Product is just the first step
So you’ve uncovered your creative prowess and have come up with a brilliant idea for a startup. Desperate to join the ranks of the entrepreneurial, and with eyes set on financial freedom, you start reading up on everything you need to know about your dream business – in fact, you’ve researched it to its minute details.
You’ve developed your product, amended it again and again until it was perfect in your eyes, and now you’re ready for revenue.
What now? Why is it so slow? The phone isn’t ringing. The orders aren’t coming through. No one is inquiring about your product. You’re sitting in front of the computer, trying to figure out whether you’ve missed something.
Many startups and small businesses fail not because of the quality of the product or service they’re offering, nor because of poor accounting practices, but from sheer lack of sales.
And the reality is, finding great sales people is a difficult task for any business. There is always uncertainty around whether the agent will be able to deliver on their goals. In fact, the business depends on those sales.
This is why many founders prefer commission-based sales agents.
If they sell, you pay. If they don’t sell, you don’t pay. It’s a fairly risk-free contract model.
But finding the right sales agents to work on a commission basis – that can be challenging.
An innovative new UK-based startup, CommissionCrowd – currently in its beta phase – has brought, what would seem to be an obvious, but lacking, solution to the problem. The cloud-based platform connects businesses with independent sales representatives from all corners of the world.
Launching publicly in the later months of this year, CommissionCrowd also provides collaborative accounts that allow both the company and sales agent to easily manage their remote working relationships.
The startup was founded by a dynamic trio – marketer, operations manager and software developer. Laura McGregor, CEO, Alistair Robinson, CTO and Ryan Mattock, CMO, decided to come together and do us all a favour and create a crowdsourcing-type platform where businesses can connect with a diverse pool of sales agents from around the world.
To understand the relevance of such a platform in our global business ecosystem, Mattock first explains that self-employed sales representatives are essentially “experienced sales professionals with entrepreneurial drive; and in many cases, have existing networks of contacts that have been build up over the years.” This is not unlike lawyers and accountants who do freelance work on a pay-on-work-completed basis.
“In many cases, utilising self-employed sales agents is a quick route to market for a company whose existing in-house sales force may not have contacts or experience in a particular sector,” Mattock says.
Like many startup ideas, CommissionCrowd spawned from frustration. Mattock says the co-founding trio were facing challenges when recruiting, training, managing and recruiting their own independent sales agents in their previous startups, and were tired of the lack of solutions available at their fingertips.
“We wasted a fortune in time and money advertising on generic job sites that simply didn’t meet our requirements,” says Mattock.
“Running a tech-savvy company, we couldn’t understand why we there were many affordable online productivity tools for every other aspect of our business, but when it came to the most important – our growth – there was nothing that fit our commission-only business model.”
On the other end of the spectrum, self-employed sales agents were also facing difficulties – particularly with finding additional non-conflicting opportunities to add to their professional portfolios, managing multiple opportunities at once, and maintaining good communications with their prospects.
The CommissionCrowd mission
CommissionCrowd emerged as an attempt to change the way companies build and manage remote sales teams, while simultaneously helping self-employed sales agents to build their professional sales portfolios. Mattock says that in addition to facilitating connections between companies and sales agents, they have built a strong backend system.
“[CommissionCrowd’s collaborative management tools] enable greater communication, task management, and overall productivity for everyone. Effectively we eliminate the wasted time and resources that ultimately take time away from selling,” he says.
“The networking and portfolio-building features of CommissionCrowd are designed to not only neutralise the risk to both the company and sales agent of forming the wrong kinds of partnerships, but to ensure that the working relationship is as efficient and streamlined as possible.”
Once a business or independent sales agent joins CommissionCrowd, they are both provided with a dashboard that includes functionalities such as smart and simple CRM, Calendar, Task List, email, calling features and document hosting – all of which help users manage their relationships and sales pipeline more seamlessly.
So how does it work?
For businesses, CommissionCrowd works as follows:
1. Create your opportunity, company profile and define the training milestones and documents associated to learning and working your opportunity.
Once your profile is set up agents can contact you directly or companies can search CommissionCrowd’s database of independent commission-only sales agents. You can manage your applications, shortlist candidates, schedule interviews, send messages or call agents directly within your dashboard.
2. Agents will automatically be sent any training tasks required and companies are able to monitor all sales agent progress.
Company documentation relating to an opportunity is now safely hosted in one place and all your agents have the correct and most current training and marketing documentation.
3. Import contacts or leads and allocate them out to your agents. Or just monitor the activity agents are generating on behalf of your company.
Companies receive real-time notifications on all sales agent activity including, new leads, pipeline progression, notes, emails, tasks, calls etc. CommissionCrowd also acts as a fast and efficient communication portal for managing agents – allowing you to send messages, hold group sales meetings and track agreed actions.
