Case Study: Hiring a salesperson

There’s a pattern that I noticed and I want to understand it a little bit better.

The pattern is that successful entrepreneurs start out by understanding a specific customer pain, often by experiencing that pain themselves. Then they create a solution in the form of software that solves that pain.

I specifically asked Steli Efti to come on and tell us how he did it. Steli started Close.io after doing sales himself, understanding the challenges involved in using other people’s sales software and realizing, “There’s got to be a better way.” And then he created it, and that better way is now a piece of software called Close.io.

I want to understand the process of how it’s done.

Steli Efti

Steli Efti

Close.io

Steli Efti is the founder of Close.io, a CRM that increases your sales by giving your sales team one place for all its communication.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their business. I’ve done over a thousand. There’s a pattern that I noticed, and this interview is about that pattern. I want to understand it a little bit better.

The pattern is that a lot of the most successful entrepreneurs who I’ve interviewed start out by understanding a specific customer pain, often by experiencing that pain themselves. Then they create a solution in the form of software, sometimes services, that solves that pain. What I want to understand is how they do it. I want to understand the process of how it’s done.

I specifically asked to have Steli Efti on here, the founder of Close.io, because this is how he did it. He started Close.io after doing sales himself, understanding the challenges involved in using other people’s sales software and realizing, “There’s got to be a better way.” And then he created it, and that better way is now a piece of software called Close.io. That’s also the URL where you can go see it.

It is a CRM that increases your sales so that by giving your sales team one place for all its communication, basically if you want to see the phone call that one of your salespeople made, it’s in Close.io. If you want to see a note that somebody made a conversation with the client, it’s all in there. That’s the idea behind Close.io.

The other thing that I want to talk him about — the other thing is we’ve been talking a lot in interviews here on Mixergy about how software is often being sold with actual salespeople. It used to be about creating the perfect landing page. It used to be about A/B testing. It used to be about buying ads.

But more and more, I’m noticing that the people who I interview and the people in my audience who are building bigger companies actually have salespeople, actually will have somebody fill out a form, and then a salesperson will follow up and close the sale. I want to talk to Steli about how to hire salespeople, and specifically, I’m using as my guide for that part of the conversation his book. It’s called “The Sales Hiring Playbook.”

I want to understand from him when it’s time to hire a salesperson, how to hire a salesperson, and how to integrate that person into your company. By the way, if you want that book, he is giving it away for free to anyone who’s listening to this interview. You can get that and a bundle of other resources including templates and I think a couple of eBooks all available at Close.io/Mixergy.

This whole interview is sponsored by two great companies. The first will help you host your website right. It’s called HostGator. And the second is a company where we hire developers and so many people in our audience have. It’s called Toptal. Steli, dude, that was a really long intro, 2 minutes, 44 seconds. I had a lot to get in there.

Steli: Man, you did a great job, but I felt a little bit sorry for you that you did such a long intro about me.

Andrew: It was. How about the fact that I said before the interview, “It’s pronounced Close.io, right?” And then in the first time that I mentioned it, I said Close io and I was looking at your face to see, “How does Steli handle that, that I just said his company name wrong?”

Steli: You know how I handled it? I thought, “Man, Andrew works really hard and it doesn’t really matter much if he says Close.io or Close io. It’s all good.”

Andrew: You know I like to ask this question, so let me start off with this. What’s your revenue at Close.io?

Steli: Yeah. We don’t disclose the revenue, but it’s substantial. It’s many millions a year, and we’re profitable.

Andrew: Over $5 million, can we say that?

Steli: We can say that.

Andrew: Over $5 million in sales. Can you say it’s over $10 million? I’m not pushing here. I just want to know where your company is.

Steli: Yeah. I’m not going to give you anymore, because if we define a range, we’re going to get very close to it, but it’s definitely more than $5 million.

Andrew: You do have outside funding, right?

Steli: Yes and no. So we received a seed round many, many years ago when the company was completely different.

Andrew: When it was Elastic.

Steli: Even before that.

Andrew: Oh, really? Okay.

Steli: Even before Elastic. So it was convertible notes right after we exited Y Combinator. We never raised any more money. We just became profitable. Yes, we’ve received some outside funding, but Close.io has always been a profitable product and company. We run the business as if we were a bootstrap business, because the board is basically the three cofounders of the company, and we are not chasing any future funding rounds, anything like that.

Andrew: I see. The whole thing started when you were doing sales. The company was called —I forget the. . .

Steli: ElasticSales.

Andrew: ElasticSales. Thank you. You were going to do sales as a service, kind of like you can just go to AWS to Amazon and get extra storage if you need it. You thought anyone could just come to you and get salespeople. And then it seems like you closed it. Is it down? Is it done? Where is ElasticSales?

Steli: Yeah. We stopped doing ElasticSales. We did ElasticSales for around two years or so. From day one, we started developing Close.io as an internal piece of software, and we never intended to release it. I’m sure we’ll talk about this a little bit more. When we launched Close.io as a separate product, for a year, we were running both companies, Elastic sales as a services business and Close.io as a software business. Within 12 months, the software business or Close.io had surpassed the revenue on the services side, and we decided to shut it down. So, since January 2014, we’ve exclusively been running Close.io. We’ve not done any sales consulting or outsourcing services.

Andrew: You have no more ElasticSales customers?

Steli: No more ElasticSales customers.

Andrew: The reason I ask is the website says, “We’re not accepting any more customers. We’re happy to support sales efforts via Close.io blog.” I see. Okay. That’s done. Am I right to understand that you found problems as you were doing sales for other people that led you to create your own software?

Steli: Yeah. That’s absolutely right.

Andrew: Give me an example of one problem that you experienced.

Steli: Yeah. So we never intended to build sales software. If you had told me six years ago I would be running a CRM business, I would have punched you in the face. There was nothing in me that wanted to go into this market.

Andrew: Why?

Steli: Because it seemed like such a crowded market. So CRM might be the most competitive category in software itself. There’s many, many big players that people are aware of. There’s many smaller players that people are aware of.

Andrew: Like the big player is Salesforce in this space, right?

Steli: Yeah. Salesforce is the big player. But there are so many CRMs. In every vertical, in every country, there’s so much. Even beyond the commercial CRMs that are out there, there are millions and millions of CRMs that are kind of homegrown, businesses that build their own internal CRMs. So this is such a crowded market that it didn’t seem super appealing to me as, “This should be a market we should attack.” When people ask me how we got into it, I always say we stumbled into it. It was just that.

When we started building sales software, it came out of two main reasons. One was that I hated the sales software that was out there. This I think is an important insight, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was doing lots of sales, but I didn’t want to use sales software for eight or nine hours a day, purely selfishly from an end user perspective.

Two of my cofounders were technical people. It was like, “We have some engineering resources. I hate sales software. If we want to build this massive outsourced sales team, let’s build software that allows us to do that, it just scales that.”

Andrew: So that’s one thing. You hated the software. What’s the other thing you realized?

Steli: The other thing was just that we had developer resources.

