The ultimate pivot: How one decision brought in more than €2 million ARR in less than 2 years for Community Platform inSided
What we’re going to talk about:
- inSided spent its first 8 years selling self-service Community Solutions to large enterprises (mainly in Telecoms), which, as a market, was saturated.
- By doing due diligence and with the support of its investors and advisors, inSided made the bold move to pivot – overnight – to sell to other B2B SaaS software companies and their Customer Success teams.
- inSided supported its move with strong, audience-centric, “content first” marketing that continues to form the heart of its inbound strategy today.
- As a result of its efforts, the company has gone from 0 to €2 million ARR in this new segment, in under two years, and tripled its customer acquisition rate.
Almost by definition, entrepreneurs know what it’s like to build a business around a core idea. The easiest part – although it might not feel that easy at the time – is to get that idea out into the world. The hardest part is to then get the world to notice it and buy into it. And even then, the competition, changing customer preferences, slow revenue streams, and so on, keep the struggle going. That sense of uncertainty can feel like a treadmill.
The solution – as well as the earliest and most common advice businesses get – is to find a sustainable product/market fit. But what is product/market fit? How do you know when you’ve found it? Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz defines product/market fit as “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market”. Growth marketers suggest using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure it. But the truth is that product/market fit can remain elusive, so that even investors struggle with knowing how to identify it.
Andreessen himself said that the focus is too often on the latter part of his definition – the product that can satisfy its market – while the former – being in a good market – carries just as much weight. This turned out to be a major realisation for inSided – a SaaS platform for Customer Success teams.
After launching their product in 2010 and seeing strong traction in the Telecoms market – leading to a Series A investment in 2016 – inSided soon realised that the market they were in wouldn’t allow them to grow at their desired rate.
This led the company’s founders to make some tough decisions about where to go next – either continue making a use-case for large enterprises or to speed up growth by pivoting to another (bigger) market entirely. Neither choice would be easy, but after choosing for the latter, the company immediately saw explosive growth. In just under two years, inSided grew to more than €2 million ARR in the new market, and the company tripled its customer acquisition rate.
This article is going to walk you through the fundamental steps inSided took to find product/market fit, first by pivoting to sell to other SaaS vendors and then developing a marketing strategy that engaged with and actually helped its target audience.
inSided is a cloud-based, enterprise-level Community Platform that integrates with a variety of business functions. Among their customers, they count household names such as SONOS, T-Mobile, Zapier, Gainsight, Looker (Google), and Gong, and the platform itself provides a complete set of applications to build, integrate, and manage branded customer communities across digital touch points and devices.
It might surprise you, though, that until 2018, the company focused almost entirely on consumer-facing public brands, and more specifically on telecommunications. With large customers like KPN and T-mobile on their books, they had largely positioned themselves as a cost-saving solution for their support departments.
The problem came when the company scaled beyond initial traction, and ambitions grew rapidly. What they quickly realised was how narrow the market was, as well as how saturated. While traction was fine, sales cycles were long, as were the contracts, meaning they often had to ‘wait’ before getting another shot at a potential customer.
The market pivot
In his eBook on the art and science of finding product/market fit, Harpal Singh explains that the first pillar in reaching product/market fit is the market itself. Without figuring that out first, companies end up building products for an audience that doesn’t have a dire need for it. At the risk of belabouring that point, CB Insight’s deep study into startup failure showed that the top reason was “no market need”.
Because of the market saturation problem, inSided made the decision to pivot. The idea itself was simple: instead of targeting public brands that serviced consumers, they would sell their software to other SaaS vendors, and more specifically their customer-facing teams. In SaaS, customer bases grow notoriously fast; keeping in touch with all of them is a clear challenge. Again: a simple idea, but as will all market pivots, it carried a degree of risk.
The first step inSided took in finding the right audience for their product was research. Years ago, growth hacker Sean Ellis found that you could measure that market need, and that you wanted a 40% user satisfaction rate before you could say you had product/market fit. So, for several months, inSided ran and analysed product feedback and ideation studies, and explored other potential product features they might develop.
inSided interviewed around 50 VPs of customer success to gain more insight into what they were actually looking for, and how they – the company – might be able to position themselves. They asked what these VPs did on a daily basis, what their team was doing, how they were managing their team, etc. They also asked about what problems these VPs had, what they were struggling with - “What keeps you up at night?” was their question.
In doing their research, inSided began to notice something vital missing in the world of customer success: a place where customers could just log in and basically do everything they needed to by themselves. In fact, over the years, several studies have shown that customers expect this “self-service” capability, where they can handle problems themselves, like finding information r and sharing best practices with their peers. They also want somewhere to provide feedback about products and services, or to suggest new features.
In other words, a customer hub, of which there are plenty for internal teams (think CRMs), but none for the people actually using the product they are selling.
inSided wasn’t going at it alone, though. As far back as their earlier decision to scale, they began seeking advice from their advisors and investors. Most of the discussions explored the best direction for the company, given their goals, their market, and the burn rate and sales challenges it presented.
