In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how to indirectly overcome sales objections. Solving the problem of having to answer some of the same questions numerous times, the guys come up with some ways to combat sale objections when you’re not in a direct conversation with the potential customer.
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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 build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How you doing this week, Rob?
Rob: I’m doing alright, sir. I’m getting ready to head out to Mexico for about a week with family and we’re just looking to escape the cold. We haven’t left Minneapolis every month like we normal do during the winter. We’ve been here three years and we made this commitment to one another, Sherry and I did, that if we’re going to stay here, we need to leave about once a month. It’s a Delta hub so it’s really easy to get places to rack. We can get to Florida. It’s about 2½-hour flight. We can get to Cancún in 3½. We can just get to a lot of warm places really easily and inexpensively. Our first and second year here we just left a lot, but this year, due to some family stuff and other things, we really have been here all winter. Sherry left a few times to speak at conferences but we have not done a family vacation, so we are very much looking forward to beating the cold, getting out of here, frankly hanging out, and catching some waves on a playa in Mexico.
Mike: That’s cool. I have never been to Mexico. It a place I’ve wanted to go to for a while. I just never really made it a priority, I guess.
Rob: It’s great fun and depending on where you go, it can be a fun cultural experience or it can just be a fun vacation if you don’t with the hotel and such, but I highly recommend it.
Mike: Oh, business expense. MicroConf Mexico.
Rob: Absolutely. We should totally do that. Don’t think that I have not start cooking that up already. Sherry suggest that every year in winter because there aren’t any winter conferences. It’s all spring and fall but I think there’s an opportunity there.
Mike: Yup, probably.
Rob: How about you? What’s going on?
Mike: Well, I spent the last several days rebuilding my desktop and basically reinstalling the operating system on it. It’s been running into a lot of problems where it would just crash at night when I put my computer to sleep and then the next day when I go to wake it up, things just did not every come back properly. It started out like it wasn’t very often and it surely got worse and worse over time, and then lately, the thing has just been crashing left and right.
So, I was just like, “All right, is this a software problem? Hardware problem?” I ran a bunch of hardware scans and stuff on it and everything looked fine, but something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was. So, I was just like, “Alright, I really need to update this.” I was looking back through my programs that were installed and I realized I had not reinstalled it since 2010.
Rob: So you’re just imaging the drive?
Mike: No, it’s the same operating system I’ve had since October 2010.
Rob: Yeah, that doesn’t work well.
Mike: And I pushed off on it for so long. I was running Windows 7 and I needed to have IIS 8 on it at least, in order to do certain things and the development stuff that I’m doing. You can’t install it on Windows 7. You have to have at least 8 or higher. I pushed off on it for probably two years or so, and like, “All right, I’m done.” I spent the weekend backing everything up, copying things over, and up and running on Windows 10. It’s actually quite nice now. I haven’t had a single crash.
Rob: I was going to say, “Windows 7? Hasn’t 10 been out for years? What are you doing?”
Mike: I just did not want to go through the pain and hassle of copying everything over and possibly losing something that I actually needed, because things were back-and-forth between. Something were in Dropbox, some things were not. I have […] I could get things if I really wanted to but it’s still just a hassle. You lose a fair amount of time and then there’s always that fear on the back of your mind like, “Is there something that I’m missing?”
Rob: Yeah. That’s tough. I remember doing that. I remember rebuilding the machines. I tend to do it one to two years when I upgrade the laptops and I would rebuild from scratch just to avoid the cruft that were built up. I haven’t don’t that in a while. We’ve talked about this in the past. I think Windows has some things that are better than Mac and I think Mac has some things that are better than Windows. I think that particular piece that I have not rebuilt the laptop in seven years now or eight years since I switched, I think that’s something that MacOS does quite well. Since I do all the incremental upgrades and it auto updates, I’m always on the new version. I used to give myself about a day. It was like 8-12 hours to basically rebuild the machine and I don’t have to do that anymore.
