How did a middle-market private equity firm manage to differentiate itself in an overly crowded and competitive market while attracting a wider audience and driving revenue? By leveraging content marketing and developing high-quality thought leadership.
In this episode of Revenue Rebels with Rhoan Morgan, Kristy DelMuto, VP of Strategic Marketing at LLR Partners shares how she has helped to elevate the firm’s content marketing initiatives while boosting results like a 195% increase in engagement, 18% month over month site conversions, and a 62% in social reach.
About Our Guest
Kristy DelMuto, VP of Strategic Marketing, LLR Partners
As the leader of LLR’s strategic marketing, Kristy works to codify why growth happens and help business owners access the capital, insights, and resources they need to scale. She translates actionable growth advice from LLR’s portfolio companies, network of senior operators and team into digital and live content, creating opportunities for best practice sharing among business leaders.
Kristy also manages LLR’s brand, marketing, public relations, and social media presence, enabling intermediaries to stay informed on the firm’s investment focus and helping executives determine if LLR is the right partner to support their company’s growth.
Unable to listen? Read the full interview transcript below:
Rhoan Morgan: Hey, Listeners. Welcome back to another episode of Revenue Rebels. I'm really excited today to welcome Kristy DelMuto. She is the VP of Strategic Marketing at LLR Partners. Thank you for joining us, Kristy.
Kristy DelMuto: Thanks for having me, glad to be here.
Rhoan Morgan: Well, so, as the leader of LLR Partners Strategic Marketing, Kristy translates actionable growth advice from LLR's portfolio companies, from the network of senior operators, and from the LLR team itself. They pull all of this amazing content into digital and live content, events, and resources. This work that Kristy is doing creates opportunities for showing best practices among business leaders. She's also the head of all of LLR's brand PR and social media presence. Kristy, can you share a little bit with the listeners about what LLR Partners does, and your role there?
Kristy DelMuto: Happy to. So, in the private equity world, LLR Partners is considered a growth equity investor. So, that means that we're putting capital fairly mature businesses, not start-ups, to help them accelerate their growth. The way they can use that capital can be things like expanding their operations, entering new markets, making acquisitions, building up their sales and marketing teams, a lot of times that's like a sales development team. But, it's all for the purpose of growing their business.
Kristy DelMuto: My role at LLR is primarily to be the brand champion, and to lead all of our marketing efforts. Like you mentioned earlier that includes content, social media, PR, everything you see in our digital presence on the web. And it's also the primary goal of not only helping us force opportunities but, as I'll talk about more in this podcast, really nurturing investment opportunities for the firm.
Rhoan Morgan: Awesome, cool. So, today, there's so much we could talk about. We could, it sounds like, easily have 5 podcasts. But today, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. We're talking about driving revenue, using content marketing. And, to be clear to everybody out there listening, the topic of content supports the goals of both growth marketing and sales. So I really see this as, marketing and sales are teams that go hand in hand, and content is something that supports everything in between. I also want to let everybody know that this is a 2 part series. Today we're gonna be focusing on building your strategy, and then we'll be back with part 2 on executing through the strategy. So, let's dig in.
Rhoan Morgan: Why don't we start by talking about the challenges that you were trying to address when you launched the content marketing initiative at LLR. What is the impetus to put in some of the resources behind this?
Kristy DelMuto: Sure. So, private equity is a very crowded market today. There's a lot of firms out there, there's a ton of capital being invested. And what that means is that the CEOs of the growth state businesses that we're targeting were the same people that every other private equity firm was trying to reach. So, they're getting calls and emails from potential investors, and bankers, and all kinds of folks in our ecosystem every day. Not to mention, they're trying to run a business. So, they were very, very busy. At the same time, if they're thinking about raising capital, it's a very long-term decision. So, it's very rare that a CEO will wake up one morning and say "it's time for me to raise private equity money, I'm gonna go out and find an investor or hire a banker and get this started, and be done with it in 6 months".
Kristy DelMuto: When we initially connect with a CEO, it could be anywhere from 3 months to 3 years or even more, before you really get into the conversation, the diligence, and actually potentially invest in that business. So, our challenge is that once we start a conversation with a company, and it's usually with the CEO, we have to show value ongoing. We have to position ourselves top of mind. Like I said, months later, years later, when it does come time for that CEO to choose a private equity partner. And knowing all of that, LLR made a commitment a couple of years ago to be different about the way we go to market, and the way we present our brand. And we wanted to be smarter about how we nurture the relationships with those companies that we're talking to. That's really where the content marketing comes in.
