Surf Air’s member recruitment drive takes flight with Salesforce

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman September 16, 2015
The all-you-can-fly private membership airline is using Salesforce CRM to sign up the biggest number of members possible for the lowest cost.

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Flying high

David Ritterbush, the newly appointed CEO of snack company Pop Chips, works in Los Angeles but lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Faced by the need to make frequent trips between the two, he recently became the 2,000th member of Surf Air, the US’s first all-you-can-fly private membership airline. He says:

Surf Air allows me to commute up and down the coast without the traditional hassles associated with air travel.

In return for a monthly subscription charge of $1,750, he can now make the 400-mile trip as often as he needs to.

Since its maiden flight in mid-2013, between Burbank and the Bay Area’s San Carlos, Surf Air has taken off to become a multi-city operation, providing scheduled flights between 11 locations in California and Las Vegas.

Its membership base has grown rapidly, too, more than doubling in the past year alone, says CEO Jeff Potter, who flew between Hawthorne and Oakland to attend Salesforce's Dreamforce event in San Francisco.

But he’s looking to his vice president of member acquisition Justin Hart to keep the recruitment campaign flying: in a year from now, he says, he’ll expect Hart to be delivering against a target of 400 new members a month.

Hart, in turn, is looking to Salesforce to help him meet his boss’s expectations:

It’s our system of record for everything from capturing prospects online to helping members make the most of the Surf Air experience. Our sales team’s time is precious: Salesforce and other tools like Pardot are helping them prioritise who they should be contacting and managing prospects through to close.

Because of Pardot, we can see who’s browsing our website. If it’s someone we’ve already identified as a prospect, we get an alert and we like to take that moment to get in touch with them. I like to call this ‘manufactured serendipity’. Being able to have that knowledge of what pages they’ve looked at, what activities they’ve carried out online is incredibly useful.

And once a sale’s been processed, it’s passed through Salesforce to my colleague Emily who heads up our member care team. She’ll assign them an account manager who takes the customer through the onboarding process. And when it comes to different sales prioritisation down the road, after the person has 30 or 60 days of membership, we get prompted to contact them again and see how the service is working out for them.

Special treatment

Salesforce is also helping Surf Air to give member referrals special treatment. Around half of Surf Air’s new members each month sign up for the service after it’s been recommended to them by existing members. Hart says:

We want to treat them especially well. A member might call or text me with their friend’s contact details - and if I drop that connection at that point for any reason, I look bad to the member, I look bad to the referral, so I’ve make sure that opportunity’s buttoned up.

Automated tools help Hart and his team get these referrals from texts or emails into the system, so that they quickly enter the process of being offered a test flight as soon as possible and both the referral and the referring member receive a follow-up call to see how the test flight went:

That process involves so many people and so many process steps that it’s incredibly important that the system tracks it closely and automates steps where possible. That’s what allows us to offer a high-touch, white-glove level of service.

Member referrals have a conversion rate of around 30 percent, says Hart - but some leads offer a much lower chance of conversion: people who click on online ads, for example. These have a conversion rate of around 4 percent:

They’re a low priority for our sales reps, so what happens there is that the leads are sent to an outsourced phone bank that we use. Every morning, there’s an automated export of the leads that fit that criteria that are sent to the outsourcing company, where employees work to provide further qualification of the lead and get promising ones back into the system for us to work on.

With a sales team of just six execs, Hart needs to be ultra-focused on those efforts that bring Surf Air the largest number of members for the lowest cost:

We look at past performance and when we see that something works, we go full-throttle in that effort.

That kind of focus will certainly be needed in the months ahead, his CEO adds. Surf Air plans to invest heavily in advertising, says Potter, so Hart and his team can expect a lot more prospects to handle.

In addition, he plans to add 65 more Pilatus PC-12 turbo-prop aircraft to the current fleet over the next five years, at a cost of $5 million per airplane, so that the company can start to attack new markets. Right now, Potter’s got his eye on Texas, Florida and the North-East. International expansion may also be on the horizon, he hints.

For these reasons, Hart’s already working with Salesforce to get even more use from the system in future:

I want to integrate our inventory into Salesforce in a new way, with a deep integration into our booking engine so we can say, ‘We have X number of members that are flying these routes, and we have a new plane coming’, so we can optimise our operations to keep flights at 60 percent to 65 percent capacity on every trip.

That way, sales reps won’t just be looking at which prospects are hot and can be quickly closed, but also which ones are in an area where we want to take more members and where we need to be careful about taking new members. That evaluation will help us prioritise that number one commodity, which for our members, our pilots and my sales team is their time.

Disclosure - at time of writing Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica.

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