Former Legent Officials Launch New Company
Premiere software product targets marketing, sales segment
When Computer Associates International Inc. acquired Legent Corp. in 1995, Bob Schmonsees never thought the transaction would open the door he has just entered.
Schmonsees and Bob Moir, another former Legent executive, are poised to launch a company next month whose premiere product is designed to help marketing and sales professionals increase the effectiveness of their pitches.
Net Impact Systems' software product, called the Enterprise Answer System or EASY, is currently being tested and is slated for release early next year. It is designed for companies that sell complex products and those that sell many different products. Also, the software targets companies whose product prices change often.
From Schmonsees' 25 years of marketing and sales experience, he designed a program that could provide a salesperson with crucial answers to clients' questions. Those answers can be obtained by consulting their laptops, which contain vital information that is regularly updated by product managers.
The product contains 100 to 150 questions typically asked by clients. For example, a salesperson for personal computers can use the software to look for information on how version 2.0 of their company's product is different from version 3.0.
Industry executives who specialize in sales and marketing training said EASY is addressing an important part of the sales force automation market that is presently cluttered with products keyed to making sales and marketing people better at what they do.
According to industry observers, the product is different from traditional sales automation software products that have focused chiefly on administrative functions such as billing.
"This product really takes the sales rep's point of view rather than the management's point of view," said Barbara Noti, a senior research analyst with Meta Group, Stamford, Conn.
The sales automation market is worth $250 million in 1996 and is expected to hit $1 billion in the next two years, according to Noti. And she thinks Net Impact has the opportunity to dominate the market with its product.
"Bob has tremendous drive and talent," said Noti. "He has the ability to pull this off."
Schmonsees had a working prototype by the end of May and subsequently received $500,000 in capital from a group of 12 company executives whom Schmonsees would not identify.
The company will be generating $80 million in revenue over the next five years and will add 20 employees to its current team of eight by the middle of next year, Schmonsees said.
The software program has links between topics and questions, and the program can tell salespeople where to find more detailed product information. Schmonsees said the product is patterned after the World Wide Web, where users can click on links and access related information.
Schmonsees also had sales and marketing stints with Data Crown in Canada, Landmark Systems, Vienna, Va., and other large software firms. He left his position as vice president of sales operations at Legent in October 1995 because of "differences with the new management." He also noticed a void in sales automation tools.
In January, Schmonsees pitched his idea to engineers. He received several rejections from design engineers because of doubts the idea would work. He then turned to Intech in Alexandria, Va., a software development company, which liked the idea and partnered with Net Impact to develop the product.
Schmonsees applied for a patent in June for his product, saying the design is unconventional and "it's not on the radar screen [of software developers]."
He is exploring strategic alliances with training companies, sales force automation companies and software companies -- all of whom are potential competitors.
Ganesh Khalsa, chief executive of Sandler Training Institute in McLean, Va., said his company wants to use the software in its training business and wants to form an alliance. His company trains salespeople to move away from traditional sales techniques and become more like consultants to their clients.
"This kind of product significantly reduces the cost of training incoming salespeople and retraining a company's existing sales force that is forced to learn how to sell new products as a result of mergers and acquisitions in certain industries," said Khalsa.
The product is also expected to save time for product managers who must educate marketing and sales professionals within companies. Khalsa said new hires can spend two months training for every product the company sells.
Jim Dickie, managing partner of Insight Technology, a Boulder, Colo.-based research firm that studies what companies are doing to re-engineer the sales process, said Net Impact's product is a tool that could increase efficiency rather than effectiveness.
"The biggest gap we see right now is tools that help salespeople during a sale, rather than before and after a sale," said Dickie. "The focus [in sales force automation] is not to teach salespeople to make more calls, but to make better calls."