Hello. Hello, and welcome to SaaS breakthrough. Thanks for jumping on with me. Excited to have you and Salesflare on today. How are you doing today?
I'm doing fine. And you?
I'm doing well. I'm doing well. Where are you joining me from?
I'm joining you from Antwerp in Belgium.
Wow, amazing. I still have not gone out there, one area that I haven't visited in Europe, but I definitely have to go some day, but
Where are you based?
I'm in Tampa, Florida.Tampa, Florida the nice fun epicenter of corona virus right now.
So I have, I've never been in Florida actually. I've visited quite some places in the US. Actually I was born in New York state.
But never been down to Florida. I definitely need to visit.
Oh yeah. It's a great place to come visit. Maybe not right this minute, but highly recommend one day. Tampa especially is very beautiful, but you know, let's jump into some marketing stuff. You know, you're coming from Salesflare, a lot of good stuff going on over there. Maybe give us a quick background about Salesflare, when you founded it, who the customers are and what you all are doing uniquely in the marketplace.
We founded Salesflare in 2014. The idea sort of came to us in April/May, 2014. We were working on another software company and we had a ton of leads and the issue was that we didn't really find any CRM that was a tool that helped us follow-up these customers in a consistent way. And an even a bigger issue was that if the CRM would do that, it would require a whole lot of data input in return. Which is something we were not disciplined enough for and we didn't have the time. And we started thinking like we could actually make a system that keeps track of things for us. Because the data we found that we would need to input was actually data that was already available in other systems.
The fact that we were emailing someone who was in our mailbox, the contacts were in our mailbox. Their email signatures were in our mailbox, the meetings in our calendar, the calls in our phone, stuff on social media, company databases, email tracking, click tracking, web tracking, all those kind of things. We could build a system that pulls this together for you, so you don't need to do a lot of data inputs and the system can actively help you with following up your customer. So you don't lose a lot of leads that fall through the cracks. And that was in 2014. We had a whole lot of developments. We did not know that building an CRM system was so much work. I don't know why we didn't, but
We felt the same about our webinar software. So I understand.
Yeah, yeah. I can imagine that. There's also a whole lot of things that come into play there. And expectations also are at a certain level already because people know other webinars software. So you have a whole lot of features to develop until you're sort of at par feature-wise, even if you are building the software in a whole different way in a better way, there's still an enormous amount of work to really get something going. We initially targeted slightly bigger companies that were using Salesforce and just their salespeople are not using it, because we were getting a lot of people complaining about that. But then in the end, we refocused on smaller companies. We do small and medium sized businesses who sell to other businesses now. So B2B businesses and we build a CRM for them. It's a sales CRM. And it's mostly agencies right now on the software. And on the other hand, tech companies, lots of SaaS companies actually that use our software. It's about 2000 plus currently actively using our software.
That's amazing. And when you're looking at that kind of shift in product-market fit over the years, what was the journey to get there? Like, was it just a lot of one-on-one conversations? Was it product feedback? Was it resistance on initial sales? Like what made you decide or move, I guess more down market to bring in the agencies and SaaS companies?
All these things I would say. Yeah, it's, so we didn't start fully self-guided from the start. We actually had a completely guided process where I would jump on a call with someone. So we had a site obviously but people could request a trial there. I would get on a call with them, showed them the software. If they liked it, then I could say, okay, you want to make an account? Let's make an account together. That in the beginning was even hard because connecting your emails was connecting IMF settings and all, and not everybody knew how that worked. Right now it's just a click-to-connect with Google and you're off, but not back then. I would then show them how to get set up, help them to get set up.
Then I would show them how to use the software, the whole thing until really doing the support with them over Skype back then even, to make sure that everything was out of the way. This, this had a few advantages it made our close rates was pretty high. But also I could be there for every single embarrassing moments to receive all the feedback which was really instrumental for us to make our product better and find that product-market fit. Because I believe that if we would just have launched something online and say, here you can sign up. We would have been looking at ads, videos, and [inaudible] maybe got some some feedback on Intercom, but it would not be the same, same way. We wouldn't have that very intimate idea of how people, why people use the software, how they get on with the small things that are important, that that just takes a lot of legwork.
