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How To Do Things That Don't Scale to Uncover New Areas For Growth

Video Summary

You can’t do it alone. And marketing, sales, and customer success can’t either. You have to bring the pieces together, and Steli Efti is going to teach you how.


Steli Efti is the co-founder and CEO of Close.io. He’s Silicon Valley’s most prominent sales hustler, a YC alumni, advisor to several startups and entrepreneurs and the author of The Ultimate Startup Guide To Outbound Sales.

What you will learn?

  • Spot tactics and tools that you’re using just because of the fear of missing out but aren’t really benefiting you
  • Find traditional methods you could add to your current strategies that could help you gain more genuine customer insights

Steli Efti:
So I’m originally from Greece and I’m on time and these guys were like, we’re all running a little late so it’s your responsibility to get us back on the right time line. I’m like you guys are nuts. You got the wrong guy for the job. All right, so I’m going to, I’m going to give a very untypical talk today. It’s all going to be about things you don’t want to do or you should be considering if you really want to have sustainable high quality growth, right?

So first, show of hands. This should be most of you. Who has no fucking idea who I am? Just be proud and raise your hand. Yes. That’s what I need, my ego, you know, to stay grounded.

All right. Nobody knows who I am and doesn’t care but you guys are here anyway, so you like will stay in the room and see what happens next. So a little bit about myself and then we’ll dive right into the topic.

So I’m originally from Greece. I grew up in Germany. I dropped out of high school when I was 17 to start my first business and I’ve never had a real job ever since. When people ask me, why did you decide to be a serial entrepreneur? My answer is lack of options. I have no credentials. None of you would ever hire me for anything. So I had to build businesses and then hire myself.

So but most relevant most relevant for this room. About 10 years ago, I moved to Silicon Valley to start my first tech company. And about six years ago, I started a company that was called Elastic Sales. And what Elastic Sales was doing was we were developing sales models and sales processes and scaling sales teams for B2B companies that had raised venture money. And we’ve done that for over 200 venture-backed startups in Silicon Valley kind of figuring out how to sell and who to sell this new piece of technology to and how to scale that as quickly as possible. So we have an incredible amount of insights in what was going on, the troubles, the challenges, the problems that you kind of early stage startup have in terms of stimulating that growth.

And in the process of that, we built an internal piece of software to help our salespeople outperform other salespeople. The inside sales CRM called close.io that we eventually launched and then we went holy shit, this thing is actually really growing and it’s growing so much faster than the services business that you know, ultimately, oh wait, is this the picture I need to do some action shots? All right, cool. So she’s like really close to me. She’s taking all these pictures, might as well take advantage of it.

So this was the software that we launched kind of to see, hey, we think we’ve built something really amazing, but the CRM space is the most competitive space in software. When people ask me how did you strategically decide to get into the space? I usually say with using the power of no strategy, you know, we kind of just stumbled into it, honestly. And if today, my talk would have been all about why you should never go into a market with many, many dominant players and how that’s the horrible idea because we failed, that would have made total sense to me. But that kind of didn’t happen. We succeeded, we’ve grown, we are highly profitable, many, many millions in revenue and we’re the tiniest team in CRM. We’re just 25 people, fully remote, but we’re crushing it like we’re crushing the competition. That is the smallest competitor to us is a company that has 250 employees and we have more revenue than them and profits but whatever. Thank you one person. I appreciate you.

All right, so enough about me. So I know, I know a little bit about sales and marketing. Those are kind of my superpowers as an entrepreneur. But especially I can tell you how to compete effectively, you know, market that’s incredibly competitive and crowded with a lot less money in any kind of resources than them. And this is going to be all what my talk is about.

Actually my, the main piece of advice that I give, I travel around the world. I give a lot of these keynotes. And you could summarize my advice is always comes down to some very basic shit. My, if you, if this was like a losing weight convention and I was a speaker, my talk would be if you want to lose weight, eat broccoli and work out motherfucker. That’s it. We all know what we need to do to be healthy like eat good shit and like move your body around. It’s not that fucking hard. It’s the basics.

