In company lore about sales, farmers have long been the poor cousin of the aggresive, new-customer-big-upfront-revenue-closing hunter.  The hunter wrestles big game to the ground.  The farmer just visits them in the barn, after they have been tamed, and milks them for maintenance.   Granted, if a company has this kind of culture, it doesn’t result in the best ongoing service for its customer, but I’ve seen plenty of companies where this stereotype approximates reality.  But things are changing. 

It's FarmerTime. 

Online services, including SAAS companies, are usually subscription businesses.  Customers don’t make one big upfront purchase.  Instead, they make many ongoing purchases that will continue only if the service continues to provide value.  

In this model, keeping a customer and upselling them (from free to paid, to higher value plans or additional users/modules) is vital. And it requires farmers and a company culture that values farmers.  

Even the process of hunting is changing.  Inbound marketing brings leads to the gate.  Free trials and freemium lets them come into the barn, try out the food, shelter, and straw.   They still need to be converted, but this sales process is a big step closer to farming than pure old-school hunting.   

What does it take to farm well?

To provide value day in and day out, in order to keep and grow your customers, a farmer has to do the following

  1. Know the customer.   What is their business?  What are their goals and needs?  How do they spend their day? How do they want to spend their day?  Put yourself in their shoes.  This is obvious to say but hard to consistently do.  
  2. Know your solution.   What can you offer?  How does it work?  How have other customers made use of your solution to accomplish similar objectives?  Where are you broken?  Where are you painful?  What don’t people use?  How does this vary with different kinds of customers and different use cases?  Where are you headed?  Be a power user of your solution and a student of how others are using it.  
  3. Bring this knowledge together, to serve the customer.   This includes the classic reactive ways of serving a customer like answering questions, taking support calls, prioritizing bug fixes.  But in can also include proactive service like:  here are the ways you are currently using our service, here are some other ways customers’ like you have used it to gain value, you seem to be having trouble with this module, and here is a training video or invitation to a class to make use of it. 

Farmers need good tools

There is a robust class of well-developed tools for customer support to handle calls and track customer issues and feature requests.   As well, there are solutions that allow customer community to form around suggestions, feedback, and issues.  

But for knowing your customer, knowing how customers are actually using your solution,  and using that information to better serve the customer, many organizations are still plowing by hand.  This means relying on direct personal communication and occasional surveying to understand the customer and their interaction with your business.

Deep personal communication and connection is terrific.  But it doesn’t scale.  

At Apptegic, we are developing a new class of power tools that deepen and automate a farmers’ work.   We enable you to capture easily the detailed interaction of all of your customers with your service.   This helps you better understand your customers, your solution, and how to bring the two together.   It will even help you prioritize how, when, and with which customers to connect personally.

Happy farming.  

Credits:  Recent conversations with Phil VerghisMikael Blaisdell, and Jim Dickie influenced some of the ideas for this post.