How do you bring in a steady, predictable stream of new customers every month?
Answering that question has been my focus over the past month for my SaaS business, Restaurant Engine. I’m knee-deep in operation growth, and this has been my most recent project: Rethinking and re-building our CRM and sales operation to position us for month-over-month growth (is this what the cool kids are calling “Growth Hacking” these days? Anyway…)
But first, let’s walk through some high-level strategery…
You see, up until now, we’ve relied exclusively on our content marketing effort, which has helped us solidify a baseline level of traffic, leads and customers — all from organic sources. This has been a great first step.
But content and organic sources alone aren’t enough. The resulting growth comes in drips and drabs, some periods heavier than others. It’s slow, it’s difficult to track and even harder to optimize.
I’m looking for a stream. A steady, predictable, high-volume stream of traffic, leads, and sales. A system. An operation that can continuously be refined, improved, and incrementally scaled up month after month.
So that’s what I’m building. Piece by piece, I’ve developed our system for selling new customers and growing our SaaS. Today, you’ll get a look at what this system looks like. Consider this “Version 1”. I’m happy with how it’s working and the results we’re seeing. But it’s far from complete, and we’ll be making improvements every month for the foreseeable future.
But it’s a start…
Remember when you’d go to CompUSA to shop for software and before buying, you had to read the side of the box, where it read (in super fine print) “System Requirements”? Those were the days…
Well, when you’re designing a system to plug into your business, you’ve got to pay attention to the system requirements for your business. That is, make sure that the system you’re building fits with your strengths, your resources, and your particular market.
In my case, I identified a few “System Requirements” for Restaurant Engine’s sales system:
Now that we’ve laid out our priorities for our ideal sales system, let’s go through the tools and procedures we’ve put in place:
Restaurant Engine gathers new leads from a number of sources, and these sources change on a monthly basis as we try new things. But all of our lead generation activities have one thing in common:
Gravity Forms (for WordPress) has been my forms system of choice for years. It’s incredibly powerful, flexible, customizable, and most importantly, the easiest to integrate with other pieces of the puzzle.
We have quite a few forms throughout our website. Contact form, consultation request form, forms on our lead-gen landing pages, opt-in forms on our blog, and more. The set of fields vary from form to form, but most collect a few pieces of key info from the prospect:
Currently, we use MailChimp to manage our email list. All of our gravity forms integrate with our Mailchimp list, using the Gravity Forms Mailchimp Add-On.
New subscribers in Mailchimp typically receive some form of educational content, like a checklist PDF or an email course. After that, they’re on our list to receive new content from us weekly.
So while we’re pursuing phone conversations with new prospects, they’re also receiving educational content from us via email. This supports our sales process because as they become more educated about the technology and best practices, they become more aware of the value that our product offers.
Trello is our CRM (customer relationship manager). I tried lots of others, but I came back to Trello for a few reasons:
HelpForWP sells a nifty plugin for integrating Gravity Forms & Trello. However, I ended up using Zapier instead. Zapier allows me to integrate multiple Gravity Forms with multiple Trello lists. It also provides lots of flexibility and customization.
Zapier is a tool for integrating (almost) any app with any other app. Both Gravity Forms and Trello have “Zaps” available for use within Zapier, which basically means they’ve made their API’s available to connect with other apps using Zapier’s easy interface.
Look at the 2nd screenshot above, showing the detail of one card (for one lead) in Trello. Everything you see there has been automatically created using the Gravity Forms/Trello integration via Zapier. Here’s what happens:
With a steady stream of new leads, complete with their contact info and restaurant info, we’re ready to start making calls and reaching out.
Every new lead receives a call from us within one or two business days. Remember, these are not cold calls. We’re calling people who have expressed interest in our product and submitted their contact info. So they’re expecting our call and welcome the conversation.
Once we reach out to a new lead, the first thing we do is move their card into a separate Trello Board, named “Sales Conversations”.
