Ecommerce is great for everyday purchases. But where do you turn for help with a big-ticket buying decision that is anything but “everyday”? One entrepreneur has a new answer.
If you want to buy a simple product—a book, a video game, some ink for your printer—there’s a good chance you’ll visit an ecommerce site like Amazon, Target.com, or BestBuy.com, Those sites provide all the essential product information, helpful reviews and ratings from other buyers, and an easy process for ordering.
But what if you’re making a much more complex purchase, like a dream vacation to the other side of the world, or an integrated security system for an office campus? You’re going to need guidance from a competent, trustworthy sales professional. Those things are not a “one-click” purchase.
Or what if you’re in sales, living daily the truth of how it’s getting harder to reach and connect with buyers? Only 19% of prospects want to connect with a sales person during the awareness stage, when they are first learning about a product; 60% don’t want to talk until they are in the consideration stage, after they’ve done their online research and created a short list. And 50% of buyers view sales people as “pushy” (while only 17% of sellers see themselves that way).
There’s no easy way for buyers to evaluate sales professionals before talking to them, or for sales reps to establish trust with prospects before actually connecting. That’s the problem a new online marketplace, Salesfolks.com, is out to solve.
It’s ecommerce for complex sales. Instead of seeing product ratings, consumers and business buyers can see ratings of sales professionals, separating the knowledgeable and consultative from the pushy and incompetent. And it will make it as easy to directly connect with a selected sales pro as it is to order new earbuds.
Salesfolks.com is the newest venture from serial entrepreneur Lief Larson. Here is Lief’s story.
Simply put, it’s still really, really hard to find named salespeople on the Internet. Way harder than it should be. LinkedIn, however powerful it is, is not a good tool for helping salespeople be in an open state for inbound customer interest. The sales landscape is huge (as evidenced by this chart) and yet there is now open marketplace for synchronously available salespeople.
Because Engage has years of experience in helping salespeople connect in real-time with web-based customers, we realized we had all the tools and know-how to build it. So, we’re in alpha with a destination website at www.salesfolks.com where customers (prospects/buyers) can go to find, research, select and get help from live salespeople.
Right now it’s invite-only—so we encourage people to let us know there interested and we’ll put them on our list as we send out new batches of invites.
Year founded: Salesfolks is part of Engage, Inc. The Company was founded in 2016, though our roots go back earlier. Our team has been doing this type of technology for a long, long time. Engage, Inc. serves customers like Travel Leaders, Virtuoso, The PGA Tour, and Mutual of Omaha Mortgage, just a name a few.
Funding rounds: We have primarily been internally funded by our team and a small group of investors including Gary Flake (former CTO at Salesforce.com), Brian Cohen (former CMO at Farmers Insurance), and Gary Rubens (founder of ATG Stores). We also have worked with Chicago-base Ringleader Ventures.
Current size: Engage is revenue positive. We have over 1,000 clients using our technology. Many login for a part or all of their workday to be accessible to their potential and existing customers.
Engage is featured in:
Webbiquity: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
Lief Larson: The pendulum has swung very far towards marketing automation. We see a big push towards using AI and chatbots to help customers. I’m personally not a fan. I think it’s inauthentic, impersonal, and dehumanizing to focus on ripping out the human experience for the sake of efficiency and making money.
I’m here to help the pendulum swing back more towards human. I believe that people still buy from people they know and trust, and that there is no replacement for the human-to-human experience.
So, I’ve been running in that direction and thinking about how I can help make human salespeople more competitive and better at using their sustainable competitive advantage—their humanity—to better serve customers.
Webbiquity: What were the most effective channels or methods for you to get the word out to prospective customers when you first launched your product?
Lief Larson: Oh goodness, in startup land the “distribution” is the biggest fire to put out. It comes well before product and even business/revenue model. The marketplace is so crowded and noisy it’s really hard getting out there and finding signal.
We have primarily worked with existing customers while getting out and advocating with salespeople and sales thought leaders about what we hope to accomplish with Salesfolks. For example, in your neck of the woods (Minneapolis) we brought the idea to Sam Richter, and Sam was generous with his feedback and ideas.
In a similar vein, we approached the Top 20 sales training organizations and talked with them about Salesfolks. At this point our distribution strategy has been grassroots advocacy.
Webbiquity: Finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were starting over today, what I would do differently is…”
Lief Larson: Nothing! Don’t get me wrong, we have made so many mistakes, and I make mistakes daily. But on the other hand, we’ve also been open to talking and learning with others, which I think has also saved us a lot of time and pain. You’d better learn lessons from others, because it will take more than a lifetime to learn them all yourself.
On a more personal level, my friend and colleague Mike Bechtel from Ringleader Ventures, who is just a brilliant man, put his kids on a money diet to give them a life lesson. For every dollar of allowance or money they make from chores, 1/3 goes in a savings jar, 1/3 goes in a give-it-away jar, and 1/3 goes in a spend-it-how-you-want jar.
I think this model, while not practical for all, is just a beautiful way to look at how we can balance our lives and spend our time. I’m trying to live my life closer to this proportional arrangement, and when I do, I really feel like I’m balanced.
Webbiquity: What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
Lief Larson: Swing for the fences baby! Life is short and if you have conviction in the worthiness of your endeavor, throw your heart completely into it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Eventually you will succeed. And when you do, remember and honor ALL those who helped you to get there.
They say failure is a bastard and success has a thousand fathers. While it’s a giggle-worthy saying and there’s some truth to it, the reality is that in my failures in life there are a lot of people that failed along side me.
You also have to have the ability to forgive yourself, learn from it, and move on, but you can never quit. If you want to do something BIG and BOLD, you have to be willing to accept failure as a possible (and often likely) outcome.
But, as Reid Hoffman (PayPal, LinkedIn) says, it is the entrepreneur who jumps off the cliff and tries to assemble a plane on the way down. If not always a glamorous profession, it is at least a noble one.