How marketing and sales can better use CRMs, with Jeroen Courthout

March 2, 2022


Jeroen Courthout, Co-Founder of Salesflare, joins the show to talk about how marketing and sales teams can better use their CRM tools. In this conversation you’ll learn:

  • why teams should focus on habits, not goals
  • how CRM usage can impact your customer data strategy
  • how to compete toe-to-toe with giants in your industry

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to the Digital Marketing Troop where we go in the trenches with marketing leaders and practitioners to help you learn more about digital marketing. I’m your host, John Tyerman. And I’m joined today by Jeroen Courthout, Co-Founder of Salesflare, an intelligent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software built for small to midsize businesses who sell to other businesses. And we’re here to talk about how marketing and sales teams can better use their CRM tools. Jeroen, how’re you doing today?

Jeroen Courthout:  I’m doing well and you, John?

John Tyreman:  I’m doing pretty good. Before we get into the meat of our topic, I’d love to ask you about an interview podcast and video series that you host called Founder Coffee. Can you share a little bit about that series and perhaps a recent interview our listeners should go check out?

Jeroen Courthout:  Essentially it’s a podcast. There’s no video really. I’ve done some of the podcasts like Life in a Facebook Group. But our Facebook group was a Facebook group for SaaS founders because that’s mainly what the audience for the podcast is. So Software as a Service founders, because these people are usually a little, how can I say, it’s a bit lonely to be heading such a company, and it’s good to hear from others who are doing it. So I sort of tried to put the spotlight on the person behind the company every time. How they spend their time, how they think about the things they do, what they keep up at night about like what the things they think about, how they organize their life, how to you know, all this kind of stuff, how they lead their company, maybe. Not really specific marketing techniques or so, but really the, the more personal kind of things. And if you check out any interview, there’s been a lot of big ones, so it’s a bit hard to select. The ones that I was most excited about was definitely Jason Fried. I was super excited about Rand Fishkin was also very nice. So Jason Fried is the one from Basecamp, Rand Fishkin, currently SparkToro, formerly Moz. And actually also Des Traynor of Intercom, I got excited about. But there are a lot of other good founders on there.  I was very lucky to be able to get in touch with a lot of  interesting people,

John Tyreman:  Listeners should go check out your podcast, Founder Coffee. Jeroen, let’s start here with our conversation at hand today. You contend that marketing departments should organize teams around habits, not goals. Why?

Jeroen Courthout:  What we saw is that when we just put numeric goals in front of ourselves, like we need to generate that many more leads, or we need to convert these leads that much better. Or if it’s about the product, we should lower the churn that much or things like that, it generally puts that sort of goal forward for the year, it generally does not pan out, Because you… it’s very vague. Unless you have a process really throughout the year to find out how you’re going to do it. And then even it’s very hard because you don’t know where you’re going to put your focus. And it might be that you just switch from the one approach to the other. Now we have built in the experimentation thing as well in our system, but what we do is basically we set forward these goals, and then we say like, where are we going to put consistent effort? What are the things we’re going to do on a monthly or maybe bimonthly basis? We define things on a monthly basis. But we can also say, it just happens every two months. What are these things that we’re going to do to bring us to these goals? Because we find that first, it’s much easier to track progress. We see that things are actually happening. Second, it sort of forces us to make some choices already upfront, not fully because some of these habits might also be on an experimental level. For instance, one of the things we do is  one growth improvement per month, which basically means that every month we are thinking about an experiment we can do to actually improve. It’s usually about conversion. And just defining that makes that we have to force ourselves to also go through this. And at the end of the year, we also measure ourselves by it. So we’re like, okay, this year, we said we were going to do 12, one per month, and we only had 10. So we sort of did okay, but it’s not what we set forward. And we see that if we do put that consistent effort forward and bring that input, then we also tend to see the output. So it just works better for us to actually do this translation as well.

John Tyreman:  Creating these habits creates a process or roadmap from getting to point A to point B. And without that process, there’s no way that you can be consistent, right? I was just actually, it’s funny, I was just thinking about this a few hours ago. And in content marketing, at least, if you think about consistency is a major key to success, right? But what does that really mean? Like if you unpack it, it’s optimizing the throughput of content through your production pipeline.

