For decades, Capitol Information Group's Investing Daily has only had a customer service team, no sales. Phil Ash, Investing Daily president, instead has favored a more marketing-heavy approach that has made the company successful but still left him wondering what a full-on sales effort could accomplish.
Enter Agora Financial. Ash took up a "very generous" offer and visited their headquarters in Baltimore on a field trip to see and hear—and eventually happily replicate—Agora's customer-service-to-sales-department success model. He calls it "Copy the Leader."
And so far—they just started in January—it is on track to deliver 10% of Investing Daily's total revenue in 2018. The key has been a lifetime, or "Legacy" offer—credit card companies don't like "lifetime"—that has replaced the standard, renew-at-the-same-price deals.
For the lower spenders, this can mean paying $199 up front for two years and then $9 annually after that instead of $79 a year. But for the higher spenders—where the real potential lies—it means orders of $600 to $1,000 can quickly escalate into legacy payments of $2,000 or more—culminating in acceptance into Investing Daily's Wealth Society, their "all-you-can-eat aggregate service."
"Our view is that we're in a high growth mode and we need to bring as much cash forward as possible," Ash said, "so we can pump that money back into marketing and grow our circulation. We keep adjusting our prices upward as we get a better sense of lifetime value. We priced it inexpensively at first to let our customer service reps get a few wins under their belts."
Investing Daily continues to collect and analyze data to confirm or refute the wisdom of the Legacy offer. They know that they will surely sell themselves short by giving away too good of a deal to many committed long-term renewers. But they believe that is more than offset by getting greater LTV out of many new subscribers who ordinarily would have been one-and-done subscribers.
Restructuring into 5 Teams
The success has been driven by the "restructuring of customer service into five teams, based on Agora," Ash told me by phone last week. "The first team is Order Processing—direct mail order entry (which is just 10% of sales), credit card chargebacks, quality assurance of all the special situations in the fulfillment system, etc."
Next is Subscriber Services. This is now the entry level for the sales team, but with higher base salary and some preferred sales experience or aptitude. "They do all the normal customer service stuff except take orders," Ash said. "If a caller wants to place an order, these reps will transfer the call to another team. However, these reps are empowered to pitch Legacy offers on our lower-priced front-end publications.
"Suppose somebody calls in with a change of address request, and a subscriber services rep notices they have a subscription to Personal Finance. They can say, 'I would be happy to take care of your address change, and did you know you're actually overpaying for your subscription? Instead of renewing for $79 every year, you can pay a one-time fee of just $299 to become a Legacy member and gain the right to then pay just $9 a year for as long as you wish.'" The initiation fee offer is higher for those who have a longer renewal history.
Ash said that this is a good place forreps to cut their teeth and hone their skills, given the low-pressure atmosphere. If they're good, they can graduate to the Sales Development Teams, Inbound and Outbound. That's where the stakes get higher. "The lifetime pitch can be challenging,"he said, "but it's much easier to sell people more of something they really like then to try and cross-sell them something new."
The Inbound SDRs receive all inbound order calls. Their first step is to use a series of questions to qualify the caller as a possible Legacy or big-ticket buyer. If qualified, the SDR will transfer the caller to the VIP Services team (the fifth group) to close the sale. If not qualified, then the SDR will simply enter the order for the caller.
Outbound SDRs are similar to traditional appointment setters. They spend all day calling lists of leads with certain criteria, such as everyone who bought a high-priced back-end service yesterday. These are what are traditionally considered "hotlines" and ripe for the Legacy offer pitch. Again, any qualified lead they get is transferred to the VIP team for closing.
Ash explained that "when a VIP rep receives a lead, usually as a warm phone transfer from an SDR, their job is to start high and work back down as needed. Someone may have initially called us to order a $1,950 a year a la carte service. But the SDR identified them as someone who could benefit from a variety of our services. So, the VIP closer would first pitch them on a $10,000 Wealth Society membership. If that fails they would then pitch a $3,900 Legacy subscription to the single product. And, if that fails, then they would just close the $1,950 annual sale."
Sales development reps can now make $50-$100k instead of the low $30s that are common for customer service staff in the Washington, D.C., area. VIP sales folks can make $100-200k. Commissions are straight up 10% of sales. Sales development reps are encouraged to pass on their warm leads to the VIP closers. If the VIP closes it, they each get 5%. But so far
"The idea is that an SDR should focus on quantity and let the VIP focus on quality," Ash said. "By trying to close leads themselves, SDRs are talking to fewer people and perhaps closing at a lower rate."
Staffing the New Set-Up
To staff the restructuring, Ash turned to familiar faces, bringing along many from the existing staff, promoting three people from subscriber services to sales development, and then hiring a longtime customer who had been very active on their discussion board. Most had very little sales background. "The beauty of it is you don't have to know the products," he said. "It's the same pitch for any product."
As for results, Ash has been "shocked at who's done best." (Hint, it has not been the longtime customer who is the only virtual worker they have.) "I thought I could predict this kind of thing, but it's really surprised me...in a good way. And the reps are super excited about their higher incomes, greater autonomy in their roles and mastering of new skills."
Score one for financial motivation. Training-wise, there's a basic script for the reps-turned-sales-people to read, though Ash said each has "developed their own flair. [But] I haven't listened to many [full] recordings yet."
While Investing Daily is a B2C business, Ash said he is excited to eventually bring the process over to CIG's B2B side, Business Management Daily. "We're hoping to learn lessons that we can then apply to BMD."
Ash has even taken a turn at being that VIP closer. "It's phenomenal for someone at my level to be having that contact with customers every day. You really learn a lot. I was initially doing product training calls and would then pitch them the lifetime offer. But, either that approach or my lack of sales skills proved less fruitful than what our other folks are now doing.
"It's been a great success, and we've still only replicated 75% of Agora's model."