Here at Proposify, we love our software. We use SaaS tools to streamline our customer communication, sales, marketing, product development, and operations.
When I get a cold email from a startup founder pitching me their new SaaS product, I always click the link, even if it's not a fit for us simply because I want to know what new products are out there.
We've tried a lot of things and now I want to share our list of hard-working favourites. Maybe some of these are on your list as well or you'll discover a new key to productivity you never knew about. I'd love to hear what products you use in the comments section below.
As our customer base grows it's increasingly important to make it easy for people to contact us and to ensure their message doesn't become lost in a sea of emails.
I had almost given up on help desk software. I tried Zendesk and Get Satisfaction back in the day but I found they always made customer support more complicated instead of simpler.
Enter Groove. I fell in love with them through Alex Turnbull's awesome blog posts and then I tried their product. I even made a video for them, because that's how big a fanboy I am.
Here's how it works: First you forward your support email address to go into Groove, and then your team has access to a shared mailbox where you can assign tickets to other members, leave private notes and mark them as closed or pending.
You can reply to support tickets directly in Groove or from your own email and it goes into Groove. You can also save pre-written responses to save time when you're answering common questions.
When you're viewing a ticket you can see any previous tickets from the same customer along with all their contact info. Plus you can see when another teammate is viewing the same ticket so you don't step on each other's toes.
There's a knowledge base feature and a help widget you can embed in your app to assist with customer support and help cut down on tickets. It also provides metrics on how your customer success team is doing.
If you need to support a lot of customers over email, give Groove a shot, and subscribe to their awesome blog that contains useful lessons for SaaS startup founders.
I'm a big believer that part of a CEO's job is ongoing customer development. That's why I ask all of our customers for 15 minutes to chat over the phone so I can learn more about who they are, and why they use our product.
Skype calls worked for a while, but their screen-sharing capabilities are flaky, and there were times I wanted to easily record calls, like when interviewing someone on our podcast or gathering information for case studies.
I finally found UberConference (nothing to do with the ridesharing service), and now we use it for customer service troubleshooting, customer development calls, podcast interviews, sales demos, and more.
Here are the things I love about UberConference:
- It's all in the browser with no PIN codes necessary or desktop software for users to download.
- Calls are generally more reliable than using Skype.
- I can schedule a call weeks in advance and UC will text me 5 minutes before the call and email the invited party.
- We can take turns sharing each other's screens.
- You can record calls.
- As soon as I schedule the call it downloads an ICS file I can add to iCal.
Intercom is a customer communication platform for software products. They offer four distinct but closely-related products: help desk, live chat, survey, and messaging tools.
The two I'm most interested in are the survey and messaging. Engage is their messaging tool that allows us to write targeted emails and in-app messages based on user behavior.
Before Intercom, we manually coded all of these ourselves in Proposify. In our admin panel there's a communication tab for in-app messages and emails to our customers. We also have automated emails we send out based on certain actions, like new trials who haven't created a proposal within X numbers of days.
Now with Intercom, we can experiment a lot more with these messages without needing to involve our developers.
Using their Learn tool, we're able to gather feedback from customers in the app right after they use a certain feature. This helps us gather more data and not just rely on information from people sending in support tickets if they have problems.
Full disclosure, I'm a very new user of Intercom. We just finished our free trial, installed the tracking code in our app, and are just beginning to set up emails and messages based on user behavior.
Still, I love the potential of what Intercom will offer us and I'm excited to dig into it and learn more. I have no plans to use their live chat tool or help desk since we're happy with other products that do those tasks.
Olark is one of the most popular live chat products, and it's easy to tell why. It's fast, sleek, and works really well.
We use it on our marketing site so customers can easily get in touch with us. If they leave a message when we don't have Olark loaded in a tab, it will turn into a support email that ends up in Groove.
There are a lot of really great features for those serious about their live chat, like customizing the design of the chat box, targetted chat (where you can set rules to only allow support for specific customers and actions), customer success ratings, and maybe the coolest feature… co-browsing, so you can show a customer how to do something on their own screen.
I used to use Survey Monkey, but Typeform's gorgeous UI — for both the user-facing end and the admin panel — is too much to pass up.
We conducted a series of surveys with our customers, breaking them into four groups based on frequency of use, to gather a ton of incredibly valuable feedback about Proposify.
We also regularly run surveys to learn about what features and third party integrations our users care about most, which helps us prioritize development.
