Steli Efti is the CEO and co-founder of Close.io, a sales software that has communication at its core. Over the years, Steli has become Silicon Valley’s most prominent sales hustler, growing a 7 figure business with a team of just 6. He shared with us one of his great sales hacks:
Be picky – like you’re on a date
Don’t wait for your prospects to become customers
Customer success is now a key part of any SaaS startup’s strategy. Indeed, the very model of a Software-as-a-Service business includes a constant renewal process.
Thus, SaaS startups must prove outstanding value overtime and keep driving their customers towards success using their software.
“To achieve their true potential, SaaS startups must master Customer Success and help customers understand how to master these new tools.”
– Tom Tunguz, Why Customer Success? Why Now?
However, customer success starts even before a lead closes. It starts the minute a potential customer contacts you or signs up for a free trial.
Use your free trial to select the right customers for you
According to Steli, “customer success means caring about making your customers successful. It starts with you selling to people you think you can make successful instead of selling to everybody.”
Free trials are supposed to help your potential customers try your product out and decide whether they like it or not, right? Well, at Close.io, it’s just the opposite. The sales team filters and selects the customers they want to have. Just like you would assess someone during a date.
Their go/no-go criteria: are we a good fit for this customer? And are they a good fit for us?
“At Close.io, our sales team gets a fair amount of inbound leads and free trials signups, coming mostly from referrals and inbound marketing. Once somebody makes that first step towards us, we make it our responsibility to make sure that only people and companies that can get an insane amount of value out of Close.io become our customers.”
By selecting the customers they can actually drive to success, Close.io’s sales team can keep a clean funnel and spend more time with real prospects to help them get value out of the software as quickly as possible. And for bad fits, they save everyone’s time and point them in the right direction.
But how do they sort and select their customers? By calling each and every one of them.
Do things that don’t scale: call all your free trials within 5 minutes of signup (and do it even when you scale up)
Most startups handle free trial communications by email: they send you a welcome email when you sign up, a few follow-up ones to share some tips and tutorials, and a few more at the end of your trial to try and convert you into a paying customer.
Obviously sending emails is very scalable and easy to handle, but that’s no the choice Steli made. Indeed, talking to your users over the phone lets you get more in-depth information. You can follow up on a question and dig deeper, in order to have a clear understanding of what he or she is trying to do with your software – what Lincoln Murphy calls the user’s desired outcome.
Besides, phone calls have a much higher response rate than emails: at Aircall, the last survey we ran got a 5% reply rate by email, compared to 75% when we tried calling directly our customers.
So you call your free trials. But you don’t call them just any time during the trial. Steli recommends calling every new user within 5 minutes of signup.
“We call every trial signups within 5 minutes of the signup (if it happens during reasonable hours), to welcome them and ask if they have questions. You may find it crazy because a new signup won’t have any question just 5 minutes after signing up. But actually, it is an incredible sales and customer success technique.”
Obviously, calling ALL your ‘free trials’ can be pretty time-consuming, especially if a fair percentage of them ends up being a bad fit for your product and churn during the trial.
How to make the most of your time? Prioritize your calls and focus on your most interesting leads. Even better, calling your prospects is the best way to audit your lead acquisition strategy in order to better target them.
Here is a typical conversation with a new user:
“Hi Claire, I’m Steli from Close.io. I saw you just signed up 3 minutes ago for a free trial of Close.io. I wanted to personally reach out to say welcome, and see if there is any question you have, or anything I can do to make sure your trial is going to be a success.
– Claire: Oh, thanks for the call, but I just signed up so I don’t have any question.
– Steli: That’s totally fine. May I ask how you found out about us?
– Claire: I got referred by XYZ / I read your article on sales / I watch your webinar / …
– Steli: And why did you decide to sign up? What are your trying to get out of it?
“Usually at this point, the customer tells us all sorts of things about his company and what they’re trying to achieve. And he starts asking questions like ‘how do you do this and that’ and ‘how do you compare to your competition’, etc.”
“This first call helps us build a relationship and show that we care. Our #1 goal in that first conversation is NOT to sell anything, it’s NOT to push them to our solution nor to ask them for their credit card. Our #1 goal is to qualify them and answer the question ‘Can we help you? Are we the right solution for what you’re trying to accomplish?’.
Steli of Close.io’s double-sided qualification process
At Close.io, the main mission of a salesperson is to assess the ‘customer-product fit’.
“90% of our sales training is about learning how to qualify a customer. Our two steps are: the selfless qualification and the selfish qualification.”
The selfless qualification: ‘can we help you?’
Start by defining a highly targeted ideal customer profile, and make is super narrow. Too narrow is good, if you only find 4 businesses on the planet, it’s easy to identify them and to go get them. Then you can start expanding your target list, little by little.
“Too many companies fail because they want to serve all customers, and they end up serving no one.”
Once you know your ideal customer profile, you can ask the question: ‘Is this my ideal customer?’.
“In our case, we would ask questions like:
- How do you do sales?
- Do you do a lot of calls and emails?
- Do you do inbound and/or outbound sales?
- How big is the team?
- Which tools are you currently using?
- What goals are you trying to accomplish?”
“We keep asking questions until we reach a point where we are honestly convinced that yes, we can help them, we are the right – and the best – solution for them. Then we move on to the selfish qualification.”
The selfish qualification: ‘can you help us?’
“In the selfish qualification, we try to assess the potential value this particular user can bring us. It goes like this:
- What’s your budget?
- What’s your timeline to make a decision?
- Are you the decision-maker?
- What’s the decision-making process?
- Once you’re a customer, are you going to make referrals?”
“Once the answer to those 2 questions is ‘yes’, then and only then do we pitch anything. The cool thing is, if you do this first part right, pitching is really easy because you’ve already earned a high level of credibility. Much higher than if you had just after 10 seconds saying “our solution is the right fit for you”.
Here you go, that’s all it takes to make your free trial successful.
After that, you still want to nurture your customers and make sure they’re happy with your product. I’ll share one last powerful tip that Steli implemented at Close.io.
Do things that don’t scale #2: Visit your customers in person
Visiting customers in person is an incredibly valuable tool to:
- truly understanding who your customers are
- understanding their needs
- seeing your product in action
- understanding how your product plays a role in the broader context of their company
- identifying what people are struggling with
- building a better product/company
- building relationships
Yes, that’s time-consuming. But you’ll never get such qualitative, context-rich information if you only rely on analytics.
Many great startups benefited from conducting customer and user visits. Not just Close.io, but also large startups like Airbnb, Pinterest, and others. Jason Lemkin even mentioned that he never lost a single client that he personally visited.
You heard Steli, get out of the office already and visit your customers!
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