Episode 289 | A Short Guide to Online Presales for SaaS & Software

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike give you a short guide to online presales for SaaS and software. Some of the topics they dive into include inbound leads, sales funnels, lead qualification, and general sales process for buyers.

Items mentioned in this episode:


Mike [00:00]: In this episode of “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Rob and I are going to be talking about how to do online pre-sales for SaaS and software. This is “Startups for the Rest of Us,” Episode 289.

Mike [00:17]: Welcome to “Startups for the Rest of Us,” the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike –

Rob [00:26]: And I’m Rob.

Mike [00:27]: – and we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Rob?

Rob [00:31]: Well, I want to apologize to our listeners that the episode that came out last Tuesday, published five hours late due to just a minor scheduling mix up. But we received quite a few tweets and several emails asking where the episode was. I think that’s a good sign – right –

Mike [00:49]: Yes.

Rob [00:49]: – a good problem to have that people notice when you’re a few hours late delivering?

Mike [00:52]: I think so. I would like to attribute it to the entire New England area going dark from Internet yesterday but I can’t say that that’s really the case.

Rob [00:59]: Right. It had nothing to do with it, but the timing is really good – right? We have something to blame it on.

Mike [01:03]: Right, yeah.

Rob [01:03]: Yeah, it was really a bummer. You said – was it a couple of states had a major shutdown?

Mike [01:07]: Yeah, apparently Level 3 Communications – somebody cut a fiber cable, and it took down the Internet throughout parts of – let’s see here. It was New York City, other parts of New York; and then there was Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It affected Time Warner Communications, Cox and Verizon. Somebody cut the wrong cable, I guess, so, “We just cut a cable.”

Rob [01:28]: So, were you tethering to your phone all day, then?

Mike [01:30]: Yeah, pretty much, which kind of sucks; because I was a little worried due to the fact that I had a demo to do yesterday morning. I was sitting there, tethered to my phone and running everything through that. I had Skype running. I had my sales demo running; and everything, amazingly, worked well enough that it didn’t really make a difference. But I did burn through, like, 500 MG worth of data in maybe an hour.

Rob [01:52]: Yeah, that’s a bummer, because it’s two-way, real-time video; so it can’t be compressed, probably, as much as other things. It’s audio, and that’s a lot of data. Are you going to up your data plan for the month?

Mike [02:01]: No. I don’t think I have to, actually. I’m on the minimal 5 GB plan for each month, and I actually have that shared between my wife and I; but I work from home, so I don’t really use it very much and just dropped my data plan because I didn’t really need all the extra bandwidth. Then, of course, the kids come home, and they’re like, “We want to watch Netflix.” I’m like, “No.”

Rob [02:20]: “Not a chance,” yeah. That’s funny.

Mike [02:22]: Nope.

Rob [02:22]: Hey, I have a book and a movie recommendation this week. I’ve been listening to a lot of nonfiction books that aren’t business-related, and there’s a book called “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, that I listened to a couple years ago when it first came out. I like pretty much everything Michael Lewis does, and I was blown away by this book when I had listened to it years ago. Then I heard they’re making a movie out of it, but I was thinking, “There’s no way they can pull off this movie,” because the book is so complex, and there’s so much to it. Although the book is better, they did an amazing job, and I think the movie’s probably going to be up for awards, if it hasn’t won them already. I don’t even know when the awards shows are. Apologies about that, but amazing writing and acting and all that stuff. So, if you have time, I’d say listen to the audio book or read the book, because it will blow you away. If you only have a couple hours, then watch the movie, but it’s about the financial crisis – essentially, the housing crisis in 2008 – and how the bankers caused it and a bunch of players. There were three-different players who predicted it and bet against it. It’s called “betting short” – right – “going short” on it. Just the characters in it are amazing. It’s probably my favorite film I’ve seen in the past maybe year and one of my favorite books during the past year as well.

Mike [03:27]: Interesting side note here: I actually know Michael Lewis personally.

Rob [03:30]: Is that right? Where do you know him from?

Mike [03:31]: I have to put a little caveat on here. It’s a different Michael Lewis, who is also a writer, and there’s a little confusion there.

Rob [03:36]: Oh, got it. Nice. You know a Michael Lewis.

