Not Selling Responsibly

People are selling, selling and selling all day. Cold calls, emails, sms, WhatsApp, banner ads etc. It just never ends.

It interrupts.

Interruptions created by these selling tactics is distasteful. When you push, push and push your marketing message to me, I move further and further away.

Instead, imagine the flip side. Actively looking for something and coming across one of these products. I am a ready buyer. It is easy to close me. But, this take work and not everyone is proactive about spreading their message. Push marketing is easy. It is for the lazy.

Protect your attention. It is the most sought after commodity today.

My Weather Email to Brightpod Customers: Lessons in Life + 40% Open Rate

Last week, as I was sipping my morning coffee and going through the news I read about the freezing cold in North America due to the polar vortex. Some of the images shown in the news were just appalling. I was instantly taken back to the movie I had watched thinking I hope this does not come true — The Day After Tomorrow. Soon after, I kept my laptop aside, walked up to my daughters room and just watched the calm sea makes its way to the shore. I took a moment to be thankful for everything.

Walking back to the living room I thought about the people who were experiencing freezing temperatures. I decided to write to all the Brightpod customers in North America. I just wanted to know how they were doing. I had been in touch with some of them and some of them I didn’t know yet.

I logged onto our CRM system, Intercom, filtered all people in North America and composed a simple plain text email:

Subject: Brightpod — Heard about the weather…

Hi _,

I have been hearing about the freezing weather conditions in North America. I hope you and your family are safe.

All the best for 2014.

Regards,

Sahil

My goal was just to ask if everything was ok. This was not the time for marketing & sales. Although, two thoughts did cross my mind.

  • I did wonder if other web businesses would get in touch with their customers.
  • I would have liked an email from someone checking on me and my family.

It was late evening in Mumbai and morning in the U.S. Within a minute replies started pouring in…

“So kind of you to think about us. Yes, it has been so very, very cold. Yesterday morning was 1 degree Fahrenheit in Tennessee. It just seems so crazy. I hope you are well, happy new year to you. All the best in 2014 as well.”

“Very kind of you to email. We are making it through ok. I hope you have a great 2014 as well!”

“Thank you for your concern and best wishes! Luckily we were prepared and all is well! Hope the same is for you and your family.”

“Thanks for thinking of us. It has been quite cold, but we are safe and sound. Take care!”

“Thank you for taking the time to check in. We are well and staying warm. Our biggest challenge was ruptured water lines in our home, but pales in comparison to those without a warm place to take shelter.“

This email got an open rate of 40%, which is on the higher side according to Mailchimp’s benchmark.

This, from the heart move felt just so fresh compared to all the other activities I do on a daily basis. I learnt three important business & life lessons here that I am going to put to more use.

  1. Show concern for others.
  2. Reach out whenever you can.
  3. Be authentic and be yourself.

The reciprocation you will receive will be like analytics that you don’t need to measure cause you have already felt it.

Stay warm.

Biz thoughts: Think today, not tomorrow.

It is exciting to think about the future of your business but that should not be at the cost of missing out on the present.

Knowing how last weeks traffic came to your site is more important than bringing another 10,000 visitors to your site.

Learning about your current conversion rate of 8% is more important than your goal of converting 15% of the visitors to your trial signups.

Knowing which features customers use today instead of building new ones is paramount.

Your current 5 customers will tell you a lot about your business than the 100 customer your team wants to close in the coming months.

Think today. Think small. See what’s happening in your business right now. Patterns are easy to analyze with a very small data set. There will be a ton of insights you will get by just studying today’s data. This is the gold that you need to mine. Not tomorrow’s traffic, customers or conversions. Those are just goals that we obsess about at the cost of not knowing the present.

Sometimes you need to put your telescope aside and pick up the shovel to uncover hidden gems.

Good luck!

8 things I learnt after launching my SaaS app, Brightpod

Brightpod was launched on April 16th. We did what we could — wrote about it, spread it on social networks and connected with bloggers. It has been around 2 months now and I wanted to sum up some stuff that I have learnt.

1. People in beta didn’t upgrade. It was folks whom came to our site organically are the ones most likely to upgrade. Don’t expect friends to upgrade. They just want to know what you are up to.

2. Automating analytics can save you a ton of time that otherwise would have gone in creating excel dashboards etc. We use Google Analytics, KISSMetrics and Intercom. They work wonders. This powers our marketing and product management plans.

3. Blogging helps. If you believe in something you need to write about it and align with people who think the same way. In the last few months we have built up our blog to have 58 articles. 20% of the traffic to the blog is now organic (almost all from Google searches). Around 8% of blog readers convert to a trial signup. The key is to have well written and researched posts that help people. No fluff. We consistently write 2 articles per week.

4. Going niche (collaboration for marketing teams) was a good decision and I still stick by it. I met skeptics along the way but I still believe that the future of SaaS apps is going niche. General-purpose apps have been built and there are plenty to choose from. Going niche is where you need to really think about how your app affects your chosen target audience. Today, 80% of our customers are marketing and creative agencies that use Brightpod with their clients on a daily basis.

5. Did someone say that software is eating the world? I think that should be changed to “free is eating the world”. Free apps and services are hard to compete with.

6. Customers want features. In reality, 37Signal’s “less is more” doesn’t hold true. Less is always less. More is great. Customers want more features for the same price or for free.

7. Low touch worked a few years back when there were fewer apps and online services. Today, the Internet is flooded with dozens of apps for every category. It is impossible to just compete on features, simplicity and a marketing website. Automatic inbound is great but still not enough. Customers want service. They want to know that there is a team out there who is taking care of them and who is also helping them grow their business.

