My co-founder and I talk about Palabra’s revenue model about once a month. As our early SaaS product evolves and our core features shift, we take a few minutes to think if our revenue model still makes sense.

So far we’ve considered every pricing structure there is and tried a few of them before choosing a self-served opt-in free trial. Now, three months after we launched our self-served onboarding, we’re working to optimize our trial conversion.

The good news is since our tool helps other companies optimize their free trial journeys, we’ve learned a lot about what works.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share our lessons learned and thoughts for our strategy in a short guide.

Let’s get into it.

What there is to know about B2B free trials

As SaaS shifts into focusing on end-users, B2B companies like ours quickly adopt product-led strategies to grow. So I’ve talked to hundreds of founders using Free Tiers of Free Trials to put the product in front of customers and provide value as soon as possible.

Since Palabra is made to optimize core customer journeys (like trial conversion), I’d say Free Trials have been one of my biggest concerns for the last year. And even though every business is different, we are all following similar structures to get more paying and active users.

If you have free trials for your B2B business or are thinking about it, here are some things that we learned and I think you should know:

In Palabra, we chose to offer a Free Trial because we think our product should speak for itself. Since we’re aiming for an easy-to-use product, it shouldn’t require explanations or long setup costs.

But we quickly found that some prospects need lots of setup time (especially those that are not tracking user events) and don’t understand the product enough for the trial to be compelling.

So now we’re looking into best practices to improve it and here I share what we’ve learned 👇

How to design a free trial for conversion

So we know Free Trials are part of the sales funnel and should be optimized for conversion. We also know we should get prospects to value before the trial ends. How do we do that?

🚀 Some questions to ask yourself

Free trials are the perfect opportunity to understand what’s most important for your business. What value means for your prospects and how they get there will be different depending on your product.

Lincoln Murphy from Sixteen Ventures has written about this a lot, and I’ve used suggestions like these to help Palabra customers build their customer journeys.

So here are some questions to ask yourself before designing your free trial journey:

🚀 Activation

If you’ve read or talked about product-led growth, you’ve probably heard this word before. If not, I suggest checking out Growth 101 from Growth University, where Greg explains it simply and clearly.

Now that you know what value means for you and what people should do to become engaged and invested, this is what will help you get people there.

Activation is driving users to the action you wish them to take.

When it comes to Free Trials, activation means driving users to convert into paying customers.

Activation components can be triggered emails, onboarding calls, actions users should take within your product. Anything you’re doing to move people towards paying customers is part of your activation.

The most important thing to learn about activation is that those components should be connected, following a simple and logical path.

For your customers, taking the next step towards becoming a paying customer should be obvious.

To do that, you need to design your free trial to be that obvious. Think about every activation component you have and try to reduce it into a single obvious customer journey.

How to optimize a free trial for an early product

Best practices and benchmarks always seem to be too far off for early-stage founders like me. This is why I always try to translate best practices into MVP versions of them.

If you’re an early-stage company, I really recommend thinking about your trial conversion journey as a linear path.

Maybe there are many steps required for users to become active, or to predict engagement. I usually suggest choosing your most important one.

It’s much easier to optimize one linear funnel than multiple and combined flows. You can map the entire flow and then choose what your main Free Trial Journey will look like. Start small, focus, and then scale as it makes sense.

Here are some things to do to optimize your trial when you’re early.

It will probably look something like this:

2. Track events

If possible, track each step with a single user action (click or page view).

Taking signup as an example, I would recommend tracking signup after users complete their information and get started. It might make sense to track when people click on “Get Started” on the landing page for marketing, but not for trial optimization.

We also usually recommend using Segment to track events, but starting as small as possible. Choose those 5-10 events that are key to conversion, and try to track them consistently.

There are also some considerations to have when tracking to make sure it’s reliable information, like trying to track from the back end.

3. Reach out to prospects manually at first

Automated email drip campaigns seem like a must-have for any self-served flow, but it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, I think you should always reach out to customers (and automation is a good idea). But if you have about a dozen new users each week and are still figuring out what your logical activation path looks like, creating that automation can take you more time than it saves.