Andrew: Let me ask you this. Salesforce is customizable. There are tons of other tools. Why do you have to have the perfect tool? Why don’t you just say, “You know what? It doesn’t have to be the fun experience that I’m looking for. This isn’t Facebook. I’ll just take Salesforce. I’ll adjust it. What was missing in Salesforce? I can start naming other competitors, but what I realize is that I lose my guests when I start naming their competitors, like they get a little angry and I don’t want the anger. I want the insight. What was missing? Why couldn’t you just do it, just suck it up and use what was there?

Steli: So I think that speed played a big role in all of this. The beauty of Salesforce is you can do anything and everything with it. It is the right tool for a certain size business. If you’re an enterprise at massive enterprise business, we send you away to Salesforce. We don’t want your business because we can’t service you.

But if I’m taking on new clients, new business and we have to onboard really quickly because every day lost, every hour lost as a sales rep is money we’re losing as a services business, the last thing I want to do is use a software product that takes many weeks to onboard sales reps on and takes hundreds of thousands to customize, just a very slow tool that is probably right for a massive organization, but if you’re small and nimble and want to move fast, it was just too painful.

Andrew: Do you remember one specific issue that you had when you were dealing with it?

Steli: I can’t tell you many issues I personally had with it, because I never used it to the extent that it could have many issues. Any time I used Salesforce was really just for a few weeks and then just stop using it.

Andrew: I mean with other software. Was there one thing that you wish you could have done? I’ll tell you that Bob Hyler, my mentor, who helped put together some notes for me so I can ask you the right questions on this topic, he said that he used to manage a sales team and getting people to enter data into the software was just a constant battle. You kind of feel like a teacher telling people to do their homework. Was that an issue, getting them to do it? Do you remember one thing that was especially painful?

Steli: Yeah. So that was one that we can talk about a little bit. One of the biggest pain points was we do a lot of sales calls. It would take between 11 and 12 clicks if you wanted to integrate a normal CRM with some kind of a calling software and making sure that everything is tracked just took an incredible amount of click through just slowed down the process to a painful degree.

One of the first things that we did when we built Close.io was we said, “We want to make lots of sales calls. We want those calls to be made out of the CRM, and we want it to automatically track these calls.” We’re the first ones that did that, had a CRM that had calling right out of the box in the product. That was one big pain point was just the amount of manual data entry, the amount of clicking and context switching when all I want to do is make calls and push forward in terms of our sales numbers.

Andrew: That was such a big issue that you had to go create your own software for it. You couldn’t just say these people have nothing else to do except for sell. They’ll do it.

Steli: Well, you can suck up a lot of things, but the question is how painful is it? I think from my perspective, it was clear that if we want to have the most productive salespeople on earth, if we want to scale this massive sales force that’s incredibly productive, we want to empower our salespeople to do what they’re really great at, which is communication.

Sales is nothing else than results-driven communication. So we want to empower them to communicate, close deals, drive revenue. Everything else, we want to automate and take away from their hands to make them happy and more productive and to make sure you mentioned manual data entry. Salespeople don’t suck at it because it slows them down. They also find shortcuts to do it, which then results in you having a massive amount of BS data in your database.

We did sales for over 200 different venture-back startups in Silicon Valley. We saw all their CRMs. It didn’t matter if it was Salesforce or any other system out there. When we looked at the data, we were like, “What the hell is this?” It always came back to this thing of like, “Yeah, when we started, it was a good concept, but as we added more and more rules and more statuses and more workflows and more people we know that we have a data issue.”

Andrew: What do you mean? What’s bad data that someone would put in?

Steli: I mean for example, there would be a certain way to tag a hot prospect. Then salespeople would write that status in all capital letters, in small letters, with typos. They would come up with their own shortcut to describe that. All of a sudden, one simple tag that should find you all the prospects of a different nature would now be 13 to 20 different tags. There was no way for you as a company to figure out —

Andrew: I see, because they manually had to add that tag themselves.

Steli: Yes.

Andrew: What I’m trying to get at, Steli, is it seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong from your experience, but it seems to me like until there’s a big enough pain, it’s not worthwhile to create software to solve it or a business to solve it because the pain that people have will make them feel okay with trying out new software that’s not complete or in your case, writing your own software and taking time away from the main job. Is that right? Did you feel a pain that was that severe or am I looking for an exaggerated feeling that’s not there?

Steli: I think honestly, for us, there’s multiple levels of looking at this, but for us, it was not that the pain was so big that we finally had to give up on using commercial software and then build our own. That was not what happened. For us, it was just a dislike that was out there and the resources internally to build something else. That was as much thought as we put into this.

Andrew: I see.

Steli: But then we were in the unique position that we were doing sales for 200 different companies.

Andrew: 200 clients? Okay. I didn’t realize that.

Steli: Yeah. (A) we saw all these different use cases and sales cycles and sales processes. (B) we had to like onboard and build sales teams very quickly. We couldn’t waste lots of time. Then we saw what the data and the setup were that these companies were having before they started working with us. All these things combined led to a number of strong insights on like what is wrong with how teams are doing this today and how software is being used today and how should it be done right? How do we correct this wrong?

And once we did that, we saw that we were right because people started asking us to purchase this product and give us their money. It was a very organic process for us.

Andrew: How did they know this product existed and they could actually use it?

Steli: Yeah. Two things happened. One was that we had all these clients that we were doing sales for, many of them had internal sales teams as well. Inevitably, we would do a screen share, show them our numbers and give them access to our own system and they would go, “Well, you use a really cool system here. Your sales are super productive. Can we also buy the software and not just the services?” That was one thing.

The other thing that happened was that our salespeople, they had other friends that were in sales. They would show them our software, brag to them and go, “This is only for people that work in our company. Look how cool my CRM is versus the shit thing that you need to use.” then their salespeople would start sending us emails or ping their friends and go, “We want to buy the software as well.” So those were the first two signs that we got from the market, very organic signs that we might have something that’s not just awesome for us but that lots of other people would want to use as well.

Andrew: I see. So you started out by using — tell me if I’m right. You started out using whatever your client’s software was. So if they used Salesforce, you used it. If they used Highrise, you used that, etc., no?

Steli: No.

Andrew: You always had your own internal stuff?

Steli: Yes.

Andrew: How did you interact with their software, with the 200 clients?

Steli: They would give us access to their existing CRM. We would get data out from it and then we would use our own CRM to perform whatever task it was and get them the data back.

Andrew: I see.

Steli: We always used our internal system.

Andrew: I see. So you never wanted to go into their process and tag. They would always have their leads in there. Somehow, their leads would come to you and once you tapped into them and closed a sale, you would pass it back?

Steli: Yes.

Andrew: Is it only after you close a sale you’d pass it back?

Steli: Yes, only after we closed the sale we’d pass it back, in most cases that was the case.

Andrew: Did you ever sell — were you in sales before ElasticSales, you personally?

