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Interview with Jeroen Corthout – Creating A CRM That’s Actually Useful – Episode #35

“Most CRM software comes with the expectation that you’re this perfect person who fills out the CRM at every step of the way…we found that that didn’t work for us. That doesn’t work for anyone and that doesn’t make sense…most CRMs don’t work because they are dependent on people.”

Jeroen is co-founder and CEO of Salesflare, an intelligent CRM system built for SMBs selling in the B2B space, mostly popular with agencies and SaaS companies. Salesflare itself was founded because Jeroen and his co-founder wanted to manage the leads for their software company in an easier way. They didn’t like to keep track of them manually and built Salesflare, which pulls customer data together automatically.

It’s now the most popular CRM on Product Hunt and top-rated on review platforms like G2 for its ease of use and automation features.


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:00  

So we are now recording in 54321. What’s up guys? Welcome to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. First things first, I’m going to start off this episode like I started off all other episodes by thanking you, the listener for taking the time out of your day to learn more about digital marketing. It’s one of the most exciting career fields out there. And I’m really excited to introduce a new guest of mine, his name is your room. Now your room is the co founder and CEO of sales flair, and intelligent customer relationship management system built for small to medium sized businesses that are specifically selling into the business to business space. 


It’s mostly popular with agencies and Software as a Service company’s sales flair itself was founded because you rune and his co founder wanted to manage the leads for their software company in an easier way. They didn’t like to keep track of them manually and built cells for their instead, which pulls customer data together automatically, which is pretty cool. It’s now the most popular CRM on Product Hunt, and top rated on review platforms like GE to for its ease of use and automation features. And we’re going to dive into sales player and your runes career in this episode, welcome Jeroen.


Jeroen Corthout  1:23  

Thank you glad to be here. 


Kenny Soto  1:25  

All right. So in these interviews, I like to start off with giving the audience more context about yourself. So could you answer How did you get into digital marketing.


Jeroen Corthout  1:41  

I always liked creating stuff. And I like doing that for people. And very early on. A lot of that was with the internet like I’m one of these kids who saw the internet’s come about when I was a kid actually. Actually started. First I remember he got an internet connection. And then I started chatting with a few classmates. And I didn’t really see the point at that moment, it was like, we would go online, we would spend valuable time because basically the the phone line was was disconnected during that period. 


And my parents had to pay for the call I was going on, we would just type some stuff and send each other like something that was like an animated GIF, which I remember one of the things I got was, I think my classmates sent me like Ayrton Senna, I don’t remember when you the Formula One pilot that you sent me that for some reason. And then, but then at some point, you know, interesting things started happening.


I would start downloading mp3 files and make a website on Geo cities and you, you could feel the thing, becoming alive, like becoming interesting. And at that point, Iactually, about two years, I think after I got to know geo cities, I started building websites myself. A lot of that was in Flash. In the early days, Flash was still popular, and you could create all these crazy stuff that you couldn’t with HTML and JavaScript, that’s all changed. 


Now, Flash is dead and HTML. And JavaScript is the perfect combination, like our software is fully built on. It’s like it’s a, it’s JavaScript front to back. But it wasn’t like that in the early days. So I’d build stuff and flash first for myself and build a website for my mom, then for some other people. And I was just super interesting. Like, I always liked creating stuff. But before that was physical, and all of a sudden, I was creating digital things. And next to that I like business somehow, like doing stuff with people. 


Even if it wasn’t really creating something, like, at some point, I Well, for a long time, actually, I had a secondhand cell phone business, where I would buy phones in the UK in Germany, and I would resell them in Belgium where I am. And I made some good money off of that. It wasn’t like it was more like creating value I guess, than anything else. And then things just happen naturally. I always wanted to start my own company. 


And just marketing seemed like, like the best place to learn how to do that. And marketing was inherently that digital. Actually my first job was in plain old marketing. I started at a at a pharma company called Baxter because by backgrounds. Long story short, I studied biomedical engineering. I didn’t really like all the engineering jobs either the master in management, sort of like an MBA just after you graduate. Do it. And then I went to a pharma company, I figured if I would do marketing there, I wouldn’t understand how to put like, stuff into the markets, which would then be a basis for me to start my own company. Later, I started Baxter. 


