A Conversation with Vincenzo Ruggiero of Prospect.io
In today’s MarTech conversation, we speak with Vincenzo Ruggiero, the CEO of Prospect.io, a platform that automates the sales prospecting process.
Ruggiero tells us about his unique approach to marketing that involves putting the quality of the product before advertising. He also discusses the importance of readable, shareable, knowledgeable content.
What we do is we sell a SaaS product that helps salespeople automate all aspects of their jobs, especially sales prospecting.
We are focused on the first part of sales, which is sales prospecting. This task involves finding a prospect’s information and doing the initial outreach. We specialize in cold emailing, mainly. So, this makes outbound prospecting far more efficient for our clients.
We began in 2016. I developed the first version of the product as I needed prospecting automation for myself for another project. Soon, I discovered there was a big market for this type of product.
Today, we have grown to a company of 10 people and we do around two million American dollars a year in recurring revenue.
As we are only 10 people, we don't have one person who specializes in marketing, so I do the marketing. But this is really unusual—this is not the normal way to deal with marketing.
We don't really do marketing. Well, of course, we do marketing, but not the way you think.
What we do is that we put a lot of focus on the product. We strongly believe in word of mouth as a marketing technique. And we also strongly believe in the power of good design—great UX, great UI, and craftsmanship.
So, we try to do that everywhere. When we built the website, we hired an illustrator, and she's been with us for more than a year now. And she's working along with a designer, just to craft something beautiful.
As the company is product-driven, I do a lot of product, of course. So I’m not developing anymore, but I have a lot of calls and discussions with our product designer on creating the interface of the product. We work together to decide what we should bring and how we should bring it.
And, of course, it's more than just, “We should put a button here or a button there.” It's more about the vision—where we want to go.
Then there is a lot of managing people, delegating, dealing with customer complaints. I like to think of being CEO as being the “chief everything officer.”
Actually, our gross number has been plateauing for about a year and a half. Every SaaS company will experience this churn as customers leave and you acquire new customers. So, at some point, the number of people you bring in and the number of people that leave will bring you to a plateau.
This is our challenge right now, to be honest.
Einstein said something very interesting about this—he said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
We have been applying the same recipe for five years now. We have a product that is behind a paywall. And this has brought us to a plateau. So, now, we are changing things radically.
We are completely shifting the business model. So, it's a real change, but it just proves we are not insane! We need to do something to make a big, bold change.
At the very beginning, we did a lot of contacting people one by one. We just told them about the product and said, “Do you want to try it? We want to test it.” And, yeah, that's helped.
We also took advantage of old competitors’ domain names that had expired. In our market, you have a lot of newcomers every day, and a lot of them will die within the year, and then after a while, the domain name becomes available. We did that twice, actually—we bought a whole new expired domain name that was still referenced in a lot of blog posts. And that still brings us customers today.
We also contacted bloggers that had written blog posts about tools to use, and we just said, “Hey, I think you should add Prospect.io to your list. Here is a small paragraph if you want to just copy and paste it into your blog post.” Some of them did it, and it's a very long-tail thing. And it’s brought us a few people every month.
We also created some independent websites that listed useful sales tools and then included Prospect.io on these websites. This is sometimes referred to as growth hacking, but for us, it’s a way to generate leads without paying too much for advertising.
I think this is probably the thing that nobody says about marketing—everybody's looking for the silver bullet, you know, the one thing you can do that will bring you millions of leads every month. But, I strongly believe that you should do a lot of things. In the end, the sum of all your sources will bring you enough customers to develop the company.
Our philosophy is to bring quality and to focus on that. So we don't do Google AdWords, we don't do Facebook ads, we don't do affiliation. To be honest, we tried all that at some point, but, as it’s completely outside of our DNA, it didn't work. It just didn't work.
At the end of the day, just focusing on the product is probably a good bet, especially if you're a 10 person company. So, we’ve made our marketing about making a great product and then selling it at the right price.
I think it's more and more difficult to stand out because you have so many companies launching every day. So, getting attention is very difficult.
But in terms of marketing, one thing I discovered by creating Prospect.io is this increasing mix of sales and marketing.
We don't define ourselves as a MarTech company, but in many ways, we are offering a marketing service. Marketing is a way to reach your customers—it's about selling something to someone. So, there is more and more mixing between sales and marketing.
It’s something we tried—it's something we actually tried multiple times. But again, I think it's not in our DNA.
We write, but mainly it’s our product changelog. We have a blog where we publish a product changelog. Or, we’ll write about big changes or evolutions in the platform.
We couldn’t find a way to do content properly. I think the only way to do it right, is to do it internally and to have the CEO or the founder write the content.
One other great way to do content is to do interviews with company founders and then create content based on these interviews.
When I look at the blogs that I actually read, they are always written by very inspirational people. And most of them are the founders of the company, so they really bring something of value to the table. I think it's very hard to reproduce that kind of content.
When we reposition our company, it may be something we try.
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