7 Nuggets of Wisdom from Hiten Shah


The best way to learn is to surround yourself with those who are smarter than you, so we invited entrepreneur Hiten Shah and 20 Boston-area professionals for lunch. Needless to say, it was a digital marketer’s dream day at the office. People in product marketing, growth marketing and customer success enjoyed pizza and listened to Hiten drop some startup wisdom. 

Chase Customers, Not Channels

Early stage startups often focus too much energy on establishing the optimal channel instead of acquiring users one by one. It’s best to find customers to identify market fit and gain one-to-one feedback that can guide product development.

Over time, marketing can test which communication methods are most effective. Save that for later.

At a later stage, startups face a different challenge. They are making some money, have a couple of effective channels, are scaling the business, and they come up with what Hiten calls a “list of s***.” It’s a document with all the marketing items they could do. Instead, the team should focus on what’s effective now and do more of that. Invest in the channel that is working.

Where Hiten Lives Online

The short answer: everywhere.

Hiten’s newsletter is one of the best email subscriptions for product marketers. He features a handful of his favorite reads every week. If you send him a link, he’ll read it, but don’t expect him to post it. He seeks out information without limiting sources based on this philosophy:

First, if someone’s already written it, I shouldn’t write it. I should link to it. Tweet:

Two, it’s imperative that I find it. If someone already wrote it and there’s knowledge out there, you’re only going to get so much from reading books now. The fresher stuff is online. 

Where to House Success and Support Teams

As businesses strive to improve customer retention, there are challenges deciding where to house success and support departments.

Historically, sales has been split into multiple areas in order to better aide the user. Customer success from a retention standpoint is a sales function. Customer success from a product and engineering standpoint is a support function. In Hiten’s eyes, that’s how it should be.

The sales unit usually is not interested in the renewal side of the business, so there is a customer success team to focus on happiness and retention. The support group is meant to deal with individual inquiries, and the sum of those tickets can guide product decisions.

Hiten’s gripe is when companies merge customer success under sales and the Chief Revenue Officer runs it. As a result, support lags. The goals and metrics are different; joining the teams undermines the functions of each.

Companies are also giving new names to these roles, and the semantics become confusing. It’s unnecessary to give a new title to a role that is functioning with established responsibilities.  

Tl;DR: Success is to sales as support is to product. Keep the semantics streamlined.Tweet:

The Productivity of 100 Salespeople Done by 10

Hiten makes bold statements for the sake of argument. This one he firmly believes:

In the future, I believe we’re going to have the productivity of 100 salespeople done by 10. Tweet:

The product should be able to sell itself. Marketing’s role is to provide the best discovery experience so lower tier customers can buy without talking to someone. Salespeople can then spend their time with larger, enterprise-level prospects.

For example, HubSpot used its established marketing channels which brought people directly to the tools. The sales conversation was then less about why the user should adopt it and more about how the tool can take work to the next level.

In regards to tactics, Hiten lets content do the talking. By mapping the job title and the stage of the company to specific marketing content, he saw better engagement and conversion rates:

Target content, like blog posts specifically, that convert higher to signups. We’re not trying to annoy them. We’re not trying to do anything they’re not expecting. We’re trying to make those things smarter.

“Fight Against Touch”

The buying process has changed. Figure out the sales process and evaluate how the product can do it with no touch or light touch. This might mean a lower price point or a well-designed interface that does the selling.

For instance, Hiten has seen tests of an upgrade prompt. This interface resembles a chat, and acts as a barrier to payment. In doing so, it creates a personalized experience and helps the customer understand what they’re buying. This conversation gate qualifies if the person is right for the product. In testing, it improved conversion rates and customer satisfaction.

This brings us back to the future of sales: A 1,000 person sales teams doesn’t scale, so build the product to sell itself.

We’re Not the Customer

Product marketers are finding new ways to communicate with users. It’s the early days of new channels, so there are growing pains.

In-application feature announcements are intended to communicate the added value to the current product. However, we often see them get in the way of a returning user and prevent the individual from using the software. The channel has the potential to be effective, but is not tuned right.

In-app support might act as a bandaid over a part of the product that’s not functioning well. The purpose of collecting feedback is so marketers can apply it and make the software more user-friendly.

Dispatch learned from its data that people who go through tutorials are much better users. They utilize more of the platform’s tools. Other lunch guests chimed in whether this was true for them or not. Some audiences love handholding, others dismiss updates. Learn if the audience needs the tutorial.

How to Collect Good Feedback

When people complain, ask if you can interview them. Litmus reaches out to passionate respondents to gain an understanding of how power-users work within the product.

Hiten expressed that user testing before an update decreases support volume by working problems out of the software ahead of time. Previously, the tickets would sharply increase after a product launch and then the company would fix the issue. With research done in development, during launch, and after release, software is better designed and users are happier.

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