Lars Helgeson is a self-taught entrepreneur.
The son of a science teacher and a social worker, Lars taught himself how to code after working in the US Air Force.
His first business was one of the world’s first email service providers, CoolerEmail. He co-founded the business in 2001.
In 2010, he took the business a step further by integrating it into a sales, marketing, and operations platform.
He decided to call this new platform GreenRope. So, how has GreenRope fared 10 years down the line?
What are the plans to grow the brand? What are the 3 things that fuel the GreenRope brand growth?
Why did he decide to play in the CRM and marketing automation market? Why did he write the CRM for Dummies book?
Get all the answers to these questions and more in this interview conducted recently:
Lars, I know you’re a retired air force officer. Could you tell us your story?
I went to college in upstate New York and wanted to become a biomedical engineer.
I joined the US Air Force after that, and they assigned me to work in the space test program as lead engineer on an experimental satellite program.
It was a great experience. I had the opportunity to work with Apollo scientists and incredible geniuses at NASA.
After 2 years, I moved to a program working on counterintelligence. In 1999, I separated from the Air Force and finished my MBA.
Next, I moved to San Diego to start my first business, CoolerEmail in 2001 and GreenRope MVP in 2010.
How did GreenRope come about? Tell us the story behind the brand.
The story of my business starts back in 1997 when I walked into a bookstore to get a better understanding of the Internet.
At the time, I was in the Air Force and knew I didn’t want to work for a huge organization and be a cog in a massive, bureaucratic machine.
I figured if I could figure out how this new medium worked, I might be able to start a business with it.
I picked up a book called “Teach Yourself CGI Programming In A Week”, and proceeded to power through basic programs built in a language called Perl.
From there, I worked with the man who would become a business partner for the next 15 years to build a searchable database of fine art.
That company eventually folded but the lessons we learned took us to our next ventures.
Not every idea we had came to fruition, but each try brought us closer to the platform that evolved into GreenRope, our flagship CRM and marketing automation platform.
In 2008, I had the idea to create a platform from scratch that would address the real needs of businesses – integrating information together in a useful, actionable way.
That idea is what fueled the development of GreenRope.
Why did you decide to play in the CRM and marketing automation beat? Why not solve another problem?
After working with hundreds of businesses, listening to their challenges, and watching the market, I saw a common theme.
Businesses all struggle with managing the information they gather.
Sales, marketing, customer service, events, HR, and others all usually have their own software, creating and storing their own data, and often causing a tangled web of applications and reports.
If we could solve this problem, we could revolutionize the way business operates.
Why the choice of the name?
GreenRope represents success and the tying of your processes together.
Like the strands in a rope, the more strands that make up that rope, the stronger the rope is.
Our software has many features that every business can use to better manage their processes and deliver better customer experiences.
Because everything is in one place, your organization becomes stronger, more efficient, and able to achieve real growth.
Could you reel out the current figures for GreenRope? How is the product doing in the market?
GreenRope is a small business, with about a thousand clients.
We are growing organically, which of course presents its own challenges since we aren’t funded by outside sources.
What it does provide is a platform for us to focus on the needs of our customers.
Once a business gets a trial of GreenRope, they become clients over 50% of the time.
That kind of conversion rate says a lot about the quality of software and service we provide.
How did you achieve this? What channels did you use? Referrals, etc
We have three primary channels. These include PPC, content marketing, and referrals/testimonials.
PPC has really helped us generate a lot of highly qualified leads, and our close rate is almost consistently 40% each month.
Because we are a privately-held company, without access to an unlimited marketing budget, content marketing has been huge for us.
Our blog plays a large part in our conversions.
Our marketing team actively creates high-quality content and effectively distributes it to drive traffic to our websites and landing pages.
We also rely on referrals and review sites.
We have a tremendous amount of 5-star reviews and a lot of great testimonials and case studies from our clients.
This user-generated content speaks for itself and has significantly helped us with awareness and conversions.
How does content marketing contribute to your bottom line?
Because content marketing plays a significant role in our lead generation and overall conversions, it is an important marketing strategy for us.
We find that the majority of our new leads and clients visit the blog at least once.
How exactly do you use content? Could you share your content marketing story?
We use content in a number of different ways.
Of course, we have our blog which plays a significant role in both conversions and retention.
We also are on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, host webinars regularly, and share case studies across all of our channels.
In the past year, we have increased our video production as well.
Using data, we focus our content on where we see the greatest ROI.
So far, it’s been the blog, but our other types of content have proven very valuable.
For example, our webinars regularly bring in new leads.
Being the world’s first complete CRM, what do you think makes your company stand out? Could you share a story?
While the GreenRope platform does many things well, the two aspects we’d like to highlight are the marketing automation features as well as our level of integration.
Both are superior to our competitors.
Marketing Automation: While CRM is at the core of the GreenRope platform, marketing automation is what drives and connects each department together resulting in seamless employee and customer experiences.
Our marketing automation features include drag-and-drop customer journey mapping, email marketing, workflows, websites & landing pages, drip campaigns, conversion tracking, behavioral tracking, and more.
You can automate virtually every part of your process with the GreenRope platform with full visibility into your strategy.
Not to mention, all of the data collected from your marketing automation efforts is stored within the CRM to help you better segment and personalize your sales, marketing, and customer service efforts.
