These are simple, straightforward “hacks” that anyone can (and should) implement.
There are a lot of growth tactics and strategies that work really well for many businesses.
There are also a lot of growth tactics and strategies that aren’t the best fit for many businesses.
We invest heavily in content marketing, and it has paid off tremendously, but for you, a different channel might be more profitable and efficient.
Other businesses have found huge rewards in social media marketing, or LinkedIn advertising.
That’s why I try hard to always stop short of telling other businesses that they “need” to be doing this or that.
But there are a few things I truly believe that everyone should be doing.
These aren’t necessarily hard or expensive—which makes them accessible to everyone—but I’ve never heard of these tactics NOT delivering massively outsized return on investment.
These are all things that you can do today to see better results quickly.
And I hope that you will.
1) Automated Drip Emails
Four years ago, we wrote an email.
That email, without us having to do anything, has now gone out to more than 30,000 people.
It’ll continue to go out to many thousands more.
And it’ll continue to help us grow our business without us ever having to click “send.”
The email I’m talking about is the “you’re in” email that every new Groove user receives.
The insights we’ve gotten from the responses to that email have been game-changing. It’s part of our automated onboarding email drip, which we think of as the hardest working email marketer on our team.
It ensures that the next person who signs up will have the same experience as the next thousand, without any additional work on our part.
Our onboarding emails have helped us turn blog subscribers into trial users, and they’ve helped us increase our trial-to-paid conversions dramatically over the years.
We’re reaping massive rewards from just a few days of work that we did a long time ago.
Whether you’re blogging or not, you’re almost certainly collecting email addresses for new trial users and customers.
Setting up an automated email drip takes just a couple of hours, can be done in every leading email marketing tool, and will absolutely, 100% deliver better results than not having any sort of email campaigns.
How We Do Automated Email Drips At Groove
Automated Emails for Blog Subscribers
We tested a few different approaches here to welcome new subscribers to our blog email list, and here’s the flow that has converted best:
We start with a personal welcome email from me. It:
- Sets the reader’s expectations for what they’ll be receiving from us (a few emails over the next few days)
- Includes a few personal touches introducing me (and yes, people do email me when they come to town)
- Transparently and simply shows how to unsubscribe (to build trust and, well, make it easy to unsubscribe if they want to)
The next day, we send an email with a link to our most popular posts. This makes it easier for someone new to our blog to dive in and start with the content that others have found most valuable.
A few days later, we follow up with links to some of the guest posts we’ve published elsewhere around the web.
Next comes an email introducing the reader to our Small Business Stack, a resource we’ve put together with discount offers from dozens of top SaaS apps for small business.
Finally comes the ask. Here, we reiterate the value that we’ve delivered over the past couple of weeks, explain what Groove is and does, and invite the subscriber to try the app for free.
Around 10% of subscribers take advantage of that offer.
That number has stayed consistent as we’ve grown our list, which makes it pretty easy to understand why we focus so much on building more and better content: we can draw a very direct line from the success of our content to the success of our business.
So, to recap, our approach is this:
We continue to send some automated emails beyond this, which I’ll cover in another post (as I wouldn’t call it onboarding any longer).
Automated Emails for New Trial Users
With our blog drip, our goal is to get the subscriber to sign up to try Groove.
Once someone signs up for a free trial, we send them an entirely new drip, with the goal of helping them get as much value from Groove as possible, and ultimately becoming a paying customer.
There are a number of behavior-based triggers and secondary sequences in our onboarding flow, but for this post, I’m going to focus on the primary ones; the onboarding sequence that most users go through, as I think anyone that hasn’t put a lot of work into onboarding yet should start with a simple approach like this one before moving on to more complex setups.
I should note that this drip is supported by some product-related guidance that we put into the app itself, pre-populating every new Groove inbox with a series of messages that show the user how the app works.
Just like our first blog email, this first message:
- Welcomes the user to Groove
- Lets them know what to expect in their inbox over the coming days
- Shares a link to a video tutorial that teaches them the ins and outs of the app
But most importantly, this email asks a critical question: why did you sign up?
With this question, we’ve been able to transform our messaging based on what we learned is most important to new customers, and we’ve been able to build deeper relationships with those customers by helping them with whatever unique goals or challenges drove them to sign up.
I still read—and act on—every single response I get to this email.
The second email, which comes from Lesley, our Head of Customer Success, is short and sweet, with not much more than a short video that has some tips and tricks to help the user get more from the app.
Custom profiles (that allow the user to pull customer data in from their own internal sources and display it in their customer’s profile in Groove) are a hugely valuable feature, but can be a bit of a challenge to set up if the user isn’t technically savvy. It’s the only feature in Groove with that limitation, but we know how valuable it can be to our users, so we make sure to address it in our onboarding flow with a step-by-step guide on how to make it work.
A lot of customer success, for us, is helping users uncover features and use cases that may not have been obvious to them from the start. To do that, we try and capture a lot of stories about how customers are using Groove.
