Naturally, it’s good to be successful. But if you just follow the signal of demand, you might build a business that you don’t actually want to exist.

Syd Lawrence founded The Bot Platform after many years as an innovative agency building tech and campaigning tools for some of the music industry’s biggest stars.

However, once they began to offer tools for promotion through Facebook Messenger, it was clear some clients wanted to use it in potentially customer-hostile ways.

Syd explains:

“Part of our problem with an old part of the business was that the value it brought actually wasn’t the value that we wanted it to bring. For *some* of our Messenger business the value is being able to spam the general public. Now, actually that wasn’t the value we wanted to deliver to our customers, so that put us off that part of the business.”

“We were working with the Rolling Stones, Madonna and One Direction and what I do now is not sexy at all but it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding and interesting. We’re actually helping people. We’re not trying to sell them more stuff, we’re not trying to ultimately waste their time and gather their attention.”

But at the same time, finding the right customers is a matter of the commercials too:

“On the sales side: it’s much easier to sell service. You look at numbers but actually it’s MRR that matters. Right now, if we had the choice of selling 40 grand that was just today, or 10 grand that was spread over the next 12 months (then potentially longer), you actually go with the smaller numbers because of the lifetime value. Obviously it depends on how long they stick with you as customers.”

Read on for more from Syd.

Enterprise sales

It’s enterprise internal space and sales cycles are long, especially when it’s something new. It actually took us about nine months to sign our first proper paid customer even though we had quite a big splash launch.

I think that’s the biggest difference versus the consumer-facing space — everyone’s got a marketing budget and they are usually experimental budgets anyway. They’re not long-term business process budgets, where you have to try and work out where that comes from and who owns it.

I mean, finding their pain point is the same with all sales: what are they trying to achieve, what’s the problem that they’re trying to solve? But we have loads of people coming to us with: “I want a bot.” “What do you want it to do?” “I don’t know”.

If there’s no problem in the first place, then you don’t need a solution for it. 

We’re trying various initiatives. We have been doing longer free trials, for example, so people can experiment a little bit. But then it’s very easy to get someone to not pay for something. Until they’re paying, you don’t know what they’re going to do with it, whether they attach value to it, and how much value they attach.

It’s also about focusing on your target market. We follow a methodology called Traction EOS — Entrepreneurial Operating System — that sets out your one year, two year, five year, plus your quarters, plus your overall vision and traction. It’s Vision Traction Organiser, your VTO. So you have your target market, your niche, your purpose, cause and passion and in theory that one document is the strategy of your business.

We used OKRs at one point. But they’re basically the same. In EOS world, your quarterly targets are just your rocks. So what are your rocks for the quarter to help you move forward as a business? We have rocks and a scorecard. We update our scorecard once a week and I’ve been building out various internal dashboards and systems for that, to export cleanly and easily for the board and investors.

The difference between running a service and a product company

There were two sides where we had to flip our mindset — and actually one of them took us a while. 

On the sales side: it’s much easier to sell service. You look at numbers but actually it’s MRR that matters. Right now, if we had the choice of selling 40 grand that was just today, or 10 grand that was spread over the next 12 months (then potentially longer), you actually go with the smaller numbers because of the lifetime value. Obviously it depends on how long they stick with you as customers.   

These things may seem kind of obvious, but you have to remind yourself because we thought we were doing better at one point than we actually were because we were selling a lot more service than licence fee.

But in our current market, our customers don’t really want to pay for service, they want to do it themselves. So we are doing less and less consultancy, which means that we are maybe slightly lower on some month’s revenue than only six months ago but it’s recurring so you have to weigh up that balance.

Partnerships

We all have to be dependent on each other. It’s always rubbish playing in someone else’s garden and this has always been our biggest risk. But it helps if they’re also a customer so it’s a lot easier to spot if they were going to screw us over.

Everyone is always looking for people to spend time with, so you need to work out who you want to work with — who you can benefit from and who can benefit from you.

We aren’t building a communications channel, we want to use the channels that people are already using and now that’s Workplace and MS Teams.

A greater purpose in B2B

We were working with the Rolling Stones, Madonna and One Direction and what I do now is not sexy at all but it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding and interesting. We’re actually helping people. We’re not trying to sell them more stuff, we’re not trying to ultimately waste their time and gather their attention.   

We’re no longer part of the attention economy and, and once upon a time we were. I remember we did a piece years ago called harlemshakeroulette.com. People sent in their videos of them in their offices, putting on outfits and doing the Harlem Shake as you probably remember. And we built a report, which was how much of the world’s economy we wasted.

We were trying to put smiles on people’s faces. There was loads of stuff that we were doing that we were massively grateful for and had reasons for us doing it — but we were ultimately wasting people’s time, or entertaining them, depending on which way you want to look at it. So, yeah, it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding.   

Taking care about following customer demand

I think it’s about establishing the value that you bring and want to bring. Part of our problem with an old part of the business was that the value it brought actually wasn’t the value that we wanted it to bring.

Pure demand. Not for all of our Messenger business, but for *some* of our Messenger business the value is being able to spam the general public. Now, actually that wasn’t the value that we wanted to deliver to our customers, so that put us off that part of the business.

By contrast, focusing on internal communication, we’ve got some great quotes especially just from the last few weeks. “This entire pandemic would be over before we would have been able to talk to every single staff member if we didn’t have bots”. “I can’t think of how many valuable people we might have lost without this kind of communication.”

Final thoughts

Expensive experts are often not expensive experts… or even experts at all.   

You and your founding team know your market much better than anyone else ever will.

Don’t forget training your team earlier. We’re now much better at training and onboarding than we were.

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About the Author

MaxTB

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and MD of Augur, the entrepreneurial communications partner for "unsexy" tech.

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