The Single Best Question I’ve Ever Asked My Prospects

best customer survey question

best customer survey questionThis is going to be one of the shortest posts you’ll ever read from me but I have to get this out there.

I have a long form sales page.

It’s not converting as well as I’d like. I’ve been relying on people going all the way through my free email mini course in order to educate them on the product but without enforcing it as a first step.

Dumb, I know.

But in the past it was working mostly because I was happy to work on all the other random irons I had in the fire and I knew (thought) that Distressed Pro (my site) would continue to grow slow and steady if I just kept doing the things I had been doing…. maintenance mode I suppose. And it did, revenue grew by more than 60% in 2013.

That approach was fine until I set a goal to triple my business this year.

Now it doesn’t feel like that plan is working so well. Bounce and conversion rates  haunt me. My leaky funnel is the first thing I think of when I wake up and often the last thing I think of before bed. I’m running through funnels and sales copy in my head constantly. I’ve become obsessed. What can I do to get this right?

I was trying to develop my sales funnel in a vacuum.

  • Yes, I survey my customers semi regularly.
  • Yes, I get email replies from a large portion of my mini course subscribers.
  • Yes, I worked in the industry for a long time so I have a solid understanding of the struggles and aspirations folks have in that business.

But all that doesn’t tell me why people don’t buy from my sales page.

You can have all the social media interaction you like. You can respond to a sea of email. But what’s happening at the moment that someone is deciding whether or not they want to invest in your product? What’s happening right there at that moment?

I don’t know, um… Why not ASK them?

I’m a big fan of the Conversion Rate Experts.

While I was watching one of their videos they gave this one tip, that actually they sort of blew by, and then said – “it’s sort of like cheating isn’t it?”

My first thought was… “well who is really going to fill that out… nah, that will turn into another untrackable support channel nightmare like the live chat, meh, nah

Then I thought…. WTF am I doing making excuses already about how this will or won’t work? Implement the damn thing and see what happens.

So here’s the question I’m asking:

What lingering question might keep you from starting a trial today? Please be brutally honest.

WOW

The feedback that I’ve received just over the last 3 days has been a HUGE eyeopener.

It’s like my prospects are building the sales page roadmap for me. All of the objections, worries, concerns, not just about the service or security in the cart or whatever, but they’re leaving comments and questions – about their own ability to perform, questions about my credibility about the tour and on and on…

I can honestly say that I am better armed after 2 days of comments than I’ve been after reading countless blog posts and books and ebooks about sales letters.

Do this today if you’re not satisfied with your sales page conversion rate and I think you’ll be AMAZED at what you learn.

Testing for Startups 101

work from home internet business

This is a presentation I gave at our local Startup Meetup in Portsmouth, NH. This is a “Testing 101” introduction to the different types of tests, when to use which tests, elements you should test or just plain include in your pages and a bit more. I covered AB testing, multivariate testing, and heuristics.

I’ve grown my business by more than 60% this year, in part, by employing what I’ll show you in this presentation.

I included one  experiment idea that I had come up with which I’m about to run but haven’t as of this post. The purpose of the experiment would be to validate the pain point and/or language around the value proposition of your B2B saas, service, or product while you’re still “pre-code”.

I propose that by split testing the value proposition statements around your intended features with targeted LinkedIn ads you can more rapidly identify your most likely winners –  the features, the value propositions, etc.

They say the best way to learn is to teach. I’ve been running tests, some successful, many not, for my projects and I share some of those but I also pulled to together a lot of research to back it all up.

This is by no means a definitive guide to testing but highlights some successful experiments and offers a series of considerations for startups.

There’s also a resource list at the end of the presentation.

Better Saas Cancelation Feedback

Better Saas Cancellation Forms

I was inspired by this post from Ruben Gamez to improve my pretty weak cancelation form.

Previously I’d ask an open ended paragraph text “Why are you canceling?” and then require a checkbox confirming that you know I’m not keeping your data. Now I do this

UPDATE: I wasn’t tracking the form submission rate before I implemented this change but I am now and the submission rate is lower than 30%. I don’t know if this is good or bad but what it tells me is that 7 out of 10 times when someone is going to cancel they change their minds while they’re on this page. I suspect it has to do with the fact that I am sending them of to solve their specific problems via the links to the resources embedded in the questions.

Microconf 2013 Action Items

I’m somewhere west of Lincoln Nebraska at 10,000 feet.

Normally I sleep like a baby on a plane and the fact that I didn’t get to bed until after 4AM should guarantee it but instead I’m typing like a man possessed and filling up my Evernote with ideas (if that were possible) as I’m trying to sort through the fire hose of actionable information that was Microconf.

