I’m not a business startup expert, neither am I the best director nor the biggest expert.
For far better examples of startup experts, I don’t have to look farther than my own neighbourhood – Mate Rimac, who built the world’s fastest electric car in his garage and now works with leading car manufacturers. The garage was in the suburbs of Zagreb, Croatia, a country which has never produced a single car. It now collaborates with leading auto industry brands, and recently Hyundai, Kia and Porsche have all invested significant funds in them. At the same time when young people are leaving for Germany in the search of a better tomorrow, proven professionals are going in the opposite direction and swapping jobs at Mercedes or Audi for those at Rimac Cars.
Another example is readily available close by – from Vodnjan in Istria, a region known for good wine, truffles and romantic stone holiday homes. And now Infobip, the world’s second-largest messaging software maker (SMS, Viber, WhatsApp, etc.) used by, among others, Uber. Today, it employs almost 2000 people in offices in 60 countries and is currently planning an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.
As one colleague remarked smartly – we all love hearing success stories of local businesses on the global stage, because they give us hope. Hope that you can do better and that with the right idea you can succeed, no matter where you come from. Even in Croatia, where I sometimes feel like time is running backwards.
Because we are not all great innovators, in addition to hope, these examples impose unrealistic expectations on ourselves. The success mentioned above requires great ideas and ingenuity, superhuman faith, energy, dedication and sacrifice. The success I will write about might be more compelling to the average reader of this article.
The idea is to tell you about how it was to start a Salesforce department in HSM informatika and about what I learned on the go, so if you get some useful information for yourself and your company, all the better.
HSM informatika is a family company that has been in business for almost 30 years. We have always done well, but in those few decades we have undergone many transformations – we started as an IT company developing our own software, and until a few years ago we were a sales-oriented company that was a distributor of global IT solutions such as Adobe, Google and similar.
Part of the company I run works on Salesforce implementations, and was founded in mid 2016. The team is continuously growing and today it has about ten employees and is already one of the largest specialized CRM teams in Croatia.
We have about thirty successfully completed CRM implementations and satisfied customers in Croatia and the countries of the region, as well as in the developed EU countries and the USA, where we have just successfully completed our first Enterprise project and showed that we have something to offer on the international scene as well.
When I came to HSM in mid-2016, my project (or rather, mission) was to launch a CRM campaign within the company. Our main desire was to launch a service-based program where we would be able to offer our customers greater added value than the distribution we primarily dealt with.
The idea was simple – we recognized a great potential for CRM solutions, since at that moment the vast majority of companies in Croatia did not use CRM and based their sales on the classic combination of Excel and ERP. Clearly, there were dozens of companies present that implemented different CRM solutions, but these were typically “classic” IT companies that worked based on customer demand, with no added value through improving the company processes (eg sales promotion assistance) expected. We also came to this realization a few years ago, when we unsuccessfully sought a partner for CRM implementation in our own company.
Also, even though Salesforce had been a persuasive leader in CRM at the global level for many years, no one was actively engaged in the implementation of Salesforce in Croatia and the surrounding region – users could almost be counted on the fingers of one hand – a couple of local representative offices of foreign corporations and a couple of companies that have come to Salesforce independently through research or through contact with their overseas partners.
There were earlier attempts by companies to develop a Salesforce business in Croatia, so we were the third or fourth company to get this opportunity, and quite obviously, this was a difficult task.
The moment we started the Salesforce team, since none of our employees had previously worked on CRM implementation, our technical competencies in this area were quite modest. But we had some great strengths and benefits – such as years of hands-on sales and marketing experience, as well as the support of a company that was successful in business and had a really good reputation in the market.
I learned a lot along the way. Some things worked right away, but some I had to learn from my own mistakes:
◉ 1. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
Initially, I had a great desire and faith that Salesforce could be made into a business in Croatia, and little by little, this zeal “infected” others too. As someone said – “if you really want something, the world will make it happen.” One should be aware that starting a new job also requires a lot of sacrifices – now I often get home at a normal time and take weekends to “shut down”, but for the first year or two there were neither weekends nor annuals, and I would often return from work late at night. Initially, the only correct path is to lead by example.
◉ 2. It is better for 10 people to sleep half an hour shorter than for one person to never sleep.