And I did really, really classical marketing, where I would, most of my time actually support the sales team, like I would create brochures for the sales team. And then I would train them how to use them, and that they would use them with doctors. But then, part of my time was also working on a few small websites that was just coming up. And nobody knew anything about it in pharma. So at some point, I figured that like that might just be my my business might be just creating websites for the pharma industry. 


And then I met a person who actually had a company that did way more than that he used to leave digital at j&j. And he started a company helping pharma companies to become digital. And that’s where I really went into digital marketing. Because there we did all the different aspects of digital marketing,


from creating websites, obviously, to doing ads to doing search engine optimization, to creating whole digital experiences. And there’s lots of ways to do that and pharma, to actually replacing full sales forces with digital touches. Like for many pharma products out there, doctors just keep prescribing them because they’re, they stay top of mind. 


And it’s really wasteful to still send salespeople on the road for that, although a lot of pharma companies still do that. So now we have this offering where we would replace the visits of the sales reps with all kinds of fun stuff like, for instance, for hypertension, and and a diabetes drug, very old drugs, we created this campaign where we would make some recipes for the patients that they could use that hypertension or diabetes, there would be some games that the doctors could play like a memory game with some had the brands in, it’s just just to the level that it was acceptable. Some moderate stuff.


 And these kind of things all worked, especially the games, that was weird, we had some doctors going really crazy on the games, at some point, because the thing was, was not properly built. Also, one of our games like a memory game and men down because of too much usage. But that’s was in very long actually how I got into digital marketing.


Kenny Soto  7:49  

Now, before jumping into why and how you created sales flair, I just want to dive a little deeper in your background. So you, there was a lot of twists and turns and you had to discover where your fit was, as far as like what you wanted to do. How did you acquire the skills in pharma and all the other things? How did you get those skills to make the ads make the websites that you find a particular resource or set of resources? Was it just doing the work?


Jeroen Corthout  8:25  

I think mostly doing the work and partly reading about it and trying to become better and, and looking like googling on the internet. And how do you do this? How do you do that? What’s the best way to do that? How does this work? And I think it’s mostly about learning on the way sure you can read a book, which talks about a specific aspect or teaches you something or read a specific blog post. But I don’t think there’s one resource you can go to and just learn all about it. Plus, I don’t think you really, like if you learn the theory of digital marketing that you’ll somehow make it. A lot of it. This is in the practice and understanding deeply held works.


Kenny Soto  9:15  

I’m glad you mentioned that because even in my own job right now I find that sometimes I get stuck for no reason. And a lot of it is just get on YouTube, get on Google, find a template, find some kind of suggestion, but at the end of the day, once you get that information, you have to deploy it, you have to launch something. Because if you don’t, then you’ll be just thinking about the theory, the strategy, there’ll be no execution and then you won’t know if it’s going to work or not because the customers won’t see it. Yeah, I’m glad I’m glad you mentioned that. Now. Tell us a little bit about sales flair. How did you even go about creating it?


Jeroen Corthout  9:54  

Um, where do you want me to start? Why did we create it?


Kenny Soto  9:58  

Let’s start with why Yeah.


Jeroen Corthout  10:02  

Basically, to create a compelling story. I tried different businesses, you know. And at some point during one of these businesses, I meet my co founder, I didn’t know yet we were just like two guys, each having their own company in the same accelerator, helping each other. One day, he calls me and he says, well, with one of my companies, he said, I’m going to Vegas is big conference, we’re going to sell our software, we still need a sales guy do you want to join? He said, we’ll be everything, you just come help sell the thing like fun, like, Sure. Sounds good. So we did that. It was successful. 


We have a lot of leads the success at conferences, in case you’re interested, or you’ve never done it, or some listeners are interested, there is one key thing to do. And it’s getting from behind that little table on your booth. It’s just talking to people or if you don’t have a booth, it’s also talking to people and figuring out who’s there, setting meetings up front. It’s very in the very simple things, but it requires some work. It’s not just going to the conference and winging it. So what we did at that conference is we had a booth. 