Mike: Yeah. I had to track down licenses. That makes for a head for all the right files and right versions. That was a big hassle and I just didn’t want to go through it.
Rob: Totally. I hear you and I think the nice thing I think that’s gotten users who’ve gotten along is, “I’ve moved so much more into the cloud.” I used to have Microsoft Word and Excel, then I had all the data I had to move so it’s on an external hard drive. But now, everything is in Dropbox and I’m in Google Docs. It’s just so many more web-based things, so I have fewer and fewer apps that I actually install as I would need to move to a new machine.
Mike: Yeah and fortunately, things have progressed. I have a local NAS device that’s got three of four terabytes worth of space on it. What I did was I did a physical to virtual migration of my entire machine and moved it over there. Then I created another copy of the entire thing on my hard drive. Now, I’m running the new system but in a window over on the side. I have the old system up and running inside of a virtual machine. There’s been times this past week where I had to go in there and say, “Oh, I did not grab this file or these files weren’t backed up, or I need to pull from the registry and export these settings and import them over here. They weren’t anywhere else or the application just didn’t have any other way to get at them.”
Rob: Yeah. You realize, both of our listeners have now tuned out?
Mike: Yes, all two of them.
Rob: All two of them, yeah.
Mike: I thought we had three?
Rob: Three, maybe yeah. Hi mom.
What about MicroConf scholarships? There’s some cool stuff going on with this.
Mike: Yeah. Last year, we talked about this before where last year I had quietly put together a scholarship program and we ended up giving away a total of 14 scholarships. This year, we have over 25 to give away with. A total of 27 scholarships that we can award. I’ll link this up on the show notes and if you’re interested in coming to Starter Edition, you fill out the application, and the last day for that is Tuesday, February 26. I intentionally made it to Tuesday so we can do the announcement today and then we can also do an announcement on that day. If people happen to forget, there will be one more announcement for next week’s podcast. We’ll talk about that. You have the link there, just go fill out the application. It’s pretty short. It asks some fairly basic questions. It shouldn’t take you more than 5 or 10 minutes to fill out. We have plenty of scholarships to give away so if you are interested, head over there and hopefully we’ll see you there.
Rob: The only update on my end is TinySeed applications. They basically close tomorrow when we’re recording this, so they would have closed by the time folks are listening to this. Things have gone very well, to be honest. It was more of a response than I’ve expected given then it’s our first batch and we’re still trying to build a brand name. I remember when we started MicroConf and people were like, “Micro what?” It doesn’t have any meaning and then you do it year after year after year and then eventually it’s almost like this inside story or a brand, really. It invokes a meaning in their mind.
The same thing with Drip. When we launched Drip, no one knew what it was and then eventually, you can say the name of it and people know what it is. TinySeed is doing that, that seed stage, so to speak. But still, we got a lot of applications and I’m going through those, having some great conversations with founders, really looking forward to digging in here over the next couple of weeks, and figuring out who we’re going to go with.
Mike: That’s good to hear. Does it seem like the decision-making is going to be a lot more difficult than you thought it would be or is it going to be easier? Any insights that you can share or no?
Rob: That’s a good question. With some of the founders and companies we’re talking to, it’s obvious that they’re a good fit and we really want to make it happen. Then there are some that are just definite nos. It’s like hiring someone for a role. There’s yeses, there’s nos, then the maybes are the hard ones. You’re not going to get a dozen perfect applicants that perfectly fit everything so you have to figure out if they really dig into any type of yellow flag and figure out, “Do I think this business can do this? Do I think these founders can do this?”
I think it will be easier on some friends and also harder on others. It just depends on how many we can get. I’m trying to fill a cohort and I think the cohort’s going to be between 10 and 12 companies, I would guess. Finding that many is world’s different than hiring because typically, I’m hiring one person for one role, but in this case I’m essentially trying to hire 10 or 12 companies or founders for the role.
