The One Question To Ask Your First Marketing Hire

I originally published this on Forbes. Read there original here.

If you’re a startup founder who’s looking for someone to build your team, what do you look for in your first marketing hire? It’s a tough question.

Before you start holding interviews for your first marketing hire, ask yourself this: what is the purpose marketing in the first place? Continue reading

How To Stay Motivated During A Pivot

I originally wrote this as a piece for Huffington Post, which you can find here.

Startups face no shortage of uncertainty, and nothing creates more uncertainty than going through a pivot. A pivot can be a soul-wrenching, sleepless, and hair-pulling ordeal that can leave you feeling like the whole startup thing was never worth it. That is, if you let it. But if you have the right attitude, a pivot can be a period of intense personal and professional growth – a unique learning experience that can help you grow in wisdom and fortitude.

I’ve gone through a pivot before. And I’m in the middle of another. Here’s what I’ve learned that has helped me turn the experience into a positive one. Continue reading

How To Pick a Target Market For a B2B Startup (Part III – Interviews)

This post is Part III in series called “How To Pick a Target Market for a B2B Startup.” To start at the beginning, click here.

Marketing guru Regis McKenna once wrote, “marketing people should be on the road half the time–meeting customers, talking to people, building relationships, and seeing where the next product is going.” You know, actually speaking to live, flesh-and-blood human beings. Crazy.

While that much travel might not be feasible for everyone, his point was clear: understanding your market is key to successfully selling to it. As convenient as research and surveys are (which we discussed in Parts I and II) they simply cannot help you know your market really well.

That’s why interviews are the final (and most important) part of selecting a target market for your B2B startup. Continue reading

How To Pick a Target Market For a B2B Startup (Part II – Surveys)

This is Part II in a three-part series about finding your ideal target market. Click here if you’d like to start from the beginning.

In part I of this series, I showed you how to use brainstorming and a bit of research to build a short list of potential target markets for your B2B startup.

Now it’s time to narrow that list even further.

To do that, we’re going to use surveys to ask polarizing questions and find out even more about our targets. Continue reading

How To Pick A Target Market For A B2B Startup (Part I – Research)

In a B2B startup, there are two questions that you must answer before your company gets very far: what is the product, and who are you going to sell it to? In today’s post, I’m going to focus on the second question, and show you a 3-part process you can use to find the exact market niche to focus on. Continue reading

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 in the ass.

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 in your own journey.

Background

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…

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 out:

  • 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 your choices: 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, 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, 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? If so, I’d love to hear your own thoughts on how to make the process more painless. 

Startup Lessons from A Game of Thrones – Part 1: Tyrion Lannister and Getting Shit Done

George R.R. Martin’s novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, (or for you viewers at home, A Game of Thrones) is chock full of interesting characters and situations. So much so, that I felt compelled to write a few posts about the lessons that startups can draw from them.

Let’s start with Tyrion Lanninster, aka The Imp. Caution… spoiler ahead. Tyrion’s never had a lot going for him. A misshapen dwarf who’s been all but disowned by his family, Tyrion’s rarely enjoyed the respect of others.  While Tyrion’s immediate family is made up of avarice-driven, power-hungry, and cunning individuals who’ve jockeyed themselves into dominant positions in society, Tyrion spends his days drinking and whoring out of sight.

Tyrion in his element

That changes though, though, when the circumstances of war install Tyrion as Hand of the King. Tyrion is just as surprised as anyone at obtaining the second most powerful position in the kingdom, and he uses the opportunity to earn the respect he’s never had. The task isn’t easy, though: the king himself is Tyrion’s own nephew Joffrey, an immature and cruel boy who despises Tyrion even though he’s the very man he should rely on to help him run the kingdom.

But before long, Tyrion learns how to manipulate Joffrey through a combination of intimidation (“I’ll geld you, I swear it…” he threatens Joffrey once) and distraction (giving Joffrey a fancy crossbow to show off). While short of stature, he’s not short on wit. In the ensuing months, Tyrion finds himself running the affairs of the kingdom while the king is preoccupied playing with his toys.

This is exactly where Tyion needs to be some time later, when the city of King’s Landing is about to be attacked by rivals. While Joffrey should be the one making war plans, he’s too busy having his fiancé beaten and generally being a prick to make meaningful preparations. And as much as Tyrion hates Joffrey, he hates the idea of having the city sacked and his family thrown out of power even more. With the prospect of a loss looming on the horizon, Tyrion switches to full-on “Get Shit Done” mode…

He orders every blacksmith in the city forge a massive chain that will cut invading ships in two. He cajoles the ancient order of pyromancers make 10,000 jars of a hugely volatile substance called wildfire – enough to blow up the entire city of they’re not careful. He burns down the shanties surrounding the city walls to keep them from being used by the enemy as ladders. He has catapults built and sends men out to harass the enemy, all without the knowledge or consent of his incompetent nephew. Though untrained as a soldier, Tyrion even leads a band of soldiers to defend the city gates, while men with twice his size and experience flee to safety.

Wildfire: the napalm of Game of Thrones

It’s not not to be impressed by The Imp. He had the gall to deal the ineffectual and narcissistic King (and technically his boss) enough blows to keep him out of the way. He had the foresight to initiate some defensive tactics that others overlooked. And he had the guts to rush into battle despite his physical disadvantages. Without him, King’s Landing may have in fact been overtaken. Doesn’t he sound like someone you’d want on your side?

Thankfully most of us don’t have the disadvantages Tyrion had to deal with: a unsavory physical appearance, a family that’s rejected you you, and a 13-year-old egotistical and insecure boss. Now think of the challenges you’re dealing with at your own startup. Do any of them seem nearly as bad? No?… So what’s keeping you from being like Tyrion and Getting Shit Done?