“Doc… It’s Marty… You gotta get me back to 1985!”

1985 was a great year for me.

  • I started high school
  • I met my wife (although we didn’t start dating until 11 years later)
  • I was tapped by the Superintendent of Schools to design and build a computer system to run the schools grades, scheduling, rank, attendance, etc.
  • I started my first real entrepreneurial endeavor of some random computer consulting, training, and repair for some side dollars
  • Became one of the lead drummers in the school drum-core.

But… all of that considered, unlike Marty McFly, I never want to go back to 1985.  Why?  In terms of sales, 2008 is significantly better than 1985 and I had an experience recently that really smacked it in my face.


I went looking for some software on sales compensation planning, and I found a company that was offering a free year license of their software.  (The company name is not important because its not my practice of bashing companies – I just want to illustrate bad sales technique).  I decided that I was intrigued enough to ask for an account.  I entered all of my information, and in a short amount of time, I received an email giving me intructions on how to get my free account.  I was given the option to watch a series of about 18 short videos OR I could attend a webinar on how to use the software.  Since I wanted to get going right away, I opted for watching the videos.

I painfully watched all of the videos.  It was good that they broke them up into 18 separate videos because if it were not for my needing to click on the next one, I would have drifted into a complete coma.  The videos were decently produced, but without being able to click in the software, none of what they were showing me meant anything to me.  It became hard to follow.

After I was done with watching all the videos, I looked to see if I had access.  I did not.  24 hours later, I got an email from a salesperson telling me that since I hadn’t supplied a phone number, that I couldn’t get set-up.  I replied that I didn’t need to talk to anyone that I just needed access.  I then got a reply that I would see about getting me setup as soon as possible because they could see that I had viewed all the videos – even though this was not their normal policy since they had not spken to me on the phone.  Some 24 hours later, I got an email with some login information.  I had trouble logging in because it was not 100% obvious to me that they had changed from the userid and password that they asked me to supply.  Despite the fact that they had asked me for my email address and password during set-up, they set me up as user1@mydomain.com and some generated password.  As I was figuring all of this out, there were several rude exchanges between the salesman and myself where it was obvious that I was circumventing his ability to upsell me.  Once I did get logged in, I was thoroughly disappointed in how difficult the software was to use and navigate.  It was no wonder why they wanted your phone number and required viewing to the videos – because the product interface is horrendous and difficult to use.


What amazed me throughout the process was how 1985 all of the sales tactics felt.   This is 2008.  The era of web 2.0 and of FREE.  This company was using a requirement of a phone number so that they could talk to me and attempt to upsell me additional services (which is how this company makes money).  They use their webinars to rope in additional customers and sell additional services.  There is nothing wrong with the up-sell and with this model – but the sales technique needs to work the way business is done in 2008.


I will compare this experience to one that I recently had with PipelineDeals.com.  PipelineDeals is a web 2.0 pipeline tracking tool that I recently started using as a replacement for salesforce.com.  (I can supply a full review and comparison at another time).  To sign up for this, I clicked on “sign-up now” and it didn’t even require any payment info.  I got a full account and after I logged in, I saw several places where I could click on videos to explain each feature if I was confused.  They also had a very well stocked knowledge base and blog for additional information.  I was able to look and find most of the information that I needed to access.  And, when I was lost, I got feedback and email replies quickly from their staff.  I was never asked to talk to someone, and they never tried to upsell me.

I am now paying PipelineDeals every month for their software.  Why?  because the sales process was clean, genuine, and I was able to see and play with the service before I spoke to a salesperson about additional services.  The salesperson was accessible – but not in my face – and I was able to move forward at my pace.

In 1985, without the ability to provide software as a service, and without the ubiquity of the internet, much of this was not possible.  But, we have to realize that it is the 21st century now and we need to sell according to our environment.

Some examples learned here:

– Let people into your software.  There is no reason NOT to when its software as a service.  Its easy to turn them off if it doesn’t work out.  Its not 1985 where you are shipping out a disk, working through an install, etc.   Let them in and let them explore and play on their own.  By providing access to a community, videos, blog, etc. you can let your customers help each other – and get a much more rewarding and valuable experience.

– Forget the pre-upsell.  I don’t know anyone that likes to be upsold – and even more so when you haven’t even seen or used to product yet.  You will have plenty of time to do the upsell later on.  Let people become members of your community before you start attacking them for more money.  In 1985, you didn’t get as easy access to your customers to make the upsell.  In 2008, your customers come to your site everytime they use your software and you have plenty of time to to the upsell – and the upsell is much more valuable when they are already tied to your solution.

– Let the customer do some of the work.  Why did this company ask me for log in information and then just manually create new login information completely unrelated to what I filled in?  There was no reason for them not to let me provision myself and actually create a username and password that works for me.  In 1985, I may have needed to do this for someone, but in 2008, you can let your customer fill in some of this information for you.  After all, they know it better than anyone.


The ultimate lesson here is that you can’t get caught in old ways of selling.  The internet and SaaS model provide some very exciting new ways to sell and deliver software.  In fact, new and exciting ways to sell everything.  Our customers have come to expect this model of sales and its actually very aggravating when you encouter a company that doesn’t subscribe to this new model.  We are working on internet time now, and if you just compare my two experiences: one set me up in minutes and got my business.  The other took days and by the time I got into the software, I was so soured by the experience, unless the software was amazing, I wasn’t going to be hooked anyway.

So, as great as 1985 was – I don’t ever want to go back.  Sales in 2008 is way better.

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