In anticipation of our Techonomy Detroit conference on September 16, we are profiling Detroit-area tech startups that are driving the city's re-emergence as a center of innovation.
By Adam Ludwig
What do you do as a manager when the conventional means of motivating your sales team--competitions, prizes, inspirational speeches--fall flat? How can you leverage technology to help rally and focus your team around company initiatives, product launches, and winning new business?
Questions like these kept Bob Marsh, former head of sales operations and training at HelloWorld, up at night. (HelloWorld, formerly ePrize, is a customer engagement platform that leverages social analytics and consumer behavior reporting.) So he started tinkering. The company's CEO gave him a couple of engineers and a team to help develop an internal sales motivation system. Before long, what began as an in-house project evolved into a promising product. "After about six months, we had signed up a dozen paying customers, including the Detroit Pistons and Comcast, so we knew we were on to something," says Marsh. Realizing that the side project was ready to become a stand-alone business, Marsh and his team launched LevelEleven in October 2012.
We interviewed Marsh by email to learn how his company evolved and how Detroit provided fertile soil for growth.
How did your background in sales lead to the development of the LevelEleven platform?
I started working sales in retail and telemarketing while in college, and after graduating from college joined the sales team at Xerox. So after 20 years selling and working with salespeople, I gained a very clear sense of what motivates them. Research has validated my experience that salespeople are motivated by three things: money, competition, and recognition. There's rarely a system that a management team can leverage to recognize a job well done and methodically track peer competitions. Salespeople spend only about 37 percent of their time actually selling, studies have found, so sales leaders are constantly seeking ways to squeeze maximum productivity out of their sales team.
What kinds of systems does the platform use to motivate sales teams?
Companies often use CRM systems like salesforce.com to measure and track sales activities--meetings, new product pitches, creating new sales opportunities, and closing deals. The LevelEleven software bolts on top of Salesforce. It allows managers to pinpoint the behaviors they want to see more often, and then immediately launch leaderboards that showcase how the team is doing relative to those metrics. Those leaderboards are then shown all over the place--in the CRM system, via email each morning, on mobile devices, and even up on big-screen TV's in the office. That gives salespeople insight into how they are doing in comparison to the metrics and their peers, and encourages them to become more focused on the behaviors their manager wants to see.
Managers generally know what they want to see happen, but lack a way to drive that behavior change rapidly. They can coach people and talk about it at the weekly team meeting, which they should do. But without giving salespeople constant insight into how they are doing, it's tough to change things.
How did the integration with Salesforce come about?
As the industry's leading sales CRM tool, Salesforce is very partner friendly. The over 100,000 customers on their own roster gave us a very focused platform to work with to speed up our development cycles and product evolution, and provide a robust prospective customer list. Salesforce has been a great partner, and last year they got so excited about what we're doing that they invested in our company. This provides even more validation for our team, our investors, and most importantly our customers, that we're onto something pretty special.
What has the company's growth been like since it launched?
Very strong. We launched about two years ago. Today we have 25 full-time team members. We're growing at a 300 percent annual rate, and have 150-plus customers including Comcast, Akamai, Forrester Research, HootSuite, and eBay.
How do you see the platform evolving?
Data is coming from everywhere these days, which is giving sales and marketing leaders more insights than ever before. However, that data hasn't really been used in a way to help sales leaders get the most out of their teams, or to help salespeople know where they should focus their time. We are already starting to ride the wave of massive changes in the world of sales when it comes to technology and data insights, and I believe we are going to be right in the center of that change.
How does being based in Detroit add value to LevelEleven?
I love being in Detroit. Anyone who wants to work at a startup wants to be part of building something. So the idea of building a company, and thereby playing your part in helping grow a city, is pretty special. My favorite part of being based here is the positive effect it has on recruiting. People come to us with this deep, emotional desire to be part of the resurgence of Detroit. You cannot get that kind of deep-rooted excitement anywhere else.
Do you have Detroit roots yourself?
I live here in metro-Detroit and this is where my wife and parents grew up as well, so Detroit is home. I went to grade school and high school outside of Buffalo, NY; that's where I grew up, but Detroit has always been our home base.
How has Detroit Venture Partners been involved in the growth of LevelEleven?
DVP is our lead investor and has been a tremendous partner. They give us the flexibility to run our company as we best see fit, while at the same time encouraging us to keep growing, and coaching us on our blind spots.
What do you think Detroit's biggest challenges are, and do you see signs of positive change?
Aside from the real financial issues, which are being worked through, I think the real issue is perception. There are some really special things happening here, our own company being evidence of that. Dozens of startup companies are down here, more businesses are moving into the city, the M-1 Rail is something that's been talked about for years and is actually happening, the soon-to-be districts around the new Red Wings Arena, and on and on.
What do events like Techonomy Detroit mean for the city?
Things like Techonomy are huge as it's just one more reason to get innovative people talking about what's happening in Detroit, and to get more people downtown to see what's going on.