When to say no to the sale

say no to the sale

As a startup founder, you inevitably learn many lessons the hard way. Perhaps one of the hardest I have had to learn was when to say no to the sale.

The situation

At the time of receiving this lesson, we were at just over $10K MRR. We had raised $200K from an angel investor. Our average deal size was around $3500/yr, LTV was $20,000, CAC was $1200. And, we had a good flow of inbound demo bookings.

With metrics like this it’s easy to attract salespeople. One “rockstar” on our team was a national lead at Linkedin for the previous six years, who wanted to be our VP of Sales. And, I was feeling pretty good about myself for having a company that could attract that level of talent.

But here’s the thing. When someone with an amazing resume sits down with you it’s really easy to move too quickly. I didn’t understand where his real sweet spot was along the array of deal size.

Time for some references

There is a book that I read after learning this lesson that might have helped me avoid some pain. The book is Rethinking The Sales Force. The author is Neil Rackham who also wrote what I consider to be the essential book on sales, SPIN SELLING. But it’s the former that had the key takeaway, which had I understood earlier, would have been nice.

Most businesses in their early stage should focus on one type of customer and solve one kind of problem. While that might seem obvious, what surprised me is how important it is to build your sales team people that excel at selling a solution of your size.

Long story short, this rockstar salesman was not great, or frankly, even interested, in selling $3,500 solutions, rather, his real talent was taking a $3,500 sale and turning it into a $100,000 partnership. Notice the word partnership.

It wasn’t until I read Rethinking The Sales Force that I understood the real difference in the mind of the prospect when you are selling a small B2B SaaS subscription as opposed to an enterprise deal. Mind you, I had a sense of it given the absolute mountain of stress that this deal had caused me for months.

Yes, I’m human too

Don’t get me wrong, the moment I heard about this deal, I was beyond excited and did not even consider to say no to the sale. And when it closed, oh man did I celebrate! But three weeks later, when I learned what this customer expected, I started to see the challenges we had created.

He wanted customizations, he wanted a dedicated account manager, he wanted my personal time on a regular basis. All of which are fair expectations at that price point, none the less, we cannot accommodate.

We were set up and only somewhat optimized (at that point) for an SMB SaaS on-boarding experience, and that was leaving enough to be desired as it was. And, when we tried to support him (“him” being a gentleman who is not afraid to yell and swear at his vendors until he gets his way) through that process, guess what happened… Well, let’s say I became accustomed to having a scotch or two every night for the next few months.

The resolution

Thankfully, now two years later, he is still a customer, albeit on a very different package. And with many tense conversations, and flying across the country to meet him face to face, we maintain a mutually beneficial relationship without having to provide a refund that could have bankrupted us.

So in summary, this was a sale that I should have said no to, and today, our sales people knows that if a prospect is looking for a different kind of solution than we offer, to try to qualify them as a prospect for what we do, and send them elsewhere for what we don’t.

How to Use Webinars to Sell SaaS

how to use webinars for selling saas

If your Market is like ours, your customers are making a big decision when they adopt your service. At Hubbli, we decided to start testing webinars to sell SaaS to schools, and this is a market that is notorious for making decisions by committee.

So no matter how slick the presentation is, they just won’t click a button to pay us thousands of dollars during a webinar.

So how can webinars help shorten the sales cycle?

Well, beyond being an opportunity to demo multiple prospects at one time, we decided to come up with an offering that they can purchase during the webinar.

We tried two different ‘Middle-Sale’ offerings, with a goal of selling something that is very in line with our product, something that will make them more likely to become our customer.

First, we tried selling an online course. Our theory was that if we can get the webinar attendees to sign up for a course, they would learn how to improve their processes and get familiar with our system. Then at the end of the course, they would just transition into using their new knowledge in our out-of-the-box solution.

Well, the response to that was a lot of interest, but no real buyers. Meaning, it’s probably a good idea for us to offer this to the market, but not as a way to generate super-hot leads directly from a webinar.

My second idea was to sell a live, one-on-one assessment. We had already been offering free assessments to webinar attendees and getting a relatively good conversion on them. But it was suggested to me that if they had to pay for the assessment, there might be fewer assessment signups, but those that signed up would have a much higher conversion rate.

Webinars for Selling SaaS

Apparently, asking people to pay a small fee makes an enormous difference in the psychology of the prospect. Not only did we get a 20% conversion rate for the $97 assessment, but 100% of the attendees that purchased it signed up for our full service.