The problem is we don’t want to do that shit. I don’t want to eat broccoli. It stinks. It doesn’t taste well, and I don’t want to have to move my fucking body around. It’s effort. I’m gonna sway just I don’t want to do the easy solution, the basic logical one, hence, I’m looking for a nicer solution to my problem. That’s why there’s millions of books, personal trainers is a massive industry, teaching people how to lose weight. Why? Because the answers we all know already are inconvenient answers. That’s all I’m going to offer you today. What I’m going to tell you to do will make perfect sense, will not be new, but it’s something you don’t want to do. I want you to look into that signal. If at any point, I tell you to do something, you go, probably makes sense, but I really don’t have the time then that’s what you have to do if. Can’t? You must. If you don’t want it, if it doesn’t feel comfortable, that’s where the potential for growth is. When we’re talking about growth, growth is anywhere you’ve not been yet. Everything you’ve mastered, there’s not going to be any big growth potential that. You have to go outside your comfort zone to discover new areas of growth. Does that make sense? This is yes, this is no, this is I still don’t care about you. Just trying to answer my emails. All right.
All right, let’s move on. So. Oh, yeah, and I have a podcast. If you like podcasts, if you really like to listen to smart people. Hiten Shah is one of the best marketing minds in the world. He’s a very good friend of mine. Twice a week, we release a podcast you’re going to find it, thestartupchat.com. Yeah twice a week, 20 minutes, highly actionable shit from the two of us.

All right. So the only reason to give a fucking talk is to change the world. When I talk about changing the world, I think that it’s a little bit of a skewed definition that, our interpretation is fairly skewed because we think changing the world means changing every single human’s life. Like if I don’t, if it doesn’t have scale, if I don’t change five billion people’s lives, my life had no purpose. Bullshit. All I need to do is change one person’s life. All I need to do is make one of you do something you wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t talked and this was worth it to me. Right? Unfortunately not all of you are going to do what I’m telling you to do. Fortunately, some of you shouldn’t. But the whole point here is to take action. Right? And all I want you to do is to make a decision. Am I going to take action on something? And if the answer is yes, ask yourself. Can I do it today? But it’s Friday and I’m at a conference. All right. Can I do it on Monday? How can you do this as quickly as possible because by Tuesday, you’ve forgotten all this shit. Makes sense? Yes? No, will trade this all time, you know all the dirt right? Thank you.

All right, let’s move on. So here’s my big message to you. If you think about the marketplace today, maybe some of you have noticed this already. It’s getting more and more fucking competitive. And this has been the case forever. Like, if you look especially in software, like there’s a million fucking competitors and the problem is they’re all doing the same shit you’re doing. So acquiring customers is more expensive. Doing content marketing is more crowded. Doing like, every place you can find as a marketer to talk to get to your customers is more and more crowded which means it’s getting less effective and it costs more money. And the value and exchange that the customer gets for all the even features, including product development. The incremental perceived value per edit feature is going down because the customer’s just like all these other tools just keep adding more and more and more fucking features.
Did anybody have any kind of, have you guys experienced that at all? That it’s just getting tougher and tougher to really stand out? Yes, thank you. All verbal also goes, if you know, this is too much effort to just go. Yes. All right, so if you try to compete on tactics and strategies and places, where do I market and how do I use, you know, how do I use trickery to trick people into my trickery funnel? If you’re always chasing that it’s going to be a tough road ahead.
The best way to generate growth is to have real customer insights. Whoever understands the customer best will ultimately own the relationship. If your competitors understand your customers better than you do, they will eventually have them as their customers. It’s as simple as that. So all you have to do to be able to really grow and compete successfully into the future is to have more customer insights than your competitors. To have better and more intimate customer insights than anybody else who’s competing with you in the same way.

