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Building a Sales Engine Based on Trust

Jason and Rowan from Smart Books Online had dreams of creating a service where no sales people were required and their customers would come to a website, make a purchase decision and happily begin using their product.

The challenge was that for an online service that is replacing your bookkeeper and changing the dynamic of conversations with your accountant there was significant hurdle for customers to take up their service, that hurdle was trust.

To address the trust issue they realised they need to have conversations to help their customer through their buying process. So they have, temporarily, abandoned their eCommerce dreams and established a multi-tiered specialised sales organisation to engage customers, build trust through their buying cycle and then grow with their business.

Knowing that a conversation is not enough, they also embarked on a content creation strategy that has provided opportunities at the top of the funnel and enabled their teams with the right content to lead with insight and build trust with their customers by providing value.

Customer trust isn’t the only trust they were building. Being a virtual business they also wanted to embrace the ‘location agnostic’ principles for their organisation, as demonstrated by the team at Automattic. For a sales team this relies on a lot of trust in their staff and in the numbers to measure success by the metrics, rather than whether they are at their desk or not.

Embarking on these journeys of trust creation is not without its challenges. They have a large and evolving tech stack, a growing team, an evolving marketplace and expanding partner network. Leaning on their chartered accountant backgrounds Rowan, Jason and the team are approaching it with a methodical, measured approach and deliver some of their tactics throughout this story.

We hope you enjoy this Startup Story!

What is your elevator pitch?

Smart Books Online is a virtual Bookkeeping business headquartered in Brisbane. We provide small business owners an affordable digital and fully outsourced solution to Bookkeeping. Basically we’re a half software company, half Bookkeeping service. We run the company like a SaaS start up all the way from metrics we monitor all the way and growth hacking tactics. The software aspect is probably a key value drop for because, so we couple both proprietary and off the shelf software to automate a large amounts of the because and tech stacks that we use is comprehensive with team of accountants which primary focus on quality assurance and customer delight.

When did you first realise this is a problem that needed to be solved?

Both Rowan and I are Chartered Accountants. The idea stem from when we’re both practicing in Accounting at top tier firms. I guess the Accounting industry is going through a bit of a shakeup in probably the last 5-7 years with cloud technology say software like Xero, QuickBooks. Business owners and entrepreneurs now have the ability to have real-time clarity and the financial position of their business just logging to the Accounting system, they can know whether they’re making money or not and by what margins, daily positions and all those stuff.

Accordingly the role of traditional Accountants is evolving to act more like a CFO instead of just being the tax collector i.e. the Accountants are working with businesses on a monthly basis over the cash flow forecast, trading margin, strategy and help their business owners trying to achieve what they’re trying to do, whether that be an exit or a lifestyle driven business.

Can you tell us more about your revenue sales story?

Sales story is very interesting because we had these grand visions of setting up a nice website where people would log on and sign up like HubSpot or Xero, you just log on to a SaaS company’s website, you see three Tiers and you’re like cool, I want to sign up and pay your money and monthly occurring and see you later. Exit in no time. That was a very misguided assumption that’s what startups are about.

What we realized is there’s a huge amount of trust that the company needs to have in their bookkeeper. Companies are used to seeing bookkeepers coming on weekly, fortnightly, monthly basis sitting in their offices and plug away. And we were the opposite of that. You won’t see us; you ideally want to talk to us on the phone and a lot of automated email correspondence. Our goal was not even nowhere there. Your data just turns up, reconciled and ready to go. People didn’t really like that. We had to do a lot of trust building through content marketing, through meetings with people at the first six months of the business proving that we’re Chartered Accountants, we know what we’re doing and we can be trusted.

So once realized trust was important, we had to adjust our sales strategies accordingly. getting into more of the fun in detail what we actually do for outbound sales process is and this is a strategy we’ve learnt from a lot of other successful startups is, dividing it into 3 parts, so your to Sales Development Reps who generate and qualify leads, your account executives who make the phone calls, the Skype and do the actual closing. And your customer success consultants or offices, whatever you want to call them who on board and they make sure that the customers are happy. So we treat those 3 very distinct roles, done by different people and all complemented with various pieces and SaaS software as well. So it’s quite a detailed intricate process but we can automate a lot of it which is very nice.

What is your biggest challenge in sales?

