Soon after co-founding TribeHR in 2009, CEO Joseph Fung knew he needed an innovative approach to marketing and sales. The company's social HR management software is targeted at small-business customers, and there are a lot of them.
Since they are everywhere, it is difficult to identify owners who would be most amenable to a new approach to human-resource management, and to convince them to give TribeHR a try. "We needed to figure out how to find them, and how to bring a software solution to them," Mr. Fung explains.
Mr. Fung co-founded TribeHR with two colleagues: Jesse Rodgers and Stephen Heron. Its tools and technologies were previously only available to large companies as enterprise software. Although the customer base includes businesses with five to 500 employees, three-quarters of them are in the range of 20 to 100 employees.
These are companies that would be overwhelmed by complex enterprise HR systems, and the resources needed to acquire and maintain them. But, as Mr. Fung puts it, they would like to "eliminate the drudgery of HR administration and gain more insights about their employees.
"We know that everyone hates bad HR processes. We recognized early on that we could improve HR practice by applying all of the lessons we learned about social media and the web to develop a platform that was open, social, and engaging."
TribeHR's platform is open in that employees can view their own HR record; social in that employees view shared data, such as information about career paths and company goals; and engaging in that employees can develop a personalized profile, much like they might do on Facebook or LinkedIn. It sounds like a great approach for small businesses that want to engage their employees, but how should TribeHR go about finding the early adopters that are keen to try something new?
TribeHR uses a marketing and sales process that is iterative, data driven and highly automated. First, the company pays a great deal of attention to inbound marketing. "Focusing on inbound marketing means providing enough material on your website to catch people's attention when they are looking for a solution," Mr. Fung says.
In other words, the focus is on providing information for people who already know they have a problem. TribeHR's website provides information in the form of blogs, articles by experts, stories about customers, social media posts, and video clips that tell people what the system looks like and how it is used.
The second part of the solution is recognizing that it will take potential customers some time to make software product decisions. "It's a little like browsing in a store," Mr. Fung explains. "People prefer to browse and learn more about what's on offer, than to deal with an aggressive salesperson following them around."
On the assumption that people need some time to decide to adopt the system, TribeHR "catches them gently." While people are still in a research mindset, they can subscribe to a newsletter and try the system without entering credit card information. If they download a paper on a certain topic, for example, such as performance measurement or hiring, TribeHR can send them follow-up information on the same topic.
Given the importance of TribeHR's website in the marketing and sales process, its content and sequencing is absolutely critical to the company's success. TribeHR puts much effort into getting each element right. There may be six variations of a message on the website and TribeHR captures the version you see and what your response is – for example, whether you sign up for a newsletter.
Each week, TribeHR compares the variations, picks the one with the best response from the market, and sets it against new competitors. When these "one week sprints" no longer change user responses, the management team knows that aspect of the website has stabilized, and it can start improving another aspect.
TribeHR's marketing and sales process has proven highly successful. The company recently improved conversion rates – the proportion of website visitors who go on to try the software – five-fold in a month. This spring, it received $1 million in investment from Matrix Partners, a leading U.S.-based venture capital firm.
This month it was named one of Canada's 20 most innovative companies by the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX). Last week, at the Under The Radar event in Silicon Valley, TribeHR was the "judges' choice" in the Talent 2.0 category.
Accompanying all of these accolades were praises for the company's iterative, data driven and automated marketing and sales process.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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 Your Business website.
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