In the startup world, people like to talk about how they design product and how they code up their product. But we don’t talk enough about sales, the hustle that it takes to tell people about the product your company designed and developed.
Well today we’ll talk about sales with a founder who has two businesses that help companies sell.
Steli Efti runs close.io, software that helps salespeople close more deals. He also runs Elastic which offers your startup a sales team on demand.
Steli Efti, Elastic
Steli Efti is the co-founder of Elastic, which offers your startup a sales team on demand. He also runs close.io, software that helps salespeople close more sales.
Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters, I am your host. I am Andrew Warner of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and in a startup world we tend to talk about how people design products, how people develop and code up products, but we don’t talk enough about sales. The hustle that it takes to get people to care, to find out about and to try those products that we design and develop.
Well, today’s guest says that he likes to talk about sales, the hustle. That’s what we’re going to talk a little bit about in this interview and we’re going to find out how he built up his 2 business based on sales. Steli Efti is the co-founder of Elastic, which offers your startup a sales team on demand.
He also runs Close.io software that helps salespeople close more sales. I invited him here to talk about how he built up those companies and along the way I want to learn a little bit about those sales tactics and strategies that he’s learned.
Before I ask him his first question and get right into this interview I have to thank my good friend Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He is, there he is there, the guy on this mug, the startups entrepreneur. I always have to angle it because there’s so many friggin’ lights in here that it just creates a glare off the mug. I’ll tell you more about Scott and why you need a lawyer and if you’re a startup entrepreneur you should check out Walker Corporate Law. I’ll tell you more about him later. First, Steli, welcome.
Steli: Thanks for having me.
Andrew: I like to go in chronological order in this interview, but why don’t we talk a step away from your story and maybe you can share with us a sales strategy or technique right up front, then we’ll go into the story and along the way I want to hear more about how to sell. But what’s one that you can share with us.
Steli: Sure, the one I share with lots of entrepreneurs, I’m telling this once a day these days, is that people are probably not following up enough. Most entrepreneurs are probably not following up enough. Most people operate under the assumption that if they had an initial meeting with a customer or investor or whoever it was and they send a follow-up email and they don’t hear anything back, it might OK to follow up one more time and then they assume that the silence means rejection and they just stop.
Andrew: Yeah, I don’t want to be annoying.
Steli: Yeah exactly. You don’t want to be an annoying person. My philosophy is much more simple when it comes to the follow-up. My follow up strategy is binary so I follow up until I get a reply. And it doesn’t matter how many times I have to follow up. One time I followed up 48 times before with an investor before he replied. And what his reply was, he was like “Oh, thank you so much for following up with me. I was traveling, we launched this big new thing, Life was busy, let’s meet tomorrow at 12 at my office, well make it happen.” And he became an investor.
So when someone doesn’t reply to me I just assume people are busy. Assume people have their own lives, their own struggles their own challenges, it’s not all about me. So, their rejection, I don’t want to interpret that. I just wait for them to reply. Anybody can tell me, “Stop sending me frigging emails” and I’ll stop but as long as I don’t hear back, I’ll follow up.
Andrew: And what do you say to them in these follow ups. Do you say, “Hey, just checking to see if you go the first email,” and “Hey, just checking to see if you got the first and second email?”
Steli: That’s actually an awesome question because you cannot be whiny, needy or apologetic about it., I stay very clean cut, professional in those emails. I don’t go back and say, “Well I know I already sent you 48 emails and you might not have seen them. No I just go, “Hey, I hope this is a great start off to your week, when is a good time for you to talk with me this week, either Tuesday or Wednesday.”
And back a week or two later, I’ll follow up I’ll say, “Hey did you see this great new [??] we wrote or this new development in our software, what would be a great time next week to chat? What about this or that date?” I’ll just continue following up and I’m not going to reference back to why I’ve not heard back from you.
Andrew: And I always notice that you give them 2 options. You say, “Hey when would be a good time, Monday or Tuesday?” Why, why don’t you just say, “When would be a good time,” and leave it open?
Steli: That’s a good question. We’ve seen with our own tests that when you leave it open when you just ask somebody what a good time it, you have now, you give them now the work to figure it out. They have to go into their calendar and actually go from a wide range of options and people have a harder time making a choice. If you give them an either or choice, it’s much easier for them to just check, can I just do one of these times. And then they just say yes to you.
Andrew: Okay, I would love to have you come back on here and do nothing but talk to me about how to sell. Frankly, I love sales books or I used to love sales books, but the more we go into our own little startup world, which I think is unique, the more I realize the sales books that are out there are out of touch.
The sales speakers that are out there just don’t get our world and I can’t approach someone with a business card and a flier and a brochure the way a car salesman might or the ways some other salesman might. I have to be more agile. I have to be more conversational, and I want to learn from you. If the audience is up for it I’d love for them to tell me in the comments or otherwise, or to tell you, but I’d love to have you do that.
Steli: That’d be awesome.
Andrew: Oh, all right, sounds like a yes then…
Andrew: …You want to do it Monday or Tuesday?
Andrew: All right. Actually, I will follow up with you, and I’d love to have you do it.
Andrew: Let’s get into the story of how you built your company and, as I said, along the way we’ll come back to the sales. What’s interesting to me is that you grew up in Germany. I’m wondering how did the German culture influence who you are today.
Steli: That’s a great question. Originally, I’m Greek. My parents immigrated to Germany. I was born there. So, I think that being in the south of Germany, which is an important part – the south of Germany is a lot more conservative in nature and culture – but having a Greek background, a culture background, and kind of an immigrant factory worker family background was quite challenging for me personally.
So, there are lots of great things about Germany. I learned the value of hard work. I learned the value of honesty and humility, although I’m not sure that I’m actually really applying that day to day. But, the people around me were really hard workers really taking an interest in doing good work, craftsmanship, and precision in doing quality work. All these things I’ve learned and I think became part of my nature.
Andrew: What do you mean? Do you have an example of that? Do you have something like Steve Jobs talking about how his father asked him to paint the back of a fence because even though other people wouldn’t necessarily see it like the front it’s still important and people will see it? Do you have an example like that?
Steli: Not as awesome I think. Not as personal. But, I do think… It’s really hard to say, but I do think in everything that I saw from somebody coming to fix something because something in the kitchen was broken or the car repair shop, any little detail… In Germany, in stark contrast to Greece, when something is broken and you bring it to a professional for it to be fixed you can count on it being done correctly.
Andrew: I see. Okay, yes.
Steli: And people taking a pride in that. In Greece it’s the exact opposite. You can never count on anything being done properly. I know some people are going to hate me for that comment. But, on the reverse I think in Greece people have a greater appreciation for life, music, food, family, and friends. In the south of Germany where I grew up…
Andrew: …But, you’re saying the German attention to detail is a stark contrast to maybe even the rest of the world. I actually kind of felt a little bit of that when I lived in Queens and then moved to Manhattan. Queens, everything is just almost right with an excuse and a reason why it’s not.
