Consider This Before Setting Your Marketing Strategy

As a marketer, it’s not uncommon to feel tempted to emulate the marketing strategy of another company you admire.

While there’s nothing wrong with drawing some inspiration from great companies, there’s a big risk involved with following someone else’s footsteps: they may be at a different point on the path, or might be on a different path entirely.

This brings up something every marketer should consider before developing a marketing strategy: the state of the industry you’re trying to enter.

Read moreConsider This Before Setting Your Marketing Strategy

If Your Startup Isn’t Growing, Here May Be The Reason Why

If growth at your startup has stagnated, not knowing the cause can be enormously frustrating. The good news is that there’s probably a good reason your startup isn’t growing. In this post, I’m going break down three of the most common roadblocks so you know where to begin.

The 3 Reasons Your Startup Isn’t Growing

OK, there aren’t only three reasons a startup isn’t growing. Poor culture, legal issues, regulatory changes, and other factors can all contribute equally. But here, we’re going to focus on the three most common reasons related to product and marketing.

Reason #1 – Bad Product: Let’s face it… you can only get so far before people realize your product isn’t great. If you’re reading this and aren’t aware if your own product is good or bad, I’ll just assume that (a) you’re brand new at your job; or (b) you already know deep down inside and you’re hoping that this article will let you off the hook.

Reason #2 – Bad Marketing: Your product is fine. Maybe it’s even great. And people seem to buy it. But they’re not responding to your marketing, because, well… it’s lame. If you’re a marketer, you probably don’t want this to be the reason. But better you find out yourself then someone else (your boss?) be the one to break you the news.

Reason #3 – Bad Market: Trying to sell the world’s best yoga mat to your local Harley-Davidson club? Life insurance to a 17-year old? This weird, cucumber-flavored Pepsi to someone who doesn’t live in Japan? You get the idea. You’ll always hit a brick wall if they’re selling a great product to the wrong market.

So which one of these is the main culprit? Keep reading and we’ll find out…

It’s 3rd Grade All Over Again, And I’m Giving You a Worksheet To Do For Homework

At least I won’t be grading you on the results. And this assignment will only take about 5 minutes. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. First, download and print this PDF.
  2. Grab a #2 pencil (or go really crazy and make it a #4)
  3. Below is a list of 10 areas you’ll evaluate your company on. Read them now and then return here.
  4. Go through each line on your worksheet and rate your company as weak, average, or strong. Don’t spend more than 30 seconds on each.
  5. At the bottom of this post you’ll find what results look like for a company with a bad product, bad marketing, or a bad market. Don’t peek! Whatever result your worksheet most closely resembles will point you to the real reason your startup isn’t growing.

Finally, at the end of this post, I’ll provide a bit more commentary on each result. 3-2-1-Go!

Click here to download your worksheet

Rating Your Company On These Areas Will Help You Find The Real Reason Your Startup Isn’t Growing

Again, on your worksheet, you’ll find these ten areas listed. Which of these your company is weak or strong in will indicate where your problem lies.

PPC/SEM Marketing – anywhere you spend money to drive leads, clicks, etc. Evaluate the ads themselves, not the entire conversion funnel (here are some good benchmarks to reference). Why this matters: if your ads themselves perform well but you’re not growing, it probably indicates a product- or market-related problem.

Search traffic for your product/company – what’s the search volume for the name of your company or if applicable, your own products? Nonexistent? Moderate? Growing? Why this matters: if people are searching for you, they’ve probably heard about you from someone else. That’s a usually good thing!

Search traffic for related terms – this is the search volume for terms that are related to what you do, like “landing page software”, “energy efficient lightbulbs”, or “books on how to find a girlfriend”. Why this matters: if there’s high search volume for things related to what you do, that’s a good sign that there’s a market for what you’re selling.

PR coverage – are other sites interested in writing about you? Or does your local newspaper turn you down so they have space to cover that local fashion show for seniors? Why this matters: if you can’t get any PR, chances are your product isn’t interesting or valuable enough to be worth writing about.

Direct/referral traffic – having plenty of these visitors means people are (a) bookmarking your site, (b) heading there directly, or (c) coming to your site from articles written about you. Why this matters: it means you’re doing something right – people love you enough to visit you often to tell others.

