Just checking out what’s under the hood (image source: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/gedney/med/KY0344.jpg)
So I’ve mentioned powerful systems like Salesforce in the past many times, but truth be told, I had never actually stepped foot in the Salesforce platform. However, when it comes to a CRM, it’s the go-to system. Heck, many of the DC Companies (David Cummings’/ David Cummings-backed) are built with Salesforce in mind – Rivalry for leaderboards and sales coaching [of record], SalesLoft for prospecting, etc.
When I speak to startups these days about Biz Dev roles, curiously, many tout the need for Salesforce experience. This has always been a… well, “curious” thing to me, but I get it. I was once in the Management Consulting world, and I know someone with SAP experience can get up and running much faster than someone without. However, Salesforce isn’t as ridiculous as SAP. Or at least, so I thought. I mean, again, I had never experienced it. My logic was rooted more or less in the many articles, talks, and even YouTube videos I had seen of Salesforce. I always questioned why Salesforce was a “needed skill” rather than a “nice to have”.
Yesterday, I took the first half of my day and spent it at Atlanta Tech Village to “play” in one of my friend’s company’s instances to learn more about Salesforce. I can’t keep preaching about it without having some experience, right? Okay, here are some take-aways.
  • The foundation of Salesforce is built on Leads, Accounts, Opportunities, and Contacts. In fact, check out a quick intro via Rivalry’s blog—“Leads, Accounts, Opportunities, and Contacts in Salesforce: The Basics”.
  • Re-packaged and glorified spreadsheets and Outlook in one. That is to say, when you play with Salesforce, you can quickly see how Salesforce grew so fast because it really is Excel and Outlook repackaged. In the end, many sales people started with cruder products earlier and Salesforce’s structure, the reminders, etc. were familiar already.
  • It’s massive, but also not so. Salesforce reminds me a lot of web templates you can get off the internet (think: ThemeForest). That is, you buy a template, and you get a ton of great features, CSS files, JavaScript, etc. However, you will likely scrap most of it anyways, and focus on a few core pieces relevant to you.
  • You can see its earlier “Big Platform” cloud beginnings. Marc Benioff (Salesforce’s Founder) is a former Oracle Exec. When you click around Salesforce, you can see very similar UI/ UX as some of the other big platform players like Oracle and SAP. Not originally Oracle, but I see similarities with Oracle’s Agile PLM, SAP eSourcing, etc. (full disclosure: I played with these systems three years ago).
  • Salesforce’s power is its core + all the third-party apps. Salesforce is #winning and killing it by being simple, and also the system that holds the data. At the end of the day, it’s hugely simple in concept, and what makes it powerful is integration to other powerful apps through its App Exchange like Rivalry, SalesLoft, Tinder Box, ToutApp, etc.
  • Salesforce is still cumbersome. The opportunity is automating/ mechanizing it. I love tools like those mentioned above, but especially Voxa. Everything Salesforce does, I was doing already in my own setup with spreadsheets. I could make it more powerful with notifications and the like, but really, that’s all it was. As I did Biz Dev for Body Boss and others, the biggest pain in the rear, and ultimately what makes Salesforce powerful is the data that is inputted. From this standpoint, every CRM is still annoying… until you can automate logging events like contact history, adding leads/ contacts, etc. That’s where tools like Voxa which can automatically log your activities and even detect human language to schedule follow-ups that much more powerful. You get around the biggest pain!
  • There are better tools, but they integrate to Salesforce, too. You really don’t need much time in Salesforce to see where it could improve. However, like I said in the bullets before, there are tools that are better and can MAKE Salesforce better. For example, as a pipeline tool, I’m visual guy, and I don’t see Salesforce’s Opportunities list as a great tool. It really just looks like a list. PipeDrive, however, is a much better, visually-oriented tool to manage your pipeline. Luckily, it, too, can integrate to Salesforce.

Obviously the above didn’t just come out of three hours, and okay, maybe I’m not an expert. Some of these were notions I had coming into the learning sessions, but were reinforced. Can’t say anything was dispelled other than Salesforce is really, really easy. I know during my three hours I didn’t play with every module, and maybe one day, I’ll get that opportunity in MY OWN instance. Or, maybe I’ll be a part of simplifying Salesforce into another CRM startup. (Okay, that made me laugh because there are several others that do a decent job.)

