CRM is rapidly evolving to reflect trends like social and cloud, but when it comes to making sales, nothing is more important than solid core CRM functionality. This is the philosophy of ClaritySoft CEO Steve Schade, who joined us recently to talk about his company’s focus on delivering a powerful, intuitive CRM, unburdened by superfluous features.
LOCATION: Dublin, OH
Our mission is to deliver a CRM product that is easy-to-use and intuitive enough that the everyday user can easily adopt it and get productive with it very quickly. Our mission is to deliver something that goes in fast, gets widely adopted fast, and delivers real value more rapidly than what the big guys offer, where it can take a whole IT staff to come in with lots of money and lots of planning to execute.
My background has always been technology sales, and I’ve been doing that for close to 20 years. I got into the whole creation of a CRM system because I’ve used many different CRM systems in the past and always found them inadequate to some degree, kind of complicated and not so intuitive. So I started off creating a CRM system for myself.
The idea for the project goes all the way back to an e-mail I received. I was a sales guy and I got an email from one of our marketing people that basically said, “Hey sales team, we’re having a webinar in three weeks and you need to go out and contact all of your customers and prospects who have the following characteristics.” We had a really expensive CRM system. A big one. And there was no way that I could go out and do some kind of search that would deliver a result of all of my customers who had those characteristics. I basically had to go through and one at a time look at them and figure out who should receive this email. It was a big, long process.
And at that point it dawned on me that there’s got to be a better way to do this stuff, because sales guys need to these types of tasks all the time. I need to be able to look into a system, check off a bunch of characteristics, find everybody who meets that criteria, and then be able to send them an email with just a couple of clicks, in less than one minute. And so that’s when I kind of said, “Okay, I’ve got to start doing something here.”
So I basically started off with a pen and paper and began drawing what I thought the interface should look like, just sort of running some use cases in my mind. For instance, “I need to look up somebody. I need to get a list of people. I need to be able to very easily send them all an email.” And so I sort of drew up everything. I just drew up all the pictures of these different screens, put them in PowerPoint, and then I kind of started thinking, “Well, hey. I’ll go out and I’ll have a developer build this.”
So I created a spreadsheet and basically said, “This button does that. This button does this,” and sort of went right down and basically put together a spec sheet for the application. And, at that time, it was fairly simplistic. So I took it out and there was a service out there that allows you to basically post your project and get bids from people all over the world. So I got about 25 bids. I chose a developer to build it for me and they started building it. And at that time, it was still just a hobby for me. I wanted to create something that would make my life a lot better as a sales guy—something I would want to use.
So we have four sales reps on our team. We have two people in support. And I’ll talk about support in a moment, because we have this concept of simplicity. It’s really good for our customers, but it’s really good for us, too. Because the product’s so easy to use that we get fewer support calls. They’re like the Maytag guy waiting for support calls. Anyway, so we have two people in support and we have about six developers working on the product now because we’re doing major investment in the product.
So for the most part we go after small to medium-sized businesses—ideally involved in B-to-B activities—that need to keep track of all their accounts, contacts, opportunities, etc. So they’re working with their pipeline and they need to create quotations and things like that. So there selling widgets, perhaps, and they can go in there and pick a bunch of products, create a quotation, and send that out very easily.
We don’t target any specific industries—we’re a little bit general in terms of how we approach the market. We’re going up against Microsoft, Sugar CRM, and Salesforce, and those guys are sort of your generalists, as well. Though we beat them on a daily basis because some of the fundamental concepts that make ClaritySoft so good.
Well, you know, when companies go out and look at a lot of different CRM systems, the process is they get contacted by a bunch of CRM vendors or they contact the vendors, they go through a series of demos and a lot of times, by the time they get to ClaritySoft, they’ve looked at all the major players and their heads are kind of spinning. Right?
So they’ve looked at all these different products and they’re pretty complex to try to grasp, “How am I going to make this work in our company?” And then when they get to ClaritySoft and they see the software, they kind of look at it and go, “Oh. This makes sense. I can wrap my head around this. This is easy.” I’m involved in a lot of sales opportunities and that is the thing that sticks out to me the most. They would get to us and go, “Oh. This makes sense to me. This is intuitive.”
So really what sets us apart from everybody else out there is the simplicity, elegance, and intuitiveness of our product.
Well, I look at the CRM space a little differently. You’ve got a lot of big players out there who are trying to beat down the path of the CRM space. Right now in particular they are trying to create this social CRM and define the market.
And so these companies are saying, “This is where the market is going.” And sometimes when I look at that I feel like, “You know, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I don’t know if there’s real value in all of those things that these companies talk about. I’m not sure if those are great things for our customers.” It sort of falls under that hype category, where its, “This is where it’s going and you need this for your company.” And when you actually get down to it, you go, “Well, I don’t even know how I’d use this technology in my company.”
