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Customer Experience, E-Commerce, Sales

How to boost online sales using cross-selling and upselling for e-commerce

How to boost online sales for cross-selling and upselling for e-commerce

If you don’t cross-sell or upsell on your e-commerce store, you are losing money. Product recommendations drive about a quarter of sales, simplify navigation, and contribute to personalization (which is expected by over 75% of the shoppers).

Moreover, product recommendations create a better customer experience by adding value to the initial purchase. Do you see why marketers shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity?

Whether you are an experienced e-commerce marketer or a savvy entrepreneur, our guide will give you a few ideas on how to take your sales to the next level and keep your customers happy using cross-selling. Let’s roll!

Are upselling and cross-selling the same thing?

Prior to everything else, let’s get to the bottom of what’s the difference between upselling and cross-selling. In essence, both techniques serve as means for increasing sales and getting a customer to buy more. Although they are often synonymously used as interchangeable terms, there are several key distinctions.

Upselling is all about convincing a shopper to purchase an advanced version of a product or some additional extras. Perhaps one of the simplest examples that you could have come across are offers to switch to an enhanced “package” or to upgrade a service you use.

For instance, companies that focus on B2C sales, primarily software or some services, can use upselling by suggesting buyers invest in a plan upgrade. Say, choose in favor of an extended package instead of the one that’s currently used. An example of that could be moving from the “Mini Business Web Hosting” plan to “Plus” as shown in the following screenshot. The client can thus benefit from extended storage, complimentary backup, and other perks.Choose your web hosting plan

Cross-selling means suggesting a complementary product to the client’s purchase. Such additional items extend the functionality of the final purchase and add value to it. These can be items that go well together as a combination. The famous “Would you like fries with that?” is a perfect example of relevant cross-selling.

Below you can see an example of a “You May Also Like” section on the Bright Star Kids online store. It is a progressive web application that was built using the Magento 2 PWA Studio. The pitched products could make a good addition to the order since a shopper can add a lunch bag and water bottle to the backpack to make a neat combo.

Products on the Bright Star Kids website

The power of cross-selling

Why is cross-selling so useful? This technique is indeed effective as it allows a business to gain in multiple ways. There are several reasons behind the success of cross-selling in online retail stores.

1. The first is impulse buying.

It is a well-known consumer behavior of buying an unplanned product spontaneously. From mints and chocolates in the supermarket to cars and home appliances, impulse buying is a strong psychological factor.

Cross-selling sections of an online store can serve as such “product shelves” by the checkout counter. They highlight complementary products or something extra worth buying. The tactic allows you to increase the customer’s cart, thus expanding the average check size.

2. The second reason is consumer surplus.

It is the gap between the amount of money that the customer is willing to pay and the actual product price. Cross-selling helps minimize this gap by giving customers a chance to spend more and receive more value.

Let’s say your customer is buying jogging pants. A matching hoodie or sneakers can make the outfit complete as shown on the screenshot that was taken on the Armani Exchange online store. 

Products on the Armani Exchange website

Perhaps the client doesn’t really need this extra item. But you may encourage them to add the product or accessory in many ways, say, by offering the chance to receive free shipping if the order exceeds the X sum. So, by adding the item to the order, the client can get free shipping and a complete look. This brings value and satisfaction to the customer.

3. The third is an undeniable boost in income.

In fact, statistics show that online retail businesses can expect an up to 20% income growth if they implement cross-selling and upselling wisely. This sales and marketing strategy may bring a deal of return on investment.

Therefore, some of the major overall benefits of cross-selling for online stores are:

  • growth in revenue,
  • increased client retention,
  • improved customer experience,
  • deeper insights into customer behavior.

Where are cross-selling sections suitable?

Ready to learn about the applications of cross-selling? Here are some ideas.

1. Recommendations on the website

One of the most beloved tactics used by e-commerce marketers is adding “Other customers also bought” or a similar section on the product page, just as in the example from Tommy Hilfiger below.

Shoppers trust other shoppers and love honest testimonials. So once a customer sees real reviews and recommendations, they are more likely to buy this product.

Products on the Tommy Hilfiger site

This is an awesome and simple marketing strategy that you can take note of. Obviously, as an e-commerce store, you’ll need to put in some effort in picking and matching items to pitch in these sections. If you don’t have the opportunity to add on extensions to your e-commerce platform that would automatically collect and display such data, then you’ll need to do it manually.

2. E-mail marketing

Because emails remain a powerful marketing tool, marketers actively use them to cross-sell. Such emails serve as a follow-up that is sent after the purchase is completed. They inform the user about the possible additional products that would go along with the bought item and can be sent either manually or automatically.

3. Personalized suggestions

There is no need to remind about the importance of personalization and users’ expectations towards it. That’s why the “Recommended for you” sections work so well.

Being unique and tailored for an individual user, these sections perform exceptionally well in terms of cross-selling. You could also try implementing personalized product recommendations into your store.

Even better, if the recommendation is targeted at the two eyes looking at the screen, this can become a trigger to check out the product. Below we can see a screenshot taken on the official Guess online store. The products in the “Our Suggestions for You” cross-selling section are of similar styles and colors that may appeal to the shopper.

Products on the Guess website

4. Retargeting

Marketers and online store owners should also bear in mind proper pay-per-click ads and retargeting. As such, Facebook allows you to create relevant ads that would show your customers recommended products in accordance with their behavior in your store.

There is one more remaining question: when should you cross-sell? Is it at the beginning of a shopping process or after its completion? You can actually do both.

The first option is to cross-sell when the customer is in the cart. While the user has not paid yet, you may convince them to toss in something extra to their shopping cart. Check out how Tom Tailor uses this method. Once a user adds an item to their cart, a pop-up with additional items appears. It is shown prior to checkout or cart area view.

Retargeting and machine learning - "you might also like this" - products on the Tom Tailor website

The second option is to cross-sell after the purchase is completed for engagement purposes. You may gently hint at the recommended products via a follow-up email or a website pop-up.

Using upselling in e-commerce

Upselling is all about offering a similar product but at a higher price. Unlike cross-selling, upselling does not offer any complementary products and adds value by suggesting a more expensive option. As shortly described before, a premium subscription is one of the most popular upselling examples.

Surprisingly, upselling is responsible for 4% of total sales, as per Econsultancy, while cross-selling drives in 0.2% only. Of course, the numbers may vary depending on the type of online business and the sold products or services.

Upselling is incredibly efficient, yet, there is an important question to consider: how would a customer win from the upgrade? This is a primary thing to keep in mind when planning an upselling strategy. You need to clearly show how a customer would benefit from purchasing an upgrade without feeling ripped off.

Effective upselling ideas

Here are some ideas for efficient upselling:

  • Upgrade: if the customer uses a free (or paid) subscription plan, you may offer to upgrade for a more expensive option. Don’t forget to list all the benefits!
  • Personalization: once the customer chooses an item, offer an option to customize it.
  • Quantity: ask whether the customer wishes to purchase a few items at once.
  • Discount offer: upgrades that come with discounts work amazingly well. When the customer is offered a more expensive item that comes with a discount, he will most likely buy it and feel grateful and happy!

As shown on the following screenshot from the Banana Republic website, the user can browse entire outfits with accessories to complement the browsed item. This is a far better experience than what you can get from the standard “You may also like” sections shown in the previous examples, agree?

Products on the Banana Republic website

Which parts of the online store can benefit from upselling?

Now let’s move on to the areas where you can implement upselling.

1. Shopping cart

Before the customer pays for the product, you may offer a more expensive option right in the cart, in the form of a recommendation, or as a part of the dropdown list.

When upselling in the cart, it’s important to emphasize the upgrade value and little difference in prices. Justify why the customer should change their mind with clear benefits and ensure the price does not differ drastically.

A tip: side-by-side product comparisons work great. A customer is more willing to make a decision when all the data for consideration is organized in an easy-to-consume manner. Here’s an example of the Verizon Unlimited plans comparison. We see highlighted perks, features, and other major takeaways in one table format.

Verizon website

2. Live Interaction

Strike the iron while it’s hot! Upsell when the customer openly speaks about his struggles or issues.

If you have a live chat in your store or app, it may be a perfect chance to upsell. While speaking with the customer, you may learn about their current needs and grab the opportunity to offer a solution.

But be careful in forming your proposal. Don’t start with “Can I offer you X?” Instead, try something like: “I see that you have concerns about X. Maybe you’d be interested in learning about Y?”

3. Milestones

If a customer has stayed with you for a significant amount of time and purchases products on a regular basis, try upselling. But first, thank them for staying loyal to your brand.

In this case, you can offer a discount to go with your upgrade. It would complement the customer’s milestone nicely. You can do it via email or a pop-up.

Final Thoughts

Taking the extra mile to offer your customers something special can be very beneficial for your business. Various selections of products that a client might find to their taste can help them choose the perfect item or even help them add several ones to their shopping cart. An e-commerce store can gain over a quarter of revenue if it gives cross-selling and upselling the due attention. Hopefully, the best practices, tips, and examples can serve as inspiration!

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Product Management, SaaS

How to tackle the #1 problem product teams face: customer feedback

How to tackle the #1 problem product teams face: customer feedback

What’s your biggest problem as a Product Dev professional? Too many demands and not enough time? Limited resources? Oddly enough, none of those topped the list for Hiten Shah’s crowd.

