Stanford business school graduates knew their classmates would soon found great startups, and they created a unique club to invest in them. The result is a $ 1.5 million fund bound by loyalty, community, and democracy Business Insider
“startups when:1d” – Google News
This is it, the last post in the series. Definitely didn’t hit one a week, life came up regularly. During this process of writing these articles it has helped to better inform my current project.
Even if you've done something a hundred times, writing out your thoughts on the subject really helps narrow down your focus and can be extremely helpful.
I'm a huge proponent of using pen and paper and creating outlines and lists and this series of articles is all about that.
We've been applying all these steps in the background and things are going well being only 4 months in. I'll throw that up as another post down the road when we've got something more tangible.
What started as a project that was going to be SaaS changed to be managed service realizing that what we offered people wanted but didn't want to manage. People are looking for turnkey these days with services that they can just track results on while paying for value and understanding that perceived value. That's not to say that we won't go SaaS down the road, but we'd rather allow the knowledge gained from running it as a managed service to help inform the best on-boarding and upkeep.
We've also seen how competitors really just stop short of actually providing something of real value in terms of how their products are implemented. We love lazy companies, even if they don't know they are being lazy.
This is part 5 of 5.
- Start with your revenue and monetization plan (are you targeting a sector that has money and can/will pay – Part 1)
- Align yourself with others in your space (cheapest way to get traction/credibility – Part 2)
2.5 – Process, process, process – Start one, refine it, continually improve it – Part 2.5
Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution) – Part 3
Work on building a marketing strategy that can help expose and align your brand while strengthening its recognition with your partners (will this make us both look good) Part 4
5. Build customer advocates along the way, tell their stories (lead with examples)
The following applies to all businesses, but specifically is relevant when referring to SaaS companies as anything below an enterprise level platform has changed dramatically.
The way people purchase in combination with greater access to materials online has led to a continued decrease in trust with sales people and or teams. Most people would prefer to transact without having to deal with salespeople today. I count myself among them.
What customers want to see –
What the product looks like
Established workflows that it solves for
People like us that are currently using it
The process for getting started and on-boarded
A good story is more powerful than stats most of the time.
So let’s build customer advocates and tell their stories.
Establish the different personas that use your products, find companies/people that are using your product that would make for a good story. We’re all about helping other people relate to how to use your product for a specific industry sector.
So now let’s figure out how a well produced piece of content can check all these boxes and more.
There are a few key features here:
- Be relatable
- Be raw, not polished
- Focus on the customer’s company
- Use the customer’s social media
This is all about building a community of stories that people will come back to to reference down the line. This series of posts is a good example. The advice is provided from a standpoint of having done and worked with these groups of companies in different roles over the years.
This is marketing for today’s world, actionable, relatable, content that is built to be a seamless transition into taking action.
The majority of these stories will come from the contact you have with customers.
As a customer I need to be able to see myself in the person or company you are highlighting. I need to feel like I am just like your current customers, looking to solve for the same things. I need to understand that your product is for someone like me, almost tailored with me in mind.
Be raw, not polished
The BS meter is high, when high production value comes into play, there is always a hint of something not being authentic. Go for raw, not polished, this brings down the walls a bit, and relates to the point above where you need to genuinely see yourself as a customer.
Focus on the customer’s company
It’s not about your product, it’s about how your customer uses your product. Focus on their company, their internal processes, and how your product enables them to unlock losts time or revenue.
Use the customer’s social media
I don’t see this one done often enough. If you’re producing a piece of content, provide the contact information for the customer’s social media. If I’m a similar potential customer, it’s not uncommon for me to reach out to the person featured to ask for their candid feedback on using your product. I’ve personally done this more than a few times when assessing what platforms to work with or try out.
So assuming you’ve been able to do this correctly, you’ve now driven traffic back to your website which means we need to make sure that it’s clear, supportive, and enough to spark the conversation towards conversion.
You have to create a great experience.
Where does a great experience come from?
It starts from the moment someone reaches your website.
Most B2B websites fall into one of two categories:
Freemium OR Demo required
And nearly all of them are light on providing clear descriptions of HOW people are using their product. This is my all time biggest pet peeve. I don’t want to hear from your clients via a scripted video, I want to see them on YouTube using your product in a raw manner.
I know I’ve signed up for trials and upon seeing the platform never come back.
I don’t want to read buzzworthy feature sets, I want to see working examples.
We’ve made this massive transition to as someone put it in another post “REAL MARKETING”.
When you’re doing sales, your goal should be to genuinely help someone, this includes making sure everything is crystal clear, expectations are laid out, and there is a good understanding of all steps involved. People don’t like sales people though so…marketing it’s actually on you –
Make your websites better. Seriously, make them a lot better.
Know where you can ask for more information, couch it as wanting to put you in touch with someone with specific industry experience. Personalize the prospective customer’s experience.