What were you doing to drive those early leads to get on those demo calls with you?
In very initial stages, it was all us going after our network, in our networks' network. So we would we started off with doing customer interviews. And during these customer interviews, I would also ask like, who would be other good people to talk about this subject with. That way we expanded our network. We tried to get into press which worked a few times, which so it'd be brought to some leads as well. People read about our vision and said things like, Oh, my sales people not using the CRM. I like what you're saying. Can I see this thing? That's some of the initial lead speak of. Then at some point we started being more active on Quora which for a while, brought us a sizable amount of leads as well, still some today, but it's really not the same anymore.
It's a, it's a huge battle these, these Quora threads. And then little by little, we were active in the same Facebook groups as you, for instance, like SaaS Growth facts. We started getting known here and there, we built up some traffic. We launched from Product Hunt. We launched an AppSumo. We got a whole lot of reviews on reviews sites you know, all kinds of things coming together. We started doing consistent content marketing, going after SEO and like that, just, just building and building the machine.
Got it. Yeah, it makes sense. And we'll go into some of the strategies you're doing today that are working, but that makes sense as far as the journey, you're getting that feedback, it's helping fuel your marketing, your marketing language, it's fueling your product moving around. I do have one question about, like, during this past year, this has been such a crazy year with you know, COVID-19 pandemic kind of breaking out. Did you guys see any changes for your ICP, or did you find any like product-market fit issues that went on or anything that you had to change from like the marketing perspective to make sure that you're continuing to, to keep that lead flow going?
Not really, no. Actually our target audience is not experiencing such big issues, which is a good thing. There were some changes in the sense that, especially in the months of April and May we had some less incoming traffic, mostly, slightly more churn, but not much. I mean, some people going away because of issues. What also started happening is that next to that, there are actually people that we spoke to a long, long time ago about CRM that were always looking at, we don't really need it. And then when the pandemic came around, their pipelines got emptied. They were left with nothing and they figured, Oh, maybe we should invest in a CRM so we can keep better track of things. And actively do lead-gen, business development, go after sales. So that happened as well. We had some customers that wanted to save money. So we lost some there, but I would say no huge effects for us.
You kind of almost found more of that product-market fit validation by just having people come through with that pain point. I think that's kind of been one thing that's been kind of interesting during this year, as you're finding out who really are your best customers, right. Who are needing your product. And so now that you kind of have that validation and we kind of already started talking about some marketing channels. You know, what has been working today? What is the marketing focus right this minute? Are you guys just continuing to optimize some of the strategies that you've already been doing or are utilizing this time to test new channels out?
Mainly optimizing what we have. Like working further on SEO, making sure we get more word-of-mouth going. Been looking at our placing on review sites and things like that. Things that we're trying as well right now is trying to build out a partner channel, trying to be more visible. So I'm doing a whole lot of webinars and conference talks and all those kind of things. Getting on podcasts like now we're testing whether or not actually helps. As you probably know, there's, there's like quite big players in the space. And, and the space is quite saturated with mark... in CRM space as well that have a whole lot of money to get their name known but also to pull traffic to them. Which makes that for us things like for instance, doing Google ads or outbound ads or trying to get paid positions in all kinds of places very hard. So we're trying to fall back on some of the, the more organic or less saturated channels to make sure our name gets out there and we can actually then also pull traffic to us.
Yeah, I think we're kind of in a similar situation. I think this is a very interesting perspective, which is, you know, you can have a mature product, but still be a small player in a red ocean where there's a lot of competitors that can spend a lot of money. So what it causes you to do is become very scrappy, think very long term, think about how you're going to maybe position or brand yourself differently than, you know, some of the bigger players. So, you know, you mentioned coming on things like podcasts or doing conferences, doing your own podcast. Now, what was the goal when you're sitting down and saying, Hey, let's, let's get exposure out there, when you're doing something like that, and you're creating these initiatives. Are you guys thinking like, Hey, we just need to build brand value. We just need to get our name out there. Like, what is the ultimate kind of goal for building webinars, talks, podcast, stuff like that?
