In this episode, we talk about Santi’s journey from WordPress blogging to building an AI-powered profitability tool, how he got to the US from Argentina, and dive deep into COR’s sales process.
Santi Bibiloni is a Silicon Valley-based technology entrepreneur and co-founder & CEO at COR, an AI Management Software that serves Worldwide top Agencies and Consultants. Prior to COR he founded Balloon Group, one of Argentina’s fastest-growing digital agencies, among other businesses. Today he also mentors on Sales & Fundraising in 500 Startups.
COR´s mission is to empower ideas that change the world by enabling creative & professional teams to deliver value smartly.
Brain Sierakowski: Welcome to Founder Chats by Baremetrics, where we chat with founders and hear about how they started and grew their businesses.
My name is Brian, I’m the Director of Ops at Baremetrics. This week I talked with Santi Bibiloni, founder of COR. In this episode, we talk about Santi’s journey from WordPress to AI, how he got to the US, and get an awesome deep dive on their sales process.
Brain Sierakowski: Thanks, Santi. I appreciate you joining the podcast.
Santi Bibiloni: Thank you, Brian. Happy to be here.
Brian: I’m curious and would love to get a little bit of background on you to set the stage. When did you think about being an entrepreneur? Was that something that happened in school or is that something that happened to you later in your career?
Santi: I started doing some businesses, some small ventures when I was very young. I remember myself selling stuff on the beach when I was 13 years old. That continued my whole life. I’ve always been like that. My first formal venture, which started like a blog and then became a bigger blog, gave us the opportunity to start an ecommerce agency using WordPress.
That was the technology that we were using on that blog. I started the agency when I was 22 years old.
Brian: That’s awesome. What were you selling on the beach when you were a kid?
Santi: Milkshakes. I started selling the milkshakes at my parents’ house, the one we were renting on summer vacation, and I went to the beach to sell them.
There was a man from the resort who came in and said, “Hey guy, like you’re selling.” I really don’t remember but some people said that I was selling more than the resort, so he said [something to the effect of] “Hey, you need to cut this.”
So I stopped with milkshakes and I understood how to deal with stuff like threats. I sold them on the beach as well.
Brian: That’s awesome. So you got shut down- the regulation shuts you down on the milkshake side. So you said, “Okay. I need to find a new line of business now.”
Santi: Yeah. I mean, it was just for fun. I was very young, of course. I made some pennies. But I mean just to give reference to [my] mindset. Since I was very young, I always enjoyed that stuff.
Brian: That’s awesome. You said moving from your early proto companies/entrepreneurial activities.. You went from that and the next step you took was starting the blog?
Santi: So when I was 19, 20 years old, I went to college and I studied communications and I had a professor that aimed us to Pollick all the journalism articles that we were writing on a blog. At that time like 10, 11 years ago, WordPress was a big thing. It was the early days, right?
So he said, “Hey, you guys need to build a blog with your first name and last name dot wordpress.com.” So I did mine Santi Bibiloni dot WordPress com. And he said, “I’m going to put, you need to upload all the articles here so I can correct them. I can check them and put a note regarding on the article that I see there on your blog post. I said, “Okay, fine.”
So all people, we were all on the glass, uploading our articles, each of us on our own blog. And once these subject finished, I asked these professors “Hey, do you mind if I close this blog and I start my own? Buy a new domain?” I called this blog, “No tenemos techo.” In Spanish this means, “We have no roof”, like “sky’s the limit”. I started uploading and putting a lot of articles that I was writing. So at that time I started receiving a lot of visits, like 30,000 unique visits. And then a lot of international newspapers published some of these articles.
And what I realized is that 10 years ago, at least in Argentina and Latin America, there were a lot of entrepreneurs trying to start digital businesses, and they had no money at first for their MVPs. They wouldn’t hire a formal agency, like a creative agency to develop thei rwebsite or marketing campaigns.
So as I knew, WordPress was very strong and very powerful, I started my own agency when I was 21/22. That agency of our own group became one of the fastest growing agencies in that industry. By 2014, it had 400 clients in 12 different countries and it was all bootstrapped with no external capital.
It all came from an opportunity. We started Balloon Group by understanding the problem: there was a market of new entrepreneurs trying to build stuff but they couldn’t pay formal agencies like formal software development shops. And they didn’t have co-founders like CTOs, so I found that niche and scaled the business quickly.
During my time as CEO at Balloon Group, I saw a big problem in the creative industry, the advertising industry and also in the professional services industry. These creative industries sell hours of their people. Consulting firms do the same thing, [along with] the software development shops, lawyers, accountants, architects, and more.
I realized there was a big problem in that market as well. So we sold part of the agency and we decided to start COR. So that’s when we moved to the [Silicon] Valley here in San Francisco and started COR.
Brian: That’s incredible. How did you go from writing on a blog for a class to recognizing “Wow, there’s actually an opportunity here. How did you… what was it like? You went from doing classwork and to where something must’ve been something that clicked in your head. It was like something made you want to approach the professor and say, “Hey, I think I’m actually going to go in a little bit of a different direction here.”