I found it hard to concentrate on the speaker who talked after Jason Cohen on Monday because Jason just happened to speak directly to my biggest most pressing challenge and I couldn’t help but want to apply what I had learned to my own product immediately.

I refocused at any rate and my bulging Microconf Notebook has 3 separate notes that I managed to take: Action Items, Links of Interest, Speaker Notes

Rob Walling suggested to the crowd that you try to take 3 action items away from the conference. I’m not sure how many I’m going to have after I’ve finished dissecting my notes but I have 3 for sure that I’ve determined are top priorities.

  1. New Pricing: “Mo tiers mo money”
  2. Overhaul my funnel: the flow between arriving at my site to making a decision right now is…. not optimum… at all…  so I plan to hire Lance from CopyHackers over on Anyfu (which was suggested to me by Jason Roberts) and ideally have a session next week.
    1. Test long-form sales pages pending the session outcome
  3. Review and likely rebuild my email sequences. My free email mini course hasn’t had a look in…. 2 years? It is time. And my ‘transactional emails’ I’m pretty sure I threw together. I’m going to have to do this after I parse through Patrick McKenzie’s presentation which was so dense with business building strategies and tactics that I just couldn’t consume it all at once.

I’m setting a date for completion for these and if you’re reading this while considering your action items then I suggest you set dates for yours also.

To go to that conference and return with action items that you fail to follow through on would be a goddamn business tragedy of epic proportions.

Do it while you’ve got inspiration, ride the momentum.

One more priority action item that’s been stewing with me for a while and which I regret I didn’t focus on more while I was at the conference, is assembling a mastermind or accountability group with folks who have launched.

At Microconf the opportunity to talk to so many people who are operating companies with successful products was hugely valuable and getting some regular feedback from the same I think would really fuel growth.

Doesn’t much matter where you’re located that’s what Skype or Google Hangouts are for. If you’re reading this and you fit the bill contact me and let’s chat.

How to Track Your Infusionsoft Leads On Your Site (Simply)

I’ve been using Infusionsoft for a while on one of my sites. I’ve been annoyed by a few quirks including duplicate contacts and the fact that it doesn’t seem to do a very good job of knowing who’s on your site.

If you are doing very much in email marketing (and I hope that you are) then chances are you’re driving subscribers back to your site for more engagement and, eventually, to buy. Right now unless you invest the time and money into iMember360 there aren’t any really good ways to provide a more frictionless experience for your visitors.

This little snippet of code will help.

When a returning visitor comes to my site I don’t want them to have to enter their info again and again. Infusionsoft will help you out with this if you append the contacts details to the end of the URL when you’re linking to your site.

The complication occurs when you have more than a single step in your process.

Let’s say for example that you want to drive users to a landing page that doesn’t have a form but instead has a button. When the contact land on your page with the button they’ll have the identifying parameters at the end of the URL but when they take action by clicking the button the contact details are left behind on the previous page.

You can use the following code to make sure that the details stay with the visitor which means that they have less to type and less overall ‘friction’ in the signup or purchase process.

Place this code in your footer above the closing body tag so that it’s on every page  (how you do this will depend on your theme or plugins):

<script type="text/javascript">
		jQuery(document).ready(function(){
		var query = window.location.search;
		if (query.slice(0,3) == "?Id"){      //Infusionsoft passes 'Id' first so we check
		jQuery('a.track[href*="?"]').each(function() {
			  this.href += '&' + query.substring(1);
			});
		jQuery('a.track:not(a.track[href*="?"])').each(function() {
			  this.href += query;
			});
		}
		});
</script>

The first part looks at whether or not the URL you’re linking to has parameters appended to it already. If it does then we trim the ‘?’ from the window.location and we append an ‘&’ to form the URL correctly. If the href does not have parameters then the window.location is appended in its entirety.

Now when you have a link that you want to track just add the ‘tack’ class to the URL like so:

<a class="track" href="yoursite.com/buy-now/">Buy Now»</a>

The visitor will carry their details with them through to the cart or form you want them to fill out.

In order for this to work you have to have enabled ‘Place the person’s details at the end of the URL’ when you set your link. Like so

Note that you can’t use the jQuery shortcut ‘$’ due to the fact that the WordPress has uses compatibility mode to reduce conflicts.

How to Make Your Customer’s Problem a Crisis For All | MediaTemple Review

MediaTemple Review
My MediaTemple Review

This week I had the most trying experience of my online career. I’d like to take some personal responsibility for it, and I will in a moment, but let me first say that MediaTemple is the worst host you could have the misfortune of dealing with and you should avoid them at all costs lest ye desire to suffer the same as me.

So, first, the story.