Hiten Shah (of KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, and Quick Sprout fame) once wrote that that “the problems people have on Product teams fall into two main categories: Customer Feedback and Alignment.” This conclusion came after Hiten asked his readers to share their biggest product problems, and in more than 100 replies, those two themes emerged as the leaders.

Let’s go through the problems real Product professionals sent Hiten Shah point by point.

“Fast/Effective ways to quickly recap and synthesize qualitative research”

Qualitative data – ie. freeform responses versus ratings or multiple choice answers – are notoriously difficult to sift through and analyze. It’s only recently that, with advanced technology and machine learning, it’s become much easier to tag, sort, and assign sentiment to qualitative feedback at scale.

Tagging, in particular, is a huge time-saver when you switch from just manual tagging to auto-tagging. Tagging comments with their major themes is the first step towards conducting frequency analysis to identify trending topics – or find relevant feedback with a click.

Using an NPS survey with an open-ended comments section, for example, you might find that your ‘detractors’ (low scorers) comments tend to be tagged with “slow loading time” or you may see a specific feature request recurring.

Yep, modern customer feedback software should be able to deliver every comment with a feature request, for example, tagged and prioritized by frequency, from the highest-value customers, in about a second.

You can even use tags to route specifically tagged feedback straight to the appropriate department for follow-up. No need to hunt for bugs – the bugs will come to you! (Don’t they always?)

“It’s [customer feedback] very subjective and sometimes doesn’t have context, therefore I take it with a grain of salt, but engineers may not see it that way and want to address the feedback immediately.”

When your customer feedback comes primarily through surveys that *don’t* include open-ended responses (to gather all of that golden qualitative data), it’s impossible to get the context you need to evaluate the issue and possibly solve it.

But understanding the why behind NPS, CES and CSAT scores (to name a few) isn’t all the context you need to decide where to allot your time and resources.

You literally have to consider the source.

Is the feedback coming from a high-value, ideal client? Is your existing survey solution capable of identifying those markers?

Did you know that it’s even possible to target specific customer segments with survey campaigns?

And for even more context – you can target customer surveys based on product milestones. For example, you can set a CES survey to deploy after new feature use to find out how easy (or difficult) new customers think it is to use.

“Feedback overwhelm – how to prioritize what users want/need the most.”

An overwhelming number of customer comments can leave you feeling like you are trying to drink from a fire hydrant. It’s time to talk about the wonders of machine learning.

Historically, extracting insights from piles of unstructured feedback has been difficult, expensive and time-consuming. That is not the case today. When you need insight from feedback at scale, it is time to invest in text and sentiment analysis using software with natural language processing.

Machine learning has come a loooong way. Yes, algorithms must be trained to understand your company and customers, so chose a software vendor that will keep their team in the loop and ensure you’re getting good insights right off the bat. Then the software just gets better and better at telling you what is most important to your customers.

“Having a regular cadence of customer interaction to develop insights and product intuition.”

Okay, there’s no excuse – this is so easily doable. You can set any CX survey you want to deploy on a regular basis, or, deploy after customers complete specific milestones. Having to go get customer feedback shouldn’t be something you have to think about. It should be automatic! Part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.

But, it’s only that easy if you’ve got software that makes it that easy – let’s be honest here. Modern customer feedback software can integrate with Slack, Intercom, or whatever you use, as well as deliver surveys to customers while they’re in your app, and deliver it to you tagged, sorted, and prioritized.

Regularly!

You can have your finger on the pulse of customer satisfaction and will know immediately if there’s any fluctuation. As an added bonus, give a pat on the back to whoever built an update or solution for customers so they can see the results in action!

“My main problem is to get to know our audience and talk directly to them.”

Surveys are great – we love them. But you know what? Even with a qualitative feedback field, a survey can’t take the place of a real, person-to-person conversation. And usually, the biggest barrier to having those conversations is making the time.

We can’t pick up the phone for you, but we can save you time. Enough time to schedule interviews with your customers and get even deeper insights that they may never tell you in writing.

“In Product we’re expected to be customer-centric. We’re supposed to get feedback and talk to customers all the time. It’s literally our day job. But that’s on top of making sure we’re focused on building the right things and helping our teams ship too.”

Here’s the thing, Product friends. You aren’t the only department that has to be “customer-centric” and talk to customers all the time and review steady streams of feedback. So to make this part of your job easier, you might have to reach out to other departments and make customer-centricity a multi-team effort.

If you have a Customer Success department, start there – you might find that the Customer Success Manager is the Product Manager’s BFF. They’re also talking to customers every day, and in many ways, they’re closer to the problems customers face than you are. Most CSMs would be delighted to build better relationships with their Product Dev departments, working together to answer the question “What can we do to help our customers achieve success?”

“It’s not easy and it isn’t getting easier. Customer feedback can come from anywhere: Customer support requests, live chats, social media, the sales team, customer reviews, competitor research, and more. Adding to the pile are the endless opinions about what to do with the feedback from people on our teams.”

It’s not easy – true. But it is getting easier to solve qualitative feedback issues with modern customer feedback software.

What you want to look for is a customer feedback program that can pull all of customer comment sources together, like NPS or CSAT feedback, user interviews, support tickets, app store reviews, social and analyze those comments in a way that lets you see the big picture and slice & dice by theme, sentiment, survey date, and data source.

Work with Nichole for your B2B SaaS Startup

Acquisition, B2B, Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Success, SaaS, Storytelling

B2B SaaS Marketing Strategies That Work: (Hint: The right words, the right people, & the right mindset)

B2B SaaS Marketing Strategies

Here’s what we know: Effective customer acquisition tactics for B2B SaaS marketing are based in understanding the customer, their jobs-to-be-done, and making your value proposition crystal clear.

That hasn’t changed.

What has changed:

Business audiences are getting harder to impress. There’s a glut in products, content, ads and emails that’s trained them to stop paying attention, unless they’re confronted with something truly unexpected.

Which means, B2B SaaS marketers like me, like you, need to find more creative ways to stand out, even when your product serves an important need.

I consulted some of the best B2B SaaS marketers in the biz, who’ve shared some of their best B2B SaaS acquisition strategies that are both timely and timeless.

These are strategies you can start implementing right now to acquire more customers.

Part 1: Finding the right words

Content and copy work hand-in-hand to lift up early-stage SaaS businesses; the first to bring target audiences in and win their trust, the second to hook them with a strong value proposition and buyer psychology. For some companies, their content strategy is their acquisition strategy.

Finding the right words, for me, is really about finding market-language fit: Identify your ideal customers, talk to them, create a value proposition based on those customer conversations, and use their exact words to inform the rest of your marketing. In fact, I’d say there’s no better ‘growth hack’ than just talking to your customers.

But what does talking to your customer really mean?

It’s not like you’re inviting them out for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (that would be cool though). 

Tea and Cookies with Pusheen

Tea and cookies?


When we say “talk to your customers,” we usually mean sending surveys that include long-form free-response fields, building quick in-app surveys to uncover moments of friction, and maybe (hopefully) getting some of your ideal customers on the phone or in person for more in-depth interviews. These are all valid ways of talking to your customers. But I’d like to see companies going several steps further and including genuine conversations with their customers. Getting to know your customers as human beings and building real relationships with them that power positive customer experience. 

In this section, we’re talking about how B2B SaaS companies use words – their words, and their customers’ words – to make marketing more effective at kickstarting those relationships.

These experts have not only found the right words, but use the right strategies to bring in people, convert them into customers, and retain them.

Storytelling

“I swear we’ve tried almost everything and, the only thing that always, always, always works – in any situation – is storytelling.

Other things work well (or not) depending on the buyer, situation and cost.

And by storytelling I mean telling our story… like this:

Our mission is…

We started Vervoe because we want to…

We do this by…

Now let’s talk about you…”

Omer Molad
Co-Founder & CEO
Vervoe
Omer
I swear we’ve tried almost everything and, the only thing that always, always, always works - in any situation - is storytelling. Other things work well (or not) depending on the buyer, situation and cost. Click To Tweet

“I find that the magic place of storytelling is where your company’s story intersects with your customer’s story. So, if you can define your story identifying your values, your passion, your history, and your greatest skills you can find where that intersects.

That particular pain you are trying to solve with your product is the same pain your customer feels. When they hear your story, they recall their own story. There is an immediate connection. It’s magic.”

Todd E. Jones
Helping tech entrepreneurs resurrect flatlined content
Copyflight
The magic place of storytelling is where your company's story intersects with your customer's story. Define your story identifying your values, your passion, your history, and your greatest skills. Click To Tweet

There is a place of magic in storytelling.

Brand

“Ostensibly, B2B buyers are purchasing software based on hard facts that words and numbers convey. But emotional connection plays an important role in how people make decisions–and B2B buyers are people. I have a background in B2C marketing, so I know first-hand the power of brand to elicit a positive emotional response such as trust.

So, one of the first things I did in the early days at Wootric was to establish a strong brand identity. Remember the old adage about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have? It can be tempting to choose a logo that reflects a fun startup culture. You are better off creating an identity that embodies where the company will be in three to five years. Our roadmap had Wootric quickly expanding from an NPS survey tool to a end-to-end customer experience management solution, and our brand identity needed to take us there.