Now you know, we all, if you’re in marketing, if you’re about, if you’re all about growth, if you’re trying to make something explode, we all have fomo, right? There’s even a company that’s called fomo. My, what I’m going to tell you has nothing to do with them, they’re probably awesome. But the point of this is we are all walking around and part of this conference is all about like fear of missing out. What’s our tactic? What’s this new strategy that I don’t know? Who is this person that’s more successful than me? I’m missing out on all of the amazing you know, genius that they have. I need to get all this insight. I can’t miss out. There was oh shit there’s a new Snapchat this that and the other and maybe if I’m not on it, I’m going to lose my career and we’re never going to have growth. Like we’re constantly stressed out about everything we don’t know and everything new that’s happening that we’re about to miss. That is if the majority does this, how likely is it that this is a great strategy to success in life. Right? Not very likely if the majority, if you realize that everybody is in this boat, it’s probably the wrong fucking boat to be on.

So I what I want to inspire here, what I want to ask you to do is to stop having the fear of missing out and start having the fear of missing touch. You don’t know who you’re and when I say customers and you are in the end consumer space. Just put user in there. It’s the same fucking thing, right? You don’t know your customer well enough. You don’t understand your customer well enough and the more and more you’re chasing the shortcut, the hack, the scalable thing and all that cool shit, the more you’re dividing the space between you and your customer, right?

The fear that I have every single day, every new employee we hire in our business, the thing that terrifies me the most is that this person has very little customer insight, understands that customer very little. So are we diluting our level of intimacy to our customer? Am I going to hide all these people and eventually we’re all a huge business that has no fucking idea about our customers. You know why close.io is successful, why we succeeded at all in a space that we should have had no chance of succeeding? It was because we understood our customer better than our competitors. That’s it. That’s the only reason. So we built something that hit a nerve with them better than anybody else that had done it and we were able to market to them in a way that spoke to them more than anybody else. We just, we thought we understand the customer better because we were an underserved customer ourselves.

So all these tactics, all these strategies, all this shit that we use to scale and to grow our businesses has an implied danger of creating distance between us and our customers, right? We’re outsourcing, we’re automating, we’re hacking, we’re embodying AI. You know how many startups I meet every day that now just put AI in front of everything? It’s all A with no I. I’ve yet to see I anywhere. It’s all bullshit. Right? It’s all bullshit. But it’s like fomo, oh shit, I’m not going to raise money if I’m not AI. I’m not gonna get press if it’s all not AI. Let’s just add AI to all our slides and boom we’re going to have growth. Bullshit. Until machines buy software from other machines, machines will not take over marketing and selling. Until that, until it’s just two computers talking to each other making all decisions, you, your humanity still has a place in the marketplace, right?

So the antidote to that distance with distance meaning like losing touch with a customer meaning you don’t understand their problems. You don’t understand who they are. You don’t understand what they care about, you don’t understand how they think and when you miss touch, all that shit you do is just wasted. And because it’s not working as well and because more and more people doing the same shit you do because they have the same little knowledge about the customers as you because they also just read that Medium post about how I got to a hundred million email subscribers in 10 minutes you know using SnapChat. Because they all do the same fucking shit and all copy the same stuff and don’t get it, don’t get the customer. The problem is that now you have to do more of that stupid shit, right? We all compensate when something doesn’t work, just do more of it. And we that just like let’s double the budget that’s going to solve the problem. Right? So we’re all headed in this direction that I think is fairly stupid right? Again, like all A, no I. And the way to win and to create growth as sustainable. I’m not talking about like hey, we want to all get buffed up. Let’s take steroids. That’s a short hat to being buff. You still have to work out unfortunately, right? There’s no pill you can take and you’re boom, buff.

But even if you do something that like inspires unnatural growth really really quickly, the question is, what happens when you stop doing that? You get man tits. You get, you know, all these health issues. It’s not natural. So it’s not good. And I’m only interested in growth that will sustain. Right?

