The only way you are going to have success is to have lots of failures first.
— Sergey Brin, President of Alphabet Inc.
By 2021, 75% of the total cloud workloads and compute instances will be Software-as-a-Service, according to Cisco’s Global Cloud Index.
It’s clear that the future is bright for SaaS companies, but actually running one is full of trials and tribulations.
A research study conducted a couple of years ago found that if a software company grows only 20% annually, the likelihood that it will go under is huge – a staggering 92%.
It’s a fierce and competitive world out there, so the two accomplished and seasoned SaaS founders and CEOs – Kyle Racki of Proposify, and Shawn Finder of Autoklose, decided to share their success stories and talk about how they handle all the pressure and obstacles, as well as how to dodge all the punches along the way.
Behind All the Glitter and Glamour of Entrepreneurship
Lie years of hard work and dedication.
When people hear the word “entrepreneur” they picture the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, whose every business venture seems to turn into gold.
But before they founded their juggernauts, became influencers, and started speaking at conferences, they also had their fair share of blows.
For example, Amazon, which was founded in 1997, didn’t have a profitable quarter until 2001, while its first profitable year was 2003. And the rest is history.
Tesla is an even more extreme example. The innovative car manufacturer became profitable only in the 3rd quarter of 2018, or in other words eight years after its IPO.
But, there’s one thing about the growth that Shawn Finder and Kyle Racki agreed on – it can be challenging.
For example, as the number of your customers grow, you need to think about hiring additional customer support reps to meet the increasing demand.
The balance is the key – growing too quickly could hurt your business.
Here are a couple of growing pains that many entrepreneurs encounter during their first couple of months and even years, and that can be fatal if not handled properly.
- Cash flow management. Poor cash flow management is the No. 1 enemy of small businesses and startups. 82% of them fail due to mismanaging their cash flow. While it’s true that you need to spend money in order to make money, it’s important to be smart about it and know your inflows and outflows. Financial literacy is one of the crucial skills of every successful entrepreneur.
- Nurturing a great company culture. Knowing your employees and cherry-picking the right people for the job is much easier until your business takes off. After that, it’s much more complicated to keep in touch with everybody, stay on the same page with your employees, and understand what makes them tick. That’s why you need to insist on your company’s values and let them be your guidelines when it comes to expanding your team. At one point, micromanaging will become a big issue, which is why you need to trust your team to make the right decisions, and you can help them (and yourself) by being a leader and encouraging their professional growth. Kyle Racki’s take on the topic is that in the beginning, entrepreneurs worry about the product-market fit and having to wear different hats, and as their businesses grow, it all boils down to communication and people skills.
- Market unpredictability. It’s hard to predict what the future brings, but you need to have something to cling on to. And since you don’t know what changes might occur within the next couple of years, it’s essential to focus on the constants, and things you know are stable. This is actually a data-driven approach, as, for example, you know that onboarding and great customer support are crucial for improving your conversions and reducing churn. So, double down on your efforts and improve these things that work for your business. This a simple but brilliant piece of advice provided by Jeff Bezos.
As a matter of fact, Kyle Racki wrote a book on the topic called “Free Trials and Tribulations” and he shares the valuable lessons he learned while building his Proposify business.
How to Making All the Pieces of the Process Fall Together Seamlessly?
Starting your own business is messy, that’s for sure.
At first, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades – you’re trying to find customers, answering phones, writing emails, giving demos, closing, and doing pretty much every odd job at your company.
Saying that this is hectic would be an understatement as it prevents you from focusing on really important things which help your company grow.
One thing that can ease the burden of an increased workload is automation!
Different tools can help you automate your work process and make things much easier for you and your team.
That’s the main idea behind creating Autoklose.
You don’t have to spend hours trying to follow up with your prospects – Autoklose automates it completely. Apart from contact management, campaign management, team management, time-saving tools, and email tracking, Autoklose boasts a feature which sets it apart from similar SaaS products – access to a 24-million database filled with squeaky clean and thoroughly scrubbed B2B leads.
Proposify, on the other hand, allows you to automate your business proposals – the whole process of creating them, getting them signed and closed, as well as tracked is placed within your reach. To make your job even easier, Proposify integrates with a number of different apps and streamlines your whole business process.
We at Autoklose swear by Calendly, and we use it on a daily basis to let our prospects book their appointments with us on their own.
This useful tool removes one of the most common business obstacles – deciding on the date and time of a meeting and scheduling conflicts, and allows you to automate the whole booking process.
Instead of sending emails and messages back and forth to establish when the best time is to have that important business talk, simply use Calendly, and your prospects will find the time slot that suits them and reserve it without having to wait for you to tell them whether you’re available or not.
Buffer is an equally effective tool which helps us schedule and automate our social media posts. It can be difficult to manage all the social media channels and engage your audience, and that’s where this tool comes in handy.
