The Portable Bar Company is a B2B eCommerce company that sells portable bars (go figure) to business in the hospitality industry like event rental companies, hotels, and catering companies.
I worked with The Portable Bar Company for 18 months beginning at the end of 2012 when the business had been in existence for a little over a year and was doing a steady but underwhelming level of sales given the potential of the market.
In this case study, I’ll outline how we took the Portable Bar Company through a marketing campaign that resulted in a 527% increase in monthly revenue over an 18 month period.
The Results after 18 Months
- 527% Increase in Monthly Revenue
- 289% Increase in Website Visitors
- 182% Increase in the Value of a Visitor
527% Increase in Monthly Revenue
Using a 3 month average of the 3 months before the project was started and the final 3 months of the project to smooth out monthly fluctuations, the Portable Bar Company saw a 527% increase in monthly revenue. Using just the first and last month then there was a 1,734% increase in revenue or using the first month and the best month there was a 2,242% increase in revenue.
289% Increase in Website Visitors
Unique website visitors grew by 289% month over month from the 3 months before we started to the final 3 months of the project. It grew 507% from the first month to our best month.
182% Increase in the Value of a Visitor
|Average Spend Per Visitor at Project Start||$3.62|
|Average Spend per Visitor at Project End||$6.60|
The Philosophy and Strategy
I’ll start with the fundamental principles we operated by and then drill down to what that actually looked like on a tactical level for us.
1. Generating In Depth Insights to Increase Marketing ROI
Before: Lack of Understanding of our Ideal Customer
Earlier marketing efforts hadn’t been successful because of a lack of understanding of who the best customers were and their buying behavior. Working off an assumption that hotels planning to use the bars in banquets would be the most profitable customer segment, initial marketing efforts fell flat.
When we started selling into the hotel market, we learned that hotels were:
- Extremely difficult to reach online
- Set in their buying behaviors of going through large purchasing companies that were inaccessible without deep industry contacts
- Viewed portable bars as an expense
After doing in-depth, qualitative market research by talking to existing and prospective customers, we began to target event rental companies in major metropolitan areas. This was a much more fruitful target market.
- They were locally-owned meaning the buyers were much easier to reach online.
- They were likely to order multiple bars to be able to rent them out mean their customer lifetime value was higher.
- They saw the portable bars as an investment that would generate ROI from being rented rather than an expense that would depreciate.
After: Deep Understanding of Customers Leads to a 204% Increase on our return on Marketing Spend
By getting customers on the phone and going out to industry events, we gained a real understanding of our customers and their buying DNA. All later investments in marketing and product development showed exponentially better ROI as our “gut” instincts became more and more refined and our messaging improved dramatically.
Once we understood our market and their buying behavior:
- We paid for a trade show from sales at the show alone and generated nearly 500 additional leads.
- We developed (and sold out of) a new product line (the Flash Bar) that filled a gap in the marketplace.
- We tailored our marketing and educational materials to exactly what our customers wanted to know using email autoresponders to drive more sales.
- Saw a 204% Increase on our return on marketing spend
2. Counterintuitive Results by Focusing on Trust and Transparency
As we gained a better understanding of our customers, the next challenge of marketing and growing the business was helping people imagine our products in their lives and businesses and then inspiring the trust in them to buy from us.
It’s a common industry practice in a lot of B2B industries to “call for a quote” as a way of hiding the retail cost and providing selective discounts. While we were happy to put together quotes for special orders, our pricing was transparent and available on our website and and in our catalog.
By making the pricing available online and offering resources like a portable bar buying guide and product demo videos, we didn’t force customers into high pressure sales situations or into wondering if they were getting duped in pricing games.
Many of the people that bought from us did so after going through sneaky pricing with competitors. After a half dozen emails and phone calls back and forth trying to figure out how much the product actually cost with a competitor, they were happy to put through an order with us.
A year after selling the first portable bar online, online sales now make up a substantial and growing portion of total sales. Repeat buyers and referrals which have the best long-term ROI of all marketing, are steadily increasing.
3. Increasing Profitability by Getting Ruthless about Process and Systems
Over the course of 18 months, we stuck to a mentality of pig headed determination to business process. We implemented a Work the System framework into the business by designing a system to hire, manage and automate our processes and team.
We focused on creating assets, not just running the business. Profitable business systems were documented then hired for, outsourced or automated. As we developed new and profitable marketing channels, we worked to either automate or outsource them as we constantly shifted focus into new areas of growth potential.
Effective sales scripts were turned into email autoresponders and product videos.
Profitable trade shows were turned into blog posts and email autoresponder campaigns.
As these assets continued to build and improve, the ROI on marketing steadily improved.
Technique 1: Drive Traffic and Awareness by Generating Expert Content and Ruthlessly Re-Purposing
Content may be king, but it ain’t cheap. By leveraging experts, events, and targeted initiatives to generate the content and then repurposing the best content across all our marketing channels, we created a lot of high quality content and then got the maximum leverage out of it. Our customers were active on different mediums: organic search, paid search, social media and email so we distributed content across all of them.
With relatively little input, we developed defined processes that created a lot of high-quality, helpful content assets for the industry and distributed them across all our marketing channels.
