No More Hustleporn: How to Build an Effective Direct Sales Process

Tweet by Nathan Barry 🇺🇦

Founder & CEO at @ConvertKit — the leading Creator Marketing Platform. Grow your audience & earn a living with ConvertKit:

My SaaS business hit $1,500 MRR and then got stuck.

Until I learned an important trick…

Here’s the exact method I used to scale to $100k MRR in the next 12 months:

I started @ConvertKit with the goal of $5k in monthly revenue within 6 months. Initial traction came quickly, but then stalled out at $2k/mo & gradually declined to $1.5k.

I tried everything to scale: content marketing, webinars, & partnerships.

Nothing worked to get traction.

But then I discovered the key: direct sales.

Here are the 10 steps I followed to build an effective direct sales process:

1. Choose a niche

I was trying to target everyone who needed email marketing. That’s a sure way to lose.

Instead I narrowed in on “email marketing for professional bloggers.” which allowed me to write much more focused sales page copy.

2. Create a list

When I tried to raise capital all the VCs said our market was far too narrow. But I actually niched down further

I’d go to: “email marketing for professional paleo recipe bloggers who are women”


“Men’s fashion bloggers in NYC”

I got very specific.

This allowed me to use Twitter, Google, & 'top blogs in x category' posts to compile lists of who to contact.

I subscribed to their newsletters, followed them on twitter, & interacted with their content so when I reached out they'd recognize me.

3. Ask about frustrations

Then I'd email them directly. Rather than asking for them to buy or demo my product, I'd ask what was frustrating them about MailChimp, Aweber, or whatever they were using.

The email was short, personal, and name dropped the most relevant customers.

The responses poured in. These bloggers were frustrated with not being able to segment their list, create opt-ins to give away a free guide or incentive, creating automated email courses, & more.

The exact things I was frustrated with that got me to start ConvertKit.

5. Get on a call

That lead naturally to a conversation about how I'd solved those same issues. I'd offer a call to a) give them some suggestions to improve things in their current tool & b) show them what I'd built with ConvertKit.

I did 100s of Skype calls.

6. Remove the biggest objection

Most early sales conversations ended with saying, “ConvertKit sounds great & I love what you’re about, but…switching providers is so much work. Sorry, it’s not going to happen.”

Ouch. Just when I thought the conversation was going so well.

I tried to explain my way through it: "It's not that hard" & "you just have to..." but nothing worked.

On one call out of desperation I said, "I'll do it for you for free."

That worked. They said, "uh, okay. Let's do it!"

What followed became our concierge migrations program.

7. Do anything to get the customer

I'd get login credentials to their site, email provider, & any plugins. Then I'd manually move everything over. Forms, email sequences, templates, etc.

It was tedious & time consuming, especially for a $50/mo customer.

I remember watching Netflix on one monitor while copying, pasting, & formatting long email sequences on the other.

My hourly rate was less than $5/hr for those early customers. Far from the $150/hr I'd been charging for design services.

But it was working to get momentum.

8. Create an echo chamber

I noticed that every customer we landed made getting the next one a tiny bit easier. More feedback, references, & names to drop in future emails.

Once a fitness blogger said, "I feel like everyone on the internet is switching to ConvertKit!"

Since we had less than $5k in MRR that couldn't possibly be true. But it seemed true for her.

I'd targeted everyone in her niche. In her mastermind group 2 had already switched and the other 3 were thinking about it.

Big fish, small pond.

That's how we built momentum.

9. Ask for referrals

Once a customer was set up and successful I'd ask who else I should talk to. They'd always have at least one or two other bloggers to suggest. Those warm intros worked far better than cold outreach.

Soon referrals were driving as many calls as cold emails.

10. Be human

I was always personal & human. If someone didn't reply I never said, "you're harder to reach than the pope!" or "did you get crushed by an elephant? That's the only reason you wouldn't reply."

Everyone is sick of that nonsense.

Instead I'd say, "I'll follow up once more in 2 weeks, then if I don't hear from you I'll assume it's not a good fit."

But I'd still follow their content and gradually interact. People would often come back a few months later when they hit a pain point or the timing was better.

The results:

I started at $1.5k in December 2015.

By July 2015, 6 months after starting direct sales, I'd completely turned around ConvertKit's growth and hit $15k MRR.

One customer at a time.

What followed was the craziest period of my career.

Not only was each sale getting easier because we had social proof and the product was improving, but referrals were starting to come in.

Influential bloggers like Pat Flynn and Wellness Mama switched, then started hinting about the new tool they were using.

Using a stock of airline points I started flying to cities with lots of bloggers. NYC, Nashville, San Diego, etc.

Meetings that were hard to get as calls were easier when I emailed saying I was in their city & wanted to meet up.

We closed more deals, then migrated them by hand.

We rolled out an affiliate program to compensate these early promoters. Then started hosting group demos and webinars to handle the leads coming in.

By the end of the year we hit $98k MRR.

The momentum from incredibly unscalable work had turned into very scaleable growth.

Paul Graham famously said "Do things that don't scale" to get over the cold start problems for new products & kickstart word-of-mouth growth.

The full saying should be:

Do things that don’t scale, because that enables the channels that do scale.

Today @ConvertKit has grown from email marketing for bloggers to the #1 Creator Marketing Platform.

Revenue has grown to $30 million per year, with 68 team members, & we serve the biggest creators in the world.

But it all started with a lot of cold emails & unscalable hustle.

If you enjoyed this thread follow me @nathanbarry to learn more about growing startups, building an audience, & earning a living as a creator.

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