Now, it’s not that simple, so let me break down the ingredients to the secret sauce.

During the webinar, I not only offered the $97 assessment at a substantially discounted price from our regular $498, but I also stacked some more discounts on top of them.

If they did purchase the assessment, “for only $97”, they would also get a discount code for 50% off the Hubbli setup fee, AND a free month of Hubbli’s service as well.

So, in total, the value of the offer is $1600.

Webinars for Selling SaaS

Ok, so that is all happening during the last 3rd of the webinar but there are a few more important steps that occur post purchase.

Once they pay, there is an automated email sequence that drives them to fill out a survey, which is required before they can book their assessment appointment.

The questionnaire asked them questions that are designed to get them thinking about how valuable all of the Hubbli service benefits are. In addition to that, it asks them if they are interested in a 50% discount off Hubbli (to which they all have replied YES.)

Webinars for Selling SaaS

At the beginning of the assessment, I start off by mentioning that since they indicated they want the discount on Hubbli, and since that is only available today, we might as well discuss that. Because if they decide to move forward with Hubbli we will apply the $97 they already spent with us, and our Setup process will include the assessment as well (which it does of course.)

To date, this has worked 100% of the time, to turn the paid-assessment meeting into a Hubbli signup, in under 20 minutes, and without the need for another demo.

Email Automation for Your Personal Inbox

email automation

My best, current, and favourite email automation hack

If you’re like me you’re always trying to save more time with email automation and you’re always on the hunt for the best hacks and add-ons so you can do more work with less time and effort.

Well, here is one for any Gmail or Google Apps users that ties together your email and calendar. It’s called Boomerang For Gmail and it gives you a number of amazing email and calendar management features for your one to one communications.

If you use any email management systems or marketing automation systems that allow you to send, track, optimize email and calendar events then you probably understand the power of not having to manually follow up with every contact.

Boomerang For Gmail lets you perform the same type of automation but on a single point of communication. For instance, let’s say you want to send an important email to someone, well you would probably want to know if they opened it or clicked on it.

Depending on the settings you use it will pop up in your inbox to let you know what happened, or didn’t happen with the email. You can even set the date/time by which you want to be alerted about the status of that message.

A great use case scenario is when I’m emailing a customer that I’m responding to after they email me with a complaint. I can type in my response which usually has a link to book a follow up with me so I can ensure their needs get addressed.

With Boomerang I can then specify when I wanted to be notified or reminded about that message. If gets opened, clicked or replied to Boomerang will archive the message upon sending and then pop it back to the top of my inbox with an alert as to what did or didn’t happen either when it happened or if nothing happened.

It also allows you to insert your calendar availability into your message. I use this feature more than anything because when people want to book me for a meeting they always ask “let me know what works for you” well with one click I can insert my availability and say “here’s my schedule, let me know what works for you” thus putting the ball back in their court.

Additional, if they reply with a suggestion, Boomerang with highlight that meeting suggestion and with one click it will create the event, allow me to edit and then upon saving it sends the recipient a invite and even sends a reminder to them about the event first thing in the morning.

I also use this every day with hiring. Whenever I want to have a list of candidates I want to schedule on Friday for back to back interviews I send each of them a message with a dedicated time slot they can click to confirm and receive an invite and reminder.

This little app that costs $14.99/mo is replacing a person that would have to work at least part-time to help me manage my inbox and calendar.

I have to tell you, as a long time Product Manager I am in awe of how these guys simply nail it with the product time and time again. They have kept the tool basic, simple and though it has lots of features you learn about them at the right time and in context. It’s like they have ability to read your mind while you use the app. As you get to know it you’ll be like “oh, wow, yes I would like this email to do that..”

Here is a short list of the features I use regularly:
• Write an email and schedule it to go out later.
• Send out messages on a recurring schedule.
• Track opens, clicks, replies.
• Insert clickable date options in an email.
• Insert your availability.
• Send reminders to your appointment recipients the morning of the event.

There are many more features but these are the main email automation features I use pretty much every day.

If you have more ideas or other apps for hacking your inbox please but them in the comments below.

Why to use WordPress to build a SaaS product

use WordPress to build a SaaS product
People say the Internet is the greatest equalizer, dropping the barrier to knowledge for even the poorest and remote locations. Well, I can’t agree more and the reason I love WordPress is because just like the Internet lowered the barrier, WordPress built a catapult for people to launch themselves into a new existence.