So the antidote to all that stupidity is customer intimacy. The problem about intimacy is that it’s scary. It is scary. Being intimate means caring. Being intimate meaning, means that you have to be close to the people that you’re serving. Means that you have to listen to them. Means that when they reject you, you’re going to see it, hear it, feel it. All this shit sucks. It’s much better to put the landing page up, you know and spin off the AdWords campaign and then see up. Well, we got a hundred thousand clicks and we got 20 people to give us their email. Not bad for a first test. Right? That’s much easier to do than to go to 20 people and get 15 to tell you you suck. And they don’t get what you’re doing.

So here are four ways to drive customer intimacy. And again, none of this shit is something you’ve never heard before. None of this is like a brilliant or new, but I guarantee you, most of this are things you would never consider doing. And even when you want to do it, you’re not going to want to do it. It’s the same thing with me and teaching this and I don’t want to do this shit. Honestly. One part of why I’m talking about is a force function for me to do it. Right?

So I’m going to give you a few examples of how to be closer to the customer to drive true insights on who they are, how they think, how they talk or problems they have, what kind of channels really drive them so you can be part of that journey.

First of all you want to observe them. So I talked about the landing page thing and this somebody that’s supposed to give me the time, I’ve never seen, maybe I’m ignoring that person five minutes ago. All right. So, you know the landing page example that I said, you know, we want to test this new idea. Let’s put together a landing page. Let’s buy some traffic. Then let’s see what the conversions. Send out a survey and have people click on things. That’s all cool. But how about taking a fucking laptop with whatever the fuck you want to do and you go to a Starbucks coffee shop, you know and you tell people hey, I’m going to buy you the next coffee if you give me three minutes to look at what we’re building or our marketing campaign. And just explain to your friend here what it is and how it works and what we’re trying to accomplish. There’s no better antidote to all our stupidity like there’s no better medicine to our stupidity than reality. Right? You turn around your laptop you and then just look at their face. They might be saying, so here’s the thing. They might be if you ask them in an e-mail the more distance you are the less context you have. So in an email, I might have clicked on something, right? Oh, they got a click they like it. No survey. I might have clicked. Yeah, this kind of makes sense. But when you turn around the laptop and you see on their face, they go. Oh. Yeah, I like it. Does that matter? Did that give you some kind of a different answer to what’s going on than the yes, I like it click? Or just the click. You see people so I see sometimes people they’re like, what is this? They just click. That click is not I love it, I get it, I totally understand it, do more of this. Their click is there’s a button here. I don’t know fucking what is this maybe if I click the button it’s going to explain to me what’s going on. There’s no better antidote than seeing the frustration the confusion in people’s minds.

Tell them to tell their friend what you’re trying to do. Ooohhh, this hurts. You need to shut the fuck up when they speak. This is not the time for you to tell them what it is. It is not the time for you to convince them. This is time for you to learn from them. Hey, can you tell your colleague what we’re doing? Well, I think that there are, I don’t know, they’re doing something about. In the marketing and sales, they’re doing a sales and it’s a marketing sales thing. Ooh, that hurts. That hurts. It’s good medicine. Good med. This is healthy. It needs to hurt. It means it’s working. You stupid ideas are leaving your head and you’re facing reality. Right? Go back and fix it.

