Own Your Advantage – Claim Your Mission!

moonCompanies That Know Their Mission, Live. Companies That Live Their Mission, Lead.

While he was visiting NASA, President Kennedy, came across a janitor working his shift. The President stopped him and asked him what he was doing. The janitor replied, “Well Sir, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

The year was 1962 and the United States and Soviet Union were in a heated race to be the first to put a man on the moon. The journey was tough and unforgiving. The first mission in 1967, Apollo 1, ended with the death of the crew. By 1969 and after five failed missions, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first to step on the moon and return safely. These missions required an incredible amount of dedication, passion, and focus from every level of the organization. As a result, the ultimate mission, to put a man on the moon, was met successfully and history was made. What’s interesting is that NASA’s purpose and mission are the same then as they are today:

Their Purpose: Reveal the unknown

Their Mission: To put a man in space

From the janitor to the head of mission controls, everybody lived and breathed the organization’s mission and collectively they were able to push through and manage the many heartbreaking setbacks they experienced. Imagine if more organizations today were just as passionate and connected with their purpose and mission. We’d argue that the failure rate for startups would probably drop dramatically. 

So, how do you define the purpose and mission for your organization and deliver them in such a way that every member of the team lives them, no matter what. Recently, I was in a Business Story Generator Canvas session and we had a debate about the role of mission, vision and values statements. The only thing we all agreed on was, once those statements were FINALLY created after a long, arduous process, those suckers were parked in a business plan or pasted on the ‘About Us’ page on a website. When we’ve asked teams, ‘Why do you exist?’ folks would either shuffle, chuckle or recall some version of their mission that ‘kind-a’, ‘sort-a’ conveyed the original. In other words, nobody really understood why their organizations existed. Consequently, these groups would then wonder why they were experiencing a lack momentum or were seen as irrelevant. When an organization isn’t connected to and driven by its mission and purpose, there are real consequences.  According to a Gallup and Deloitte study, organizations that are not mission-driven experience:

  • Lack of ownership (folks are waiting for someone to tell them what to do next)
  • Lack of loyalty (folks are always on the lookout for what’s next)
  • Lack of fuel and passion to meet future goals (folks doing the bare minimum)

Let’s look at your organization. If any or all of the factors above are in play within your organization, how on earth can you expect your target markets to be enthusiastic and put their trust in what you have to offer?

Here’s how we see it:

narrativeexplanation

  • The Mission Statement describes why you exist
  • The Vision Statement describes what you hope to accomplish
  • The Values Statement describes what you stand for

We believe that the Mission, Vision and Value statements work together to create a baseline from which the organization can grow.  According to the same Gallup study referenced earlier, these statements are your organization’s most underused assets. We also believe that these assets represent a gold mine for micro-content that can be used to build compelling narratives that clearly conveys the Purpose.  But, guess what? Defining the purpose isn’t enough. You also need to dig further to uncover your unique competitive advantage. Yes, folks want to know ‘Why do you exist?’ BUT why not inspire them further by articulating: ‘Why you are the one to do what you do.’ Pushing every boundary to take your purpose and dig deeper to capture why what you do is unique, will allow you to finally establish your Competitive Advantage. From there, keep going! Rock that advantage across your entire operation.

Simple, right? Not so fast.

In an interview with Inc. magazine, Deloitte chairman Punit Renjen said that articulating and communicating your purpose isn’t as easy as it sounds. “You have to really understand the essence of why you exist,” he says. “In addition to crafting a mission statement, it also involves embedding the purpose into the entire organization.” Chris Groscurth from Gallup also shared research comparing the performance levels of companies who were mission driven and those who were not. What he found was:

