6 Lessons I Learned Growing a Self-Funded SaaS Company

Today, I’m the CEO of a SaaS company I founded in the early 2000s. Bringing value to people’s lives, through a software product, is truly a symbol of modern times. Everybody wants to make an impact. But the reality is, establishing yourself is a real challenge, and it can’t happen overnight. And that’s even harder without institutional funding behind you. My company, eSkill, has grown every year of its 15 year existence. We’re profitable. But we’re self-funded and had to struggle for years to develop, hire, and grow on less than 10% of the startup investment of our venture capital-backed competitors. Since we didn’t have the luxury of throwing millions of dollars at every product, sales, and marketing possibility, we had to learn to grow leanly, project ourselves larger, and become profitable even when we were at only $1M in revenues. So here’s a set of lessons we learned on
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How to Leverage Online Review Sites for Growth

Growth marketing is a buzzword that is thrown around frequently. New startups, specifically tech and software companies, often hire growth marketers or growth hackers to help them improve brand recognition, SERP rankings, and overall visibility in crowded markets. Many times, though, growth marketing seems to be a lot of empty filler of ‘get-rich-quick’ tactics. But there is one clear growth marketing strategy that is a must for new companies: leveraging online review sites. In a survey of B2B buyers, 52 percent of respondents said that online product reviews are a must-have item when researching new products. Before buyers have decided on a specific product, they’re using online learning resources and blogs to educate themselves on the industry itself. Think about this in buyer’s journey terms. Buyers researching middle-of-the-funnel terms, such as “CRM software,” are visiting B2B software review sites to determine what type of software they need
hootsuite reviews
social media management software
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How to Align Your Sales Pitch with C-Suite Buyers

A little more than six years ago, my partner Lee Demby wrote that when talking with customers about the value of C-Level executive insights, he sometimes heard,
“But we don’t sell to the C-level.”
Times have changed. Technology vendors have woken up to the reality that C-Level conversations are inevitable and necessary. Why? Because major technology purchases are increasingly tied to corporate-wide, digital transformation efforts, which are largely being driven by C-Level players. Not convinced? Let’s look for a moment at Hershey Company. President and CEO Michele Buck told Fortune in October 2017 that she plans to take Hershey beyond chocolate and turn it into an “innovation snacking powerhouse.” She’s open to mergers and acquisitions to accelerate growth into spaces their brands currently can’t travel – and she is driving a focus on efforts in collaboration with key brick-and-mortar retailers and established e-commerce players, and leveraging and commercially
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How to Overcome the 5 Challenges of Accurate Sales Forecasting

If there’s one thing that’s always a constant in an organization’s sales pipeline, it’s change. While that’s a positive factor when deals are progressing forward and are moving from discovery to proposal to closed won, change is also often negative, caused by deals going dark or falling out of the pipeline altogether. Sales leaders have the incredible challenge of keeping up with all of this change and are simultaneously held to forecasts usually set at the beginning of the year, the quarter, or the month. The problem is, with so much movement, accurate forecasting can be an impossible challenge – or at least one that requires constant observation and management. The challenge compounds when executives and Board of Directors become involved. Sales leaders who aren’t keenly aware of every single deal at any given time can fall into the trap of guessing and relying on weighted pipeline that is
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How Winners Really Differentiate

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Medium here.

Enough with the positioning statements.

If you’re a member of a leadership team today – or have been over the last 25 years – odds are you’ve participated in a positioning exercise. If your experience was like mine, you teamed up with colleagues, perhaps under the guidance of an outside consultant, to craft some version of this sentence:
For [target customer description]…our product is a [product category] that provides [compelling reason to buy]. Unlike [the product alternative], we have assembled [key features…].
You interviewed customers, aiming to capture what they found compelling about your products. You surveyed the offerings of competitors to identify shortcomings. After carefully weighing feedback from your investors, your co-workers, and industry analysts, you defined a killer category and an airtight argument about why you were fit to be its king. And then, if your experience was really
crossing the chasm
how winners differentiate 1
how winners differentiate 2
no more forms
Hypergrowth 2017
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How to Get the IRS to Fund Your R&D

Each year the US government provides billions of dollars to innovative businesses for developing new or improving existing technologies, products, materials, and processes, under the Research & Experimentation Tax Credit (R&D Tax Credit) program. The R&D Tax Credit is a general business tax credit under Internal Revenue Code section 41 for businesses that incur research and development (R&D) costs in the United States. The US R&D tax credit has been around since 1981. Previously, the program would periodically expire and be renewed by Congress. Businesses wishing to include this in their long-term budgeting plans couldn’t count on the credit being around for certain. But, in 2015, Congress made the R&D tax credit permanent as part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 and also made key changes so that small businesses that are not profitable could benefit from the credit. The R&D tax program can be
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The Endless Dilemma on Personal Pay and Performance

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on LinkedIn here. Does the following sound familiar?
“We want to reward people for their individual performance. We want it to be fair compared to others. We also expect that our top performers will see extraordinary rewards. Individuals control their own destiny / impact and therefore their rewards too…Yes yes yes. Lets do all of that!…Hmmm but how?”
Here are some practical ideas on how to successfully solve this dilemma:

1. Build a total rewards strategy first.

I am amazed at how many companies fail to take this foundational step. The answer typically is “We already have that in place. We know what matters when we give out compensation.” But my experience is that most organization don’t have this crystalized and are not as well aligned as CEOs and leaders think they are or want to be. I could write a
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Xero’s CRO on Delivering Exceptional Customer Experience at Scale

Customer acquisition is always front and center when a company is in high-growth mode. During periods of intense expansion, everyone is hyper focused on attracting and converting as many new customers as possible. Customer experience and customer education are far too often afterthoughts, thrown together without any real strategy. This is a big mistake. I recently sat down with Amy Vetter, Chief Relationship Officer at Xero. Amy has been responsible for leading teams to develop innovative customer experiences and education efforts. During our discussion she shared some insights about the best practices she has employed to help contribute to Xero earning its spot as a market leader in driving customer engagement and adoption. Here are five of her top tips for delivering exceptional customer experience at scale:
  1. Listen to Your Customer
  2. Take a Team Approach (But Know Your Role)
  3. Make NPS Your Guiding Light
  4. Make Customer Education Fun
  5. Go
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How SaaS Companies Can Compete Under Commoditization

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.” “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
Alice and the queenOne of the main challenges facing the leaders of B2B SaaS companies is accelerating commoditization. This is not a bad thing. Commoditization is a sign of success, at least for the industry overall, but it represents a change in phase state for software entrepreneurs. What is a commodity? Basically, a commodity is a successful category – one in which the buyers and sellers
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