Steli: Yeah. Well, more or less, everything I’ve ever done as an entrepreneur was me being the first, sometimes the only salesperson. But I’ve also had a real — one business that I’ve built was me hiring more and more salespeople and training salespeople and coaching salespeople. So I don’t have a lot of experience in sales in general. But then at ElasticSales, that exposure to doing sales specifically for a new company and a startup and specifically in SaaS and in technology just exploded because we did so much of it.

Andrew: I see. That’s what Bob was getting at when he sent me these notes. He said you were in sales. You had a lot of experience. Why did it take doing ElasticSales for you to understand the real pain that existed so that you could create a software? What would you say to that?

Steli: I think that the unique setup of having a room full of salespeople that were doing sales for many different types of businesses so, there’s so many different use cases and then also on top of that, having an engineering team that was sitting in that room next to salespeople and then it was really a unique environment where at times, the sales reps would turn around to the engineers and go, “Do you see this shit? This sucks. Why do I have to do this and this?” The engineers would be like, “Oh yeah, you were right. This really does suck. Let’s fix this.”

And then on the other hand, at times, the engineer would look over the shoulder of the sales rep and go, “This is so stupid. Why do you do all of this? Why is all this paper around your desk every time you make a call? Why do you take notes on paper? This is just stupid.” It was that kind of collaborative effort that made us start to realize, “Hey, you know what is crazy,” all the sales software that exists up until that point was basically nothing other than a database a contact database.

Sales reps were basically — the idea was you do your job and then you report what you just did. You tell us manually this is what I did. I made 10 calls. I sent this email. This customer as a new phone number. You’ll report this manually as an administrator of that database. We realized to build sales software, since sales as a job is a communication job, it needs to be a communication software and it needs to just automatically track all your activity so that the data we’re tracking is accurate and it’s more vast because we track everything you do, not just what you’re telling us you’re doing.

It frees up all that time for you as a sales rep to do your job really, really well. I think up until that point, most of our competitors, they built the tool from a management perspective, what does management need and how do we sell this successful to big companies, which was again, selling it to management? So nobody really cared that much if the individual salesperson at the bottom of the org would really like the software or would be enhanced in terms of their productivity or not. Go ahead.

Andrew: No, you go ahead. Finish up and I want to understand something you said.

Steli: I think that we were only concerned about the individual sales reps and their productivity and we really just purely looked at it from a how can this software make me do my job better as a sales rep versus how will this help forecasting and reporting and accounting and how will this be a working well with our legal and security issues in the organization — we don’t care about any of that. We just cared about the individual wrap doing their job better, faster, stronger. That led us to having totally different insights on how to build the software.

Andrew: The thing I want to underline in what you’ve just said is that I’ve noticed a lot that entrepreneurs who do some kind of consulting for the clients that they want to build software for end up really understanding the pain and frustrations they have, because they get to do the work on behalf of the client. They feel it in their bones, in their daily lives and because they work with multiple clients, they get to see that problem from multiple people and they start to find one single issue that needs to be solved and in your case, it was the data entry.

All right. Let me take a moment here to talk about my sponsor, then come back and I want to ask you a question about something you just said. There’s something kind of weird that you said that you guys had that I wouldn’t have expected.

The sponsor is HostGator. Guys, if you’re listening to this interview, you must understand that what Steli did with Elastic was something that’s repeatable. You take an action that your customer does over and over every day. In his case, it’s sales. It could be customer support. It could be content creating. It could be anything. You standardize it and you sell it as a service. I could think of so many different things that businesses do that can be done that way. Bookkeeping is an important one that’s constantly being done by companies that can be systemized.

I think this model is something that I’ve seen people do over and over again. I’m looking at Elastic’s website. Back then, it looks like you guys were called Elastic Inc. from 2012, September 2nd, 2012 is the snapshot that I have. It’s just a standard website. There’s not much to it. He could have just gone to HostGator, gotten a basic HostGator hosting package for under $10 a month, put up his landing page explaining what he does, how to blog explaining all the milestones of the business and started selling it as a service.

If you’re out there and you’re looking for an idea for something to do or you’re looking for an idea for something to add to your existing business, it’s so easy to go to HostGator, get a website running within minutes, one-click install of WordPress, easy hosting from HostGator and start offering the service.

You can start doing it yourself, start hiring other people to do it with you and pretty soon you have a business that scales that grows where you are helping your customers do the same thing. Like every customer maybe has customer service issues. You create an Elastic customer service business or you create Elastic content creation business or whatever it is that you notice that businesses you want to service do over and over again. It’s so easy to do.

All you have to do is go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. When you do that, you’re going to get a discount on the price that they offer everyone else. And you’re going to get their standard support every day of the year. You’re also going to get unmetered disk space and bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, the whole thing.

And if you’re not happy with them, 45-day money back guarantee. If you’re starting a new business, it’s so easy to go to HostGator and get started and you can keep scaling up, their packages get more and more intense with more and more features as you scale up or you can just keep it simple and under $4, get started with them right now.

Finally, I want to say that if you hate your hosting company, you don’t have to stick with them, just switch over to HostGator, HostGator.com/Mixergy.

Steli, you mentioned that you guys had engineers. Why did you need engineers? You were just using other people’s software. Why did you need to have developers around?

Steli: Well, when we started the business — so just before ElasticSales, the team was doing something different. We pivoted away to doing ElasticSales. So two of my cofounders —

Andrew: This was SuperCool School, by the way.

Steli: No.

Andrew: It wasn’t SuperCool School? What was it?

Steli: It was called SwipeGood.

Andrew: Okay.

Steli: It’s confusing. If you tried to research me and put together the dots, it might be challenging.

Andrew: Yeah. Don’t make me go back to DVD Discount 24.

Steli: Yeah. That was not even in the U.S. That was 18 years ago back in Germany. But the company or the product was called SwipeGood. It had nothing to do with sales or anything like that. Two of my cofounders were developers. When we pivoted to Elastic, we just had some developer resources. We thought from the get-go one of our ideas was if we built this massive —we had really big ambitions — so if we built this massive Amazon AWS-like infrastructure for salespeople, software could help us scale that at a really crazy way. So that was kind of the original idea.

Andrew: Were you thinking possibly that you could create a CRM?

Steli: No.

Andrew: You just thought some kind of software would help you scale. What do you mean by software would help you scale?

Steli: There were multiple things we thought. We thought let’s build our own internal CRM that will allow us to not have to have our reps do manual data entry that will allow us to track phone conversations and all this in a much more powerful, transparent way for our clients. Then if the software is really great, that will help with retention because salespeople with love their work more.

A big part of the pain and frustration in typical sales jobs is all the reporting and all the manual CRM stuff you have to deal with. And if you want to have that many different sales teams doing sales for the thousands of different companies, we’re going to have to have software that helps scale this up and down and track everything.

Andrew: I see. It was always to manage the business, not to create software for your clients.

Steli: Yes.

Andrew: I see. What software did you guys use? What was your CRM?

Steli: From day one, we just used Close.io. We just used our own software.

Andrew: I thought you were using other people’s software for a bit and it sucked and that’s when you guys decided to. . . No?

Steli: No. That never happened. So I had used sales software before, but not for elastic sales. When we started elastic sales from day one, I hated the software that was out there.

