Sunday, April 10, 2016

Trends at MicroConf 2016

You can learn a lot by chatting with folks at MicroConf. Here are a few patterns I noticed in the talks and talking with attendees. Perhaps you'll find something to help your business take off!

Shopify. I talked to a few folks doing consulting work or building plugins (or Apps, as Shopify calls them) for Shopify. At least one person said that the market for Shopify products and services was still small. It's probably true, but the amount of interest makes you wonder how fast the Shopify ecosystem will grow in the next year or two.

Email marketing tools. Drip. Bluetick. ConvertKit. Many folks are building and using these tools. You probably should be too.

Pre-paid consulting. Some agencies and consultants are not accepting net-90 payment terms. Depending on the client or their own inclinations, they are charging in advanced, or requiring payment at pre-defined milestones for the project to continue. Not offering your clients credit seems like a great way to remove some risk from a consultancy.

Payroll tools. Some of the MicroConf attendees own products that help customers run payroll. At least one of them used Dwolla to transfer the funds. Paying employees and contractors is a pain even for one employee. Big payroll providers are expensive and difficult. Perhaps this is a growing market.

Customer personas. Many MicroConfers build customer personas to have a better idea of the different type of people they are marketing to, building products for, and are trying to retain. Done correctly, this helps the businesses make better decisions in all areas. Speaker Patrick Campbell claimed that 98% of successful companies had quantified buyer personas. Get on it! 

Customer on-boarding. Speakers Ben Orenstein, Des Traynor, and Lars Lofgren all praised a robust on-boarding process for new customers. Des wisely reminded us that the on-boarding process is the only part of your product that all users are guaranteed to do. Ben spent hours watching new users trying to use his product. Ben polished his on-boarding until each user slid into the app like a clumsy penguin into the Ross Sea. Lars discussed on-boarding in the context of customer churn, one of the key metrics in growing a SAAS business.

Sales demos were a popular topic as well. Speaker Anna Jacobsen revealed a big ah-ha moment as she shared what she learned from a year of product demos at Drip. The process she developed involves live, one-on-one demos with each potential customer. As she guides them through Drip, she customizes a new account tailored to the customer's workflow. At the end of the demo, she offers to let them use it as a trial account in exchange for a credit card number. Bam: her demo-to-trial hack turns a sales demo into on-boarding.

Pricing research, experimentation, and Value based pricing. I heard lots of folks talking about pricing, especially after the pricing insights from Claire Lew, Lars Lofgren, Patrick Campbell, Amir Khella, and Ben Orenstein. Claire's Know Your Company charges clients $100 per employee. Unusually for a web-based app, the charge happens just once. It works because it aligns Know Your Company's revenue to it's results. As clients grow, they add employees and pay to do so.

Lars reinforced the concept of picking the right pricing metrics: ones that would expand with customer success, but not invite cheating. Patrick went into great detail on how to price, and encouraged us all to never stop evaluating your pricing. Ben advocated for the ability to change pricing without pushing any new code. Amir explained his pricing formula based on how much money he estimated his product will save customers.

Talking to customers. Many MicroConfers believe that their customers know what problems they have, and what products they would pay for. The best of them use customer communications to improve their products, customer engagement, and to find new opportunities for making revenue. Which brings us to...

Expansion revenue. Sometimes it is better to make more money from existing customers rather than simply trying to acquire new customers. Increase that Lifetime Value. Lower your LTV/CAC ratio.

Customer funding. Some of the businesses at MicroConf paid for product development costs by charging customers before the product existed. In exchange for the early vote of confidence, these customers get first dibs on the product. Getting money before a product exists shows that you've discovered a problem that people will pay to solve.

Building free tools to acquire customers. Speakers Amir Khella and Christopher Gimmer both built free tools into real online businesses. Patrick McKenzie tweeted the benefits of this strategy

Shipping real MVPs. Des Traynor suggests that a good MVP includes only the features that all your customers would use all the time. Building an MVP means shipping painfully early, which was another theme.

Sales calls / demos. If you're wondering how folks are getting customers without spending jillions on AdWords, this is one way. I bet fear of person-to-person interaction generates lots of ad revenue! See also: talking to customers.

Cold emailing. B-to-B businesses do this all the time, and it's not spam (done properly, at least). Another way to acquire customers without huge costs. 

Podcasting. Speaker Kai Davis talked about podcast tours. That's not touring podcast studios (they probably look pretty boring). This means campaigning to become a guest on someone else's podcast. Rinse and repeat. His incredible fact: 17% of Americans listened to a podcast in the past month. It looks like podcasting is growing fast. Several of the attendees had podcasts.

Portland. There were many people from Portland, and even a few attendees who are moving there. Although it is smaller in both area and population than Austin, I can tell that ATX is jealous. Does Portlandia count as content marketing?

Tesla. Sure, Elon Musk is a great entrepreneur. Whatever. What MicroConfers seem to really care about is how dang cool the Model S. Some folks were considering speculating on the Model 3, which was just announced. Considering the demand for the Model 3, why not pre-order a loaded one and sell it for a big markup?

What do you think? What did I miss?

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