After initially building a small business SaaS product and subsequently licensing it to a larger company while moving the company to Atlanta, we had finally settled into developing what would ultimately become our successful flagship product: a mid-market web content management system. Of course, we had no idea at the time if this iteration would even be successful. One thing we were sure of, however, is that robust website management applications were complex and there was not yet a clear winner in the mid-market segment.
The pre-paid royalties we were receiving from our licensing arrangement gave us the luxury to spend a year focused solely on building the application. In his book Four Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank argues for customer-driven development, which is exactly what it sounds like: Customers tell you what they want, and then you build the product accordingly. Because we didn’t know any better at the time, we weren’t following this model. However, we were aware of the sorts of things that our prior customers had wanted in a product. We also knew what functionality we wanted to manage our own website. I’m a big believer in eating your own dog food.
Before long, we were ready to launch our new content management system. It debuted on April 15, 2003 at the Internet World trade show in San Jose, CA, where it promptly won the Best of Show award. The outlook for our new product was bright. Unfortunately, we soon learned that a promising product launch doesn’t always equal stellar sales.
After working non-stop trying to sell the new application, we only managed to sell one license by the end of 2003. Mind you, landing a deal for a single $30,000 server license sure felt like more of an accomplishment than selling multiple lower-priced licenses for our previous product had. But selling only one server license over the course of six months was discouraging.
After launching the first version of a great product, winning a prestigious award, and signing our first full-price client (we had given several licenses away for free to get early users with North Highland in Atlanta being our flagship reference — thanks Monica!), the company’s next major iteration was learning how to sell and market the product more effectively. Lead generation was the first area we focused on and continuously iterated. We tried these different tactics:
- Cold calling IT directors
- Channel development through interactive agency partners
- Pay-per-click ads on Google
Head on over to Iterate or Die – Part 4 to learn what worked and what didn’t work with our sales and marketing efforts.
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