That’s been cool. It’s been a learning experience for me but also what I liked about it is it builds on all the knowledge and all the experience that I’ve built up through my whole career including interviewing people, digging into things, hiring, and then all the SaaS knowledge, the knowledge of businesses, knowing what metrics to ask for and knowing how to shape those, knowing when someone says their conversion rate is this versus that and then digging in and finding out it actually isn’t that because they’re calculating it different, all this stuff that if I wasn’t knee-deep in this stuff and hadn’t been for a decade or more, I think it would be even harder. But it’s in my wheelhouse to be able to evaluate these things.
It feels both daunting but also it feels good and it feels like I’m able to understand the business pretty quickly just having all the conversations we have, the MicroConf folks, the podcast listeners, the angel investing, the advising and all that stuff, as well as running my own companies, there’s a familiarity with this. I feel like we speak the same language, which is really nice.
Mike: I was going to say that familiarity probably helps to some extent just because you’re not trying to figure out what they know that you don’t. It’s like there’s a lot of stuff that’s built-in already, like you know the stuff, and it’s just a matter of do they know it too or are they making mistakes along the way that you’ll be able to help easily course correct.
Rob: Yeah and that’s the thing. That’s where doing something outside of our wheelhouse, like if we get an applicant who’s doing mobile app or it’s a B2C physical product subscription service, I’m not sure if my same evaluation criteria can apply. I’m not also sure are there levers we can pull like we can with a SaaS app? It’s that kind of stuff. That is where it gets complicated. They are edge cases that you have to evaluate and think through.
Mike: And also, I’m excited and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.
Rob: Indeed. What are we talking about today?
Mike: Today, we’re going to be talking a little bit about how to indirectly overcome sales objections. I think we’ve had a couple of episodes in the past where we’ve talked about when you are in one-to-one discussions and directly talking to people in more of a sales capacity, how to address different concerns or objections that they have. I think there’s also a lot of objections that comes up when people are just visiting your website or they’re learning about you, and they have all these things that are in their head, but you can’t tease it out of them because you’re not directly in front of them. Question is, how do you know that you’re giving them the right information, what ways can you get in front of them or provide that information to them that is going to make sense help to alleviate any of their concerns?
This idea for this episode came about because I received an email from one of my agency customers. They had some questions that were relayed to them from their customer because they’re managing this customer’s account. They said, “Well, what is it that you’re doing for data security inside of Bluetick?” I’m not really comfortable because I saw this message and I didn’t really understand what it meant. It made me step back a little bit and think about what other things am I doing that will put this information out there? I looked and I was like, “Oh, well I could just write a KB article about this,” but made me look at all the other different ways that you can present that information. So, this episode is really going to be about different ways you can present those things to people that will help overcome those sales objections.
Rob: Got it and the indirect piece is because directly overcoming a sales objection would be, you’re on a sales call, someone has an objection, and you say, “Well, this is how we handle it, blah-blah-blah,” whereas you’re saying, this is the way to document it or disseminate the information to many people in a more passive way. Is that right?
Mike: Yes, that’s correct. That’s a great differentiation between the direct versus indirect, but it’s also a matter of making sure that that stuff is publicly available to them so that they can go get it whenever they want because when you’re in that direct sales scenario, if they have a question, they’re going to ask it. You don’t know what questions that they have or that they’re going to ask when they’re just browsing your website or they’re reading something about your service or they’ve come across it on Google.
The idea is how do you put these things out there in such a way that it’s not, for example, a giant wall of text that they’re not going to read anyway because then they’ll just say, “I’m out of here,” or maybe they’ll fire an email to you that’s going to be something that’s buried in there someplace anyway.
Rob: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. The thing that people should keep in mind is that for every person who asks you or who has a sales objection like this, there are probably 5, 10, 50 other people who have a similar thought and maybe just never asked, left your website or didn’t sign up because whether it gave them a negative feeling or whether it just felt like too much work to find you support email and email you, there can always be one-off questions or one-off concerns. You’ll start to recognize those over time but in the early days of anything, you start to get the same question over and over and that’s when you realize, “I really need to document this and push it to the forefront of my website or of my marketing.”