I’ve seen great companies start by reaching out manually. This gives them the flexibility to understand if each prospect is an ICP and make personalized suggestions that feel better from a customer perspective.

4. Optimize each step separately

Remember to design clear steps for customers to follow. It would be easier for us to improve conversion as a whole by improving each of them separately.

After you’ve tracked those key steps and have a couple of weeks of data in some sort of dashboard (Palabra for example 🙃), you’ll probably see where the biggest drop-off is. Then you can focus on that step and try to reduce it by making small changes to your product or communication. We managed huge improvements by changing the words we use on onboarding emails.

If there are no obvious drop-offs, just make an educated guess and start from there. As long as you’re taking it one step at a time, you’ll be able to predict what’s most important for your customers.

🚀 Final thoughts

If you’ve read previous posts I wrote, you’ll find I usually suggest taking small consistent steps towards improving your metrics and achieving your goals.

I think this is the only way of getting actual results. No hacks or case studies will allow you drastically improve your conversion rate. It takes time (and that’s ok).

We’re considering this while we build a product made for early-stage startups: less is usually more. This is why Palabra helps you build linear journeys to understand where each user is and what they need to move forward.

If you’re trying to improve your trial conversion rate, I recommend starting by tracking each step of your customer journey and seeing where your customers are usually getting stuck.

We have helped dozens of companies do this, and I’d love to help you as well. Want to book some time to chat with me?

During our first year building Palabra our marketing strategy was exclusively organic, and our first sales came from 1:1 conversations with potential users.

But those sales didn’t come right away. After a month of difficult conversations and failed demos, I knew I had to do something different. That’s when I learned a very new and innovative approach to direct sales: actually listening to what people were saying.

Since then, I’ve talked to many founders and went through their demos. I noticed they were making many of the same mistakes I was before.

That’s why I decided to create this guide, hoping to share my experience and tips to talking less and selling more.

📞 TL;DR

This is what helped me listen more and close more sales.

    1. Write down your list of three (3) key things you should ask and know before the call ends.
    2. Structure your conversation -introduction, questions and next steps.
    3. Doing enough background research to know possible use cases and questions.

As always, this guide is made with non-enterprise B2B software in mind. I speak from my experience and lessons handling sales as a founder of an early stage B2B SaaS solution.

This doesn’t mean it won’t be useful for other types of businesses, if it’s your first time handling sales you’ll probably get some actionable insights from this article.

📞 What a failed sales conversation looks like

Just because your sales call didn’t end in an actual sale it doesn’t mean you failed. You might be talking to someone who just doesn’t have a use case for your product, or is not ready to buy yet. It could also be because you’re not talking to the right person within a company.

But there are definitely some cases where everything seems to be right and you still don’t get to close a sale.

When I started getting into 1:1 sales calls I went through months where I had 5 to 10 weekly demos with little to no conversions. There was more than one reason for it, and some had to do with how immature our product development was.

But I quickly learned the way I was handling these calls had a lot to do with our poor close rate. And I found a few things I could do to improve. But first, let’s focus on how to identify a failed sales call.

My first lesson learned was this: it’s not always easy to know if prospects are interested in buying or just being nice.

Only a small percentage of prospects have told me truthfully why they don’t like our solution, why they think it won’t work for them. They usually listened patiently to what I had to say, and had a polite excuse when I tried to get them to commit to buying.

So how do we know if there’s room for us to improve our sales strategies? Here’s my short list:

  1. When there’s no clear commitment on their end after the call ended. It doesn’t have to be a subscription, prospects can commit to a follow up call, team mate introduction or giving more contact information. If you have no next steps including their time, money or information, they probably have no intention on moving forward.
  2. When you can’t give honest and obvious reasons on why your product will be useful for your prospects. This was specially dificult for me with an early product, since we didn’t have a defined use case or ideal customer profiles. If the sales call ended and you can’t describe a clear use case to your team, you probably weren’t asking the right questions.
  3. When you end up with a long list of feature requests that are not on your roadmap. Even if you’re early, you should have an MVP which adds enough value to allow you to sell it as it is. You’re not selling promises, and if those feature requests mean that your company needs to go on a different direction to what you planned, it could really hurt your developement and focus.

