#024 Community-Led Growth with Cliff Simon
Unlocking Sales Success Through Relationships and Empathy
Guest & Host
Cliff Simon & Steven Morell
Welcome to Speak Revenue, the podcast where we emphasize that revenue is not just a goal; it's a result. In this show, we shift our focus from the output to the inputs. We engage in conversations with sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their remarkable journeys. Our mission? To uncover the true root causes of success. In this episode of Speak Revenue, your host, Steven Morell, delves into the world of community-led growth with guest Cliff Simon, the CRO of Carabiner Group. Discover how to build trust and grow your business by leveraging online communities and providing value without being salesy. Cliff shares valuable insights into his journey, emphasizing the importance of relationships, empathy, and the long game. Learn practical strategies for connecting with potential customers, and gain a deeper understanding of the power of referrals. Tune in to uncover the secrets behind successful community-based go-to-market strategies.
October 19th, 2023
Steven Morell: Welcome to our new episode of Speak Revenue. Remember, revenue is not a goal. It's a result! But a result of what exactly? In this show, we turn our eyes from the output towards the input. We speak with sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their journeys. So join us on our quest to uncover and learn the root causes of their success. Let's unpack what works for them. And what didn't. Today with my guest and my friend, Cliff Simon, I'm so excited to have you here in the studio. Thank you for joining.
Cliff Simon: Thanks for having me, Steve. Appreciate it.
Steven Morell: Cliff, I think I know you quite well, but you know, such a deep person, there's probably just scratch to the surface. For our audience and those who still don't know you. There shouldn't be any, but there might be some. Real quick, who are you? What do you do? Who do you do it for, and why are you so successful?
Cliff Simon: First off, thanks. I think you gave me far too much credit. I'm Cliff Simon. I'm the CRO of Carabiner Group. What do I do? We help companies take a look at that customer buying journey and leverage technology in a way that actually helps them propel that go-to market motion forward. What's made us successful has been a unique approach to go-to-market, and a lot of it being centered around community-led growth.
Steven Morell: And I remember vividly about a year ago in Cali I don't remember which conference it was. You stepped me through your process and that was a revelation that stepped us really quickly through the process. You are essentially in a consulting business. Is that correct?
Cliff Simon: Yeah that's right. We do RevOps as a service.
Steven Morell: So consulting requires a special level of trust.
Cliff Simon: That's right.
Steven Morell: How do you build this trust? How do you leverage communities in your go-to-market approach? Tell us.
Cliff Simon: So I think it takes a step back from, just from the question our thesis on go-to-market has been that people in the B2B space wanna buy in the way that they buy in B2C. And what's the number 1 way people buy B2C? 54% of folks buy through word of mouth referral.
Steven Morell: Yeah.
Cliff Simon: So for me, as go-to-market motion, when I was an individual contributor, it was showing up at conferences and if my company wouldn't pay for me to go to the conference, showing up at the bar, showing up at the restaurant, staking out the name tags and going and having a conversation, right? The underlying question is where do your customers go to get their questions answered and to get help, right? Pre Covid- that was at conferences and nowadays that happens too, but 2020-21-22, a lot of that moved to online communities. So that's where we've made our home.
Steven Morell: First of all, can you name some communities that every VP sales, no matter which industrial vertical, should be a member of.
Cliff Simon: There's several that I definitely attribute with a lot of our success in my own growth. Into the C-Suite. Pavilion being Chief among them we're exclusive partners with them. We've got a great relationship with the folks at RevGenius, Sales Assembly, Wizards of Ops. We're exclusive with the RevOps Co-op folks as well. From a sales perspective, I'm also somewhat involved in Modern Sales Pros, Sales Hackers. There's all of these places that you can go and the larger ones are some micro ones, but it's really about building relationships and to your point, building that trust.
Steven Morell: So let's look at a community and maybe we make an example with Pavilion. We are both members of Pavilion. I think we are both members of RevGenius and a number of others you mentioned. All those communities have the risk that if you just show up and you're being salesy, then well, that's bad for you, that's bad for the community, and you ain't gonna close anything. They're filled with amateurs or beginners who have the need to sell something and tell everyone on the first handshake, Hey: I'm selling this, and this. Are you buying? We help companies like yours. You don't know anything about my company!
