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3 Word-of-Mouth tactics that work [with founder examples]

I've analyzed all 497 Indie Hackers interviews and discovered several acquisition channels that worked consistently for founders (see Zero to Users for more details).

Over 19 founders used various active word-of-mouth strategies to get customers. Today I'll be talking about 3 of them, which you can also take and apply to your own product.

1. Find a Segment of Users With an Audience That is Also Your Audience

This is what Blender Market ($232k/mo), a marketplace for artists to sell 3D models, did. Blender Market focused on attracting sellers with an audience as their early adopters:

Most of these early sellers were freelancers and prominent artists in the community.

Our pitch was help them generate some passive side income and let us handle the infrastructure.

This approach paid off because those artists themselves had an audience that wanted to learn and buy from them:

The advantage of attracting sellers that already had an audience was that they multiplied our initial customer reach dramatically by sharing their products.

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How to use this strategy: You don't have to be a marketplace to use this strategy. Just ask yourself: Is there a segment of my users that has an audience which happens to be my audience as well?

Examples:

  • You have a product that targets bloggers. A part of those those people write to other bloggers (on things like increasing their audience, having a better blog, etc.) Can you get in touch with the bloggers and get them to promote you to your audience?

  • You have a product that connects teachers and students. Should you focus first on teachers or students? Using this approach, teachers would be the right answer because the teacher's audience (students) are also your audience.

  • You have a product that targets developers. Some of those developers may be influential in their industry with many other developers following them on Twitter.

Of course, the other part is getting your users to spread the word about you. With marketplaces like Blender Market, the value is implicit (we'll help you monetize your followers). But with a SaaS for bloggers, for example, you may need to include some other incentive (like getting access to a higher tier, or an exclusive, private feature).

2. Expand Within the Company's Network

This is a pretty common strategy, called "land and expand", used by companies that sell enterprise-level SaaS.

What I found is you can use this no matter who you're selling to. Take Dependabot ($14k/mo, acquired by Github), which is a tool to keep your software dependencies up-to-date. They found that having a personal, open-source free tier helped them with getting their foot in the door of companies:

We've kept personal and open-source accounts free, and we'll always continue doing this since those users are great advertisements for us and unlikely to use the service if asked to pay.

Our costs are relatively low so that model works well, and we've already had reports of people using Dependabot on their own projects, enjoying it, and then encouraging their employer to do the same.

Thankbox ($6k/mo) is a tool to help you send group gift cards online. They found a lot of office teams were using their product, and once a person signed up, they recommended Thankbox to their team:

In those first few months I also noticed the network effects kicking in. That buddy of mine at Ubisoft who bought the first Thankbox? Since he introduced it in his team I've had over 20 different sales just from their company alone. Or I'd noticed someone would get a Thankbox when they left their company, and then suggest it as the group card tool to use in their new place of work.

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How to use this strategy: There are a lot of things you can try here:

  • Introduce a free tier (like Dependabot). Then monitor if people within a company sign up, and then encourage them to introduce your product to other colleagues.
  • Do a proactive outreach. Set up triggers like seeing 2 people with the same domain sign up, or 2 people from the same company's IP address sign up. Try to learn the story and get even more people within that company to use you.

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3. Influence the Influencers

This is what Anchor Hosting ($20k/mo), a Wordpress hosting provider, did. Instead of focusing on targeting the end user (small businesses), they focused on targeting people who influence them:

Anchor Hosting has grown through word of mouth. Nearly all new hosting customers come through existing relationships with web designers, web developers, and agencies. I've found that most people host their WordPress website with whichever web host was recommended by the one who built them their website. Because of this, I haven’t spent any time or energy on marketing or advertising to customers, but have instead focused on attracting the web designers, web developers, and agencies who will organically refer customers my way.

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How to use this strategy: Analyze the process your audience goes through before they buy your product/service. Are there any people/companies involved in that process?

Examples:

  • If you're targeting people building a home, they're probably in touch with architects. Can you get architects to recommend your product as the "next step" after buying the home?
  • If you're providing done-for-you digital SEO services, your audience was probably reading information on SEO and/or working with a company that defined their digital marketing strategy. Can you find firms that work on digital marketing in general (but don't specialize in a particular marketing channel) and pitch them?

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  1. 2

    Anyone can recommend any good contact enrichment tools for 1) ?

