“Make adoption easy” With Mitch Russo & Adam Honig

Make adoption easy. We sell company licenses, but we’re focused on driving adoption across the sales team at each and every customer. To do this, we’ve invested heavily in our customer success team. Our customer success (CS) team is solely focused solely on helping our customers address the challenges that brought them to Spiro in […]

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Make adoption easy. We sell company licenses, but we’re focused on driving adoption across the sales team at each and every customer. To do this, we’ve invested heavily in our customer success team. Our customer success (CS) team is solely focused solely on helping our customers address the challenges that brought them to Spiro in the first place.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Honig. As Spiro’s CEO, Adam is focused on the company strategy and vision. Previously, he co-founded a software company which he led through its successful IPO and sale. Afterwards, Adam founded Innoveer, one of the largest CRM consulting firms, which was successfully acquired by Cloud Sherpas (and then Accenture). Adam is passionate about helping sales teams make more money using artificial intelligence, and is the driving force behind Spiro’s proactive relationship management.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Igraduated college with a philosophy degree and no clue what I wanted to do in the ‘real world.’ My first gig was at a consulting firm. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I wasn’t very good at my job, but I was great at talking to people and very quickly found myself as a salesperson. I was good at sales, but I didn’t have the patience for the messiness of the process, so I began consulting for companies to help make their sales teams more effective. Naturally, this led to me helping with CRM implementations across two companies. The first started as a consulting partner of Siebel Systems and then became a big Salesforce.com partner. We took that company public right before the dotcom bust.

Then I founded another CRM consulting company calledInnoveer. When we sold the company in 2012, we were the seventh largest Salesforce consulting partner worldwide. It was then acquired by Accenture.

So, across my first two ventures, I spent a lot of time working with companies who invested millions of dollars to implement Salesforce but never succeeded. I spent a lot of time thinking about why we were never able to make CRM “just work.”

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Shortly after I sold Innoveer, I went to go see the movie “Her” where Joaquin Phoenix, in the future, downloads a new version of his phone software, which is played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson. In the movie, Scarlett Johansson is a computerized bot that gives the main character advice and helps him navigate the world more intelligently. As I was watching the movie, I thought to myself: salespeople don’t need CRM, they need Scarlett Johansson telling them what to do. And then I called my cofounders Andy Levi and Justin Kao and told them I knew what we were going to do next.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The first iteration of Spiro was a free app that sat on top of Salesforce as a sales assistant. It took off quickly and we had about 15,000 active users when we began focusing on selling our first corporate account. We thought it would be a no brainer to start at a large company with hundreds of salespeople already using us, but they said no. We tried and tried, but could not sell a single corporate license. Not one.

It was an incredibly challenging time, but we knew companies were spending millions of dollars knowing their CRM project was doomed. We were determined to make life better for salespeople and we were excited at the idea of solving such a large problem. So we doubled down and looked at our user base when we discovered something: for every salesperson using Spiro on Salesforce, five users were using Spiro with a spreadsheet and wanted Spiro to handle the CRM capabilities itself. When we talked to them, they weren’t looking for us to fix CRM, they wanted us to solve their problem.

That realization inspired us to keep going, and in hindsight feels a little obvious. Instead of fixing a crappy product, chart a new path. It was an exciting realization and a challenge we were all committed to solving. It wasn’t easy, but we pivoted to a much broader platform. And then Spiro started gaining traction.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

It’s an uphill battle to take on the 500 pound gorillas with the premise that their product is horrible and their approach is flawed. But as it turns out, the market agrees with us. Salespeople hate CRM. Despite how established the big CRM vendors are, there’s a significant segment of the market that still uses spreadsheets because CRM’s reputation precedes itself.

We’ve built a team who are committed to our mission of killing CRM.. But, it’s not enough to just make a provocative statement like that. Spiro actually needed to deliver on our promise. We built our platform from the ground up on artificial intelligence, and we’ve collected customer feedback along the way to improve it.

Today, we have about 200 customers — many who dropped a CRM vendor for our proactive relationship management platform. One of our large telecom customers recently shared that they saw follow-up communications jump 40 percent since adopting Spiro, which resulted in them closing at least one additional deal each month.

Based on the market traction we’re gaining, we recently closed an additional 2.5 million dollars in seed funding to scale even more rapidly.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When we were first getting started, I took responsibility for marketing. I didn’t have a marketing background, but I was excited to jump in and figure it out. I knew we needed more leads to hopefully convert into trial users, and then eventually into paid users. We put out a quiz that asked, “Salespeople, do you have your shit together?” The content was designed to draw people in with a humorous tone, and I knew using a swear in the title was risky, but we decided to be edgy. The good news is our risk paid off and the quiz took off. We had close to 10,000 people take the quiz, which was amazing! My next step was to email the quiz results out and start nurturing those leads. Long story short. I accidentally sent EVERYONE in our database an email that said “You don’t have your shit completely together.” And I mean everyone, customers and all! I quickly sent out an apology, and explained that I was moving too fast and was totally at fault. That day we got our fair share of unsubscribes and a handful of complaints, and I had to eat some humble pie.

