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.


David Jones
Thursday 4, Sep 2014 2:03 AM

Nice article. I am a strong believer in repeatable process and WorkEtc has helped us in many ways get closer to our goals. The fact that we can now have easily accessible templates of information like customer responses and project templates for repeat work are very useful to us. We have also integrated our google docs and created knowledge bases for repeat problems.

    Daniel Barnett
    Monday 8, Sep 2014 6:58 AM

    “I am a strong believer in repeatable process and WorkEtc has helped us in many ways get closer to our goals”

    Thanks David – this is actually going to be a very big piece of WORKetc functionality in coming releases. The ability to create, share, monitor and improve repeatable processes.

Thursday 4, Sep 2014 3:09 AM

I had never heard the term “Growth Hacking”. Until now! We have recently started a campaign where every week or two we have something new to “sell” and all correspondence goes out with a quick sentence like “Did you know…”. WORK[etc] has made this easy because it’s in our signatures or in our Standard Responses that we just tweak every time we have something new. So this concept of always selling is definitely big for us.

    Daniel Barnett
    Monday 8, Sep 2014 7:03 AM

    Very clever!

David McGarry
Thursday 4, Sep 2014 7:23 PM

The notion of recycling and even automating responses of support queries for marketing purposes is very interesting and we will definitely investigate this tactic..

I love the idea of a providing a ‘good surprise’ for our clients. All too often we have to deliver bad news (extra charges, etc), so a little bonus like this would be a great incentive. Our business is driven by word-of-mouth recommendations, so giving the client more reason to spread our name around can only help. Clients are likely to remember and appreciate these small gestures. Everyone likes a freebie..

This article has certainly provided food-for-thought in how we can use WORK[etc] to improve the way we interact with our clients and to keep our company in the forefront of their minds when they are recommending us to future clients.

A lottery win would still be nice though!

    Daniel Barnett
    Monday 8, Sep 2014 7:03 AM

    “Our business is driven by word-of-mouth recommendations”

    And actually to a large degree WORKetc is driven by word-of-mouth recommendations, and the more competitive and industry becomes, the more effective word-of-mouth marketing is. For example we could never even get close to 1% of Salesforce’s advertising budget, but we can generate significant word-of-mouth and online mentions by working with our customers.

    I would imagine this holds true for almost every small business in a marketplace where there are a handful of very large operators.

Thomas Lawler
Saturday 6, Sep 2014 8:02 AM

I know from a technical perspective we try to create repeatable processes for everyday tasks.

I find the idea of bringing this into sales is interesting as others have stated. I do think our sales staff will like the term “growth hacking”, as we have dedicated folks focussed on up-selling accounts. (Account Manager) From my conversations and observations with our Account Managers, they are focussed on making customers happy. With happy customers it makes it that much easier to get them to buy more services / products.

Great Article Daniel.. I will pass this around the office.

    Daniel Barnett
    Monday 8, Sep 2014 7:00 AM

    “With happy customers it makes it that much easier to get them to buy more services / products.”

    Exactly! When everyone across an organisation is focused on aspects of selling the customer, it just be that the entire cycle.

Michal Brenneman Wahli
Tuesday 9, Sep 2014 2:29 AM

“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.”

When we started out with our subscription-based billing, we found that it was difficult to collect on those subscriptions, so we started requiring a service/support contract that included permission to ACH the client at the beginning of their newest subscription. This, as you can probably guess, has helped tremendously in keeping our receivables lower, but it hasn’t really garnered any new clients. We attempted to do as this suggests – record, bill, and discount everything – but then we let it fizzle out. I think it’s time to revisit this concept. Thank you for the reminder!

Jason Royals
Wednesday 10, Sep 2014 4:16 AM

This article is very motivating. We’ve recently rolled out a e-news letter to our clients. In this news letter we are providing knowledge base articles and ideas. We add important how to’s and product development that not only explains the benefits of our products/service but also up sales new technology. We hold weekly contests for our clients firms. We are trying to make technology exciting again and this is only one step in the process. Your article gives me light in the way of a stronger repeatable process and work etc is managing it all. Nice read.

Ryan Powell
Friday 12, Sep 2014 6:55 AM

Love it! I love the concept of support recycling as a marketing tool. It’s like an instant case study but it a really digestible format (think quick and easy for the reader). It can also lower your support requests if a current customer picks up on it through the marketing and also shows your A+ customer support to the world.

William Mullane
Friday 26, Sep 2014 2:12 AM

I’d say most companies fall down during or shortly after stage 2. The sale is done and it’s time to hand off to the delivery/support folks and move on. What gets overlooked is that the initial sale must be reinforced with the direct purchaser and internally with the purchaser’s staff. That happens through great support. Staffers who may not have been involved in the sales decision are exposed to the product during support engagements. Great support reinforces and solidifies the sales decision, creates customer loyalty and creates new sales opportunities with the initial customer and with others through word of mouth.

Robbie Crenshaw
Wednesday 8, Oct 2014 8:16 AM

Very well written article, We dont use work[etc] to find clients, but once our clients use work[etc] to send in help tickets and be able to communicate with us, they love it. And it keeps it organized so that clients dont respond to personal business email accounts.

Joey Gilbert
Sunday 12, Oct 2014 8:13 AM

Personally as a Work[etc] user, I work mostly in the tech support sense of the software, making #4 the most significant hack that applies to me. I agree with David Jones. Keeping all this content together, making it readily accessible for all employees saves so much time. With a small staff this feature is imperative to maintain and improve customer loyalty. This article really expands my view on what more I can do. Thanks for sharing.

Martin Mills
Friday 28, Nov 2014 3:11 PM

Great article have retweeted.

Brittany Thompson
Thursday 11, Dec 2014 2:23 AM

I love the diagram of the customer life cycle. That was actually really helpful to see because sometimes you forget about the up sell point of the process. Work Etc. helps this happen easier with the knowledge base articles that I frequently send clients to. Its amazing how many times i have a client come back with “I didn’t know you did this, and cheaper than competitive prices!”

Megan Hill Vangelist
Friday 19, Dec 2014 1:11 AM

We use Worketc to communicate with our clients. They send tickets to us through Worketc and we respond from there.
We have recently started using the Standard Responses to have a feature of the week.
It’s been a great way to showcase a specific feature of our company each week and a great way to sell that feature to our existing clients.
Our response has a short description of the feature and what it could do for them and then asks them to call us if they would like more information or a demo.
It’s really helped us expand these new features to clients who didn’t know what they could do.

Stan Zaslavsky
Monday 5, Jan 2015 5:12 PM

Thanks for sharing – I appreciate how much you are sharing about your own business model to help us grow our businesses.
Having used WorkETC over the last two years has certainly streamlined and improved our workflow and profitability. Simple things like adding canned responses and standardised email templates is a lot easier to track and view through the activity stream.
Some of the best hack/shortcuts that I’ve found through using WorkETC with my clients have been such simple thing as project reference numbers which are automatically populated in the emails – it helps us and our clients track activity on their projects.

Tabitha Mills
Tuesday 3, Feb 2015 11:33 AM

I am always looking at ways to grow my business. One of those ways I have learnt is to put myself in my clients shoes and take a walk in their mind. I found this article great for giving me some additional ideas.

Tuesday 10, Feb 2015 11:12 AM

Like the featured comment, I’ve never heard the term “Growth Hacking”. To me, it just seems like the idea of ‘keeping your customers happy’ and ‘using good marketing’, but modernised! Nothing wrong with rebranding tried and true methods if it helps businesses succeed.

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