Container xChange is a B2B SaaS product company in the shipping and logistics industry that helps forwarders get access to 3rd party container equipment in more than 2500 locations. In addition to container leasing, Container xChange’s platform connects buyers and sellers of containers. Located in Germany, the company works with over 500 shipping businesses around the world.
Florian Frese joined the company for an operational role and later became the Marketing Lead. Florian and his team were able to bring significant growth in the last few years and have scaled the team by 3X going from 30 members to 100 members in 2020 when most companies were downsizing due to the pandemic.
Florian joins us today to tell us how his team has been able to bring rapid growth while selling a SaaS product in a very traditional brick and mortar industry. Florian also tells us how Container xChange uses Salespanel to create a smoother data harmony between sales and marketing teams and acquire more customers.
00:00 Introduction to Container xChange
01:06 Bringing a SaaS product in a traditional brick and mortar industry
02:56 Scaling team during the pandemic while other companies are downsizing
07:10 Using Inbound Marketing and Highly-Targeted Outreach as Growth Strategy
12:45 Moulding into the Role of Marketing Lead
15:23 Talking to people face to face VS Online
19:28 On Using Salespanel
25:03 On Getting the Team on Salespanel
32:18 Suggestion for Startup Marketers
Florian Frese Marketing Lead, Container xChange
Nilangan Ray: Hello, this is Nilangan from Salespanel. You might also know me as ‘Nil’. Joining me today is Florian Frese, Marketing Lead at Container xChange. Let us start by having you introduce Container xChange.
Florian Frese: Container xChange is a B2B SaaS solution. We work with container owners and users, helping them gain transparency while increasing their flexibility and putting them in touch with each other via our online platform. Since launching four years ago, we have grown to more than 500 customers and now have a team of over 90 people sitting in Hamburg, Germany. And, I am more than happy to talk to you today about it.
Nilangan: And your customers are worldwide?
Florian: Yes, our customers are from worldwide but with a focus on the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, and East Asia.
The Container xChange team
Nilangan: Because your customers are shipping companies, am I correct in guessing they are traditional brick-and-mortar operations? And, they are mainly in the Asian region, so very old-school! How did you convince them to get on board with a SaaS product like Container xChange?
Florian: Some people would say that logistics is an “unsexy” industry. While I can understand that, I would respectfully disagree, because it’s super complex. With so many different elements and players involved, it’s a challenge to make these backend processes work seamlessly when moving cargo from A to B. Our job is to digitize and make things a little bit easier for our customers. Of course, there are some who have been operating the same way for decades and who insist on having everything figured out. But there are also early adopters who are interested in new technologies and ways of doing things. For us, however, it’s less about coming up with new technologies than delivering value. And when people understand that, you can actually help them, it’s a no-brainer for most.
Nilangan: That seems like an uphill task, but you are doing great. I see that your company has grown rapidly over the last few years. Most SaaS companies have relatively fewer employees, but your team has more than doubled in the last 12 months alone, despite the pandemic. With other companies downsizing so fast, how are you bucking that trend?
Florian: I am just as impressed by our growth as you are, scaling from 30 people at the beginning of the year to now close to 100. A big part of this was achieving product-market fit early this year, which allowed people to clearly see value in our services. Especially during the pandemic, when lockdowns have spread from China to Europe and the US, and now to Europe again, people in the container shipping business need workarounds more than ever. We provide the necessary transparency and help them find partners so that even those who were a little resistant at first are now increasing their use of technology because they are forced to come up with new ways to do business during the pandemic.
Nilangan: Has the pandemic allowed you to grow more as a business and hire the right people as larger companies are downsizing which opens up a pool of talent?
Florian: It has definitely been an advantage for us. Businesses that are growing during the pandemic are attracting A players to their teams.
Nilangan: I would say that bigger companies have bigger problems. For small companies, however, this is a golden opportunity. People think small companies would suffer the most, but your numbers show otherwise.
Florian: I agree. People need new solutions. I don’t like the pandemic either but if you are agile enough and deliver value, you benefit.
Nilangan: Even before the pandemic, you were growing. I would love to hear more about your growth strategy as Marketing Lead. What is it that you do in such a niche industry?
Florian: Of course, I think about that every single day. We have split up our marketing and sales approach into inbound and outbound. Inbound accounts for about 30% of new customers and outbound for 70%. Our outbound efforts include not only cold-calling people around the world but also providing research to our sales team toward finding the contact information of those we want to target. We then run highly customized email outreach cadences to introduce our company in preparation for (our) sales force’s activities. And on the other side, this is where we should focus the most, is inbound marketing. We have built up a content machine, so to speak, over the last two years. We get a lot of traffic from SEO. Everybody says that SEO becomes more difficult every year, but we still grow a lot through SEO, because in our industry people use Google to find solutions, and this is where xChange comes in. Ultimately, we are trying to build a community. In B2B SaaS industries especially, it doesn’t work to simply place an ad and wait for potential customers to click on it. We always want to be there and be in people’s minds when problems compel them to reach out to us. We put a lot of energy into PR, social media, and storytelling. That works well for us.
Nilangan: For outbound, would you say you have more of an account-based strategy in place?
Florian: Yes, you could call it account-based marketing, but we are also talking about 1500 companies per week that we are reaching out to. We are still targeting SMBs all around the world.
Nilangan: Did you face any problems when scaling this outbound approach?
Florian: The biggest challenge has to do with our funnel, starting with list building. We need to make sure we have enough companies and find their contact details before we can even think about creating email templates. Finding the right email outreach tool is also challenging with a growing sales organization. When we only had five sales colleagues, it was relatively easy to add contacts to their accounts and adjust email templates, run A/B tests, and so on. But now with 25 or 30 people, one can’t log in to every single account all the time and optimize smaller things. We are still looking for an outreach platform that simplifies our processes. We are using Klenty right now which is a pretty good tool but there are a few operational challenges we would like to figure out in the coming months.
Nilangan: You joined Container xChange in 2018, correct?
Florian: Yes, I joined in 2018. Container xChange officially went live as a company in 2017. Before that, our two co-founders were still consultants at Boston Consulting Group and Container xChange was more of a side project. They came across this problem of repositioning empty containers and built an excellent model to match supply and demand, slowly turning it into a proper company. In the beginning, there was no marketing at all, just eight people or so building the product and talking to a few people to sell it. I was originally hired for operations and development, which soon turned into a marketing position.
Nilangan: You then created your team and assumed your current role as Marketing Lead?
Nilangan: We often see that many product companies focus on building and not on marketing at first. But, clearly, your team hit the jackpot with your marketing efforts.
Florian: We have ambitious growth plans for the coming year, so we are excited to see where it leads us.
Florian joined Container xChange in 2018 for an operational role and later became the Marketing Lead.
Nilangan: We’ve already talked about how the pandemic brought you good people, but have there also been drawbacks you’ve had to handle?
Florian: Not many, thankfully. Early on in the pandemic, it took everyone a few weeks to understand the situation and get back to normal. But after that initial adjustment period, things turned out well for us because our customers needed transparency to run their business. We help them find containers, reposition them, and organize everything from payments to insurance. All these things had to continue, so it was perfect for us. Working from home was a challenge or at least a (significant) change, but our team has adapted to it. Still, not being in the same office to come up with ideas brought its own learning curve.
Nilangan: Before the pandemic, did you speak with your customers online or face to face?
Florian: We tried to visit most of the regions we deal with at least once or twice a year to meet up face to face, and attended a few conferences, but other than that we have always relied on Zoom and other digital communication tools.
Nilangan: I don’t think this process of meeting people and going to expos will go away, because there’s a special kind of bond that takes place when you meet people face to face, wouldn’t you agree?
Florian: Yes, meeting people face to face always wins because it’s easier to build a lasting relationship.
Nilangan: I hope the next few years are fun for you as you grow and as things are opening up. We would see what you guys do.
Florian: I hope the next years will be fun for us and having you guys as a partner.
Nilangan: On that note, what made you sign up with Salespanel and what were you looking for?
Florian: Attribution is always important. What we understood is that we can track so many things both within and without our CRM system, but connecting the data between Pipedrive and what was happening on our website was very difficult. This was impacting our sales performance, so it was important for us to see what captured people’s interest—after a demo, for example. It was immediately clear how we could benefit from the data. I am always interested in giving our sales team as much data as possible. Now, when I hand over a lead and they know a customer has visited such and such a website or read an article about us in a magazine, this strengthens our SDRs in preparation for phone calls.
