Discover what’s blocking sales with less than a day of work

Last week I beat you up about why the number one way to increase revenue is by getting feedback from lost sales. Feedback from the field — not adding new features, not polishing the website, not even talking to existing customers.

That’s right, talking to existing customers isn’t good enough! They bought in spite of your faults; you need to talk to the other 99.9% of your potential customers who aren’t so forgiving and understanding.

But how?

It’s unfair of me to say “find out what’s stopping sales” and then not tell you how to go about it.

So here are eleven ways to collect empirical data about why people are checking out your product but not buying it, most of which can be implemented in less than a day.

1. Add a short, optional form before your download/eBook/whitepaper so you can follow up.

Download form“But forms are a barrier to downloads,” I hear you cry.

I know this argument, but if you don’t have feedback you can’t fix your product, and if a hundred people download in silence and don’t buy, it doesn’t matter that they downloaded.

Besides, if you do it right, adding the form doesn’t necessarily mean fewer downloads. I didn’t used to believe that sentence I just wrote until we did it at Smart Bear. Sure enough, no impact in the number of downloads. None.

So how do you “do it right?” I wrote a nice, long article with specific tips, learned by experimenting in the field, that you can put to use in less than a day. Read it here on the Avangate blog.

Getting email addresses means you can follow up about the trial. Half of them will have forgotten to start the trial. Half will have gotten stuck and silently stopped. Half don’t realize you’re a friendly, happy, small company that wants to spend time making them successful.

For those who end up not buying, if you ask them “why” you’ll be surprised how many will tell you. How can you afford not to know this information?

2. Have an opt-in newsletter.

Newsletter checkboxYou don’t have a newsletter and you don’t have time to write one. You don’t even know what to put in one.

I know, and I don’t care! Prompt them anyway, because someday you’ll want one, and then you’ll have a bunch of email addresses.

There’s no reason not to build an honest, opt-in, no-spam list of people who are interested in your product. My experience is that most people on such lists aren’t paying customers! So this means you get all sorts of excuses to gently ping interested people who haven’t given you money. Such as:

  • Praise the features in a new software release.
  • Give a tip about a feature they might not know about.
  • Tell a customer success story.
  • Highlight a nice article someone wrote about you or which argues that a service like yours is valuable.
  • Announce a partnership with another vendor they might use.
  • Give them a time-limited coupon.
  • Tell them you’ll be in their city and ask if they’d like you swing by and do a demo.

If you don’t accumulate these emails, it’s a tremendous waste, for nothing. Add the checkbox.

Update: Somani from Worklog Assistant asks: “How do you manage your subscriber list?  I’m stretched thin enough; I don’t want to write a custom app.”

Answer:  Use an on-line newsletter system like Constant ContactMailChimp, or Emma.  They provide forms you can drop into your website; they accept and confirm the email addresses for you.  Then when you’re ready to send a newsletter, they have special deals with the major email providers (e.g. Yahoo, GMail, Hotmail) so your newsletter won’t be accidentally marked as spam.

3. Offer free stuff for feedback from lost sales.

Hunt down the contact info for people who trialed but didn’t buy and give them something for free if they’ll talk to you for 15 minutes about why they didn’t buy.

(Guess this means you’ll have to get their email address, huh?)

At Smart Bear we gave $2010 to Wikipedia, $5 at a time.  It was amazingly successful.

wikipedia donation from Smart Bear

What can you give away?

  • Cool stuff that promotes something good for the world (e.g. something from Etsy)
  • Give money to charity so you can write it off and the other person feels good (e.g. $25 donation to Kiva or Wikimedia Foundation or Free Software Foundation)
  • $25 coupon to Amazon (it’s easy and “Amazon” means “anything you want”)
  • Swag with funny/cool content promoting your company (T-shirt, mug, mousepad)
  • Cool stuff having nothing to do with your company but which is desirable to your audience (e.g. calendar of XKCD cartoons or Despair posters)

It’s worth $25 at least; probably $50. You don’t have to offer it forever, just until you start hearing the same things over and over again. Or budget $1000 and run the offer until the budget is gone.

4. Hunt down the contact info for one customer and get them on the phone.

I know, it’s an “existing customer,” and I just told you they can’t tell you why other people aren’t buying. But I want you to ask about their buying experience.

Well, of course you should also talk about what’s bothering them and what they’d like to see next, and in fact that’s the excuse you can use for the call. But carve out at least 15 minutes to interview them about the trial and buying process.

