Helping Salesforce.com Users Build Better Relationships with Customers
Today’s software companies are operating on the newer SaaS model for the use of their software. This is a highly useful and profitable model. However, real profitability under the SaaS model is completely dependent upon subscription renewals and minimizing “churn” – in other words, adoption. However, many of these SaaS providers struggle to adopt new service models that would encourage adoption, often working against themselves by making adoption difficult because the delivery of support and training is too cumbersome and expensive . Outbox Systems is a consulting firm that has decided not to wait for its SaaS partners to figure it out. In fact, Outbox Systems sees adoption as its number one priority as well because they know that fully-adopted clients equal happy clients. So, in response to the market need, Outbox Systems has implemented a unique approach to its work, especially with implementations that has resulted in very high client adoption rates and happy customers. We sat down with Outbox VP of Strategy and Business Development, Adam Clark, to learn more about this modern approach to SaaS. Here’s what he shared.
Tell us a bit about Outbox Systems.
Early on we decided to remove traditional approaches to customer relationships. We no longer wanted to see customer relationships as something that was just related to a purchase. We were already spending time and effort in sales, marketing, and support – but the common mentality in the industry was that those were necessary costs for obtaining and keeping a relationship. Our belief is that our time should only be spent on relationships – meaning that we needed to re-think how we were marketing, selling, and supporting our customers. They were no longer activities that were meant to support relationships – they were PART of the relationship!
This doesn’t mean that we just said that to feel better about what we did to sell, etc. It meant fundamentally changing how we did those activities. It meant that we had to not be afraid to give the customer value even without the promise of a “relationship” related to a purchase. This new model of relationships incorporates three components. One of those is marketing through value.
What makes you different from other companies in this space?
Many companies flirt with this concept and even some actively talk about it, but few really practice it. This simply means that you provide real value to the customer via your marketing efforts. A white paper is one form of this, but it is often as far as a company will go – and many times they use it as bait to get your info in a web-form. We say, forget that. Just give it away. And, go far beyond that. After all, we are not after leads or conversions. We are trying to build relationships. I know few relationships that don’t require real giving on the part of both parties involved. Unfortunately, many companies take a quid pro quo approach that acts more like selling a product or trading than a natural relationship of give and take.
Two practices Outbox Systems is doing to build relationships are: Free Education and Training, and Serving Partners
Can you tell us more about Free Education and Training?
We provide free education and training (we consider support to be training, largely) through a few different avenues.
First, on Fridays for 2-4 hours, one of our experts is made available through open hours, like a help lab. We do a Google Hangout and answer questions that anyone may have. If no one shows up, then our expert just keeps working, but when someone comes, they give the customer their full attention. Anything that can be answered in that time frame is answered. If not, we will schedule a time to help them out later through normal business services. The idea of these sessions is to just provide a live forum for questions and build a relationship of trust with potential and active customers. If they don’t ever buy services from us, that’s ok because it’s still FAR better than traditional marketing efforts in terms of finding what most companies call “qualified leads”. However, if they do purchase services, they are most likely going to buy from us.
Second, we hold local business education events that are centered about integrating technology and business strategy – helping customers know how and where technology fits into their business strategy. These are also free. We work with local partners who want to provide value add to customers, or who want to introduce themselves to new companies. The attendees get great information and now we know who is interested and they know who we are (and that if they need help implementing things, they can use us). It also helps establish us as an expert and leader in our field within our communities. When they have friends that need help, they often will refer them to us.
Third, we hold free scheduled, live training events on different Salesforce or add-on apps via web conferencing. Anyone is welcome to attend, but it is by invitation-only through a partner or a Salesforce.com rep. We keep it invitation-only through partners because it is a great value they can provide to their customers, helping them provide value to their customers, and adding value to our relationship with the partner – which leads us to our second practice…
How do you service your partners?
When we form a relationship with a partner, we actually want a relationship that goes beyond an agreement of some kind. We want it to be a relationship, a real partnership. Partners, by definition work together toward the same end. So we ask our partners how we can help them. Most of the time, they simply say they want leads (of course), but there are many other ways we can assist them in this other than direct leads. We can offer content creation (like this guest blog post) and we can provide technical assistance that is related to, but not within the scope of services that they provide their customers. For instance, I often tell partners who have Salesforce apps, that if they get a customer who calls with a challenge that is clearly Salesforce related issue, we would be glad to be their backup. I will solve any one problem for a customer without any obligation. This relieves the burden of the partner to have to handle services and support on things they don’t know as well, and provides me an opportunity to not only serve the partner, but to build a relationship with a new potential customer by serving them for free. This has been very effective! Every person I help is a potential customer, and if they need additional help beyond that one challenge, I am usually going to get that business. This is because I have done the best job marketing and branding our company I possibly could – showing our dedication to the customer’s success and our skills associated with helping accomplish this.
What else should we know about Outbox systems?
In the end, we don’t actually spend any more time or money per “converted lead” and our percentage of buyers per relationship are far higher for us. Nothing we do is leveraged to get something. We just provide great value and build relationships. Sales are now born from relationships that are built in our marketing efforts as a natural occurrence. There are no more are sales, only relationships.
About Adam: Adam Clark lives in San Luis Obispo, CA with his wife and 5 small children. Previous to living in California, Adam spent the past 18 years in Utah where he founded Outbox Systems, a Salesforce.com consulting services partner company. Adam’s career has centered on technology in the context of customer engagement and operations. He has deep expertise in sales, marketing, and customer service operations technology and is a highly experienced solution architect with the Salesforce.com platform. Over the years, he has also become an expert in change/transformation and business relationship management, on which he spends a good deal of time writing and speaking. As an experienced and passionate entrepreneur, Adam has started or helped start several businesses, including Outbox Systems. He has used his work and entrepreneurial experience to mentor with the Utah TechX, a startup accelerator program in Provo, Utah, and now the SLO HotHouse, the Cal Poly startup facilitator in San Luis Obispo.