Audioboom delivers a LIRICAL success story with Salesforce
If you like a good story, the chances are you like a good podcast. This is the story of how leading podcasting platform, Audioboom, created its internal platform, LIRICAL (Live Read Inventory Calendar), to help more podcasters grow and monetise their content.
Two-and-a-half years since Audioboom created a Salesforce-powered strategy to simplify operations, it can now sell across 1.67 billion premium advertising impressions a year, for over 300 different advertisers, on hundreds of shows from around the world – with new clients and partners being added every week.
The platform, built on Salesforce Enterprise, also helped Audioboom grow its revenue from $11.7m for the whole of 2018 to $26.8m in 2020 - and is now expected to be more than $53m for 2021. And the flexible, scalable design of the LIRICAL system allows the company plenty of room to grow.
“Salesforce helped us automate out the grunt work, so our lean team of 40 can handle higher volumes of work efficiently and accurately,” said Lance Paterson, VP of Research at Audioboom. “We’re experiencing 93% year-on-year growth – outperforming the wider industry, and with a vastly smaller team than many of our competitors. With better processes, we can deliver better pricing and better service.
“And better yet, we can now easily scale up into the future, and will be able to handle billions more impressions and more valuable deals without adding staff or other costs. We’ve future-proofed the biggest part of our business.”
Finding the perfect match
Audioboom helps podcasters host, distribute, and monetise their shows, while matching advertisers with relevant podcasts to have the biggest impact. It works with podcasters of all genres, from talk shows to true crime, and is home to the award-winning podcasts Morbid: A True Crime Podcast, Casefile, and No Such Thing as a Fish. Overall, Audioboom delivers more than 90 million audio downloads to 26 million users every month.
“The conversion rate for ads is very high because of the unique bond listeners have with podcast hosts – listeners are happy to support the advertisers as they understand that the revenue keeps their favourite shows on the air,” added Paterson.
Matching advertisers to podcasts is no mean feat. Not only does the content have to be relevant, pricing is based on the podcast’s CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions, relating to the audience’s size and demographics) and can vary wildly.
To organise sales, bookings, and billings, Audioboom used a fearsome behemoth of a macro-infested spreadsheet, nicknamed The Excel That Ate Manhattan - plus a cloud file hosting service to store contracts and other paperwork, offline notes, and other legacy processes.
“With operations across the UK and US, it was difficult to work seamlessly. Even small things, like the regional difference in date format, were constantly breaking macros, and it was hard to find and collate data,” recalled Paterson.
With rapid year-on-year growth, the company needed a new solution to eliminate slow and frustrating processes, free its team up for more valuable activities, and allow the business to scale.
Learning the language of Salesforce
In 2018, Paterson and team began looking for a new solution. “We ran a small request for proposal (RFP), and while Salesforce had all the functionality we needed, it was the enthusiasm and hands-on support from the team that swung it for us,” he explained.
Over the next three months, the team built LIRICAL using Salesforce Platform and out-of-the-box components such as Opportunities. The solution went live on 31st December 2018, and Audioboom hasn’t looked back since.
Today, LIRICAL acts as a central repository for podcast and advertiser records, using APIs to gather real-time data such as the latest listening figures and tracking podcaster preferences for what kind of adverts are broadcast during their show.
Tasks such as onboarding and executing group actions, such as applying an agreed price for an advertising slot to a number of records, can be done simply in just a few clicks, and data feeds into live reports so the team can analyse and track trends to identify any gaps in the market or popular genres and make smarter decisions about where to invest.
“Podcasting has its own unique operating model, sales process, and, of course, jargon. But once we’d got to grips with Salesforce’s tools, tricks, and rich feature set, we built a platform that’s completely tailored to our needs - and improvedhow we work,” commented Paterson.
Banishing complex billing processes
Managing finance is also easier in LIRICAL. The system automatically calculates the correct rates for advertising - and all revenue shares, taxes, and fees - on a particular podcast based on its CPM. That means the sales team can book in advertisers over the phone without having to haggle over prime slots and costs and risk being outbid by a competitor, which is rife in the industry.
“Booking ad space used to take hours for every order and involved a lot of manual cross-referencing, agreeing the price, and calculating revenue shares. Now that it’s mostly automated, every sale can be processed end-to-end in under ten minutes,” revealed Paterson.
Billing also used to be a complex, manual process, relying on data taken from spreadsheets. But, with the new billing engine built on Sales Cloud, accurate incoming and outgoing invoices can be generated, pulled into the company’s accounting system via an API, and sent out to customers in just one day.
This process previously took around 30 days and generated up to 100 support calls and queries per month, compared to just one or two calls today. Customers are responding well to the more efficient and transparent process and pay promptly in 87 days (and falling) compared to an average of five months previously - resulting in improved cash flow and partner relationships.
“The podcasting calendar isn’t standard, so managing finance manually at scale just wasn’t going to work for us. Our solution collects data for the correct dates, collates it by category, and auto-calculates the agency and partner cut,” explained Paterson.
“It now takes under an hour to generate all our invoices for the month, rather than each one taking hours, and we don’t need to spend time resolving issues because customers can be prompted by an automatic workflow when payments are due.”
Empowering the whole Audioboom ecosystem
Audioboom’s podcast creators are also benefiting from the new platform. They can log in via a custom portal to view their ad sales and show schedule. The system automatically lists the ad space sold and revenues due, delivers notes, and lets partners confirm when a spot’s been recorded with timestamps. “Having everything from booking to onboarding to scripts to payments taken care of lets creators do what they do best – create great content,” said Paterson.
But the team wasn’t done yet. They went on to create a sister version of LIRICAL designed to cope with booking endorsements for radio, digital audio, and streaming music partners as well as podcasting. “The CRM offerings for radio are notoriously bad. Now that we’ve got the skills to build on Salesforce, we can expand across more industries, creating custom builds for podcasting and radio,” added Paterson. “We can also optimise the platform really easily. When people reach out with feedback, it’s great to be able to adapt quickly.”
Next on the agenda, Audioboom is building a marketplace on Experience Cloud to empower agencies to self-serve for more processes. They’ll be able to create a shopping basket registering which services they’re interested in and how much they want to spend. If they are a new customer, this will be routed and flagged to the sales team (using Chatter and email prompts) as a fully qualified lead that they can pick up and work on immediately, but if they’re an existing customer, it will appear as an item in their account.
This will allow a more seamless buying process – and add even more inventory to the system to deliver more revenue.
Staying ahead of the game
Over the past few years, Audioboom has been through more than just a digital transformation. It’s seen a shift in culture, and become a happier, more efficient business as a result.
Almost everyone at Audioboom uses Salesforce, and for senior managers, that means smarter forecasting from live data, and being able to offer more attractive prospects to investors.
“We had a chance to really rethink how we operated and how we could support each other. We’ve eliminated all the pain points and we’re in better shape on and offline. We’re more resilient, flexible, and can adapt to challenges – such as global pandemics – with ease,” said Paterson. With the entire team having seamless access from anywhere in the world, Paterson hasn’t had to step into the office more than twice since March 2020.
“We have had a great experience with Salesforce – and rethinking how we work alongside its team has allowed us to evolve and massively scale our business, rather than just copying the way we worked before into a CRM.
“Thinking through our workflows, cleaning, and organising the data was in itself a valuable process. Don’t be afraid to change how, where and when you work. Salesforce can let you do that. And let you do more,” concludes Paterson.