Website Conversion Rate – you might generate lots of “top of the funnel” interest from a paid ad campaign, but once visitors actually learn what you do on your website, are they still interested? Why this matters: a low-performing site means your product just isn’t compelling, or that you haven’t described it clearly.

Sales Close Rate – do leads show up for calls, and are they closing at a healthy rate? Or do you resort to discounts just to get a few closes? Why this matters: a really good marketing team can get people interested, but if the product is weak and/or the market is wrong, then sales won’t get very far.

Referrals – what portion of your does your growth come from referrals? If your not sure what a good benchmark is, look at this article from FriendBuy. Why this matters: if you’re getting little growth from referrals, that’s a sign that people aren’t passionate enough about your product to tell others.

Retention/Repeat Purchases – do your customers buy from you again? And if you’re selling a subscription-based product, do they stick around for long? Why this matters: low retention or a low repeat purchase rate is a major red flag that your product doesn’t fit with the market.

Reviews/Net Promoter Score – either one will tell you what people really think about your product. If you don’t know how to measure NPS, here’s how to do it. Why this matters: low ratings on either metric are a sign that your product is weak. But if you have high ratings and still aren’t growing, that points to a marketing issue.

Which Type of Problem Are You Facing?

With your worksheet complete, compare it to the three examples below. Chances are it will line up with one more closely than others. If you find a match, read that section to find out the real reason your startup isn’t growing.

Can’t find a match? Read each section a few times, and you’ll probably start to see one that sounds mostly like you. And if you’re still not sure, there’s probably a combination of reasons your startup isn’t growing. More commentary on that at the end.

What A Bad Product Looks Like

This is the easiest to diagnose, so we’ll start here. Your product gets few referrals, weak reviews, and customers don’t stick around for long.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad product

When your startup has a bad product, you might be able to get people to buy it, but as soon as they find out what it’s like, your referrals, retention, and reviews will suffer.

You might get away with decent performance in your paid ad campaigns, perhaps because you’re still addressing a need that your target market actually has. And perhaps your sales team or website can even do a decent job of generating new customers. But as soon as people find out what your product is really like, the truth becomes evident.

How is this different from a bad market? These two problems are most easily confused, so let’s look at that one next…

What A Bad Market Looks Like

The tricky thing about having a bad market is that you’re also likely to see mediocre reviews, a poor net promotor score, and weak referrals – just like you do with a bad product.

But there’s a key difference.

When you’re trying to sell to the wrong market, nearly everything is a challenge. There’s not a lot of search traffic in your product category, so you can’t rely on SEO. Since your paid ads aren’t really addressing a need that your market has (or understands) they’re never going to work well.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad market

Selling to the wrong market is the toughest battle to face – nearly nothing works!

You might have pockets of people who “get” how valuable your product is. But if you’re finding that potential customers just don’t understand the problem you’re trying to solve (regardless of how well you describe it), then you’re probably selling to the wrong market.

This can be a particularly thorny problem if you’ve sold most of the “early adopters” in your market but haven’t established enough credibility to sell to the “early majority.” The book Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore, provides some great insights here. If you were growing quickly early on but now your startup isn’t growing at all, it’s definitely worth a read.

What Bad Marketing Looks Like

If a bad marketing strategy is your main issue, then your company’s growth is mainly limited by your success with referrals, PR coverage, and search traffic.

when your startup isn't growing because of bad marketing

If you have a great product, some people will still buy it despite your poor marketing. You’re lucky – this is actually the best problem to have, as it’s the easiest to fix.

When customers have great things to say about you, when the press loves writing about how wonderful you are, and when more and more people search for you online, then you know that that product and the market are solid. So if these things are happening but your startup isn’t growing, it’s probably because: (1) you haven’t found the right marketing channel; (2) your ad campaigns themselves aren’t messaged properly; or (3) you haven’t figured out how to convert paid traffic into revenue.

While no one gets joy in learning that their marketing needs improvement, this is actually this best scenario to find yourself in. If you have a great product and are selling it to the right market, then marketing is really there to serve an accelerator for growth – not the only thing keeping your company alive!

