Way back in the early days of Infusionsoft, Clate and Scott had a truck that didn’t work so reliably. Nicknamed “Squeaker,” the truck is at the center of a certain nearly-infamous and humbling incident, in which the execs Clate and Scott just had a sales meeting with saw them unsuccessfully trying to start Squeaker—a few times.
Clate and Scott share what that incident taught them, namely that it’s relationships, not appearances, that make a deal, and that everything is a season—with a bit of perspective and humor, you’ll get through the tough times in your business and your life.
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Clate Mask: Welcome everybody to this episode of the Small Business Success Podcast. I'm Clate Mask and we've got Scott Mart -- usually you say it, right? Go ahead.
Scott Martineau: Welcome. [laughter] Welcome to the Small Business Success Podcast. We're in for a great doozy of an episode today. My name is Scott Martineau.
Clate Mask: And I'm Clate Mask. We're cofounders of Infusionsoft and we've got a story from our early days that we wanted to share with you, and then share a few of the lessons we learned from it. So this is from -- probably our first or second year. We were doing custom software. We hadn't yet made the transition to a software product and we were doing dollars for hours, trying to keep the lights---
on, and it was definitely during that stage where we were just struggling for survival every day.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, I think the average salaries at the time were about $2,000.00 on a good month, per month, per person. And I had a -- at the time Clate and I both had these little trucks, and I had a little truck, we nicknamed it Squeaker because the AC fan belt was loose, and I didn't have the money, and chose not to fix it, and it actually was really convenient because at the time we lived at a house that had an angled driveway, so I would just back it up in the driveway, then in the morning I'd cruise down, and pop the clutch, and off we'd go.
Clate Mask: Yeah, and by the way, back in this time, you probably know that Scott and his wife Andee have six kids. We've got six kids, so we had a lot of kids, were taking home virtually no money, living off credit cards, trying to survive in the early days of our business.
Scott Martineau: So back then Clate was our -- Clate played a lot of roles and one of them was our star salesperson, sales manager, the whole sales team, but we were trying to land these custom deals, and there's one particular sales call that sticks out in our mind, and Clate and I piled into Squeaker, and drove over to the Arizona Farm Bureau which was a big deal for us. I remember---
Clate Mask: Yeah, Arizona Farm Bureau was an insurance company which was really a bigger company than any of the other custom software clients that we had, so we were kind of intimidated by the fact that we were working with this bigger software company, and man, if we got this deal, it would just be huge for us.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, so we were driving over there and we knew that Squeaker would only start -- the other problem was the starter was out, and so we would -- it would only start -- it was sporadic. We knew what we were doing. We parked it kind of toward the back of the parking lot so it wasn't too obvious, fixed up our ties and walked in.
Clate Mask: Ties. [laughter]
Scott Martineau: We didn't have ties, but figuratively speaking.
Clate Mask: I think we actually did.
Scott Martineau: Did we?
Clate Mask: We were all decked out and ready to make this big preso, yeah.
Scott Martineau: That's embarrassing, but I want to just pause the story here because it's that moment -- I went back and thought about it. It's that moment where as a business owner you're going into a situation and you know when you stop and look in the mirror you see all of your flaws, like man, I'm only making this much money. Who are we to go in here and sell this? When are people going to expose me as the fraud I am?
Clate Mask: Plus you had -- we had the desperation of we had to make this deal. We had to close it. These were times where literally keeping the creditors at bay was the sport we were playing, keeping the lights on in the office. We were really dependent on making certain sales and this was one of them. We had to get this thing.
Scott Martineau: Right. So we went in and did a great job.
It was a great sales presentation, a great conversation, and we walked out feeling really proud and excited about it, and then we got back to reality like, aw crap, we have to get in that truck. So we go around there, and sure enough Squeaker's acting up. She didn't start up, right? But it was not a problem. Clate and I knew the exact positions, so we opened the doors, both pushed, took us two attempts. We finally got the thing started and were like, phew, that was close. That would have been really embarrassing. Well Neil Schneider called us later and sent us an e-mail or something, and as it turns out right above where we had chosen to safely park the truck they had this overlook window, and the entire team we had just been selling to was standing there looking out, laughing. They had the most amazing time.
Clate Mask: Yeah, that was fun. That was a fun story. He called us up to let us know they were going to deal with us. We got the account, and we began to do a bunch of work for them.
Actually that was a critical account for us as we were making the transition to a product software company as opposed to a custom software company.
Scott Martineau: So we want to just spend a few minutes talking about this idea of how do you as a business owner approach -- this is a sales opportunity but there are other situations where you're dealing with customers and you really want to feel -- I think we all crave to feel validated, feel professional, maybe feel a little bigger on the outside than we feel on the inside, so we want to just talk through some of those issues and some things we've seen that will help as you're struggling with that.
