal, assuming the higher the traffic they get, the larger the number of leads/sign-ups would be.
But it leads to setting and chasing goals that don’t help business. More traffic doesn’t mean more leads. You can end up bringing a lot of irrelevant traffic to the website, and since those are not the people who will use your product, they wouldn’t convert either.
Neither you need millions of traffic, nor do you need to churn out 10-20 content pieces every month at the early stages.
I think the reason behind such expectation is stories that regularly do roundups in the startup community. When founders and marketers hear inspirational stories of companies getting millions of traffic, they think they also need to do the same.
Traffic doesn’t matter if your content is giving you leads. Marketers who optimize for traffic without considering leads always feel the need for more traffic.
The Content Strategy We Used
The first thing we did was take them through a positioning exercise and improve the homepage messaging. This is an important lesson if you want to start with content marketing.
If your positioning and messaging are not working, content marketing will fail. Whatever traffic you bring to your website will not convert.
Incidentally, I had recently read a new positioning framework in the book ‘Obviously Awesome’, and was eager to apply what I had learned in practice.
We had gone on a call and discussed who we were really against. Since the SaaS management space was an emerging market at that time—and most companies were still using spreadsheets for managing their SaaS, we knew our real competition was not with other SaaS management companies but with the spreadsheets, the traditional way of doing things.
Audience Segmentation, Content Ideation, and Distribution
Content strategy include which target segment to prioritize, what content to create, and how to distribute the content.
- SEO was a vital part of the distribution strategy. For the short term, we actively leveraged the personal LinkedIn accounts of company founders. They already had a good network that helped us amplify our messaging. We have done all the main 3 things for SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical SEO (more on this later in the #distribution section).
- We have prioritized in-market audience. So, we created BoFu (bottom of the funnel) content. This means that we target those people in the market who are aware of their problems (SaaS sprawl, overspending, security risk that we described above) and solutions and are ready to buy.
The benefit of prioritizing this audience segment is that you don’t need to convince your prospects that they need to buy your category solution. You don’t need to educate them on the importance of your solution (in our case, it was SaaS management.)
It is much easier to sell to people who are already sold on the solution because you just need to tell them why they should choose you, rather than collect their emails and nurture them over many months or years before they are ready to buy.
This helps you get high-quality leads, meaning the salesperson doesn’t need to chase them. This results in a shorter sales cycle and thus a high deal—velocity.
- Collaborate with customer-facing and product teams for new insights. For most early-stage companies, the product evolves rapidly, and they are getting new insights. So, it makes sense to regularly connect with the sales and customer support/success teams and get feedback on lead quality and new customer insights.
This is a key part of our strategy. Most marketers just rely on market research but don’t do customer research. We also regularly connected with product and engineering teams for knowledge transfer on new products.
Different Content Lanes We Leveraged
Introduced DUAAS framework: In this post, we discussed the five types of SaaS wastage—duplicate apps, un/underused licenses, auto-renewal of subscriptions, abandoned apps, and suitable licenses—and how to get rid of them.
Since the product helps eliminate SaaS wastage, a software asset manager will naturally find our helpful product to solve their problem.
Though this post is not a bottom-of-funnel post, it still helps our target audience understand how we can optimize their SaaS stack.
Giving framework and models is an excellent way to engage decision-makers. On the other hand, coining your terms help with distribution. This makes the piece memorable.
Leveraged the market leaders: BetterCloud was the market leader in the SaaS management category. So, we knew whoever was searching for its alternatives was in very much need of the solution.
At the time of writing this post, we are ranking #1 for the term BetterCloud alternatives.
Thought leadership: How SaaS is Powering the Next Big Revolution (based on interview).
An article on top SaaS management platforms. This is the audience looking for SaaS management solutions. This helped us in reaching the right audience at the right time.
We rank #1 for the key term SaaS platform platforms.
