Demand Side Sales 101, a new book on sales by Bob Moesta.

Bob Moesta is a dear friend, mentor, and all around original thinker. He’s helped me see around corners, shine lights on things I didn’t know were there, and approach product development from unusual angles. Every time we talk, I come away inspired and full of optimism.

So when he asked me to help him with something, I jumped at the chance. In this case, it was writing a foreword for his new book Demand-Side Sales 101: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress. Bob and I have talked sales for years, and I’m so pleased his ideas are finally collected in one place, in a form anyone can absorb. I highly recommend buying the book, reading the book, absorbing the book, and putting some new ideas in your head.

To get you started, here’s my foreword in its full form:

I learned sales at fifteen.

I was working at a small shoe store in Deerfield, Illinois, where I grew up. I loved sneakers. I was a sneakerhead before that phrase was coined.

I literally studied shoes. The designs, the designers, the brands, the technologies, the subtle improvements in this year’s model over last year’s.

I knew it all, but there was one thing I didn’t know: nothing I knew mattered. Sure it mattered to me, but my job was to sell shoes. I wasn’t selling shoes to sneakerfreaks like me, I was selling shoes to everyday customers. Shoes weren’t the center of their universe.

And I wasn’t alone. The companies that made the shoes didn’t have a clue how to sell shoes either.

Companies would send in reps to teach the salespeople all about the new models. They’d rattle off technical advancements. They’d talk about new breakthroughs in ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) which made the shoes more comfortable.

They’d talk about flex grooves and heel counters and Texon boards. Insoles, outsoles, midsoles.

And I’d be pumped. Now I knew everything I needed to know to sell the hell out of these things.

But when customers came in, and I demonstrated my mastery of the subject, they’d leave without buying anything. I could show off, but I couldn’t sell.

It wasn’t until my manager encouraged me to shut up, watch, and listen. Give people space, observe what they’re interested in, keep an eye on their behavior, and be genuinely curious about what they wanted for themselves, not what I wanted for them. Essentially, stop selling and start listening.

I noticed that when people browsed shoes on a wall, they’d pick a few up and bounce them around in their hand to get a sense of the heft and feel. Shoes go on your feet, but people picked the shoe with their hands. If it didn’t feel good in the hand, it never made it to their foot.

I noticed that if someone liked a shoe, they put it on the ground next to their foot. They didn’t want to try it on yet, they simply wanted to see what it looked like from above. Companies spend all this time making the side of the shoe look great, but from the wearer’s perspective, it’s the top of the shoe against their pants (or socks or legs) that seem to have an outsized influence on the buying decision.

I noticed that when people finally got around to trying on a shoe, they’d lightly jump up and down on it, or move side-to- side, simulating some sort of pseudo physical activity. They were trying to see if the shoe “felt right.” They didn’t care what the cushioning technology was, only that it was comfortable. It wasn’t about if it “fit right,” it was about if it “rubbed wrong” or “hurt” or felt “too hard.”

And hardly anyone picked a shoe for what it was intended for. Runners picked running shoes, sure, but lots of people picked running shoes to wear all day. They have the most cushion, they’re generally the most comfortable. And lots of people picked shoes purely based on color. “I like green” was enough to turn someone away from a blue shoe that fit them better.

Turns out, people had different reasons for picking shoes. Different reasons than my reasons, and far different reasons than the brand’s reasons. Hardly anyone cared about this foam vs. that foam, or this kind of rubber vs. that kind. They didn’t care about the precise weight, or that this brand shaved 0.5oz off the model this year compared to last. They didn’t care what the color was called, only that they liked it (or didn’t). The tech- nical qualities weren’t important – in fact, they were irrelevant.

I was selling all wrong.

And that’s really what this book is about. The revelation that sales isn’t about selling what you want to sell, or even what you, as a salesperson, would want to buy. Selling isn’t about you. Great sales requires a complete devotion to being curious about other people. Their reasons, not your reasons. And it’s surely not about your commission, it’s about their progress.

Fast forward twenty-five years.

Today I don’t sell shoes, I sell software. Or do I?

It’s true that I run a software company that makes project management software called Basecamp. And so, you’d think we sell software. I sure did! But once you meet Bob Moesta and Greg Engle, you realize you probably don’t sell what you think you sell. And your customers probably don’t think of you the way you think of yourself. And you almost certainly don’t know who your competition really is.

Over the years, Bob’s become a mentor to me. He’s taught us to see with new eyes and hear with new ears. To go deeper. To not just take surface answers as truth. But to dig for the how and the why—the causation. To understand what really moves someone to want to make a move. To understand the events that drive the purchase process, and to listen intently to the language customers use when they describe their struggles. To detect their energy and feel its influence on their decisions.