Mike [03:39]: I know a Michael Lewis. It is not that particular Michael Lewis, but he does often get confused with that. Of course, he’s got the name and driver’s license to back it up, so he could pull it off if he really wanted to, but I don’t know how long it would last. [Laugh]

Rob [03:51]: “The Big Short” – read the book?

Mike [03:52]: I have not. I did see advertisements and stuff for the movie, but I haven’t checked it out yet. It does look good, though.

Rob [03:57]: Yeah. It’ll rock your world. How about you? What’s going on this week?

Mike [04:00]: Well, I hired somebody to do some manual testing on Blue Tick a couple weeks ago, and they’ve gone through and started sending over bug reports. Most of it’s little stuff, like, “This field right here doesn’t prevent you from putting in as much text as you want,” which is kind of nice, because that’s the advantage of having testers who their job is to go in and break things. At the same time, it’s creating a lot of work for you that I would say is lower in the priority list for most of it, and it doesn’t necessarily do anything specific for the app other than make it more stable in the long run. So, when somebody goes in and tries to do something funky like that, the app doesn’t break under what the person is doing.

Rob [04:41]: What’s your thought behind hiring this person rather than either doing it yourself, or having developers continue to do it? The reason I ask I know developers are not the best testers, and you need a certain personality type because a lot of developers will just crank it out and then push the code. At Drip, we are ten people. There’s a couple of part-timers in there, but we still don’t have a dedicated manual tester. We’ve been able to get by pretty well without it. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on why you’re making that move early.

Mike [05:09]: Sure. I’ll call it more of a safety net than anything else, because there’s a bunch of different ways you can go about testing. The reason I hired somebody to do it was because going through that manual profess was just time-consuming, and there’re certain parts of the application that I haven’t been able to get to the point where we can automatically test them either using unit tests or integration tests or anything like that. It makes it very difficult to go through that, because it’s just so time-consuming. For example – just something little – I’ll give you a prime example. When I was first starting to onboard some people, we went through and I said, “I need you to go over to this page and register.” Well, we changed the back end route for the URL where you go to register; but it wasn’t something that we ever went in and tested again after making that change, because how often do you go in and actually register? We actually have code in there that just automatically sets up the account so that you don’t have to.

When I first went in to onboard somebody, I found out that that was broken, and because we didn’t have the unit test in place, or a manual tester who would go through and just perform some of the basic functionality, I ran into that. Fortunately, I was able to fix it on the fly; but, again, I want to make sure that as we’re pushing things into production, those types of things don’t come up, that are fundamental issues that would prevent it from working. You can do a lot of manual testing, but as I said, it’s time-consuming. So, what our basic process is now is we’re going through. We’re implementing unit tests and making sure that the back end of the application is functional. Then we push it into a staging area, and then in the staging area the person goes through, runs some basic spot checks to make sure that the app itself is still completely functional on the front end – or at least mostly functional – and letting them know, “We changed this,” or, “We fixed this thing over here. Can you double-check it?” Then they check it in the staging area. Assuming he signs off on it, then we take that from the staging area and move it into production.

That’s it more than anything else. I think it’s partially a result of the fact that we’re using Angular on the front end, so it’s a little bit more difficult to do unit tests on front end Angular code mainly because we just haven’t set it up to do that yet.

Rob [07:11]: Yeah, that’s tough. When you have that much code on the front end, you’re right. It’s a lot harder to unit test it. I also think that you’re essentially using contract labor, and so your developers may not be as committed to making sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed as when it was Derek and I working – and he’s known us since a co-founder – hacking stuff out and has a very high standard for making sure stuff works before it ships. I think there’s perhaps a different motivation there, so you need maybe an extra check in place to avoid having things breaking on you.

Mike [07:39]: Right. Like I said, it’s partly a time commitment thing. I found that I was spending a heck of a lot of time. I’d send something over to somebody: “Hey, could you implement this,” or, “fix this?” They’d fix it, and it’d come back to me, and then I would have to spend additional time going through everything that I just did in order to make sure that not only did that thing work, but it didn’t break other things as well. And there were times where that happened very early on in the process. It doesn’t happen nearly as much at this point, but with that staging area in place, it makes things a lot easier. It cuts several hours a week of my time out of that process. The cost benefit is certainly there.

Rob [08:13]: What are we talking about today?

