Yesterday morning I watched Godard Abel, CEO of BigMachines, present a glimpse into the future of selling. The company’s Big Ideas conference attracted more than 500 loyal customers and fans of the company. Its revenues have grown 269 percent over the past three years, a clear indication that the company has hit a sweet spot in an underserved market. The mission: make selling easier and faster for customers. The killer app: a SaaS solution that streamlines product configuration and sales quotations for sales teams and channel partners. Last night I had the opportunity to test-drive the app and was able to create a complex quote based on a set of specifications (that were over my head) in less than three minutes. How could I do that? The software offers a system called “guided selling,” in which the user is asked questions that will guide him or her to the recommended options. It offers tools such as images to assist choices and presents alternatives based on common needs.
The Selling Platform
In his keynote, Godard predicted a trend toward customer experience management (CEM). See my recent post on that subject.
Godard cited a University of Michigan study that tracked customer-satisfaction ratings and showed that the following industries are leading in CEM: food manufacturing, soft-drink manufacturing, Internet retail, express delivery, and automobiles. Godard cited Netflix and Amazon among the leading companies. The number one customer-satisfaction leader is Heinz.
The worst industries are wireless phone systems, network cable TV news, government, cable TV services, airlines, and newspapers. The company with the worst customer-satisfaction rating: United Airlines.
Godard’s key point: “We can improve the customer experience by moving to online self-service so we can ensure a great experience all the time.” BigMachines has created an online selling platform that allows B2B customers to quickly configure (without speaking to a salesperson) what they feel is the best solution and then connect with the supplier to place the order.
The selling platform allows salespeople to have a live conversation with customers and configure and price the product with the customer. If the customer insists on a special concession that goes beyond the salesperson’s authority, the salesperson can send the quote to the manager’s mobile phone via email to get the order approved.
To illustrate that the selling platform isn’t a new invention, Godard asked the audience, “How many of you have purchased from Amazon.com?” All 500 people in the audience raised their hands. Then he asked, “How many of you have ever spoken to someone at Amazon.com?” Only two hands went up. (Amazon has live support for Kindle users). The Amazon selling model continues to inspire SaaS vendors, and the BigMachines selling platform is just one of many more online sales innovations that will take the market by storm. I’ve had the opportunity to preview one of them, which is going to be revealed at the upcoming Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on November 8-9, 2010.
The Buzz from the Audience
During the break I had a chance to speak with several BigMachines customers. A manufacturer of agricultural machines who sells through a network of more than 1,000 dealers said that the dealers’ salespeople save a huge amount of time generating complex quotes. According to the sales operations manager, other benefits include the following:
- The elimination of paper-based product catalogs and spec sheets.
- The ability to uncover greater opportunities to up-sell. (When customers can quickly check add-on items, the up-sell amount tends to be greater.)
- A reduction in sales-support staff (in this case, a savings of eight support people.)
The Key to Triple-Digit Growth in Three Years
Godard’s commitment to listening to his customers was notable. BigMachines customers help with design ideas, get to vote on product improvements, and can share their ideas on the next incremental improvements. The company employs 23 customer success managers – another indication that BigMachines solves its growth challenges by helping customers solve theirs. BigMachines is a great example of a company that co-creates products with its customer base and takes customer experience management seriously. No wonder many customers brought four or five staff members to this conference.
P.S. BigMachines has been voted a finalist for the Sales & Marketing 2.0 Awards in three categories.