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SaaS Sales Problems and the Battle of Dorking

The sales problems SaaS firms had in 2007 persist today! It’s as if nobody has learned anything over the past decade. In this episode of the Cold Star Project, we investigate a fascinating example of marketing that resulted in significant operational change.

Marketers and salespeople, in addition to SaaS and tech company founders, will find a unique point of view and great value in this discussion.

The Battle of Dorking 1875 is a fascinating example of marketing using a distribution channel from well over a century and a quarter ago. You have better means of reaching your target market available to you today. Tapping into existing anxieties of your target market is a fast and effective way of jumping over the Trust Hurdle. It’s a bypass beyond the typically slow way marketers work to achieve the “Know, Like and Trust” trifecta and close in on sales.


One of the things that companies are typically really

bad at is marketing.

Especially with software as a service firms, if you’re relying entirely on demos to sell your product, you’ve made a mistake. And I’ve seen this for a long, long time. Here is a list of software as a service sales problems from 2007. As of the time of this recording, that’s 11 years ago. And as we go through them, I want you to think and compare and contrast to today. Problem number one, SaaS sales problems, 2007: I don’t have enough leads. My customers want to customize my application. Getting new customers up and running is too long and hard. My prospects aren’t internet savvy. My sales cycle is too slow and takes too much effort. My prospects always seem to want that one thing we don’t have. My prospects don’t have enough time or interest to talk to my sales staff. Now I can tell you from my own direct experience, these apply equally to ERP, accounting software, and CRM tools as well. Many of which as you know, are sold as a software as a service solution.

Why do you think these things happen?

Does it sound like what the solution that is being offered matches up well with the buyer’s problem? Now, it’s 11 years later and look around all of these problems still exist. I don’t have enough leads. My customers want to customize the darn thing. Onboarding is too difficult, takes too much time. The sales cycle is too slow. It’s like they haven’t learned anything. I’m going share a secret example with you have a successful

marketing campaign and it was

done in a time this will blow your mind when the distribution channels that we have today don’t exist. That time is 1871, almost 150 years ago, in England. You see, I have an interest in a lot of things. It confuses my new friends because they’ll say something and I’ll laugh and I’ve had some of them say, Man, you laugh at some pretty weird stuff. And I’ll say, yeah, the reason why is I’m not laughing at what you said. My mind associated that with this other thing and that with this other thing, and then there’s a third idea, and that’s what I’m laughing at. We’ve also had some conversations where good friends of mine have said, You know what,

sometimes we’re talking and you’ve gotten

off topic

and gone around the different topics that are connected. Come all the way back around to the original topic.

Like that. That’s like, that’s cool.

So why are we looking at something from 1871? Well, a guy invented an entirely new genre of literature in this year, and the conditions were right for it. Now, another secret, the conditions are always right. You just have to take advantage of them figure out how to do it. Because you have to see what is going on. If you can see what is going on. You can plug yourself in take advantage of it.

And there’s always something going on.

In the context that will be talking about.

There’s always something in the public mind that they’re worried about concerned about. What’s the point in all this? Where am I going to with this? Well, the idea is Remember when I said that Companies suck at marketing. And the evidence bored out with that list of problems that for the last 11 years, they haven’t gotten any better at fixing

all they’ve gotten good at creating tools.

There are SaaSes is being thrown out left and right. But then how do we get customers? How do we get paying signups? How do I get even free signups?

And they don’t know? Or they’re not willing

to go through the spadework that it takes to get there. Here’s the secret. They your prospects your target market need to know about you, at least know that you exist and something and idea something one point about what you stand for before you ever talked to them. And with the example that we’re going to look at here from 1871, we’re going to see a way that was done in a very low tech fashion because that’s what they had. There was no Amazon Kindle. There was no self publishing. There were no websites. There were no paid ads that this author changed reality. Now, I said earlier, I’m interested in a lot of things and my YouTube involvement kind of looks like my mind it hawks from topic to topic, right? Like, I’ll get in. I was studying World War Two and Heinz Guderian came up. And I knew a new teeny bit about Heinz and I wanted to find out more about him. And I remembered suddenly, in the bath, Whoa! when I was 16 I bought a whole bunch of war games tabletop war games

