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Igloo Inc. founder and CEO Dan Latendre (Tim Fraser For The Globe and Mail)
Igloo Inc. founder and CEO Dan Latendre (Tim Fraser For The Globe and Mail)

THE CHALLENGE REVISITED

Small firm sells the future to big-company executives Add to ...

How have companies fared since appearing as subjects of our weekly series The Challenge? From time to time, we will follow up to see what's happened since the experts weighed in.

A year ago, Dan Latendre found himself in a quandary: How could he convince executives at big companies to move away from technology they’ve had in place for years, and embrace newer, cloud-based software offered by his firm?

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Mr. Latendre is the founder and chief executive officer of Kitchener, Ont.-based Igloo Inc., a 50-employee firm that offers software to help companies collaborate virtually.

Since starting the business in 2008, he had developed a client base made up mostly of what he defines as mid-sized companies – businesses with fewer than 2,500 employees. He's found these companies more open to the adoption of new technology.

To really juice Igloo’s growth, however, his goal was to land some big “Global 1000” clients – businesses with more than 10,000 employees.

Unfortunately, he found it tough to sell the future to executives stuck in the past. Approaches to big-company executives were met by hesitation to try something new; they also expressed security and cost concerns.

“These people have done business one way for a very long time and they’re not planning to change the way they do business any time soon,” he said when Igloo was the subject of a Challenge in November, 2011.

But a little advice from the Challenge experts has gone a long way since then. Following some of their suggestions, “we’ve had some interesting breakthroughs,” Mr. Latendre now says excitedly.

In about 12 months, Igloo has landed three large clients — mobile communications business NII Holdings, car insurance company Hagerty Insurance Agency LLC and heath care benefits business Aetna — and he expects more to sign on soon.

These clients have been a big boost to revenues, which Mr. Latendre declined to disclose. But the additional business has also helped beef up staffing: The company has jumped to 50 employees from the 36 it had when it participated in The Challenge. “There's no doubt that (this) has been helpful,” he says.

How did he do it? One piece of advice that he took to heart came from J.F. Potvin, a human resources outsourcing sales executive at consulting firm Aon Hewitt. He advised Igloo to get references from existing clients. References “speak volumes,” he said, in helping to validate what the company has to offer to hesitant prospects.

Mr. Latendre did ask clients for referrals, which he then forwarded to potential customers. When they saw that others had had positive experiences with Igloo, fears around switching systems or going to the cloud were lessened, Mr. Latendre says.

He also took that suggestion a step further: He sent press releases to bloggers and other media outlets, offering exclusive content, such as infographics and statistics. That brought more than 180 media mentions in 2012.

He also approached analysts such as Gartner Inc. and Forrester to have Igloo’s software reviewed. The media mentions and analysts’ reports helped to get Igloo noticed by the Global 1000 crowd.

“From an enterprise perspective, you don't want to be going with someone you've never heard of,” Mr. Latendre says. “It helps with our reputation and brand.”

As well, he nominated one client, Ipswitch Inc., for an award that recognizes companies which have successfully integrated emerging technology into their operations. The award, which the company won, was for how well it implemented and used Igloo’s software. Igloo was specifically mentioned in the award, and on the award website, too.

Mr. Latendre uses all of this – the award, research analysts’ reports, media mentions and standard customer references – to pitch to clients now. And he finds larger companies are, finally, taking his calls.

“All of this goes beyond just a customer reference,” he says. “It’s validation that it works.”

Mr. Latendre also acted on another piece of Mr. Potvin’s advice: to get on the speaking circuit.

The company approached the organizers of the Midsize Enterprise Summit, an information technology-related event held in several places throughout the year, about becoming a speaker. He and his executive team have already appeared at four different conferences. They’ve also been spoken at “boardroom sessions,” or small chats with senior company executives, at these events, about cloud, social and mobile technologies — Igloo’s three main areas of expertise.

It's hard to know exactly what percentage of revenue growth can be attributed to these conferences, says Mr. Latendre, but it all goes back to getting in front of big company IT executives, which the company couldn’t manage to do in the past.

One outcome of meeting executives has been a better understanding of the concerns that Global 1000 businesses have around cloud computing. That's helped him to refine his message when he makes his pitch.

“Suffice it to say, each of these events have paid for themselves,” he says.

One message he’s drawn from these speaking engagements and talking to potential clients is that big companies really do have security concerns about moving to the cloud, Mr. Latendre says. The only way he'd get past that was to mitigate their risk concerns.

A few weeks after the Challenge, Mr. Latendre decided to offer a trial version of his program. He calls it a “paid proof of concept.”

Interested customers get a fully functioning version of Igloo’s program that can be used for 30 to 90 days, at a cost ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. It's enough for Igloo to break even, Mr. Latendre says.

That allows companies to get a feel for the software and for cloud computing. If they’re still concerned about risks after three months, they can go back to using their previous system.

Currently 15, mostly large, companies, are trying out the software. Mr. Latendre is optimistic that many will sign on once the trial is over.

While he’s now able to get in front of the Global 1000 crowd, his challenges aren’t over yet. He now needs to turn these trial users, and the companies that hear about his business from their speaking events, into long-term clients.

“Now that we’ve had a breakthrough, we need to turn it into sustained growth,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking at now. How can we turn these proof of concepts into real clients?”

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