Mike [08:14]: Well, we got a listener question in from Guy Lewis, and he says, “Hi, Mike and Rob. I’m wondering if between you, you have a best practice for engaging with B-to-B clients who make sales inquiries via an online business. I have experience in pre-sales face-to-face, but translating this into an email dialogue doesn’t translate well for me. So, specifically, I want to understand typically how much should your pre-sales people who answer online inquiries be pushing early for trials, or just being more relaxed and answering client questions, leaving the clients to reply and come back when they’re ready to engage more. Thanks, Guy.”

Rob [08:42]: To clarify right off the bat, this is from the time someone first engages with you – maybe they sign up for an email list – all the way up until the point where probably they do a demo. So, this is all pre-sales and pre-demo that we’ll be talking about. Mostly, we’re going to focus on SaaS and software sales. It might apply to other industries, but obviously these are the things that you and I are most familiar with and qualified to talk about.

Mike [09:05]: Something else to point out is that I think that in most cases, this pre-sales process is probably not going to be as applicable to something like an info product or any sort of education or training material. I will put a little bit of a caveat on there that says that if you’re selling something that is high-price, that may not necessarily be the case. This could be applicable to those situations, because you are probably going to be much more involved in vetting those applicants or those people who are contacting you in order to identify whether or not your product is a good fit for them; because you clearly don’t want to sell a product to somebody who they simply can’t use it, or it’s not going to benefit them. At the same time, you are probably going to have to go through some sort of pre-qualification process to make sure that, if you’re selling, let’s say, a $5,000 training product, it is going to be a good fit for them and you’re not wasting your time trying to track them down to get them to come to the table and pull out their credit card.

Rob [09:58]: Right, and I’d say this also applies to even lower-priced SaaS apps and software products where at least you’re willing to answer questions and engage via email manually, one-on-one; or, you’re willing to do maybe a pre-qualification phone call or something like that. If you’re selling really no-touch signup and you don’t even want to answer individual questions if someone has some specifics about their setup or how you’re going to work, then this won’t apply; but I think almost every SaaS app that you’d be launching today probably should fall into this. Even if your price is 10 or 20 a month, you or a support person should be willing to do some manual pre-sales email back and forth. Even if you’re not ultimately looking for a demo as the end result maybe you’re just looking to encourage to go to trial. Having some back-and-forth via email and answering questions and encouraging down the steps of the funnel should still fit into the paradigm we’re talking about, all the way up to folks who – let’s say you’re selling for 100 a month. Then, for sure, you’re willing to go back and forth via email; probably jump on a qualifying call 10 to 15 minutes, and then ultimately move towards either a demo or a trial.

Mike [10:58]: The first step in this process is to look at your inbound leads as essentially a sales funnel and try to set it up as a decision-based workflow. Essentially, what that means is that when somebody comes into that sales funnel, you analyze where they’re coming in and decide what to do when they enter that point. If they come in through this web form, do this. If they come in because they replied to an email, then do this other thing over here. Or, if they went over and they viewed your trial page and then they viewed your pricing page and then sent you a support email, do something else. The idea here is that you really want to take a step back and look at your entire sales funnel leading up to the point where they sign in and go to a trial as a decision-based workflow of some kind, and you map out all those different decision points.

Rob [11:46]: Yeah, and to get really specific with this, in essence, once someone signs up for your email list – let’s presume that they’re either opting in to get an email mini course, or a PDF tools list just to keep things simple. When you first start out and you’re just building this funnel out, that’s all you’re going to have, and you’re going to want to educate and give them topics and content that they can use without signing up for your tool; but the whole time, you’re mentioning that your tool makes it a lot easier or faster for them to do it. It will save them time and potentially save them money, or make them money. Then you’re doing a soft sell during this time. Might have a P.S. that says, “Check out our trial.” Or, if you really do want to do demos, if that’s your main focus, then you could have a P.S. that says, “Hey, interested in learning more? Click this ca-[?] link at the bottom of this email and set up a qualifying call,” if you’re doing qualifying calls before your demos. The way to decide to do that, it depends. If you have a lot of people coming in and you really want to qualify them, you should do the qualifying call first. If you don’t yet have a ton of people in your funnel, you can go straight to demo and just qualify them in the first five minutes of the demo and then end the demo if they don’t qualify. There are some very specific questions you can ask people to help that.