4. Once an agent closes a deal, the company is notified and a request for approval is sent.
Once approved, the payment process begins. Based on the prior agreed payment terms the system will automatically remind you when payments are due. Companies then pay the sales agent’s commission directly through CommissionCrowd.
5. CommissionCrowd’s reporting module allows you to see what’s in your company’s pipeline, who your top sales performers are, the average time to close a deal, sales by territory and more.
And for independent sales agents, CommissionCrowd works as follows:
1. Create your profile, so that companies can contact you directly. You can also search CommissionCrowd’s database of commission-only sales opportunities based on a number of criteria which you can specify.
2. You are automatically sent training tasks associated with your new opportunity and companies are automatically updated on your progress.
3. Import contacts or leads and assign them to a specific opportunity. You can use CommissionCrowd’s CRM to stay on top of all of your prospecting activity.
You can quickly drag and drop leads across various stages in your pipeline. Create call lists and dial directly through the system.
Companies are automatically sent notifications on any activity that takes place within their opportunity including, new leads, pipeline progression, notes, emails, tasks, calls etc.
CommissionCrowd also acts as a fast and efficient communication portal for you to ask quick questions, get feedback on negotiations, send messages and even set up and attend group sales meetings etc.
4. Once you close a deal the company is notified and a request for approval is sent. Once approved the payment process begins; and based on the payment terms you agreed the system will automatically submit invoices on your behalf, track and remind companies when your commission payment is due.
Companies then pay you directly through the system and you can transfer the funds to your Bank or Paypal.
5. CommissionCrowd’s reporting module allows you to see what’s in your pipeline, which opportunities have the most potential, outstanding payments, total sales etc.
You can also export your invoices and reports and send them directly to your accountant.
Global from the get-go
Given CommissionCrowd’s relevance to businesses in all corners of the globe, the company has chosen to launch globally. However, at first, the platform will only be available in English.
“We feel strongly that a global marketplace will eventually require a multilingual approach and we have plans to roll this out based entirely around demand,” says Mattock.
The co-founders have bootstrapped the business to date. Mattock says they decided to run a paid private-beta for early adopters, which has supported their funding requirements.
During development, their challenge was to build a platform that not only connects and services businesses and sales agents independently, but actually strengthens their relationships, so that they’re “even more powerful when a relationship is created between the two.”
Mattock says, “Much of resulting functionality came about from looking at the inefficiencies in our own commission-only sales recruitment and management processes, while also conferring with our sales reps to ensure this would be exactly what they need also.”
He admits the amount of development work that’s gone into building the technology has been huge.
“[T]o ensure we are truly one step ahead of the curve … It has meant double the workload and therefore double the time to ensure that CommissionCrowd will not only be reliable, but extremely user friendly,” Mattock says.
“On the plus side, we receive a huge number of encouraging calls and Emails every single day from both companies and sales agents wanting to use CommissionCrowd. We sometimes even have to deal with frustrated people who become annoyed at the fact it’s taken us slightly longer to develop than originally anticipated, although we have to admit that we like having people beat down our doors to be first in line to use it.”
Although CommissionCrowd hasn’t launched officially yet, they’ve been able to attract 1,200 companies around the globe – through social media and word-of-mouth referrals – and 600+ sales agents have communicated their interest in joining the platform.
“We are excited to be attracting top quality sales agents and companies from around the world prior to even having a launched platform. In fact we have already been involved in early discussions with some of the largest sales rep organisations in the world,” says Mattock.
The CommissionCrowd team is currently in the process of converting those prospects into ‘VIP Founding Members’ and offering them early access to their private Beta program. They’re also offering lifetime membership to early adopters – priced at £299 (approximately AUD$535 as of today). This will change to a monthly fee for non-VIP members once CommissionCrowd launches to the general public. Sales agents who register early will qualify for a free lifetime membership.
When it comes to monetisation, Mattock is clear that they never take anything away from a sales agents’ commission earnings. When CommissionCrowd launches officially, businesses will be charged a monthly fee to use the platform, as well as a small administration fee on any closed business. They will also be offering paid premium accounts to sales agents. Dollar amounts are yet to be determined and revealed to the public.
For the team, 2014 is all about listening to early adopters and refining the product until its ready to scale. CommissionCrowd has also been approached by a number of big names in the sales industry who want to partner with the startup, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they secure some impressive strategic partnerships.
On a final note, Mattock expresses his gratitude to the hundreds of companies and sales agents who have supported the startup since its inception.
“We are constantly amazed at how receptive people are to speak with us and provide us with vital feedback and encouragement. We are building CommissionCrowd for you, and we look forward to taking the independent sales industry forward leaps and bounds!” he says.
More information is available via www.commissioncrowd.com.