Definitely the trust side of things is our biggest challenge. I mean just lead generation in general. So I want you collate sales and marketing both. But getting people’s confidence in our product is our biggest challenge. I mentioned before, the virtual nature of our business, we’re not there in front, face-to-face, you can’t touch us, you can’t feel us. But we’re trying to get across that. We’re doing your work; we’re available to you 24 hours a day. Trying to break that cultural barrier, it’s probably a barrier for people into the buying process. That’s our biggest challenge. And how we’re overcoming that is we obviously work, accountants are partnership channels for us. Given our background we understand the pain points that Accountants have. 70% of the work that we get is preferred work from accounts so immediately that breaks down the trust factor for the businesses. There’s trust advisor, that’s good. We’re really keen to progress the more targeted approach and moving away the line of hardships.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

 

Andy: Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Startup Stories. Today we’ve got our first Three-Way Startup Stories. We’re joined by co-founder of a Brisbane Startup called Smart Books Online. Rowan and Jason, thank you very much for joining us today.

 

Rowan: Hi Andy, good to be here.

 

Andy: We normally start this my throwing it out there and getting you guys to come back with your elevator pitch. Now I’m presuming you don’t have they set out to go in tandem on every customer pitch? Which one of you guys is going to have to go with this one?

 

Jason:    I’ll start with this. Basically Smart Books Online is a virtual Bookkeeping business headquartered in Brisbane. We provide small business owners an affordable digital and fully outsourced solution to Bookkeeping. Basically we’re a half software company, half Bookkeeping service. We run the company like a SaaS start up all the way from metrics we monitor all the way and growth hacking tactics. The software aspect is probably a key value drop for because, so we couple both proprietary and off the shelf software to automate a large amounts of the because and tech stacks that we use is comprehensive with team of accountants which primary focus on quality assurance and customer delight.

 

Andy: Very cool. Having that blend of provide that different amount of value with the technology and the people, all to create a unique value proposition. When did you realize that this is a problem that needed to be solved?

 

Jason:    Both Rowan and I are Chartered Accountants. The idea stem from when we’re both practicing in Accounting at top tier firms. I guess the Accounting industry is going through a bit of a shakeup in probably the last 5-7 years with cloud technology say software like Xero, QuickBooks. Business owners and entrepreneurs now have the ability to have real-time clarity and the financial position of their business just logging to the Accounting system, they can know whether they’re making money or not and by what margins, daily positions and all those stuff.

 

Accordingly the role of traditional Accountants is evolving to act more like a CFO instead of just being the tax collector i.e. the Accountants are working with businesses on a monthly basis over the cash flow forecast, trading margin, strategy and help their business owners trying to achieve what they’re trying to do, whether that be an exit or a lifestyle driven business.

 

Andy: We’re trying to do anyway. Isn’t that how the role Accountant wanted to play in a business all along?

 

Rowan: They should play but it’s not necessarily that was happening. A lot of Accountants were having annual contract with their clients like, you come to them at the end with shoe boxes and say do my tax returns. You don’t get a whole lot of value from that.

 

Andy: Guilty.

 

Rowan: We’ve all been there. But the emergence of Xero and things like that allowed the books to be done, I’ve seen it done on a daily basis, weekly, monthly is sustainable. It means the clients will get lot more benefit from having interaction with their Accountants more regularly talking about Cash Flow and Ratios and things like that, instead of just saying, hey what’s my tax burden?

 

Jason:    I guess the problem we’re solving is that the software quite easy and simple to use. Software provider market that. They’re still intracies of Accounting and Tax Laws  that, entrepreneurs or founders are not really familiar with, so they end up just DIY Accounting and they end up stuffing it up. Or they appoint Bookkeeper at $100 an hour to try to help them and obviously it’s a financial value for the businesses. The problem is if you look at the financial data, it’s not often right or accurate. It’s kind of should and shouldn’t we tell you, so I can’t really leverage the advice of a data if you’d contrast with numbers.

 

We founded the company to really solve that problem by providing a really hardcore Bookkeeping solution; all at a fixed price wrapping up technology and Accountants to really help business owners have an understanding of their accounts and we collaborate with their Accounting system as well. It really help them have the advisory discussions about their business.

 

Andy: Cool.

 

Rowan: Market tools allows the accountants and clients to get good quality data at a very regular timing.

 

Andy: it sounds like you’re adding a lot value to both sides of the equation – the Accountant taking a lot the administrative tasks off their plate, then making it a lot easier for their customers and in merging the conversation between the two.

 

Rowan: Spot on.

 

Andy: How do you two guys work together? How do you segment what happens in the day-to-day business?

 

Rowan: It’s good question because we both have a very similar skill sets and mentality. In a lot of ways we’re both not naturally salespeople. We’re both pretty analytical, probably pretty introverted. I think it’s been a big discovery process of trying to see what different skill sets we have we have. We meet really regularly to talk about strategy of the business and stuff. But we’ve only recently started siloing of specific activities in the business. At the moment I’m kind of heading up an outbound sales strategy using some SDR (Sales development Reps) and some Account Executives. And Jason’s doing some of the more marketing side of things more operations. Look that sounds all nice and neat but at the end of the day just whatever needs to get done, we have to do. So in some respects we’re across, we jump in and do anything that’s needed at any given time.

 

Andy: That’s cool. That’s probably a great segue, the next question I want to ask if you could tell us a little bit more about your sales story, what’s the processes? What are some of the technology that you’re using to support that?

 

Rowan: Sales story is very interesting because we had these grand visions of setting up a nice website where people would log on and sign up like HubSpot or Xero, you just log on to a SaaS company’s website, you see three Tiers and you’re like cool, I want to sign up and pay your money and monthly occurring and see you later. Exit in no time. That was a very misguided assumption that’s what startups are about.

 

What we realized is there’s a huge amount of trust that the company needs to have in their bookkeeper. Companies are used to seeing bookkeepers coming on weekly, fortnightly, monthly basis sitting in their offices and plug away. And we were the opposite of that. You won’t see us; you ideally want to talk to us on the phone and a lot of automated email correspondence. Our goal was not even nowhere there. Your data just turns up, reconciled and ready to go. People didn’t really like that. We had to do a lot of trust building through content marketing, through meetings with people at the first six months of the business proving that we’re Chartered Accountants, we know what we’re doing and we can be trusted. So once realized trust was important, we had to adjust our sales strategies accordingly. getting into more of the fun in detail what we actually do for outbound sales process is and this is a strategy we’ve learnt from a lot of other successful startups is, dividing it into 3 parts, so your to Sales Development Reps who generate and qualify leads, your account executives who make the phone calls, the Skype and do the actual closing. And your customer success consultants or offices, whatever you want to call them who on board and they make sure that the customers are happy. So we treat those 3 very distinct roles, done by different people and all complemented with various pieces and SaaS software as well. So it’s quite a detailed intricate process but we can automate a lot of it which is very nice.

 

Andy: That’s really cool. Well, it’s about the automation and it’s something I’m excited about.  I like the idea of the specialization, it’s super popular and what you need to do to enable people to be successful in their roles, how many people you got in those different roles and how you got those teams structured, are they working in the geographical pods where you’ve got SDRs, AE’s, CSMs all working together in one particular unit or they all still fairly siloed.

 

Rowan: We debated a lot internally because we’re a virtual business, we try to live and breathe that. We especially want to be structured so that we can have stuff anywhere in the world, provided that they’re getting their job done. We log in all our procedures and processes in Confluence and Atlassian product and that means you could be sitting on a beach in Bali, sitting in your bedroom in London and you could be doing one of the roles for our businesses. It is very intentional structure, we say, if we want our clients to trust us to be virtual bookkeepers, we need to be able to trust our staff to do the same. So we need to make sure our culture is conducive to people to work where they want and offer their good quality service wherever they may be. Look, they’re not necessarily co-located in the same room, we’ve had had Account Managers who stay at home, have multiple kids and might get the bulk of the work done at night or early in the morning. We have staff in our office at the moment, so it depends what suits them and what it basically means as we have to be super flexible. So there’s no definitive structure that we’re going to run with. But over time that might change. We brought a lot of principles from a company called Automatic. It’s a guy called Matt Mullenweg, I don’t know if you listen to Tim Ferriss podcast that is a good one. He founded Word Press and the parent company Automatic. They have, I can’t remember how many stuff but like hundreds may be thousand…

 

Jason:    Close to 500, I think.

 

Rowan: Something like 18 of them are co-located in the office. The rest of them and distributed around the world. This is a billion dollar company and if they can do it, we can too.

 

Andy: Awesome. That’s really cool. From the technology perspective you touched on Confluence as one of the tools that you use. When you looking at your sales tech stack, what else involved there?