Industry knowledge goes a long way during a sales process.
One of the best things you can do for your websites is to read all the copy outloud and match your website to a customer journey, bring someone through the buying process all one one page, then allow people to dig a bit deeper.
I’m waiting for someone to do something more creative with a pricing page as well. From a buyer perspective it’s one of the first pages I click likely before I looked at all your features, if you know it’s got a high click through rate, use that as marketing space, build something interactive so you understand who you’re pricing for, it’s like an email after you buy something, that sucker has an extremely high open rate and it’s the most misused space ever when it comes to marketing.
There are too many websites out there that have too many buzzwords, are long on fun graphics but short on actual product photos and videos, and make things a bit complicated.
You know the types I’m talking about they also usually have a video with cartoons instead of actual product shots. Off to YouTube I go!
Examples of easy places to make improvements –
- FAQs based on company roles – could be cool to see
- Normal real person copy, no buzzwords – be real not corporate, tell it like it is
- Actual embedded videos from your YouTube Channel on your site – don’t make me leave your website, I’ll get stuck in a youtube hole about golf or cars or food or whatever I’m not coming back
- A gated demo is fine, but use a service so you can provide someone with some value – for the love of god if you get my email and you need to schedule 3 phone calls for your product to allow me to see it, possibly touch it etc, you’re going to lose me.
I’ve had terrible experiences where it comes to B2B websites. It feels like a lot of brands make it all about them rather than how a customer would look at a website.
With the amount of free tools that are now available, I really don’t want to have to figure things out if I’m paying. If I’m buying software for my business, I want someone to get it configured and set up and provide best practices for making sure I get the most out of it. You have a million competitors, if you’re willing to get it setup for me and provide support so that I benefit, you’re headed to the top of the list.
If you go to an agency’s website it usually (the good ones) has a page dedicated to the process. The same should be true of any SaaS website, take the time to explain to someone they process whether buying or implementation so both parties have clear expectations.
So how does this change my opinion about how to fix this problem?
Start with the story, always.
People don’t buy products, they buy experiences involving products from people like them or people they aspire to be.
Highlight the value propositions that people want in an experience. We’re going to channel Part 1 again here and the reasons someone buys:
- It saves them time (reduces friction or replaces a time consuming task)
- Makes/saves them money (creates revenue/ adds value that lets them win business)
- Adoption is simple for their workforce (is easy to incorporate into an existing workflow and anyone can use it/cost of switching in relearning)
- Adds transparency and allows for bigger insights (provides data)
So all these things are really cool, but what if a business literally stepped in and handled all the process and flows of getting this setup, so when they turned over an instance, it was pretty much turnkey?
This is where I think we’re headed and this is where you customer advocates come in. I think this because with an abundance of platforms on the market that do similar things splitting hairs over a specific functionality isn’t something people really care about, in other words, it’s all about the results that a platform can provide and for most people you have about 2 months to prove results.
I’ve noticed this a lot with companies I’ve worked with, people get stuck into using what they know and really don’t want to spend the time learning something new or switching over.
Even the best on-boarding isn’t entirely seamless because unless you’re already a product expert it’s tough to get the most out of a new product right away.
This brings us to the big conundrum and requires a mental shift.
You’re not looking for more customers, you should be looking for more of the ideal customers.
Let me explain – when you’re building out your SaaS company when you’re a step above MVP and working towards v1 you’re going to have to do a lot of hand holding because things aren’t going to be perfect, features will be lacking, bugs will exist, etc.
Even as you start to mature, you’re battling with shorter and shorter attention spans. So we’re looking to find more ideal customers. These are the ones you can build for quickly. They are a subset of your market that you can apply work done for one with workflows and easily setup others using the same workflows/templates etc.
One of the things not readily discussed is how to measure the perceived value of your solution.
For some people the value of your solution will be astronomical, for others, maybe just a slight improvement and for those that stop using it well no improvement.
So we’re really looking for clients that realize astronomical value. This won’t be everyone, but for those that you are blowing away their expectations, understand why and how so you can replicate this for others.
This is why a really good, personal on-boarding and setup is so powerful, the keys to the castle are literally there, if you take advantage. Spend time to understand the workflows that your customers are creating, setting up, and which ones are the most impactful for them.
This is your story to tell.
I’ve noticed this time and time again with clients, some companies think that products are cheap, while others think of them as being expensive, the price, the exact same.
So we’re looking for customers that think the product is “cheap” as it has a higher perceived value.
Your SaaS business is also a services business in the beginning, you’re providing a service to solve a problem, it’s your job to get it configured and immediately providing value for the price that you are charging.
Two people walk into a barber shop – the first person sees an open barber chair then gets to work on their own hair. The second person is brought to the barber chair, asks a bunch of questions about what the person is looking for style wise, lays out the services they are going to offer, hot shave, how they’ll start and finishes with product recommendations for maintenance.
