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Buying, selling, filling orders and keeping it all streamlined. In a fast-paced and high-demand market, you can’t afford confusion in your workflow. Mark Graham, the co-founder, and owner of commonsku, a CRM order management and workflow collaboration software tool, offers an answer to this crucial need.

Join co-hosts Bart Simpson and Matthew Nutt as they sit down with Mark Graham to find out what it takes to brave uncertainty and serious risk, to pursue what you are most passionate about.


“commonsku was created to empower your business: to streamline your workflow, connect your team, impress your clients, and allow you to close deals faster.”

This industry-specific software developed out of the pressing need Graham continued to see within his own promotional products distribution company, Rightsleeve. This company, that Graham started with his wife Catherine in their early 20’s, had grown and flourished to the extent that things were starting to fall through the cracks. The oversights were entirely due to the lack of consistency in the company’s workflow. They found themselves using many different processes and software to keep track of the details, and ultimately it was an issue. Mark felt the business had hit a glass ceiling, and while they were successful, they were unable to break through to continued growth. The need for a streamlined and more efficient way to work became paramount. Not finding a solution already made, the pair set out to develop their own application that would revolutionize their company’s productivity. Thus the idea that became commonsku was born.

Now, eight years later, commonsku has been driving force behind 600 million dollars worth of business from the companies that have utilized it for their brand. The D Distributors using this software have found a profound impact on their businesses because they are “leveraging technology to streamline everything.” And because communsku was designed specifically for the promotional products industry, companies have been able to grow at remarkable rates with tailor-made technology working for them.

What is CRM?

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a technology for managing all your company's relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. The goal is simple: Improve business relationships.

And that is exactly what this software offers. commonsku was created to work directly with distributors to streamline all aspects of their business from the initial presentation to the final invoice.

While their company is successful, what has been gained has not been without significant risk. Starting from scratch, essentially working with the right people to design and build this software, has required time, money, energy and continual resources. Financially, the Graham’s put everything they had on the line to make their dream a reality. No company was willing, at the time, to invest in a baby software start-up. But with a true entrepreneurial spirit, they forged ahead with continued creativity and belief that they really had something that would make a huge stamp on the market.

“In retrospect, I was really an entrepreneur first and a products guy second.”Without that mindset, that spirit of creativity, Graham admits this dream would have been too overwhelming. In whatever your business, you have to be willing to put it all on the line. If you don’t believe, it’s probably not the thing you are cut out to do. So much about being an entrepreneur doesn’t make sense and the failure rate of new businesses is high. The only way to justify such huge risks both professionally and financially is because of unwavering belief.

Graham knew they had a solution to a problem and knew it worked.But at the time it was a brutal balance. In developing the software, Graham’s initial business suffered because the founder and most productive salesman was out of the picture. Ultimately, he realized that when really evaluating the business, it had morphed more into a software company with a promotional products division, rather than a promotional products distribution company. It was at this juncture that Graham realized that his vision had changed and created a separate and distinct business in commonsku. Now, both of his loves would have the opportunity to flourish independently of one another.

Today, the biggest business challenge that Graham has is the massive responsibility of keeping the software running smoothly that other companies are using. This requires a brilliant team of people who have the expertise to handle each little issue that might arise. You have to have people around you that you can trust to keep all the plates spinning and company running smoothly.

Graham’s advice for any entrepreneur is to truly believe in what you are chasing.

“If you build something that matters and solves a problem in a tight and focused way--it’s one step at a time and will work out.”

He believes in delegation and not spreading yourself too thin. If you have the right people in the right places then you are free to do what you are most passionate about. For Graham, true greatness means being able to positively influence others. Whether a company, community, or customer, he wants to have a positive impact. His biggest mentor is his father, a cardiologist, who always modeled this idea himself. For Graham, coming to work, genuinely loving your time there and knowing that you are impacting the lives of those you are serving, is the greatest accomplishment. “When you know your true north, everything else falls into place.”

Graham counts on his three kids and wife for motivation. Although tricky to keep work and home completely separated, Graham believes in transparent conversations with his children and allowing them to be a part of what’s happening, business or otherwise. He puts a focus on trying to be present, mentally and physically in family life. Graham also credits positive people in his corner, physical activity, and a voracious curiosity as driving motivators to keep pushing forward to the next big business adventure.

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