Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fighting the Five Core Product Problems ft. Des Traynor

Rarely do I hear a podcast that gives me pause long enough to force multiple listens.  This week’s feature of Des Traynor did just that.  It’s a must listen for anyone building a product.  He’ll walk you from discovery through scaling with insightful lessons even grizzled vets can make use of:


Here are some classic product problems Des tackles:

1 - Founder Focus


  • Customer focused – use customer conversations to drive decisions
  • Pattern focused – use metrics to drive decisions
  • Visionary – have a strong belief about the way the world should work and execute on that
  • Artistic – execute for personal engagement with little regard to external perception
  • Pick one and stick with it.

2 - Scope
Swiss Army knife vs scalpel.  Be the scalpel.  Your early product should be easy.

  • easy to understand
  • easy to test
  • easy to compare

It should not do a bunch of things marginally well.

3 - Creep

Every feature should help more people or help people do more. 
i.e. Each of your features needs to engage a larger audience or more deeply engage your existing audience.  Celebrate usage - not launches.  Focus on the core – launch features that help everyone – not a small segment (leads to consulting work).

Features are much harder to remove than launch.  So, if you make a bad choice that feature will likely rot quietly in your product degrading the overall experience.

Apply these tests to all new features:
-Does this fit your company’s vision?
-Does the reward significantly outweigh the cost of adoption for a user?
-Will this grow your business (higher satisfaction, more users, more frequent usage)?
-Will it matter in 5 years?
-Can we support this feature if its successful?

Beware of features that drive engagement but destroy values.  e.g. the LinkedIn/FB friend suggesters  Now that everyone adds everyone else on those social networks users no longer have a list of their deep connections.

4 - Purpose
Understand jobs to be done. e.g. Analytics dashboards are often built to be presented.  So, portability/aesthetics are more important than precision/detail.

Continue to innovate on your job not on a technology platform

5 - The New Magic (aka core trends)
What was once amazing innovation is now table stakes.  These three things are must haves for products coming of age today:

  1. Do one thing – apps that can be operated with one click (Uber/Instacart).  
  2. Data is there – by connecting to FB/LinkedIn etc.  You can get all the data you need.  Be very careful when asking users for data that you couldn’t get it elsewhere.
  3. Recommendation – systems are smart enough to deliver the information to you (ie in a daily email) rather than forcing you to go find it.  Workstreams can be made increasingly more passive with daily digests and activity streams.

Monday, May 5, 2014

How to Close Deals while Having Fun at Your Next Conference (ft. Casey Kerr)

Conferences are both the most valuable and challenging environment to make new connections.  While there are people everywhere a deft hand is required to effectively identify high potential prospects, make contact, and get the follow up meeting.  I've personally always struggled with this art, so for this post we're tapping in my good friend @caseydkerr - a prospecting guru - to show us the ropes. 

The Challenge

Imagine being by yourself. You enter a room full of tables of people you don’t know. These people are there to listen to someone else, not you. In fact, some of these people don’t want to be bothered. And you’re bothering them.

Welcome to how most people feel when attending a conference! As a sales rep or business owner, your goal is to get past any awkward feelings and find the folks there who want to buy what you’re selling, invest, or partner with your business. A friend of mine who I really admire approached me recently and asked me for guidance on how to have an effective strategy at a conference.

Having hit the conference circuit for over a year and building/training a sales development team, here are my ideas about making the most of your next conference:

Prepare for success:

  1. Exercise is great before a conference. Work out, listen to music, or go for a run. Your energy will affect others.
  2. Grab breakfast or coffee. Clear your mind. Focus. Try deep breaths, yoga, prayer, or whatever works for you.
  3. Message speakers or attendees beforehand to arrange meetings. LinkedIn is best.Be happy! Call a relative or a friend to catch up. Laugh hysterically. Feel loved. You’re about to have hundreds of conversations with strangers, so have fun!