You move to Manhattan and suddenly everything is precise because this is the empire state. We have to actually make everything work better than the rest of the world or else we lose our empire status.
So what about entrepreneurship? A lot of people from Europe tell me that that background maybe keeps them from taking risks, keeps them from speaking out.
Steli: Yeah. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of entrepreneurship where I grew up. It’s not in my family, and also not kind of the school environment or the environment I was in. That was not a path that was shown to me.
I think that the reason why I went and became an entrepreneur ultimately was really a lack of options in my life. I struggled in school and really hated school. I had no other real option for what I wanted to do in life. There was a big argument that I had once with one of my brothers that kind of made me realize that I really was totally clueless. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.
That kind of led me to a path of exploring books and reading about entrepreneurship by real chance, and discovering that there’s this world out there of people that don’t need certification or qualification to do something. They just have an idea, dream, and hard work and they are able to build businesses. That was so appealing to me that I decided that that was the path I wanted to take to.
Andrew: What did you hate about school?
Steli: I do think it was a very personal experience. I just had some really bad teachers early on. I think that kind of influenced me a lot, people telling me that I can’t do something. Consistently the first few years in my school life I had teachers telling me that I’m not amounting to anything, I would never, and that…
Andrew: …Wait. Why would your teachers tell you that?
Steli: I don’t know. I think that probably was kind of selection bias. Like, I looked and probably behaved like the kind of kid that, in their experience, wouldn’t do anything great out of their lives. Maybe after many, many years of that experience they just internalized that…
Andrew: …How did you look?
Steli: Oh, I was just an immigrant worker kid. So, dark hair, dark eyes…
Andrew: …I see…
Steli: …long complicated Greek name. I used to speak Greek with the other Greek kids in the breaks.
Andrew: You said long, complicated Greek name. It’s Steli Efti.
Steli: That is the short version, that’s my nickname I’ve given to make the world an easier place to live around me.
Andrew: What is the actual name?
Steli: The actual name is Steli Eftinopoulous. So a lot more Greek sounding, a lot longer.
But as an immigrant kid from the background that I was in, it was just like the type of kids that didn’t do great at school or in life in Germany, in the area that I was in. So those teachers just assumed that I would follow that path and therefore they acted accordingly.
There’s really two reactions that you can have as a kid when somebody of an authority figure or a teacher tells you’re not amounting to anything. You either believe that or you rebel against it and you resist it. And I’m really glad that just part of my DNA was to say ‘Screw you. I’m going to show you all’. And it took me a while to find a way to do that.
Andrew: But when you rebelled in these companies that we’re going to be talking about, did you walk into them thinking I got to show them that they’re wrong, I got to show them that they don’t know squat, I’ve got something in me.
Steli: I think that originally, when I first thought I was an entrepreneur, that was a big driving factor, a big part of my ambition. For a long time probably lots of the things that I did I did out of the need to prove the world wrong.
So I think eventually my world view widened a little bit and today I don’t feel it as much. It’s probably still part of my DNA, I still have a chip on my shoulder. But it’s become less and less about proving others wrong and more about like personal growth, creating value in the world, helping others succeed like this, all those things that I shifted as I’ve grown and hopefully matured a little bit. But originally it was totally that, it was totally proving people they were wrong and kicking some ass.
Andrew: I get that. And then you somehow got into Y Combinator in 2011. What was the idea that got you accepted into Y Combinator?
Steli: That was actually an idea for a simple product that would change the way people would donate so it was a service called Swipe Good. And the idea was that you could sign up with your credit or debit card and then every time you purchased something we would run up that purchase to the nearest dollar, take that change and give it to your favorite charity.
Andrew: That seems like a lot of work actually because you got to partner up with the credit card companies or partner up with a lot of stores. What was the way of doing it?
Steli: So we came up with a hack to get there much faster and were planning to build out more and more deep integration with banks over the years.
So the first thing that we did is we just put a landing page up and we had people kind of say yes, I’m going to sign up. And then once they signed up, we would tell them ‘wait, we don’t have the server’s working yet but do you want to guess how many transactions you make a month?’ and then when we guessed the number we would tell them that would mean x amount of dollars a month. So do you want to donate that right now and put it in your credit card? We’ll notify you once we can it.
So that was the very first version, a really quick hack for us to see if people were actually willing to do it and also the idea resonated with people. And once we got enough traction there, we found the service provider that basically has already partnered up with all the banks, allows you to do the transactional data, the same provider that mint.com used in the early days and we convinced them to give us access to it really inexpensively and start using them as step number one.
Eventually we wanted to integrate really deeply with banks. It was not the plan of the first few steps.
Andrew: When you talked to Y Combinator, which of these steps did you already complete?
Steli: So we actually had step number one and two so we had the first mock version working and over 100 sign ups and we had the actual version working where we used that third party platform. When we talked to YC, we had launched, we had already [??] coverage and we had already raised an angel [??].
Andrew: Half a million dollars?
Steli: Half a million dollars, exactly.
Andrew: So then why go into Y Combinator? Most people go into Y Combinator not for the few thousand bucks that they give you per entrepreneur. They go in for the mentorship, they go in to help get figure out the product. You had the money. You had the product.
Why did you need them? What did you need them for?
Steli: Yes, that’s a great question. And I actually chatted with lots of people that are kind of really far in their development and [??] going to YC and they asked the same kind of question.
So for us there were many reasons. Number one is that we had talked to a lot of YC founders, we knew a bunch of people that are really well and all of them told us that we’d be totally worth our time and that the value that we would get, not just through fundraising later on but also through product advice, just generally being part of that network would be an asset.
So when we filled out the application, we went ahead again the same philosophy of saying, ‘you know what, let’s not worry about do we want to do this or not, let’s first apply, let’s get an interview, then let’s get an offer and then we can decide. Let’s postpone arguing about this until we actually have an offer.’
Steli:: So we went through all the steps, and when we had an offer, it felt — at the end of the day, it was a gut decision: it just felt right. We felt that it probably would be a good decision, and the chance, the opportunity seemed bigger than the risk, so we went ahead with it and we were really glad we did.
Andrew: What do you think the partners at Y Combinator liked about your interview, your conversation with them?
Steli: That’s actually a good question. I don’t know. I have no clue; I never asked PG or anybody else afterwards. I’m sure that they liked that we were already launched, with users, with growth, with press, all that I think were positive signals that we were a team that was ready to execute and make things happen. Besides that, I’m sure that they liked that we got a lot of people that were respected within the YC network to email PG.
Andrew: You did?
Steli: Yes, we did. Actually, I think that’s the only reason why we got invited to an interview, to be honest with you. I got rejected by YC probably seven or eight times, twice before I even came to the U. S., for all kinds of different ideas.
Andrew: Every time Paul Graham would post up on Hacker News, hey we’re opening up applications, you’d say, “All right, I’ve got a few minutes.”
