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3AM - Manila, Philippines

I’m not going to lie to you - I was scared.

There I was, lying in bed in the AirBnB apartment. Staring at the ceiling… Mind racing… Wondering if I just wasted the last 18 months of my life…

In 6 hours, my team was going to show up for work and look to me for answers - answers I didn’t have.

What happened? Just 1 month before I was thrilled with the progress of my SaaS app, SoHelpful.me. I took a bunch of other CEOs in Beijing (my home at that time) out to dinner and - after a bit too much baijiu - bragged about how well things were going:

We’ve grown MRR by 7-15% every month since we launched, all WOM and bootstrapped. Last month we re-designed our landing page and grew by 40%, our best month. Dinner is on me!

It was all an illusion.

I planned to spend that week in Manila working with the team to turn that 40% growth into 100%. Instead, I struggled to understand why our newest customers were bailing in droves.

I didn’t need formulas to tell me the obvious - we had a churn problem.

We sat down to work at 9AM … and at 9:05 a customer canceled.

He was the 10th guy that month - and it was only the first week. All we could do was laugh and someone remarked, “Maybe our customers are crazy.”

5 weeks ago this particular customer signed up, paid, and sent us an email saying how SoHelpful.me is the best invention ever (his words), how brilliant the approach is, and how excited he is to do this…

Then ... he did nothing. He got charged a 2nd time and canceled.

WTF???

Fine, our customers are probably not crazy, but they sure are driving us insane. Things would have been easier if SoHelpful.me was a flop… But we had over 100 happy paying customers.

Help me out here: Why would someone email you about how excited he is to implement your ideas, give you money to use your tool to do it, and not do anything else??

We didn’t know.

So we did what the books and blogs advised

Here’s a summary: “Look at what your most successful customers are doing and teach that to the rest.”

So we did that. We spent days painstakingly going through every single customer. We looked at their data and goals. We identified the behaviors making them successful with SoHelpful.me.

And we did everything popular advice said to do!

We wrote simple instructions and messages in the sign up’s UI. We made the process as smooth, as quick, and as painless as possible. We killed features and made some better. We sent just-in-time lifecycle emails.

We even created a 30-day email course. We broke down what great marketers do into small daily tasks to get our customers into the habit of marketing themselves. Our version of helping them become better entrepreneurs.

Nice theory. Too bad it didn’t work.

Nothing changed: People signed up. Paid us upfront. Didn’t use it. Canceled the next time they got charged.

Ice cream - not data - led to our epiphany

We walked to the local Cold Stone Creamery to drown our frustration in fat and sugar.

“Ok, guys”, I asked. “Something is different. What is it?”

Fresh from our analysis of the previous year, Chiara pointed out what I was not seeing:

Chiara: It seems like you spent more time talking to the first 100 customers than you do with the new ones

Me: Yeah, I was doing Customer Development on everyone who signed up.

Chiara: “So what did you tell them?”

Me: Well, to entice them to schedule a call with me, I offered to help them grow their business with our strategy. We talked about who they are, what they’re afraid of, what motivates them, etc.

Chiara: So why don’t we do this anymore?

Me: Because you can’t scale a SaaS product by talking to every customer on the phone.

Chiara: Why can’t we just talk to the most promising ones?

Me: Because … -- Insert blank stare, me inhaling the last of my Gotta Have It Chocolate Devotion --

Not knowing what else to do, we decided to work the phone again.

To be honest, I expected to waste time talking to customers phone and end up with the same bad results.

I’ve never been so happy to be so, so wrong.

Chiara and I looked at every new customer and invited the most promising candidates to get on the phone with us for advice on using our strategy to grow their business.

And it worked. Within one month, we doubled conversions. The customers we spoke to stayed longer, paid more, and told others about us.

But real SaaS companies don’t need to get on the phone with customers, right?

Maybe our product is just not good enough…

I’ll never forget the moment I first heard the term “concierge onboarding.” Chiara and I were working away on our laptops. I heard her say,

“Check this out. Customer.io also doubled their conversions with concierge onboarding”.

Woah. You mean this isn’t just us? Other SaaS companies get on the phone with customers? And there is a word for this?

I started calling friends running SaaS companies. I heard stories like,

Yeah, we did that too. We assumed our onboarding sucked, but realized our customers just need a push to get started.

Our CEO spoke to all customers when we launched. When he stopped, sales fell. So we started doing it again.

We started interviewing successful, growing SaaS founders of companies like Drip, Help Scout, and Customer.io and found this is how they work too.

So it’s not just us. Not only are other companies getting great results from it, but successful companies got that way because of it.

But why isn’t this common advice yet? Maybe concierge onboarding only worked for a small group of companies at a specific moment? Somebody must be looking into this, right?

Yes!

But not in terms of “onboarding.” We stumbled upon the work of sales experts like Matt Dixon (The Challenger Sale) and Chet Holmes (The Ultimate Sales Machine).

Jackpot.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about what you can learn about onboarding from the world’s best enterprise sales teams.

For now, tell me, what’s your experience talking to customers? Are you struggling to convert them now compared to when you just started? Is your experience similar or different?


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