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Want To Be More Than A Startup? Then Hack Every Stage Of The Customer Lifecycle

Business owners that dream of making it big time often jump on growth hacks to get that extra push they need. Once all that growth hacking pays off, though, it's time for the real thing: hacking the entire customer life cycle.

Hacking the Customer Lifecycle

Remember the last time you bought a lottery ticket?

From the time it takes to accept the ticket to stashing it at the back of your wallet, you let yourself think, “What if?”. It’s a kind of chemical-free high, an instamatic golden sunset of warm gooey-ness filled with dreams of instant fame and fortune.

This is how I saw growth hacking.

Rewind three years. Growth hacking was the attention-grabbing, eyeball wrestling topic of every self-perpetuating startup porn web site. Every time I read a new “secret reveal” on the latest growth-hacking win, my eyes would glaze over with the same dreamy golden sunsets.

That was my lottery ticket moment. All I needed was a growth-hack of my own to win big time(!).

But of course I never won the lottery. What I did learn from three years of trial and error is that growth-hacking is not a single silver bullet aimed at a single target of getting the customer.

Rather, for startups that want to make it past the first few years and thrive on their own terms, they need to hack every stage of the customer lifecycle.

What is the Customer Lifecycle?

The Customer Lifecycle

The diagram above pretty much describes the customer lifecycle for almost every business out there:

  1. Find the customer (marketing, PR, advertising)
  2. Sell to the customer (free trials, demos, sales call)
  3. Deliver on your product or service to the customer
  4. Send a bill to the customer
  5. Support your product or service
  6. Build customer loyalty from positive experiences
  7. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Stage 1: Find the Customer

This is the heartland of growth-hacking. We’ll leave it to the experts, here, here, and here, to cover Stage 1.

Stage 2 & 4: Selling to and billing the customer
Growth Hack: Always Be Selling

This takes Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross’ infamous “Always Be Closing” to the next level: “Always Be Selling”.

Every time your business communicates with a customer it is an opportunity to keep selling and marketing the benefits of your product.

This is even more true if you’re running a subscription-based business model. Every time that subscription renews — and most likely this is every month — your customer can make a choice whether to extend another month or simply just cancel.

A simple strategy is to not just send your customer a receipt at the end of each month, but to include with that receipt information that will help to keep selling your product. For example, you might simply include links to a new training video or reveal “top-secret” information on your next product update.

Even better, if your product has tangible benefits such as saving time or money, then make sure you put this information on your invoice. If a customer is looking at an invoice for $1,000 but they can clearly see your product saved them 25 hours this month, generated 500 new site visitors, or resulted in 100 fewer bugs, then odds are that customer is going to keep on staying signed up.

Stage 3: Delivering on Your Product or Service
Growth Hack: Post-Sale Surprise

Never underestimate the power of (good) surprises. A positive surprise is the same as a good experience. People always remember experiences over intangible benefits like future discounts (2% off your next purchase in 2016!)

At this stage of the life cycle, your customer has now committed to your offering and ponied up the cash. If you’ve done an amazing job selling they’ll be excited about taking delivery. If they have had poor experiences with a similar product or industry before, they might be feeling a little anxious.

So with our product, like a lot of other cloud-based products, there is always some effort and time commitment required to get up and running. The customer has mucked their way through a free trial and signed up as a paying customer. At this point we know the customer is probably feeling a little anxious; the “easy” part of punching in their credit card is over, they now have to do some thinking work to get up and running.

Knowing this, we have just started reaching out by telephone (and not email) to offer new customers immediate assistance to get up and running properly with their data imported and  other tools such as G Suite sync’d up and running. This is the good surprise.

“Hey Customer, no cost, and if you have five minutes right now I can do this for you over the phone!”

This is the “good” surprise, they’re not expecting this. The key here is to never mention this little extra service as part of your pre-sales material. Keep it as a surprise. Not only will your customer be blown away, they will remember this little experience and share it with others.

Stage 5: Support the customer
Growth Hack: Content Recycling

Provide amazing support and your customers will stick around and perhaps even rave about your business. Everyone knows this. Unfortunately your “amazing support” has no marketing advantage. Every other competitor claims to have the same amazing support and every customer has been burnt too many times to believe it on face value. No growth-hacking opportunities here.

So, we looked at this in our business and realized that with 50 or so support tickets being answered every day, we were creating at least five pieces of detailed, unique content. For example, a marketing firm might ask for some help on segmenting their customers by project value and industry type. One of our support team would have produced a detailed response, included some images, and possibly even thrown together a quick screencast.

Click send, the customer is happy, end of story. Except there is more value to be had here.

Spend two minutes to remove any confidential information, five minutes to edit and throw in some keywords, and that same email can be be recycled and posted to dedicated section on your marketing site.

Once the process is set up and working, just let it run in the background. Five pages of unique content per day, 25 new pages per week gives you 5,000 pages of low-cost content by the end of the first year.

From our Google Analytics I can tell you that our worst performing pages generated two unique visitors for the month of August. Extrapolate this out and at the end of year 1 we’re pulling in an extra 10,000 visitors with minimal extra work.

Stage 6: Build Customer Loyalty
Growth Hack: Champions Fight the Right Battles

I know that for every 60 users of our product, we will have one person who becomes a true and vocal believer. They get right behind what we’re doing, interact on our blog, and help out other customers. These champions drive your community and are your WOMs (word-of-mouthers).

Except we realized our champions were humans too. After a while they’d get bored and move onto the next thing. And really, while they were championing for us, we didn’t really put any effort into directing their energies beyond our community forums.

We had built a legion of champions but left them to find their own battles to fight.

With a little bit of extra effort, we could put in place a simple process to not only point our army to the battles that matter, but also publicly recognize and reward those champions at the same time.

This system of advocate marketing works a lot like airline miles. Invite your customers to register for your “champions” community. Set challenges to help market your product, reward points on completion and allow those points to be redeemed for gifts and product bonuses.

We armed ourselves with AdvocateHub by Influitive. We named our army the WORK[etc] Insiders and took the concept further by having all beta releases available exclusively through our Insiders program. This mean that our champions, who are also the heaviest users of WORK[etc], get to try out the new features before anyone else. And because they are heavy users, we know their feedback is going to be valuable.

The result? Our customers are out in force spreading our product message, helping other customers and contributing to product development – all for significantly less cost than any other formal marketing we’ve undertaken.

Completing the Circle

It’s good to dream big, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that solving the first part of the equation is the silver bullet for success. You need to hack the heck out of the entire customer lifecycle to get the most out of the effort you put into it.

Proud of your own genius business-hack?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

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