Cliff Simon: It's the worst way to do it. It's the worst way to do it, right?
Steven Morell: "Hope this email finds you well". No email has ever found me well. But listen, how do you do this in a community without coming across salesy?
Cliff Simon: Oh, I think it's - you take the sales hat off, right? It's not about selling, it's about building relationships and building trust, and how do you do those things? Just like you would in real life, in the B2C world, like you would in your personal relationships with others, you show up, you do so consistently, you lead with empathy, right? You look to add value into other people's lives, help them solve their problems, right? I was doing 40 to 60 zoom calls a week for the first 18/20 months that I was here at Carabiner. And 9 times out of 10 it was, I saw someone having a problem. I responded to that problem because. Now I'm fortunate enough to have almost two decades of go-to-market experience in mid-market and enterprise across a variety of industries, right? So I have a pretty unique purview and was able to give that perspective, say: Hey, I've seen a problem really similar to what you've dealt with or what you're talking about here. How can, if you want, like we can take some time. And I'm happy to share with you how I solved for that in the past and perhaps how you might solve it now. We can workshop that together. If you wanna have a conversation, great. If not, I'm not asking you for your business. And coming off of that, be a 25 minute conversation about their problem at the end. It's always what do you do? Oh, I run a RevOps agency. Oh, okay. Maybe there's a need there, maybe there's not. But the ask would always be, listen, I expect nothing from this. If someone asks you about rev ops or mentions that they have a problem with that, just remember my name, right? It was really, deep down going after that concept of give give, add value, become a thought leader and not trying to extract value. But that came over time. I was showing up consistently leading with empathy, being a human, treating other people the way I wanted to be treated.
Steven Morell: I like this a lot. I keep saying in almost every episode I keep repeating, there are only 4 ways you can tell, how you can tell somebody about your business and what you're doing. There are people who know you and people who don't know you, and you can do this one-on-one and you can do this one on many. That's it. There are no more possibilities. So just to go through the exercise. If you tell people who don't know you one too many, then we are talking about billboards on the street, TV commercials, right? If we are talking one-to-one with people who don't know you, then we are talking cold email. Cold calling. And don't confuse cold email, it's not one to many! Even if you send a thousand emails, it's one-on-one, just very fast. And then we can tell people who know us one to many. This is where we post on LinkedIn or, and this is gonna be my new example- if you answer in a Slack channel of a community, a question about a problem. Those are people who know you from this community, and if you then go into this one-on-one, then you have warm people who know you one-on-one. And this is where we close businesses,
Cliff Simon: And that's just how it happens in the real world too, right? We go to these conferences, we see folks, the businesses don't come together, the people do. And it's not at the event it's at dinner or at a happy hour, or you decide to go catch a hockey game together, right? And that's where relationships come together.
That's what moves things forward, right? People buy from people.
Steven Morell: Yes, that's that. That's so true! Now, I know that you're extremely busy. I know that your time is extremely valuable. I cannot see how you spend 8, 10, 12 hours a day going through Slack conversations in bazillions from different communities. How do you hands-on, how does Cliff even find, identify, qualify, disqualify the conversation where he gets engaged?
Cliff Simon: Oh, I think it's about where can I add the most value, right? What specific communities or which specific pockets of folks within a certain community can I have an outsized impact on, and how can I help them with what they're dealing with today? And that's changed over time. Although it's stayed largely similar, right? As far as the personas. But the way I engage, I think has changed a bit. Originally, the way I did that was, leveraging Slack, using some features that were available there to be able to quickly identify questions that I knew I could answer. And then leaning into the community and adding value. Right? And it was super successful. I was booking something like 83 meetings a month doing that when we were first building the business out. That has grown and changed over time to... Now, a lot of those word of mouth referrals aren't just coming from people within the community. That's grown, right? Those concentric circles have continued to push out. So it's not just the people that I know that I've talked to, it's their friends or their boards or their growth and operating partners at the VC and PE firms that they partner with. So it's really interesting to see where things come from today versus where they came from two years ago. But it's the product of showing up consistently, month over month, quarter over quarter, year over year, right? This isn't something that you can just start doing tomorrow and have instant success. It takes a quarter or two or three to really see that knock-on effect and have it become something that's repeatable enough that you can actually use forecasting off of it. But it does get there, right?
