For businesses seeking to sell a product to a business customer, it can be a months-long process to get to “yes.”
Once a potential customer is a warm, qualified lead, there are often many different layers of communication that happen between big businesses and sales and marketing teams, and hundreds of those are through pieces of content about the product, what it offers and ultimately how it helps. These videos, blog posts and white papers help a sales team make their case. But while working at agencies that helped produce those assets to get companies to success over 20 years, Greg Dvorken found that sales people could benefit from insights into whether those pieces of content were effective.
Teams would often collect clicks, open rates and pageviews, but Dvorken said those can prove to be “vanity metrics.” At the same time, there was a lot of data being collected about the customers, but it often remained in the brains of the sellers. Sales people want to be out selling, so they don’t usually take the time to do a post-mortem. But in a big organization there are lots of others who can benefit.
So the former agency technology practice leader came to a question: “How do we create a feedback mechanism that allows all of the people that are supporting sellers to be able to close that product loop internally, so the marketers can help them do their jobs better, and have very objective but high-quality data points to base materials from?”
He set out to find technology that could capture those insights and scale them throughout an organization. But he couldn’t find it. So he teamed with cofounder Tracey Halvorsen, a Baltimore design and agency leader, and started building Return.
The company is announcing a $200,000 investment on Wednesday from TEDCO, the Maryland agency that supports early-stage companies, that will help build out it continue to build its product. It has raised a little over $500,000 so far, and has a pair of large, paid pilot customers in the financial services and cybersecurity spaces that will start using the platform this summer, Dvorken said.
“Return’s founding team has lived the problem they’re solving for,” said Jack Miner, chief investment officer of TEDCO, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing how this testing and validation phase goes as Return releases this new technology to the world and into a $130 billion industry.”
The company’s technology is built around “microconversions,” which are designed to capture customer reactions to the content in real time. Using the kind of swipe-left, swipe-right choice that was popularized by dating app Tinder, Return seeks insight on whether a person found the piece of content helpful or not, and why. Dvorken said they can be completed in about 10 seconds.
“The whole transaction is designed to be quick,” Dvorken said. “It comes through your inbox. You barely feel the technology, and I think that’s important for people.”
Using a recommendation and indexing engine, Return also collects that data and sends it to others, creating an environment where sales pros can learn from each other what the top performers were using to close the big swings, and what didn’t land on the misses.
“That data becomes the batting average for that piece of content,” he said.
The idea is that sales pros don’t have to interact with a tech platform, and it cuts down on administrative tasks. Ultimately, this can help close deals faster, Dvorken said.
With the paid pilots lined up this summer, the company remains in pre-seed phase. It is planning to raise a seed round this summer, and will then hire 11 employees, five of which will be engineers.
Even though the team of five people has only known remote work in the pandemic, Return is based in Baltimore and plans to keep building in Baltimore. Dvorken and Halvorsen, who previously grew digital agency Fastspot, are both rooted in the city and recognize a base of talent in adtech, martech and sales that is forming the core of its team. The cofounders both come from the city’s collection of agencies, and that community is seen as important for the company’s growth, as well.
“The infrastructure is here for us and we think Baltimore is the right place for this company,” Dvorken said. “We’re looking forward to growing it here.”