Yeah, it's, it's, it's, it's both of these things well that, and so getting our name out there, building brand value and, and helping people in general is also something that's nice. You can do it at the same moment. It's creating good content in a different way than we do on our blog. And putting that out there, and any time you can help someone, you put something positive in the market, which then helps your brand value, I guess, as well. So main reason for us is mostly getting more known because that's, that's hard based on, on paid channels, let's say.
Well, you mentioned, you know, you want to measure how this works over the next X amount of time. How do you set that period up? How long are you going to run these things for? What KPIs are you going to use to run, to see if this is successful? If you're just looking at, you know, brand recognition, how are you going to you know, determine if it's success?
Yeah. Brand recognition is extremely hard. You can look at how many times you're mentioned that's some what, some people suggest, but that doesn't really work. So what I'm thinking, what is most important for us obviously is driving trials and, and preferably qualified trials. That's one thing I'm looking at and second is more website visitors, new website visitors, also indicates more people interested in the product. And another thing you can do is looking at the amount of searches that are happening. In search console of Google you can, can check how many times people type your keyword, but that's very linked to the website visits as well. I'm personally not expecting huge short term results from, from this kind of visibility things but something that's, will have some result in the short term but mostly in the long term.
And that's something I'm seeing, even with some of the earlier campaigns we did, like we did outreach emails and 2017, 2018. I'm still seeing leads coming from there that got our funny outreach email at that moment, and now are looking for a CRM and we are some somehow still in their minds. So very hard to, to keep good track. But if the, if the numbers already go up a bit in the short term, I'm pretty happy because I'm convinced that in the longer term it will also pay off.
Are you asking initially when people are coming in, where they found you or where they heard your name, so you can kind of track that internally? Cause obviously you can't see if someone is just searching your brand later that they came from a podcast show or webinar or something like that.
So onboarding is as, as focused on the user as can be. So when you start a trial, you just connect your emails, you land in the software, there's a walk-through and it helps you to set up. We have nothing in between that asks for your name or the amount of users you're going to bring on or whatever. And I'm pretty cautious about adding more questions about where did you find us and all that. We have a survey that we ask people to fill out, to know more about what they're looking for in a CRM and where they found us and all that, that we send out when people join. But there's only a small amount of people filling this out. I might do an experiment in the coming weeks because we just replaced our NPS software with a software called Refiner.
And that software also allows you based on all kinds of segments that you can make on your user data to ask these kind of questions as well. Like to ask, where did you hear about us? And then if it was a podcast, which podcast, stuff like that. So I might try, but I'm not expecting a whole lot from it. And next to that, we also have tracking on the UTM level. So we track campaigns and referrals and all that. And when someone signs up in a cookie, we have stored the very first time that they came to our website where they came from and that's then placed on the user. So we have some information about where they came from, but then again with something like a podcast, it's, you can't know because nobody clicks and you cannot see from the link when it came from so.
Exactly, exactly. One of those tough things for, you know, especially being these scrappy new initiatives, it's always tough to say, like, you know, we've actually driven X amount of trials from this podcast, just more long term things that are just value and brand experiences. You know, we're doing similar things. You mentioned onboarding, and I think that's such a big part of that marketing kind of growth process, so important to maximize the leads, especially in the early days. Are you guys doing anything fun or new on the onboarding side, you mentioned a couple, the new software that you're running Refiner and then, you know, some of those different experiments, but anything else that you're doing to maybe gamify that process?
Yeah. We've actually done a few cool things recently. We actually were trying to do quite some onboarding experiments this year, but two that I can share is one, if you go to our site right now, there's 50% chance that it doesn't ask you to connect your email address first, but at first shows you the software, it sort of guides you around first and then asks for your for your email.