Set goals:

  1. Your main objective should be to book meetings. Each day should a minimum quota of 3 qualified meetings with decision maker(s).
  2. Do 10% - 30% of the talking. Ask questions & learn about this person. Leverage what is said to book a meeting.
  3. Ideally, your goal is to get your prospect to take out his or her phone or laptop & create the calendar event.
  4. Set silly small goals along the way. Give 3 people a high-five. Talk to someone in line. Make 5 people laugh. Talk to 10 people in 10 minutes.  The sillier you make it, the more fun you’ll have.

Approach people:

  1. Pay a compliment & immediately ask a question. My favorite opening line is “This looks like a fun group!” followed by a question like: “where are you guys from?” or “what brought you to the conference?”
  2. Be topical. If the speaker just spoke about a particular business strategy or piece of software, ask their thoughts. If you’re at the breakfast table, ask if they usually eat pineapple for breakfast.
  3. Ask questions to qualify your prospect. For example, if you’re selling Marketo, you may ask:
    • “Do you use marketing automation currently?” [project]
    •  “What are you guys thinking of spending? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands?” [budget]
    • “Who’s typically involved in these decisions? Who signs? [decision maker]
    • “When are you thinking about buying? Tomorrow? Next month? Next year?” [time frame]
  4. Be aggressive at getting contact info! Ask for cell phone numbers. If you have a gimmick, getting a cell number is easy (see #4).
  5. Ask for the meeting! “What is the best time on Tuesday 7th, how about 10am?” or “what time works best to get Susie and Bill together next week?”
  6. Most importantly, remember to ask questions and nail down a date and time on their calendar for a meeting.

Have a gimmick:

  1. Plan an after hours party, an iPad giveaway, a helicopter tour, etc. Anything that allows you to approach someone you don’t know and ask: “Have you heard about our after hours party happening at the Yard House across the street at 6pm?”
  2. For an event, promise amazing attendees. Get (or beg) someone important to attend. Go around telling anyone and everyone that the “VP of Marketing at Facebook” or whoever is coming.
  3. Have something memorable to hand out. My favorite example is a girl that handed out blinking plastic rings at an Employee Engagement Conference and said, “let’s get engaged.” Giving a gift no matter how small induces reciprocation.


  1. Send really nice, heartfelt confirming emails to everyone who scheduled a meeting. Send a reminder email 1 day prior to the meeting.
  2. For others: call, email, call, email, call, email, make more calls, send more emails, and so on. Be friendly and remind them of the conversation you shared. 
The most common mistake is talking to vendors or folks at the booths. It’s an easy conversation, but it’s a waste of your time. Find your prospects listening to the speakers, standing in line, in the lobby, eating lunch, or wandering the halls. The busier and more unapproachable the person seems, the more likely he or she is to be of importance.

In summary, have fun, ask questions, have high-energy, talk to everyone there, and book meetings on the spot. If all else fails, imagine that these people have bags of cash waiting for you to talk to them. After all, that’s kinda true. :)

About Casey

Casey’s efforts helped grow Findly.com over 900% and revolutionize social/mobile recruiting technology. Starting as first salesperson, Casey personally closed over $1.5 M in Enterprise sales while managing 3 teams, including inside sales, lead generation, sale operations (10+ members).

Casey loves Bay Area tech companies and playing ping-pong, racquetball, and tennis. Casey currently leads sales efforts at Vessel.io, a Sequoia-backed mobile app tech company that helps mCommerce and social apps with monetization and optimization.

Follow him @caseydkerr or visit his LinkedIn profile.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

VC Advice on How to Build a Pitch Deck

Compressing your business into a handful of PowerPoint slides and then pitching it to a person who is conditioned to say no 99% of the time is a herculean challenge.  

To help entrepreneurs build this skill set Orrick brought together three great VCs in their Total Access Series to give us the inside scoop on just what VCs are looking for.  It was very clear that from viewing so many pitches (Noah in particular mentioned seeing over 1000 every year) - there are some clear signals they look for.  

