How to Generate High-Quality Organic Leads on a Budget (Gaetano DiNardi)

Jan 14, 2022 15 min read
How to Generate High-Quality Organic Leads on a Budget (Gaetano DiNardi)

Gaetano is a leading expert in demand gen. In this interview, we go through the best demand generation techniques for early-stage startups or freelancers, and look at how to ensure your leads are high quality.

This week’s interview is with Gaetano DiNardi, the Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva – a tech company that was recently voted in the top 100 companies to work for by Glassdoor.

Gaetano had a fascinating route into marketing, starting out as a musician and music producer before transitioning into roles as an SEO Manager at Pipedrive, VP of Marketing at Sales Hacker, and Growth Marketing at Outreach.

In this interview, we discuss demand generation without the big budget. How you need a marketing flywheel of content, distribution, and promotion, all executed through strategic, free channels. We also dive into what metrics you can analyse to make sure your leads are high quality, and there’s much more marketing insight dotted around in the conversation.

Gaetano knows his stuff and is a killer marketer - so listen up! At the end, I also recommend three great books on demand generation that you can use to grow your marketing skillset.

The Interview

Ben: Hi Gaetano. Super good to talk to you, mate. Let's start with the basics because I know you have a really interesting story about this. How did you get into marketing ?‍

Gaetano: Yeah, Ben, good question. I'll try to keep this as concise as possible. I know some people may give quite a long winded response to such a question, but, for me it all kind of happened by accident. I still am a music producer and songwriter, outside of my marketing work.

And, before I got into professional level B2B marketing, I was basically full-time in the music industry and I became obsessed with blogging. I really enjoyed writing as a form of expression and creativity and also to kind of document my process and journey as an up and coming, young and hungry music producer and songwriter in New York city.

And what I realized was, people were finding my articles through search engine, through Google, and it wasn't planned that way at all. I was just writing a lot of music reviews on companies out there that I felt, were not doing ethical things. So I was in, in short, exposing them. So then when people were searching like " is music company XYZ legit" or "is music company XYZ a scam" or "music company XYZ reviews", they would find my stuff.

And I realized, oh man, this is SEO. That's what this is. People are finding my stuff through search engines without me knowing it. And I didn't optimize for any keywords. I didn't do any keyword research, nothing like that.

I just really set out to write the most comprehensive and informative thing on this particular subject. And then I really loved the idea of people learning about my content and finding it without me having to promote it. Which was a very appealing thing because when you're up and coming music producer and songwriter your promotion strategy is mostly outbound.

You have to get people to listen to your stuff and become a fan and get your music listed on all these music blogs and stuff. So it's mostly outbound. There's not much inbound to it. So I love the idea for once something happened inbound, so I fell in love with inbound from that very moment.

I knew it was for me. I  got my first job at an SEO agency in New York city. Following that my test project was to present the strategy, the marketing strategy behind my music career, which was a fascinating and fun way to go about it. And I worked for a leader who's pretty cool and he understood  where I was coming from and he gave me a shot.

And from there I was off to the races that I was working with big clients right away. And I got really good really fast. After two years at an agency, I decided to go in-house to lead all of the SEO at a software company called Pipe Drive, a sales CRM tool. It's pretty well known in the space.

From there, I left to join a startup company called Sales Hacker. I led all of the marketing there for about two years, the startup ended up getting acquired by Outreach.  I decided I didn't want to join Outreach cause I wanted to get out of the B2B sales space. I was in it for too long and now I'm leading demand generation at Nextiva.

So, you know, there's no degree you can get in college or university for demand generation or SEO for that matter. All this has happened kind of through hands on experience and learning by doing. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ben: That's great. It's such a unique way of getting into marketing, I think. And it comes across that you wrote authentically from the beginning and that's how you got those naturally winning keywords.

Gaetano: That's right. And the funny thing is Ben, that it's actually not that different from B2B marketing. Right?

You write from a place of honesty. And a place of authenticity, and you deliver something that's very authentic and informative, and you make it the most comprehensive thing out there and boom, you know, you're, you're pretty much gonna rank. As long as you're following kind of best practices and stuff.