    1. 1

      I found there are 2 types of enrichment tools:

      a) Ones where the input is the email address. They use various databases to find where that person works, then do company lookup to find more information about the particular company.

      b) IP enrichment tools. They can detect that a visitor comes from, say, Microsoft, and then also do company lookup.

      I personally find Product Hunt to have good examples, for eg. take a look at the Clearbit page and then look for "related products".

      1. 1

        Any recommendation for an IP enrichment tool?

        1. 1

          Just google "turn ip to company data'

      1. 1

        What's the pricing?

      2. 1

        Anything cheaper? :/

      3. 1

        Second that. FullContact is awesome.

        1. 1

          What's the pricing?

          1. 1

            I'm surprised many of these tools don't list the price. Can anyone chime in on a tool that actually has a pricing page?

      1. 1

        Clearbit has gotten extremely expensive. These companies, once they raise a series A suddenly want to get rid of small businesses.

        1. 2

          Hm, I've recently heard this tip in a Clubhouse room: Look for companies raising series B/C. What should happen shortly after is that they should make their small-business tier more expensive. This is when a hole in the market is created you can strike and create a lower-cost version of the product.

          1. 1

            Interesting, thanks.

        2. 1

          They don't even list their pricing under https://clearbit.com/pricing

  2. 2

    Been using the land-and-expand strategy within my partner's company. We have 2 sales reps who actively monitor and call people where there's a sign a wider company adoptio takes place.

    1. 1

      Same here. This is very common in the mid-to-enterprise space. It's also the reason why so many big companies have free tiers. They're not kind to small businesses; they hope someone from a larger company starts using them, and starts recommending them within the overall organization.

      1. 1

        For some companies this is the only reason to have a free tier - reduces friction for people who do research and want to try a product without getting an approval or using a person CC for work needs.

    2. 1

      Not many indie hackers talk about this strategy however, wonder why.

      1. 1

        because most are targeting SMBs.

      2. 1

        Enterprise sales often take months, and as an IHer you don't want to wait 7 months to validate a product.

      3. 1

        Do a search on google:
        "land and expand" site:indiehackers.com

        and you'll see 12 mentions. Some people are talking about this, just not many.

        1. 1

          Not many IHers in the enterprise space, but there's a lot of things we can learn from those people.

          1. 1

            Many things to learn and many things to ignore as well!

  3. 1

    Great post, as always @zerotousers! Thank you. Possibly a follow up post to this could go deeper into non-monetary incentive models being used by IHs within these 3 strategies (particularly 1 and 3). You already gave a few examples in this post.

    1. 2

      Yeah this was an MVP version of the post. Have a lot more to write about.

  4. 1

    Hey @zerotousers, what did you use to make the graphics?

    1. 1

      Hey Brian, used a Canva template..

  5. 1

    The book Traction (very highly recommended read) that goes into this a bit. 100% agree that this is an under utilized channel.

    1. 1

      Traction by Gabriel Weinberg or Gino Wickman?

      1. 1

        Gabriel - The duck duck go one. As a programmer, I found huge value in understanding how traction is achieved.

    2. 1

      Just to clarify, there are 2 “Traction” books. You probably mean the one by Gabriel (the founder of DuckDuckGo).

      1. 1

        Gabriel - The duck duck go one.

  6. 1

    I'd add to the third point: Get in touch with people your customer trusts. For eg if someone built a home they already trust the architect/builders and are more likely to listen for recommendations from them.

    1. 1

      Yep, that was the point of 3)

  7. 1

    Thanks for this post. Love the insights.

  8. 1

    Unfortunately the only way to influence many influencers is with $ :))

    1. 1

      Depends on the niche as well. For business, it's $. For artsy-related niches, they aren't that attracted by $.

      1. 1

        I've noticed that the more people are familiar with an acquisition tactic, the less it works for them (cold email automation for developers, trying to get organic mentions by biz influeners etc.) Maybe will do another post on this.

        1. 1

          Look forward to that post @zerotousers!

    2. 1

      The context also plays a role :)

    3. 1

      Have you read the article? You can create a win-win situation here. You get people BEFORE the stage at which they're coming to you, and you're partnering with people they've worked with.

  9. 1

    Nice tips! Thanks for sharing! I've also subscribed to get the pdf on your site. I think the 3 tips above are just the tip of the iceberg of what you're going to share in the pdf.

    Thanks again!

    1. 1

      Another good book on this is "Traction" by Gabriel Weinberg.

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