I often hear founders describe linear experiences when it comes to acquiring or the purchase pathway for new users and customers.

It’s something like, ‘they see our Instagram ad and when they arrive at our site and click the trial button, then they…’

Statements like this assume a lot about moving a person from being unaware of your product to becoming an evangelist.

The product and marketing steps to achieve this are well known. Increasing awareness usually starts with communications to friends and family, some ads and (hopefully) a well-designed referral program. It continues with retargeting prospective users and customers on social media. Then comes the sending of repeated emails and alerts in the hope that people who signed up will move to the next step in your funnel.

These tactics are the standard and while they work to some degree, they aren’t remarkable. Regardless of how clever the message is or how innovative the delivery medium, the message(s) remain a monologue. And unfortunately, despite a founder’s best intentions, these tactics can easily be interpreted as pesky and overdone.

The subtle but essential nuance that often gets missed is how teams should participate in the purchase. In other words, how can founders and their teams take unusual (and sometimes unscalable) steps to move their sales process from the expected to unexpectedly awesome?

A mini purchase

Just over a decade ago I saw the remake of The Italian Job. It was brilliantly recreated and it was also the relaunch of the much loved Mini Cooper. At the time I was in the market for a new car. I hadn’t decided on what I wanted but that indecision vanished as soon as the film ended.

In the following week I, at 6’5”, developed confirmation bias for Mini Coopers. I was seeing them everywhere. And it wasn’t long before I made an enquiry at the local Mini Garage while visiting friends in another city.

While I didn’t live in that city, I often travelled there for work. On my first visit to the Mini Garage, the young sales manager and I talked about options and pricing. He loved them as much as I did and his enthusiasm was infectious. At the end of the meeting, he told me to be in touch when I was ready to make the purchase.

The likelihood of making the purchase in a different state was unlikely but that changed a fortnight later.

At the time LinkedIn had a product partnership with an app which allowed you to log your business travel. After submitting the details, the app would notify your connections and people looking at your LinkedIn profile of your travel dates. It had often inspired opportunistic meetings and I was beginning to warm to it.

Prior to travelling back to the city where I had visited the Mini Garage, I logged my business trip and thought nothing of it. When I landed I received an SMS from the Mini sales manager asking if I wanted to borrow a Mini for the weekend. I was completely surprised and delighted and the story ends with him getting my business.

Notwithstanding how organised he was as a relatively young sales manage, he participated in the purchase. He did his homework and created an unscalable and by definition, remarkable experience.

A pre-purchase tactic

You might think that tactics like my Mini experience are reserved for luxury goods or only suited for business-to-business (B2B) relationship management.

They’re not. I think participating in purchases can (and should) happen in all business models.

I am not suggesting that every customer is subjected to special pre-purchase attention. That would be impossible. It should, however, be part of a venture’s plan to acquire customers.

Delivering adjacent value

When I think about strengthening a relationship, the first thing that comes to mind is finding ways to accelerate the other parties position. In other words, I think about their motivations and incentives and try to find ways to help them secure their incentive.

The best way to achieve this involves creating value which is adjacent to what you might want to sell them.

I do this for teammates and mentees as well as prospective customers, partners and investors.

And to be clear, this isn’t about procrastinating or leaving value on the table. It’s about playing the long game. It’s also about sometimes suspending the urge to lock down a short-term sale knowing that the value you derive will be much larger in the future.

There are a number of ways that you can create adjacent value and consequently participate in the purchase journey:

  1. Provide access – This can play out in at least two ways. First, the CEO, co-founders and senior leaders can make calls to customers to see how they are enjoying the product and how they can improve it. It has always surprised me how excited customers are to receive a call from someone they never thought would take the time. Second, invite customers to events like webinars where they can learn and question specialists from your team about the problem you are solving.
  2. Send product – The unexpected delivery of a product you might like and which you can try is one of the most potent ways of making a prospective customer stop and think about the effort you went to to surprise them
  3. Offer service – Services-based companies can offer value in the form of a gift voucher for access to a defined amount of time eg a PR agency might offer 30 minutes of advice on a crisis management issue, redeemable anytime
  4. Express gratitude – Calling a prospective customer to say thank you for considering your company (not if you can answer any questions or try to re-sell to them) will not only be unexpected but it demonstrates that the company felt them reach out
  5. Recommend content – If you see content that you think is valuable to a customer (or partner or investor), send it. If you listen to podcasts and Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale Podcast, you will know how this plays out; he recommends other podcasts to start listening to
  6. Direct to more mature providers – This one is more controversial but I have been surprised when in the interest of a long-term relationship, a business developer has recommended a more mature product (instead of their own) that will suit my companies needs

One last thing…

I usually ask myself three questions when it comes to delivering adjacent value.

Am I/we likely to derive long-term value?

Is this unscalable?

Am I/we likely to learn something from our prospective customer?

If the answer is YES for each question, the outcome is typically positive.

That’s how I approach participating in the purchase. How do you go about it?