Bryan de Lottinville, founder and chief executive officer of Benevity, a Calgary-based provider of social enterprise software, wanted to help companies increase the return on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts and reduce the transaction fees taken by fundraising aggregators so that more money made its way to charities.
Although Benevity's value proposition of developing more loyal customers and employees by connecting around things that matter to them was met with enthusiasm, selling to its primary target market – large corporations – resulted in very long sales cycles and low closing ratios.
The company was having good meetings but constrained budgets, competing priorities and strained IT resources gave way to delay and deferral, though rarely refusal. As a result, final decisions were six to 18 months away but as an early stage venture, expending valuable resources on getting these good meetings, the company needed to get results quickly.
"After iStockPhoto, I wanted to get involved in something that was not purely for-profit. I wanted my work to have more meaning and social context" says Mr. de Lottinville.
Mr. de Lottinville realized that his skillset was not suited for working at a not-for-profit, so he decided he would create a company that had some social utility. His experience at iStockPhoto, which created more consumers of stock photography through micro-payments and democratization, got him thinking about how these principles could be applied to the charitable sector.
As an early investor and adviser in a 'consuming-for-good' based loyalty company, he gained an informed perspective on some of the challenges facing the philanthropic landscape. Around this time, he also noticed President Obama's fundraising campaigns and the power of microdonations in his successful platform. And thus Benevity – the combination of benevolence and charity – was born.
Rather than create and drive traffic to yet another website where people could give to charities, Benevity developed a platform to reach people who had an appetite for giving back, where they already were.
"Give people an excuse to do the right thing as part of their regular lives and most of them will do it (and be grateful for it)," continue Mr. de Lottinville.
This introduced a way for companies to increase their role and impact in ways that created both social impact and business wins.
"When businesses develop a stronger relationship with their employees and customers by connecting to things that matter to them, it generates switching costs and makes them more loyal and engaged customers or employees" says Mr. de Lottinville.
Mr. de Lottinville points to eBay's GivingWorks is a prime example – their embedded donations have raised almost $250-million over the past four years while they increased probability of sales by 12 to 54 per cent at a price premium of 4 to 25 per cent.
"It was an idea that many companies loved, since corporate social responsibility was becoming a growing imperative and with increasing evidence that 'doing well by doing good' wasn't just a tag line," says Mr. de Lottinville.
He learned that although social responsibility was important to many companies, it wasn't always urgent. And even though Benevity's solution was better, cheaper and wildly more innovative, many potential customers stayed with legacy solutions or approaches out of habit or perceptions of switching costs.
"We had a ton of great meetings with some of the largest companies in the world, and have even landed a few of them. But our business vision and social mission rely upon scale so our goal is to have thousands of clients. It's go big or go home," says Mr. de Lottinville.
Benevity had three goals: 1) Identify more well-qualified leads; 2) Shorten initial contact to close timeline; and 3) Increase the number of conversions to improve ROI on their marketing spend.
Upon reflecting on past sales efforts, Mr. de Lottinville realized that not having a relationship or an established track record made it hard for large companies to make the jump and implement Benevity's full customer-facing micro-donation platform. So the company created a 'land-and-expand' strategy that focused on getting into organizations by making an initial sale with something simpler and smaller that exposed them to our platform and let them see its potential, without taking a year to educate them.
"We used our own platform to develop a product called Spark ! for employee giving and volunteering: a simple-to-use solution for companies to engage employees, contractors and retirees in a wide variety of community investment initiatives, whether in support of United Way programs, disaster relief efforts or any other campaign all under the company's own brand" says Mr. de Lottinville
Sales cycles have been reduced from 200 days to 100 days, closing ratios have increased from 0.5 per cent to 7 per cent and Benevity has added companies such as CP Rail, Aruba Networks, Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Sinopec Daylight Energy as workplace giving customers and recently landed a large global employer with 44,000 employees in 40 countries.
Most importantly a number of customers have added the customer-facing platform which allows them to take full advantage of the Benevity's value proposition of more loyal customers and employees and puts more money into the hands of charities.
"We now have the credibility and relationships to sell into larger organizations and accelerate our sales cycle" says Mr. de Lottinville.
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 Your Business website.
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