Amin Makhani - Inbound Marketing Master

Amin Makhani

VP of Growth at Bentobox

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What’s your background?

I graduated college at one of the worst possible times. It was 2008 at the height of the recession.

I wanted to work in finance as a trader, but Wall Street was hit with massive layoffs, so a new grad like me had little chance of finding that kind of job back then.

Instead I ended up landing a job at Yext.

Back then, the company was only doing about $5 million per year, but I was lucky enough to be a part of their massive growth to $120 million. Today I believe they’re doing somewhere around $400 million.

At Yext I climbed the ladder over the years. I started out managing AdWords campaigns, then became responsible for email marketing, paid social media, affiliate marketing, and some SEO. Eventually I was responsible for all of Yext’s digital marketing.

After Yext, I ended up traveling the world for about 6 months. I visited 21 countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Oceania.

Then I started my own digital marketing consultancy. And that’s how I ran into Bentobox.

At first, Bentobox was one of my clients where I worked a couple days per week. But I just fell in love with the business, and found I wanted to spend all week with them. So I ended up taking up a full-time role there.

As VP of Growth at Bentobox, I’m responsible for inbound marketing, funnel optimization, and leading lead prioritization and customer expansion.

We’re still in the early days at Bentobox, but I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity to grow the business to a truly massive scale, and much of that growth will continue to come from inbound marketing.

What does Yext do?

Yext helps small businesses get listed on hundreds of directory websites like Google Maps, Yelp, Facebook, and so on.

So if you’re a restaurant owner and want to make sure your restaurant is listed on as many websites as possible, Yext makes it easy to make sure your listing is accurate and complete on hundreds of websites without you having to spend countless hours doing it manually yourself.

What’s Yext’s inbound marketing origin story?

At Yext, we started out with a very different business model, selling leads to local businesses on a per-phone-call basis. Our main channel was outbound sales, not inbound marketing.

The problem with outbound sales was that we had very lumpy revenue. Some months were great for sales, then others were very bad. The unpredictable nature of outbound sales created a lot of risk for the business.

So, to reduce the risk of the outbound sales model, we started looking into inbound marketing as a channel.

Our first big win came with our “listing scanner” tool, which started generating a much more predictable flow of inbound leads that our sales team could follow up on.

Once we had this initial inbound marketing channel to latch onto, it was just a matter of expanding our inbound marketing from there until we were no longer as reliant on outbound sales.

What were your greatest challenges at Yext?

At first, our biggest problem was figuring out how to give local businesses something valuable enough to make them want to give us their contact information.

We found the answer to that problem when we launched our “listing scanner” tool.

This free online tool gave businesses a quick and easy way to find out if there were any errors in their online listings. They’d enter the name of their business and other vital information like phone number, address, and so on. Then the tool would scan hundreds of listings sites and find the sites where the business was either not listed at all or listed incorrectly.

Business owners were more than happy to give us their names and emails in exchange for the reports the listing scanner generated for them.

Once the listing scanner started generating contacts and leads, we knew we had solved our first major inbound marketing problem, and it was just a matter of building upon that first success.

What was Your inbound customer journey at Yext?

Many customers came to Yext through our “listing scanner” tool. At one point we were getting over 100,000 leads per month through this tool.

Most customers used the tool purely out of curiosity… just in case their business wasn’t correctly listed somewhere.

After using the tool to find bad listings, the tool would ask customers if they wanted to get their listings fixed everywhere it was wrong. Interested customers became an immediate lead for Yext’s services.

After customers used the tool, even if they didn’t immediately convert to a sale, we were still able to nurture them through email.

First the listing scanner tool would send them an email with the results of the scan. Then, we’d occasionally re-scan the listings for the company to send emails to let them know when there were changes to their listings.

These emails also gave us a chance to offer to fix any problems that the scans found. So we had a steady flow of sales leads coming from these emails long after customers first entered their information into the tool.

What were your most successful inbound marketing practices at Yext?

We had a distribution partnership set up with many business listings publishers that drove much of Yext’s early business through inbound marketing.

First, customers would go to one of the directory sites to claim their free business listing.

Then, once their listing was claimed, the directory site would ask if they wanted to make sure their business was included on hundreds of other sites, since the directory site was a distribution partner of ours.

When the customer said “yes,” they were routed to Yext to use our service to claim all their listings on all the other publisher sites we worked with.

The publishers that referred customers to us would get a commission for each sale.

What does Bentobox do?

Bentobox helps restaurants of all sizes by creating their online presence. We handle all types of restaurants from food trucks to Michelin star restaurants.

First we make sure they have a beautifully designed website, and then we make it super-easy for them to maintain the website without needing any technical skills or expensive consultants to do it for them.

Then our platform also helps them with other digital marketing features like online ordering, delivery orders, gift cards, and local SEO features.

What’s Bentobox’s inbound marketing origin story?

Bentobox was quite different from Yext. Yext had to transition from an outbound sales model to inbound marketing. But Bentobox started out on an inbound marketing model from the very beginning.

Krystle Mobayeni, the CEO and co-founder of Bentobox, started out making websites for restaurants in New York City.

So when she started Bentobox, she was able to go back to those same clients.

Then word of mouth started spreading and generating inbound leads.