After finding this, I started taking notes on each of my demos on a spreadsheet. For each demo I wrote down what their use case was, what features they had requested, and what their commitment was. If I had a clear next step commited, I counted it as a win.

📞 How to be better at sales with an early product

Having an early product means most of your sales calls won’t end in an actual customer, and that’s ok. In early sales conversations, learning about your prospects and industry is as important as selling your product.

To be better at sales you first have to go through your sales conversations. Record every demo you have (of course, asking your prospects’ permission) and watch at least some of them.

Being a first time founder I didn’t have much time to rewatch my recorded calls, so I chose those that went well and those that went terribly poor.

I found I was usually making at least one of these mistakes:

In most poor demos, I was making all 4 mistakes at once.

So what to do once you know what’s wrong?

For me it was sitting down and finding strategies to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. The hardest one (by far) was learning to listen.

📞 How to talk less and sell more

Listening to prospects is not at easy as it sounds when you are worried about selling them your solution. Specially if you’re at an early stage and don’t have much experience selling software, it’ll be hard to keep a clear mind and dig into the most important answers you get.

But here’s the thing: selling isn’t about convincing people to try your product, it’s about identifying how your product can solve a problem for them.

In a direct sales conversation, you should have two take outs:

  1. Identifying if the person you’re talking to has a problem you could solve (the more details the better)
  2. Communicating clearly how your product is a solution to their problem.

If you fail at #1, you’ll end up trying to convince people who don’t actually have a problem you could help them with. Those are not your users, and there’s nothing you can do today to make their life easier. Even if you somehow convince them to sign up, they’ll probably cancel their subscription, making your churn go up.

Failing at #2 is usually connected to #1, because the only way of communicating a solution is to understand the problem perfectly. You have to listen really carefully to understand what those problems are.

Most of your conversations with prospects should be about #1. Make a lot of questions. Listen closely and follow up on what isn’t clear. Make the other person feel listened to. Worst case scenario, you end up with valuable insights about what problems people have and as an early stage startup, this information is crucial to find product-market fit.

Here are some lessons I learned while taking a direct sales approach to SaaS. Most of them came from reading The Mom Test, talking to awesome people and experimenting on my own.

1. Writing down what you want to get from the conversation

This list should be really short. My initial conversation guide had 15+ questions to get to understand the problem, and then a short demo. It worked kinda fine, but I usually got lost by question 5, and then started thinking about what to ask next instead of listening to the answer.

The Mom Test suggests you should “prepare your list of 3”. Three things you want to get from each conversation, depending on who you’ll be talking to.

In early Palabra demos, when I asked to have a quick chat to someone in a startup, I usually had three different scenarios:

I prepared three different notes to look at before each conversation, one for each buyer persona, and wrote down my list of three. I started asking questions that came to mind from listening to what people were saying, and spent almost no time looking at my notes. If I ever felt I was getting lost, I just glanced towards my list of three for that particular person and checked if I was missing something. Freedom.

2. Having a structured set of questions

This advice came from a great friend and the best UX designer I’ve met 👉 sofandrade.com👈 She knows all about user interviews, and since I was also trying to learn from our prospects, I knew it would help.

Her advice was to divide my questions into chunks or topics I wanted to know about. Give a structure to my script.

There are a few ways of structuring your conversations. I used and recommend two:

Having differentiated topics gives you flexibility to follow the conversation and not worry about what to ask after each answer. If you ask a question from the first topic and your user’s answer goes to a slightly different topic, you can go to that part of your guide and then come back after that’s done.

A smart move was to leave questions about pains for last. By then I usually had enough information about their problem and could offer a clear solution with Palabra.

