On today’s episode, Rob chats with Damian Thompson, co-founder of LeadFuze. He’s also the founder of VPSales. They talk about if and when to hire a sales team, the kinds of cold email outreach campaigns that are working well today, the sales stack, and much more.
The topics we cover
- 5:43 Should a bootstrapper hire a Sales Development Rep (SDR)?
- 9:16 Assuming you understand your market, what kind of cold emails work today?
- 12:56 The formula to use for B2B cold email
- 14:37 Risks of bootstrappers hiring sales reps too quickly
- 17:19 Rule of thumb for hiring sales reps in 2020
- 21:29 Defining SDR (Sales Development Rep) and BDR (Business Development Rep)
- 24:47 What’s the bare minimum for a sales stack
- 36:42 The real challenge with outbound sales
Links from the show
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The other thing I wanted to mention—this is not an advertisement, but this is just something I wanted to call out that I think could be a useful resource and I’ve been recommending it to folks in the community—is dynamitejobs.com. This is a place to post remote jobs and there’s all types of categories, anything that you would need from developers to VAs to apprentices to SEO to paid ads. You can specify time zones and salary and all that kind of stuff. In addition to it being a job board, they also offer a paid recruitment service that some startups that I am invested in or involved in are using. It’s a really good deal for the money and they do a bunch of the upfront leg work.
This was a point where I got with Drip, where I was spending so much of my time hiring that I wanted to find someone who wasn’t the typical contingency recruiter where it’s like, I’m going to hire developer for $100,000 and you’re going to pay him $15,000, $20,000 because it’s based on their first year salary. I couldn’t afford that as a bootstrapper. What Dan and Ian are creating here is really a service for bootstrappers. It’s for people who can’t afford those high fees. From what I hear, they’re having really good results from it.
Again, not a paid advertisement, but I always love what Dan and Ian are up to. Dynamite Jobs is coming on my radar more and more and I wanted to point that out to you in case you are thinking about hiring. I would be adding it to my rotation of the job boards that I post positions to.
With that, we’re going to dive into my conversation. It’s with Damian Thompson. If you haven’t heard of Damian, he’s a Co-Founder of LeadFuze with Justin McGill, and he’s the founder of vpsales.co. His big thing is about scaling sales teams. I’m going to read from his Twitter bio, he says, “Building high-performing Sales & SalesOps teams for B2B Software & Service companies.”
He’s been, himself, a sales person or a sales consultant for going on 20 years, maybe a little bit more. I’ve known Damian for almost 10 years. We talked a little bit in the interview about how we met and it was via cold email that he sent which is pretty apropos for this. He has extensive experience both crafting cold emails, sending cold emails, testing them and closing deals, as well as consulting with software and service companies on how they should architect their sales process. His specialty is early stage to eight figures. I know he works a lot in the ‘get from seven figures to eight’ range, but Damian has a lot to share and I hope you enjoy our conversation today on making cold email work in B2B SaaS.
Damian Thompson, sir. Thanks for joining me on the podcast. How are you?
Damian: I’m great. Happy to be here.
Rob: Excellent. I already mentioned in your intro, you’d been doing a lot of sales for a lot of years, sir. Part of that is cold email and I’m glad you reminded me, I had completely forgotten that the way you and I met was that you sent me a cold email. You want to talk about that a little bit?
Damian: Yeah. Two things. One thing I love to say is, I think we were in Bangkok about May, four or five years ago, the DCBKK event you’re speaking […] stairstep thing, standing at the stage about I was your go to sales guy because I’ve been selling for decades. You aced it really well. I’ve been selling for a long time, cold calling especially.
About my first launch. I spent 15 odd years building sales teams and doing lead gen in enterprise sales. Symantec turned my career around the world doing that and got pretty good at prospecting, obviously. And then really took to cold email in the early 2010–2011 time frame. I burned the suit and tie in 2011 and moved to Asia, trying to figure this stuff out.
You got my radar, Danny from […] got my radar, and I was looking to build my first business—my content marketing agency—which I didn’t know about content marketing, but I just decided to sell it. I saw you when you were running HitTail. You had an eye out on oDesk for content writers, essentially. So, I reached out to some people who have shared in the same circles and […] and that didn’t work out. So I said, whatever. I’m just going to send an email. Cold email. From that, you became a client. […] investor in LeadFuze. That cold email has been very impactful on my life.
Rob: Yeah, totally. I remember you and your team are writing blog content for HitTail and I think you did for some Drip at some point. Yeah, we go way back, man. It’s cool. That’s what we’re talking about. I probably titled this episode, How To Make Cold Email Work With SaaS or In SaaS or something to that effect.
I actually got an email from a listener and right now, he runs a SaaS app and bootstrapped as well. He said, “I’m looking at investing in two SDRs plus a marketing person to run an outbound sales campaign that will run for at least six months. It’s pricey to do, but I just feel as though it is the right thing for us.
I come across a decent number of venture-backed startups which have done this with success, but I’m wondering if there are bootstrappers out there who have done it. The recent survey you ran, which is The State of Independent SaaS, seems to indicate there are because there are a lot of folks saying cold email was working for them.”
That’s the reason that I called you on. We don’t have to just answer this question because I know you have a lot of thoughts around this. You want to kick us off and talk about, he’s wondering, does this work for bootstrappers? Can you hire an SDR too? He has revenue, probably tens of thousands MRR. He has the budget to do it. But talk to me about what you’re seeing out there.
Damian: A couple of things. Yes, bootstrappers can do it. I’ve done it. I’ve been a bootstrapper […] a little bit of my LeadFuze that part of that was doing the rest of it and wasn’t a ‘change the world’ kind of array. You can. It comes into where you’re going to spend your money.
I love cold email. I think it’s very powerful. One of the reasons why I love B2B sales, especially B2B software or service sales, big ticket sales is that I’m in more control. It’s one of the real controls as a sales rep. If you’re in a high-transaction SaaS business, and always PC-backed, fast growing businesses where it’s all processed down, everything is basically an intake form of legs. You’re just doing these things they tell you to do. But the reality is that you don’t have any real control, you’re waiting on leads, you’re always complaining about the leads coming in, or this is not working, or the event or whatever.
With outbound, you’re in control. You decide, if I can define who my target market is and the better I can do it better, and I’m willing to do the work, then I can actually go to them. Most likely, if you define that persona well, they probably share the same problems. You solve the other people they solved problems with. That is not actively looking to solve that problem right now. Getting in front of them is 98% of people aren’t looking for an active solution right now. That’s a huge part of the market. I love it for that reason.
One of the things that people do (especially lovely bootstrapper people) is that we look for cheap ways out. We spend hours to save $10 on a monthly subscription charge. Or we find the cheapest way to do something because, money, cash is bullets. It gives us the ability to grow. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on paid ads, Facebook Ads or whatever the other kind of lead mechanism would be, we try to do things like this.
Can it work? 100%. It happens all the time if our clients work every day. However—here’s the caveat—the problem is, generally, when people go in to do cold email, especially one to say, hey, I’m not sure this is going to work, or hey, it doesn’t work for me, it’s not about the mechanism. It’s not about the actual cold email versus what other tactic you want to use. It’s that they don’t understand their market well enough.
In order to rise above all the noise—just the amount of emails out there right now—you really have to punch someone in the face a little bit. The way you do that is, it’s to get straight to the point about what matters to them. It’s not about who you are or your company. It’s not even about being clever and doing all these silly ‘number three, are you trapped into a boulder’ kind of nonsense. It’s just about saying, hey, do you know the person you can help and you know the two biggest problems you can solve for them, and if you can, it gets pretty straightforward.
The challenge is people don’t do that a lot of times. You’ll hear all the time, why you? On time, they’re on a budget or because we are the XYZ, the sales force for HR platforms or whatevers it happens to be, which is not a reason people buy. They don’t have a good-enough understanding of their market and that’s the challenge.
Rob: Got it. Let’s really focus on B2B SaaS because that’s the majority of our audience here. When it works for B2B SaaS, you’re saying, you have to understand the market which is if I’m going to run ads and send people to the landing page, if your headline’s crap, you’re not going to convert people, either, so understanding the market. Once you do that, then what do you do? How do you translate that into an email? What types of emails are working today?
Damian: I can give you a pretty good framework, but […] point, you’re 100% correct. It’s interesting, I was talking to a client today actually about this. B2B SaaS company sells hospitals and health care networks, doing about half a million a year, about $600,000 in ARR. Doing well, […] about leads, but these are going through the process to get the set-up.
It’s clear he doesn’t really know his market. He’s done a lot of the inbound smaller deals. He’s trying to go up market, he’s got probably a handful of enterprise customers, and he’s trying to get more up there. We were talking about, well, who is the person in your organization that is involved in this decision, that’s not the person you’re talking to. The other people, the IT manager or the head of data or whatever, and what are their priorities? And became very clear, he didn’t know.
It’s not just […] conclusion that if you have some success, you have $50,000 MRR, that you’re going to know your market that well because it’s different, especially when you’re waiting for people to come to you. It’s, again, why I love outbound so much is that, especially in the earlier days, you can use this as market development or product development. You need to know this.
You said it. Your ads, your content, your SEO. You need to know how your customers are talking about the problems you solved and that lever has to be pulled somehow in your sales conversations, in your marketing materials and everything. It’s very important to do. It’s just that people a lot of times give up too fast on cold email because they don’t see the results they expect. You’re going to get an email from an angry person because where did you get my email address from?
Can work, sure. Here’s what I tell people, a couple of things. Long-term campaigns, these days about omni channels, it’s about multiple touches from multiple areas. Actually we’re putting together a sequence today, it’s 7 steps over 10 business days, over two weeks, and it’s a mix of LinkedIn connection request, cold email, two phone calls in there as well and then on the third emails of video.
You can get more tactical about the stuff, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the core, the message. The message needs to be, if you know the two biggest personas you serve and you know there are two biggest problems that you could help solve, you can write great cold emails. The format is this. I’m going to give away the secret and he’s never going to use it.
But the good news is, that it doesn’t matter. This is not a trick or a hack like the old break through their email stuff is. Let’s just say, you have any idea, think something else. What were the two biggest problems that Drip solved for people?
Rob: Well, I’ll throw this out and you can tell me if this is right, but we allowed them to communicate or stay in touch with their email list, for number one. And number two, we allowed them to see how their customers were reacting with their emails and to be able to keep profiles. It wasn’t just an email address, but if they clicked a link, you could tag them as something so there was knowing your customer and then there was also communicating with your customer.
Damian: Right. To me, one of the big things that you got right was this idea of heavy automation or work flow automation in the sequence when it wasn’t cool and no one else is really doing it. We had to go to Pardot or HubSpot so you can get ‘thousands a month’ kind of tool in order to do that. But that is all fed to that thing. This is the best.
For example, if all you do is talk about these features, sure, you’ll get someone that wants to talk about the features, but that’s not the issue. The real value is because of that, because I can trigger an email when someone lands on that specific sales page. Because they have that insight, the behaviors my customers are having, I get to understand my customers more. And as I understand them more, I can then sell them what they want. That’s the value I want to talk about.
Let’s just say we use that then. And then the second one, whatever it happened to be. Here is the formula no matter who’s listening. You figure out what those two problems are that you solve in your customer’s eyes. Not your eyes, I mean their eyes and their own language. Let’s call them AB for now.
Email one is very straightforward. Super short, no fluff, don’t use three words and one will do. Don’t thank them for their time, don’t tell them, I don’t want to waste your time, wasting your time. Just get straight to the point and the point is, in talking to other marketing directors, the thing they tell us they’re frustrated the most about their current to is A and B. Which of those is for you? That’s it, that’s your email. Don’t expect a huge response. You probably might get a 0% reply rate on that. But what we want to do is send that out.
Then, email two will be, if your problem is problem A, we talked about in the last email, here’s a free resource for you to help solve that problem. And then the third email is, hey, if your problem was problem B, here’s a free resource to help solve the problem. And the fourth email is, hey, maybe we can help you solve the problem, why don’t we talk?
It works gangbusters if you got the right person and the right problem. That’s what you have to have. You can overthink this stuff and you’re really crazy, and you do because you want even […] more success. But again, it comes down to do you actually know why your customers are buying and it is important to them?
We see this now, especially, I’m a geek about software. I love all the no codes stuff for the rest of it. We’re building a lot of stuff. It doesn’t matter right now. Which is cool, it’s fun, but that doesn’t last forever. You have to have a real reason. The customer has to have reason to engage with you.