Approaching brand this way gives you a competitive edge. You will enhance the credibility of the messaging and content you’ve worked so hard to create. When Wootric acquired one of its first marquee customers, the sales team shared this post-sale customer comment with me: ‘Wow, I thought Wootric was much bigger!’

That is the power of brand. “

Lisa Abbott
Head of Marketing
Bodly
Lisa
Ostensibly, B2B buyers are purchasing software based on hard facts that words and numbers convey. But emotional connection plays an important role in how people make decisions--and B2B buyers are people. Click To Tweet

“For almost five years now, I’ve been focusing on content marketing for cybersecurity and privacy companies. A big challenge is that the usual topics are stark and complex to the point of being overwhelming for the target audience.

It also doesn’t help that most content in the industry relies heavily on FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to make a point or persuade readers to become customers.

I’ve found storytelling to be the most effective way to build an emotional connection that can nudge readers to reconsider their online security habits.

Sharing experiences that people like themselves lived through changes their opinion from “this can’t happen to me” to “I wouldn’t want to walk a mile in their shoes.”

Focusing on storytelling in building content for information security companies is an essential way of turning the reader’s attention from someone else’s problem to their potential problem.”

Andra Zaharia
Host
Cyber Empathy Podcast
Focusing on storytelling in building content is an essential way of turning the reader's attention from someone else's problem to their potential problem. Click To Tweet

Content Mapping

“At Skuid, we start with a strong foundation and define our message map. This document can be used across all teams at Skuid to ensure that we are fully in sync with our message to the market.

For us marketing must be omni-channel – we call our approach a flywheel. Each facet of marketing—content, product marketing, demand gen, PR and communications—plays an integral role in the overall strategy.

 

Flywheel

The Flywheel effect is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.


Once the flywheel is built out, each facet propels the other forward, creating momentum in acquiring customers.

We create content to celebrate our customers’ successes and educate prospects and customer about our product through webinars, blogs, case studies, at in person events and virtually. We also use a combination of paid advertising (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn) and organic search to promote our content to our target audience.

At Skuid, we’ve seen success in taking a land and expand approach to sales and marketing. Once a customer uses our product and understands the versatility of the platform, they want find additional uses cases across their organization. This has been the case in some of our largest customers, including BHGE, Intuit, HPE, RedHat, and others.”

Karie Lepito
Marketing Consultant
We’ve seen success in taking a land and expand approach to sales and marketing. Once a customer uses our product and understands the versatility of the platform, they want find additional uses cases across their organization. Click To Tweet

The Inbound – Outbound One-Two Punch

“I’m with Text Request, a 4-year-old B2B SaaS startup in Chattanooga, TN. We hit $1M in revenue earlier this year, and have not taken any funding/investment. Here’s how we’ve acquired customers.

If you already know who your target customer is and how to take care of them once they’ve signed up, then all you have to do is find more of your targets. Right? But that’s easier said than done. We’ve split our approach between inbound and outbound (pretty evenly).

For inbound, we use a combination of SEO best practices for keywords related to business texting, a high quality blog, and Google Ads. The concept is to be the resource people are looking for.

They go to Google with a question. Our content, ads, and website answer that question well, so we show up at the top of search results. Once they make it to our website, we have various calls-to-action to get them to take a next step. (E.g. Let us show you how it works. Schedule a demo!) In fact, almost all of our enterprise-level customers found us via Google search.

For outbound, we take an ideal target (let’s say pest control companies). We Google search for those companies in a particular town, and then we send them an email. We’ll say “Here’s the problem other exterminators are having, and here’s how we fix it. Here’s a link to more info. Schedule a demo to see how it works.” It’s a numbers game, but that process works very well for us.

In my experience, it’s not difficult to find more customers if you know who your targets are and where they spend their time. You also don’t need fancy marketing tech. A CRM is good for keeping up with everyone, and a CMS is good for regularly updating your website, but you don’t need to spend thousands a month on software just to build an effective sales funnel.”

Kenneth Burke
VP of Marketing
Text Request
It's not difficult to find more customers if you know who your targets are and where they spend their time. A CRM is good for keeping up with everyone, and a CMS is good for regularly updating your website. Click To Tweet

Email Segmentation

“Email segmentation is one the best B2B SaaS marketing strategies. I can’t stress enough the importance of targeting the right people with the right message at the right time.

I helped one of my clients increase their sales from email by 10% with a solid segmentation strategy. So, experiment with segmenting subscribers by purchasing history, opt-in form submissions, contact with support team, and in-app behavior.”

Shayla Price
Founder
Primo Stats
Email segmentation is one the best B2B SaaS marketing strategies. Experiment with segmenting subscribers by purchasing history, opt-in form submissions, contact with support team, and in-app behavior. Click To Tweet

Segment!

Build Content for People, Not Users

“At a meta level, one thing that worked for us is to keep in mind that even though we’re a B2B startup, at the end of the day we’re in business to help people achieve their goals. That means looking at our customers as people and not as businesses or users. It’s a small shift in the way we think, but goes a long way in terms of how we approach our marketing.

An example of how we approach this – Since we’re (Zepel.io) an early-stage startup, we reach out to our users as soon as they create their first project (we’re project management tool) and walk them through how they can get maximum bang for their buck quickly.

We believe this is important for any B2B SaaS company, but it’s even more important if you’re in your early days.

Earlier this year, we decided to write about a topic that people who might buy our product have problems with. Something they constantly think and worry about. And we knew one thing every product manager worried about is feature prioritization. So, we wrote about it and it was well received – generating plenty of shares (nearly 500!), eyeballs, and more importantly, conversions.

Naturally, we were excited. People were moving from our blog post to our website and converting! What marketer wouldn’t?!

But we didn’t have a good enough process to reach out to our new users and understand more about them. And that left us in the dark when it came to understanding why someone didn’t take a key action on our product. Fortunately, we were quick enough to realize and act fast. Today, we reach out to new users and guide them through our product.

Sure, everyone does that with onboarding emails.

But when we took a step back and looked at users as people, we saw them similar to tourists in a new city who knew what places to go and see (our features), but didn’t know how to get there. The more we treated them as people by having genuine conversations, the more they trusted us.

This has not only helped us improve key areas within marketing and improve our engagement in the app, but also find areas we can improve within the product itself.”

Vikash Koushik
Sr. Product Marketing Manager
Microsoft
When we took a step back and looked at users as people, we saw them similar to tourists in a new city who knew what places to go and see (our features), but didn’t know how to get there. Click To Tweet

Resonate with experimentation, practice, and repetition

It’s really easy to get lost in the tactical aspects when you’re doing marketing. Writing copy, creating assets, using your creativity to come up with ideas, even being open to finding inspiration all around you.

While the tactical can be fun and fulfilling, what really matters is that your message resonates with your audience. This type of resonance doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes experimentation, practice and repetition to figure out what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t.

Experimentation is obvious. You have to be deliberate in your efforts and know what your goal is before you start. Even better is if you start with a hypothesis of what you think will happen with your experiment.

Practice is about knowing that you’ll fail and need to learn by doing. Post-mortems where you review what happened (even if things went well) are key to improving every time you practice marketing. Don’t forget the critical step of reviewing what you did, what happened, and any lessons you can take from each attempt.

Repetition is key because that’s how you’ll scale. Once you find something that works with your audience, you want to run more experiments by repeating what you did that worked and improving each time.

Finding what resonates will help you know when you hit the mark with your marketing efforts, and when you didn’t. Experimentation, practice and repetition will help you find what resonates most.

Marie Prokopets
Co-Founder
Nira
Marie Prokopets
Finding what resonates will help you know when you hit the mark with your marketing efforts, and when you didn't. Experimentation, practice and repetition will help you find what resonates most. Click To Tweet

Stealing Words from Your Customers’ Mouths

“Marketing will often struggle going from a blank page —not knowing what to say— to having so much to talk about that it’s impossible to find focus. Both problems can be solved by going to the source: your customers.

It’s your customers you’re trying to connect with. So why not spend quality time talking to them and understanding more about their businesses?

Whenever I work with a new client, I always start by doing research. That includes a handful of one-on-one calls with their best customers. After you’re done talking to them, you’ll notice important trends around how they speak, what words they use, how they refer to themselves, how they describe their pains, challenges and your product.

Once you discover the common threads and what your customers describe as their biggest pains and benefits, you’ll find focus. You’ll know exactly what needs to go on the page, and what to leave out.

Now you are ready to open a new text doc and write a quick outline of what the page should say. Then, start copy-pasting actual quotes from your interviews to fill in the gaps. Part of the creative work is editing the quotes to increase impact and adding your own flavor to it. But you’ll be amazed at how much gold you’ll find in these recordings. Use that to write headlines, tag lines, product descriptions and even testimonials. No more fear of the blank page.