off some guy

and I remember it was this like big

trip in Vancouver where I lived, you know, for the first 34 years of my life. I had to take the ferry across the water and an unfamiliar bus and going to this strange part of town to get this deal that this guy I don’t even remember how I saw it. Maybe it was probably

a newspaper ad. I mean, this is in the, probably the early 90s. I graduated from high school in 92. So it’s it’s before that I was probably in grade 11; I’ll bet you it was ’91. And one of the games that I picked up was called Panzergruppe Guderian. And I knew what a Panzer was. And I hadn’t studied German yet, so I thought, well, gruppe must mean group. But Guderian, I wanted to mangle it and call it guardian. And I didn’t, I didn’t explore that anymore, which is weird. But keep in mind, we didn’t have the internet back then. So I couldn’t just go Google it.

And so Guderian meant nothing to me for like 15 years. And when I started studying Operation Barbarossa, and the invasion, which is the invasion of the Soviet Union in Hitler’s time, you find out–you run into Guderian pretty quickly: he’s the tactical tank commander.

Basically he’s the mobile tactics guy for the German mechanized forces. And so finally I realized what Panzergruppe Guderian means: it’s his tank group. Oh!

Now the Battle of Smolensk, which is on the way to Moscow, is the subject of Panzergruppe Guderian, the war game. And so I YouTubed a little while ago and found out that’s what it was about. Because I’d sold that game long ago, right. And I didn’t even remember what the topic was really. Other than that it was something about the Eastern Front in World War Two. So here I am watching this, I think he’s Scottish, YouTuber’s video on the game, the wargame: he’s bought a back issue of it. There’s sites that you can buy digital rights to a game and get the content downloaded and print it at home and I was like, wow, I’d never

thought of this before. It sounds simple, right? You print it out and you play it and I thought wow, the savings on that must be tremendous because you don’t have printing costs from the game maker anymore. They don’t have to create something box it, put it on a hardback map surface and ship it and warehouse it, send it put it on some distributors shelf and hope that it sells, right. Totally different business model. And so the cost savings are transferred onto you. Isn’t that great? As a money-grubbing capitalist, I love that. Now, I’m watching this guy’s video and I’m thinking yeah, he’s low key, but I like him. And so I’m going to subscribe and I’m going through his list of other videos and I see how he started out as an art channel. The guy is good at like watercolor and pen and ink doodling and that kind of thing. He’s an older guy. And then he starts to change after about a year into his channel. This is fascinating

for me to look at as a marketer, right? It’s like, Oh, these are getting hundreds of views, these art videos. And these wargame videos can get thousands.

So why wouldn’t you? Right?

If it’s just as interesting to you as the art stuff, why not? You’re going to get a lot more views for that any interest versus some art videos here and there. And one of the videos that he has video series is about something called the Battle of Dorking 1875. And I’m like, huh? Because, well, there’s two things going on here. Now, I’m pretty good with history, as you may have guessed, but I’ve never heard of a place called Dorking. And I’m not aware of anything happening in 1875. I mean, this is like the Crimea was 1850. In 1870-71 was the Franco Prussian war and then you really don’t have anything other than saber rattling and sort of crises like Fashoda. And that until 1914.

What the heck is a Battle of Dorking 1875? And so I start googling because I have that option now and it’s time for my mind to hop. It likes doing this. And I find out. Yeah, I as, you know, suspected, Dorking is in Britain. It’s in southern Britain on the coast.

And I’m still thinking, yeah, but nothing happened in there in that time. Maybe it’s one of those transplanted names from the home continent to the new world. Like you get Birmingham, right? Or Tottenham or York. Maybe it’s someplace in Africa: that would fit the time period. I’m googling and I’ve realized that, I’ve come to the conclusion, there’s a great reason why I failed to recognize the date or the place and it’s this: the Battle of Dorking 1875 never happened.

What did happen is much more interesting and of great value to us. We’re looking at it from the marketing eye, that lens.