The name of the game is to check all the right boxes (got a great team, traction and market) without tripping a sore spot (overcrowded market, entrenched competition, low defensibility). What follows are some quick notes from each of the partner presentations:

Noah Lichtentstein - Cowboy Ventures

  • Noah started by talking about Cowboy’s focus on Life 2.0 – the ways in which technology will change the way we work and live. This underlined the firms strong focus on user facing technologies (know their focus before pitching!) 
  • Company Value Proposition - What benefit, for who, and how will you do it uniquely well (quoted from Michael Skok of NorthBridge).  Will you win by being better, cheaper, or entirely new?
  • Investor Value Proposition - How are you going to build a billion dollar business in less than 10 years?

Steph Palmeri - SoftTech VC

  • Market sizing - shoot for a $1 Billion Market. The math here is that you can probably capture 10% of that market – making you a $1B company.  It’s really hard to get 50%+ of a market.
  • Know your market
    • Existing – need to be better faster cheaper (ie google)
    • Re-segmented – fundamental shifts, niche (ie Salesforce)
    • New Market – something completely new (ie twitter)
  • Compare Top Down (industry reports) and Bottom Up market sizing (# customers * Lifetime Value) to make sure they are similar in size.  If they aren't you've missed something.
  • Make sure everyone in the scope of your market sizing can actually become a buyer. Example: If you're selling children's clothes your market sizing cannot include adult clothing purchases.
  • Investors will have their own ideas and do their own research.  It’s your job to give them a credible jumpstart.
  • This is just as much about the data as an evaluation of your thought process as an entrepreneur.
  • Qualify size with competition, montetization potential, market growth, market share, timing
  • Competition is similar to comparables.  A great market will uses have strong competitors.  They simultaneously validate your choice of market while making it less attractive..
  • If your market is crowded/complex/scary to investors (has dead bodies) consider making an ecosystem slide.  Tell them why the market is different than hey think.
  • Who will you compete with today/tomorrow? Will you be able to raise your next round? 

Niko Bonatsos General Catalyst Partners

  • Be clear about your unique advantages – technology, insights, timing, growth models?
  • Growth tips
    • Press – (ie techcrunch)
    • FB Mobile Ads.  New channels are cheaper and have better ROI
    • Never pay for users/customers early on.  Focus on improving your product.
    • reinvest in growth. don’t worry about breakeven – get to that critical mass and then think about.
You can find all the slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/OrrickTA

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cold Calling and Email Scripts for Startups

Sales4Startups has long been the best sales event in the Bay Area.  Even as a guy who’s been selling for years now I learn more about the unique art of selling at a startup at every event.  The highlight of this evening was hearing from Steli Efti of Close.io.  Stei is a sales pro who’s been hustling since his days at YC.

How to Use Cold Calling To Sell (yes with a phone!) 

This has long been something I’m skeptical of, but Steli did a great job of framing when it was useful.  Since it takes time from a real person and has a very low hit rate (single digit %), it needs to be for larger accounts and use as a way to reach decision makers (in his case founders/CEOs).  His process was as follows:
  1. Reach people – shoot for 10-15% reach rate (ie valid numbers) or you need to fix your prospecting source.
  2. Sound good – sound excited.  You don’t have body language  - you just have voice. 
  3. Ask questions – qualify them. Figure out if your solution is for them.
  4. Manage objections – prepare!  You’ll get the same question many times.  Don’t ramble.  Answer in a concise way – 1-2 sentences
  5. Close- have a call to action.

The original prospecting list for Elastic Sales came from CrunchBase (go to where your customers are) and qualified as B2B startups who have raised a series A (aka have money and are scaling).  Then they’d jump online to find a number to call. 

Cold Calling Script

Steli was also kind enough to share his script (commentary added in brackets):

Hi my name is I’m calling some startups in the area to find out if they are a good fit for you beta program [qualifying industry lingo]

What do we do in a sentence [relax I’m not going to talk for an hour] we provide companies with a sales team on demand [MVP pitch]

Does this sound generally interesting to you [doesn’t matter what they say now – they were thinking something – but they don’t have enough data to say yes or no]

[let them verbalize it]
[is there potential or isn’t there potential]
[now start qualifying]

What is your current sales process?
Who are your customers how do you get leads?
What’s the customer’s lifetime value?

