Category Archives: Small Business

Death of the Sales Call

I was reading through some of the archives on the FreshBooks blog and found a great response to Seth Godin’s post about the death of the sales call.  It sounds like the guys at FreshBooks are getting some of the typical inquiries that most small business software companies dread.

  • Do you offer onsite training sessions?
  • What are some of your larger customers? Would I have heard of any of them?
  • How can I be sure you will be around in the future?
  • etc. etc.
  • I think Levi’s honest answers to these questions (below) is great.  Questions about onsite training are pretty common, but isn’t it obvious that companies that they’ve “heard of” are not going to be in the same market and how can they be sure that any company will be around in the future.

  • There are no onsite training sessions, just an easy to use application with good online help
  • Most of our customers are small consultancies that you would not have heard of
  • Our application has been live for over two years, our business has been here for over three and we are here running the business and answering the phone from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Eastern
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    Smart Casual

    Yesterday, in our management meeting, the topic of casual Friday was brought up again. First of all, I can’t define how the women in our office dress, but I assume its “business casual”. So, I can only speak on behalf of the guys. We probably don’t need to be dressed to the nines everyday, considering that we rarely have any customers in the office. The standard attire for men in our office is khackis and a dress shirt. So, I’m suggesting that we relax the dress code a bit and call it “Smart Casual” and allow some blue jeans now and then. It sounds like everyone agreed on “Casual Friday”, but everyone still hasn’t agreed on a “policy”, so we’ll see how it turns out. We are a business software company, so I don’t see our offices changing into the Googleplex, but this will probably be a good move. When you focus on being “professional” all the time, people tend to become less personal. In a small business, you have to keep it personal with your customers if you want to build great relationships with them.


    2ndSite has changed their name to FreshBooks.  I’m pretty excited about new products like FreshBooks and QuickBooks Online Edition.  Web 2.0 apps promise a rich desktop application-like user interface, but can these products really keep up the requirements of data entry clerks that are accustomed to entering lengthy orders without looking up at the monitor?


    We had a user complain one time about performance of our sales order entry once when entering an order with over 1,000 lines.  It turms out it was a simple problem in the code and we fixed it, but I can’t imagine that these web apps can keep up with large orders like that.  Of course, I assume that FreshBooks and QuickBooks Online Edition are targeted toward casual users that are not in the distribution business.

    Small Is Beautiful

    As a follow-up to my post about interruptions, Scoble posted a link to a video of Jason's lecture from the Collaborative Technologies Conference.  Anyone managing a team should watch this video, it's a great summary of the 37Signals philosophy.

    Some of Jason's great ideas discussed in the lecture…

    1. Keep your team small
    2. Keep your team apart or create "alone time"
    3. Have less meetings
    4. Make smaller decisions

    Looking to switch

    I stumbled across a good article explaining the "Rising Tide of Customer Defection." For a small company, it's especially important to think about this all the time and strive to keep every customer happy. For our company, this sometimes means giving daily status reports BY PHONE for the status of a bug or spending an hour on the phone training the same user every week on the same concept.

    However, you always have to set expectations properly. Most small businesses try to give the impression that they're a much larger company with infinite resources. That's important to get the product out into the market and get leads, but you can't continue with that illusion after they've become a customer.  In the article, Bill Zollar (CEO of Yellow) explains how they dug through boxes of customer invoices looking to see if they picked up and delivered everything on time and in-tact and did they send the customer an accurate invoice.

    “…if you fail to follow through on what customers expect they can’t possibly like you.” And (as nobody should need to tell any businessperson) customers who don’t like you are more likely to defect.

    I think it's always better to under-promise and over-deliver and that's something that's very hard to do in the software business. Adding a new feature for that hot prospect sounds so tempting, but as Kathy Sierra says, "Don't give in to feature demands!"

    Out-of-context Surprises

    One of our customers was in our office this week and told us about an really interesting thing they do for their customers. He said that they give their employees small index cards with their company logo, address and the employee's contact information. They will hand-write a quick note or thank you and write out the customer's address by hand and mail it to them. Evidently, they send these little notes all the time and some of their customers will leave them prominently displayed in their offices. We were talking about this at lunch yesterday and it reminding me of a recent entry on Creating Passionate Users, one of my favorite blogs. There were some really great ideas about what she calls "out-of-context surprises".

    Any company with way over the top customer service (for that domain) is giving its users an unexpected, delightful surprise. Something to remember. Something to talk about. But even the subtle out-of-context surprise can trigger some neurons and brain chemistry. A reference to one movie slipped into the dialogue of…another movie. An easter egg hidden in a… logo (like the FedEx one). A bud vase in a…car. It's not about the thing–it's about the context in which that thing is expressed.

    We give a lot of on-line demos to prospects and on-line training sessions to existing customers and they're very impersonal. We're planning to add the presenter's picture to the introduction slide in Live Meeting, but I think we can do better than that. Maybe we could actually ship a treat to their office, like some candy or cookies, etc. and make sure it arrives on the day of the demo. Surprises like that will leave a lasting impression.

    We're also planning to change our remote support software, so you'll be able to see a picture of the support rep before you begin the session. This is completely above and beyond any phone or even "live chat" support I've used. It's much more difficult to be upset with a support rep if you're looking at their picture.


    There was a great post on SVN today about collaboration software and interruptions.

    Passive interruption such as an IM or an email can be ignored until you’re ready to deal with it. But active interruption such as when someone physically comes over and taps you on the shoulder, or calls you into a physical meeting, well, that kind of interruption kills the “productivity buzz.” 

    Lately, I've been trying to move IM conversations to email, so I can respond to them on my schedule.  As usual, Jason explains that the problem pretty well.  The real problem is the "active interruption", not the IMs and email.  I'm currently in a mix of development, support, management and sometimes IT.  So, I'm constantly switching tasks with different people from different departments.  The funny thing is that I actually enjoy it and it makes me feel good to help everyone out.  But, I really need to spend more of my time planning the future of ACCTivate! and less time fighting the daily fires.  It's going to be a difficult transition.