There’s no question the work messaging app Slack is one of the most viral business apps of all time.
In a little over two years, Slack’s worth has gone from zero to $3.8 billion, adding 3 million daily active users, 930,000 paid customers, and over 500 employees – mostly based on word-of-mouth.
That’s pretty crazy growth even by Silicon Valley’s lofty standards. Even Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield once admitted he has “no f-king idea” why his app is so popular.
But Slack’s key to viral success may be narrowed down to one tiny change in the way the company thinks about selling, according to its Chief Marketing Officer Bill Macaitis.
“I tell my team every day, ‘Look, your goal is not to get someone to buy from us – It’s to get them to recommend us,” Macaitis said in a group discussion with SaaStr’s Jason Lemkin, Salesforce SVP Leyla Seka, and Box’s marketing VP Lauren Vaccarello earlier this month. “The voice of the customer has never been more powerful.”
Stop doing things that are “pissing them off”
That means everything about your product’s success ultimately comes down to providing a great user experience, Macaitis added. Slack, for example, has always had more customer support reps than sales reps, and provides credits and refunds to customers who don’t use their paid accounts for an extended time. It also religiously tracks a lot of different numbers, including net promoter score, a common metric that gauges customer loyalty.
Macaitis acknowledged that Slack’s customer base is mostly comprised of small and medium-sized businesses, making it easier to spread through word of mouth. Slack follows a “freemium” model in which the app itself is offered for free in hopes of organically expanding within smaller organizations and teams to eventually force the company to deploy it across the whole organization.
It’s a debatable business model, especially for targeting large enterprise customers, who typically still rely on their CIO to make the big contract decisions. Also, it could have limitations when the product’s security and architecture are not fully enterprise-ready, as companies like Uber, LinkedIn, and Twitter are reported to have dropped out from using Slack recently for those reasons.
In fact, Slack has been ramping up its enterprise sales rep hiring in recent months, deviating from its original strategy of not having a traditional sales team “probably forever.”
Regardless, Macaitis doesn’t believe the core of his strategy needs to change in any way. You just simply have to keep doing what customers like.
“It’s a pretty simple playbook: Stop doing the things that are pissing them off, and do more of the things they like. And you’re gonna get more word of mouth,” he said.