BC Startup Sales Podcast – Driving High-Quality Leads Through Webinars with Raphael Carty (Callida Energy / Dealertrack)
In our latest installment of the Bowery Capital Startup Sales podcast, Raphael Carty joined us to talk about a topic that’s likely near and dear to the hearts of many salespeople, but doesn’t often get much coverage: webinars. Raphael is currently the founder and CEO of Callida Energy, a software solution that powers building optimization—from energy usage and sustainability to facilities management and automation. Raphael also brings with him a long history of thought leadership in the marketing space, having previously served as Head of Marketing for Dealertrack, the market leader in vertical software solutions for the automotive industry and a company with one of the fastest times-to-IPO in recent history. He’s also taught marketing at Harvard Business School and worked in various other CMO and leadership roles in the past. One challenge that he repeatedly faced over the course of his career was driving high-quality leads in a cost-effective way—no doubt a topic top-of-mind for most startup sales leaders out there. In this episode, Raphael joined us to talk about one tactic in particular that he found both dramatically raised the quality of his leads, but also ended up reducing his org’s total spend to acquire them.
While we’re all familiar with the traditional screen-shared product demo that an SDR or inside salesperson may walk a potential client through, the concept of a webinar—at least as we’ll define it today—is quite different. While a pointed approach and no doubt a cornerstone of startup sales, the standard demos aren’t effective lead-generation methods. They focus on driving one opportunity home, but because they are usually one-on-one, they are a bit hard to scale and aren’t always optimal tools for lead nurturing or market education since they are more transactional (i.e. “salesy”).
Webinars done correctly—as Raphael will describe—are just the opposite: they are focused on educating the lead by discussing best practices more so than individual products (though there’s a time for that too). They give the lead a chance to ask questions and learn about their own industry. They feel like a webinar sign-up is less of a commitment upfront and more of an opportunity to absorb knowledge. Should you be selling into a vertical market, this educational aspect has even greater appeal, which you can emphasize by leveraging industry experts and even product managers to lead sessions.
At the same time, webinars draw very high-intent leads and—structured correctly—are perfect venues for leads qualification and scoring (e.g. do they use a competitor but aren’t satisfied, do they have no current solution, did they even know there was even a product available, or are they actually just there to learn?). Even sign-ups who don’t end up attending are often better leads than your standard MQL. Raphael shares with us a few particular anecdotes in which he was able to use webinars to achieve an average conversion rate 3-4x higher than other channels. We hope today’s podcast will clue you in as to how you might execute a similarly successful strategy at your startup.
You can read the full transcript here:
NP: Hi everyone! This is Nic Poulos. Welcome back to the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast. Today, we have with us Raphael Carty, currently the founder and CEO of Callida Energy and formerly the Head of Marketing at DealerTrack amongst other roles in the past. How is it going today, Raphael?
RC: It’s going good. How are you?
NP: Doing very well. So, for all of our listeners out here, why don’t we just lead off, if you give a couple of quick minutes on your background and your past couple of roles?
RC: Okay, sure. I have been in software pretty much my whole career, started off in product management at HP, did a number of marketing roles, I am Head of Marketing for a startup Serco an information security software and I tried a different slanted things. I taught marketing for a while at Harvard Business School. Most recently, I am working on a new startup in the commercial real estate space, Callida Energy, optimizing energy in buildings. And today, I can talk a little bit about my experiences in vertical marketing, both here and earlier when I was Head of Marketing for DealerTrack, a SaaS company in the automotive space.
NP: Awesome! Well, we will dive in just a second, but I also wanted to just touch really quickly on your first experience in sales, which was what?
RC: First experience in sales, I was 9 years old selling newspapers and I was trying to get customers to not cancel their subscription. So, an early experience with attritional turn, yeah.
NP: Early turn reduction, did you use any software when you were 9 years old?
RC: No software, but I was always looking for better solution, and if I had some I would have tried it, definitely.
NP: Awesome! Well, so, I would like to kind of start with, you know, an experience that we have taught with little bit which was, you know, early on, when you came to DealerTrack and you looked at your different channels for lead generation, you thought about qualification. So, what I would like to do is just have you maybe describe kind of the scene when you arrived and how you thought about it?