Follow this process to get the most out of your customer interviews:

  1. Email your top customers and ask them to join you on a quick 20-min call
  2. Record your conversation with them —ask them questions and let them do the talking
  3. Transcribe the recordings using Temi.com or Rev.com (for human-made transcripts)
  4. Organize the feedback into usable buckets: pains, objections, fears, benefits
  5. Start over for continuous marketing research”
Federico Jorge
Founder
Stack Against
Once you discover the common threads and what your customers describe as their biggest pains and benefits, you’ll find focus. You’ll know exactly what needs to go on the blank page, and what to leave out. Click To Tweet
Pusheen on the Phone

Listen to your ideal customers and “steal” their words.

 

Part 2: Reaching Out to the Right People

Do Things That Don’t Scale

“When my co-founder, Elias Torres and I started Drift, there were over 5,000 other products in the marketing technology space. So we knew that the only way we stood a chance in such a crowded market was to do things that don’t scale.

People are always looking for the quick shortcut, the growth hack that is going to make you an immediate success. But building a business is all about building relationships. So from day one, we focused on that. We replied to every email, tweet and message. And it made all the difference because people knew that real people were out there listening.”

David Cancel
CEO
Drift
David Cancel
People are always looking for the quick shortcut, the growth hack that is going to make you an immediate success. But building a business is all about building relationships. Click To Tweet

If content marketing is inbound, and cold-calling and traditional advertising is outbound, what’s in between? Is that an odd question? It’s not one very many people ask. But when I think of my favorite way of reaching out to ideal customers and getting to know them in a meaningful way, neither of those more traditional avenues fill the bill.

My ‘hack’? It’s not a hack. It’s building a community around your product.

(Check out this 30-min. workshop on Forget The Funnel in which Nichole talks about building SaaS communities.)

Your ideal customers have so much in common – their challenges, their pain points, their goals. When you can bring people with so many of the same interests together, everyone benefits. And, when it’s in a more social setting, like Slack or Facebook groups, you learn a lot more about what your customers need, and what delights them.

For B2B especially, I think Slack communities are an incredible, untapped resource. Subscription-based businesses require strong customer relationships to prevent churn and increase customer lifetime value, and Slack is remarkably well-suited to creating exactly the kind of communities that sustain that high level of engagement.

Of course, nobody will join your community unless it’s A) useful, B) fun, and C) has a beneficial and enjoyable group of people. It’s your job to set the tone. Here are three steps you can take the lay the foundation of a community that gets you and your ideal clients together.

  • Define a ‘value proposition’ for your community. Why should people join? Don’t make it about you or your product – nobody wants to sign up for a sales channel. Maybe you’ll offer customer success how-to videos, guest experts, access to thought leaders, access to your own CEO, etc.
  • Ask what ‘experience’ you would like to build for your community. How do you want them to feel. What makes it enjoyable and rewarding for them?
  • Reach out to thought leaders in your industry and ask them to join your group and be active participants (either because they can benefit from sharing the same audience, or because you’re incentivizing them for their time – or both).
  • Make it clear to community members that, in addition to all the other benefits of joining the community, they can also get immediate, relevant help from the company as well as other users, and – this is where they can influence how the product evolves (making them feel heard and valued).

From a platform this strong, you can promote your content (within reason), get early feedback from highly-engaged customers to tailor product-market fit, collect qualitative data galore, and announce new features and opportunities to an enthusiastic audience.

That’s my preferred way to reach out to the right people. But there are so many other ways to build genuine, human-to-human relationships as a growth strategy.

Here are how these companies are doing it.

Strategic Partnerships

“One of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a start-up is that you don’t yet have a reputable name, or portfolio of impressive clients to show prospective customers. Word of mouth is incredible powerful in the B2B world and we knew we had to align ourselves with credible names quickly to get us off the ground. To do so, we asked ourselves a question: who is already selling to our perspective customers? Can we work with them to sell our solution? We formed partnerships with resellers and distributors who have many existing customer relationships in place already, so by working with them we were able to quickly access customers who were difficult to reach directly.

Alongside partners, we also focused on marketing and outbound sales strategies too. Digital marketing is vital for B2B success, and a tip for start-ups is to focus your SEO on your niche, rather than broad terms which will always be won over by big names. Even a couple of simple, focused pages will help you to be found by people looking for your solution.

And finally, sometimes you can’t beat some old fashioned prospecting. Whether it’s through calls, emails, letters, LinkedIn messages, make sure you use any and all means to proactively reach out to your customers! It may not be glamorous, but it works!”

Patsy Nearkhou
Marketing Manager
Talkative
We knew we had to align ourselves with credible names quickly to get us off the ground. To do so, we asked ourselves a question: who is already selling to our perspective customers? Can we work with them to sell our solution? Click To Tweet
6 reasons you should consider being a dog

Form partnerships to help sell your solution.

Customer Empathy

As a marketer, you need to see through your customer’s eyes. To live and breathe their stories as if they were your own. To know what they care about, what their problems are, what brings them joy and what frustrates them to no end.

This should be the fuel for your creativity. The soul behind each task you do.

Every word of copy you write, every asset you create and every marketing activity you do should be centered around an empathetic understanding of the customer.

How do you develop this deep understanding and resonance with your customers? You get your hands on as much research about them as you can – either from other parts of the company (Product, Customer Success) or by doing it yourself. User testing marketing pages and launch announcements. Doing competitive analysis to understand your customer better. Interviewing your customers. Whatever you can do to get closer to the customer will pay off tenfold.

The more you hone this skill, the better you’ll see your marketing initiatives perform. You’ll see better analytics on your marketing site. More views and shares of your blog posts. Better rankings in search results. Higher engagement.

The more you hold your customer in mind through empathetic marketing, the more you’ll accomplish. And the more fun you’ll have along the way.

Marie Prokopets
Co-Founder
Nira
Marie Prokopets

Customer Experience

Marketing is about people, first.

Everything you do in marketing starts with people. The people who see your ads, ones who visit your website, those on your email list, people who sign up for your product and of course the people who buy from you.

B2B marketing is about doing everything you can across your customer journey to attract, delight and retain people. The best way to accomplish that is to think deeply about these people’s experience and the part of the journey they are in.

You’ll discover the best message for them when you take every piece of marketing you are doing, step in people’s shoes and think about the copy, layout and imagery through their eyes.

Read the words out loud and think about how your audience will react to the message. This is one of the best ways to figure out the most compelling message you can use across the entire customer journey.

Hiten Shah
Co-Founder
Nira
Hiten Shah
B2B marketing is about doing everything you can across your customer journey to attract, delight and retain people. Click To Tweet

Expert Programs

“One of the first things I look at when I’m auditing a business is if they have an opportunity for an expert program. Experts are those ‘power-users’ who can help setup new customers on your platform. It’s a no-brainer in B2C SaaS and yet so few companies are doing it.

The fact is your new customers LOVE your product and want to get setup as quickly as possible. They want to make the most of their monthly investment. And they’re telling your customer support team about it.

The problem is that your team can’t do that kind of deep support and keep up with the growing number of customers. You want to do real customer SUCCESS… but how do you and your teams stay focused on your core competencies while scaling customer success without bursting at the seams?

When you have an expert program in place that scales easily, supports your CS team, and benefits your customers long term, that’s where the growth happens. Customer satisfaction goes up and tickets in your queue go down.

Leads are generated on a rolling basis and they easily become paying accounts. Monthly accounts turn into totally satisfied annual accounts and retention is increased.”

Val Geisler
Customer Advocacy
Klaviyo
When you have an expert program in place that scales easily, supports your CS team, and benefits your customers long term, that’s where the growth happens. Customer satisfaction goes up and tickets in your queue go down. Click To Tweet

Promoters

“One of my favorite B2B SaaS marketing strategies is one of the most straightforward, easily implemented and overlooked.

It’s super simple: Reach out to your happiest customers (promotors) and ask them to review your product on Capterra, G2crowd or the review sites where your best-fit customers are.

The most recent “real-world” example I’ve seen of this is Appcues (full disclosure, Appcues is a client of mine). Senior Product Marketing Manager, Ali Haris, set out to get 10 reviews last quarter. Just by asking their happiest customers, found that more than expected were happy to share their experience. With little effort they received 30 reviews with just a couple of hours spent per week.

It’s easy to overlook the amount of value these reviews will yield over time. Not only with they help potential customers discover Appcues, but they’ll help those who are already well into their evaluation of the tool, tip over the fence to buy. It’s one of those marketing strategies that has the potential to positively impact customers at every phase of your customer journey; Mobilizing your engaged and loyal customers to become one of the most effective drivers of growth.”

Georgiana Laudi
Co-Founder & CEO
Forget The Funnel
Reach out to your happiest customers (promotors) and ask them to review your product on Capterra, G2crowd or the review sites where your best-fit customers are. Click To Tweet

Success Stories

“As marketers, we can tell people about the potential benefits of a product or service all day long—or, we can actually show them the good we helped others build by leveraging our customers and their success stories.

Customers know what the value of our product/service is better than we do, because they are the ones putting it to work. At Hotjar, we like to run informal interviews with our customers to find out as many details as we can about how our tool fits in their everyday work schedule. And each time we invariably discover at least one interesting story that would make for enjoyable and useful reading—for example, we wrote an entire guide to market research after an in-depth conversation with one of our customers who shared their step-by-step process so other people can simply follow it.

Warning: you need to practice your empathy muscles and facilitate the conversation so it’s not self-serving, and then translate it into broader terms that can inspire and help others. Our mission should be to educate, be helpful, and make sure that people leave each piece of content with the inspiration and/or ability to do something they couldn’t before.”

