Iterating in a Startup – Part Four

With a good product and several years of domain experience, we embarked on the next major iteration of the business: sales and marketing. I knew the technology aspects of the business inside and out, but my knowledge of B2B sales and marketing was severely lacking. Using Google, I identified three areas to focus on:

  • Cold calling
  • Partnerships
  • Pay-per-click ads

Cold Calling

The first idea for cold calling was to buy a list of all the CIOs in the Southeast with revenues between $100 million and $1 billion, which is often defined as mid-sized companies. We cold called 1,000 organizations and generated a measly four appointments. Our cold calling, while valiant, suffered from a lack of the following:

  • Compelling value proposition
  • Referenceable customers we could name drop
  • Product or company name recognition in the market

Cold calling would eventually become one of our most effective strategies, but it took us 12 months to figure out where to focus our efforts.


Finding implementation partners and resellers was always viewed as a logical strategy for the business. It never worked. Potential partners, like interactive agencies and ISVs, would provide the services and we’d provide the product. Ideally it would be a win-win situation.

We worked hard and over the course of several years we developed partnerships with 10 companies. Those 10 company relationships resulted in five total sales. That’s right, very few partners would sign on officially, and even fewer would result in actual revenue. It took me a long time to understand that introducing a mid-market CMS to a client would then reduce the amount of money the agency could bill for fees.

Agencies operate in a time and materials model, and tens of thousands of dollars in CMS costs would come right out of the same client budget as hourly fees. As an agency, building a custom client solution, even if it was more expensive and did less than an off-the-shelf CMS, was the right thing to do for their business model. It was a hard lesson for us to learn.

Pay-Per-Click Ads

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are the sponsored ads that show up alongside search results in Google and other search engines. When we did our first PPC campaign in late 2003, it was much more affordable and cost effective compared to today. Fortuitously, PPC ads, combined with landing pages, allowed us to generate leads in a variety of industries. We would then methodically follow-up and move the prospect through the sales process. By the end of 2004, we had signed at least one client representing each of the following verticals:

  • Management consulting (1, from cold call)
  • Healthcare (1, from cold call)
  • Utilities (1, from partner)
  • Hospitality (1, from partner)
  • Technology (1, from PPC)
  • Higher education (2, from PPC)

Stay tuned for part five to learn how we took the one industry we’re we’d had slightly more success and became a market leader.

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