The World Is Messy, And The Real Answer Might Be A Combination Of The Above

Of course, there’s probably more than one reason your startup isn’t growing. So which problem do you fix first? Here’s a quick rule of thumb:

  • Great marketing can only do so much to offset a bad product. If you’re dealing with bad marketing and a bad product, then improve the product first. Focusing marketing will only get you short-term gains. But you can actually build a business on a great product.
  • Likewise, a great product cannot account for a bad market. If you’re facing both of these issues, find the right market to sell to first. The right market will tell you what problems they need addressed (if you ask), and will lead you to the right product and the right way to market to them.
  • In other words, focus on fixing your marketing last. This may sound counter-intuitive coming from a blog that’s focused on marketing, but if you deal with the underlying issues of bad product and bad market first, you’re marketing will be much more effective.

Have you dealt with this conundrum at your own company? If so, what was the underlying issue – and how did you solve it? Let me know if the comments.


This post was originally published on Flag and Frontier, my marketing consulting business for B2B technology companies.

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency For Your Startup?

One of the defining characteristics of a startup is that you never seem to have enough people to get everything done. Marketing is no exception. The desire for extra marketing help is always going to be there, whether you’re a team of one or one hundred. While recognizing that you need to add manpower is simple, deciding whether to hire more employees or bring on a marketing agency isn’t so straightforward. There’s no answer that works for everyone.

I recently went through this dilemma myself. And to help you learn from my experience, I wanted to share why I decided to consider a marketing agency and what questions I asked myself to make the decision.

Read moreShould You Hire a Marketing Agency For Your Startup?

How to Sharpen Your Marketing Message by Creating Personas

We see and hear as many as 5,000 marketing and advertisement messages a day. From what we read in magazines to what we hear on the radio, we are bombarded with advertisements. But how many of those do you think we pay attention to? Probably very few. We’re so overwhelmed with marketing messages we tune most of them out.

How Personas Get Your Message Heard

Unfortunately, the large majority of your marketing messages get tuned out too.

To cut through this message clutter and reach your prospective customers, you need to create marketing personas. “Personas” may sound odd if you’ve never heard about them, but they’re easy and fun to create.

A persona is a thorough and detailed description of your ideal buyer or customer. Personas tell the story of your customers’ behaviors, needs, and concerns. They help you understand your prospects better so you can speak to them clearly and directly in your advertising messages.

While creating personas might seem like an unnecessary step, the work is invaluable. Without them, your marketing messages will be less effective at cutting through the clutter, and less effective means fewer new members at a higher cost to acquire them.

So now that you know why you need personas, you’re probably starting to wonder how to create them. Well, just read on.

Steps For Creating Personas

Do Research

Your goal is to thoroughly understand your prospective customers. To do this, you need to do some research. You can conduct interviews with your customers, send surveys to your community, or talk to people in your network.

Go into the research process methodically and with an open mind. It’s easy to think you know your people, but you’ll be a bit surprised with what else you can learn. You should also start with a set of basic questions or a template for what you want to find out. But be sure to ask open-ended questions to generate conversations.

Here are some common things you’ll want to find out:

  • Personal details like age, gender, goals, motivation, challenges, education, spouses/children
  • Professional or career background, skills needed for their work, approximate household income (if willing to share)
  • Where and how they like to find information (ex: social media, books, magazines, the news, etc.)
  • Where and how they like to shop, and where they buy nutrition items and supplements
  • Things specific to your business (ex: what programs they like, how far would they drive to get to you, ideal hours of operation, etc.)
  • Why (and how) they were attracted to your business.

Identify the Traits of Your Ideal Customer

Now you’ll need to take the information you collected and start to make sense of it. You’ll want to look for patterns and common characteristics to tell the story, or stories, of your prospects and members.

For instance, do you have a customer base that’s mostly female and professionally-minded? Or is your community young men who are family-focused? Try to find the commonalities in the stories you’ve collected. It’s normal to have a couple of different stories emerge, and you can have as many personas as you need to account for the generalities in your community.

Document Your Persona(s)

Here’s where you can be creative. There’s no right way to document your personas. You can use poster board, PowerPoint, a whiteboard, or any other medium that captures the nuances of your personas. Some people like to name their personas so they are easy to remember, and assigning an image to your persona is also helpful. You will want to keep and use your personas for the foreseeable future, so be sure they will be savable.

After you’ve created your personas, share them with your team. Ask for their feedback on what you’ve created. Your team will have ideas to help you refine your personas. 

Using Your Personas to Reach Prospects

Now it’s time to be heard above all the marketing noise, or cut through it with a well-sharpened knife, if you will. You can use your personas to create targeted advertisements and marketing messages, using words and ideas that will resonate with your ideal prospect. For instance, let’s use the examples we gave above.