Andrew: So when did you experience how crappy other people’s software was that you know about the whole tagging system? I thought it was by doing software for other people that you understood that there was a need.

Steli: No. So I had used sales software before and I disliked it. Then when we started elastic, we started developing software from day one.

Andrew: Where did you experience the pain of other software? I thought it was by seeing everyone else’s crappy experience.

Steli: Yes. Well, what was happening was that any time we would take on a new client, the first thing they would do is they would give us access to their CRM so we could look at the data of what they’re currently doing. Then inevitably, we would have a call with a client. Even knowing that we wouldn’t use their CRM, we needed to see the data and we needed to have access to the data.

Andrew: I see. So it wasn’t the idea for creating the software that came by doing services for other people. It was the improvement on your own internal software that you understood how to do it because you were working with other people’s software. So where was the period where you said, “I’m working with other people’s software. I hate other CRMs. I have to create my own for Close.io?” Was it just throughout your life, you knew it? Was it personal experience that led to that?

Steli: It was a lot of personal experience. When we had the idea for ElasticSales and we said, “Let’s start doing outsource sales for other companies, we decided from day one let’s build internal software to do that and to enable us to do that. Now, that was just an empty shell at that point. We had no real insights on what does that mean? What will that software look like? Why will it be better than other software? Honestly, there was not that much to it at the time for us.

Andrew: I see. As soon as you start doing sales — sorry, go ahead.

Steli: Once we started doing sales, hiring salespeople, doing sales for that many different companies, looking at all their other CRMs, slowly but surely, one insight at a time, we started building a point of view and a philosophy for what we wanted to build as our internal software. We did all these insights by the work we did with others, but the decisions to build software came even before these insights, if that makes sense.

Andrew: So where did the decision come from? What were you doing when the decision came to you?

Steli: We had the idea for ElasticSales. We did two weeks of me just cold calling companies, pitching them on the idea to see is there a market out there because we didn’t want to start a business without that. Once we had seven companies that wanted to pay us money for us to do this for them, although we had nothing of credibility to show for it yet, we decided let’s try to build this business.

I said from the get-go to my two cofounders that were developers, “Let’s build software. Let’s build our own CRM internally that will empower us to do this. The first thing I want you guys to do, since we’re going to be doing cold calling campaigns for these startups, let’s build a phone system integrated in the CRM so we can do these calls out of our own software.

Andrew: Got it. I see. Okay. So you knew right from the start because you were a salesperson over the years, that’s where you experienced the pain. It wasn’t you experienced the pain because you were working with a lot of clients. It was you did sales before. Where was the point where you did the most sales using the most software, the point where it left a lasting impression on you?

Steli: That’s a good question. I think it was like a death by a thousand cuts. There was never like the most painful part. I’ve used sales software ten years’ prior. Basically, the experience was always, “Can I avoid using the software? Do we really have to use a CRM? Can we avoid it a little further?” Then eventually it was like giving up and saying we need to use one. Now we’re going to go through this painful process of having to import the data and set all the different—

Andrew: I don’t see where you had this — sorry, this feels a little tedious for the audience to hear and usually the kind of thing I should do before the interview starts and get to more actionable stuff, but to me it’s really important to understand where the pain come from.

I think that anyone who’s listening should be aware that if you’re creating software even, what I’ve been noticing that a lot of software companies will also have a service component. I’ll say, “Why? Why do you want to make a little bit of money servicing customers and dealing with the pain in the ass of dealing with their customers?” They often will say, “We want to make sure that we keep using our own software. Yes, it’s revenue and it’s not that significant, but by doing work for some percentage of our customers, we recognize the pain that all of our customers feel.”

I want to understand this pain point for you where it came up. I’m looking at your LinkedIn profile. I don’t understand what period you were using software so much that you would the issues with Salesforce, that you would see that sales — where did you even have a team of salespeople where you would personally see they weren’t tagging right. It’s not SuperCool School, which you did for a year. It’s not Whitibbar Workshops, which you owned for a year. Where was it?

Steli: So it was actually — so the last time I had to use a CRM was definitely SuperCool School because the last two years of that business, we had pivoted to enterprise sales and we were convincing large corporations to use our education software internally.

Andrew: So you had multiple salespeople doing that?

Steli: No. That wasn’t a case where it was just me, but we were selling to Google, Oracle, SAP to all these —

Andrew: You just wanted one piece of software for you to get things in the software right?

Steli: Yes. Those were really long-tail cycles, 12 to 18 months of communicating with multiple stakeholders and all that. That was the last time that I felt the pain of sales software myself. One of the very first businesses that I built was running a sales team of 30 to 40 people and we were all using a CRM system.

Andrew: But that was a long time before, right? Basically, did you spend any time investigating Salesforce? Did you spend any time investigating any of the other software options out there?

Steli: Yeah. There was like — I always keep tabs on sales software just because sales was an interesting topic to me. I know at that time, I knew Salesforce pretty well and I knew that I didn’t like it as a system. I didn’t want to use it. I knew some of the startups that were out there. They were very similar to Salesforce plus some editing, like when social became a thing, it was like Salesforce plus social. When the iPhone came out, it was like, “The CRM that’s mobile,” but it was all still using the same paradigm.

So I knew what was out there. I don’t want to say I did extensive research of trying all the sales software that was out there, but I had a pretty good sense of what was available in the market and I knew I didn’t like that software. I didn’t want to use any of that software for eight hours of my day.

Andrew: Okay. One last area that I want to talk about with this and then I want to talk about when companies should hire salespeople. Andy Rachleff, the former VC from Benchmark, told me that the reason companies succeed at certain periods and why they’re even necessarily is there’s a new technology being available, something that couldn’t have been done before because tech just wasn’t around. So, for him at Wealthfront, it was suddenly financial institutions were opening up their APIs, so software like Wealthfront could actually manage my investments without having to do it all themselves. They could just use APIs to facilitate that.

Was there any new technology that was available today or when you launched that wasn’t available before? Was there something that made this all possible?

Steli: Yeah. So when you started this, I was ready to disagree with you on this point, but as I was thinking about it and as I listened to the full point you were making, I was like, “Yeah, I never thought about this,” but there was, actually. For us, we made communication a really big part of the product. So having two-way VoIP calling and SMS within the product was something that was only possible from day one because when we started building the software, there were companies like Twilio and Plivo and others that allowed you to use their telephony infrastructure to build software on top of it. That was one thing.

Email communication is a really important part of our product, capturing all email communication with prospects and customers and doing that automatically and even that, there were kind of email infrastructure providers out there, much more powerful, much more modern that we were able to use that if we had to build all this on our own, it would have taken years versus it took us a few months.

Even search, we have the most powerful search in CRM, it goes back to giving people access to all the data and making sure the data is accurate. So the search part is really powerful, but that as well was built on Elastic search, on a search technology engine that developers can utilize and integrate into their core product.

So, yeah, we did use a bunch of really core technology that makes Close.io great and what it is today that if all these things didn’t exist and we would have had to build them from the ground up, it would have slowed us down at a significant amount and maybe even not made possible what we wanted to build.