[test close - try and set the parameters for the deal and the next steps for closing]
We want to start in 3 weeks does this work for you
The beta program is heavily discounted it’s going to be $x per day per sales person
We can only offer you 1 salesperson to begin with  (that’s going to be me)
What is the decision making process in your company? [what are all the steps it takes for us to get this done?  This is the most important question]
How quickly can we make a decision

>>Schedule closing call.

Q & A from the Audience on Cold Calling

Q: Should I leave voicemails?
A: If you cold call people multiple times then don’t leave a VM – it can take away your permission to keep calling.  Just keep calling.  If you’re not calling back it won’t hurt. 

Q: What if they say it's a bad time?
A: Say: Is this a bad time?  Can I get your email? This often lowers the guard of a prospect so you can continue the conversation (ask about the process at their company).  Let them continue talking as long as they want (do not keep them on the phone by talking yourself).

Q: What if someone is not at all engaging with you? 
A: Establishing trust – call out the elephant in the room.  Look man – I know you don’t know me, but here’s who I am and what I want to do.  Let’s see if I can build some credibility.

How to Use Emails to Sell

The big point Steli hammered home on email sales was to focus on making them sound personal.  Just like we say at Contastic - people are sick of spam - email needs to be personal and relevant.  Here's his process:
  1. Open – 80% on subject line 20% on the body.  Make it look like it was sent by a person.  More like "Hey - here's a product I thought you should see" and less like "Ten tips to better sales".
  2. Read – every sentence is a pitch to read on.  Here’s’ who I am, here’s what I do.  Add credibility (customers, investors, press, background).   What’s the next step/call to action? ONE call to action. 
  3. Respond - This is a good time to set up a call/initial meeting.
  4. Follow up - Stay in touch.  People often forget emails and you should never be the one to let a thread die. 

Q & A from the Audience on Email Sales

Q: Is Text better than HTML?
A: Text is always better than HTML.  You want this to look personal - like it was sent between family or friends.  No humans send HTML formatted emails with logos to each other.  That's a signal it's a sales email.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Seven Surprising Tips to Generate More Leads (Infographic)

Every marketing and sales person is always looking for ways to generate more leads.  Because of this we wanted to put together a quick guide at the intersection of marketing and sales.  We looked at how sales funnels, landing pages, and lead management need to come together to make a sale. Here's your weekend infographic that reveals seven surprising tips to help you generate more leads.  

Seven Surprising Tips to Generate More Leads

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ten Days to a Thousand Twitter Followers

Twitter is a great way to reach an audience.  However, it’s really hard to get to the first thousand people – the point where your content can drive organic growth.  So, I spent a couple weeks learning the ropes on Twitter and in just ten days I built up over a thousand relevant followers.

Each day I’d spend less than an hour on twitter  - following the simple five step process laid out below.  At the end of this process we were able to drive over 300 visits from complete strangers to seed Contastic's initial user base.

1 – Build Your Profile
This is your elevator pitch.  In 160 characters you need to explain who you are (one sentence) and what you’re doing (one sentence).  Each should be packed with the most eye-catching details about yourself that will make someone want to follow you.  
2 –Follow Other's Followers
Following another user generates a notification for them and has a good chance of encouraging them to follow you back if it is relevant.  I identified a couple similar companies with significant followings and then would systemically follow 1-200 of their followers a day. Followers are ranked on Twitter chronologically, so each day you can through to see their new followers (at the top) and scroll down to find older ones.  I work top to bottom (newer followers are usually more engaged).

3 – Favorite Relevant Tweets

When you favorite someone’s tweet Twitter also sends them a notification.  This is another way to get on a user’s radar to generate a follow. TargetPattern is a great service that enables you to quickly favorite hundreds of tweets a day from relevant topics.  As a bonus their analytics are pretty good, so you can get a sense for which keywords drives the highest engagement.

