Flying Solo on Sales, Tech Entrepreneur Uses Online Group Meetings to Soar to Success
Travis Van, founder of ITDatabase took the adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself,” to heart. First, he drew the concept for a tech news database “on a napkin at a Starbucks” and created a start-up company from scratch in 2007. After two years of working day and night engineering the product and operating at what he calls “a 100% loss,” Van put on his sales hat. Since hitting the market in 2009, he has slowly but surely built a successful and well-known business with clients that include Intel, Ogilvy PR, Citrix and the Linux Foundation.
Operating as ITDatabases’s one-man salesforce, he achieved this growth without abandoning his primary focus on maintaining and continuously improving data quality. “I spend only about 15% of my time on outbound sales,” said Van. Instead of devoting excessive time setting up one-on-one sales conversations, he relies on videoconferencing, arranging online group sessions via GoToMeeting.
“The online tech space is saturated,” he noted. “It has become almost impossible for a company to differentiate itself in the marketplace using traditional methods. Our business model is based on extremely high conversion rates and subscription renewal rates. It's important for us to engage our customers and prospects, and make it easy for them to login as well as invite other participants on their side.”
“The demo is what we see as our “come-to-Jesus” moment,” said Van. “It allows us to steer the perceptions about our solutions, whether it’s driving PR with our TechNews or tracking opportunities at the most relevant events with our new TechCalendar, which is about to come out of beta.”
“Starting a business is mostly a mixture of fun and creativity at first,” he said. “But you need to find a way to engage the marketplace. GoToMeeting has given us a strong, highly affordable resource for selling to potential customers. I personally respond to every customer support question, and show new customers and prospects how the products work. It is a huge advantage to own those relationships and hear firsthand all of the feedback (especially criticisms). We assign the human touch to the most critical sales junctures, and we count on the product quality to attract the customers as opposed to having young 20-something salespeople dialing for dollars.”
Like most other entrepreneurs, Van took a significant risk in starting ITDatabase. He walked away from an opportunity to obtain equity as one of the first employees of another successful tech startup. But he saw even greater potential in his new venture. “The tech PR tools that existed were inadequate and were certainly underutilized. Every brand name tech company and PR firm on the planet can be our customer,” he said. “The smallest ones can be among our best clients; sometimes we deal with one decision maker who champions our product which is a lot easier than having to wait out a committee decision involving 20 people for a relatively small investment.”
ITDatabase also offers an onramping program with free trials, which makes the GoToMeeting demos even more important. “One thing I always hated as a customer was salespeople offering what I call “coercion pricing,” said Van. “All of our customers are grandfathered at the rate they signed up at and we have a 93% renewal rate. Our impetus is to develop high-value new products to increase revenue.”