One of the fastest growing segments in the business
marketplace is the freelancer and small consultancy niche. In
fact according to experts tracking the field, it is not a question
of if you will end up working for yourself someday, it is a matter
However, although it is a red hot niche, it is a very hard niche to
market to both in terms of size (there are millions of people in
it), and in terms of psychographics.
Turns out that in this niche unless you are marketing a product
directly related to the passion that fuels that prospect's work,
prospects are not terribly interested in your product or service, no matter how much it could help them. (Link to more info on
Projux Online Inc, an ASP providing invoicing and account
management tools to consultancies and small virtual companies,
found this out the hard way.
They tested every possible type of classic B2B marketing you can
imagine (direct mail, print space ads, cold calling, banners on
business Web sites, even a booth at Comdex).
Results were awful.
Marketer Paul Childs says, "For our target market invoices are
the 'pain in the ass' factor about being in business. They've
got to deliver them to their clients otherwise they don't get
paid, but they just hate the admin."
In essence, selling prospects on Projux was a lot like selling
little kids on eating spinach. CAMPAIGN
The team realized that the only way Projux's marketing
could succeed was if they invested in only the right point in the
sales cycle. The specific moment when prospects' pain got so
high that their resistance broke down and they were actively
shopping for a solution.
Childs remarks, "It seems fairly obvious when you think about it.
The first place they go when they are looking is a search site
He slashed all other marketing expenditures to spend as much
of his budget as possible on search marketing through sites such
as Google and KnowledgeStorm. The hardest part was picking the
right terms to advertise under.
Childs suspected that the terms his Company used to describe
their services were not always the same terms prospects used to
describe what they were looking for. If he invested in paid ads
for the wrong terms, he might get a lot of traffic but conversion
rates would be lousy.
Whenever they were on the phone with clients or prospects,
Childs and the sales team began to ask low-key questions to
elicit the wording prospects used.
For example Childs learned phrases such as "project management"
or "project administration" were not good terms for his
marketplace, while terms such as "create invoice" or "project
tracking" were fantastic in terms of driving highly qualified
clicks from paid listings.
The next step was to make sure these leads converted into buyers.
After testing various offers, the team discovered offering a
short no-cost trial of the full service was their best bet. They tested a variety of trial terms, from five-days to 30-days
to see which worked best.
Now Childs just had to funnel qualified site traffic into the
trial registration form. He focused on three specific tactics to
Tactic #1. Revamping the home page
"We've had about six iterations of the home page as we've
gradually refined it." These revisions were driven by two
specific types of data:
a. Wording: Here again the research the team had done into
the words clients themselves used paid off. Childs refined
the home page's copywriting and terms on all navigational
links to reflect how prospects described the service.
b. Site metrics: Childs used ClickTracks' tech to see
exactly how visitors were interacting with his home page
and other site pages. Then he refined the site, deleting
links that few people clicked on or that caused prospects
to stray away completely from signing up for a trial.
"ClickTracks showed us our visitors really fragmented in
terms of where they were going. They rarely ended up on
our features or trial page."
"Certain pages were absolute killers. Corporate history
and rubbish like that we totally got rid of. Anything that
made the thing look like Joe Blow Company Basic Advertising
Site we had to move away from.
"It's not what people are interested in to be honest. The
whole ASP thing is a leap of faith on behalf of people
using it. They trust the Internet and the fact that sites
don't disappear overnight anymore. They are way, way, way,
way more interested in 'Does it do what I want and does it
do it quickly?'"
[Childs is quick to note this factor is demographic-
specific. "If your prospects are slightly larger
companies, they start asking 'What's your technology
architecture? When do you do back-ups? Do you have
redundancies? How do I get my data downloaded if you go
Although the site was slimmed down radically, Childs kept two
items which appear on nearly every page in order to increase the
trust-level his prospects required when selecting an ASP:
a. Phone numbers for North American and rest-of-world support: "That's our biggest selling feature in terms of
b. A graphic of a printed brochure: "It's a good indication
of our stability and existence. The fact that they can
touch a piece of paper that's professionally produced.
