Growing a company today — especially a SaaS company — has so many questions and opinions, complexities and challenges that making a strategic decision, even a so called “easy” one, is never guaranteed to be right. Even when the data says otherwise.
The good news is (if you’re anything like me) it’s making the decision and the learning from the outcomes (both the good and bad) that truly drive you. And these days, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to scaling effectively and efficiently — even (especially) after gaining market fit:
- Do I raise money? How much money? How long will it take?
- When do I hire a sales team? A Sales Director? A VP?
- Did you say “flip my funnel?”
- Am I really going to waste our money on marketing?
- How soon should I be profitable? Should I ever be profitable?
- Am I slacking if I’m not working 20 hours per day? Can Slack help with that?
- User interface vs. user experience, customer experience vs. customer success, churn vs. burn, KPI vs. API, Box vs. Dropbox?
- Oh, and which books and blogs should I read, which conferences should I attend, and most importantly, who should I follow on Twitter?
But here’s what to love about SaaS: by now, there are plenty of great answers (and opinions) for each and every one of these questions, and pretty much any other one you have. Heck, you can probably find an entire blog dedicated to most of them. And the more you read, talk, listen and collaborate, the more trends, consistencies and patterns you’ll find. I definitely do.
In fact, it was a little more than a year ago when we were faced with a huge decision of our own here at Allbound. I guess you could say the the rubber was hitting the road — we were really starting to disrupt the frustratingly laggard practices and legacy systems that had bogged down channel sales and marketing for decades. We landed our first few enterprise customers, made our first outside hire (a Director of Customer Success), and were about to close our first round of funding — a seed round of just over one million dollars.
This was it! It was getting real (or about to be, anyways). So, what would be next in terms of building this little empire of ours? Standard logic and quite a few blogs and books said loud and clear that we needed to take that money and start spending ASAP on sales development, sales reps, sales stacks, sales sequences, and sales lists. This, I was told, was hustle. This was how you sell a product — then repeat it over and over and over again. This was crushing it.
The problem was, I didn’t want to sell a product.
I didn’t want to build a utility; I wanted to build the next Salesforce.
Oh, and there was another problem: I only had one million dollars. So… here’s what I did:
1. I built a brand.
No, I’m not talking about a logo or a website, even though we did make slight improvements to both. First thing first, I knew we needed a personality — a brand. We needed to set a tone, expand on our mission and vision and truly enunciate our “why.” Most importantly, if we were to be more than just another product or utility like everyone in the PRM space we’re so intent on trying to revolutionize, we had to show what made us different — our people, our ecosystem, our beliefs, and our passion. This was about so much more than just shoving product down people’s throats. More than just iterating. It was about humanizing, educating and innovating.
2. I focused on customer success.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, success was often displayed by the number of press releases you published or how many award badges you could afford to add to your website. Today, those are reasons to run. Because in 2016, success is measured not by what you say but by what your customers are saying about you.
That’s why, from the very first moment we set out to grow, I knew that Allbound had to be built on a relentless foundation of customer success. Sure, we needed to sell. But in order to truly scale, each and every one of our customers had to be wildly successful — or at least know wholeheartedly that we were doing everything in our power to make them so — both in using our product and in fulfilling our mission to help them accelerate growth through their channel partner programs.
3. I bet big on content.
I’ve always believed in content marketing and an inbound approach, especially when trying to disrupt and create a category. So, in order to to wake up a lagging industry and truly get them to not only understand, but believe in the revolutionary changes we were evangelizing, we had no choice but to be challengers. That’s why, before scaling sales, I decided to hire a Director of Marketing with a strong background in content marketing, lead generation and the “inbound” methodologies that are much easier to comprehend than to actually execute.
Almost immediately, we started producing 20-30 pieces of content per month — blog articles, podcasts, executive briefs, videos — all organically and all on a limited budget. We never purchased a list, never sent an unauthorized email, and never cold called a single person who hadn’t received a piece of Allbound content, opted into a campaign or mailing list or was nurtured and scored through via our CRM and marketing automation platform (both of which are HubSpot).
4. I planned a conference.
This is where I took a large cue from Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff, who very proudly and openly swore by the community-building, message-multiplying power of live events in his book, “Behind the Cloud.” It was years earlier, however, as a product marketing manager at NetPro Computing, that I first came to believe in the power of events while helping to promote and host the world’s largest conference for… wait for it… Microsoft Active Directory professionals.
It was this conference — and its supporting community — that was one of the most critical factors in NetPro’s rapid growth and eventual acquisition by Quest Software (now Dell). And more than a decade later, driven to dream big by the likes of Benioff’s Dreamforce, HubSpot’s INBOUND conference, and Gainsight’s Pulse and Pulse Europe, that I decided that in order to fulfill my vision of being not just a product, but a company, that we needed a conference of our own.
So, that’s what we did (albeit on a much tighter budget). And in November 2016, Allbound hosted COLLABORATE 2016, launching our community with 400+ customers and prospects who came together in Phoenix, AZ, to ignite a digital revolution in channel sales and marketing.
5. I built a channel.
Speed. Efficiency. Agility. Together, they’re arguably THE most critical components of business growth for any executive. Because how fast you get to market, prove your value and scale while keeping costs down and reacting to changes in your industry are the most important factors of whether you’re here to stay or you’re simply a one-hit wonder.
Luckily, we’re in the business of speed, efficiency and agility by helping companies plan, build and optimize the most proven and effective way to impact all three — channel partner programs. That being said, we’d be a fool not to implement one ourselves. So we did. And it worked. We added more than $250k in pipeline in our first few weeks and another $500k just a few weeks later. Not by hosting an open casting call for partners, but by doing exactly what we teach our customers to do — by focusing and building symbiotic, win-win relationships that we could learn from and build upon. And… it didn’t hurt that we had the software to back it up.
Most importantly, we never stop thinking big and being authentic in a world where both are cherished but neither are easy to come by. You see, in no way do we believe that we’ll ever get to where we truly want to be without making a few cold calls, sending some cold emails, purchasing the dreaded list, or placing big efforts on blending-in an outbound approach. But we do believe there are alternatives — especially in a day and age where markets are vulnerable, software platforms are a dime a dozen, and survival of the fittest depends more than ever on connecting and helping than calling and closing.
So, go crush it.