And I would just go into the hallway and ask them if they would be using the software that we were compatible with. So I would say like, do you use IBM Cognos? And they would say yes. And then I say, oh, so maybe you have these issues? And then they will be like, Yeah, we do have this one. And I’m like, Oh, we have a solution for that. And I’ll show them some stuff. And then I didn’t know very much about the product. But at some point, they would ask something complicated with business intelligence, lots of complicated stuff. And then I would say, well, one of my colleagues here can definitely tell you all about this. 


And these guys, were really experts. And then I would get the next leads, and repeat that process. And like that, we had a lot of people interested in buying our software. But just interested at that moment, right, we still had to close the deals, I think we had somewhere like 130 Interested leads. And when we got back, we were full of enthusiasm. We wanted to close those deals. And I had been working with lots of different software, like lots of different CRM software at the company where I used to work which I explained earlier, we would use a lot of Salesforce blighter that deployed that clients would use it internally. 


But that was never really a sales tool that worked for organizing ourselves, it was great for our CEO are often like the people wanted to report on data on pipelines, I was good. But I never saw it work for organizing something like this, like something practical where you actually follow up leads or, or customers. And we looked at different software, we tried lots of different things, because we really wanted to get a system working. 


And what we found is that there was much better software and Salesforce out there thing got much more made for that purpose. But nothing worked for us. In fact, what we found is that the software often failed on one weak point, which was us. The thing was that most CRM software comes with the expectation that you’re this, this perfect person who fills out the CRM every step of the way. Every time like somebody copies in a new person on an email, you’re like, Haha, new person, I need to put them in the CRM or somebody emails you with their email signature, and you’re like, Haha, I have their phone number, I’m gonna put it in the CRM, or you call them and you’re excited about it. But you’re like, No, not so fast, but in the serum first. 


And we found that that that didn’t work for us. And then we had this lightbulb moment where we basically figure like, Yeah, I mean, that doesn’t work for anyone. And that doesn’t make sense. Especially not because the data is already somewhere. It the fact that we’re emailing someone is in our email system, their name and phone numbers, their their email signatures, obviously there. There’s meetings that we’re logging that are in our calendar, there’s phone calls replacing that are in our phones. There’s stuff that we’re copying from company databases, or from social media, and all of these things are digital.


We, we don’t really need to be copying those. We could hook into these places and get information from there. And then a system is way better at organizing data than humans. And it can do it automatically without effort and with a I mean, much more complete and correct. And I don’t know what, so it’s with that ID Yeah, that we figured, like, okay, so most serums don’t work, because they’re dependent on people, let’s make one that actually automates the robotic parts that we’re not good at away as much as possible that takes like, automated data input first. 


And then I mean, you can still edit stuff if you want and keep control. But at least the CRM takes over the heavy lifting and make sure that that it’s not dependent on your discipline anymore. So that actually becomes the serum that works for you follow up, and we had an issue ourselves, but we very quickly understood that it was a bigger thing, if it were just for ourselves, probably have been too much work. But we figured, like, this is something we can solve for a lot of people. And that’s when we decided to start a company now. Just just over seven years ago,


Kenny Soto  15:59  

there’s a lot to unpack here. And I would like to start by just saying that this is an exciting tool, mainly because there’s a lot of marketers that have to spend the majority of their time doing manual manual inputs, not just in our CRM systems, but in Excel sheets and in documents, etc. 


And it’s cool that you’ve created something that one minimizes human error, that’s like the first thing that comes to my mind. And then the second thing is, it saves time, because you don’t need to do it yourself, you can be focused more so on the strategy of how you’re going to nurture the lead to close the sale. What are the key touch points that you need to do in order to succeed in that in that area of of operations? So my next question for you would be, how does sales flare? Work? For the ideal customer? Like what is the use case? If you will?


Jeroen Corthout  16:56  

Yeah, well, if you want to have the very basic use case, offer, start with who uses it. And what for. So Salesforce is a, there’s a lot of CRMs, like customer relationship management systems out there. They’re essentially about managing customer relationships, of course, but that’s a very broad concept. Yeah. We’ve built a system for businesses who sell b2b, not ecommerce businesses, not real estate businesses, not you know, not a lot of other things. It’s really for b2b sales, or a salesperson leads a sales process with a company at people add a company and a selling to that company. It’s built for small and medium sized businesses, not for enterprises, because the thing is what enterprises, they expect software built exactly for their needs, which is a challenge. 