Dr. Fio Dossetto
Editorial Lead
ActiveCampaign
As marketers, we can tell people about the potential benefits of a product or service all day long—or, we can actually show them the good we helped others build by leveraging our customers and their success stories. Click To Tweet

Success! Going up!

 

Building Genuine Relationships

“I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of the world’s top B2B marketers for Quuu’s podcast and they all say that the best marketing strategy is to build genuine relationships.

I’ve seen this work firsthand at Quuu. When Daniel Kempe and Matthew Spurr started Quuu, they knew that one of the most effective ways to get people using it was through word of mouth. So they gave influential figures in the marketing / tech industries free access to both Quuu and Quuu Promote, in exchange for supporting and mentioning Quuu when appropriate.

Not only did this ensure us a bank of high quality content, since these influencers submitted their blog posts to Quuu Promote for our Quuu users to share, but it also meant we were able to reach the right audience for our product. We’ve kept on nurturing these relationships and I would say it’s been essential to Quuu’s growth.

What’s really important is that this publicity doesn’t feel forced – our ‘Quuurators’ actually use our product and see the value of it, so it’s natural for them to mention us if, for example, they’re writing a roundup of content marketing tools for a big publication.

In B2B, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re still selling to humans – people with emotions, fears, doubts, etc. You need to build trust, and having people your customers admire recommending your product is a really effective way to do this.”

Lucia Fontaina-Powell

In B2B, you can't lose sight of the fact that you're still selling to humans - people with emotions, fears, doubts, etc. You need to build trust, and having customers recommending your product is a an effective way to do this. Click To Tweet

Integrations

“When doing your customer research, ask your customers what kinds of tools they use. What’s in their stack? What do they open everyday? What other tools do they live in?

The reason I always add this question during my customer research and development process is because integrations (along with partnerships and business development) are an incredible growth channel, and it’s one not many marketers think about.

It’s definitely a conversation for both marketing and product, but if there’s clear demand and fit for an integration between your product and another, you might find that growth improves across the entire funnel — from acquisition to activation to retention.

Plus, when building integrations or even exploring the possibility of an integration with another company, you can build and form relationships with their teams. This opens the door for co-marketing opportunities like guest blogging, featuring each other on your integrations and strategic partnership pages, hosting virtual events together, attending conferences together, and so much more.

If it fits your product’s model and makes sense for your market, I’d definitely consider it — especially if your prospects are a little harder to reach.”

AsiaOrangio
CEO & Co-Founder
DemandMaven
If there’s clear demand and fit for an integration between your product and another, you might find that growth improves across the entire funnel — from acquisition to activation to retention. Click To Tweet

Part 3: Growth Culture & Mindset

So much of successful B2B SaaS Marketing is the result of cultivating a culture of growth and a mindset that makes testing and optimizing integral to every process.

One roadblock to achieving a Growth Culture that I see far too often is when teams dig out their trenches and never cross over to see what the other side is doing. I’m not just talking about data silos, where information that should be shared is kept by a chosen few. I’m also talking about a sort of territorial unwillingness to collaborate freely. This is my turf, that’s your turf, stay on your side and don’t bother me!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Growth depends on a free flow of information, especially between Customer Success, Customer Service and Product Development. This is a lot harder to achieve than it sounds, because each of these departments usually has its own set of KPIs to meet. And, sometimes they conflict.

Consider the onboarding user flow.

From a Product perspective, there are milestone actions customers need to complete to finish the onboarding process.

From a Customer Success perspective, there are success milestones, like “time to first value” (when the customer sees real-world value from using the product) that are vital to retention.

From a Customer Service perspective, they’re on the line to bridge the (often unnecessary) success gaps, when the customer can’t figure out how to achieve success with the product.

When you bring these three groups of people together – the ones who build the product, the ones who ensure customers succeed with the product, and the ones who troubleshoot when the process breaks down – in one room, magic happens.

They can solve problems. They can build an onboarding flow that bridges success gaps, and gets the customer from point A to point Z.

Of course, I don’t mean that collaboration should only happen for user onboarding! Collaboration between teams should be a daily, ongoing part of the process. Everyone should have access to user stats (and know what they mean). Insights, not just ‘fix-it’ tickets, should flow from Customer Service to Product and Customer Success. And, all parties need to be aware of putting undue burden on the other teams (yes, product tends to get buried in requests – let’s lighten their load, okay?).

Team work shouldn’t just happen within teams, but between teams.

And with that, let’s look at how other companies are cultivating growth cultures.

Product-Led Growth Hacks

At MobileMonkey (an official Facebook Messenger Marketing platform) our most successful “marketing strategies” have all been “product-led”.

This means that marketing and product teams collaborated on building features that were not only cool for our users, but that also through some genius hack, would also result in opening a floodgate of new users.

For example early on we changed our pricing to include a “forever free” version of our chatbot, rather than only offering a free trial. 

This dramatically increased our user adoption because it let everyone have enough time to learn about the features and functions of the product and not be subjected to some arbitrary 7 or 30-day free trial period. 

Another thing we did was simply to re-package some of our software as a WordPress chatbot plug-in – the modest 2-month effort generated thousands of more sign ups!

At a high level, Product-Led Growth means your marketers need to think like product people and vice versa.

Larry Kim
CEO
MobileMonkey, Inc.
Larry Kim

Smarter Tracking + Clearer Focus = Better Growth

“Most businesses start marketing right away, only later to begin to setup their sales and marketing dashboards, sign up for tools like Mixpanel or Amplitude and start to narrow in on what to they could be tracking better.

The idea of wanting to make smarter business decisions based on data insights is the right approach. However, without first defining the metrics that matter most, how are you going to know if your marketing activities are actually contributing to growth vs have you constantly juggle marketing activities and spinning in place?

One of the best ways to implement a more focused, and strategic, marketing approach is to know what you want to track before kicking things off.

When working with clients we [Inturact] start with a simple framework called SaaS actionable metrics, or AARRRR metrics. They consist of:

  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Referral
  • Revenue

These actionable metrics help you to clearly define the most important metrics and better understand your customers, so you can market (and build) your product more effectively.

With this approach you will properly define the most important growth metrics BEFORE kicking off your next marketing campaign. Hone in on what matters most and start focusing your efforts on strategies that actually contribute to growth.”

Trevor Hatfield
Founder
Inturact
SaaS actionable metrics help you to clearly define the most important metrics and better understand your customers, so you can market (and build) your product more effectively. Click To Tweet

Build a Company Growth Culture

“SaaS business is all about the customer experience and directly depends on information. The faster you’re able to discover what does and doesn’t work, the faster you’ll grow your business.

At SEMrush, we test everything. Headline ideas, images, advertising targeting models, pricing algorithms and more. We want to figure out which of these ideas work for us and which don’t.

For example, say we want to determine which marketing efforts are really paying off for our SaaS company. So, we experiment to determine the variables that drive more customers, to understand what content is the most relevant or how to convert visitors into buyers. We know that the real magic happens while we’re learning from each test. Such data allows us to determine the baseline, our winning ideas, and losers.

Experimentation is our engine to move forward and accelerate growth.”

Elena Korotkova
Campaign Lead
SEMrush
Elena
SaaS business is all about the customer experience and directly depends on information. The faster you’re able to discover what does and doesn’t work, the faster you’ll grow your business. Click To Tweet

Make Experimentation Your Operating System

“I never want to lead with any specific tactics, because I think context is almost everything, and what works really well for one company is often not optimal for another (even in the same industry). In addition, we’re all at different stages of growth, so some tactics in the beginning stages may be impactful but costly in time, whereas with scale we can focus on shifting resource costs to money rather than time.

In any case, I don’t think you can go wrong if you make experimentation your operating system. If you start by asking questions rather than applying “best practices” or even well-thought-out theories, I think you’ll find the answers are more effective than the stock answers given by most blog posts and conference talks. Instead of closing ourselves off from potential ideas and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, we can design experiments to unlock innovative solutions, and we can use data to inform our tactical endeavors.

I think this is becoming a more approach with B2B marketers today, and it’s definitely popular in the B2C startup space. But we can move beyond A/B tests and treat almost everything we do as some sort of experiment, and then the learnings and results compound over time (plus, we don’t have to constantly rely on copying competitors, chasing stale tactics, or implementing best practices as a default). “

Alex Birkett
Co-Founder
Omniscient Digital
Make experimentation your operating system. Start by asking questions rather than applying best practices. The answers are more effective than the stock answers given by most blog posts and conference talks. Click To Tweet
Pusheen as Sherlock Holmes

Make experimentation your operating system.

 

Part 4: In the end, it’s all about knowing your customer

Several responses for this round-up were along the lines of “understand your customer really really well.” I did not include them here, because that’s not a strategy. Rather, it’s the foundation of every strategy. Everything I do begins with substantial customer research.

So I want to end with my own favorite strategy of creating accurate personas that can effectively form the backbone of every marketing strategy and tactic you employ, from your value prop to your content calendar, and everything in between.

An accurate buyer persona helps in a few ways:

  • It provides an easily identifiable reference that helps teams align and stay focused on what really matters to the target customer.
  • For individual content creators, having a ‘one reader’ (who represents all the readers) makes it simpler to choose which content to produce, how to write it, and how/where to distribute it.

