Everyone wants to get better at sales, but once you’ve had some success, could you explain why? Could you repeat that and train others to mimic that success? Cirrus Insight cofounder Brandon Bruce has grown his sales integration software company into a $12MM business by focusing on the process and creating systems that show where growth comes from and how to replicate it. But there’s a surprising benefit to this: It allows you to predict potential customers’ needs, which you can use to lead them down your sales path and get them invested in your product or service before you ever make the sales pitch! We talk about that and a whole lot more of the challenges startups face early on when trying to figure out how to create a sales system for their company.
01:40 – What does Cirrus Insights do, exactly?
04:49 – From a small town to the Inc. 500 list
11:15 – Defining your feature set when the options are endless
12:50 – The risk of building on other peoples’ platforms
17:42 – Focusing on results and value, not volume
23:50 – How to never lose another customer
25:20 – Makes your sales pitches personal
28:20 – Creating sales systems to scale best practices
32:28 – How to create a sales process
40:30 – What keeps him up at night?
49:22 – Parting advice on creating a sales program
POST GAME ANALYSIS:
Brandon’s origin story shows the value of paying attention to your surroundings and learning from others. His curiosity as a child helped him see opportunities in ways less curious people are blind to. It’s never too late to start, and it’s also a great icebreaker if there’s nothing else to talk about.
Cirrus Insights started in a similar fashion. They saw something interesting in another space and thought they could make something similar work for sales and CRM. Their “secret sauce” was simply creating something that solved a problem that a lot of people had, then getting it out to people to try. This gave them a beta audience, which provided them with a wealth of feedback and proved that it would indeed save them time. Which meant they were willing to pay for it. Boom, business born.
While they kinda lucked into launching first, their story shows the value of just starting. Their story also shows the value of restraint and of listening to your customers. When they launched with beta, they had 100s of ideas coming in. They found that if there was a lot of people asking for the same thing, there was a market for it. They also found that if a very large, valuable customer wanted something specific, it was probably worth doing. Interestingly, Brandon says that many of the “cool” features that their team thought would be useful have rarely turned out to be as popular as the ideas that have come from their customers. The lesson? Listen to your true fans (aka, the ones paying to use your product day in and day out) and deliver what they want and need.
Should you build a business on a 3rd party’s platform?
It’s a risk. As Brandon’s first telecom business shows, when you’re building your income base off someone else’s platform, you risk losing that base if they change their platform or the rules of the game.
Brandon and his team recognize the risk, but the advantage they have is that they’ve focused so tightly on a specific user base and created such a deeply valuable and integrated product, that the platform owners (in their case, the email client and Salesforce.com) would have a very hard time replicating what they do. Because of this, and because Cirrus Insights has proven they’re a valuable customer base, they have positioned themselves as an acquisition candidate, which is a bit of a safety net. Or, because they have a very specific user type as customers, they could simply create their own simplified and specific CRM solution.
Do you want numbers? Or results?
Brandon’s biggest lesson is to focus your efforts on getting real, meaningful results, not just numbers. Would you rather have a sales person that generated thousands of leads but no real valuable customers? Or one who only reached out to tens or hundreds, but those leads turned into high yield customers?
His example was, do you just want to send more emails about your available gym memberships? Or do you want to send higher quality, more targeted emails that actually get opened and acted upon?
The point is this: What’s the end result that you want? Now, with that in mind, How can you structure your sales efforts such that they’re reaching the right people, at the right time, with the right message to achieve that result?
Do what you say you’re going to do
Another key takeaway is this: Deliver on your promises. Take the time to build a relationship with your customer and learn what their needs really are, develop a solution that gets them the results they want, then deliver on that promise. Do that, and you all but eliminate the chance they’ll ever leave you for a competitor.
How to scale sales best practices
Step one in creating an efficient sales team is to define your sales process. This helps you better train your sales force to move people through the flow in an efficient manner, and makes both the sales and training process more repeatable. But you can’t predict every customer question and interaction, so you have to train your people to adapt on the fly and communicate in a way that ensures they’re getting exactly what they need.
Brandon’s tactic comes from improve, where the answer is always “Yes, and…”. This gives the sales person the opportunity to get clarification on the customer’s needs and find the right solution. This approach helps eliminate losing customers because the sales person didn’t think that they had the right product or solution. It avoids things getting lost in translation.
What’s your sales process?
Cirrus Insights uses a workflow (and, obviously, their own software) to create a repeatable process, but also checks in with how its working so they can make iterative improvements rather than rely on the assumption that if it worked before, it’ll just keep working.
The hidden benefit of having a visual workflow is that you know what’s coming up and you can lead the customers down the correct path. Sometimes, you can even help them prepare in advance, which has the additional benefit of getting them pre-invested in your system and more likely to do the deal.
Focus on what the customer wants, not your competition
Brandon says early on they were “burning a lot of cycles” worrying about what the competition is doing on too granular a level. Now, they pay attention to the industry and who’s doing what, but they know that if they’re focused on doing what they do as well as possible, then they’ll keep advancing and delivering the right results to their customers. A tangent of which is this: Know who your customer really is. As in, know who you want your customer to be and understand what they want from you, then deliver and delight.
Sell it before you build it
His parting advice gives us ideas on how to create a sales process and strategy when you’re first starting out, but it’s great advice for anytime you’re launching a new product or service. Sell it first, prove the concept, then build it out. What you may find is that getting it out there and soliciting feedback will likely help you refine the product to better meet the customers’ needs. And you might even get some commitments and orders in advance, which helps you raise money or secure manufacturing contracts.
LINKS & RESOURCES:
- You can find Brandon on LinkedIn
- His book Slow Sale expands on many of the concepts we discussed
- Brandon suggests checking out the websites of major sales organizations and looking at their methods and white papers for ideas on how to build your own sales program.
- He strongly recommends The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer as two of his favorite books on sales
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