Santi: Yeah. At that time, I always enjoyed writing. You know, when you are like 18, 19, 20 years old, you’re writing a lot about introspective stuff, you’re asking yourself about anything in the world. So, I just wanted to share my thoughts with other people. And I said to the professor when the subject finished, I said,” Hey, I think it will be worth it if I share my thoughts with other people.”
And it ended up being kind of successful. People liked what they read. At the time, I created a category, like a section where people can publish their posts, and we were receiving a post per day or at least like three posts per week from people that wanted to share their thoughts on my blog.
Brian: That’s awesome. So when you decided to start the new blog, it sounds like you didn’t have any idea that it was going to be any sort of success.
Santi: Yeah, I mean now, after we did the agency after and now COR here with the support of terrific venture capital funds from Silicon valley and from terrific entrepreneurs, I see that the blog as a very small thing. But at the time when I was 19 or 20, I was totally excited about what we were building.
Brian: That’s interesting. And what were you studying in school while all this was happening?
Brian: Yeah, that makes sense. Awesome.
So you’re writing and you’re interested in this space. Then you realize that. you’re writing about problems as far as launching products and noticing that there’s this issue where people that want to launch a product or have an idea that they want to bring to life don’t have the skills or the team or the knowledge to do that.
It sounds like that was the realization like, “Hey, I can do that.” Kind of almost sounds like, “Hey, there’s people on the beach in front of us. I can sell something to them.” What was that process of shifting from posting blog posts to actually spinning up an agency service?
Santi: Yeah. So this was 10 years ago. The digital ecosystem was growing a lot and in Argentina at this time, there weren’t a lot of success stories of digital entrepreneurs. What I realized is that most of these people that were having ideas and wanting to transform their businesses into digital businesses, they needed help.
They needed someone, either their partners, CRO, or an external service provider that could help them and start their businesses, their MVP, the minimum viable product, and then help them scale. And I just realized that opportunity, that problem at the same time, as I was writing this blog on WordPress, I realized how strong WordPress was and still is. I said, “I can build all this stuff with WordPress.” So that’s how we started.
Then of course WordPress started to be just a minimal thing of what we did. We hired a bigger team that was specialized and we did a lot of e-commerce websites, marketplaces, software, and more. But yeah, the very beginning was designing WordPress websites by myself.
Brian: That’s so cool. It sounds like, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you identify that, “Hey, these customers don’t know how to do this.”. And it sounds like you had experience with WordPress, but maybe you didn’t know either, but you just said, “Hey, I’ll learn it. And then I’ll provide these services for them.”
Santi: Yeah. I mean, I was learning at the same time. I was using WordPress for my own blog, and that’s how I learned it. I mean, I didn’t study. I’m not an engineer. I was building websites and, and I had no previous learnings from, from engineering/coding, because I didn’t need it at that time with WordPress.
Brian: That’s awesome.And so tell me, you mentioned that there was this shift from being a services company to the product road. How did you make the decision that it was time for a shift?
Santi: I think that’s a good question, and I think it’s the intersection of two things.
At first, my willingness to do something very big, very big- was very difficult to achieve without service business. And at the same time there, the fact of seeing a huge problem in the professional service industry that really touched me firsthand and I wanted to solve it. And the problem was so big and the market was so big that I just had, “Hey, we need to start building the solution.”
And we shouldn’t do this here in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, we should move to the valley. I was 26 years old and when I applied for our green card, I said, “I’m gonna make things happen. I’m going to move to the valley and start this business.” And that’s how we did it.
Brian: That’s so cool. Do you think you’re particularly good at identifying opportunities?
Santi: I think everyone sees a lot of problems around the world. Every problem is an opportunity. If you think of all the softwares you’re using today, they all solve a need, they all solve a problem. And not just software, mostly every business is solving a need.
So whatever you have around you yourself has the opportunity to become better. What are you using today in terms of cooking or how are you driving a car or how are you dressing like yourself? In everything you’re using, in most of these things, there’s an opportunity for things to get better, smarter, quicker, or more sustainable. There’s something that could be done better. So from those things, let’s say problems, they’re ideas. Everyone has ideas. The thing is who executes them. And just to find the idea is very simple because it’s like saying, “Hey, there’s this problem. There’s this opportunity. Okay.”
The thing is this problem needs to be very, very deep now and it needs to be deep and it needs to affect a lot of people. A lot of people, a lot of organizations, a lot of companies. Why? Because if this is not deep, people are not going to pay much money for that if it doesn’t hurt them a lot.
At the same time, if it doesn’t affect a lot of people, the market is going to be very limited. So what you need to find is a very deep problem that hurts people a lot, and that it hurts a lot of people. Then you can assure yourself of being on something that can potentially be very big.
