Creating A Viral Sales Engine Through Branding

You’re struggling with sales.  It’s ok to admit it… you’re not alone.  Scaling sales is the number one challenge most businesses face, and the least discussed.  Whether you face challenges driving lead generation, responding to incoming leads, staffing a sales team, or determining sales compensation, sales likely takes up a lot of your head space.

In truth, we make sales much harder than it has to be.

Although I work as a sales and marketing strategist / growth hacking pro, I don’t come from a traditional sales background.  I haven’t attended any formal sales training, I’m not “Sandler certified” and I wouldn’t call myself a “salesperson”.  So how have my startups and business ventures achieved incredible success, largely without any kind of formalized sales team in place?  Often, as owners or managers, we get so focused on the idea of a formalized sales team that we miss the basics behind what DRIVES sales – the brand. Brand awareness and brand loyalty are key sales drivers.

I was once asked, “If you had a dollar to spend on your business, would you spend it on sales or would you spend it on marketing.”  I don’t think the two practices – sales and marketing – can be separated and pitted against each other.  This division of marketing and sales is a common mistake I see in many firms.  The marketing team functions separately from sales and, in some unfortunate cases; the sales teams treat marketing as an afterthought or a nuisance.  In my experience, there is nothing as time-consuming and expensive as muscling through sales without the help of a solid marketing practice to drive brand awareness and, ultimately, lead generation.

Why is a solid marketing practice so paramount to company growth?  Anyone familiar with Lean Start Up principles (the growth hackers Bible!) knows there are three engines of growth for businesses:

I call this the traditional sales and marketing model – throw money at either sales hires or paid advertising to grow the business

Focus on retaining existing customers and growing them

Create brand energy and growth through word of mouth and other non-traditional (ideally, free!) marketing strategies

If you’re a business owner, you may have been advised to focus on one engine of growth at a time.  If you’re trying to go viral, make your product sticky, and pay for customers, it can get very difficult to figure out what’s working and actually driving growth.  However, I’ve successfully utilized both sticky and viral growth engines simultaneously.  And I think you’ll find that working both to grow your existing customer base, while driving new customers virally can easily be accomplished with little overhead.

Companies often resort to “paid” growth models because they simply don’t know any other way to attract new clients. But hiring a sales team and paying for advertising requires a significant monetary investment that isn’t an option for many firms.  Viral growth strategies, which can also drive “sticky” growth by creating brand evangelists among your existing customer base, are generally inexpensive but require creativity and time.

Here’s how I’ve implemented brand driven viral marketing strategies that drove sales and didn’t cost a dime (other than my time!).

Focus On Brand Positioning And Thought Leadership

Whether it’s content-driven social media posts like this example from WordStream, or contributing to an industry publication (like Brand Quarterly!); generating thought driven content positions your brand as a “go to” in your vertical and drives lead generation.  Do you think you don’t have anything mind blowing to contribute?  Activate your internal and external networks to generate topics of interest.

Create Your Own Army Of Brand Evangelists

Utilize your existing clients to evangelize your brand.  Often we’re too shy about asking for market validation, in most cases, happy clients are more than willing to assist.  Ask clients for quotes you can use in marketing or sales initiatives and to co-present on webinars or at industry events.  In general, prospective customers are more likely to be swayed by what existing clients say about your business – not what you say about your business. Clients as brand evangelists are an unparalleled sales force.  Don’t ever underplay the importance of word of mouth to drive sales.

Give To Get

Build your sales pipeline by developing content driven relationships with organizations or individuals that promote your brand.  Offer to curate or moderate a panel discussion at an industry event.  Nervous about getting on stage?  Guest edit an industry publication or offer to blog at an event.  Getting out and in front of people and starting conversations that attract attention and energy to your business is a powerful driver of brand awareness.  I’ve even managed to align myself with editors and conference organizers in “pay to play” situations by offering something of value, be it time, connections or content, in exchange for branding.

Think Of Creative Ways Your Unique Brand Strategy Can Thwart Your Competition

At Decipher, we rolled out a market research survey software solution in a highly competitive marketplace with well-funded incumbents – and without the help of a formal sales team.  It was a struggle at first.  Replacing existing reputable solutions from larger brands was a lot more challenging than we’d anticipated, and we’d underestimated the pain points behind switching platforms.  Namely that transitioning software platforms, required so much ramp up time that clients would have no choice but to license two platforms simultaneously in order to transition without a disruption to their business.  An expensive proposition!

Rather than flounder, my partners and I brainstormed a solution that activated our brand promise and drove a viral marketing campaign.  It promoted a plan that allowed prospective clients to use our survey software free of charge for up to a year while they transitioned from their current platform to ours.  This “Beacon Transition Plan” was so wildly successful that it was perceived as a substantial threat to our competitors.  As a result, no industry publication or organization would work with us to publicize the program for fear of backlash from the behemoths we were competing against.  Better yet, the “Beacon Transition Plan” didn’t cost us a dime to implement (there was little overhead associated with the transition time) or promote through the viral marketing channels we utilized.

Create Emotional Attachment Through Authenticity

Some of the best brand strategies drive growth through the use of emotional attachment. Take, for example, the rise of Bernie Sanders as a 2016 Presidential candidate in the US.  The #FeelTheBern grassroots campaign plays off of Sanders own authentic brand, and Sanders is proving to be a formidable opponent to campaigns funded by Super PAC’s and the infamous Koch brothers.  Ironically, Sanders reputation as a stable and honest individual is a consistent emotionally driven “brand” message that was in place before many of his supporters were born.

You may have guessed by this point that the real secret to creating a humming viral sales engine is creativity. Determine your unique brand strengths and creatively exploit them.  Is a viral brand strategy a replacement for a formalized sales practice?  Not necessarily.  But when a traditional sales team is absent due to financial constraints or a lack of access to sales talent, a viral marketing strategy can be effectively utilized for brand activation that drives growth.