When my girlfriend was a child, she used to race snails. No, dear reader, she didn’t race against snails! I mean she lined them up on a starting line on a piece of wood, placed bets with her friends as to who would get to the finish lines first, and released the slimy little hounds to postulate toward the finish line.
Unfortunately, the snails did not seem to care that they were participating in a race, and so would set off in any old direction, ruining the fun. Direct verbal instructions had no effect, with the snails defiantly sticking to their snail logic, and going any way except toward the finish line. What a problem!
But if you’ve been around startup-land for long, you’ll know that every problem story soon becomes a solution story. In this case, the innovative six-year-olds soon figured one out. Snail trails. Snail trails are not a product you can buy. Snail trails are a streak of water, placed in front of a snail using one’s fingertip.
You see, snails prefer pushing themselves over wet surfaces than dry surfaces. My girlfriend observed that a simple streak of wetness leading directly from the snail’s current position to the finish line kept them on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Snail trails saved the day, and the snail derby of 1988 was a roaring success.
Why am I telling you about snail trails? Well, mainly to instruct you in how to run a successful snail race. But also because they’re key to how a modern SaaS [Software As A Service]business should build its user base.
Right now, your customers are in many places. They’re pecking emails into their smartphones, they’re waiting in traffic, they’re feeding babies, they’re sitting on the toilet checking Facebook, and doing all the other things early 21st century humans do all day.
But sometimes, just sometimes, they’re somewhere you can start a snail trail from. They’re on Twitter, where you can target (or re-target) them, or where your blog post might get shared by someone who they follow. They’re searching for something on Google, and hey presto, your ad comes up.
Or they’re in a meeting, where a brochure for your company gets produced. That’s where your snail trail begins. There are only a few moments where it can happen in their day, and you should figure out what they are, and how you can get a snail trail starting at those moments. As you already know, the snail trails ends with them signing up for your product.
So how slick is your snail trail? Remove all splinters. Make sure you’re attracting the right snails. Some people think of a snail trail as a funnel, which I think is misleading.
All liquid flows through a funnel eventually. But most snails will drop off your snail trail unless you keep it well slicked the whole way through. At this moment of technological development and low barriers to entry, snail trails are 100% the way to go for the vast majority of capital efficient SaaS startups.
To slick our trail, we started a blog publishing our data and analysing the future of media. So through word of mouth, Twitter clicks, and content, many potential customers start down the path that, if we keep it smooth enough, will eventually lead to many curious people starting a free trial. If the slickness continues, they might even buy access to our platform.
Today, the NewsWhip free trial brings in hundreds of potential customers every week. We have many shiny snail trails leading to our landing page and on to a free trial of our software.
The takeaway from this slick little anecdote: one warm, open lead crawling his way into a free trial of your product is worth a lot of discouraging cold-calls. Make it easy for yourself, and for your prospective customer… Wet the wood.