Steli: [laughs] Yeah, the first time I read it, I was really excited about the idea. I actually still have that first initial YC application I did 7 years ago just as a way for me to keep myself grounded because it’s so horrible, it’s so painful to read that. I really wanted to be part of that network, I really felt that I needed to surround myself with smarter people than I am, to be a better entrepreneur and build a better business.
Andrew: I see.
Steli: I do think that the introductions that we got, the emails that we got from people that P.G. and YC respected got us that interview in the first place.
Andrew: So you got entrepreneurs who they backed in the past, to help you out, give you some feedback, and then to call in, or message in, to Y Combinator and say “Hey, this guy Steli and his team — [they’re] good people.”
Steli: Here’s what we did: when we sent the application, I emailed a bunch of people that I knew that were YC alum, and asked them to meet with us and give us feedback about application and about the interview, getting some prep, in the hope that some of them would give us really good advice, and in the hope that some of them might recommend us and send an email and put in a good word for us. A bunch of them didn’t like what we were doing, and were like, “PG will not like this, YC will not like this”, and a bunch of them were really excited and sent an email.
One guy in particular was probably the reason we got in because he sent an email to PG after meeting us, and we got a reply from PG like 20 minutes later saying our video was broken in our application, and we were actually in the lobby of a big company I can’t name, waiting to meet with a big guy to be an investor. PG was like, “Hey, your video link is broken” and we recorded a new video from the lobby waiting for that investor meeting, and sending that link to PG.
And then we got accepted the next day or so. So I’m pretty sure that the intro got us in and helped us fix the issue that was there with the video in the first place.
Andrew: Skipping ahead, because this isn’t the company that we’re here to talk about, I want to understand why that company, why SwypeGood did not work out.
Steli: It’s a great question. Ultimately, it was growth. Ultimately the distribution strategy we had in the early days, to grow, and to make this a really significant business and have real significant impact on the world, that original strategy that helped us, that got us on a really good growth trajectory in the first six months, was not sustainable, and flattened out after the 7-8 month mark, after we launched. Everything we tried to fix that, all the ideas we had to fix and get back to a real growth path, didn’t work out.
Andrew: What about — oh, I’m sorry.
Steli: No, go ahead.
Andrew: What about this: I noticed in April’s notes on our conversation with you, April who works here at Mixergy, that you were feeling a little burned out?
Steli: That was an additional important reason. So that’s a really good point. What I learned from some previous experiences was that …a few years ago, I would have told you that burnout is an excuse, that it doesn’t exist. Until I actually burned out with one of the ventures that I participated in.
With SwipeGood it was really important to me to make sure that the culture’s really great, people are really great, because it sorta runs on morale. That’s the energy of the people. So with SwipeGood, when our growth started flattening, and we started struggling and trying more and different ideas and banging our heads against the walls to try to get back to a growth path, what I realized was that after three, four, five months of working harder and harder, longer hours, longer weekends and not getting results. I started feeling like the energy in the team started dropping.
People started showing up really early, work really hard but there were less smiles, less creative brainstorming, less fun. Eventually we had to stop and ask ourselves as a team, “Hey, how do we feel, are we still excited about this.” We need to make sure our heart and passion is still in this and were not just continuing as a living dead zombie, just because we decided to do this. It was an important part of us actually pivoting eventually.
Andrew: You pivoted, to decide (???) worked?
Andrew: You could at that point say to hire a team of sales people and train them in the sale. Then we need to go and get a bunch of customers. You didn’t go in that direction. You went in the opposite direction. What did you put together? What was the plan?
Steli: We had this idea, on a Monday morning. . . we wanted to [actually try this out.] Then (???) we decided, we don’t want to come up with the name, website. We don’t put together a presentation. We don’t want to do research. What we’re going to do is this, were going to make this really simple.
We’re going to make this a quick challenge. Let’s go to crunch base and get a few hundred company names of startup that (???) so we know they have money. (???) and that we personally have no connections to. Then we go into [cold call] them starting tomorrow. Pitching them on this idea. Then we are going to have the market tell us if there is a demand for this.
We’re going to come up with pricing on the finance, see if people bite or not. The challenge was if we could get one company to say yes we agree, we want to use your service. Within the next two to three weeks, without having any creditibility that’s good enough signal for us to actually pursue this idea.
Andrew: Okay. Did you?
Steli: Yes. There were actually seven companies that wanted to work with us. Our skill able sales team is only like two people, so we can’t actually offer you [SS]
Andrew: Did you tell them your skill able sales team was only two people?
Steli: No. We were operating in the gray zone. We were telling them that this is a beta program. We were telling them we were building a skill able sales team. We were telling people that if they agreed to work with us, we could only give them one person to begin with and that those spots were limited. If they don’t act quickly, they might have to be on a waiting list. Which were all true things but we didn’t really tell them how many . . .
Andrew: Why do you think they said yes to you?
Steli: I think that we just found two things. I think that the way we sold really resonated with them. When people said “well, yes I really like the idea but I’m really concerned about the quality of people representing my startup.” We said, “how did you like this call, did you like how we sold you. I will be your personal sales guide?” “You will get me as a rep.” They liked the quality, I think. Ultimately, they was a bit neat. Enough to make people overcome their fears and our lack of credibility. How did you come up with the idea? It seems kind of, actually what was the original idea?
Andrew: That was a great question. The original idea for elastic sells, was to offer startups with the sells team on demand. Things like amazon, A – W – S for sells.
Steli: What happened before we had that idea, was that we decided we were kind of burnt out on swipe good. Let’s take a few weeks were going to be traveling, let’s pick three places we always wanted to go. We’ll go there, (???) place and well try three different ideas. [SS]
Andrew: Why not each city we go to?
Steli: Okay. [Every father were three father’s] Every father will pick one city, and one idea to work on. It doesn’t matter what it is, and we’ll throw it away afterwards.
Andrew: That’s great.
Steli: Right. We wanted the pressure to be really low. We don’t have to find what we are going to be doing next. Let’s just do some creative stuff. Just get out of the rock were in right now. When we went on that company trip and (???) different ideas. One day we had this big discussion. It was like, “Wouldn’t it be great If this service existed?” Around that time we were thinking about pivoting swipe (???) due to [deploy]. [We should be selling] big companies on signing their employees and do like corporate giving programs.
When we started thinking about (???) we started thinking about sells. When we started thinking about sells we were like, “Wow, sells really suck for (???)” all these things you think about, something like a sells team on demand, for technology companies. That idea really [correct], and we start talking more and more about that, and all the reasons why it was really hard to do and why probably nobody ever tried. Then eventually we started thinking, “why would we do this?” then we said, “well because its really freaking hard to do.” We thought “that’s a lame excuse, that’s a really good reason to try it.” That’s how we got started with that…calm their fears and lack of credibility.
Andrew I think a lot of people would consider doing this but they would also think I want to do right by customers. I don’t want to pretend that I have more that’s here. I don’t know how to sell your own product. How am I going to sell their product? All these different issues come up.
