By Roxy Szal, California Business Journal.
Mike Genstil has always been, as he describes it, a “techno-geek.” At age 11, his parents bought him an early MS-DOS computer—remember those green screens and clunky white monitors—where he started writing computer programs, even winning some competitions.
When it came time for college, majoring in computer science at Stanford was a natural fit. But Genstil doesn’t fit the stereotype of your average computer nerd: He’s extroverted, easy to talk to and gregarious.
As he runs through his history of entrepreneurship, strategy consulting and product management, one thing is clear and constant throughout: a passion for developing goods and services to make people’s lives easier.
VisualizeROI, a B2B Software-as-a-Service company that generates visually engaging, dynamic applications to help salespeople “crush sales”—and achieve their sales targets—is no exception.
Genstil, CEO of VisualizeROI, has made a career out of straddling product and sales across a number of companies, all the while staying consistent with his goal of making life easier for people.
“I really do love sales,” he says. “I like getting in front of people. I like getting people to see things a different way. I like to solve people’s problems.”
Like we said: not your average geek.
Genstil founded VisualizeROI by way of another startup. “Being a math guy, I had built a number of different spreadsheets to analyze cash flow and return on investment potential for different types of real estate investments,” he explains. “I was swimming in spreadsheets, and like Mark Cuban says, I thought: ‘There had to be a better way.’”
So in 2007, ever the problem-solver, Genstil took those endless spreadsheets and built the first web-based real estate analysis tool called eRealInvestor, which generated significant buzz, especially among Genstil’s Stanford and Harvard circles, with whom he had been relentlessly networking in order to generate capital and feedback. It was in these constant conversations that his natural next career move—and huge potential client—materialized.
“I know a number of people at Salesforce.com, just down the street from our San Francisco office,” he says, “and a couple of them looked at our real estate analytics product and said, ‘You know, this reminds me of what we’re doing at Salesforce, which is using Excel models to help customers understand the value of buying our Salesforce.com CRM product. Why don’t you rewrite your product for that use?’”
Genstil was torn: Part of him was intrigued by the proposition of creating a customizable tool to help salespeople across industries better illustrate ROI to their clients. But another part couldn’t stop thinking about the amount of time and energy he’d put into the original real estate version of the product.
“Many founders reach a fork in the road where they say, ‘I can quit or I can pivot,’” Genstil explains. “Pivoting can be scary—it sounds like you’re starting over, and it’s tough to find the energy to do that.”
But Genstil, possibly the last person you’d characterize as lacking in energy, managed to find a happy medium: “I drew a line in the sand. I said, ‘I’ll pivot—if somebody pays me to pivot.’”
His next step was finding a customer who’d pay him to create, then eventually use, the new iteration of his analytics tool. Spurred by the initial interest, Genstil did what he calls “socializing an idea” around offices and conferences.
“I’d walk around with my laptop, pop it open, show a visual of a mock-up of what it could look like and say, ‘What if we had something that did this or looked like this?’ I spent a lot of miles driving up and down the 101, showing people the visuals.”
It worked. Soon, Genstil acquired a client, then another and another. “And I had secured enough funding to pivot.”
So VisualizeROI, with Genstil at the reins, positioned itself strategically in the market: a B2B company focused on visually engaging, collaborative applications, whose primary clients are other companies’ marketing and sales teams.
“Marketing has always had dollars to experiment,” Genstil says, “because everybody wants to be ahead of their competitors. I realized: Every B2B website talks about ROI. But none of them show it. At some point in our future, when someone talks about ROI, they should visually see it. I say: ‘Show me the money. Don’t talk about it. Show me.’ That was our North Star.”
Genstil likes to describe VisualizeROI as a solution that “removes friction from key points in buyer-seller interactions throughout the sales process.” He adds: “The inherent friction in any sales process is that the seller is extremely motivated to sell the buyer something, and they will do whatever it takes to advance the sale, while the buyer is inherently cautious, increasingly so as the price goes up or the number of people influenced by that purchase decision goes up.
“And the typical scenario is: The buyer has a day job. They’re basically doing fine. They’d like to do better, and they’re evaluating options slowly over time. The buyer is always hungry for more data and more information that makes it easy to say yes. Sellers are typically bad at that: They’re able to answer feature and function questions pretty well, but they’re not able to help the buyer say to their clients, ‘If you don’t buy at all, here’s what it’s going to cost you, and if you do buy, here’s how much it’s going to save you.’”
VisualizeROI uses eye-catching graphics to help clients show their customers the quantified value of their products. “We’re equipping our clients to talk less and show more, and meet the buyer where they are,” Genstil says. “The buyer simply wants to understand: what’s my current situation costing me, how much are you going to save me, and why.”
The second part of VisualizeROI’s mission is, as Genstil describes it, “once you’ve got the buyer on your side, empowering your champion to sell effectively for you internally”—to the other decision-makers involved in the purchase.
Another unique selling proposition: VisualizeROI’s quick and seamless integration with Salesforce, the popular sales tool many companies use to track interactions with customers and potential customers. “You’ve always got to be one click away from what you want to do,” he says. “The people with the shortest attention spans are salespeople: If they can’t do something in less than three minutes, they’re probably not going to do it. When we roll out our stuff, the quality bar is: If I don’t have the salespeople in the room say they love it, then we’re not done. We have to tweak it again.”
In short: constant pivoting, iterating, improving.
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