These are the points where he’s thinking of hiring people. Then he’s got a lot of it figured out. Probably just needs to dot the Is and cross the Ts. This leaves them to the second problem, which is people hiring sales reps too quickly, especially technical founders. One gets sales off their plate. They bring people in without fully formed processes.
[…] engineers. Would have a code base that was maybe you skipped every third line and then you just expect for someone to come in and just fix it for you, just do it, just figure it out? That’s not what teammates too. It’s what employees do. Employees come in and work a process you give them. Especially in sales. This idea that you’re going to find this unicorn service provider that’s going to do it or this unicorn person just get him off the street and do this for you, which is very rare that happens.
In almost all cases, the same way when you write a code or you’re doing your content marketing, you’re doing sales. The founders should try it first, just to figure it out. Because you should have an understanding of a framework of here’s what working, here’s what not working, here’s what resonates to the customers, here’s what doesn’t resonate. Now let’s get better at it. Now, you get a full time person that could focus on it so this should be better, cool, but I have got an understanding of what’s working.
Rob: You’re saying you need to already have a working process in order to bring someone in, unless you bring in an expert. Like yourself, obviously. You’re the type of person that has done and seen so many of these that you would work with a customer, SaaS app or whatever to develop that process, right?
Damian: Yeah, if I do. If I come into B2B software companies, the beginning is always consulting 101. Give me your watch and I’ll tell you what time it is. […] figure that out, but once you do that, we craft some ideas. A lot of it is just me being tough love, telling them they’re wrong. What they’re saying doesn’t make sense or it’s not enough. […] for this too, but I have this idea of almost like the Toyota five whys kind of thing.
In sales, especially, we put these happy ears on it. We hear what we want to hear because it’s a tough job. When you’re being more cynical or more, not mean-spirited but a little bit more distrusting of what we hear or thinking we’ve got to figure it out. A lot of times, that means really pushing to get to that deeper core of what we do, so if you can figure that out.
Again, it doesn’t have to be something crazy difficult because they should draft everything. A lot of times what I find is, it’s because these people are having some success, they get away from the things that made success. They’re not talking to their customers so much anymore. They don’t really have these understandings of who they’re talking to and how they’re talking to them. That’s really what it is, it’s just about understanding your market. If you understand your market, craft. It’s simple to get that in front of them.
Rob: I have a rule of thumb of the lowest, lowest end annual contract value. Founders sometimes asks me. This is a couple years old. I haven’t run Drip on its own since 2016, but I remember saying if we can get annual contract values up to $5000 a year, that’s the bottom, bottom end where I would try cold email. Again, that’s years old. What is your rule of thumb here in 2020? If someone comes and says I have $1000 a year annual contract value. I’m guessing you’re like, no, don’t do that. But where is that number where you start to feel like it works?
Damian: To that question—I’m going to give the equivalent of ‘it depends’—you’re right. I say $3000–$5000 generally in that kind of space. But it also really depends on your cash positioning. Earlier in the journey, you might be willing to have it cost a little bit more. Because you’re figuring a lot of stuff out.
Like you said earlier, if you figure this out, this could help all the rest of your marketing as well. It might be worth it for that. But when you get bigger, then no. Especially if the idea is to have someone else to do it. Can you make it look profitable “on paper” if you’re the one doing all the work? Sure, you’re paying yourself that hourly wage. But to hire someone to come in, especially, roles like the BDR, SDR role where they’re going to be a little more junior to a sales rep and they’re going to need a lot of hand holding, a lot of managers, a lot of oversight, a lot of help like coaching.
Another thing I would tell people is, you think you’re going to get sales off your plate by hiring a team. Really, how you’re doing is just transferring it from sales work to sales management, so leadership of a team. If you have them come in and you don’t have a lot of these answers, they’re not going to have success.
This is what I see all the time when someone says, I just can’t seem to hire salespeople. That’s ludicrous. Yes, it’s hard. There are frameworks to do it, but it’s hard. The real problem is they bring them in, just throw them to the wolves, and just say, hey, you’re going to pay me a lot of money for it to be successful. Just go figure it out.
But that’s not how employees work. It’s team work and also you’re sending all these signals. I see this a lot when people are trying to do this too early, they just don’t want to do this anymore and they try and hire a couple SDRs, accounting execs, or whatever and they try to find ways to cut corners like try to find someone who’s commission-only.
I’m hearing it again right now because COVID. There’s so many people that are laid off. They want to do it. Even if you can find someone that’s good, that’s willing to do it, it’s going to be hard. You are sending the absolute wrong signals to them. You’re saying, hey, I don’t trust in my process, in this, or you, in order to actually commit this is a real rule. If you figure it out, cool and if you don’t, that’s okay, too.
Would you do that to other roles? Would you get a developer on board and say here’s the deal. If we sell a lot of these, if the product sells then I’ll pay you. Of course not. But somehow they think that’s a way to do it. It’s not that we’re scared of what we don’t understand. We look down on what we don’t understand in our circles a lot. ‘Sale’ is a dirty four-letter-word in a lot of ways.
The reality is, people that get to that stage, you’re a good salesperson, you’re a good marketer. Because you have to be, you had to be, to get to where you got to. Almost every founder is like that. If you don’t go out and raise a bunch of money where you solve problems like throwing money at people, then you’re going to have to figure almost everything out yourself first. That’s a good thing at the beginning.
At $100,000 a month or whatever, now you can start hiring people that are better and smarter than you in those individual roles because now you’ve got a framework of what’s working and their job is to come in and boost it up. Essentially, that’s what I do. I come in as a fractional VP of sales and say you can afford $400,000–$500,000 a year that a full-time VP of Sales will cost, but you need all this kind of institutional knowledge on how to do these stuff. So we come in and build it for you. On smaller, we’ll focus on things like building an SDR team, building the rev ops, just optimizing that, and finding these places to do that.
Sales is the most important function in a business. If we don’t sell, the business goes out. Period. I don’t care if you are the most in the basement coder, hate salespeople, hate everything about sales. I think it was Josh […] about the enterprise sales process the other day and yes, it’s a pain in the ass, but the reality is, it works because a lot of people do like that. Just because we don’t like that, […] sold that way, doesn’t mean other people don’t. You really have to give it the respect it deserves because it really is the important function.
There are two things that Peter Drucker said that a company does. It creates intellectual property and it sells it, markets it. Those are the two things you do. You build something and you sell it. We’re very focused on the building, we just have to get better at focusing on the selling as well.
Rob: Right, very cool. I think most people listening will know what SDR and BDR stands for. I started doing it, too. I read his email without doing that. SDR is Sales Development Rep and BDR is Business Development Rep. I’m going to say what I understand those to be and I’m curious if you have other thoughts. In my head, they’re the same thing. They’re two names for the same thing and it’s someone who is in charge of doing outbound outreach to generate leads, what warmish leads to hand to an account executive, which is just a salesperson. Is that relatively accurate?
Damian: It is. More importantly than that is, it’s not a good model. Love Aaron Ross, great guy, important in the software world to start thinking sales is a lot like an operation. A lot of the stuff he says is good, but this over-, hyper-focused sales roles of the BDR, SDR, AE, customer success all the rest of it is a model that worked really, really well at Salesforce a decade ago.
Salesforce was the first unicorn. It was the most important first SaaS tool. You could do that. It also raised a lot of money. You get through the palms at it. What I’ve seen here as well is these smaller businesses, bootstrap companies try to do that model as well. I think it’s a bad model. I don’t generally recommend it for my clients. What I suggest they do is, is get a little bit old school. This actually helps as well because if you think you’re ready to hire a salesperson, you have to hire two. If you can’t hire two, if you can’t afford to hire two, you probably are not ready for a salesperson yet.
Here’s why. There’s only three outcomes to happen if you hire two salespeople. Either they both fail and if so, it’s pretty clear you’ve got a problem. It’s a market problem, a product problem, it’s just an issue that you have to fix. If they both succeed, obviously that’s a win. Things are going well. If one succeeds and one fails, well cool, that’s probably a personal problem. It’s an HR issue, not a product/market fit kind of problem.
Really, two of the three outcomes are good. You kind of understand. Actually, all three of them are good because you actually have clarity of what’s happening. If you only hire one, you’re going to blame that person, it might not be their fault, it might be the process isn’t good, it might be that you don’t have things up correctly, it might be a bunch of things. You’re just never going to know, so you need both.
But here’s how you do that. Because we’re not going to do the SDR, BDR and get super hyper personalize it that we’re going to say your job is to handle inbound leads and outbound leads. Or do the outbound leads plus you handle the discovery calls. How you free up the founder’s time because they’re probably the ones driving the sales at this point. How you free their time up, when you start to give more of the selling function to this team. Again, you don’t want to single point a failure, it just makes a lot more sense.
The other thing is to really do it right, you probably got to invest the money. You’re going to need a decent CRM, you’re going to need some tools, you will not cheap out on it, you’re not going to want to figure out how to write a couple lines of code for […] endorse of it. No, just go buy your call. Pay $30 a month […]. You’re going to start thinking about that sales stack, start thinking about how you’re going to put that together.
What I’ve seen is, the people cheap out on them because they try to find one person and they try to make them commission only, it’s also not in the tools to be successful. Not only do they not have the direction or the clear strategy in plan, they also don’t have the tools. Inevitably, that founder blames that rep and says I hired a dud.
Rob: Let’s say I was a founder of a bootstrap, B2B SaaS, we’re at $100,000 MRR, so just in the seven figures. I want to hire these two salespeople like you’re telling me and I don’t have any of the sales stack you just said. When founders ask me I’m going to do email support. I’m moving from Gmail. I’m always like Help Scout’s a really good tool or if you want something lighter […] frontapp.com. Of course you’re going to use Stripe for payment. I can recommend all these stuff, but I don’t know much about the sales stuff. What is it? CRM and a call recorder? Is it just one tool? Is it two? What would you recommend? And specifically, too.
Damian: There’s 50 tools for the thing. Here’s the way I look at it now. I’m actually putting together a doc right now, actually. This is where I learned in my starting selling software in the late 90s. I worked at McAfee when they became Network Associates. They bought a slew of companies, they put this suite approach. They’re one of the first security companies for this suite approach together.
It’s always funny because I went to Trend Micro which was really good at gateway scanning. When you’re smaller and you’re good at one thing, you’ve screamed from roof top’s the best of breed. You own the best of breed solution, that’s what we want to do. When you’re bigger and you actually acquire those types, it’s all about suite solutions. You think whatever role you are is what’s the best.
The answer is, both of them can work. The first one is HubSpot. I’m a big believer in HubSpot. Is it the best here? No. But that Microsoft Office approach together is very important, especially in those earlier mid phases. From getting seven figures to eight. To me, there’s a lot of value there. It’s not cheap. You’re going to be spending significant money if you really go all in for the marketing and service, help desk and the sales. But the thing is, it handles almost everything. Your counter appointments, calling, everything. And it’s all one single record which is the true power of a CRM, should be the single pane view of your interaction to the customer.
That’s the one path to go down. And then the other path that I say is, it is PipeDrive is a pretty good cheaper alternative. They do a pretty good job now of having really good integration. It’s all about integration networks. It’s about their partner network.
In the RevUp side, the tools that really matter are a CRM, from the sales pipeline engagement manager point of view. You’re going to […] before that too. You’re going to need […] tool, a mail shake profit IOs and like that. And then you’re going to need a help desk tool. I’ve been talking about Help Scout a little bit. Freshdesk is actually pretty good. What do I start thinking about is the future of these tools as well, so how they interact great with everything else.
For example, Aircall is a Voice Over IP tool I recommend to most people because it integrates with the most other tools, with the most other CRMs, with the most other help desk, I would say, and that matters if you want to get that integrated understanding of what’s happening with the customer.
The other side would be PipeDrive, Help Scout, or Freshdesk, and then a marketing automation tool. I would’ve said Drip in the old days, but I’m not sure that’s the right solution anymore. Funny enough, these days, who’s doing a pretty good job is Mailchimp again. Again, I don’t care so much about all the landing pages, the rest of it. You know automation is deliverability and integration with the other tools. That’s when we can start thinking. This is how your head starts changing.
I’m talking to someone who’s doing about $1.5 million a year and he was like beating their chest proud that they were basically doing everything in Gmail still. I was like cool, you’re saving a thousand bucks a month, $1500 a month, whatever, but how much opportunity you lose because of that. How much of your time and energy is being spent doing that. He handed it off to someone else. If you live in your inbox, that’s where everything is happening, you’re going to give your inbox to your new sales rep? Of course not.