Typeform offers a beautifully designed experience for creating surveys and viewing the results. Compared to Survey Monkey, the UI is extremely slick and polished, and it looks amazing on the front-end for users.
I've played around with other testing software, like Optimizely and Unbounce and I love what they're doing, but for me, nothing beats VWO.
Unlike the other tools, VWO is not a landing page generator and it doesn't have templates. Instead, it lets you test existing pages on your site by running experiments.
For example, I can choose a page to test, load it up in VWO and use their editor to change headlines, images, CSS, or whatever I need. I tell it what goal to consider a conversion (like, sign up) and then it splits the traffic for me.
It tells me how long I need to run the test to get statistically viable data, and then I can see which version performed the best.
I can also do more than just A/B tests, including heat maps, split URL, multivariate tests, personalization, and conversion tracking.
I can't say enough great things about Heap. It's what I always wanted from KISSmetrics, and more.
Heap's claim to fame is that as soon as you install their script on your site they automatically begin tracking everything — every page visit, click, and form submit. This way when you want to look at what happened on your site, all the data is there. You just have to name the event, like ‘signed up for trial'.
Once you've named some events you can begin analyzing it in a funnel or a graph.
Segments are incredibly powerful: For example, I can tell Heap, “Show me every user who came from a search engine on a mobile device and is from the US and signed up to a paid account”, then give it a name and, voila! That is a segment.
Then when I'm pulling reports I can optionally choose to filter or group it by segments. I can run cohort analysis on my segments, or just view them as a list of people and see every action they made in the software. Pretty powerful stuff.
There are a few things I miss from KISSmetrics, like being able to track time between events, run A/B tests, and total up properties, but these are small sacrifices compared to the ease of use, speed, and retroactive analytics that Heap provides.
Another downfall of KISSmetrics is that it never seemed to give me trustworthy data, like lifetime value (LTV) or churn.
ChartMogul pulls in all the data from invoices generated through our subscription billing software, Recurly (mentioned later), and runs accurate calculations to give us our monthly recurring revenue (MRR), amount of customers, churn, LTV and more.
Pictured here is an image from the ChartMogul site, not our actual account screenshot :)
Content Management: Craft
I've been a fan of Craft for a few years now. I think it's the best CMS on the market because of the beautiful interface and smart, elegant templating language.
I realize I may upset the Wordpress crowd here (I know there are a lot of you), but Craft stands out for a few reasons:
- It was designed from the ground up to be a full-on CMS, not a blog. It's extremely flexible and simple all at the same time.
- The coding language uses Twig which makes it very easy-to-use and yet powerful for outputting dynamic information.
We use Craft for publishing our marketing website, blog, podcast, and landing pages.
I particularly like the live preview that allows you to see how the rendered page will look as you type.
We were happy Hipchat customers for a long time but couldn't resist the magnetic pull of Slack and eventually switched over to it. Slack has a level of design polish, intuitiveness, and fun that makes it stand out as the best team chat tool on the market.
Personally, I like the discoverability of it — there are always new little things I learn the more I use it.
Our whole team collaborates using Slack, and our channels are organized by topic, such as general, product, marketing, and customer development.
The customer support channel is automatically fed with tickets from Groove, and tweets appear in our social media channel.
We also have a lounge for non-work-related discussions.
The lounge can be a strange place.
We use Trello for a lot of things. It's where we keep task lists for non-developers, each list belongs to a team member and each card is a task where we store all discussions, files, and to-do lists for that task.
Trello has a unique interface, where boards contain vertical lists, which contain cards. Cards are where you put all your notes, file, links and check-lists. You can move things around easily by dragging and dropping, and the integration with Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Docs makes it even easier to keep all of your stuff together in one place.
We have a board we use for our editorial calendar, and another one for our roadmap and customer suggestions.
Mailchimp is probably more popular, but as a longtime Campaign Monitor fan, I've stuck with it and noticed the rapid and valuable improvements they've been making over the last couple of years.
CM has a gorgeous, easy-to-use email editor along with responsive, email client-tested templates.
We send one-off campaigns to our subscriber lists as well as automated drip campaigns to subscribers based on the date they joined.
We needed a reliable transactional email provider to send both customers emails, like notifications, and for our customers to send their clients emails (proposals, follow-ups, etc.)
Mandrill didn't work for us — it was telling us emails were being successfully sent when they were really going into spam folders — so we switched to Postmark earlier this year and the results have been fantastic.