Andrew: Elastic search is what you guys used to search the data in Close.io.

Steli: We to build the search technology, yeah.

Andrew: What did you use to make phone calls? It sounds like it was not Twilio.

Steli: It was Plivo.

Andrew: Plivo because it was cheaper than Twilio?

Steli: No, actually, back in the day when we made the choice, Twilio was much more focused on the SMS technology and a lot of the stuff that we wanted to do on the calling side they just didn’t offer yet. But now they’ve caught up on that, obviously. We wanted to go a lot of more enhanced stuff on the calling side that Twilio back then didn’t offer. So it was not even a cost factor.

Andrew: Okay. Then your email, how did you scrape the email? The key idea, the reason that this is so important to the software, for anyone that doesn’t know Close.io is that when someone makes a phone call in Close.io, it automatically gets tracked in the software. When someone gets an email or sends an email, it’s automatically recorded to that customer’s record, etc. So what did you guys use to do email?

Steli: I’m drawing a blank. Right now, I’m looking at a blog post that our head of product, Ed, wrote a while back, which was the tech stack behind Close.io. I’m scrolling down to find the —

Andrew: Why don’t I give you a moment to do that? While you do that, I’m going to talk about my sponsor. We’ll finish this part of the conversation up and then we’re going to talk about at what point does a company need to get salespeople and how do they do it.

So, the sponsor is a company called Toptal, top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. As you guys noticed, one thing that Steli did was he created software for internal use and then it became software that he could sell as a service to other people and now it’s a hugely successful SaaS, software as a service, right?

Well, if your team internally is struggling with something, that’s a really good indication that maybe you need to build it. Maybe you need to actually have something created for you. Well, your team might be too stretched. Maybe you don’t have enough talent on the team to do it. Maybe you don’t have someone who has the experience to build what you need.

Well, if you are in that situation, you can go to Toptal. They have experts, people who work with multiple customers, multiple businesses. So they’ve seen on the inside how software is built. You know that Toptal has tested them to make sure they’re the best of the best and people wear their Toptal success, the fact that they actually got through Toptal’s rigorous screening process as a budget of honor.

If you’re a developer, it says a lot that you go through it. So you can go to Toptal, tell them what you’re looking to build internally, tell them how you want to do it, then hire one of their developers to do it internally for you and then, since it satisfies you and it actually works and it solves your pain point, you can productize it and sell it to other people and maybe like Steli’s experience, this will become software that’s so big that it becomes bigger than everything else you’re doing.

So the big point is we keep talking about hiring developers to build something for our customers, but sometimes we need something internally for our internal use. Just like Basecamp was built because the people at 37Signals understood their internal pain, just like Close.io because Steli and his team knew the pain really well, same thing can happen to you.

You find a problem, build internal solutions for it that work really well and then start taking it out to other people and see if they need it. If nothing else, it will help do your job better and give your company an advantage and maybe it becomes the product that you end up selling that eclipses everything else that you have.

If you’re looking for a great developer or team of developers to enhance your team or build your new product, I urge you to check out this special URL they created just for Mixergy listeners. It is going to offer you 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’ sin addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Go check them out at Toptal.com/Mixergy.

All right, Steli, were you able to find it?

Steli: Yes. It’s called Nylas.

Andrew: I didn’t realize that existed at the time. All right. So, Nylas, that’s open source, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s created by a Mixergy fan. I’d gone back and forth with him about it. He turned it into a desktop email software. I see. But you’re saying look, the bigger picture is software existed all of a sudden. You didn’t have to create the email scraping. You didn’t have to create the VoIP software. You could just tap into everything that already existed.

Were you also, by scraping email, maybe scraping is not the right word, but pulling in email data, pilling in VoIP data, etc., were you also able to make the software smarter, give your salespeople more insights into what they should do? Was it just recording the data or was it also advising based on the data.

Steli: Yeah. So, in the beginning, it was purely recording the data. Really, it was based on simple insight, which is salespeople hate manual data entry, hence they’re doing it slowly and poorly, which means bad data in the system and which means less sales productivity from salespeople. So, how can we take away all the manual data, how can we automate it so that we have more data and more accurate data and we have more happy and productive salespeople, which at the end of the day we really want, we want the sales reps to do their job really well and to drive revenue.

That insight, I think having the insight at the right time when you have the technology to build the thing, to service that or touch on that I think is crucial, but I think the insight is really what was driving it for us more than anything else. We didn’t see the technology and ask ourselves what could we do with this. We had the insight and then sought out the technology to fix that pain point.

Andrew: And the technology enabled it and if you would have said we have this insight but the technology didn’t exist, you’d say, “Well, we’re not going to reinvent Skype here and also create . . .” It just wouldn’t be possible. All right. So big picture here for me is the understanding that you experienced the pain yourself and you said, “I need to solve it internally.”

Your clients had such tremendous pain with the software they were using that when they saw your solution, they said, “We want this for ourselves,” the software kept getting better because you saw the problem that your clients had and you just kept seeing it on a regular basis, issue, issue, issue became feature, feature, feature in your software and allowed Close.io to address a lot of the problems with salespeople have their software and there’s the loop, the find the pain loop if I had to give it a name.

Let me move on to the second part of the conversation, which is about salespeople. I’ve noticed as I said to you that a lot of software now is being sold not just with great landing pages, not just with great Google ads and Facebook ads, etc. but with actual salespeople. So I read your book, “The Sales Hiring Playbook” and I was looking to understand at what point it makes sense to hire a salesperson and you said in your book, you actually were very clear. Do you remember what the lifetime value is that you would recommend or do you want me to read it?

Steli: It’s multiple thousands of dollars. It should be more than $5,000.

Andrew: That’s what I thought, but in your book you say you have to ask your three questions before you hire a full-time salesperson. Question number one is, “Is my customer lifetime value high enough?” You should have a CLTV customer lifetime value of at least $1,000 before hiring full-time salesperson. That seemed low to me and now you’re saying maybe it needs to be a little bit higher?

Steli: Yeah. It should definitely be a little bit higher. The math always depends on frequency and quantities. So if you have a massive amount of leads that you can easily reach and the sales cycle is 10 minutes, that decreases the numbers of how much customer lifetime value you need because it decreases the customer acquisition cost so erratically.

But usually, when you need salespeople to do the job, the sales cycle is typically not just 10 minutes and there’s not an unlimited pool of people there you can get in touch with, so it adjusts up. In some businesses, the customer lifetime value needs to be $100,000 to make it work.

Andrew: Because it takes so many sales calls and such a long sales — let me ask you this. We have two products in one of the businesses that I launched recently, Bot Academy. One is we create bots for clients, chat bots. The other one is we teach people how they can create it and offer it as a service. That teaching element costs $2,000. At that point, does it make sense for me to hire a salesperson to talk to customers?

Steli: It definitely makes sense for you to test sales. So the advice I always give is you should always start yourself doing some sales, right? The first salesperson should always be one of the founders or the founders as a team. I would always start with the inbound leads. So today, you have people that come, sign up, they look at things and then your landing page or whatever it is sells them on them putting in their credit card information or it doesn’t.