How to make a persona for better content (and better decisions in general) using predictive personas

Here’s the thing: you can do your research, talk to your customers, find out their goals, dreams, ideal outcomes, current challenges, and which parts of their ‘jobs to be done’ make them want to pull out their hair.

And you can compile all of that research, slap a stock photo on top, and give it a name.

What you’ll have, really, is just a description of your current customers, which is still very useful for giving your entire company a solid understanding of your customer. But it’s not an actionable persona for marketing unless you can do this:

Can you use your customer description to find 10 people, 9 of whom will absolutely buy your product?

If you can, then you have a predictive persona you can use to align your teams AND use for product dev and marketing decisions. Including content marketing and distribution.

In her article on persona creation, Laura Klein, Principal at Users Know describes it perfectly:

If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer.

Predictive Personas

Use predictive personas.

If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer. Click To Tweet

How can you elevate your persona from a descriptor to a predictor?

Research, describe – then verify.

It’s the step most marketers miss: to go out and find people who you think fit your customer description and check your work.

Take the information you’ve already gathered about your customer and create a hypothetical persona. Then test it in real life. Here’s how:

  1. Consolidate your user research into a customer description that matches the majority of your *best* users/customers. (Who are your best customers? Look at your NPS scores, qualitative data, etc. They’re not necessarily the ones that have been around the longest but the ones who *love* your product and advocate it to their friends.)
  2. Make a shorter list of key characteristics to go for that include what problems your users most frequently (and urgently) need to solve. Think behaviors, needs and goals, not just demographics.
  3. Recruit 10 people who fit that description, who are not your users, to help you with your research.
  4. Try to get them to buy your product. For real. If it works, then you’ve proven that you have a clear understanding of your users’ needs, goals, wants and problems – and that is information you can act on. If it doesn’t, revise your hypothesis and try again.

Have we missed an acquisition strategy that’s succeeded for you?

I’d love to hear your best tips and real-world experiences! Tell me your story in the comments, especially if you’ve got a case study.


Work with Nichole for your B2B SaaS startup

B2B, Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Success, Growth Hacking, Product Management, SaaS

There is no better “growth hack” for B2B SaaS than talking with your customers.

B2B SaaS Growth Hacks

Not just when you’re developing or marketing a product, but through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

It sounds simple — but it’s not easy: talking with your customers through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

There’s been a lot said about the value of talking to your customers before you build the product to ensure market fit, but very little said about continuing the conversation past marketing and past the sale.

Why do I know talking with your customer is *the* very best predictor of, and contributor to, SaaS business growth? Because creating a constant flow of customer feedback, input, and conversation makes Customer Experience (CX) better.

Multiple studies show that CX leads to revenue growth.

CX Drives Sales

CX also drives brand advocacy (aka. word of mouth), creating a virtual sales army, which leads to:

Decreased cost-to-acquire.

“Customers with the best past experiences spend 140% more than those with the poorest past experiences.” — Harvard Business Review

Increased customer lifetime value.

“Customers with the best past experiences have a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year.” — Harvard Business Review

Plus, qualitative customer research leads to making data-informed decisions that streamline product management, ensure customer success, and make marketing and sales far more efficient.

In short, as Laura Klein, author, VP of product, and co-founder of Users Know says,

“User research saves time. Period. When you actually understand what your user needs before you build things, you have a much lower chance of having to go back and rebuild everything after shipping something that nobody uses.”

But what does “talking with your customer” really mean?

It’s not like you’re inviting them over for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (though that would be awesome, and you should do that and invite me).

When we say “talk to your customers,” or “listen to your customers,” I usually mean getting on the phone with them (or better, meeting up with them in person). But, it can also mean sending surveys that include long-form response fields, or building quicker in-app surveys into your roadmap to uncover moments of friction.

And, of course, if you’re earlier in your business, there’s the Lean approach of interviewing dozens of target customers in person and over the phone — groundwork that helps founders (and product developers and marketers) form better hypotheses around what will deliver the best product-market fit.

There’s also user testing.

These are all valid ways of listening to your customers. But I’d like to advocate for doing all of these things and going several steps further. I’m talking about combining all of the above and adding genuine conversations to the mix.

It’s just not input. It’s just not feedback. It’s getting to know your customers as human beings and building relationships with them that drive positive CX far more powerfully than any of these elements could do alone.

So much has been written about interviewing customers prior to developing products that I’d like to focus on how to keep communication lines open after the launch, after customer acquisition, starting with onboarding.

Track more than actions, during and after onboarding

Customer Success + Product Management

(This is a chart I created for: “Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones in Your User Flow”)

The first key to ensuring communication stays clear and open is to observe your customers. We communicate far more by our actions than we do verbally, and tracking the actions of your customers, especially (but not limited to) during onboarding can tell you the truths you need to hear.

Tracking customer behavior during onboarding and throughout product use allows you to see:

  • Time to first value (how long is it taking?)
  • Where customers run into trouble and need tech support
  • When customers typically need Customer Success help to reach their desired outcomes
  • Which customers reach their success milestones (the points in their user journeys where they see real progress towards their ideal outcomes)
  • And which customers don’t reach their success milestones

Yes, you want to track how well your customers accomplish the required tasks outlined in your User Flow, but usually, tracking stops there. If they press the right buttons at the right times, if they input the requested information, if they log in relatively regularly, it’s easy to assume customers are happily using your product.

But that’s not always the case. There may be ‘success gaps’ you can’t see that are causing churn. FYI: A ‘success gap’ is “the gap between what you think represents the customers’ successful use of your product and what they think equates to success,” according to Lincoln Murphy.

This is where aptly timed in-app surveys come in handy, which I’ll get to in the next section.

Tools that can help:

  • Appcues for onboarding
  • Intercom for targeted in-app messaging
  • Segment for easily managing your tools without dev

Check in with event trigger-based surveys

While you’re tracking user behaviors, successes and failures, you’ll also want to check in with your users in an unobtrusive way to get their feedback at specific points in their user journeys.

For example, if you identify a page or prompt during onboarding that tends to ‘lose’ people, have a trigger-based in-app AI chatbot pop up and offer to clarify, or transfer them to an agent. (This, incidentally, would have saved my relationship with more than one app! If you hit a ‘wall’ during onboarding, the odds of completing the process and becoming a successful customer are terrible — unless you get timely help).

You can set up event trigger-based surveys to deploy when users spend too much time on a page, ‘click away’ before completing the action, or when they’ve been ‘dormant’ (not logging in) for a while.

By giving customers opportunities to tell you they’re confused, are experiencing failure, aren’t getting the results they’d hoped for, or are suffering from a lack of time/motivation/technical skills etc., you will know who is really at risk of churning in time to save them, and really impress them with your customer service skills.

Finding friction with customer effort scores

Another place where checking in with your customer can really pay off is after the onboarding sequence is complete. It’s a perfect time to ask “How difficult was this?” (aka. A Customer Effort Score survey). The easier a process is, the less friction people experience, and the more likely they will be to complete your desired actions and reach their desired outcomes.

Then, after your new user has had a chance to put your product to work, you should send out a Net Promoter Score survey (NPS) to find out how they *really* feel about your product. Do they like it enough to recommend it to a friend or colleague? That’s an excellent indicator of how well they’re succeeding. And be sure to send an NPS follow-up question to understand the why behind the score.

Tools that can help:

Wootric: For these types of in-app surveys, I recommend Wootric. Their dashboard makes it very easy to understand what you’re seeing, and they do great work with extrapolating insights from qualitative data questions too.

Wootric

The Game Changer: Have real conversations in your community

Tracking what customers do and asking them what they think at strategic points is a very good start; the trouble is, that’s where most B2B SaaS companies begin and end. But B2B SaaS businesses are subscription-based. They’re in this for the long-haul. They depend on customers sticking around (customer lifetime value! retention!).

And that means you also have to build relationships with your customers.

This is why I so strongly advocate that B2B SaaS companies build social communities around their products. It’s an opportunity to relate to your customers as people.

The bonuses are many. B2B SaaS product communities give you:

  • An on-tap resource of customers who are delighted to answer your questions and give you real-time feedback on everything you do
  • A straight line to your most engaged customers
  • A real-time capability of helping customers in trouble and creating delightful experiences for them, on a public forum, with everyone else watching (warm fuzzies all around!)
  • An opportunity to cultivate a culture around your brand and a genuine community
  • And… it’s possible — ZERO churn!

The most important thing to remember about building a community is that it’s not a one-sided arrangement. This isn’t a place for you to ‘shout into the void’, post blog posts nobody reads, try to ‘sell’ or advertise. It’s a place where you and your customers can come together around your common interests. Human to human.

Tools that can help:

  • Facebook
  • Slack
  • Your social community of choice!

Bring it all together now!

When you are tracking user behavior in your product, identifying predictive patterns of behaviors/successes/failures, locating trouble-spots and offering timely help, checking in with surveys to ask your customers what they think — in their own words and with numerical ratings, AND forging human-to-human relationships in the casual setting of social media groups, you’ll see a few things happen…

Customer Happiness

  • Your referrals will skyrocket as more customers achieve success
  • Your retention rates will go through the roof
  • Your acquisition and product development spend with become more efficient (as you target the right prospects, and use customer feedback to guide your iterations)
  • And you will grow — fast

Are you ready for that?