  • Mission drives loyalty across generations. Understanding a company’s purpose helps employees answer yes to the question “Do I belong here?” Gallup’s research shows that ensuring employees have opportunities to do what they do best every day and emphasizing mission and purpose are the two strongest factors for retaining Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers. More than one in four Millennials strongly agree with the statement “If the job market improves in the next 12 months, I will look for a job with a different organization.” This makes it more important than ever to focus on strengths and mission to drive down the cost of turnover and prevent the loss of key employees, especially among Millennials.
  • Mission fosters customer engagement. A strong mission promotes brand differentiation, consumer passion, and brand engagement. Unfortunately, only about four in 10 employees (41%) know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’. This lack of brand awareness is not a marketing problem; it is a mission-driven leadership and management problem.
  • Mission improves strategic alignment. Alignment begins with a clear purpose — the what and why of the organization. How, who, when, and where are secondary to the enterprise’s reason for existing. Mission can help leaders establish and balance priorities, set performance goals, and align rewards and compensation at all levels. If your company’s mission includes a promise to provide world-class customer service, for example, then you should define and measure “world-class” service — and hire employees who can deliver on that promise.
  • Mission brings clarity. Awareness of mission guides decision making and judgment. A clear sense of what matters most helps leaders determine the best path for the company and helps them set priorities. This clarity inspires conviction and dedication.
  • Mission can be measured. To maximize the value of mission and purpose, leaders need a reliable assessment of employees’ attitudes about their work and how it connects with the company’s purpose. Leaders and managers should use this information to guide them as they tackle the challenge of helping employees connect their work behaviors to the company’s ultimate purpose.

Mission-driven leadership comes from the heart. It requires talent and guts. A solid mission and clear purpose put a man on the moon. What can a clearly defined and executed mission and purpose do for your organization? Yes, it’s hard work but the payoffs are truly remarkable. You just have to decide whether you’re going to be a company that has a mission and lives or lives its mission and leads. 

Own Your Competitive Advantage:
How Mission Driven Organizations Beat the Competition

yourcompetitiveadvantage7

What I learned about delegating work and gaining time

Editor’s Note: It’s my pleasure to introduce Andy Goldberg as a contributor to the Beyond Startup blog. I’m excited to share his unique approach to entrepreneurial law, as well as his own insights as a fellow entrepreneur. Enjoy!

More Time, Just AheadWhat did you learn about yourself and your business in 2014? For me, in 2014, my first year of entrepreneurship, I learned a lot about delegation do’s and don’ts.

In developing this skill, I had to overcome a natural barrier to delegating. Like many entrepreneurs I did not think delegating was important. If I had even a few extra minutes in a day to get the job done, there was no reason to delegate. Other self-imposed roadblocks included:

  •  I always felt I could do the work better than others; and
  •  It would take me less time to do the work than teach somebody to do it (or maybe I just lacked confidence in my assistant).

However, I quickly changed. For me, I had to delegate to free up my mental energy to focus on tasks truly important to making my practice grow. My mind was full of so many menial tasks to be done, I could not even prioritize;  I had paralysis in starting and doing anything. Other reasons why I now delegate include:

  • I want my assistant to learn new skills (a crucial factor in job satisfaction);
  • It’s a repetitive task I don’t want to keep doing;
  • I can take time to look at the big picture of my practice; and
  • I can focus on only those areas where I add the most value to my business.

Techniques I Learned To Delegate More Effectively 

Along the way, I discovered a few ways to delegate more effectively. First, I stopped telling my assistant how to do the task (which simply resulted in her parroting my actions).  Now, I share past experiences and discuss what has worked and what hasn’t’ and then allow my assistant to accomplish the task how she best sees fit.  It’s the result that matters, not how you get there.

I learned asking someone to do something is much different than telling them what the result should be. Now, I give a clear example of what a good result would look like. For instance, preparing a document with specific information or an action plan, speaking with a client to gain certain information, or putting together specific information in a certain format.

For bigger projects, I break it down into smaller tasks. We agree on specific checkpoints to make sure we stay on track.

I make sure I’m available to give feedback or alter the course.  Assigning a task and walking away in is not delegating, it’s abdicating.

However, there are tasks that I still don’t delegate. These include:

  • Tasks that need immediate attention; and
  • Tasks crucial to the long-term success of my practice.

2015 Goals

I hope you can start 2015 by delegating small, easy tasks. Then, as you can get more comfortable, delegate more complex tasks. Your goal should be to make sure you are only doing that which is most valuable to your business and leads its growth. I hope these ideas make 2015 your best year yet.

Let Your Freak Flag Fly: How to Generate a Magnetic Brand Experience

Editor’s Note: I’m thrilled to bring you the wisdom of Christa Chambers-Price as a new contributor to Beyond Startup. She helps companies gain traction by truly distinguishing themselves, expertly guiding them through a process she created: the Business Storyboard Generator Canvas. Christa has a keen sense of what’s unique about a business and has a talent for encouraging the kind of bravery that unlocks new opportunities. Plus, she’s got a great sense of humor. Enjoy!

heres-to-the-crazy-onesShhh… Hey, gather around…

I recently learned that Catherine Juon was a marathon runner. Maybe I’m late to the party but WHAT?! A MARATHON RUNNER! I had three reactions to this interesting piece of news that she just casually threw out in an email.

