04:15:27 pm, Categories: Entrepreneurship, SalesQB Diary  

The Idea

This is the year I left IBM. Had a gut feel that there were major inefficiencies in how reps tackle solution selling (a.k.a complex sales). It was obvious to me that for reps to effectively sell solutions, they required deep industry & domain knowledge to establish credibility with decision-makers. And having had an enterprise apps background, I started thinking that there had to be a way to package the knowledge required for solution selling, very similar to how “best-practice” business processes are packaged in enterprise apps. With this little nugget of wisdom, I quit IBM and started-off on my own.

The Funding

I didn’t have much of a net worth to begin with. So, I started off doing IT consulting, something I had been doing for the past 8 odd years, to bootstrap SalesQB. The idea was to do consulting and put food on the table, and then bootstrap SalesQB with the positive cash flow. A tried-and-tested funding model, except that it takes a lot of perseverance, mid-night sessions and family commitment.

The Pedal to the Metal

Now came the hard part – figuring out what to sell and whom to sell to. We decided to take a crack at the small business CRM market, which was beginning to get a lot of media attention that year. Over the course of 2004, we developed the first version of our product. A full-fledged CRM application and then some. We had a plug-in called OppCoach™ that provided opportunity specific sales coaching. If you had an opportunity in your CRM system, OppCoach would ask you a few questions to determine the sales context and then recommend a customized sales methodology for that specific opportunity. In this version of our product, we didn’t have industry or domain knowledge embedded as yet. But I am proud of the fact that we had a full fledged product that could have gone toe-to-toe with Siebel, SalesForce.com or any other leading CRM / SFA product out there.

We determined that the best way to take a crack at the small business CRM market was to partner with regional IT resellers. So, we went to a Gartner conference called Small Business Vision, where Gartner was trying to bring ISVs like us together with regional IT resellers. We went to a conference in Orlando to meet with IT resellers in the South-East.

Very quickly we figured out that we were having a hard time rising above the Small Business CRM noise. All the big CRM vendors (Microsoft, Oracle, Siebel and SalesForce.com) were hammering the small business market that year and our family retirement fund didn’t quite have the wherewithal to taken on these 900 pound gorillas. Furthermore, there were 2 dozen more CRM vendors (Pivotal, ePiphany, SalesLogix etc) that were trying to enter this market.

We gave up on the idea of taking our offering to the small business CRM market and started looking at ideas for 2005

The Lessons

Most of our leadership team had a management consulting, enterprise apps and technology-heavy background. We were very entrepreneurial and had launched sizeable practices within management consulting firms. However, when we decided to target the small business market, we should have consulted closely with someone who knew how product management worked in the small business market. It took us close to 4 months of spinning our wheels to figure out that we were headed nowhere with this approach.

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