RC: Sure. I mean, first off, we were doing really well, we were… our sales were growing rapidly, we had a very good source of leads into the sales force, but as we looked at things, I thought we could do some things even more effectively and efficiently. One thing as we looked at the variety of different ways we were generating leads, we were doing something of everything, whether it was a combination of e-mail marketing, faxes, webinars, advertising, you know, really, all of the major touch points were being used, but I wanted to sort of drill down a little bit and say, “Which are most effective techniques?”. And so, we did really looked at the conversion rates and we looked at what kind of a push back we might be getting either from sales or customers that walked out just to see which channels really were being perceived as the best ones for customer to participate through.
What we came out of this analysis was a recognition that some channels were working much better than others. E-mail marketing was working well, but we saw an opportunity to take that with some additional AB testing and targeting and get even better returns out of it. On some channels, we decided to stop. We were sometimes faxing things to dealers and that was just a really low quality in terms of the conversion rates and also, some customer pushback and opt outs. And then some channels like webinars, I thought were being underutilized. What we were doing at this point was doing them on a regional basis and doing this sort of one product at a time. Now, a lot of it we were trying to do with DealerTrack was to cross-sell. Almost every dealer in America had our new car dealer, had our credit application in there to do online credit apps.
NP: And that was a free app?
RC: It was a free app and it was incredibly, you know, well penetrated in the market, but we had a whole bunch of SaaS software offerings that we wanted to do with these customers to help them in their F & I area, finance their sales area, their inventory area. We had products that could really automate every different part of the dealership…
RC: … subscription products and the key thing was how could we take these touch points we already had and convert them to new products and sales to automate the whole dealership.
NP: Yup. So, a lot of different products, obviously, this is a vertical market, is… most of our listeners probably know where we are selling software and other dealerships, but plenty of different functions and we are trying to understand how do you cross-sell those products and for the purposes of this conversation, how do you continue to generate leads, cold and also from existing customers? So, just a regular reiterate you are taking a look at e-mail, fax, huge surprise that fax was; wasn’t the big one in terms of channels and webinars. And so, webinar is actually what we wanna dig into today here because I think there’s really interesting story behind that. So, I guess, how were webinars setup when you kind of came on board and kind of what was your initial thinking process around making the best use of those for the purposes of lead gen?
RC: Sure. I mean, webinars are more effective. The issue was that they were not being used as much as they could be. Basically, what we had been worked out was webinars were done on a regional basis in conjunction with that sales region and they weren’t done very frequently, they were sort of one product at a time, maybe one per month. They were two issues there. One is as we did our evaluation of different lead sources, webinars turned out in terms of conversions to be by far the highest quality leads. We were getting three and sometimes even more, three times we did the quality of the leads in terms of good conversions. So, the first thing we said is, “How do we shift some of our marketing spend in our marketing effort to a much better channel force?” So, as we did that, we went and worked with the sales team and said that we can give you more better quality leads, can you work with us to take advantage of them? And the answer was yes.
RC: So, webinars went from being regional to being national, webinars were being done for multiple products, not one product at a time. So, let’s just give you three of our products really important in our product line; one was inventory management, one was around compliance and other was around the dealer management system sort of the ERP from the dealership. We could do a webinar on each of those products on the same month.
NP: Yeah. So, just to take a step back once again. So, when you originally came in, webinars were quite effective, but you weren’t doing too many of them, you were kind of doing only webinars on one product at a time. And so, really, you just felt like you weren’t kind of taking advantage, you basically just said, okay, I mean, we are getting better conversion out of these, let’s just step them up. Step one, make it national. Step two, do it on more products, was that the case?
RC: Both. I mean, more products because we didn’t feel that doing a webinar on one of our key products at the same… in the same timeframe as another one was competing with each other because you may have a different person in the dealership that cares about the inventory management product and a different person who cares about a financer sales solution and a different person who is focused on the dealer management system. So, we thought there was an opportunity to tell our story to the customer, maybe different parts of the dealership or just different occasions to look at a new solution. So, we could just basically not hit them maybe with as many e-mails for a conversion on a certain product and move them to webinars.