One: I now understand why she has that freaky, Jedi calm demeanor that masks a fierce competitor.

Two: I honestly did not feel a hint of jealously because I recently celebrated running for one minute on the treadmill at Planet Fitness. (I immediately treated myself to the fabulous whole body massage vibrating machine for 12 minutes. YEAH!)

Three: I went to her website immediately but didn’t “see” this fabulousness there either anecdotally or directly. I have to admit, I felt let down. The natural correlation of her marathon training to the patience and discipline required to manage a 12-24 month SEO or digital marketing campaign is striking.

[Pause for a confession] I have mad respect for Catherine Juon and I think that the brilliant color of her red hair is directly responsible for the leaf changes in Michigan. Just look up next time you’re outside and say, ‘There goes that Catherine again, showing off.’ So, everything I’m sharing is done with the utmost respect and admiration. I want the world to know not just what she can do, but why she’s the one to do it.

That’s the stuff behind her brand that can draw people in and keep them there. That’s the…wait for it…the story of Catherine Juon. But, she must tell that story.

Catherine is just one of literally thousands of examples where we as entrepreneurs literally lead with the product or service we’re offering. When we lead with product, we voluntarily jump into an extremely crowded, noisy box of “That’s similar to …”, “I can do that..”, or worse “What did you say something?” Sally Hogshead, author of “How the World Sees You”, describes these three beasts of burden as:

  • Distraction
  • Competition
  • Commoditization

Sally writes: “Distraction is a jealous mistress… it lures people away from you and your message. Competition can lead you down the wrong path, leaving you stuck playing someone else’s game. Finally, if distraction is the jealous mistress, commoditization is the silent assassin, permeating your relationships with complacency transforming you into a generic replica.”

So, how do you win and overcome these beasts of burden? It’s simple. Build a powerful narrative that leverages your secret sauce: You.

Build a powerful narrative that leverages your secret sauce: You.

Your journey which include all of the victories and defeats, tears, fears and regrets are relatable and key to building an authentic experience. It’s life. Robert McKee from the Harvard Business Review writes, “Self-knowledge is the root of all great storytelling. The more you understand your own humanity, the more you can appreciate the humanity of others in all their good-versus-evil struggles… Great storytellers are skeptics who understand their own masks as well as the masks of life, and this understanding makes them humble. They see the humanity in others and deal with them in a compassionate, yet realistic way. That duality makes for a wonderful leader.”

Finding your story (the right one) is not easy to do, especially, when the first thing that comes to mind is, “I have so many stories, examples, etc. Where do I start?” Start with one that conveys the clearest and most relevant experience that explains what drives you to do what you do and the way that you do it.  Keep building your narrative from there. Next time, we’ll explore how to take that narrative and connect it with what inspires your top three fans.

In the meantime, do two things for me: 1) Own Your Advantage: YOU and 2) let your freak flag fly, love! Trust me. The world will be a better place if you do. Stay fabulous. 

Christa
The Business Story Generator
@bizstorydiva

Giving Your SWOT More Swagger, Part 2

giving-your-SWOT-more-swaggerLast week, I talked about some of the challenges with SWOT assessments, and at its heart, the issue comes down to (a) being as specific as possible, and (b) finding useful insights about your company.

Let me give you some Before and After examples from recent SWOTs that I’ve done with clients to illustrate what a good SWOT looks like.

Before:  “Our people” (strength)

After:  “Our skills at designing administrative processes” (strength) and “Our lack of sales skills” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) use their administrative excellence as a differentiator in their marketing, and (b) identify the need for sales training.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margins by improving their marketing and sales.

Before:  “Our brand” (weakness)

After:  “Our deep understanding of our customers” (strength), “Our passion for solving engineering problems” (strength), “How we communicate the value we create for customers” (weakness), “Our marketing budget relative to our competitors” (weakness)

How the insight and specificity helped:  These insights led the company to (a) invest in a brand strategy, (b) increase their marketing budget, and (c) get the help they needed from the outside.  Those actions, in turn, increased their gross margin, increased their revenue, and lowered their customer acquisition costs, because they were clearer about their offerings and messaging with prospects.