We share some of those stories in our automated emails, to give users new ideas, and to show them the value that they can get out of the product.
From here, there are a number of directions the flow can go, based on whether the user looks like they’re slipping away:
Or whether they’re very active and would benefit from upgrading:
Or whether they’ve abandoned us completely:
There are a few other paths, too. Ultimately, our approach here looks like this:
Our priorities are:
- Get the user to “success” as quickly as possible
- Bring back users who are slipping away
- Get as much information as we can, especially from users who are churning (or more likely to churn)
2) Customer Exit Surveys
Customers leaving are a fact of doing business, and the larger you grow, the more customers will leave (if your churn rate stays the same).
What far too many businesses don’t do is leverage that churn to make your business better.
I’m talking about gaining a deep understanding of WHY your customers are leaving.
Sometimes, customers leave because of their condition: they’ve outgrown your business, or they signed up before they were ready, or they’re going out of business.
There’s little you can do about reasons like that.
But much of the time, customers leave because of you.
- Your product didn’t address a particular need for them
- They ran into too many bugs or issues
- They didn’t get the service or customer success support that they wanted
- You failed to prove why you’re better than a competitor
These are all things that you can do better, if you choose to prioritize them (more on that later).
How do you actually pinpoint the reasons your customers are leaving?
It’s probably simpler than you think: all you have to do is ask.
To ask, spend a few minutes and set up an automated customer exit survey.
How We Do Customer Exit Surveys At Groove
At first, we had no system in place for collecting feedback from customers who closed their accounts.
But after seeing it from countless apps I signed up for and canceled, I decided to give customer exit surveys a try.
We studied dozens of surveys and put together one of our own.
It’s a personal email with just a single question:
Not only did this perform multiple times better than other scripts we tested—including multiple choice surveys—but it gets a nearly 14% response rate.
That’s 14% of our ex-customers, who aren’t even doing business with us anymore, still taking the time to respond and help us do better.
We’ve gotten some incredible insights from this email.
Specific bugs that our active customers weren’t telling us about.
Hang-ups in our user experience that we didn’t catch.
Workflow inefficiencies for use cases that we had never considered.
To figure out what to actually improve on, it’s important to track the responses you receive and identify trends.
We track trends using Groove labels.
But you can do this using Gmail labels, Trello, or even a simple spreadsheet that documents your known issues and has a column for tallying the number of responses that center on each issue, as well as the ex-customer name and email address who reported the issue.
Doing this will help you understand what you’re losing the highest number of valuable customers to, so that you can act accordingly to fix what’s hurting most.
And once you do, then you can act on it.
3) Reading Books and Blogs
In Len’s post about his favorite customer service books, he said:
When it comes to improving ourselves and our lives, there’s no single better investment of your time and money than books.
What other investment gives you access to an expert’s knowledge that took them years—and sometimes, a lifetime—to gather and distill for you? All for less than $15 and a few hours (or days).
To a smaller extent, blogs are much the same: many of the posts we write distill weeks, months or years of testing and learning into a piece that takes just a few minutes to read.
Books and blogs are perhaps the ultimate multiplier for personal development.
When you’re focused on building a business, it’s so easy to put off reading as a “luxury” that you don’t have time for.
But that’s a huge mistake.
No matter what challenge you’re struggling with in business, chances are very good that someone else has struggled with it before…and written about it.
Often, learning from those people is faster, cheaper and more effective than figuring it out yourself.
13 Books That Have Changed The Way I Do Business
1) The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout
I think I first heard Tim Ferriss recommend this book in an interview several years ago. I had been into reading the “latest” books on business, and not diving too much into books that were published long before I got into the startup world.
This book changed all of that.
It’s brilliant, easy to follow, and the principles taught by the authors are just as valuable today as they were over 20 years ago.
Search for an opposite attribute that will allow you to play off against the leader. The key word here is opposite – similar won’t do.
2) The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The most groundbreaking book on iterative business building I – and millions of others – have read. Eric made the lean startup concept accessible for everyone with this book, and frankly, I’d expect every founder who’s constrained by resources but wants to win to read it.
We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.
3) The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun
WordPress is one of the companies I admire most, and this book tells the story of how the team behind the product operates. Like Groove, Automattic is a fully distributed team, and many of the insights in this book have helped shape the way I’ve built and led the Groove team.
In the scramble to survive, founders often hire to solve immediate needs and simultaneously create long-term problems. This mistake is common enough that Bob Sutton wrote a book, The No-Asshole Rule, to help executives recognize the damage these hires cause to culture.
No matter how many golden lectures a leader gives imploring people to “Be collaborative” or “Work as a team,” if the people hired have destructive habits, the lecture will lose.
4) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
Know that feeling of doing something and being “in the zone” where you’re happy, excited, enjoying life and know that absolutely nothing can stop you from succeeding.
That state is called “flow.” For a long time, the most I ever felt it was on my surfboard.
This book explains the science behind flow, and has helped me systematically engineer it into my business life, and I’m more productive and happy because of it.
Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.
5) Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
There’s a huge (and dangerous) assumption on the part of many first-time founders that if you build a great product and then simply tell TechCrunch about it, you’ll “launch” successfully.
I held the same assumption early in my career, too, and I’ve never seen it actually work.
Effective PR is not what it looks like on the surface, and anyone who’s into getting big PR value without investing many thousands of dollars would do well to read this book.
This book changed the way I see the news.
The link economy encourages bloggers to repeat what “other people are saying” and link to it instead of doing their own reporting and standing behind it. This changes the news from what has happened into what someone said the news is.
6) Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow
I’ve gotten more and more into biographies over the last few years, and this is one of my favorites.
John D. Rockefeller was probably one of the most controversial businesspeople in America’s history, and also one of the most successful. This book is a fascinating look at how he went from an unprivileged childhood to the greatest fortune in the world. To build his empire, he did a lot of things that I, and many others, find terrible, but he was also a great philanthropist and one of the men who build America. He’s a complicated character, and this book does a great job treating him fairly and sharing valuable lessons from his life.
Success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed.
7) How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Len noted this as his favorite book on his customer service reading list. It’s one of my favorites, too. There’s no single book I’ve read that packs more insights about social psychology and persuasion into a few hundred pages.
In fact, if there’s a single book on this list that I’d recommend you read if you’re growing a business, it’s this one.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
8) Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
This book was one of the biggest reasons we do marketing at Groove the way we do today. Seth’s thesis is that permission marketing – where the audience gives you permission to reach out to them – is far more effective than more traditional “interruptive” marketing. In our own experiments with marketing, we’ve found that to be incredibly true, and now permission marketing makes up 100% of our channels.
It’s not just about entertainment – it’s about education. Permission marketing is curriculum marketing.
9) The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
A lot of us, Groove included, are newer entrants into markets that have existed for some time.
It’s important to understand the way that technology and innovation change the way markets evolve over time, and this book will help you do just that. It dives into how (and most importantly, why) entrenched companies often lose market share over time – even when they’re doing everything “right” – because of new technology. And while the book is meant as a cautionary tale and guidebook for those established companies, we’ve found it to be invaluable in our own position as the new guys.
Watching how customers actually use a product provides much more reliable information than can be gleaned from a verbal interview or a focus group.
10) The Fish That Ate The Whale by Rich Cohen
The most recent biography that’s made a big impact on me, The Fish That Ate The Whale is the story of Samuel Zemurray, America’s “banana king.” Zemurray came from nothing to build (and then leave, and then return and overtake) the world’s largest fruit company.
Like Rockefeller, Zemurray’s tactics weren’t always honorable, but like Rockefeller, he was a complicated person: he also gave many millions to charity and did a lot of good in the world, while – purposefully or not – harming many others in the process.
Reading this book, though, I was reminded what true “hustle” really looks like; Zemurray was tireless, productive and used leverage in brilliant ways to get what he wanted.
There are times when certain cards sit unclaimed in the common pile, when certain properties become available that will never be available again. A good businessman feels these moments like a fall in the barometric pressure. A great businessman is dumb enough to act on them even when he cannot afford to.
11) Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen
TechStars is one of the most powerful startup accelerators in the world, and this book shares valuable growth lessons from some of their standout companies. It reads more like a collection of short blog posts, but each one has insights that any first-time founder would find useful.
In rapid iteration, the most important thing isn’t how perfect code is, but how quickly you can revert.
12) Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler
As Director of Corporate Sales at Salesforce.com, Aaron Ross helped the company add $100M in annual revenue to the company through outbound sales.
We don’t do much outbound sales at Groove, but the insights Ross shares from his experience are valuable for anyone that’s doing sales or marketing in any SaaS company.
Customers don’t care at all whether you close the deal or not. They care about improving their business.
13) Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll & Ben Yoskovitz
Data has been a big part of Groove’s growth; we track a lot of different things, and we share many of those things on this blog.
But understanding what to track, and figuring out which metrics are actually important and which aren’t, is tricky business.
This book was a huge help with that, and explores metrics at every stage of the startup growth process, especially if you, like me, weren’t a statistics major in college.
Customers are people. They lead lives. They have kids, they eat too much, they don’t sleep well, they phone in sick, they get bored, they watch too much reality TV. If you’re building for some kind of idealized, economically rational buyer, you’ll fail. But if you know your customers, warts and all, and you build things that naturally fit into their lives, they’ll love you.
How to Apply This to Your Business
I try not to push readers into doing everything that we do; it’s far more useful for you to figure out what works for your business, and focus on that.
But in this case, each of these three things has not only had a huge impact on our business, but I’ve seen them have a massive impact on every single person I’ve discussed this with who has done them.
I hope that this post convinces you to make time to implement these tactics. The first two will take no more than a day, and the third is an ongoing commitment that I urge you to block off in your calendar each week.
I’m confident you’ll find them worthwhile.