WordPress started out as a simple blogging platform, nowadays it’s a full fledged development framework that can be used to create a completely new and novel Software product that can be sold.

As proof, you can look at Hubbli.com which is a Software as a Service (SaaS) product I built and started selling while having no ability to actually code.

Ok, I have to be honest here, before I started building Hubbli I had been learning design level programming skills like HTML and CSS but all that means is that I was able to change the way things looked while still not being able to build a single feature that I sold.

So how is this possible? Well the amazing thing about the WordPress community is that there are thousands of developers making plugins for WordPress.

Get the bonus content: Quick Start Guide to Building SaaS on WordPress

Another way to think of plugins is that they are a feature or function you can add to your site, or a site that you sell to someone else.

Where the HTML and CSS come in is when you want to hide the branding or settings of an installed plugin so that your customers have no idea who made the plugin, or how to change the current settings configuration.

The analogy I always use to explain how I built Hubbli is to imagine if you wanted to build and sell a mobile carpentry workshop. So you wouldn’t start from the point of the engine or doors or breaks, rather you would go buy a basic utility van from GM or Ford and then you would buy different pre-built components needed for performing carpentry work like a work bench, and saws etc.

The reason why people are going to buy your product isn’t because you were the guy that engineered the engine it. It’s because you are the expert that knows exactly what they need as an industry expert and have removed the months of time it would take to do the research on the best vehicle, tools and configuration needed.

Just to make sure this analogy is clear, WordPress is the engine, the plugins are the tools and YOU are the industry expert.

With a little time and testing this whole process is easy. There are even plugins made for non-developers to white-label or rebrand every screen of your product. There are also plugins for non-developers to edit the menus in the WordPress admin dashboard so your customers only see what you want them to see.

Here are some WordPress services and plugins that I either use or recommend when using WordPress to build a SaaS product:

Get the bonus content: Quick Start Guide to Building SaaS on WordPress

Automation with Infusionsoft and WordPress

how to automate customer on-boarding with infusionsoft & wordpress

Automating processes is the first thing a small business needs to do when they are starting to achieve success.  Unfortunately there is an enormous learning curve at the beginning of this new phase and I can tell you first hand that you need all the help you can get. Even if you are teach savvy, there are just so many options out there and it’s hard to know where to begin.

I have had the pleasure of taking a few internet SaaS companies through that process and this post is dedicated to explaining how to perform automation with Infusionsoft and WordPress.

It’s no small feat to build a product and get customers so congratulations to you if you have done that successfully.  Depending on the product or service your customers may need some hand holding at the beginning of their relationship with you to learn how to use your product.  In our case, being a SAAS product we developed a 4 session training process wherein we guide our customers through the different features of Hubbli.

Once we hit a point of 10 new customers per month we quickly realized that we needed to automate our customer on-boarding system and our products of choice are WordPress and Infusionsoft so this is a tutorial of how to automate customer on-boarding with Infusionsoft and WordPress.

If you want to automate scheduling sessions with your customers you’ll need a tool that allows them to pick available sessions and then trigger the next step in the automation. For this we use a WordPress plugin called Appointments + which can be purchased at WPMU Dev.  This allows our support site to be used as the location for our customers to schedule their sessions and that is important to us as we have an ongoing relationship with our customers and we want them to easily understand how to reach us and get the help they need.

There is one more piece of software that is required for this automation process which is sometimes termed ‘middleware’.  This means it is a product that is built specifically to speak between two other products utilizing their API. In our case we decided to go with Parsey which can be found in the Infusionsoft marketplace.

So here is the process:
When our sales team closes a sale and processes the transaction on Infusionsoft we then tag the customer with “Start On-boarding Process”.

automation with Infusionsoft and WordPress

Then, Infusionsoft triggers a campaign that shoots them an email sequence with a welcome message and one goal which is clicking a link to schedule their first on-boarding session.  This is the link that takes to our WordPress site which is where our automated support calendar lives.

automation with Infusionsoft and WordPress

When they select a session that’s when Appointments + sends out an email to Parsey which is tied into Infusionsoft and that customer is now added to the on-boarding process.

Within the Infusionsoft campaign we setup automation to send out emails after each session that has a recording of the customer on-boarding session and a call to action to go back to our support site (WordPress) and book their next session.

