Clearbit: The rocket fuel 'enriching' PLG sales
The growth marketing and data-driven GTM that powers an API used by 1,500+ businesses
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Remember when data was the new oil? Plenty of offshore rigs, mining platforms, and spills later, here we are, and the analogy still holds. Just like oil, when mined, refined, and purified data can be an invaluable resource. It is at the heart of the decision-making engines of the biggest companies in the world today and enables them to be agile in the face of market events and uncertainty.
The reality is that if you are taking a supercar like a Notion, Segment, Intercom, or even an Uber to the market, you want the highest octane premium grade petrol in your Sales and Marketing engines, and that is no walk in the park. For these teams, customer interactions are sometimes shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. The data intelligence to deeply understand their customers and personalize every interaction is often lacking in organizations! And for the Clearbit founders, that presented an opportunity 💡
Today, Clearbit’s solutions rummage through and enrich over 500 million records monthly to give thousands of businesses a deeper understanding of their customers. Last valued at $250M with $17M raised in 2019, Clearbit is the premium high octane rocket fuel in the tank of around 400K+ monthly users and 1500+ business customers including Segment, Asana, Customer.io, Uber, Intercom, and Optimizely.
🤑 Turning Data into Demand
As with any early employee of Stripe, Clearbit's co-founder (and employee #20 at Stripe) Alex MacCaw lived and breathed APIs. They were the obvious answer 🤷🏻♂️ when Alex started exploring solutions for the broken data infrastructure that frustrated him at Stripe and Twitter.
A deeper examination of existing solutions that enhanced customer lifecycle management with data presented a sleeping market waiting for disruption! An opportunity Alex pounced on, partnering with Harlow Ward and Rob Holland first, and later Andrew O'Neal, Amit Vasudev, and Matt Sornson as cofounders.
"Clearbit's aim is to be the data backbone for modern businesses, powering everything from lead scoring to identity verification. We deeply understand APIs, and we'll always be an API first company" - Alex MacCaw
Version 1 of Clearbit was a package of three APIs - the Person, the Company, and the Watchlist, exposed to pilot customers like Stripe, Github, and Asana. The product looked up people and company information on the internet, transformed it for ease of use, validated it, and made it available via API calls. The APIs went on to be used by engineers at Stripe to understand their inbounds better and by sales and marketing teams at Asana to enrich customer profiles with public information, amongst other use cases.
Today, Clearbit is a data giant collecting information from 250+ private and public sources (refreshing every 30 days), which customers, spread out across industries and functions access through
a suite of products like Enrichment, Reveal, Prospector and Advertisement and
partner integrations like Salesforce, Hubspot, Marketo, amongst others
🚀 When all marketing becomes Growth Marketing
With early adopters like Stripe and Github, Clearbit generated significant word of mouth amongst the engineering community - generating substantial inbound traffic for their APIs. Meanwhile, the integration products, which were of relevance to Sales and Marketing leaders, were distributed via outbound efforts. As early sales reps were brought in to service both approaches, Matt Sornson and his growth marketing team were tasked with digging out the next phase of growth 📈
"It’s everyone’s job to grow the company, but we’re also thinking about things with an experimentation mindset. Instead of saying, “My job is to create a blog post,” it’s, “My job to change X number, and one of my tactics is to create content”." - Matt Sornson, Co-founder and Ex- Head of Growth
With an objective of scalable & repeatable growth, the team undertook multiple iterative data-driven experiments, eventually narrowing their focus on:
🆓 Free tools for everyone! :
In true Hubspot fashion, Clearbit released and promoted multiple free tools (and browser extensions) that provided standalone value. These tools doubled down as gateways to Clearbit, provided instant gratification, and by virtue of use cases solved were perfect destinations for paid marketing traffic.
📕 Content - One chapter at a time:
Long-form content in the form of thought pieces was sourced from subject matter experts like Hubspot's former CRO Mark Roberge and Titan VC David Skok - great content meets free influencer shoutouts 🙌🏻 This was published one chapter at a time on Clearbit's website bring in net new customers into the pipeline. The team also noticed that the thought pieces also helped establish Clearbit as a subject matter expert thereby influencing conversions from leads already in the sales pipeline.
Good-old growth marketing delivered ❤️ and Clearbit's priorities shifted to scaling GTM to handle the snowballing traffic across its self-serve and sales assisted funnels. Only if they had a book to refer to 🤭
💻 Data-driven GTM!
The Growth and Marketing teams optimized the lead conversion flow by defining and prioritizing Clearbit's Ideal Customer Persona (ICP)
Step 1 - Define your ICP
Clearbit realized that the key to cracking high-velocity sales was data-based segmentation. Early pattern-matching exercises from previous closed-won accounts ( done deal in Salesforce lingo) suggested that a B2B SaaS account from the USA that employed a certain marketing/analytics tech stack was the ICP for Clearbit.
However, when the yardstick for performance was moved from closed-wons to customer lifetime value, the ICP was changed to accounts that ranked well on Alexa Rank - a measure of inbound traffic an account generated, which intuitively is a measure of how much value they stand to gain from Clearbit.
Step 2 - Qualify leads to ICP
Every new inbound, outbound prospect was enriched with people and account information (no points for guessing which tool powered this 😅) in the old system and Alexa ranking in the new, and the results were benchmarked with the ICP definition, segmenting low and high-value leads.
"...we now use a ML-based tagging system that we developed. It looks at the content of the website and puts companies into categories like SaaS, B2B, enterprise, marketplace, etc. For us, if it’s Saas, B2B and using one of six pieces of technology, it’s a super high signal" - Matt Sornson on the old tagging system used for qualifying leads
Step 3 - Prioritize outreach
Low-value customers would get automated but personalized (again, wonder how they pulled this off 🤔) drip campaigns and marketing emails to kick off their self-serve journey while high-value accounts were allocated directly to the outreach verticals for high touch management.
🎯 The Outreach wing
Sales and Customer Success at Clearbit work towards assisting high-value customers find their aha-moment, sustain the consequent delight and expand usage to adjacent products.
👩🏻💼 Sales: The 45+ member sales team led by Greg Walder includes Account executives (AEs), Sales Development Representatives (SDRs), and Business Development Representatives (BDRs) as its core units. The SDRs and BDRs are the first points of contact for inbound (ICPs) and outbound (prospecting) leads respectively, passing Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) to AE's. AE's convert these leads into paying customers managing the rest of the sales pipeline.
🤝 Customer Success and Support: Comprising of Customer Success Managers (CSM's), Account Managers (AM's), and Support/Solution specialists (engineers, consultants) hand-hold ICP 'won' accounts as they navigate the product and expand usage. The CS team at Clearbit marks account health using people (stakeholder changes), value (RoI), and product (bugs and outages) as metrics, and 'Red accounts' are prioritized for damage control 🚨. Customer RoI for the enrichment tool ends up becoming a major challenge for this team because of unclear attribution to revenue generated.
⏩ What's next?
In an increasingly competitive landscape featuring Slintel and Zoominfo, it is imperative that Clearbit innovates adding more value for their customers. As the next phase of growth, Clearbit is expected to double down on the advertisements product - a venture that will help them bring LinkedIn-level business ad targeting on social media platforms. New senior hires including Stacey Klimek (CPO), and Rebecca (VP Engineering), and an ever-busy product roadmap promise some exciting times for Clearbit 🤩 and we can't wait to see how it unfolds! 🍿
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