How to win more clients without spending on new hires or marketing campaigns
For any startup, strong early stage growth relies heavily on user referrals and recommendations. This is where customer experience outweighs technology. Simply put, you can have the best technology in the world, but if your users don’t (or can’t) make use of it your development work counts for little.
This is not to downplay the importance of the technology, however new features, innovations, and updates should be guided around a deeper customer experience strategy. Building towards your MVP often locks you into a features arms race. Unless you’re fortunate enough to gain first mover advantage, you’ll likely be up against an established competitor offering a mature product. Shipping feature after feature will expand the capabilities of your platform but without a customer experience strategy to underpin it all, you could make usability poorer. That will only detract from growth.
As a Growth Manager, one of my main tasks was to drive platform adoption in order to generate references and referrals. I quickly identified that clients almost never adopted new features after their implementation period was over (even when the product team was shipping 10+ updates every 2 weeks). Why was this the case? Was the learning curve too steep, did they know about updates or was it that they saw no value to them? It turned out to be a mix of all 3, however, the predominant factor was that we had no notification system when we releasing updates. We were shipping in the dark and users didn’t know about all the goodies we were dropping on a fortnightly basis. Crazy, but in the frantic pace of startup culture it’s easy to overlook the power of a simple monthly newsletter and blog.
User experience is defined as how a user interacts with technology or product, but how a user interacts with your company is just as important. Shipping so many frequent updates without no notifications or warnings actively began detracting from our user experience (we began seeing it in our NPS data). Users would open our platform on a Thursday morning to find things had changed. A button might have moved or a dropbox may have different options. Minor tweaks but in the context of being a complex data SaaS platform, we found even small changes could quickly irk our power users. This led me to begin thinking about the friction in a user’s interactions with us, both on the platform and with our staff. Are we making things easier or harder for a user?
If your technology requires a sales process or any implementation, it’s worthwhile investigating the experience at relevant stages through that journey. The aim is to look for quick wins and to think about what friction exists at each stage. Regardless of the complexity of your platform, there are 3 dominant stages every client will experience:
- Acquisition: How they find out about your technology and sign up
- Onboarding: How a user first navigates and begins using your platform
- Adoption: How the technology demonstrates ongoing value to the user (escaping shiny toy syndrome which I’ll talk about in a later article)
There may be multiple tasks inside each stage. For a social media platform, onboarding is very simple. Drop your email in the box, pick a username and password and you’re good. For an enterprise SaaS platform onboarding often takes months and requires multiple individuals. The sales process alone can be anywhere from 90 days to a full year.
- Grab a pen and sketch out your platform’s customer journey. Start from the first moment of contact a prospective user has with you all the way through to the end of their first year on your platform. Your first map may be light on detail but that’s no problem. The key is to find out more and drill down into each area. Once you’re able to identify every action that takes place in each stage, your journey map is complete.
- Identify where the ‘friction’ exists in the journey. Friction exists for both your users and your own employees. If you have an onboarding team that has to create training plans from scratch every time you win a new client, that creates friction for your team by tying them up with admin.
- Speak with your customers and get their feedback on their experience working with your company. It’s best to do this in person as you’ll need to dig a little deeper and prompt them. Ask them what the sales process was like (if you have one), how well they were handed over to the onboarding team. Ask them why they use certain functions and not others.
On completion of the exercise, you should have identified a number of instances of friction along the journey. How you can remove that friction? The simple way is to implement repeatable processes for your team follow. This means creating assets and artifacts. This is a surprisingly simple (as well as quick) job that few companies put adequate time aside for. I once worked for a tech company that turned over £80m per year but didn’t have a standard bid writing template. The company won a handful of tenders each year despite the sales team spending days every month submitting them. I suggested we bring in a bid writing expert to standardise our process and develop templates. We did. Tender wins went up 10x that year.
Here are a few artefacts you might want to work on if you haven’t already:
- Master sales deck
- Proposal / bid template
- Company sales pitch (that all salespeople should have memorised)
- Defined implementation curriculum (if you have an onboarding stage)
By creating artefacts and assets you begin to standardise processes. This enables you to start gaining control over quality. Standardisation removes variables in a process and allows for repeatability. Once you can repeat a process you can refine a process. This can drive growth in a number of ways. For example:
- Sales: You should be able to pitch for more opportunities (more time to sell with less admin) and benefit from improved close rates.
- Onboarding: You should be able to onboard a higher volume of customers in a shorter space of time.
Without hiring new staff or investing in marketing campaigns, you’ve just improved both your efficiency and productivity. Across a team or department, this will drive meaningful growth. And by improving the customer journey, you’ll create happier and more successful customers. Done well, users will drive your new client acquisition with supporting referrals and recommendations.