Think about the last time you wanted to make a major purchase.
Did you pull an Amy Poehler and unleash a barrage of questions on the hapless salesperson regarding features, functionality, and financing? Were they helpful and knowledgeable? Or did they leave you wishing you could just slink over to one of their computers and look up the information yourself?
Lean In On the Experts
Too often, it’s the latter. According to Nat Friedman, cofounder and CEO of Xamarin, those who rely on a traditional sales staff do so at their own peril, especially when dealing with developing software and mobile apps.
Working with a potential new customer is when a company stands to gain (or lose) the most. "Within the first two minutes a technical question will come up," Friedman tells Fast Company. And if the sales person can’t answer immediately, or worse, offers to set up a meeting with an engineer, precious momentum is lost and the deal may not be made. "Engineers do NOT like to schedule meetings," Friedman underscores.
So Friedman and company took a different approach. Xamarin eschewed a sales staff altogether. Instead, they took a chance hiring one of their former customers, an engineer who was both well versed in the technology and liked the product, and wound him up and watched him take customer relations to a whole new level. Two years after the company started, Xamarin continues to rely on a team of 10 engineers (also former customers) dubbed the "customer success team."
Xamarin’s numbers speak for the success of this strategy for its high-volume business. Fielding approximately 1,100 developers a day through their trial program, Friedman says that Xamarin’s amassed about 17,000 customers since they launched two years ago. All without a single cold call, or as Friedman posits, without a single minute wasted scouring LinkedIn "for people who look like they could be our customer." What customers do get is a high-touch experience that starts when they sign on for a trial, and continues via email or phone with a "real person," like the engineer who can drill down into each line of code and create an authentic connection with the customer.
Xamarin’s not alone in bucking the sales system. Even though Phil Fernandez, founder of Marketo’s marketing automation (which Friedman admits Xamarin does use), told Fast Company the cold call was still king, businesses are beginning to understand that creating a constant revenue stream doesn’t have to cost 20 or 30 percent or more of the total take. And it can be done more efficiently than having a menacing sales director goading staff to close more deals.
Eat Your Own Dog Food
"When we started 11 years ago, it was not a deliberate choice," Table XI’s COO Mark Rickmeier tells Fast Company. Much the way Don Draper and the boozy gang use their clients’ products copiously (think: the haze of Lucky Strike, a Roman holiday at a Hilton, and a closet stuffed with shiny new Leicas) Rickmeier contends that "eating your own dog food" has done more than helped the team understand the unique problems of the businesses they aim to assist. They also discovered the best way to build relationships with customers is to become their customer as well.
Rickmeier experienced this firsthand when he came on board as an exhausted new father and was tasked with improving the UX on the Neighborhood Parenting Network. A dedicated user of the forum, Rickmeier quickly saw the need to optimize the network for mobile, so any parent could scan the info from their phone, no matter how bleary-eyed they were.
As the company grew, the tactic became part of its culture. When Table XI signed Spice House, Table XI's chef frequently used the advice and the products of the Spice House to enhance the company kitchen's menu. "In our collaboration with them, we developed the idea for a recipe portal," explains Rickmeier, "Exactly the way we wanted to shop for new ideas for our office menu. As a result, Spice House’s online sales grew from $250,000 to $1.3 million and online orders have grown 54%. As for Table XI, revenue has gone from $800,00 to over $5 million in the last five years. Says Rickmeier: "It's wonderful that we can eat our own advice, quite literally." Though their ranks have swelled from four people to 33, no exasperated corporate honcho is required when revenue is generated through referrals.
Rely on the Crowd
Alon Alroy, cofounder and CMO of mobile networking platform Bizzabo, is a firm believer that "the oldest truth in marketing is that if you deliver a quality product, then word of mouth will play a large role in your growth and sales. "For us, it’s word of mouth through social media channels that drives incredible awareness around the world," he says.
As a platform that delivers up-to-date event information and networking opportunities at conferences, Bizzabo is heavily integrated with LinkedIn and Twitter, says Alroy. Therefore, every attendee, organizer, and sponsor becomes its best promoter.
"We built the product in a way that encourages event goers to share their plans to attend events," Alroy explains. "Each share is helping event organizers, while at the same time increasing visibility, exposure, and new sales leads for Bizzabo."
That’s not to say that it’s been a piece of cake to corner the market. Yet Alroy points out that as the official app of more than 2,000 events in the past year, Bizzabo’s gained steam within the technology and media industries—where the early adopters and tastemakers tend to be.
"Event check-ins and joins through Bizzabo have generated more than 10 million social media impressions," Alroy says, "exposing our brand to new audiences every day."
[Image: Flickr user Amy Robertson]