Can growth be “hacked” for a B2B startup?

Photo credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose

Photo credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose

Holy Cow…. A Guest Post!

This is the first guest post ever to appear on my blog and I want to talk about it for two seconds not in the context of what he is writing about, but in the context of the nature of the universe. When Kevin reached out to me to do a guest post, I was super excited. My Kickstarter is wrapping up (48 hours to go!) and I could use some good press and Kevin is the biggest deal celebrity that I consider myself friends with in the Lean Startup universe. So it is awesome that he wanted to post on my blog. I knew it would be a great post because he was great and I knew it would be somewhat promotional because he is working on something new and it is big and needs promotion.

Here is the deal: This blog post has great advice. Kevin is filled with wisdom and you should listen. Also, Kevin and I both believe that the goal for stuff like this is 1,000 True Fans. I am a fan of Kevin and you should be also.

Every SaaS company I talk to has problems with on-boarding. Kevin is a leading thinker here. His new business synthesizes all the things he has learned from SoHelpful and Lean and the result is something that every SaaS company needs. With that said, I want to turn it over to Kevin Dewalt!

Enter Kevin:

Most startups think of growth hacking as the easy button.

Figure out that ONE thing to engineer… And abracadabra, open goes the floodgate of customers.

That might work for Snapchat or Tinder… But if you’re selling B2B products? Even if you *could* acquire a bazillion users tomorrow, they’d probably all just churn off. And they’re not taking your problems with them.

Worse, you feel bad spending all this work and money getting them to try your app, and have nothing to show for it.

(Note: Brent has written a post on growth hacking to drive revenue, not traffic. It’s excellent.)

Why your B2B app growth can’t be hacked

Because you’re trying to do something different, something more difficult, than Snapchat and Tinder.

All *they* have to do is seduce you to be irresponsible and take the path of least resistance. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t take much to get me to stop writing and go click – click – click or swipe – swipe – swipe.

That’s them. What about you?

  1. Your goal is to get your users to **pay** for your product – not just once, but regularly. Every billing cycle your customers rethink the value.
  2. And how do you give customers value? Bad news, you can’t! Your customer has to actually do the work and use your app to get value from it.

If you can’t do this, nothing else matters.

In other words, as a B2B product, your biggest obstacle to growth is your ability to change your users’ behavior.

  • From managing tasks in email to using your project management app
  • From throwing marketing spaghetti at the wall to using your analytics tool
  • From managing time in a calendar to using your workforce management app

If you’ve ever tried to stop smoking or eat healthier or stop procrastinating, you know changing your behavior is HARD. The same is true for your customers.

Do these before you try to “hack” your B2B product’s growth

These suggestions work because they address your number one challenge: changing your customers’ behavior.

Do “things that don’t scale” instead of product optimizations & lifecycle emails

Most of your free trial sign ups don’t convert to paying customers, a situation you blame on your onboarding.

So you’ve spent a lot of time working back from your theoretical AHA! moment to when a customer first signs up… And optimizing each step in the workflow, plus sending out just-in-time lifecycle emails.

Here’s the deal:

Tech and marketing automation work great for nudging your customers in the right direction – not changing behavior

Instead do things that don’t scale:

  1. Make a list of your last ten free trial sign ups and send a personal email to each of them to get on a call with you. Follow up until they do.
  2. Once you’re on the call, focus on them and their problems. Coach them to a better way of working that leads to your solution.
  3. Motivate them to work differently to achieve their goals. Follow-up with them every 2 weeks.

B2B products call this “concierge” onboarding. Do it correctly and your business will grow 2-3x faster. We teach a free course called Double Your Trial-to-Paying Conversions with Concierge Onboarding where you can learn how to do it.

Once you understand them, their goals, and the obstacles they need to overcome you’ll be in a better position to improve your product and automation.

Focus on converting your existing customers – not prospecting for new ones

Right now… Can you ask your last ten trials for a referral? Can you prevent the last ten people who are about to get billed from quitting?

The best source of new customers is not Product Hunt or PPC ads — it’s your current customers.

Before you work the top of the funnel, you have to figure out why your current users aren’t willing to pay for it or refer it. Because the shiny new customers you’re lusting for will soon turn into the same ones who aren’t willing to pay for or refer your app.

This is a vicious cycle you don’t want to enter.

What to do instead:

  1. Make a list of your best 10 trial customers.
  2. Spend the next month helping them achieve their goals – whatever it takes.
  3. Turn them into your best friends, evangelists for you and your product.

Use these relationships as the foundation for your product strategy. Look for patterns, create customer personas, and focus your engineering and marketing efforts.

Then you’ll be ready to look for more of them.

Bottom line: B2B growth can’t be “hacked” until you get good at changing customer behavior.

Your mission is to help customers achieve their goals – to make the experience of being your customer insanely great. In the words of Paul Graham:

You can and should give users an insanely great experience with an early, incomplete, buggy product, if you make up the difference with attentiveness.

Once you let go of the idea that *only* features and automated emails can solve your customers’ problems… You’ll understand what they REALLY care about.

And you’ll realize the road to this understanding is paved with retweeting their posts, leaving comments on their blogs, and helping them write content.

The quality of your product is your biggest weakness – your expertise and ability to give personalized attention is your biggest strength.

Play to it.

Want to learn more?

Sure, startups are hard, but you’re probably making it harder than it needs to be. In 6 months you might be ready for growth hacking, but doing it now is probably a waste of time.

How do you figure out which trial customers are worth talking to? How do you get them on the phone? What do you say?

Take our free course on concierge onboarding and we’ll help you figure all of this out. With personalized attention, of course.

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