That still counts for some people. It actually shows we're
not just a guy in his garage."
Tactic #2. Revamping the trial registration form
"The trial used to be a sequence of unnumbered pages, so you were
never quite sure how far you'd gotten. People used to be
confused," remembers Childs.
After speaking with hundreds of prospects and again watching
metrics reports to see where visitors were bailing on the form
prior to completion, Childs revamped it to make it easier to use.
Now prospects see a list of numbered steps across the top of the
form so they know where they are in the process and how much more
they have to do.
While the form requests phone number, it is not required (that was
a huge turn-off); and, now prospects can check an optional box
asking for someone to call them up.
Tactic #3. Testing a "Tour" versus a quick trial link
Childs knew that some people want to get in and get out quickly, so for cut-to-the-chase prospects he featured a prominent Get
Started link to the trial on the site's left navigation bar.
He also set up a tracking system to find out whether these quick
click prospects were more or less likely to convert to buyers
when their term was over.
Then he shifted gears to polish his site tour to work as
effectively as possible. A key difference between this tour and
those on many other sites is that it gives total control to the
There is no Flash intro, and no canned presentation they must sit
through. Instead they can click on their choices from a list of
seven carefully titled links such as "Nothing to Install" and
"Client/Contractor Agreements." Then, the copy on individual
tour pages is brief and bulleted.
Again, Childs tracks results metrics to learn which links are the
most popular and how clicks convert to trials and then to buyers.
Last but not least, Childs added a refer-a-colleague feature to
the trial itself, asking prospects to get their subcontractors,
partners and employees to sign up too at no-cost so they could
maximize the benefit of the trial by using it together.
The final site redesign, based on user metrics
launched late last summer and resulted in a 50% increase in
the number of visitors taking at least part of the tour and a 25%
increase in the number of visitors signing up for a trial.
"Right now we're doubling our customer base every three months.
That's up from doubling every six months before," notes Childs.
"It's a function of the fact that people using it are spreading
the word. But we've still got to keep bashing away at the
Googles of the world to get the stream of visitors so that our
customer base is building."
As you can gather from this, the trial referral system is by far
the most powerful form of marketing in terms of conversion rates
Here are some more results data:
- Only two-three people actually request the printed brochure
each week, but Childs is leaving the graphic of it on the site as
a trust-building tool in and of itself.
- Two-to-three people per day check the box in the trial form
asking that someone phone them. "They are people that learn
better by having somebody walk them through it. It's funny they
don't pick up the phone and call us themselves, although they are
very amenable to ticking the box."
- About 15% of trial registrants include their phone number,
however not every number works. "It's amazing how many people
still put in bogus numbers even though giving any number at all
is optional," notes Childs laughing.
- Cut-to-the-chase people who click on the trial link without
bothering to take the tour are less likely to convert into paying
customers. (Note: We have heard this from a number of other
Childs' explanation, "Some people just go straight for the trial
and don't worry about what it does until they find out 'Oh it
doesn't do what I actually want it to do' and then they drop
out." The tour is a useful weeding device.
- The five-day trial length was the big winner. "We started with
30 days and found that by the end of the month they had forgotten
about us. The conversion rate was pretty bad."
"People have a really short attention span. Even with a shorter
trial, if you phone somebody three days after they finish the
trial you really have to work at getting them to remember."
- Currently 10% of Projux's total site visitors convert to trials
and then 2% of the trials then convert to paying a monthly fee
for the service.
Childs' next focus will be testing tactics to increase that final
conversion rate further.
Three useful links for this Case Study:
1. Sherpa article, "How to Market to the Millions of Independent
Professionals (Hint: Do not Call Them Small Businesses!)"
2. ClickTracks: http://www.clicktracks.com
3. Projux: http://www.projux.com