Beyond that, as you expand this, you’re probably at some point going to do a webinar. You’re probably at some point going to be creating some free content, or even valuable content. At Drip, we have two eBooks now, one of which we sell; and we actually sell real copies of it through Gumroad, and then we have a video course that we sell. These are all things that can educate and are valuable and that do give your brand some legitimacy, I guess. So, throughout the funnel – as you expand it; you don’t have to do this from day one – we then start pitching, and we say, “We’re going to give you these free eBooks.” “We’re going to give you this free video training,” which is a recorded webinar we’ve done at some point. Each of these touchpoints is an excuse to then say at the end, “If you’re interested, click this button and do” either whatever you’re looking for. You’re looking for a qualifying call, or you’re looking for them to sign directly up for a trial, or you’re looking to encourage them for a demo, or you’re going to qualify them. That’s a couple more specific ideas and thoughts about how to structure this front end piece of the funnel.

Mike [13:45]: And much of the decisions that you make there are going to be based on volume. As Rob said, if you only have a couple of people that are coming into your sales funnel each week, then it’s a lot easier to push somebody towards a demo, regardless of the price point because you want to be able to get information from them, and you really need to be able to gather some of that feedback in order to use that information for future efforts and to redirect your attention towards doing different things for those people. But if you have a ton of people coming in, let’s say you have a hundred a day, then your strategies for dealing with 100 people are going to be very, very different than if you were only getting one per day.

Along with that, what you need to do is you need to take a look at your sales funnel and map out, either using paper or some sort of flowchart software, and get at least an idea or approximation of how many leads you’re getting in from different places and what the decision points are for the customers at those points. One of the things that – I’ve done this myself in the past where I’ve set up some sort of a sales funnel, and if I don’t map out the entire decision tree, it’s very easy to lose some of the decision making along the way for the customer. If a customer gets to a certain point at the end of a particular email sequence, or in the middle of an email sequence, if you don’t have those calls to action mapped out, or at least documented some place, it’s very easy to forget that you either didn’t have one, or that it leads to a certain place. Then the customer just kind of gets lost, because you’ve lost track of them at that point and you didn’t take the time or the opportunity to redirect them in a certain place. Even if you did, what happens if they don’t? What happens if they do not take that step that you wanted? Do you just drop them at that point? That’s something to be very careful, of because you don’t want to have a sales funnel where these people are just dropping out of it because you didn’t give them a call to action, or you didn’t take into account the fact that they may not have gone in the direction that you wanted them to or expected them to.

Rob [15:35]: Yeah, and in terms of mapping out your sales funnel – in the old days, I used to literally map it out on paper and then scan it in. This is five, six years ago. I also used Vizio for a while. I think these days, I’d probably – a lot of people are using Gliffy, but these days people have moved towards building it in the app you’re using. If you’re using the right tool – let’s say you’re using Drip. You can use the workflows or using Infusionsoft. You can use their Campaign Builder. You can really build out a sales funnel visually in the tool that you’re using, so you save yourself having to keep documentation, essentially; because your documentation is this actual funnel, and you can move people in and out and have it all in a nice, visual flow.

Mike [16:09]: Yeah, that’s extremely helpful. What I tend to start with is just graph paper, and I’ll work on things from there until I get to the point where I want to finalize it and then move it into the app. But you’re absolutely right. Having that visual workflow inside of an app is very helpful in terms of being able to redirect people through your sales funnel. Even if you’re not actually using the tool for those people – if you have a workflow that you’re trying to move people through, even if they’re not actually doing it inside of the tool, if you just want to tag them or something like that, that can still be very helpful for helping to determine where people are going. There’re similar things in other tools, such as Pipedrive, for example, where you can just people through a sales funnel. They’re not quite the same, but it is helpful to see it visually.

Rob [16:51]: We also have several workflows that are in draft that we use more as documentation than as actual production use. Someday they will be in production, but we use it as reference.

Mike [16:59]: The third step is to take a look at your price point and the complexity of your products in order to determine how to proceed for the business. If you have a high-price-point product, or it’s a complicated product, or if it integrates into a core part of the customer’s business, then taking people and trying to push them into a personalized sales demo is probably going to work out a lot better than sending them directly to a trial; because the communication medium for a phone call or a demo is much different than it is if you’re just trying to engage with somebody through email. If you send them an email, it’s very easy for those things to get lost, or for people to glance at it and not really take in some of the subtle nuances that you’re looking for them to understand. In any sort of business or product where it integrates highly into the business, it makes much more sense to try and get those people into a call of some kind so that you can have those conversations.