Mike: I think it’s very easy to get caught in the loop where somebody comes in with a question like that and you answer it, and then somebody else comes in with the same question and you answer it. It seems to be very easy to just answer the question and move on, but without documenting it or without putting something in place so that that information is available to people so they can go look for it, that’s basically just causing you more headache and pain down the road that is hard to measure.
Rob: Yeah for sure. There are obviously a bunch of different ways that we’ll talk through here. Let’s dive into the first one.
Mike: The first one is related to your website, specifically around the design and the sales copy. Obviously, people have to have a certain level of trust from your website and a lot of times they will get that from the design. But the sales copy needs to speak to them. It needs to talk to the problem that they’re trying to solve.
Specifically, one of the things that you can do is on the About page, explain who you are, explain why is it that you exist, and explain what sort of domain knowledge and expertise you have in this area. That, in and of itself, will build trust but at the same time it also lets them know what is it that you stand for, why are you even in business, and why should they (a) give you money, and (b) trust you with their data.
The second area that you can do this is with blog articles. Whether you have a dedicated content section on your site or blog articles that you publish and then you email out to your mailing list, either way you want a repository of information so you can essentially demonstrate that you have knowledge of the topic that your software addresses.
In the case of Bluetick, for example, beyond one-to-one email marketing or follow-ups, differences between sending bulk email versus individual emails directly to people from your own mailbox, all those types of things factor into giving you a footprint on your website and it contributes to the SEO, but it also contributes to the awareness of the customer that you have a set of knowledge that they could benefit from.
Rob: Yeah and a blog is a nice way to do it because people can search Google and find it. Another way to think about it or another alternative is to do KB articles, which are nice because people will specifically seek them out. I don’t tend to go to product blogs if I have more support questions but I will go to KBs. Often, I don’t want to email support and I think a lot of people don’t want to email and wait for an answer.
If you can make a lot of this stuff available in a KB that you know if it’s published, that it was probably reviewed by people, and assuming it’s not outdated, you can almost have more confidence in a KB article sometimes than email a one-off support question. They have 50 different support people answering questions like, “Do you know that that person knows what they’re talking about?”
I know that in the early days, it’s hard to build out a KB and it’s hard to justify the time, but these kinds of questions, if people can just answer them themselves, it really will save you a lot of time as well as, as we’re talking about here, handle overcoming these objections indirectly.
Mike: When you send an email to support and they answer that says X, Y, and Z, I’m definitely one those types of people who questions it a little bit especially if it’s an edge case or if it’s on the complete other end of the spectrum, where it’s something that seems like it should be straightforward basic functionality and they can’t point me to a KB article. The KB article just tend to give me a little bit more confidence that, “Hey, this is the official stance,” or, “This is exactly how it’s supposed to work and people have reviewed it,” like you said, and that trust factor versus somebody’s answering the emails for support and I don’t know who it is or what their level of skill or expertise is.
Rob: Right and the other nice part about KB articles is they often will have a screen cast or they’ll include a screenshot. You can just get so much more information from that than a quick one-off support reply that’s two or three sentences long and doesn’t have all the visual elements and the time invested in it.
Mike: Right. The level of information and the different ways you can present it in a KB article are a lot nicer just because you can use those visuals and you can use the text, or you can use a video of some kind and embed it in there. You can cater to different people’s ways of consuming that same information.
The next way to do this is through email courses and webinars. I lump these together because they are similar and that you’re essentially broadcasting. The idea here is that you’re doing a deep dive on a very specific topic that’s relevant to the audience. With a webinar, the prospect is going to get to know you a lot better and that lends a certain amount of trust and credibility to you just by virtue of them hearing your voice or seeing your face in the course of the webinar.