Everyone’s struggling with something, and that’s where the opportunity lies to help people make progress. Sure, people have projects, and software can help people manage those projects, but people don’t have a “project management problem.” That’s too broad. Bob taught us to dig until we hit a seam of true understanding. Project management is a label, it’s not a struggle.

People struggle to know where a project stands. People struggle to maintain accountability across teams. People struggle to know who’s working on what, and when those things will be done. People struggle with presenting a professional appearance with clients. People struggle to keep everything organized in one place so people know where things are. People struggle to communicate clearly so they don’t have to repeat themselves. People struggle to cover their ass and document decisions, so they aren’t held liable if a client says something wasn’t delivered as promised. That’s the deep down stuff, the real struggles.

Bob taught us how to think differently about how we talk, market, and listen. And Basecamp is significantly better off for it. We’ve not only changed how we present Basecamp, but we’ve changed how we build Basecamp. We approach design and development differently now that we know how to dig. It’s amazing how things can change once you see the world through a new lens.

Sales is everything. It’s survival. From selling a product, to selling a potential hire on the opportunity to join your company, to selling an idea internally, to selling your partner on this restaurant vs. that one, sales touches everything. If you want to be good at everything else, you better get good at this. Bob and Greg will show you how.

Remote work is a platform

Back in the mid-90s, just as Netscape Navigator was giving us our first look at what the visual internet could be, web design came in two flavors.

There was the ultra basic stuff. Text on a page, maybe a masthead graphic of some sort. Nothing sophisticated. It often looked like traditional letterhead, or a printed newsletter, but now on the screen. Interactions were few, if any, but perhaps a couple links tied a nascent site together.

And there was the other extreme. Highly stylized, lots of textures, 3D-style buttons, page curls, aggressive shadows, monolithic graphics cut up with image maps to allow you to click on different parts of a single graphic, etc. This style was aped from interactive CD/DVD interfaces that came before it.

Both of these styles — the masthead with text, and the heavily graphical — were ports. Not adaptations, but ports. Designs ported from one medium to another. No one knew what to make of the web at that time, so we pulled over things we were familiar with and sunk them in place. At that time, Web design wasn’t web design – it was print design, multimedia/interactive design, and graphic design. It took years for native web design to come into its own.

The web became great when designers started designing for the web, not bringing other designs to the web.

Porting things between platforms is common, especially when the new thing is truly brand new (or trying to gain traction). As the Mac gained steam in the late 80s and early 90s, and Windows 3 came out in 1990, a large numbers of Windows/PC developers began to port their software to the Mac. They didn’t write Mac software, they ported Windows software. And you could tell – it was pretty shit. It was nice to have at a time when the Mac wasn’t widely developed, but, it was clearly ported.

When something’s ported, it’s obvious.

Stuff that’s ported lacks the native sensibilities of the receiving platform. It doesn’t celebrate the advantages, it only meets the lowest possible bar. Everyone knows it. Sometimes we’re simply glad to have it because it’s either that or nothing, but there’s rarely a ringing endorsement of something that’s so obviously moved from A to B without consideration for what makes B, B.

What we’re seeing today is history repeat itself. This time we’re not talking about porting software or technology, we’re talking about porting a way to work.

In-person office work is a platform. It has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some things are easier in person (meetings, if you’re into those), and some things are harder (getting a few hours to yourself so you can focus, if you’re into that).

Remote work is another platform. It has its own unique flavor, advantages, and disadvantages. Its own efficiencies, its own quirks, its own interface. Upsides, downsides, insides, and outsides. It’s as different from in-office work as the Mac is from Windows. Yes, they’re both operating systems, and methods of computing, but they’re miles apart where it matters. The same is true for the difference between in-office work and remote work. Yup, it’s all still the same work, but it’s a different way to work.

In-office and remote work are different platforms of work. And right now, what we’re seeing a lot of companies attempt to port local work methods to working remotely. Normally have four meetings a day in person? Then let’s have those same four meetings, with those same participants, over Zoom instead. It’s a way, but it’s the wrong way.

Simulating in-person office work remotely does both approaches a disservice.

This is often what happens when change is abrupt. We bring what we know from one to the other. We apply what we’re familiar with to the unfamiliar. But, in time, we recognize that doesn’t work.

The enlightened companies coming out of this pandemic will be the ones that figured out the right way to work remotely. They’ll have stopped trying to make remote look like local. They’ll have discovered that remote work means more autonomy, more trust, more uninterrupted stretches of time, smaller teams, more independent, concurrent work (and less dependent, sequenced work).