Brian: That’s awesome. So you had this idea and made the determination of, “All right. We want to go to San Francisco for this. This seems like the place to place to grow and incubate this idea.” You mentioned you applied for the green card. How was that process? Was that a straightforward process or was it a challenging process to actually get over to San Francisco?
Santi: It was a very challenging process. I remember my lawyer asking me, “Hey, Santi, what do you want to do? There’s the L-1 [visa], the O-1 [visa], and then there’s the E-2 or E-1- one is the employee or director visa. We can create your company here, and say that the company needs to hire you, so that’s not like an employee visa. Then there’s the investor visa. If you raise money in Argentina from investors, you can say ‘Hey, I have all this capital and I want to deploy in the U.S. so that’s the other visa.”
He said the last [option] is the most difficult one. It’s going directly for the green card. He said it’s the most difficult one because you will need to prove extraordinary abilities. It’s the [visa] that John Lennon. But at the same time, it is the one that a lot of entrepreneurs have today and is actually very common. It’s very popular. And a lot of entrepreneurs that are coming from different countries are receiving it.
So he said, “This is the most difficult one. We need to prove that the US needs to have you within the country to create more employment here and to pay taxes here. So how can we sell the U S government that they need you to be there?”
That was the challenge, but we made it.
Brian: Wow. So even before you had to pitch any investors or try to get any employees on, your first pitch was to the US government. “You need to let us in because we’re going to make the country a better place.” That’s pretty interesting.
Santi: Yeah,I moved to the states pitching because it was the US government. Then we moved here and right of the bag while we were getting there, the green card that took a lot of time. It took almost a year. We moved without a certification that said the visa was in progress.
So we moved here, but no one would rent us an apartment here in San Francisco where everything was very expensive and it’s still very expensive because I had no credit report, no grade score, nothing.
So I needed to pitch to the realtors and to everyone until I got a place. And then six months after that, we applied to 500 startups, one of the largest accelerators here in the valley. It was the same thing- they were like, “Hey, Santi. I think you applied last year, Why are you here?”
I said, “Man, I’m here. Like I moved to the valley. We’re going to build a big business with or without you. That’s why I moved to the valley.” I remember there were seven vendor partners looking to themselves like, “I’m not sure if this guy is going to make it or not, but he’s confident he’s going to do it, so at least I’m going to be part of it.”
Brian: That’s awesome. It’s interesting playing through the chain of events. You’re still getting to the point of like, “Okay, we can get started.” You had to go through so many steps just to get to the point of like, “Okay, I have a place to live”, or those initial investor pitches. That’s a pretty long road to get to before you can really feel like you’re even at the starting line.
Santi: Yeah, of course. At the same time I was working and working and working on COR, this new company that I was building. So whilst I was doing all the green card stuff, all the 500 startups stuff and everything, I was building.
Brian: Tell me about that process.
Brian: Yeah. You know, we talked 10 minutes about getting over here and then you’re like, “Yeah, I just built it.” That’s the hard part for a bunch of people.
Santi: Yeah. And for us as well. I mean, there was a time when we had some differences. We were three co-founders and we had some differences with our CTO. We were going through a lot of things when I first moved to the valley and he was still in Argentina. And he left the company. So the long story short is that we ended up being my co-founder, COO, and CFO, who’s an old friend of mine from school, and me. None of us were engineers and we had no CTO and we were about to enter 500 startups.
Building the MVP or the first product to have traction was a very tough moment for us. Very tough. Then we took nine months to launch a product. And after that, we started iterating very fast. Then we started growing, little by little. We entered the 500 and 500 helped us a lot.
It was a four months accelerator program that really helped us on scaling. At that point we were selling. COR is a projects and profitability management solution for creative, professional teams, like for professional services firms. We’re an all in one solution that uses AI to tell them if they’re running profitable or unprofitable projects in real time.
So at that time, we started validating and iterating with some customers. And I remember our sales mentor in 500 startups. [At the time] we were selling a free trial to SMBs with no contract. They were just like trying the product, and then they started paying month to month.
So, free trial, no contracts, SMBs, and monthly. [Our sales mentor] said, “You need to take out the free trial. You need to sell to fortune 500 companies. You need to ask one year upfront on payments and you need to sign contracts for three years, at least.”
It was like, “Whaaaaat? Are you kidding me?” The company was like six months [old] at the time and the MVP was kind of rough.
And I said, “Oh man, you’re wrong. I mean, it’s impossible. We can get this working.” When it comes to payments from fortune 500 companies… One month later we were selling to four 500 companies. It was all a matter of having a north, like understanding what was possible, believing in ourselves, and of course, having a mentor that had already gone through that and can tell us, “Hey, this is the path you need to do this.”
Brian: How did you go from feeling pretty confident about a SMB free trial month to month contract then moving to fortune 500 long-term contracts year in advance three-year contract? How did you make that mental switch of going from being like, “I think we should be over here”, and then getting the advice and deciding to take it that you needed to shift the business model.
