Using the Gig Model to Build a Sales Engine

Author: 
Dan Blacharski

"It will sell itself."

We hear that sort of hype often, especially from newer entrepreneurs and innovators looking to build a startup and acquire venture capital. Unfortunately, almost nothing sells itself, no matter how great that product or service may be.

From the very beginning – before the product is even developed – startups as well as mature organizations rolling out new product lines need to ask the question, “How will we sell this?” Through a channel partnership network? Pushing customers to a website with SEO? Affiliate marketing? Door-to-door sales? Most models for building a sales engine haven’t changed much, yet those traditional channel networks are costlier to develop. Online push models built around SEO are subject to Google’s continuously changing algorithms, and affiliate marketing often lacks the oversight necessary to build a robust network.

“It’s always wise for a company to institute a common set of policies and procedures to guide the sales process, but for those policies to work, the sales manager must acknowledge the fact that each partner has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and each demographic may have different needs that cannot be met by a rigidly uniform sales process,” said Andrew Marcus, co-founder of FitnessTrainer.com, a gig economy platform for personal fitness trainers to connect with people looking for fitness education and guidance.

Gig Economy, the Newest Sales Channel

Marcus’ Austin-based startup is just one solution across a spectrum, from high-end BTG professional consulting to some of the more mundane and occasionally just plain weird one-off jobs people have posted on Task Rabbit. With the latter, people have shared stories that include impersonating a friend who couldn’t be at a birthday party and hired an actor to “be” her for the day, to returning items that belonged to the ex after a relationship breakup. In between, though, are countless creatives who earn their living by designing or writing, and plenty of IT professionals, often in long-term contract positions.

“Finding a personal trainer to help you achieve your fitness goals started out as a little outside the box,” says Marcus. The online platform lists personal trainers in a few dozen American cities, and invites people to choose and easily book their sessions with a fitness trainer.

“At first the simplicity of it caught not just the customers but the trainers themselves off guard,” he said. “But it’s a real advantage to providers, who get comparatively low-cost visibility and decide when and how and where they are available. It’s also an advantage to customers who want the best fit for their needs, or want to see trainers in more than one location because of family or business travel reasons.”

Building a Gig Channel

Most companies which have built a gig economy channel are “born in the gig” companies, whose original business model revolved around the gig economy from the very beginning. This is true for Marcus, whose first company, MyTennisLessons.com, was born in a dorm room as a way for a group of college buddies to earn extra money, and quickly grew once he and his partners saw the tremendous marketing power that platforms like this can bring in terms of quickly building up a network of providers.

Larger gig economy companies like Upwork and Uber have set the tone for this new model, and in the process, have virtually re-defined what we think of as a “job,” and in the process created a completely new sales channel for startups which may not have the deep skills and resources required to build a traditional channel – and along the way, many such providers are finding that the old way isn’t always the best way.

Most traditional companies that sell through reseller networks often require partners to make a significant investment, a factor that keeps growth of the network slow. Creating a gig network on the other hand, removes barriers to entry, and gives the company an opportunity to work with smaller resellers – often one-person operations – which are uniquely talented but would not otherwise be able to join.

Best Practices for Creating a Gig Network

For those considering options for building a sales network, the gig network may represent the best option, given the advantages of being able to build a larger network more quickly, lower costs, and easier maintenance. But like many things in the business world, it’s not a build-it-and-done proposition. Creating a back-end infrastructure is the easy part, and it’s already been done. According to Marcus, best practices that really make a gig platform the best sales generator possible include:

  • Keep resellers in the loop. It’s tempting to create an anonymous and fully automated network, but those gig workers need interaction the same way traditional channel partners do. Build in regular interactions through social media, group conference calls, and training opportunities available to the entire network.
  • Keep costs to join low. Traditional channel resellers and VARs may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to go into business. Gig workers on the other hand, are looking for smaller-scale opportunities they can join with little or no investment other than their time.
  • Understand the needs of the entire value chain. Your responsibility doesn’t end with your gig providers. Keep the end client in mind as well, ensuring that your providers are offering excellent service, and build a feedback platform so clients can create reviews, ask questions, or offer complaints or praise.
  • Marketing becomes a partnership. Your gig workers will do some marketing on their own, more than likely through social media and other low-cost avenues, but you as provider will need to create a more coherent advertising, public relations and marketing campaign to help drive business to your gig workers.

Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer and PR counsel to several Internet startups, and author of the book “Born In the Cloud Marketing: Transformative Strategies for the Next Generation of Cloud-Based Business.”