Growth hacking · Sales Strategy

What is the best traditional sales strategy for a growth engineering startup?

Ben Belser

November 21st, 2015

My question is related to "traditional" sales. My team and I are about to launch a very cool, very powerful growth engineering product called Airplane. The purpose of the service is to help companies both small and large grow their social followings using fancy algorithms. Forgive any kinks in the current site: as I said, we haven't launched yet, although the service is working beautifully. The trick is finding our customers.

With modern, social-savvy customers, this is super easy, and we're able to dogfood our own service as a way of locating them (which we've done to great effect in recent weeks). However, traditional business owners without much experience with social are often excellent customers as well. Though they've never heard the term "growth hacking," they love the idea of an automated layer of intelligence helping them connect to customers while they're asleep. Unfortunately,these business owners are by definition less likely to be on social media. 

What other channels would the FD community recommend for reaching non-savvy customers who need social media growth services? 

Thanks in advance.

Brett Fox Respected, Results-Oriented CEO, Entrepreneur, Author, and Coach

November 21st, 2015

Ben,

I would read the book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares (Link: http://tractionbook.com)

It is BY FAR the best book on how a startup can gain initial traction. The book goes through a detailed framework for deciding on which channels are right for you.

I think you will find Traction invaluable.

Good luck.

Rob G

November 22nd, 2015

I don't mean to sound flippant, but shouldn't you simply use your own product? I have not been to your website but from your brief description above it seems that your product is intended to help small companies like your own to grow. "We have a ton of experience in the field, we've grown companies successfully in the past, and we're good at what we do.". There is no better way to truly understand the challenges that your customers or prospects face than eating your own dog food.  No better proof statement than  to show your prospects how you are able to grow your small company using your own tools. The challenge you described above is  by far the greatest challenge for most startups - how to cost-effectively: find prospects, educate them, and convert them into paying customers. This is typically part of the product/ market fit process. How did you find customers or prospects when you were doing your product market fit evaluations?

Rob G

November 24th, 2015

Ben, correct me if I'm wrong, but based on your pricing model i'm guessing you are selling services ('custom' services?) along with use of your 'fancy algorithms'? You hint at this in 1 not so obvious line of text on your landing page: "quit falling asleep at your mouse and hire yourself some growth hackers. (Specifically, us.)" . If I were one of your "traditional" prospects and somehow i came to your site you would have a challenge converting me to a paying customer - OK, i'll be blunt, there's no way i would convert:
1. it is not at all clear to me what i am buying. If i am in fact getting some real hand-holding, live body with a pulse and possibly even an 'expert growth hacker' to go with the fancy algorithms then TELL ME THAT. For the prices you charge there needs to be something more. am i right?

2. Use my terms, not yours -since i'm a 'traditional' prospect i likely don't even know what a "growth hacker" is.

3. Again, if i'm a "traditional" prospect then i am not 'social savvy' and i'm not likely to pay (OK, damn near impossible) $299, $399 or $899 per month for what sounds like some super fancy "social media" tool that i don't undestand since i don't understand or use the basic social media tools now - FB, twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp... Right? if i don't currently use or even dabble in the free stuff, why would i pay your prices for something that i don't understand? Educate me. The higher the price the greater the 'risk' to me. The greater the risk the more educating it takes to convert me. Also, the less 'commoditized' the product, and especially so for services, the more educating it takes to convert me. In fact it is highly unlikely that you will convert me without at least 1 live conversation.

4. Your pricing is definitely not 'traditional' SaaS pricing - i.e. "Basic = free", "Better = $19.95/month" and "Super = $29.95/month".

In fact, even after participating in this FD thread and visiting your landing page twice (i don't find more than that) your pricing is the only hint that you might be selling something more than a self-service tool - i still don't know for sure what you are selling, but it must be more than a SaaS, self-service tool because your pricing is so atypical for a SaaS. Again, if i actually get a live body with a pulse to help me cut through all the social 'magic' then at least i can start to get past the sticker shock, but your landing page does not make it clear what i am paying for.

5. If i'm wrong and your customers don't get a live body to help untangle the 'mystery of social' then you have some real splainin to do. Someone very 'social savvy' might be able to read between the lines and figure out what you are selling and might (a big might) recognize the value and maybe even sign up, but that's a stretch. Not likely without a free tier so they can try it and educate themselves first because the landing page does not educate them. even less likely for a newbie - a newbie won't know where to even start or why. i'd suggest some eye opening customer testimonials: "we've used Airplane now for xx months and in 1 week we got xx return on our investment...best money we ever spent...". At your pricing they need to be jaw dropping, blow your socks off testimonials. This can be particularly effective in narrow verticals where members of the vertical come to the same landing page and recognize the industry language, the pain points, competitors, etc. video might help too. But even these are a real stretch considering your pricing.

Rob G

November 22nd, 2015

Ben; there are many different ways to slice this. happy to chat offline. One approach (of many): shrink the size of the pond you are fishing in - as a startup you don't have the resources to 'boil the ocean'.  take a look at some of the customers you already have and see if they represent a vertical (or 2 or 3 or 10) large enough to be worth while, but not too big.  Competitors hate to be out smarted. Get 1 then 2 then 3 companies (big enough to be worth while, but not too big such that the sales cycle drags out too long) in this vertical.  learn their industry and learn how companies in this industry currently sell (prospect, educate, close). You can then begin to educate the rest of the industry about the benefits of social (media, selling,...) and specifically your product/service and the fact that they need to do it because their competitors are. New customers gain a competitive advantage, late adopters need to get on board so they don't get left behind.  Add new verticals, rinse and repeat. 

