7 Simple Secrets to a Better Product and Easier Sales
Exactly one week ago I was speaking at HowToWeb 2019 in Bucharest, Romania. The tenth edition of a milestone conference in the CEE region.
I was honored to be part of such a high profile speaker line-up, including thought leaders like Sean Ellis (growth hacking), April Dunford (positioning), Bob Moesta (Jobs-to-be-Done) and Michael Perry (entrepreneurship).
The theme of the conference is "Better Products, Faster Growth" and that's what I was asked to talk about as well.
As the local tech ecosystem is gearing up, there's still a gap between ambitions and execution, especially when it comes to building products that people want and then managing to sell them.
That's why I shared 7 principles that make a big difference when starting off a product business, in the hope to bring some inspiration to the founders or aspiring founders in the room.
Coincidentally - or not - many of my fellow speakers touched on these same topics during their talks. I've linked to those talks wherever I can, so you can go into that too if you like.
All set? Mic and clicker are working?
3 - 2 - 1. Here we go 😁
How to make your customers fall in love with you
Hello everyone! I'm Jeroen of Salesflare. My goal with this talk today is to help you develop a product and a sales process your customers can fall in love with.
I'll be sharing some simple but fundamental secrets on how to do that. I hope that's what you came to this talk for. If it is, sit tight!
About me: like I said, I'm Jeroen, co-founder of Salesflare, which is a CRM software company.
Among 600+ competitors, Salesflare stands out with an easy to use and automated CRM product that SMEs tend to love.
My personal background is in a marketing agency and in software development, just like most of you I assume.
And I come to you and HowToWeb from the country of beer, chocolate and waffles, called Belgium. I'm also a US citizen by birth, as I was born in a little town in upstate New York.
So if you compare Salesflare as a company to our main competitors, you will probably be struck by the fact that we are hundreds to thousands of times smaller than them in terms of headcount.
Still, we do serve thousands of customers with a comparable product and we get a lot more love from our customers than our competitors do, as evidenced by our scores on G2 here on the right.
This talk is to help you understand how you can recreate the same effect. And how you can create a better product and have easier sales as a small, upcoming company.
At Salesflare, we have basically built a customer value machine that is laser focused on creating value for customers.
That means we do two things: 1. we talk to customers, and 2. we build a valuable product and content for them that helps them be better at what they do.
And we do all this at a very fast and very constant pace.
To win as a small company after all, customer understanding, speed and consistency are key.
It's your weapons against the giants in your space. It's your well aimed slingshots that can defeat them.
Now how can you achieve these 3 things? Well, let me share how we do it.
And I'm not going to tell you our way is the only way and you need to copy it literally, but at least I hope I can inspire you with our approach.
So let's start with the very simple but fundamental basics, with rule nr 1 ...
... which is to "find a fundamental problem you're passionate about".
Now the problem we at Salesflare focus on is bad CRM data; and we help companies delight their customers through better data.
The initial solution we came up with and that we offer is automated collection of data from emails, calendar, phone, ... but that's not really where we stop. We are thinking about integrating new communication channels, we are thinking about adding new ways of combining data, about adding new types of sales intelligence, and even maybe about completely different things that solve the same issue or reinforce our solution.
It is after all really dangerous if you're just building a feature, like -say- software that automatically imports email signatures and adds them to your contact database.
This kind of feature can become obsolete very easily, if for instance Google, Microsoft or Apple decide to add it into their email solutions. In that case, you will be close to dead.
On the contrary, while solutions and features are easily copied and replaced, problems do stay around and will provide a much stronger basis for your business.
This is something that my fellow speaker Michael Perry from Shopify will discuss in his talk later on about his 13 year journey in startups, as one of the mistakes he's made along the way. (Check it out in the Facebook Live video here at the -0:45 mark; this talk made me quite emotional and the message Michael's bringing is a very important one, so don't miss out.)
Now, after you've found some fundamental problem, you should verify that it's a problem that a group of people face, that you can actually identify with.
In our case, our users are mostly agencies (I used to work in a marketing agency before) and on the other hand software companies (obviously, I run a software company at the moment).