Ask them things like:

  • How did they hear about you?
    (Tells you which marketing sources are worth spending more time/money with)
  • What information on your website convinced them to download?
    (Tells you which messages are important; if they’re buried, make it more obvious; incorporate into ads)
  • What was the main reason they bought the software?
    (Tells you their primary pain point, the one you should address on your home page and ads)
  • What part of the trial process was confusing or difficult?
    (Tells you where other people are probably dropping out of the sales process)

5. In your product uninstaller, ask why they didn’t buy.

This sounds dubious I know. Why would anyone bother? They’re already uninstalling, why would they give you the time of day?

But the fact is, this works. People like to give opinions. Don’t take my word for it — check out this comment on last week’s post where Mo Flanagan from WindowTabs volunteered that this technique was “eye-opening” for his company.

The FireFox browser not only asks when you uninstall, it even asks if you merely cancel an install!


Sure, most of the time you’ll get nothing and sometimes you’ll get useless crap like “You suck,” but sometimes you’ll get gold.

As with the Help Menu link (below), don’t bother making a custom form to get the feedback, just pop up an email client or web browser with a form asking why they didn’t buy.

While you’re at it, why not add a field that says: “If you’d like to be notified when we address the problems you’ve raised, put your email address here.”

6. Solicit testimonials from existing customers.

Besides being great marketing fodder, testimonials are where you discover the real reasons your customers love you. The real pain you solve, the true impact of your software on their daily life, whether you really do have “legendary” service, etc..

For the things they highlight, consider: Are those things obvious from the get-go to new visitors to your website? Are these things obvious while someone is trialing your product?

For the things you thought were great about your product or company that they don’t talk about, maybe you should reconsider whether those things are actually important. Listen to your customers’ point of view, not yours. Listen to their stories, not your vision.

Here’s an example. This is an actual customer quote for Smart Bear’s (my) software development tool:

“When we introduced Code Collaborator, it was like someone broke the ice in our group. With some common ground to start conversations and help us get to know each other, we came out of our cubes and actually talked to each other. As a result, now we collaborate more often to design and test features as well as review them.”
—Anand Kalyanavarathan, Program Manager, Siemens

Notice how there’s no mention of features or why we’re better than the competition or whether we’re SaaS or not. It’s a story about how this tool changed the social dynamic in the company from isolation to collaboration.

You can see this sentiment reflected in the bi-line on Code Collaborator’s product page (circa 2009 when this article was written): “When code review is easy and fun, it actually gets done.”

7. Add links (for web apps) and Help Menu items (for desktop apps) soliciting feedback.  Or ask on “quit.”

It should say something inviting and human like “Complain” or “Yell at us.” Just “Feedback” is too corporate and unfeeling. Prove that you want them to click that link!

You don’t have to create complex forms or mess with proxy servers, just open a “Contact Us” form on your website or launch their email client.

We did this at Smart Bear and a sizable percentage of all feedback email comes from that link in the product. You can probably add this to your software in an hour. Why not do it?

Keith from Redcort software suggests also prompting users when they exit the product.  Would that bother a user?  During a trial, this is no different from any other “annoyance” buy-me-now box, but has much greater opportunity for reward.

8. Give away free copies of your software in exchange for product reviews.

Reviews not only give you feedback about your software, they also double as publicity.

Don’t worry about getting bad publicity. If your product is DOA they won’t bother writing a review, because writing “I couldn’t get it installed” doesn’t make for an interesting article. If they like some parts and dislike others, that’s OK. In fact, there’s data that shows people are more likely to try a product that has mixed reviews that one with rave reviews, provided the reviewer gives details!

The smaller the blogger the more likely they are to help you. Remember, even a blogger with 17 RSS subscribers can provide valuable feedback.

9. Give away copies of your software in exchange for a 30-minute feedback session.

After the trial period elapses, almost no one buys, right? So you send some emails to beg them etc., but almost no one responds, right?

So you have these people who were interested enough to download but absolutely are not going to buy. I propose you give them the software for free.

You’re not losing money on the sale because they weren’t going to buy anyway. You exchange the free license only if they get on the phone with you and really talk about why they couldn’t shake the money loose from the boss.

The only way you “lose money” here is that you have to provide tech support without revenue. But the feedback about lost sales is more than worth it.

Besides, those people will tell their friends (free publicity), and you can set limits like “only one free seat per company” so that they can’t pull this trick on you twice.

Also you don’t have to offer this forever. By the time they tell their friends and suggest that if they wait they could get a free seat, you’ll have ended this program because you’ll have gotten 10 meetings and you’ll know how to get those friends to actually purchase.

10. Find a local startup/entrepreneur/user group in town and pitch your product.

Most cities have an informal support group for startups. Ask whether you can pitch your product to the group for practice and feedback.

It doesn’t matter if you’re pitching in front of entrepreneurs, investors, or a local user group. In fact, the latter is great if they’re also your potential customers — you get to do a sales pitch in a friendly environment.