In our “Sales Conversations” Trello board (seen above), each list represents a different phase in the sales cycle. As of now, these lists are:
For a while, I simply used my office land-line as the business phone number for Restaurant Engine. But now that my team is growing, and we’re fully remote, the land-line just isn’t workable.
That’s where Grasshopper comes in. I created a new phone number on their system, and it allows my team and I to operate one phone number from different locations.
In our case, the killer feature of Grasshopper is the ability to set a schedule for where the phone rings. As of this writing, we have 2 people working the phones. Myself, and Ashley, our newest team member. She’s based in California, while I’m in Connecticut. When someone calls our company number, I want it to ring Ashley’s phone, but only during her working hours. All other hours, it should ring my office. And during off-hours, it should go straight to voicemail.
Another cool feature is the ability to transfer a call. Ashley can place a caller on hold and transfer it to me. She can even stay on the line and get me up to speed on the customer’s inquiry. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s nice to have this ability.
We’ve been using HelpScout to manage all of our customer support email. It’s fantastic. I love how it’s completely invisible to the customer. All they see is a regular email conversation.
We’ve now begun using HelpScout for all of our pre-sales email conversations as well. This works great for the following reasons:
We don’t have those. Creating a carefully worded sales script doesn’t work for us for a few reasons:
Another important reason I stay away from sales scripts is I prefer to do more listening than talking. I typically start most calls off by saying, “So, tell me about your restaurant” and then “Can I answer any questions about our service?” Then I sit back, listen, and learn.
What I’m listening for are things that this customer values. What are the key parts of their business? Which features are they asking lots of questions about? What would make our product a win for them? By listening and hearing them out, I’m able to tailor our conversation accordingly. I’m giving them the precise information they seek. But more importantly, I’m proving that we care enough to listen and make this the right fit for them.
But wait — My goal is to remove myself from doing the sales calls, remember? So how can I transfer my knowledge and sales experience to a new hire?
Documentation. I created three Google Docs and included them in our set of operating procedures. Those three docs are:
I don’t ask my team to recite the answers word for word. They’re intended to educate my team so that they can confidently talk about our product, in their own way.
The key component that makes this entire sales system work is not any app, or metric, or magic sales script. It’s the simple act of following up.
I can’t stress this part enough. Time and time again, I’m reminded of the power of the followup. For Restaurant Engine, a large portion of our signups wouldn’t have happened had we not made a 2nd or 3rd followup call or email. This even goes back to my years of consulting. When I learned to follow up with leads, I found it easier to close more of those contracts. In many cases, it seemed as if the client or customer was waiting for me to followup, just to see if I cared enough for their business.
In our sales system for Restaurant Engine, we ensure that every lead gets a follow up. How? By assigning a “Due Date” in Trello. Every card in Trello has a due date assigned to it at all times.
When the card is first created (automatically, via Zapier), it automatically has a due date to attempt first contact. If no answer, we reset the due date for tomorrow and try again. Once we’ve had our first conversation, we’ll set the due date again for next week to make a followup call. Customer signed up? Set a followup reminder for 2 weeks after to check in and make sure things are going smoothly (and maybe ask for a testimonial). Always. Follow. Up.
Like I said, we use “Due Dates” in Trello for our followup reminders. Since we’re working with a high volume of leads (cards), Due Dates make it easy to visually see which ones need a followup. Just find the ones with the red “past due” marking.
Another tool I absolutely love (and still use quite a bit) is followup.cc. This was my followup reminder system for years before Trello. Just Forward or BCC your emails to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and it will send you an email back on that date to remind you. Simple and effective.
There are a few things I plan to implement to help improve and optimize our system. But instead of getting bogged down in these technical perfections, I decided to take a lean startup approach: Get this up and running quickly, learn, iterate, refine, and improve.
But there is much to be improved and enhanced.
So… Can I call myself a “Growth Hacker”?
(I’d rather not)