“Not Rocket Science”: Automation Strategist Behind AirBnB’s B2B 700k Boost

In this chat, I’m talking with DJ Francis, CEO at Hub and Spoke Marketing and Marketing Automation Expert. Recently, DJ and his team used marketing automation to help AirBnB for Work triple its number of companies served to over 700,000. We talk about the power of marketing automation and how any business can get started with it.

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Key Takeaways

  • The cost of marketing automation is minimal compared to the great outcome it creates.
  • For a better idea of the sort of markeitng automation happening in your industry, sign up for competitors’ newsletters and lead magnets.
  • The biggest lever of marketing automation is good content, so invest in it.


Jean-Marc Saint Laurent: All right, and welcome. This is Jean-Marc St. Laurent here, and I’m talking to you live on jmsaint.com, and I’m talking with DJ Francis. He is the CEO of Hub and Spoke Marketing, and he is a marketing automation genius or specialist, right? That’s how you put it.


DJ Francis: Yeah. No, genius is right.


Jean-Marc: No, genius. All right, and I say that because you’ve worked with AirBnB, right? You’ve worked with Wells Fargo. You’ve actually tripled the number of companies that AirBnB was working with. Can you tell us about that and introduce yourself?


DJ: Yeah, yeah, sure, thanks. So I’m the CEO of Hub and Spoke Marketing, based here in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, and yeah, what you’re referencing is my time running content operations for AirBnB for work, which is their B2B side of things, so it’s the, you know, your CEO, CFO is traveling around, pitching the company, you know, have them stay at AirBnBs.


 It’s way more comfy, all that sort of stuff. You know, a little-known fact, people had been using AirBnB for business for awhile, but it had never been systematized, and the company had never been profiting from it, so what we did is we came in, we identified, you know, the target personas, established a strategy, worked to create content that would influence those folks. 


So we had two really distinct personas, and we were able to create a content hub that had, you know, over 20 pieces of content, text, video, infographics, all sorts of stuff that we knew that was targeted exactly to them, and then we had Marketo running underneath it, so that was kind of our recommendation engine. We’d know whether you were at the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, kind of what to recommend next, and it was wildly successful. 


The first six months that it was out, we almost tripled the number of companies, not just people, but companies enrolled in the system, so you know, we were well past the kind of early adopters and we were able to really grab a chunk of that business travel that’s been pretty lucrative for them. It’s been great.


Jean-Marc: Nice.


DJ: Yeah.


Jean-Marc: So if we can pull back a little bit, people might have heard of this term, automation, tossed around. How would you explain what marketing automation is to an executive at a company?


DJ: Sure, so marketing automation is just the system that’s kind of running underneath everything. You know your website. You’ve been communicating to your customers for years. It’s that same sort of communication, but what we do with marketing automation is actually keep track of folk. 


So this is where, you know, you may have gone to a website where you had to give your email address in order to download a piece of content. That’s kind of a classic example. 


There are other ways to enact this sort of thing, but it’s a way to provide value to folks and then also get their email address or some way to nurture them. So that kind of gets that top of the funnel prospect but helps nurture them over time through the middle of the funnel.


 A lot of businesses like this because it’s less of the hard-sell. You know, you’re just kind of waiting around until they’re ready to purchase, and then you’re kind of top of mind. And it’s also less smarmy. You know, I’m not going in and hitting them over the head with this stuff. 


I’m saying, “Hey, do you need help with this?” Because a lot of the companies that I’m working with are, you know, it’s an extensive product, a lot of software companies, a lot of cannabis, or, you know, real estate companies, where the sales cycle is long, the product might be complex, and you need that content to kind of help someone understand what they’re writing that big check for. 


Content marketing is perfect for that, and that marketing automation just sits underneath and delivers your emails at the exact right time, and I just help with both the content and the tech side, so it’s really fun to kind of be able to build those systems you know?


