In our last post, we shared the Action Guide to Pre-Selling.
It was short and concise. But we really feel it was enough to take action with. There was more advice inside there than Andy and I had when we both started. Over the weekend, we’ve gotten some emails from people with a few doubts about pre-selling.
So, to follow-up, we wanna share an interview we did with an entrepreneur who went through The Foundation recently. She put pre-selling in action over the past half year or so. You can read the entire conversation we had with Sandy below.
The software helps lead-based networking groups and associations streamline their communication. Sounded complicated to me at first, but the way she explained it below, I was able to get it easily.
It’s a text-based interview, and took up over 13 pages in Google Docs. She went really deep. Especially in her experience with pre-selling.
Hope you get lots of out of it. She was open, honest, and completely transparent about everything. So strong.
What is your SaaS business? Gimme the elevator pitch, as if we just met.
My SaaS business is called Connectable. It’s built for lead-based networking groups, a very small micro-niche. Every major city in North America and the UK has an “Executive’s Association”. My product helps each of the members of the associations communicate throughout the week.
It’s a little hard for people to understand my business if they’re not in the niche. The best way to understand the software is to talk about how the members communicate. It’ll become obvious what my product does: The executives meet weekly, and their whole purpose is to network and to help each others’ businesses grow. And they do that by sharing leads.
(Executives = business owners who have met a criteria to be a part of the Executives’ Association. It’s very demanding, as they look at your revenue, experience, and other stuff.)
At the weekly meeting, they come together and write their leads on a piece of paper, and share the info with another business owner. Then the Executive Director of the association takes ALLLLLLLLL the papers back to his office, types in each of the leads, and then sends out a newsletter to all the members.
My software helps associations digitize this tedious process, as well as many other activities that take place in these associations. In a nutshell, it helps these executives communicate seamlessly without the lag time and paper hassles of the past.
What was your background before starting Connectable? What skills did you have for business? What was life like just 12 months ago?
I have a BSc in Kinesiology and Biomechanics, and I’m a Certified Pedorthist (C) — so I specialize in posture, gait analysis, creating custom orthotics, and more. I was doing that for about 20 years, and was getting a little bored.
Over the past 12 years, I owned my own company with a partner. We had brick and mortar stores — shoe stores and clinics, at each of our locations. Seventeen total staff, two locations. I had always been a business owner, an entrepreneur of some sort — whether as a sole proprietor as a clinician, or an owner and partner in the brick and mortar stores.
I had a lot of business skill, lots of marketing, staff management, financial statement literacy, and all that jazz… but the problem was, I wasn’t very happy doing it. I had been doing it for so long, I just became very bored and frustrated… and became very sick the two years prior to leaving the business. I ended up selling my shares back to my partner.
It was a wonderful 12 years and I loved everyone I worked with, but I knew I had to change something. I kept getting sick. I’d go through cycles of illnesses with pneumonia, anemia, bronchitis, kidney infections, and even had a kidney stone.
The business was stressing me out. I had to start taking care of myself. I made the huge decision of leaving the company and selling my shares, and I had planned to start learning holistic nutrition. I started a blog and a podcast called “Feed The Human”, which I was gonna focus on, and then do orthotics on the side. I’m still working on the blog and podcast to this day :-).
Then I got the acceptance email from Dane. I had forgotten I even applied because I did it way back in February. It was like the universe was speaking to me again. I realized I had the space for The Foundation, and even though I didn’t know too much about it, Dane had intrigued me on the Smart Passive Income podcast.
I thought I need to follow this because I’d never have this much space in my life to take a course like this. So I enrolled and got onto the Facebook page of The Foundation, and I remember not knowing what ANYBODY was talking about. I had no IT background other than Outlook, Facebook, and Excel spreadsheets. I didn’t know what API meant. I didn’t even know what SaaS meant. I had to wiki it. I was sooooo intimidated by everybody, but I just trusted this was something I needed to do.
Why did you want to start a software business?
I remember distinctly listening to Dane’s interview with Pat Flynn on the Smart Passive Income podcast. At first, my hand was hovering over the “stop” button, because at the time I thought, “Who cares about software? It’s boring.”