How did you handle all your doubts?
Steli: So, you know, I hear that and I get it. I think that it needs to be, I would suggest people that have a different frame of mind. So the way we approach this is we are going to be successful but we don’t want to destroy value in the world, we want to create value in the world.
So the underlying assumption is going to be success but we’re going to give people ways to make this a no lose scenario. So the way we approach this is by telling people hey, we’re going to charge you from day 1. This is a beta program. But if you’re not happy at any point you can stop and you can get all your money back. So that way we make sure that nobody would ever, you know, feel like they were taken advantage of or they didn’t get value. If we actually fail selling for them, hopefully we can give them some insights and some thoughts, we’re going to do whatever we can to make this work but they’re going to get all their money back.
But we want to approach this with an assumption of success and not a lack of confidence because if we’re not confident we can do this, then nobody else will.
Andrew: Let me take a step again away from the narrative here and ask you about something that I saw on your blog where you say ‘A sales team should contact customers within 5 minutes.’
Andrew: One of the companies that we’re going to talk about in a moment that you run is Close.IO.
If I fill out the form right now in Close.IO using my real information, will one of your sales people call me by the time we’re done with this interview?
Andrew: And no one’s listening to us now. I know you’re in earphones so you’re not going to signal to them, you’re not going to text message them or anything.
Andrew: OK. Let me do this right now and while I do that actually, can I put it up on speaker? Do I have your permission to have the within the interview?
Steli: Yes, absolutely.
Andrew: All right. Let’s come up with the password. Actually I will not. I will use last pass to come up with the password.
Why do you suggest that companies call people up and fill out their forms like this instead of just let the email group campaign handle it?
Steli: So there’s a couple of reasons for it. This is a recommendation for B2B startups.
The reason why we’re doing it is because when you are a B2B startup and somebody signs up for your product and you call within 5 minutes, the chance of you actually reaching them is significantly higher than if you call them later on because you know they’re on their computer right now checking out your website. A lot of the reasons why it is inefficient to do calls for many sites or many startups shy away from calling their actual users is because a lot of times you call lots and lots of people and you don’t reach them, which is a waste of time. You’re listening to voice mails, you’re listening to dial tones.
So if you can actually reach everybody, and make a really powerful first impression welcoming people to trial, telling them ‘Hey, you need any help or any advice, let us know. We’ll do it, whatever we can do personally help you succeed within the trial.’ You’re going to activate people [??], you’re going to get more active feedback from people and ultimately you’re going to get them to come ask you questions and you’re going to be able to guide them through the trial and make them a lot more successful users.
Andrew: I see. So then they’re more likely to actually continue using it.
Are you about to text someone right now?
Steli: What? Text? No.
Andrew: And by the way, it’s totally okay if it doesn’t, if I don’t get a phone call from the team. This isn’t one of those gotcha, you don’t live to what you say.
Steli: No. You should absolutely get a phone call within five minutes. Not to say that we haven’t failed at that in the past. Like, there’s times when we haven’t accomplished that task. But that is absolutely our goal. And I’d love to see that call happen live, it would be awesome.
Andrew: So what I know from my research is that you pick two of these companies, started making sales calls to them, you pick the two companies that you are most likely to succeed with.
How do those go with your selling someone else’s product?
Steli: That’s a good question. So the first one, you know, that we took on board actually became a really successful customer. Thankfully. I guess that there’s always an element of luck involved. If we got two customers and then we’re like big failures, we might have just stopped.
But the first customer became a real success for us and a long term customer relationship. So they stayed with us for a very long time. We scaled up their sales force. The second customer wasn’t a success and ultimately we learned all the things we needed to know before actually accepting a customer.
Andrew: For example?
Steli: For example, that if you’re a business that doesn’t have leads, doesn’t have signups and has a product that struggles on many accounts to sell actually effectively. We cannot fix all your problems, right? So we can support you in many areas. In the beginning some businesses wanted to work with us because they wanted us to fix their business and sort of help them with sales. There is a significant difference. In the beginning we didn’t spend a lot of time exploring. Can we really help them and is what they need something we cannot offer.
Andrew: Okay. What was the next step in the business? Was it them starting to bring more sales people or bring in more clients? I know this other five you put on a wait list. So you didn’t have to go that far out.
Steli: It took us actually a while. So we spent a while with the first two, three customers, and we kind of pecked at the model kind of figuring things out. I started hiring more sales people for these customers. It took us a while until we started accepting more customers and actually scaling that part of the business.
So it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of learning. Early on within the first month or so we realized that as we wanted to work with more and more clients and scale these sales campaigns that we didn’t want to use any kind of traditional CRM or sales software that was out there.
Two of my co-founders are engineers so immediately we started building software that eventually turned into what closed the [??] today. So we started building software. We started looking to hire more sales people, and we kind of tried to figure out how do we sell successfully for these companies. How to build a model that would allow us to do that for many, many different businesses.
Andrew: The idea of building the site elasticsales.com; were you building that business as a stepping stone toward building software where if you build your own software you’re going to learn problems. Sorry. If you are the number one user of the software you’ll start to understand what you really need to build into it?
Steli: Yeah. So the very first step, I want to be frank with you, the very first thing that we had in mind was just everything out there sucks. We want something better. And then when we started building it we didn’t really have a long-term vision for it. When we started building it we started getting a little bit excited about some ideas we had.
We thought, you know what? If we eat our own dog food and we use the software for eight, nine, ten hours a day, chances are eventually we’re going to build really cool software. Maybe that’s going to be part of the business eventually. And it took us another six or nine months of building software and growing the services business to really develop a business for what we wanted to build and really understand wow, the software is really going to be something incredibly and really start spending more time thinking about that is a real future for the business.
What we started was really just about building something for us internally and then it turned into like, this is our secret sauce. We’re going to be telling clients this is the software that makes us more effective, more productive that you don’t have. So come work with us and then we realized that wow, we’re something that’s bigger than that, and something we should allow the entire world to have access to.
Andrew: Why didn’t you start using software that already existed and focus on just being the Elastic Sales Company?
Steli: A bunch of people gave us that advice. I think that it could be good advice. I think there’s two things. Number one, kind of founder DNA. As I said, my two co-founders are amazing engineers, amazing product people. So it’s just in our DNA to look at how to build a product. It’s the thing that we like to do that we’re good at. So naturally we just gravitated toward it.
And then the second thing is that I love sales. I love communication. I love talking to people and helping people find the right solution and buy the right product, but I hated the software that was out there and just selfishly didn’t want to have to use that kind of software.
Andrew: Why? What did you see wrong with the software that was out there?:
Steli: Many. I think the fundamental problem is that the software was not built for sales people. That software was built for managers, sales managers, [??] sales, boards. So most of the traditional sales software out there today is really a contact database that forces sales people into manual data labor and manual data entry to report all day long what they are doing so that you can compile some reports on the dashboard so that management can look at what’s happening.
