Growth September 5, 2019

What would you be doing? - Marketing

Struct

So I'm a software developer and definitely no marketing/sales guru. I've just launched my second real web app and am struggling to get users.

My app circlesend.net sends car service reminders from garages to their clients. My understanding of this market is that mechanics are generally not very technical (when it comes to technology, cars aside... you'd hope), so I've not really been focusing on online marketing, but maybe I should?

So far, I've been cold calling. I have absolutely no experience doing this, so I was really uncomfortable doing it initially, but I'm definitely getting better. Looking at my stats in HubSpot (CRM), I've been in touch with 56 companies so far, most will have been cold calls, a few (5 - 10) will have been cold emails (which I plan on following up with a call). I've had a couple of people sound interested, maybe 3 so far, two still in the pipeline (so fingers crossed for them!) and one dropped off, but that was because my service only sends emails, he wanted text message reminders because he doesn't have his clients email addresses, but he does have their mobile numbers, so that's understandable, I said I'd get back in touch if I implement that in the future (I'm MVPing at the moment).

Most people seem to drop out because they already have a solution, which is fine, like I say, I've got an MVP at the moment, so I don't feel like I can compete against anyone established currently, perhaps I went too MVP.
Some drop out because they "like the personal touch", or they "do it manually and don't want to automate it", painfully lame responses that I need to understand better (I'll do more digging next time those answers come up).

So my question is, how would you market this service? Are my numbers too small to make a judgement call yet? I'm scraping business details from Google Maps to get contact information, so would a mass cold email marketing campaign be a good idea? Facebook Ads? Ads on Reddit? What would you do?

Thanks :)

  1. 4

    Hey @struct!

    My brother and I put about two years into starting an auto repair shop. Our plan was to turn-key it and make it a franchise. I was in charge of software automation and digital marketing (PPC/SEO).

    One piece of software that I wrote does exactly what your app does. But it pulled emails/phone numbers directly from our CRM (at first Mitchell1, then ROWriter). The texts/emails were sent based on ticket status from start to finish then followed up based on work recommendations and last visit time.

    Things didn't work out in the end and we shut the project down.

    I've talked to dozens of mechanics and shop owners during those two years through our coaching program.

    I think what you're doing is awesome. Talking to customers directly and getting a feel for how things are. Nothing will make up for that and it'll give you a signal on whether to pivot or keep going in the same direction.

    Your tech savvy customers hang out in the following places (among others, but these should give you a clue on where to look):

    1. https://www.autoshopowner.com/forums/
    2. https://www.iatn.net/knowledge-base-for-auto-pros
    3. https://www.facebook.com/EliteWorldwide/?ref=br_rs
    4. https://www.facebook.com/AutomotiveTrainingInstitute/

    I've learned a lot from the first one and met the guy that runs it (he's an auto repair business coach). Tons of smart shop owners hang out there. I think you can learn a lot from that one too.

    I think after you've established your target customer and validated your product, your best bet is to work with auto sales consultants. These are guys that sell a suite of products and are paid by the vendors based on their sales. Many of the reps that walked into our shop represented several vendors. I still have a couple of good contacts that I can share with you (this is all U.S by the way). Another good channel is to work with coaches and coaching companies like Elite. At the time we were with them, they had hundreds of shop owners in their program.

    My observations about the industry:

    1. It's very high touch. Shop owners are used to salespeople walking in and starting a relationship. They also expect support from these salespeople. Our sales guy installed our software and was available through calls and texts everyday.
      1.5 If you're not on the ground, then you have to know that calling every week to get your message through is the norm. We would ignore sales people for months, but eventually, we'd talk to the persistent ones.
    2. You're right, most owners and techs need a lot of handholding when it comes to non-vehicle tech. It's weird, but it's true. Be prepared for a lot of support.
    3. Integrations with CRMs and accounting systems is going to be necessary. All your competitors do it: https://www.autotext.me, https://mitchell1.com/socialcrm/text-messaging, https://autoappsinc.com.

    I personally opted out of trying to go the SaaS route in this industry because of its high touch nature. Go-to-bed-and-wake-up-to-find-new-signups is rare.

    Feel free to reach out. I'll be more than happy to help out. nash[at]kabbara.us

    1. 2

      Hi :)

      Thanks for the detail you put into your reply, I appreciate the time you put into it!

      I'm UK based, but I think a lot of what you've said is transferable, so I'll see if I can find equivalents for over here, the places you've linked to are definitely good starting points for me. I'm not in the industry myself and the idea came from just not receiving any reminders myself, so knowing a bit more about where they hang around online is really valuable, thank you!

      Same as above about sales reps selling packages of software to garages, I'll see if I can find some of these people over here, but thanks for the offer of putting me in contact with some of the people you know.

      It's funny that the industry is so high touch and that their technical skills seem to stop with cars, but that's the impression I've always had when dealing with them on a personal basis too. I'm quite fortunate that I've managed to set the whole thing up for free (excluding the domain name), so just 1 customer will put me into the black, anything more than that is great! Not I just need some persistence and to try some of those places online you've suggested.

      I'm still trying to work things out myself in terms of starting a business. I'm fortunate enough that I have the technical knowledge to create the things I think up, but the remaining work in selling my creations is still fairly alien to me. This is the second project that I've stood up with the aim of bringing in a bit on the side and I learn a lot each time and what I'd do differently next time. I think I'd pick a group of people that are easy to find/target online and then research their problems and solve if I were picking something new to work on...

      Genuinely, thank you for your comment, it's given me a lot to think about and pursue! Just had a look through your profile and saw your Keyword Ranking Report app, good luck with it and I'll keep an eye out for your updates! ;)

      1. 2

        Thank you @Struct! Keep us updated with circlesend! I have a feeling that, pretty soon, you might not need to pay for oil changes in a long time 😁

  2. 3

    First off, good for you in getting out there and out of your comfort zone! I'm also technical and hate selling, especially cold.

    Given you're technical, I'd look for blockers that you can solve with code in a reasonable amount of time. For example, if you can find a few potential customers that would buy if you added text messages it might be worth spending time there. Assuming that's truly the feature that would get them onboard :)

    Before you throw money at ads, I suggest finding out where your potential customers hang out online. Even if someone you cold call isn't ready to buy, it might be worth asking them this (forums, subreddits, etc.). I made the mistake of putting money into ads for a project one time, and realized that my buyers were elsewhere.

    1. 1

      Yeah, cold selling is hard!

      Perhaps I should, yeah. A lot of the competition seem to be sending text messages it, so maybe I do need to just up the MVP a bit more, so I've got more to compete with.

      As for finding customers online, hopefully @nkabbara has given me a few places to start, so hopefully that'll help! I've done a similar thing with Ads in the past too, so I feel your pain, although they still seem like a bit of a dark art to me! I remember changing the wording on an ad, just slightly and the conversion rate went up significantly, unless you're a voodoo doctor, I guess A/B testing will have to suffice...

  3. 1

    I would shy away from a mass cold email marketing campaign until you have developed an email marketing campaign that you know converts. Try different variations of emails at different intervals manually to start. Vary the subject line until you get decent open rates, then vary the body of the email and CTAs until you get good click through, and continue all the way through signup. Try to get a 2% conversion from cold email to paying customer before you send that mass email.

    1. 1

      That sounds like a good approach. Email marketing is very new to me, so having something more methodical to try should help me out quite a bit. Thanks for the tips!