NP: Yup. So, one other instinct thing here that you have mentioned is this is obviously a vertical market kind of leads are looking to… I guess, why were leads interested in webinar? Why do you think it converted particularly well and you know…
RC: Yeah. There’s a few things there. I mean, one is the webinars were definitely not a hard sell thing. The webinars were positioned as ‘Here is information on improving the way you run your dealership’.
RC: Let’s just give an example – compliance. Compliance was a huge issue for our dealers, there was new regulation and this was the thing that could cause them to lose their whole business. So, as these regulations were being rolled out, they were hungry for information on ‘How do I stay on top of situations where I could be at risk for loss in business?’. So, these webinars were positioned on ‘Let’s help you to understand the regulation, let’s help you to understand what the processes are you need to have in place so that you do detect those red flags that are potentially gonna cause you a compliance issue’. So, it was very much an educational… and being done by people who were experts. We either had our product line executives or product line managers who really understood the space, really understood what the key business challenges were conduct the webinar. It wasn’t just somebody going through a slide deck. And in some cases, not just compliance, we even had an industry expert, our in-house associate counsel… associate general counsel who was recognized throughout the auto industry as an expert in that area. So, the combination of informative educational content delivered by acknowledged experts, product line expert, product executive, industry expert as well as really good sort of point… at the very end of it, we didn’t just say, here’s the problem, here’s ways to think about it; we have been talked about solutions.
RC: But, the whole thing was in a product pitch. It was only after we educated people to what their issue was to be talk about the kind of ways that could address it and we did have some very effective tools for those needs.
NP: Got it. So, I guess, to reiterate it wasn’t necessarily like a… wasn’t an inside sales person’s doing a 30 minute demo…
NP: … it was more like a kind of Gartner style webinar like come and edify yourself and grow as a leader in the auto industry.
RC: Exactly. I mean, basically, to get to the decision makers and the people to come with an open mind, we didn’t want it to be a sales pitch. We really wanted it to be… we are really trying to cultivate a deeper relationship with the customer and be more of the consultative partner and really say, you know, we can help de-mystify this whole thing about compliance. Well, we can introduce you to new ways to manage your inventory and really sort of as we deepen that relationship, increase our opportunity, as you mentioned earlier, for some more cross-sell and… but, in a partnership type approach.
NP: Yup. And so, on that point about cross-sell… so, I guess, I assumed you had people kind of sign up, could have been through a campaign or an email, but a lot through your side as well or…
RC: Yeah. We got people the webinars in a whole bunch of ways. We did site promotion; our customers were logging in everyday from the homepage on our public sites. So, we promoted things right there, we did e-mails and even our sales people sometimes would recommend them to their customers. Regardless of the source and we used all the ways to promote the webinar, the people we attracted given the subject matter, given the way the topic was discussed and given that these were highly salient topics and experts, we got a very high quality response. We didn’t have people who were just clicking on a link, we had people there on the webinar who had a real interest in that topic and potentially, decision makers still.
NP: Yup. Got it. And so, I think there’s an interesting point just to draw out there which is that you guys saw these webinars as an opportunity to kind of nurture and even cross-sell existing customers, right? So, you weren’t necessarily just going out saying, hey, you know, cold sales lead, you know, guy that clicked on an ad, you were somebody who was logging into the platform seeing this opportunity to say, hey, come see this webinar compliance and maybe we will cross-sell them your inventory management product.
RC: Exactly. And we did both. There were some promotions for the webinar which actually brought in new customers, but given that most of the dealers in America had the credit app already… the online credit app already installed, it was very rare that we got a dealer to a webinar who had never seen DealerTrack’s online credit app.
NP: Sure, yeah.
RC: But, it was a huge opportunity to cross-sell, both to get a customer who was just using the free credit app to now buy a monthly subscription for inventory management, a multi subscription for compliance, a multi subscription for dealer management systems and if they have one of those to get another one to we could get… you know, we wanted our customers to have at least two of our major subscription products, at least two, in addition to the credit app and these webinars help move us toward that goal, multi touch points throughout the dealership.
NP: Cool! Did you often see existing customers, let’s say you had a customer that already had your inventory management product coming to a webinar about inventory, right? So, it’s almost also form of customer success or kind of turn mitigation to have people on there, right?
