How Recommending My Competitors Helped My Business

07 Feb 2018

Heads Up Before August 2018 Saber was known as "BugMuncher", so you'll see the name BugMuncher instead of Saber throughout these older posts. You can read more about the name change here - BugMuncher rebrands to Saber.

Around two years ago I started doing something a little unorthodox - I started recommending my competitors to any customer that lets their free trial expire without converting to a paid account. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, which you can read here - Why I Tell My Users To Try My Competitors.

The short version is I started sending the following email out to anyone who didn’t convert to a paying customer three days after their trial ended:

My reasoning for doing so was if someone doesn’t find what they’re looking for in BugMuncher, why not try to help them in their continued search? After all, I spend more time than I’d care to admit researching my competitors, and we all fill a slightly different use-case, so I feel I’m in a pretty good position to recommend different website feedback tools.

However, it turns out that sending this email has had some unexpected positive side-affects:

Valuable Feedback

As every startup founder knows, getting useful feedback from your customers is really difficult. It’s especially hard to get feedback from those that signed up for a free trial but didn’t convert to a paying customer. Yet knowing why they didn’t convert is some of the most valuable feedback you can receive.

So imagine my surprise when people started replying to the competitor recommendation email, and voluntarily telling me why they didn’t choose to continue with BugMuncher, I didn’t even have to ask! The following are some of the responses I’ve received:

The only reason why I haven’t chosen a paid subscription yet is that the screenshots we receive have some error. It only shows a plain HTML page without CSS.

Note: this issue was easily fixed, and they are now a paying customer.

I liked Bugmuncher but our devs get more detailed reports using that plays well with our esoteric ExtJS framework, so I got voted out.

Still interested, although we are still building out our core functionality. I will let you know when we are ready. I believe that BugMuncher functionality matches our use case.

We found the Hotjar UI is really nice and seems to attract far more responses for us

Since we have live chat (intercom) on that website, most visitors were using it for feedback too.

The stand out of those examples to me is the first one, as their reply let me know about a specific issue they were having, and I was easily able to fix it for them. I wonder if they would have ever contacted me about their issue without the competitor recommendation email? There’s a good chance they would have just moved on, and I’d have lost a potential customer.

It’s also great to be able to see which other services people are choosing and why. It allows me to learn from my competitors, and use that knowledge to improve BugMuncher.

By recommending competitors, I seem to have inadvertently started an open and honest dialogue about competing services, which allows people to feel comfortable telling me why they chose someone else over BugMuncher. And that information is incredibly useful.

More Conversions

This one really surprised me, but compare these two graphs:

Days between sign up and conversion without competitor recommendation email

Days between sign up and conversion with competitor recommendation email

BugMuncher’s free trial lasts 10 days, and 13 days after the initial sign up the competitor recommendation email is sent.

As you can see, before I started sending that email, 0.23% of people converted after 13 days. However, after I started sending the competitor recommendation email, conversion after 13 days is nearly five times higher, at 1.12%.

I don’t know for sure why this is happening, it could be that any email sent after 13 days would have a similar effect, but as this email was never intended to improve conversions, it’s a very welcome bonus.

Accidental Search Engine Optimisation

If you search for “BugMuncher alternative”, the original blog post will show up on the first page, appearing second in DuckDuckGo:

Of course if someone is searching for alternatives to BugMuncher, they’re probably not going to become a customer, but hey, no publicity as bad publicity, right?

Warm Fuzzies

The final positive side-effect of the email is that I get some really nice emails in response, such as the ones I’ve pasted below:

I continue to be amazed at what you do. Actually direct people to “the competition”? Wow.

Thank you for the way you have approached this.

I’m surprised that you offer us to check your competitors. It shows that you are sure of the superior BugMucnher quality. As we are.

Thanks Matt its generous of you to suggest competitors to your own product.

Regarding to the recommendations below please accept my sincere acknowledgment for your helpfulness and openness

Thanks! that’s really nice of you!

Admittedly receiving these responses doesn’t directly help BugMuncher, but they always put a smile on my face, which can only be a good thing.

Will this work for you?

Honestly, I have no idea, and I’m not gonna pretend that sending a competitor recommendation email is guaranteed to help your startup, that would be super disingenuous. I’d still recommend giving it a try though, at the very least you’ll spread a little happiness, and hopefully get some in return.

If you do decide to try it, I’d love to hear how it goes, so please get in touch to let me know. You can use the contact form, or simply leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading

- Matt

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