Dharmesh Shah


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6 Simple Selling Tips For Software Entrepreneurs

By Dharmesh Shah on August 20, 2010

The following is a guest post by David Mytton founder of Boxed Ice, which provides software for server monitoring.  Deep down inside, many software entrepreneurs really dislike selling.  This article provides some practical tips for “selling without selling”.  That is, ways to avoid having to be that stereotypical "sales guy". - Dharmesh

"Sales" is sometimes perceived with an aura of mystery. As a developer, it's something I always assumed was reserved for a "real salesperson" and even though I was selling our products, I thought it was because the customer had come to us directly. Whilst there is an aspect of "sales" that involves cold calling and making visits to prospects, I actually recently realised that many of the things I'm doing on a daily basis are all part of what might be called "sales".onstartups sales guy

What sales activities consist of will differ depending on what you're selling, who you're selling to (consumers, smaller businesses or enterprise) and how large your organisation is, but there are a few things that can be used universally and to great effect. Here are a few that I use with my own SaaS product.

1. Signup followups

Getting a customer to sign up is a major step but it's not the end of the process - you need to make sure they're actually using the product. E-mail them the next day to remind them of a few of the cool features or recommend things to try. Being smart about it helps - you can easily track whether they have logged in and performed various tasks so include those in an e-mail.

In our case, the e-mail subject is "Have you tried our iPhone app?" and the e-mail highlights the advantages of the free app, with a link to the iTunes Store, plus a reminder of the web UI URL for their account.

In the early days, I used to phone every one of my signups to see how they were doing. We don't collect the phone number as part of the signup process but many customers add it because our product allows for SMS alerts. This helped get early feedback and users were often surprised to get a call before they'd even paid anything.

2. Trial followups

All our users sign up to a 2 week trial before they have to pay. An e-mail is sent to remind them the trial is expiring 2 days before, and we e-mail them again on the day of expiry. The key thing here is to ensure the user has time to upgrade, sometimes requiring internal approval. All our trials are set to expire on a Thursday i.e. mid-week. This means expiry notifications go out on a Tuesday. This avoids being lost in the Monday e-mail overload from the weekend and avoids Fridays when people just want to go home.

And because most of our users are in Europe or the US, we time the e-mails to arrive during the afternoon/late morning rather than overnight. Users will clear out their inbox in the morning so this leaves them clear to receive our e-mails!

3. Mixing automation with real people

I think you're more likely to look at an e-mail that's from a real person than one obviously from a machine "From: David Mytton" vs "From: Boxed Ice Mailer". I mix these up so the day after signup followup comes from "me", is written in a casual style and signed off by me. It also comes from my company e-mail so replies go directly to me and because I'm asking a question about using our iPhone app, I often get replies with feedback or questions.

But our trial reminder e-mails come from the system. You'd expect these to be automated whereas an e-mail asking how things are going is more personal.

4. Making automation interesting

Our signup e-mail with the user's login details and the trial e-mails are sent by the "Boxed Ice Robot Llama". This makes it a little different from other automated systems and we've had some good feedback from users enjoying this differentiation. It all goes towards making the service a little more friendly and has been used to good effect by the guys at Moo, who use "Little Moo" as their order processor.

5. Highlighting the higher value customers

Our product is a server monitoring service so the more servers you monitor, the more you pay. We run a script to highlight users on the trial with more than 3 servers and add a task to our customer system to get in touch with them directly before their trial ends. This will be a phone call if they have provided their details, or we'll e-mail them. This comes directly from me as a real person, asks how they've been getting on, whether they're going to upgrade and includes volume
discount pricing.

I've found that some users do plan to upgrade their accounts but haven't had time to, or have a few questions first. Often these will get pushed to the end of the todo list so getting in touch directly allows you to speed up the sale. You can also be flexible with your
pricing to offer discounts if the customer agrees to a minimum number to get access to the volume discounts in anticipation of future growth, or if they're willing to pay in advance for a discount.