Even though this is a crowded space, we do know how agencies and software companies work very deeply, we know their problems, and we know many of them too. Which tends to help us enormously.
Sometimes people tell me that we should focus on another, much easier market. And often it comes up that there's huge potential in the market for, for instance, a better CRM for real estate. This would indeed be way easier, as the real estate market is rather underdeveloped in terms of software solutions, and especially in terms of CRMs.
The thing however is: I wouldn't be hanging out with you here and I wouldn't be having conversations that genuinely interest me. Instead, I would be hanging out at a real estate conference and I would be eating my heart out.
Real estate people are not really "my people". I don't enjoy talking about selling real estate that much. And how badly actually would our company do if I didn't enjoy talking to our customers.
Hypothetically, it could also be that you've seen a once in a lifetime opportunity in building an online platform for second hand car sales.
Maybe you'd think: "I'm building it for people like you and me, I will like this"; but in the end, you will be a used car salesman, meeting and competing with other used car salesmen, and you might start feeling miserable after a little while if this doesn't fit you.
In fact, when you follow this train of thought and this rule even further, the ideal situation is if you build a like minded audience first that likes and trusts you and vice versa, and only then you find out their problems, and only then you create a solution.
Now, we don't all have that luxury, but if you can at least create something for people you like and understand, it will move you a big step forward yet again.
If you've seen April Dunford's talk this morning, you also understand that selecting your audience will define your positioning and product to a large extent, so don't mess it up. (Check out her talk in the Facebook Live video here at the -6:26:00 mark. It might make the difference between success and failure of your company.)
Third, it's very important as a small company to play out your advantage as a small company. And not to start acting like a big company.
Will the CEOs of our competitors get on onboarding calls with their customers, connect with them on LinkedIn or Facebook, help them to solve their issues personally, ... ? I think, with the exception of some key customers, no, they definitely won't.
We have thousands of customers using our software and as we work very closely with them, I still know personally who many of them are, what they care about, how they think, ...
All in all, I think being in touch with customers takes about 10-20% of my time, but it's my best spent time. And it's worth it. It gives me energy, it helps us to understand our customers, to build stronger relationships, ... It's really the best spent time of all.
Still, I see many companies trying to act like a big company, because they believe it's the only way to get credibility and to be trusted; I tell you: there's a much better way to gain their trust and it's investing in a strong relationship; this will pay off big time.
Back to the G2 chart I showed earlier, you can see there that "ease of doing business with" Salesflare is our highest score by far. That's not a coincidence. It's a direct result of our focus on close relationships with our customers.
The fourth important rule is not to skip any steps along the way. You'll often be tempted to do it, but just don't.
Considering a lot of people appreciate our marketing approach at Salesflare, I often get asked by early stage startup founders how they should do their marketing.
And when they do and we meet up, I'll first start with listening to what they sell, to whom they sell it, and then I will ask: "So how many people have you sold this to already?"
Almost invariably, the answer will be between 0 and 5 people, which means they haven't even figured out a way to get repeated sales - so why on earth would they even care to start marketing?
And this is just a symptom of a larger problem, because small companies in general want to be big too fast and they skip essential steps on the way on all fronts.
When my co-founder and I started Salesflare, the first thing we did is reading the book "Getting Real" by 37signals (which I can very much recommend - and it's free) and we rigorously applied the principles from that book; we first made a presentation, and we made a mockup, and we started doing lots of interviews to understand what people needed and why they'd see us fail at building Salesflare.
Ever since then, everything we have done at Salesflare we have first tried manually and at its most basic level, and then we have repeated this until we nailed it, and only then we've scaled it.
As an example, for 1 to 2 years I've personally gone on Skype calls with screen sharing to onboard customers on our software, connect their emails, do their imports, see what they didn't understand or lacked. And I could experience everything firsthand. It gave me very direct pain.
If, instead, we would have made a fully self-service onboarding from the start, I'm certain we would have missed so many learnings and we would have spent so much more time perfecting Salesflare, if by then we wouldn't have run out of money already.
