When you think about trying to scale your software business and sell your product – especially in today’s world, where AI now seems to be the automatic default – you may be stressing over how to do it well.
Current logic suggests the best option is to cut out as much human interaction as possible. After all, the more humans you have working, the more expensive it is to run your company. And while advances in technology like ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools can now mimic humanity and sound more like humans and less robotic, they’re still imperfect tools. Customers know they’re not speaking to an actual human.
Here’s some food for thought:
Humans like to deal with humans. And humans like to buy from other human beings.
If you want to sell something – be it software or handbags or cars or bananas – it pays to consider that.
Steli Efti, co-founder of Close, one of the most widely-used SaaS CRM tools on the market, shared his views on how software companies – even ones with particularly lean teams (Close.io has only 9 members itself) – should make more of an effort to push sales in their organisations in his BoS USA 2015 talk, ‘How to Sell Software Using Sales’.
For a full version of this talk, including a video recording and transcript, click here.
5 Ways to Sell Software Using Sales
No matter your product or what you’re trying to peddle to your customers, being successful requires one major thing: sales.
Too often, founders forget this simple truth. They think they need to have massive marketing budgets and to cut out human exchanges with customers so they can expand more rapidly.
But Efti’s team of 8 has found the opposite to be true. In fact, the company has been successful since Day 1 thanks to the team’s relentless dedication to human-to-human sales and customer interactions.
Here are Efti’s 5 basic sales tactics to successfully sell your software:
Let’s look closer at each tactic and how to implement them into your sales process.
The phone is one of the most underrated pieces of technology of all time. You may read that and think we’re being facetious, but we mean it.
Most companies put more effort into ensuring their website chatbot can give sufficient answers to frequently asked questions than they do into actually picking up the phone and calling their existing and potential customers. And it shows.
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Chatbots are great and they certainly have their place – we’re not suggesting you scrap yours – but they also lack that human element we mentioned above. Even live chat doesn’t have the same fully-human touch that a phone call provides.
It may seem old-fashioned, but making phone calls is one of the best ways to build rapport and trust with your audience. Incorporating calls into your sales process is a recipe for major wins and building a solid fanbase.
When and Why You Should Call Your Customers
There’s more than one reason to call your customers, and all of them are important.
When new customers sign up, your system automatically sends them a number of emails – a generic welcome, a receipt, and maybe one or two others. This is no longer special; it’s the default. Your customers expect these messages from you.
What they don’t expect is to get a phone call from you welcoming them. And the best time to call them? Within 5 minutes of them making the purchase. Why? Because you’re far more likely to get them on the phone; they aren’t in a meeting or away from their desk.
This is a fantastic time to express your gratitude for their business and ask a few quick market research questions. Welcome calls are a surefire way to impress the socks off your customers.
Calling customers who have cancelled can be both intimidating and uncomfortable, but it’s another optimal time to do some market research and gain more insight into how your customers are feeling. After all, if you don’t know why your customers are cancelling their subscriptions to your software, you can’t make the improvements that really matter.
Remind your staff that customer responses are nothing personal. Every answer is valuable feedback. And calling may even enable you to win some customers back! (But don’t make this the goal of your call. No one likes dealing with a salesperson whose heart isn’t in it and is just trying to fill a quota.)
Depending on your product, making outbound sales calls can have a big impact on your customer acquisition numbers. That being said, outbound sales calls aren’t for everyone.
At the time of his talk, Efti mentioned that the team at Close.io does not regularly invest time in cold calling; all of their business comes from inbound sales. But if it makes sense for your company’s bottom line, he recommends implementing some cold calling into your sales repertoire.
How to Make Sales Calls (the Right Way)
There’s a right way (and many wrong ways) to do sales calls. Like picking up the phone itself, these may seem obvious. But too often, they get ignored.
Here are the 5 steps to making sales calls the right way.
1. You have to reach a decision-maker.
The first and most obvious rule is that you have to actually reach people. You might be thinking, ‘Well, duh! Why are we even talking about this?’
Because more often than not, according to Efti, when other software founders complain to him that sales calls don’t work, the number one problem they have is that they’re not reaching people. (Or at least the people who matter. Gatekeepers and receptionists don’t count.)
If you can’t speak to the person you’re trying to reach in the first place, your sales calls won’t amount to much.
2. You have to sound good.
Think of the last time you called your cable company or other service provider and spoke to someone on the phone who was clearly reading from a script and had absolutely no desire to be sitting in their grey cubicle talking to you.
Tone matters more than words. When we’re doing in-person meetings or Zoom calls, our body language matters more than what we say. When we’re not speaking face-to-face, how we sound matters more than the words we use. The people you call may not be able to see your smile, but they can ‘hear’ it and your sincerity.