Steven Morell: Where do I start? If I'm a VP Sales and I've been doing cold calling, cold emailing SEO, the whole shebang, and I see this is all getting worse and worse and worse, and coming through a screeching hold, and my open rates are down, my response rates are down. Nobody's picking up the phone anymore. How do I start? What do I do tomorrow? What do I do today?
Cliff Simon: I think it really goes back to where do your customers go for help? What is their buying journey? When I'm looking to buy something, whether it's a piece of tech, a new mattress, a new car, whatever, I talk to my friends. I ask them what they think, what have they used, what have they found helpful? And then maybe as the next step beyond that, I'll go check reviews online, right? So maybe I'm going to G2 or AppExchange or whatever, Trustpilot, who knows, right? And you start aggregating data as a buyer because I wanna understand what's available to me and what fits what I perceive my use case to be, whether that's in my personal life or at work. So go to those places, go to the places where people look for that information. And do what you can to provide value there, right? That's gonna look different for everyone in the industry you're in.
Steven Morell: It's so important to emphasize this. When you say deliver value, it does not mean tell them what you do. No.
Cliff Simon: No.
Steven Morell: Help them with whatever you can help them with.
Cliff Simon: That's right. Yeah. This is not a, I'm telling you about me so that I can extract value in typically in terms of monetary value, right? This is, I'm showing up and I'm pouring into you. giving you value. I'm not expecting something in return, and I'm trying to see how I can help you solve your problem. Case in point, right? I just had a partner of mine literally before this call, pull me into a call with a client of theirs. They're having a problem with an implementation. There's a significant issue because of the underlying architecture and HubSpot, they need to implement a CPQ. They weren't sure if they needed to. Most likely never turn into something that's actually valuable for us from a revenue perspective. But I had a CFO, a Head of BizOps and a VP of CS on a call, and I was able to give them 4 or 5 actionable things that they could take away and think about. And maybe they switch off of HubSpot and go to Salesforce because they need a tool that's a little bit more robust for where they are in their journey. Maybe they don't, or maybe they purchase one of the 3 CPQ tools we talked about on HubSpot, right? That's up to them. But I was able to give them perspective and a third party view that didn't have any specific leverage to gain or, what's the word I'm looking for? Yeah.
Steven Morell: No skin in the game. Yeah. And you can apply this to really any market. While I was listening to you, I was thinking, I think it's Bob Moesta with the "Demand-Side Sales". He tells the story about flipping houses and they were offering landscaping and gardening services. Because this is how you get to talk to house owners. And then you find out, when they're ready to move out or when they're thinking about downsizing. Children have moved out and they're thinking I can't do the gardening alone anymore. I need help. This is how they come in. And, once they had helped them with gardening over a couple of years, they had their foot in the door.
Cliff Simon: Then you're probably also using them to enhance the curb appeal as you get ready to put the thing on the market.
Steven Morell: Yes. Exactly.
So what really whatever comes in the bubble around that, your subject. Think somebody said a lead magnet is a full solution for a very narrow problem. And I think a great example has been given by the people from Gong. They were amazing because let's think about what Gong does. Gong records sales conversations and helps you to train your salespeople. It's only helpful if you actually have conversations, if you have empty calendars. It's utterly useless. So they had solved the first problem and their content marketing was: Here are 25 templates for cold emails. Here are 25 tricks on how to book meetings because they helped VP Sales and the Head of Sales and team lead sales to build calendars. Now they have the foot in the drawer and they can sell it.
Cliff Simon: Yeah.
