Just enough sales: tactics for closing when a free trial period is not enough

by Michael Bernstein on February 10, 2017

For B2B SaaS companies who are post-launch and pre-well-established market fit, there are a lot of open questions surrounding how sales should work.

  • Is 100% inbound always going to suffice?

  • If not, do I need to hire someone to help with sales? When? What position(s) should I hire for?

  • Is a free trial period enough to keep sales going?

Unless you have hundreds of signups per week and can’t possibly handle the volume yourself (and even then, I’m pretty sure I could help you handle the volume yourself), I think for most B2B companies, particularly in the developer space, it’s completely okay to hold off for a long time before you hire anyone to help you with sales.

As the founder or early employee of a startup, you should be prepared to sell. You should close your first big deals yourself, and many, many small deals as well. You should get rejected. You should use those rejections to anticipate future rejections, and have good answers prepared. You should be the one who is out on the street refining the company pitch. You should be the one who knows, in your gut, what people actually buy when they buy your product.

So you’ve got a free trial set up, you don’t have anyone around to help you with sales yet, you want to do it all on your own, but you’re not sure where to start? This one’s for you.

Five things that work

Here are five techniques that you can use to help close deals with your trial customers who aren’t making it all the way through the funnel on their own. I know they work because I’ve tried them. A lot.

  • Quantify user behavior

  • Always send followup emails

  • Do your research

  • Be ready to pick up the phone

  • Learn from every interaction

Quantify User Behavior

It’s very important when you’re going to interact with a potential customer that you know what they have and have not done inside your app. I recommend thinking of a way to collect this data and quantify it. Spend some time weighing certain actions against each other — which are the most important actions that a user takes before they sign up?

This is related to knowing your qualifying step very well, and keeping it in mind when building your company in the early days. Knowing those crucial steps that customers tend to take before they buy means that you’ll be able to direct people there in a very focused way.

Always send followup emails

Followup emails. Plural. More than one. You’re emailing busy people. Followup at least three times if you give a shit, and really, don’t worry about it. You’re emailing in a business context — don’t take it personally. If you email someone, bump the thread a few times, acknowledge their busyness, and eventually move on.

I like to make it very easy for people I’m working with in a sales context to meet with me. One way I do that is by always naming concrete times and dates that I’m available to connect for a phone call or video chat. Instead of “hey let’s chat next week,” try “can we chat next Tuesday at 12:30PM Eastern? I’m also available at 2:30PM on Thursday. Let me know!”

Do your research

Before you try and engage with a trial customer to get them to buy, do some research about who they are and the company that they work for. Even if it’s for a small deal, take a few minutes and learn their position, their company’s domain, where they are in the world, etc. Ask them something about where they live, a product that their company makes. You should be interested in who your customers are because that will make it easier for you to make a product that serves them properly. Doing a small amount of work up front pays off.

Be ready to pick up the phone

There are going to be deals that you want to close badly enough with people who suck badly enough at email that you’re going to end up having to pick up the phone. Sometimes, you’re going to have to leave a message. Sometimes even a couple messages.

There are also going to be people for whom getting on a quick call establishes enough trust that they feel better about making a deal with you — remember, it’s a commitment for everyone involved. Offering potential customers the opportunity for a phone or video chat is not the same as demanding it, and it can have a great impact if it lands with the right type of individual.

Learn from every interaction

One of the reasons that I recommend using some type of light CRM for early stage B2B SaaS companies is that you can use them to aggregate notes about customer interactions over a period of time. Make a note about context or something you came across about a potential or existing customer in your CRM, and you have access to it any time you look them up for any reason.

When you’re talking to customers on calls, take a lot of notes, and paste those in your CRM as well. Make sure to go back through the notes, and reflect on how things went — what pitches worked? Which fell flat?

When you have a strong objection, note it. Be ready to anticipate it in future customers — strong objections don’t tend to hang out alone. They usually have friends out there somewhere.

Just enough sales

I’ll be writing more about how to implement some of these techniques in future posts. Which techniques would you like to hear more about? What have you tried? What has worked for you?

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