Santi: You know, Brian, we came here to the valley to make something big. So, my ambition, in the good sense of the word, my ambition was always to do COR as big as I can. If I was relying on a sales mentor that was great, and he’s still great. I respect him a lot. And if I, if I was going to rely on him, that he was very successful. He did that. He did these things before I understood that that was the path to creating something big, at least for what we were doing, that we were building an enterprise software. It was something very robust for SMBs. Today it’s simpler, and we have a ton of SMBs as part of our clients.
But yeah, he asked me, “Are these problems just for small companies or do big companies have the same problem as well?” I said, “Big companies have the same problem as well.” So he asked me, “Why are you not selling to these big companies?” I said, “Because I think we are not there yet. I think we’re not prepared as a product. And also because I have no knowledge on how to make a sale to the CEO or CFO of a Fortune 500 company. And he said, “Okay, we’ll do this together.”
Brian: That’s incredible. So you went from having no enterprise sales experience, and in fact being very SMB focused. And then- did you say that the next month you had closed contracts?
Santi: No. By the next month we closed a free trial. We started asking our customers for contracts. We started asking for one year up from payments and started receiving them. We started with the enterprise life cycle that ended up bringing Fortune 500 companies as clients in like three, four months after we started.
Brian: I’m used to talking to people that are in a kind of a constant love, hate relationship with enterprise sales. And I think the number one thing that they would say is the timeline, the amount of time that it takes to close is the biggest frustration. And I’ve heard from people, things that I’ve personally experienced- 18 months from first conversation to close.
So I’m very curious to hear well, especially again as someone who’s never done this before. It sounds like you had an amazing mentor, but what was the roadmap like? How did you go from, “We don’t have this type of business model” to three to four months later having these deals closed, which is like lightning lightning fast for, for enterprise sales.
Santi: You know, we had a great time. As you were saying, a couple of minutes ago, we went through the green card, the apartment, a lot of stuff just to get things started. And I think that helped me a lot as a company but me as well because I was carrying sales. Because normally, if you’re here in the US, you’re American, you reach zero to a million dollars in ARR if you’re a wealthy person or f you are the son of somebody, if you came from Stanford or Harvard or MIT or Ivy league. You have a lot of resources to help you out to make your first sales.
On my side, this was totally different. I came here with no friends, no one, nothing. I didn’t go to an Ivy league when I moved here, so I didn’t have any social network where I can bring clients in. So that innate pushed me and pushed us of course, to start with scalable processes from the very beginning.
And although it was very, very, very tough at first. I’m very glad because from scratch, we built a very scalable company. And how is that process, the go-to market? I think it’s pretty common when it comes to SAS or enterprise businesses that you have one tunnel. On our side, what makes the best ROI in terms of a decision is outbound.
So we hired SDRs. At first, I was a SDR and the account executive and the customer success manager, but then we hired an SDR. He was, yeah, a He. So he was calling and sending emails to these ICP (ideal customer profile) from our addressable market.
So first thing we did is say, “Okay, this is the problem that we are solving. Then we can talk about the big why- why is the problem so big and why are we in business?”
Because our purpose is key for us. This problem is in the professional service industry, and it’s not having projects profitable. It affects the CFOs more. So we understood that the three questions we needed to ask were to CFO. So the SDR was sending emails and cold emailing these people.
But the problem is so huge that the person just answered back, “Hey, I’m interested. I want to have a call.” So after the discovery call with the SDR sales development representative, the SDR would validate if the person had budget authority or needed time. After validating that, he was scheduling a demo with the account executive who was me at the time. Then I did the demo.
And after the demo, I validated the opportunity, I opened the deal on the CRM and carried this deal through the negotiation and then closed the deal. So we started applying this process from the very beginning instead of applying it after achieving $1 million in ARR, what it’s the most common thing to do.
That helped us because we attracted a lot of big venture capital firms or entrepreneurs who are part of big ventures. The fact of having a scalable fast-growing company with great unit economics, because we have part of our team internationally. Some of our team is still in Argentina and our unit economics are very strong.
Brian: That’s awesome. How early did you have your ideal customer profile?
Santi: Early days. I would say within the first month, early two months.
Brian: How did you make the decision where I feel like a lot of companies like yours, I could see being like, “There’s a lot of people at our Target customers, people who are billing hours.” There’s lots of people who care about the overall profitability of projects. The CEO probably cares about that. And someone in operations and, you know, the team leaders probably care about that. How did you make that decision that the CFO is the person that you were going to target?
Santi: So the CFO is the person who most cares about profitability. Of course, there are other people that care about profitability, but the CFO’s job is to take care of the costs, take care of the revenue. And the difference between that is profitability, right?
So although the CFO is not the person that probably in most of the cases, he’s not the person responsible for revenue, He’s the person who is responsible for making the company healthy, He or she and the CEO. The CEO is commonly more focused on revenue, building the team, making the company bigger, attracting new clients, expanding the vision, talking to the investors, relationships… So what we did is say, “Okay. This is total market that all professional services. Which vertical are we going to start with? We said agency, creative agency.”