Here’s one example of how we used a 30 minute customer interview to create hours worth of valuable marketing content that’s still generating leads today:
Using Expert Interviews to Create Content
We called and interviewed Drew, an industry expert who managed a popular venue for live events, about how he used one of our portable bars to sell advertising space to alcohol sponsors at his theatre and had him send us an iPhone photo.
We used that one brief interview and photo to:
- Write an educational article (which is still one year later, one of the most popular pages for new visitors coming from Google and other search engines). The Portable Bar Company continues to get calls about how their products can be used to get sponsors for customers’ venues.
- Share and Engage Customers on Social Media. As a B2B company, LinkedIn was the most effective channel.
- Engage existing and prospective customers with the newsletter
Technique 2: Maximize Traffic Using Opt-ins to Convert Visitors into Qualified Leads
Since we knew that the majority of people coming to the site weren’t ready to buy (97% of clients aren’t in the buying cycle when they first discover a product or service), we set up three different opt-ins to capture qualified leads.
No matter how they came to the site (organic search, paid search, or social media) or what content they interacted with (blog posts, product videos, or the home page), we always had a relevant offer to get their email and qualify them as a lead.
Opt-in 1) Product Catalog Opt-in on the Homepage
It’s common in B2B industries for companies to get your email for a product catalog. For people browsing the homepage, they were more likely to have found us farther down the buying cycle and looking specifically for a product.
We used an opt-in on the homepage where they could get a copy of the catalog in exchange for their email. Anyone that downloaded the catalog was added to our email list where they got an autoresponder with more product specific information and our monthly newsletter.
Opt-in 2) A Buying Guide on Blog Posts
For people that got to the site looking for more general information, they usually came in through the blog. Knowing these people weren’t likely to be ready to buy right away, we used Pippity, a pop-up opt-in, to give them a free report or buying guide.
We set the opt-in to pop up after a minute or at the end of reading an article. This let us balance capturing leads with not annoying first time visitors.
The buying guide let them learn more about the industry and criteria they should be evaluating when they were in the buying cycle. The buying guide wasn’t promotional, but instead focused on building trust and establishing ourselves as authorities so that when it came time to buy, they saw us as the leaders in the industry.
Opt-in 3) Video Lead Capture
We used Leadplayer to embed an email capture form at the end of all our videos. Leadplayer adds an opt-in like you see in the screenshot below to your videos.
We used a special tracking number and found that some months almost half of all inbound calls were coming through the number on videos.
Technique 3: Leverage Automated Follow-Up to Convert Leads into Buyers
As the number of visitors and people on our email lists grew, we set up email auto-responders and a newsletter to convert a higher percentage of leads into customers.
Email Autoresponder Follow-Up
We built out specific email autoresponder campaigns for each opt-in. An email was sent out once a week for 5 weeks after someone entered their email address. Each email focused on one of the 3-5 biggest pain points or buying criteria for customers in the industry we were targeting and educated them on how our products fit their needs.
Having talked with event rental companies both on the phone when they called in and by going to the American Rental Association Trade Show, we knew they were most concerned about durability (so it would last them and let them make money on it for a long time to come), transportability (to move it between venues) and rentability (will my customers want to rent this?).
Now that we knew their concerns, we created a sequence for someone that opted-in and identified themselves as an Event Rental company (those guys that rent out equipment for weddings, conferences and other large one-time events.)
Email 1: Will It Rent? (1 week out)
Email 2: Is it Portable? (2 weeks after visiting the site)
Email 3: Is it Durable? (3 weeks after visiting the site)
Send a Consistent Monthly Newsletter
In addition to sending up a follow-up autoresponder campaign, We sent out a regular newsletter with Campaign Monitor every month educating our potential clients about our products and how they could use them to grow their business.
This served 2 key purposes:
- Building trust and authority through transparency and consistency. By seeing our newsletter every single month with examples of other customers using the products and the improvements we were making, prospects came to trust us so when they were ready to buy, the decision was easy.
- Taking advantage of recency and keeping the Portable Bar Company top of mind. We all have a natural bias towards recency. It’s why you buy the brand new book with the shiny marketing campaign instead of the one that you’ve been meaning to read for years. Because we consistently sent out a newsletter, we stayed top of mind with all our potential customers when they were ready to buy.
A Recent Newsletter
Technique 4: Create Transparency and Drive Sales with High-Quality Images and Video
High Quality Product Photos
One question we frequently asked was how can we re-create the traditional buying experience online?
Typically, portable bars have been sold at trade shows or on showroom floors. Buyers are used to literally laying hands on the product before they buy it. That fundamentally didn’t work with the eCommerce business model of the Portable Bar Company. Like many eCommerce stores, they are able to offer a better value than traditional retailers because they don’t have to deal with the overhead from lots of trade shows or owning a showroom.
Instead, we had to creatively and effectively use technology and business processes to get as close to that in-person experience as possible. It was important to our customers to be able to imagine how our products would look and work in their venues. This informed everything we did – from the way the phone was answered to how the website was designed.
