Selling simplicity

Let me tell you about Clevertim.

And to set the stage, I’ll have to tell you we’re a small startup, based in London, UK and operating in a very competitive industry: CRM for small businesses, web contact management, etc. At least that’s what google thinks about us. We see ourselves differently: we sell simplicity.

I know what you’re thinking. We live in a predominantly quantitative world, where startups get measured by the number of features, whistles and bells they decorate their products with. In such a world, simplicity is like trying to sell snow to the eskimos simply because that’s all you’ve got. It is perceived to mean “no features”.

Now, I’ve never tried to sell snow to the eskimos and between you and me, I like to hang out in a milder climate, but here’s how I can imagine it a salesman go about it.

 

“Hi Mr. Eskimo. I hear winter’s coming and you need to build an igloo pretty soon”.

“Indeed”

“Well, I’ve got this snow that has 50% more adherence than normal snow and it never melts unless the Earth changes course and this becomes the tropics”.

“Hmm, sounds good, but what color is it?”

“White.”

“Well, I’ve got enough white snow, look around you…”

“We’ll color it green for you”

“You’ve got yourself a deal!”

 

What are the key points in the dialog above?

1. Identify needs and focus on solutions (need an igloo, we can help with our snow)

2. Add enough customization and eye candy for the customer to feel good about buying and using your product (replace igloo with iPhone in the dialog above)

An alternative sell pitch can promise a full eco-house, with remotely controlled thermostats and lifts to the first floor and basement; a good investment packed with goodness but only available in two winters time as the build and customization are likely to take a tiny bit longer. The eskimo, as most people, will end up using about 10% of the features but will likely be the envy of the whole village (if he survives the first winter that is).

At Clevertim, we decided to focus on the 10% that actually get used and leave the rest to our competitors. As simple as that (and no simpler – as the cliché goes).

After going through this process, we actually discovered that implementing 10% is actually more difficult than implementing say 80% of the solution, and that’s because, when you implement 10%, you need to:

– Identify needs better (what’s in that 10% really?). The appeal is to build 80% hoping that should cover more needs.

– Target certain customers (different customers will use a different 10% of your features). The appeal is again to build 80% to cover as many customers as possible.

– You need to subtract and simplify. The appeal is to build as many features, rather than improve the usability of critical features.

This last point is quite important. You don’t just stumble upon simple and intuitive solutions from your first attempt, instead you have to go through a slow process of improving the usability of your products guided by the experiences of your customers and your own experiences of using your product (we are big users of Clevertim CRM ourselves – eating our own eskimo food). As you learn more about usability, the more you and your customers use the product, the more insight you gain, the more you can improve it, simplify it, streamline it into a better product.

Every time you add a new feature, the process is the same and you have to start with the question: “How do I make this feature easier to use, more intuitive?”.

Why do we think simplicity is so important? Three main reasons:

1. The joy of user experience

Using simple, intuitive products is pure joy. You don’t have to think twice when you click, you don’t hesitate when you have to accomplish certain operations. It is all very obvious. Using such products that do exactly what you need and they’re easy to learn and use is a real pleasure. They’re products that don’t get in the way of you doing your stuff (with all the associated frustration or lack of). Think google search. Simple, powerful.

If they look good and they’re optimized for performance for the operations you use every day, you also get a much needed productivity boost and feel good factor.

2. The target customer

We target small businesses with our CRM product and generally small businesses that have had no previous experience with CRM systems or other web based contact managers. Some of these sales people working in these small businesses are not IT or computer savvy. This means we had to come up with a simple CRM app that is easy to learn and use and makes you feel like you hit the ground running.

3. The CRM market we operate in

A crowded market, I know.

There are better and more complete CRM solutions out there in this market but most of them require a steeper learning curve and a longer period of customization. Generally bigger businesses need that and our product is not for them.

Small businesses on the other hand need a system that is better than the alternatives they’ve used until then (email inbox and/or spreadsheets) and they want something simple that doesn’t get in the way, as they need to focus on their business, not CRM.

We believe our target customers in this market are buyers of simplicity.

All I have said here is just the tip of the iceberg, as our friend Mr. Eskimo would put it, but I do intend to talk more in a follow up article about the practical steps we have gone through to simplify our product and make it easier to use and about some of the core features that helps us in our goal of improving usability for our users.

In the meantime, being true to our goal of making CRM simpler, we made it really easy for you to try out our product, should you wish to. On our main page, we put a big “Quick Demo” button that won’t ask for your emails, credit cards or likes on Facebook. All you have left to do is press it. Simple!

Disclosure: Mr. Eskimo is a fully fictional character and while his preference for green snow is dubious, he does tend to be representative for the vast majority of buyers who want uncomplicated solutions to their problems that look good, make them feel good for buying and allow for some customization that doesn’t take years to implement. After all, winters are quite harsh in Eskimo land and they simply don’t have years to implement solutions.