So we, we turned the connecting your emails and the walkthrough around, and we're seeing how that influences how qualified leads are, how many of them sign up and all that. So far some issues with the data regarding that, because not everything was always trackable and we're solving that step by step let's say. But it looks good. It doesn't affect the amount of people that connected emails too much. So that's already good because a lot of people actually go shopping for CRM. So all they want to see is some sort of initial experience. And we give that to them right now without connecting to email. So obviously the amount of signups drops a bit but we'll also have more qualified signups, which we're now looking to prove.
And then another interesting experiment we're doing. Oh, it's not an experiment anymore. It's a succeeded experiment. So it stays. Is we included the setup guidance software. If you now sign up, after you go to the walkthrough and all that, you land on the software and opens a guide, that's guides you to the different steps to set up Salesflare every step in that box on the bottom left you can click on it and it links you to the right place in the software where you can do it, it then minimizes. So it's not, it's not in the way. There's always an article and and a video, you can check out to know how to do it and when you do the step, it actually auto completes, it visually that step moves away and the next one is visualized for you.
So you can then click on that one and anytime you complete the step, and that's where a lot of the magic is as it gives you extra days on the trial. So we're in the past, we used to give you 14-days on the trial and an option to extend. We now give you 7-days on the trial, and as you complete steps, you can get to about 30-days. But it's, it's it's only if you really use it well, that you get these 30 days. And we're actually seeing, I was, I was going through the numbers last week, that you would expect that the sales cycles get longer, but actually on average, it stays about the same. It's just distributed in a completely different way. So where previously people would sign up just before the trial ended, mostly like between 12 and 14 days. Now we're seeing many more signups around 20, 23 days. It's more spread out somehow around these amount of days but also many more that set up quickly and sign-up quickly, which makes that the median went dramatically up, the median of how long it takes to go from trial to signup. But on average, it wasn't much effected which makes that on average, our sales cycle stays the same, which is, which is important for us.
What software are you using to do that for them? That's something that we've been discussing internally about having kind of a walk-through like that connected to a lot of the different onboarding processes. What have you seen that was a successful software there?
We made it ourselves. I mean, yeah, there's, there's a lot of stuff out there that can like show tool tips here and there. For the tool tips on our onboarding, we made it fully customer by using, I think it's called Shepard or something. But that set up guide that I was referring to, that's something we completely made ourselves because it really, really closely ties into how the product works. And we just, we didn't see any software solving that for us. So we built it fully internally, sculpted fully internally. It was all, yeah our own work.
I love that. Yeah, no, that makes sense. But it's just so tough for us cause we, you know, we're so cautious of spending engineering time on things like that. That makes sense. I think having that fully built in experience is so critical. And you mentioned expanding to a 30-day trial. Do you guys have limitations on that trial? Is that, are there limitations to get to those buyer upgrade moments earlier, or is it just that people feel more comfortable in the experience, you know, kind of going through that and activating through that checklist?
I first want to come back to your comment. You said being cautious about engineering time, we are very cautious about engineering time as well. We have a pretty limited development team. So we focus on really core things, but I believe that onboarding is just about one of the most core things you can do, because once you build up a certain amount of traffic, people come to you, the initial experience is what makes or breaks a lot of deals. So working on this always pays off. And then to the topic of what we're limiting at trial, we don't limit anything. We want people to go as far as possible with using all the features, putting data in, inviting their colleagues which by the way this set up guides really improved very much, like I think now 30, 40% more trials invite their colleagues for instance. Because it's basically a free period during which you can use Salesforce but limited in time and at the end of the trial then asks you to subscribe and you can just continue working.
Got it. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I like that. Now you mentioned a couple of times how you guys run experiments, your thought process on experimentation, onboarding, where that importance is, and also kind of guarding your engineering time. How have you, you know, really thought about kind of building this experimentation into the company? Like how have you built in, you know, the winning and losing parts of those, or, you know, prioritizing experiments through the process? Like how have you built that culture there?
