How Conor Lee, founder of HipLead, scaled on the back of automation, systems, and processes

Christine Grové
Christine is a journalist from South Africa, who has lived and worked in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, covering everything from hard news to art to business & tech. Having been bitten by the travel bug as an infant, Christine finds it fairly easy to uproot herself in search of new adventures and stories. With degrees in both fine arts and journalism, she’s equally interested in visual storytelling as well as the written word. Having been part of three launch teams of three different media startups in her lifetime, she’s intimately familiar with what it takes to get a publication off the ground.

The sobering statistic that half of all companies fail within 5 years is well-known to startups; but a pervasive reason behind that figure isn’t always apparent. Did you know 42% of businesses fail due to a lack of market demand for their product or service? That’s why it’s important to not only test and verify your business model, but to let your own network tell you what they need help with.

But the problem with letting your network come to you for consulting or contracting help is that it’s usually not scalable. HipLead, a B2B lead generation business, was started by accident when Conor Lee transitioned from a growth and strategy role to founding his own company after his network started asking him for help with lead generation. He quickly had a business on his hands; but to build it to 200 SaaS clients in just three years required more than just one-on-one consulting and contract work.

I sat down and talked with Conor about how he successfully grew his lead generation business and managed to scale it so quickly while automating his systems and processes. Here are some of the takeaways from our conversation.

The Rise of a Restless Entrepreneur

Conor previously launched and worked with three startups, and as a serial entrepreneur, he relied on outbound sales and cold emailing with a focus on pre-targeting leads. He says it’s critical to do your research and hone in on those leads first, whether you’re doing that with a well-crafted email, outbound call, or advertising campaign, without spending much on marketing.

After successfully growing several startups, Conor started getting restless and wanted a fresh challenge. But as he was searching for something to focus on, he noticed that his network kept coming to him and asking for his help with outbound sales in their own businesses. All of a sudden, Conor had 10 clients and realized, “Wow, I have a business.”

That business, HipLead, quickly shifted into consultancy before Conor could figure out how they could automate and scale their results. But he says it was still crucial to focus on unscalable things in order to grow during that initial startup phase. “We initially did things early on that didn’t scale in order to purposefully design things that we could automate later on,” he says. The strategy paid off. After just three years, HipLead is now a profitable, bootstrapped company that works with over 200 B2B SaaS companies.

Driving Measurable Results

With so many clients under his belt, I asked Conor what types of common mistakes he sees companies making with lead generation. He says those mistakes are surprisingly similar no matter which stage of growth a company is in. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they blindly shoot,” he says. “I see too many companies getting behind on sales or needing to test an idea, so they go after everything blindly. They ultimately end up with data that isn’t usable and with results that can’t be used in any type of meaningful or repeatable way.”

As a growth marketer who helps businesses scale their growth through content marketing and cold email, I agree that it’s all about laser targeting. Instead of going after things indiscriminately, start with identifying a client’s pain points and positioning yourself as the person with the solution.

“Sit down and figure out who you want to target and divide them into tiers,” Conor says. “You should set up a bunch of hypotheses around each audience: ‘This audience has this pain point and thinks our product might be a viable solution.’ Your goal should be to test if your assumption is correct.” But, he warns: “If you can’t do that, you can’t drive measurable results and are shooting in the wind.”

Conor also sees people trying to build an outbound model around results they’re seeing from inbound solutions. For example, it’s impossible to build an audience around homeowners who need an immediate solution to water damage from a flood in their home. There’s very little you can do with that since it’s based on demand.

Success Through Outbound Emailing

I asked Conor to walk me through his best tips for crafting outbound emails. He says simply, “Can you identify a pain point that audience has and offer up your solution as a painkiller?” But he also adds: “Outbound email writing isn’t really about selling. At the end of the day you’re basically battling for their attention.”

Conor also advises identifying the group and pain point they belong to, and identifying both in your email. “Getting the audience nailed down first will go much further than any content you actually write,” he advises. “Send an email that names their group and they’re likely to respond at a higher rate.”

We also talked about how to really draw people into your emails by focusing on personalization. In my own experience, you can still create a template, but it should be carefully crafted through a highly-personalized process. Conor agrees. “Write it like you’re writing it to a friend, or go in and grab a handful of people and pull up their LinkedIn profiles and read them before writing an email,” he suggests. “Write to that specific person. Then try to adapt it to someone else until you end up with an amazing template crafted from a personal email.”

But no matter what method you use to stay conversational with your readers, it’s important to focus on only one end result. Too much information will just confuse the reader. “If you want them to respond to the email, then focus on that,” he says. “Or if you want them to just read your content, then only focus on that in your email. The less conflicting information and fewer tasks you give a person, the more likely they are to focus in on what you really want.”

Asking Reasonable Questions

Once you collect the right data, it still has to be used appropriately. Conor explains, “If you’re going to do things in an analytical data-driven way, you have to have reasonable questions to ask with the data. And people often come at it with very unreasonable questions.” He says that even when businesses are meticulously curating data and paying for a list, they often leave out key data points from their CRM because it can be difficult and time-consuming to incorporate into their outbound campaigns.

He says some companies struggle because they accidentally hit upon success once and think they’ve figured out the key. The only problem is, their methods aren’t repeatable or scalable and ultimately don’t work the second time around. “You can stumble backwards into success, but it’s going to be luck and it’s not going to be a repeatable thing,” Conor explains. “At the end of the day, if you want to build a scalable marketing organization, you’re going to need those data points and you’re going to need to spend more time actually looking at what you put into the system and comparing it to what came out.”