Andrew: I see. You spend a lot of time typing in that you made a phone call to client X just so your boss could know that you made a phone call and know how many calls you made.
Steli: Exactly. And you would constantly switch from doing to reporting manually what you just did so some management group could look at those numbers and analyze what’s going to happen next. And traditionally software has not been sold directly to the sales people, to the users but to management, right? And then forced down the throat of the end user which is the model for a lot of traditional enterprise software, I guess.
So sales software was not about helping and empowering me as a sales person to sell more effectively do a better job but it was made so that a big organization can have great reporting and analytics and forecasting. And that was just not what I needed and what I wanted.
Andrew: All right. Still a quick plug here for Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law.
It’s not a sexy part of the business by the way, Steli, to look for a lawyer. At what point do you look for a lawyer?
Steli: Good question. When did we look for a lawyer? Well, we actually looked for a lawyer when we raised our [??] so when we got the first guy to write a check we were like okay, let’s look for a lawyer.
Andrew: I see. And before that, did you even incorporate?
Steli: Yes, we had incorporated but we did that online so we didn’t use kind of an expensive lawyer.
Andrew: Did you have to re-do it when you got your funding?
Steli: No because we knew a few things already. When we were to incorporate in Delaware we knew we had to be a [??] so we did the basic things right and then we got the lawyers to make sure that in the back everything was correct.
Andrew: So strange. I incorporated in Delaware also. And then I had to change it because the Citibank in Santa Monica said that you can’t be incorporated in another state unless you get a license to do business in our state. You know what, screw that. I’ll just incorporate in California.
All right, guys. If you need help either incorporating or raising money or any of the things that you turn to a lawyer for, I recommend that you at least check out WalkerCorporateLaw.com, ask to speak with Scott. In fact, I’m going to give you Scott’s email address, email@example.com and when you do that you’re going to get to see, this man was right there on the site. If you want another person’s feedback instead of mine or in addition to mine, a bunch of people on this site I’m going to recommend one person. Let’s see if I can zoom in properly on this person.
This is [?]Overlay, scale it up, there we go. No, not Neil Patel. You should email Neil Patel. I’m going to suggest this guy, Nick O’Neil and the reason I suggest Nick O’Neal is I believe Nick is a client. I don’t know that I’m allowed to say so, so I won’t say specifically. I’ll pretend that I just believe it. Number two, Nick goes to the best parties and dinners and if you email him and you say hey, what do you think about Scott Edward Walker, he’ll tell you about that. But then he might invite you to one of his parties or one of his dinners or maybe he’ll go to Vegas with you.
So check out any one of these people and get feedback if you’re curious about this man right here, Scott Edward Walker. In fact, ask the whole community. People already know, even if he’s not their lawyer. They know him. His got a good reputation. You can check up with anyone or just email him directly. Scott@WalkerCorporateLaw.com. Or go to any tech event, probably here in San Francisco. There’s a good chance he’ll be there or one of his clients will be there.
Alright, thank you, Scott, for sponsoring.
Okay. At what point did you say to yourself it’s time to actually launch this business. We know that when it came to Elastic you said I’m just going to make some phone calls and I’ll get a customer. I don’t need a website, I don’t need a company, I don’t need business card, I don’t need nothing. At what point did you say it’s time to launch this app, which is now available Close.IO?
Steli: Yes. That’s a great question. So we didn’t intend to launch it when we did. So originally I think we thought it would take us another year or two before we did that because I feared that it would take away our focus and it would be like too hard for us to manage both services and software.
So we didn’t really intend to launch as quickly as we did. But what happened was two things: number one is that more and more people started to be excited about the software. So our customers started asking us if they could use the software internally for their sales people, other parts of their team.
And then the second thing that happened is I was interviewing a lot of sales people and those guys would go through a whole day of like working with different teams and brainstorming sessions and doing some calls and everything and at the end of the day we would come to an interview with me and the first question I would ask them would be okay, so what’s your impression?
What did you like about today, what did you learn? And in the early days people would give me all kinds of answers and then more and more every single person started their response with I don’t know what and I don’t if I get the job but I want to have this software. If I don’t get the job, can I get access to the software because it’s awesome. And what I’ve been using in my past gigs suck.
So once I started hearing that every day from every single person we interviewed, you know, we started kind of having internal debates like more and more like hey, the market seems to really want this. We should really launch it. So it was kind of outside signals first and then a small part of our team started to become more and more passionate about it and really lobbying internally and championing internally that we should really just release the software and see what happens.
So January of this year, we decided you know what? We’re going to do a soft launch. We’re going to release the software and then we’re not going to have any marketing or sales department work on it. We’re going to have a small team of engineers that keep supporting it and just going to see what happens. And honestly, like, as an entrepreneur I’ve been wrong almost my entire life, almost about everything that I’ve ever wanted to do, but once in a while I’m wrong and I’m really actually glad I am.
And with the software I thought it would take us a long time to get traction because I knew that the market was really crowded although we had something special and I was totally wrong. [??] has been a huge success.
Andrew: What kind of success? What kind of sales are you guys doing?
Steli: So we’re not publicly talking about revenue numbers, but I’m going to tell you that the services business was a business that did not drive significant revenue. We’re talking millions and millions of dollars of annual revenue run rates, and I thought the software business would take two, three, four years for us to catch up with the services business. By the end of this year we’re surpassing the services business with the software business.
So it’s already a significant multimillion dollar business…
Andrew: Are you profitable?
Steli: Yes, we are. Yeah. So it’s a lot more successful than we thought just monetary-wise. Just revenue we’re driving significant and the growth we’re seeing there is significant, but besides the revenue also just the amount of feedback we’re getting is crazy. It’s rewarding. It’s exciting, like every day we get people to email us and tell us how much they love the software. We get people to email us and tell us how much they’ve learned since they started, not just using our software, reading our blog posts, being on our email courses, just learning more about the kind of startup process of sales and seeing more success with their companies as a result of that.
That’s super exciting. That’s super rewarding.
Andrew: What is this I thought for a moment there that I put the wrong phone number in to the settings, but I see that there’s a phone number 415- 612 et cetera. What is that, the phone number right under my name and my account? Is that the number that I have people call me so that your system can log their calls?
Steli: Oh yes. In Close most of my repeat calling comes right out of the box. We actually give you a phone number that people can call you in and you can call from Close.io. It basically allows you in your pipeline to click on any lead or any company opportunity that you are working on and just click a button and call them right out of the app and call automatically.
Andrew: I see. So that’s how you know I’m making the call and I can record those calls and I can do a voice mail greeting and so on right there. Are you doing over a half of a million in sales?
Andrew: Are you doing over a million in sales?
Steli: I’m not going to say more than that, but we’re doing significant revenue at this point. It’s really exciting.
Andrew: What about hiring people? Hiring sales people is a pain in the butt otherwise people wouldn’t have taken you up on your offer back when it was just you and your co-founders making the phone calls. How did you hire people? How did you hire good sales people?
