Steli Efti is co-founder and CEO of Close.io and ElasticSales.
Many startups are considering strategies that don’t scale to make a splash in the market. Take Paul Graham’s latest essay titled “Do Things That Don’t Scale,” or Jason Fried’s of 37Signals. There are many ways to help your startup stand out by doing things that don’t scale. Today, I want to talk about a brand new strategy: offering office hours.
This idea became popular in Silicon Valley when Y Combinator and Paul Graham began offering office hours to their startups. However, office hours are not limited to investors. Startup founders and CEOs in the business-to-business (B2B) space can really benefit from offering office hours to their customers and the public. Being in a leadership position at a company developing next-generation software and providing solutions to problems that businesses face every day makes you an expert in your field even without realizing it. Your customers are likely to value your insight, expertise, and advice as much, if not more, than your products and services.
Here are three key reasons you should offer free office hours to your customers:
1. Customer development
When you spend 30 to 60 minutes on the phone with a customer, they can teach you a lot about your business. Hearing about their current business challenges and brainstorming with them about how to solve these problems will give you valuable insight into the problems your company can help customers address. This insight can be used to inform product development, customer training, marketing and much more.
Furthermore, you can stay one step ahead of the competition by knowing exactly what your market wants. It also creates a completely different dynamic compared to speaking with customers about your product during a sales meeting. These opportunities are priceless.
2. Help your customers succeed
When customers are successful, they are more loyal to the products and services that help make them successful. Taking the time to personally help a customer beyond the purchase of your product shows that you are invested in their success. Great B2B companies like HubSpot recognize this and have turned it into a mantra: “We don’t make marketing software. We make marketing superstars.”
Particularly for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, this means more revenue. One of the major reasons for churn is customers going out of business. A little advice from you can help more of your customers stay in business and increase revenue. Additionally, successful businesses provide the best referrals.
In the end, you get customers who:
- Stay longer with your product
- Grow their usage and your revenue
- Refer other great customers to you
3. Marketing and thought leadership
Opening your office hours up to the public can create a real marketing opportunity. This way, anyone in your industry who might benefit from your expertise can schedule an appointment and build a relationship with you. In doing so, they will discover your product and your expertise. This also puts you in a thought leadership position in your market, which is exactly where you want to be. You want your entire market to perceive your company as the best one in your field and providing office hours helps build that perception.
You knew this would come, right?
I first tested the concept of giving sales office hours with my Y Combinator alumni. I sent an email to the alumni list and expected five to 10 people to take me up on the offer. I ended up giving 35 office hours to some of the most amazing founders out there, which inspired the idea to offer this to our customers as well. I’ve given almost 100 office hours by now, and it has been a tremendous success to our business. From what founders tell me, it has been very valuable to them as well.
If you’re in B2B and want to talk sales with me — click here and book an office hour
I have 50 total slots open for VentureBeat readers!
I’m looking forward to hearing more stories about this approach and the success you had with it.
Steli Efti is co-founder and CEO of Close.io and ElasticSales. He is also an advisor to several startups and entrepreneurs.