Imagine this…

You signed up for a free trial of a new SaaS tool.

You had to give your credit card info when signing up, but assume that if it doesn’t work for you that you can easily cancel before your 30-day trial ends. 

You try the tool for a few weeks, but it’s not what you’re looking for. 

You decide to cancel before you get charged.

You log into your account and look around for the ‘cancel’ button. 

Five minutes later, you find it in size 9 font at the very bottom of a page. You click ‘cancel’ and you’re brought to a page that says,

“Please call us to cancel your membership.”

Seriously? You don’t have time to call today, so you decide to put it off. Unsurprisingly, you forget and a week later you see a new charge on your credit card from the biz.

Ugh 😖

You call to cancel your subscription and explain what happened. You’re hoping that you’ll be offered a refund since you barely used the product, but no such luck. 

When you hang up with the customer service rep, you’re annoyed. What a waste of time.

Two months later, you see someone on LinkedIn asking what people think of the offending software company and whether or not they’d recommend it.

What do you say?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re exploring Sludge – how creating intentional friction in an experience can occasionally help users but much more often annoys the heck out of them and kills brand trust.

Let’s get into it.

“Top Marketing Newsletters You Need to Subscribe To”

The Psychology of SLUDGE 🧠

Behavioral scientists know that they can influence the decisions we make by changing how we interact with products, systems, or the general environment around us.

They can nudge us toward taking a particular action—like buying a product.

Or, they can create so much sludge that you give up and close out your window before taking action.

Think of “sludge” as friction.

Sometimes, sludge can be a good thing. Like how Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?” after a set number of episodes to bring people’s attention to the fact they’re binge-watching.

Other times, companies intentionally create sludge because it benefits them.

If forced to choose between spending one hour on a customer service line to get a refund you deserve, or putting it off—sludge pushes many people to delay taking action and results in fewer cancellations.

Sludge, while often good for a company’s bottom line, is usually bad for customers.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind 🧐

Buyers want you to help them to make progress—not deter them. 

While they’ll likely appreciate a gentle nudge in the right direction, unnecessary sludge will only frustrate them.

That doesn’t mean they’re not willing to fill out a long application or jump through a few hoops. But be careful.

Buyers will evaluate the possible benefits of your product to the effort involved to access it.

If you’re selling a relatively inexpensive consumer product in a highly competitive category—you probably want to create a fast, “sludge-less” buying experience.

Jeff Bezos knows this. That’s why Amazon patented its 1-Click checkout button to create a sludge-less buying experience.

If you’re selling a $100,000 annual coaching package—your customers will expect the buying experience to include more upfront questions, forms, and touchpoints.

They’re not looking for sludge… but they do want to feel like their purchase is more serious than the eCommerce product they bought before.

One thing buyers are never looking for is trickery.

*Never* create sludge to make it harder for people to get out of a free trial, membership, or get their promised refund.

You may make more money in the short term, but you’ll kill brand trust in the long term.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Think Long-Term

Make stopping and starting subscriptions easy. Don’t try to trick people into staying longer by not letting them know their subscription will renew or making it difficult for them to cancel. This bad experience will make them lose trust in your brand.

Instead of surprising customers with a new bill, SparkToro sends their subscribers emails letting them know when their subscription will renew and how to cancel should they want to.

This may remind users to cancel, but it also shows people that SparkToro is a company with values. And that leads to deeper brand affinity… as evidenced by this tweet:

Reduce Steps

Look for places in your signup process where people are giving up. Are there too many steps in the process? Are there too many boxes in your forms? Make it as seamless as possible for your buyers to take the next step with your brand.

A CXL study found that single-column forms outperform multicolumn forms because people can fill them out faster (AKA less sludge!).

Ungate Content

Don’t hide your best content behind signup forms. Yes, you’ll get more MQLs. But making prospects jump through hoops just to access your reports, e-books, or webinars creates unnecessary sludge. Many folks just won’t bother.

Psst: If you want to access the best marketing and sales content, but skip the opt-in forms—and follow-up from pushy salespeople—check out The Juice. They’ve gathered all the best content together in one place. You can signup for free and find what you need without becoming “a lead” in the process.  

The Short of It 💥

Sludge slows things down.

Generally speaking, you want to remove sludge from the buying experience.

And never, make it intentionally difficult for people to cancel their subscription or get a refund. Using sludge to drive revenue may work in the short term, but it will kill brand trust in the long-run.

Until next time, happy selling!



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

There are a few ways I can help:

  1. Get explosive clarity about what works with buyers by learning how to conduct 1:1 Clarity Calls (2000+ happy students)
  2. *NEW* Learn how to mine online reviews from real buyers to generate ideas and copy that converts (250+ happy students)
  3. Book a 1:1 strategy call with Katelyn and get the answers you need to get unstuck and move forward with confidence

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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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