Like nearly everyone reading this, the Altocloud team has spent a good amount of time over the last few weeks on 2017 planning. Filling up whiteboards, notebooks and video calls with meetings on how best to focus our time to beat what has been a record 2016 in the land of customer journey analytics and smart messaging.
One of the key areas of discussion has been around pattern matching key attributes of our successful customers and what their customer journey path was in order to replicate as many as possible.
This led to an interesting debate around the merits of a free trial versus paid pilot as a primary customer acquisition channel to drive predictable revenue growth.
For nearly the first decade of my professional career I sold Enterprise software tools via a high velocity, inside sales free try/buy model. It worked beautifully.
Our marketing team generated thousands of leads per month. We hired hungry sales pros and built systems and processes to segment and follow up with these leads in the most efficient way possible.
We knew that if marketing provided X amount of leads/rep/month we would surpass our quarterly targets (or kill ourselves trying).
The customer journey looked like this: prospect downloaded a product, ran through a few weeks of a trial, asked a few technical questions, and made a decision to purchase.
We sold lots of software this way. Millions and millions of dollars worth to be exact :)
But what happens if you see a pattern emerge that your product is better suited as an Enterprise deployment, versus a high volume / transactional dollar value solution? How can you balance the need for attracting more and more users while also driving revenue?
Enter 2016 at Altocloud. I joined the company with a mission of building and scaling a similar model that worked so well in my past life. Crank up a bunch of leads, develop a playbook to drive conversion, and we’d be off to the races.
Except, that’s not exactly what happened.
You see, our dev team at Altocloud has built a kickass product; it is a game changing technology that gets our customers really excited about how we help them see, understand, and engage their customers in real time.
There is always a but in startup land.
A lot of what we do is fairly straightforward to get up and running quickly (enabling live chat on your website for example). However a lot of our key differentiators (segmenting visitors into personas, predicting outcomes and best times to engage in real-time based on machine learning algorithms) are far easier to comprehend once our Customer Success team has a chance to present a few best practice sessions in order to make sure we are set up to achieve key success criteria (customers don’t give a sh&t about features, they care about business value and how you help them create it quicker than your competitor). When the customer is interested in more than just live chat it becomes clear that a paid pilot is the ideal approach.
What I found when I joined, and what continues to be true to this day is we are serving two different types of customers:
- The first are those who prefer the self-service, “don’t bug me until I have a question” approach. These customers typically fall into the SMB segment (and don’t have budget to spend on a pilot).
- Second are those who are much more interested in a hands-on, “show me the way” approach. These customers have budget for a pilot and expect a high-touch consultative experience. Our strong partnerships with key players like Cisco, Five9 and Salesforce have been crucial to our success with this Enterprise segment.
The interesting finding over the last six months was that customers who paid for a pilot up front converted at a significantly higher rate than those who simply ran a free trial on their own for a few weeks.
It seems obvious then where to focus our time for 2017, right? Dump a bunch of money into the Enterprise field sales approach and wait for the 7 figure contracts to start landing on my desk.
Brian Halligan, Hubspot CEO likes to say that success in today’s market is more about the width of your brain than the width of your wallet. This is the beauty of working at a startup; you don’t need unlimited budget in order to go after the 800 lb. gorilla in your market.
With this in mind we are excited to attack 2017 by focusing on the following key areas:
1) Enhance user experience onboarding for our SMB market. Making sure a new user has an optimal initial experience with our product is the difference in winning and losing a deal in a lot of cases. This will have a big impact on our entire business but especially on our SMB market that needs to be able to see quick value with little to no interaction with the company.
2) Expand Customer Success stories for our Enterprise market. We recently published a story of our work with Polycom showcasing a growing use case of Altocloud for inside sales. By sharing this widely, we generated several new leads from companies of similar size that want to learn more about how we can help them achieve similar results. When you are a startup selling to the Enterprise, the biggest challenge is establishing enough ‘street cred’ for a big company to take you seriously. With customers like AppDynamics, Cisco and now Polycom on our side it is amazing how more start to take notice (FOMO is real)!
As challenging as this effort can be at times I love the process of coming up with a hypothesis, testing and iterating based on the results you achieve. Through a mix of free trials and paid pilots with key partners, we’ve started to see a nice pattern emerge of a variety of SMB customers plus a growing cluster of Fintech and high growth technology companies on the Enterprise side.
Concentrating on the journey of our successful customers has led to a clear picture of what will make 2017 another banner year at Altocloud HQ. For those with similar experiences scaling through either a free trial or paid pilot model I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback below.
And if you are ready to learn more about what we’ve been up to at Altocloud, let's go! !