Janice Diner co-founded social marketing technology company Horizon Studios Inc. in 2010 to develop a product to help her clients gain better returns on their marketing and sales expenditures.
The Toronto-based firm’s clients were interested in how they could leverage social media to increase sales. “I had lots of experience in developing solutions for clients individually, in a service-based business,” she says. “It was time to capture this knowledge in a product that would connect social behaviours and business behaviours.”
Changing from providing a service to providing a product is a challenge that software service firms have long faced, and, with the increase in digital marketing, marketing service firms will increasingly face. In a large and growing market space, what should Horizon Studios’ first product look like?
Ms. Diner “grew up” in the advertising industry. She has long experience as a creative director at large ad agencies, working on campaigns for global brands, winning awards and judging at the Cannes Lions advertising awards along the way.
In early 2006, she led a creative team at Segal Communications, a part of the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., that obtained the Canadian advertising rights to a company with 40 employees that was little known at the time. That company was Facebook, and it changed Ms. Diner’s perceptions of her industry.
She led the team that launched the first financial Facebook application in North America, the TD/Canada Trust Money Lounge.
“I fell in love with the social space,” she recalls, “and since then, I’ve led countless software-development initiatives in that space.”
Ms. Diner conceived of Horizon Studios as a social marketing technology company, and sees enormous potential in social technologies. As evidence, she cites a Gartner Group report estimating that, in 2017, chief marketing officers will spend more on technology than will chief information officers, with the growth on the marketing side due to the growth in digital marketing.
She and Horizon Studios co-founders Robert Rubenstein and Deryck Bascom are focused on understanding client challenges and market opportunities to build new social marketing technology products. But in a new world with so many possibilities, where should they start?
In deciding what Horizon Studios’ first product should be, the three founders focused on what they knew well: the sales and marketing departments of global corporations, and social marketing.
Horizon’s first product, Catalysta, is a sales force activation platform. “Marketers talk about the importance of the ‘last three feet’ in sales. This means that whether or not you make a sale depends on what happens just before the decision is made,” Ms. Diner explains.
“I knew that we could leverage social technology to increase the personal connection made between a seller and a buyer in these last three feet, in order to increase sales for our customers.”
Catalysta is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform aimed at engaging and training sales teams in order to increase product recommendations, and, ultimately, sales. It’s run on social networks where sales reps are already spending time, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and is available on both desktop and mobile devices.
With Catalysta, Ms. Diner could draw on her years of experience in advertising agencies, which provided an indepth knowledge of her customer base. “I understand the budgets and purchasing behaviour of the sales and marketing departments of large corporations. I know that they have money to spend on training and sales incentives for new product launches, and they’re looking for effective ways to spend it,” she says.
Similarly, Ms. Diner’s experience with social media provided insights about what social media tools would work for sales reps. Catalysta provides invitation-only, gated sales communities for sales teams to engage, learn, record sales and share product information. Sales reps can post questions and answers related to how best to sell a product, which increases product knowledge.
There is also a game aspect to the platform; sales reps don’t just compete with each other for sales, they also compete to earn points, badges and rewards.
Ms. Diner understands that different social media platforms are likely to be more suitable to different sales cultures. “We’re agnostic with respect to social media channel,” she says. “Since we expect different sales teams will [have] different cultures, we designed the platform to work with the sales professional culture that prefers LinkedIn and the sales dude culture that prefers Facebook.”
Horizon Studies is now a seven-person company, and recently received investment from the Investment Accelerator Fund.
Motorola Mobility Canada Ltd. is one customer using Catalysta that has seen positive results.
It is difficult to get the attention of sales staff in a phone store, and so Motorola has used the platform to increase phone sales in Canada and the United States. With the inaugural use of Catalysta at a national carrier, in-store recommendation rates of a new Motorola smartphone increased to 50 per cent from 5 per cent, and sales increased 26 per cent, Ms. Diner says. The chatter rate about the Motorola products was huge – about 1,500 sales reps have posted close to 20,000 comments, according to Ms. Diner.
Not only does such salesforce engagement help Motorola enhance its products, it also provides new opportunities for product enhancement at Horizon Studios.
Becky Reuber is a professor of strategic management in the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Small Business website.
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