Our users can authenticate their email address to send through Proposify, and they get notified when clients open their emails or if they go to a spam folder, preventing proposals from getting lost in their clients' inboxes.
I used to be a Moz customer but found their tool clunky, unreliable, and more money than it was worth. Then I found Positionly and it does everything I need.
I can create groups of keywords and compare their position in major search engines against our competitors.
Positionly will tell me if pages on the site aren't properly optimized and then provides recommendations on how to improve.
Their link tracker shows new inbound links coming to our site so we're aware of who is linking to us.
Wordtracker is the best tool I've found when it comes to finding out the search volume and competition on organic keywords.
It's dead simple to use. Enter a keyword and choose the country and source.
Word tracker brings you back the keyword and related keywords, letting you see how many monthly searches those keywords bring, what their competition is like, and how worthwhile it is for you to try and rank for them.
I love Buffer's simplicity compared to more robust social media marketing apps like Hootsuite.
Just connect your social accounts and set up a schedule so you don't annoy the hell out of people (well, at least the frequency of your posts won't anyways). Then create your content and Buffer posts it across all your channels at the right time.
I'm a long time user of Adobe Fireworks for UI design, but it's showing its age and has been effectively killed off by Adobe, who no longer supports it.
Sketch is software for designing web and mobile applications, and it's currently leading the pack of up-and-coming design software.
Sketch is deceptively powerful. At first glance it appears simpler and more straight-forward than Fireworks, but as I started using it, I'm finding it offers everything I need and more.
It offers reusable type styles, great SVG and CSS support, responsive layout, and other modern features Fireworks lacks.
Invision is a way to quickly create interactive prototypes from your png mockups and present them online.
Invision is especially valuable for design teams in an agency environment who regularly present designs to clients. I've found it helpful when presenting to the team in a prototype so that everyone can more tangibly visualize how a new feature or workflow will actually function once it's implemented.
Instead of simply emailing screenshots, the people you're presenting to can click the buttons to see screens change and other events happen. Using the live presentation feature allows you to chat through the app, leave notes on different parts of your UI, and scribble drawings too.
While we don't present designs to clients, Invision helps Ricky and I present new features to our development team and give everyone a much better understanding of how a design is supposed to work.
Beanstalk is great for a few reasons: it hosts our Git repository, it allows us to deploy Proposify to multiple web servers, and it lets a lazy person like me go in and tweak HTML without needing to know how to pull the repo locally and make Git commits like a real developer would.
Sifter is pretty much as simple as it gets when it comes to bug trackers.
Add a ticket, assign it to a developer, mark the priority, category, and milestone.
The milestones appear in a clear, organized manner - green representing open tickets, blue are resolved, and dark grey are closed.
Then click on the part of the milestone you're interested in to see the full list of tickets and who they're assigned to. We've been more efficient because we're able to organize tickets into milestones, which is much less overwhelming than hundreds of unprioritized tickets.
Recurly is easily the most expensive product in this list, costing us over $1,000 per month (we're on the enterprise plan and it charges you per transaction). Yet it's still a bill I'm happy to pay each month because Recurly saves us that much time and saves us that many headaches.
When customers enter their billing details in Proposify it connects to Recurly via their API and Recurly processes the transaction. We can then search Recurly for a customer's billing history, and add credits, coupons, or refunds to their account.
It automatically emails users if their billing fails and sends them an invoice when a transaction is processed. It pro-rates their bill if they upgrade or downgrade in the middle of a billing cycle. And it's the data source that Chartmogul feeds all of its stats from.
We use Stripe as our payment gateway, and Recurly connects to it along with others like Authorize.net, Beanstream, and Chase.
We use Xero for our accounting software. It lets us easily import bank statements for reconciliation, payments, and customer lists.
It's intuitive, easy to setup, and allows for customer reporting. We use an awesome accounting company called KLM Financial who manages our books and acts as a our virtual CFO, and they love using Xero.
We used to be held captive to ADP, which is the biggest payroll company in Canada, and for a long time was the only option. They were inflexible and difficult to work with. Then Wagepoint came along and showed everyone what a payroll company should be.
For employees, Wagepoint is a convenient way to have access to your paystubs and T4s, and for employers it's even more amazing because it handles direct deposit, calculates deductions, and holds all the employee records our accountants need come tax time.
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