For agencies, who’s the person that cares the most about profitability and at the same time, who’s the person that has the ability to purchase software. Both directions pointed to the CFO. The CFO was the person that cared about profitability and at the same time was the one that has the wallet and the money to purchase the license. So that’s how we decided to go to a CFO. And of course we target not just the CFO. We also send emails to COOs, CEOs, too. For SMBs, the smaller companies, [the best person to reach out to] is probably just the CEO. But when the company gets bigger you need to tackle smaller roles, right? So if you’re going to a fortune 500 company, although the CFO is the buyer, you need to go first, probably to a finance director or financial analyst or something, talking about the pains of profitability. They will scale, they will become champions, and they will scale the conversation to the CFO who is going to actually purchase the product.
Brian: I feel like since you were so familiar with that space already from being on the agency side, you could have also had your pick of which problem that you wanted to solve.
Did you come to this idea of project profitability very early on? Or was there any sort of evolution between what the actual pain point that you addressed and the type of customer and the person at the company that you wanted to target?
Santi: As we headed the agency before we understood that the main problem was profitability. I was talking with Jose, my co-founder and COOCFO at COR, who was also a partner at Balloon group, the agency we did before. We had monthly conversations about profitability this month. Because you know, Brian, nobody cares about project management. Project management is not the problem.
The problem is project profitability. What you don’t want is to deliver an unprofitable project and to have 50 people working on something that is losing money. And if you have no visibility about that, you’re going to end up delivering a lot of projects. And by the end of the year, when you want to share deviance with their shareholders, there’s going to be nothing.
And you have no visibility on why you have nothing. We were having monthly conversations with Jose. At that time, we were using tools like Asana, Trello, Basecamp, JIRA, Monday.. We were trying them all. They are great for task management and for collaboration, but none of them have the PNL on it.
That’s when we decided to focus our product on profitability.
Brian: Before you were really even building or selling the product, you had this clear crystal clear picture that profitability is the thing that companies should care about the most. And then you got into the sales cycle and you identified that CFOs care about this the most, and generally most CFOs have purchasing authority. Then, you mentioned the sales process where you have a SDR.. now that I have that loaded into my brain, I’d love to just go through the sales process again and sort of just break down each of the steps.
Especially since you said this is something that you set up at the very beginning of the company, it’s kind of cool to view the process.
Santi: You were saying, the CFO has the purchase authority and moreover. A very interesting thing as well is that, once you tell the end user, in this case creative people, account executives that are working in the agency, etc. Once you tell these people that the only way for them to have a better living is by showing their managers, their projects’ profitability so they can renegotiate the fee with the client. Once they understand that, they are totally engaged with the solution because they understand that logging hours either manually or automatically with the AI we use, helps give the managers visibility, because if you don’t do that, there’s no way your leader can renegotiate the fee with the client. And if they don’t renegotiate a fee on the amount of power, it’s really taking not the estimated hours, but the real hours. If not, you’re always gonna run an unprofitable project. And as a company, you cannot raise a salary if you’re not raising your prices.
It’s key for the end user to understand why we are in business and to understand our purpose. Our purpose is to help the end user a better living, to help the creative person to keep on working on what makes him or her happy. That is coming with great ideas that most of the time, the times transformed the world to a better world, keeping on with their passion. Instead of saying, “Hey, these agencies can pay you a good salary, so you need to move to another agency and ultimately to another industry, right?” That’s our purpose. And, once the end user knows it, everyone gets engaged on this solution and on solving the problem, regardless of the solution, regardless of COR.
Getting back to the, to the sales strategy. We have a database of most CFOs of the world of agencies, then consulting firms,and software development shops. Then we go a little bit lower in terms of roles. So CFOs, finance directors. We also target COO CEO. And then we send them emails.
If you are going to SMBs or mid-market, you can do this massively. I mean, you can run HubSpot to send thousands of emails or whatever per week per month. If you’re going enterprise, you need to tailor the message to target better.
And once you get the attention of this person, you do the discovery call and validate if the person is a sales qualified lead. Then, you schedule them or with the account executive to negotiate and close the deal.
Brian: How do you build that initial list? Are you using a prospecting tool or something like that?
Santi: Yeah. I think we do all of these with LinkedIn sales navigator and we scrapped the emails with tools that are cool Silicon valley companies. If you go there, you’ll see Hunter, I think it’s Hunter IO… there are a bunch. They are evolving every now and then.
I have the team today always trying to find the best tool. But there are a lot, I mean, I think when I started the process, we used Hunter and we used Clearbit, if I’m not wrong. Now I know that the team [has since] grew and they’re trying other tools, as well.
Brian Sierakowski: So you already kind of created this core message that you want to communicate around running profitable projects. And it sounds like you tailor it to the specific roles. Some people are more focused on the side of, “Make it easier for me to do my job.” And then some people at the company, especially the CFO, who have their attention turned very closely to, “Are we making money or are we not making money?” I’m sure sometimes there are some good projects and some bad projects, so you have the core message and then you have the list and then you’re sending emails either directly or through LinkedIn or, or using some sort of tool. What does that process look like?