You have to start thinking about how you scale past where you’re currently are. I think that people overthink a lot of stuff. Just pick one. Go get HubSpot CRM because it’s free. Find out whether you like or not. It’s kind of a love or hate relationship a lot of times. And people that hate it, cool. Now, go buy PipeDrive then. That’s what we’re going to do. Then, integrate with the other tools you need to use. But understand that as you grow and as you grow up that kind of value stack and as you grow more, actually start growing the team, there’s even more and more tools. And then, there are meeting tools.
Now the big thing is around coaching. Things like gong.io and Chorus.ai which essentially records the calls so then the sales managers and leaders can coach with it, but also doing some really cool stuff where they’re essentially recording and anomizing hundreds of thousands of hours of sales calls and figure some really cool stuff out.
Like something I’ve been saying for a long time, which is, you should actually talk praising on the first sales call. Not specifics because you might not know, but really it’s the range. They just had a really […] recently, a big data set. Essentially, the call price was mentioned or discussed on their first call, closing it 40% versus a 28% where it was at way until the second call because people get frustrated by that. They don’t want to keep feeling like you’re getting away from them.
There’s some real cool stuff happening there about understanding what’s really happening, the real buying behavior and what’s going on. As you get deeper into it, you’ll have to have more and more tools. But to begin with, you want market automation or email service providers of some sort, you want a CRM, and you want a support service tool of some sort. Ideally, they all integrate very well together.
Rob: Cool. I want to return back to the thing we started with which was talking about the email sequence. What should someone do in their sequence? I think you named four emails that you would send in a sequence. But you also mentioned that you are putting one together for a client that had eight touch points. What’s that? Is that when you get more advanced? Or is that a specific thing where you would send more than four?
Damian: It’s actually for me. This is a ‘solved by me’ specifics on this. The most success you’re going to have is, again, […] challenge is multiple touches from multiple points. Same with leads, inbound leads, too. It’s being super aggressive in your follow up in your communications or in a short period of time and then bailing. That’s what I think.
They can’t pay me now; I just started today. I’ll be starting to run next week. Specifically—we’re talking about pain points here—I’m putting together a list with my VAs and the rest of it to look —again, I work for […] software and service companies—[…] before they reached seven figures, they want to get to eight figures, so looking for the kind of companies that match that profile.
They actually are hiring any role, generally not a salesperson. They’re looking for someone who doesn’t have a sales[…] or maybe they have one salesperson, but they’re hiring someone else. What I’m going to do is, I’m going to reach out to them about all the mistakes the founders make in hiring.
The first step, day one on Monday, I do a LinkedIn request. I try to connect with my LinkedIn. And then day two, which is literally a Tuesday, the first email will go out. That first email is going to be very clear, it’s going to be seen that you’re hiring for project manager, for whatever, who was not sure how many people to hire in that role. Or if you ever hired sales before, but here’s some mistakes that people make when they do that.
Mistake number one is not having the systems and process in place to actually make sure they have success. And mistake number two is not having a clear plan with how to manage them while they’re still there. Both these things end up doing what I call a $100,000 mistake, where you hire someone and they’re around forever. They’re not quite working out, but you don’t really pull the trigger firing them right away because you know it’s your fault, too, so they stick around for a while. The next thing you know, you’re $50,000–$60,000 into this thing, plus all that lost opportunity you had.
That’s email one. Which of those are your biggest issue? That’s email one. Then the next day, I’ll give them a call and then that’s Wednesday and then Friday, they’ll get another email. The Friday email will actually be me doing Hippo which is like a Loom or one of these screen recording types of things. I’ll do that from their website. I’ll be looking at the website, there will be a little picture of me up on the corner, basically pertaining to the same thing.
If your problem is not having a clear onboarding process and having a clear plan of […] goals, making sure they can hit the ground running, ramp up faster, all that kind of thing, here is a free resource (which is an ebook kind of thing) to help them figure out how to do that. Then, there’s a call to action for them to do that.
Then, the following week, they’ll get an automated email, then they’ll get an in-mail, like you said, like an in-mail, if all of a sudden I can’t get it from then. And then one last email, the end. That third email will be if your problem with hiring is you just don’t have the skillset here, you don’t know how to run it, you don’t know how to hire salespeople. Hiring salespeople is difficult for the fact that if they’re mediocre, they’re probably good enough to BS for three or four interviews. Also, sales is one of the few white collar high-paying, high-performing jobs where your work ethic actually matters more than almost any other job.
If you’re twice the salesperson I am, but I work three times as hard, I will sell more than you. It’s just math. It’s absolutely real. It happens all the time. The sales you’ll see generally indicate people in their 20s or 30s are decent salespeople. They’ve learned how to do it, they can talk the game to the rest of it, and then there’s this decision they have to make. I don’t think most people realize they’re making a decision, but either they want to take that next step, but they want to be the stars, they’re really, really good, or they’re just still happy making $100,000 a year, coasting.
The vast majority of them are happy making $100,000 a year, coasting. That’s what they do. Because the other one takes work. The difference between that person and the person who becomes that $300,000-, $400,000-, $500,000-sales rep is work, is effort. It’s actually how much time they have put into it. Thinking about how they’re going to solve each problem off work. They’re not punching a clock.
Really, that work ethic matters a lot. This is another problem that founders have, who are just bootstrapped once they’re remote. Everyone I’ve worked with has remote teams. You have to set the example early about a level of expected effort. The best way to do that is, in the old days being the same office, but now it’s about being really clear about their onboarding. That first week is very intense. Basically, you spend almost all your time with them. It’s very structured. You’re sending these signals to them about a structured, hardworking organization, that you have all the tools you need to be accessible, but this is what we expect.
But more importantly, in the recruiting process, what we have to do is we have to test them just to make sure they’re doing it. It’s to the point that adds some hurdles, add some things they’ve got to cross over to see how they deal with it. It’s about having a clear way of doing. Hiring engineers is different from hiring salespeople, which is different than hiring office people, which is different from hiring marketers. There’s a specific way to do it, but the problem is, people are bad at doing it. More importantly, they get them into business and they’ll figure it out. They leave with their own devices.
Then you’re a month or two in and then you’re upset with they’re not doing much work and they’re not probably. Engineers complain salespeople are lazy. That’s Damian’s axiom number one. It makes sense. Engineers don’t really complain. They look for problems, as we did, the problem solvers. They’re looking for ways to fix things. Salespeople, their job is to do as much as they can as fast as they can, cutting corners, moving fast. That’s what they do, but not focused correctly, those are both bad habits. They can get really bad especially in sales, especially when they’re remote.
This goes back to again, you’re going to worry about saving a couple hundred bucks a month on your CRM or whatever tool, but then without that, you don’t have this clear understanding what’s really happening inside your business. This is the challenge. People try to get sales off their plate very quickly. I tell them, if you hate sales, you’re going to hate sales management even more because now, you still have to be involved in the selling process. But you’re one person removed. You have lost control. It’s tough. It’s a tough thing to figure out. And now your job is really coach, your job is really support. It’s helping this person do it.
Again, it’s not like you’re all saying […] start coming out, you have to […] we’re sales again. It’s just now you were about bigger things, you were about how do we put the process in place, how do we create tools so we can double, triple, quadruple the size of the team over the next 2–3 years. It goes back to you having to have at least a working idea of what those problems are. I don’t care if you’ve never done cold email before. I can show you how to do cold email, that’s easy. I mean, it’s not easy. It’s work, it’s effort. That’s the big thing, is effort, but you have to have the content right, the context to it right.
The real challenge with outbound and why it is so enticing to hire people, why I think you should hire someone as soon as you can, is the real work is in the data. The real work is in the list building. It’s what takes the longest, it’s what actually makes the biggest difference. For example, I can go into co-founder of LeadFuze, we got a good tool. I can go in there and do a pretty dialed-in persona. The right title, the right size of the company, type of industry, all the rest of it, but that’s the beginning stage. I’m going to take that list and what I’m going to do is I’m going to get my […] admin or my VA to then go into LinkedIn and see how many employees on each account. I want them to be more than 2 employees, but less than 20.
The clearer you can get with that persona, the better you’re going to be which takes effort and time. And that’s the problem. Always on the shortcuts. I want to push a button, have a thousand of these pop out, I want to plug it into Mailshake, I just want to sit back and just wait for my 2% reply rate and now I’m a spreadsheet millionaire.
Rob: That’s the thing. I’ve taken away several things from this conversation—hopefully listeners have as well—but that’s one of the big things. This is a lot of work. Cold email in 2010 is different than it is today. Just like SEO is different than it is. And Facebook Ads back in 2012 when I was running it for HitTail. They were way cheaper and way easier. This stuff takes work. There are always of course new marketing and lead gen approaches coming out. They tend to be more uncertain, there’s not as much information out there, and it’s more of the wild west. But the tried and true things like cold email take time. That’s the same I take.
Damian: Yeah, they do. There’s always a market to sell. Again, let’s go back since we were lazy, you’ll never go poor selling salespeople on the ideas of not doing the things they don’t want to do. I remember when I first got to this entrepreneur game back in 2010, who’s the big ad? It was Gary whatever. He was the big monster in AdWords at the time, whatever his name was.
Rob: I know who you’re talking about, but I forgot his name, too.
Damian: Perry Marshall.
Rob: Perry Marshall, yup.
Damian: Perry Marshall dominates. But he, like all people in that world, was getting hard. When it gets hard to make money doing it, you start making money selling how they do it. He was doing that. It was funny when I was doing it. At the time, 2011, I cold email you, my business was what I’m doing now but I was working with Infusionsoft and a couple of things and was a little bit more down market.
I would send a cold email. It was one. I had the cadence of one email. Back then it was hard actually getting email addresses. The reportive hack on how to get stuff. You can get the VA to do it, but I would do that and then go to their website and find two things on their website. And here’s the list of seven you look for. There’s not an opt in on every page. There’s six or seven things.
I send an email to them. An email would be like, hey, Rob. I was checking out HitTail today. Really enjoyed this, something specific about what I enjoyed, but I noticed on this page and this page, you don’t have an email opt in. That’s probably killing your conversion rates. I’ve got three or four more ideas I’d like to share with you. Here’s a link to book a time. That was literally my first email and I have an 11% booking rate, like 11 people booking meetings.
Great. That’s awesome. It was hard to do. But it’s like every single marketing. It sometimes gets more expensive, the more people that do it, the less effective it is. It just loses efficacy, that’s just what happens. On the cold email especially, because everyone hates cold calling, I’m a crazy person, I really enjoy the game. I enjoy the gameship of it and I think I’ve just had to learn back in the days when jobless […] phonebook go, but 99.99% people don’t like it. If they say they do, they don’t want to do it. They go to cold email because this is kind of I’m behind the computer screen, I feel safe, I don’t have […]. It just happens over and over again. This is social selling nonsense.
Do I believe you should have a good social […]? Yes. Do I believe there’s a lot of value on being on LinkedIn and helping people and showing that you have chops? Absolutely. Does it replace everything else? Of course, it doesn’t. This idea of some magical, automated, easy, stress-free way of generating millions of dollars of revenue for your business, doesn’t exit.
Again, it’s just funny that in most places we expect that. Even in our community, even in our bootstrap community, we still get caught up in the success stories. How long was Drip? How long did you have Drip before you sold it?
Rob: It was from launch until sale, it was 3½ I think. It was pretty quick.
Damian: Fast. Very fast. Maybe five is very fast, really. You look at the history of business. Listen to that Shoe Dog, the film […]. For 14 years it was near bankruptcy, which is the extreme, obviously, but it happened. We look at the Basecamp guys, whether we like the way they’re not acting these days or not. Look at their business, it’s a model for a lot of us, that’s great. That business is 20 years old now. It gets crazy how old these businesses are. It took 7–8 years to really make money. They were first movers, almost kind of that stuff. It takes time.
Now of course then we get the Wunderkinds, the Travises of the world that go out there and nail it right away. Good for them. But that is very much not the norm. We have some really weird outsize expectations on this stuff. I see this a lot with prospecting in sales is, hey, I’ve been doing it for three weeks yet, and I’m not rich. Okay, yup, you’re right, you’re not. Because it’s a muscle. It’s going to the gym. You can go to the gym for four hours one time a month. You got to go 30 minutes every day. That’s the same thing with hire prospecting.