Jean-Marc: Talking about the sort of folks that you’ve worked with and seen success with as far as marketing automation are concerned, can you give us a peek into what kind of companies this is good for? And what kind of stuff have you helped them with?


DJ: Sure, so you know, you mentioned at the top that the companies I’ve worked for are kind of household names, right? Wells Fargo, AirBnb, and I have worked with those larger enterprise companies, and that’s all well and good. 


What I’ve been doing the last few years, though, since I’ve run out on my own, is providing those same services and strategies to more of the startup crowd. So I tend to focus on, you know, kind of two areas. 


A lot of my clients are in either software, so, you know, imagine five, six, seven figure checks, you know, software companies trying to communicate to very specific customers, so I’ll help them kind of come up with the content and nurture folks over time. 


The other area where I’m seeing especially in the startup realm is cannabis companies, actually, because what you have there are a lot of silo kind of companies that were doing their own thing. 


You have an equipment manufacturer, you know. You have a cultivator. You have all of these different kinds of groups, but they weren’t working in tandem, and so marketing automation is really great for keeping up the communication no matter what kind of node you are within that ecosystem. 


You know, you still want to be top of mind. You still need to communicate to folks, and so that’s kind of what we provide. It’s been really great for, like I said, those software companies and cannabis companies that are working in Colorado.


Jean-Marc: We’ve talked about an overview of what it is now. How does someone get started with something like this?


DJ: So the way to get started with marketing automation is usually to work with someone who’s done this before. So they’ve implemented some kind of system.


 I find it is less important which exact system they work on because a lot of these systems have a lot of similarities between them, so you know, for instance, for my, you know, just personal standpoint. 


I’ve worked with HubSpot quite a bit, but I decided to become a SharpSpring partner because I like the system, and it allowed me to pass along a lot of value to customers, and so it matters kind of less which particular system you use and more that someone can kind of come from that high level, strategic, system level, you know, kind of thought there because you need someone who’s thinking, “Okay, I need to nurture this person six times “over X amount of weeks,” and, you know, kind of that high level strategy, and you also need someone who can get in there and actually, you know, create that creative and not have to onboard a copywriter or that sort, yeah.


Jean-Marc: Now you mentioned something interesting, which is nurturing X person, Y amount of times. How do you figure out that cadence? How do I know for my company that if I’m targeting, say, marketing executives, I should be making a touch X amount of times? How do I figure that out?


DJ: You know, it’s both an art and a science. What I tell folks is you can find research that will help guide you in a certain direction, but at the end of the day, that executive needs to make a call because your audience is completely unique to your company, right? 


No one else has that exact makeup, and so in order to figure out what’s gonna work for you, you need to be open to iterating over time, and so a lot of what I do in terms of helping that business owner is to say, like, “Hey, you know, we don’t need to let perfect be the enemy of good. “


We can get off the blocks. “Here’s a phased plan for how we’re gonna do this wisely. “We’re not gonna come out with our pants down, you know. “We’re gonna do this in a really smart, strategic way, “but don’t expect the website to look the same today “as it will in 30 days, as it will in 90 days, “because this isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it. “This is an active, you know, communication channel “that you have with your audience, “so like any communication channel, it’s dynamic, right?”


Jean-Marc: Oh, okay, cool.


DJ: Did that make sense? You know, setting up that system is just so, so important, and then being able to have kind of the creative underneath it. I mean, you can just imagine how much time that saves for, like, sales teams and executives.


Jean-Marc: Talking about how you sort of set up that flow for sales teams, if you could give us the broad strokes of how do you sort of imagine the pieces fitting together for your automation? So I am a company. I’m trying to talk with this sort of person. What should I be thinking about first, second, third? Can you walk us through that process?


DJ: Absolutely, so the very first two things are strategic. So first I need to know about your persona. So what is the buyer like? What do they care about? What is their, you know… Who are they getting their news from? That sort of stuff. Then also I need to turn inward and say, okay, what does your business funnel look like? 


