SaaS sales: Turn outages into opportunities

by Steli Efti

On March 5th earlier this year, our customers couldn’t use Close.io to make calls for a couple of hours because of a technical problem with our telephony provider. 

And if salespeople can’t make calls, they’re losing money and missing opportunities. Which is the last thing we want to happen to our customers.

But rather than letting this outage drag down our business, we turned it into a sales opportunity, and actually came out winning.

If you’re in business, crisis situations are inevitable at any stage of your company. There will be outages, bugs, errors, which is why I want to share our crisis-into-opportunity gameplan with you today.

Now first of all, it’s important that this works only if you have a genuinely valuable and generally stable product.

This isn’t a compensation strategy for a crappy product. Constantly providing more value to your customers than they expect is the number one thing you should focus on.

This is a strategy for those rare crisis events that disturb business operations despite your best efforts and preparations to prevent them from happening.

What to do when lightning strikes

Be prepared. When Slack users took to Twitter over a massive service outage, Slack was ready. Using an internal team tool that notifies them of customer support inquiries via Twitter, within a few hours, the @SlackHQ account had tweeted over 2,300 personalized messages to users tweeting about #Slackdown. Users loved their hands-on approach—and Slack gained over 3,300 Twitter followers in a day.

Fix things first. That should be your number one priority. Do everything you can to get things up and running as fast as possible.

Be transparent. Let your customers know what’s happening and share updates frequently.

Be as helpful as possible. Do more than what’s expected of you, and more than what would be “reasonable” if you’d look at it from a purely rational perspective. Think of it as an opportunity to really demonstrate how much you care. Call as many of your affected customers as you can on the phone. (It's again one of those times where I tell SaaS startups to pick up the phone!)

Apologize with friendly strength. Don’t let aggravated customers abuse you. You're not their emotional punching bag. Show them you're genuinely sorry—but do it from a point of friendly strength. Don’t be apologetic, don’t come from a place of fear and urgency. (And by all means, don't make it one of these meaningless corporate "apologies". Own the apology and be personally responsible.)

Assess the damage. Find out how much of an impact an outage has on your customers. In our case, there were some customers who weren’t calling during the outage anyway, others just used their cell phones. So with those people, it wasn’t much of an issue. For others though, it seriously affected them.

Support them. For those whose performance was badly affected by this, we advised them on quick workarounds to enable their sales teams to start making calls ASAP.

Ask about their overall satisfaction level. Once you’ve put out the fires and helped them to get things up and running again—don’t hang up the phone! You’ve just had a long conversation with them, so ask them: “Hey, apart from this one-time crisis right now, how happy are you with our product? How much value have you been getting from the software? What do we need to do better?” Ask a few probing questions so you get a feel for the overall strength of the relationship with this customer.

Address issues that affect overall satisfaction. Some of the companies had issues, problems and grievances, and we worked with them on those, and put them on a watch list to support until we could get them to a high level of satisfaction.

The next step is where the magic lies:

Crisis management → support → success → sales

Some companies told us they were super happy and got a ton of value out of our sales communication software. At this point, we would turn the crisis call, that had by then morphed into a support and success call, into a sales call.

“If you’re happy with the software, and our product provides a ton of value to you, let’s make this an even bigger win-win. Could you see yourself using Close.io for the next year or so?”

If they said yes, we pitched them on a pre-paid or annual contract, rather than the monthly contract they were on right now.

That day, we converted several monthly customers into annual customers.

Rather than having a whole day wasted on crisis management, we now turned this into a great day for sales and made a big chunk of extra revenue.

Recap

Next time your company lets your customers down:

  • How can we transparently communicate as quickly as possible, so our customers know what’s going on?
  • This isn’t just a support team issue or a technical issue. Let the sales team also take ownership and responsibility for managing this crisis. Let’s call people and apologize, help, and find out if they’re happy.
  • If they are happy: sell them an annual plan!

Prefer to listen? Here's the audio-version of the video: