Planscope Got A Facelift

After months of heads down planning and development, I’m happy to announce the new look of Planscope.

My usability goal has always been to provide a tool that’s powerful enough for you and your team, but easy enough for your clients. I think the new design does just that.

Here’s an overview of what changed in this release:

  • Most of the shadows, gradients, and more have been dropped. I think the new design is visually much more appealing, but it also renders a heck of a lot faster without the overhead of all those shadows :-)
  • We redid all the underlying CSS styles from scratch. This meant ripping out Bootstrap.css.
  • The dashboard now has a global workload report. You can view who’s assigned to what across all of your projects now. This is just the first step of a ton of dashboard-related changes we’re making this summer.
  • Tasks can be subscribed and unsubscribed to. Previously, everyone was notified of every comment. Now, creating a task, being assigned to a task, or commenting on a task subscribes you to that task. You can unsubscribe (or subscribe) to any task from the task details window. Clients are subscribed to all comments.
  • Lots of bug fixes and minor tweaks, including a particularly nasty bug that wasn’t adding your team mates to newly created projects or estimates.
  • You can now create new projects or estimates directly from your dashboard. Simple, but overlooked, fix.

I think you’re really going to love all that we’ve done with this release, and we can’t wait to show you what’s next.

(So who’s the “we”? For the last 2.5 years, Planscope has been developed, designed, supported and marketed by me, Brennan Dunn. Recently, I’ve brought on Jane, Galen, and Felipe to help me build a better Planscope.)

Should SaaS Companies Require Credit Cards Upfront?

This morning’s episode of “Startups For The Rest Of Us” was all about one of my favorite subjects — should SaaS companies take credit card info when signing up for a trial?

If you aren’t familiar with how SaaS registration and billing typically works, here are the common paths:

  1. Require no credit card. A few days before a trial expires, email the user and tell them to key in their credit card. After their trial expires, lock their account until they pay.
  2. Require a credit card. A few days before a trial expires, email the user and let them know they’re about to be billed. After their trial expires, bill them.

I’ve toyed with both options, and I felt like I wanted to provide a bit of a followup to today’s episode with some of my thoughts around the CC / no-CC debate.

The Mistake Most SaaS Owners Make

Just about everyone who goes from capturing credit cards upfront one day to dropping that requirement the next day fails. Big time.

Paid conversion rates plummet. Revenue dips. And the knee jerk reaction is typically to REVERT ALLLL THE THINGS!

This is what I almost did, until I started thinking about why my growth charts were now “down and to the right”. What was really behind the plummet? Surely the same people who would have plugged in their credit card before were still signing up — right?

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Retargeting Done Right

Many of us are shadowed around the web by our favorite (or not-so-favorite) companies and products.

You’ll flicking through Facebook photo albums, and there’s an ad for the time tracking service you checked out the other day.

Or you’re reading up on the best way to seed your own heirloom tomatoes, and a gardening blog has a flashy banner ad for your favorite email marketing service. (BTW: No marketer on the planet thinks it’s a good idea to advertise email software on gardening blogs — smile, you’re being retargeted!)

Retargeting is powerful. Somebody stumbles upon your site and they’re not ready to buy. But if you can your product in front of them later — like when they’re reading up on gardening — maybe then they’ll be ready to give your product a second look, or at least give you the opportunity to drill your name and your brand further into their psyche.

I think that retargeting with ads that point back to the root page of your marketing site is a silly idea. Read this for why I think that. But today I don’t want to write about how you should retargeting and what your ads should point to.

Instead, I want to rant.

A lot of the ads I see in my Facebook newsfeed or stalking me around the web are from services I already pay for. With Perfect Audience, and presumably other services, you can group people into lists. I have two lists for Planscope: random visitors, and people who have signed in. If you’re signing in to Planscope, you or someone you know is paying for your entry, therefore I’d be wasting money by asking you to… pay for Planscope.

Marketing budgets are being spent on customers seeing ads for products and services they pay for. These budgets could be better spent on people who aren’t customers. And, to put it frankly, I’m OK with seeing ads from people who want to convert, but I’m pretty annoyed when I see ads from sites I signed into a few hours ago.

So does this mean companies should disable ads for customers? Yes. For most companies, this is one of those things where a developer needs to implement one line of boiler-plate code into their sign in code to blacklist that person from being retargeted.

…But I do think there’s a time and a place for retargeting customers.

I’ll be covering this in a few weeks at MicroConf and will later write a more in-depth post on exactly what I’m doing with Planscope (and why it’s working), but for today I’d like to throw out a few basic suggestions.

The Drive-By

Let’s say someone has stumbled upon your site, but never left you with anything (a trial signup, an email opt-in, etc.) They are, in the words of Rob Walling, a “drive-by”. Retargeting lets you force yourself in front of them, and for most of us that’s by pushing people back to your marketing site.

As I mentioned in my other post on retargeting, I’ve gotten better results driving traffic to email course opt-ins or lower friction options besides “sign up for a trial / buy”. Remember: Most people who click on your ad will be idling around the Internet — they’re probably not in a “do anything serious like buy software” mood.

The Trialer

If someone’s in a trial, they’re highly interested in your software (they gave you their name and email address) and for the next few weeks you’re giving them some sort of access prior to buying.

These people are really, really valuable and it should be your primary concern to make sure they have the best possible experience with your software so they can buy it.

So obviously, you want to drive them back to your marketing site, right?

WRONG. Put information about how to best use your software in front of them. Showcase case studies that show how companies like theirs are wildly successful because of your product. Use retargeting as a sort of meta-service on top of whatever lifecycle email campaigns your running.

A few ideas: Opt-in to a weekly webinar / call with the founder. Recorded videos that show off how to do certain things in your software. Blog posts that recap what your software has been able to do for other people.

The Customer

You want your customers to be happy and to happily pay for your software. You also want them around longer so they have a higher lifetime value.

Make them badass. When I signed up for Infusionsoft, one of the first things I noticed was that I started to get invited to a weekly Mastermind put on by one of their employees. These Masterminds gave customers weekly opportunities to hear from someone at Infusionsoft on ways that the product could make their business better. These aren’t “how-tos” as much as they are “let’s talk about how you can use tagging to better segment your customers, and use this to drive a whole lot more revenue your way.”

You could retargeting product updates to people, so they’re able to see all the awesome new stuff you’re adding to your product. Or you could push blog content that’s focused on how they can grow their business, both with or without your product. Think of it as forced RSS.

Retargeting is really, really powerful. Unfortunately, it’s abused and just done awfully by most customers. I’ll be back in a few weeks with some more details on exactly what I’m doing with Planscope and the lifecycles a given prospect/customer might have, so hop onto my newsletter so I can let you know once it’s available.

Shhh – My Secret Sales Weapon

Everywhere you go online, more sites are figuring out just how awesome email is for building relationships with soon-to-be-customers and capturing value (that is, money) over time.

So you see newsletter forms, email courses, free reports, exclusive whitepapers, pre-recorded webinars, and other lead magnets that attempt to get a visitor to opt-in to something of yours popping up all over the web. But the majority of these websites are pretty dumb, to be honest. They’re showing that same newsletter opt-in form to people who’ve already subscribed. Or existing customers are seeing ads for products they’ve already bought. Not the best use of real estate, huh?

As someone who primarily makes an income through selling products through my websites and over email, I want to make sure I’m doing everything in my power to put the right products in the hands of the right people.

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Planscope 2.0

Planscope has existed as a codebase for a little over 2 years. At its foundation, it’s a Rails app on the backend that handles authentication, permissions, billing, storing and retrieving project data, and emailing. The frontend is responsible for all the templating (the backend server generates very little markup), most of the business logic (like figuring out project completion percentages and such), and mapping URLs with certain actions.

Better Memory Management = A Much Speedier Planscope

A lot has changed over the last two years. Ember.js and Angular.js have stolen a lot of the limelight that Backbone once held, but at its core Backbone is very, very agreeable: it’s lightweight, easy to extend, and very unopinionated. A great summary would be: “It lets you add logic easily to DOM and JSON elements.”

But being lightweight also means it doesn’t do a lot of things you might expect out of the box, especially if you come from the world of more-or-less backend web development. It doesn’t garbage collect, which means it’s not going to free up things like task lists or comment threads or generated views. It also requires you to sort of build from scratch how you show “pages”. In short, unless you’re a wizard at all things memory management it’s easy to expose leaks.

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