Daniel Ndukwu, KyLeads: “Email Verification Is Giving Organizations More Confidence”

As a founder of lead capture service KyLeads, Daniel Ndukwu knows a thing or two about digital marketing. We wanted to pick his brain on the topic, so we conversed about lead generation and nurturing, email marketing, and the difference email verification makes in the industry. You’ll learn a lot from Daniel, who was generous enough to share his in-depth marketing knowledge with us.

Enjoy our interview with Daniel!

I know you grew up in Atlanta, but I visited your LinkedIn profile and saw you went to a university in Nigeria. How did that experience shape you and what’s the most useful thing you learned by studying in a different country?

When you’re growing up and all the people around you are similar, it’s difficult to develop a new viewpoint. They share the same beliefs, values, and aspirations, and, over time, so do you. You take many things for granted.

When I packed my bags and traveled thousands of miles, my worldview was turned on its head. I discovered that no matter where you are, there are talented people and lowlifes.

I guess it’s just human nature.

The most important thing I learned is not to judge anyone based on anything but their character and work ethic. I thought I already knew this but my actions proved otherwise. Going in, I had a chip on my shoulder which was quickly knocked off when I realized how other people in the world do so much with so little.

In my travels, I’ve met so many talented people who just don’t have the opportunities that I do. If they’re given half a chance, they’ll move mountains.

The second thing I learned is that you don’t need a lot of money or resources to create something worthwhile.

Why did you decide upon marketing as a profession?

Marketing kind of chose me. There I was, in my dorm, broke. I guess that’s the hallmark of being a college student. The only difference is that where I went to school, there was no opportunity to get a part time job.

Either you learn how to manage your money or you go broke. Fortunately, I didn’t learn to manage my money, so I was broke and went looking for ways to make extra cash. A part time job was out, so I tried my hand at the Internet.

This was in 2010 or thereabouts. The Internet was a much different place. I bought the shiny objects, lost a lot of money (in a relative sense), and finally figured it out to an extent.

I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s like, if I put the right sequence of words together and tell people something at the right time then they, complete strangers, will buy what I’m selling. I don’t have to meet them, they can be halfway around the world, and they’ll even thank me for it.

It was like magic to my younger self. It still is, actually.

Image of a tablet with online marketing info for SEO, Content and Lists

For those who haven’t read your company’s About page, why did you start KyLeads?

We started KyLeads for a number of reasons, but the main one was because the industry is so fragmented. There are so many lead generation tools, for anything you want to get done. You have to get this tool to do x, that tool to do y, and throw in this other tool to do z.

This isn’t a bad thing in itself because competition keeps you on your toes. At the same time, the subscriptions pile up and it’s difficult to get a snapshot of what’s happening where. As a small business owner, you’re running marketing, sales, and operations. The extra complexity isn’t fun. Do you have the time, resources, or bandwidth to pay for and master a half a dozen tools?

The answer, usually, is no.

I remember I was working with a client and we were trying to figure out how well they were generating leads. They had one tool for lead capture on Medium, two different ones on their website, another one that was just for contests, and a separate one for waiting lists. They also had a tool for surveys that would get leads occasionally.

We had this big spreadsheet we’d use to track everything by the day/week/month. Then we had to crunch other numbers to arrive at the conversion rate across channels.

It was a mess.

I was like no, there has to be a better way. There should be a way to combine many of these apps into one or at least put the data into a single place. Needless to say, I didn’t find one that met my needs adequately – so we built it.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to answer that “why” so far?

It’s still a work in progress. I’m not sure it’ll ever be done. The moment we answer it perfectly is the moment we go from day one to day two.

Man sitting at his desk looking at his laptop reading emails.

What is your favorite lead generation method? What tactics do you find impossible to resist?

If I told you that, I’d have to kill you. Haha, I couldn’t resist.

On a more serious note, there are a few lead generation methods I like more than others.

The first one is making small tools that solve a specific problem and release it to the world for free. All you have to do is sign up. Bryan Harris has done this well with Growth Tools. We’re also in the process of building out a few small tools which are really relevant to our core products. We have one that’s ungated right now that helps you determine the ROI of your email marketing.