As taught by our dear partners, Adizes SEE consultants, for a business to grow, it is essential to share the burden/responsibility. I was also very fortunate in this regard, because I was building a team on a healthy base and my colleagues who are now in the leading roles in the Salesforce team have worked at HSM before. Over time, they were joined by new colleagues who had someone to learn from.
◉ 3. Workers complete tasks, but colleagues develop the business with you and bring value.
Although I have spent most of my career in a very formal banking environment, it was never natural for me to have a strictly hierarchically complex environment where it is difficult to get quality information and you are scared of warning anyone when problems arise. There is no such thing in HSM – everyone is free to make suggestions for improvement or even share criticism.
◉ 4. In the long run, luck does not exist, there is only a good and a bad way.
Like anywhere, there are good and bad things in life that will happen along the way. I’m still working on this – sometimes I’m euphoric when everything seems to be working out, and sometimes depression hits when an important and seemingly secure project goes down just before the contract is signed. If you do well, you will ultimately succeed. It’s all math – 1 project requires 5 presentations, 5 presentations require 20 good sales conversations, 20 conversations require 400 cold mails, etc.
◉ 5. You have to take risks sometimes.
A year or two ago, an extremely interesting candidate came to us for a job interview. We really liked them both as a person and professionally and it seemed like they would fit in well with the team, but the problem was that there were no new projects at that point and those who were open were not guaranteed. We decided to believe that we were on the right track and that something was sure to open up and that was how it really was. The next month, a new big client came out of nowhere, and the new colleague has since had almost no “idle” moment, and is now one of the most valuable members of the team.
◉ 6. Think carefully before any hiring.
Until a couple of years ago, we hired primarily by feel, and now every new colleague goes through a slightly more detailed process before arriving – completes a questionnaire and has a few talks and tests to see how he or she will fit into the team. Nonetheless, there have been a number of mistakes over the past few years. Only one thing really matters – the job we offer to our future colleague should be the best they’ve ever had. A new colleague who is smart and who has the best job that they ever had will easily deal with all obstacles. Also, a satisfied employee means a satisfied customer, which is not only logical but has also finally been scientifically proven.
◉ 7. You’re worth as much as you know.
My grandmother told me this at least a thousand times and it has stuck somewhat. Starting this business was a whole new experience for me and I gathered knowledge however I could – I asked what I didn’t know, and if no one knew how to help me, I read on my own – I read dozens of books on different topics – and technical ones, but mostly from sales, marketing and management. I also went to various management trainings, conferences, etc. Well-invested time is every time you learn something new after reading a book or listening to a lecture and put it into practice.
◉ 8. The real question is not “What if you invest a lot into an employee and they leave?” But “What if you don’t invest anything, but they stay?”.
The education of the team has been and remains very important to me and I systematically encourage it. Everybody takes official Salesforce certificate exams, which are extremely demanding, travel abroad when the opportunity arises – now for the second year in a row, we are going to the Salesforce conference in San Francisco to keep up with the new trends. True, once we invested a lot in a colleague and sent them for certificates and trainings, and they left the company before starting his first project. It happens. But far more often than not, colleagues learned something new, deepened some knowledge, were more motivated and made greater contributions to projects..
◉ 9. Find what sets you apart.
We didn’t want to be “another company implementing CRM.” Our focus has been on our strength – that is, practical sales and marketing knowledge through years of hands-on experience and partnerships with leading global companies. Our value can be summed up in: “We can enable you to sell more successfully.” Salesforce is just a tool, which just happens to also be the world’s best CRM.
◉ 10. If the product is good, less should be spent on marketing.
This is a nice saying I once heard and we spent a lot of energy from the beginning on developing competencies and knowledge in implementing CRM. However, one should not only rely on quality. To position a new product, you need to invest significant resources in marketing and sales to get your customers to know about you. Today, we are getting more and more projects through referrals from previous customers, but we still have a strong sales and marketing team that continue to generate much of our business. The key is active sales, and what has proven to be the best for this are Sales Development and sales events.
◉ 11. You need to believe in your product.
Salesforce is really actively used in HSM, used by sales, marketing, consultants, administration … And in our opinion, this is one of the key reasons of our double-digit growth rates year by year, and in the last three years we have increased our revenue by double, but also improved processes and enabled better communication among colleagues and teams.
So much from me for now. While this story around Salesforce at HSM is moving in a good direction, we will certainly have more challenges along the way. But more on this on another occasion.