The most effective way we were able to do this was through use of high quality photos and videos. In many industries where products are highly visual, particularly eCommerce, high quality image assets are often more valuable than written copy.
Whenever a new product arrived in the warehouse, it was photographed from 8-10 different angles using a HD camera, edited by our design team and then uploaded to the website.
More valuable than just seeing the bars against a white background is helping people imagine what using the product would look like in their business. We followed up with every customer that bought 90-180 days after they purchased to ask them how the bars were performing and to solicit photos of how they were using it (more on this in technique 5).
Photos like the one below helped create social proof in addition to making it easy for prospects to see how they might use a portable bar.
Along the same vein of getting people to understand how the product would fit into their business, product videos built trust and created transparency by letting our customers imagine the product in their business.
We developed an in-house script for shooting videos that consisted of:
- Having the salesperson on camera to explain the product and create rapport (If it’s possible, we used the person they would talk to on the phone when they call to create context and continuity to their experience)
- The top 3-7 Features and Benefits of the Product visually and with Text
- Shots of the product in use to help potential clients imagine how it would work in their venue
- A Call to Action at the end bringing them to our site or to call in
Here’s a videos for the Flash Bar we put together to show that that looks like:
We also created a general marketing video of the Professional Portable Bar that emotionally engaged customers and focused on telling the story of the product. By getting customers emotionally involved in the product, we were able to differentiate ourselves from competing products that appeared more like commodities.
Because we called all our customers to follow-up, we found someone that we knew would be a good fit to partner with on a video based on their enthusiasm about the bar they ordered. We offered the customer a copy of the raw video files to use in his own marketing in exchange for letting us film and hired a local videographer off Craigslist.
We added a voiceover to create a video sales letter complete with testimonials for social proof and product images.
Technique 5: Create Referrals, Testimonials and Design Improvements with Follow-up Calls
As I said above, we implemented a process to follow up with every customer that bought 90-180 days after they purchased. That gave them enough time to use the product so the feedback would be valuable but not so much time that any nagging concerns couldn’t be addressed.
We designed a script for those calls to:
- Thank them for being our customers! Very few companies do this and it always sticks out in people’s mind when a company goes above and beyond after the sale.
- Go above and beyond to leave an impression by replacing any piece that may have broken or come loose through light use.This generated both referrals and repeat business for us at a fairly nominal cost.
- Ask them how they were using the product to better understand our customers and how our products helped them so we could improve our marketing.
- Ask for them to send us in-context photos to use on our website and in our marketing. Almost everyone has a smartphone to be able to text you photos.
- Ask specific questions to solicit high quality testimonials and get feedback for future improvements to iterate and improve on our design.
The key to these calls was asking the right questions.
General questions like “do you like the bar?” got general responses like “Yea, it’s great!” Instead, we asked more specific questions to get more specific, persuasive responses.
We asked questions that led customers into describing the benefits of the product and gave us specific feedback for improvements.
- Do the bars feel durable? Why?
- Do the materials feel solid? Why?
- What do you like about the bar? Why?
- Where else do you think you could use this bar?
- What do you like about the appearance of the bar? Why?
- What kind of events do you think this bar would be a good fit for? Why?
- What do you look for in a bar? What’s the most important thing for you in a bar?
- What do your customers say when they see the bar?
- How has the bar impacted how you run your business?
We did the same using video and one customer told us how he made $12,000 within the first 6 months he owned the bar! We used that as a sales tool to show other prospective customers how they could grow their business using a bar.
“I set the Professional Portable Bar up in the show room, put it on the website. Anyone that comes in the showroom looking for things, they rent it immediately…it’s rented at least 20-30 times. I get $300-400 a rental so it’s working out real well”
- Understand Customers
- Focus on Building Trust and Creating Transparency
- Get Ruthless about Processes
- Drive Traffic and Awareness by Generating Expert Content and Ruthlessly Re-Purposing
- Maximize Traffic Using Opt-ins to Convert Visitors into Qualified Leads
- Leverage Automated Follow-Up to Convert Leads into Buyers
- Create Transparency and Drive Sales with High-Quality Images and Video
- Create Referrals, Testimonials and Design Improvements with Follow-up Calls
Focus on Marketing Stamina
For you savvy marketers, you’ll notice nothing we did was terribly innovative or exotic. What we did was take rock-solid online marketing fundamentals and ruthlessly and consistently execute on them.
While we tested some “sexier” marketing tactics, in the end it was the fundamentals that proved most effective so we focused on executing and streamlining those processes.
I rarely hear people talk about marketing stamina. Our results came from taking logical steps forward with commitment and consistency.
Use Synergy to Create Geometric Growth
The first three techniques (driving traffic, capturing leads, and converting leads into customers) all worked synergistically to create geometric growth in the business. Any one technique alone would have been far less effective. Bringing more traffic to a website with poor quality images and without a way to get visitors to opt-in would have been a waste. Because we worked on expanding all aspects of our marketing at the same time, we created synergies that led to the 527% increase in revenue.
Did you like this essay?
If you want to learn more about marketing and what I did to get my book The End Of Jobs to a #1 Business Bestseller on Amazon and featured in magazines like Forbes and Inc, you can download the guide here.