I mean, you can't be a gambling website and think that you're going to rank for  real estate terms. But, as long as it's all kind of connected and legit, you have a pretty good shot.

Ben: With this whole thing, content marketing, content strategy, inbound growth, there seems to be something and not having an ulterior motive with writing, which seems to really help. You weren't writing those reviews because you're looking for inbound growth. You were writing those reviews because you genuinely wanted to get your opinion on those companies.  I get the impression that if marketers write with the aim of really getting inbound leads, then they end up talking a bit too much about themselves and being less empathetic with the customer.

Gaetano: Oh yeah. Yeah. In fact, over the years of doing this, more and more and more you have seen the mindset that we have to do this for leads. We have to do this for lead gen. We have to run the typical playbook. We're doing white papers for leads. We're doing webinars for leads. We're doing everything for leads.

It's all for leads, you know, and the reality is that the best demand generation marketing, means you're not doing things for leads. You're doing things from a place of, I mean, of course it's for leads at the end of the day, but you're not doing each item specifically designed for lead gen.

You're doing it to educate a market, to explain how to solve complex problems for potential customers, and writing from a place of authenticity and genuineness. And then eventually, once you've earned enough trust and respect among that audience, and you've built enough credibility from a brand standpoint, the best demand generation means that you've influenced that potential decision so much from the marketing side that there's no substitute for going to a demo request form and, and pressing submit, right?

Like, that's really what it's all about. And my friend Chris Walker and I , we have come to terms with the fact that some of the best marketing activities are not trackable. And we're starting to be the voice of reasons out there for why you should stop doing demand gen for leads.

You should stop doing webinars for leads; stop doing eBooks for leads. And that's why we definitely admire companies like Drift and many others who have decided to ungate all their content now.  Because they know that if you do  really good demand gen, those people will come back and submit that lead generation form on their terms when the time is right, not when you try to force them to do it.

Ben:  I actually spoke to Chris on this podcast about two weeks ago. So it's good to have you to follow up and I can ask you some more questions. The first one i have is do you think you to always align in your thinking

Gaetano: Yeah, that's a good question. Chris and I are definitely mostly aligned.

I think some things we don't fully align on a hundred percent, and I think that's okay,  he's definitely a guy that has some very unique thoughts about marketing, as do I. And I think the reason why we may not 100% perfectly align on everything is because he comes more from a paid advertising background, and I come more from an organic SEO inbound background.

So naturally there's going to be some tension in the way that we think about certain things. But generally speaking, very, very, very, very, very few B2B marketers think the way that we do, and a post that I published yesterday is living proof of that.

I posted, on LinkedIn, about a couple of really legit SaaS companies that are asking me if I know of any great demand gen marketers in a leadership role that I could refer to them to join their companies full time and take their marketing to the next level.

You may have seen that, and it erupted. Like with the overwhelming majority of people saying, "oh, you're never going to find someone like that". I suggested the minimum experience was like five years and they were like " how do you expect someone to be this good at marketing in five years?"

And  you know what it really made me realize was the majority of people out there having an extremely low bar. For what great marketing is and marketing excellence is, and that the standard for excellence is very low. There are too many career blocking people out there who believe that you need 10 years of experience to be a great demand gen marketer.

I don't believe that's true. There are too many people out there that place over-weighted importance on things like job title, your career tenure, the kinds of logos you have on your resume, and a bunch of BS that really doesn't matter in the long run.

I would rather have somebody with five years of experience and in that five years they busted their ass: they were at an agency, they were at a startup, they were at a midsize SasS company, right? Somebody that  played their career to maximizing acceleration and learning for growth.

That person  who took the more heavy grind approach to their career in that five years has learned tremendously more, exponentially more, than that person who's been in the same role or two climbing the corporate ladder at a large enterprise company.

Ben: It was definitely extraordinary what you were looking for in that post. You definitely would have had to have been that kind of hustler, scrappy marketer, and there's the very rare few of them out there.  I imagine you wouldn't be happy if you'd sat there for 15 years and you still haven't done what you're looking for in five years so i can see why people got annoyed .

