Last updated on June 10, 2020 - My Free Marketing newsletter 👀
The year was 2014 and Ryan Luedecke’s business, Sumo Jerky, was failing.
Customers were falling off and costs were exceeding revenue.
He knew that something needed to change, and fast.
Six months later, he was able to automate his processes and take vacations, plus generate over $12K/month in revenue with healthy profit margins.
These are steps Ryan took to turn Sumo Jerky around and make it GROW. Without further ado, we’ll turn it over to Ryan to let you know exactly what he did and how you can do it too.
Take it away, Ryan:
I had been named CEO of Sumo Jerky right before the second month’s batch was due and we didn’t have a jerky supplier lined up.
It was last minute so I had to go to someone that made great jerky but refused to work with me on price.
Sumo Jerky would lose money that month, but at least we stayed in good standing with our members.
Looking at the red numbers on my revenue spreadsheet, I made a vow to get more organized and systematic in my approach to finding, buying, and shipping the jerky.
My mission is to deliver the best tasting beef jerky in the world to our members. Jerky that’s unique and not something you just pick up at the gas station.
If you want delicious jerky delivered to your office, click here.
You would think that it’s easy for me to approach artisanal jerky makers and tell them I’m sharing their product with a wider audience.
In actuality, most of them were skeptical when I approached them.
Many are scarred by previous “promotional” campaigns where they gave away samples to some fly-by-night marketer who got them zero return on their investment. Others don’t like the interruption in their production schedules. A few are downright paranoid and think you’re going to steal their recipes and trade secrets.
My goal in working with artisan jerky makers is to do whatever it takes to make them successful.
The “tasting menu” at Whittington’s Beef Jerky in Johnson City, TX
About four months in as CEO I figured out the 1 communication trick I had missed. It was only a few sentences that made the difference.
My typical message to a jerky maker read something like this: “Hi, it’s Ryan Luedecke here from Sumo Jerky, a jerky of the month club in Austin, TX. I’m interested in ordering some of your jerky and was wondering if I could get wholesale quotes per LB for your jerky.”
I completely ignored the number one rule for email communication: “What’s in it for them?”
I was perceived as just another unqualified knucklehead pounding on their door for wholesale prices. At best they’d fire back a price, at worst, they’d write me off as a cheapskate who didn’t care about quality.
That wasn’t a strong foundation for the type of relationship I wanted to foster with the jerky makers. I needed to give them more details about who I was and why it benefited them to work with Sumo Jerky.
Here’s what an opening email looks like now (feel free to copy/paste this and use it for your own business):
Ryan Luedecke here, CEO of Sumo Jerky. We introduce businesses to healthy beef jerky as an alternative to traditional office snacks.
I was wondering if you might be interested in partnering up on an order and be featured as our jerky of the month?
We typically order around 1,500 bags of your jerky and then promote your business and your story so that people visit your site, learn more about the jerky and buy more 🙂
This note gets enthusiastic replies and has opened the doors for tons of partnerships.
Lesson: If you’re trying to secure a partnership or want to work with someone, make your first cold email focused on how you will benefit them.
After securing the deal with the jerky maker came my next problem … shipping.
My living room on “boxing day.”
Having four hundred bags of beef jerky sent to my apartment was a terrible idea.
I sat for hours in my living room with my wife, Krystal, hand-writing addresses on envelopes and then stuffing them with jerky before packing it into boxes.
It was fairly cost effective, but tedious and soul crushing.
This is when I made my first great decision as CEO.
I discovered an awesome service called MonthlyBoxer, which handles shipping and fulfillment for subscription services like Sumo Jerky.
Now they handle the shipping of jerky without any of my involvement. Win!
I save about 20 hours of work and am far less stressed out.
Lesson: Spend time on what is actually helping to grow your business. Packing jerky in boxes was distracting me from growing Sumo Jerky, so I found someone to take care of that for me.
Now that I had locked down everything concerning finding and shipping the jerky, it was on to the next step: finding more customers.
After seeing the Sumo Jerky revenue chart at the top of this post, you’re probably wondering how I got those sales.
Did Noah wave his magic wand and give me all those sales? Nope.
Did I have a massive personal network that I could leverage? Unfortunately not.
Was I some PPC guru, SEO whiz, or ninja coder/growth hacker? Nah.
I’m going to walk you through the steps I took, both the good and the bad, so you can replicate my success for yourself.
Here’s what I did first:
I always get the same question from entrepreneurs who want to replicate Sumo Jerky’s success: “What template did you use to build your website?”
The problem is that if you focus solely on replicating my website design, you will fail.
I’m still a wantrepreneur deep down and I still get jealous of the dudes who build the beautiful websites that “scale” and “convert” and get covered in Tech Crunch.
But I didn’t do that and still haven’t. I’ve spent $0 on web design so far and Sumo Jerky is growing wonderfully.
Here are the only costs I have running my website:
$1 GoDaddy Domain: www.SumoJerky.com
$5/month Google Apps Email account for firstname.lastname@example.org
$6/month GoDaddy Website Builder service (they have plans as cheap as $1/mo now)
$30/month Paypal Business account (plus 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction)
I won’t lie though. At a certain point, I got distracted. Some guy named Richard cold emailed me and offered to help me redesign my website. We spent time working on it and editing it together and this was the final result:
Guess what? The design change didn’t affect my sales at all.
Lesson: Don’t get distracted trying to make your website look amazing. Focus on what will actually grow your business: sales.
My website has gotten prettier and more advanced since then (thanks to the awesome folks at Cratejoy) but my killer process for getting sales has remained largely the same.