6. Convert With Newsletters

All our signups get subscribed to our monthly newsletter which contains not just product news but interesting links from our blog, Twitter and around the web. We've had many cases where the user has not converted from the trial immediately, but months later they come back when a feature they wanted has been implemented having found out from the newsletter.

Wrap-Up

Although this doesn't fit with the stereotype of the hard sell from the sales guy who just won't give up, these are all legitimate "sales" activities that can be done by any software startup and can easily scale as the customer base grows. We've only recently started highlighting the higher value trial users but this has already proven to be worthwhile. So let me know what you think and what's worked for you in the comments.

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The Magical Founding Team Mix For Web Startups

By Dharmesh Shah on August 16, 2010

At a startup dinner I had with a bunch of really smart software entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas during SXSW earlier this year, something really struck me.  Of the 8 founders at the dinner, half of them had a design/ui/ux background.  This got me to thinking: What would the ideal founding team at a web startup look like?OnStartups Beakers

[Note: I'm experimenting with a new feature that allows inline tweeting from the article.  Please click one of the twitter buttons in the article to try it out.  Thanks.]

Magical Web Startup Founding Team

#1. Developer.  If a web startup has only one founder, it should be a brilliant developer.  And by a developer, I mean a developer — someone who can produce, release and maintain working code.  Not a CTO or “architect”.  Not someone who thinks they can recruit developers or someone who knows someone who runs a development shop in Croatia.  An actual developer. 

#2. Designer / UI / UX person.  If the startup has two founders, the other founder should be a brilliant designer-type.  By this, I mean someone that can take a problem that humans have and come up with a software solution that humans want to use — repeatedly and delightedly.  I think great design talent has always been useful in a software company — now, it’s become crucial. 

#3. Inbound Marketer.  If the startup has three founders, the third one should be an inbound marketer.  An inbound marketer is someone who is good at pulling people in (vs. pushing a message out).  I decidedly don’t mean someone that’s good at spending a marketing budget on advertising to try and find people that are interested.  I mean someone that will create remarkable content that will attract traffic, users and customers. 

#4. Sales Person.  If there’s a fourth founder on the team (which I’m not a big fan of by the way), it might be useful to have a sales person.  And, remember, startups don’t need a VP of Sales — they need actual salesTwitter icon 24x24

The reason I put the designer above the inbound marketer is simple:  If the designer is exceptional, half the marketing battle is already won.  Ecstatic users do much of your marketing for you.  Today, a great product with good marketing usually wins over a good product with great marketing.  This makes me happy, because it is as the world should be. 

And, if you have an exceptional product and exceptional marketing, you often don’t need sales.  Of course, in certain kinds of busineses, sales is critical — but I’m talking about the ideal case here.  In my ideal world, it’s nice to not to have sell.  [Note:  No disrespect to all the great sales people that work at HubSpot — I’m sure in your ideal world, you’d love for there to be a magical machine that produced working code and there was no need to deal with quirky programmers.]

Now one thing that might trouble many of you reading this is that I don’t include a “visionary” business person in the mix.  There are a couple of reasons for this:  First, it’s near impossible to know if a vision/idea is good one until after someone does something about it.  Lots of really smart, competent people have mediocre ideas all the time.  Second, no amount of great vision is going to obviate the need to manifest it. It comes back to creating a product humans like.  Humans don’t care about other people’s visions.describe the image

Finally, it’s entirely possible (and quite desirable) to have some of these traits in a single individual.  Some of my favorite combinations are developer/designer (what I call a devigner) and developer/marketer (which I call developer/marketer because I never came up with a more clever name for it). 

So, what do you think?  Take your current startup out of the picture for a second.  If you were betting your life savings on a startup, what would you think the magical mix of founders should be?  Would you reorder my list?  Add someone?  Take someone out?

How would you define the perfect webs startup founding team?

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