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for B2B SaaS startups 💗

B2B, Customer Experience, Emotion, Guest Posts, Human-to-Human (H2H), SaaS, Storytelling

Differentiate by how you make people feel, not on features

B2B SaaS: Differentiate by how you make people feel, not on features

Guest post by Omer Molad, Vervoe CEO and Co-Founder

Differentiation is at the core of any business strategy, because the ultimate marketing question is: Why buy this solution? Your answer literally defines you. But it’s not so easy in a crowded marketplace to clearly state what makes you different – and state it in an impactful way that inspires your users.

That’s a tall order.

I often get asked how we differentiate ourselves at Vervoe. The problem with that question is that the person asking the question usually assumes we’re trying to differentiate ourselves from other software solutions.

Sure, sometimes we are.

But most of the time we’re competing against the status quo because we’re creating a new way of connecting businesses and job applicants. By definition, we’re competing against the old way of doing things, the way it has always been done.

That sounds much easier than it actually is, because the act of differentiation is comparison. You’re comparing your business with other existing businesses.

We didn’t have that. No other existing business in history has taken our approach to hiring.

What makes us different? Everything.

Which is very difficult to explain to people.

Our challenge was to learn how to win people over without comparing ourselves to something familiar. Instead of saying “our thing is better than some other thing,” we needed a way to say “our thing is perfect for you.”

As we went on that journey, we made a lot of mistakes. But eventually we stumbled onto some things that work for us nearly every time.

What we found, fortunately, also works when we’re competing against other software solutions. It just works, period.

Tell your story

Usually, the most effective way of selling, especially in a B2B market, is to focus on the problem and how you solve it. And we absolutely do that. However, what we learned is that people also care why we decided to solve this particular problem. And it turns out that they care about that quite a lot.

Initially I was surprised by how many people, particularly buyers, asked why we started Vervoe.

And then it hit me.

We’re doing something new and they’re looking for a reason to trust us.

At a very fundamental level, people trust people. Once people heard that we decided to solve their particular problem for the right reason, they bought in.

So I started telling our backstory more and more, in articles, in interviews, on podcasts. How I went from a guy with a great résumé in Tel Aviv – top school and grades, military service, experience at the hottest startup – to the guy with a weird name and no degree that couldn’t even get an interview in Melbourne. How frustrated that made me feel, being disqualified from jobs I knew I could do, just because people weren’t prepared to look beyond my background on paper.

Time and again I saw how much this resonated with people from companies of all sizes. Because so many people have a story like mine. But also because of something else. People like the fact that we started our company for a reason they consider to be worthy.

Supporting us makes them feel good.

So we learned a very important lesson. Authenticity scales across all company sizes. Whether it’s SMB or enterprise, people connect with an authentic story. And, if they connect with us because of how we make them feel, our bond is inherently stronger.  

Understand user experience from a new perspective

Our origin story gets people’s attention, but that just solves the first challenge – attracting customers. Once they become users, we have a different challenge: Creating the first-class user experience people have come to expect.

The user experience includes the entire experience inside and outside of the product. We believe that every interaction with the brand must bring clients one step closer to achieving their goals.

And here’s a paradigm shift we realized: An elite user experience isn’t about functionality. It starts with the mindset of the user.

For example, at Vervoe we help companies see how well job candidates can do the job they applied for. To achieve this, we need candidates to complete tasks. What we learned through an enormous amount of research and analysis is that the single biggest factor impacting completion rates is the candidate’s mindset.

If candidates feel like they are presented with an opportunity to showcase their talent and put their best foot forward, they’ll make an effort. This also depends on how much they want the job. Conversely, if candidates feel like they’re being asked to jump through arbitrary additional hoops, they are much less likely to invest in the process, especially if they have other options.

Once again, we focus on how we make users feel above all else.

Great service is always an unfair advantage

We’re a software company and we’re always trying to make our product more intuitive to use. This helps us scale. And, while it doesn’t make much commercial sense, we also relish the opportunity to speak to our customers. When we speak with our customers, not only do we learn, but we also have an opportunity to leave them with a positive feeling.

The thing about customer service is that everyone knows how important it is, yet very few companies do it really well. So any company that can consistently deliver exceptional customer service has an unfair advantage over its competitors.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling vacuum cleaners, air travel or software. People remember great service. And they remember it because of how it made them feel.

So while we’re always aiming to offer low-touch experience, we’re also secretly hoping we get an opportunity to provide service. Put differently, we relish each opportunity that comes along.

Treat your customers like humans – simple, right? Not quite

In software, we like to talk about users, buyers and ideal customer profiles. The reality is that we’re dealing with humans. And at a very basic level, they’re just like us. They get confused if it’s not clear enough, frustrated if it’s not simple enough and really mad if it’s unfair. But if we help them do what they’re trying to do, and we make an effort, odds are they’ll respond.

People don’t sit at a café and talk about some feature they used. They talk about the service they received, the story they heard and the experience they had.

When you can differentiate by how you make people feel, you’re winning.

💗 Check out Nichole’s services for B2B SaaS startups 💗

Customer Experience

The surprising impact onboarding has on employee retention

employee onboarding

When does your relationship with a new employee begin? Much like relationships with customers, they begin long before you’re aware – from the first time the employee encounters your brand. From there, it’s a bit like a sales funnel as awareness increases, the prospective employee weighs their options, does some research, and finally decides to apply. The employee goes through the application and interview process, and – hurray! – they’re a great fit. They have a lot to offer you, you have a lot to offer them, they’re so excited to start their first day.

Fast-forward one year – that great-fit employee who was so excited to begin is gone.

What happened?

The issues that lead to employee turnover may have their source in your onboarding – those first few, very important weeks of a new hire’s job. It’s why new hires are at a higher risk of leaving within their first year.

When you get onboarding right, retention rates rise, turnover falls, and you’ll see the ripple effects of higher engagement and productivity. Onboarding is an investment that pays off again and again over the course of the employee lifecycle.

“The seeds of animosity or advocacy are sown from and individual’s very first interaction with a company. The attraction, recruitment, hiring and onboarding stages – along with daily experiences that continue after onboarding – each affect how a candidate or employee feels about an organization and its promises… Gallup data reveal that companies are faltering even in the earliest stages of the employee experience.” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

Why Few Companies Get Onboarding Right

Too often, companies confuse onboarding with induction – the paperwork and mandatory tasks required to start a new job. Onboarding is much more than that. It’s your opportunity to set your employee up for success with their work, and engage with your company’s mission – the big WHY behind what you do.

“12% of employees strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

This is one of the missing pieces in most onboarding practices – sharing your ‘why’ and showing your values as a company. How do you help people? What impact do you have on your customers’ lives?

Aligning employees behind a shared sense of purpose has been proven to raise engagement levels — and with them, retention rates.

Sharing your purpose and values with your new hire will lay the foundations for engagement, but that’s not all they need to be successful. To understand that, you have to understand why new hires leave.

Why New Hires Leave

New hires are at the highest risk of leaving within the first year and a half, with the highest turnover happening within the first 45 days. What happens during that short period of time to send them running out the door?

“22% of staff turnover occurs in the first forty-five days of employment.” – The Wynhurst Group

“46% of rookies wash out in their first 18 months” – Leadership IQ, in a study of 20,000 new hired employees over 3 years

In one survey, 26% of departing employees cited mismatched expectations between their interviews and their actual work as the primary reason for leaving – and that’s an onboarding issue.

Onboarding is a time to make sure managers and new hires establish a shared set of expectations – hopefully the same set of expectations that were set up during the recruitment and interview process. At minimum, that means:

  • A job description that accurately and comprehensively describes the position.
  • A statement of how the individual position contributes to the broader purpose of the business (ie. how it impacts customers, why it’s important)
  • A discussion of the new hire’s goals, and what support they can expect from management

But there’s also a crucial, and less tangible, factor during onboarding – does the company culture match the expectations set during recruitment? If the onboarding experience falls flat, it can undermine the new relationship and cast doubt as to whether the new starter made the right decision.

“When employees don’t have the experience they were promised, they will likely make their unhappiness known – in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. They may start looking for new job opportunities, or they may become actively disengaged employees, meaning they develop such a distaste for their organization that they take deliberate steps to undermine its progress.”- Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

Get Onboarding Right & Raise Retention Rates Substantially

When you lay the foundations for engagement, success and aligned expectations, employees have what they need to do well in their work and feel part of something bigger. And that is a recipe for retention.

“Employees who have a positive onboarding experience are 69% more likely to remain at the company for up to three years.” – SHRM, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success

But those aren’t the only ingredients required. A positive onboarding experience gives employees a strong start, but you also need to follow through on those first impressions. Employees need to feel supported by management, able to connect their work to the company’s larger purpose, and feel like the company lives its values. It’s a relationship that requires care and feeding, like any other.  

“Employees are consumers of the workplace. They are drawn to brands they can connect with. And they stick with – even advocate for – brands that honor their promises.”- Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

In other words, a great onboarding experience only works to increase retention when companies follow through and live up to the hopes of their new hires.