 

Rowan: I think we have something like 16 pieces of SaaS software.

 

Jason:    We’re in the process of gaining it all to talk to each other at the moment which has been a fun project.

 

Andy: That’s many conversations, 16 is tough.

 

Rowan: It’s mental. The bills are pretty big too. Each one is like 20 bucks a month, 60 bucks a month and it adds up. We have our developers in house and operations guys whose sole job is to join our software together and make sure as much about systems and processes are automated that can be. Sometimes that’s just, I’m not a tech guy, but sometimes it’s just a simple API connection between that already exists, well-documented between two pieces of software. Sometimes it’s stuff we have to build internally.

 

Andy: When you talk about that 16 pieces of software, is that purely on that generation around the SDR IAC arrangement or is that your company’s tech stack?

 

Rowan: It’s probably more broadly our company’s tech stack. We’ve probably got at the top of my head maybe 5 or 6 of those who are directly related to sales. and then the other remaining ones are just general operations from everything from the CRM, the workflow manager, Xero – the accounting software we prefer to use, we use [Unclear 0:13:16] for people who still stuck in the stone age.

 

Andy: From the CRM, what do you guys using there?

 

Rowan: We use BaseCRM. I used Base at the previous startup. I love it, it’s simple, it’s customizable, it’s just easy. So Base is quite cool. We trialed the one that’s native inside WorkflowMax is terrible; it’s not even a CRM. Base is good.

 

Andy: Cool. Now it sounds like you’ve got a lot of moving parts and that’s all startups do. What’s your biggest challenge in the sales at the moment and how you addressing it?

 

Jason:    Definitely the trust side of things is our biggest challenge. I mean just lead generation in general. So I want you collate sales and marketing both. But getting people’s confidence in our product is our biggest challenge. I mentioned before, the virtual nature of our business, we’re not there in front, face-to-face, you can’t touch us, you can’t feel us. But we’re trying to get across that. We’re doing your work; we’re available to you 24 hours a day. Trying to break that cultural barrier, it’s probably a barrier for people into the buying process. That’s our biggest challenge. And how we’re overcoming that is we obviously work, accountants are partnership channels for us. Given our background we understand the pain points that Accountants have. 70% of the work that we get is preferred work from accounts so immediately that breaks down the trust factor for the businesses. There’s trust advisor, that’s good. We’re really keen to progress the more targeted approach and moving away the line of hardships.

 

Andy: How’re you guys looking to create that trust when you’re going into a relationship? It look a little bit cold without that warm introduction from a partner.

 

Rowan: As I mentioned earlier content has been a very big part of our trust-building process. We’ve started doing a lot of blogging on topics that are valuable to our target market. Given our background as accountants, we obviously have accounting knowledge, but we also have the knowledge and professional services in the white businesses lot, like time billing businesses, so if you have people whose job is to provide a service you’re basically your body shop billing time. so we know the intricacies of those businesses and what we realize with them, digital businesses who are like digital agencies for instance, they didn’t realize that they were body shop, so they were watching their stuff utilization, their charge and things like that. whilst you don’t want to borrow too heavily from an accounting firm, billing in 6 minute intervals, you still need to know which stuff are productive, how many hours a day that you’re being productive, where could you improve that efficiency. So we took that as principals and started writing about them. And over time it’s started to become quite useful to digital agencies to the point where they’d heard of us before we’ve gone and spoken to them which helps a lot right. So if you reach out somebody for sales opportunity and it’s like we’ve read your blog post or we’ve read your white paper that goes a long way to proving that we’re credible.

 

Andy: Absolutely. That’s huge in today’s buying environment where sales is no longer in control and you’ve got to enable your customer to take that journey toward you. Great to hear that you guys have embarked and pod that.

 

As I said, it’s the end of our 15 minutes. Thank you very much for joining us today. I really like the 3-way-blab; I think it worked out straight. Where can people go and find you, if they’re looking for some help with their Bookkeeping services?

 

Rowan: smartbooksonline.com.au is our website. You can find us on LinkedIn and twitter as well, it’s smartbooks_au. Find us personally and have a chat, we love talking to startups, we love talking Accounting a little bit, sales and anything like that. We’re always happy to chat.

 

Andy: Brilliant. Thank you again guys. Really really appreciate your time and for sharing your startup story and good luck with Smart Books Online.

 

Rowan: Thanks, bye.

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