What is, you know, the product that you’re selling? How do you introduce it? Once we kind of have the funnel and persona, you’re able to create a system that’s going to work exactly for that business, right? But you need a little bit of that strategic kind of foundation in order to make sure that none of, you know, the rest of what we do has value, you know?


 So then when it gets into the actual marketing automation, the things that you need to consider are kind of both the system and the content. So what I mean by that is you’ll need to think about, for instance, lead scoring. So how are we going to track leads? What makes a lead more valuable versus less valuable? 


So it’s coming up with that system, but then also thinking about, okay, what content am I going to put in place then to actually influence that? You know, if we say that leads from a particular state or region are more valuable, then how does that relate back? How does that system then relate back to the content that you’re creating?


 You know, having someone in place that can kind of keep both kind of going in tandem based on your business is essential. Otherwise, you just have wasted effort. Does that kind of answer?


Jean-Marc: I love what you said there about lead scoring, and that it comes back to understanding the quality of the leads you’re trying to grab because to harp on that point, I think it’s really a missed opportunity if someone approaches me, and they say, “I want more of X business. “I want more commercial cleaners.” Or, “I want more real estate people.” 


‘Cause that’s all they have. They don’t understand what roles are best to reach out to. They don’t understand the region that’s right for them. They don’t understand the size of the company they have to deal with. And it sounds like what you’re trying to do for them is save them the amount of time in their sales process they’re spending having to qualify the right people. Does that sound about right?


DJ: That sounds right. Yes, that’s exactly right, and that’s typically the kind of environment that I walk into nowadays. They will have a VP of sales. They may or may not have a CMO. But someone has set up a process, and a lot of times, that process has kind of hit a wall. You can, you know, cold calling, you know, cold emailing, adding SDRs. 


That does work for a certain amount of time. When I come in is when that starts to not work. You know, whenever the leads aren’t kind of coming in because they’re doing exactly what you’re saying. They’re spending time qualifying rather than closing the lead. I want all of those SDRs doing nothing but speaking with the most qualified lead, having the most information about them, able to, like, turn around and close. 


To have them on the phone for eight hours a day and not have them close has zero value to us, right? So it’s kind of working with that system that they may have in place, but that they haven’t really handled the one-to-many communication. 


They tend to have one-to-one communication set up, and so marketing automation, you know, lead scoring is a part of that. The automated emails that you send out is a part of that. The landing pages and the website that you have to send them to is a part of that. 


So kind of looking at that holistically and saying, okay, how does all of this work together? A lot of times in those startups, you know, everyone is just so focused and so busy with what they’re doing, a lot of times, they need someone like me who can come in and say, “Hey, I’ve got two months. “I’m gonna focus on this. “We’re gonna implement something, “and then you guys just keep the wheels turning.” You know, an lot of entrepreneurs and CEOs really like that.


Jean-Marc: I like what you said about how a lot of sales people are good at the one-on-one communication, but when it comes to the one-to-many communication, they’re dropping the ball. Can you think of some ways, some common ways, you see sales people and sales organizations dropping the ball when they’re trying to do the one-to-many communication?


DJ: You know, I would say it’s less about them dropping the ball, and it’s more about from the leader’s standpoint, you are asking them to now do two jobs, and you know what? They’re really good at one of those jobs. 


That’s why you hired them. The other one that they’re now responsible for, the one-to-many, they may not be good at, at all. You know, and so now you’re putting that on them, where marketing is just a simply different function. You know? 


Instead of asking your salespeople to work a whole funnel, to qualify people, it’s so time-consuming to come up with those things. You can automate a lot of those messages, a lot of those, you know, nurtured touches, those sorts of things, because it’s largely the same. 


