The road to try converting our early users into super loyal customers, and brand ambassadors
Since the day marketeers came to realise the power specific individuals had over thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions of users, influencer marketing has been all the rage. There used to be a time when that would mean getting a celebrity to talk about, flaunt, or openly endorse your product. But with the ascent and penetration of social media (and in this regard, a special shout-out to Instagram), the whole notion of Influencer marketing just exploded. Brands wanted to get anyone with a half decent follower base to endorse their products, and they were willing to pay for it. The more the trend caught on, more different ways emerged out of it. Enter product placements as well as sponsored content created by Youtube channels, facebook page and group admins etc. One of the startups I advise and mentor recently paid a few facebook group admins more than just a few bucks to share some content tailored to their brand’s positioning. But should we really Just Do it! or do we want to take a pause, understand what is it that we are really going for, and then decide what is the best way to do it?
I, like most of us out there, listen to my friends:
- There are friends who are really passionate about specific areas. If I want some question answered from those domains, I know who to turn to. Where could I go for a quick weekend getaway? I know just the guy to ask. Which is the best place to get the perfect lasagna? I know someone who lives and breathes food (and yet stays skinny — not sure how). Which computer or mobile device you should go for? Well, I’m pretty much set there.
- There are questions I have about which SaaS product I should choose for a specific usecase in my business. I will just shoot a quick Facebook update and friends who are/have been running their business will quickly tell me which products they have been using, if they are happy with that product, and why or why not they are happy.
That. That right there is the right kind of influencer marketing.
I would trust personal experiences of people I know of much more as compared to even the most detailed comparative analysis I can find on a SaaS products reviewing website.
Why? Because I can ask my friends questions, and they would answer them based on their own personal experiences. Because I can relate to the day-to-day problems they face in their business, and hence their recommendations drive a little bit closer to the home. I don’t care if Robert de Niro thinks I should be using Company X’s cloud computing solutions. If my friends have used AWS and Azure, and they pick one, that’s where my credit card is going to get swiped.
And that, that is precisely what I think all marketeers should have their eyes set on. And you don’t even need to wait to launch a product to start chasing this goal, you can do this much sooner than that.
That is precisely what we are doing these days, so it felt like a good topic to talk about.
If you are going to talk about a great way to launch a product, there are many ideas that come to mind. Google is at the forefront, if you remember the way they launched Gmail back in 2004. A counter that showed your ever increasing free email storage, and an email client that was accessible only by users who either directly received an invite from Google or by the early users who used to get small packeted bunch of invites to bring their friends onto the platform.
Users did not even need to invite their friends, per say. I used to have countless Gmail access requests before I would even receive the next set of invites my account was eligible for.
And if you think this happened because Google is Google, you would be right; but not entirely. Since then, it has been used by countless businesses, and wherever the product has been able to hold its own, the strategy has always worked out great for the business. Oneplus used the same strategy to build up an amazing community of potential customers, and it worked amazingly well for them. Hotjar had close to 20,000 users sign up for their product by just a landing page and no product, and 7,000 active users using the product’s first release before it was officially launched.
HOW WE DID IT?
We did something similar for the business we are working on currently. But before I start talking about that, let me ask you something:
When you are building a product, how many consumers are you hoping to get?
10? 20? 50? 100? 100,000? A million???
I was looking for ONE. One customer, that’s it. That would mark the beginning of something beautiful, and from there we move forward.
The typical conversion rate for most of the businesses out there ranges from something between 2–4%, so initially I was planning to send out 50 emails to people who I thought would be interested in what we were building. Then, sanity kicked in, and I decided to send it in 5 different batches, with the least probable to sign up as the first batch and so on. By the time I had sent the 10th email, we had the first sign up.
I didn’t send the emails to the second batch! I had my ONE customer.
WHAT HAPPENED FROM THERE?
Well, we had a fair idea on the direction of what we were planning to do, and why we wanted to do it that way. A rough outline of that was already laid out in the emails we had sent out, so we had a good starting point. And that’s how the conversation started.
A quick note:
This process has started just a few weeks back, so I would be describing more or less things that are happening in real time. Hope that helps.
#1. Weekly updates
I wanted to treat our customers the same way we would have treated a VC. Show them that we are accountable, show them the progress, be honest about the goof ups. They are, at the end of the day, the most promising investors a business can find.
Now, typically I would have wanted to share as much as possible about the headway we are making in getting the product ready for them, but newsflash — I started this whole process as soon as we had zeroed down on what we were planning to do. I did not want to make something I think people would want and then validate my hypotheses at a later stage. I wanted to figure out the product model based on my interactions with the consumers. We had the broader strokes in place; how we would paint inside those outlines would be decided by our customers’ feedback and interactions.
So, early days — little to report. Come to rescue — the art of conversations. The same way I would be detailing out to a friend the whole concept, the reasons behind the concept and the value it adds to my consumers, I decided to do that to our consumers. In my first email, I had asked my
ONE POTENTIAL CONSUMER to forward the mail to a friend if he thought it may be something that can help out his friend as well. By the third update mail, I had twenty people I was sending these out to.