If we had a solution, I’d briefly tell people why I thought this would work, and offered to show them in a demo. By focusing on their specific solution in the demo, I only showed one feature and not the whole product, which was a much better use of everyone’s time.

3. Doing some background research – but still ask people

You can’t go into a sales pitch without knowing who you’re talking to. For B2B sales you need to know about the company and the person you’re actually going to talk to. The key here is to use that information wisely.

I used to start conversations on what I’d learned from their landing page, to let people know I had done my homework. But this was actually making me start on the wrong foot – by talking too much.

Asking about their company and what they do there gives you inside information you wouldn’t get from LinkedIn or a landing page. And it also helps break the ice, since it’s an easy answer for anyone.

My solution was full transparency. I started each conversation by saying I had done a bit of research about them but still wanted to hear from them. Then I would ask what they usually do.

This was incredibly effective. Being honest took away all of my nervousness and allowed me to relax into the conversation. I felt like I had no secrets, I was just telling the truth and asking questions. And I think this works both ways: the person you’re talking to will probably trust you more if you’re honest about what you’re doing.

Just keep in mind the introduction should be short, and they should be doing all the talking. Trust that your discovery questions were enough to make people know they matter to you, and then focus on listening.

📞 Final thoughts

Since my first sales calls almost a year ago, I’ve found much better ways of handling these conversations.

First, I decided to hire a sales coach. This was probably the best business decision we made. Matt Wolach has years of experience and gave us actionable insights to help us improve our sales processes in just a few weeks.

Second, we learned A LOT from these early calls which allowed us to:

My script has changed many times since we first started, and now I’m able to get into sales calls feeling confident and knowing what questions to ask.

Selling an early product continues to be a challenge, but learning to listen to people allowed me to quickly improve and get insights for our business.

Start by creating a process you can trust, and take small steps to improve it.

If you’d like to gain control over your customer pipeline and feed it with real time information on how they interact with your product, Palabra can definitely help.

Book a call with me if you’d like to dig deeper.

Happy calling!

When trying to get our first customers, we’ve all tried cold emails. It’s definitely a smart first move and a cheap alternative to ads, but it’s not easy to get it right.

For me, the most difficult part was how little information available was out there to learn. I went through endless podcasts, blog posts and ebooks before my first campaign went out, but it wasn’t easy to get to actionable insights.

It seems that this is because of three simple reasons:

  1. Content to sell: most of the content available is marketing/sells oriented. People are trying to sell your product or service, educating your audience is not their top priority.
  2. Poor specificity: each company and use case is different, so what works for one company may not work for the next.
  3. Cold emailing is a really long process: lots of little things can ruin your open rate (or your domain rep). So most guides focus on some parts of the process, not all of it.

With all this in mind I decided to put together this short guide with all the things I’ve learned this past year of perfecting Palabra’s cold outreach process. It goes from email setup, to prospecting and copy.

This guide is specific for B2B SaaS companies, and most useful for founders with little to no experience in email marketing. We’ve used it to get to SMBs, Startups and some bigger companies, but not for enterprise (although I think it can work for enterprise sales as well).

For the past 6 months we’ve sent 7630 emails, got an average of 30% open rate and 1% reply rate. After perfecting this process, our last sequences got a 55 to 70% open rate and 5 to 9% reply rate. Here’s how we got there.

TL;DR. Or what you really really need to know

Want to dig deeper into Cold Emails? 👉 Click here 👈 to watch the recording of our Live Training with Sales Coach Matt Wolach

Now let’s dive into every stage of the cold emailing process.

1. Email setup 📨

The first step towards getting prospects from cold outreach is getting your email address ready.

As I said, don’t ever use your own domain for cold outreach. No matter how well written and relevant your content is, at least some people will mark your emails as spam. So go ahead and buy a domain.

The first option we went with was pau@palabra.xyz (instead of pau@palabra.io). This didn’t really work for two reasons:

  1. We didn’t warm up the account first (more on that in a bit)
  2. Email providers may recognise your domain if it’s really similar to one that already has a damaged reputation (like ours did).

Matt Wolach, a great sales coach I worked with, suggested changing the domain name, not just the suffix. Adding a word related to your business can make your domain much more trustworthy, and is read as a brand new domain by email providers. We went with pau@palabraflows.com.

Now, to be read as a real email address, your account needs to be “warmed up”. This basically means interacting with other people, sending and receiving emails, getting clicks and opens to your messages.

I’m not sure how much warming up needs to be done to make sure you get into inbox, but I have some good news: bots can do it for you.

There are plenty of tools to warm up email addresses. My recommendation: Warmup Inbox and it’s been working great.

Keep in mind it will take a couple of weeks for your address to warm up. I think buying a domain and warming up your address should be the first thing you do if you’re thinking about trying cold outreach.

Go ahead, buy your domain, the rest of this article will wait for you here.

Want to dig deeper into Cold Emails? 👉 Click here 👈 to join us on our Live Training with Sales Coach Matt Wolach

2. Prospecting 🔎

Now the next thing you should do is get that contact list you’ll send emails to.

I think prospecting should be the next step because it requires you to ask a lot of questions to yourself: about your users, ideal buyers, value props and differentiators. You can use all of this information later on your email copy, while talking to leads, and even for demos.

The best part of cold emailing is how targeted it can get. You should pick a few characteristics your ideal buyers have in common, and then address the exact pains your tool can solve.

Research

One of the recommendations that I read online says that you should ask your customers to find out what do they like about your tool? What are they using it for? How were they solving your problems before purchasing your solution?

The problem I had is that I didn’t have many customers to ask questions to. So I started by getting into interviews.

I reached out to our closer circle: startups from our city, from our accelerator, or common investors. I asked for 20 minutes of their time and offered to buy them a virtual coffee.

This is what I found:

If, like me, you don’t have a customer base to research from, I suggest having a first campaign to ask prospects for interviews. Here’s a nice post on Indie Hackers that could get you there.

Creating your contact list

Once you know who you’re going after, you need to find their email addresses.

There are plenty of ways to do this. LinkedIn search + Hunter.io to get addresses is one of the cheapest ones, but it requires some manual work. You could of course use web scrapers if you’re going after specific companies.

For us, since we didn’t have a short list of companies but rather a list of characteristics, it made more sense to use a prospecting tool.

The best cost effective one I found is Apollo.io. They have a huge database with LinkedIn profiles, company data and email addresses. It allows you to filter their database with company or contact information. And they even have their own solution to automate email sequences.

I suggest getting contacts in batches of 200 to 400 contacts and reach out each week. It should be more than 100 since cold outreach is a numbers game (most people won’t even read your emails). And it should be small enough so you can run various tests and iterate every week without running out of ideal prospects too soon.

Validate emails

The problem with prospecting is that sometimes email addresses aren’t correct. They might be outdated, be a wild guess, or be inactive for some reason.

Please invest a few dollars in an email validation tool. If you don’t, bounced emails will damage your reputation, and you’ll have to repeat the domain buying and address warming process again.

I use the email validator tool Reply.io has integrated. It marks as risky or invalid at least 30% of our Apollo database, and we delete those contacts to make sure our emails get to real inboxes.

Other good email validation tools I’ve tried are Zerobounce and Verifalia.

3. Content & copy 📝

Alright so you’ve got your contact list and you’re ready to start shooting emails. Please don’t type “cold email templates” on Google search. Please don’t.

When trying to write my first cold emails, I looked into articles and ebooks suggesting email copy to get opens. I had a lot of inspiration from those articles, but of course none worked as a recipe. I had to create my own campaigns and test my subject lines, follow ups, and CTAs.

And I’ll tell you how you can do so too.

One of the most useful blog posts I read online was Cloutly’s guide for B2B Cold campaigns. Lachlan used LinkedIn for prospecting and Lemlist for sending out his campaigns. He did some serious research and personalization, and that got him an impressive 42% reply rate (remember how excited I was about getting from 1% to 9% replies?).