An advertisement for working professional females building their career will differ significantly from an advertisement for ex-corporate, entrepreneurial males.  Not only will the words you’d want to use be different, but the colors, images, and the main point of your message will be as well. Your personas will also give you insight for promotions and seasonal attendance drivers, as well as clarity on where to post your advertisements. 

Another thing that makes personas helpful is the ability to address a person’s reasons for wanting your product, or conversely, not wanting your product. If you speak to these issues in your marketing messages, they will be compelling and powerful.

Personas Are a Powerful (And Necessary) Tool

Personas must be a part of your marketing strategy, and they’re essential for building a strong brand. They will make your marketing messages targeted, specific, and effective for your intended audience. Although they take a little time to create, they are invaluable and will help you grow your business.


The post was originally published on Causely, where I was co-founder and CMO.

Your Growth Will Fall Short Without A Brand Promise. Here’s Why.

“Come on,” my dad quipped, pretending not to notice the look of sheer horror pasted on my face. “It’ll be fun. I promise.

I was just a 9-year old kid, getting ready to ride a roller coaster called the Loch Ness Monster: 3,240 feet of bright yellow steel tubing wrapped around itself like a two contortionists playing a game of Twister in the middle of tornado. I nearly crapped my pants when I saw it.

Read moreYour Growth Will Fall Short Without A Brand Promise. Here’s Why.

Learn These 5 Tips For Building A Strong Brand

Most businesses wonder what it takes to build a brand that reaches to the ends of the earth (think Coca-Cola, Apple, Kleenex). Everyone knows these brands, and if you don’t, you probably need to get out more. But what makes them so successful?

Good branding is not just about a name or a logo. Branding is far more psychological — it’s what people think of when they hear your name, see your logo, or use your product. Do you ever call it a “tissue?” No, you call it a Kleenex. Boom. Brand brainwash.

So how do you get there?

Well, we’ve mapped out five tips we think are essential for building a strong brand. We can’t promise that your brand will spread to China, but we can promise that spending a little brain power on each tip will help you solidify your brand and grow your business.

Let’s get started.

1.  Know Yourself

Cat Stevens said it best, “If you want to be me, be me. And If you want to be you, be you.

It sounds simple, but this might be the hardest part of building a brand. Nearly every business struggles with pinpointing its personality and vision. Often, in hopes of nailing down a specific niche, businesses take on more than one personality. This is called “mission creep” and it can be detrimental in the long run. Instead, focus on what your business offers.

If you’re a yoga studio, don’t try to be a CrossFit. If you’re a chiropractor, don’t try to be a dentist (obviously). Losing focus can result in losing customers. After you establish your purpose, your brand will have legs to stand on.

To begin this process, try brainstorming words that represent your company’s product or values. For example, if you’re a restaurant, you might start with words like health, entertainment, enjoyment. These words will help guide the language you use to communicate your vision and develop a mission statement.

2. Know Your People

You can’t build a brand without knowing whom you’re building it for — your customers. And to reach your customers effectively, you must cater to their communication preferences. What does that mean? Find out what they like, how they talk, when they’re listening, and where they hang out online. Make sure you offer something that your customers actually want (not what you think they want).

Your priority is to make a connection that hooks your customer’s brain and heart. If you can do that, you’ll have customers for life, AKA “brand loyalty” (think Harley Davidson and men with bushy beards, leather jackets, and plenty of tattoos).

To really know your customers, you’ll need to create customer personas. Don’t know what that means? Here’s a quick walk-through to get you started.

3. Be Honest

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
— Albert Einstein.

Being honest reinforces who you are and how you do business. Be completely honest about everything — your successes, your failures, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Evaluating your weaknesses can be tough and requires a great deal of humility and courage. But demonstrating honesty shows that you’re business is run by real people. When your customers feel like they know the people running the business, they’re more likely to develop trust.

As much as being honest will help build your brand, it will also build your customer base. People are attracted to honest brands because they are more trustworthy. If your members trust you, they will be more likely to recommend you to friends (hello, word-of-mouth referral).

4. Be Passionate

You love your business — it’s your passion. And your passion can be contagious if you let it be. As much as people cling to honest brands, they also cling to passionate ones. The passion starts with you and your employees. Together, you are the face of your organization and its biggest advocates. Communicate your passion in the way you relate to your customers. Before long, they’ll share your enthusiasm.

