There has never been a better time to start a business. These days, almost anyone can quickly set up an infrastructure that can automate most or all of the business functions around marketing, producing, and even delivering a product.
There’s just one area that hasn’t caught up yet. Even with all the advancements in technology that have brought about automated marketing solutions, no-code software development platforms, and point-and-click fulfillment options, there’s no magic bullet out there that will sell your product for you.
So even though it’s never been easier to start a business, it’s still just as difficult, if not more difficult, to sustain that business.
Yes, you can still sell individual products to individual customers, and you can build a base of those one-to-one customers over time. If you’re lucky, your product will have a price point and a margin that still allows your company to make a profit from such a manual and time-consuming one-to-one sales approach.
But almost every company stalls out and stagnates at a certain level of manual sales productivity. Furthermore, sales methods that were formerly thought of as automation magic bullets — search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, and the like — those methods aren’t as magical as they used to be.
Even the more recent and advanced approaches, like two-sided marketplaces, which are currently all the rage, aren’t sustainable until they hit a critical mass — a large enough market share to make the transaction process both time and cost efficient for the customer.
Back to Sales Basics, With a Technical Twist
Luckily, you don’t need magic software to scale your sales. There are a number of old-school approaches to volume selling that any business can take advantage of, and the more forward-thinking companies can even enhance these approaches with technology and automation.
All the approaches revolve around a single concept: Get other people to sell your product for you. This is not in a shady way, not in a multi-level marketing or bug-your-friends-and-neighbors way. These are corporate tactics, used over decades and still used today.
Just as modern technology has brought into the mainstream resources for building, marketing, and delivering a product that were formerly only available to large corporations with deep pockets, that same technology is starting to make it possible for any company to sell more units with fewer resources.
Here are four of those methods that I’ve used over and over again, and would recommend to any business, regardless of the size of the company or the nature of the product.
4 Sales Methods That Get Other People to Sell Your Product for You
- Enterprise sales.
- Customer referrals.
- Revenue share models.
- White-label platforms.
A lot of companies offer an enterprise version of their product by slapping a tile on their website with a call to action to contact their sales team, and they stop there. This is a wasted opportunity.
How It Works: Think about tiered offerings — let’s call them hobby, pro, and enterprise. We normally associate tiers with software, but it doesn’t matter if the product is an app license, protective gear, or artisan snacks.
The hobby tier targets an individual who wants the product, but hasn’t decided that they can’t live without it. It’s the equivalent of a trial or a sampler. The sole purpose of this tier is to convert the customer to the pro tier, which is the “real” version of the product. The enterprise version is just a bulk purchase of the pro tier.
Why It Has Always Worked: The assumption is that the person who would get the most value out of a pro-tier purchase of the product might also be the same person that can authorize the purchase of multiple units of that product for the entire company. That assumption is correct more often than not.
Modern Twist: Simply playing off that assumption, you should be converting every pro user of your product to an enterprise champion. That person should be able to understand and unlock additional value that they can present to whomever has the authority to make the enterprise purchase, even if it isn’t them.
If you offer a digital product, there are many ways you can do this within the product itself. But even if you don’t, you should make available marketing materials, a cost calculator, and an easy-to-understand overview of an enterprise agreement for that champion to use to sell your product to their own company.
Trust me, they will be a much better salesperson than you, especially early on in the sales process. At the very least, they can get the meeting.
The best way to find new customers, hands down, is through your existing customers.
Peers are usually the first place prospects go once they have an interest in your product category. And that peer assessment is make or break. You’re always working to maintain a healthy relationship with your existing customers for just this type of word-of-mouth marketing.
A referral program means making that same word-of-mouth process proactive instead of reactive.
How It Works: Incentivize your best and happiest customers, the ones that find the most value out of your product, to actively seek out other people just like them.
Why It Has Always Worked: These folks will bring you customer prospects that are much easier to convert than random prospects. When you pay them to bring you those valuable prospects, they'll bring you more.
Modern Twist: These days, it’s really simple to start a referral program without making it a complex and cumbersome process. Digital methods to track referrals and digital coupons to reward them can automate the program completely. For example, you can give a free month to every customer who brings in a new customer.
One note of warning here. Don’t turn a referral program into your primary source of customer acquisition and don’t turn it into a multi-level marketing scheme. This will create more entanglements than results, in terms of potential for fraud and abuse. Your customers should never get the idea that they are either a) working for your company or b) can get rich selling your product.
Think of a revenue share model as a grown-up, professional version of a referral program. The main difference is that you should have a dedicated contract in place.
How It Works: You’re creating a team of authorized resellers. Simply put, if my company has a 20 percent margin on our product, I can offer another entity maybe half of that to do the heavy lifting of finding customers that they are already aligned to find. So it’s like a 10 percent commission for what’s essentially an external sales force.
Why It Has Always Worked: It works when the partners you target for a revenue share model are predisposed to complement and not compete with you. In other words, if you sell peanut butter, your partner should be selling jelly. You pay them more than you would for a referral because of this predisposition to a larger number of customer prospects.
Modern Twist: Revenue share models can be nearly 100 percent automated, not just in terms of arranging the partnership but also the actual selling. With some work, you can set up a system by which your partner can sell your product through their own sales channels, even their own website, only contacting you to fulfill the order.
The more automation you build into the relationship, the closer you get to the final method.
This is the holy grail of getting other people to sell your product, and, sometimes, this method can replace the entire sales process for your company.
How It Works: Take the modern twist on the revenue sharing model, and totally convert everything about the sale of your product so that it is branded, marketed, transacted, and maybe even fulfilled by the partner.
Amazon does this with its Amazon Basics line, where it partners with companies to offer Amazon-branded products through the Amazon marketing, selling, and fulfilling machine. Companies that make the generic products for grocery stores use essentially the same approach, but a less modern take on the method.
Why It Has Always Worked: It allows both you and your partner to focus on what you do well. For example, your partner makes really good golf clubs, you make really good golf towels. The process to make those two things could not be more different. The golf club company, rather than invest a whole bunch of time and money into making a completely different product, can just sell your towels branded with their logo.
Modern Twist: In software terms, this happens in what’s known as a “powered by” approach, where company A offers their customers a feature or entire feature suite that is “powered by” company B, but makes no mention of company B (unless, and I would recommend this, you negotiate a “powered by” type of label somewhere in the feature set).
Even with physical products, that same infrastructure you use to market, build, and deliver your own product can be converted to the other company’s branding, sometimes as simply as switching out a logo.
One last bit of advice: Start simply. These four sales methods can quickly shoot off in a number of different directions and become as unique as you want to make them. But the simpler you start them, and the simpler you keep them, the easier they are to maintain, which makes selling your product to larger and larger markets that much easier.