I still use some of Lachlan’s suggestions, although a lot of things he said didn’t really work for my business. The most important difference between what he wrote and what worked for Palabra is personalization.

Lachlan started every email with a personalized first line, to start with the right foot. I tried doing so, but since I had other problems in my campaigns, the open rate was too low for personalization to make sense.

So I decided to focus on their pains, not themselves. This is a good move because you don’t need to spend too much time looking into each prospect (which makes the 400 weekly prospecting much easier). I only use {{Name}} and {{Company}} fields as personalization when I first reach out.

I then look into each prospect carefully after they reply (when they become leads). This made it much easier to focus on potential customers rather than people who might not have time to go through my carefully written pieces.

Here are some tips on email copy I learned:

My cold email templates

Here’s my best performing cold email campaign.

Day 1:

Day 4:

Day 8:

Notice every email has an opt out link, and that I don’t mention the name of my company until the very last email.

This has got me great replies even from people who didn’t need our solution right now. I think setting the tone as non salesy and getting right to the point with the pain we solve is what made it work.

Hope it helps you create your own campaign!

💡 Last thoughts

Direct outreach was really helpful to get our first customers for Palabra. It allowed me to get into quick conversations with prospects, and even if most of those didn’t end in sales I learned A LOT from each and every one of them.

I’d say the most difficult thing about cold emailing is how many little things can go wrong. As I’m writing this, I found our open rate dropped down from 60% to 5% overnight. It might be because of our domain reputation, so I’ll look into it and let you know how I fix it.

The other good thing about cold emailing is that it helped me solve our top of funnel interaction with prospects. After people reply to cold emails I usually get into conversations with them to find if they’re a good fit for our solution. And about 40% of those leads agree to jump on a demo call with me.

Perfecting each stage of our funnel is an ongoing task we might never finish, but getting at least one of these working allowed me to focus on closing more sales.

Changing small parts of your content, prospecting or follow up messages is key to success. Make sure to track what changes you do each week, and see how that impacts your metrics. Open, reply, and lead to demo rate should keep increasing the more you iterate on your process.

Liked this post? 👉 Click here 👈 to watch the recording of our Live Training with Sales Coach Matt Wolach

Would love to hear your thoughts and your experience cold emailing. Feel free to shoot me a cold email at pau@palabra.io, and make sure to subscribe to the Founder’s guide series if you’d like to keep learning with us.

Happy emailing!

Hi, I’m Paula, co-founder of Palabra.

I’ve been working on Palabra full time since July 2020, and have lost track of how many things I’ve learned since then.

Being a first time founder is like getting into an MBA but instead of getting grades you get to epically fail everyday trying to get your business going. It has also been the best job I’ve ever had, allowing me to work alongside great people, meet founders from all over the world and test growth ideas without asking anyone’s permission.

Since I wasn’t keeping track of every lesson learned, I never tried to share any of my insights before. I thought there was more than enough content marketing out there trying to sell solutions to founders, and didn’t feel creating more was worth the effort.

But recently I was at a sales demo and got asked about our Marketing channels. I described to a fellow founder the entire process of cold outreach and demo I had going on, and found I had a lot of valuable information I’d been gathering for the past year.

I decided to create a short guide on cold emails and present it on a 20 min chat with this guy. It allowed him to get started on cold outreach without making the same mistakes I had, and that saved him at least 2 months of googling and going nowhere.

Founders should be teaching each other everything we learn. It’s tough out there, many things could go wrong. And no one knows the struggle better than we do.

That’s why I decided to start this series (and a newsletter along it). Introducing: A Founder’s Guide.

A Founder’s Guide will be my notebook and textbook on every lesson I learn while growing Palabra. I will share notes on sales, marketing, management and decision making.

It aims to help out early stage companies tackle some of the obstacles they might find along the way.

Hope it helps you grow your business as much as it’s been helping me.

Happy hustling,

Pau