With email courses, if you’re writing the email course yourself or the same person has written the entire course, then it’s going to have a very particular voice to it. I’ve noticed in my writing. I can go back 5, 10, 15 years and see that my writing itself has a very particular voice associated with it that I can recognize. I don’t know if other people feel that way or maybe other people have changed quite a bit over time, but mine tends to feel very familiar when I go back and reread things that I’ve written in the past. You’ll get that consistency throughout an email course as well.
I think that that’s what people are looking for, is consistency in knowing that when they’re doing business with you, they can expect a certain level of quality and confidence that you know what you’re doing and you’re going to be able to help them, versus if you have an email course that is very disjointed or it’s all over the place, they don’t have that same sense and they’re going to start to ask questions, maybe not directly or that they could verbalize, but they’re going to have the sense of, “I don’t quite trust these people, I’m not quite sure why, and I can’t put my finger on it.”
Rob: Another way to indirectly overcome sales objections is with downloadable resources like white papers, case studies, ebooks, ultimate guides. People who educate others and do a really good job of it in a non-markety way, they are held in pretty high regard, especially if they’re really providing tools for folks to do their job better or to be better at what they do.
If you move back in the day a little bit, HubSpot has always been really good about this with their education leadpages, with all the webinars, the free guides, and the free stuff they gave away. I recall Kissmetrics having a ton of white papers that did a good job. I don’t know who’s doing this really well today in a way that I would model it, but I’m sure there are folks out there—feel free to post in the comments for this episode, it’s episode 432—you can build a lot of credibility by educating. Just look at anyone who has a podcast or a blog for years and years. You begin to respect their opinion. Or if they write a book. There’s a lot of ways to do this.
Now for a product, if you’re a SaaS app, you’ll probably not going to write a book or necessarily build a personal brand around it. But you can achieve some of that using things that people can download, take away, and read on their own. A Kindle version of an ebook or a PDF version of a white paper. If it’s well-done, it’s well-titled, it’s distributed to your list, it really is actionable stuff and it’s of the quality that people would be willing to pay for. I think that’s something to think about.
At Drip, we published an ebook, we published a video course with Patrick McKenzie, we published something else, and we were giving away this content that was quality that we could have sold. In fact, we would give it away for a week, and then I believe we would put on Gumroad and sell it for cheap, $9 or something. That actually became trivial but interesting revenue stream at a certain point that I have left unnoticed because it was just all hanging out in Gumroad. But there was real value to these things and when we gave them away to our customers and prospects, they appreciated them and I think they learned a lot.
Mike: I think it’s a really interesting point that you bring up about the quality of it and having it in a level that you could presumably charge for. That’s something I probably hadn’t quite put into words before, but that’s a very interesting take on it. I agree with you. It’s a fantastic way to get yourself out there and it’s a good way to establish a marketing channel as well. It sounds to me like it was a non-trivial revenue stream for Drip at one point.
Rob: Yeah it was in the early days. What’s interesting is 5, 10 years ago, just having a blog and having essays was enough and it would drive traffic if you’re doing it well. The bar has just become higher and higher. So, if you see people who are doing content marketing really well these days, they really are doing really long pieces, 5000, 10,000, 15,000 words. They really are ebook-level and whether those are downloadables, PDFs, or they’re just published as a single long-scrolling blog post, that is something that Google lends more authority and credibility to these days.
Content marketing has really been all about SEO in the long term. You can get the initial push, you can build your list, people are watching what you’re doing, and they can like your marketing. But longer-term to build a sustainable business, it can’t just be about that social bump. It has to be about the longer-term organic traffic and the authority that you’re gaining in the search engines.
Mike: I think one of the last places that I can think of where you can indirectly overcome sales objections was in testimonials. Most of the times, you see these embedded on somebody’s website but I have seen them embedded inside of a white paper before or case studies. Case studies are a great place where you’re essentially getting this massive testimonial from somebody. The idea here is that people will look at that and say, “Well, if it work for so and so,” and that person is a similar customer to them or similar profile, whether it’s the same business size or same market vertical, their thought is, “Well, this should work for me as well.” Even if they do have other objections, if they look at that company and they say, “Well, I either empathize with them or I feel like I’m very similar to them. If it work for them, it should work for me.” It goes a long way towards overcoming objections that they can’t necessarily put into words.
