Sometimes people think that they are stuck with inefficient process, outdated technology and a manager that doesn’t want to help them. I believe there’s always something you can do about it if you are passionate enough to overcome all the obstacles. In this article, I will tell you how I built my own CRM to handle Sales leads when my manager didn’t want to invest in it (Remark that I knew nothing about web development).
How I started doing “business”
When I started doing pre-sales and technical marketing for a software company in South Korea, I knew nothing about business.
I still remember how my manager at the time “got” me in the business loop. He ask my this very question: “Hey Cyprien, you did a lot of technical things until now, and what you did was really awesome! Next Semester, why don’t you go to the business team and start doing business too?”
I said “Yes”, without thinking too much about it… not a big deal, right? Business… that’s easy anyway, I am an engineer… If I can analyze mechanical systems, I can do business too, right?
The truth was that I learned only WAAAAY after what he meant by business… At that time, I was really stupid… (When you look at yourself in retrospect, It’s so much easier to tell you that that when you are actually in the “fire of the moment” )
I took one of the major decisions of my life in a pure Click-Whirr fashion like Daniel Kahneman would say.
Note 1: Maybe that’s also because I am French that the word “business” didn’t mean much to me at that time. If my manager had told me to become a “commercial”(Salesman) or start doing “Vente”(Sales), I probably would have got the trick.
Note 2: I am not regretting this decision though,… I learned really a lot throught the process! And that’s also one of the reasons that pushed me to start this blog! I think many engineers could learn a lot from Sales and Marketing 😉
Back on track… Handling leads
When we started in this software business, we knew not much about how to sell expensive enterprise solutions to companies…
- We did it in the most simple and “technical” way:
- We built the documentation and the technical support material (Tutorials) for the software
- We created a presentation in PPT which contained all the software features in details (along with a lot of colorful mechanical model pictures,…)
- We built a website which showcased everything about the software (Here it is if you are interested. It evolved a lot during my 4 years and half time in the company)
- We started to accumulate a database of potential leads and to make educational webinars for them.
Simple enough right?
There was no real strategy, just get the software out there to the world and let’s show it’s strength to anyone that want to listen.
It took few weeks to get some traffic and actually get some people interested, but it started to work nevertheless (That’s amazing now that I think about it 😉 )
We started to get a lot of traffic on the website:
- People asking for a quotation
- People requesting a trial
- People who wanted to collaborate with our company
- People who wanted to work for us
We had no system in place, and the only think we could do was extracting the data and putting it in Excel.
At the beginning, it was the only way we knew to actually handle all that:
- Go in the website custom backend built in ASP Classic
- Copy the list of requests and paste it into Excel
- Modify the form of the output to make it “readable” with a lot of custom Excel functions
It doesn’t seem so complex and it takes in average 10~20 min. The problem comes from repeting this process over and over, day after day…
The Problems with handling leads with Excel
At the beginning, you are happy to have excel, because that’s a “know” environment. You don’t have to learn too much to use it (ok, that can be discussed too…)
But we still had many problems…
Once I was looking at the “Master Excel File” used by all the international team to handle the sales record and it literally “broke”. I think that I had installed some excel pluggins or macro that weren’t compatible with the version of the main file or something like that. I couldn’t open the file anymore and I was GREEN. Did I just erased all the sales record data of the team??
Fortunately, the manager had some “backup file” store somewhere and we could recover it.
Instant relief… OMG
We had also a lot of problems to centralise the data of clients. Each person in the team had a different excel file and it introduced a lot of problems. Clients were sometimes contacted twice to attend an event. Some leads were « lost » or « forgotten ». It really hurts to find out that someone who looked serious asked for a quote 1 month ago and no one saw it because the backend system of your website is too difficult to use
What was also very difficult for me is that I had to spend literally HOURS every week to extract data from the website and then transform those data into the right Excel format.
It only takes a few minutes when you have only 1 website to handle, but as soon as you get several places to general leads for you, it becomes very painful to handle.
CRM: How to handle your leads efficiently
After some time, I started to search for others better ways to do it.
I found that CRM systems were the kind of solutions I was looking for at that time.
CRM means Customer Relationship Management.
