TL;DR: Don’t sell tech to corporate customers.
Getting proper traction for a b2b solution is way different from growth hacking a consumer service. After a year and a half of struggling to sell our personalization and analytics technologies to corporate customers in the entertainment industry, I’d like to share with you the three main lessons we as a team learned in the process. I really wish it was 5 or 10 as they make better headlines but shit what can I say, I only have three for you.
1. Talk To The Right People
There is absolutely no point selling to someone who doesn’t have the money. Unless her husband has the money. So after a dozen of failed attempts to go bottom-up based on some random connections we made at industry conferences (see: Geek’s Guide to Networking), we decided we should start reaching out directly to the people who have the power to buy our product.
There was one problem though. As a startup founder with engineering background I knew… a lot of other startupers and engineers. This is great for finding amazing co-founders and great developers, but absolutely useless in getting deals with industry customers. So after six months of trying (and for the most part failing) on my own, I started looking for the right people to help us with sales.
2. Hire Mark
Call it a blind chance but at this very time, our first customer, Mark de Quervain, quit his job as a marketing director of Vue Entertainment (major European cinema exhibitor) and started looking for new ventures. This seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity so we had to go after it, fast.
It was September 2012. I flew to London, we got together for a coffee in Hamphire Restaurant at Leicester Square and started talking. We had a good chat. We quickly realized that we speak the same language and we notice the same issues cinema and video industry faces. Namely, the industry has no clue of how to market the films outside of the top grossing 10 and as a result, the attentance has been flat in cinemas for the past 10 years. Personalizing the communication with customers and using analytics to decide about marketing seemed like the only way to fix the process. We had the tech and expertise, Mark had the connections and happened to be one of the most-respected marketing specialists in the industry. Three hours past, it was a no-brainer we had to work together.
One year later, in September 2013, Mark is our chairman and investor. We’ve just closed our third deal with a cinema exhibitor together.
3. Sell Stuff Customers Are Dying To Pay For
Selling a recommendation engine, even with Mark onboard, is a hard sell. Just like selling any other technology to people who don’t necessarily (have to) understand technology. People go after those ideas and buy those solutions that make their life easier. We’ve identified our buyers as marketing directors of TV networks and cinema exhibitors. These people were not interested in innovation. They only look for tools that drive their profits. That’s their job, after all. Another problem was that our solution didn’t immediately integrate with the software our customers currently used. A common question we’ve been asked was “so… that’s very interesting, but how do we integrate it into our infrastructure?” We didn’t have a fulfilling answer to that.
We felt that we’ve built the industry’s holy grail–a marketing tool that drives cinema attendance–but could not find a way to either communicate it properly or even get people excited. Our prospect customers eventually told us so by not buying. However, they also told us what their real problems were. They had little or no information about their customers (except for the minority of loyalty programme members) and had no way of communicating with them.
We learned from that and as a result we have completely redesigned our sales pitch. We focused on the actual problem we’re solving: the inability of cinema exhibitors to communicate with their customers in a meaningful and personalized way.
Instead of pitching a recommender engine that no one understands or even cares for, we now show a communication platform that helps cinema exhibitors understand their customers, personalize all digital communication and as a result grow their audience by driving intent in those who were not engaged before. Getting cinemas a number of new Facebook fans is a nice side effect.
And you know what? It worked. We got our first customers signed up for the service: Empire Cinemas and Reel Cinemas in the UK. We’ve built new products that live on top of the personalization cloud, namely:
- engaging Facebook apps that profile people in the background,
- communication platform that sends out targeted communication to people profiled by the apps.
And we have another 10 or so cinema exhibitors on the waiting list to get the system installed during the next months.
What about the recommender engine, you ask? Worry not! The engine is still around, silently doing its job of matching people with films in the background, feeling a bit unappreciated. But that is its own little problem…
The conclusions of this article? I came up with four this time:
- Do your research and talk to the right people first to avoid fixing a problem no one has.
- Never sell a piece of technology, however great it might be.
- Create products that customers need and understand and they’ll pay for them.
- If you want to succeed in b2b sales, you’ll need “a Mark”.
Hope that’s helpful.
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