8. Ultimately, it all boils down to value. Your app could be wonderfully designed, fast, speedy, clean and with cool real-time sh** built into it. But, if the customer does not see value for their business (growth, saved time etc.) then no matter what you do they are not going to be paying for it. Focus on delivering value through all these channels and nothing else.

Thanks for reading. If you have suggestions/comments please let me know below. Have a great week.

Doing things in context

I can spend a whole day just reading articles, blog posts and answers on Quora. There are so many topics to read about. I often catch myself bouncing between different topics and I keep telling myself that this is just so not productive. At the end of my reading sprint I just don’t know what I read about. It is like eating a buffet and trying to cramp every thing on your dish. You did consume the food but you feel like shit.

However, I recently have starting reading and doing things in context of my current project(s). For example, during the Brightpod launch I would filter out all information that were NOT related to:

  • how a launch should be done
  • successful and failed product launches
  • what to expect from a launch
  • how to get in touch with bloggers
  • getting things ready for the launch
  • should you send a press release?

etc.

Since we have launched my current project is to work with my marketing manager to bring in relevant traffic and manage the conversion funnel. For this I would filter out all information that is NOT related to:

  • Online marketing channels
  • b2b SaaS conversion metrics
  • How to increase traffic and growth
  • Building the right landing page

etc.

Get the point? Working in context helps me focus. I have also found that I easily digest a piece of content that is in context with what I am doing — maybe, because I am thinking about it and my mind is already on a similar wavelength.

Before Social Media

The other day I was having a conversation with a gentlemen at a nearby coffee shop and it led to him asking me as to how companies marketed their services/product before ‘social media’ kicked in. Was it harder or longer to get the message across?

I told him of a company I know that started at my university in 2002, has just 1 web product and now is a plus $20 million company. I know that they did heavy online marketing back in the days. This was before Facebook, Twitter etc.

<baby woke up so took her for a stroll>

I pondered his question for a bit and then realized that things hadn’t changed. Online marketing was still the same — SEO, SEM, Banner Advertising, Email Marketing, Directory Listing, Blogging and Affiliate Marketing. The goal is still to drive maximum traffic to the site. Content is still king. You still need to work on creating remarkable content and deliver it through these channels. What has changed is the transportation of content — social media is a 2-way transport channel/ medium where conversations happen (as more and more people are flocking online) — think of it as a big party hall where people are talking to each other but its all digital. It doesn’t replace the other channels — it complements them and takes your message to more people.

Your content is still the more important piece of the puzzle.

Any thoughts?

Starting a web product company from India?

Update March 4, 2011: This post was featured in Pluggd.in — one of the top blogs on technology and startups in India.

I recently (see my slides below) gave a talk at iWeekend Mumbai (IIT Campus) on the 10 things one should look out for when building a product company. While going through my notes I realized I had some additional stuff that I had jotted down. So, here is all of my brain-dump (including the stuff on the slides)…

* Keep scalability and cost efficiency in mind. Products are highly scalable but also expensive and time consuming to build and market.

* Most programmers you will meet will be veterans of the service industry. Watch out. Hiring for a product company needs a shift in thinking. In addition, I always believe in hiring for attitude.

* Try to keep a slim team initially. Get ready to wear multiple hats — development, design, marketing and support.

* Do not use offline strategies to build an online business. Marketing offline will increase the cost of customer acquisition. Selling SaaS to Indian companies will include multiple demos, presentations and negotiations. You need to evaluate if that is worth the cost of the product that you are selling. Instead focus on online marketing strategies — SEO, blogs, email marketing, social media, forums, q&a sites etc.

* Startups are hungry for attention and reviews. People know that and take advantage of this. Avoid startup events that will ask you to pay money to participate and lure you to meeting tens of VC’s. That is BS. Instead use that money for product development or customer acquisition.

* Build your initial user base quickly. Give free accounts and see how people use your product. Get early feedback and iterate.

* Focus on the minimal viable product that does a couple of things well. Don’t let featuritis get to you.

* Charge early and try to break-even or get profitable. There is lot to learn when people won’t pay for your product.

* Get quotes, testimonials and case studies from initial paying customers. This early credibility will go a long way to get others interested in your product and might just increase the conversion rate on your website. People like to know that others have liked your site and are using it.

* Build an affiliate program. Instead of one to one, think one to many. Most brick and mortar companies have gotten big by leveraging ‘partners’ or ‘resellers’. The same applies to an online business.

* Get noticed early. Get reviewed in blogs. This is one of the best ways to spread the word.

* Create a clean and slick website. Back when I was in the web design business there was a stat which said that people take 1/20th of a second to make a decision about the site they are on. Make sure the initial user experience is a good one.

* In the iPhone/iPad era an ugly looking/feeling app is not going to cut it. Make sure your user interface is crisp. People will like your product if it feels good. This includes the speed of your app and site.

* Customers buy your vision and not what you are selling. There are tons of others who are selling the same thing as you. What you need to do is to fix your vision and truly understand why you are in business.

* Measure metrics and understand analytics. Everything on the web is measurable. Do this weekly. Create various spreadsheets to track traffic, engagement, visitor to trial, trial to paid, churn, traffic sources etc.

* Paid online marketing is expensive. Instead, spread the word via social media. It is much more personal and effective.

* Have someone with above average English writing skills. You will need an online community manager, customer service rep and someone who can maintain your website and blog. Broken English doesn’t cut it anymore.

* Lastly, don’t get too caught up in code. Remember, you are building a business, not just a product.