Kristy DelMuto: I'll say up front that my focus is really not about branding. It's much more about nurturing relationships ongoing, and about us being able to work with the engagement analytics of the content, in order to be smarter about how we're differentiating ourselves, how we're living and breathing our brand, and how we're trying to translate those relationships into real investment opportunities.
Rhoan Morgan: A couple of the keywords that I pulled out of there were, being able to look at the analytics around the content, which I think is not always the easiest thing to do. Right?
Kristy DelMuto: Right.
Rhoan Morgan: Because we're used to looking at other channel engagements, but content-specific is tougher. And then, also nurturing those relationships, which takes a lot of time, as you said. Especially, depending on your industry, you guys could be months, but it's probably more like quarters or years. We often hear about business leaders that have really great ideas for content that we're all sure will engage prospects better. We don't realize what it's gonna take to pull it all together. And it can't be a one and done sort of approach, right? It really does require that strategy and a clear plan.
Rhoan Morgan: So can you walk us through a little more around how LLR developed the strategy to reach... and you guys have a very target audience, really specific. What did that look like?
Kristy DelMuto: So, our target audience, like I said, is CEOs, and it could be CFOs, of growth-stage businesses. One thing that was really key to our success early on about developing the strategy, was recognizing that we didn't necessarily have to reinvent our brand to that audience. We just needed to articulate better how we're different and act on it in a way that was more effective. So, LLR's been around for 20 years, and we've always been focused on giving our portfolio companies access to knowledge and expertise that they need to grow.
Developing content strategy doesn’t necessarily require reinventing your #brand, but articulating how you’re different and acting on that effectively.
Kristy DelMuto: So on top of providing the capital to support their growth plan, we're giving them a lot of resources and the depth of knowledge that we have in our organization, and within our network, to help them in areas like talent, and sales and marketing, and finance, and MNA, and all those things where they're gonna put capital into growing, but they need more than money. They need advice. They need some best practices on how to do it. But the thing is, all that insight really lived inside our heads. And it had never been codified in a way that new audiences outside of our portfolio companies, could access and apply it to their own businesses. That's a perfect part of our content strategy, right?
Rhoan Morgan: Mm-hmm.
Kristy DelMuto: So, the content is already there. And I think that's really critical to developing a strategy, is looking at what you already have access to, versus trying to invent something brand new. And then seeing how you can then harness that and codify it into a format, like a written format, and share it with others. So, that's how GrowthBits was born. We branded it GrowthBits, which is a great term. And I've spent the last 2 years working with our portfolio leaders, our advisers, our board of directors, and our internal experts to write 900-1000 word posts, and put them out every other week, to share this content with our audiences, to bring this knowledge out of our heads, put it on paper, and send it out through social email and social media.
Kristy DelMuto: And once we got into a strong cadence of producing it, we added other types of formats like ebooks and industry-related content.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. I can't wait to hear more about some of the other types of content, and the technology, and everything that you guys have put in place in order to make this happen. It does look like it is time for us to take a quick break. We will take a moment just to hear a little bit more about DemandLab. Stay tuned, we'll be right back with Kristy DelMuto. We're discussing driving revenue through content marketing.
Rhoan Morgan: Thank you so much, Paul. Let's jump right back in. Okay, Kristy, can you tell us how technology plays into your strategy? How have you blended content efforts with technology to drive success?
Kristy DelMuto: Sure. Our website is, obviously that's the hub for where we have all of our content, and it's where other people or audiences can access it. That's built in WordPress. Our distribution channel is primarily through email. And there's a host of tools behind the scenes that make that happen, in the smartest way possible, we'd like to think. So, DemandLab, that's who we work with from your firm, to manage Marketo for us, which is a big help for me. Because I'm a team of one. I don't have the technical knowledge to do it myself, or a technical resource internally to do it. So, we outsource it to your firm.
Kristy DelMuto: Then we manage all of our contacts in Salesforce. We spent a lot of time over the last 2 years testing and tweaking that Marketo and Salesforce integration, to make sure that we can segment our contacts in the right way and that we have access to those analytics and put the right data in the right places within Salesforce, and it's mostly being drawn from Marketo. For us to be able to look at both how our audiences engage with our content holistically, and then in individual contact records level, so that we can determine an action plan on how we should follow up with the contact once we see how they're engaging with our content.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. Segmentation, again data and analytics, and also one to one communication. So, actually being able to use the back end of your platforms to see how best to communicate and engage with your audience.
Rhoan Morgan: We recently had a guest on the podcast who talked about the importance of audience segmentation, and the impact that it delivers. In terms of being able to really connect with your targeted customers and prospects, and really drive that customer experience, right? And drive them to action. How does LLR use segmentation to personalize its outreach?