Here’s an example. When you think of Apple, what do you think of? For many people, Steve Jobs immediately comes to mind. After all, he developed some of the most loyal brand followers on Earth. It’s real. You could feel his passion every time he spoke about Apple. Your passion has the power to inspire your customers to tattoo your logo on their chests.

Just kidding, but you get the idea. Passion attracts people. When others see your passion, they will likely  be more receptive to what you’re communicating.

5. Be Consistent

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of a good brand is consistency. Coca-Cola didn’t get into 200 countries by changing its mission statement or logo for each country. Once you know your brand, stick with it! If you’ve grown so much and need to reevaluate, you can. Just don’t do it every week.

Oh, and remember how we talked about honesty? Well, consistency and honesty are kind of the same thing. Really, really important. Without a consistent brand, your customers will get confused, lose interest, and gravitate toward other brands that provide the trust they are seeking.

Consistency in logos can be especially tricky because your logo is the easiest piece of information for people to remember about your brand. Make sure your customers support your re-brand if you choose to go down that route. Avoid re-branding pitfalls by taking a look at these logo redesigns gone bad. 


The post was originally published on Causely, where I was co-founder and CMO.

How to Build a Social Media Content Plan with Trello

Here’s a dead-simple way to build a social media content plan with Trello.

Without a Plan, Your Social Media Will Be A Mess

Managing your company’s social media presence can be a mess if you’re not intentional about it. It’s like that guy who’s sat on the couch all year and decides that on January 1, he’s going to go to the gym “like all the time.” Week one, he’s there every day. Week two… well, you know what happens. Without a solid plan that you can stick to, your social media content won’t be consistent or effective.

That’s why I’m going to show you how to build a social media content plan with Trello in 30 minutes or less.

For the sake of simplicity, this post will focus just on marketing content for Facebook. However, the methodology can be used for any content calendar, and even for multiple social networks if you’re creative. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Ask What You Want To Accomplish

Why do you even have a social media presence in the first place? Do you want to keep customers talking about your brand? Announce new products? Set the tone for your brand’s voice? Make a list of key objectives. Keep it short, not more than three or four. Just like the guy planning to hit Gold’s Gym every day, not knowing why you’re doing something is a sure path to quitting. Here’s an example:

  • Keep customers informed of new product features
  • Foster engagement by highlighting outstanding customers
  • Reinforce our values through human-interest and humorous content
  • Improve company image vignettes of employees

2. Identify The Type Of Content That Will Best Serve Each Of Those Objectives

For example:

  • Keep customers informed… via events announcements and company news (Update)
  • Foster engagement… by highlighting outstanding customers (Community)
  • Reinforce our values… through human-interest and humorous content (Voice)
  • Improve company image… by featuring profiles of employees (Personality)

3. Prioritize Your Categories

Don’t just say, “they’re all important!”; prioritizing will help you decide how much content is devoted to each. Try this: give yourself 10 “points” to hand out. Give more points to the most important objectives, and fewer to secondary ones. So much math!!

  • Update: 3
  • Community: 3
  • Voice: 2
  • Image: 2

4. Calculate Your Output Capacity

How many posts per month can you consistently commit to? Don’t bite off more than you can chew and burn out after a month. At our company, we are planning to ramp up our volume to about 20 posts a month. That’s on the aggressive side, but we generate a lot of growth through Facebook and our followers have been very engaged with our content. Having videos with lots of gratuitous explosions always helps.

5. Do Some Math

With you ideal volume in hand, it’s time to match that against the priorities you outlined earlier. Apply the formula below to

Number of posts/month = (points assigned to category / total points) x total posts/month

For our first category, Updates, the formula would look like this:

(3 points / 10 total points) x 20 posts/month = 6 Update posts per month

Easy! You didn’t even need a calculator. Right? Right????…..  Don’t worry I won’t tell your 4th grade math teacher. Just repeat for the remaining categories and you’ll have a baseline plan for how many posts of each type to publish each month. Here’s what you’d end up with for all four categories:

  • Update – 6 posts/month
  • Community – 6 posts/month
  • Voice – 4 posts/month
  • Personality – 4 posts/month

6. Time To Build Your Social Media Content Plan With Trello

We use a 4-step workflow to manage content throughout the month. Every piece of content starts out in a Planned list, and moves through the following steps:

  1. Planned
  2. Being worked on
  3. Pending approval
  4. Scheduled

You may need fewer or more depending on the structure of your team. We have multiple content contributors, but only a couple people assigned to approve content, so this process helps us hand off content to the right people.