The other one I like, and still use often, are content upgrades. When they work, they just work. On average, how many leads are generated from sitewide sidebar? That’s usually less than 1%. It’s better than nothing but it’s so disappointing. We have content upgrades that we’ve seen convert rates above 10% but average around 5%. That’s a 5x increase over a site wide sidebar.

The good thing is they don’t take much effort to make when you know what you’re doing. There’s something that both of these lead generation tactics share, they focus on delivering value to the end user and set the right tone for the relationship.

I know these aren’t groundbreaking, but why reinvent the wheel when the one you’re using is getting you from point A to B? I know, it’s blasphemy for a marketer to say something like that. We’re supposed to be on the cutting edge. Whatever.

Based on your company’s observations, what seems to work best, and what returns the weakest results?

One word – relevance.

People sign up for KyLeads all the time and want to make online quizzes because they know it can have a huge impact on their conversion rates.

Many times, they have established websites with multiple categories that serve different groups of people. They go in and create a quiz for the entire website. I mean, it works, and they tend to convert over 10% of their visitors, but they can do so much better. Around this time, they’ll reach out and ask us how they can improve. My recommendation is almost always the same. Create a quiz that focuses on a single segment in your audience. When they go back and do that, their results jump 2-3x. Yes, it’s more work but the increases you see are also worth it.

The single most effective thing you can do in any form of marketing is make it relevant.

In our email marketing automation, everything is geared towards segmentation. When you join, we ask you what your biggest challenge is or what you’d like to learn, we take note of the kinds of emails you’re opening and the ones you’re ignoring. You have the opportunity to tell us your goals and your industry. Our website changes based on what links you’ve clicked and what tags have been applied to your account.

All of this is done in an effort to create relevance. A relevant offer, all other things being equal, will always outperform an irrelevant offer. Then of course you want to follow up and if you know a bit about marketing automation, guide those leads and stick with them.

The things with the weakest return – as I’ve mentioned already – are one size fits all messages. Talking specifically about lead capture devices, site wide sidebar opt-in forms absolutely suck. You can split test them all you like but they just don’t budge beyond a certain point. I think that has something to do with banner blindness and the fact that they resemble advertisements.

If you’re able to create category specific or post specific sidebar opt-in forms, then you’ll see they perform much better. If you take one thing away from the thousands of words here, let it be that relevance should trump all other things.

person discussing email marketing with two other people.

How aware do you think email marketers are of their email hygiene?

I’ll be the first to admit. I didn’t start taking email hygiene seriously until the end of 2017. One of my other websites was growing really fast. We were getting tons of email subscribers, but our open rates and click through rates were also declining.

I tried to play around with subject lines, message content, and changing providers, but the trend continued. A friend of mine asked me how often I clean up my list.

I was like what, like delete email subscribers?

He was like yea. That’s part of it.

It was like blasphemy to my ears.

It took a while but I finally took the plunge and cleaned out the email addresses that hadn’t opened an email in the last six months. Just like that, fifteen percent of my mailing list was wiped out. It was painful but oh so worth it.

Engagement went up across the board.

I was addicted.

Over time, I’ve started to clean my list and verify emails periodically. Sometimes websites are shut down, change ownership, or people abandon email accounts. Every one of those factors contributes to email list attrition. Ten thousand emails at the beginning of the year isn’t ten thousand emails at the end of the year.

As a whole, I think marketers are aware that list hygiene is important, but are reluctant to take the necessary steps.

Every time you use an email validation platform, bad emails are sure to float to the surface. It’s disappointing to say the least. This problem is compounded when you run contests and giveaways. People are notorious for using fake emails. As a rule of thumb, we run all emails through an email verification service to verify all emails before adding them to our email marketing platform when we run a competition.

Related: Email Verification Misconceptions

How do you think email validation is impacting the way organizations practice email marketing?

I think email verification is giving organizations more confidence. If I run my contacts through an email verifier platform like ZeroBounce, I’m sure I’ll find some duds. At the same time, I’m much more confident in every email that I eventually add to my list.

Daniel Ndukwu, "email verification is giving organizations more confidence."

It’s also making it impossible to blame bad emails for any poor results you achieve through email marketing. You can’t say, yea, 10% of the list was a dud, that’s why open rates were so low.