How well an investor understands your market plays a big part in what makes them good, as well as in the guidance they give you. In their article on the characteristics of a good Venture Capital firm, Venture University also lists dynamic thinking, calculated risk-taking, willingness to get involved, and conviction.
In inSided’s case, their investors did all of these, helping the company uncover the business value and potential strengths (and risks) in pivoting to the B2B SaaS market. By the time inSided had completed its research and weighed its decision to pivot, they had the backing of an experienced, extended team.
“Content first” marketing
Approximately two months before pivoting, inSided had brought in Remco de Vries as their new Digital Marketer. His goal: set up inSided’s first inbound strategy. With a background in B2C Telecom, Remco was the perfect fit.
Remco is quite open about the fact that, at first, he opposed the move to the SaaS vendor market - it seemed like something that needed to be done gradually. Even more so because everything changed for him literally overnight: on Monday, all of his B2C campaigns were working great; when he came in on Tuesday, he was told to scrap them and come up with a whole new set of B2B campaigns.
The content “turkey”
Channel is the second pillar in finding product/market fit, and almost every marketer’s first port of call in creating decent visibility is content marketing. Considering their competitors’ levels of marketing activity, Remco and his team decided to first create a single piece of content that their audience could find, engage with, and – more than anything – find helpful, in order to put inSided on the map in this new market.
That first piece of content turned into a huge project: a massive eBook on the dos and don'ts of building B2B communities – really practical content, based on inSided’s experience as well as that of their customers. Again, their main challenge was that no one in the SaaS world knew about them, and so their initial goal was to position inSided as a thought leader on Communities and Community Management.
At the time, Remco was only interested in getting that piece out there. This means that he didn’t initially gate it, attached no metrics to it, and only measured its success by its number of downloads, social mentions, traffic generated, and other leading indicators of content consumption.
Although it took a while to produce this content (and bear in mind that you don’t get results or leads during content production), it became an essential springboard to their current success. This one source provided easy content for a dozen or so blog posts. It became a lead generation tool on LinkedIn and other channels, and brought in plenty of leads. It was even easily carved into smaller content for social channels. This is why we call this a “content turkey”, as Remco and the marketing team could use it to generate smaller, more targeted pieces.
The success of that first campaign led to another. This second eBook focussed more on positioning a customer community platform within the technology stack and the minds of Customer Success Managers. Up to this point, community platforms weren’t the first solution that came to mind, which inSided took advantage of to further position themselves and their solutions.
The high-quality content and the efficiency of its distribution kept growing from there. Video interviews became sources for several shorter snippets and further podcasts. By really investing the time in creating something good, inSided were able to quickly multiply their content and see traction in no time at all.
As open as Remco is about opposing the market pivot, he’s equally honest about being wrong about it. Once the numbers started coming in, it was clear that inSided was on to something. Remco is also vocal in encouraging other marketers to use the same marketing tactics. In his own words, “this isn’t necessarily a difficult or new approach, and it doesn’t require a huge team – it’s all about focus and good execution. And from there it’s just rinse and repeat.”
With the sheer volume of content online these days, inSided felt that the golden rule for its own content would be to entertain, or educate, or both. And with a shared background in B2C, they were especially concerned with the boring drivel that usually passed for B2B content.
B2C content understands that on the other side of that content is a human being, and therefore focuses on the experience. It classically uses social or blog content that aims at entertaining and making people laugh, and only then trying to sell something. To inSided, it made no sense to think of their new market any differently. They essentially eliminated any B2B or B2C designation from their minds.
To that end, they began exploring with more entertaining content. Light-hearted posts and those that showed a sense of humour triggered greater responses. It got people talking. They even started to see funny memes coming up in conversations with prospects. People simply liked them.
The key here is that inSided stopped worrying about measuring absolutely everything. Why not loosen up a little, they asked themselves – try stuff and have some fun. Not everything can be answered or understood through data alone.
The results of inSided’s move have far exceeded anyone’s expectations, going from 0 to more than €2 million ARR in under two years. Their content marketing campaigns alone generate dozens of Sales Qualified Leads, out of which the sales team closes three times more prospects than they used to through targeted campaigns.
Looking ahead, the company will start focusing more on automating its processes. They will also be decreasing their Google and LinkedIn budget to focus on bringing in more qualified leads through other ways of content distribution, targeting prospects who are interested in customer success strategies but don't see the link yet to purchasing a community platform. They also plan on sponsoring virtual events in the latter half of 2021, if they’re certain the event will reach the right audience. Creativity is key, as the whole world is in too many calls, webinars and events already.
This is to say that the company has clearly found solid footing. There’s no doubt that in pivoting markets they were taking a risk, but in giving due diligence to the fundamentals, along with the right support from their investors and the commitment of their marketing team, inSided could take that risk with more confidence. In finding the right audience for their product and the right channel to reach their audience, inSided found a way to fit perfectly in a completely new market.
If you’re a European-based B2B SaaS startup looking for advice and potential investment, we can help. Contact us and let’s get the conversation started.