They won’t be the ones that just have their waste-of-time meetings online, they’ll be the ones that lay waste to the meetings. They won’t be the ones that depend on checking in on people constantly throughout the day, they’ll be the ones that give their employees time and space to do their best work. They won’t be the ones that can’t wait to pull everyone back to the office, they’ll be the ones that spot the advantages of optionality, and recognize a wonderful resilience in being able to work from anywhere.

And they’ll be the ones that finally realize that there’s nothing magical about the office. It’s just a space where work can happen, but not where it must happen. Anytime a myth is busted is a good time.

Work remotely, don’t port the office.

On current events

It’s easy to say what a year, what a week.

But that’s a shortsighted, privileged point of view. I’m guilty of holding that occasional perspective. It’s moments like these that jolt me into recognizing the deeper reality.

What we’re seeing is the culmination of years – decades, generations, and centuries – of unjust treatment against black people, minorities, and other marginalized communities.

This country’s racist history is shameful, and so is its present.

Deep systemic racism + the militarization of police (both physically in terms of gear, and mentally in terms of mindset) is a powder keg. We’ve seen sparks before, now we’re seeing the explosion.

If you’re surprised, you’re not paying attention.

I don’t like the violence, but I get it. This is what happens when people are squeezed, compressed, and backed into a corner with no way out. For years, for generations. We’re all humans – if your lot in life was different you just might do the same.

I support peaceful protests, I support the fight against racism, against oppression, and against injustice – wherever it hides.

There’s exceptionally hard work ahead. I recognize this work has been happening for years, often ignored or unappreciated by many people, including me. How frustrating it must be to work so hard, and see such little progress, on something so elemental.

Change will require a massive, sustained effort by millions over many years. A change in perspective, mindset, and approach. And that work will certainly be met with future setbacks, which is why change requires optimism, too (which is in short supply in moments like these). I hope we can find it, and support those who need it.

I’ll be working to educate myself, and break my own patterns of ignorance. This sense of urgency is, embarrassingly, new to me, so I have a lot to learn – which organizations to support, what books to read, what history to absorb, and who to listen to. I’m starting on that today. If you’re like me, I hope you’ll do the same.

-Jason Fried, CEO, Basecamp

Working remotely builds organizational resiliency

For many, moving from everyone’s-working-from-the-office to everyone’s-working-at-home isn’t so much a transition as it is a scramble. A very how the fuck? moment.

That’s natural. And people need time to figure it out. So if you’re in a leadership position, bake in time. You can’t expect people to hit the ground running when everything’s different. Yes, the scheduled show must go on, but for now it’s live TV and it’s running long. Everything else is bumped out.

This also isn’t a time to try to simulate the office. Working from home is not working from the office. Working remotely is not working locally. Don’t try to make one the other. If you have meetings all day at the office, don’t simply simulate those meetings via video. This is an opportunity not to have those meetings. Write it up instead, disseminate the information that way. Let people absorb it on their own time. Protect their time and attention. Improve the way you communicate.

Ultimately this major upheaval is an opportunity. This is a chance for your company, your teams, and individuals to learn a new skill. Working remotely is a skill. When this is all over, everyone should have a new skill.

Being able to do the same work in a different way is a skill. Being able to take two paths instead of one builds resiliency. Resiliency is a super power. Being more adaptable is valuable.

This is a chance for companies to become more resilient. To build freedom from worry. Freedom from worry that without an office, without those daily meetings, without all that face-to-face that the show can’t go on. Or that it can’t work as well. Get remote right, build this new resiliency, and not only can remote work work, it’ll prove to work better than the way you worked before.

Live Q&A on remote working, working from home, and running a business remotely

In this livesteam, David and I answer audience questions about how to work remotely. At Basecamp we’ve been working remotely for nearly 20 years, so we have a lot of experience to share. This nearly 2-hour video goes into great detail on a wide variety of topics. Highly recommended if you’re trying to figure out how to work remotely.

A live tour of how Basecamp uses Basecamp to run Basecamp

David and I spent nearly 2-hours giving a livestream tour of our very own Basecamp account. We wanted to show you how Basecamp uses Basecamp to run projects, communicate internally, share announcements, know what everyone’s working on, build software, keep up socially, and a whole bunch more. Our entire company runs on Basecamp, and this video shows you how.

Remote Working: The home office desks of Basecamp

People are always curious about work-from-home (WFH), remote working setups. So, I posted a Basecamp message asking our employees to share a photo of their home office, desk, table, whatever. Here’s what came in.