How to get started:

employee onboarding

Download Enboarder’s white paper The Avoidable Problems That Cause Your Best People to Leave to unmask the primary culprit behind your turnover problem.

Microsoft, Google and Eventbrite reveal how they balance technology and the human element to keep their best people.

Customer Experience, Product Management, Products, Retention, Startups

Achieving product-market fit should be job #1. By @SueDuris

This is a guest post by Sue Duris, Director of Marketing and CX at M4 Communications.

Every startup wants to succeed. Startups want it bad. They know nine out of 10 startups fail. They want to be that one that succeeds!

They spend all their time first making that great product. And trying to make it better.  They add to it. A new bell here. A new whistle there.

And when they think they have the next big thing that’s going to disrupt the market, they go hunting for capital, trying to get any venture capitalist and angel investor they can to fund them.

“Capital first” is the battle cry so built into the startup community that whichever startup event people attend, the conversation seems to always be about raising money.  

Yet, when a founder does get an investor meeting, typically investors want evidence to support founder claims. They want to see metrics such as monthly and annual recurring revenue, active users, renewal rates, customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value, and the like.

They also want to know about the market and the customer, in addition to your product. Is the market big enough? Who is your customer? What value do they get from your product? What kind of traction do you have in the marketplace?

Do you know this info?

While startups make their primary focus about raising capital, they place their secondary focus, if at all, on the customer.

Many times I hear startups tell me “I’ll focus on user and customer research after I get funding”.

Too many startup founders feel that getting funding is the magic pill that will solve all of their problems and put them on some fast-track to success.

But, don’t investors want to know about your customer strategy – i.e. how you make money – before they give you money?

Raising capital is very important. But to focus on it first is the wrong approach.

The first thing a startup should do is achieve product-market fit.

It is everything.

It typically determines whether you succeed or fail. It’s what sustains a startup and enables it to grow.

Make something people want.

It seems basic.

Creating a product that doesn’t fit what the market wants is silly. Yet, many do exactly this.

And if a startup doesn’t achieve product-market fit, chances are it will fail.

According to CB Insights, who has been compiling failed startup post-mortems, the #1 reason startups fail is because they don’t achieve product-market fit. This is cited by 42% of CEO’s of failed startups.

According to CB Insights, the #1 reason startups fail is because they don’t achieve product-market fit. Click To Tweet

Product-market fit is hard work and it takes time. There is no doubt about that. Yet, it’s too much work for some founders. They want the glory but not going through all the blood, sweat, and tears to do the work.

This is where things become paradoxical.

These are the same startups that worry about churn.

“We have to eliminate churn,” they say.

But to ultimately reduce churn means you have to first retain your customers, build loyalty and drive customer lifetime value.

So what is product-market fit and why does it matter?

According to Marc Andreessen, product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

He goes on to say product-market fit is the only thing that matters.

When it’s not there you can tell because customers don’t get your value, no one is talking about you, usage isn’t growing, conversions are slow or not at all, etc.

But when it’s there, revenue, usage, and growth are fast.

People crave your product.

People are talking about you, especially your customers.

When your customers advocate and sell for you, you have achieved it, something I call “customer nirvana”.

It’s not a destination. It’s not a journey. It’s a mindset.

When your customers advocate and sell for you, you have achieved customer nirvana. And it’s not a destination. It’s not a journey. It’s a mindset. Click To Tweet

You have to keep on working towards it. You have to give your customer that experience. The experience is the product. And it all starts with product-market fit. And making everything about the customer.

To get to product-market fit, ask yourself:

  • What is the unmet/under met need my company or product is attempting to fulfill?
  • How do I meet that need?
  • What value do I deliver to my customer that enables them to achieve their business outcomes? What is my customer’s WOW or aha moment?

That moment is what gets you to the value. But it isn’t only the value, it’s how quickly you can get to that value. Time-To-Value is key.

You have to know your why – why do they buy from you?

You have to know the what – what is resonating for them that is compelling them to buy from you?

Then you must know the actions and behaviors they have with you that’s helping them be successful.

Knowing your why, and how customers use your product is what will sustain you.

This is THE WORK.

And, you’ve got to do the work if you want to drive revenue, growth and customer lifetime value.

This work will get you to a minimum viable product, which you can use to gain traction, which you can use to get noticed by investors, which will help you get funded.

Having the insights from product-market fit is what drives and sustains growth.

Can product-market fit be measured?

It’s questionable. But there are certain trends you can look for in the product-market fit path.

Retention is the social proof to product-market fit. Other metrics to be watching for product-market fit include NPS, Customer Effort Score (CES), increased sales (upsells, cross-sells, and greater share of wallet). Win-Loss can also hold insights to how healthy product-market fit is.  

I scratch my head when companies don’t focus on retention. They should double-down on it. Yet, for many, it’s an after-thought.

In its 2018 NPS & CX Benchmarks Report, CustomerGauge still finds retention is an issue.

44% of respondents don’t know their customer retention rates, that’s one in three companies don’t know this vital info!

This aligns fairly well to my research that 2/3 of marketing budgets focus on acquisition activities and 1/3 is focused on retention.

This is another head-scratcher.

Companies place more resources on acquisition and feel it is more valuable than retention. Forget about data points from Bain – it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one – or Gartner – 80% of your future profits come from only 20% of your existing customers.

According to Bain, it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one. And according to Gartner, 80% of your future profits come from only 20% of your existing customers. Click To Tweet

There are numerous reasons for the push on acquisition.

This is the culture of the organization and how it measures success. Marketing doesn’t view itself as responsible for retention (to this I find fascinating, considering many marketing departments feel they own customer experience). Retention gets passed around so many times that ultimately no one ends up owning it. Investing and analyst communities place high value on acquisition and so CEO’s follow suit to be in lock step. Leaders have number-envy.

Ultimately, retention must be a mindset that is engrained in the culture.

It also troubles me when I hear people say product-market fit is elusive.

Why? How?

You want to determine product-market fit?

Get out there and research. Find people. Ask people. Take the data they give you and identify insights to help you craft your business model. Do the work.

Raising capital is vital. But it should not be the first plan of attack. Startups must make product-market fit job #1. All roads to startup success begin there.

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Customer Experience

5 Ways to Break Down the Data Silos that Hurt Customer Experience

Do you have a data silo problem?

  • Do customers complain of having to explain everything about their business to sales, and then to customer success, and then again to customer support?
  • Is customer support hearing about the same issues, over and over again, that aren’t being addressed by product?

Those are just two of the most frequent symptoms of data silos. Here are some more, reported to us by our friends at Segment.

  • Inability to answer complex questions about your customer journey.
  • Inability to quantify the impact of a given campaign against down-funnel, often offline conversations (like Salesforce lead status updates).
  • Inability to affect targeting criteria in a given channel based on interactions that occurred in another (ie. you’re spamming users across channels when they’ve already converted or signaled their preferences in another.

What do all of these silo symptoms have in common? They all damage customer experience, and they all result from data not being shared between teams and departments.

Read More on Wootric
💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Acquisition, Customer Experience, Emotion, Human-to-Human (H2H), Product Management, Products, Retention, SaaS

9 Empathy Exercises that Help Product Teams Improve CX

9 Empathy Exercises for Product Managers

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. For Product Managers looking to improve customer experience (CX), that definition translates to doing more than understanding the user’s pain points, but also looking at the emotional landscape of what it’s like to use the product – when it is working, and when it isn’t working.

Empathetic Product Managers ask themselves:

    • How does using the product make the customer feel?
    • How does the customer want to feel when using your product? What would be the best possible emotional outcome for them?
    • How do I ensure the product developers understand and take the customers’ needs into consideration in their process?

The answers to those questions affect every facet of business, from acquisition to retention. It’s how, through CX, you can generate rapid growth through word-of-mouth recommendations, and sustain your success with customers who never want to leave.

Read More on Wootric
💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Bots, Customer Experience, Human-to-Human (H2H), SaaS

How SaaS startups can build human-centric relationships faster and at scale, supported by automation

Isn’t automation the antithesis of person-to-person contact? It certainly has been. We’ve all been caught in the labyrinthine automated phone support systems that never give you the answers you need. Automation has, for too long, acted as a gatekeeper to human contact. Almost like it’s there to weed out the faint of heart, or weak of purpose.

(That’s called segmentation, and we’ll get to it later).

But there’s an idea forming that elevates automation from gatekeeper to facilitator. Instead of barring the way, automation should be helping you on your journey and connecting you with the people and solutions you need.

And that’s where human-centered-relationships come in.

What does ‘human-centered relationships’ mean? Relationships that are personal, friendly, generous and meaningful. Relationships that aren’t just about what you can get from the other person, or how much you can sell. But about how much value you can provide, how much empathy you can offer, and how delightful an experience you can create.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. One of those ‘nice ideas’ that’s impractical to implement (and your CFO would laugh you out of the room if you tried).

But, call it karma, or call it a sustainable business practice – it’s been proven that companies that take care of their customers do better in the long run than companies that prize profit over people.

Automation, and specifically chatbots, can be part of that picture. In fact, for growing businesses that want to make a big impact, automation should become an integral part of making customers experiences feel personal and delightful at scale.

Read More on Freshchat
💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