Santi: I receive a lot of emails and LinkedIn messages every day from SDRs, from other companies. And I think one of the most common mistakes is to talk about them instead of asking about me. So they reach out saying, “Hey Santi, how are you? I’m with this company and we do XYZ. And we solve this and are curious about you.”
Like, who cares about you? I didn’t ask you what you’re doing. I think that’s a very common mistake and I will encourage every entrepreneur and salesperson to ask about how the other person is solving their problem. And you need to be sure that it’s the ICP, and that the problem is big for them.
So once you make two, three questions, what we do is we congratulate that person on the first paragraph and it’s sincere. I mean, all the enterprise deals we do, we target and we tailor, so we’ve explored this person, we explored the company to see something cool that they’ve done, and we mention that in the first paragraph. Or if there’s someone, a common relationship, like if we are both friends, it’s also very good to put that down on the first paragraph.
Then in the second paragraph, we would ask two or three questions about how he or she is solving a profitability problem.
And in the third paragraph , we show him or her three success stories from companies similar to them. And at the very end, “Hey, do you have some minutes to talk?” And that’s it. I think that then of course you have a lot of strategies you can do, on changing your role or position instead of sales, you can put “consultant” or, or whatever.
There are of course, common sense things that will enable you to have a better opening or answer rate and more. And then I think the second email needs to be very, very, very precise and simple. That is, “Hey Brian, have you seen my last email? Thanks, Santi.”
That’s it. You don’t need to go through the whole thing about profitability. And that email needs to be on cadence from there, the previous one. If not, the person needs to go and search for your name and see what was their previous email. And it’s mostly sure that the person is not going to do that.
Brian: Got it. Do you do any other additional follow-ups? Are there just two emails in that [cadence] ?
Santi: Oh yeah. Then we do a third one that ‘s a little more extensive: What other questions? And then for the fourth one, we use HubSpot which sends us a notification to call the person.
The fourth action is to call them and also write through LinkedIn. With some very big prospects, we did crazy stuff like sending stuff to their offices, like very personalized, big stuff. And they ended up signing and becoming our customers after probably 18 months, as you said before.
We’ll send them cakes because they won a new client. We did a lot of things. We travel to close very big deals in different places and different states, different cities, countries. And for the big ones we travel for that deal.
Brian: That’s awesome. And when you reach out to call, are you getting their phone number from the same sources wherever you got their initial contact information from them?
Santi: Normally, yes.
Brian: That’s awesome. So if I was going to bring the Santi method to Baremetrics, I would reach out to you with, “Hi Santi. And I don’t say I’m Brian, because that’s the, that’s the wrong line to go with.
I need to congratulate you first. So, “I was checking out COR and I think it’s amazing. I saw that recent press release of how you did this big thing, or, you know, whatever information, you know, you raised all this money or you had this huge success and we know how hard it is to build a software business.So our hats are off to you.
And then I would go into the second paragraph and I would say, “I’m curious, how are you managing churn at your company? We’ve noticed a lot of our customers, before they start working with us, don’t know which customers are likely to churn. On top of that, they don’t know how to stop them.. in the third paragraph would be that proof. So here’s a couple of case studies and here’s a blog from one of our customers who reduced their churn by over 85%. Are you interested in having a call with us?”
Something like that? Is that roughly the format?
Santi: One hundred percent. You did perfect.
Brian: Okay, great. Yeah, I’m open to any coaching as well if you have any recommendations on how to make that better.
Santi: Of course you can try different things like videos etc.. I mean, we tried a lot of things. You need to find whatever is more scalable. And at the same time, you do retargeting so you can target these people on paid media. So when you’re reaching them out on email or phone calls, they go to the web and they find you as well. They see the banners and think, “Wow, these guys are targeting me.” They’re everywhere.
Bryan: That’s really cool. What else do you do on the marketing side to support the outbound sales rep?
Santi: We build a lot of success stories. We put a lot of effort into that. I think that’s very helpful. And we do SEM. We don’t spend a lot on paid media. Just around $3,000 per month for the total paid media, ICM and everything.
We also do blog posts and then a series of podcasts with people from the industry and emails for product marketing. Marketing generates a lot of MQLs (marketing qualified leads), and they will have a score of how hot they are based on the amount of interactions that they do with our content.
And that goes directly to notifications to SDRs so they can see right off the bat that someone has interacted three times. Like, he went on our website and he went to the section and this page, and he wants your pricing and although he didn’t request a demo or whatever, he might be very interested.
And so the SDR gets a notification automatically.
Brian: Are those SDRs that handle the marketing qualified leads? Is that a different set of SDRs as to the ones who do the outbound prospecting or is that the same team?