Why didn’t you use an email validation tool to check the list? They’re a negligible expense when you think about the value they provide you.

What would you say is the most effective lead nurturing strategy?

Is there a such a thing as the most effective way to do something? What may work well for me may fall flat for you and vice versa. Many of us try to predict the future of email marketing, trends or what will work tomorrow. That is another part of tweaking, something that works well today, might not tomorrow.

With that being said, I’ll share how we approach lead nurturing.

Before I do that though, there are a few things we always keep in mind.

  • It’s not about us. I mean, it’s about us but it doesn’t seem like that. We’re nothing more than the guide that helps people reach their goal. The only time we talk about our company is when we’re sharing an example. Otherwise, it’s about them.
  • It’s helpful. No matter what your product or service is, there’s a job your customers use it for. A nurturing campaign should help them get that job done. It may not be the main job but it can be one aspect of it. For more on Jobs to Be Done theory, I suggest the excellent free resource When Coffee and Kale Compete.
  • It’s constantly tweaked. Even if it’s performing well, it can always do better. You’ll never be done so we bake that thought process into everything we do.

So we focus on email to nurture our leads and we do something groundbreaking. We ask them questions. I know, it’s crazy. If I were talking to Steve Jobs, he’d tell me I had it all wrong, people don’t know what they want.

I disagree. People know exactly what they want, they just don’t know what it looks like.

That makes sense right?

I digress.

Moving on.

So, as you’re probably aware after making it this far, we make quizzes. A good thing about quizzes is that people tell you all kinds of useful information which you can use to segment them into groups at the point of lead capture.

So that’s what we do. We segment them into groups based on the way they answered questions and send relevant messages over the course of a month or so. If they ended up as a lead without going through a quiz, we ask questions throughout the process. I mentioned this earlier.

One of the emails we send out asks people what their field or focus is. Are you a SaaS company, blogger, consultant, etc. When you answer, you’re taken to a specific page where you get a video that lets you know we’ve heard you and will work to deliver relevant content related to that. From there, you go on a journey tailored to the fact that you’re a blogger or consultant, etc.

It doesn’t end there though. We also ask other questions throughout the nurturing campaign.

If someone is highly engaged and answers all the questions, then the nurturing sequence gets more and more tailored. In the end, it’s a lead nurturing campaign that gets a good percentage of people to start a free trial. It’s by no means perfect and I actually enjoy tweaking it. A touch here and a change there makes all the difference.

person typing on a keyboard looking at email verification techniques.

Tell me the top 3 “marketese” words you loathe the most.

Omnichannel solution. It’s like, what on earth does that even mean? It just rubs me the wrong way. As soon as I see it my eyes glaze over and my brain shuts down.

Best in class. I’m sorry; I graduated from school quite a while ago. I’m sure this message isn’t meant for me.

10x content. What exactly does that mean and how do I make it 10x? What if the stuff available is already great? Can’t I just do 2x? Is that allowed?

Just one more.

Actionable insights. I thought all insights were meant to be actionable by default. If it’s not actionable then it must not be an insight (I slip into using this phrase sometimes and always want to cut off my pinky finger).

If you could start your company all over again, what would you do differently this time?

This is a tough question. As with all companies we’ve made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things right.

If I could change one thing, it would be how we focused our resources in the beginning. People always want this or that. Sometimes, they just want it because they saw it somewhere else or the last vendor they used had it.

If you listen to all the requests, you’ll end up being just like every other tool on the market instead of carving out a space for yourself. Most of the time, they’ll be happy waiting for it for a while as long as you assure them that it’s coming. At other times, it’s not what they really want. What they really want is an outcome and not a feature. There are many ways to arrive at the same end goal.

In the beginning, whenever someone would request a feature, we’d drop everything and answer them. It created a good experience for them, which I’m happy about, but it also threw off our development progress a lot.

Image of Daniel Ndukwa smiling

Daniel Ndukwu is the founder of lear capture software KyLeads, a tool that allows you to convert more website visitors into email subscribers. KyLeads comes with a variety of features to make list building efficient: an online quiz maker, full screen popups, landing pages design, A/B testing, easily-customizable opt-in forms, and more.

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