A good question. I don't think we, it's more in, in attracting people I think that that like improving. We like to always move forward. And the nice thing about having a SaaS company is that you can always be building. You don't if you automate things well, delegate well, and those kinds of things you don't need to spend the whole of this time just doing stuff, like routine things every day. You can keep building a product, you can keep building content marketing value and traffic. You can keep building a brand, building a team. And it's important to attract people that like doing that, and in terms of the way in which we make sure it consistently happens, what we're starting to do from this year is define that we're going to do a certain amount of these experiments every month.
We call these habits. So we have our numeric goals, like where we, where we want to see our growth and all those kind of things. But there's, we decided that this is not enough. What we need to look at mostly to get there is doing things consistently. So for instance, if we're talking about onboarding experiments, we put forward as a goal for this year, as a habit goal that we're going to do once per month. This makes that we don't like say, Oh, we're going to work on onboarding, but we actually know how much, we plan for it. And we keep finding new things. Because otherwise it's, it easily slacks off. And then at the end of the year, you're like, okay, we did stuff, but we didn't do all we could do. And that's what we try to sort of put in place with these habits ingrain.
I love that idea of habits. And does that help when you're making those engineering decisions and you're looking at, you know, your roadmap with a variety of different options to go until you probably have a variety of different marketing experiments to do, and you only have so much time. Does that help and say, Hey, this is one of our most aligned habits that we have to do. Let's do this one onboarding experiment this month, then we can do X, Y, and Z after.
Actually in terms of habits, like we have a bunch of things like two to three growth experiments a month, one support approach improvement a month, one onboarding improvement per month, all those kind of things. And there's when we set it up, at least there was no intention of prioritizing the one versus the other. They just all had to happen. And, most of them are by different teams. So there's not a huge amount of overlap. What we started seeing is that for instance on the visibility side, we also have habits done by the marketing team and that we also have the growth experiments and these sort of started competing with each other. And that's a bit of an issue we're having now to see how we deal with that, because we're doing very well on the, on the visibility front but a bit less on the growth experiment front. But I don't have any set answer for that yet. It's a, it's process, let's say.
Yeah, I know it's a constant process of improving, figuring that stuff out. It's such a tough balance, I think, but I really love the idea of habits and setting that culture. And I guess looking back over the past few years, maybe once you kind of have more of that product market fit, as things have been growing, any hard lessons from experiments or initiatives that didn't work out, things that you take away from for, you know, new future opportunities?
One thing we tried last year where we put in a whole amount of work was seeing whether a freemium model would work for us. I think if I do it again, I would try to validate it with less amount of work, but we just, yeah, the issue is we were trying to validate something and if you'd only do it half hard, it's, it's hard to know that your, your validation makes sense or not. But I, at least I think it's true all the way a bit more because what happened in the end is we couldn't just put it out there. You just couldn't make it public and get our normal traffic trying the freemium plan versus the normal plan. We had to send very specific emails and very specific Facebook ads, so we could run the two experiments next to each other. And then in hindsight maybe the channels were not good to test it, but hard to say. And if we would have known that earlier maybe we could have run a better experiment. It's, it's important to think an experiment through all the way. And that's from which tactics and channels and all that you're going to use, to how you're gonna measure it. If you don't have all these things in place, you just, the experiment tends to take longer or becomes inconclusive.
I love that. Yeah, that's really good advice. Especially in the early stage when you're creating a lot of these experiments and you have to think through like, how are we going to track this? We don't have numbers to like base it off or anything like that, that one is obviously a huge one, testing a fremium model cause there's like a lot of operational and sales stuff that goes with it, but really good lessons. I appreciate that. And then looking forward here in 2020, you mentioned you have a little bit of, you know, some tailwinds going on with stuff, but you know, it's an interesting year. Marketplace is all over the place, you know, do you see any new opportunities or maybe any challenges that lie ahead of you for the rest of the year?