Now… create a Trello card in the Planned for each post you outlined above. The result will look something like this. Look at all those beautiful posts just waiting to be written. So many Likes and Shares lie ahead:

Building a social media content plan with Trello is easy.

7. Assign Owners

Whether you have one person or a team of ten managing content, make sure that every single card on your social media content plan with Trello has an owner. This is the person who will make sure that a piece of content is drafted, edited, and published on time, and by the right people. Give your team the gift of clear ownership and it will greatly streamline your process. Don’t assign owners and watch you best intentions disintegrate into pure and unrelenting madness. Your Facebook fans deserve better, don’t they?

8. Set Due Dates

Since you’re building your social media content plan with Trello, it’s time to figure out what to post when. Trello gives you a great calendar view, which makes it super-simple to get a bird’s eye view of the month. We use also labels to designate content categories, making it  easy to see what type of content will go out when. Here’s a possible result that will satisfy any obsessive compulsive disorder sufferer, with it’s neatly-spaced scheduling.

Your social media content plan with Trello never looked so neat.

9. Get Writing

Now that you’ve built your social media content plan with Trello, you have all your work cut out for you for the month. No more planning, go write!

At the end of the month, sit down with your content team and examine the results. Which types of social media content performed the best? Were there days of the week when you saw better results? Was your team able to handle the load?

You’ll want to make some tweaks to make next month even more effective. Now you’ve established a baseline, though, your process will be much more effective and well-informed.


This post was originally published on Flag and Frontier, my marketing consulting business for B2B technology companies.

How to Choose The Right CRM For Your Startup

Choosing a CRM is a lot like dating: you need some experience to know what you’re looking for, it takes a while to find out if you’ve made the right choice, and if you decide to switch to another option, it’s generally a pain. We recently went through the CRM selection process at my company, and we ended up with a great choice. I wanted to share the steps we went through, to hopefully save you some pain as your look for the right CRM for your startup. After all, the CRM you pick is something you’ll use everyday to execute your marketing strategy, so it’s worth investing time into making the right choice.

Background: Too Many Choices

We originally used Hubspot as an all-in-one marketing/sales platform. We tried to use it as a CRM as well, but it’s not well suited for that. As our sales volume started to increase, and we quickly needed a better solution to help us manage leads and deal discussions. After an afternoon spent Googling every CRM search string we could think of, we soon realized that there were hundreds of choices. Far too many, in fact. Suffocating under the sheer variety of options, we decided to take a step back…

Finding the Right CRM For Your Startup Begins With Assessing Your Needs

We took a break and tried to honestly assess what we really needed from a CRM. Just like your buddy’s girlfriend you can’t stand to be around, some CRMs will be a poor fit because they’re tailored for a different type of user. But since you can’t afford to date a dozen CRMs before you marry one, you have to figure out what you want first.

Here are a few questions that will help you find the right CRM for your startup:

  • How complex is your sales process? Perhaps you sign leads up after a phone call or two. Or maybe it’s a months-long conversation with several people. You won’t need every feature under the sun if you just need a fancy list to keep track of who needs to be called.
  • Who will be using the CRM? Is your team really tech savvy, and comfortable setting up a lot of configuration? Or will they refuse to touch something unless it has a beginner-friendly interface?
  • How many leads do you manage at once? How similar are they? If you’re selling the same thing to every lead, you probably have a fairly straightforward process. A CRM that simply helps you track progress will be fine. But if you have multiple products that have unique sales approaches, you’ll want more flexibility to customize.
  • Where do your sales take place? If you’re out in the field much, then consider CRMs that have mapping features and a strong mobile app (many CRMs don’t).
  • Do you sell via email, phone, or both? Several CRMs that offer in-app calling, call logging, dedicated telephone numbers, and other features that make it easy to manage calls. Other CRMs offer direct integration into email services such as Gmail and Outlook, which is handy if you want to easily track correspondence.
  • How long does this CRM need to last? Remember, just because you pick a CRM now doesn’t mean that you’ll use it until the end of time. Yes, it’s a pain to switch, but if you’re a startup, the software you use today isn’t what you’ll be using three years from now.
  • What other services do you use? Are there email, billing, chat, or other web-based software you use for marketing and sales? Several CRMs offer direct integrations with those platforms, making it a cinch to sync data.
  • How available is your tech team? Many CRMs can’t fully connect to other services unless you make use of their API. Have a custom website that someone wrote from scratch? You’ll need to make API calls if you want those forms on your website to update your CRM automatically. If this is a concern for you, check out Zapier, which offers direct integrations between many platforms, all without writing code.
  • How much does it cost? Don’t worry about this one for now. Most CRMs geared at startups will be within a fairly similar price range. Unless you’re on a shoestring budget, focus on finding a tool that works best for you. More expensive isn’t necessarily better.