I think that’s the biggest thing, is just the greatest salespeople that I work with are generally ex-engineers, ex-process-oriented people, or operations people, because sales is a process and its problem-solving at its best. This cliché of the fast-talking, back-slapping salesperson (that I know that I naturally fall into a little bit) is actually incorrect for who actually buys, especially in the technology world.
In my world, I have to tone it down a little bit when I’m talking to people because I don’t want to feel that kind of pushy salesperson. My job is to be a problem solver. That’s what my job is in selling. That’s cool. Most entrepreneurs I know, that’s the kick they get. It’s the problem solving the problem. Solving the product problem, solving the market problem. We like problems, we like puzzles, that’s what we like.
If we start thinking of sales as just that, seeing like you got a product puzzle or a marketing puzzle or whatever, it’s the same thing. You just got to figure out what piece goes where and when. The fun part is that, like a lot of things, it’s constantly changing. What worked 18 months ago doesn’t work anymore. That’s why, again, I think this is the good old Warren Buffet, Zig versus Zag kind of thing. Right now, I’m just seeing so much success with cold calling. People are answering their phones. People are actually home. People are working from home. They’re bored, they’re answering their phones.
I got a client who sells lead data to solar companies and their connect rate essentially almost tripled since this CoronaVirus came out. Because again, people are home, taking their phone calls. But no one is out there beating that drum because no one wants to cold call, no one wants to do it. But sometimes, being an entrepreneur is putting on your big girl/big boy pants and doing the stuff you don’t want to do because what has to happen.
Rob: Damian Thompson, sir, we’re at time. Thank you so much for coming on the show. If folks want to follow you on Twitter you are @DamianThompson and vpsales.co is your current project, what you’re working on.
Damian: Yeah. email@example.com.
Rob: Got it. If they want to reach out and get in touch. Thanks again to Damian for joining me on the show today. If you have a question for me or our future guest, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for joining me this week. I’ll see you next Tuesday.
This week Rob talks with Steli Efti about selling during a pandemic. They also talk about how to set yourself up for success as a founder during a possible recession and how to adjust your sales process. You don’t want to shy away from sales, but you also don’t want to be tone-deaf to the current state of the world. Steli is one of the world’s experts in startup sales and B2B sales. He runs a successful app called Close.com. He has written a number of ebooks on the topic of sales, and he has been a recognized expert for over a decade.
The finer points of the episode:
- 4:15 – Two big sales trends that Steli has noticed during the COVID-19 crisis
- 9:09 – The main thing you can do for your business right now
- 13:55 – How to approach a sales conversation while being sensitive to the current circumstances
- 16:33 – How Close.com managed to increase their revenue and grow through 2020
- 25:00 – How Steli sees his sales process looking after COVID-19
- 30:25 – Best practices for sending cold emails during the pandemic
Items mentioned in this episode:
This week, I talk with Steli Efti of close.com. This is his third appearance on Startups for the Rest of Us. We dive deep into his knowledge and his advice on selling during a pandemic and what that looks like.
Frankly, we just don’t talk about selling during a pandemic. We talk about how you set yourself up for success as a founder, as we potentially enter a world-wide recession, and he talks about how you should adjust your sales approach in cold emailing during this time, whether it’s a pandemic, a recession, or however you want to define it. It’s just how to think about sales and how not to shy away from it but also how not to be tone-deaf during this time.
Before we dive in, I want to once again thank Basecamp for their partnership with MicroConf and Startups for the Rest of Us. We’re pleased to have them as a headline sponsor for MicroConf in 2020. Here’s a 60-second message from Basecamp.
Basecamp: We asked founders and entrepreneurs why they switched to Basecamp when their company started to grow. Christina Hedges hired some more people. When it came to internal communication, everything was all over the place. There was more work and more people than before and no way to keep track of it all.
Sometimes, information was in an email, sometimes in the chatroom. They spent too much time on conference calls to figure out what was going on. One day, they almost missed a deadline for an important customer because the information was in the wrong place. She knew they needed to get organized, but all the software she looked at seemed complicated and it would take too long to train everybody.
Then she found Basecamp. Basecamp puts all of your internal communication in one place so nothing slips through the cracks. Unlike other tools, Basecamp has an incredibly simple structure, organized around your teams and projects. Your team will immediately understand and start using it when they see the two-minute introduction video on our site. Go to basecamp.com to learn more and start a free trial.
Rob: If you haven’t heard of Steli before, he is one of the world’s experts in startup sales. Frankly, I would say just business-to-business sales. He speaks all over the world, he has a podcast, runs a company called close.com, which is a quite successful SaaS app that is CRM, software for salespeople.
Steli has been a many-time MicroConf speaker and he’s written a number of books and ebooks on the topic of sales. He’s been a salesperson for more than a decade. I always enjoy my conversations with him and I hope you enjoy the conversation we have today.
Steli Efti, thanks so much for joining me on Startups for the Rest of Us for your third appearance.
Steli: Thank you so much for having me back.
Rob: It’s always good to chat with you. I think we talked maybe seven or eight months ago and obviously, folks have heard your intro. They know you’ve just been steep in startup sales for what? Eight, nine, ten years?
Steli: Ten years.
Rob: Ten years. We’re getting older, aren’t we? I think today, I want to dig into some stuff that is related to the current crisis. Sales is one thing, but sales during a pandemic and quarantine, and just all the […] and uncertainty, I’m imagining that it has to have changed during this time. Just to kick it off, I would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve seen that change, how you can help people adjust to this mindset. And then, I think we’ll dive into a little bit about how can companies position themselves. We will have a post-coronavirus world and how do we position ourselves to really be in a good position there.
Steli: Everything is part of the global pandemic as it turns out, finding toilet paper, hanging out with your family. Sales is indifferent in that sense. What’s funny is that the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that the good and the bad just get amplified during a time like this. When you ramp up the anxiety level to 10, the weaknesses are just amplified so much. I think the sensibilities and sensitivities of people are just massively increased.
I see two big high-level trends. I’m sure we’re going to dig deeper and go to the nitty-gritty, the details, and the technical stuff for people. There are two big things that I’ve seen so far. One is counter-steering to even more selfishness and aggressiveness. Salespeople, entrepreneurs, business people, because their anxiety went up so much, kind of the worst side came out and they’re like, I don’t care. I need money right now. I need to hustle. I need to push. I need to be more aggressive than usual. I need to be more selfish than usual.
You’d get these emails that are so weird. I’ll give you an example. A business person I’ve known for 10 years, we’ve helped each other out. He has a couple of businesses, he does a lot of content, and we’ve always been friendly. I’ve always supported him with his stuff and he’s supported us with our stuff.
Then, we had an email exchange recently about me being on the podcast. First, it was a personal exchange and he was all about don’t worry about me, Steli. Life is good. Business is good. I’m doing fine. But then he was communicating with somebody on my marketing team and saying if Steli wants on the podcast, we have to charge $10,000–$15,000 for that because we have to survive. That was forwarded to me.
It was such a weird thing to do, like tell me directly everything is fine but then tell somebody on my marketing team I’m going to charge $15,000 so he can be on my podcast. No word about what’s in it for us, what is the benefit, what is the value I’m going to get. It’s such a selfish come on. I’m going to charge $10,000 because I need to survive.
I mean, I get it. We all need to survive, but that’s not a really good, compelling selling proposition for me. It was also weird because to me, the statement was the world is perfect, and to another person on my team the statement was I need to charge $10,000 or the world is ending.
Even worse, when I said let’s politely decline, let’s say thanks but no thanks, when the marketing person responded hey, that’s going to be outside our budget, but we wish you best of luck. Hopefully, everything’s going to be fine. He responded okay, just for you guys, $9000, but you have to take it this week or something like that. The weirdest thing ever. What is this? A special offer if I get this week or…?
Rob: It feels really tone-deaf.
Steli: It feels so selfish, so tone-deaf, so sleazy, and it only takes a moment to ruin your reputation. It really changes how I think and feel about this individual. I never want to deal with this person again. This is so weird.
To me, this is desperation and fear manifesting itself in the ugliest form possible. I don’t think that’s a way to succeed. I don’t think that that’s the way for you to make your business succeed. That’s not compelling. I don’t think he booked tons and tons of guests who will pay $10,000 because I paid attention and there’s no guest on his podcast recently. It’s just him.
To me, that’s one way to go, people being super selfish. Those are rare, to be honest. Most entrepreneurs and most salespeople have become uber-aggressive, but there’s a lot of tone-deafness in the world. These emails, you’ve gotten them, I’ve gotten them. People that listen to us right now gotten them where it’s like, don’t you know what’s going on in the world? Why did you send me this email? It seems so disconnected from what is happening in the world. That’s one thing.
The other trend that I see more often, though, and I think this going to be the problem the people that are listening to us now, which is the over-reaction, the difference in the opposite direction, which is people, salespeople, and founders having such high anxiety and fear to upset anybody, that they just stop communicating, stop selling, stop operating, because the thought was how could I ever try to do business during a time like this? People are going to get upset with me if I send them an email, if I give them a call, or if I try to close a deal. I can do that right now. People are hurting.
I think that that’s a really bad idea as well. I’ve told this to more people than ever before. I’ve had so many one-on-one conversations and my pleas are always the same. Lesson number one, the world is not going to become a better place by all of us stopping work. If I stop selling, my future is less secure, my family’s future is less secure, my employees’ future is less secure. Nobody benefits from me stopping to work because things are tough out there. I’m not helping anybody really.
So, it’s not the time to dig a hole and be, I’m going to just lay in here, lay low, and wait until all of this is over. The truth is that this might take a really long time to be “over,” whatever the hell that means—we all don’t know—and every day where you don’t do business, you are making the problem big and possible. You make the economy slow, the economy less secure, you’re making your family less secure, your business less secure. Nobody’s being helped by this.
My big ask to people has been—especially during a crisis—you have to keep selling, but you don’t do it in a tone-deaf way and I’m sure we’re going to go into more detail. My basic philosophy is I’m going to send a sales email. I’m going to make a sales call. I’m going to try to close a deal. I have done them. We’ll talk about this. We shifted a close.
We had one record month after the other this year from January up until May of prepays. Every month, we’ve had more prepays than ever before in the company’s history because we made that a focus. When we started, I didn’t know if this would work. Who wants to prepay for a year or two during a time like this. Probably nobody.
It turned out quite a lot of our customers wanted to and we can talk about how we did it and why it worked. You’d be surprised. People were still buying and selling, and you have to keep selling, but the way to do it in a (I think) respectful way is not to be overly aggressive and selfish. We need to increase our pricing because we have to survive. Here is the contract. You have two hours to sign it. That’s […].
But also not in an overly-apologetic way. I know everything is bad. Are you okay? Are you hurting? Are you afraid? I’m afraid. Did you read the bad news this morning? Nobody wants to hear that. People already have enough anxiety in their life. They don’t need you to email them with 10 links about world politics that are terrible. How is that helping them? That isn’t helping them. That isn’t making you look like a good person, either.
My approach has always been, during this crisis, you want to be honest. Not fake positive, not fake optimistic honest. Hey, is everything all right? Are you good? All right, how are things going right now? Are you continuing to do business? Are you stopping everything? Tell me about your world. Tell me about your forecast of the world. Do you think that things are going to pick up again in a month? In two months? Are there any signs that you’re looking for before you put the pedal to the metal and do more things or purchase more things, to invest in more things? How are you going to decide how to move forward?
I’ll ask someone these questions, but I always will ask them with what I would call high-energy. I want to talk to people not with fake enthusiasm, not with fake positivity but with energy because there’s a funny thing. During these times when everybody we’re talking to is excited, […], depressed, fearful, pissed, and all the news we’re reading are full of overwhelming facts, the last thing we need is one more person that talks to us, that makes us feel even worse about the world, that seems low energy, apologetic, or fearful.
That’s not the kind of energy we want to surround ourselves with. But if you can talk to somebody today, that even during these crazy times is honest, frank, and straightforward with you but seems to have energy, seems to have the ability to make decisions to do things, it makes people feel better. It makes people feel like I can have a conversation, I can make a decision, I can take action even during these times.
There’s this old quote from whatever her name is, Angelou or something. People can google her and find it. It’s like, “People won’t remember your name, people won’t remember the place, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I think that, especially during times where we’re also anxious, afraid, and overwhelmed, when we interact with people that make us feel calm and confident, make us feel a little bit more energized than before, those are the type of people that we will want to gravitate towards and talk more to, and we will remember that these people stand out.