So, automation makes all the pieces of the process fall together smoothly.
How to Get Your First 10 Customers to Sign Up?
This is a million dollar question that baffles many fresh entrepreneurs.
However, it should be mentioned that tactics significantly differ based on whether your product is in an established category of products, where it should find a way to differentiate itself from similar products, or it offers something that doesn’t currently exist on the market.
If you’re trying to find your place in a crowded and saturated market, it’s important to overcome the problems that the existing products have and focus on that while promoting it.
However, if you’re starting a brand new product category, you don’t know what the issues and obstacles might appear, so you simply try to develop something that will be useful and grow it through customer development.
As Proposify fell under the latter category back in its early days, so they created a landing page, ran ads and campaigns which targeted people who searched for the topics like proposal software, proposal templates, and how to write proposals.
The landing page served to showcase the product features and capture the prospects’ contact information.
As the company developed the product, they reached out to the prospects to inform them about that.
In time, they tweaked the product based on the customers’ feedback. This consistent outreach is what landed them their first 10 customers.
Autoklose used two ways of getting the first ten customers to sign up.
Shawn Finder credits David Cancel, CEO of Drift, with giving him the idea of how to attracting the first couple of prospects and closing them.
A thing David said at a sales event in Toronto was something along the lines…
Get your first customers at any price.
— David Cancel, CEO, Drift
<< Get a free copy of Drift’s latest book here. We absolutely loved it! >>
This interesting tip goes against the common practice and the principle of reciprocity, according to which people will be more likely to buy from you if you give them something for free.
Instead of that, have them invest something, be it a dollar or five.
So, Shawn put this advice to use and asked the early prospects “How much would you be willing to pay for Autoklose?” and he accepted any offer they gave.
This was also important for feeling the pulse of the audience regarding the pricing.
Another tactic the Autoklose used was creating a landing page 8 months before the launch of the product.
That way we managed to capture the attention of our target audience and build the excitement and buzz around our sales automation platform.
We also made our prospects feel as if they were the part of the process – every time we completed a certain portion of the software, we would send them a newsletter and tell them more about it.
The result of this approach?
We had 92 demos booked during our first week.
How to Maintain a Consistent Pipeline?
A properly managed and consistent pipeline is essential for the growth of your business.
First of all, always clean your pipeline and get rid of the stale prospects.
It’s true that this will decimate your pipeline, but at least you won’t waste your time on prospects that have no intention of purchasing.
A break-up email sent to those who are somewhere in the conversion limbo is a good way to move things and see where you stand.
This way, you’ll be able to focus on deals that are most likely to be closed in the foreseeable future and bring you some hard cash.
Another effective method of streamlining your pipeline is with the help of follow-ups. We’ve been talking about this crucial sales tactic a lot in our blog posts, and yet it seems that many salespeople underestimate the power of keeping in touch with their prospects.
That’s why our email sequence templates available on the Autoklose platform are particularly effective when it comes to increasing your conversion rate.
They’re composed as a thread, and you can customize and personalize them for the best results.
You don’t have to come up with the content or subject lines (and that’s something that many marketers and salespeople struggle with) as every sequence is ready to use.
However, many companies actually don’t have a pipeline, so Kyle Racki implied that in that case, it’s important to streamline your sales process.
In his opinion, what you should do is monitor your funnel and make sure that it’s always full to the brim.
If you know your funnel, and if you classify and qualify your leads, it will be much easier and more feasible to predict your conversion rate.
What’s the Best Tip for Succeeding in Your Industry?
Without any doubt, the thing that makes the biggest difference is building your personal brand.
People are more willing to do business with you if you’re an established authority in your niche.
These days, reputation is everything in sales.
Being a household name in your industry instills credibility and trust in your prospects.
As you can see, we’ve mentioned a couple of influencers and shared their tips on success in this blog post.
So, one of the best ways to learn how to make it in your industry is by following thought leaders and influencers from your line of business.
And by following, we mean both online and offline.
Subscribe to all their social media channels and start interacting with their content, but make sure that it’s not just for the sake of it – lengthy, to-the-point comments and observations will soon get you on their radar.
Build rapport and reach out to them, as they can help you with some valuable tips, and who knows what doors this relationship might open to you.
Also, business events, conferences, and all kinds of meetups are an excellent opportunity to meet some hotshots in person.
Don’t hesitate to approach them and ask them for their expert opinion about your business. You’d be surprised how down to earth and helpful these famous and accomplished people are.
This is the first part of our extensive blog post created after a webinar co-hosted by Shawn Finder, CEO of Autoklose, and Kyle Racki, CEO of Proposify.
Tune in to our blog next week for the second part and lots of other useful tips on succeeding in the world of SaaS:
Shawn Finder says
Love this! Thanks for contributing…