But when Dane started speaking, I began to see software in a different way. I realized in my life how many places I use software that someone out there had to create. With the stories and examples and everything he talked about on the podcast, he showed me there could be freedom in my life.
Because before, I felt like I was caged. I knew I couldn’t be free. My ideas were being squashed. I wasn’t able to be creative and truly me because I had to conform to old school business models. When he described the software concept, of recurring monthly payments, my mind just knew it was something I needed to do.
I wanted the freedom to wake up when I want, plan my day how I want, workout if I want, pick up my son early… I wanted the freedom to choose how I use my time. So I knew I wanted the end goal of passive income, but I didn’t know how to get there.
I just trusted “The Foundation Thing”, whatever it was (at the time), and hoped it would get me there.
How’d you pick your market?
I found that I had to balance what we were taught in The Foundation, and what I felt was right. The model inside has worked for Dane and Andy, and many people as well, so I followed what we were taught. I picked some markets that were mostly or all green lights, and did some awkward idea extraction calls…And then, one day, I was sitting at lunch with the Board of Executives of the Calgary Executives Association.
One of the board directors said “You know, we really need an app for this.” And I had totally agreed, as I had been a part of the group for fourteen years. I said those words myself before.
And there I was… inside The Foundation trying to find a market… and finally put two and two together. I looked at her and said “Yes we do, and I’m going to build it.” I knew right then this was the market.
So it was really funny that even though I had said we needed this solution for the longest time, I couldn’t see it when looking for a market to build software in myself. It was right in front of my face.
I compared it to the green light criteria and realized it wasn’t a good market. So I went to explore others markets again… but I kept returning to this one for some reason. Intuitively, there was something very exciting and a very sure feeling there was something to this market.
I knew the pain and problem was so bad, and nobody was paying attention. I felt it would work. I eventually decided I’d use the market as a tiny little “get my feet wet” project. It’d be a good way to follow the content along and take it step by step, and use it as a learning experience.
I knew it wasn’t gonna be a Paperless Pipeline. I did the math. But I told myself it’d be okay. It’d be a good experience, and it’ll make a huge difference for all these associations.
You’re a rockstar with pre-selling. Did you always believe pre-selling was possible? To be able to get money upfront without having anything tangible to exchange…
It wasn’t really until the second sale that I really believed it. I was still kind of astonished. I remember thinking… “Why are they giving me $2500? They don’t know me, they’re not getting anything tangible right now. I have no track record…”
It was a bizarre concept for me, especially coming from the footwear world where I sold goods. I had inventory. I had to stock hundreds of thousands of dollars of product, AND THEN have my customers come in. I kept thinking to myself “but why would they pay me?”
Now though, I’ve realized that when you can solve someone’s problem, it doesn’t matter who you are or what your track record is. They know you and trust you after the idea extraction calls, and are just thinking about themselves and fixing the problem. And they start thinking about life with your product. It’s very easy to sell when you’re in that position.
Let’s answer a question everyone wants to know. Plainly and simply… how’d you get them to pay?
To give a bit of background: during the phase of my journey when I did a lot of idea extraction, I had become almost a “central hub” of information for the different associations I was talking with. We’d often go on tangent conversations during idea extraction calls.
They’d be curious of how an association in a different city or country was handling X struggle or Y problem… and I had this information because of having so many conversations with different associations. I was able to build up very strong rapport with them, before ever “pitching” anything.
Eventually, when I was ready for the “pre-selling” step, I brought my info pack back to everyone I had done idea extraction calls with.
(The “info pack” is a badass sales tool entrepreneurs inside The Foundation create for pre-selling. It shows customers how kickass your software is, what it can do for them, and how they can get it. You can download Sandy’s info pack by clicking here.)
They wanted to know what my findings were. They wanted to know what I could do for them. I showed them everything I had, with some visual concepts of the software crafted on PowerPoint. While showing them, I remember a couple times they had just stopped me and said “I get it. How much is this? I want it.”
I didn’t really have to sell because I could identify with who they are, how they operate, and what their problems are. I cared. I had a solution. They trusted me by this point because of our previous calls. The fact that had no track record in building software was irrelevant because they had so much faith and trust in me.