That’s how we’ve been selling it close and how I approached reaching out to people. Be honest, be frank, don’t be fake, but don’t be meek. Don’t whisper and don’t be apologetic. I know the time is so hard. Sorry that I’m talking to you right now. Nobody needs that. Nobody’s being helped by that attitude and energy that you bring to the table.
That’s the biggest thing. Don’t be afraid to sell. Selling is good for you. Selling is good for your family. Selling is good for your prospects if you’re selling them something that could provide value. We can talk a lot more about it, but that’s my big spiel around this. Don’t be so afraid because there is a way (I think) to do it, that won’t piss off all the people, that won’t make you a bad person, but it will make the world turn, the economy’s going to move forward, and your business still operates even during times where it’s harder to talk to prospects and close deals.
Rob: It sounds like what you’re saying is there is an elephant in the room. Address it upfront. Be honest, don’t be fake, have empathy, and ask questions with high energy (I think) is what you said. It’s like what is your forecast? What do you think you’re moving for? These are to get honest appraisals from people so that it’s not, again, this elephant in the room of COVID’s happening and we’re not talking about it. We’re ignoring it and I’m not bringing it up. You’re just basically saying bring it up, discuss it, and then move on with the conversation.
Steli: Yeah. Talk about it, but talk about it with curiosity and energy. Hey, what’s happening in your industry? I’m talking to lots of other people. I’m curious about you. What’s your outlook? How did you operate over the last couple of weeks? What are the signals you are waiting for moving forward? How optimistic or pessimistic are you about the future? Ask those questions with curiosity and energy versus being apologetic. I know. You know? What do you think about the future? How do you operate right now? It’s the same question, but I almost feel obligated to feel bad when you ask it that way. I almost feel obligated to tell you that things are worse than they are because you make it sound like that’s what I should do.
That’s really it. People will talk to you and they will give you answers. Those answers will be very good guideposts on how to proceed. Some people you’ll be surprised. You talk to them and they’re very optimistic. They’re like, oh, this is […], I think the world is going to be better out of this. I’m very optimistic. I’m not slowing down. I’ve been making money. I’ve been driving revenue. I’ve had some creative ideas. We’re doing well.
Now that’s a very different starting point for now talking about maybe the solution that we have or the things we could do together. For somebody to talk that tells you, my father and mother are in the hospital. I’m a mess. I haven’t made money for the last two months. I don’t know. I think I’m going to close shop next month. That’s kind of important. That’s a very different foundation to continue the conversation.
Maybe when things are so bad, all you can do is just be like, okay, is there something I can do to help? Can I refer any business to you? Can I just get out of your way and maybe touch base again in a month and see how things are going? Maybe the best thing you can do is to leave the person alone, maybe send an email a month from now and ask, hey, are you all right? Is your family fine? How about your business? And then that alone might make somebody remember you and appreciate you because you were there, you seem to care, you showed some humanity which we all appreciate during tough times.
The other person who was gung-ho, My business is running, I’m making money, I’m positive, with that person you’re like, let’s get in business. Let’s […] more good […] right now, and you might go and close a deal. But don’t try to avoid talking about these subjects, but also when you talk about them, don’t think they do need to come across as if you’re discussing some horrific thing because it might not be for your prospects. You should just check before you proceed in that direction.
Rob: That makes sense. I googled that quote while you were talking. It was from Maya Angelou. The one about how people remember the way you make them feel. I am curious. You mentioned that at close your team has pulled off an interesting feat of getting people to do annual prepays. Can you talk us through how that’s happened and how you’ve handled that?
Steli: We had an ‘oh, […]’ moment in February where I was convinced that a big crisis was ahead of us, that we needed to act really fast and decisively to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario, and we should do it ahead of time. Not wait, though it’s inevitable, but act really quickly. When it came to the way we were selling, up until that point the big focus of ours was to sign, sell, and close long-term contracts with some of our bigger new customers. We would sign one- to three-year contracts that were paid monthly (subscription revenue).
In fact, we met up with our sales team and we decided that if there’s a big crisis ahead of us and if there’s a big economic downturn ahead of us, a contract is not going to be worth much. A contract is only worth something in a stable world. If our customers are going out of business, that contract is useless. If they would go out of business unless they break the contract (they decide to break it) that contract is useless. We’re not going to start suing our customers during a global pandemic.
The first decision that we made was let’s pull away from contracts. They’re going to be useless during very turbulent times, so let’s not care about them. Let’s not focus on them anymore. What is going to be important during a crisis, cash is king. Now, fortunately (or unfortunately), we’re running a subscription business. Most of our customers are paying month-to-month and they have the option to stop at any time. That’s not good during a crisis or a global economic downturn because lots and lots of your customers could just decide to stop.
So let’s try to incentivize our customers to prepay. How do we do this during these uncertain times, in a very honest and direct way? Not sleazy, not trickster, just an honest offer. It’s quite simple. If you want to prepay during highly uncertain times where the risk of prepaying is much higher for you as a buyer, you should be getting a great deal. We’re going to give you an exceptional deal because these are exceptional times. If you feel like your cash situation is really strong, if you feel like your financial future is really stable, and you want to use this crisis to get amazing deals for you—fill that position as a customer—we’re going to make that an option for you. We’re going to offer you that.
Now, if you don’t want that, we totally get it. If you want to wait until the world is stable and safe again, that’s totally fine, but then you’re paying the stable and safe price, the price that everybody’s going to pay. You take more risk, you get a better deal. You take less risk, you get the worst deal. It’s a very simple, very honest proposition.
That’s what we did. We approached a lot of our customers, we offered them that, and for the self-service customers, we can […] up the offer if you prepay. Again, when we started I didn’t know if this would work. There were some voices when we were talking about this internally. They were saying aren’t people going to get really upset if we offer them this? I thought why should they get upset? There’s no lie. If I offer you an apartment for half the price because it’s a crisis, why would you scream at me? How dare you sell an apartment during a crisis! That’s a crazy thought process.
This is another thing that I would want to highlight here. Don’t assume what your prospect or customers could get upset about. Don’t assume it. Test it. Just test it to see. Maybe they’ll surprise you. So we did. We tried it and the first month that we really rolled this out was March and a lot of customers—to our surprise, honestly—were excited about it. Although at that point, everybody started knowing about what’s going on. They were like, this is just too good of a deal. We don’t care. We’ll do it.
March was an amazing cash for month for us. We said, well let’s continue doing this and see how it works. And April the same, and May the same. There have only been two cases out of a lot where people got upset. I’m telling you, Rob, it’s like hurt people hurt others, and upset people are getting upset. These two people got upset in very unreasonable ways.
They’re literally, hey, I saw your offer. I want an even steeper offer. Let’s say this is just an example. Your offer costs $100. I want it for $5 and I want to pay it monthly. It’s a global crisis, we’re hurting, and it’s your responsibility to give it to us. We said, hey, a lot of our customers are hurting. We’re hurting too. We’re a small business, we just can’t do $5. We’re really sorry but we can’t. We hope that you’re going to be fine. Then the person would be like, this is outrageous. I’m going to tweet about this. The world is ending and you can’t even give us your software for $5.
This person is unreasonable and I’m not going to bend my entire business for the few that are very loud and just going to get upset about anything anyway. I’m not […] me coming to your apartment going, Rob, I’m hurting. I need a place to stay. I want to buy your house for 10% because it’s a crisis. You’re like, Well, I want to still live here and it’s not for sale. I can give it to you for 10%. They’re like, outrageous. I’m going to write about this. People are dying and you can’t even give me your house!
People are crazy sometimes. There were two cases where I felt these people were just very unreasonable and I just assume these people were hurting so much that they’re kind of slightly out of their minds. We try to be empathetic, but we also keep it moving. We didn’t try to make them feel better because people are out of control. You just have to let them be. Nothing really happened. They then moved along and hopefully, they found some other solution that worked for them.
Most of our customers and most people either say, no, we can’t make that. We would want to take that deal, or, you know what? That’s a really good deal. We’ll think about it. Yes or no. It was a very simple thing.
Surprisingly, and just now, just in the last two weeks, our sales team has started seeing less prospect bite on the prepays. Maybe it’s because now, it finally is clicking for many of them. Maybe it’s just two weeks, so we decided that it’s too early to shift our strategy. Maybe it’s just the kind of deals that we got through the pipeline is too small of a sample size.
We’ll have to keep an eye on it. Maybe we’ll have to change the strategy at some point, but for the last couple of months, our cash position is drastically improved—almost doubled—which made our business a lot more stable, the job for people that work at Kohl’s a lot more secure, and also for our customers made it more secure that we’re going to be able to service them, offer them increased innovation and great support, and everything they need to be able to use our platform. Just a win-win-win for everybody.
There was no rocket science. There was no trickery, it was not some kind of a hack that we used. Just a very strong offer. We just approached our customers with it to see what the response would be and in our case—this might not be true for everybody—the response was really, really good.
Rob: That’s fascinating. You only approached existing customers, right? This wasn’t for new folks coming in?
Steli: Both, existing customers as well as new folks.
Rob: Got it. I feel like folks who are in a strong cash position, the stuff is on sale. Warren Buffett often says, “In a recession, stocks are on sale.” If I were a customer of clothes, I would view it as a wow. I’m getting clothes on sale right now because of this. And if I was in a strong cash position I would jump at it. I think big companies in that position have a real advantage, mostly coming out of a recession but going into it as well.
I’m curious. You’ve talked about how to sell during a pandemic, how to think about it in this way whether it’s getting cash, prepays, or whether it’s just being empathetic, being honest, and calling out the elephant the room. Let’s say three months, six months down the line, we are coming out of a recession. Maybe it’s nine months, whatever it is. Does the approach change?
At that point, let’s just make assumptions. I realize everything’s up in the air so I don’t want to make predictions, but let’s assume that we get through coronavirus and then it just becomes much much less of an issue over the next 3–6 months. Let’s assume that in 6–9 months, we’re in a recession and stuff is coming out. Is there a dramatic shift to how you would be doing sales now versus normal times versus coming out of a recession? Or is it basically the same?
Steli: It’s not the same. The fundamentals of selling are always going to be the same. At least I’m convinced of that said. That sense that never changes or shouldn’t change. I think the strategy needs to be more one where what I’m convinced of. Right or wrong, I don’t know what’s going to happen, obviously, but I’m convinced that the next 24 months are going to be hard to predict. It might play out like 15 months of quiet time, seems like we’re past and everything’s fine, then 3 insane months. It might be that every three months is big news. I just think it’s going to be hard to predict.
My sense is that there are a couple of really significant dominoes in the world that have fallen and we have not yet felt the impact of that. I think it’s going to come out later. My philosophy is very much one where it is a crisis until at least for three quarters in a row. No bad news or no new news has popped in terms of what’s going on. During a crisis time, I feel like it’s not the strongest or the biggest that will survive. It’s the most adaptable that do. I think the goal needs to be much more on being much more agile and quicker to respond to changing circumstances.
I think over the next 24 months, long-term planning, long term goals and strategies that you have to play out over a whole year, are going to be much riskier. Putting plans together that take a year to play out and assume that whatever is happening in the world today is just going to stay that way for the next 12 months, I just think it’s riskier. It might be good but it’s just higher risk.
I think from a sales perspective for the next 24 months, cash is king is going to stay true. I think that time to close the total deal value is going to stay true. What that means is that today, I would always prioritize closing deals a little faster and giving up a little bit of money for that speed versus trying to optimize for maximum money and taking more time to negotiate and close the deal.
Again as I said, today maybe you have a very large customer, maybe you were just days away from closing out of a $100,000 deal, but you think if you push a bit further you could get $130,000. But it might take you a month longer to do that. Today, I would advise you to take the $100,000 today, that will be wired tomorrow into your bank account, versus waiting for weeks and trying to get $130,000. Now, that might be bad advice because if the world isn’t changing, $30,000 extra would have been nice. But just as a general philosophy, whatever tactical philosophy you have during this time, you can’t win every single time.
My point of view is you want to close deals as quickly as possible during this time, not being rushed, not being uncareful, but not taking your sweet time as a negotiation tactic. If we let these people wait for another two weeks they are going to get more desperate and give us even more money. If you like Warren Buffett, you’re like, I have unlimited money in the bank and this is the time to really squeeze people and get great deals. Cool, that’s fine. But if you’re just operating a small business and you’re trying to get some big deals through, I would rather close the deal today than wait to make it slightly better and close it in a week from now.