At the end of the day (or morning, rather), Salesforce IS powerful. It’s powerful because it’s simplified the structure of customer relationship (seems very sales focused, but not necessarily account management focused, but maybe that’s just the instance I was using) and enabled others to pick up the slack via the App Exchange. They’re really the big platform that profits, but also gives others including startups a chance to build businesses, too, off them. It’s a great ecosystem.
Salesforce is one of those simple tools that doesn’t need to be a “MUST HAVE SKILL” for a sales role. It’s simple enough that anyone can get started very quickly in the matter of hours. At least for me, I’ve seen the beast, and it’s really just a tiny rabbit with a big shadow. It’s not daunting, and I’m glad I got to spend a few hours in a Salesforce user’s shoes. 
The worlds of sales and marketing are changing so much and so fast. With the explosion of technology over the last several years and the lower barriers to entry into starting businesses and the like, customers “have the power” – borrowing from the famous “Porter’s 5 Forces” (thank you, MBA!).
When I think about what I do, I don’t niche myself to sales or marketing or the other “business” aspects. I say I’m in Business Development. Breaking it down that’s “business” and “development”; as in, I develop business…  directly contributing to the growth of the business. So for me, sales and marketing, in particular, are just facets of what I do. Especially in my area of interest of technology and SaaS, lines blur but my general tactical and strategic tasks fall in business development.
Jon Birdsong, CEO of local Atlanta-based Rivalry, recently made the comment over dinner, “salespeople are mini-marketers”. He and I are in alignment that these days, salespeople are really becoming their own marketing machines especially as marketplaces are becoming inundated with products.
(My view is that the world will continue down this path till Buyers have so much power that they start dictating more niche products, thereby eating away at the potential profits. Cue: market exit and consolidation. You’re hearing it from me.)
Anyways, I recently spoke to a buddy of mine who runs several car dealerships, and I was sharing with him the marketing startup I’m currently more-or-less consulting with as a business development guy.  He spoke how they largely market on 3 tiers, at least for his major brand:
  • Tier 1 – The Brand’s National (or international) campaigns. What’s happening nationally? This is all brand-based, and it’s necessarily to drive people into dealerships. Think: Superbowl commercials.
  • Tier 2 – The Brand’s Regional campaigns. This can be regional like the Southeast, or more local-driven like campaigns for Atlanta-area dealerships. These campaigns do try to bring in consumers down the funnel.
  • Tier 3 – The Dealership-Level campaigns. These can be specific commercials or even print media (print? Yes, print) to drive consumers to a specific dealership.

In startups and in particular for business development, I don’t necessarily think I’ve operated in more than two tiers so far. Again, I’m waiting for one of the startups to go big… we’ll get there! However, these are some major efforts where we’ve played in the tiers.
  • Building the brand (Tier 1). With Body Boss, we eventually wanted to go into B2C after more traction in the B2B space, but we consistently published material like blogs, social media posts, and the like to establish ourselves as thought leaders and connectors in strength and conditioning.
  • PR in startups (Tier 1). It’s highly doubtful our target audience of strength coaches were going to be visitors to design and creative websites like awwwards.comor were going to visit techno-blogs like nibletz.com. However, we wanted to continue to build our brand even in those spaces – you never know who knows who. All that, of course, should be secondary to driving PR in the relevant industry of your target audience. Reaching out to the experts and connectors (like major publications, LinkedIn groups, professional organizations) will be the primary tool for PR in driving your brand’s existence to then drive sales.
  • SEO and SEM for drive inbound marketing (Tier 1/2). – This is kind of a mix, but the general thought here is that especially with technology, the world is “local” or at least “regional”. The most important element is driving potential consumers into and further down the sales funnel. This is where good content like through blogging and guest writing experts can lead many in.
  • Tradeshows and conferences (Tier 2). If you can obtain a list of the conference attendees, you can send out a nice little message that can be more of your larger campaign (maybe Tier 1). Otherwise, on the conference floor, your goal is to introduce your brand to everyone there who could be interested in your offering. I love these for many reasons, but in general, if done right, you can get a lot of people started and down your funnel quick. Your drive shouldn’t be to make the sale then and there, but to set up an appointment later.
  • Business Developers/ Salespersons (Tier 2/3). I was tempted to just write salespeople because that’s in many ways the goal here, right? To make sales? Make money? Anyways, as a sales person, I’m constantly making cold calls and emails (and tweets, etc.). My method is very different than that of my CEO’s, so for me, I can definitely see the “dealership-level” type of strategy where I’m creating my smaller marketing initiatives aligning with the larger brand’s, and then trying to get prospects in the door. And hopefully, a handshake to move forward, of course.
  • Random pitches (Tier 1/2/3). Okay, so maybe not the formal definition of “pitches”, but everytime you walk out your door and speak about your company, you’re doing some marketing activity. Sometimes, it’s a complete stranger who sees your shirt and is intrigued – could he/ she be a potential buyer? Maybe someone with a good connection? Or maybe even an investor? You never know who you’re going to meet.

Salespeople are quickly becoming marketing gurus in themselves, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, I see more salespeople becoming more and more critical to not only drive new business, but to maintain these relationships beyond the first sale in this increasingly fragmented, saturated market of technology and SaaS companies. And with the cut-throat, perhaps negative light most people see or hear “salespeople”, I definitely prefer the moniker of “Business Development”.
As a business grower and developer, I’m constantly refining my marketing message to drive more interesting conversations with potentials, and then using sales techniques to convert latent needs into more active needs. In startups, as a business developer, you’ll need to work and think on all 3 tiers when it comes to development.
What are your thoughts on sales and marketing for startups? How do you operate in 3 or more (or less) tiers?