Jeroen Courthout:  Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s use that. And also set forward what you want to deliver, you can also build the right processes to make it happen, which is an additional advantage that you have. Once you define, I want to do this at this rhythm, it’s also way easier to make that happen. And it does not depend on sort of last minute, oh, now we have to do this. And you can make it all much more efficient.

John Tyreman:  It seems like it’s definitely much more of a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach, which can yield the peaks and valleys…

Jeroen Courthout:  And things like that also apply in sales. So even sales, for instance, you have a pipeline. And if you want to do it well, you don’t work in the beginning of your pipeline first. And then later on, when you close all these deals, and then start at the beginning again. No, you consistently push people through the pipeline. So consistently, you work on generating new leads. So if you put forward I want to have X leads every week, which requires me maybe it depends on the way your business works, to call Y amount of people, or to reach out via email sequences, whatever, it doesn’t matter. So you have this number. This is the amount of calls or emails, whatever that we’re going to place, we want to get out that many meetings, then you fill the beginning of your pipeline. Then for the end of your pipeline, you also define that every month, or every week, it  depends how many deals you close, I want to close that many. Then if you set that for like this, it will be way easier for you to keep your eye on the ball and to be able to keep that consistent deal flow. And it sort of half makes it unneeded to follow the predictable revenue model where you’re going to split this into different roles to be able to do that. I don’t know whether you’ve heard about how that works, or?

John Tyreman:  I’m familiar with revenue forecasting and creating a predictable revenue model. But if you want to unpack that, I’d love to hear your take on it.

Jeroen Courthout:  No, I’m talking about Predictable Revenue, the book.

John Tyreman:  Oh, no, I haven’t heard of that.

Jeroen Courthout:  Check it out. How the sales at Salesforce works. And what they essentially do to be able to have a stable consistent pipeline is they constantly hand over things in the sales process. So they have the SDRs that do the business development, then it goes to maybe someone does a lead gen, then someone else takes over to close the deal. And then someone else takes care of the existing customers. And you constantly do handovers and that way you can keep everything also rolling. But another way of doing it if you’re a slightly smaller company and you don’t have the resources to split it all up, is just to define very well what the habits are so people can organize themselves around like on a shorter time frame on making that happen in parallel.

John Tyreman:  I think all that all depends on the tools that you have in place to be able to manage those processes. So if you don’t have the right tools in place, I can see how that can be a bit unwieldy, especially if leads are coming in from different sources, you’ve got multiple different ideal customer profiles that you’re dealing with. Why do you think –  do you think it’s hard for people to use the tools that they have available to them? Do you think that marketers and salespeople are using the wrong kinds of tools? Why is that so hard sometimes?

Jeroen Courthout:  Yeah. Yeah, it’s a hard thing in software to find things that actually align to your processes and the way you want to organize them. But also things that can grow with you a little. And many people don’t even think about that question. Like, for instance, many people think like, okay, I need to organize my sales better, I just need a CRM. So they type CRM into Google, and then whatever the best one is, according to the list they’re looking at, is the one they’re going to use. That’s not really how it works. But like, we are lazy as humans, so we often make shortcuts, and we don’t think things through too much. And if somebody else says this is a great thing, then well, we’ll just use it without thinking whether, obviously, that CRM that you then choose fits within the CRM category. But within the CRM category, there’s, I think, if you go to, there’s 700 plus CRMs. So some of those might not necessarily be at the top of the list you’re looking at. And the one at the top of the list is probably the one that paid much to the owner of the site to be listed at the top anyway. But within the 700, there’s lots of different sort of kinds. And some of them are built for ecommerce companies, some of them are built for B2B companies, some of them are built for real estate, some of them are stronger at this aspect or that aspect. And if you know what you actually want to get out of it, just not a very difficult question to ask yourself. But if you ask yourself that question, say, okay, what is it I want to do? Do I want to follow up leads better? Well, that is already a very important insight, because then you can look for the CRM that makes it easiest for you to keep that going to follow up these leads in a better, more consistent way. You don’t just have to pick whatever is highest on the list you’re looking at.

