In this episode of the VA Partners Startup Sales and Marketing Podcast, Randy Hendriks interviews Janina Bernardo, a VA Partners team member working abroad. The two discuss her prospecting and content development strategies she’s honed over her career.
(Please be advised, this is not a direct transcript and some sections have been edited and condensed.)
Randy: Welcome to the VA Partners startup sales and marketing podcast. I’m with Janina Bernardo – one of our team members. We’re doing a long distance connection so if the sound is a little bit different that’s because Janina is connecting with us from a little further away than normal. Where are you located Janina?
Janina: I’m currently in Manila, in the Philippines.
R: How has it been being a long distance worker for VA Partners?
J: It’s been very interesting. It’s good that I’ve been able to work with the team while I was in Canada so the transition isn’t that different. There are a few challenges still, but I’m enjoying the work.
R: I presume it’s a wide time gap. It’s 8:30 in the morning here, what time is it there in Manila?
J: It’s 9:30 PM.
R: So you have to manage time wisely then.
J: That’s right. I usually work early in the morning in Manila, and I also work late at night so I can get messages from the team and any of their concerns that I should address because it’s the time that the team is just starting their day. So that’s how I manage my time.
R: Could you tell me a little bit about your role with VA Partners? What are some of the things that you work on in regards to our sales and marketing efforts?
J: My main role is helping with lead generation. I handle a few client accounts and I help research leads for them and qualify, as well as send emails and send follow ups. If there’s any interest I inform the team member that’s going to be calling the prospect. I also do content writing. I write for clients as well as VA Partners. Lastly, I manage the social media accounts so that we can keep the content fresh.
R: Why don’t we jump in and talk about when you are trying to research and qualify and prospect a lead. What are some of the steps that you take?
J: First, I usually try to understand what the company is looking for. What types of products and services is the client offering? And then I try to understand the type of prospect that would match the company. Some qualifications would be what industry they’re in, the types of products and services they offer, and where we can help them address some of their needs. Sometimes location or geography is important because some companies only offer their services in certain areas: they may have a limited area that they cater to. And maybe company size, because some companies may be too small to afford the product offerings or it might be too big that it probably wouldn’t be relevant to them.
R: Have you learned any tricks or tools that you’ve put in place over the years to become more successful at this?
J: One of the techniques I use is that I look into the chamber of commerce in a certain area, and they usually publish their list of members. So if there are companies that I’m looking for in a certain geography I would go through the list and see if there are certain industries I can target. Other websites that I visit are industry organizations. It’s very convenient that they publish the lists so it’s easier for me to qualify them, and it’s just one website I go to. Other times I use tools such as hunter.io, Manta, or a new one I’m using is RocketReach. I’m just testing it but it’s also helpful in looking for leads and the contact details of the people I want to reach out to. In addition, LinkedIn is also very helpful in looking for leads for these types of endeavours.
R: Those sounds like good tools. I know that I use hunter.io pretty regularly. Tell me about RocketReach. How does that work?
J: It’s similar to hunter.io, except in hunter.io you need to input a company website and it will show you a list of emails that are available online. For Rocket Reach you can actually input the name of the person, you can qualify them through the industry and also search the company. So it’s much more specific when you search for a certain contact. I just don’t know how many you can look for if you sign up for a free account. I’m just using the trial. So far it’s been able to give me some leads that I’m looking for.
R: From there, you’re loading the information into CRM?
J: Mhm, it’s pretty straight forward. I use two types of CRM systems. One is Salesforce and one is HubSpot. Although I find HubSpot much more convenient because it automatically gathers information from a website and inputs it into the account. With Salesforce you have to do it manually. You have to cut and paste certain information. But both I’ve been using for quite a while.
R: I’m speaking to you on Skype and I see on your Skype profile you have a pretty heavy duty jacket that you’re wearing. I don’t think that’s one that you wear in the Philippines very often.
J: No, not at all. Today it’s 35 degrees, it’s very hot. But this is a picture from when I was still living in Toronto.
R: How long did you live in Toronto for?
J: I stayed there for a year. I took a course at Humber in marketing management. Then I was interning at VA Partners as well.