I would split test that with what happens if we introduce a sales element in the sense that what happens if we reach out to customers proactively, either in an email or call or a chat and we offer to have a conversation, a consultation, a demo, whatever it takes. How does it affect the conversion numbers? How many more people can I convince and encourage to purchase the product with the training? If you see that you can make a significant enough difference, it might be worth it to start hiring a few people and have a sales team that does inbound sales for the step number one.

Andrew: So would the first one be offering someone who comes to the sales page, getting rid of the buy button and replacing it with get a demo or schedule a call button? Is that what you’re talking about? Or are you saying find people who have gone through the sales process and didn’t buy and call them, just send out a message?

Steli: It could be a variety of ways of doing this. You could do a hardcore A/B test where you have one group of inbound leads that can click a buy button and the other ones get a contact me button where they put in their contact information and you get in touch with them. It could be where you allow people to buy if they want to and those that don’t, you reach out, you follow up with, you have a conversation and try to uncover why didn’t they buy? Was there an objection or an issue or confusion that you can clarify as a human being on the phone or email, whatever?

You can experiment with it. But the whole idea would just be to see if we proactively try to sell to these people, human to human, would that make a difference? Is our audience open to that? Will that move the needle significantly enough to offset the cost of having a human being doing this job?

Andrew: I see. Okay. So just pick a spot anywhere in there where you’re most likely to get some sales and start testing and you want the founder to do it himself or herself. Why should she do it herself?

Steli: Well, first because nobody’s going to sell the product or service as well as you. Second, because of what we talked about earlier, customer insights. If you don’t have a sales team yet, you most likely are still pretty early in your process. You want to gain more insights about who is my customer, what are the issues they’re having? How do they respond when I call them? How do they respond when they get an email from me? You’re going to look at the matrix differently than a newly hired salesperson.
You’re going to have an aha moment when somebody tells you something that might lead to a product innovation or might lead to you marketing or wording things differently that a rep off the streets will not get. And you’re not going to be able to judge performance of another human being if you’ve never done this job at all in any way or form. I encourage founders to do sales a little bit themselves first before they bring in somebody and tell them to replicate results or even improve on the results they were able to get themselves.

Andrew: I see. Okay. Then once you do that, I guess what’s the cost? What do you pay for someone like that?

Steli: Again, it highly depends on what type of person it will take to successfully sell to your audience. So if you can get really inexperienced, really young people to train them and get them to successfully sell your product, it’s going to be much cheaper than if you do sell to CTOs of Fortune 500 companies and you need to have like industry experts with 20 years of experience. So, it will depend and vary greatly. I think at the lowest level, also location-wise, are we talking about the US west/east coast, middle North America?

Just to give people a benchmark, I think that today, a good average would be at the very cheap end and more experienced and on the sale spectrum, you’re probably going to have to pay $30k to $40k and then come up with some type of a bonus structure on top and at the very high end, it might be $100,000, $200,000 depending on what kind of sales you do.

That’s another reason. Especially if you don’t have funding, venture funding to just experiment with these things, you want to do it yourself and see that you can accomplish some kind of a success that gives you the confidence to go and pay somebody a salary and tell them to do the job.

Andrew: I see. When I’m on your site, Nick Persico comes up in a little chat bubble on the right side of the screen. Is he a sales person?

Steli: Yeah. He’s the head of sales.

Andrew: So, your head of sales at Close.io, the website, comes up right now. So if I chat with him, I’m going to talk to the head of sales?

Steli: Yeah.

Andrew: Interesting. So do you guys try to close sales — sorry?

Steli: I was just about to say just like every newsletter we sent out comes from Steli@Close.io. If you reply, you’re replying to me directly.

Andrew: Got it. So it’s not necessarily that it’s really Nick.

Steli: No, it is really Nick.

Andrew: Oh, it really is? Let me actually see. I was just doing a search in my inbox from: Steli and when I do that, I get every newsletter that you send me. It says Steli from Close.io sent me an email. My consulting rate is $10,000 per session. You get three sessions for free. That’s a great headline. If I hit reply on that, it does go to you. It’s the exact same email you and I have been using to coordinate this interview.

Steli: Yeah. It goes directly to me.

Andrew: I see. Okay. That’s why you wanted to go directly to him. What chat bubble software do you use and does it tie in with Close.io?

Steli: Yes. We’ve just integrated with it. It’s Drift. We’re testing it. You’re actually one of the first. We just implemented this yesterday to test it out on a few pages. So we wanted to see how many more leads sales can drive through the Drift chat interface, and we integrated with Close.io. So we’ll see. This is a new experiment.

Andrew: I see it right now actually on the site. I sent him a message. Look, there it is. It’s Nick who is responding right back, “Sure is me.” I could expect that if I wanted to like get some sales insight about much should I pay my people, I can just come into your website and say, “Hey, Nick, what do you think I should be paying this person?” Now I’ve got that. The other two questions are, are my large customers struggling to convert? That makes sense. Then the other one is, is there complexity in the sales process for my larger accounts?

So a salesperson probably won’t make a difference in a frictionless sales process. I get that. I’m looking to see where salespeople come into your process. It’s not on the homepage. I can try it myself before I buy it. It’s on the pricing page. When I go to see your prices, I can hit a button and try it for free and then keep paying you guys or that’s when I start to see the try buttons get converted into schedule a live demo button. Why did you guys pick that spot. It seems like that’s — actually, I guess that’s pretty obvious, right? You’re just saying anyone that’s on the pricing page is more likely to buy, let’s put our try there.

Steli: Yeah. That’s a point of friction, right? When people are on the pricing page, they might be like concerned. They might be having objections, “Will we really use this feature? This is too expensive. Will this make sense for us from an ROI point of view?” People typically have questions around the pricing, so it makes sense to put a salesperson to give you intimacy to somebody that can answer these questions and help you with that.

Andrew: You use Drift better than freaking Drift uses Drift. I was on their site. I was considering using Drift to my site. They’re so big on the automated response when they use Drift on their website that it’s a little too much. Immediately, the chat asks me, “Are you the CMO? Are you the . . .” “No, can I talk to a human?”

Then the bot responds back with something nonsensical. Then after a few times of me talking back to the bot and the bot giving me more options on Drift’s website, a person comes in and says, “Hey, I’m a real person. Yes, I can help you.” I said, “Great, I have a question.” His response was, “Hey, are you at Intel?” I said, “No, I’m not at Intel. I have a question. I think I’m done here. I think I’m moving on.”

They really need some sales training over there. It’s great software and I think David Cancel is going to be a hit with this thing, but I think he could use some more human understanding in there.

Steli: Yeah. I think a lot of companies overdo this stuff. It’s the same thing with some of the software I want to use, I stop using it because of all the Intercom bubbles in the software telling me what to do when to do it. Let me just use this thing. I just want to use the software.