On Monday morning I got a notice from RSA on behalf of one of their european bank clients that I had some malicious script on my dedicated virtual server with Mediatemple. Shortly after that I got an email from Mediatemple saying the same.

I quickly opened up the plesk file manager and started looking for the offending files (the support request indicated particular directories). I found the files, deleted them, and then started checking file permissions for obvious problems.

Part of the way though the check my website suddenly said ‘Error establishing a connection to a database’… Ok, bad sign. I was also in the command line via ssh and I was kicked out of there as well.

I started a support ticket with Mediatemple and started an online chat to find out what was going on. I was concerned that command line change I made to the permissions of a folder might have caused this.

I’d like to point out that at this time Sandy was beginning to bear down on the East Coast.

I was informed by Rodel on Mediatemple’s instant chat that they were shutting down my server and I would not be allowed to access it again.

WTF!?

I asked why he couldn’t give me an answer really but informed, sadly, yes I would just have to fuck off. Bye.

Now here’s the part where I have some responsibility. I guess I should have had redundant backups outside of the dedicated virtual server I had with them. I guess Instead of using the snapshot backup that they provide for the whole server that I had just refreshed, I guess I should have had local files.  In fact there are a whole slew of things that I could have had in place  as contingencies but how could I ever know that they would simply shut my server off and tell me to beat it.

Back to Rodel and now enter Mike the ‘Abuse Engineer’ and their sorry jobs at this shitty company.

I called immediately waited a bit and then was able to speak with someone who informed me that I had violated their terms of service. I had uploaded malicious scripts to my server and I should go away. I spent the next 20 minutes pleading for the opportunity to simply get my files off their server. At first they told me ‘no’, I should have had backups that weren’t on this server. After another escalation and a lot of waiting and periodic power outages I was informed that they would allow me 24 hours access to the files that they would basically sequester in a separate directory.

This meant that I would not have the ability to do, for example a SQL dump or to access the databases in any normal way. I’m not going to get into resolution in this post, this post is about the abhorrent customer service of Mediatemple, the next post is about what to do when everything implodes and your hosting company is full of assholes.

As it turns out Mediatemple had actually sent me an email telling me that they believed I was guilty of abuse earlier that day so I could have had an opportunity to address this BUT the email was deep in my gmail SPAM and I never saw it.

So after 3 years with their overpriced inferior dedicated virtual server service, having never been late in payment, without any history of abuse in any way, despite the fact that I’m paying $135/month or whatever the hell it is. Despite the fact that the server was in my own name that they had my contact information and that I’m public and you can find me and I’m not some lurky Internet bad guy, they decide the best approach to the this relationship is to simply shut off my service.

Never mind the hundreds of paying customers I have. No don’t look at the site or the activity. Just shut me the fuck down.

Now that I’m at the tail end of the week I’ve had an opportunity to figure out how those scripts got onto my server.

I did it.

There are two possibilites. One is that I have something on my Macbook Air that is intercepting my uploads… meh? I doubt it. I deleted Filezilla just in case. The second is that I uploaded the script as part of the development process.

I’ve been experimenting with Jquery and helpers and libraries and I had uploaded a directory to a separate domain and IP form my primary site in order to test this particular plugin that had to be on a server because you can’t test cookies on your local machine.

So for the highly egregious act of uploading a jQuery plugin that I downloaded from a reputable site the bastards at Mediatemple thought the proper response would be to blow up my entire online existence without any real communication about it.

After 3 years did I get the benefit of the doubt? No.

Did they bother to look me up and see if I was legit and someone they could work with? No.

Did they offer to help me identify or lockdown whatever may have caused the problem? No.

No, instead what Mediatemple decided to do was to make what was a minor security threat into a massive business catastrophe for me and major inconvenience for hundreds of my customers and who knows how many visitors.

Not only is their service inferior to RackSpace and Amazon AWS and the like their customer relationship policies are horrendous.

In my next post (or two). I’m going to tell you about how we came back from the dead.

So where are the learning moments in this rant?

From a technical and procedural perspective I have a lot that I’ll share in the future.

From a customer service standpoint having now been victim to the worst customer service or support ever, I’ll say this. I know that in the future when I get alerts that customers are violating license terms or if something looks fishy I’m going to seek to communicate with the customer like a real person before I make any judgements that are going to impact their lives or service.

Second, I started feeling like MediaTemple sucked almost a year ago. I should have moved then. I should have listened to my intuition. Yes moving servers is a pain in the ass but its much less a pain in the ass when both servers are running, there’s no hurricane or power outage and there’s not some inadequately endowed ‘Abuse Engineer’ flexing his tiny little muscle against you.

So there are the lessons.

1) Treat your customers like real people, they fucking are.

