Getting B2B clients in Russia, China and Middle East: looking back at lessons learned.

Mailigen is a startup from Latvia providing email marketing tools for businesses. It sends 300 million emails for clients in 110 countries every month. Their biggest markets are USA, UK, Russia, China and Middle East.

Recently Mailigen co-founder and CEO Janis Rose shared Mailigen team’s main learnings since 2009. We asked Janis why he decided to bluntly share his successes and failures:

“We were a typical product-centered geek startup. Now we know good software is not enough. We must be clients’ best friend and help implement ideas that matter. This was our first step.”

Mailigen was started by four IT professionals from Riga who had worked on tens of different projects before. One day they locked themselves up in a tiny 8 squaremetres office, ordered pizza and made a pledge not to leave the room without THE big idea. At the end of the day, the team agreed on three ideas. Two of them were executed within the next 2 weeks and unanimously declared them as boring. The third one became Mailigen.

Looking back, Janis shares 10 lessons for fellow startupers that dream about taking over the world:

Lesson #1: Know who is your client

Mailigen BETA was first presented to a selected group of early adopters, some of which still use the service today. The firm did not spend on online advertising until 2010 – B2B clients do not trust likes and retweets, they trust client experience.

Lesson #2: Act global

Even if you are a team of 4. The first version of Mailigen was launched in English. Later, versions in other languages followed. It is important to build your core product in English, and in many countries clients trust foreign services in local language more.

Lesson #3: Do not save on client’s value

Mailigen made it a point to sell a good product. In 2011 they joined S.A.M.E. email measurement accuracy project to ensure reliable data on Mailigen clients’ email campaigns. This was extra work and as Mailigen was self-financed it also meant taking on extra side projects and staying up late. Looking back, Janis says it was the right choice: Mailigen is still serving 10% of clients acquired back then.

Lesson #4: Take investment to grow, not to survive

Mailigen’s first external funding came only two years after the first prototype. Its purpose was to gear up the product and kickstart systematic marketing efforts. Before that, all operations were self-financed.

Lesson #5: Direct sales for big clients, industry reviews for SMEs

Mailigen was built for small and medium businesses. Direct sales to SMEs failed, as most prospects had too small lists and did not bring enough revenue to cover the CPA. However, an important spike in new users came after Mailigen was listed as world’s 2nd best email marketing software by TopTenReviews. The article still brings some traffic of people searching for email marketing software.

Lesson #6: Educate customers on their terms

After launching the Chinese version, Mailigen faced a peculiar situation: 8 of 10 potential clients could not be approved because their lists were purchased or stolen. Explaining the difference between spam and email marketing was a top priority. This is how Mailigen started customer education programs. After that, topics came in response to most common clients’ problems. Mailigen has now hosted 20 workshops & seminars, participated in 56 conferences, created 23 downloadable resources and written 224 blog posts about email marketing.

Lesson #7: Be a global brand that cares locally

Mailigen core service is in English, however, Mailigen team speaks 10 languages. Customers in Russia, China and Middle East appreciate working with a reliable international brand that speaks their language. Physical offices in these countries provide further credibility and keep driving growth.

Lesson #8: Invest in reliable customer support people

Mailigen ensures a 24/7 customer support phone line. Sourcing the right people was a pain. A big one. It took years and thousands to accomplish, but now the investment is paying off. Most of Mailigen customers say they stay because of good service. Caring sales and customer support representatives continue to win clients from larger competitors who are “too big to care”.

Lesson #9: Invest in problem-solving

Your B2B startup’s success comes directly from your clients’ success. Mailigen has learned the hard way that offering great software is not enough – key value comes from helping clients use it to achieve their goals. Mailigen team has designed over 1,400 email templates, done over 400 email audits, developed and implemented around 300 strategies for their clients’ email marketing programs.

Lesson #10: Do not blog from blog’s sake

Mailigen has learned that hiring a copywriter and paying them to rewrite 5-10 articles online into one new blog post does not generate value for the reader. People read blogs that tell fresh stories and share real expertise, whether from your company or from a guest expert. Their all-time-best blog post was written by Mailigen email template developer and only edited by a copywriter. Their most-opened email was written by CEO himself and despite typos and no keyword optimization received over 20 enthusiastic replies from subscribers. Humans want to hear from humans: be human.

Today, Mailigen is profitable but keeps reinvesting in growth. Negotiations are on with partners and investors to conquer Latin America and the rest of the 750 million Spanish-speaking world. Additionally, their SME clients are growing up and looking for more advanced solutions. Mailigen has promised a major update this year to address their needs.