What sales and marketing software should I pick for my start-up?

I’ve been asked a few times recently for my opinion about CRMs (Customer Relationship Management systems: sales and marketing software) recently, so I thought I’d write down my thoughts.

Bottom line, what sales and marketing stack should I pick for my start-up? HubSpot.

I recently ran a selection at my current org (growth stage B2B start-up) with Insightly, Zoho, and HubSpot as the finalists. We ended up going with HubSpot because it integrated with other tools that the others did not, it has a sophistication in the Marketing + CRM + Support integration (a more fundamental sharing of information and database integration), and was more prepared for the scale we are aiming for in the next 24 months. Having marketing and support ticketing integrated with the CRM is really powerful, especially for a start-up.

All three are good, modern SaaS choices that should work to a high degree of scale. Success will mostly be determined by how you use and implement, rather than what tool you pick. That said, there is a reason why must start-ups pick HubSpot, it is kind of like picking QuickBooks for accounting, you are far more likely to find people who understand the tool and far more likely that your other (or future) tools integrate well with it.

Zoho or Insightly or some other system seems like it will be a lot cheaper, is the price difference worth it?

First, price differences are likely posturing. If you say want to go with HubSpot or Insightly you should share with your sales rep what annual number takes the cake; ask for a YC/start-up/end of year/etc. discount. The marginal cost to serve your org for any of these companies is near zero, they will negotiate on price—whatever they tell you. In fact they signal this by offering a free tier to get started that has most of the features–just not a few key ones to do material amounts of revenue. Finally, if well executed this is the software that your customer facing team will live in and it will be integrated with your product (e.g. help chat) it is worth it pay a few percent more to get the right thing to help your company grow.

We’re all hackers, we can hack together a Zapier thing or get Salesforce running, why not do one of those?

Many start-ups pick Salesforce, this is generally aping large companies in a bad way—unless you have the resources for customization, you’re buying enterprise grade that is unlikely to work ‘out of the box.’ I would also note that my current organization was switching from Salesforce + Pardot + spreadsheet ticketing which was a failed implementation for a variety of reasons but mostly related to common ones that cause Salesforce implementations to fail–it is too complicated and crufty for the sales team to manage without a bunch of support. And I cannot tell you how many failed start-up Salesforce CRM implementations I’ve seen. To be clarify, I haven’t personally seen a successful Salesforce implementation at a company with less than $100M ARR. I’ve heard about start-ups hiring a hot sales executive who really knows Salesforce inside and out starting on Salesforce–but to me at least someone who wants to start on Salesforce while you’re still implementing and small–to me it call into question whether that executive knows what they are getting into at a start-up more than it endorses Salesforce.

My current organization and past organizations I’ve been in are not fans of Zapier integrations as they are often too fragile to be maintained by business people, which is ultimately where integrations and data sharing between customer facing IT systems need to sit. Your sales team is not a bunch of hackers, they are bunch of social engineers. Don’t make them hack. Zapier is fine later if you discover some critical business process is downloading, re-formatting, and re-uploading data to some other system, but it isn’t a good design starting place.

Final Thoughts

The key to early stage sales is to discover a “growth motion” that works. That is a combination of marketing activities, sales process, and an offering to clients that works. The tricky thing is that this can change as you grow for example distribution can be catastrophically dangerous for deal number one, but distribution might be what makes a company. More mundanely, the degree of social proof required goes up as you march from visionary to mainstream buyers, but the availability of said proof does too–you need to understand what’s working, what’s not, where things are going off the rails, etc. CRMs are powerful tools, but like any tool, the wielder is more important than the tool. Go get yourself HubSpot and good luck growing your start-up!


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