I am not a sales CEO.
As a law firm partner, I focused on delivering great work and letting the work speak for itself. I was good at closing new matters (when a client was picking between multiple firms, I was good at convincing them to pick us), but I was not good at developing new leads, maintaining relationships, cross-selling new services, golf, or any of the other skills of rainmaking partners. I have great respect for people who are good at sales because I know I’m not.
But sales is critical, especially in a startup like Disco. My approach is “scoreboard”: test as many strategies as possible as cheaply as possible and let sales tactics be guided by the results, defined in terms of revenue numbers.
Some sales tactics can be ruled out at the experiment stage because they’re unsavory. Anything that involves unethical behavior or less than perfect honesty with customers, for example, is out, regardless of whether it drives revenue. Anything that dilutes our focus on building a great product with broad appeal is out — and this includes catering to customer-specific requests or any kind of services offering when one is building a technology company. But anything else that sounds reasonable is in.
At my law firm, for example, we found that press attention was the number one driver of new business (> 50% in dollars); referrals from former clients or former cocounsel or opposing counsel was second (25% in dollars); and everything else (speaking at events, CLEs, cold or warm calls, writing, lunches, general networking, etc.) was a very distant third. This was contrary to our initial expectation. It may have something to do with our particular strengths and weaknesses; golf may be more effective for people better at it than me.
At Disco, we initially tried direct marketing to law firms and legal departments, based on our belief that a 10x faster 10x cheaper product would sell itself. Boy, were we wrong. We also experimented with outsourced direct sales using a sales company in Silicon Valley. That was a complete failure (and a big waste of money) too. Then we tried selling through channel partners who have existing relationships with litigation partners and other end-user decision makers. That was a great success.
With channel partners, in turn, we’ve tried a variety of things. We’ve tried mass emails advertising speed and cost. We’ve tried advertising in bar journals and other publications that lawyers read. We’ve tried personal calls to law firm partners and other decision makers. We’ve tried free trials, flat-fee whole-case pricing, a full-featured online demo with a big data set loaded, and lots of other things. Again, the strategy is try everything that seems reasonable. So what works?
The number one driver of Disco sales, by far, is demo days (> 50% in dollars). In a demo day, we take over a conference room for a day at a firm where we already have one or two initial customers or at least one or two contacts who have seen and like the software. We’re available all day in the conference room to give demos to litigators whenever they have 15 or 30 minutes free. What usually happens is that the one or two people who are already disposed to like it come and see the software, then go tell their friends. The friends in turn come and see the software and go and tell their friends, etc. etc. so that we have a stream of people coming in to see demos throughout the day. The same people wouldn’t take a call from us or a channel partner and probably wouldn’t schedule a meeting; but when we’re at their firm and all they have to do is pop in to a conference room whenever they’re free, they will come and see a demo; and once they see a demo, they love it. In this way, Disco spreads from one or two users at a firm to a large part of the firm’s total business.
The number two driver of Disco sales is RFP participation. We are almost always the low bid by a significant amount (coming in at 50 – 75% of the next bid) and with the fastest software, especially for the large data sets for which RFPs are more common. The number three driver is lunchtime CLE presentations where the entire firm is invited to a catered lunch to hear about Disco in the context of a CLE presentation on “The Future of Legal Technology.” The number four driver is one-off demos to individuals with an existing relationship with a channel partner. Everything else that we’ve tried (and there’s certainly more yet to try) is much less successful than these four tactics.
As a non-sales CEO trying to drive sales in a startup, it’s important to measure what affects revenue and to put your weight behind the sales tactics that the data shows do drive revenue. All the beautiful collateral, all the hard work, and all the good intentions you and your team can have don’t matter in the world of sales if they don’t result in posting numbers on the board. When you’re not naturally good at something, there’s no substitute for data.
We love to share information with our channel partners about what sales tactics work and what don’t. And we actively try to help channel partners pursue those sales tactics that we have found do work. Right now, that’s (1) demo days, (2) RFPs, (3) CLEs, and (4) targeted demos to individual decision makers with an existing prior relationship to the channel partner.