Steli: So first we didn’t hire sales people for sales positions. It was step number one to our success. So what I mean by that is that when we are hiring sales people for technology jobs in startups, we’re looking for young people that are very entrepreneurial, very smart, have very values and have kind of the personality of a sales person. Somebody that likes people, somebody that likes to communicate, somebody that can deal emotionally with rejection, someone that has high emotional stability.
But then we prefer people that don’t have a sales background because we like to train people on the startup sales, on the way we like to do sales. We don’t want people coming from all kinds of other..
Andrew: Hey, Phil. Do I have any questions? No, I’m just looking around the app. You want to know what I’m using it for? I’d like to take some of the people who are already buying low membership on my site and sell them on $1000 a month membership. Okay?
Hey, Phil, I’m an interviewer so I’m curious. What is your goal with this call? I see. So, in other words, if I had an issue specifically, like I don’t know how to add a contact in here you would be there to tell me but even if I didn’t have an issue just your calling me tells me there’s a real human being at the other end of this company and if I ever need to call up you guys will be there.
Steli: Okay, Alright, well thanks. I’m going to keep checking out the software, bye.
Andrew: Thanks. Alright so that was it, I thought it was going to be a big sales call actually. I thought he would say, “Hey, you know if you upgrade right now you can get something else.” It wasn’t that.
Steli: No, Not at all. So, the first call can’t be about sales because we don’t know yet if you should buy our product. The first call, at the beginning of the trial experience, all we try to accomplish is to figure out, do you qualify for the product. Is our product the right solution for you. And if we find the answer to be yes, then we’re going to put all our efforts into convincing you to buy.
Andrew: This time or later?
Steli: Later. Not in the first call. but if the answer is no, if the answer is that you probably should buy some other product that would better fit your needs, we’re going to actually try to convince you to use that other product or become a customer of a different service.
Andrew: I didn’t even ask him more questions beyond how are you going to use it. I said how I was going to use it and that was it. I thought he would ask me more questions like, “Well what software are you using now?” How do you, what’s the funnel that you have?” et cetera.
Steli: So, typically, yes, those questions should be part of it. There’s a lot of things that play into this so I have no idea what email you signed up with, what phone number you signed up with, if we had any kind of information about you in there or not. If whoever called you knew who you were or called and were confused about it.
So, typically we look at email addresses, kind of figure out is this a legitimate business, is this a real potential customer and if so, the conversation should go on and basically ask you how you found out about us, what you’re trying to accomplish with our software and trying to figure out if we can help you with anything.
Andrew: But you will look at the domain and if I happen to be coming from a top company that you know does a lot of sales then you might give me different treatment than if I was just using a hotmail account.
Steli: I think to be fair, not different treatment but we’re going to approach the call differently. Obviously if you sign up with a Fortune 500 company account or some big brand that we’re excited about and we think would be a good fit, we’ll have somebody more senior call you versus if you sign up with a Hotmail or a Mailinator email account and we can’t find anything about you, then we might rank that lower in the lead quality.
Andrew: So you were starting to say how you hire sales people and you said we want people who have an aptitude for it but not necessarily experience and training in sales, right?
Steli: Yes. So exactly. If we get people with bad habits and an approach to sales that we don’t like, it’s really hard to retrain, almost impossible. So, we’d like to get people fresh in and train them on our way of selling and get the raw material and the really talented people and then train them and teach them the right way or the way that we’d like to sell, so that’s first. We’re not looking for very senior salespeople, we’re looking for people with great sales and hustle DNA.
The second thing to understand is that as we talked about in the beginning of the interview, doing sales for startups is very different than selling real estate or life insurances. This is a lot about, obviously there’s an ethical component, this is about people who really want to create value in the world, and are not just selfishly and intrinsically motivated. But also about people that would be able to be flexible and understand that it’s not about just closing the deal and making the money but it’s also about listening to what the customer needs are, figuring out if there’s new opportunities that we’ve missed.
Learning from the customers, and taking that learning back to the product development team. There’s a lot of aspects and nuances that typical sales people don’t have to think about when they do their job, so we’re looking for very entrepreneurial people to hire.
Andrew: How much of your sales process is systemized so that you can maybe train someone whose never done sales in a week?
Steli: So, actually a lot. So there’s two different levels of training. One is kind of the core sales skill training. Teaching the basics of sales, how to think about it strategically, philosophically, and teaching the core skills, technical skills of sales. Then there’s, kind of, more sales process training. Like, how do we do sales, how do you use the software, how do we record things, what happens with the first follow-up, the second, like how do we do sales.
And then the third is product knowledge, when we do sales for a specific company. And the more strategic sales training is something that happens life-long, it’s one of the reasons why people want to come and work for us, one of the reasons people stay when they come, and are really happy is because they get continuous personal growth and development then when it comes to the product training it’s actually really simple.
People overestimate that a lot of times. We’re looking for the 80/20 rule here. We’re teaching our rep’s that 20% of knowledge is required 80% of the time, first. Then the delta x of knowledge that’s missing, that gap is being closed really quickly, week by week as people have kind of questions that you’ve never heard before. We train our rep’s to be reasonable and honest so when someone asks a question and they don’t know how to answer, they say, “you know what? That’s a great question.
I don’t know how to answer this, I’m new at the company. I’ll get you the right answer, I want you to have the correct information. I’ll get back to you about this.” Let me ask you. What would the answer be in a perfect world? What do you want to have?
Andrew: That’s the script that you have for an answer, that someone doesn’t have, for questions that someone doesn’t have an answer. Here’s what I see about you’re sells process. It looks like what you do is, you do contact marketing to get people in the door. The blog posts that you have are solid for sales. You also do, is it webinars also?
Andrew: You also do courses and documents on this? The idea is, that’s how you lure sales people in. With solid training. I noticed there is a link on the bottom if you want to learn how to do this or need help thinking through your process, call us. Or, we’ll call you. Then you get on the phone and then what’s the next part of that process?
Steli: I personally offer sales office hours. That was inspired by the office hours we that we got from PG and the YC partners. It was inspired by some great companies out there. They put out a lot of content to help people. The idea started with offering sales office hours to only our customers and tell them basically, “If you need help with sells, if you will close out a customer, if you’re using our software and you need help with sales, we’re going to jump on a call with you and try to help you any way we can, so you are most successful with sales.”
After we got a tremendous amount of positive feedback and success we thought, “Why do we limit this to our customers only? Let’s just offer this to everybody.” I am now doing probably 20 sales office hours a week with people. Some people are customers, some people are just random people that will never use our software or any of our other services. Jump on a Skype session with them for 30 minutes and try to be helpful as I can.
Andrew: If I follow up, I’m going to end up with you on that call?
Andrew: Really. You will help me and my company to do it?
Steli: Yes. For sure.