But, we also had a surprisingly large number of positive responses from people saying that we really got their attention with such a bold move. A few people even thought the entire “mistake” was actually a new marketing tactics to get them to notice us. The lesson I learned is that you can never check the details too many times. And that perhaps, I was the one who didn’t have my … stuff …completely together.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are 300 CRM products in the market, they are all predicated on the idea that salespeople need to type things in, and management reviews it. This model just doesn’t work. We don’t want to fix CRM, we want to kill it.

We went back to the drawing board and started from scratch to create an approach, called proactive relationship management, which is the only sales platform that doesn’t need to be used. The software works in the background to watch email conversations, listen to phone calls, create contacts, update opportunities and put deals in the right stage of the pipeline. For sales leaders, this automated data collection, and enables salespeople to focus on selling, but much more efficiently and effectively, while delivering better visibility into the pipeline and sales process.

Spiro is growing rapidly because a lot of people can resonate with the desire to eliminate CRM.We have a 100% adoption guarantee, which is unheard of in our market. And this is our stake in the ground, saying that, “Listen. he founders of Spiro are CRM industry veterans. We know that the Achilles heel of CRM is that frankly, nobody uses it so. So here’s a sales platform that salespeople will want to use.”

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’m a big believer in writing things down. One of the many challenges in starting a company is keeping perspective. When you’re in the middle of building something you can get too focused on the problems that you need to remove, to make it to the next step. When you’re too focused on the summit, it can seem overwhelming and out of sight. On the flip side if you’re too focused on each step you take, it can feel like you’re not making enough progress.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Chris Lockhead — who is completely insane. He was my sales trainer at my first company and has always been an inspiration for me personally. If I ever lose heart, there’s nothing like talking to Chris to get me pumped up. When we were first coming up with the idea of a Scarlett Johansson for salespeople, we spent a good amount of time talking about how to get salespeople to do something, such as use a software. Chris and I agreed that salespeople like humor. Together we explored the idea of a product that had personality. These conversations led us to our first persona, the Jewish mother. We were sitting around talking about this, and one of us said, “Wouldn’t it be funny of the software said something like, ‘Fine! Don’t call Joe, see if I care.’?” The rest is history.

For anyone who can’t get Chris in person, he has 2 podcasts– Follow Your Different™ and Lockhead on Marketing that I would highly recommend. When I’m feeling down with the CEO flu, a dose of Chris is the best medicine around.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have over two hundred customers, and thousands of end users, because we have a fanatical approach towards helping salespeople make more money. Three ways we’ve built our community are:

Inject humor into sales. As I mentioned earlier, we think humor plays a big role with salespeople. They’re stressed and get told no a lot. We focused on providing some humor both in the product, but our marketing as well. We produce some funny quizzes, and love sharing sales memes. Our blog has tens of thousands of followers.

Understand our users. Salespeople are mobile, and on the phone all the time. So our platform needs to provide a mobile-friendly experience. And we need to make it easy for salespeople to take advantage of our recommendations on their mobile devices. The CRM industry has yet to fully embrace the mobile-first approach.

Make adoption easy. We sell company licenses, but we’re focused on driving adoption across the sales team at each and every customer. To do this, we’ve invested heavily in our customer success team. Our customer success (CS) team is solely focused solely on helping our customers address the challenges that brought them to Spiro in the first place.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

As I mentioned before, we experimented with the free-mium model but we couldn’t monetize that.

Instead, we sell a corporate license for our platform, and then allow customers to add users on a per user basis. Our app drives our adoption and stickiness, but our platform drives our revenues.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Believe in your vision, embed it in your DNA, in everything you do. In creating Spiro, we’re creating a new category called Proactive Relationship Management. It’s not just a different kind of CRM, it’s a completely new approach driven by artificial intelligence that changes the relationship between sales teams and technology. Our current customers are the early adopters, the ones ready to start working a different way. Our focus now is to keep our eye on the prize — for when AI driven sales is the mainstream way of operating.

2. Investing in your sales team is one of the most important things you can do. At one of my companies, we didn’t grow our sales team in proportion to the sales growth we were hoping to have, which left us severely understaffed, with no one to sell our amazing product. Not investing in sales can really hurt your company.

3. Hire a strong team from the beginning. When you start a company, make sure the people you are founding it with are of high integrity and you know them really well. A great business is built on great people. To foster a supportive and inspiring culture we have a “no jerks hiring policy” that I personally stick to with all of our hires. The bottom line is, you have to like the people you are working with, especially your co-founders.

4. It always takes longer than you think. Not everyone is going to wake up tomorrow ready to change the way they do doings. When creating a game-changing product or service you have to condition the market, to help them move from the way they used to do things, to this new frame of reference. Don’t get frustrated and disheartened by obstacles. Practice patience and see your company through for the long run.

5. Be sure to have fun! Having fun is always better. When you are just starting your company, you have to be prepared to dedicate all of your time and energy to it. Your startup is your life. So why not enjoy the process as much as you can? At my current company Spiro, we believe that having some fun can make everything better.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We’ve already started the movement to kill CRM and release salespeople from the shackles of soul-sucking, time-wasting, money-spending software. Our mission is to help companies work smarter and grow faster. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when salespeople are spending more time selling and a lot less time thinking about software and tools.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

People can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/adamhonig/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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