R: So that’s the connection. I didn’t know how you had found us. That’s great! Janina, tell me: a lot of work you do for VA Partners is around blog posting. Tell me what goes into that: when you’re coming up with blogs, writing them, what are the steps involved?
J: For content creation, I do a lot of research. If I’m doing content on marketing, since I’m very familiar with this topic, I usually already know what topics would be interesting to an audience, especially since we’ve been looking at which content has been popular for us. We usually do analytics search: which blogs get more reach or are more popular with the audience. We try to create topics that are similar to those. We call them “evergreen content”, so we usually try to repurpose or if there’s a new trend we try to write about it, so if it’s marketing it’s not very difficult for me because I’m very familiar with the topic. But if it’s for a client where, if it’s a B2B client, the topics can get more technical. It will require me to do a lot more research, look at whitepapers, learn more about the company and the industry. So it takes a lot more research for me if it’s a new industry that I have to write about.
R: I know from some of our clients that we have at VA Partners, you’ve become an expert in everything from trucking to the oil and gas industry, to all kinds of different things that you never thought you’d be writing about.
J: It’s very interesting, I learn a lot from all the things I read.
R: What’s one of the most interesting topics that maybe surprised you as you started to research it?
J: Topics about waste water management and biosolids because this is something that I’ve never really thought about before. I’m learning more about how it’s related to climate change and how it’s affecting the environment and how managing wastewater and biosolids is very important in keeping the community safe. It’s very interesting to me.
R: You mentioned you go over analytics for popular blogs. Is that in reference to the own blogs you’ve written, or you’re looking at what’s popular in the industry?
J: It’s from our own website. I’ve had a chance to look into the most popular blogs that we publish on the VA Partners website. We usually write a roundup at the end of the year of all the blogs that were popular, like our top marketing blogs and top sales blogs, so I went into the analytics and look at which blogs were popular. It gave me a lot of good information about which ones people are actually reading.
R: Beyond the blogs, you also pull them together into newsletters for VA Partners and for some of our clients, is that correct?
J: Yes, I do create our company newsletter. I create it with all of the blogs that were published for the month and also share a few blogs that are interesting from other sources. We just redesigned our newsletter, so now it’s more readable and the buttons are much more visible. I feel that the redesign helps with getting more people to click on it.
R: What kind of tool are you using for the newsletter? Is it Mailchimp or something else?
J: We’re using Mailchimp for the VA Partners newsletter as well as for other accounts.
R: Do you find that you’re able to publish a decent analytics report that goes out to the team?
J: Definitely. Mailchimp has a very comprehensive report on the data about how many people actually open the newsletter, how many received it, if there are any people that have unsubscribed or if there are bounces. Mailchimp is quite comprehensive and any company can start with a free account. It’s very easy to use- very straight forward.
R: I know that I’ve read the reports that you send out, and they’re great because they identify the sales triggers and steps that people are taking. From your perspective, what would some of those sales triggers be that we’re able to act on?
J: I usually look at people who actually click the links in the newsletter. Some people just open it but do not click any links, so they aren’t going into our website. For those people that actually clicked a link in the newsletter, I take a look at that company. I check our CRM system if they already have a record there, look at a description of a company, if it’s a prospect we can pursue. I look at people who actually click links, and that’s when I research accounts and see if they could be a lead for us to pursue.
R: When you’re writing the blogs, do you focus on SEO or keywords?
J: When I write blogs, I really try to write about a topic that will be valuable to the audience. SEO is secondary to that. I first try to see how valuable this information will be to the audience. Is it interesting? Will the title be catchy enough for them to actually read the content? That’s when I improve the SEO. We’re using WordPress and it already has tools that help you figure out the SEO keywords that will be helpful in generating more organic reach.
R: Google is getting smarter and smarter. You can’t just game the system or type your keyword in 47 times to get your page to show up more.
J: Right, it’s very sophisticated now. It also gets signals from social media. So if the post is getting shared it also counts as something that will improve the ranking of that article. So not just keywords alone.
R: Tell me about the work you do with social media.