Andrew: That is my problem. Intercom is a really good tool and Drift is competing with Intercom. The problem with Intercom is not only a lot of bubbles, if I’m on a website, dude, where, Steli, if they have Intercom bubbles on their site, as soon as go within an interview to go to someone’s site, the bubble goes — I go dammit, now they know I’m on the site. It’s such a frustrating experience.

All right. Let’s talk about then how to recruit the unrecruitable. One thing that you said in your book was in “The Sales Hiring Playbook,” I’m trying to get better at mentioning my interviewees’ books. You said do a test, do a trial, even a three-month contract or consultant base. Can you really do that with someone who’s tough to recruit? Can your r say to them, “Come in for three months, see if you like this?” Won’t they want something more steady?

Steli: Not at the hello. You’re not going to be able to call somebody or talk to somebody that is amazing at what they do and just offer them something that’s very risky for them and zero risk for you. That’s not typically how it will work out. If you what I call slowly fall in love with each other. If you take some time to get to know them, allow them to get to know the company, the opportunity, you see that both sides fall in love.

I do think it makes sense to stay with that analogy even if it’s overused to date each other for a little while before you get married. This can really make sense for both parties to say let’s come up with some kind of an arrangement where we really will only know this works once we work with each other for a little bit. Depending on the situation, depending on the individual, depending on your company, this might be different.

In some cases, you can set up something where somebody does a somebody does a three or six-month internship before you hire them as a junior sales rep. In other cases, it can’t be. It might just be that they’re going to spend two or three weekends in a row coming to the office and working with you on some project that are throwaway projects that have nothing to do with the core job. But I would always try to get to work with somebody or always try to really figure out.

Lots of people always ask me, “What’s the best interview question for a sales rep?” I always go — it’s like saying what’s the best interview question to figure out who’s a good basketball player. There’s many questions you can ask that might be good, but I would always throw them the ball and see them play.

I would always have a sales call with them, tell them, “Hey, have you ever sold something?” Yeah. Okay. Sales me that. Let’s do a sales mock call where I go, “Ring, ring, ring, this is Bob,” and you convince me that this is a good product or you have a conversation with me about this. I would always just want to see how do they perform as a salesperson versus what do they tell me about their sales career.

Andrew: I’m so glad that I read this book before the conversation. You said there is no list of questions. The book gives 10 questions to ask.

Steli: Yeah. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t interview someone for the job, but if I can only do one thing, instead of asking a question, I would do a mock call with you. The book says that as well.

Andrew: Be open with me. Did you write this book or did you hire a writer?

Steli: All the ideas in this book are from me. They’re all based on videos I’ve recorded, talking through the different ideas.

Andrew: I see. Then someone compiles it.

Steli: Yes. The writing is turned out of the audio/video files that I recorded.

Andrew: You do specifically in the book give people a list of 10 questions that they should be asking.

Steli: Yeah.

Andrew: The last one is, “How do you think this interview is going so far?” The first one is, “Why sales? Why are you in sales?” The second is, “Why do you want to sell this product?” I thought the book was actually really actionable. What’s surprising to me is I think there are a couple times in this interview where you contract what’s in the book.

Steli: I contradict many of the pieces of advice that I give are contextual. This is one where I actually have a blog post that says, “You need to do mock calls with people. You need to,” this analogy of like throwing them the ball versus just asking questions. We have at least three blog posts that are like, “Here’s some good interview questions,” here’s a little game I play in interviews sometimes, where I tell them to give me one of their weaknesses and then I’ll share one of our company weaknesses and we’ll go back and forth until we discourage each other.

Andrew: Until we discourage each other.

Steli: Yeah. The idea is either we discourage each other from working together. If we can’t discourage each other from working with each other, it’s a good indicator we might enjoy working together. I do think my advice is not black and white in the sense that I would never ask an interview question. That’s crazy. That’s not what I meant. If that came across that way, that’s not really what I wanted to say.

Andrew: One of the things that I thought was especially helpful about the book was you said if you’re looking for salespeople, look for teams that are especially amazing and people who are especially amazing and then here’s the quite you said you should say to someone who you’re interested in, get on a call with them, say we’re looking to hire amazing sales talent like you for our inside sales CRM. Would you be willing to hop on a call this week and tell me what you were looking for when you joined the company?

So what you’re saying to them is, “I’m looking to hire someone as great as you. Can you tell me what your mindset was, why you made this decision?” and kind of learn from them and then through that, maybe you end up hiring this person or, as you say, if you get a rejection, turn that rejection into a referral to someone else they might know that would be good.

Steli: Yeah. This is a technique that I’ve used for many years in terms of hiring. People that are really in a great position that are really successful, they’re not looking for jobs. So if you ask them, “Can we jump on a call to talk about you potentially working for me, it’s not going to be very appealing.

As well as if you ask for referrals — when we hire somebody new, I would never ask somebody, “Who of your friends or ex-colleagues is really great that might want to work here?” because people always filter out all the people that are doing amazing and are happy right now in their career, but there’s other people I want to talk to.

So I always ask, “Who’s somebody you know that would never work here, that’s just too successful?” and then I would call them and go, “Your friend has told me you do really well. There’s no change I can hire you, but I want to learn more about you. How did you get so successful? Why did you get this job? How did they get to recruit you? How did that happen?”

Then often times, people let their guard down and maybe organic love can happen because are open and there’s an opportunity. If not, maybe you can learn something about how to hire people or you’ll get a referral from them. But I find that indirect way of reaching out is much more successful than if you’re like, “We have a job offer. Do you want to jump on a call?” No. The great people don’t want to jump on a call because they’re happy with their job.

Andrew: You also say that you should give people kind of assignments, homework to do when you’re interviewing them. I know we’ve gone over time here. We’re coming close to the end here. But you want them to do things like write a cold email to a potential prospect. You want to see how they write. You want them to call your competitors and do a little bit of research for you. Is there something else that you’d suggest that you’d have a potential salesperson do? As you said, there’s some people who interview great but they suck at sales and there’s some people great at sales, but they’re not selling themselves all the way.

Steli: Yeah. Even those homework assignments, we’ve seen from the past that sometimes people are really amazing at them, but it’s all just pieces of the puzzle. It in itself is not a perfect indicator for them doing well in the job. But yeah, we’ve asked people to write a cold email and send it to us as if we were a prospect selling our product. We’ve asked them to go through a sales cycle and then collect a one-page summary of what their experience was when they sign up for a product, when they got our emails, when they got a call from our sales rep.

We asked them to do competitive research and say, “Go and look at other people’s product and then tell us why they’re not better than us, why wouldn’t you want to work there? What’s the difference?” So there are a few of these types of research types of activities or even with cold emailing, it’s easier where we can tell them write us a cold email, send it to us because we have such a huge sample set to see who writes really well. Then comment on it, “Why did you write this subject line? Why did you write the email? Why did you structure it the way that you did?”

Andrew: You mean comment on it within the Google doc so they explain their thought process. Got it.

