BusinessRx: Company looks to get big by targeting the small

The Entrepreneur

Michael Zirngibl said he believes most telecommunications companies are missing the point in the true value of phone calls. He says it’s not about making the phone ring, but “the quality or success of the conversation between the parties connected.” He and partners Sam Aparicio and Ashish Soni tackled these issues by creating a company to help large businesses and organizations improve their response to customer telephone calls. But they saw that this type of technology was completely out of reach for smaller businesses. After more than a decade selling to some of the largest companies — which spend millions of dollars setting up and optimizing their call center operations — they decided to radically simplify the technology and bring it to small and mid-size businesses.

“We believe it’s time to bring the best practices of the most successful enterprises and customer service organizations to millions of small businesses at a price point they can easily afford,” Zirngibl said.

The Pitch

Zirngibl

“Ringio is a cloud-based communication solution for small and medium-size businesses. In addition to offering advanced phone functionality, our software identifies and then displays in real-time the most relevant information about a customer contacting a business — consolidated from various types of company data, social networks and any of 20-plus connected customer relationship management systems.

“Some of our customers describe this as ‘caller ID 3.0’ or ‘intelligent screen pops,’ but the big idea is that the second you receive a phone call, you’ll receive — on your computer screen, smartphone or tablet of choice — every data point and piece of information you need to have a more informed, meaningful and effective sales and support conversation with the person calling.

“We sell our software directly via our Web site at www.ringio.com, where businesses can sign up and go through a 10-minute setup process to get up and running, but our biggest growth area is licensing private label versions of our platform to large Internet phone providers and carriers around the world.

“For the last six months we have been quietly working on the next generation of our product platform. Not just some new incremental features but a major upgrade, which — without revealing too much — will basically enable any telecom company around the world to launch and sell their own version of Ringio to their customer base without major changes to their infrastructure and their customers’ phone systems.

“After speaking with several of the largest carriers in the world about this new product version, we do believe we have a big winner on our hands with very broad and global applicability. For many companies this might probably sound like a nice problem to have, but as we get closer to launch I’m concerned about being restricted in both the speed and scale of the rollout once we actually lift the covers.

“How can a company with somewhat limited financial resources like Ringio successfully coordinate and execute a global ‘full court press’ product and sales launch and quickly capture market share with large distribution channels?”

The advice

Elana Fine, associate director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“When you’re a company with limited resources, you can’t do all of those things on a large scale all at once. At this point in your business’ life cycle you need to be testing your strategies rather than executing the full court press. This way, you can experiment with techniques for gaining market share and landing distribution partners on a tight budget. When you do scale up and you have more resources, you’ll have created a replicable sales process and you’ll know where to invest.

“Figure out what can you do inexpensively with social media to market your product directly to small businesses. Consider starting with a region and developing a grass-roots sales strategy to expand from there. Seek out partnerships with organizations in the region that cater to your target small business owners and entrepreneurs, for example Washington area regional initiatives of the Startup America partnership.

“For large distribution partners, target those that work with small to mid-size businesses but don’t already offer a call center or phone solution, perhaps a company like Dell, Staples or Intuit, and convince them that your product will help them sell more of their product lines. With just a few successful distribution partners, you’ll generate the resources needed to really do the ‘full court press.’”

The reaction

Zirngibl

“Excellent points. We are big believers in the ‘lean start-up’ principles of continuous iterations and constant testing of product-related hypotheses. So it makes perfect sense to apply the same, more measured approach to our marketing efforts as well.”

 
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