I think having shorter cycles of planning, optimizing for cash flow and speed are strategies that I (at least) assume we at close are going to keep as our operating principle and guideposts for the next 12–24 months. That’s what I would advise people. What happens when we’re all convinced that we’re through this and the world is back to “normal” or the new normal, whatever that means? It’s very hard to say. I can’t really forecast. I assume fewer meetings in person, I assume that this time is going to accelerate the adoption of software and technology.
In many ways, this is going to benefit us, the people that are listening to this podcast, but in some ways it’s not going to be good for society. It’s a mixed bag. But travel, meetings in person, offices, offline, and any commerce, any selling that happens person-to-person, that happens in meetings, that happen to travel, I suspect is not going to rebound super quickly. More part of the funnel is going to be happening through technology, remotely through asynchronous communication. Again, I think that benefits startups and software funnels more so than many others in other industries.
Rob: Sure, because so many of us, especially in our community, are already remote. We’ve been doing it for years and people are finally catching up. I’ve heard some podcasters that I listen to, like the tech news space and the kind of cord-cutting space, that they have studios at their house with two fiber lines coming in. They’re hobbyists or one level above hobbyists, but they look really good on camera. They have nice HD cameras and really good microphones.
They’re laughing because the newscasters and the people who are used to doing this in a television studio who are now doing it from their home are using their iPhones with the crappy AirPods because they don’t have the studio set up. I think it’s funny that the rest of the space is catching up with those of us who have been doing it from home for years and being remote.
I think as we transition and start to get into wrap up, I’ve had several questions about cold email lately. I actually got a question a couple of months ago before the pandemic and someone said it would be great to hear a whole episode on cold email. Once the pandemic has started, I thought, is that worth doing now or should we maybe wait until things settle down a bit?
I’m curious to hear from you. I started getting cold emails (I’ll say) in 2011–2012, and early on I’ve hired a person to do cold email. I have bought software through it, but less and less these days just because you get so much. I feel like it’s such a shotgun approach that a lot of people are trying.
I’m curious right now. Given this space, you’ve already talked about the shift in selling during a pandemic, but is it still worth cold emailing right now? If so, what’s the adjustment to the approach?
Steli: I do think there is still power in cold emailing people. I think it still works in many areas. The question is always the approach. In a world where there is so much more cold email, spam email and whatever, you can’t just be average because average really equals noise. If you send me a really great email, it’s going to stand out more so than ever before because all the other emails I get are so terrible. But you really have to write great emails.
Great emails will never be out of fashion, but it’s just much harder work. It’s harder work. You need to be more thoughtful. You need to spend a lot more time and energy. People don’t like that. People just want to go and do a copy-paste email, send it to 10,000 people in one blast, and then assume that business is going to come in. Then, when that doesn’t happen they’re like, see? Cold email is that. It doesn’t work. We tried it. No. You just did it really, really badly.
I’ve always taught a principle when it comes to cold email that I think is timeless and just works now better than ever before, which is to actually think about it in UI/UX terms. A lot of times when we write cold emails, we think very selfishly. What do I want from Rob? Rob is an important business figure. He has money. He invests in startups, let’s say. I want him to use my tool to do investments, whatever the hell it is; let’s say I have a tool.
I’m going to send Rob an email telling him, Rob, I know you and I know you should buy my software because my software’s great. Here’s the link. Please give me money. That email is very selfish if you think about it. It’s just all about me, what I want from you right now. That’s not going to work well most of the time.
Now, what if I flip the script and I ask myself who is Rob? How does Rob’s email inbox look like? How many emails does he get every day? Why is what I have to offer could potentially be valuable to Rob? How can I first convince him to give me a little bit of his attention so we can start building a relationship, so eventually, I have a shot of showing him truly what I have to offer and he can honestly tell me if this is useful or not useful for him. How can I approach this email as a starting point into a long-term relationship I’m trying to nurture with Rob?
Then I’m asking myself how do I write a subject line so that Rob will pay attention to it? It will raise his curiosity, but it’s going to deliver what it promises. I can’t just send an email where the subject line is, ‘I […] children in my basement with a gun at their head.’ That’s going to get your attention. That’s going to get you to open the email, but that’s not a great start to a relationship. Some people try to be funny about these things and then they write, ‘Hahaha! Got you. It was just a joke. Now, let me pitch you my product.’
If you lie to me at the beginning of our relationship, I’m not going to want you in my life. Sorry for the terrible example here, horrific example, but the subject line can’t also be ‘Software that you’re going to need. Please click the link and pay me money.’ Anything like that you will know. Or ‘The 10 reasons why you should be in business with me.’ You’re not going to open that email. You know what’s coming. You know that this isn’t a good email for you.
I have to ask myself what can I do to start this relationship? Then, how do I think through the emails and step-by-step terms? What’s the very first question that you have when somebody emails you? When you open an email, Rob, from somebody that you don’t know, what’s the first thing you’re trying to answer?
Rob: First, I try to answer, do I know this person? If I don’t know this person, I’m always thinking about what they want from me? Are they asking for my time or are they giving me something? That’s what I’m figuring out. What do they want?
Steli: Who is this and what does this person want from me, right? That’s your focus. It makes sense to start with that. I can go on and on; we don’t have unlimited time. We’ll give people a resource later on like cold emails now to think about this. Let’s say I send you an email, Rob, and the starting point of my email list, hey, Rob. My name is Steli Efti. My company recently had a very big news on TechCrunch that we released a new feature. I think that you’re really going to enjoy the article. The other thing that I wanted to tell you is that there is a video attached that I think you’ll really enjoy. It’s a five-minute demo of our product.
At this point—at least I am this way; I don’t know how you are—I’m like, what the […] is this? Who are you and what do you want from me? Why are you starting off as if I already know? I don’t know what we’re talking about here and you’re already pointing me to links, homework, and videos to watch.
The reverse is somebody that talks too much about themselves. The first five paragraphs are like, hey, Rob. I recently listened to a podcast of you and you know? It reminded me of when I was 12 years old. I was 12, also like entrepreneurship. I never thought that I would move to Bulgaria one day and then make my way to Greece. You’re like, all right, it’s nice to hear all these things but who are you? And why are you assuming that I will read something that will take 10 minutes of my life about all these random things about you without me understanding what you want from me and what’s in it for me?
I could go on forever but these are just some examples of you writing this and you’re not getting to the point of, here’s who I am, here’s why I am reaching out to you right now, and here’s what I want from you. That doesn’t mean that if you do these things, that people are all going to respond, yes here’s all my money. But at least, people will quickly understand. Hey Rob, I’m Steli. I’m somebody that’s a micropreneur, that’s maybe the kind of audience that you have, the kind of people you’re talking to. I’m telling you why I’m reaching out right now. The reason I’m reaching out right now to you is I just finished my prototype. There are only a few people I think could give me feedback. You’re one of them. You’re one of the people that I respect the most, so I didn’t have a choice than to email you.
That’s kind of like, I get that. I don’t know about you, but if somebody sends me an email like that, I’m going to go, okay, I want to help this person. And then, here’s what I want from you. Please give me this amount of time. Maybe five minutes is already too long. Maybe watch a video is maybe too long already. But at least, it’s crystal clear. I know who you are, why you are getting in touch with me right now, and what you want me to do.
This is such a simple rule and 99% of the time, cold sales emails don’t get to these three questions quickly enough. They lose the listener or the reader before they ever had a chance because they ramble on over things. Either they assume you already know all these things, they jump the gun, and go too quickly into details. I’m like, wait a second. Who is this? What is this about? What are all these links? What are all these things?
Or they go too slow and I’m like, wait a sec. I haven’t said yes I want to read 20 pages about your life history before you tell me what you want from me. Just thinking through empathetically who is it that I’m reaching out, what does the inbox look like, what are the basic questions this person is going to have when they receive my email, and then designing an email in a way that answers the appropriate questions at the right time can make a world of a difference.
We put together a resource, Rob. It’s called actually good and bad emails during crisis. We collected really great sales emails during this pandemic that companies have been sending out, and really terrible ones, just as a resource for people. That’s just one thing we released.
A couple of other resources, how to lead sales teams through crisis, how to close deals through crisis. People want these resources and want to take a look. I have more questions. You can always get in touch with me, email@example.com. In the subject line, just type in ‘Crisis toolkit’ and I will respond with a link for you and you can get all the stuff for free, but these are just some high-level pointers of how to think about this.
I think if you think through what the world looks like or the person you want to reach out to, and if you answer those questions quickly, who am I, why am I reaching out to you today, and what do I want from you, you’re already way ahead of the curve. Again, not everybody will respond ‘I want to give you that money,’ but your chance is going to be much higher to see some success with this.
Rob: Awesome. Thanks so much, Steli. You always bring the resources and I definitely appreciate that. I’ve gotten feedback about past episodes of people emailing you and getting the ebooks and such, the giveaway. I definitely appreciate that. I bet some people will take you up on it and I think there’s a lot of value.
Steli, if folks want to keep up with what you’re doing, you have a podcast with Hiten Shah called The Startup Chat they can check out. You’re @steli on Twitter and they can drop you an email firstname.lastname@example.org. If they want to hear the crisis, what was the thing called?
Steli: Crisis toolkit.
Rob: Awesome. Thanks against, Steli.
Steli: Thank you so much for having me, Rob.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer a number of listener questions, topics include fixing onboarding, marketing a low LTV product, and the legality of cold email.
Items mentioned in this episode:
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.
-: And I’m Rob, I guess. And I’m not Mike.
Rob: That’s what Sherry said when she was on the show, “And I’m not Mike.” What’s going on this week, man?
Mike: I just pushed the new Bluetick website live this week. That’s finally out there, they were out, I think, Monday night. Just been making some minor tweaks here and there just to get the images all straightened out and smooth out some other rough edges.
My main focus was just getting the design itself in place and then the copy along with the new updated theme because it’s all built on WordPress. Now that that’s stuff’s in place, I actually have to leave in four or five hours to go to FemtoConf and then once I get back, then I’ll probably finish off the rest of the little minor things that need to be taken care of and just make sure all my plugins are installed and all the analytics are working and then from there just start marketing.
Rob: The site looks great, it looks really nice. It’s like ten times better than what you had up there. All the way from the look, to the images, to just the verbiage and then what you have there. Bravo on that. Can I give you two small critiques? I’m sure these are behind on your list. You have a testimonial on the home page which I think is great.
Mike: Actually those are gonna be swapped out.
Rob: Cool, you got multiple, but put big old quotes around it. There’s something about seeing quotes around it. I know there’s Justin’s face there and then there’s a testimonial to the right of it but without the quotes, it’s like there’s just something there. I really like to call out large quotes because then people know the guy is saying that. It’s a little thing that I see in a lot of sites but I think there’s some impact.
Mike: Yeah, I’ll definitely do that. What’s the next one?
Rob: The other one is, you know what, this one isn’t actually a critique. You have one sentence description at the bottom of the page in the footer about Bluetick and it says, “Bluetick relieves the soul deadening drudgery of email follow up for founders, overworked sales executives, and anyone who’s ever lost a perfectly good lead to the email blackhole.” That’s a really well-written thing. Why does it say FIP? What’s FIP mean?
Mike: I don’t know, actually I think that’s gotta be RIP.
Rob: There’s just a little typo there. I don’t love your logo because it took me a while to figure out what it is but it looks like it’s a dog eating an envelope or carrying an envelope, is that right?
Mike: Yeah, it’s carrying an envelope.
Rob: I’m sure it looks better when it’s big but given the size on your site right now. Listeners, you should go to bluetick.io and check all this out and see if you agree with me or what else we can figure out. I’m sure changing your logo is like priority 942 on your list right now.
Mike: Yeah. The only reason I even had the logo done was because before it was just text and I wanted to have something up there so that people could associate the logo with the text itself because there’s familiarity that people get with certain text fonts especially when they go with a particular logo but I’m gonna be using that logo inside of some of the emails and stuff that are being sent out. I just want that familiarity to at least be there.
It wasn’t necessarily important, it was just like okay, if I’m doing a step up, the previous logo was literally a stock image that was just black and white of a dog’s face and it was just not very relevant, I’ll say.