Talking to customers. Here’s an embarrassing story. I’m like one of the main people that are shouting on the internet to people. Fucking talk to your customers. Pick up the phone and call them and talk to them. And we did and we did a small marketing campaign and I’m talking to my friend Noah Kagan, who knows Noah Kagan? You know him? Fairly famous, he’s a cool guy. So I’m like Noah, we did this marketing campaign and we didn’t have all the analytics in place. So we don’t really know where all these people truly came from although we did this campaign. How the fuck do I rectify this? He’s like, well Steli, you guys ask for a phone number when they sign up right? I’m like, yeah, it’s like. Well, how about you fucking call them and ask them? I’m like, all right, I’m hanging up. It’s not, nothing further to talk about here. Like just cop, like when people do email campaigns, they send emails and then they’re just waiting for the people that replied to talk to them. Or they’re just talking to the people, you know, the whole like notification when somebody opened the email and now you’re not talking to them. I’m going to talk to the motherfuckers who didn’t open the email. And even though people that opened the email, when you’re at the beginning of the campaign, don’t just call and go, I saw you got my email and I wanted to, don’t sell immediately. How about checking in? Hey, I sent you an email you responded before we go into what we’re doing, I have a quick question. I’m so curious. What made you respond to that email? I’m sure you’re getting hundreds of emails every day. What made this email stand out? Why did you feel compelled to respond to me. Learn from your customers. Don’t just sell and market to them. Even if you are at scale.

Here’s the dangerous thing. When you’re in the beginning of this, all you should do is constantly trying to learn from them. But even if you have scale, even at our point where it’s millions and millions in revenue, where lots of customers, we have to every quarter go back into unscalable shit. Slow shit, one-on-one shit, to relearn. Do we still understand our customers? Because the world is changing, they’re changing. We are changing. This shit that we learned four years ago when we launched is not frozen in time forever, right?

So that’s why most startups never succeed because they don’t have any insights and the companies that do succeed, they fail later on because they lose touch with their customer. They lose touch with reality. Don’t be one of them.
Meet people. This is the hardest thing for me ever. Visiting customers in their natural habitat, in their office watching over their shoulder as they using my software. Nothing better for all my stupidity than that. Anytime I schedule a customer visit, I really don’t want to go the day off on my car. My God, why did I do this? I’m gonna have to leave my office and I have to take the Uber and then I have to drive there and there and it’s gonna eat my fucking day and I’ve all this other shit to do like reply to all these emails, tweets. And not a single time have I ever left the customers office, not think, if I was religious thinking about like I should get on my knees and pray to God and be like, thank you for this visit for all the lessons I’ve learned and please give me the strength to keep visiting my customers. Honestly, it’s not a single time I visited a customer where I was not like, oh my God, I need to do this more. Right? But it’s hard to do. It’s friction. It takes time. That’s why it’s so valuable. You visit your customers meet up with them. We’re not everywhere. I go around the world. We do customer meetups. We did one in New York. We did one in Berlin. We did one everywhere. I got you. I told you I’m Greek. I’m sorry. I’m trying my best. This is as fast as I could go.

Conferences. Would you see more and more companies that do conferences earlier and earlier in their development. Back in the day. If you’re not like an IPO business, you’re not doing a user or customer conference. Now, you raised 100k and you’re throwing a conference you know. Why? If you do it, right? It’s because you need to be close to the customer and then I know training consulting and supporting people that’s not marketing’s job and that’s not fancy. That’s not cool. It’s not scalable, you’re like we’re not in the training business. We’re not in the consulting business. Do it because again, it’s an amazing source of insights. Train your customers and some of the core problems they have and learn from them. Consultant. Do some consulting here in there and see what issues do they have beyond just your software. Support them. Have marketing beyond support a few days a week or have the support team give you like the five most horrible most amazing cases of like support exchanges with our customers. The verbiage they use. The problems they have. All these things will generate massive insights. All I want you to do is pick one way for this month for you. Not your company. Not your neighbor. Not somebody else. You to have more intimacy with the people that you’re serving. Speak one thing and then if you do it, send me an email about it. You’ll make my day, you’ll make my month.

And if you’re like, I can’t get enough of Steli, I have a bundle with all my fucking books. It’s actually six now. Six books, 14 templates, everything I know and I try to teach all bundled together in one thing. Shoot me an email, subject line ‘bundle motherfucker’ to steli@close.io. And this is it for me. Thank you so much everybody. Yeah. All right.

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