Santi: So we started with the same. We started with the same understanding that the best practice was having a different one, but we didn’t have the money at the moment to hire. Not just the money, we didn’t have everything validated yet for us to hire. And at the same time, we didn’t have that much S N Q L to have specific people for each segment. But today, yes, we have [different teams for different leads].
Brian: Cool. That’s awesome. And so either it’s been an outbound prospect that we’ve gotten to come into the funnel, or we have somebody interacting with our marketing content.
We get them to the stage where they’re willing to have a phone call with us. And then at that point, what is the next step that you’re trying to get them to? Is it a trial or a proof of concept or some sort of demo? Or where do you take them from there?
Santi: Yeah. After the discovery call and after they’ve [talked with] an account executive.. What the account executive does is validate the problems this person has. They ask them [more question] because everyone also wants to feel listened to, right? So as an account executive, you need to go through all those points. Otherwise the person would say, “Did I lose time talking with this other person, your colleague?”
So you need to say, “Hey John, I heard you have this visibility problem, this and that..” and you need to tailor the demo for them. In most of the cases, the bigger the company is, they will like to introduce more people and bring more people to the table to make the decision.
And if the company is very big, of course, they will include everyone like tech, security, governance, and procurement. Like everyone. If not, they will at least include their peers or other managers that will benefit from the tool. [They do this] just to see what they think, and [gauge] the adoption, because most tools fail on implementation because of change management.
It’s not about the tool itself. The tool can be amazing, but if the people are not willing to, they’re not going to adopt it.
Brian: I skipped over it a little bit, but with that discovery call… What happens in that discovery call that sets the stage for the demo and the later steps?
Santi: So the SDR receives the marketing qualified lead, or they did the outbound, and then they schedule the discovery call. The SDRs are salespeople probably [recently] out of college, like more junior, but want to start their sales path. And they do a lot of interactions, like huge activity.
So if you put the account executive, who’s more senior and who can negotiate, run over objections and that kind of stuff, knows how to forecast.. If you put the account executive to go talk and discover if people are qualified or not, you’re going to spend a lot of money.
So what you do is: put the SDRs doing this huge activity. And once they schedule a discovery call, they need to verify if these people are qualified for sales. You don’t want to sell to everyone. That’s a big thing. I mean, you don’t want to send everyone to the account executive because if the account executive receives a person that has no budget or has no need, or has no time, or has no authority…
Those are the four things– the bond. The bond is the thing that the SDR needs to verify in order to send this person to an executive. If not, they got an executive who’s going to spend a lot of time and it’s not going to be worth it.
Brian: That customer will then go over to do the demo. Like you said, generally they’ll bring other people into the room. And that’ll be a very tailored demo because of what you’ve learned about them. And you sort of show them the product and say, “Here’s exactly how we’re going to plug into your organization. And here’s how we can solve the problems that you have.”
From there, you go into that implementation phase, like you mentioned, doing everything that you can from your side to handle the change management. Even though the old tool they’re using is probably not great, they’re used to using it. So getting them onto something new.. how do you work customers through that process? Like, at Baremetrics we compete with spreadsheets.
Sometimes it can be really difficult to pull the whole organization off of spreadsheets and onto a tool like ours. How do you go about doing something?
Santi: That’s a great question. Everyone wants to buy, but no one wants to be sold, right? No one wants to hear salespeople. So what I think people need to do is to help them. Help them buy because they want to buy what is best for their organizations. So you, as a salesperson, need to help them evaluate what’s the best solution for the problem they have. Hopefully it’s yours, but maybe not.
And if not, you need to discard those prospects as soon as possible. So if you understand from scratch that the problem… In our case, for example, if their problem is project management and it’s not project profitability, or if they’re not looking for an all in one solution for the professional service industry, I would rather go say, “Hey, there are plenty of tools, go with Monday or Asana, Trello, Basecamp, you can disqualify. That’s how you can also understand if solving that problem, profitability, is their top priority. If that’s not their top priority, it’s better to target later on.
Brian: That makes perfect sense. Cool. Okay. Well, I do want to start to start to wrap us down here, but I kind of feel obligated. We’re so close to getting all the way through the funnel. You know, you have this great trial and customers decide they want to sign up. What steps do you take after that from a customer success perspective or, you know, the after-sales steps to make sure that the company continues to use the product? At that point, do you also look for opportunities to upsell different products that you can add to them? What does the post-sale process look like?
Santi: Once they become a customer, we present them with our customer success management team. Change management is the key there because you can train them technically on the platform, and that’s also very important, but one thing that I would emphasize is industry knowledge.
In our case, we have a lot of industry knowledge. We know very well how agencies work, how consulting firms work because we come from there. And the team that is within COR also comes from there, mostly in the customer success management team. So it’s technical training, how COR works… What’s probably most important is change management training. You need to make everyone feel secure and feel safe. Their job is not going to die. They’re not gonna be replaced by robots. And it’s not, how can you be afraid of COR? It’s more about how can COR empower your current job.