Rob: I would think if you could somehow simplify just the dog’s face, turn it into a line drawing or something. Again, I realized it’s hard because you can’t do it yourself, you’re gonna have to hire somebody. I don’t think this is a deal breaker, I don’t think people are not gonna sign up for the app because of that. It’s just something that every time I come to the site I notice it and I’m like it’s a little busy.
Mike: This is gonna turn into a website tear down episode.
Rob: It’s gonna be the whole episode. These are very minor things. There are no typos on the page, the copy is good, personal touch at scale for all your follow up emails, that’s your headline. It’s really well-written. Obviously you could split test against something but nothing comes to mind as like boy, this copy is really jacked up or anything. It looks good.
The only two, again these are minor things, your Drip widget popped up on me after maybe 5 to 10 seconds. I was in the middle of reading your headline or the subheading and the thing popped up. I would probably push that out to 30 seconds, you have quite a bit of [inaudible 00:05:05] on the page, maybe even 45 seconds. Just give people a bit of time to read a little more.
Last thing is, your title tag on your home page, it says, “Home-Bluetick.” I know you’re not doubling down on SEO right now but really, Google has probably indexed you already. You may wanna start that with something, I don’t know what keyword you’re gonna be targeting or keywords but whether it’s email follow up or whatever generic phrase you would love to rank number one in Google, at least have that somewhere in there, probably towards the front.
Again, I wouldn’t keyword stuff but Home-Bluetick isn’t gonna get you much. You don’t want people to find you for the word home. People are gonna find you for the word Bluetick. Neither those really need to be there, although I’d probably still have Bluetick in there somewhere. That’s about it, man.
Mike: All of those are great suggestions. Some of them, like you said, the typo, I knew that I had to get to that but I just hadn’t gotten to it. I feel like extending out the Drip widget a little bit so that it gives people more time. All the title tags and stuff like that, I have not even looked at any of those yet. That’s on the list of things to do when I get back.
Rob: You have some art on the tour page, that’s very cartooning. Those look really cool, I like the feel of that. It’s very professional feel.
Mike: The designer who did the website, he came up with those illustrations. We went back and forth on a couple of different design ideas that he had and those are the ones that came out of it.
Rob: Very cool, man. Good luck. I’m interested to hear how it impacts conversions and all that kind of stuff.
Mike: The main focus of doing all of this stuff was just to give the website a much better feel to it so that when somebody either came to the website itself or was directed to it because of a referral, it doesn’t look like something that they would’ve just clicked the back button and said, “No, I’m not even gonna give this a chance.” I did hear that as feedback from people where I recommend it to so and so they told me that if I had not recommended it to them, they wouldn’t have even given a second thought.
It’s really to just overcome that as a primary objection. I can do a demo for somebody or a webinar and I could sell them on it and say, “Yes, this is what the product does.” By showing them inside the product and what it can do for them and solve their problems, yes it’s fine. But a completely cold lead who comes to the website has no idea and they’re not gonna give it a chance, that’s really what it is. The bar for something like a SaaS product is much higher than something that the old website could even overcome.
Rob: The bar is much higher than it was five or ten years ago as well. I think you made a good call here. Doubling down on this, you’re at the point where you’re starting to scale getting more trials coming through the websites, now is the time to do that. If you spent much time on this when you’re in customer development, it would’ve been a waste of time. I think it was a good use of time and money.
I wanted to talk a little bit about MicroConf, it’s coming up in April, Starter Edition. We still have tickets left and we have some really good speakers this year. We have Mary Pullen who’s talking about her first year of SaaS bootstrapping. We have Alli Blum talking about copywriting and onboarding emails, she’s been on the show. You’re speaking, Justin Jackson, Ben Orenstein, Courtland Allen from Indie Hackers, Mojca Mars about Facebook Ads, really solid lineup this year.
If you’re at all interested in hanging out with 100-250 folks who are all the way from idea to making a full time living from their business, head over to microconf.com, click on Starter and the tickets are relatively inexpensive compared to most conferences and we do still have some left. We’d love to see you there.
The other thing is I’m driving to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin next Thursday or I guess it’s two days after this will air to attend Gary Con, have you heard of that?
Mike: I have not. Is that related to Gary Gygax?
Rob: Yes, Gary Gygax was the creator of Dungeons and Dragons. He died in I think it was 2010, 2012. Basically friends and family just got together and played a bunch of games. It’s like there’s table top games, there’s card games, and RPGs and miniatures and the war games and all that kind of stuff. It was like 20 or 30 people the first year and they jokingly called it Gary Con in his honor. The next year, they sold a few tickets and they had 100 people and it just turned into this thing.
I went last year, it’s kinda neat being in the midwest. I’ve never gone because I was never gonna fly from California out to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin but being in the midwest, it’s like a four or five hour drive. Last year I was kinda nervous about going, my son and I, we obviously love and play these games but we’re not sophisticated gamers, we’re just playing for fun and there are about 1200 people there. It was a blast, man. It was so much fun.
People are really nice and welcoming. I’d come up with my ten year old son and I was like, “Hey, we’ve never played this.” They’re like, “No problem, we have a character for you, here’s how you do it.” They were just super helpful. Anyways, I’m really looking forward to that. If anybody happens to listen to this and be there, please drop me a line. We’d love to connect with you but if not, I’ll certainly report back about the nerdery that’s gonna take place in Lake Geneva next week.
Mike: That’s awesome. I’ve been to a couple of gaming conventions like that, there was one in Buffalo, New York that I went to. It’s probably 10 or 12 years ago. It’s interesting because there was a guy there who had a role playing game that he was trying to launch and trying to get funding for but he was also still doing play testing for it. There was a room of 25 of us, he basically threw us into this game. I think the game was called monoxide amazon or something like that.
The idea was you’re in this world where you just basically have to run away from everything, everything is out to kill you. Half the people died in 10 or 15 minutes or something like that. It was like an hour long session but out of all of us, I think there were only five or six of us that made it out alive.
Rob: That’s cool. That’s the neat part. Last year the same thing happened, there were several people there who were trying to get their games on Kickstarter or going to put them on but they were doing play testing. My son actually played that Tower Defense game board game that he enjoyed a lot. The convention itself, it is four days.
We’re only going for three days of it but it’s not just some eight hour session, we’ll probably game as much as we can, eight to twelve hours a day, we’ve already signed up for tables in advance and then we’re also wandering around. There’s so much cool stuff to buy too, it’s really bad. I need to limit my spending but I get overwhelmed how much cool stuff people bring. It’s a great time to buy dice and miniatures and all kinds of geeky stuff.
Mike: Cool. What are we talking about this week?
Rob: We have a few listener questions. Actually, by the end of this episode, we will have zero listener questions in the cue. I don’t know if it’s woohoo or not. We’re gonna have to come up with some content next week. If you do have questions for us, please, email them to us at email@example.com or certainly call our voicemail number which we read at the end of every show.
Our first question is from Tim Win. He has a couple questions in the same email. His first question, he says, “I was wondering, for a B2B Saas targeting specific niche market, what will be a good amount of traffic I should try to generate to get meaningful feedback?” Aside from it depends, do you have thoughts on this? Because it does depend, that’s a very general answer. Let’s weigh it on, I may have some thoughts.
Mike: I think when you ask a question like this, what you’re really trying to get out is the amount of feedback that I’m getting good enough in relation to what other people would get or are you getting the feedback that you need to make a decision. I think that’s how I would approach it to figure out whether or not you’re getting enough traffic.
You have to decide on what your KPI for that website is and how you’re going to be gathering information from people. Let’s say that you use Hotjar and you put a poll on your website and you get 100 or 500 people to it and you get 3 people to answer the poll, that’s not a good percentage but 3 people out of 500 visitors is not going to help you in any way, shape, or form. Even just adding once answer is gonna skew things in such a direction that it’s just not helpful.
I think I would look at it in terms of how much feedback you’re getting versus how many people are visiting. Also, recognize that when you’re looking at the traffic stats for a particular website, it’s very easy to misinterpret bots coming to the website to just crawl it versus actual visitors who were there for purpose or came from a particular search term or were directed from an email or another website.
Rob: If you’re using Google Analytics, though, I don’t think it picks up bots, I’m pretty sure it does not, it’s only if you look at raw server logs, just a caveat in there.
Mike: But it is hard to tell when you’re looking at that because you do see on the server logs, you’ll get 20 or 30 visits a day. I’m not convinced that Google accurately filters out all the robots that it’s supposed to.
I’m guessing they would exclude it if they could. They’re pretty smart about that. The point is if you’re not using Google Analytics and you’re using your logs, they could be in there.
Mike: That’s true. With this particular question, what you’re really trying to get out is what is the information that you’re trying to retrieve from people and what feedback is it that you want. Do you want conversations? Do you want them to comment on something? Do you want to get them on a phone call? What is the KPI that you’re trying to push people towards? Are they doing it?
I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to measure the actual traffic itself because, I think, bear minimum, you probably need at least 500 visitors a month, anything below that you’re just really not gonna be able to make a meaningful business out of it.
The other thing to consider is the fact that not every B2B SaaS product needs to have traffic coming to its website if that’s not your primary source or primary channel for marketing the product. If you’re doing outbound cold emails, for example, or if you’re sending postcards in the mail to people or you’re doing cold calling, none of those things involve people coming back to your website so there’s an implicit assumption here that the traffic that’s coming to the website is based on SEO or content marketing or something along those lines.
I would just be hesitant to say that there’s 100% correlation between website traffic versus being able to get that meaningful feedback because if you are doing cold calling, for example, you can get on a call with somebody and you can ask them questions and talk to them, get the information you need and they never hit your website at all. That’s something to keep in mind.
Rob: I think that’s probably the first point that I would make. I think that that’s something to keep in mind, is it’s not about necessarily driving a bunch of traffic to a form or to an opt-in. It depends on your business idea but boy, if you have no audience and no reach, I would probably start with some type of outbound, cold email, or maybe some ads going to a landing page or something.
There’s just no better way to get feedback because that’s his questions, it’s not how do I build a meaningful business, it’s how do I get meaningful feedback. The way you do that is you ask for it. It tends to have to be outbound. I would hang on with this concentric circle marketing I was talking about.
I would talk to my friends and colleagues and then their friends and colleagues and then their audience and then eventually you get to the cold audiences but I would start in the center with the people that you know if you truly are going for feedback.
In the early days of Drip, yes, I threw up a landing page and put some copy on there. The only reason I did that was because I was going on podcasts and people were asking me about it and I wanted somewhere to send people.
Eventually, once I knew what we were gonna build, I started doing some ads to it and I did build a list from there but that was not the way I got meaningful feedback. The way I got meaningful feedback was a bunch of warm emails to people within my network asking them, would you use this tool? Here’s a screenshot, what do you think? And then started building momentum there. I think that’s the way to think about this.
If you wanna build an actual sustainable business and you’re asking about how much traffic, DotNetInvoice, which depended on the month but between $2000 and $4000 a month, pretty consistent, sometimes it got to 5000. That site had 1000 to 1500 uniques for years. It was just a really high converting site and it was in a vertical. That’s what he’s asking about here.
He’s like, it’s a B2B SaaS, it’s in a vertical niche. You don’t need that much but you are gonna top out at some point and just stop growing. DotNetInvoice was $300 one-time purchase. Keep that in mind as well.
With 1500 people coming to your site, if you think about, let’s just throw out a 1% conversion rate to trial, you’re gonna get 15 people into trial funnel, that’s with credit card upfront. Let’s say you close 50% of those to customers which is likely, then you’re gonna have seven or eight new customer a month.
You have to ask yourself, if you charge $1000 a month, that’s probably pretty good. If you’re charging $10 a month, that’s not very good. You have to think about your price point and just think about the numbers that I threw out there and you can do backwards math and figure out how many people you need to send to figure out how fast you wanna grow.
Tom’s second question was that he seems to be getting free trial sign ups but once users get into his onboarding which is like a getting started wizard, he seems to lose them. It’s only three steps, it’s nothing too complicated, just adding their location, product service they provide, and setting a payment processor so they can take payments from their customer.
“Some seem to get to this part and never log in. Any idea why? It’s driving me crazy.” What would you do if you were in his shoes, Mike?
Mike: I was gonna say there’s no way for us to really answer why that is. I think that if I were in his shoes and I was having this particular problem, I would email those people individually who never got past that point and see if you can help them, either just walk them through it or ask them questions about what their experience was. Your best case scenario is to get them onto a call to walk them through it and do a personalized onboarding session and then watch them as they go through it so you could just use Zoom to watch over their shoulder as they go through.