After that, it was just natural to keep the inbound lead generation going. So Bentobox just continued to build upon that initial success with more and more inbound marketing.

What were your greatest challenges at Bentobox?

One big challenge for Bentobox that I didn’t face at Yext is how narrow the target market is. Yext targets all local businesses, but Bentobox serves restaurants exclusively.

A narrowly targeted market means that we run the risk of attracting low-quality leads from the wider market.

If we drive a lot of traffic from local businesses, only a small percentage of that traffic will come from restaurants, so conversion rates would be really low, and the quality of leads are also likely to suffer.

We solve this problem by making sure our inbound marketing channels are tailored to our target audience well enough that they’re not appealing to a wider market.

The great thing about having a more narrowly defined market is that we end up with much higher conversion rates than a business like Yext that have a broader market definition.

What’s your inbound customer journey at Bentobox?

We have several ways customers find Bentobox and become a customer.

First, we include a “Powered by Bentobox” link in the footer of all the restaurant websites that use our platform. So lots of restaurant owners find us when they see an attractive website for another restaurant and look in the footer to find out how they can get a website like that.

We also get a lot of word-of-mouth marketing. Lots of people in the restaurant industry all know each other, at least in their local areas. So word spreads and we get a lot of inbound leads that way.

We also get referrals from food distributors. They refer business to us because restaurants see them as a more valuable partner when they refer the restaurants to valuable resources like Bentobox. And it doesn’t hurt their reputations that they can pass a referral discount along to their restaurant clients.

Another way customers find us is through SEO. We rank #1 for “restaurant websites” and many similar search terms.

We also invest heavily in Adwords to drive inbound leads.

And of course we get some inbound leads through organic social media, too.

One interesting difference between Bentobox and Yext is the use of tools to drive inbound leads.

At Bentobox we introduced a “website grader” tool to give restaurants a report showing any problems that needed to be fixed on their websites. It’s a lot like the “listings scanner” tool we had at Yext.

But unlike Yext, where the tool drove countless leads for us in the early days, the Bentobox tool is not one of our most important inbound lead generators.

I think that’s because Yext’s business just required an approach to inbound marketing that focused on high-volume, low-conversion-rate techniques. But at Bentobox, our close rate for inbound leads is much higher, so the lower close rate we see in tools just makes the tools a less important source of inbound leads when compared to all the other ways we get higher-converting leads.

Just like Yext, we also do email lead nurturing at Bentobox. But our approach is quite different.

At Yext, we mostly sent automated reports showing businesses any new problems with their listings, and then included a call to action to use Yext to fix the problems.

But at Bentobox, we use more of a Content Marketing approach. We regularly send restaurants useful content that may have nothing to do with our solutions–topics that help them run their restaurants better or solve common business problems for restaurants. Then every now and then, we announce a new feature or service they might be interested in.

So our email nurturing at Bentobox has a softer approach with fewer hard CTAs than we had at Yext.

What are your most successful inbound marketing practices at Bentobox?

Originally the “Powered by Bentobox” links was our most successful inbound marketing practice.

But in more recent years we’ve found that all of our various channels are important and no one channel is really the primary source of our inbound business.

What’s your advice for startups just beginning their inbound marketing?

Isolate all your variables, like the audience, the offer, the UX on the landing page, the content, and so on….

Then think about each of these variables separately and write down all the options you can think of for each one. For example, what are all the different buyer personas who might make up your audience? What are all the different offers you might make?

Once you know all these variables and options, figure out what you think the best combination is. Which audience is your best bet? Which offer will be best for that audience? And so on….

Then go to market with the combination you think will work best.

As you learn which variables work and which ones don’t, be sure to pay attention to the qualitative feedback, not just quantitative.

When you’re starting out, your sample sizes are often too small, so it takes too long to get enough data to make a decision. So rely more on qualitative feedback in the early days, and shift gradually toward quantitative data when you start to get enough of it to make quick decisions and adapt quickly.

I’d also recommend not getting too caught up in visions of world domination 5 years from now. Stay focused on the goals you can conquer in the very near term first. For example, start with the lower end of the market before moving up market on your way to big enterprise accounts.

What’s your advice for startups taking their inbound marketing from intermediate to advanced?

Take a look at what’s in your funnel, figure out where you get the biggest dropoff, and try to get some home runs there.

Don’t just go for incremental improvements. Swing for the fences. Try to turn a 3% conversion rate into a 20% conversion rate.

To do that, you’ll need to take some radical swings. Don’t just fiddle with the title on a landing page. Create a completely different offer altogether with an entirely new landing page.

Where Is the future of inbound marketing going?

I think more traditional analysts like Gartner and Forrester will play less and less of an influential role in buying decisions, and may eventually go away altogether.

Instead, buyers will become influenced more by peer-driven communities than by analysts.

You’ve already seen this in consumer-facing businesses where social influencers on Instagram and other social media channels now drive a lot of buyer decisions.

I think B2B businesses are already seeing the same trend emerge, and it will continue well into the future.

Companies with customers who are very active users of their product may have a great opportunity to build communities. Then influencers will naturally emerge from those communities.

Where can people learn more about You & Bentobox?

Amin Makhani on LinkedIn: