Demand Frontier is a digital marketing agency founded in Texas, with a rapidly growing outpost in Medellín. The business-to-business firm services Fortune-500 companies from both locations, but sees Colombia as key to its plans for growth. Finance Colombia executive editor Loren Moss had a chance to speak with Demand Frontier’s vice president of Latin American operations, Juan Felipe Salazar to learn why the Oracle and Marketo partner chose Medellín as their base for growth, how that experience has been, and about the state of digital marketing in Latin America.
Finance Colombia: Why don’t you first give us a brief description of Demand Frontier and what the company does?
Juan Felipe Salazar: Demand Frontier is a digital marketing agency. What I mean by that is we really focus on the marketing automation and the lead generation side of the business. With a lot of the background that we have from the experience of some of the staff in the US, our goal is to provide four to five hundred customers with solutions on this front, especially when it comes to platforms as Marketo and Oracle, which are the two biggest platforms in the world. We use those to implement these strategies.
Part of the selling point was the Landing Plan here in Ruta-N, they made it so easy for a company to open operations.
Finance Colombia: So how did the company end up in Colombia?
Juan Felipe Salazar: It was a combination of a couple of factors. Personally, some of the people that are involved in the company had decided to move to Colombia for personal reasons, and just by true luck we end up talking to some of the partners in the states, that were looking to expand and just suggested that they come and check it out. I told them very clearly, I am not going to sell you Colombia. I am going to let Colombia sell itself. So we set up an agenda, they came the first week of February (2015) to Medellin, met with some of the local people here, you know, Procolombia and Ruta-N, ACI and honestly by the end of the week they were sold. They went back to the states on a Friday and called me and said ‘we are just revamping our business plan to quadruple our investment’…and that is what we did.
Finance Colombia: What role did ACI, Ruta-N and Procolombia play in getting you established in Colombia?
Juan Felipe Salazar: I think it was huge. They definitely had a big role in explaining what opportunities are available and also showcased companies that have decided to come here. Part of the selling point was the Landing Plan here in Ruta-N, they made it so easy for a company to open operations.
Then, when you get the infrastructure part down, you can worry about the legal and the hiring, which is a very important part, but you know, you have three big things to worry about. A big part of it is taken care for you. So that was a big piece. Obviously proving to ourselves early with the talent that we hired; hiring the talent and showing them the kind of quality work that we can produce with people here, and the rest is history. We had four people (in Medellín) in March and now we are almost 30.
Finance Colombia: That is seven and a half times growth. What are your projections over the next year or two?
Juan Felipe Salazar: Or goal for the next year is to get to a couple hundred people. That is going to be broken down into some of our areas. Outside of marketing and lead generation we also have an ERP practice that we are trying to grow out of a couple of customers in California, so that is going to be an areas where we are going to be staffing some people here, obviously our demand generation, lead generation side.
There are really two areas here where I see a lot of growth. Obviously the creative component, we can find a lot people here doing creative work and then the actual developers which are the people that are in charge of the marketing automation. They are actually the ones that work with the tools that we use. Those two areas are probably going to be the ones that explode the most. We are also working on the IT staffing side of the business and getting some of the development contracts for companies in the states that are looking for a nearshore solution to combat some of the offshoring that they had done in India. Obviously cost effective but also more than anything, efficient because of the communication and also effective as far as they can get some work done that they don’t have the talent to do in the states.
Finance Colombia: So its sounds that the talent here is adequate. A lot of questions that I get when I am outside of Colombia are because people are not aware. Colombia does not have a negative reputation for talent, it has no reputation. People are just not familiar with the talent pool here. What is your impression, what is been your experience of the ability to source the talent that you need whether that is creative talent or technical talent here in Colombia?
Juan Felipe Salazar: I think that—to me, what I have seen is the talent is there. Our struggle has been: what are the best avenues to find that talent? Where in the states you have very standard ways, like LinkedIn, Monster, and very specific recruiting methodologies that source the talent. Here in Colombia it is a little bit more disorganized from that perspective. We are starting to find some of those channels, but honestly, for the first six months our growth was dependent on our network. It has completely relied on professors, or people at Ruta-N, or employees that we hire. And they say, ‘you know, we have some people you can get…’ which is fine, up to a point. But obviously that does not scale very well. But I think one thing that we found is once you get them you get them in the door, the ethical side of people here, the commitment to improvement, the commitment to customer service is really something. That is one of the strengths that we are playing to, by hiring here locally.
Finance Colombia: Some people think of digital marketing and they think of: ‘I got an email.’ They think of Mailchimp. Some people hear digital marketing and they think of a campaign for for Bud Light on Youtube. What is it exactly the digital marketing that Demand Frontier does?
Juan Felipe Salazar: The digital marketing arena is worldwide and it’s huge. There are easily two hundred different platforms that support all sides of digital marketing. Specifically our niche is lead generation and what I mean by that is obviously we don’t work in the B2C environment. What people are used to seeing in digital marketing or email marketing is: I buy something at Walmart. I buy a TV. They run all sorts of algorithms and they know I need a TV stand. So they are going to send me an email say ‘hey all TV stands are on sale,’ or the HDMI cable to hook up your TV. So that is the B2C arena that we don’t handle. That is really not our expertise. Our B2B arena is really more about understanding qualified leads for our customers. A: Understanding what they are. B: Helping to qualify those leads, and C: Creating marketing programs digitally that can reach the customer with the message that our customers are trying to portray. By doing those three things, providing them with a matrix really cuts down on the cycle of sales, and says, ‘hey, of these three thousand people that you have, these three hundred are really, really, really interested in your product and of those three hundred you are probably going to close 60 of these deals based on background or based on a matrix that we have used before.
The ethical side of people here, the commitment to improvement, the commitment to customer service is really something.
You know, especially in this day and age, the customer base is there. It is getting the right person at the right time. Obviously with these platforms you provide the matrix and the features that allow you to create that kind of strategic: ‘this company has buying cycles from this point to this point because of the history that they have. These are the decision makers; these are the people that you need to reach out to.’ How do we reach out to them? In what frequency? What kind of message do we want to reach out to them with? Or, what has worked in the past? So really providing that kind of strategy and tactical combination that allows them to really be able to say ‘hey, yeah, you gave me these 3,000 and those 300 sold.’ And obviously the way that we sell it is very easy. If we are effective, the return on investment on a lead generation campaign should be thousands of percent.
Finance Colombia: Most of your business, maybe all of your business has been with North American Fortune-500 clients. What is your perspective on the growth potential in Latin America?
Juan Felipe Salazar: We are very excited about Latin America. Our strategy in Latin America is very simple. We have to socialize them as to what lead generation is for Latin American companies and some of these international companies are going to be leaders and more ahead in the curve, but still are laggards compared to the United States. My strategy specifically, and what I told our partners in the states is if I want to go talk to Bancolombia then I want to show them the progress and the success we have with Bank of America in the United States. It is a reference point. It’s a credibility you bring to the table that they want, and they know specifically that this is knowledge that we have on these sectors. We don’t want to be good for everybody. We are very much focused on the oil and gas, finance, banking and technology sectors. So, looking at a company like Argos, we definitely have to look out at how can we help a company like that. Make no mistake; it definitely is one of the customers that we want to have in our future. My point of view is to use 2016 as a way to socialize what lead generation can do for companies like that and then really start hoping to reel in some Latin American customers in 2017.