John Tyreman:  I like your comment about sometimes we can be lazy when we go out and look for different tools like CRMs. And that’s so true, right? Especially in a world where marketers sometimes have a tendency to try to cover their ass, quite frankly. And if they’re investing in a tool that has social proof like, or the features like Salesforce or HubSpot, then they know that, “Hey, well, I we invested in this tool. It’s the tool. It’s not me.” Right? And so I can see how it can be easy to follow that path. But what you’re saying is that,  it’s harder, but we’ll set you up for more success if you truly understand your business and the tools that you’re investing in and how they relate to your business.

Jeroen Courthout:  Yeah, yeah. And that’s right, people will take the lazy choice and then externalize the reason. So they will not say it’s because I picked the wrong thing or didn’t set it up correctly or whatever. Like when I was doing customer interviews in the very early days of Salesflare, we thought about building a better CRM and I interviewed people and they’re like, “I don’t know, CRMs. It’s not really I mean, we got this CRM, and I don’t think it can really improve”, is what they told me. CRMs have improved a lot in the meantime, and there’s still a huge amount of room for improvement. But it’s the salespeople, they’re really lazy. If they would just use it, you know, it would be solved. And they wouldn’t then think about, well, why don’t the salespeople use it? What are the reasons behind that? Dig into that to figure out that maybe it’s because the software doesn’t really help the salespeople and there’s no real reason for them, or?

John Tyreman:  Well, it sounds like building the right habits can help increase usage of the software. Jeroen, I’d like to shift gears a little bit. At Silverback, the agency that I work for, we talk to clients all the time about the importance of first party data. And a lot of that information is stored within the CRM. I’m curious, from your perspective, how can companies use their CRMs to better understand their audience?

Jeroen Courthout:  It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. But the first thing, the main thing is having data. And what I generally advise people is not to make it complex, to make sure that… I mean the thing you’re gonna want to achieve is that sales people actually use the CRM. So if you’ve got to make things complex and happy, that’s already a problem. What you really need to look at is, whether there’s a reason first for people to use it, and do all you can to make sure that they do. So for instance, if you go look at, go look for a CRM, don’t just pick the one at the top of whatever, figure out first what you’re looking for. And then, and then go make a list. Think about, okay, these probably do what I want, then go to the sales team. Make sure that you, together, look at the different CRMs, have them try it. It will make sure that you’re more likely to pick one that they didn’t want to use. But also you’ll have their buy in, which helps. If you don’t have their buy in and you’re just choosing something for them and imposing it’s a totally different situation. And then third, think about how you can make it as easy as possible to know for them what to do and to do it also. So what a lot of people do is train their team on what the CRM does. That’s Google. But a CRM can do a lot of things. So you need to decide as a company together, how you’re going to use it. Because if everybody uses it just the way they think it should be used, then in the end,  what you’re asking for, like how you can get this information about your audience out of it, it will not be possible. So you need to align  how you’re going to use a CRM like, okay, this is for instance, very simple stuff like the sales pipeline, you have stages. What do these stages mean? What stages are we going to use? What does every stage mean? Which fields are we going to fill out? How do we fill those out? What does that mean? Every option we have here and all that. Not overcomplicate that, don’t add too many fields, because then salespeople will never end up using it. There’ll be like, whatever. And then if you get all this through, and you actually find something that works for you, you have your… it works for the salespeople, you have their buy in and you’ve built it all in such a way that they know how you’re using it together. And it’s not too complex, it’s easy and it works, then you actually have that data that you can start unlocking to answer all kinds of questions. And that can be on many levels. It can be what is the sort of customers we’re retargeting in which industries and countries are those for instance? And of those industries and countries, maybe, how many of those do we then close? Where are we better at closing? Or are we less good? You can start looking at which stages do they generally get stuck in? At which stages do we have a high drop off? You can see… what I said before. Like, where are they? If we get leads from the marketing team, which ones tend to be more qualified versus not. So we know better where the marketing probably can zoom in on a narrower audience, target better so that the sales team has better leads to work with. But all these sorts of things, well, like I said, it will never work if you don’t get the sales team to actually use it properly. So that’s where I would focus first.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, I guess I’m just trying to think of, obviously, you know, a use case is for marketing teams as well, right? So the CRM is a great place to analyze and export information about your customers and your prospects and your lost deals, your won deals. Looking at it by stage. That certainly makes sense. I like the idea of having that shared common language between your marketing and sales team. That way everyone’s on the same page. And keeping it simple. What fields do you absolutely need? And it sounds like if your goal is to use your CRM to learn more about your audience, and really segment your audience into different groups and look at what are the common characteristics between certain won deals, then you can do that. It sounds like though there needs to be, again, to your point, the habit of keeping data up to speed and salespeople knowing that entering in this data helps the marketing team in XY and Z way. It sounds like that this could be a way to build that bridge between those two teams and then align your team around a common goal.