In short, it solves all the pains that I mentioned previously and then it does much more. It helps you to achieve your daily objectives and remind you of the people you have to get in touch with.
For example, it can automatically sync the contacts from your website and other various sources directly in one place, then order those contacts exactly like you want. It also provides very useful search functions so your always able to find the people who need to be contacted.
What it does also is that you can use it to store the previous communications you had with a lead. That’s incredibly useful! When your lead got in touch recently, there’s no problem, but you will find that when you are trying to provide expensive solutions, the sales cycle generally takes a lot of time… so when someones recontact you after few months, you have to pull up all the history of your contact quickly to remember where you left the conversation. No need to say that that’s an even bigger problem when you have several people working on the same lead…
If you are a Sales Manager, you want to know what is actually happening in your team so you know who is contact with who and how things are going.
CRMs can do all that 😉
At the same time, we were searching for a solution to improve the efficiency of our marketing activities. I was spending my time creating an incredible amount of content (Blog posts, Webinars, Guides,…) and I just didn’t know how to organise the content in the best way to get it delivered to our « Excel » audience.
After some search on Internet, I was hooked by several companies like Hubspot and Marketo for example.
Getting approval from your manager
I wanted a CRM solution deadly because it was doing everything I wanted… I started to talk about it to my colleagues and all the people in the same situation than me agreed that we needed to do something quickly…
Unfortunately, it was much more difficult to pitch to the management that I thought…
I worked for a Korean Company at the time and for them CRM Systems were a very new technology. They had seen excel used all their career and it seemed like the only solution.
I even recall some funny anecdote about that…
It seems that the CEO was against too much automation in this area because he thought that if all those tasks were automatised, Sales people won’t have anything to do…
It made me smile to discover that the CEO thought that the job of Sales people was to manage excel all day instead of having meaningful and efficient communication with potential clients.
I personally think that the most important tasks of Sales people is to provide real value and build trust with their leads… in one word, being a trusted advisor.
(It hurt when I discovered my managers thought that the main work of their sales staff was to make cold calls, send emails and manage excel spreadsheets…)
BTW, whatever I tried, I couldn’t get an agreement to adopt a CRM solution in my team…
It was deemed too expensive and against the « general policy »
I knew it was just excuses…
The thing is that the problems I mentioned at the top were really too painful and I had to do something about.
Company didn’t want to pay, so I had 2 solutions:
- Pay from my own pocket
- Build my own CRM
I chose the second solution…
How I build my own CRM system in 6 months
At that time, I was learning for the fun PHP and MySQL and I decided to do something with it.
After I went back home at 7PM, I started my « second job ». Building my own CRM to automate all the boring and inefficient stuffs I was doing all day long.
It was tough at the start…but I am not the kind of guy to let down easily.
I have a very strong Growth Mindset and I can learn anything 😉
I started by building a simple HTML page on the server of my blog.
Then I learned how to build a form with PHP and how to store the data in a MySQL database.
Then I discovered that I had to use « Object Oriented PHP » to develop because it was much faster.
I started to create functions, controllers, and my CRM started to take place.
I am writing that in few lines and it may seem easy for you but believe me, it wasn’t.
It was hard work and I spend nights wondering why I couldn’t used a certain function to do a certain task…
My wife started to wonder if I wasn’t taking this 2nd night developper job too seriously…
The whole CRM building took something like 6 months of night work.
But finally, I got something working and I was proud 😉
Here is how it looks:
I even connected my own CRM with the API of GetResponse and GoToWebinar to be able to import the data automatically in it.
After that, I started to use it and it freed me some time to do better and more interesting tasks.
What I learned from all that
When you cut the repetitive and the useless, you get a lot of time to think about strategy and how to have meaningful interactions with your audience.
It was like one of those Keystone Habit mentioned in the « Power of Habits ». If you just change one of those, it has a positive influence on everything else you do. You are not stressed anymore by the useless.
Now that I have more years of experience, I found that I could probably have got a very cheap CRM to do what I wanted… At that time I didn’t know such things existed…
If you want to grow, you have to enjoy the learning process, not only the result. Results are flickering, while the process is what stays always with you whatever you do.