At this point, you really have to ask yourself what’s the best or most cost-effective way in order to move somebody towards making a purchase. Just keep in mind that I didn’t say “into making a purchase”; I said “towards it.” There’s a very key distinction there in that you want to move them along the path but you don’t necessarily want to force them. There’s a couple of different reasons for that. One is people don’t like feeling as if they’re being forced into buying a product, or feel like they’re being pushed; but at the same time, you also need to make sure that you’re giving people the information they need in order to make a good decision. And that good decision might be something that they can make immediately, but it might not be something that they’re comfortable with for a week, or three weeks, or even three months. It really depends on where they are in their buy-in process.

Rob [18:32]: At Drip, we used to encourage everyone to sign up for a trial, and then while they were in their trial we would try to contact them and help them get onboarded. We would do calls at that point, if needed. Then about – really, it was over a year ago now. We switched to where we have two different calls to action, and people can choose to either start a trial – because some people like self-serve. I actually prefer self-serve and to dig in and figure stuff out on my own, but a lot of people like to see demos. If you go to the Drip homepage, you’ll see at the bottom it says “Start a trial” or “Schedule a demo.” Then we have a whole funnel to submit yourself to schedule that demo. What we found is that, initially, like the first month, it was a hit to our trial count; because there were enough people that were hitting that demo button that weren’t clicking the trial button. But over time, the people who clicked the demo and actually showed up are way more qualified when they sign up; and once they get inside the app, they’re more educated, and they’re more likely to actually convert. So, it can be good to give folks a choice if you’re on the edge.

We’re email-marketing software, and some people are experts, and they just want to get in. They don’t want to be forced to go through a demo. There’re other funnels where you really need to go through a demo before you get in the app, because you’re just going to be lost, and your trials – they just aren’t going to convert by themselves. That’s what you were saying, Mike, when you were talking about if it’s an extremely complex product, or fits a high price point. There are certain things to it that you’re just going to need to educate. Even if your product’s not complex, but if it’s complex for the audience – like, if you have realtors who aren’t super good at, let’s say, project management or something; and you have a management tool for them, or a process management tool, you’re probably going to want to do demos with most of them; because a lot of them are not going to be technically oriented enough to just be able to get up and self-start. you’re going to have to make a judgment here as to whether you give people a choice, or you force them down one path or another.

This is part of optimizing your funnel. We talk a lot about getting to product-market fit, and product-market fit is when you get that product that everybody wants to buy, and people really will convert and stick around. The next step after that, or the thing you’re doing at the same time is you’re trying to figure out – it’s almost like sales process or sales funnel market fit where you’re trying to optimize that to reduce friction and to figure out what works the best for the people who are coming to you and for the leads who are coming to you. What is what most of them want? And then try to help guide them down that path, and that’s really what we’re discussing here – is the discovery of that and then the architecture of the funnel as they come through and start to become pre-qualified.

Mike [20:55]: Let’s talk a little bit about the general sales process for people who are making purchases. The key thing that you want to try and do here is to be able to identify where that prospect is in their buying process. This ties a little bit back into what Rob was just talking about where he was giving people the option to either take a look at a demo, or to start a trial immediately. There are a couple of different stages here. The first one is awareness. In the awareness stage, are they even aware that there is a particular problem they’re experiencing, or that there are other solutions that are available? The next step in this process is nurturing. Do they even know enough about the nuances of the problem and the solution that you offer? The third step is qualification. Are they a good prospect for you to start going after, or to even use your product at all? The fourth one is evaluation. Are they looking at the different options that are available and deciding where they are going to spend their time, either doing a demo or a trial – taking a look at those things and really deciding whether or not they’re going to not just move forward with a purchase, but taking a look at the different competitors and figuring out which one is the best for them? Then the last one is actually making a buying decision, which is purchasing.

Try and identify where the prospect is in their buying process. You can use what your inbound funnel looks like to some extent to help figure that out. If they come to you and they’ve started a trial, for example; or, they’ve come to a demo, you know that they’ve come to that demo and they are probably past the awareness stage. They’re probably past the nurturing stage. You don’t need to send them additional educational material. That said, depending on what their questions are, you may need to send them some more stuff. You may need to send them some more educational information, but those different touchpoints that you have with them are going to be key pieces to trying to figure out where they are in that buying process and then adjusting where they end up starting into your pre-sales funnel.