Nilangan: We here at Salespanel believe that tracking is important, especially with regard to what people do before initiating a conversation or signing up for a service. Whether it’s live chat, emails, or phone calls, we want to make tracking as seamless as possible. For instance, we recently made an update to our tracking code allowing you to instantly capture leads from any pop-up or live chat without the need for additional integration. It works right out of the box. I have written an article about it that you might want to check out.
Since you rely heavily on our sales intelligence, we strive to bring the information to you so your sales team knows exactly what the people visiting your website are doing. Another recent update allows you to see how long people watch a video and what buttons they click (on your website). If somebody watches a webinar for 20 minutes, your sales team will know that, down to the second.
Florian: Of course, you have all these nice features that make so much sense. But what I would like to highlight is that during our free trial phase, Salespanel was not able to capture information from pop-ups. We were using Hello Bar at the time. It only took you one or two weeks to figure that out and publish it. Now everything works properly. I really appreciate that level of speed and how much you listen to your customers.
Nilangan: Thank you for that. Yes, we do like to work with our customers closely. It was helpful for us to bring that fundamental feature to make tracking as seamless as possible. CRMs try to do everything and provide you with their own live chats, pop-ups, or platforms, but sometimes you have different requirements. I would like to thank you for suggesting this because it helped us bring this feature faster and with more clarity.
Florian: You’re welcome.
Nilangan: On Salespanel, usually, when people sign up for a trial, they add a few team members at first during the trial. They are other decision-makers or leaders of other departments who will also benefit from the product. The team members they add initially also spend time on call with us. Only after they decide that they would continue to use Salespanel, they add more team members.
You, on the other hand, talked to us about adding your team shortly after joining and added almost your entire team in a very short span of 2-3 days during the trial. You clearly seem like a guy with a plan and you already knew what to do. Can you help me understand how your team uses it?
Florian: I’ve been telling them about Salespanel for quite some time. You guys gave me demos and information about the content, so it was obvious that I needed to test it with the people who were actually going to use it. In the case of an inbound lead, it’s helpful to know where they come from, what they do, and what pages they visit, but we also really like the lead scoring feature, which helps us determine whether a lead is interesting for us or not. For instance, we like to track how often our newsletter subscribers visit our pricing page, use our public search, download public reports, and more. This data gets pushed to Pipedrive, and that’s how we build our calling lists around high lead scores. This is really attractive for us. Another point: you can see the companies that visit your website, which is important for account-based operations. This information then gets used by some of our SDRs.
Nilangan: We also have a feature to target a specific person from a company through social media like Facebook or Gmail and show them customized content, even when you don’t know their identity. In addition, our 2-way data sync feature allows Salespanel to bring all information to Pipedrive in real-time while syncing data from sales to your Salespanel account. For example, if a lead changes their deal stage, that can be brought back to marketing, which can trigger a campaign. What do you think about our integration with Pipedrive?
Florian: I really like it. What I tell my sales team is that they don’t need to use Salespanel every day precisely because of the Pipedrive integration. That’s one of the benefits—not using two tools simultaneously all the time.
Nilangan: The functionalities available within Salespanel’s software are best for marketing people. For sales, we sync the data to their CRM because salespeople like to stay within their CRM workspace.
Nilangan: What do you think about our software and services overall?
Florian: I am impressed by the speed with which you move. Salespanel is the perfect tool for smaller marketing organizations that don’t have internal resources to build up their own data warehouse. It’s also vital for understanding what’s happening before someone becomes a lead when they talk to your sales team or even outside your CRM system. It gives you so much data that you can use to update your marketing, better time follow-ups, and equip your sales team with information. I can only recommend it.
Nilangan: That’s great to hear. Before closing, what would you suggest to starter marketers, especially in new small companies or SaaS companies?
Florian: I think you have to prove your value pretty quickly. If you start a new job in marketing, the company wants to know they made a good hire in the first week or two. You need to get in those early wins to buy you some time to build everything else. SEO takes time, but you need to balance short-term success and long-term sustainable growth. Therefore, channels like email outreach or PR campaigns, or even something like social media, can be really beneficial in the beginning.
Nilangan: That’s it for today. Thank you for joining again. I hope you have a good day.
Florian: Thank you as well. You are on a great path. We really like working with Salespanel and are proud to be one of your partners.