J: For social media, we already have built in lists into Hootsuite. These lists are accounts or influencers, or industry experts that we think have valuable articles that they publish, or valuable insights into the industry. These lists usually appear on Hootsuite. On our dashboards, there’s a section there where see you the lists. I run through the lists and see if there are interesting articles that I can share. This is part of the content creation, aside from sharing our own content. I make sure that the articles I share are diverse, so that I’m not sharing the same topic all the time. That’s why we have a calendar, more of an excel sheet, where we monitor certain topics that we like to share. Usually we will want to share something about social media, something about marketing, something about sales. Just to vary the types of content and topics that we share on social media.
R: You work on everything from prospecting, to content creation and social media. What’s another area that you do a lot of work on?
J: I also do a lot of email marketing. This is after I create a list of leads that I want to reach out to. I send the emails to gauge their interest and the service offerings they have. I feel the subject of the emails are very important since a lot of people usually ignore them. When I mention the person’s name in the email it usually gets more opens. That’s one technique I use. Also, you should be able to catch their interest in the first paragraph. Rather than talk about your company, if you’re able to pinpoint one of their concerns and how you can address that, you will be able to capture their attention. Follow-ups are very important as well. You must have a CRM system that you’re using. This will help you monitor your needs, how many leads have responded to you. You will be able to stay on top of your email marketing campaigns through a CRM system, so I highly advise you to sign up for one. There are a lot of free versions out there, so give it a try.
R: You don’t want to be too long winded in your emails. Keep it short. Mention a quick pain point and challenge, and create some empathy with them can be helpful right off the top.
R: Now we’ll switch gears a little bit. I’ll ask you some interesting or challenging questions. Tell me something that you seem to disagree with a lot of people on. This could be anything from the fact that you might believe in ghosts, or something that deals with sales and marketing. But something that when you bring it up you have a different perspective than other people. Anything come to mind?
J: I have a belief that everyone has an energy in them. Sometimes you meet somebody and either you’re attracted to this person or by them, and I believe there’s an energy. Everyone exudes a certain energy and a lot of people think that’s a bit too new-age. Too non-scientific. But that’s something I believe in. Everyone has an energy in them. I can actually feel people’s energy. That’s a bit unconventional, I think.
R: I think that can make a lot of sense. For me, when I go into a sales call, obviously you have to read the person that you’re engaging with. And you pick up on things, whether it’s their energy, or sometimes it’s their vibe. It’s a good vibe or a bad vibe or if this person seems like they’re willing to give me 2 minutes to talk or 10 minutes. I have to pick it up and read that to be able adjust to where a person is coming from. Just as we wrap up, I’ll ask a question or two. You work remotely in the Philippines. What are some of the challenges that you face doing that, and how have you managed to overcome them?
J: I think one of the challenges is that I don’t see the team. It’s a bit more difficult to understand expectations or maybe instructions about how a certain task is supposed to be done because I don’t see the person. Sometimes if it’s just written in email or through a chat, it’s understanding the expectations about a certain task. Usually I have to ask more questions or dig deeper because I want to make sure I’m understanding the instructions well and I want to make sure I am able to deliver on the expectation for that specific project or campaign.
R: Like in any work situation, you want to be able to put your best foot forward and make a good impression with your coworkers. If you have to ask a hundred questions they may say “Hey, doesn’t this person know what they’re doing?”. But in the end, if you really want to have success it may mean that we do have to ask more questions of each other to get down to what we really need to be doing or working on in a certain situation.
J: It takes a lot more explanation, or trying to get more detail with instructions.
R: In the Philippines, do you have any traditions when it comes to the Holiday season that’s coming up?
J: Oh! Christmas is very special here because we’re a Catholic country. We celebrate it very, very early. People start putting up Christmas decorations by September actually. People love the Holidays and they look forward to all of the reunions and Holiday food they’ll be having. These are usually just during Christmas Holidays, so people really look forward to it.
R: Does your boss give you a day or two off during the Christmas season?
J: Yeah, I think so!
R: Janina, thank you for taking some time today. I know for us it’s early in the morning, but for you it’s getting to be late in the evening. So I appreciate connecting with you today.
J: Thank you so much, it was my pleasure!
Thanks for listening to the VA Partners Startup Sales and Marketing podcast! Got a question, or looking for sales and marketing support for your B2B startup? We’d be happy to have a conversation with you. Connect with us at vapartners.ca.