What did these emails have?
- Note on what we were doing.
- Note on steps how we were doing it.
- Some concept notes/sketches on how the product would be looking like. (I am pretty sure we spent more time on these mockups than we did on any actual code that particular weekend)
- Ask them for their thoughts on all of the above.
- Ask them to forward that email to a friend, keeping me in CC so that I can help their friend out as well.
- One segment that contained interesting and contextually relevant articles on how they can best grow their business.
Why? Well, why not? So what if it doesn’t have a direct impact on my cash flow, it does help out my consumers. And at this stage, I have the bandwidth to be a friend to these guys, so I am being exactly that. Each email was written individually keeping in mind the person it was being sent to. Sure, 60-80% of the content would be the same, but the rest was tailor crafted.
People started responding to these emails — asking questions, giving suggestions, wishing luck, expressing enthusiasm. I am beginning to hope that I am able to foster a relationship with these guys. That was what the intent was from day 1, wasn’t it?
CRM is a must to have. No matter what I have done in the past 10 years, for every single one of those businesses, the CRM was there from day 1 — right from the time we had that first ‘potential customer’.
I can’t emphasise the need to track conversations, monitor progress, and bucket your potential consumer-base into different sub-sets of different conversion probabilities. It doesn’t mean that someone who is a low probability of being a ‘paying customer’ right now should be dropped off or ignored, it just means is you know the intensity with which you need to stay connected with each and every single one of them. You would know what would be the right time to take things up a notch with a particular potential customer if you have him classified appropriately.
We have been able to bucket people up in 4 different brackets so far:
- People who are quite excited by the product and are willing to pay $149 today to get early access to the first release of the product six months from now.
- People who are excited by the product, and think they would be paying for it once we make it live, but they would like to see it in action first before they make a transaction. They are fine with paying $199 in six months when the product is offering early access, as compared to paying $149 today to block their seat.
- People who like the product, but would love to take it for a spin for free for a while before they can comfortably answer the question on whether they would like paying for the product.
- Those who are on the fence about the product. They think it could be of value, but they are not sure if not having it is much of an inconvenience as well.
Each bracket is important to us, and each bracket has its own value. Our conversational tone to customers changes based on which bracket they fall in.
#4. Greet, gratitude, and grace
You will not always receive responses, and that is expected. But even when you do receive responses, you will not, should not and must not treat them all as Gospels. Sure, you should evaluate each and every single one of those suggestions with every ounce of seriousness you have, dissect deep into each and every single word of each criticism — you must do that. But some times, you will need to take some criticisms with a pinch of salt, and put some suggestions and feature requests in the ‘under consideration’ pile. Some feature requests may even seem completely misaligned with the product and business vision, and you may need to take a hard call on them.
All of this will happen to you once you open up the flood gates on listening to your users, but it is all great. Remember to do the following though:
- Thank every single user who replies to your mailers. They did not need to, yet they took the time out. If for nothing else, be grateful for that time they gave you.
Pro tip: Don’t send a generic thank you message. Show that you actually read their email and did justice to the time of the day they just gave you.
- Suggestions and feature requests that you do see incorporating in your product roadmap (or even the ones that are already there), inform your community as much. If possible, give them a timeline on when that can be expected in a product release. Keep them updated on the progress from time to time.
Pro tip: Make a note of their suggestion, when the suggestion was made and what was your response in your CRM against that consumer. You’ll thank me later.
- Criticism should be handled on a case to case basis. But, first things first — always be polite. If there is a mistake you have made, own up to that mistake. Even your consumers know that there is a person behind this faceless business entity they are frustrated with. Put a face to the entity. Put your face to it. Be honest about your shortcomings — lack of bandwidth, delayed product release — and promise to continue to try to do better. More often than not, customers are forgiving and understanding.
- If there are suggestions you don’t see yourself accommodating in your product roadmap, treat those as the most important mails you need to respond to. Remember, this is someone who took the time out to understand your product, came up with suggestions in which your product can be made better. Now because of whatsoever reason you are not able to incorporate those suggestions, there can be absolutely no reason you can’t respond to them. Thank them for their suggestion, and politely tell them why those suggestions don’t look like the right fit for your product roadmap. Also inform them that you have tried to understand the reason they suggested what they did, and you and your team would try to come up with ways which may resolve the related concern in near/far future. And as always, make a note in the CRM.
Remember, these are people who are willingly giving their time to a product they have never heard of, a product that their peers don’t swear by, and in my particular case, a product that doesn’t even fucking exist so far. If you treat them right, they can be your most vocal supporters, proponents and brand ambassadors. Why chase 1 celebrity for your ‘influencer marketing’ when you can literally have a few thousand rockstars talking about your product to people they know and people who will listen to their advice. If you are going to do influencer marketing, as you should, let’s do it right.