There's definitely a lot of sales being more digital right now, which is an opportunity for people to get a CRM and, and digitalize it and automate it more. And for us it's interesting to sort of ride on that wave. And I think that's something that is only going to get more intense, especially as AI now reaches higher levels. I don't know whether you saw GPT3, for instance coming out. But there's a whole lot of things on the horizon where our software is going to become even more intelligent than it's currently is and that's certainly something we're looking at as we, well, we try to be an intelligence CRM that pulls data together and helps you. All these things will, will become much more exciting and in the near future I think.
I definitely agree. Yeah, it's a lot to look forward to. Very exciting kind of future here. And you're in a, definitely a good position. Just continue to hone in experimenting. And, you know, I think for both of us is just about being scrappy in our marketplaces and, and try to figure out what's working. But that's awesome. Excited for you guys. What I want to do now is I want to flip over to our lightning round questions. Just five quick questions that you can answer with the first best thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?
Yeah, let's go.
Alright. You got this. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
Validate quickly. Make sure you niche down well. I would definitely start from quite a narrow niche if you try today because what's, what's harder than ever nowadays is finding product-market fit. SaaS sort of exploding and there's there's solutions for everything. So make sure you go after very specific problem and market and validate for that.
I would have said the same thing. I feel that way. Absolutely. I think that's also because we're, you know, founders in a marketing role as well. So that makes sense. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
I think it ties back a bit to what I said earlier. The opportunity and data is becoming more and more exciting. And we'll need marketers that can deal with this. There's been talk about this for a long while now. But I think it's, it's, it's finally coming in a place where, where it's, where it's really true, where we really need people that can combine data, read data, think about it and use it to its fullest potential to create experiences and to track things properly, improve in ways that are possible today.
Yeah, absolutely. A lot of new opportunity there. What about a best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about marketing or growth?
The best thing is doing it. But then apart from that, I would recommend podcasts. Podcasts like this one. People that are actually busy with marketing and growth then to talk on those. While if you go online and you start Googling for how do I do this or that it's usually not written by people who actually do it. It's written by copywriters who read what other copywriters are writing which usually amounts to very silly advice. But if you get on, on podcasts like this one you hear from other companies, in this case you have a lot of SaaS companies coming on, which is great. If you have a SaaS company, you can learn from other SaaS companies. I'd recommend that above most other things. It's, it's also better than webinars where people have some prepared talk. I tend to feel that podcasts usually go deeper than, than, than other sources.
Yeah, definitely also more transparent a lot of times and just good (inaudible) on that stuff. That's a great answer. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
I think I would go Zapier. Zapier just runs so much in our business. Just anything I think of like, like I don't see myself spending any manual time on that, like doing this from there to there or updating this system or so. My first reflex is Zapier and over the last, I think I'm using Zapier for five years now, or is it six, five I think. I become a Zapier wizard. I really enjoy trying to build all kinds of stuff in there.
Oh yeah. Getting into that, into that editor and just creating those automations can be so funny, especially with multizaps and all that kind of stuff. So that's awesome. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today?
I think we're very aligned in terms of thinking with guys like at Intercom. We use thei products for dealing with our customer support and all that. And I like the way they think about software, the way they build up the product, the sort of different ideas they tend to take versus other software. The amount of detail they go in when they build something and the sort of empathy you feel when when a product is being built, these are all things that we try to do as well. And they, I think they do it really well. So I kind of admired them.
They're, they're a great company. Many of their books have been influential for us as well. A wonderful example for us all to learn from product marketing, everything just great language. Great positioning. So great answer. Jeroen I want to say, thank you so much for your time, for coming on and talking about Salesflare, and you have a really great perspective from both, you know, being that founder and early stage role to now here being so deep in the marketing experiments. So I really appreciate your time and thank you again for jumping on with us.
Yeah. Thank you. This was fun.
It was great. Thank you again. And we'll talk to you soon.