That’s what comes out from being so real with them, so honest with them…. and just listening to them. It wasn’t about me, it was all about them and caring about their problems. It was never a matter of being nervous about the sale.
The info pack did a lot of the work. I did it exactly like Carl, and just presented it to them.
(You can download Sandy’s info pack by clicking here.)
If you can find a problem, as Dane says… that “hell yes” problem, your product ends up selling itself. There’s no “selling” involved. I didn’t have to convince them, ever.
Sandy’s Bonus: Sandy was delighted to share the one time she “failed” with pre-selling.
I had gotten quite comfortable with presenting the info pack to a lot of associations, and I had the chance to present to the first ever executives association: San Francisco. I was really excited, because they were the FIRST association created, and it’d be cool.
I did the initial presentation with the executive directors, and then they asked me to present to the board as well, since the board makes the decisions. So I ended up doing a conference call over the phone. I couldn’t see any faces.
I ran through the presentation… and they beat me up. I hung up. If it wasn’t for the mindset training from The Foundation, I would’ve been a wreck. On the floor in tears, I think. They criticised me for not dealing with confidentiality, not having a website (they were like,”Who are you?”), and my lack of track record.
They voted no to the software. But recently, just a few weeks ago, I ended up seeing them at a conference in person. I was doing demonstrations live with the actual product. The San Francisco board ended up seeing it and were like… “Wow Sandy, we can’t believe what you’ve done. We can’t believe you’ve come this far. We didn’t think you could do it.”
So now they’re back on the table with a lot of interest in the product. What I want to express from this experience is that you WILL get feedback from some of your pre-selling calls. Maybe a lot.
And it’s important to take the feedback from a place of “How can I use this feedback to grow my business?”, instead of from a place of “They don’t like it. I should give up.” Now, whenever I’m on pre-selling calls, I almost always look for people to question the product. In my experience, it means they’re interested. The people who have nothing to say at all, and are just going with the flow, are often the ones who don’t end up signing on.
What mistakes did you make early on in your pre-selling attempts?
Nothing big really. I don’t feel like I made a whole bunch of mistakes. It was a wonderful journey, and still is… all “struggles” included. If I had to say, one thing is I wish I had gotten a website up earlier. That way, if they looked me up, there’d at least be something. At least a landing page or some kind of splash page, to get a little bit of online credibility.
What do you think people need to “have” to start doing pre-selling?
I think you should have a strong presentation using a good info pack, with a lot of focus on the benefits, and not features. It’s really easy to focus too much on features because you’re so close to the product when you sketch the solution, after doing idea extraction.
Doing a couple screenshots so they can kinda get a sense of what’ll be built is also a good idea. I loved using the info pack. It was a great tool for me to get pre-sales with. Also, using software like GoToWebinar or something that allows you to share your screen is something else to have.
As well… this isn’t tangible, but being really confident you’re solving a big big big pain is very helpful. Then the selling isn’t selling. THEY just ask for it.
Are there any scripts or phrases you’d share with yourself if you went back in time to when you started?
Nope, not really. Just have a good info pack.
What was the most difficult part of getting a pre-sale?
My difficulty was a bit unique to the niche my software is in. The most difficult part, was not dealing with the actual decision makers myself. I would present to the executive directors of the associations, who would have to take it to the board for the final decision.
The directors had influence, but at the end of the day, I had to relinquish control and trust they’d be doing the product justice. If I had the chance to present to most of the boards, I know I’d have a lot more pre-sales.
I’d be able to answer their questions, objections, and curiosities on the spot. To solve this problem, I ended up creating a page on my site where the most common objections and questions were answered. All potential stuff the board might ask. Now I share this link with the directors who present to their boards.
What advice would you give yourself if you went back in time, and just starting the pre-selling process?
I would say, trust the product. The product is gonna sell itself. And I’d remind myself it’s not me selling. The product is doing the selling, it’s not you doing the selling. There’s no awkward conversations that need to happen. Theres no special skills in selling you need to have. There’s no slimy, sleazy stuff that has to go on. It’s just a natural occurrence to get sales when you solve a deep pain.
People can’t wait to hear from you about your solution. In other words, find a deep, deep, level 4 pain to solve that they talk about inside The Foundation.
