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From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Power of the People Network

“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” – Jeff Bezos, founder, and CEO of Amazon

These days, new stuff is introduced every minute of every day, around the world. It is impossible to keep up let alone stay on top. Too often that new stuff tweaks what already exists. Much less frequently, something new changes the game, provides a new paradigm. And often we don’t understand the impact of an innovation until much later, after the markets have spoken.

Perhaps that’s the case with Sellizer, an application developed by a small but passionate group of marketers, financiers, and technologists. It was conceived in response to challenges and frustration with a lead generation operation in one company. Is it a game-changer? Let us know what you think.

The Situation

Marcin Zaborowski was a co-founder of a marketing agency that sold e-marketing and consulting services for businesses. Leads came from several sources:

  • Recommendations
  • Inquiries from website content marketing and SEO activities
  • Upselling to existing customers.

These sources helped generate leads for their business – up to 400 quarterly. They would score the leads by contacting these potential customers and checking several factors, including needs, potential budgets, time, importance, etc. On average, only 20% of the leads scored warm and were pursued.

Offers were created for the warm leads, requiring approximately 15 hours each. However, less than 30% of those contacted would respond to the emails, offers, and proposals. Of those, about 15% were closed. The sales cycle from lead generation to proposal to contract lasted about 3 months.

It was a frustrating and time-consuming exercise. The proposal creation process was manually intensive, involving cut and paste, custom crafting, and a variety of shared content. They didn’t always know when or if the prospect opened their proposal, they didn’t know how long the prospect spent reviewing the material, they didn’t know whether the contact revisited the information, or how often. And, they had to put the statistics used to manage the process together manually on a monthly basis.

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Those results and related frustrations lead Marcin and his team to conceive of a better, more productive process. Among the features and functions they included on the wish list:

  • Automated, intelligent lead quality and proposal assessments
  • Automation of proposal generation, leveraging a suite of standard templates and an AI infused creation process with optional custom editing
  • Automated follow-up regarding the prospects handling of a contact and intelligent response generation
  • Distribution of proposals through a variety of channels including email, SMS, and LinkedIn
  • Integration of the website lead forms with the proposal generation and follow-up capability
  • Full integration with other supporting system including CRM, sales, and contract management
  • Real-time statistics on all key metrics with multiple personalized views for senior management, sales, customer service, and production staff and organizations.

Marcin and his staff kept an eye on the market, looking for a product or tools that would address their needs, but they found the few offerings available lacked on most fronts. Finally, with no other apparent options available, Marcin decided to build his own solution and left the company. The Sellizer project was launched.

The Goals

The initial goal of the Sellizer project was to address the organization’s wish list and finance the development costs through sales of the product to other interested parties. Consequently, at the very beginning, it was crucial to enter the market.

Now, there are 3 primary goals for Sellizer:

  1. To expand internationally
  2. To develop features, nurture AI-wise technologies, and add some functionalities, such as signing documents
  3. In five years, to become a global leader among other email and proposal tracking software

The project targeted the global market but focused initially on the home (Polish) market to test the solution.

The Project

In 2017, the founder and CEO of Sellizer – Marcin Zaborowski – made a decision. He left his managerial position at the marketing agency to focus on the creation and promotion of the Sellizer app. He assembled his initial team of one analyst/business developer, one designer, and one developer and created their initial, minimum viable product (MVP). The initial offering included SMS/e-mail notifications about opening an offer and offer statistics.

The market, however, turned out to be very demanding and after several months of getting feedback from users, they had over 1000 requests for improvements. Over the next three months they implemented 80% of the suggestions that were deemed to be essential. With the demand for additional capability in the app, additional funding was sought and obtained and additional staff were hired, including a project manager, two more developers, and a tester.

Marcin and his team had extensive experience in the market and used that knowledge and discussions with users to plan and shape future releases. Each potential requirement was recorded along with the number of occurrences. Then, the founders collaboratively determined the impact of a specific function after implementation as well as its cost-effectiveness. Everything was recorded in an Excel sheet. The actual content and priority of the releases was guided by continual reference to the organization’s goals. They gave weight to the possible actions and calculated the priority of a sequence of actions based on their experience and consultation with their user base. This information was also maintained in an Excel file.

The team used PHP and JS technologies to build the app and applied agile approaches in every field including design, development marketing and sales. The deliverables were tested internally by the team and then automated tests and friendly testers were used. Due to the team’s long experience in the market, they had lots of business contacts. They invited over 100 of those contacts to Sellizer tests. Nearly 30% of them became customers. In addition, one of Sellizer’s founders was the organizer of a large Internet Beta marketing conference. That forum was used to introduce the app to over 300 people and get the sales rolling in. The amazing power of a network!

The Results

The Sellizer app’s first release was launched in September, 2018. The company’s target revenue for the first year was 100,000 Polish Zloty(PLN). However, due to the demand for improvements and additional functionality, it took almost two years to reach the target.

The costs to add the incremental capability were considerable but the company managed to obtain additional funding to deliver the enhanced product. There are now more than 350 users actively using the tool. They have sent out over 200,000 proposals to date.

As far as Sellizer’s own lead generation performance goes, using their own app of course, they act on about 150 leads a month and close 12% in a lead generation cycle that last 19 days on average.

The company is currently aiming at retaining new strategic investors and expanding internationally. Android and iOS versions are also in the works. Its path to success with Sellizer is a great roadmap for anyone with a dream.

Lessons Learned

If it wasn’t for risk tolerance on the part of Marcin and his investors, Sellizer wouldn’t have been developed and launched. As Marcin, the Sellizer CEO, once stated, “I can’t overstress how crucial it is that you get out of your comfort zone”. However, I think there were a number of other insights and practices that contributed to Sellizer’s success:

  1. A committed sponsor is a game-changer – Marcin was the initiator, the visionary, the driver, the leader and the final decision-maker the project needed to achieve its goals.
  2. Metrics matter – The story of Sellizer is founded on a solid foundation of information. Knowing the number of leads, the quality of the leads, how the prospects responded and the time and effort involved in yielding the results obtained was the catalyst. Without that knowledge, very little would have changed.
  3. Always be on the lookout for opportunities – There were hundreds of different potential responses to the challenges the company was experiencing in its lead generation operations. Building that wish list helped coalesce the search for solutions around an app like Sellizer.
  4. Balancing risk and reward – Marcin and his team took a rational approach to the exploration, development, and release of the app. They defined their minimum viable product (MVP), they had a small, talented team, they had just enough financing, they took an agile approach to the development of the product and they relied heavily on their network of colleagues and clients to ensure market reality.
  5. Engaging with clients – Marcin is fond of saying, “Sellizer itself is an everlasting lesson. We appreciate the power of feedback more than ever.” One Sellizer user even applies the app on internal communications: “In our internal communication, we use Sellizer to send important documents to ensure that they have not been skipped or missed among many other messages.”
  6. The power of your network – Look at the leverage and power an extensive and connected network of friends and colleagues provided. Marcin’s initial partners were professional colleagues. 100 contacts to help with the testing. 30% became customers! Finding investors to fund expansion of the application was enabled by the network of contacts. It was a force multiplier!
  7. The quality of the team – According to Marcin, “We managed to gather great partners and associates quickly. We have our dream team!”

So, if you’re involved in an innovation venture or a challenging change, consider Sellizer’s approach and the seven insights and practices above that have helped it succeed. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process, and the Decision Framework right upfront so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First-time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].