The nice thing about doing that is if you do it for them, then they see it but if you let them do it because they don’t know exactly what they’re doing, they’re going to click on stuff that they shouldn’t and you’re gonna be able to recognize that and say, “Why did that person click there?” You can ask them literally on the call, “Why did you click on that? What was it that made you think that you were supposed to click on that?”
Maybe they’re getting confused about the UI, maybe they just don’t have time to log in so they never set up their account.
I think there are other questions I would also ask about like do they come into the site and get there or do they just never come in? If they’ve gone through the signup, does it take them directly over to this three-step process or do they have to get an email and then they click on the email and then they come back into the application. How is that sequence of events set up and what’s the flow look like for the end user?
Like I said, because it was a race condition, it sometimes happened but not always. You really just need to talk to them and watch over their shoulder to watch them go through that and ask those questions to find out what it is that you’re doing. If they already got through that first step, they signed up, you have their email address or at least presumably you should. Contact them and follow up with them until you get an answer as to why they didn’t go through that next step.
Maybe they realized at that point that it was going to be more to set up than they thought it was. At that point, you have to evaluate, do I put this process in place? Do I need them to do those three things all at once? Could I spread it out? Are there ways to interject that as part of them using the product without forcing them through that concrete step all upfront? Let’s say that the location, for example, could you pull that from their credit card information?
Rob: Like their IP.
Mike: Yeah, that too. It depends on how accurate you need it to be. Like time zone, you could probably pull from somebody’s browser. If you need the address, could you pull it from their credit card? That depends on whether or not you’re taking credit card upfront which sounds like it’s not because it’s free trial. Those are the places I would start.
Rob: I think that’s spot on. The one other thing I would consider is taking away self-service signup and just putting a request demo button. When they hit that, they can just book right in Calendly and set something up. If you really wanna do this well and this is what you’re focused on, the requested demo button, you could respond to that within minutes.
If you’re relatively low traffic and you really are just hacking away all day right now, try to get back to people within ten minutes of them clicking that and just get them on the phone, do a Zoom meeting and do a screen share and walk them through. It’s essentially what you said, Mike, but I’m just saying you take away the self-service signup portion.
I think that right now it’s gonna be about talking to customer sounds like you’re still in the early days. You could throw Hotjar on there and do screen recordings, you could throw Crazy Egg in there and do heat maps, you can do all that stuff but you’re never gonna find out why, you’re just gonna see what is happening. The why is obtained through having a conversation with them. I would be more hands on these early days, you don’t have to do that forever. I think you’ll certainly find out that it’s pretty valuable for your learning, for accelerating your learning in these early days.
The last question was for you, Mike. He says, “I was listening to one of the podcasts, Mike was saying bluetick.io was having usability issues he had to fix. Are you able to get into detail? Just curious as to what some of them are.” I recall you talking about one usability issue, interested in talking about that?
Mike: Sure. The main usability issue that I have addressed towards the past six months or so, they had to do with onboarding. When somebody signs up for Bluetick, one of the first things that you have to do is you have to set up your mailbox and you have to add in your username and password. If you’re using Gmail, there’s all these different settings that you have to connect. You have to have IMAPS or hostname, username, password, port number, the encryption level. You also have to have the exact same information for your SMTP server because it may not be the same.
Initially, I had a set up page where you had to set up your mailbox and there were probably a dozen different settings. What I would do is I would personalize onboarding for each person, walk them through it, watch the backend because not everybody knows what ports they’re using for their mail server. Some people are technical, some people are not, so I walk through it with them.
I got to a point where I knew that certain types of mail servers were very common, you’re using Gmail or Google Apps. I could guess what those are because it’s always gonna be imap.gmail.com and then also smtp.gmail.com but your username and password are gonna be different.
I could basically filter out a bunch of those and I was able to shorten down the page itself but in addition to that, there were still problems because if you a have two factor authentication set up or you don’t, you either have to enable less secure apps or you have to enable two factor authentication and you also have to make sure that IMAP is enabled.
Overtime, I whittled down the number of things that somebody had to do to get their mailbox set up. At some point, I transitioned to the point where if you are using Google Apps or G Suite, as I call it now, you can just click through and go through the OAuth authentication. That basically takes care of everything for you, you’re just putting your username and password in Google, click the button and boom, everything is taken care of for you.
There’s very much a progression where I slowly pulled myself out of the setup process. On day one, I didn’t necessarily know what everybody needed and I didn’t have everything coded. I pushed myself into the process to make sure that it got done.
Rob: I think that’s a great way to do it. We had several integrations in Drip that were a pain in the butt to set up. You had to go and install a WebHook and do all this and that. We’ve been going back as we’ve grown and scaled and making them all OAuth if the provider allows OAuth. We always call it V1. V1 integration was just to plugin and then V2 is to add OAuth and V3 was to make the triggers native. There were all these things and we just have the verbiage or the language that we all knew on the dev team.
You have been in your early days, it’s customer development time. You could’ve spent another three weeks in the early days making it super simple but you didn’t need to because you’re walking people through it. I guess this is technically a usability issue but it’s like a deliberate decision to move faster and then circle back and iterate. I think that’s something that people should keep in mind as you’re building your app. It doesn’t need to be the best all the time, you gotta do your best.
Do you want your code to have not a lot of croft and not have technical debt? I wouldn’t skimp on that. But when you’re moving fast, I think making a first past through and having the usability in some areas be not as ideal as maybe you’d like and you know that and you plan to come back, I think that’s a pretty good approach.
Mike: The other thing that I use specifically in this particular case which people might find useful is that I made this decision for this piece of it specifically because it was a setup piece. I knew that it was something that most customers are only ever going to do once and once it’s done, that’s the end of it. Even if it takes me 30 minutes or 45 minutes on a call to set somebody up and get that stuff connected properly, it doesn’t matter because it won’t have to be done again.
Obviously I don’t wanna be on a call with every single person for 45 minutes just to get them set up and then after that try to do some level of onboarding and customer development. If I can get that stuff taken care of later on, I basically just kicked it down the road because it was that one-time set up and it wasn’t gonna have to be done again. You can use that as a deciding factor as to where you’re going to spend your time.
I see a lot of other vendors doing this where if certain things are painful, you tend to find those things in places where the customer doesn’t have to do it very often. The one example that comes to mind is Oracle installer which for 10 to 15 years was busted. It was fundamentally broken on Windows, you literally could not install Oracle without it failing and then having to go in and fix stuff. They finally fixed it in 2012 or something like that. But for a long time, it did not work at all.
Rob: I remember that, that was crazy.
Our next question is about cold email, it’s from Greg Ristow from utheory.com. He says, “I love the show, I’ve got a startup music theory learning site which is just now at $1500 per month in revenue with very little marketing.” Congratulations, by the way. That’s a nice market to hit.
“Starting to think about email marketing strategies for reaching college music theory faculty, and high school music teachers. I’m wondering about the legality of gathering names and emails from school websites. When I look around the web, I get conflicting information on how CAN-SPAM applies.” That’s a law in the US about not spamming people. “I know in my own day job as a college music faculty member, I regularly get emails from companies who pulled my email from my school’s website. Any advice?”
Mike, I know you have a lot of thoughts on this. I’d say give a short answer and then a longer answer.
Mike: The shorter answer is that it is legal to go to somebody’s website and pull the email addresses. At that point, depending on how you email them, that’s where the piece of CAN-SPAM falls into place. It’s not about whether or not you pull the emails from the website or whether you gather their contact information, it’s really about what you do with it after the fact.
Underneath the umbrella of the CAN-SPAM Act, there’s basically three different types of emails that are sent out. There’s commercial emails, there’s transactional emails or relationship emails, and then there’s other. I’ll talk about those in a minute but most of what CAN-SPAM basically says is don’t lie to people or forge header information when you’re sending emails and try to hide what it is that you’re trying to do.
For example your from email address should actually be you or your business. Who it’s to should be that person, don’t be forging emails to people like if I were to send an email to you and I forged the header information and said that it was Bill Gates, then it starts to fall under the CAN-SPAM laws. Lying about those things, not specifying that something’s an advertisement, or line about what the subject is.
Let’s say that you say that it’s about your recent payment, and then in the body of the email you’re saying it’s a Viagra commercial or advertisement. That right there is a violation of CAN-SPAM because you’ve not said that it’s an advertisement and you’ve also lied in the subject line.
Not telling people how to opt out of future emails, that’s another one and then honoring the opt outs. A lot of those things are typically handled by an email service provider. Those are the things that you don’t typically have to worry about.
Going back to the three different categories of email that are defined here, there’s the commercial intent which basically is an advertisement of some kind. That’s really where the pieces of the CAN-SPAM Act are that you need to pay attention to. If you’re advertising a product or a service and you’re promoting it and sending emails to these people, it’s very clear that you’re trying to get them to sign up for a service, that is a commercial intent email.
If it’s a transactional email, that essentially is exemplified by things like somebody comes to your website, buy something, and then you send them a receipt. Emailing them the receipt, that’s a transactional email because they did something and then they received based on what they did.
The third one is other. This is where you get into a very, very grey area because all three of these things are all about the primary purpose of the message. What is it that that email was intended to do and what are the contents of it. If I send somebody an email that is completely unsolicited and it’s got links for them to buy my service or to come into my website and look at the product to learn more because I’m essentially pitching it to them and saying, “Hey, would you like to learn more about this? Here’s the website.” That is more of a commercial content.
If I email somebody and I say, “Hey, I’d like to talk to you about X because I’m exploring this idea.” Or, “I have a product and I’m doing some customer development.” That is not commercial because you’re not actively selling them something, there’s not an advertisement in it. It’s also not transactional. What happens is those types of emails fall under other.
I will put a blanket categorization here that says I’m not a lawyer. Just take some of this with a little bit of interpretation and a grain of salt because this isn’t legal advice. But my reading of all of these things is that that commercial content, the transactional and other, you can essentially leverage those three. Depending on what it is that you’re putting in the email, a lot of times, you can force it to fall underneath the other category which essentially says that it doesn’t need to follow these CAN-SPAM laws and regulations.
Rob: I think the TLDR on that. Again, we’re not lawyers, we can’t give legal advice but it is generally accepted practice that, yes, people do scrape emails from websites, whether they gather them by hand or whether they have a VA to do it or whether they write a script to do it. It is legal to cold email people even for commercial purposes, I receive them all the time.
I may morally or ethically consider them spam and certain people do and they say, “You’re spamming me.” Based on the legal definition, that’s not. I would give you the advice, don’t use a bulk email program, you’ll get shut down. Script that list and then import it into Drip or MailChimp or anywhere, we’ll block your account because people will mark them as spam, there’s gonna be bounces, people are not gonna open them, they’re just gonna have low engagement. Those cold emails should not be in a tool like Drip or MailChimp, they should be in a tool more like Yesware or Bluetick.
Mike: That’s correct. The interesting thing there is that the reason Drip and AWeber and MailChimp and all those others are stopping people from sending those types of emails and stopping them from importing the list and blasting them out is because what happens is that people on the receiving end of it, if they don’t like the message, they can mark it as spam. That’s not a legal definition that it was spammed, it was that that person classified as spam. What happens is that then negatively impacts the provider.
In that case, they’re protecting not only themselves but also all of the other customers that they have. Let’s say that I imported a thousand emails into Drip and I basically blast something out and then a lot of them started getting marked as spam, I am then thereby impacting the rest of Drip’s customer which obviously is a no, no. I would expect them to shut me down.
Versus if you send it out through Yesware or Bluetick or all these other things. What happens in those cases is if somebody reports to the spam, it actually goes against your own domain as opposed to somebody else’s. From my standpoint, if you’re gonna bash your own domain and you really are spamming people, and it is classified as spam, then you’re negatively affecting your own domains, not mine, not any other customers. At that point it doesn’t impact me as much.
The email service providers, the reason they’re doing it is not for legal reasons, it’s to essentially protect their current customer base and the send rates and deliverability of everything else that they’re doing.
Rob: That’s right because they shared IPs and shared sending domains. We are at time, sir. At the start of the show I said we’d get through all the questions but we did not, we have one question for future episodes. We will revisit that at some point. You wanna wrap us up for today?
Mike: Was that a deliberate lengthening of the episode to make sure that we had the one left or no?
Rob: No it wasn’t, I figured we would get to all of them, we didn’t have that many questions but obviously some of the answers were more in depth and we just ran a little long today.
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