After over ten years working with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, one thing sticks out. Whether you are introducing a new product, pursuing a new market, or starting an entirely new business: There aren’t good tools for helping with early sales—the hybrid work that spans both customer development and customer relationship management.
What was I doing for those ten years? Every level of sales work, from unpaid cold calling intern to President overseeing Sales and Marketing. Then I went out on my own as an independent consultant (my practice: Kenny Consulting Group, LLC), working alongside business owners focused on product market fit and closing early sales. I started a podcast for technical people who want to start their own business (hear here: Hello Blink Show).
Closing deals isn’t enough. In the early days, closing deals can even mislead you and be like a red herring. You want repeatability and similar customer stories to build something meaningful. The shortcomings of off-the-shelf CRM solutions (beyond spreadsheets, which is an entirely separate conversation), fall into three categories outlined below.
- Path Dependency: When you pick a platform, you pick all the choices they made about how you work. You don’t know where customers will come from. Ideally you can experiment between ways of selling, like outbound, inbound, and referrals.
- Naive Buyers: When you don’t know how you’re going to market, you will eventually learn about the differences in platform philosophies that manifest in features. When you’re ready to switch gears, it’s costly because you’re committed.
- Integration Ignorance: Beyond core functionality of the platform, what integrations are most important? Do you want to integrate with your email inbox or accounting software? What about payment processors? You don’t know yet.
Built Too Big
- Administrative Fatigue: Hello busywork, meant to help sales representatives stay on target and stay accountable to managers. Business owners don’t have time to update these fields. You know that you have better things to do.
- Up-Selling and Lock-In: Because these platforms are built for teams, they spend a lot of resources trying to up-sell new and more expensive features and lock you in to their platform. What you need is guidance to migrate later, when you’re ready.
- False Confidence: You don’t know enough to fill out fields like Close Date, Deal Value, and Industry. So you guess, do workarounds, try one thing and then try another. You don’t know enough to know these answers, yet.
- Preventing Pattern Mapping: Fields and categories are compartmentalized into Contacts, Leads, and Deals. There are not tools built to help with customer development and subsequent pattern matching. It’s all far too linear.
- Sales in Isolation: Related activities like fundraising, banking, and channel partnerships affect the financial growth of your business but aren’t taken into consideration. Sales is ultimately about cash flow and profit.
- Business Health: The standard kanban-style pipeline boards don’t reflect what it’s really like to grow business relationships or a business. Maintaining long-term relationships and other “atypical” activities are vital to gaining early traction but get shoe-horned in.
With that ten years of frustration out, let’s talk about what’s next. Intro CRM is going to be an independent company aimed at solving these problems. This means bootstrapping and funding growth from customers. Progressively, we’ll build a more sophisticated product and solve bigger problems in better ways. I’ll outline how in the weeks to come.
This project will remain a part of Kenny Consulting Group, LLC for the foreseeable future. I’ll be building the platform out, using it myself, testing it with clients, and finding interested new users. If successful, Intro CRM will likely spin out into its own company.
I want to help people start their own companies. Working for myself has changed my life and I wish it on anyone who’s up for the challenge. Gaining early customers is the essential first step and after doing this work in a highly manual way, I hope to build a tool that makes it easy.
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