Steven Morell: Yeah. I also love your approach: "Do you know someone who?", you said this before telling us a little bit more about this. You go into this conversation, you solve a problem that is not in your, say commercial expertise. It's not a service that you sell, but then, You had a nice saying if somebody asked for help, if somebody has this type of problem, just remember my name. Tell us a bit more of how you practically put this into a conversation.
Cliff Simon: It's funny because this was ingrained into me at such a young age. I know you're not from the States here, but a lot of folks here have either sold or purchased Cutco knives, right? And the entire concept behind that is you basically go around to all your friends and family, try to sell them knives, and then you ask them: "Hey, do you know 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 people that you might recommend that I have a conversation with about this?" Even if you don't buy, if you give me X amount of referrals, I can give you something. So there's a value exchange. For that thing that they might have wanted or anyway take that 20 years down the road. Now, it's something that I think a lot of sellers overlook, right? And I've been hearing this since I first broke into B2B decades ago, right? You just ask, a lot of people just don't do the basics. Asking for a referral is all it's the easiest thing to do, especially after you've provided value, right? For potential prospects. When you're talking to your existing client base and they've had a moment of delight,you and I both do all of the Winning by Design stuff. Jacco would talk about that popsicle moment, right? When your customers experience a moment of joy, that's the best time to ask for a referral. "Hey, who else in your network do you know that has this problem?" Because I know you network with other people.
Steven Morell: Yes.
Cliff Simon: What other that you talk to, right? Yeah.
Steven Morell: If you ever are afraid to come across salesy, I think the best antidote is don't come across salesy. Ask if they know somebody. Don't pitch something. Go: "Hey, Cliff! By the way, do you know somebody who should come on my podcast?" By the way, do you know somebody? Then tell me after the show.
Cliff Simon: Yeah. That's easy.
Steven Morell: And of course you are talking to them. They might go yeah, I need this. Or they go not from the top of my head then no harm is done.
Cliff Simon: Yeah,
Steven Morell: Yes.
Cliff Simon: And here's the thing, right? It doesn't have to be today, right? I don't need that now. You're planting a seed, right? We've had referrals come in from folks that I met at an executive dinner 18 months ago. And told me about them and because it just happened to come up. That's the thing with this, you're playing the long game,
Steven Morell: Let's talk tools. How do you do this? You've been at this executive dinner 18 months ago. You've been at that conference. You are in a bazillion of Slack channels and email based forums and so forth. How the heck do you keep track of all those people? You're not working alone. How big is your team right now?
Cliff Simon: On the go-to-market side, I think we're at 4 people.
Steven Morell: So how do you keep track of who spoke with whom, so that nothing falls behind the digital cracks and you keep that contact warm.
Cliff Simon: So Slack Salesforce integration helps. We use Ebsta to ingest all of our email and calendar data, so that's all being tracked inside of Salesforce. We pull data off of our Calendly directly into HubSpot, that gets integrated directly into Salesforce as well, so gives you a unified view. And then as far as the way that we action it,
Steven Morell: Step us through this because I think this is really of value to the listeners. You mentioned Slack- Salesforce integration. Step me through how this works.
Cliff Simon: So it works far better for us on the CS side of the house than it does , like ,say in Pavilion, right? I don't own Pavilion, don't own their Slack channel. I don't have access to the metadata there. But for us, when we interact with our customers, we're doing all of that on Slack Connect as a day-to-day communication tool. We also use that to integrate into Jira, into email so that we have one... God, I hate the stupid saying, but it's that Virtual HQ, right? We're a fully remote company. So being able to see and visualize and touch everything there is really important for us, right? And now if we ask for any of that information, like a referral, it can get captured there and get pushed over and we can work it from there. As far as actually tracking where things come from, it's still a fairly manual process in the fact that we actually have to ask and know to ask a couple layers deeper to get the real answer. Oh, I heard from a friend. Okay, tell me what friend? Okay, what was that friend's name? Where's that friend working? And then, we might have to sit down internally and build that journey backwards because it's really hard to do that. We're using Dreamdata to try to do that now as far as website visits and pulling in that first party intent data. And we're looking at a couple other things to look at, some third party intent. You're feeding your email data and everything to Ebsta. Which role does that play? So one, it's activity tracking. It's tracking all those meetings across folks that may not even be in the sales motion now, but down the road if a referral ever comes in or they come back. We can see how the relationship evolved over time, which I think is important. 'cause customer buying journey isn't just the 30 days from when someone raises their hand and says, I need help. It's that relationship.