All our customer support team has to do is go into the customer record in Infusionsoft and paste a link to the recording within an internal form.  That’s the only manual part of this entire process.

So here is what it looks like inside infusionsoft:automation with Infusionsoft and WordPress

I know this might seem really involved at first but it’s actually quit simple once you see how these pieces fit together.  And the only manual step our staff has to perform between each session is paste one link in the contact record.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you want more information in the comments below.

What do user experience designers do?

what do user experience designers do


As someone who professes to be not only a digital product manager but also a user experience designer, I wanted to devote this post to answering the question, what do user experience designers do?

Think of the UX designer less as a designer and more of a problem solver.
This is not to say that the UX’er doesn’t design. Of course we do, but our roles are much, much different than you may think. If we were to break the goal of the user experience designer role down to the bare bone definition, we would call UXers simply problem solvers.

A good user experience designer is really, really great at solving problems because the process, which is seeped in user centered design, can be applied to almost any issue a company is having.

So, before you can be a great problem solver you have to make sure you are solving the correct problem. Understanding the problem first, before jumping into the solution, is one of the most important arts of being a great UX designer.

Many times, clients will come to me with problems and before they even understand what their problem really means, they already have a solution they want made.

This is a big deal, because in reality, if we don’t define the problem, how do we know if our solution is the correct one?

Often times, clients will present us with what they believe the problem is.  But once you get into the weeds and start digging deeper, the problem often changes and needs to be revisited.

For example, if we ask this client why they needed an iPad app they may say something like, we need to be cutting edge or we need to get more users. After digging even more, we find out that their nearest competitor recently took 5% of their user base,… and they just also released an iPad app.

So the client is assuming that this is the cause of the competitor’s spike. But what if the iPad app has nothing to do with the competitor’s spike in users.

Unfortunately, because we didn’t work to understand the problem in totality and really get to what the client was doing that caused users to leave and go to competitors, we just spent tens of thousands of dollars, creating a beautiful piece of software that nobody wants.

Thus, you need to understand the problem first.

Here are some of the types of questions I try to answer before figuring out the real problem:

  • How is my client defining the success of my work?
  • What impact do they want me to make?
  • Are there numbers we are trying to reach?
  • Will this solution have to lead to another?
  • Are there other projects happening or planned that could influence
    the solution that I will have to take into account?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen during this project?
  • What does failure look like?
  • Who out there has solved this problem, and what makes their solution awesome?

What you are trying to do when understanding the problem is really get to the business, stakeholder’s or client’s pain points.

You are trying to get to the why. And once you have done this, you can begin working on the solution.

If you have any questions about how to approach a user experience challenge, or just want to tell me I’m crazy… please comment.

What is Online Marketing

If you are wondering what online marketing is and how you can get started then I am writing this blog post for you.

Online Marketing

Online marketing is a blanket term that includes many tactics like SEO, social media, blogs etc.  It can be very confusing and overwhelming when starting out so try to think of it simply as relationship marketing.  Online marketing is about how to use these tools to build awareness and offer customer service and sales.  All these different tactics are different vehicles to be more human with your marketing in ways you can’t do with paper ads.

It’s important to offer that personal touch because they are more likely to do business with you if they feel like they get to know you. it creates a more well rounded approach to business. If you consider that it take an average of 7 touch points to make a sale, this personal touch with a human face helps that.

You might be thinking that getting too personal would be bad for your brand and that is very valid for certain businesses. For those brands you want to think of this as the place to focus on what you do for local charity organizations or way that your company performs community outreach etc.

Whatever you end up doing, plan to start with creating content. Content is the king of online marketing, whether you are a small business or an enterprise.   Blog posts, articles, ebooks, videos, podcasts, anything that can be seen as thought leadership in your industry. It’s the absolute best thing you can do to kick off your online marketing engine. Because it’s the gas that drives the engine and the best part is, it never burns up.  The more you create the farther you will go.  This all doubles for search engine optimization which is usually a vital segment of most online marketing strategies.

So, say your a small business and your starting to get a little overwhelmed with all these online marketing tactics that you have in front of you.  One thing you can do is just start watching and observing what other organizations are doing.   You should also just start playing around with the different social networks and start to get a sense as to how other brands are using them.  You have to consider what you can mindfully manage and enjoy doing because if you like facebook but get annoyed with Twitter than with out a doubt just start with facebook. You may find that one or two social networks is all you can handle for now and that is a great start.