Ben Belser

November 24th, 2015

Response to Neil Licht:

You're right that customer development and profiling needs to come before sales. That is, at least initially, because a lean approach suggests that after a customer hypothesis is formed one should then try to sell to those customers and tweak accordingly. The customer, and the product, will evolve.

The good news is that we haven't made unverified assumptions: we've talked to tons of traditional business owners, some brick-and-mortar, and we're signing people up. (Not sure why it was assumed we haven't.) So when you say, "You are not ready to go after prospects or markets," I have to disagree. We have customers: they like the product, and it's working great.

I think there's some confusion about the question. The original post was not a "Help! The business doesn't work" post. Likewise, we're absolutely not asking for a consultant (which is a bit over-the-top). Rather, the goal with the original post was to solicit some very quick tips on outreach to traditional business owners. Michael Haupt hit the nail on the head with his recommendation. More of those, please!

Ben Belser

November 24th, 2015

Response to Michael Haupt:

Thank you! This is exactly what I was looking for. I suppose it's weird to ask for old-fashioned sales advice on an online forum while hocking a techie product, but I'm convinced that some of the least techie business owners will be obsessed with this product. We're already working with a couple businesses who have virtually zero exposure to social (and the Internet for that matter), and they're even more appreciative of the magic that is growth hacking than some of our "hipper" customers.

Michael Haupt Strategist, speaker, mentor, advisor | Creator of The 2100 Pendulum - a simple model to explain today & predict tomorrow

November 22nd, 2015

Ben,
There are great answers here already so just want to add 3 further points, because I love the idea:

1. There was one phrase which jumped out at me in your question: "these people are by definition less likely to be on social media". I'm not sure they would be your ideal client. Your best customer will be someone who doesn't need convincing that social media is necessary - rather you would want to signup those who are already active on social media, have followed all the "guru" advice and haven't yet seen any positive ROI for their efforts. These accounts are easy to find: go through a list of followers on any popular VC profile and look at their stats: number of followers vs number of tweets, for example. It's easy to spot accounts that are doing what everyone has told them to do but are not getting anywhere. These are the ones that need your help, more than those who need convincing about social media.

2. To add to the feedback from Todd, I would look at your lead capture process. Rather than call it "create an account" you need a small interim step that someone who isn't quite convinced to take. Try using a social sign up with - for example, Twitter - and use wording that suggests you will (automagically) analyze their profile and suggest whether a Slow, Normal or Fast track would best suit them. Something like that.

3. Finally, to answer your specific question, it might be worth pressing the flesh at pitch fests. While this probably won't be as scalable as you'd like, you do have a captive audience of the exact people you need - founders desperate for rapid growth and traction. Perhaps do a quick demo to each person you meet. The real value will be in not so much signing up new clients, but getting immediate feedback - priceless.

Love the idea, and I look forward to seeing how it takes off - pun intended ;)

Bob Caspe CEO, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Global Education Programs at International Entrepreneurship Ctr

November 22nd, 2015

In another thread I mentioned that it is the cost of "customer acquisition" that in fact kills most startups.  Therefore, you are asking THE critical question that is "how should you go to market?"  

It's likely that you do not have enough money to sustain a sales and marketing campaign that is likely necessary to launch your product so the future is dim.

However, I do have one suggestion.  If you can find a Partner, who already does business with the intended clients, is well funded, and has a good brand reputation, and if you can convince that partner to sell your product for part of the profit, then there is hope.  The key, however, is not how much additional profit your product brings to the partner, but rather, how your product enables the partner to sell more of their own product.  The reason for this is rational, but a bit more involved than I want to develop in this thread.

Good luck.

Ben Belser

November 22nd, 2015

Some great feedback here. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness that a few of you have invested in combing through the site, pointing out bugs and messaging issues, etc. Many of these are on our radar (again, the site hasn't officially launched), but it never hurts to get confirmation.

To Rob Gropper, Peter Johnston:

Thanks to both of you for the much-needed kick in the pants. To be clear, I was all too aware of the irony of asking for sales advice on a lead-gen product when I posted this question. Trust me when I say that we're dogfooding to the moon right now: in fact, we've already signed up a bunch of clients who don't seem to care one bit about the "beta" status, and most of these we've found using our own service. They'd use the product if the homepage were written on a paper napkin: the service is that good.

However, I think the apparent irony is a little too easy to point out, and it doesn't capture the complexity of the sales issue. Our target audience really is broad, and it includes a large swath of companies that aren't social media savvy. In fact, some of the most receptive people in my discussions have been owners of traditional businesses who don't understand social, don't have time to hire a social media person, and want a "set it and forget it" tool that will intelligently do the work for them.

These people are generally not on social media, even though they love the idea of the tool, so we have to get a little more traditional in our approach to finding them. That was the crux of my sales question and the thing we still need help with.

So, to clarify: we do not need help finding the "modern" breed of social-savvy customers. What we're curious about is how to optimize on the traditional sales side to sign up customers who never knew they needed this service (Z) because they never knew X or Y existed. Probably should have made the question more specific, but I wanted to capture general advice as well.









Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

November 22nd, 2015

Hi Ben,

Love the idea, and the front page looked good too (I can't get back to it, now I've logged in).

I don't know the economics behind this - how much manual work, for example is involved, but I would try to create a free tier - perhaps the one account. If you have a free product, people love to recommend it. You would get coverage from the big marketing blogs who love the free tools idea. Even if you only did this for six months, it would make a big difference.

But I'm beginning to worry. I share Rob's thinking.

You claim to be an expert in all this, with "a ton of experience in the field". So what do you need us for - your algorithms should be telling you exactly what works and what doesn't. Surely the product is setting itself up as the expert on exactly what you are asking us about. Or is this just advertising?