Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Lennart Gijsen, Global Head of Marketing for Booking.com for Business, for collaborating with us on this post about how we audited his team’s marketing funnel. If you’re looking to book business travel for your team, check out Booking.com for Business!
When we first started working with Lennart Gijsen and the Booking.com for Business team, we had to ask ourselves whether we would still follow the same [growth process] we’ve used to grow 150+ startups, SMBs, and enterprises.
Booking.com, of course, is a different case than a lot of the clients we’ve grown in the past. They have tons of data and a giant marketing team. They, along with their parent company Priceline, spend $3.5 billion a year on PPC, and are one of Google’s largest customers globally.
That’s all to say that they don’t mess around when it comes to marketing their business.
So when we went into our client-agency relationship, we had to ask ourselves whether we’d audit and grow Booking.com for Business the same way we did any other client.
The answer was easy: our agile growth process, developed and perfected through millions of dollars and thousands of hours spent growing startups and enterprises alike, was a key reason why Lennart and his team wanted to work with us in the first place.
“It was not necessarily the audit that made us want to work with Ladder. It was the quality of the work that Ladder did before, and the mindset that your team brings. The audit was an added bonus.” – Lennart Gijsen, Global Head of Marketing, Booking.com for Business
For that reason, we decided we’d stick to the same discovery process at the very start of the relationship, and kick off our work with Lennart and Booking.com for Business with a full audit of their marketing funnel.
But first, to understand why we’re even writing this post, you should understand…
The audit phase of all our client relationships is critical to setting up for strategic success. At Ladder, everything we do is data-driven and looks not just at historic performance, but at industry benchmarks. We develop a monthly strategy based on what the data tells us, not based on gut feelings or guesswork.
So a full audit of a business’ entire marketing funnel is a critical step to kicking off the relationship on the right foot.
And you’d be surprised at what we find in each and every audit.
There’s not a single business in the almost 200 we’ve worked within the last 3 years that has had a perfect marketing funnel.
Some don’t have analytics and tracking properly set up, or are tracking the wrong conversion events.
Some don’t have a call to action in the hero section of their homepage or have copy that doesn’t correspond to their product offering.
Some have deeply broken mobile experiences, even though a sizable chunk of their traffic is viewing their site on mobile devices.
Every audit we’ve ever done on a business has resulted in a repository of dozens of growth ideas and tactics that we could implement to drive performance.
And the audit phase is exactly what lets us generate a list of potential growth tactics, prioritize them by cost vs. potential impact, and start executing them in month 1 of the client-agency relationship.
Booking.com for Business was no different.
Before we dive deep into how we ran the audit for Booking.com for Business, here’s an idea of exactly what we came back to Lennart with at the end of the process:
The person on our team who conducted the Booking.com for Business audit was Michael Taylor, Ladder’s co-founder & COO.
We wanted to get the relationship started off on the right foot, so bringing in Mike to do the audit was a no-brainer. As a marketer with $30m in PPC spend over his career, and having spent a good chunk of his career working at travel booking site Travelzoo, Mike was by far the most qualified to audit Booking.com for Business.
That didn’t mean that he wasn’t intimidated by the task at hand. Booking.com has a highly mature marketing team, treating marketing like a science to grow their business. They have a world-class growth team. They hire and train some of the most talented marketing minds in the industry.
But he got cracking, relying on his experience growing businesses across industries, but especially Travelzoo. He kicked off the process by flying to Amsterdam to meet with Lennart and his team. That meeting involved a lot of discovery on internal growth goals, what has and hasn’t worked in the past, and a tactic brainstorm with the entire group to focus the audit he would conduct.
Some notes from that meeting include:
There was plenty more to that meeting, and Mike was all set to start the audit when he got back to London.
The full suite of audits took a month to complete.
At the time, Mike had just moved back to London to take over operations of Ladder’s London office and was in the process of moving into his new apartment. And anyone that’s moved recently knows how much of a hassle getting internet set up in a new home can be.
But a client like Booking.com can’t be made to wait, and the lack of an internet connection at home meant Mike had to hop into the nearest Starbucks — the one near Tower Bridge in London — get set up on coffee shop WiFi and get cracking on the audit.
Every business has tons of growth opportunities they’ve yet to capture, and Booking.com for Business was no different.
Below is just a snippet of the opportunities Mike discovered along the way:
Due to data confidentiality agreements, we can’t share too much about what we discovered in our analytics audit. That said, we did end up discovering some really interesting opportunities around the way that event tracking and analytics were set up for the Booking.com for Business homepage.
“There was one point when I realized they didn’t actually have a Google Analytics event set up on form submission for the https://booking.com/business.html page.” – Michael Taylor
“I was super impressed with AirBnB’s landing pages in the competitor analysis section, but I also thought there was a lot of issues with AirBnB’s offering around trust. I had some personal experience with both products and had decided to use AirBnB less for business. That’s why I thought we could win here.” – Michael Taylor
For Lennart and his team, this growth audit immediately provided value from the start of the relationship.
“What we learned through the audit phase is how Ladder thinks. You guys covered some of our blind spots that we apparently didn’t know we had. I like the fact that Ladder was able to spot and address those blind spots.” – Lennart Gijsen
Despite everything that we found, really the most important part of this process was what Lennart and his team thought of our work with Booking.com for Business, from the audit phase onwards. After all, they’re the ones we’ll work with day-to-day, and if they’re happy and if performance is good, then we’re in a solid spot.
But obviously, with large businesses, there’s always friction around sharing data, internal processes and regulations, what we can and can’t touch as an agency, and how our work on one vertical in the business can affect the entire business.
Lennart summed it up perfectly:
“Booking is at scale, we’re the 3rd largest eCommerce company in the world. Yet we do still see that there’s value in hiring a growth agency – and not just because growth is a buzzword that we like. It’s more about keeping that entrepreneurial spirit, but on top of that the stakes are still getting higher. As a marketplace, we have to balance out all parts of our business, so sometimes we have to think twice about where we experiment.
“It took us some time to calibrate on that with Ladder, but after that, we quickly understood what Ladder can and can’t do, and we doubled down on what we can do together. It was Ladder’s iterative way of thinking – of building experiments and testing things – that really helped the dynamics of doing marketing for a big company like ours.”
We’ve been working with Booking.com for Business for well over a year now, and the relationship has expanded in scope since the initial audit phase where we discovered 100+ growth opportunities.
In the meantime, we’ve also executed tests on a good chunk of the opportunities we discovered.
That’s not to say we don’t focus and iterate as we learn more. We’ve been gathering data and improving our testing and recommendations from day 1 after kickoff of strategy and execution, which is why some of the ideas in the audit phase may never be implemented.
But that’s ok — often, testing and iterating finds more important growth opportunities than the ones we find in an initial audit.
The purpose of our audit was to fill up an icebox of tactic ideas and start executing them immediately. Everything from then on is the same iterative growth process that Lennart and his team rely on Ladder for.
We’ll keep finding and acting on new opportunities for Booking.com for Business.
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