RC: Yeah. We did see that sometimes, it could be educational aspect. Most of the participants were looking for a solution or they could be using a competitor solution and they are looking around on, but I think you are right. Sometimes we really… anyone who is interested can come to the webinar, we made it available to our customers and some of them did learn some things about the product, but I do think it helped us in competitive situations especially in inventory; inventories where we had some competitive action in the market and there were webinars we were often times able to tell a better story. Same thing with our dealer management system; we had a product that could do the things that some other competitors did for less than half the money and our webinar sort of helped them to sort of do a comparison shop and say, “Oh, why am I spending all this money when I could be doing it for less than half with the same or even better functionality?” So, we definitely were using them as a competitive sales tool away from our competition.
NP: Awesome! Let’s just talk for just a second about kind of the nitty-gritty details about how you setup these webinars. So, you could just tell us real quick how, I guess, what was an optimal length and how did you break that down? Was it a ScreenShare, just those, you know, these details?
RC: Yeah. I mean, we found that an optimal length and it could vary…
RC: … but, an optimal length is about an hour, it could be a little longer, no less than 45 minutes and we really… because we wanted to have the opportunity to do a few different things. One was to cover some conceptual information about the topic. So, we were planning to have maybe like about a half an hour – 45 minute presentation, but then have enough time to get questions and to give people opportunity to really ask the expert. So, I would say about an hour; no less than 45 minutes, no longer than an hour and a half. I mean, that’s about it. But, around an hour was a good sort of target for most of our webinars.
NP: Got it. And then in terms of who was leading the webinar. So, I believe you mentioned you had your a counselor it was an industry expert on compliance at one point, you know, did you often have various people throughout the organization pitch in, did you ever have kind of outside experts, I guess, you know, obviously, you could have your counsel doing everything you want of them, but how did you kind of manage that?
RC: Yeah. I will talk, but that was kind of a special case for us. We have the good fortune that our associate general counsel, one of them, was a really industry recognized expert in compliance. So, when we would have him do a webinar, it was almost like inviting that expert from Gartner for us to come and talk about the topic because he wasn’t perceived as just DealerTrack, he was the guy people listened to across the industry. So, that was our probably our biggest draw on a certain, you know, industry name, but we had product executives, product line executives in our business who were very well-known to our dealers. I mean, we had the head of inventory or the head of compliance or the head of dealer management systems speak to the market and to the types of problems customers encountered and the kinds of solutions out there. They had tremendous credibility because we were known in the industry to be leaders in those spaces. So, it was really product line executives or product line managers and when we could, like in the compliance case, get us sort of an industry expert as well.
RC: We never had to pay someone to do a webinar. I mean, there’s people out there who pay experts to come in and do a webinar. We have folks in our team who could command the respect of our customer base and draw that we didn’t have to go pay for our speakers.
NP: Awesome! So, in terms of how you then look and follow up with these leads post webinar, maybe if you could just talk a little bit about that in the frame of continuing to nurture and qualify these leads.
RC: Yeah. In fact, let me set it up with another point is the webinars were getting such a good response that we really said to your point on how do we take it to the next step, how do we track, how do we qualify and make certain that these really high quality leads were panting out to sales? So, I mean, one example is in one of our product areas, with the webinars being ramped up, we actually got like a over a 100% growth in qualified leads in a quarter.
RC: It was just phenomenal what these things could do for us. So, we normally started looking at, “Hey, what do we do with these leads once we have them?” We saw that just out of the way the organization had grown, we weren’t necessarily getting, in all cases, the best tracking information or the best qualification of those leads. Sometimes the people qualifying the leads, it wasn’t their day job, you know, they were doing something else, but what we did was, we formed a very small group with the marketing to really kind of make a science out of this lead qualification process.
RC: And essentially what we did was a few things there. We had training and scripting so that we would have the people who were doing lead qualification working off of a script, not just winning at it. It used to be the folks doing it where sort of just on their own, you know, best idea of how to get this customer to move forward. So, we had formal training, we had a script, we got the tracking information and we took them through a series of qualifying questions – do we have a decision maker, do you have budget, are we in the right product area to direct this person to? – coming out of that there were a number of benefits. One thing coming out of it was we were able to track every single lead that went through this process. There was never a problem where we couldn’t track the lead through lack of information. And second, we were able to do a better job of steering the lead to the right part of the organization. Sometimes the lead would come in and we basically worked with the information available. It wasn’t clear where to really put that lead. And now, we could really pin down with greater accuracy – this is a dealer management lead, this is a compliance lead, this is an inventory lead. So, the tracking was better, the qualification was better. We knew which customers were really looking, did have budget, were decision makers and we didn’t… we could, sometimes, redirect customers all over the place and figure out where they need to go to talk to somebody who can give them the right solution.
