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.

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.