salesman

Even the best products or services don’t sell themselves, which makes way for everybody’s favorite professional: the salesman. Despite their often mercenary, compensation-driven ideologies, salespeople are the lifeblood of any organization. Unfortunately, the CRM and communication software tools they rely on are traditionally created by engineers who have never been within 100 yards of a “dial for dollars” power hour, or a dinner meeting potentially worth $500,000. As a result, existing solutions are unnecessarily cold, inefficient, and limiting in their design.

“Pretty much everyone uses Salesforce, but I’ve never met anyone who says they love Salesforce – have you?” Elastic and Close.io engineer Phil Freo says.

Close.io, which launches today to solve this problem, is the first commercialized software product released by of sales-as-a-service consulting startup and Y-Combinator alumni Elastic (FKA, SwipeGood). Frustrated with the solutions available elsewhere in the market, Elastic built a custom solution for its team of 20 salespeople.

The result was a product that allows salespeople to “spend more time communicating with their customers and less time on data entry.” Close.io is the first sales performance tool to combine customer management with communication tools like VoIP calling and two-way email, meaning users can execute all of their core tasks within a single interface. Within the product, salespeople can make and receive calls, while taking notes tied to each address book contact, without leaving the application or ever picking up a desk or mobile phone.

The system incorporates team collaboration tools, and will soon add administrative tools. For goal oriented sales teams, Close.io also incorporates realtime performance tracking and sales forecasting tools.

“Sales at its heart is about successful communication with customers, so sales software needs to be communication software,” Elastic CEO Steli Efti said. “By allowing sales teams to focus on communicating and understanding their customers, as opposed to data entry, Close.io drastically improves their results.”

The really interesting thing about the development of Close.io is the daily interaction between its engineers and customers. Elastic’s six engineers share desks and lunch tables with its 20 salespeople. When they need product feedback or want to observe user real world behavior, they simply walk a few feet down the row and shadow a co-worker using the product. This has been the case since Close.io was little more than an internal tool.

Further, because Elastic’s sales-staff has taken on dozens of different sales campaigns, the product has really been put through its paces, says Elastic Web developer and product lead Phil Freo. In some cases, a campaign calls for heavy call volume; in others, it’s primarily email-based. In all cases, the reliability of the system is of paramount importance. And because the development team is across the room, you can bet “feedback” is heard loud and clear.

This proximity initially led to an overemphasis on delivering every internal request, but with this has improved dramatically, according to Freo, with the company’s desire to release a broadly appealing product.

Close.io has been in private beta for the last six weeks, and feedback has been positive according to director of marketing Josh Waller. The product is available for free via a 14-day trial, and then costs $59 to $99 per user, per month. The company has yet to finalize bulk pricing, but will continue to test various price points and structures as it gathers market feedback – as any good sales team is wont to do.

Not surprisingly given Elastic’s experience and its mantra, “Never again should a great company fail because of a lack of sales,” the company is very confident in the future success of Close.io. That said, sales, specifically of paid software, is a costly and uncertain game. Existing profitability of the company’s sales consulting business gives Close.io more flexibility than if it were a typical startup, operating on limited capital from outside investors. (The company raised $500,000 in Seed funding from Bebo co-founder Michael Birch, the Start Fund, Ron Bouganim, Sandhill Group’s MR Rangaswami , and Frederik Fleck.) But there’s something to be said for living and dying by every sales call.

Further, no one is going to concede this market, the least of which being Salesforce. Close.io won’t immediately target the large enterprise customers on which the big boys make their living – it has nowhere near the infrastructure to support them – but if the company makes waves in the startup and SMB arena, expect challengers to take notice.

Close.io has the advantage of being developed by an organization that has sales in its DNA. This gives it a leg up on most products in its sector. That said, while I’m sure its engineers are highly capable, software development is a secondary focus for the startup. It remains to be seen whether other companies are willing to entrust their mission critical functions to a team with this makeup and focus.

Elastic was built on delivering the best salespeople in technology. Now, it’s time for the company to put its money where its mouth is and deliver results on its own product. The only thing on the line is its very reputation.