Lessons from the SaaS Trenches 001 – Advice from Lee Gladish, Co-Founder of Reply.io

Like all SAAS enthusiasts I was looking around for inspiration and stumbled across this new Podcast SaaS Breakthrough by David Abrams, co-founder of Demio. On his 28th February episode David featured Aaron Krall the founder of the SaaS Growth Hacks Facebook Group. David asked Aaron ….” What’s a brand a business or a team that you admire?”

Aaron didn’t blink. He responded – “Lee Gladish from Reply.io. I think he is such a phenomenal person like everybody that I’ve talked to who’s talked to Lee. He’s so helpful. He has given so much free advice out. He is really involved in the community. One on one mentorship just giving away a lot of like free advice with one on one calls. I’m a huge fan of his. He’s someone that I really look up to”.

That resonated with me right away. Giving back, sharing and learning from each other seems to be the mantra that drives the SaaS community. Lee, when I spoke with him later, seemed to embody the spirit. And I wanted to start with him when I decided to start sharing our journey.

The key is to reach out to people in the early stages for feedback and the worst that can happen is that they will refuse. But even if a few revert, which they will, you will have invaluable insights that would be impossible to organically arrive at. That’s the power of the community.

I found Lee on LinkedIn and sent a request to connect. We live time zones apart (he is in Toronto, I am in Bangalore) but surprisingly for me, he responded practically immediately. I was on a call with him within 24 hours of sending out the request! At this point he was not even aware that Aaron has mentioned him in this podcast.

I had a long chat (55 mins) with Lee and he was, as Aaron predicted, super empathetic and extremely helpful. After hearing me out patiently of what Pitch.Link does, he shared with me pointed advice. And here is what he told me I should be doing at a stage we were still pre-100 customers.

  1. Send out cold emails to Sales pro’s for feedback.
  2. Email / sign up in Business and industry directories like launchingnext.com. There are literally thousands of these. And most of them are free. Lee believes cold email still provides a great ROI. “When you have some money, the next step will be to use FB and Google Ads”.
  3. Identify a niche. Email Start-ups / Companies with under 200 employees, for example, (at this point he practically dictates to me the copy of the mail. He says – “Write this is who we are, and this is what we built. We do not want to sell anything but want feedback from you as you are a sales pro. Tell us what works in this app for you and what type of customization you would need. How does this fit into your sales day?” …etc.). Bottom line – get advice from people you don’t know.
  4. SaaS is all over California. Everyone reads Saastr, for example. But the rest of the world is still catching up. They do not follow SaaS growth hack groups or attend SaaS conferences. So, build for them. There are so many segments that haven’t even been touched. Manufacturing, retail, pharma, wholesale distribution and many more. SaaS is not the only niche out there.
  5. Use lead sources like Leadiro and Anymailfinder. (We are signed up for Leadiro after this call. Shout out to Anna Mahon for being super helpful!).
  6. Sign up for Directories like Betalist and people will start finding you. There are literally thousands of these and they are free.
  7. Write to Accelerators. Offer product for listing in their Discounted software offerings to their member companies. Lee mentioned how TechStars and 500 Start-ups took in io despite having competing products in their own portfolio. (I am adding Co-working spaces to this list and will report on my success as things progress. 7200 + listed on www.cowork.com. FLAG! Do not use the Cowork contact form for promotion. It will be considered spam. Create a list based on the listing and contact individually. Thankyou @LeanneBeesley for pointing this out).
  8. Lee was totally sold on the power of Quora. He says as a start-up it is absolutely critical to be on Quora and showed how Oleg Campbell, his co-founder leveraged Quora and amassed over 67K views of his activities. Prospects repeatedly came to him saying they heard about Reply.io in Quora. (We are setting up our A game on Quora as we speak).
  9. Join SaaS groups and ask for feedback. (Done. In FB and LinkedIn. Aaron’s Group is a must here.)
  10. Write content. Be very clear what key words you want to rank for and build the content plan around this. Lee also shared details of ace content writers who charge anything between $225-300 for a 1000-1500-word article. (This I am yet to activate).
  11. Stay focused on customer and support. Have 24×7 availability on the site. Use help from locations like Philippines. Typical cost would be $500/ month / shift. (We are in the process of identifying help and activating it on Pitch.Link. Till then some of us are losing sleep!)
  12. Have a Customer Success plan for those who come for trials.