Of course, we have made many mistakes too, like hiring people before we nailed the job ourselves, which made iterating to find the right solution ten times slower. That's why I recommend to you: do the job first yourself, and only then get someone else to do it better than you. But figure out the basic strategy before you hire that person, otherwise you might easily get stuck in the very same place.
Actually, a great example of the "nail it before you scale it" way of thinking is how the guys at Sympl, the company with whom we share an office, built out their full recruitment solution first using 1. Zapier, 2. a simple database solution and 3. Slack.
They didn't start coding at all. Instead, they first made sure they knew exactly what they wanted to code, and they saved months -if not years- doing so.
If you haven't seen yesterday's talk by fellow speaker Paolo Ertreo from Dropbox, check it out online. It's full of great insights in how to do iteration right, and it's applicable to both your product and your sales. (Check out his talk in the Facebook Live video here at the -0:36:30 mark. You'll always remember the pebbles and boulders analogy.)
Fifth, once you've nailed some of the tasks, start automating them.
When I'm saying "nail it before you scale it", that obviously doesn't mean you should keep yourself busy with groundwork for the rest of time.
Again, if you're in a software company or you're in an agency, you have two jobs: 1 is talking to customers and 2 is building valuable stuff for them. Everything else is secondary and should be as automated as possible, as soon as you have nailed it.
Salesflare itself, the product, was created to scratch an automation itch we had ourselves, which was having to document our every interaction with customers, plus their details. This is of course essential to be able to talk to customers, but it's not the talking to customers itself. It only has a supporting role, it's robotic work, and we believed it should be automated. In fact, we've already proven that computers do a much better job at this than we do.
Next to using Salesflare, and at Salesflare, we have tens of other software products running for us that automate the little things in our workflow and we all connect them together with Zapier, so it kinda all runs like a clockwork and we don't need to spend our time moving data from here to there. It just runs by itself for us.
Important to note is that, a big part of automating your work is often first to create a simple process to organize it better. This avoids a lot of useless communication if you agree on how to work together, plus it often allows for easier automation afterwards.
If you do something for the 10th or the 20th time and you know how it works best, by all means, start documenting it, and then automate or delegate it.
So imagine again being 6 people and competing with companies that are hundreds to thousands of times bigger... and you want to do better. In this case, you need to be very focused at doing the exact right things better.
Today, and thanks to the internet and everyone contributing to it, it's easier than ever before for small companies to build your software and reach your audience, without needing to take care of all the secondary things.
Even if you obsess about UX like we do, you don't need to build your own UI components. You can just use a framework.
Even if your main premise is to pull data from everywhere, you don't need to build your own connectors; at least certainly not at first.
We have for instance started off with an external platform to synchronize emails, which we replaced only two years later with our own integration, as we understood it made sense to move this technology into our core.
This makes that our CRM now has the fastest, most stable and most powerful email integration around with G Suite and Office 365, which is now a competitive advantage vs the rest. So it was an important thing to do, but it wasn't important to do this from the very beginning.
For all things that are not part of your core value now, look at creative ways to build what you need faster. And there are many, many ways of doing that.
Last but not least, take your time to improve.
For those who haven't read Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", coincidentally their 7th habit is the same as the 7th habit of highly effective small companies: it's never to be too busy sawing, to stop and sharpen the saw.
Your main goal should remain to beat the status quo and to become a better company than yesterday. Even if it's just with 1% increments every day, it will all add up in the end.
What we have done for five years straight now is sit together with the whole team every two weeks for two or three hours and discuss what's going well and especially what's not going well.
We write this down on a whiteboard and we reserve enough space for solutions for the negative points, and for learnings for the positive points. And then we work on the solutions and leverage the learnings.
We encourage every one of us to identify problems, not to ignore them, so we can go out of our status quo or comfort zone and fix them.
And the same applies to how we work with customers. We actively encourage them to give us feedback and reward them with personal messages when later on we act upon their feedback.
It's only because we care deeply about becoming better, that we can actually outperform our competitors and get these amazing customer review scores I showed you at the beginning.
And that's it. Those are our 7 simple secrets. I hope you'll be able to take at least one of them home and use it to improve your business.
Now go and make your customers fall in love with you!
Thank you! And may the Flare be with you!
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