One of the best reasons to use online marketing is that you have proof of how successful it is.  With a magazine ad you have no way of tracking who saw what and which specific sales came from it.  With online marketing you can track someone from the point of entry onto a webpage or twitter account all the way to their purchase.  That is the reason why everyone is moving more of their marketing to online strategies because every interaction with every person who engages it is tracked and you can then test, measure and compare tactics to then focus on what works best.

I will be writing more posts that will break these specific tactics down but please let me know what questions you need answered in the comments below.

How to Choose a Logo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a graphic design expert but as a product manager I spend tons of time figuring out which web graphics will cause the desired result and which won’t.  This blog post is meant to help start  you off in the right direction when you are trying to choose a logo.

I have had to make decisions on a number of logo designs and like most customer facing design decisions I always start with the “why”.

Why are you putting a logo on the site? You might think this question is silly and overly obvious.  But it’s a good exercise to make sure you can answer this question with something more than just “because we need a logo”.

Does this logo need to do something different than other logos? What is the desired result of this logo? If you can’t answer these questions then you’re not ready to make a decision on logo design.

For example: www.schooltree.org is a new social network for school communities that I’m currently the business director of.  So why do we need a logo on the site?

Answer: to get people to remember they were on www.Schooltree.org as opposed to another site.

Our strategy is to promote the name as simply as possible.   I don’t think we should use an image as part of the logo.  As an example of websites that simply use the company name: facebook, google, linkedin, keek (I worked on this one too), path, digg, lifehacker, paypal, craigslist, ebay, wikipedia and on and on and on.

The common denominator with all of these websites is that they are simply trying to get people on them and to stay on them as often and for as long as possible. That is how they make money. Using imagery in a logo is common for websites that promote a product that is something separate from the actual website like a car or a band, etc.

When trying to cary your brand from one location to another imagery ties the product to the online display so people know they are on the right webpage in case they might have gone to a different webpage with the same name but for another product.

The purpose of our logo is to get people to remember the name ‘Schooltree.org’ and to come back to that url as much as possible. That is what we are selling.

If you want get a deeper understanding of how to design a logo here is a great book I can suggest.

Now for the engaging part of my post… If you can give me a reason to use imagery for the www.schooltree.org logo and send me a design that makes me change my mind we’ll use it and give full credit.

Agile, what does that have to do with software development?

Agile, what does that have to do with software development? Here’s my elevator pitch on answering that question.

Just in case ‘Agile’ is a new term for you, I’m referring to a process for planning, creating and implementing software.  In case you’re picturing a group of very limber developers that can leap from their work stations to the fridge, where their Red Bulls are located, in a single bound… no, not at all. So, Agile, what does that have to do with software development? Especially when you’re a web developer sitting on your computer pounding Red Bulls all day and night?

Agile is a new approach to developing software that challenges the traditional “Waterfall” methodology. So if you are venturing to launch an internet startup, or any new business concept for that matter, pay heed.

Something I learned recently at a Product Owner workshop in Toronto with the WFS team, is that Agile is not really a methodology.  It’s a process of learning.  And though it has been created in the world of software development, it’s foundations can really be applied to any business. Another term closely tied to Agile is Lean.  They share the same foundations and I really do suggest reading The Lean Startup by Eric Reis.

A really simple way of comparing Agile to Waterfall’s traditional style of software development kind of looks like this:

Waterfall = plan plan plan plan plan | make make make make make | test test test test.


Agile = plan make test | plan make test | plan make test | plan make test,…

The reason why Agile has become so popular is the ‘Plan Make Test’ approach is a much shorter loop in which you are able to learn vital information from concurrent testing rather than making the whole product from top to bottom only to test it at the end of the process.

Waterfall generates far more wasted resources and often times causes business failure.  Generally even in good scenarios you have to go back and redo a lot of code to replace or change features that were not a product/market fit.

Here is a great video that shows how this process works: 

Now when someone comes up to you and says, “Agile, what does that have to do with software development?”, you’ve got a great video to show them.

This is a huge topic and I have offered a very shallow explanation of what Agile is.  A great book I recently read is Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices For the Teams, Programs and the Enterprise by Dean Leffingwell.

I do plan on writing much more on the subject so please do check back or subscribe to my blog in the footer of this page of the page.