In the next 4 steps, I’ll show you exactly how I’ve mastered the sales process to grow Sumo Jerky.
I was talking with my friend Logan who runs his own business about how I was struggling to grow Sumo Jerky. He gave me some tips and ended the conversation with:
“I’ll order some jerky for the office. Let me know deets on where or how.”
Music to my ears. His office had 70+ people. That’s a lot of jerky!
The idea of targeting offices had already been swirling in my head. When starting Sumo Jerky, Noah found a lot of success selling jerky to businesses.
By selling to businesses, he did a lot less sales and sold a lot more jerky. Win-win!
Selling to individual customers was getting tiring for me so with Logan’s offer to order jerky, I got the confidence I needed to start targeting businesses.
Lesson: Focus on the customers that will give you the most bang for your buck.
Now I just had to figure out how to reach them.
I’m not well-connected.
I have a small group of close friends with whom I rarely discuss business. I have 62 Twitter followers, 465 Facebook friends, and don’t do Instagram or Pinterest.
My success with growing Sumo Jerky had nothing to do with the power of my personal network.
I decided to use the good ol’ internet to help me 🙂
My plan was to email CEOs and sell them on Sumo Jerky.
First step: find your customer!
I started with LinkedIn and AngelList, top online hubs for connecting with companies.
I searched these websites to find company names as well the names of founders & CEOs.
I placed a high priority on companies who had one or more of the following traits:
Hiring – A good signal they had money to spend.
Startup – More open to working with up-and-comers.
Listed in app directories – Companies paying $50/lead could likely afford office snacks.
Small to mid-sized – Fewer layers of bureaucracy.
To find the emails of the founders/CEO’s, I used this trick.
Now for the scary part.
With only one chance to convince a CEO to try Sumo Jerky, I would have to write the most persuasive email I’d ever written.
And that’s exactly what I did …
I was crushed.
Remember my friend Logan who said he wanted to buy some jerky for his office?
I emailed him and was expecting a quick reply and a big jerky order for his 70 employees.
He said no 🙁
Determined to turn this rejection into a learning experience, I probed Logan for details. He didn’t want to make his office manager split the snack budget just for some jerky.
I framed Sumo Jerky as a healthy & productivity enhancing office snack and he seemed much more excited.
Logan’s office never ended up becoming a customer, but his excitement would eventually help me sign up hundreds of customers.
Lesson: Always politely ask “why” when people reject your sales pitch.
To sell jerky to offices I had to convince them that tasty and super healthy jerky was worth the trouble and expense of splitting their snack budget. That might not be easy, but at least I knew what I was up against.
I carefully reviewed Logan’s list of objections and came up with the following email (again, feel free to copy this):
Subject: your office snacks
Hi [First Name]
Ryan Luedecke here, CEO of Sumo Jerky. Just started a new office snacks service & thought [Company Name] would be a great fit. I know office snacks can seem a bit of a distraction, so wanted to make a quick case why it’s a good business decision for you:
-No late afternoon productivity losses and mood killing side effects (i.e. food comas and sugar crashes) of other office snack foods
-Employees get legitimately excited about trying new jerky every month. Here’s what [Customer] from [Company] said about our latest jerky delivery: “[Quote]!”
Can I sign you up to try it out?
Every sentence had a purpose.
Every word was carefully chosen.
If you’d like to replicate it for your own business I’ve created this infographic that gives an in-depth explanation of how it works:
Less than two hours after sending my first email, I had my first reply. The message was short but exhilarating:
“Oh Hell Yes you can 🙂 Adding Lydia.”
It was from Craig Walker, the CEO of Firespotter, and importantly, a guy I’d never met. He was accepting my offer to sign up and introducing me to his office manager, Lydia.
After a couple of emails I got what I was looking for: my first big office order.
All from a cold email.
However, not all the replies I got were as enthusiastic.
I got a good amount of no’s. But here’s what I did to convert those into paying subscribers:
“Cool, do you mind sharing the reason it’s not a fit? Super helpful for me to know at this early stage.”
Amongst their concerns:
It’s too expensive (I offered a coupon code).
It doesn’t accommodate vegetarians (I included kale chips).
It’s not a fit for a small office (I let them order below our minimum).
It’s not clear what I’m getting (I wrote back in detail what they’d receive).
I am not sure if my team likes jerky (I offered a money back guarantee).
I already order jerky from Amazon / Costco (Great! Do a taste test as a team event!).
I want free sample first (I offered a $30 “tasting” order instead).
Overall, I’ve emailed over 5,000+ offices.
Over 200 have signed up for Sumo Jerky. Not too bad 😉
I still send every email personally. It’s the only significant marketing I’ve ever done for Sumo Jerky. I’ve tried a few $25 Reddit ads and placed a few banners in the Art of Manliness mailer, but neither came close to matching the effectiveness of email.
It’s worth noting that cold email has its drawbacks:
A few people you contact will consider it spammy and will write back defiantly.
You must deal with rejection everyday. I get hundreds of people who tell me no every month.
You don’t yet have a warm relationship with your customers when they sign up so it takes longer to build trust.
But, there will be tradeoffs with any marketing tactic you choose.
Lesson: Cold email can be incredibly effective to get sales, but you have to do it right. Don’t get discouraged with no’s. Instead, use those to learn and adapt.
What it all comes down to …
If you really want it and are willing to work, the lifestyle you want is available to you.
It’s been a lot of work getting Sumo Jerky to $10,000 a month in revenue, but now I’m working for myself and living the life I’ve always wanted.