Talk Less, Smile More

Photo: By Hamilton

Selling Enterprise Software can be talking intensive, or could it just require a humble smile?

On my recent birthday I was treated to a night at Hamilton the musical, which I must say was awesome. And it’s in the show that Aaron Burr gives the immortal advice to Alexander Hamilton — ‘Talk Less, Smile More’. Now I’m not sure how people’s minds connect the dots, but at that moment this sentence connected with my latest musings on the value that a Net Promoter Score (NPS) brings and why earlier stage Enterprise software companies should care.

Firstly, what is an NPS score? Basically NPS is a survey of your customers where they rank you on a scale of 1 to 10, where the high end of the scale means they’re a promoter, and the low end of the scale means they’re a detractor. If you then subtract your detractors from your promoters and divide by the total surveys then you have your NPS score. Easy right? Well yes and no.

Earlier stage Enterprise companies should be maniacally focused on their tech, and giving the user the best possible experience. It’s doubtful that at the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) stage your company will have much of a Sales function, almost definitely no Marketing, and if you ran an NPS survey with early adopters the results would almost certainly be ‘meh’. Nobody is going to get their socks blown off.

So what’s the answer — should you throw money at very expensive marketing to drive demand? With a MVP the answer (using the Chris Lochhead expression) is to Niche Down, or how you create your category and simply delight your early adopters. In these early days, making your customers insanely happy will start a chain reaction, where they tell their colleagues how you wowed them, and how they should try you too. Focus, focus, focus on what makes you different, what makes customers successful, and how the product teams can double down on driving this referral cycle. Let’s be honest, the ROI for many early customers can be hard to capture, hence sales teams find it hard to sell with no customer stories and no customer ROI to show. The alternative is driving inbound leads through happy customer referrals.

In the early days, many companies jump to the phones and explain ad naseum how fast, convenient and efficient the product is — they talk too much. And they talk too much about the rational reasons to use the product. Dialling for dollars is a hard path. Now imagine that instead of hitting cold, outbound prospects, you received warm inbound leads. And why do I say warm — that’s because they’ve heard how you’ve delighted someone and that adds the emotional connection. It’s been shown time and time again that people trust reviews from peers more than any advert, cold call or website. In those early Marketing days, with maybe just a dusting of digital presence, those inbound leads are gold — the prospect is almost pre-qualified if they know who you are, what you do and how you’ve delighted someone in their trusted network. This is the time to smile, more.

A good example of insanely high NPS is your smartphone, or more specifically, the apps on your smartphone. It’s highly likely that the majority of these apps were recommended by a person, review or media outlet you trust, rather than a blind search. Imagine if you could translate that to your Enterprise software business, and drive such a successful niche category that inbound leads drive all growth. By then later adding Marketing, more customer focused Product, and Sales equipped with customer stories you can fuel 100%+ growth in pipeline, revenue and renewals.

In every organisation I’ve worked with, customer satisfaction has been a company level KPI/OKR with NPS being the most popular measure. NPS quite rightly rests with all employees, and in progressive Enterprise software companies this has been refined further within the Customer Success team who measure NPS across the multi-year journey of a SaaS relationship. It’s easy for Customer Success to focus on the revenue triggers of getting a customer live (revenue on), and at the contract renewal point (revenue renews). The time period between these two points is the danger zone, where the customer can be left to their own devices and easily lose their way — and a great entry point for the competition. Measure NPS across all these customer life-cycle phases, and ensure a positive NPS by constantly adding value. And dig into NPS by geo, customer segment and product line to refine satisfaction levels and uncover localised issues.

And close the loop with your most engaged high value customers with a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). Bring them together often and show them what’s next in the Product Roadmap — half of which they’ll recognise as what they’ve asked for, whilst the other half should be innovation which delights them. Bring them into the fold with your executives and show them the Voice of the Customer at work.

In the end your early go to market is an arms race— your amazingly innovative product versus the incumbent’s strength of sales and distribution. Whoever can neutralise the other’s strength wins. Scaling a Sales and Marketing machine is expensive and takes time, however a smaller more modest team can be hugely amplified by a big NPS. I’ve seen it work — and when it does we all smile.