An email to a friend with some ideas for creating a repeatable sales/growth process

Here’s an email I recently sent to a Stanford/HLS-grad friend of mine who started a delivery company that sells to individuals and businesses. He’s currently trying to figure out a repeatable sales/growth process. Because his product involves physical delivery, he’s aiming to target groups of businesses that are within close proximity of each other (eg in a strip mall / office park). As with Box/Dropbox, he can sign up one person at a company and then try to get that person to sign up others. I’ve made some clarifying edits and removed some identifying information.

Some ideas for what you should try next (viral growth)

I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about viral growth, and so I figured I’d write up some of my thoughts of how I might be inclined to go about setting up a viral-ish method for growth. None of these are things I came up with out of nowhere, they’re all from having read various books / articles or from having worked at Infer. Feel free to ignore it / disagree, I’m just trying to be helpful because if you succeed, I’m more likely to succeed:

  • I think you should look very closely at any instances you’ve seen of having an entire company adopt the product, or anything close to that, and try to figure out how you could make that an easily-repeatable process.
    • Analogy: I think the best method for creating a repeatable sales / growth process may be a lot like the best method for the creation of the product itself:
      • If you read stuff like the Lean Startup or read about successful companies like PayPal or Instagram or Twitter or Blogger, you see the same story over and over:
        1. the founders created a bunch of features and got some early users,
        2. they paid very close attention to what the users liked the most / what was working the best, and
        3. they then focused 100% on that feature / use-case.
      • Similarly, the way to create a repeatable sales process may be to try a bunch of different things and see which seems to work.
        • When PayPal was starting out, Peter Thiel:
          1. tried a bunch of different things
            • he authorized his marketing guy to spend $1 million “as quickly as possible”; the guy ended up spending it on ads that didn’t have much of an effect
          2. one of the things they tried did work quite well: offering a $20 bonus for signing up yourself, and a $20 bonus for signing up someone else.
          3. So they then focused on that method.
    • Example: I suspect that one case you saw of the one guy who was able to sign up a bunch of his colleagues is a big opportunity. If I were you, I would spend a lot of time talking to that guy, thinking about that situation, and thinking about how you could make it happen more. If you can come up with a way to make that repeatable, you can raise a ton of money like PayPal did and just feed the raised money into this viral-growth-machine and end up with your service all over the country in no time at all.
  • I highly recommend watching this talk by Parker Conrad, since you seem to be targeting roughly the same demographic as him:
  • I would try to talk to salespeople for other businesses that sell to the companies you’re trying to sell to and maybe even pay them as consultants to give you tips / pointers on the best way to break in.
    • For example, the sales rep for Rochester-Midland Corporation for the SF Bay area recommended that she stop by to talk to our HR person and the building management show off their bathroom-deodorizer product. This may not be the best strategy in your case, but if I were you I would want to know about that strategy and all the other strategies being used by companies selling to the same customers.

Here are some particular viral-ish growth strategies I’d be inclined to try:

  • If you get someone at a new company to sign up and you aren’t sure if they’re influential or not, offer them $20 to find out who the most talkative / outgoing / influential person is at the company.
  • Alternatively, try to figure out on your own who the most influential person at a company is.
    • Look at their job title
      • Sales guys – If this one guy who signed up everybody was a sales guy, that may indicate that sales guys at most companies are likely to be the most-talkative and outgoing.
        • At my company, the most-outgoing person I can think of is a Sales Engineer.
          • [Link to his LinkedIn profile redacted]
          • Just from looking at his profile briefly, I came up with some ideas (listed below).
      • More-senior guys
        • At my company, the people who have been around longer / have higher titles tend to be more influential.
    • Look at their online presence – You may be able to get a sense of who is most likely to be an influencer by looking at their LinkedIn / Facebook / Twitter / etc. profiles.
      • Scrape LinkedIn profiles and look for people who look the happiest / have the biggest smiles.
      • Look for people who have exclamation points in their profile.
        • [Example from my company redacted.]
      • Look for the most-attractive people.
        • Unfortunately there isn’t an API for this yet (that I’m aware of), but I know that on Instagram the female models are heavily-pursued by advertisers. If you could find the most-attractive men / women at a company via their LinkedIn profile pic, you could have a similar set-up except you wouldn’t be competing against any other advertisers.
      • Look for people with the most connections.
        • I have 255 connections on LinkedIn, [my outgoing coworker] has “500+”.
    • Look at their car – You may be able to look at what car everyone drives in a parking lot and go after the people with the nicest cars, since [that may correlate with how willing they are to try the product]. [Edited to remove identifying information.]
      • You could leave a flattering, fancy-looking flier underneath their windshields offering them a special deal because they have such a nice car.
        • Flattery goes a long way.
        • The more you can hone in on the people you want to reach, the more money you can spend on the promotional material.
  • I would give the influencers a message that flatters them and is honest about why you need their help in particular:
    •  “We have this great new product but it’s a little unusual, and so people may be reluctant to try it. We’re looking for the most influential people within each company to lead the way, and we’re willing to compensate them for their time. X told us you were the one to talk to / We determined you were likely to be an influencer based on X.”
  • Offer free samples and / or a money-back guarantee: If you’re really convinced that the product is so good that once people try it they won’t want to stop, then it may be a good idea to take on the risk that the customer feels about trying something new by offering a free sample / money-back guarantee when you first try it.
    • Examples
      • Red Bull loves to give away free samples of its product because it knows the product is so good people will keep coming back.
      • 5-Hour Energy loves to give away free samples.
      • Cigarette companies love to give away free samples.
      • PythonAnywhere offers a money-back guarantee for the first 30 days after you sign up for a new plan.
    • On the other hand, the companies I list in the examples seem to have higher margins and cheaper products, so it may require some fiddling to get it to work for your business.
    • If you’re not confident in the product enough to offer a money-back guarantee, then that may indicate a product issue that needs to get fixed.
  • Offer bonuses for being the first (few) person(s) at your company to sign up.
    • Like I said [in conversation] before, it seems that signing up a new company is hardest at the beginning, and then gets easier as more and more people sign up.
    • Thus it seems you should front-load your bonuses to offer bigger rewards to early adopters and fewer / no rewards to the laggards.
  • Offer bonuses for all employees of the first company in an office park to sign up.
    • This is the same idea as above, except inserting “company” where before there was “individual”. I’d bet that as more and more companies in an office-building sign up, it’ll get easier to sign up the other companies.
    • So you may want to front-load your bonuses towards the early-adopting companies, and offer fewer / no rewards to the laggard companies.
    • Examples:
      • When Mark Cuban was starting his first company, he did his first job for free in exchange for being able to use the company as a reference.
  • Set up some kind of PayPal / affiliate-marketing-type program so that the people who end up being very good at signing up new customers can keep making money by doing it for other companies.
    • If this one sales guy was able to sign up his entire company, you may want to try to incentivize him to sign up other companies in the same area.
    • Examples:
      • PayPal offered a $20 bonus for signing up yourself and a $20 bonus for signing up a someone else. They had people who were making $10,000 by referring other people to sign up.
      • Amazon has had an affiliate marketing program since its early days in which bloggers can link to a product on Amazon’s website and get paid for the referral. Bloggers love it and I’m sure it’s helped Amazon.

If you found this interesting, you can follow me on Twitter.