3. Ask questions.
Every call your team makes shouldn’t be one-sided. Whether you’re calling to welcome a new customer, inquire about a cancellation, or cold call a potential customer, ask lots of questions. Make them feel like they’re the centre of your attention (because they are).
Before you launch into a 30-minute-long sales speech, you need to qualify your prospect and make sure they’re interested and listening to what you have to say. Start by putting them at ease so they know you’re not calling to take up a massive chunk of their time. Give them a chance to express interest or not, and then spend the rest of the call asking questions to find out if they’re a truly qualified lead.
By asking questions, you stand to gain helpful feedback and compile a more comprehensive list of frequently asked questions… which leads us to the next point.
4. Manage objections.
If you’re not walking into every sales call prepared to respond to objections, you’re missing something.
No matter how long you’ve been in business, there are questions and objections your team fields over and over again. Know what they are before you pick up the phone to dial and be prepared to overcome them.
5. Close the sale.
Didn’t get an affirmative answer and close the sale? Well, did you actually ask your prospect for their business at the end of your conversation?
Too many people fear coming off as pushy or overly sales-y and fail to close. Don’t expect prospects to simply self-opt in. Some need a little push. Ask them for their business!
2. Send more emails.
If you’re not investing in email marketing, you’re living in the Stone Age. We all know that.
But too many software companies fail to send consistent sales emails, not just general marketing newsletters.
Marketing emails have ‘pretty’ HTML and often come from a non-human email address like ‘contact@’, ‘support@’, or ‘noreply@’ (a poor choice, by the way) and are obvious one-to-many communications.
The Keys to Effective Sales Emails
So, what makes a sales email strategy effective? A few simple things.
First, your sales emails need to feel like a human being wrote them. Think about emails you receive from your teammates or friends. What characteristics do they share? What makes you more likely to open them?
For example, your subject headlines shouldn’t read like ads. Stick with sentence-case or lowercase letters. Again, think about what makes you click to open emails – even when you know they’re marketing or sales messages – and implement those tactics into your own sales emails.
Efti says you should aim to send more sales emails than you’re comfortable with. Segment and pay attention to the people who don’t open your emails; start reducing what those people get. But send more to the people who open and respond. They obviously like what you have to say.
Don’t be afraid to over-communicate with people who consistently open your emails, especially when they sign up for a trial of your products. It’s your responsibility to stay top-of-mind and to manage the relationship.
Marketing emails look a lot different than personal emails. They’re obvious and generally impersonal.
Efti suggests sending semi-personal emails to create a more human, realistic connection with your audience. But how do you do it?
Cut the HTML and write your emails as though you’re sending them to a family member or friend from a real person’s email address, even if it’s automated. For example, the message is being sent from Kevin or Phil@yourcompany. It’s not contact, sales, support, or some other generic email address like those mentioned above.
4. Call to Action-Oriented
Finally, focus on what action you want your email recipients to take. Give them one clear call to action – not several – and don’t send emails that have no call to action at all. Why? You’re wasting your recipients’ time.
Get to the point quickly and keep your messages brief. Efti says, ‘If your email is just one sentence, it’s harder not to read it than it is to read it. It takes more human decision-making energy for me not to read these 4 words than to read them.
‘But if you send a huge email, it’s a surefire way for me to archive it. I just go, “You don’t respect your time and my time, so this isn’t going to be a great relationship.” So make sure that the emails you write are short and to the point, and with every sentence you need to ask yourself, “If I only read this sentence, would I read on?” If the answer is no, you need to short it down.’
Goals for Your Sales Emails
Now that you know the tricks to building a successful sales email strategy, you need to know which metrics will help you measure your success.
1. High Open Rates
Want people to open your emails? Write strong, compelling subject lines. Use your email platform’s A/B test option and test, test, test until you know what kinds of subjects resonate most with your audience.
But just because you get high open rates doesn’t mean you’re winning at sales emailing. That’s just part of the experience and doesn’t give you enough data to show whether or not your tactics are actually working – whether your recipients are reading and then responding or becoming customers.
2. Consistent Readership
The next key is to write email content that delivers on the promise of the subject line. ‘Everything you say in your email is a pitch to keep on reading,’ says Efti.
Too many companies fall into the trap of writing long-winded emails that hide the most important bits at the end. ‘Don’t bury the lead, come out swinging! Every sentence needs to be answered like, “Okay, so? Why am I spending my time with this?” That’s why you want to keep it brief,’ Efti suggests.
3. Reasons to Respond
In an ideal world, every email you send would result in some kind of response from your readers. But even if you have clear, singular calls to action, you should assume most of your customers aren’t going to respond.
If you have prospects or customers on your list who aren’t engaging – either they don’t open your emails often or don’t take any kind of action, such as clicking links – consider sending them a ‘breakup email’.