Kristy DelMuto: I think it's first important to note that we only send our content to individuals that LLR has connected with one on one, via phone or an in-person meeting. In addition, we send it to people who have proactively visited our site and subscribed to our content. So, we're not buying lists, and we're not marketing to people with whom we've never had any interaction. We could have a whole separate podcast about the compliance reasons behind this. But also, for us, I think it's critical to show that brand message as well, where we're not trying to force ourselves onto people that we don't know through our content. But, instead, we're nurturing those relationships. And so, the segmentation comes in a couple of formats.
Kristy DelMuto: We generally keep all of our growth company executives contacts together in one large segment. So they're the ones that receive the new GrowthBits, every other week, along with anyone who has subscribed. And the other half of our audience is referral sources and investment bankers, or people who could introduce us to them. And if they choose to opt into our content, which they do, then we send it to them as well. But, as our library has grown, and because we have one-on-one conversations with these core target CEOs, to sort of prompt them receiving our content, we're able to now segment them by the growth areas that they tell us, in our conversations, are challenging them the most.
Kristy DelMuto: So we have a market development team here that functions like a sales development team. And when they're talking to them one-on-one, they're also taking notes in our Salesforce system. So, as an example, if a CEO shares in that conversation, that his primary goal for this year is to create a sales development program, we can add him to a nurture campaign that features several different GrowthBits we've written over the last 2 years, that talk about how do launch an SDR program, how to hire, train and onboard SDRs, and even how to hand off leads effectively to sales. That's one way that we can segment them by topic interest. The other one is industry.
Kristy DelMuto: So, LLR invests in several different industries, including syntech, industrial tech, and healthcare. Those are 3 where I've worked specifically with those investment teams to develop content for that audience and make sure that our distribution strategy targets them only. Earlier this year, we created an infographic about all of the key areas of syntech that we think are most exciting, for 2019. And, therefore, that's where we're looking to invest. And then we've gone through and written a content piece about each one of those segments, and we're rolling them over time. But we're only sending them to the syntech specific companies in our database so that we know that content is highly relevant for them.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. You know, one of the things that occurs to me while we're talking is that you guys do have a really targeted audience, right? And it's pretty specific, and you have such an incredible process, I think, and system down. One of the challenges that some companies might have that are in different spaces, which a lot of our listeners will be, is scaling. So, how do you scale that personal collection of interest? To me, it's around planting the seeds on your website. So, perhaps, that also might be something that you guys are doing already. But, when you're able to use your platforms to see where people are visiting, it's either gonna be planting the seeds on your website, or being able to track and categorize your blog posts into different products or interest, and that sort of thing. And even developing the content itself, you've got great tools out there where you can distribute content, that helps you uncover, as a person is even doing a self-evaluation, or exploring something, some piece that you’ve distributed. You can actually learn a bunch about them.
Rhoan Morgan: So, there are other ways to do that without having to do that one-on-one. I do think that is just... I mean, you guys are getting the richest possible information by being able to talk one-on-one with these folks beforehand.
Kristy DelMuto: Yeah. Personalization, too, is our next step. We're putting the pieces in place to make sure that we have A) the right data, in Salesforce in order to personalize our emails more, from a content standpoint, in terms of who they're coming from as well. But also looking at things like, when they get there... First GrowthBits email, we actually send them what we call a "Welcome to GrowthBits" email after we've had that initial qualification phone call. And it has 4 different pieces, that covers 4 different topics. One thing that we're considering is looking at, alright well, what's the first one they click on? Which one of these 4 do they think is most interesting? And that's an indicator of what topic is interesting to them. And so, if we don't have them manually entered into a nurture campaign, that's more of an automated way to do it. So there's a lot of different options there.
Rhoan Morgan: Yep. Absolutely. I've personally spoken with a number of PE firms, that would love to replicate what you guys are doing.
Kristy DelMuto: As have I.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah, I know you have. We've had that conversation, and they bring you guys up. They say we want to do what they're doing. Yet, they really struggle for a number of reasons. And we don't even need to get into that. But, how do you see LLR's approach to content marketing as unique, compared to what you see in the industry? What these other folks are doing?
Kristy DelMuto: I do get those phone calls a lot, and I go to conferences. And there's one in the private equity industry that's really for all of the marketers out there. I get a lot of people saying "man, I'm watching your website, and I'm watching your content, and your LinkedIn, and... how do you do this?" Like you mentioned earlier, how do you scale this. So, I think there's 2 very distinct things that make this strategy at LLR very different. Number 1 is that the real kicker here is that every single piece of content, every GrowthBits we post, is actionable. So, as the owner of this content strategy, I will not let an interview end or a post go live, unless there is really strong actionable insight, that a reader can turn around and apply to their business.