RC: Got it.
NP: So, this lead qualification, very, very small team, focused, trained, working off of script, made much… gave us a much higher quality lead call process and way better tracking information. That helped us also just look at the whole marketing matrix, but with better tracking. We had now hunch of percentage of our leads properly screened and recorded.
NP: Yup. Got it. So, you kinda admit it, you get circumstance where somebody would come in and maybe even end up selling them lower ticket priced product that maybe they were actually perfectly qualified lead for all products or higher ACV right?
NP: I thought one other interesting point that you mentioned was that your, you know, the webinar program was successful that even people who had signed up, but didn’t attend the webinars ended up being a good source of leads.
RC: Yeah, that was a nice surprise and getting to sign up… we first started with just focusing on the folks who came to the webinar and those were a really good source of high quality leads and then we said, you know, where were these people who signed up and never showed? You know, let’s try them and they turned out to be really high quality too. But, of course, to some degree, some of those who signs and doesn’t show could be because they are not really buying right now.
RC: But, in almost all cases, those people were at least the right kind of person and even if they weren’t at the exact buy stage, they were starting to look for solutions or it could have just been a scheduling conflict. But, whatever the reasons were, those registrants who didn’t attend, we would re-invite them to another webinar or just have the salesmen follow up and they were some of our highest quality leads amongst other sources. So, it was a great way to really use every bit of that webinar registration initial list.
NP: Got it. And I think, you know, do you think that this being a vertical market that, you know, the educational aspect of the webinars was, you know, even that much more important or it was maybe it was easier to get the right experts? But, I guess, how do you kind of tie in the vertical consideration here? As listeners are thinking about a webinar strategy?
NP: Yeah. I think it is more important in verticals because I mean, in some horizontal markets, I mean, it’s… there’s just a little less information is needed to really get at the heart of the issue. I mean, in a vertical market, these are people who really know their own business, they really are looking for solutions that are gonna increase their effectiveness and you can’t comment here about sort of talking cookie-cutter generic kind of horizontal solutions.
So, I think the webinar gave us an opportunity to have a much deeper and richer conversation about how they do business. We can start with 15 or 20 minutes on the industry, we can go through 15 minutes more about the pain points, we can then talk about solutions that improve their process and how our products help to implement those solutions. It was almost the richness of a sales call, we could now do through a marketing vehicle. You can’t do that through an e-mail, you can’t do that, you know, from a phone call if it’s just cold calling people. So, the webinar gave us a really nice way of getting a deep, rich conversation about things that really mattered to our customer and for vertical sales, that’s really important. You can’t talk generic, you have to be very specific to their business, their pain points and their processes.
NP: Yup. I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean, if you are trying to sell Salesforce or HubSpot, you know, your customer can be in any vertical, but in this case, specifically, you are in a lot of vertical markets, your customers are going to know who their main competitors are, right?
NP: So, I think another interesting point that you made was the case study ads that you guys built.
RC: Yeah. That…. It’s sort of hand-in-hand with the webinars. We just made a major acquisition of a dealer management system which was a real opportunity for us to really complete our whole run at the dealership product line. We could automate every single part of the dealer, we got fantastic press from the acquisition, the company we acquired was incredibly well respected, they were head of the technology of the big players, they were a SaaS solution and most of the big players were doing it to install software. So, after that press, we said, “How do we keep the momentum going?” What we did was we did some case study ads putting real dealers’ faces in automotive news, you know, once a month saying, “I switched to the DealerTrack DMS solution and here’s what I saved, you know, saved over a half, you know, 70%”, whatever it was and that sort of real customers talking to customers worth their weight in gold. We got fantastic leads from those ads, but it also continued to heighten the awareness. So, we just really helped people to recognize that DealerTrack is now in this part of the business in a really big way and we are not just introducing a new product through our acquisition of an existing company, we already had proven success.