So once you have everyone on board on that, we [make customer success] a very important job on purpose. We have a meeting with the whole company or if we cannot do this call, we’ll send them a video. We tell them why we are in business.
We are not in business to make, in this case, for example, the agency more profitable to make shareholder is more profitable only. Of course that’s one of the consequences, but at the same time we thought firsthand that creative people need to raise their salaries.
They’re working a lot. They work 14 hours a day, 16 hours a day. They work on weekends and this is the only way you can raise your salary if you can show what the cost of the project is. Then the leader can renegotiate with the client. If, if the people, if the end user buys in, then you’re creating a great company.
Brian: I have one more question, and maybe it’ll lead to a few more, but I do want to be thoughtful and respectful of your time. I’m just curious. So we’ve sort of gone all the way through the funnel from, you know, a prospect that you’ve never talked to before, and now we’ve gotten all the way through to signed contract and now in a customer success mindset.
At what points in the process do you engage the product team? Are they involved in demos? Are they getting feedback from the sales team or how do you plug all these customer touch points into the product to make sure that the products improve?
Santi: We put the product team in first when they become a customer. Some of the some conversations we have when we’re doing the sale is what [softwares], or what CRM, or what other tools are you using? So we can integrate them. And so the product team comes in after they become a client and we see with our customer, if there is a need to integrate the software with other platforms. And if that’s the case, we bring the product team in. If not, we don’t bring them in.
Brian: And so they, and I don’t know, maybe if the product team likes this or they don’t like it, but if everything goes smooth with the sales process, then they have the opportunity to be left alone and the sales process can move through smoothly. Is that accurate?
Santi: Yeah. I mean the product team speaks a lot with our customers, but not because of not because the client needs it, it’s because we need it. We want to understand them better, we want to hear them, we want to know how are they and what problems they have so we can build a better solution.
Brian: What is that process like? Is it on an as-needed [basis]? If the product team has a new feature that they want to build, is that something where they will conduct a specific customer outreach process for that, or do you have ongoing customer touchpoints that are sort of always happening to gain feedback and to, to hear from the customer?
Santi: So we have two common scenarios. One is an ongoing [effort] where every customer answers their NPS. We send NPS surveys every day. So once we have someone that likes the tool a lot, we have the product team reach out automatically.
So that’s one touchpoint. The other one is [done] as we are designing new features. Our product team on a design sprint will always bring some customers to give testimony on the feature may or may not improve their work.
Brian: That’s great. I feel like I can keep asking you questions and x-raying every process at your business. I love how thoughtful and methodical that you’ve been. I feel like a lot of times businesses will create these processes and they’ll implement them at the beginning of their business and they won’t do it in the right way to where it creates more drag than benefit. I just love to hear how thoughtful you’ve been, and it sounds like you’ve put in the right amount of effort at every level. It’s just so interesting to hear your story. It’s almost like every time, you know, I’m sure [you were] zooming out.
Living through it probably wasn’t quite like this, but hearing your story, it almost feels like every great opportunity that flew within 500 miles of you, you grabbed and you took and you actually executed on it. So, I appreciate you sharing everything. And this has been really useful.
I do want to provide a minute at the end here for you to talk about COR to any potential customers out there, you know, put the word out if people want to learn more about the company and maybe potentially want to be one of those MQLs that we were just talking about. Where can they find out more about the product?
And maybe if you just want to give a little bit of a pitch to say, “Hey, here’s exactly the type of customers we’re looking for,” that would be awesome.
Santi: Thank you, Brian. So you can get to know more about COR at projectcore.com. COR is a project profitability solution. What we understood is that nobody cares about project management. Everyone cares about delivering a profitable project for your service firm.
When we say service firm, we mean if you’re a creative agency, an advertising agency, if you’re a consulting firm, if you’re a software development shop, if you are an architect, if you are a lawyer, if you’re an accountant, if you’re billing hours to your client, you need to understand beforehand before delivering that project. [You need to know] if you’re profitable or not.
COR is the next generation solution for creative and professional teams that will help you intelligently deliver projects and teams, and finance in the right way.
That’s what we do. We apply machine learning and AI to automate a lot of the stuff– keep the boring things for the machines and put the creative people to work on what is important.
Brian: I realized that we didn’t even spend any time talking about all the incredible innovation that you guys have done in the ML and AI world to make all these things seamless.
But if anybody’s interested in seeing that they’re going to have to sign up as a customer to experience it firsthand, right? (laughs)
Santi: Thank you, Brian. I felt very comfortable. I love the way you interview and I congratulate you and Baremetrics for the things you are doing.
Brian: Awesome. Thanks so much, Santi. I appreciate you making the time.
That was our conversation with Santi Bibiloni, founder of COR. If you’re an agency looking to deliver work profitably and on time, check out projectcor.com. If it’s business analytics and growth tools, you’re looking for check us out at baremetrics.com.
We hope you enjoyed this episode and invite you to check out our other Founder Chats. And if you’re able to share with a friend or leave a review, that goes a long way. Thanks for listening!