Lee offered to get one of his Tech Savvy sales leads to take a look at Pitch.Link and offered to give feedback in a couple of weeks.

At the end of it all as we are bidding goodbye, Lee says – “Thank you for your time Subhanjan”. Seriously Lee?

But then that’s who he is.


Did you find this piece useful? Do write in to me (ss@pitch.link) or connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know what you think and who you think I can speak with next.

Why PitchLink is not MailChimp! (Or Infusionsoft!)

Miniature business team having a coffee break

The sales technology stack can be broadly divided into email campaigning tools (primarily lead generation), marketing automation, CRM, Sales Enablement, Various synchronous pitching tools (like Webex or Go-to-meeting), Usage tracking/ Analytics et all. Over the next few posts I will try to explain where we think PitchLink fits into your Sales Tech Stack.

Is PitchLink a lead generation tool?

The initial exposure to PitchLink left a few users wondering – How can you send your pitch to thousands of cold prospects like what you do with tools like MailChimp, Infusionsoft and other similar email automation applications?

Well the simple answer is – you can’t!

PitchLink was built to solve a very specific problem – that of getting over the challenge of getting the first face to face meeting with your prospect. In the current sales process this meeting is the one where you introduce your prospect to your product or service, complete personalised need discovery process and initiate a conversation which should ideally lead to a sale. As we all know, getting a prospect from ‘interest to a P.O.’ is a complex and often unsuccessful process. And there could be multiple reasons why an interest or a pitch will not result in a sale. But that is not the point. The point is, while tools like Mailchimp and Infusionsoft starts your process of outbound sales with the expressed intention of identifying prospects, PitchLink comes in when you know who this prospect is and in turn this prospect knows that you (your company) exists (through your mail / drip campaigns and possibly some opt-in offers).

Your marketing team tracks engagement and moves the prospects through the sales funnel and once qualified, the lead is handed over to the sales team for making that great first pitch, which will be the beginning of the journey which will hopefully end in a sale. Or better still – many future sales.

PitchLink helps you send your structured story or pitch to your prospect, exactly the same way you would narrate it face-to-face, without demanding his scheduled time where she doesn’t have a clear idea of what to expect in return. PitchLink is one of the first sales tools of the coming era of ‘Zero interruption selling’. The prospect can view your pitch at a time or place of her choice and decide to engage, get clarification and additional information without getting into an exchange of mails or downloading huge attachments. Her unique ‘PitchLink’ becomes the anchor for this specific conversation which can now evolve organically without the typical logistical and complexity overload. The prospect can, at her own pace and time, come to the conclusion of moving towards a ‘buy’ decision without the usual social pressures of in your face selling.

….. and PitchLink is born

pitchlink_napkin

From a napkin sketch on the 3rd February 2016 to our shiny new Sales Pitching tool – PitchLink. It’s alive and kickin’ today.

Is there a sense of elation? Of expectation for praise for a job well done? Of fear of rejection and failure? Of the unknown (this is our first SAAS product)? Of users flocking to us and the server crashing? Of the good feeling and adrenalin that pumps with the crash? Well it is all of these and more. It’s like writing a new novel or making a new film.

What does tomorrow hold for us? For PitchLink?

Now you will be able to sign in using an invite ( if you need one write to me – ss@pitchlink.in or submit your mail id on our Home page) and simplify your pitching process dramatically.

We wanted to change a lot.  And we have strong views on how SAAS products should be – in terms of pricing,  simplicity, transparency, and in the way users are treated and asked to interact with or learn about software products.

We wondered why customers should pay to set up or learn how to use a product when they are paying for it in the first place?’

We wondered why customers get pushed into the higher tier just because they exceeded the quota by a small margin?

Why indeed? With PitchLink we have ensured that issues such as these never dampen your experience. And be sure to use the 90 days of free trial of the full featured product. (That’s right- 14 days just doesn’t cut it in our reckoning.) We want you to have enough time to deep dive into PitchLink.

We looked around and found incredible companies grow in front of us from nothing, their stories inspiring us to believe that we can build a product that will be used and loved by people all over the world. Something that will make life easy and meaningful. We tried to imbibe all of it here, in PitchLink. I am incredibly proud of our team. Everyone worked incredibly hard over the past several months to make PitchLink happen. You will find them in the About Us page. Take a look and say Hi.

