1. Problem: Lack of Sales Traction
Sometimes a problem with sales isn’t really a sales problem. Take Ostrato, a startup cloud management platform founded in 2013 to help enterprises more efficiently manage all of their cloud services—public, private, hybrid, etc.
The company suffered from a lack of sales traction over nearly two years, leaving Ostrato CEO and founder Jay Chapel with a ‘Rubik’s Cube’ of possible causes.
“It could have been the sales process and sales team,” said Chapel. “But we also had to consider the value prop, feature set, pricing and market conditions. Our prospects and pilot customers gave us a lot of feedback, but we weren’t able to isolate what was causing the customer acquisition problem.”
Around that time, Jay met B2B marketing expert Bob London who was coaching presenters at Tien Wong’s CONNECTpreneur investor event.
“While discussing the content of our investor slides, Bob helped me think through the various issues that might be causing our sales problems,” said Chapel. “He asked questions about the sales process and metrics, but also took a more holistic approach and wanted to know what prospects were saying—from their perspective.”
Realizing he and his team had many theories about what was wrong, Chapel decided to hire Bob London as a Chief Listening Officer to get independent insights from Ostrato’s prospects and pilot customers.
“It was time to find out what was really happening,” said Chapel. “Not just regarding the product and sales process, but to get an objective outside perspective on the market for cloud management products and services.”
“We had to get this right—and fast,” said Chapel. “The lack of sales was killing our ability to raise new capital.”
2. Solution: Asking the Right Questions in the Right Context
Bob London outlined a plan with Ostrato to schedule one-on-one calls with a list of about 15 members of the company’s target audience, including current prospects, plus internal stakeholders. London also developed a discussion guide that would yield the necessary insights.
“The key is not to start by asking about our product but rather to understand what the prospect’s world looks like from his or her perspective,” said Bob London. “I call it agenda-less listening.”
“Only after you’ve established the prospect’s priorities—independent of Ostrato or even cloud management in general—can you really get in their shoes,” said London.
3. The Elevator Rant: “What One Problem Can You Solve Today?”
Several weeks later, Bob London delivered his findings and recommendations to Chapel and the Ostrato team in a 40-page presentation.
“First, I was impressed by the depth of the report,” said Chapel. “Bob really managed to get inside the target audience’s head—beyond what we had been able to learn. The recommendations were very clear and well connected to the insights Bob uncovered.”
The most significant insights and recommendations were:
- The cloud management market was still maturing in terms of requirements, feature sets and expectations, making it harder for vendors to connect their features to customer pain points.
- Ostrato’s current offering was considered “wide not deep.”
- Rather than being open to a multi-featured platform, prospects wanted to know what one problem the software solved very well.
- The most common pain point cited was cloud cost control and optimization.
- Prospects were most favorable to Ostrato’s “parking” feature, which enabled them to automatically stop (and therefore not pay for) idle servers.
- Prospects also emphasized the need for software that was easy to buy, simple to set up and use and delivered rapid ROI.
“One prospect quote that stood out to me and captured the essence of Bob’s report,” said Chapel, “‘Just try to solve a real problem I have vs. assuming a product meets our business need just because I have cloud in my title.’ Bob refers to this as an Elevator Rant—what the prospect says to himself on the elevator after the meeting.”
“So we were trying to force fit this very broad platform into a market where customers are just focused on a few very real, identifiable problems,” said Chapel. “The main problem we identified across the board was controlling and optimizing cloud costs—without having to buy complex, disruptive software with a long payback period.”
4. “We Don’t Just Need a New Strategy, We Need a New Company”
“The insights gleaned from our prospects’ feedback were a tipping point for our team and the Board of Directors,” said Chapel. “It helped crystallize that in its current form, Ostrato was not going to be able to significantly increase sales in the near term.”
The question was whether to shut down or to pivot to a new concept and model that would address what prospects said they needed: A simple, web-based tool to help reduce cloud costs by stopping unused instances. And ParkMyCloud was born.
5. Three Dozen Enterprise Customers and Multiple Investor Term Sheets
“About three months after deciding to pivot, we launched the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for ParkMyCloud,” said Chapel. “We immediately got traction with media and analysts who liked the ‘app-like’ approach we took rather than creating big enterprise software.”
“Then the customer wins started coming, including major tech companies like AVID, Infor and Neustar, online businesses like Findly and large enterprises including McDonald’s and Wolters Kluwer. Today we have customers in dozens of countries and partners selling ParkMyCloud across the globe.”
“In addition to providing us with critical cash flow,” said Chapel, “those customers were instrumental in proving our traction so we could secure new investment,” said Chapel. “We recently closed on a $1,65 million round that we are using to enhance ParkMyCloud and accelerate our growth.”
“The bottom line,” said Chapel, “is that the insights Bob uncovered were instrumental in helping us understand what customers really needed today. The resulting pivot to ParkMyCloud has turned out to be a great bet.”