Why We Stopped Selling Our Product

Photo by Brett Jordan on unsplash.com

In the early days of appointmed, we had zero experience in how to actually sell a SaaS product. The common belief of „build it, and they come“ was our go-to strategy — because, of course, that‘s how it works, right?

Since that didn’t work out (duh!), we talked to friends in other startups and hired sales „consultants“ / „ninjas“ / „experts“ and whatnot. All in the hope to straight out buy the know-how we lacked. Our ultimate fail was to hire a promising full-time salesperson, though. She grew a sales team from 4 to 50 people at her previous job, which sounded exactly like the person we needed. After just a few months, we had to let her go again because it became obvious she wanted to manage people doing the work instead of doing it herself. Another expensive lesson, about hiring the right people at the right time, learned.

For three or so years, we did it all. From email and snail-mail campaigns to attending events and exhibitions, placing ads, cold-calling potential customers for hours on end, even personally going door-to-door for a couple of weeks. We got a few customers here and there with every experiment, but nothing really worked. Not at a scale, we would need to sustain our business.

We knew we had a good product, but it was painful to see that nobody seemed to care. Frustrating, because we tried everything those highly praised sales books tell you. Even infuriating because we saw how products - objectively way worse than ours - seemed to sell like the best thing since sliced bread.

We were running out of money and close to quitting more than once.

We needed a new plan. And Fast.

This is when we decided to stop listening to everybody else. There was not a lot left to lose for us anyway. We ran out of money for experiments and needed to make do with whatever resources and time the four of us could dedicate to figure this out.

No more traditional customer acquisition, key account managers, cold-calls, or email campaigns. First, we took a few weeks to restructure our website. We optimized only for a small set of keywords, trying hard to get the right users on our site. Second, the entire team started shifting all efforts towards supporting those few users who signed up for a 14-day trial.

Mario, one of my co-founders, spent almost half a year writing a comprehensive help-center, explaining each feature to the tiniest detail (he considers it the first book he’s ever written ;-). He also set up a thoroughly overhauled onboarding process for new users to engage them as much as possible from day one.

We rebuilt our entire communication strategy around intercom messenger and made it super easy to get in touch with us. People usually receive a reply within minutes - even seconds most of the time.

The moment we felt like we were onto something.

Almost immediately, we realized this is something healthcare professionals are not used to. Getting a response from traditional practice management software providers takes days or even weeks. With some, you’re lucky if you get a reply at all.

This might actually work for us,” I said to myself at the time. Slowly, we saw our signup and conversion numbers go up. Users in trial were impressed by our responsiveness and how easy-going conversations were. None of the usual pseudo-professional bullshit bingo they are used to from many “sales professionals” who need to hit their monthly quota. Just a straightforward, honest conversation and the ambition to form a genuine relationship with each potential customer.

Word spread. New customers talked to their peers primarily about the refreshing experience and mentioned how well our solution worked for them almost as a byproduct in the conversation. Growth finally started to pick up steam.

The healthcare market is highly competitive and search volume for practice management software is relatively low. However, we are now pulling in about 50 new signups per week, with conversion rates well in the double-digits. After shifting our focus from “selling” to “genuinely caring,” ARR started to grow 100% YoY while our spending on customer acquisition went down close to zero (excluding salaries here).

When I say we stopped selling our product, it’s a bit of a lie. We simply call it customer support.

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