Lowering Sales Input In Software Start-Ups

For the past 12 months - (Argyle turns one next week) - I've called nearly lead inquiry we've gotten at Argyle.  And I've given one-on-one product demos to lots of them. 

It is really time-consuming and obviously not sustainable/scalable.  But - it is has been a great way for me to build relationships with customers/prospects, get close to the market, and *really* understand the problems that we're addressing with our product.

Lately, we've done a few things to lower the sales input necessary to qualify/close new accounts:

- An email drip campaign.  This was a no-brainer and super-easy to set up.  Even we don't call, we know that all free trial accounts will get a few marketing touches before their trial expires.  We've seen a noticeable up-tick in trial adoption as a result.

- A getting-started wizard.  Step-by-step tutorials are a great way to lower the "getting started" hurdle for new accounts.  We've had this from the beginning, but it was terrible.  Josh - our amazingly talented designer - spent a few hours cleaning it up and turned it into strategic asset.

- Contextual help and demos.  Again - we've had in-line help blurbs and video demos since the earliest version of Argyle.  And we've tended to include lots of descriptive text in our application.  Both are a great way to mitigate support inquiries.

- Immediate value.  We're launching our most aggressive effort to lower sales input in our upcoming release of Argyle Social v2.  (You can read a preview at SocialFresh.com.)  When our prospects log in for the first time today, it isn't obvious that Argyle is aggregating data and such.  First log ins going forward will see data immediately - both real-time updates and historicals.

- A product that markets itself.  In the next couple weeks, we'll have email notifications hooked to key features.  So that prospects (and customers, of course) will get notified by Argyle when important things happen - such as a priority mention on Twitter or a spam comment on their Facebook wall or a runaway success campaign.  These notifications obviously provide business value...but they're also a tap on the shoulder of sorts for prospects that are still deciding!

We'll still do tons of phone calls and tons of demos - but I suspect that we'll do less educating and explaining and instead more convincing and closing.  :)

Prediction - HubSpot Will Acquire An ESP In 2010

The ExactTarget / CoTweet deal got me thinking...and here's one of many thoughts:

HubSpot is going to buy an email marketing service provider 2010.  And I have a few pretty good ideas of who it could be.

Here's why it is going to happen:

It is blatantly obvious. 

The guys at HubSpot have built a fantastic B2B lead management machine with some nicely integrated SEO, blog, and other content tools.  (And probably more - I'm not an expert on their platform.)

Email is the obvious missing piece.  I think HubSpot already provides customers tools for simple nurturing campaigns...but my hunch is that there remains MUCH room for improvement. (What about mailings that are independent of a lead form or the HubSpot platform?)

I also suspect that many of HubSpot's low/mid-tier customers would gladly dump their existing email vendor for a reasonable, integrated offering from HubSpot.

(Yes - email marketing kinda goes against the inbound credo.  But if you do it right, email marketing makes inbound marketing MUCH stronger.)

Email marketing isn't easy...

...and it certainly can't be dumbed-down into a grader.  (Zing!)  Deliverability, workflow, reputation, best practices, etc. all have a steep learning curve - both for the customer and the vendor.  The best email marketing apps are highly specialized and get all of the little details just right.

Instead of trying to build it all in-house, HubSpot would be smart to buy a platform and all of the email marketing product/industry expertise that comes with it.

They've got to keep pace.

Eventually, HubSpot will to start bumping into up-market vendors like Marketo, Eloqua, and Salesforce.com - all of which have very strong email marketing components, either native or through amazingly tight integrations.  Thus, it would take them a long time to build out a feature-complete email platform that is strong enough to compel marketers to switch from their existing vendor.

So they'll buy a mid-tier vendor, integrate the platform with HubSpot, happily accept the top-line bump from the new contracts, and make up a lot of ground with their biggest competitors - all in one smart acquisiton.

They're flush with cash.

HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan recently said that the firm's next financing round would hopefully come from public markets, which means that their last round came at a great valuation and gives them a nice, long runway to grow...a runway presumably lengthened by the gobs of cash they're raking in every month.

A $8M - $15M acquisition is certainly in their sweet spot.  And the list of email marketing vendors that match that profile is fairly short.

PS - Here's why it won't happen:

  • They won't be able to get a good price from a good ESP.
  • Despite everything I just said, HubSpot seems like a builder...not a buyer.
  • I'm just taking a wild guess.