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In today’s climate, just about everyone thinks that they can build an “app for that.” While I had a feeling that getting our innovative intranet solution to market might be somewhat of a challenge, I also thought it was a matter of time until potential buyers would inevitably see the many benefits we offer.
Little did I know that gaining market traction would prove as challenging as developing the actual software.
How we started
My partners and I had more than 20 years of combined experience in intranet consulting when we set out to improve the intranet wheel using Microsoft SharePoint technology. We knew that despite SharePoint’s inherent ability to streamline communications, organize workflows and boost productivity, most companies struggled with efficiently using its intranet capabilities. In its initial iteration, our company worked on building intranet software specifically tailored to each client.
Thanks to our previous experience and work, those early clients represented some of the biggest names in the business and helped Origami Software gain a foothold. However, to grow our company, we could no longer build each intranet from scratch to serve the distinct needs of each client. This business model was inefficient and mind-numbing for the software team. But then we came up with the novel idea of packaging the most common features and services into a pre-built intranet-in-a-box.
We built it and thought they would readily come
With our intranet software development figured out and highly positive feedback from our first consulting clients, we expected new sales to flow with ease. And, sure, our website did start to receive more and more online demo requests, but this forced me to spend more and more time on sales calls with ever-growing numbers of potential clients. I am talking about what seemed to be countless hours per week talking to people I would never hear from again — hard work with nothing to show for it.
This started to lead me to a crisis of confidence.
Time to call in the sales pros
From talking to others in the business the solution pointed towards hiring a sales professional. So, we did.
But, to our surprise, our sales pro seemed to run into the same issue I did earlier. I remember coming to one sales meeting and realizing that the prospective client’s budget and needs were way off the mark.
So, after one of these awkward sales meetings, we came to a big realization. While we certainly knew our software, we did not know our potential customers. Our website and other sales outreach were not attracting the type of clients we could help. Something needed to change.
The first sales solution
We set about understanding our customers by first figuring out what kinds of companies were buying our solution. To determine commonalities among our best clients, we listed them and discovered that almost all of them had 100 or more employees.
After making that discovery, we set up a qualification form on our website to screen prospective customers based on their company’s workforce size.
This reduced the number of unqualified leads by about 50%. Initially, it felt a bit unsettling to reject so many potential leads — were we losing potential sales? That feeling soon passed, though, as it became apparent that the remaining leads were more open to the sales process and more readily responded to emails and calls.
However, while we seemed to be making progress on our sales conversations, we still weren’t closing all that many deals. And progress on those potential sales tended to often dry up, with the customers rejecting our emails and calls as time went on. We obviously still needed to learn much more about our ideal customer.
Finding our ideal customer goes well beyond the size of the workforce
With more sales-related brainstorming, we realized that our focus on workforce size was too one-dimensional. We were qualifying potential customers by their employee headcount, making our value proposition generic. So, for example, when a company with about 300 employees came by, we assumed that it had the exact needs, budget and vision as a similar existing customer with 300 employees.
This, we further realized, was shortsighted on many levels. First off, because our software primarily benefits employees working at their desks, our pricing seemed inflated for prospects whose employees are not 100% desk workers (for example, factory floor workers)
Additionally, we did not account for differences between industry types, let alone other intrinsic values such as a company’s culture, workforce tech proficiency, and many others. In short, our qualification was still off the mark. There was a disconnect between what customers wanted and what we thought they might want.
Developing better sales qualification
At this stage, we had determined the following:
- Lead qualification decisions should not be made on a gut-level feeling.
- The “gut feeling” should be replaced by a set of clear criteria that rank leads.
- We needed a system to enable us to give potential clients the most value even before they get on a sales call and during the call.
So, we took an even closer look at our prime customers. We studied the entire process we went through with them, from initial emails to demo to product onboarding in search of a “success sequence.” We examined things like what they liked about the demo, who attended it and which meetings were the most valuable.
In charting the success sequence, we found a definitive pattern. Sales were being secured not as a result of the correct company’s firmographics, but when the prospective company was in the stage of development that needed the benefits our software provided. For example, we found that when a prospective company had an established IT department or IT leader with a desire to implement the intranet in-house, they would likely be a good candidate for some of the benefits Origami provides. This is one of the examples, and we assess 15 to 18 dimensions similar to this to determine a fit.
With this newfound knowledge and a firm grasp of our decision-making process, we mapped all of the variables into a set of simple questions that became our quick four-minute intranet survey. The survey can be filled out by a prospect on our website, either stand-alone or as part of our online demo presentation. And, based on the answers, we gain a clear understanding of whether our product can benefit them, as well as a clear starting point from which to start a sales conversation.
From successful software to winning sales
Our survey proved invaluable in helping Origami scale and become an intranet solution provider to a global customer base. Our sales process is much more streamlined, which helps us to give relevant product demos that speak to each customer’s needs and give prospects meaningful advice during the sales process.
To other entrepreneurs who are shifting their attention from successful product development into sales and marketing, I would advise spending time to know your customer.