It’s important to keep in mind contextually that this just happened: Germany, a brand new upstart nation, had just beaten what had been thought of as the best army on the continent: the one fielded by France.

Bam, 1870

, 71 Franco Prussian war. Bam, it’s over.

Britain’s watching warily, this fresh, great power rising across the water.

There’s a British officer named George Chesney–

and British officers were divided into two types. You want to look at it this way, its geographic. Some went to India and fought there and got their experience there. And that is a very

different kind of place than the second location, which is South Africa. But that’s where people went. Now Chesney was an Indian officer, right? He went to India.

And he was in the Corps of Engineers. That’s what he did. He helped build things. And he did that in Delhi. And then he was brought back and did some stuff at home. And this fight has just happened. And it changes the way everybody is viewing continental Europe who lives in England. The arch rival of England, to this time has been France, hundreds of years. Going back to the Norman Conquest even, in 1066, long time.

Now, France has been beaten and Germany is the new bad guy.

show up on the shores of England?

Well, Chesney, who’s now a general, is pretty alarmed that the state of what is the Home Army. Those armed forces are too spread out there poorly equipped. And he thinks, geez, man, the Germans could just brush us aside. It’s important as modern day viewers to remember that the public already had this anxiety about a German invasion. And you may think, well, how is that relevant to us today? Well, as I said earlier, there’s always some anxiety going on in the back of the public mind. If we were to jump in a time machine and go back to 1997, 21 years ago, at the point of this recording, people were not worried about terrorism. People were not worried about dirty bombs. People worried about the coming war with China. And American officials, current and retired,

were publishing books about America’s lack of readiness. And the fact that defense spending had gone soft, and that the budget wasn’t there to get the forces ready for this upcoming battle with China.

That was the anxiety that was going on two decades ago in America. All of us have forgotten this. There’s a bit of a resurgence of this coming today, by the way, mostly driven by trade. September 11, 2001, everybody knows, that changed the game for everybody. Now, terrorism was the thing. Well, what TV show springs to mind about counterterrorism in the early 2000s that took off like a freaking rocket? And it’s now kind of seeming sort of quaint and outdated, still very entertaining; I enjoy it, but it seems a little behind the times today? “24”, right, jack Bauer. That was something that was right for the times and was a great success because it tapped into

the anxieties that people had. Oh my gosh, terrorists are coming here to do awful things on American soil. Look, here’s an example of it right there–it happened!

And many other awful things could happen. And let’s have a show about a heroic American agent, doing counter terrorist stuff, and undoing these awful onion layer plans. Big time hit. Back in 1871, in the light of that victory of the Prussian army over the French, and the Anglos suddenly looking across the water going, “Uh oh, what’s coming next?”, General Chesney very deliberately decides to write a short story about an invasion of England. And it’s called the Battle of Dorking. And he said, hey, I’ve got this, quote, “useful way of bringing home to the country the necessity for a thorough reorganization. Might

a tale, describing a successful invasion of England and the collapse of our power and commerce and consequence.” So you hear the deliberate genesis of this idea: let’s use the anxiety of the times, what people are already thinking about, as fuel for the fire and give them an instrument, this short story to generate change in the army. Because Chesney is a general he understands warfare,

how the military works, he’s going to write the thing in a factually correct manner. And there’s an existing piece of fiction which gives him the model for his narrative. Remember, this is a new type of story. Chesney is going to invent the invasion genre. It’s an alternative history piece. That’s the phrasing we would use in modern day America. Isn’t that cool? The Battle of Dorking describes an invasion of England by a

German speaking army. I kind of laugh about this because like, Oh, we wouldn’t want to offend anyone. I mean, it could be the Austrians, right? But no, it’s the Germans. And they’re far better equipped and drilled and they route the British forces which are pretty ramshackle. England falls, the Empire is disbanded. And that’s it for the English. Now this causes a huge stir. I mean, people go freaking nuts for it.