They will buy something like Salesforce, because Salesforce is built for that. But Salesforce is a thing, you buy it, it just you basically buy a bunch of building blocks. And then you hire some consultants to put them together and to to build exactly what you need. Not like that. It’s small and medium sized businesses, they’re looking for something that works, something they can pick up, maybe customize a little, but it works out of the box. 


And it’s much more aimed at like the the the focus is much more on the end user on being a practical tool that works, rather than the focus being on the organization and how it all should function, which is much more you find in enterprises. So we focus on small and medium sized businesses who sell b2b. And that means it’s actually a lot of agencies, marketing agencies, consultancies, software companies, like building software for other companies, but also, software product companies like us, like SAS companies, Software as a Service, other tech startups, so a lot of agencies a lot of tech companies. 


And if you would ask what they use salesmen are for in a very practical basis, they would say something simple, which is following up leads, it’s what we initially build sales layer for is making sure that you have all these people you’re in touch with. But you want to give all these people the feeling that you are following them up alone. They don’t have the feeling that they’re just a number in the system or something but that you’re building out a personal relationship by remembering wonder about my following up at the right times, not forgetting this kind of stuff. 


So building building relationships at scale, you could say within the intent obviously also to be successful on on on a numeric dollar level. form or euros or whatever. And then, depending on the size of the organization, there is a second level to it as well. So for the salespeople, and for the organization super important that you follow up well, some customers tell us that even with three salespeople, they make a million more per year just by doing proper follow up with our system, compared to what they did before. 


But there is also if you look at the sales manager level, or in the organization level, once this works, and the sales team actually uses the system properly, a lot of other things become possible, like properly coaching your team, knowing what’s going well, and what’s going wrong. Collaborating within the sales team, but also with the marketing team, for instance, or the finance team being able to make proper forecasts based on the data, being able to pick up when somebody leaves. 


Because often if you don’t have a CRM, you need to start from scratch, you have no idea what we’re discussing when home is like, it’s gone. Now it all leaves with the person or or even if they’re sick, like I need to, to pick up for a short while, all of these things only become possible if a sales team actually uses a CRM, and that starts with the first thing. And that’s them using it for a very practical purpose, which is usually the following up the leads.


Kenny Soto  21:29  

What is the biggest challenge sales flair faces in terms of marketing it to potential customers?


Jeroen Corthout  21:43  

The biggest challenge is that we’re in in a huge and space with lots of different companies, of which some are gigantic. That means that you are looking for a CRM, it’s very hard for you to find the way to the right one, and you’re very likely to end up with one of the bigger players. Why because they have more budget to spend on customer acquisition. It’s also a sort of like this, this thing where bigger brands always attract more attention, and it just starts dipping over in their advantage. 


But that also, I mean, it’s linked to the budgets, some of our competitors price their their products in such a way that they earn, let’s say about 10 times more, now we do per customer per year, which then also dips it over in their favor, because they can spend 10 times more on customer acquisition, which means that for us, it’s really, really hard to get visibility. And I don’t just mean that we have less resources. But there is a lot of channels that are just out of the question almost because we cannot outbid others. And the things that are available to us require hard work on most of them at least, because if things don’t require hard work, then somebody else has already done it.


Kenny Soto  23:22  

Can you give an example of like a hard work scenario or strategy that you’ve had to use?


Jeroen Corthout  23:29  

Um, this this, for instance, I mean, it’s not very hard work, actually a podcast is, is relatively low amount of work, because I don’t need a lot of preparation and all that. I’ve been I think in the past year and almost 200 podcasts. So that’s, that’s at least some work. Yeah. Which which then scales are visibility outside our own audience. They try to imagine every time we get on a podcast, what’s the audience, what kind of things would bring value to them, and then trying to share something I know that can potentially help the audience. 


That’s something that is harder to scale for a gigantic competitors, or at least the same difficulty. So it’s much less likely that they have done it. Although some of them are quite quite relentless, or even, even if we have a better product, an easier one, a more automated one. Who’s going to see it? That’s our biggest issue.


Kenny Soto  24:40  

So you’re attempting to use tactics like being on a podcast, which isn’t, or at least on paper isn’t scalable, in order to stand out because you have that agility, if you will.