Kristy DelMuto: So, I will keep asking questions in that interview, until we can kind of get down to those key couple steps, or takeaways that someone needs to get. And that can come in a variety of formats. That could be a checklist they give, a step-by-step guide, a template, a case study. As long as it inspires action, it fits into the strategy. And the feedback from our audience tells us that we hit the mark on that approach.
Kristy DelMuto: So, from the very beginning, we've gotten very positive feedback. And we continue to hear, if anecdotally when our investment teams come back from a meeting that someone says "Man, I love that GrowthBits, keep them coming. I love this idea and that idea." And there are things that they can actually put into action. Second, is that very few private equity firms are doing this, or have dedicated the resources. And, I think you mentioned earlier that, this requires a tremendous amount of dedication, and I don't think people realize how much goes into creating content-based until they start doing it.
Kristy DelMuto: So, there are a few other firms out there that were our inspiration. First Round Capital, OpenView Partners, Insight Venture Partners... But, most others that we see who try to do content, it's a corporate blog, written by their own investment professionals, and they struggle to come up with what to write, and how to write it. I have a great network of other marketing leaders at PE firms, and they always talk about how challenging that is to keep it up and keep it interesting.
Kristy DelMuto: So, we took a different approach. All the content comes from these topical experts. We know that that's more important to our audience and that they would love to hear from their peers. So why not draw the insight from their peers, and share it out with them.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. And you know, it's also great personal branding as well, to bring the executive leadership of the companies, that are part of your portfolio, to the forefront. I can't imagine any executive who wouldn't be interested in sharing some of their thinking. So, I think that's a win-win, win-win-win.
Kristy DelMuto: It's a great thought leadership opportunity for them.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. So, with that, with the actionable insight requirements... You know, we are coming to a close, the podcasts are never long enough for me. As I say, I think at the end of every podcast, are there any tips that you would share with our listeners about building a strategy out. Or, you know, is there anything that you wish you had known a couple of years ago when you started this, that you think could be helpful to our listeners?
Kristy DelMuto: Mm-hmm. One thing I mentioned earlier is to look for content inspiration around you. Look at what already exists. You don't necessarily have to come up with something brand new. You can leverage things around you all the time. Maybe there are documents being put together, maybe there are ways that your firm is advising these companies or templates that they're sharing internally, that you can sanitize, or you can adjust a little bit, and you could put out there as content.
Look for content inspiration around you and leverage what already exists like internal documents or templates that you can sanitize and put out there as content.
Kristy DelMuto: Also, you have to find the people who are genuinely excited about this to participate and get it started. It's really hard to walk into your executive team and say "Guess what? We're gonna start a blog, and you're all gonna write for it." Unless those individuals really want to do it, and are on board from the beginning, and are personally enthusiastic about it, it's gonna be a struggle the whole way.
Kristy DelMuto: So, I think, starting small, and with the people who really want to do it, and see the value, who see the front leadership opportunity. And, like, let them get started, use them, encourage them to be sharing everything on LinkedIn, so to gather those little stories about how it can be successful and how it's not too demanding on their time. And then you can start to sell it more internally like that. The third thing I'll say is the quality of the writing. You have to have good writers, and maybe you have those inside your organization, maybe you have to find someone outside your organization. That's what we did. So, our primary writer is the head of content for DemandLab, and she hit the nail on the head, right from the beginning, in terms of our approach. I think we got really lucky in that sense. It's hard to find great writers. But, it's worth the time, in order to have the quality content that you need.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. And I also know that you guys did some solid work up front, to establish your messaging architecture, your brand voice, all of these other... I mean, this is what you guys did probably 18 months to 2 years ago, to make sure that there was clarity. Which, actually, is what supports... Even though you have a great writer, it supports them, you know?
Kristy DelMuto: Mm-hmm.
Rhoan Morgan: Ensuring the voice. Getting where you're coming from. It's a pretty heavy lift, and I'm always really impressed with what you've been doing.
Kristy DelMuto: Thank you, it's very exciting.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. So, we are at the end of our time, and probably over a little bit. Thank you so much for joining us today, Kristy. I loved the conversation, I think our listeners will get a ton out of it. What is the best way for our listeners to reach you?
Kristy DelMuto: Sure. You can always get to me at email@example.com. You can also go to our website, LLRPartners.com. And, you can find my picture in the Team Section, and my email address there as well. I'm always happy to talk to people about our strategy.
Rhoan Morgan: Cool. Good. And a big thank you to our listeners for tuning in today to another episode of Revenue Rebels. I'm your host Rhoan Morgan, and you can find me on LinkedIn by looking up DemandLab and searching for Rhoan Morgan. Now, let me hand it back over to you, Paul.
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