The most recent entrepreneur of the three guests in the BSA event “Building B2B business and partnering with the BIG guys” was Gero Decker, co-founder of Business Process Management champion Signavio. Founded in 2009 from a group of founders associated with Potsdam’s Hasso Plattner Institute, Signavio has grown to more than 45 employees across three countries, with most of the work taking place at its Berlin headquarters, from which Signavio serves customers like Airbnb, Gruner + Jahr, Zalando and others.
1) Expect this to be a long road.
Gero Decker pointed out the absolute importance of the first 50 customers – after all, you needn’t worry about a Singapore sales office when you don’t have a single customer in your zip code. Much like Paul Graham’s Do Things That Don’t Scale, Gero and his co-founders quickly had to face the reality: Just putting up a free trial of an ambitious product and hoping for conversions wasn’t working at all for them. Instead, they swallowed their pride, buckled up and went out with full speed into sales meetings. Do the same, and be prepared to call up 50 people and be rejected, only to find the 51st being slightly interested in your product. It wasn’t until 18 months later that Signavio started hiring a full-time sales force that took over from Gero.
2) Be smart, sell hard.
Your best bet on first customers: Someone who is established and settled and likes you crazy start-up kids because you are refreshingly different. Signavio had good relations with one of Germany’s largest public health insurers and got them on board as the first client. A boring customer? Maybe. A customer who appreciated having a cutting-edge technology that they could show off at trade fairs and became a true evangelist for Signavio? Most definitely.
Signavio further leveraged a good friend who ran a consulting company in Berlin. By recommending Signavio to his customers, he helped them past the classic objection of “Who knows if these guys will still be around in a year?” That recommendation came at the price of a steep discount on license fees but won Signavio the first critical customers that let them bag powerhouses like Airbnb, Gruner + Jahr and others down the road.
Book recommendation: Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore
3) Be really smart, sell really hard.
So you have worked your ass off winning customers literally one phone call at a time for 18 months straight – congratulations! It is now time to turn the tables and become methodical about sales. Signavio tried a lot, from resellers – doesn’t work because of misaligned incentives – to call centers – not convincing enough. In the end, they realized that sales requires a good bunch of chutzpa and drive, regardless of the industry. Fortunately, cut-throat daily deal companies DailyDeal and Groupon, both headquartered in Berlin, happened to be laying off healthy-ego, take-no-prisoners sales people at that time – who turned out to be excellent at selling Signavio’s solution after a short period of training. You would buy the license if only it included this one feature? Well, why don’t you pay for the 80% value you’re already getting from the product now and pay the remainder when we ship that feature? If you can sell that: Winning!
4) Wear your big girl pants when you play on the center stage.
Today, Signavio manages sales extremely professionally. It sure helped to have support from the Hasso-Plattner-Institut network, and so the company operates much like SAP and Oracle – no professional services, ever! – and works with implementation partners that resell the solution.
These partners, including KPMG, only started selling Signavio as part of their package once their own customers went to other consultants who were already delivering Signavio. To avoid losing additional contracts, they came on board and are now using Signavio as an essential selling point in their activities.
Signavio itself tracks all marketing activities and measures them for their effectiveness, and the product is now varied enough to cover everything from EUR 5k per year to million-dollar license fees.
A final congratulations is in order: You have finally graduated to focusing on a broader product portfolio and sales expansion. Good luck with that!
* For the meaning of * look at the article’s part 1 and part 2.
Jonas Knipper is the founder of code education provider Stackademy, whose core program teaches ambitious students how to build web applications from start to finish using the Ruby on Rails framework, all within 11 weeks of full-time learning in Berlin.