Jeroen Corthout  24:55  

Yeah, yeah, that’s why that’s part of it. And there’s other things that are I’m where we actually have an advantage. Like, for instance, when it comes to building relationships with our customer, we’re a smaller team, we, everybody is in the team for a while, we all deeply know the subject, we can deliver much better customer support and build better customer relationships than a big company can, which essentially needs to take some distance from its customers almost. 


We can we can treat customers more like friends, we can give them a level of support that, that they’re not used to, we’re very close to our customers, so we understand them better as well. These these are things we also play out. And actually our main growth channel is just word of mouth. But yes, on a marketing level, this is not really marketing stuff. I mean, it’s growth stuff, but it’s not strictly marketing. You could say, on a marketing level, it’s in a in a lot of high work efforts sort of things. Something that works quite well for us, as well, as is content marketing in our own channels. We have a very active blog where we focus on quality over quantity, which sounds cliche, but I really mean it, like a lot of content marketing out there nowadays is is written by people who don’t know the topic very deeply, too, especially in the sales space in which we are. It’s very hard to find people who writes and who also now sales. 


So what you’ll see is that people hire copywriters, which then don’t who then don’t really know the topic, they start reading what other people wrote, which is essentially other copywriters who wrote about the topic. So in the end, you get this very fluffy contents, which is rehashing of the rehashing of the rehashing where copywriters write about stuff based on what other Co Op writer wrote, and then yeah, it’s almost easy to make a difference, because as soon as you sprinkle some insights into your content, and still write in an appropriate way, it immediately stands out. And also Google recognize this kind of stuff. 


Like if the if the readers see the difference and actually appreciate the posts, then you’re you’re quite likely to start ranking really fast. That’s another thing we do. And that’s probably after word of mouth and things like reviews and listings and stuff. Content marketing is our thirds. Girls channel.


Kenny Soto  28:03  

Perfect. Now, one quick second, I do need to pause the podcast and pause this recording because I think my doors not working and my fiance’s knocking on the door. I’ll be right back in 30 seconds. Okay, thank you. So my last question for you is more on a higher level for general career advice. If you can go back in time, 10 years, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you use that knowledge to accelerate the speed of your career and the growth of Salesforce sales splashes me?


Jeroen Corthout  28:43  

Yeah. That’s a good question. It’s a very hypothetical situation ever happen? Of course. If I only would have invested in Listen, that would have been huge now. I think I would have I would have tried to be a bit more thoughtful about some decisions here and there. Sometimes we we lost our patients, and we didn’t think things through too hard. And we hired people too early. 


We hired the wrong people. We started working on stuff or at least we tried delegating things before we deeply understood it ourselves. There’s all this kind of things where if we would not have done that, and we would actually have tried to figure figure out things ourselves, take a bit more time and when hiring people and all that. I think we would have been here faster. Sometimes you you try to be fast and by trying to be fast, you’re actually slower if you know what I mean. That’s the kind of things I would try to avoid.


Kenny Soto  30:05  

If you try to be fast, you actually end up slower. I think that’s a great way to end this podcast. And for everyone who’s just listened, where can the listeners find you online, if they want to connect?


Jeroen Corthout  30:18  

Yeah, if you want to find out more about sales flare, we have a website at sales, you can find our blog and [email protected]. And you can try our software. Also on the site. There’s a button at the top right, if you click it, you can see the software you can try it you get anywhere between seven and 30 days, as soon as you set the software up further, you get more days on the trial. 


And if you want to get in touch with me, LinkedIn is the best place you can search for my name, there’s only one person with my name. So you’ll, you’ll definitely find me send me a connection request with a personal message. I get a ton of LinkedIn spam every day. So if you don’t include the personal message, I’ll just assume it’s spam. But if you include a personal message also like getting in touch with you, and we can have a chat.


Kenny Soto  31:05  

For anyone who wants to make it easier. What I’ll do or what I recommend is just say, Hey, I heard you and Kenny Soto is Digital Marketing podcast. Really quick note, I think that would be the best way you ruin thank you so much for your time and your expertise. We really appreciate it. And as always, thank you to the listener. You have listened to another episode of Kenny settles Digital Marketing podcast. I hope everyone has a great week. Bye.

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