Steli: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. Why don’t I close out with just an understanding of your process? I’m on your blog. It seems like what you do is—you create a ton of content, dude — it seems like your process is you record a video. I’m looking at one of your blog posts called enterprise sales for startups, forget quick experiments. It’s a well written post and on the bottom of it is an 18-minute YouTube video with you.

It seems like what you do is you talk into the mic for 18 minutes, you just download all your thoughts and then somebody takes it, turns it into a blog post after you get a collection of blog posts on the same topic. Somebody takes it and turns it into — that’s it. Somebody takes it and turns it into a book. You’re pointing and nodding.

Steli: Yes. When we started, I would write a draft and then send it to somebody and it would go back and forth and it was a super slow process, until one day, I was a week over my deadline on sending a draft and then the person called me and said just talk into your iPhone, record a fucking message and send me an audio and I will right the draft. I did that and I was like, “My god, this was so easy. It took me ten minutes to do.”

That led me think if I stop referring to it as the blog post and say his name all the time. We could just release as a piece of content. Then we did that a few times and then I thought if I just turn on the webcam, we could have video, audio — since that insight, it really changed our counter production because as you said, I can do two videos a day, three videos a day easy. I can create an insane amount of content, just like downloading information, strategy or story, writing a draft would be much slower, much worse at. That’s kind of a —

Andrew: And you’re good at talking into the mic. You do a podcast with Hiten Shah, TheStartupChat.com is where people can see it. It’s just you and Hiten chatting and riffing. I sent you a love note and I sent Hiten a love note because of this podcast because it’s just talking like friends sitting around at a coffee shop. Somehow it becomes insightful. You’ll say, “You know what, Hiten? Why don’t we talk about all the things we learned by promoting a podcast?” And just like off the top of your head, here are all the things you learned. That’s actually very useful and interesting to see they have the same problem that I do.

Hiten is number one at data analytics. He had an analytics company that competed with Google Analytics and partnered with them in some ways, and he’s even struggling with analytics for podcasting. That really helps me understand why we’re struggling with analytics for podcasting, and that helps me see how does he deal with a situation where analytics sucks? What does he think through? How do you think about that issue?

I really like it. I could see your process. I think the process you’re talking about that you have would suck for other people because they don’t have good writers on staff, but you seem to. So someone takes this video, 18-minutes long video, turns it into a short blog post that’s very detailed and then this book doesn’t feel like someone copied each blog post and put it into a book. I thought you wrote it from scratch at first. It had your voice. It all seemed to flow from piece to piece to piece and it all made sense together.

And I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you have the best covers out there. Every freaking book has such a really nice cover on it, which makes it feel like it’s a real book. You don’t seem like — you’re not patting yourself on the back for that one. You seem a little surprised I said that.

Steli: No. I was just thinking the marketing team will love this. I’m going to have to cut that part out where you say all these nice things and send it to them. It’s all due to them. All I do is turn on the webcam and I speak. Everything else I can’t take credit for. So it’s all the marketing.

Andrew: It’s really well done. When you first gave me the book for free, I said, “Look at this. I’m friends with Steli. He’s giving me the digital version for free. Most people and to mail me s tuff. I’d rather see the digital. Then I read it. I said, “This is a good book, it’s like 120 pages, which tells me it’s probably a lead magnet, but it’s well done.” The cover, though, made me feel like it’s still substantial. This is really good.

Anyway, this book that I talked about, I can recommend it. I don’t know what else is in the bundle, but I can recommend “The Sales Hiring Playbook” I think it’s a really good collection of advice for hiring salespeople. I think what I’ve taken away from this conversation about that is there are no hard and fast rules. Even if the book says hey, wait until you get $1,000 lifetime value for your customer, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s an absolutely number, but the benchmark, the thought that goes into where do I start and the specific advice is helpful.

How do you feel about me asking the question about do you write this book? I was looking at your face when I said it, and I thought I saw a little bit of hurt in your eyes as I said it. Were you hurt?

Steli: No, not at all. No. You projected that hurt onto me. The reason why I like Mixergy, the reason why I’ve been a paying member and a subscriber for many years now and been a fan and a friend is because you ask difficult questions and honest questions. When I come on to talk to you, I expect to have a conversation with a friend and be challenged or be asked.

Andrew: Thanks.

Steli: This is not a secret. This is not something that I would never reveal. I’ve been very honest about how we create content because it might be useful to others. So not at all.

Andrew: Thanks. I’m feeling especially sensitive about it because for some reason, I’m starting to feel really hurt feelings about all the people who ask me to edit it. That gives me agita in my stomach that a lot of guests say, “Andrew, I didn’t want to say this. Andrew, why did you say that?” It gives me stomach pains to even think about it and bring it up to you. So that’s why. I care about this.

The reason I ask you for extra time, I say, “Can I have five more minutes? Can I have a few more minutes?” I wanted to read the book. I was so busy thinking what I want out of this interview, which was I want to understand how you understood your customers’ pain. That’s the thing that I’m most curious about that, then I realize, “Holy crap, he sent me this book. I didn’t even read it.”

So I wanted five more minutes and then another and I’m a speed reader, so I can read this stuff and remember things, like when you mentioned something I remember where I saw it in the book. So I needed extra time and I really appreciate that you gave me that. As I said, I care about these interviews. I want this stuff to be useful. I don’t’ want to do one of these fluffy conversations that don’t’ get anywhere. Steli, thanks so much for being on here.

Steli: Hey, thank you so much for having me. It’s always an honor. You’ve done so much for the entrepreneurial community and really putting out amazing content. I think a lot of people that are hurt might be hurt because they are interviewed all the time by a million podcasts, they’re just not used to being asked follow up questions when they give answers. They’re not used to being pushed a little bit in a conversation when something they said is contradicting or doesn’t make sense to you. So, I think that people just aren’t used to that. I think that’s why you stand out and why I appreciate everything you do. So keep it up, brother.

Andrew: Thanks. All right. Congratulations of the success of Close.io. I’ve got to tell you guys go back and watch Steli from years ago the way I did. The guy’s got — I said this before and I’ll keep saying it. He gets more and more swagger, more and more confidence, more and more control of himself. The reason is Close.io is kicking ass. I looked at people who used Close.io and said, “Is this bullshit? Is this like empty software that now you’re committed $65 a month and you can’t cancel?” No. They really like the software.

So, of course, you’re proud. People really like your software. Revenues are growing and you can be proud of the fact that you can talk into a mic and then this beautiful piece of content comes out, blog post, book, the whole thing. I like when I see businesses that are working so well, like a machine. You can be very proud of it and of course you are.

Anyone out there who wants to go check it out can check it out at Close.io. He’s got a bundle of the book that I read, which is “The Sales Hiring Playbook” and a bunch of other stuff, including email templates. Basically, it’s a lead magnet for him, but the content is good, so it’s worth giving your email address. Frankly, his emails also are well done. It’s worth going over to Close.io/Mixergy to get that book and everything else that’s included with it.

Thanks so much for doing this and thank you to my two sponsors, Toptal.com/Mixergy and HostGator.com/Mixergy. Thanks, Steli.

Steli: Thank you.

Andrew: Bye, everyone.


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