Even if you don’t get great feedback, having to do a presentation forces you to rethink what’s important and interesting about your software and how to communicate that to others. Frequently this exercise reshuffles some ideas that end up on your home page and advertisements.

11. Use UserVoice or GetSatisfacion

logos-uservoice-and-getsatisfactionThese web-based services solicit feedback and then allow people to vote on each other’s ideas. The cost is free or cheap depending on service options. Both of these services are ubiquitous on the web so people generally know how to use them.

I recommend allowing anonymous responses, otherwise many people will be discouraged by having to create a new account or forgetting the account information they created.

Don’t worry about people crapping up your forums. You won’t have much feedback at first so moderation is easy, and in my experience at Smart Bear we’ve had hundreds of entries and comments and thousands of votes, and we haven’t once needed to delete something.

Please, just do something

If you’re not actively getting data about lost sales every day, you’re in the dark. These techniques are easy to implement so there’s no excuse not to try some.

If you still think you “already know what they’re going to say,” try it anyway. If you’re right, hooray for you.

But if you’re wrong, these techniques could be the difference between molding a product people will actually pay money for and going out of business with an idea you thought was perfect.

What other techniques do you have? Leave a comment!

51 responses to “Discover what’s blocking sales with less than a day of work”

  1. All due respect to Joel, I think Jason is a lot more practical and less religious which makes for some good advice.

    Great one!

  2. Jason,
    Great post with some good ideas. We’ve just added a dialog on exit of our app during evaluation. It offers purchase and feedback links. Our intent is identical to your main point — we need to find a way to communicate with those who may not purchase. We decided adding the dialog to the installed app at quit was more useful than at download (before they’ve used our software) or uninstall when they’ve already given up.

      • Thanks Jason. BTW, we include a ‘Don’t show this message again’ option with the dialog (and a setting in the preferences to toggle it back on). This allows our users to easily dismiss the dialog if they feel it is a hindrance to their evaluation of our software.

  3. Inspired by your previous post Jason I have added a popup asking for an email address to my download link. I ask for the email and say I will email in 48 hours time to ask what they think.

    I’m embarrassed to say I have had more useful feedback in the last 3 days than the previous month.

    Also I have just added a top-right page curl soliciting feedback. It may be a little over the top but we shall see :)

    Thanks for the great articles.

    • Awesome! Nothing embarrassing about that. We’re brainwashed with the mantra “every form is evil” and “more downloads is always better,” myself included.

      I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using a download form. I’m just in the fortunate position of having hindsight. :-)

      I think so long as you make it clear that you want feedback from customers — not just lip service — it’s not “over the top.”

  4. Great set of ideas for getting feedback, thanks.

    Our latest product is SaaS, so we use a feedback form when someone cancels a trial or subscription. But it’s not always easy to get feedback from non-purchasers. So about a year ago we also did a survey (with a free gift as the incentive) which was pretty revealing on what people liked, didn’t like, and why.

    Honestly, at the end of the day for us, it’s entirely about making products people actually want to use. Without user feedback, it’s really hard to do that.

    And really, why make things that no one wants?

  5. Great tips !

    Our uninstallation will be updated ASAP ! We want feedback from our users, and what better time to ask why they don’t want to use it than when they uninstall it ! Brilliant !

    We will ask the user if s/he wants to give us some feedback, and if yes, we will open a simple webpage with a feedback form.
    .-= Atle Iversen’s latest blog post: Copy / Paste =-.

  6. As an eight-plus year veteran of the customer reference solution world, we can’t agree more at RO. Our solutions support our clients need to enable conversations between prospects and clients and we continue to evolve to incorporate ways that the digital conversation mirrors the lost, but time-consuming art of having a reference conversation!

  7. Very interesting article and list of points.
    I read the previous article to this one. Good stuff. Subscribing to your blog.

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  8. I plan to implement a survey that pop-ups during the trail period (once) and asks politely for feedback, sending the results back to my web site.
    I like the idea to ask for feedback during uninstall and probably will try it.
    Also the idea of feedback (and purchase) links at exit is interesting and probably the best because at exit user have already opinion on product and have enough time (he finishes to work) to answer question. This is probably the right time to ask for purchase too.

  9. Hi Mike – What a great bunch of resources for collecting people’s contact info and getting feedback.

    I’m laughing out loud here because I went to one of those small entrepreneur type groups a little while back. I thought I was being really helpful giving feedback to two handbag designers.

    They’d created a huge handbag – lovely colour and everything but it would have fallen apart if you’d actually put anything in it.

    I pointed out that it might be better made from more substantial material and one of the women barked, “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to put much in this type of bag.” Silly me for thinking a big bag was for carrying more.