So, when you’re doing your SWOT, the question to ask yourself is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”

The question to ask yourself about your SWOT is, “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it doesn’t, then here are some ideas for upgrading it.

  • Talk more.  Insights and specifics come from digging and sharing ideas, and that comes from talking.
  • Have each department do a SWOT.  Because departments often focus on internal issues, make sure that every department has 5-10 bullets that are focused on the external environment.  Also have the CEO do a SWOT separate from the others; this provides the broader and longer view.  Once you have all those SWOTs, roll them up into a single SWOT by having people vote on the top bullets from across all of them.
  • If you have a SWOT from a previous year, force your team to come up with at least 5 new bullets that have changed from the previous one.
  • Have people do SWOTs for other departments – have sales do the operations one, and have finance do the sales one.
  • Have your outside advisors give their input.
  • Get a strategy consultant to help – the more SWOTs you do, the better at it you become…so get the help of someone with more experience than you.

Any strategy process gets its value by digging deeper than usual, because that’s where new and unexpected insights come from.  A SWOT shouldn’t just capture what you think about the business; a good SWOT should change how you think about it.

Giving your SWOT more swagger, part 1

giving_your_SWOT_more_swaggerI like SWOT assessments (you know – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for getting people’s thinking out of the day-to-day and into a creative, strategic “space.”  Unfortunately, I often see SWOT assessments that are just marginally useful.

Here are some tips on how to get more value out of your SWOTs.

If you can take a bullet and put it on someone else’s SWOT without changing it, then you’re not specific enough.  One of the favorites to put under Strengths is “Our People”… which is also a good example of a bullet that is not specific enough to be useful in the planning process.  What is it about your people?  Their experience?  Their deep knowledge?  Their ability to be generalists?  Once I know what’s special about your people, then I can create some possibilities about how to leverage that into a better advantage.

Work hard to look at the future.  We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s hard to look ahead several years.  And that’s why it’s an advantage to do – because most people don’t.

Put “the hard stuff” on the list.  Every business has issues that it doesn’t like to talk about.  The problem customer.  The problem owner.  The problem staffer.  Without knowing the details, I can tell you that those issues consume a large amount of resources.  So they need to be on your SWOT – though it will probably take some diplomatic phrasing.  (For example:  “Some customers are easier to work with than others,” “Owners are not always aligned on decisions,” and “Spotty follow-through.”)

Make sure you have bullets that cover the whole breadth of the areas you’re involved in.  Often, leadership teams focus more on certain areas, and that bias comes through on the SWOT.  But the non-focus areas are often the places where there is the most opportunity, especially for companies that are developing from the lean-and-mean start-up to a more complete and sustainable enterprise.

So, here’s the question to ask about your SWOT to see if you’re getting the value out of it:  “Does it give us insight into where we should commit significant resources over the next 3 years to improve our chances of success?”  If it gives you that, then you’re getting the value you should.  If it doesn’t, then you should take steps to upgrade it – which I’ll cover in my post next week.

New Blog: Weekly Marketing Tips for Second Stage Entrepreneurs

Online_marketing_tips_and_tricksWe’re sharpening the focus of content here on Beyond Startup to better help you, second stage entrepreneurs, connect to the resources you need for growth. Now you can chose what content is most important to you:

What to expect next week:

  • On Beyond Startup: Dave Haviland gives your SWOT more swagger.
  • In marketing tips, learn how “Buy now!” trigger finger is hurting your sales, and what to do about it.

Subscribe now, and we’ll chat more later. Happy 4th!

-Catherine

P.S. Check out last weeks marketing blog on sharpening your story, including info on a SE Michigan workshop designed to improve your story and increase your sales.

Find Your Second Stage Peers at the Small Giants Summit

Inc. Small Giants Community LogoWhen I was running an company that was in the middle of growing from 10 to 20 people, there were plenty of times it seemed like there ought to be someone I could talk to that could provide some helpful been there / done that kind of direction.

Except that we had “outgrown” much of the incubator / economic development / small business administration kind of support that was geared to startups, and well, we never found the perfect fit with consultants. (That irony is not lost on me, now that I’m in the business of doing consulting!) This is not to say that we didn’t get some great advice for which I am still grateful, it just didn’t always seem to “fit” the culture/company we wanted to create.