Review With Your Team

If you’ve talked through these questions together, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you need out of a CRM. Here’s what we ended up with:

Our sales process typically involves a couple of emails and a phone call or two. However, the time from initial interest to close can take anywhere from one day to one month. We need something that will make it easy to track correspondence and deal stage. Phone integration and mobile apps are must-haves.

Right now, our products have fixed pricing. The sales process is mostly educational and less focused on negotiation. With that in mind, we didn’t need anything really nuanced. Just an easy way to keep track of how many customers are interested and how many we’ve closed.

Our sales team is a smart bunch, but they don’t have a lot of time to learn a funky interface. Finding something that was intuitive is paramount. While our sales are mostly done in-office, knowing where leads are located geographically is really important, as we sell to many local businesses.

Finally, we need a service that will integrate with MailChimp and Gmail. We’ll also need to update our CRM via an API, since we’d have an custom-built website and sign-up portal for our services.

Go through this exercise and get ready to go hunting…

Narrow It Down

There are a couple options for narrowing choices for finding the right CRM for your startup: use a service such as Capterra or G2 Crowd to filter your options, OR take the easy way by looking at the short list we came up with:

  • Close.io – great for call tracking and a simple interface
  • RelateIQ – uses algorithms to help you know where to spend your time
  • Intercom – offers a single platform for communicating over multiple channels
  • BaseCRM – solid call/email integration, great UI and mobile app
  • HighRise – extremely simple, a glorified contact manager
  • Nimble – strong social media integration
  • Pipedrive – targeted at high-value/low-volume deal flow
  • Pipeline Deals – focused on managing an intricate sales process
  • CapsuleCRM – easy to get started with

Go On A Date

Once you’ve selected three or four candidates, it’s time for a test run. Set up a trial account, import your data, and start to poke around. Before long, you’ll get a sense of how steep the learning curve is and how much customization is involved before you can really make use of it. Make sure you include any mobile apps as part of the trial process.

If you’re still having trouble making a decision on the right CRM for your startup, here are a few tips to help:

  • Submit a support request and see how quickly and thoroughly their team responds.
  • Check out their documentation. How many resources do they provide to help you along?
  • Ask one of their sales reps to tell you why you should choose them over another CRM you’re considering. They may point out some features you weren’t aware of. If you want to dig even deeper, ask the sales rep to tell you what the weak points of their CRM are. Every service has a few.
  • If Salesforce came up on your short list, cross it off. Unless you have a big sales team and a lead who’s already familiar with Salesforce, changes are it will be overkill. By the time you have it set up, you could already have been using a simpler CRM for months.
  • Visit the company’s blog to see how recently they’ve released new features.
  • Take a look at Zapier to see what kinds of integrations are offered. Set up a Zap and see if it works.

Make Your Choice

You won’t know whether you’ve made the perfect decision until you’ve committed to a CRM for your startup, started using it for real deals, and discovered all its warts. But you won’t be able to try them all for months. And at a startup, sometimes done is better than perfect. So make your decision, move forward, and don’t look back.

For us, we went with BaseCRM. We really liked its intuitive interface, call integration, and mobile apps. It also has a fairly good API, which means that it can grow with us for a while. Reporting tools are solid too. Yes, there are some shortcomings we found with it, but none of them are serious enough to cause us to reconsider. And their support team has been really helpful. So far, so good…

Have you gone through the process of picking a new CRM for your startup? If so, I’d love to hear your own thoughts on how to make the process more painless. 


This post was originally published on Flag and Frontier, my marketing consulting business for B2B technology companies.