(Editor’s Note: The Start-up Chronicles is a weekly feature giving an inside view of the trials of a bootstrapped start-up – The Cost Savings Guy. CEO and founder Bruce Judson is also the author of “Go It Alone!: The Secret to Building A Successful Business on Your Own” and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management.)
Newton’s first law of motion is one that every new business confronts. He said “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” In other words: It takes a lot to make something happen. Inertia is a powerful, if often unacknowledged, force in the business world.
Every start-up exists because a galaxy of people (from the founders to investors) believe this new company has either found an unmet need or provides a better, faster, or cheaper solution to an existing one. However, to succeed, a startup’s solution or offering must be so much better that it causes people to change their behavior. In Newtonian terms, it has to be good enough to move prospects from rest to action.
For the customer, there are a range of soft (and sometimes hard) costs associated with trying and buying something new. It’s not just a matter of finding the better product or solution. There’s also the matter of how much time and energy they’ll have to dedicate to weighing the options, determining their trust level with your company and determining what sort of costs they’ll incur (in time or money) by committing to your solution.
Two weeks after the launch of The Cost Savings Guy (CSG), I was surprised by the inertia we encountered. In this difficult economy, CSG meets a widespread universal need: An easy way to lower costs while receiving the same or better services. The initial reviews of the service were excellent, and the logs showed that visitors were spending substantial time on our site investigating cost savings. People were also returning to the site for second and third sessions.
All of this activity, however, was not translating into sales. While I didn’t expect substantial sales immediately after launch, I did expect a higher conversion ratio for the traffic we were seeing.
One of my general rules is that it’s always better to act quickly, implement low cost, experimental solutions and develop learning based on actual behavior. In my view, a bias towards action as opposed to study always leads to better results.
There are an infinite number of reasons why prospects may not convert to buyers with the speed you anticipate. In this case, a few indicators led me to believe that simple inertia was a central problem at our service.
In designing CSG, we tried to make buying simple, but prospects still needed to take the time to focus on precisely what they need and handle the details that come with implementing new services.
To overcome this problem, I decided to accelerate the launch of CSG: Phase Two – a “Concierge” service that handles all of the cost saving details for customers. Beyond the customer service benefits, it also allows us to learn more about how the site is working and develop a greater understanding of how the business is perceived.
When confronted with a sales issue, businesses typically jump to “high prices” as the source of problems. In contrast, Concierge was launched as a premium, paid service. Experts would need to spend time talking with customers in order to implement the process, and the fee was minimal compared to the overall value the client would derive from the cost savings our total service provides. In essence, I decided people will pay for convenience, so we started with this approach.
Will Concierge accelerate the sales cycle? It’s too early to tell. In fact, there may be any number of reasons, other than inertia, that are limiting conversions. Nonetheless, it was better to try an innovative solution that added value to the product and increased our contact with users, as opposed to spending time on research.
I can say that immediately after launching Concierge, I received an e-mail from a lawyer who said this new service was “brilliant.” Nonetheless, I will be a lot happier when this same lawyer uses his credit card to actually buy the service. It’s not what people tell you, but actual behavior of that matters.