4 – Make Friends
Since we’re on Twitter to engage real people with our product (just just get a big number of 'vanity followers') it’s important to respond quickly to everyone that contacts you.  I ended up sticking with the web interface since mobile/secondary providers/email were very unstable and ended up in tweets being lost most of the time.

5 – Content
As you develop a real following your content becomes more important.  The name of the game is to generate content that others will share.   At the end of the day that is how you can grow your account from one to ten thousand followers. 

Unless you’re already famous nobody cares about your opinion.  Focus on statistics, news or images. Generate value by curating or creating facts that your audience will find useful.  That’s what get’s widely shared (and grow your followers).  And even when posting as a company, follow the 9&1 rule – you need to tweet nine interesting general comments for each post about your company or product.

As you post be sure to strategically use @ and #.  @ will notify a user hat your tweet is about them – generating a higher chance of a share.  A # will go out to everyone following that topic – again generating more shares.   It’s especially important to focus on groups you belong to (Schools, Companies, Professional Organizations).  These groups are more likely to be supportive of you and share your content.

A Quick Note on Twitter Practicalities

While Twitter sends notifications to users for most system activities (follows, favorites, @mentions), the intent is not to allow people to spam the entire system constantly.  So, when putting the steps into practice err on the side of patience rather than volume.  While the technical limit is  1000 follows per day, consistently doing that will certainly get you banned.  The reason this took me 10 days (without getting banned) was that I did just a bit every day – manually and organically building relationships.  For more see:

Also, once you follow 2000 people you won’t be able to follow anymore.  Use JustUnfollow to cull the list of folks who haven’t followed you back after a couple days. 

Happy Tweeting!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How I Manage My Personal Network with Contastic

Every day people in your network have opportunities that are perfect for you.   To get access to those opportunities you need to be top of mind with your contact at the same time as the opportunity is.   Contastic provides an easy way to stay top of mind with your contacts in three ways:

Keeping Track
On a daily basis I use Contastic before and after every call.   It combines my mail, contact information, and notes all in one place.  The profile card gives me an at-a-glance view of the contact’s essential information.
And the top of the data pane shows our recent email conversations, interests, and my notes.  Notes are critical in quickly understanding what our last conversation was about.  As we chat I’ll add a couple lines to the notes for each conversation to make it easy to pick up where we left off. 
Building Relationships
On a weekly basis I try and spend some time nurturing new relationships .  If I’ve just met someone at an event or through an introduction I tag them with a ‘developing’ tag.  This creates a tab in Contastic that enables me to review my list of ‘developing’ contacts at any time. This ensures I can revisit them often to continue nurturing the fragile new relationship. 
Contacts can be tagged with multiple tags (a friend may also be a prospect).  And these tags are an easy way to manage your pipeline.  I’ll make sure to label prospects, leads, and customer accordingly.  This way I know who to reach out to with sales materials, project suggestions, and referral requests respectively.

Staying In Touch
On a monthly basis I’ll set aside an hour (yes – that’s all it takes with Contastic) to go through all of my contacts who I haven’t contacted in over 90 days (Contastic automatically creates a tab for them) to reconnect.  
I try and be brutally honest when reviewing these connections to determine if they should be categorized (focus more on this person!) or hidden (this person is not really relevant anymore).   If a person is important and I haven’t reached out I’ll find a reason to reconnect.  Usually the emails will give some clue as to a topic I can follow up with my contact about.

If that doesn’t seem fruitful Contastic recommends a series of articles based on your contact’s education, company, interests, and things you have in common. 
Often times these articles are great ways to keep up to date on things your contacts care about as well as providing an engaging way to rekindle the conversation.   Once written they can be quickly inserted into a template to be sent in seconds:

That’s how I get Contastic!  It is my daily CRM, my weekly lead nurturing tool, and my monthly means of staying in touch with my entire network.  I’d love to hear more about how use get Contastic in the comments below.