RC: So, those case study ads were a wonderful way of really bringing more people into the funnel and generating some more high quality leads for webinars, for sales calls, whatever. It just it was a very high conversion for a product ad because of that dealer to dealer credibility.
NP: Yup. And, you know, again, I think in… that works especially well in the vertical market because somebody could see that ad, that case study and say, “Well, you know, this really high quality dealer had 50% cost savings and I wanna be like them, you know, how I… I better at least get on a webinar and learn something about this or, you know, check it out this secondary buying effect.”
RC: And some of these guys who called up the guy up, they know each other. It’s like, “Hey, I saw you in the ad”. And we actually had some of our dealer accounts, our dealers that we were close to say that they were getting contacted by customers, you know, their peers in the industry looking around for new solutions. So, it was tremendously affected. You know, if you have good customers who are really moving their business well, give us some visibility, you know? They enjoy it for their business and they are helping you by really showing that your solutions made a real difference economically and they would quote actual numbers and improvement they had. So, it was a real win-win and it deepened our relationships.
NP: So, they actually wanted to be part of these case studies that it wasn’t… you know, sometimes people look to say, hey, if you guys sign on well, you agree to do this upfront. Did you guys have that kind of formal agreement or were they just jumping on board?
RC: No, we ask them to do it, but we didn’t have a single one say no. I mean, you know, if you say I am gonna put your picture in the main automotive trade press in an ad talking about your successes using our product, we didn’t have anybody say we didn’t want to do it. So, it was… yeah, they weren’t necessarily… you know, it was our idea that it was well received and it was a win-win. And I think the nature in a lot of vertical markets are… you know, these customers know each other. They go to conferences together, they are sometimes, you know, they are involved in activity. So, if you can get them talking to each other and get that positive word of mouth going, it’s worth its weight in gold. It’s better to any claim that I can make in an ad, not the customer coming out of his mouth.
NP: Sure. I mean, I think that makes ton of sense. You know, I guess, finally, just kind of encapsulate everything we had been talking about today, you know? So, these days you are founder and CEO of Callida Energy, you know, DealerTrack, you know, now and when you were working there, you know, a relatively large company, you know, I think a lot of, you know, this is the Bowery Capital Startup Sales Podcast and a lot of our listeners are probably a little bit of a earlier stage. So, now, as kind of the leader of the startup, I guess, how do you think about, you know, are there still any learnings from the webinar initiative or from some of these weak call-on issues you have been talking about that, you know, that you are trying to think, “Okay, how do I now apply this to my business?”
RC: Definitely. And, you know, this is… that’s a really good question because sometimes you can look at and say, you know, DealerTrack was over 200 million in sales. So, there’s a big company, what can we learn from them? But, I really have found, being in both large and small is that, you know, good matrix driven selling and marketing is really the same. It’s just a question of how much, you know, spend you can pump through it. So, what did we learn in DealerTrack that I apply to startups? First off, find out what’s effective, do some testing, gather some data. I mean, don’t just keep doing one thing, try different things, out of it focus in on what seems to work the best and then blow that out. You know, we could have… we ended up spending… you know, DealerTrack had, you know, a much nicer marketing budget than I have at a startup.
RC: But, you know what? We got more out of that spend. We got better results with the lower spin because we figured out what worked. So, I would say do the matrix, do the testing, focus on the areas of work, target effectively and then, you know, webinars can be done by very small companies. I mean, the… our best technique could be done by a NASDAQ company like DealerTrack or something… are we looking to do more of is we start to roll out our product and scale commercially. So, it’s like what are the things that are out of the reach of startups? You know, huge trade shows. That stuff’s out of your reach, webinars aren’t. I mean, those could be done easily.
RC: Yeah and the e-mail marketing to support it, site promotions to support it. These are things that don’t cost a ton of money, these aren’t big ad placements. They can be done very economically. E-mail promotions, site promotions, webinars and all those things aren’t huge dollar spends, but have great payback.
NP: Awesome! Well, Raphael, thanks so much for joining us today. That was really insightful, I thought. Hopefully, our listeners agree and yeah, I just appreciate you coming in.
RC: Thanks, Nick. Thanks for your time.