Steven Morell: Yeah. Yeah.
Cliff Simon: I just yesterday had the situation that I jumped into my car. I had my phone in my hand, and I saw a notification, a long notification of somebody coming back with Hey, Steven, the deal that you proposed, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I was in a hurry. So I flip my phone, turn on navigation, then I drive home, and then I spend an hour and a half trying to figure it out... What channel was that? He didn't send me an email. It wasn't WhatsApp. It wasn't on LinkedIn. I finally sent him a WhatsApp message. And got like, dude, are we connected on Tinder or something? Because I can't find it. And he goes no, that was Slack. And I was like, oh he's in my slack.
Steven Morell: But it took me an hour to find that. How do you deal with all those channels, with all those people and with the large team?
Cliff Simon: Segmentation as far as like on the team who handles what, right? So we try to have rules of engagement in place to, to make sure that we're showing up consistently and not in a way that's intrusive,
Steven Morell: Mm-hmm.
Cliff Simon: right? I think that's really important. As far as staying on top of it, the notifications really help, right? Hit it when it's happening. I think that's one of the interesting things about the community approach, right? Everyone that's in there expects some type of value out of the community, and when you can show up consistently and you can meet somebody when they're asking their question, they're probably more likely to respond. Just you've got an inbound on your website and someone hits the yeah, I want a demo, and you get back to them more likely to book that demo, right? We're all feeding that instant gratification monster that lives within most people. And you're adding value to the community. You're giving them what they're hoping for. It's all these things that
Steven Morell: You are moving them from the people who don't know you, to the people who know you, but you necessarily need to know them. right?
Cliff Simon: You don't necessarily need to, but I would say it's a good idea
Steven Morell: Yeah. You wanna, but it's easier. It's easier to offer something to people who know you, and they don't necessarily need to, you don't necessarily need to know them just yet. You can get to know them on the customer journey. Cliff, a question that I ask every guest that I have here. If I would have a time machine that allows you to write a postcard to the five year younger Cliff with a warning of what not to do, what would you write? Dear five year younger Cliff, don't do...
Cliff Simon: The majority of the mistakes I made over the last 5 years are the ones that have allowed me to grow the most. I would say get more sleep, number 1. Also having 3 kids at three and a half and under. I love it, but , maybe a little bit more planning. No, my wife would me if I said that. Thanks. The other part in there would be just to be more pragmatic in the way that you're building a business. I think. We grew so quickly in the first two years that we didn't think about the full-on effect of that knock-on. I would say just like most startups you gotta take the time to build all the operating processes and the underlying architecture that drives your business. And I think we could have done a better job of that in year one and year two. And when I say we, I think I could have done a better job of that in year 1 and year 2.
Steven Morell: I think you are raising three kids. You're doing an amazing job. By the…
Cliff Simon: Got a lot of help.
Steven Morell: The difference. If you, most people answer, trust your guts or something like this. But if you are a parent, then just get more sleep, man.
Cliff Simon: I gotta be honest, my wife does an amazing job and lets me get a ton of it.
Steven Morell: I'm sure it's both of you. All right, everyone. That brings us to the end of this episode of Speak Revenue. I want to thank our guest, Cliff Simon for joining us and being such a fantastic guest and sharing your insights and your story with us. Huge shout out to all our listeners you support means the will for us. Please remember to check our website : speakrevenue.com and visit us at Apple Podcast, Google Podcast. As long as we still have that Spotify and wherever you go for your listening needs. And please leave a good review. It really helps to get the word out. Also follow us on LinkedIn, on Instagram, on YouTube, and wherever you find us, we'll be back soon with another great guest. Until then, stay curious, keep listening and stay safe. See you soon.