Who’s going to get the better review?
The same goes for selling your software.
Because people don’t like sales people but love implementation people. Your website should be doing all of the heavy lifting and you should be implementing really intelligent ways to collect data about interested parties so that you can customize your follow up with them. It’s never about getting them on the phone to talk about their business, it’s always about what you can already know about their business and showing that you can provide value towards improving it.
There is a gap in the above paragraph that a lot of people overlook. Data collection and personalization at scale. You’re looking for intent data points during someone’s time spent on your website. Hotjar and recording screens are great, but you’re looking to build a profile of someone before they reach out or take an action to sign up etc. This is a huge space for disruptive businesses to come in. (we spend entirely too much time just guessing)
The same is true during implementation, many companies don’t have the best processes in place no matter how well they think they have things managed.
B2B really needs to learn from B2C when it comes to storytelling.
When I see a Nike commercial, I’m invested in the story behind the person trying to accomplish something, the fact that Nike is featured isn’t the focus, never has been, it’s all about what people that wear Nike are accomplishing. This is marketing, they back this up with a solid product.
When you’re building a company, you’re asking someone to trust in you, when you are newer, you’re asking people to really trust in you. Build trust through creating micro relationships with potential clients. Make it about them.
When you’re getting started and beyond, your product doesn’t do things for people, your product enables people to accomplish amazing things.
When you shift the focus to this mindset great things happen.
So the main theme of all this is –
People don’t buy products, they buy experiences involving products from people like them or people they aspire to be.
Yes every purchase is based on an experience, an influence, a need, a want, a desire, to be like someone else. Someone is always first.
Focus on them, learn from them, then tell their story.
Sidenote and closing thought on this – if done correctly, you should be looking for bite size quotes, images etc that work well for social media. Most people today discuss long form content broken down into shorter bits to drive traffic and stretch out content. Keep this in the back of your mind.
These posts have been good to write, a constant reminder of how to stay focused and create something in a responsible way.
During the process of writing these they also reflect my current journey of not just advising companies but working on building our own company.
As always let me know if you have any questions.
This was a 60 minute presentation that I was going to have to give as a final round for a head of growth role before Covid happened and I never got to give it, I really don't want it to go to waste.
It comprises a few key parts, and despite the slight romanticising of a ‘growth hacker’ role over the last couple of years, it’s anything but a telenovela. These were the slides.
- Data friendliness
- Manufacturing creativity
- Diversifying growth
- Mission evangelism
- Rate limiting steps
I am a growth hacker, but I think it may have also changed slightly since Sean Ellis made the differentiation in 2010 between marketer and growth hacker: Sean coined the term when he couldn’t find anyone to replace the work he was doing as a marketing consultant at this time, issuing the need for a new job specification altogether.
This would have been my introduction, simply highlighting a few key areas that would make for a fantastic environment for a growth lead to come in.
Firstly, growth is still true north
If retention suffers, if the brand is dragged through the mud, if the campaigns starts to open a wormhole into a universe with giant eye-eating monsters; that simply isn’t the growth hacker’s problem. As a blinkered horse charges, as a berserker cleaves heads; one is not to reason why, one is but to grow or die.
In the most simple of terms, any job that does not involve THE number going up, is not the responsibility of the growth team.
Secondly, have a North Star Metric
This is THE thing you can base your company’s success on. Defining this will help a growth manager remain streamlined in their work. It will also encourage absolute transparency and efficiency with work. ‘How does the work you are currently undertaking help us achieve our goal?’
If you haven’t worked it out yet, do it now.
Thirdly, understand the simple sum behind growth.
UX + Product + Marketing = Customer Advocacy.
Advocacy + Growth Marketing = Successful growth
This is simple. If the product does not have a gradual upwards trend organically, then do not expect a growth marketer to come in and fix this. Growth hacking is a way of making as many eyes and ears as possible see the product for what it is, it is not tilting what the product is in order for it to be more appealing to the audience.
I have had to do the latter, it ends poorly.
Finally, good ideas are systematised.
Sitting around waiting for awesome things to happen is like waiting for lightning to strike on a summer’s day. As a company, create processes that drive creativity and free thinking.
I will publish the first blog tomorrow regarding data friendliness. I couldn’t think of a better way to explain it. It essentially means becoming incredibly knowledgeable about the processes and percentages that lead to a conversion, across the whole marketing effort.
Feel free to ask me questions along the way, it's going to be a cathartic journey.
(If there is a different place surveys should go / they are not okay here let me know and I will remove)
Trying to figure out if there’s a need for my idea. Survey here
I am not sure if this is the correct place to ask these questions, but I have been working at a large corporation for most of my career. I was recently introduced to a person who is running a startup, and we set up a time next week to discuss an opportunity there. What questions would you want answers to if you were considering such a dramatic career change?