Enter the book “Small Giants: Companies that Chose to be Great, not Big” by Bo Burlingham. Reading it was a breath of fresh air. It was incredibly encouraging to read the stories of several companies choosing to beat to a different drum, and still managing to be very successful. It also helped to be familiar with one of the companies, our hometown Zingerman’s. It made the book more meaningful than a bunch of abstract case studies, having experienced the culture and success of one of the companies first hand.

All this made deciding to go to the first Small Giants gathering a proverbial no-brainer. And I’ve been to almost every gathering since, from Washington DC to Germany and San Francisco. Now that they’re practically going to be in my backyard (Chicago), ironically I don’t have the same need to be there. But maybe you do, and that’s why I’m writing today.

As a second stage business owner / operations person, my job was to figure out how to get from here to there. I’m not a big fan of re-inventing the wheel, but some days it felt like we were. When the traditional b-school stuff doesn’t seem to fit, what else can you do?

Go hang out with other Small Giants.

You’ll meet the guy, Bo, who wrote the book and figured out that there are common threads between Small Giants. You’ll meet the guy, Paul, whose passion brought people with a Small Giants mindset from all over the globe together. You’ll meet other people in very similar situations, struggling with similar issues, and you’ll have chances to brainstorm and help each other. Chance are, you’ll make some great new friends along the way.

Of course, there are plenty of less expensive opportunities that don’t require travel to make new friends and swap stories, so here’s why I kept going back. Every year, I left the Small Giants Summit inspired with new things to try. Things that were new to me, but already working in other, quite similar, companies. Along with an open invitation to pick up the phone if I ran into further questions along the way. No more reinventing the wheel. And that, well, that was priceless. If the book Small Giants resonates with you, I promise you you’ll get your ROI on this conference.

Sign up before July 7th for early bird pricing – and save $150 with the code “SGPeer”. See the full schedule and register here: Small Giants Summit.

And say “Hi” to Bo and Paul for me when you’re there!

Is HubSpot Your Silver Bullet?

Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group LogoFind out if HubSpot is your silver bullet at the Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group meeting on the evening of June 24th. I’ll share the key to transforming your online marketing, and (spoiler alert!) it doesn’t require HubSpot, or even $1 from your over-burdened marketing budget.

I know it’s easy to get lost in the ever-changing sea of tools designed  to help with your online marketing, and even easier to get bogged down in the daily grind. With all that churn going on, it’s not unusual to catch your breath at some point and wonder – where should I really be investing my time? What would make the most impact?

We’ll answer those questions and more at the Ann Arbor HubSpot User Group meeting,  which will be held from 5:30-7:00 pm at The Whole Brain Group office at 315 E. Eisenhower Pkwy, Suite 300, in Ann Arbor.

Please register if you plan to attend – space is limited.

See you there!

 

Oh, Dearest Bounce Rate, How do I Love Thee… NOT!

Do bounce rates matter?If there was one metric I could take out of Google Analytics, it would be Bounce Rate. I am quite certain it has sent more people down fruitless rabbit holes than most other metrics combined.

Bounce Rate is simply not useful when you’re just getting started optimizing your online marketing. Yet “How do I fix my bounce rate?” or “Should I worry about my bounce rate?” are two of the most eternal questions in online marketing.

Granted, I don’t fault anyone who asks, because the system is practically designed to elicit those very questions:

  • Bounce Rates are usually quite high,
  • A high bounce rate evokes a visceral reaction as being “bad”
  • Google has featured the stat as one of only 4 key numbers on the Google Analytics login page.

Considering those factors, t’s quite logical to conclude that Bounce Rate is something that needs to be worked on. My advice? Don’t. If I were making a list of 100 things to work on in your online marketing, it wouldn’t even make the list at 101. Try thinking about it this way:

“Whatever will be, will be. Bounce Rate is irrelevant. It’s all about Conversion Rate.”

 

Handily enough, one of the other four stats featured on your Google Analytics home page is Goal Conversion Rate. Perhaps because this number defaults to “0”, and isn’t named something that “sounds bad” like “bounce”, it gets virtually no attention. [Usability friends, take note – Google Analytics could use a hand here.]

Ultimately, online marketing exists to help make sales. You make more sales when you maximize the micro-transactions that lead up to the sale. The key to maximizing the micro-transactions is measuring them; then taking action to improve the numbers.

“Get your conversion rates to rock, and sales will follow.”

 

The funny thing is, you’d be surprised how many otherwise successful companies haven’t yet bothered to do their conversion rate homework. Lucky for you if they’re in your industry – you just found a way to level up – and maybe even get ahead.