Here’s how the ‘breakup email’ works: If your prospects never reply to any of your emails (after several weeks and multiple tries to reach them), you send an email that requires them to take an action. If they take no action, you tell them they’ll simply be removed from your list.
Both HubSpot and other companies have historically used ‘breakup emails’ with great success.
Why do ‘breakup emails’ work? Because these people are interested in your product and likely don’t want to be left out of the loop. They gave you permission to email them; they just might need a nudge to become more active.
4. Intentional, Indefinite Follow-Ups
Efti says this is the number one piece of advice he gives with the highest return on investment. When you have a point of communication – a call, a meeting in person, or an email exchange – with a prospect and they show interest in your proposition, then later go silent, you should follow up until you get a response.
Yes or no are both good because both give clear end-results. ‘The place where companies go to die is the “Maybe Land,” the “We Don’t Know What Happened Land,”’ he says. With a yes or a no, you get clear results and information about what to do and improve for the next time.
Efti has a few simple rules for giving great demos.
First, he says your team needs to spend more time ensuring the person you’re meeting is qualified and is a true decision maker. If they’re not, you’re wasting your time.
Second, and most importantly, demos should be short – no longer than about 15 minutes. Realise that your demo isn’t about demonstrating all your features. Instead, focus on what is most relevant and the problems your customers have and how you solve them.
Thirdly, along with that, demonstrate value rather than focusing on functions. Show the major points your customers need to see, answer questions if and when they have them, and keep moving. Demos are not product training sessions. ‘You’re not making me a black belt ninja in your software right now! That’s not the purpose of it,’ Efti says.
Finally, be prepared for errors and mistakes. Things happen – you lose your internet connection, or you click on something and get a surprise error message. Instead, prepare for the worst case scenarios. Open tabs or take screenshots of the most important views you need to share. If there’s a bug or an error in the live demo, use it as an opportunity to demonstrate how to communicate to your support team to fix it.
Visiting customers – all customers, no matter how much you earn from them – goes a long way. It likely doesn’t make sense to visit all your customers, particularly not the ones who aren’t bringing the big bucks to your bottom line. But it makes sense to visit some of them when you can.
‘There’s nothing more beautiful than walking into the office of a customer and seeing your product live in production, and seeing the pain and confusion in the faces of the people that truly have to use it – not just the people who bought it. Nothing more powerful than sitting down and building relationships. Getting contacts! [Visiting customers results in] even more contacts than the phone call. You now see the office, the energy, the people. You see the other software tools that they use,’ Steli observes.
Building a relationship face-to-face with your customers creates loyalty which generates more money, better relationships, more insights, and more champions. Even if you do it just once a quarter or once a year, Efti recommends making visiting your customers a priority.
Of course, you want to give support – that’s not news. Sometimes humans ask questions that no support bot or FAQ knowledge base can answer. It still pays to have a few humans taking calls and replying to real-time chat requests to answer some of these questions.
The hardest time to give great support is when things go badly. However, it can become an incredible opportunity for you to turn things around and generate more money.
Here’s a good example: Let’s say your app went down. It’s a mission-critical situation, and your customers can’t log in, make sales calls, send emails, or talk to their own customers. You’re getting tens and tens of calls every minute, and emails from people asking, ‘Where is the app?’
What do you do?
The best way to handle these breakdowns is to take the heat from your customers with grace. Once you’ve fixed the problem, call them back and tell them how you fixed it and what you’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again. These service calls are uncomfortable but can turn unhappy customers into loyal fans.
A Note on Selling Software to Enterprises
‘IBM does not buy software… It’s always gonna be Bob, Mary, John, Joe. In enterprises, it’s a collection of humans that are making these decisions,’ Efti tells the audience attending his talk.
‘I interviewed Gary Vaynerchuk and asked him, “How did you transition from selling wine to selling multi-million dollar contracts to Fortune 500 companies in the enterprising space?” And he was like, what’s the question? What transition? I was selling wine to Bob and Mary and now I’m selling advertising budgets to Bob and Mary. I’m just dealing with people; it doesn’t matter what I sell.”’
When you realise you’re simply dealing with people, a lot of the mystic ‘we don’t know what we’re doing’ goes away. Instead, the focus of your enterprise sales pitch and your demos should be adjusted to each individual in the meeting first, then to the group at large, and then the company.
How do you sell software? Use sales.
Efti admits that his 5 sales tactics aren’t new or difficult – it’s simply a matter of making the effort to implement them. There’s nothing special about calling people, sending emails, giving demos, visiting customers, or giving support.
Instead, investing in these actions and focusing on human interaction is what makes the difference. As humans, we possess a little bit of power to make another human being feel something. Efti’s biggest piece of advice: Don’t disregard that power when you run your business and sell your software.