Rob [22:44]: Right. It’s easy to assume that when someone first signs up for your list that they’re in the awareness phase. That’s not always the case. You may have someone who already knows about your product. They already are comparing it to two or three other options. They have a short list. They’re a savvy buyer; and really they’re in the third phase, the qualification phase, already. This is where having not just some email marketing tool, but actually some type of nice marketing automation tool where someone can click a link and jump ahead, or they can opt to get quicker to qualification, or quicker to a demo, or quicker to trial is actually really, really helpful. In the traditional roles, marketing is the first three that you mentioned. Marketing is essentially awareness, it’s nurturing, and it starts qualification. Then sales tends to pick up at qualification and then helps with evaluation and purchase. So, again, depending on your price point and your complexity, when marketing hands off to sales, that first piece that sales needs to do is qualify them. They’ll be partially qualified through how they’ve interacted and how they’ve maybe filled out a form, or what you know about them; but at a certain point, you’re really going to have to dig in and start asking some actual questions in terms of who they are, what their usage is like, who they’re evaluating you against, etcetera.

Mike [23:53]: That said, let’s talk a little bit about the lead qualification process, because that’s really where the core of this particular episode is headed. You really need to be able to qualify those people in order to determine how it is best to treat them inside of your sales funnel.

There’s a couple of different things to lead qualification. I think the differentiation between two different types of qualification is that qualification can either be explicit or it can be implicit. It depends a lot on whether you need to speak with those people directly. How do they come into your sales funnel? Is it through an email list? Is it through a webinar? Did they fill out a simple form that just asks for their name and gave a text box for their phone number? Or, did you have this two- or three-page application process that they needed to go through in order to submit that to you so that you could take a look at it and review it? Depending on which of those mechanisms you’re looking at, you can decide whether or not that’s more of an implicit or an explicit lead qualification. If they filled out a giant, lengthy form, then that’s pretty explicit. You’re going to be able to get a lot more detailed information. If they just signed up for an email list, it’s much more implicit, and you can’t really judge just yet whether or not they’re going to be a qualified lead.

Rob [25:04]: The most important part of lead qualification is you’re trying to figure out is it worth your time and is it worth their time in continuing the conversation. You’re trying to be mindful of both of your resources and schedules in this, because if they’re not going to get value out of the product and it’s going to be a bad experience for them, then you’re wasting both of your time in this. The key thing that we found is to figure out a short list of qualifying questions, and that’s something you’re going to have to develop over time. You’re going to start intuitively, and then over time you’re going to see patterns. Get those into a doc as soon as you can so that you can ask the same questions the same way every time and then slowly split-test those questions with others and figure out what it is that essentially – there’s certain things that you shouldn’t be doing with your tool at all, so you’re going to learn over time.

I’ll give you an example. With Drip, we get multiple people per week jumping on demos, and the first thing they talk about is how they have a purchased list, or how they have a list of people that they’ve scraped from the Internet, and that’s called “email outreach.” While that’s perfectly acceptable in some tools, it’s not in tools like Drip, MailChimp, AWeber and Fusionsoft. We’re for warm leads, and we’re for nurturing once people have opted in to hear from you. That’s an easy pre-qualifier for us – a disqualifier, I would say. To just be able to say, “Tell me about your list.” “Where’d you get it from?” “When was the last time you emailed them?” You talk that through. We have very specific things.

You’re going to learn what that question is for your tool. How are people accidentally – because it’s not malicious. They just don’t know. They see “email tool,” and they feel like they can just put whoever in that they want. So, figure out what those questions are to disqualify folks early on, as well as the ones that will really qualify them well. You might know that you serve SaaS businesses and people who are bootstrappers, people who have raised funding, or info marketers, or bloggers. There’s going to be a group that you serve really well. Figure out if they’re in that or in the periphery and can fit your use case. If they’re not, it’s really nice for you to have knowledge of your space and be able to actually recommend them out to a tool that is going to work for them; because, again, it’s a matter of using your time well and using their time well.

I heard [Sully Efty?] say this. You don’t owe a demo to anyone. You don’t, and you don’t want to use your 30 to 40 minutes of demo time on someone who you know is not going to get value out of this. So, if they’re qualified, then do it. If not, then you’ll figure out some key phrases to basically politely encourage them that you’re not the right fit and, hopefully, recommend another tool that might be a better fit.