Hopefully you’re sufficiently intrigued, because it will take some work to get the system of measurement set up, and even more work to optimize it. Fortunately, Glenn Gabe wrote a nice article in Search Engine Journal summarizing the steps here: A beginner’s guide to conversion goals in Google Analytics.

Glenn walks you through what to measure in Lesson 1, various goal types in Lesson 2 (Hint: the only one you need to start with is Event Tracking) and touches on analysis in lesson 3. While I’d take a slightly different approach in analysis (his is more of a list of what’s possible vs. how to approach analysis), Lessons 1 & 2 are solid.

As with so much of online marketing, half the battle is knowing what’s important. Even if you never logged into Google Analytics again, going through the process of setting up Conversion Goals will be a useful exercise. Once you understand what people come to your site to do, and turn your focus to helping them achieve their goals as easily as possible, you’re well on the road to online marketing success.

Happy Goal Tracking!

Do I need salesforce.com as a CRM for my second stage company?

Cartoon viking with a big hammerDo you need salesforce.com? Probably not.

For 9 out of 10 businesses I talk to, salesforce.com is “too much club”. Yet it has become so ubiquitous that many small businesses feel obligated to adopt it. The process usually goes something like this:

Someone speaks very highly of salesforce.com (or has used it in another context) + it’s a “known entity” + it’s easy to sign up = Viola! Simple, quick decision on which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to adopt.

Generally, that’s a reasonable formula – I’m a firm believer that one of the best tests for how something works comes from the experience of similar companies. However, this is one of those cases that is the exception to the rule. I’ve watched enough companies experience enough pain to be compelled to start my own public service campaign about “right-sizing your CRM”. Here’s why.

A CRM that is “too much club” causes all sorts of issues, the most problematic of which seems like it would be cost, but really it’s the complexity that kills you slowly. Suffice it say that salesforce.com does a great job of making it sound like it can do everything under the sun – and it basically can – with enough elbow-grease, IT know-how, upgrades, and add-ons.

On the other hand, what are some good cases for using salesforce.com? The #1 reason to use salesforce.com:  If you truly have a sales force. In other words, it’s really designed for larger teams of sales people. Many startups and second stage companies don’t have a Sales Manager and a Sales Team – more often, the sales “team” is a single sales person supported by technicians and others as needed. In these cases, salesforce.com is typically too much club.

Choosing the “right-size” CRM in those situations means selecting for a couple of things:

  • Something simple, that actually gets used, and doesn’t get in the way of getting things done.
  • Something inexpensive, so you can invest the bulk of your marketing funds in reaching out to customers and growing your business.

If not salesforce.com, then what? Glad you asked. There are a dizzying array of CRMs out there, and I don’t claim to know them all. However, I have played with enough different CRM systems to have a couple of favorites.

Zoho will look familiar to anyone that has used Salesforce.com – it’s a very close cousin. Why do I like it? It meets both my criteria: simple and cheap. It had only 6 “tabs” (much like salesforce.com only had 3 when I first started using it 15 years ago) and it’s FREE for the basic team edition which includes 3 people. You can export data if needs change and you truly need a more sophisticated system later, so it’s not an irrevocable decision. It does have a few quirks, though I am willing to forgive them for something that’s free and provides a simple and clean pipeline view.

Membrain is the option I’d recommend for companies who need more full-featured functionality along the lines of salesforce.com. It’s typically more expensive than salesforce.com if you’ve only got a few users, as you pay up front for configuration.  However, it’s worth including as it does a few key things that salesforce.com does not. In particular, Membrain has built in sales automation that ensures the important stuff gets followed up on (you set the criteria) and that unqualified opportunities are automatically left out of the pipeline.

Membrain is also smart about reporting, giving the company a better picture of what opportunities are “real”, while also giving salespeople more time to spend doing sales because they’re not doing busy-work to make reports turn out right. Some of the value this software provides is a little bit sneakier – all that automation is possible because the configuration process forces decision about what criteria is/isn’t qualified, and what actions should be happening during the sales process. Often, one of the things causing issues within sales is a lack of clarity, which tools have a habit of making worse instead of better. Membrain may be the exception to that rule – in a good way.

Hope this helps with your CRM decision. Holler if you have any questions or want more specific examples!

Entrepreneurship Advice for Second Stage Companies