Clate Mask: So I think one thing for us as we look back on this situation -- I think it's human nature to be so caught up on how everything looks when you're going in to make this presentation, and the reality that we learn from this story and many other situations since is that it's the relationship that matters so much more than how effectively we make the presentation, and how we go---
through all of the appearance of the work we're doing. It was the fact that we had a great relationship with Neil at the Arizona Farm Bureau that enabled us to get that account. So many of the things we were worried about just didn't matter that much.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, it certainly wasn't the car we drove that landed the deal, or maybe it was. [laughter]
Clate Mask: They had pity on us. That's right.
Scott Martineau: One other thing is I hate it when I see entrepreneurs not -- trying to be a big business for example, and not leveraging some of the unique strengths we have. One is as a small business owner you have an extreme amount of flexibility. You don't have to play by the rules. So I hate it when there's this feeling of, oh, we've got to play by the rules. No, let's find ways to leverage that ability we have to be nimble, to be small, to make quick decisions, to adapt for a customer, because it's a huge advantage that we have.
Clate Mask: I think obviously as you play to your strengths, you---
will be able to accomplish things that the bigger businesses can't, so that's another thing that we learned, is play to your strengths as a small business and don't get caught up or too worried about the fact that you aren't bigger. It actually can work to your advantage. Then I think the other thing I learned from that situation is how important it is to have both humility and a sense of humor as you're going through the hard times because we could have -- I'm be honest. I remember driving away just feeling like a piece of crap. I just felt so demoralized as we were pushing the car twice to get it started, but the thing is it didn't matter. We were able to get the account. I was worried about things I didn't need to be worried about, and the fact is it's a great thing to be brought to humility at times and recognize that the significance of what we've got ourselves all wrapped up into believing is going---
on really isn't that big a deal. Our relationships, the people we care about, the work we're doing, the way we serve our customers, that matters a lot more, and sometimes we get caught up in our minds a bit, and that prevents us from laughing at ourselves when we need to, and being humbled, and just serving others which is a great way to get through the hard times.
Scott Martineau: It's interesting because I think one of the reasons that people -- one of the reasons we want to look bigger I think is we understand that our customers, for example, also for example with our vendors as well, but our customers, what do they really want? They want to know that we're going to be there to deliver consistently and we're not going away. So I think there are ways to play to that and just acknowledge that you're small, but really understand that what people want is that confidence. It reminds me of the time when -- I can't remember if we shared this on the podcast, but we were trying to get a business loan, and we didn't have a model that was sort of rich with assets that they could collateralize the loan against, so we were going to give away the farm to literally just---
Clate Mask: Mortgage all three houses.
Scott Martineau: Had to mortgage all three houses in order to do it, but I remember when you---
Clate Mask: Second mortgage all three houses. Let me be clear about that.
Scott Martineau: I remember when you came back because you went back to Jacob to have a little heart to heart, and you just came back and told us this story, and it was a heated conversation where you were basically saying, "Jacob, look." You had to sell. It was about the connection. You had to sell him on the viability of what we're doing and sell him on us, and that's in a lot of cases what you're doing.
Clate Mask: Ironically the reason that conversation got heated in that particular bank lobby was he was telling me how important the relationship was, and I said, don't give me that crap. You're just trying to check boxes. The relationship is I'm showing you all the things we've done, the way we've worked together, and you won't increase our line of credit which was very frustrating. That comes all the way back to the first lesson on the Squeaker story which it really is the relationship that matters and the things you can leverage in your small business better than---
any of your larger competitors can leverage is a personal relationship you create, and there are tools to help you do that obviously that don't require so much one to one face time.
Scott Martineau: And maybe I'll just dovetail that into I think -- it's a little more tactical, but I think there are low cost ways I think to help valid -- just to -- it's going to sound wrong. I'm going to say make your company look more established, but there are things you can do. For example one of the things we've done with Infusionsoft, the software, as a small business owner, is bringing on a new customer you can create a very systematic approach where you're following up with customers to give them information sort of in advance of when they'd want it. You imagine somebody who buys, and everybody's going to get this consistent welcome message, perhaps a gift is sent to them, then you're going to follow-up X number of days after that to make sure that everything is going well, and if there are any issues you can practically address them.
So technology in a lot of ways I think has helped level the playing field, and what was only available maybe to a big business, if you put the investment in, just think about how you can reinforce and create confidence in your relationships, you can use technology to do that as well.
Clate Mask: Great point. I think the last point I want to make is when you're in those humbling circumstances, not only does humor and a sense of perspective help you to get through it, but just recognize the successes you've had, and recognize it's just a season. You'll work through it. Everybody's been through that and you'll get through it as well. Just stay focused on serving your customer, stay positive, and don't let those humbling circumstances take you down because they're just temporary and you'll work through it.
Scott Martineau: And if all else fails, call your grandmother, because she loves you no matter what.
Clate Mask: Thanks everybody for listening to the Small Business Success Podcast. Don't forget to rate on iTunes, and share and subscribe. We look forward to the next podcast. Make sure you tune in. And if you're looking for more ways to grow your business, check out our Knowledge Center at learn.infusionsoft.com. That's learn.infusionsoft.com.