Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business — and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences in our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: the only way to scale is to do things that don’t scale.
I was in the middle of the biggest product launch of the year. But for two days, I ditched all work. I huddled around my laptop and began recording personalized voicemails for my customers.
“Hey John! Ronnie here. I just wanted to record a quick voice message for you. Looking at your account, I see you’ve been a member since 2015 . . .”
I’d go on for about 90 seconds, making a personal connection to let them know that our enrollment period was ending soon. Then I’d do it all over again. And again. And again. Until I recorded 51 voicemails for a select group of potential customers — which may not sound like a lot, but it sure felt that way at the time. If you’ve ever done a product launch, you know how exhausting it is. Early mornings. Late nights. Emails. Phone calls. Videos. Webinars. And now I’d jammed this very labor-intensive, personalized task into the middle of it all. By the end of the recording session, I was hoarse and tired and had a mountain of work to catch up on.
But it paid off. After I emailed those voicemails to our customers, they bought our $2,000 product at such a high rate that, by my calculations, we ended up making $8,600 for every hour I spent recording.
Reid Hoffman says that before you build a company that can scale, you have to do things that don’t scale — which is to say, create small, hyper-personalized experiences that connect with your earliest customers. I totally agree, but I come at it a little differently: At my company, I want to keep creating those personal experiences even as we scale. I want it embedded into everything we do, at every scale we do it.
I want that because I know my customers want it, too. My 9-year-old company, PLR.me, sells brandable coaching resources for health and wellness professionals. And by their nature, our clients are looking for a personal experience. They want to have a conversation with a person, not a company. They have questions and specific needs that can’t always be answered by a FAQ section or an explainer video.
That’s why I regularly challenge my team to create mini personalized experiences every day — and to constantly experiment with new ways to add that personal touch. Is it harder, now that we’ve grown larger? Sure. But it’s totally worth it. Because in the process, my clients experience a whole new level of authentic customer care that I hope sets us far apart from the field. And I’ve learned more about my customers’ desires and needs, which has led to better copy that’s more on point.
To show how I approach one of these personalization experiments — and how any company can do the same — I’ll break down our voicemail experiment.
Time spent: Each voicemail was about 90 seconds long. Add on the time to prep, record, save, attach and email it to the client, it took about 3-5 minutes per voicemail, or around 3 hours total for 51 voicemails.
Replies: Out of 51 voicemails recorded over the two-day period, only three people replied! The lack of replies threw me off; I feared I’d done something to offend people, and stopped the experiment prematurely. And yet . . .
Sales: People didn’t respond by email because they were responding with their dollars. Thirteen out of 51 customers purchased the $2,000 product, which was a 25 percent conversion rate. That’s $26,000 in sales from just over three hours of work, or $8,600/hour. That’ll beat almost any sales page, webinar or email conversion rate.
The software: Since this was about speed, I needed the recording to be as simple and painless as possible. No complex editing or any bells and whistles to slow me down. I used a free Mac app called Audio Recorder, which sits in the menubar and made the recording process as easy as a couple clicks.
The voicemail script: If you want to try this with your own business, you’ll of course want to create your own script that matches your product. But you might find it helpful to look at mine first. So here you go:
I just wanted to record a quick voice message for you.
Looking at your account, I see you’ve been a member since [DATE] . . .
. . . and I wanted to make sure you heard about the [PRODUCT NAME].
This is the LAST TIME we’re ever offering [EXPLAIN PRODUCT] . . .
Plus the exclusive [BONUS].
And I want to make sure you see this, because . . .
The last day is THIS Friday, Sept. 30 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific.
So if you’re interested, or just a little curious . . . you can check it out by clicking the link I sent in the email.
We have a couple of payment plan options and a fast-action bonus: [BRIEFLY EXPLAIN BONUS], absolutely free.
I appreciate you [NAME]!.
The email I sent with it: This was nothing special — just 23 words long:
I wanted them to focus solely on listening to the voicemail, so the subject of the email was simply “Voicemail.” (Although in a similar experiment later on, we tried using “Hey [Name]” as the subject line, which converted even better.) I manually typed their names in the greetings and put their first names as the MP3 file names.
I probably could have done some kind of mail merge to speed up the process, but instead, I opted for Gmail’s “Canned Responses” feature so the email was mostly pre-filled in the compose window. And why did I use Gmail? Doing so bypassed potential deliverability issues because we’re emailing from Gmail servers, not our ESP. Plus there’s no “unsubscribe” link, so the email appeared even more personalized.
Who we targeted
It seems almost impossible that a personalized voicemail email can convert at 25 percent for a $2,000 product, and . . . well, that’s probably true. It’s important to note that these audio messages were part of the greater launch with other emails, videos, web pages and Facebook ads. The voicemail wasn’t the only message these customers saw from us. But I’d argue that the personal touch helped to push them over the edge.
So, how did we pick the 51 people to make voicemails for? My team did some data mining within our shopping cart, ActiveCampaign and Wistia. We looked at these four factors:
- Recency: People who opened and clicked on emails during the last two weeks. They were clearly engaged with the launch.
- Frequency: People who watched the most launch videos and opened the most emails during the launch campaign. Since they were engaging with multiple touch points, we knew they were well-aware of the product launch.
- Interest: People who joined the “waiting list” or who already visited the sales page. These were top priority since they effectively raised their hand.
- Customer value: People who spent over $300 with us. These people were significantly more likely to spend an additional $2,000. When we layered this buying behavior on top of the previous factors, we had a clear target of those who were most likely to buy.
As a result, we knew we were reaching people who were already interested in their product — and we figured that a personal connection could really make the difference. This is the kind of marketing approach you can’t fake. You can’t get away with a robo-voice. It’s either personalized or it’s not. Could I have outsourced it? Absolutely! Outsourcing could help me scale it, but it would lose its power because the recording wouldn’t be from the CEO and founder. And if you’re the face of the company, there’s nothing more powerful than leveraging your celebrity status in your marketing messages.
When your customers realize that the person at the top is focused on them, they get this warm, fuzzy feeling. I imagine them listening to it and thinking, He thinks I’m special . . . and he cares . . . so I better listen to what he has to say.
I truly believe that a hyper-personalized approach can make a dramatic difference in your business, no matter how big it is. If you genuinely care to give your customers a truly epic experience, they’ll reward you with their hard-earned cash.
The big lesson? Go small if you want to be big.
I know that the rhetoric out there is that you have to go big or go home. Or fake it until you make it. But the reality is that sometimes — in fact, most of the time — the businesses that win took the small stuff seriously. Even if it couldn’t be done later. Even if it’s only relevant right now.
Trust me, sometimes the only way to grow big is to go small.