Andrew: Sorry, I’m looking at this computer here just to get a sense of where your traffic comes from. Because we have two different companies, the stats that I got for where you get your traffic has to do with Elastic, but Elastic doesn’t have a lot of traffic. It’s Close that I wanted. What I am seeing here is, let me see if there’s anything special and interesting. There you go. Hacker News and and [??] send you a lot of traffic to your top sources. That tells me content marketing is the way that you do it. Tech Crunch is another place that you do it. You send traffic out to stack overflow, why?
Steli: We sent traffic to Stack Overflow? [SS]
Andrew: Never mind. Is there some reason for it?
Steli: Maybe there’s an FAQ article, some technical questions that we have an FAQ article that points to Stack Overflow. That’s the only thing I can pick up probably.
Andrew: Organic search, freeze phone script template. That is a big one for you. I noticed that is one of your big blog post where you talk about how great it is, [??] create a sales script and even give you a free template.
Andrew: I forgot which blog post it was. They are all running together. Here’s the other thing. I got from one of my researchers, you’re Corralling. I thought, “Why are they giving me Cora? They always give me Facebook and twitter. What is it about Cora?” Cora drives traffic to you guys.
Andrew: What do you do on Cora that gets you traffic and customers?
Steli: What we’re doing on Cora is not that different than what we are trying to do everywhere else. Which is we are trying to help any and every new company to become better at sales. Our philosophy is, we’re not going to measure ROI, we’re not going to be very selective of who we help and who we don’t. Were just going to try to add as much value to the market as possible. Support and help as many people in trusting that that’s good karma is going to come back and go back to us in different ways.
Cora is a great site because there is a lot of technical, very concrete questions people have. Like, “How do I fix the subject line of my email so more people open it.” That’s a great question because I can’t actually give very technical advice and tell people what has worked for us. So I like to be active on Cora. I wish I had more time to be more active on it, but I answer questions there as good as I can. Some of these answers are popular, and they drive people to find out more about us. They like the answer and say, ” I wonder what else this guy has for me and they just find this.
Andrew: Let me say a quick thank you and (inaudible) then I want to ask you a few more questions. Do you have a little more time for me?
Andrew: Good, first of I all I noticed you used a term that I know from Justin Rofmarsh [sp] of ballistics. Do you know his work?
Steli: No, actually.
Andrew: I guess maybe his language is now starting to permeate. Anyway, Justin teaches people how to create their selves processes.] And it you want to follow up to this interview check out the course he did here on Mixergy and if you are curious about him, he also did an interview where he talks about how he built up his business.
What I especially like is when he teaches how to put together sales process. The whole methodology that he taught has just stuck with me, and I don’t think it impacted me as much, even when I recorded the course with him as it did afterward when I thought about it, and when I got to know him. The whole idea that a sales person should not be making low value calls, those low value conversations.
Everything should just be (???), and the sales person should be able to close the sale. I don’t think I’m even explaining that well. You guys should check out the course if you are at all interested, in how to set up a process for sales. The other thing I like is Jamie Kennedy, I use to talk about him too much. Now I don’t talk about him enough, and I should.
Jamie Kennedy did this course where he said “Look Andrew, what I discovered in my business was. I don’t just want people to give me their email addresses. I want them to give me their email address, and phone number when they request a white paper or when they register for something.” I said, ” Why?” He said, “It’s because then I could follow up with them.” Which, I thought at first was crazy, but he starts showing me how, when he calls people up, right away when they download from his site. Within minutes just like you do (inaudible) just like you do at (inaudible.)
Within minutes he’s much more likely to start a real conversation with them and then he says, “Can I follow up with you?” He talks about how he follows up with them at a specific time. Then when he calls them up at that time, he blows there mind because, nobody keeps appointments anymore. Then uses that process to close the sale and he says, it works much better than hoping your website will do it.
So if you are a (inaudible) member check out Jamie Kennedy. If you are not, go to mixergpremium.com and sign up. We have those courses and so many others. All on Mixergy. [Stella.] You’re a Mixergy fan, you’ve listened for a long time. Why, what do you like?
Steli: I think two things. Number one I think you’re doing a really good job. What I mean by that is that, you’re doing a good job and actually following up with real questions. Kind of diving a little bit in to real detail. Making people reveal some of the things that they probably wouldn’t in other interviews, in other settings. So you get a lot more value. Especially, if you’ve seen an interview.
What I’ve noticed is that sometimes I’ll see an interview where somebody at different places and then there’s an interview that in (inaudible) Mixergy that I’ll still go and watch because there’s an assumption that I have that “You’re going to ask questions that nobody’s going to ask or get some answers.” So, I think you’re doing a really good job. I really do get it. You’re not just a journalist. You really get the entrepreneur perspective. You’ve highlighted a ton of people and stories I’ve never heard of before. Visiting your site before I didn’t know about these people
There really cool, really interesting stories to share. A lot of times also really concrete, telling you how they did accomplish 100,000 or a million, doing, X – Y – and Z. I’ve been a Mixer G fan for a really long time.
Andrew: Thanks, I appreciate it. There is something else I hear you are really transparent with your numbers with your team, and there’s a reason for it. It goes back to this situation you had with a previous company. Where when things went bad people started to lose enthusiasm. How does sharing your numbers with the team prevent that?
Steli: I think overall being as transparent as possible with everybody in the company. All employees doesn’t matter what position they’re in has a tremendous amount of benefits. People make a lot better decisions when they know what’s going on, the big picture. People are a lot more aligned. For us, there was a time where we went through some struggles on the casual side of the business a while back.
There were some really critical months where it was turn around and succeed or die as a business. I think the only reason we were able to turn around succeed in a really big way was that we were really transparent, so no employee was ever surprised about the situation we were in. Everybody knew exactly what to do. We were all super aligned and super focused. I think sharing the financial numbers helped, overall any number and every kind of metric around the business with everybody in the company is a great strategy.
Andrew: What about when things aren’t going well and the team knows about it? Then they start to really not just have doubts but they have validated doubts about the business.
Steli: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great fear, that I think it’s a really valid point. But then again, I think that when things are going really, first of all, I think when people join a start up they need to expect that things are going to be going really bad at some point. So you need to just educate people on expecting that to happen.
The next thing is that I think it’s important for people to know that things are going really bad but again, obviously as a leader, as a founder, you can’t be running around like a chicken with its head cut off and be all stressed out and worried about it with no strategy or solution.
Like it definitely makes sense to think through okay, here’s our challenges, here’s the two three different solutions that I see for this and I’m going to go in front of the troops and my team and present them.:’Here’s the situation, here is how I think we can solve it, what’s your feedback Let’s all buy into one solution and then work as a unit to make this happen”. I think when people get that kind of trust they can do incredible things and accomplish a lot.
Andrew: You also talk to your co-founders about, this little section stood out from my notes, from April’s notes on your conversation. You talk even about the emotional stuff. What kind of emotional stuff do you and your co- founders talk about?