What ClaritySoft focuses on are those things that we know will not go away. For example, I will always need to capture all of my account, contact, and opportunity information in one place. I need that. Let’s say I’m a sales guy. I need those things, so if I’m going to be a better sales person, I will always need a very intuitive tool that doesn’t slow me down, that I can access even if I don’t have an internet connection. I need something that’s available to me all the time that I can leverage to know what I should be working on right now.
Activities is another big one. I need a way to keep track of my to-dos, what I finished, what I need to do—these are things that sort of frontline people do all day long. Those are what I call, “The Basics.” So ClaritySoft knows that the basics are not going away. We’ll always need those things.
I know this isn’t cutting edge stuff that I’m telling you right now, but the truth of the matter is some of these big vendors are saying, “This is where we’re going,” and they’re putting stuff up there that has us scratching our heads going, “Is this what I need to sell more?”
Our customers want a system that’s very intuitive, very easy to learn, and that’s going to help them manage more leads and more opportunities, and close more deals. And a lot of the big players out there are not that.
So somebody might look at ClaritySoft and go, “Oh, that’s an interesting perspective that you have, but where will you be in five years?” Well, we’ll be delivering that real value that customers need in an intuitive and easy package.
We’ll be taking advantage of the latest and greatest technologies, but we’re not going to put a bunch of functionality into a system that most companies don’t need and maybe will never use. That’s always been our focus. Cutting out a lot of that unnecessary noise in and of itself makes the product much easier because you can look at ClaritySoft and sort of say, “Okay. I see all the different functionality that you have and it’s intuitive enough where I can actually wrap my head around it and imagine how I can roll it out in my company.”
That’s a little philosophical, but it’s kind of one of those things where when you got a president or an executive manager trying to make a decision for their company, they know their company very well. Now they have to go look at a piece of technology and map how that functionality is going to work in their world. But if they look at a really complex product that does everything, lots of stuff they don’t even need, it’s very difficult for them to wrap their head around that technology and say, “How are we going to use that in our company.”
With ClaritySoft, when they look at it they go, “I know what this product does. I can wrap my head around it. I’ve seen all the different things that it does and how it does it, so it makes it very attainable for them. They’re able to say, “I know my company. I know that technology. I can make these two work together very well.” And again I know that’s kind of philosophical, but in the heads of the decision makers it makes it easy to choose ClaritySoft.
So our absolute biggest challenge right now is mind share. Not enough people know about ClaritySoft. We’re a company that’s growing organically right now. So we’re taking our sales and we’re investing that money to continue to grow the company and we are currently not a funded company, although we’re in some discussions now, but the current growth path is a little bit slower because we can’t advertise and invest as much money as some of our bigger competitors. But of those companies who do find us, we have a very high close ratio. So that is our biggest challenge.
And the other challenge falls in the same category as a how much can you invest in technology? You have the same challenges, right? We’re taking our revenue and we’re using that to make the company grow from a technology and from a research and development standpoint, as well as a marketing and sales standpoint. So that’s our biggest challenge. Now, I’ll take that to one of the things that makes ClaritySoft sort of unique is that remember we focus on the basics and we do them really well. We create a simple package that’s very intuitive, which is good for our customers, but it’s really good for us, too. I mentioned this earlier, but when it comes to the simplicity of the product, we use a process that gets our customers up and running and down the road really fast. So during the first week or two they’re calling up support, saying, “Hey, I’m trying to do this,” and “Hey, I’m trying to do that.” And we get them through that process, but after about one or two weeks, we get very few support calls from our customers.
So it’s really one of those things where our investment to develop and our investment to support our products can be much slower than our competitors because of the way we built the business around simplicity and elegance and core functionality. Again, it’s one of those things we’re starting to try to understand fully so we can market that because it’s like when simplicity is at the core, it’s good for all parties: our developers, our support people, our executives, our users, our customers, everybody.
Well I mentioned earlier how when we get somebody on the phone and we start to do our demos we’re asking questions about, “What do you use? What are you using today? How are you keeping track of all your stuff and what do you want to get out of the system?” So often they say, “Well, we looked at this, that, and the other thing, and quite frankly we’re a little confused.” One of the most exciting things for me is when somebody looks at ClaritySoft at a glance and says, “Oh, that makes sense. This looks easy. I can wrap my head around it and I already know what to do in some circumstances. Like I already know how to create new contact. I go into contacts, hit new.” Just like in Outlook, because we’re a very Outlook-looking application. So that’s very exciting to me.
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