Just like they did for 24. Chesney’s short story is published in Blackwell’s magazine in the first week of May 1871. And it goes to subscribers. It goes to clubs. Remember the British have those clubs where gentlemen go to sit and be left alone can read and whatnot… and bookstores. And it causes this huge division of opinion just like you see today. Some see it as this

full betrayal of their armed forces. Oh my gosh, you’re talking down to about our people and saying that we suck and what are the Germans gonna think? Others are saying, well, maybe this is actually a really good alarm call. Maybe we need this and then ends up getting debated in Parliament. The big issue is conscription. In order to have a big army, the size of which the Germans the French put together, they would have to have conscription.

Now in his story, Chesney needs to get rid of the British fleet because that is this superpower thing that would stop an invasion no problem. So he invents this magic device that just destroys the fleet, and leaves the British Isles open to being invaded. So his theory is that conscription is the solution for being a European military power in this new era.

At the end of the week, the eighth of May 1871,

the London Times publishes this article. And Chesney has, has released this as an anonymous author. This really ties into what’s going on with Trump today about an anonymous attack in the New York Times.

Here’s a quote from that article. “It is really hard that the keynote of a new panic should be struck at the very moment we are doing our best at no small cost of money and controversy to put an end old ones.” On the 25th of May Blackwoods magazine receives this telegram from their London office, it says: “Reprint 500 magazine. We have 75 left. Also complete Battle of Dorking at once for publication next week.” And they come out with pamphlet editions of his story. More reprints. It gets translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish and ends up in colonial markets.

A whole bunch of responsive fiction comes out. This is very interesting, where other authors take his premise and turn it to their own version. The Other Side at the Battle of Dorking. What Happened After the Battle of Dorking; the Battle of Dorking: A Myth. A German periodical publishes the story a little bit later in the month with this, this is a translated opening: “This is such a significant story that we present it in translation without regard to the entirely mistaken opening account in which the author represented Germany as eager for war and for territory, because it contains a number of truths about the British situation, and because it is written in an unusually attractive manner.”

So the Germans are like, whoa, whoa, well, we’re not warmongers like that. You guys are misreading us. But look, this is a great story and you need to read it. So the split opinion about the preparation of the Armed Forces: was the story unnecessarily alarmist

and painfully unpatriotic, or is it a genuine warning? I’m told it was debated in Parliament and it did lead to reforms. Instead of conscription there was a volunteer force that was created. But the biggest thing that I want you to notice is the public nerve that it struck. A whole bunch of copycat novels come out. And people are talking about it for a long time. In fact, there’s kind of a running joke at the time, that if you got a bruise or something, or cut,

you would just laugh it off and say like, Oh, yeah, I got this at the Battle of Dorking. Now that is entering the public consciousness. And if you want to succeed in marketing, this is a great way to do it.

Perhaps you could invent an entirely new genre.

The first place I recommend you look is that the anxieties of your target market. It doesn’t have to be the public. It could be just your target

market, like, I don’t know, aerospace manufacturers, or tech companies. What do software as a service companies, what do those founders have anxiety about? What do their sales departments have anxiety about? What would they latch on to that they already believe to be true that you could perhaps fictionalize, entertain them with and offer your own solution instead of a white paper? White papers are tremendously boring, aren’t they? They’re stiff and wooden. These days, they’re sort of see through as well, like, oh, like, obviously, you’re going to recommend your solution to this.

But I believe at any rate that as entertainment as a story, it’s far more consumable. People will tolerate it a lot better and may not even notice that you’re recommending a solution. That is how to get in front of your target market. Get them to consume your information

and come to the same conclusions that you have that you would like them to. And then be aware of you so that when you continue your marketing and you approach them or they come to you, they already know who you are. They already know what you stand for. They already know what the problem and the solution are. Far better, isn’t it, than running demos, trying to grab people by the collar or their jacket and say, No, no, no, stick around. Watch this demo. Look at these features. Aren’t these features so great. Isn’t this really that cool? No, it’s not to them because they have no buy in.

That’s why demos alone don’t work.

But if they already believe in something, and you’ve tapped into that, now you have power. If you’d like to talk about what possibilities there are for this kind of marketing in your organization and your market, go to the Cold Star website and book a call.

We’d be happy to talk with you. Thanks for listening.


Talk to Cold Star by clicking here.

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