Why Steli Efti Thought Branding Was Bullsh*t


Steli Efti used to think branding was bullsh*t.

In fact, when people approached the CEO and co-founder of close.io looking for advice on the topic, he admits he’d mentally replace the word “brand” with “bullsh*t”. Needless to say, it wasn’t a concept he held in high regard.

But then, something changed: his company began to grow. And fast. In the crowded CRM space, this was no small feat. Of course, it was due to the strength of the product, but there was another catalyst for growth: The authentic and irreverent brand Steli had built.

Recently, Steli sat down for an episode of Seeking Wisdom with David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt, and talked about how his perspective on branding shifted with the growth of his company. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend a listen.

But in the meantime, here are a few lessons you can takeaway.

Lesson # 1 – Brand isn’t what you think it is.

“Brand was this thing I couldn’t really grasp,” Steli says. Initially, he thought it referred to things that were “good for the ego”, but didn’t really move the needle for a business: big corporate sponsorships, events, and public relations. It took growing his company to realize that brand wasn’t actually any of those things.

In reality, Steli says, building a strong brand meant creating energy and a story around a company beyond the product and its features.

Lesson # 2 – A strong brand helps you differentiate.

The CRM space is a crowded one. But Steli discovered that brand played a huge part in differentiating his company from the competition, a learning for any business in an incredibly competitive industry.

“It’s simple to copy a feature. But copying a point of view? Copying a voice? Copying conviction? That’s hard to do,” Steli says, referring to the ingredients necessary for building a strong brand.

With a compelling story or point of view to bolster and differentiate, brand has the potential to connect with people on a much deeper level. In most cases, this is the kind of intangible element that people get exposure to long before they start a sales conversation. But when it’s time to buy, brand goes a long way towards breaking down barriers to that first conversation.

Lesson #3 – The enemy isn’t hate. It’s indifference.

If you want to build a brand people care about, you have to stand for something. Even if it means you don’t win over everyone.

“Most companies that I meet–and I meet so many SaaS companies and founders and software businesses–most of them don’t have the self-awareness to know: Who are we, truly? What do we stand for? What makes us different from everybody else?” Steli explains.

As Steli points out, far too many companies are afraid to share their unique story or perspective, for fear of potential hate, or backlash of any sort. But as both Steli and DC point out, that’s a huge mistake.

“The enemy isn’t hate, it’s indifference,” DC explains, pointing out that when businesses play it safe with their brand identity, most people end up not caring at all. And that’s not an outcome any business wants.

Lesson #4 – Humanize the sales process, or perish.

Bots are here to make sales and marketing conversations easier, not take over human jobs. And, as Steli points out, as long as humans are buying products, we’ll need to make the sales process as people-first as possible.

“Humans will always need help from a rational point of view, and an emotional point of view,” Steli explains. So it’s incumbent upon us to be mindful of those needs, and focus on conversational marketing to help make that connection.

Lesson #5 – Sales reps of the future will exhibit two key traits.

The modern seller will be the model of what Steli calls “friendly/strong”–he or she exhibits a high degree of empathy and passion for doing right by the customer, but they will be successful because they operate from a position of strength.

But this strength comes not from brute force. Instead, it emerges out of deep understanding of the challenges facing prospects and customers.

“You need to be listening carefully and well, which is the hardest skill to learn in sales… But if you ask the right questions, if you pay attention–if you truly care–and if you make the prospect feel truly understood… how many times does that even happen? If you’re telling them–from a position of strength–what to do, why to do it, and how to do it… You’re always going to have people that will want to buy from you,” Steli explains.

Final Thought

Besides being the first person to successfully invite himself on the Seeking Wisdom podcast, Steli’s also an incredible source of advice on sales, growth, and the inner-workings of the SaaS space. So, if you have a few minutes to check out the full episode of Seeking Wisdom, I encourage you to do so, sooner rather than later.

Subscribe on iTunes and listen to the full episode of Seeking Wisdom with Steli.

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