Gaetano: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. But the point I'm also trying to make there is that if you're one of these people that have been in like senior executive roles for 15 years, you've been doing B2B marketing since 1997 and you still haven't learned how to optimize an Adwords account. There's no excuses for you. You should be able to open up a Google ads account, get under the hood and see what's going on, without having to rely on someone to do reporting for you.

You should be able to go into any analytics platform and look at the numbers for yourself and know what's going on. The best market, the best marketing leaders are player coaches. Those folks that have been in executive roles for all those years in that have gotten so far detached from the front lines, I feel are the ones that aren't going to last and are not gonna be able to drive real performance.

Ben: I like the idea that in early stage startups there is this notion that if you are the founder, you fulfill every role along the way until it becomes so necessary that you fill it with an external person. And then that way you get to know every role and you understand what each person is doing.

Gaetano: Yeah, if you're a CEO, I think it's different. But like if you're the CMO you better have a really good understanding of all those marketing channels and functions, right? Because the number one reason why those individual contributor executing machines who are awesome in their individual channel, whether it's SEO, marketing, automation, whatever, the main reason why they feel disconnected from leadership is because marketing leadership has no clue about what they do. Can't teach them anything, can't help them with anything.

It's basically like they're reporting up to someone who just is completely clueless. And that's a deflating sort of thing, right? When your leader can't show you anything, can't teach you anything new, can't have real water cooler discussions about your trade with you, that's pretty deflating.

Ben: So like here, we're talking about quite big companies, new CMOs with some expert employees underneath them, but I'm wondering what sort of advice you have for lean startups or perhaps individuals starting up their own company. In that context, what are the best techniques for demand generation?

Gaetano: Yeah. I mean, if you don't have a big budget, it's actually a lot easier. You know what they say: more money, more problems. That's actually true because there's more risk.
So, the way I look at it is you have something called the organic marketing flywheel. It's a regular rhythm of activities that produce meaningful results. So for companies like Mos, and HubSpot, companies who have perfected kind of the inbound flywheel, that's things like keyword research, content planning, and strategic development of content.

It's execution on the content side, then it's distribution, promotion, audience development, growing the email lis t, organic promotion, influencer marketing, guest posting, organic social media, building communities. And then once you get into that rhythm, organic traffic starts to blossom over time, if you're doing everything right and audience development starts to blossom over time, too.

You start building an email list that's highly engaged. You then you start working on the basics: segmentation, understanding the customer at a deeper level, listening to sales calls, crafting your email nurtures based on what people are saying on the sales calls and what customers are saying, and doing customer interviews.

These are all free things. Like, if you're going for really big fish, the best way to do this is to grow a podcast, and invite those ICPs to be guests on your podcast and then see if you can transition that into some kind of meaningful sales conversation, if it makes sense.

Right? So these are like all the things I'd be doing , trying to get an understanding of what free organic channels are available to me. Then think about how you align those to the strengths of the team, how can you start to get into some kind of rhythm and how can you start focusing on lead quality.

Lead quality is the single most important thing in demand generation. It's not about volume. If I was getting a hundred leads a month and only 10 were generating  opportunities, I'd rather reduce that to 50 leads a month, but they generate 20 opportunities. So it's less about volume, all about, quality.

I would then think about how people buy in my industry. Is it one of those industries where review sites and affiliates like really dominate a lot of the buying cycle. If so, you need to get all over those sites and make sure your reviews are in tip top shape and master the art of driving high quality and positive reviews any way you can.

So those are the things I would think about if I didn't have any money, or had a very low budget for demand gen at an up and coming company.

Ben: I love that, it makes a lot of sense. When you talk about high quality leads there, how do you make sure that you lead to high quality? Because I think that's going to be something that's people find quite difficult when they get to that stage.

Gaetano: Yeah, that's a good question. This is why a lot of companies get things wrong, because they just look at front end metrics.

Like clicks, impressions, landing page conversion rates, and even to an extent, cost per acquisition. These are all very important leading indicators, but if you're not looking at what gets produced on the back end of that you're kind of flying blind. So you need to know by source: profitability.