You know, you’re having similar conversations, and once you break down that code, “Hi, first name, I saw you were visiting our pricing page.” And blah, blah, blah, so what is the message that we should send, you know? And yeah, it’s just really fun to work with those companies because they care a lot, and those sales teams are really good at doing sales. So let’s keep them doing sales as much as possible. You know? 


When I walk into a place, and I’m able to give them a hot list so that sales can sit down and say, “Hey, if you only have 20 minutes today to make calls, “here are the two or three people that you have to call,” that is a world of difference from giving them an Excel spreadsheet with 100 names, saying, “Good luck, kid,” you know. “We don’t know much about them, “but I guess you’ll find out.” Right? Who do you think has more success? Who do you think is generating more revenue? 


I can have a sheet that says this guy visited the pricing page five times over five weeks. Guess what that conversation is gonna look like, you know? It’s not rocket science to figure out. With just a little data, you can improve that one-to-one conversation to where that guy is just… They should just be closing all day.


Jean-Marc: That’s the dream, right?


DJ: I get a little excited about this kind of stuff.


Jean-Marc: No, it is exciting, man.


DJ: It is exciting.


Jean-Marc: It’s creative.


DJ: It’s, you know, transforming in a lot of ways. You know, you’re working with these startups of, like, five to 10 people, and they’ve been spending 60 hours doing something that you can now do for them in 15 or 20. It’s a big deal. It feels good.


Jean-Marc: Yeah, I could tell, definitely. Definitely, I’m digging the energy. Say you’ve finished working with a company, and they are running just at this optimum level. What is the picture of this great company? What are they doing right to create the best opportunities possible? Run us through that perfect picture.


DJ: You know, that’s a really good question. It goes back to the mentality of it kind of never being done but it’s always something that we have to craft because it’s not one particular thing that people are doing.


 It’s the idea of you are gonna have some businesses who focus on marketing, the website, the thought of that customer even coming in before they’ve even pulled out their checkbook, and then you’re gonna have companies that don’t, and the companies that don’t will fall away, as they’ve been doing the last, you know, 10, 15 years. 


And the companies that really care and are there when their customer’s ready to buy and have already been warmed up and nurtured, I mean, of course they’re going to. You know, of course they’re gonna lead. You see it every day. 


You know, every time I go on Facebook, someone’s talking about something they’ve read online. Well, who do you think creates that stuff? You know, I mean that’s guys like me who’re saying, “All right, what is this person really gonna care about, “and what’s gonna move the needle for the business?”


Jean-Marc: Yeah.


DJ: Any company watching this, you should be thinking about this kind of stuff. Don’t take it from me. Go out and do your own research, you know? The Content Marketing Institute is a great place to look for information about how businesses that do marketing automation versus don’t, and how they succeed, or content marketing versus don’t, how they succeed. 


Go out there. That information is out there, and if you want to separate yourself from the competitor, you know, the cost is minimal compared to what the outcome will be.


Jean-Marc: What kind of resources would you recommend for folks getting started in this marketing automation? I know you were talking about CMI, Content Marketing Institute. Any others that come to mind?


DJ: Yeah, basically, what is great for that sort of stuff, you know, any of the technology companies are going to have decks that have, like, kind of reasons to believe in marketing automation, so for instance, you know, like I said, I work with SharpSpring, and I have tons of kind of Forrester data and everything that kind of shows that, so those are typically good resources. 


You know, and also take a look at what people are doing in your industry, you know? I find a lot of differentiation within different industries. 


Sign up for all of those newsletters that your competitors are putting out. Just see what they’re doing, and like I said before, you know, this stuff isn’t rocket science, but it is paying attention and knowing what to focus on, and if you’re getting, you know, newsletters from 50 of your competitors, you’re gonna figure out the pattern real quick. You know, you’ll see what’s working, what’s not, and what you should kind of do for that. All I do is come in and help folks who don’t have time to actually break it down like that.


Jean-Marc: DJ, thank you very much for your insight into the world of marketing automation. I will talk to you later.