Finally it’s in your hands. Take it for a spin or push its limits. But do talk to us. Write, mail. Know at all times we are here. Waiting to hear from you. Waiting to make this the best first experience of using a new tool you ever had!

See you in the inside. And have a great 2017!

Subhanjan, Founder.

Bangalore, India.

P.S. If you like what you see, please refer us to your friends and your 90 day free full featured trial can get extended to 365 days.

 

Anatomy of a Perfect Pitch

Sales pitches vary widely because of the diversity of the products being sold, and the context in which the pitch is presented. Is the customer a previous buyer? Does he know about your product? Is this a new product being introduced to a known customer? Or is this an existing product being presented to a new prospect?

All these variations should be factored in into a sales presentation. And knowing your buyer or prospect and his problem is key to how you build your pitch.

However some eternal truths apply to all good sales presentations, and that’s what we will talk about. Let’s break our presentation down to essential components, and see how these function, and the order in which they might appear.

1. Short Introduction to tell them the purpose of the pitch, and the time you will take.

“Hello, I am Mike from Ace Acme Company, and I’d like to tell you about our new product Cycal, which is a product lifecycle management solution that addresses some key problems in our industry. I’ll need eight minutes of your time to take you through this presentation”.

This serves three important functions.

1. It sets the context and tells them what it’s all about

2. It states that there is a problem to which you have a solution

3. It indicates what time the presentation is likely to take

Ideally, for the introduction you simply talk to the audience. It creates a personal connect, and helps to build a narrative. A narrative goes beyond mere facts and data. People want to hear stories, more than data.

End by telling them to continue to the next section, and what they can expect to see in that section.

“Next we shall talk about some of the biggest problems plaguing the industry, causing losses to the tune of billions every year.”

2. Define a problem.

You should identify a pain-point. This is what your product will ultimately address. But in this section, just talk about the problem, and how it affects your prospect, and others as well.

Provide very briefly some numbers that amplify the scale of the problem. Talk about losses, or lost revenue, productivity, and so on. Explain again why it is one of the biggest issues facing your audience today. Establish why there is a need for a product that solves this problem.

This section of the presentation can use a video. But you can also use infographics, or a slide-show which enumerates the issues, pain-points, losses, and the need for solution. If you use infographics, make sure that the voice does not repeat the same information, but tells the story instead.

To connect to the next section, you can have a single, brief slide to tell them that the next section will provide the solution.

3. Address the pain point- Provide a solution to the problem.

In this section you should provide the solution- the generic answer to the problem.

“What if we had a tool that could send notices to all team members every time a new module is added to your core product?”

This section should list out core features and functionality that would solve the problem. This can be an extensive list of features. This is a blue-print- a road map. You aren’t really saying that your product has these features. Some of these features can in fact be ones that your product does not have (yet).

The reason why you would want to include such “unavailable” solution points is to convey to the customer that you have seriously considered the pain-points and the possible solutions- even if you don’t have all the answers. In the next section, when you talk about your product, an honest “we don’t have that solution now” in fact establishes greater credibility.

This section can be delivered as images or slideshows, perhaps infographics. Since it a map, it can be in any schematic format that is visual.

4. Say how your product solves the problem.

Say how your product has the functionality that you spoke about earlier. This section should cover the main features of your product, but offered as benefits to the user rather than simply “features”. Say how your product is unique in solving the problems. Introduce your value proposition- how the product saves money, time. List out all USPs.

You can also mention that some of the ideal solutions are not present in your product currently, but that they are on the radar, or that they are impossible or contradictory. The idea is to be honest enough to admit that while all details have been considered, some were difficult to solve.

5. Point them to supporting documents such as whitepapers, research papers, pricing, comparison with competitors’ products.

Offer social and technical proof points. But these should not be a part of the main narrative. Except for crucial data points, all supporting evidence should be provided as an optional. Deviating from the main narrative into detailed data not only takes time, but often has a negative effect because the audience can quickly get bored with data overload.

If the audience wants to learn more, or seeks proof, the data is present to whet their appetite.

This is a brief note with a pointer to the location where such data is stored. It should have a list of the assets.

6. Add customer testimonials to build credibility

Customer Testimonials set context and establish credibility. When customers speak on your behalf, it not only establishes trust, but also sets the context in which a real user found your product or service helpful. It shows a real-world applicability. Testimonials also complete the audience experience by rounding off with a “customer is king” messaging. Customer Testimonials grab attention, establish brand positioning and create the right niche in the world of customer centric personalized communication.