Integration: Instead of having to invest in a number of different platforms, each with a singular functionality, GreenRope lets you invest in a single, multi-functional platform.
This level of integration, not seen in competitive platforms, offers users the following benefits:
1. One single database to store all customer data.
2. Unlimited shared access user with role-specific permissions.
3. Sales, marketing, and customer service tools built into the same platform.
4. No need to import and export data – it’s already updated and accurate in GreenRope.
5. Real-time updates and tracking for all of your contacts and data.
6. Drag-and-drop customer journey mapping that ties together your sales and marketing funnels.
Is there any expensive mistake you made in your business? How did you overcome it?
The first mistake I made was having a business partner because I didn’t believe I could build a company on my own.
The biggest mistake was not having a clean contract that defined what happened when one 50/50 partner decided to not work on the business anymore.
It was expensive, but I eventually bought him out in 2015.
The second mistake was having a best friend as CFO and not having financial controls to be aware of embezzlement.
After admitting to it, we found a new accountant, and I now have more insight/control/approval over expenses.
Could you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Getting out of the Air Force and moving to San Diego in the middle of the dot com crash was difficult.
Lots of people didn’t think I’d be able to make it.
I lived in a small apartment with a view of stairs and worked 80+ hour weeks for 3 years to learn and build CoolerEmail, my first company.
I supplemented my income with side programming jobs while I worked on CoolerEmail.
I gave it away to people for free at first and then started selling it as it gained popularity.
Our growth was slow at first, but we were one of the first movers in the industry.
My drive came from the desire to never work for someone again combined with not accepting failure as an option.
What is the big picture, where do you expect GreenRope to be in the next five to ten years?
GreenRope is organically growing and providing more customers with Complete CRM year over year.
As we grow, we also want to be able to help more NPOs with free software to make the world a better place.
My ultimate goal is to keep the company small and maintain our family-like culture.
What do you think makes B2B SaaS enterprises successful?
Take time to get outside.
It’s important to clear your mind.
Find a balance. Get a dog. Dogs help ease anxiety and force you to step away from work, relax, and get outside.
Have a hobby that takes your mind completely off work.
For me, that’s hockey and surfing.
Why did you write the ‘CRM for Dummies’ book?
I wanted to show the business world that CRM doesn’t have to be intimidating.
If you break it down and think strategically and then tactically, it will make sense for your business.
It also explains how to pick the right CRM software to support your business.
The old adage of “you can’t get fired for hiring IBM” is still in play today, with companies picking the larger vendors in the space thinking it’ll be better for them simply because they have a big name.
Often that mistake will cost businesses millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours in the long run.
Popular phrases by GreenRope are “Take Command. Create Demand.” and “the Only Complete CRM in the Market.” How is GreenRope helping brands boost customer relationships?
With Complete CRM, our clients get an all-in-one, total business management solution.
Gone are the days of trying to piece together third-party systems or regularly importing and exporting data.
Instead, they can save money AND improve their customer experiences with complete integration between all parts of their business.
Sales, marketing, and customer service are all connected.
This means that the entire relationship a brand has with a contact is tracked and managed in one single contact record.
Teams no longer have to work with a ‘piece of the puzzle’.
They now get a complete 360-degree view of the customer.
This means they can deliver far superior, and more cohesive customer experiences, resulting in strengthened customer relationships.
Why did you refuse to take funding to grow the business faster?
As mentioned earlier, my mission was always to maintain the family-like culture I have built within my organization.
I didn’t want us to grow so quickly that we had to stop focusing on our customers.
Our customers are what keep us alive, and the feedback we get from them is what helps us grow and thrive.
Being a small company, we are able to take customer feedback and turn that into real actionable progress quickly, and without tons of back and forth.
We are an agile and dynamic team, constantly evolving to cater to our customers and the market.
I didn’t want to create some corporate, siloed culture.
Instead, I wanted to grow a family-like culture that fosters innovation, care for our customers, and a common goal towards sustainable growth.
How can entrepreneurs thrive and avoid burnout in the competitive B2B SaaS industry?
Take a break and stay humble.
Competition is fierce in the B2B SaaS space, but you are only capable of SO much.
Slow down, take time for yourself, and recharge every once in a while.
You’ll most likely find that when you refocus your mind, the more creative and productive you become.
How can small businesses make the most of their CRMs?
There are a few things that make businesses successful with CRM.
2) Strategy & planning
3) User adoption
Success with CRM starts at the top. It is less of a technology than a mindset.
Your team has to be willing to think progressively when it comes to technology.
They need to embrace the systems and understand how it helps the team become more productive, effective, and successful.
Strategy and planning are the second part of the equation.
I see too many people invest in CRM and do not put in the time to actually learn it or properly set it up.
CRM is a strategy and therefore takes planning to get it set up so that it works for the business and the team.
I advise all businesses to sit down and review their processes.
What are you currently doing?
How is CRM going to make these processes more efficient?
What is your goal with CRM?
Answering these questions, among others, will help establish a roadmap for CRM success.
The last piece of the puzzle, which if you do the first two right, may be the easiest, is user adoption. I often hear, “My team never uses the CRM.”
Most of the time that’s because they never had proper training and it was not established as part of the business culture.
CRM only works if you use it. It’s so important that you train your team, ensure they understand the importance and include the entire team in the onboarding process.
Everyone should be using the CRM, not just sales and marketing.
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