SaaS buying Service: They also introduced a new service of SaaS procurement and wanted our help in getting leads for this offering.
We helped them with a landing page and a post. Currently, we rank #2 for the keyword ‘SaaS buying’.
Show the better way of doing old things: We discussed why Zluri was better than traditional solutions like SAM (software asset management). SAM was mostly focused on on-premise software.
After the pandemic, many companies shifted from traditional software asset management to SaaS. The timing was right, and we captured this demand.
Help solve problems and offer the product as an upgrade: Created spreadsheet for manual tracking and content upgrade with Zluri. Since a large portion of the market was still using spreadsheets for managing SaaS apps, we offered a template and Zluri as a better way of doing the same job.
ROI calculator (this is a must if you are selling to an enterprise). IT teams (or any other teams) have to get the finance approval for the budget. To make the case helpful, we made an ROI calculator. Further, this report was downloadable, so IT teams could present it to the other stakeholders.
Product use case: How to Optimize Your Microsoft 365 Licenses with Zluri. The launch was timed very well, with Microsoft announcing they would increase their Office 365 license price. So, we offered a solution to this to our prospective customers.
Tackling Customer Objections: When discussing with the sales team, we found that many prospects had this question: Do they need an SMP if they were using SSO?
Answering this required a good level of technical understanding. So, we went on a call with the CTO, Chaitanya, took his interview, and created a blog post comparing Zluri with SSOs. And it converts very well.
We couldn’t have found this topic by doing keyword research. Only because we were doing consumer research did we find that buyers had this problem.
Relied on SEO for long-term and compounded growth. Yes, content marketing is a slow channel. But it gives compounded results.
As they say, the distribution gets easy once a channel is developed. It took us just 2 months to achieve what we achieved in the previous 5 months and 9 months previous to that.
SEO is very complicated, and there are over 200 factors that affect your website’s ranking in search engines. So, it is easy to get confused.
We had just focussed on these three things:
- On-page SEO: Improve the blog design for a better user experience. People often bounce back if the page design is poor, even if your content is good. So, getting the blog design right is necessary if you are banking on content marketing to generate revenue for your startup.
When writing for the web, you have to take care of the skimability of your content. People don’t read articles word-by-word from top to bottom. Since our blog posts are in-depth in nature, it gets necessary to format the blog post properly.
Here are a few things we did to improve the on-page experience:
- Added a table of contents so people can jump to sections they are interested in.
- Changed the fonts to Georgia (usually, we change the font from Sans Serif to Serif font type blog before doing anything else.)
- Optimized title tags and meta descriptions. It helps increase the click-through rate of the posts (the number of people clicking vs. people seeing the title on Google), which signals to the search engine that people are interested in that article. Thus, ranking improves.
- Write in short paragraphs. On the other hand, the same content as large paragraphs makes a wall of text. This creates a mental barrier to reading. For example, consider this text from the same article.
- Link Building: To be fair, we had not done much on this front. We followed a passive link-building strategy. We partnered with a research firm to create data-backed reports.
As journalists, bloggers, and other writers always search for data to support their claims, we knew these reports would help us get some citations.
We don’t do outreach for link-building purposes. Most website owners expect money or links in exchange for giving links, which is against Google guidelines.
But we have taken special care of building internal links. That was a crucial part of our strategy. Not only do internal links help us pass link juices from higher authority pages to our key pages, but they keep the readers on our websites for the next stage of the user journey.
- Technical SEO: We were constantly monitoring for technical issues. We were identifying and redirecting broken links. We made sure the information and site structure were correct. We removed all orphan pages. We took the developer’s help to reduce the page load time.
Leverage Other Channels for Short-Term Growth
For short-term growth, the content was used by different teams for various purposes. This requires the help of other team members.
- Used social media
- Used content while doing cold outreach
- For content for engaging existing pipeline
- Used paid adverts on LinkedIn and a few other content distribution channels
- For retargeting the engaged audience on the website
We started to rank on the first page from the 3rd month, after our engagement with them. Since the website was new (DR was 6), it took a few months for all the core posts to rank.