You need to get as far down as things like from this lead source. What is the average deal size over time, what is the lead to proposal rate over time? So, how often do these leads get presented with a contract of some sort? Once these leads do get presented with a contract, what's their proposal to close rate?

So what's the ratio of which those leads close from a lead standpoint and also from a proposal or opportunity standpoint? Then you need to look at that closed won: what is the actual amount of the average, closed won amount from that lead source. And then even getting beyond that, even stickier is retention.

So you can start to figure out things like how much does it cost to acquire a lead from this source? And then how long does that customer stick around? And you should know that the average lifetime of a customer from this source is X amount of duration, it's this average lead size, the payback periods are X. So then you can start thinking about profitability by source.

That's how you start to figure out where the best leads come from and how you can get more of them at the most efficient cost. That's what it really comes down to, and that's why it's so dangerous to just look at front end metrics because as you start scaling, things can get lost in translation.

You may have in your Google Analytics account like seven different goal conversions, and when you look at the reporting and all the goal conversions are meshed into one, you don't know the breakdown of those goal conversions by source. It could be that your paid ads are generating all white paper downloads. Which is very top of funnel. Right? Very different than a demo request.

So these are the things that go through my mind when I started to think about how the revenue engine should work.

Ben: Those don't make a lot of sense. I'm wondering how you do this without scale that, how do you get enough data to inform your, your work without that kind of scale.

Gaetano: Yeah, I think it's better without scale because then you can start really slow. Obviously it's going to take you longer to figure things out but it's less risky without scale because you can scale up incrementally. And you can really start testing things fast.

Let's say you want to validate some new messaging or you add a new feature set, you build some feature page content and you want to go bid on that. You can see pretty quickly what happens and what a lot of times what you realize is with paid ads, especially, you don't have the brand cache yet. Like an unknown CRM company would never be able to go and bid against the same keywords that Salesforce is bidding against because people don't know you yet for CRM.

So you have to do organic things to build up credibility and awareness first before you actually start doing some of those bottom of funnel activities. It's all about testing and experimentation at the end of the day.

Ben: We talked a bit about top of funnel/ bottom of funnel content there. I think it'd be interesting to go a bit more into the topic that we talked about with Chris Walker, which is about creating loads of top of funnel content.  I'm wondering, is it worth creating top of funnel content if the bottom of funnel content isn't already there? Having something to direct people to how important is that?

Gaetano: Yeah, good question. The way I think about this as a flipped funnel approach. You shouldn't really be going all out attack on top funnel unless your bottom funnel is really solidified and strong. You should be making sure you have comparison content ready to go, that you have really solid case studies ready to go, that you have your pricing, packaging all hammered out and it's been validated and tested and it's good.

You want to make sure that any kind of decision state content that you could potentially need is ready before you started going upstream to mid funnel and top funnel content. Because if you were to all out attack on top funnel, you have really nowhere to drive the audience to.

So, you'll just be a massive top of funnel machine, but you'll probably have a hard time closing deals  because you won't have the sales collateral that's needed to create that urgency on the lower funnel side. So I would suggest getting all your ducks in a row before you start going all out attack on top funnel.

Ben: Yeah, I think that's really good advice because I can imagine if you create loads of noise, but you send people somewhere that they don't really understand what to do with when they get there.  It could make you look a bit stupid.

Gaetano: Yeah. You want to actually avoid that because that will detract from credibility. So even if you're really good at top funnel, I would definitely press pause on making all that noise because then people are just going to know you as a noise maker and you don't want that.

Ben: That's so true.  Well, Gaetano. Thank you so much for coming on here. I've learned so much from you. I know this is going to be one of the top performing podcasts for sure. Yeah, really appreciate it.

Gaetano: Thanks brother. Appreciate it man. Have a great evening. Thank you.

Ben: You too. Cheers. Have a good rest of the day.

Gaetano: You too bro. Take care, later.

Recommended books on demand generation:

Driving demand - B2b Marketing

Narrative Generation: why narrative will become your most valuable asset in the next 5 years

Getting started with demand generation


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