Jeroen Courthout:  Yeah, aligning is extremely important. And it’s not… People shy away from it, because they just want to just get it over quickly and just add that field and this and that and don’t discuss with yours, or that’s, uh, people like to shortcut things. But it’s not that much more difficult to actually sit together and discuss it. Then, if you’re thinking about adding fields, it should be as difficult as possible to add extra fields. Because the more fields you add the less likely they’re actually going to be filled. And also that common language is essential to collaboration. It is essential to having quality data. If everybody knows what something means, then it becomes a medium of communication first. But secondly, it also allows you to look top down into things and to properly report. Because if you report on the data, and but for the one person that data means this and for the other person it means that, you cannot even go across different people like different opportunity owners, for instance, or salespeople, and the reporting at that point stops making sense.

John Tyreman:  Yeah. I’ve run into that issue too, where a lead means different things to different people. And that can cause major headaches from both the marketing and the sales and the leadership perspectives. So you’re in the CRM space, and you’re competing with giants yourself like Salesforce and HubSpot. I’m curious how have you been able to compete and take on with behemoths like that in your industry, and how can smaller companies do the same?

Jeroen Courthout:  I think it’s mostly about leaning into your strengths as a small company. One thing you can do better is keeping that connection with customers. There’s way less layers in your organization, between the product team and the customer. So use that to your advantage. It’s way easier to keep communication flowing in a small company than a big one. And also, in a big company, they need to upscale often many of these companies we’re competing with. They quickly have to scale their sales and support forces and all that. Which means that very often, the knowledge transfer there also hasn’t happened yet. So then communication even becomes more difficult. So on that level, knowing what customers want, being able to give them good service, actually help them out with issues are things we are way better at. What they’re –  obviously as a big company, they have all the resources. If they want to buy an ad there or there, they can. So that’s where we are really weak. We cannot easily be at the top of the Google ads. We can also, if you’re looking at, like for instance, if you, like I said, if you type best CRM into Google, that the thing you’ll most likely find at the top of the list is the person who paid the most or the company who paid the most. So that’s usually not going to be us. So, in there we will also, these are weaknesses. We need to see how we can cope with that. So in that sense, we will focus on things where you don’t just solve it easily with a bit of money. We will look at the things where you actually need to apply some effort and do that in an intelligent way. Figure out things, do it a bit smarter. That’s what we’ll generally do and that’s the way we’re able to compete in the end. If we would just compete head to head with what they’re doing, it would not end well.

John Tyreman:  Jeroen, I know we’re coming up on our time. And I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to come on our show. If folks wanted to connect with you and learn more, where should they go?

Jeroen Courthout:  If you want to learn more about Salesflare, is the best place. So it’s sales and flare: You can read about the software, you can check out our blog if you like. You can also check out the software of course, it comes with a seven day free trial which extends to 30 if you go through the setup steps.

John Tyreman:  Very cool. Well thank you so much for your time.

Jeroen Courthout:  Yeah, this was fun. Thank you.