Imagine calling a big company and having its automated attendant recognize you, and use your name in a personalized greeting.
That's what's on offer from Calgary-based Splice Software Inc., which combines customer data with voice technologies to deliver personalized human-voice messaging and interactive voice services to companies in regular communication with their customers.
"The simple act of hearing your name in the interaction increases customer satisfaction and differentiates the organization from their competition," says Splice founder and chief executive officer Tara Kelly.
Ms. Kelly started Splice in 2006, deciding to put her focus on selling to Fortune 1000 companies.
The good news was that the product seemed well-suited to large enterprises, which helped Splice to get initial pitch meetings.
The bad news was that actually making big-ticket sales to Fortune 1000 companies was not as easy as getting into a pitch meeting.
Ms. Kelly, who has a degree in commerce, made her first foray into voice-enabled solutions by founding Simply Health Systems, which was used by health-related businesses, such as doctors, dentists, and massage therapists, to remind clients of appointments.
One day, Ms. Kelly started to think about combining voice messages with the large amounts of data that Fortune 1000 companies collected on their customers and stored in customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
"The idea was to help large business connect with their customers by using more personalized greetings, notifications, reminders, thank-yous, newsletters, and surveys, without the expense of having to use a live agent," she explains.
She saw an opportunity to provide Fortune 1000 companies with an easy-to-use, voice-based messaging service, as long as it fit on top of their existing customer-data systems. And she felt that would provide companies with a more affordable opportunity to create a more enjoyable experience for their own customers.
Ms. Kelly came up with the name Splice Software, rolled Simply Healthy Systems into it, and launched her new business.
She learned very quickly that her past experience with small and mid-sized businesses was not the same as trying to close deals with larger companies.
"We had a great offering that would deliver a significant return on investment, but, somehow, we still were not speaking the language of Fortune 1000 companies and, as such, were not getting called back after our initial meetings," Ms. Kelly says.
To try to figure out where she was going wrong, Ms. Kelly reached out to the local tech community as well as to area companies that had been succesful selling to her target clients.
One of the most important things she learned: These large companies tended to be risk-averse; faced with the choice of sticking to the status quo or trying something unknown, they consistently went with the former.
Given what she had to offer, she felt, that was why her approach was not working. She decided that the best way to get Fortune 1000 companies onside was to give them an opportunity to buy in smaller as an initial sale, and work up to larger sales over time.
"Large enterprises need data so they can make decisions with confidence," Ms. Kelly says.
"So one of the first things we did was offer a proof of concept, or pilot, that took over a single 1-800 number or a single outbound notification," she explains.
The pilot involved, for instance, sending an outbound message to thousands of customers in a single day, or personalizing a 1-800 number for about a month. For such tests, companies paid $5,000 to $10,000.
Once companies were able to see how clients responded – for example, going to corporate websites to update personal information in response to the outbound message's request – they became more willing to buy the services on a bigger scale.
"We demonstrated how personalized voice messaging generated by combining customer-related data with voice segments from human-voice libraries could deliver higher listenership at a 30- to 50-per-cent cost savings" over having someone live make the calls, Ms. Kelly says.
Splice very quicky signed five pilots and, within three months, had turned them all into much bigger sales.
"We went from signing deals that were $50,000 to signing deals that were $500,000 or more," Ms. Kelly says.
Once the companies were on board, Splice also asked for, and received, referrals to other Fortune 1000 companies; which also made a significant difference to sales, Ms. Kelly says.
The company is now scoring success with its Fortune 1000 targets: The company has seen revenue growth of 170 per cent in the last year, with more than half coming from 70 Fortune 1000 companies that the firm has gained as clients, Ms. Kelly says. Splice now has 17 employees and has opened an office in Toronto.
"We continue to use this pilot mentality every time we move to a project that is more than twice the size of a previous project we have done for that customer to date – first we pilot, then we tweak, next we scale, and finally we analyze," says Ms. Kelly, who is a finalist for the Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year award.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Craig Elias is the founder of Shift Selling Inc. and an entrepreneurship instructor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
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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