If you were building your business from scratch again, would you use pre-selling?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s the best form of validation. I can’t imagine not collecting money first anymore, to make sure what I want to make is what people want.
Did being in The Foundation help you get to where you are today? Could you have done it without? (more of a “quality control” question for us)
No, not at all. I didn’t have any idea of what a SaaS was. What I got from The Foundation was the framework and community.
And those two things together have just catapulted me on to a different stratosphere. I wouldn’t know what to do without. I actually wrote a post in The Foundation yesterday, because I’m just so overwhelmed with the support inside.
I love this new life. This new freedom. Living on the edge. It’s exciting to me, and I love it. I’m just clearing the fog that’s two steps ahead of me and taking a step forward each time.
But there’s no way in hell I would be able to do any of it without The Foundation.
Whenever I’m stumped and have no idea what to do, l just reach out to the community and get so many different answers. So many different suggestions and resources.
It’s a cool feeling to feel this supported. If I was by myself, the fear would overcome me, and I would stop. I would be paralyzed. Almost every next step I take, I always reach out to the community. On a high level, what I do is say “Here’s where I’m at. Here’s what I’m doing. So what should I do?”
Multiple, multiple, multiple times I’d ask a question, and people would reach out, and I’d be overwhelmed by responses.
Did anything hold you back from joining? Has that been defused now?
Nope. No hesitation. I was jumping into the unknown. It’s exactly what I wanted to do. Something completely different from gait analysis and custom orthotics. So when I got the acceptance message from Dane, there was no hesitation. Nothing stopped me.
Describe the current state of your business. What does the next year hold for Sandy and Connectable?
Ten months in, I have 5 associations signed on with $12,000 in pre-sales. Another association wants to pay full price, but doesn’t want to be a founding user at the moment. So they’ll sign on when we fully launch. I ended up partnering with my developer and we worked out agreements around revenue and stuff.
He’s taken six weeks to build the web-product, which is miraculous. We also have an android app, and an iPhone app too, up and running. We’re in beta fixing up some UI stuff, and we’ll be putting our first users on in a couple weeks. In the next four weeks we’ll have 256 users on!
Very scary and exciting. My plan for the next year or so is to go after remaining associations I haven’t approached yet. I can probably get 70-80% of them signed on. Then I’m gonna turn, and pivot, and look at other networking groups the software can be used for, or customized for.
I actually had a call with someone who’s connected with the International Gaming Developers Organization, and it sounds like Connectable would be very useful for them. They have about 8000 people who could potentially use Connectable. So it’s kind of a big deal :-).
What does a day in the life look like now?
Everyday is different, which I like, and how I want it. I still see some orthotic clients twice a week at the clinic. And I’m also keeping busy with the Feed The Human podcast and blog.
But the majority of my week is focused on Connectable.
I’m not very good at setting routines that are very stringent. I don’t really decide most of what I do until I wake up. I’m part of quite a few mastermind groups, so I have a few different calls during the week, some coaching… it’s all over the place.
I love that. I love the scatteredness and messiness of the week.
If I want to take off and go for a run in the afternoon, or if I just wanna go hangout in a coffeeshop, I can do that. Saying that makes me so happy. I also work once a week with two other Foundation students here in Calgary. We meet at a coffee shop here in downtown, get our laptops out, and huddle up and work all day together.
We get SO much done together, it’s fantastic. I love the freedom.
What last words do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
It sounds kinda cliche, but I think you’ve got to live your passion. I hope that everybody can have the lines blurred between work and play, or work and your “regular life”. I want everyone to be able to love their days like I love mine. I want it so that when you’re working, you love working. And when you’re not working, you love not working.
Joy throughout the day. I just want everyone to think about what makes them happy, and want them to be doing whatever it is that make them happy. Running my old brick and mortar business wasn’t making me happy. So I did something about it. I want others to do the same too. Take action towards taking care of yourself. Because when you take care of yourself, you can take care of others.
I love how generous entrepreneurs inside The Foundation are.
Anyway, talk again soon.
Lots of love,
P.S. Sandy built Connectable from scratch in the past 10 months by going through The Foundation.