Inbound Marketing and IT: Making It Work with Experience
By Lauren Inggs - September 14, 2016
Every great story starts with a humble beginning – and our story is no different. Before Struto was a twinkle in its founders' eyes, a different story was taking place. And that story starts with our Managing Director, Craig. I got to sit down with him on his visit to the Cape Town office for a brief interview about his experience in inbound marketing, and why he's qualified to help businesses in the IT sector with their marketing.
Once Upon a Time...
Originally born in South Africa, Craig and Lara (now Mrs Wiltshire) made the decision to seek new horizons in the United Kingdom in 1999. On settling in the UK, Craig found himself working as a trainer at an IT training facility, lecturing and helping students achieve their Microsoft and Cisco certifications. After four years, he and two fellow former colleagues, Indi and Chris, decided to leave and start a Cisco consultancy firm.
I ask Craig about the early days after starting his first company, CIC.
"Well, we began by sitting down together and having a think on how we could first start getting business and who we knew that we could talk to about running a business of this sort, the market challenges we might face and so on. At the time, we remembered two students we'd taught during our years as trainers, and who'd stuck out primarily because they'd just been so good – Scott and Dale Nursten. We decided to reach out to them for some advice regarding the running of our business. We were also keen to learn more about how Cisco was going about selling and positioning their products." He pauses then adds, " We started off by building a website and launching Adwords, along with securing a 20k pound project in our first week."
Enter the s2s Years
"Scott and Dale had started a business called s2s, which at the time was a Cisco Premier Partner. Their goal, as it were, was to see s2s become a Cisco Gold Partner and then to sell it. Of course, we'd just started a Cisco consultancy firm with a similar goal in mind. This synergy in vision and goal just led to a natural merging of the businesses in 2004, right down to shared offices in Crawley."
On how he found himself introduced to inbound marketing (and marketing in general), Craig explains, "After merging our resources and companies, we needed to divvy up roles within the business. Scott took on the MD role (of course), Dale the FD, Chris assumed the technical director position, Indi got operations, and I was left with sales and marketing (I was probably the only one with the nuts to take it on!). We were all shareholders in the business, and in my role I found myself needing to foster and generate significant growth for the company to support our aggressive exit strategy."
Despite not having had previous experience in this role, Craig took to marketing and sales like a duck to water. By the end of 2005, s2s had won the Deloitte Rising Star Award for the fastest growing Technology Company in the South of the UK – an impressive feat.
Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty: The s2s Marketing Approach
I'm curious to know how someone without a sales and marketing background makes something like this happen, so I prod Craig to tell me a bit more about the approach he went with, what he did and why it worked.
He shrugs and says, "In one sense, we were relatively lucky. Adwords was a new concept at the time and not a lot of people were experimenting with it. We were prepared to take it on, put in the effort, and make it work. This willingness to try new things, coupled with our ability to dominate in fairly broad keywords (thanks to limited competition) helped us generate heaps of traffic for our website, and made sure our investment in Adwords generated a significant ROI." He adds that this tactic was pivotal in seeing s2s go from a 1.5M pound Company to a 5M pound company in just three years.
But it wasn't just Adwords that helped them see this level of growth, as they also focused on delivering a content-rich website, an uncommon strategy at the time. Coupled with some clever SEO, this intuitively inbound marketing approach helped them secure their goal of reaching Cisco Gold Partner status, and selling s2s. What is unique about the success s2s experienced through their marketing efforts is that inbound marketing was truly in its infancy at the time. Considering that HubSpot was only founded in 2007, and S2S ran from 2004 to 2007, the gravitation of s2s's marketing towards an intuitively inbound approach was a foreshadowing of things to come.
But it wasn't always an easy road - Craig is the first to admit that his success was achieved through loads of reading, self-education and the ‘school of hard knocks’.
In 2007, s2s had reached its goal and was bought by NG Bailey. The guys, Craig included, stayed on for brief period after the acquisition, during which Craig held the position of Head of Marketing for their Professional Services division. In this role, he found himself moving from heading up the marketing and sales division for an under 10M pound business to being in charge of marketing for a division easily turning over a 100M annually. During this time, he got a feel for the more corporate side of the business.
The Beginnings of an Idea
I'm eager to find out how all of this led to Struto becoming a reality. Craig explains that after leaving NG Bailey, he took some time off – “feeling a little burnt out”. During his 18 month break, he found himself receiving calls from people wanting his help to achieve the same levels of growth and success within their businesses as he had with s2s.
Due to the 2008 economic crash and the undeniable shift in buyer behaviour that had taken place, Craig felt unsure as to whether he could help others see success in the same vein as s2s. Then in a fateful encounter in 2011, he came across HubSpot, who had then been up and running for four years. While witnessing their vision and observing the shifting trends in buyer behaviour, he became convinced that inbound marketing was going to be the answer going into the future.
He says, "It was at that point that I decided there was an exciting opportunity available for a company to get into the inbound marketing space early, and subsequently Struto was born in May 2011."
It wasn't an easy road, to begin with – many businesses were completely unaware and uneducated as to the nature of inbound and what it could mean for their marketing. This was especially prevalent in the technology sector, an area of focus for Craig due to his network within the industry and his experience in growing a tech business and achieving success. He explains that an additional challenge was the resistance of marketers to change.
"There's comfort in the old way of doing marketing. In the past, marketers didn't need to quantify their results. But after the crash in 2008, leadership started looking for more quantifiable marketing data to prove ROI, which has helped open the door to inbound marketing and its focus on measurable results."
What excites Craig about the state of inbound marketing at present, and what predictions does he have for the future, I have to know before he pops off for a meeting with the Struto marketing team.
"I think inbound is more mature now, which gives rise to a broadening of its reach. This maturation means it's considered more viable as a go-to-market strategy, and often also showcases a willingness to include areas of marketing that perhaps were not previously included in its spectrum, like paid and earned media. Regarding future predictions, I think marketing in terms of marketing agencies is going to become more technology led."
He adds, "I predict that the agencies that succeed will be the ones able to wrap their services around powerful, integrated software stacks that underpin their websites, marketing efforts and sales functions. These same agencies will be the ones able to find the sweet spot where owned, earned and paid media intersect and maximise the return on investment for their clients."
It's clear from our chat that Craig can both talk the talk and walk the walk regarding inbound marketing and the IT sector. While heading up an inbound agency, he's from a background that understands and has lived through the pain points often felt by tech companies when it comes to sales and marketing. If you'd like to have a chat with him, just get in touch!