    Folk like that don’t deserve feedback. I would much rather someone told me why my product sucked, rather than rave about it, just to be polite.

    • Mike? Who’s Mike?

      But yes I agree that you have to have the attitude that you want criticism. If you wanted people to just say “everything is great,” you could have just made a sign and put it up over your monitor and gone back to sleep.

  10. Jason,

    Great article!!! I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog, you provide some great feedback and suggestions and I hope to employ a lot of your ideas in building my business.

    It is funny because my better half suggested I add a request for an email to anyone that wants to download my software and I told her that wasn’t how it was done. It seems that she was right and I’ve got egg on my face. But wait, that’ll happen only if I tell her about your post … hmmmm

    Thanks again and keep up the great work.

    .-= Kevin Moore’s latest blog post: If you register your site for free at =-.

  11. This article is pure gold! Thank you!

    The “uninstall survey” advice is a very good one – I found that it works. You will get a few insults, but also LOTS of useful advice.

    Also, in our software, we ask the user to fill a survey on the 8th run of the program. This is also a good way to get good information.

  12. Amazing article, seriously. Within one day of having the poll online we figured out one VERY interesting thing we would have never discovered otherwise.

    I even blogged about it .

    Many thanks again! :-D
    P.S.: the article “you’re a small company, now act like one has been also deeply inspiring!” :-)


  13. great tips..

    We have recently launched a SaaS based service that enables companies to setup social support communities for their businesses.
    To gather feedback and capture trends we award a promotional code (that gives 2 months standard subscription free) to user who are willing to participate in our short survey..

    It somewhat resonates with your point# 9, only in our case since its SaaS based so we give 2 months subscription free.

    Thanks for writting this topics…. gave me confidence that I am going on the right path :-)

    – Abhijeet

  14. Fantastic post! I’ve been making half-assed attempts to gain useful feedback from people that cancel. I’ve gotten great feedback but my response rate has been pretty low.

    Inspired after reading this article, I redoubled my efforts to get useful feedback — in the last 24 hours I’ve gotten much better response rates and some great feedback that tells me what I need to focus on next.

    What seems to be working well so far is a personal email from me that’s obviously not automated; I ask for their opinion on how I can improve my product.

    • Thanks for adding the point about personal emails making the difference.

      It’s true that your “conversion rate” for getting feedback will be low — I think it will always be so because most people aren’t willing to give you even more time if they’ve already decided they don’t care about you.

      But if the quality of the responses you do get are good — as you say — you still learn a lot!

  15. Asking, or forcing, people to spend more of their shrinking time contacting you or learning about your expertise is aversive to folks.

    Simplest thing is just constantly be on the lookout for for “friction” you cause people in contacting you – in any way. For example, I am always surprised by how hard it is to find a simple email address or phone number on blogs, websites or profiles. But of course, most people are really shy so they don’t really want direct contact. That’s understandable.

    C’mon do you really want to make someone read a white paper or fill out a form to get in touch with you. The word “free” has also been trashed by spammers and marketers. (Not us!)

    Does anybody you want to work for, or with, spend their time with “free,” “secret” or “revolutionary” advice? Most of the folks we work with want to pay a lot for the best advice!

    Low conversion rates, BTW, can be a good thing. Do you want to work with a lot of people or the best?

    • Great post. Shows not only how important UX can be, but how you need to make things friendly, accessible, and ASK PEOPLE for feedback.

      Everyone says “give us feedback” but almost no one means it. You have to demonstrate you mean it. And you did!

  16. I just clicked to unsubscribe from a newsletter, largely because they were sending me stuff too frequently (several times a day), and on their unsubscribe form was a checkbox saying “Are we mailing you too frequently? We could send you a once-a-week newsletter instead. It’ll have only the really important stuff.”

    What a great idea! I chose it, because I remembered that once upon a time, I really did want to hear from these guys, and because it showed me that they were paying attention to what I want.

    • Good story, and a good tip for us all.

      Of course, does anyone have the time to read three things a day from something that isn’t their primary job? Or even if it is?

      Maybe they should only write about important things all the time…

      Another idea is to have different content for different newsletters so that you only get content you care about.

  17. I just implemented another of your advices here: requiring an email address prior to download. And it seems to be working fine. About 50% of those that get to the download page actually download. Which is OK, I guess. For those who don’t feel like giving the email address, I also have a link to an online demo, which in turn has a link back to the download page. If the online demo gets them excited, they will easily be able to get back to actually download the software.

    Then I started creating stuff, like video tutorials, so I can send follow up emails during the trial period.

    Above all, it’s so nice to see the names of all those that try my software. It’s just so much more humane. :-)

    Thank you once again!
    .-= Cristian Pascu’s latest blog post: Website design details you probably didn’t know that matter. A lot. =-.

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