First, the ask:

And the answers, in the order they came in:

Keep reading “Remote Working: The home office desks of Basecamp”

How we acquired HEY.com

Back on June 9, 2018, I cold emailed help@hey.com:

Hey there

Curious… Would you entertain an offer to sell hey.com? I'd like to use it for something I'm working on, and willing to make you a strong offer.

Let me know. Thanks!

-Jason

And that’s where it all began.

For the 25+ years I’ve been emailing, I’d say close to 95% of those email began with some variation of “Hey [Name]”. So when it came time to think about a name for a new email system we’d be building, HEY was a natural.

Further, the “Hey!” menu in Basecamp 3 holds your notifications for new messages, chats, to-do assignments, automatic check-in prompts, boost summaries, and the like. So we already had some prior art on Hey being a place for communication.

But hey.com – that would be an amazing email address, and, we rightly assumed, hard to get. But what the hell – if you don’t ask you don’t get, so I sent the email, crossed my fingers, and waited.

The same day I emailed, June 9, 2018, he replied. Turns out we’d actually talked before on This Week in Tech, way back when. This was his first email back to me:

Hi Jason:

Thanks for reaching out, I've always respected your business accomplishments and your writing. You may not remember but we spoke briefly a couple of times when I was at TWiT.

As you might imagine, I've gotten a number of offers and inquiries about HEY.com over the years. Usually I ignore them, but very happy to chat with you about this or any other topic. I'm on cell at ###-###-####.

Thanks!

Dane

So we set up a call and had a nice chat. Really nice guy. A few days later, I made an offer.

He said no.

So I countered.

He said no.

We were clearly way off. And the momentum went cold. He decided he wasn’t ready to sell. I thanked him for the opportunity and said let’s stay in touch.

Then on August 19, 2019, well over a year after my initial outreach, he wrote me back.

Hi Jason:

Not sure if you're still interested in Hey.com, but I'm in the process of vetting what appears to be a serious inquiry to buy it. The numbers being discussed are notably higher than what you mentioned previously. Given your previous offer I'm thinking you probably won't be interested, but I appreciated your approach and also what you've done for the industry, so I thought I'd let you know as a courtesy.

We caught up via Zoom a few days later, discussed again, and I made another offer. This time significantly higher than our original offer. It was a nervous amount of money.

Things were beginning to heat up, but there was no deal yet. I completely understood – he owned this domain for a long time, and he wasn’t a squatter. Dane used hey.com for his business. It was part of his identity. It was a valuable asset. He needed time to think it through.

We traded a number of other emails, and then I upped the offer a little bit more on September 18, 2019.

A few days later we’d verbally agreed to move forward on an all-cash deal with a number of stipulations, conditions, etc. All were perfectly reasonable, so we asked him to prepare a contract.

There were a few small back and forths, but we essentially accepted his contract and terms as is. We wired the money into escrow, we waited for some Google mail transfer stuff to finish up, and on November 20th, 2019 the domain was officially transferred over into our ownership. Funds were released to escrow, and the deal was done.

This was a long 18 month process, and there was uncertainty at every step. We’d never bought a domain like this, he’d never sold a domain like this. There’s a lot of trust required on all sides. And more than money, hey.com was important to him. And who he sold it to was important to him as well.

But it was truly a pleasure to work with him. Dane was fair, thoughtful, patient, and accommodating. And for that we’re grateful. Business deals like this can get messy, but this one was clean and straightforward. Kudos to him and his lawyer for their diligence and clear communication.

All in we traded 60+ emails over the course of the deal. Toss in a few zoom calls as well.

So that’s the story of how we acquired hey.com. One cold email to kick it off, no domain brokers or middlemen, and a lot of patience and understanding on both sides.

Wait how much was it? I know everyone wants to know, but we can’t say. Both sides are bound by a non-disclosure around the final purchase price. You’ll just have to guess.

As for Dane, he relaunched his brand under a new name. You can check him out at VidiUp.tv.

As for us, this April we’ll be launching our brand new email serviced called HEY at hey.com.

Note: This post was cleared with Dane prior to publishing, so he’s cool with me sharing his name, the story, and the name of his new company.

The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication

We just published “The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication“. It’s a collection of philosophies and day-to-day practices that help guide the way we communicate with each other at Basecamp.

We cover when to write stuff up in detail vs. when to chat about it. Why meetings are a last resort, not a first option. How companies don’t have communication problems, they have miscommunication problems. Why a single central source of truth is better than different versions all over the place. Why writing benefits everyone, but speaking only benefits those who were there.

We hope you find it useful. Check it out.