Mike [27:27]: A nice side effect of going through this process and really taking a hard look at this information and what those qualifying or disqualifying questions are is that those can also be used on your website and your sales collateral and your marketing collateral to help guide the people who are going to be a good fit into your sales funnel, and further down, versus trying to push those people away. There’s a couple of different ways that you can push those people away. Maybe, as Rob said, you recommend somebody else’s product for them. In that particular case, if they came in and they have a purchased email list, for example, then they’re not a good fit for Drip. Is there another product out there that could be recommended, or another mechanism that could be used for them to use that list? Those are different ways to down-sell to some extent, or to just provide them with value such that if they come into a situation in the future where they could use your product, then it would be a better fit and they can come back. At the same time, if there are lower-tiered opportunities for offering different products, or lower-price products; or, if they’re a do-it-yourself type customer, can they buy a lower-tiered version of it and do everything themselves? Or, if you have a higher-priced consulting product, maybe they’re a good fit for that. Depending on where they are, what you’re doing and how they fit into that, you’re going to be able to start pushing them – probably “push” is too strong a word, but help guide them in one direction or another based on what it is that you offer, what it is that they’re looking for; and be able to answer those questions pretty concretely.

Rob [28:54]: Another question you want to think about is: would this lead perhaps be better served with a lower-tiered or lower-priced product? Are they a DIY type? Are they not a good fit for you at all due to one of these disqualifiers? Would they be better served either by a competitor or even another class of tool, or even just staying with paper and pencil? Sometimes, we’ve had people to purchase who are doing – he was just getting an email started, had zero people and was going to do something with bars or restaurants and get the owners to sign up. Then he was going to send emails manually. It was just a really manual thing, and we realized, “You know? Maybe just have, like, a Google Doc or an Excel spreadsheet, or even just a paper signup form and then send the emails yourself manually until you prove this out. Then if things work, you can look at a tool like Drip, or even a free account with MailChimp for a little while, if you’re really just sending small broadcasts.” Often, especially people who are just getting started, they may have more of a need for a lot of support. You have to use your judgment. The people who are going to pay you a lot of money tend to be the ones that are more tech-savvy, and they’re further along, so they’re going to tend to be less supportive and definitely worth any support time you have to spend with them.

This is an evaluation piece you have to do early on. In your road and your journey of your product, you’re going to want everyone, and you’re going to learn who are good fits and who are not. Then you refine this over time. As it goes further on, dealing in volume and just getting a lot of people using your platform may not be the right play for you, especially if you’re a bootstrapper; because supporting someone at a $29-a-month plan, they’re going to be more likely to churn, more likely to be unhappy; and they’re often going to need a lot more support than someone at the higher end. So, a qualification is not just can they get value out of the tool, but it’s is it a good mutual fit in both directions.

Mike [30:39]: One of the things that you had mentioned in there was how far along are they. I think that there’s two, different aspects to that. One is how far along are they in the life cycle of their business. Then the other side of it is are they already performing the tasks that your tool is offering to them today, and they’re doing it manually versus are they looking at potentially using it to start doing that. So, if they’re already entrenched in doing that; they’re doing it today, but it’s painful, then your tool can certainly help them out, versus a situation where they look at that and say, “Well, I’d really like to try that out, but we haven’t done it before.” Those are two, very different types of customers. I think that the people who are already doing it today, they’re much easier to sell on it. They’re much easier to work with because they know exactly what they want and what they’re looking for, versus the other ones where you are probably going to do a lot more education with them to help them figure out how to solve that particular problem, because they’ve never run into any of the challenges before because they’ve just never done it.

Rob [31:33]: I think the bottom line is that the majority of pre-sales is really to identify where someone is in the buying process and give them the right information that they need that’s relevant to that step. I think in most cases, a quick phone call tends to be the best if you have the bandwidth to do that. Then in other cases, if you don’t have the bandwidth, you can try to do it via email. Probably not as successful, but some people will prefer email. So, giving them either option, I think, is the ideal way to do it. Your results may vary depending on how much time you have to do it and how good you are at talking to people on the phone and how interested you and/or your team are in doing that.

I think that’s going to wrap us up for today. We designed this whole episode around a listener question. If you have a question for us, you can call our voicemail number at 8-8-8-8-0-1-9-6-9-0; or, email us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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