Steli: Yes, I think that one thing that we do, that I do with my two co- founders, Anthony and Thomas, is that we’re going on a founders date once a week. And for people that are married and have children, they probably know what I’m talking about, that you have to kind of in that point of your life, romance doesn’t just happen, you have to kind of plan for it and make it happen.
And same with my co-founders. Once you actually hire more and more people, you grow the team, eventually founders are on different departments and you don’t get as much time quality time together.
So once a week we go on a dinner and in that dinner we don’t talk about technical things but the question really is like how do you feel? How is everyone feeling? Is there anything I did that pissed you off? Anything tiny that happened in the last few days?
Andrew: Don’t you feel silly when you bring up something tiny like hey, you know what? The way that you called yourself a founder made me feel bad. You should call yourself a co-founder. You feel silly, don’t you?
Steli: Yes but I’ve learned in my life that no issue is too small to bring it up. And I found that a lot of times when you bring up something small, two things happen. Number one, it never has a chance to grow into something big and insurmountable. And number two, it actually is not just good for yourself, your own health, but it’s also real opportunity for the other person to understand you better and understand how they come across in the world better.
A lot of times when we bring up small things, the other person goes ‘Oh, my God. I’m so glad you are saying this. When I said this to you it was nothing about you. It was such a bad move because I was [?] to somebody else. I’m sorry that I rubbed you the wrong way. It had nothing to do with you.’ It gives people an opportunity to actually understand each other better and clarify things.
Nothing is too small to bring it up . I can only recommend everybody to bring up any little tiny issue, anything that pissed you off, that made you upset.
Andrew: What pissed you off about me and my conversation with you now? Even something little.
Steli: You need to give me a little bit more time to come up with something. I don’t have something immediate. It is pretty awesome.
Andrew: What about the fact that there was a time there when the phone wasn’t ringing? Did you feel a little bit anxious about that?
Steli: Yes. you know, I was actually, I did have an interview dialog on what would happen if you don’t get a call.
Andrew: Let’s strategize right there.
Steli: Yes, I ask myself what would happen if he doesn’t get a call and if he asked me why, what’s my response to this.
Andrew: And what [??]
Steli: I thought and it was not as articulated but my basic thought was that let it happen and if it happens, the worst thing that I would say is it’s the demo effect. You know, it’s when you demo software and it breaks. I don’t know exactly what I would have said.
Andrew: What about when it seemed like when I said are you texting? Are you emailing someone? did you feel like I was being a jerk for not trusting you to just let it happen?
Steli: No. I was wondering why you were saying that.
Andrew: Oh, you didn’t make a connection that I thought you were going to text your people?
Steli: No, I was like you know, I was wondering when you said are you texting somebody and that’s why I looked around. I was like where’s my phone, here’s my, like I didn’t get that.
Andrew: I see.
Steli: But I was not upset by anything. I didn’t feel like you were trying to be a jerk. I actually have watched so many interviews from you, I like you so much it felt like the first time [??] familiar character. So it was not a thought that I had.
Andrew: Thanks. The phrase you used just sales process engineering, I realize I wrote it down to come back and I see it here in my notes. That’s just [??]. Actually I think there’s a blog on salesprocessengineering.net if anyone wants to see what he’s up to. Anything that we want, yes, let’s close it out with one tip.
I’ve been looking through your site for tips that maybe I could use as an example.
All I keep coming up with and I focus on are features like apparently with your software Close.io, if a salesperson calls a potential customer and voice mail comes on, they don’t even have to leave the voice mail and come up with a sentence. You have a button that says “leave voice mail” and something they recorded before will be left on the client’s voice mail.
There’s another one to see if recipients open your email which is kind of cool for a CRM, I’m not used to seeing that.
But apart from email signatures, all I keep looking at is features. How about one more sales tip for someone whose an entrepreneur like you were when you were just starting out with the last (inaudible 0:48) and they don’t know. What would you suggest?
Andrew: Did that make sense?
Steli: I think that you know, we mentioned the fallout one, which is a big one.
Steli: I think that makes a big difference. Another tip I give often and people come back and tell me that it makes a difference is asking, is asking a very simple but powerful question. When you’re in an interaction with a potential customer or maybe even an investor, but specifically for customer interactions and the meeting goes well, most people don’t know what happens next. And they had like a first great meeting and then they say it kind of fizzles out and they don’t hear back from that customer.
A great way to circumvent that is to end the initial meeting with a potential customer by asking them “you know, listen Andrew, it sounds like what we have is a great fit, a great solution. Let me ask you, what is it going to take for you to become a customer of Close.io?” All right?
Just ask that simple question and then actually continue the conversation, continue following up with questions like you do in your interviews until you arrive at a virtual close. What I call like a future event where they say “and then I’m going to be a customer”.
Andrew: I see.
Steli: So you kind of create a virtual road map of them telling you what are all the steps that you’re going to have to take to actually convince them and turn them into a customer. So that you’re not in the blind wondering, you know, what’s going to happen. What are all the things that we need to do to actually convince them to become a customer of our product.
Andrew: All right. We’ll leave it there. I’d love for you to come back and I’d love for the audience to tell me what they want to learn specifically about sales. What they want to hear us talk about.
There’s so much that I didn’t cover. I keep looking now looking through the notes. We didn’t talk about Paypal Wars and why you buy that book for everyone at the company. Founders at Work, and why you like that book. And so many other things.
Let me just end with uh, I said it before why don’t we end with, and now I keep coming back. But why Paypal Wars? Why do you recommend that?
Steli: I recommend giving that, it’s a great book. It’s a great read. But it’s especially great because it’s written by one of the earliest employees of Paypal. But like I don’t remember the number but it was like one of the first hundred employees of Paypal. Somebody who joined as an employee at a really turbulent time, a really challenging time for the company and that ultimately played a really significant role in their success in finding the right niche.
And we give this book to every new employee because we want people to, we want to prepare them for what’s ahead. You know, what to expect. Really challenging times, really like chaos and chaotic structures. I want to entertain them and inspire them hopefully that we can follow a path of such a great company. I think there are not many books that are written from an early employee of a high growth tech start up. I don’t know of any other that I could think of.
So we give this to every new employee because we know they’re going to read it because it’s really entertaining. And we know that they’re going to get kind of the right frame of mind for working at a start up that we want them to have.
Andrew: You know what? I don’t know why I never read that book before. I’ve heard about it before. I should have read it. I see now that there’s a Kindle version. I just sent the sample over to my, to my Kindle so I can check it out over the weekend.
Thank you so much for doing this interview. I hope everyone online, even if you don’t care about the businesses that we talked about, you only care about yourself and you’re happy with your own CRM and your own sales opportunities and your own sales processes, I think the blog is a good read. So I’m going to recommend you just go to blog.close.io and my favorite post is the one that’s one of the most recent ones which is why you need to call every sign-up within five minutes. That’s why I highlighted it in this interview. Steli, thanks so much for doing this.
Steli: Hey, thank you so much for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.