Rob: Yeah. Case studies are a nice one. It’s one of those where one thing you throw them on your home page, you throw them in your footer, the nice head hot, some quotes around it, and those are cool and they could lend credibility depending on your space. If you get case studies that are done well, those can have a lot of impact. By the time someone cares about a case study, it’s okay if it’s markety because they’re interested in and they’re evaluating your product at that point. It’s not top of funnel anymore. That’s how you have to think about these things.
I know we’ve gone from overcoming sales objections and I keep putting it back to the marketing funnel because I feel the two can overlap. You can do both at once. But top of funnel stuff tends to be educational content. You build them a list and everything, and by the time you’re doing case studies, you really are trying to address objections that people have, you’re trying to educate on some of the nitty-gritty of how other people are using your product, and it can be a nice example for folks who are just trying to figure out what you app does.
Mike: One thing I wanted to tack on the end of this which I didn’t specifically put in the outline here was about chat widgets. You can put a chat widget on your website that allows you to interject yourself into the conversation on a website. Whether you use something like Drift, or Intercom, or custom chat widget, or something along those lines, the idea is you’re having that direct conversation with people, which is exactly why I didn’t include it because at that point you’re no longer indirectly overcoming the sales objections. But that is another good way to help overcome them, so I do want to make sure that I brought it up.
Rob: That’s more of a direct way.
Rob: Until they get AI that is good enough to do it without human involvement. I guess even then, it would be direct. It will just be a computer directly doing it.
Mike: Yeah. It’s a good question. It’s an existential question.
Rob: It’s an existential question for the internet.
Mike: Which will lead for some future episode.
Rob: Indeed and if you have a question for us, call our voicemail at 888-801-9690 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So Mike, if a tree falls in a chat widget and no human typed that tree falling, did it really happen?
Mike: Uh, I don’t know.
Rob: Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for ‘startups’ and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode.
So Mike, McDonald’s or Taco Bell?
Mike: Oh, I don’t know. Probably McDonald’s.
Mike: Neither, yeah. If I had to choose, probably McDonald’s, I guess.
Rob: Here’s a funny story. It was 50 below. It was the coldest say in Minneapolis in decades. With wind chill, it was 50 below. I took my car into the shop. I had an appointment booked weeks in advance. I go there and it’s running really long. It’s 11:30 or 12:00, I’m starting to get super hungry, my car’s in the shop, and I can’t walk very far because it’s so cold.
I looked and there’s two fast food places right in front of the car dealership. I can’t see their signs from where I’m going. I walk over to one and it’s like 10 inches of snow all piled up and stuff. It’s cold, the wind’s blowing, and people were looking because I’m walking like Han Solo. My least favorite fast food of all fast food is Burger King and all I’m thinking is, “Please, for the love of God, do not let it be Burger King.” I walk up to it and it was a […] Burger King. I could not believe it. There it is, like what are the odds?
So I walked next door and I’m like, “Please, anything else. All of the Arby’s are fine. I don’t like McDonald’s but I’ll eat there, blah-blah-blah.” Then one next to it is Taco Bell, which I’m okay with but I don’t think I’ve had Taco Bell in a decade. We just don’t eat fast food, you know?
Mike: Yeah, I agree. I haven’t gone to Taco Bell in forever, either. Last time I remember going to something similar was went to a Del Taco. It was the first at MicroConf with Ethan Shaw at two o’clock in the morning.
Rob: Yeah. That’s funny. Anyway, Taco Bell was like I remember. It’s processed food but it’s got a lot of salt to it so it tastes really good and then I was super tired after. Now I know why I don’t go to Taco Bell.
Rob: But it was good. It was tasty.
Mike: It’s tastier at 3:00 AM I’m sure.
Rob: Oh, absolutely. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.