Customer testimonials are best delivered as video. These can be “talking heads”- that is, your customers simply talking to the audience about their experience. These are best in creating one-to-one personal connects and building trust. Try to keep these short and succint. If necessary, use a short scripted delivery from your client.

If you cannot produce a video, you can use a voice-only audio file to deliver the same message.

7. Thank you message with request for information.

Thank the audience for their time, and thank them on behalf of your entire team. Request for a feedback, and say that it would help you to understand their requirements better. Leave contact details and invite the prospect to contact you for any queries.

8. Probe for closing

This should be a survey form that tries to understand their business priorities, and aligned marketing priorities. It should be able to slot the prospect as hot/warm/cold, besides understanding whether your product meets their key requirements. It’s a mini digital audit to guage when the prospect is likely to convert.

What is your biggest challenge in the area of team collaboration?

Are you considering a solution like this?

When would you be likely to buy such a solution?

What is your yearly spend on this type of solution?

When would you like to start?

In what specific areas can we assist?

Keep the survey brief, so that it’s easy for the audience. Most importantly, you should inform the audience of the number of questions at the start.

“We would like to ask you six questions that would help us to understand your requirements better, and provide you with a customised solution.”

A presentation that covers these points and sticks to the promised duration is likely to have great impact without turning away the audience. Most importantly, your presentation must deliver on the promise of providing a solution to the problem mentioned in the introductory section.

Why we created PitchLink

We created PitchLink as a means to overcome some of the biggest hurdles in B2B selling.

When we looked at the process in a typical B2B sales exercise, we found several unique features as well as obstacles.

B2B selling involves longer selling cycles due to the greater value. Longer follow-ups also implied that extended discussions and finer detailing was required. Typically conversations and feedback required time, and involved several key stakeholders. The customer needed internal discussions and approvals, while the vendor had to provide clarifications and additional data on the product.

Sales cycles also stretched out because often discussions entailed face-to-face meetings, but arranging meetings involving several decision makers at the same time, have become difficult in today’s time-starved world. So Sales engagements stretch out over weeks. Often, even the first face-to-face meeting is difficult to set up, and when it does happen, the customer is rushed for time. So the pitch, which was planned for say 15 minutes, turns out to be a 3 minute rushed affair.

The documents and sales collaterals involved in high-value complex sales are numerous and voluminous. The exchange of such material through electronic means is difficult, to say the least, and keeping them organized and in the right flow is well nigh impossible. Mails bounce due to large file sizes, sharing on services such as Google docs require permissions, and often it is not clear if the document has been opened by the recipient.

Sales pitches are also dependent on the skill of the presenter. The quality of communication varies vastly, and there is no way to ensure that a standardized message was being conveyed, beyond the printed documentation accompanying the pitch. And a pitch is only as good as the salesman.

When we looked around for a solution to address these critical problems, we found none. While there were CRMs aimed at tracking customers, there were no mechanisms which specifically targeted the process of communication itself.

That is when we decided to develop a tool inhouse, to solve such obstacles in sales communication. The result was PitchLink.

PitchLink is a platform meant for asynchronous sales communication over the internet. It is built to involve several stakeholders, and engage everyone in meaningful discussion, so that sales cycles can be shortened through early closures. It aims to organize all pertinent sales assets, and construct clear, standardized, selling propositions.

PitchLink allows the seller to create a complete narrative, using all sales collaterals. A standard pitch can then be sent out to prospects as a link. This mode of communication allows the recipient to view the pitch at convenience, where all data and large files are organized and presented in one coherent story. Without having to download anything.

The constructed sales pitch can use several elements, such as audio, video, documents and pdfs. In fact it can use any digital file format- even Powerpoint presentations. All technical specifications and data can also be presented as a part of the story, or as supporting information.

Discussions between the stakeholders can happen within the same interface, and all feedback can be followed, and acted upon.

Once a seller sends out a pitch, all engagement can be tracked. Built-in analytics let’s you see exactly who have viewed each element. This can not only give a clear view of stakeholders’ involvement, but also help to understand problem-areas which can be fine-tuned. Most importantly, it also gives an indication of who are likely to qualify as leads, or as hot, warm and cold prospects.

We feel PitchLink is an indispensable tool that surmounts most of the critical bottlenecks in B2B sales communication.