John Paterson of Really Simple Systems tells us about building long-lasting relationships, saving time, and making more sales with the simple CRM software.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
John Paterson: We are all fine, thank goodness. We all started working from home as soon as the pandemic began back in March last year, had a couple of days in the office in the summer, and then back to lockdown. Being a technology company helped. Of course, we all worked from home on Fridays before COVID anyway.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Really Simple Systems.
John Paterson: I’ve spent my life running IT companies, both high growth, and turnarounds. In 2004 having finished yet another turnaround, I decided to break away and start a new business from scratch. It was the early days of cloud applications, I had run a CRM company before and had installed countless CRM systems myself, so I seized the opportunity.
How does Really Simple Systems innovate?
John Paterson: Our design philosophy is to look at the features and capabilities of big, complicated, and expensive CRM systems and work out how to make them simple and affordable for our customers, who are small and medium-sized businesses. We also look at complementary products to sales systems, such as marketing systems, and incorporate that functionality into the product. An example of that is our new Marketing tool, which brings mass email functionality into the core CRM system.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
John Paterson: Almost all our customers are small and medium-sized businesses, and it was very obvious when the pandemic started that those in the travel and entertainment businesses were hard hit. A lot of them either downsized their CRM systems, asked for it to be frozen, or simply canceled. Attrition continues to run higher than “normal,” which has hit our growth, but we are still signing new customers and growing, just not quite as fast as before. We expect that many customers who have downsized or frozen their CRM systems will come back later this year.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
John Paterson: As this is probably the fourth recession I’ve been through, you learn to take action earlier rather than later. We had budgeted for new hires and increased marketing spends, and these plans were immediately shelved, so the cost base didn’t grow. We were profitable and cash positive before the pandemic started so that obviously helped. I would not have wanted to be an externally funded startup burning cash during these times.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
John Paterson: Experience of previous downturns is the best skill. Watch the costs, accumulate cash if things get worse, keep a steady head, and get ready for the bounce when it is over.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
John Paterson: There are a zillion CRM systems out there now. I don’t bother to try and count them anymore. Many come, spend money on Google Ads and then disappear again. To win in any business, you need a great product, excellent customer service, competitive pricing, and good marketing, so people know you exist. Nothing original there! Then don’t blow it all by doing something crazy like a bad acquisition, expansion into the wrong territory, or a failed R&D cycle.
Your final thoughts?
John Paterson: If you haven’t experienced a downturn before, talk to someone to has. Stay cash positive, take the opportunity to make the product better, and wait for the sun to come back out again.
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