2) If you’ve got a bad feeling about a company, you’re probably right.

No Technical Co-Founder Required

Technical Cofounder
Do you really need a technical co-founder?

Lately I’ve been attending more entrepreneurial or startup events in the Boston and Cambridge scene. It’s striking to me how many people are walking around with what they believe to be a good idea and they aren’t acting on it because they want a “technical cofounder”. It seems like it’s a topic that gets an inordinate amount of attention… every time.

I guess I don’t blame people for getting so stuck on it. They’re usually on the ‘business side’ of things and they desperately want to get something going, they think they have a great idea, AND they have no technical skills… and that’s fine. I also hear people say things like “well y-combinator won’t even take you if you’re solo”…. yawwwwnnnn… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I got rich when I IPO’d and that the way I’m doing it is right, but I’ll tell you this you’re probably not getting into Y-combinator, and SO WHAT. Is that really your goal? Do you want a good story a bunch of VC and no control. What I want to know is –  Why do you want to build your idea, this piece of software (or ‘app’ or ‘site’)? What is the driving force? What is the reason that you feel you need to do this? Is it to ‘get funded’? Is it to IPO? Ugh, then you probably want to stop reading right here.

I built my first software product because I wanted a reliable, recurring income that paid at least my health insurance and ideally my base expenses (mortgage, cars, etc). Not a very sexy goal but it seemed totally attainable to me and I wanted it desperately. I wanted a business that was scalable, that had good margins, little overhead, and that was a product and NOT a service.

In real estate the money can be huge and then… nada. It’s a constant cycle of boom and bust and I was at the front end of a spectacular real estate implosion where no matter how hard I worked or how many deals I put up on the board nothing, nothing, nothing was closing… and I had a 3 month old and a 2 year old and a wife at home. Talk about uncomfortable. We’d have years when I made a lot more than most followed by a year where my gross was as much as I had paid in taxes the year prior. Holy shit that sucks. So I wanted needed a new business model. I landed on software, a subscription web application specifically.

I probably started thinking about what I wanted to offer (and not just that I wanted to make something) shortly before my son was born in the spring of 2009. I had kicked around with some WordPress websites or whatever for a couple of years before that but I wasn’t serious. In July of 2009 I got really really serious. Like do or die serious. I just had some major deal implosion which left me with nothing on the horizon in terms of income (did I mention the baby, the toddler, the wife and the mortgage?). I was on my way to a 3-day conference (not at all tech related) and I had just read the 4 Hour Work Week over vacation (I know it’s kind of cliche I guess but it’s the truth). I decided that I’d load the iPod with business podcasts for the long drive and just let the subconscious run and before I came home I would settle on an idea. That was the end of July 2009. I released my first software product (soft launch) in October of the same year. I made money  starting the first month and every month since. By the way I had almost zero technical skills when I launched and I had no technical cofounder.

I’m not going to tell you the first round was pretty, it was decidedly not pretty, but I still had people signing up at $97 per month and I was getting good feedback (by the way I’ve spent probably a grand total of maybe $500 on advertising in what’s now almost 2 years and income continues to grow).

Since releasing my first ‘alpha version’ (the nicest way I can think to refer to it) I released a rebuilt “Version 2.0” that is vastly superior to the first . In addition to these I have a new product in a totally unrelated space that I’m releasing very soon.

I’ve had friends ask me over the last year or so about how they’d go about developing their own products and now, as I’m moving around the startup scene, I’m seeing that there’s a real need for some basic info or at least a path. For now on this blog I’m going to focus on laying out everything I’ve learned as I’ve built these products and grown my business and that I’ve learned from the bumps and bruises of ‘solopreneurship’. My plan is to layout a working model of best practices for a non-technical person to get started with producing his or her own software, app, website, or pick-you-nomenclature. I’m going to focus on how to make a real product, not an affiliate website or an eBook or an Adsense site or whatever else, I know little to nothing about those topics except insofar as they relate to promoting a web app. I want to help you with getting your idea out the door and then maybe I’l talk about getting it found. If you want to learn about whether or not you should even pursue your idea, well that’s a whole topic and one that some other people know a whole lot more about than I.

My Distressed Loan and REO Data Business

I’ve been hard at work on distressedpro.com for the last couple of months and now I’m preparing for a proper launch during the month of January. I first conceived of the BankProspector this past summer. Its been coming to fruition since.

BankProspector gives real estate professionals instant access to the distressed real estate and loan data for every bank in the country. I hired a development team to write the database application and I hired a designer to put together the interface and make it pretty. The team has been improving it every month and now I think its ready for a proper push.

If you’ve found me here and you think you could use BankProspector in your business leave me a comment below and I’ll send you a special discounted rate ;).