It's easy to get lost in metrics.  You've got A/B tests, time series tests, keyword tests, every kind of test you can think of.  You're measuring engagement, clickthrough, funnel progress, time-on-site, everything.  You know every number related to your customer by heart, backwards, and blindfolded.  But do you really know who your customers actually are?  Do you really care?

It's very easy to argue for things that increase profits.  Everybody loves profits.  But it can often be short-sighted.  For instance, it became par for the course to for a customer support call to go to a call centre in a country that offered competitive pricing.  The agents you spoke with were rarely actually part of the company you were calling and instead were handling support for multiple companies at once, a stack of binders with each company's scripts and regulations at their side.  They were almost never knowledgable or empowered enough to solve anything other than the most rudimentary problems, and required multiple levels of escalation to even have a hope of getting anything accomplished.

But those call centres, and those jobs, are moving back.  Never mind that it's much more expensive to run a customer support center in the USA - there's more to it than just simple cost.  Customers that are well taken care of are more loyal, stay longer, tend to pay more, and recommend you to their friends and family more frequently.  These things can be more difficult to track than a simple cost-saving calculation, but nonetheless are incredibly powerful.  Maybe you're spending more on customer service than you were when it was outsourced, but the business is growing again, and people aren't spending time and energy writing hit pieces against you.

I guess we just throw out all these numbers, huh?

There's no need to be so dramatic. You put good time and effort into setting up that data-collection empire, and it would be a shame for it to go to waste.  But it would also be a shame to let your customers go to waste.  The key, as in all things, is balance.

In the past, I have argued for shorter trials, or even removing your paid trial entirely, and moving to a money-back guarantee.  I still stand by these as potentially good ideas, depending on what stage you're at and what goals you have for growth. Then I was reminded that you can be too aggressive with this.  Every customer you turn away because you have a paid trial instead of a free one, or because you require a credit card, or because your trial period is shorter than they're comfortable with, is a customer that you can't interact with, and ultimately, can't sell to.

If you're not interacting with customers and potential customers because that's "not scaleable", you're missing out on potentially critical feedback about your service, and potentially huge amounts of sales.  Don't automate yourself away from customers completely.

So should I be doing big up-front sales?

If you mean steaks and scotches, "business trips" to Vegas, that kind of thing, probably not.  Not unless you're selling to massive enterprises and you've got an expense account as deep as the Mariana Trench.  But if you mean early-pipeline contact, phone calls, video calls, and emails, maybe!

Nathan Barry has an excellent piece on how direct sales are critical to the growth of a SaaS business, and given that he's running the fantastically-successful ConvertKit, he's probably right! But you have to be careful to make sure you show value early.  A big up-front sales process is a lot to ask of a potential customer.  They've got a business of their own to run, and here you come asking them to invest their time evaluating your service, which may or may not solve a problem they're having.  It's a gamble for them, and you have to recognize and show empathy about that.

Which brings us back to respect.

This has been a lot of contradictory advice.

Right! Because there's no one-size-fits-all piece of advice when it comes to your customers and your business.  There's no magical set of settings you can tune your service to that will guarantee success and fame.  You have to get to know your market and get to know your customers, then evaluate and decide on your course of action from there.

It's important to track the data around your customers and their use and evaluation of your service, but it's also important to remember that these are real people, not just a faceless set of data.  They have goals they want to accomplish, and they're hoping your service will be the one that helps them do so.  Don't know what their goals are?  Ask!  Then follow up, to make sure they're still achieving success as time goes on.

Look, Google is gradually entering every possible service space (and then leaving, just as quickly, it seems).  If people wanted to get ignored and treated like just another wallet, they could go to Google, or Amazon, or Salesforce, or whatever massive company that doesn't spend enough time on their customers that you love to hate on the most.  You have a chance to be different and to stand out from the massive corporations, to show that you really care.

I get it, there's a lot to do when running your own business.  It seems you're always splitting your time between thirty different top-priority things.  But if you don't make time for your users, to really show them the respect they deserve, you're missing out.  They could churn out, not convert at all, never even try your service, or even turn into an anti-fan, telling everyone they know about how poorly they were treated by you.

You don't have to ignore the metrics, but you can't ignore your users.  Keep them in mind when making critical decisions.  Respect them, and be worthy of their respect. Then instead of hit pieces, maybe they'll write some glowing praise.