Totango, my startup, is now part of the official contenders list of CRM Idol. For those who are not familiar with the competition: it’s the brainchild of Paul Greenberg who – in turn – is considered by many one of the founding fathers of the CRM industry. The competition was first held last year. To give you a sense of how influential Paul is: three CRM Idol finalists were acquired, one during the competition, so clearly Paul has a nose for good companies.
Inspired by the blog of one of our fellow contestants, Mothernode, I wanted to add some color on our own experiences so far. Besides the great honor of being part of this distinguished list of exciting companies in the CRM space, we have already learnt a ton and the competition has barely begun.
After passing the first round (which consisted of submitting three customer references), we’ve been assigned George and MJ from Infor as mentors – thanks guys! They have been very gracious with their time and have met with us (more than) once a week to listen to our pitch. What they have been really able to help us with is telling our story. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt so far (which I believe are broadly applicable):
1. The story of the founders matters
I was born in Israel and rose through the ranks of CEO as an Engineer, Architect and Product Executive. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally, but with a little (a lot) of help from George and MJ we are getting there. My natural tendency is to talk about the product and leave out the bits about myself, why I started this company and why my rock-star team at Totango is uniformly passionate about our mission. I now realize my personal story matters.
For too long, CRM was about closing transactions and, more recently, building relationships, from the golf course to social media. I believe however that the future of CRM is about delivering true value to customers and end-users – every day, all day long. Value for customers is not created on the golf course, but rather through a superb product or service experience, insightful customer support and value-added interactions with your users, whether through the product, social media or in-person. Over my career I have seen too much software end up as shelfware. Especially BECAUSE I have a strong product background I believe in having the product always, always deliver on its promises and make customers successful, not just before the sale, but throughout the customer lifecycle. This is why I started Totango.
2. Focus on the story of your customers
You can speak about all the wonderful features of your product all day long, but in the end of the day, as I said above, a product is only as good as the value it delivers for its customers. We have learnt to tell the story of our product through our eyes of our customers. Now, when we demo our product, we tell the story of how Zendesk was able to increase free to paid conversion over 30% by focusing their sales team, how nCircle increased successful product activations over 3x by learning about product usage and usage bottlenecks and how Clarizen was able to proactively identify and turn customers at risk of churn. We even were inspired by the competition to write more of our customer stories and we launched just last week a new section on our website with these stories. Coincidentally adding this section significantly increased visitor to sign-up conversion on our site (but that’s the topic for another blog).
3. Celebrate success
Our mentors have also helped us realize how much we have already accomplished. We are helping about 100 businesses with over 2 million customers to better understand and engage their customers. Those are big numbers for a little company, which only started to sell earlier in 2012. Too often you look at the mountains to climb still ahead, but being part of CRM Idol has also forced us to look back at the valley below and see the ground we have already covered.
What’s more important to me personally is realizing the impact that we are having on some really awesome companies. I already quoted some of the numbers above, but perhaps the best evidence of our success is that organizations like Zendesk and BigCommerce are now using us throughout their company. Both started with us in one department (sales) but over the months other departments started to use customer insights: product teams are building better features, customer success teams are identifying struggling users and reach out and marketing is sending helpful tips by email based on product usage. When you share user engagement insights throughout the organization magic happens: happy and successful customers lead to better monetization and lower churn.
We are looking forward to our briefing this Thursday and more learning to come.