After 6 months, we were getting consistent results. Though small in quantity, we were consistently getting highly qualified customers ready to move to the PoC stage.
After 9the months, we had seen a good jump in both leads and close rate.
Our marketing was so good that one startup founder reached out to Sethu on how they were doing their marketing.
If the text in the image is too small to read, here is what it says:
“Thanks for the kind words man. Zluri has been popping up everywhere as well. Love your PMM. Serves as an inspiration to us.
Did you folks do everything in-house? (Content, PMM, etc).”
At that time, Zluri had not hired any product marketing manager (PMM). We were helping them with the product content as well.
The main keywords
Ranking on page 1 for high purchase intent keywords
On the SEO front, we had started beating companies like G2 and Gartner. (see the screenshot of SERP below)
Zluri ranking above G2, Capterra, and Gartner
- Leads for content marketing (SEO/organic)
The last non-direct click means the users read our articles before signing up for a demo. In such cases, our content directly leads to conversion.
Note that these numbers are lower bound. Tracking all leads from content is impossible due to the following attribution issues.
- Google Analytics doesn’t allow you to track those who read convert for a long time (> 90days). The longer the purchase cycle, the higher the actual number of leads would be than shown in the Google Analytics report.
- Tracking cross-device conversions is a challenge. Though Google now provides cross-device tracking, it is still in beta, and the accuracy is not guaranteed. So, if a person reads the article on their laptop and sign-up for the demo on their mobile, it’s not possible to track them.
- When multiple people are involved (as is the case for Zluri), tracking the entire purchase journey of all the people involved is not possible. Someone may be reading the content, another may be doing the research, and finally, someone else fills up for the demo form.
Comparisons with Established Players in the Market
Now, let us see how Zluri compares with the top 3 players in the SaaS management space.
- BetterCloud: founded in 2011, series F, raised $187 million till now
- Productiv: founded in 2018, series C, raised $73 million till now
- Torii: founded in 2017, series B, raised $65 million till now
- Zluri: founded in 2020, series A, raised $12 million till now
Note that the other 3 companies had been in the market for much longer than Zluri. Moreover, they have raised much more funding and thus have more resources (marketing budget, people, tools, etc.). Still, we have been able to beat them for many-core keywords.
It was only possible because of a very focused strategy, high-quality content, and optimum usage of resources.
Collaboration Played a Key Role in the Success of Content Marketing
A Special Mention to Relationship and Communications
When we call ourselves an extension of your marketing team, what we mean is you don’t treat us as an external agency. This is a unique approach that we take at Product Led Content. This makes us different from other agencies in the market.
We don’t promise the above results to everybody we work with. There are many reasons why this engagement was so good.
- They had an amazing product. Marketing is not a replacement for a product. After we get the leads, the salespeople and products need to perform. Users should get value from the product.
- We got all the support from the founders. Leadership support is essential when it comes to the success of content marketing. We had their attention whenever required. We got access to all the internal people, accounts, and data.
The functioning was smooth because Zluri leadership “gets marketing” and had total buy-in. Ritish and Sethu had themselves written content before they reached out to us to run their content marketing operations. They were also contributing ideas on what we could do.
Having leadership buy-in ensures that we get the help required from developers and designers since there is a lot of dependency on them. For instance, when we needed their help optimizing the blog UI, it was prioritized and completed in a few days.
- Furthermore, they were doing many other parallel marketing activities, like cold outreach, paid marketing, podcasts, building a community, running webinars, posting from their personal LinkedIn profile, etc.
- The founding team itself was very strong: a rockstar salesperson (Sethu), an amazing marketing leader (Ritish), and an experienced product developer (Chaitanya).
They were amazing people to work with. They even referred a few companies our way.
Nothing could compliment your work better than your clients referring you to others.