Ambition brings fantasy sports mojo to sales management
What does selling look like?
Maybe your internal Netflix shows you any of a thousand cheesy depictions of used-car wheeler dealers you’ve surely seen over the years. Or the lineup of talking heads at the Republican presidential debate trying not to look like they were selling used cars.
But what does selling look like to the sellers? And to their sales managers? (Alec Baldwin’s speeches in “Glengarry Glen Ross” don’t count—most sales managers aren’t quite that ruthless. I think.)
That’s the territory staked out by Ambition, a Lamp Post Group startup that’s gotten a lot of traction quickly. This month, it won Startup of the Year at Startup Week, and it’s up for the Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Innovation Award in November.
Visualizing the sales process is not a trivial problem for businesses. It’s at the heart of managing and motivating sales people as they execute a surprisingly intangible activity. What they do all day is fairly concrete: calls, lunches, proposals. But how all that relates to success can be as slippery as a basket of eels.
Ambition (the company and its product share the name) is a sales performance management and gamification platform. Companies subscribe to the software service, which syncs with a variety of data sources, such as customer relationship management systems, sales information management systems, outbound calls, orders, and more. All this data on activity and objectives is pulled into Ambition.
“We make it very, very simple for leadership of the sales organization to set goals, benchmarks, expectations, and not only track those in real time by having live looks at how people are doing, but also create recognition, competition, contests and real-time analytics for any sales role, any sales group in the company,” says Brian Trautschold, one of Ambition’s cofounders and its chief operating officer.
According to Trautschold, several competitors deliver one or two slices of what Ambition serves up—competition, leader board displays, predictive analytics based on metrics, tracking multiple data sources— but no one offers the whole pie.
“Ambition is pretty compelling, doing all that at once—the brain that analyzes the metrics, the connector that gets the metrics, the toolkit for managers to try to incentivize or create competition around metrics and goals,” he says.
The company began as a simple idea—”fantasy football for sales.” Trautshold and cofounders Jared Houghton, Travis Truett and Wes Kendall had reached the end of another Lamp Post startup called Fireplug that had some success but had plateaued. They wanted to use what they had learned about gamification, which Trautshold defines as “using game mechanics to encourage specific behavior and incentives to do x or y, for z reasons.”
Through Lamp Post, the cofounders secured a pilot client in Access America, the logistics startup that preceded and helped fund Lamp Post, and whose sales force needed some help.
“Access America, to their credit, had a very good understanding of what looked like success in terms of the metrics, but they did not have a good way to track it and no real way to track in real time whatsoever,” says Trautschold.
Ambition was founded in February 2013 with one pilot customer and no product, but an idea of how to make sales management more engaging.
“We had this idea of how to do it, making it a more fun experience, making it very visually engaging for reps, putting it down to a personal level so they can see where they stand versus their peers, versus their specific sales goals and targets,” says Trautschold.
By summer 2013, the product existed, and by the end of the year there were three or four pilot customers. In 2014, Ambition was accepted into Y Combinator, one of the most successful product incubators in Silicon Valley.
“We came out of Y Combinator in April and raised money from the best investors in the U.S. and, arguably, the world: Y Combinator itself, Google Ventures, Redpoint,” says Trautschold.
By fall 2014, Ambition had about 10 customers. Now, a year later, the company has almost 20 employees and over 75 customers, including Fortune 500 companies, and has been used by individuals all over the world. Trautschold defines the market for Ambition as “metric-driven sales organizations.”
“Once people start using Ambition they kind of get hooked,” says Trautschold. “We’re in a nascent space, if you will, right now. We’re still in the phase where we’re telling people about how something like Ambition works, why it’s useful for their sales organization. Those conversations have gotten dramatically easier over the last year, and my gut tells me they will be very easy in the next year. I think we will probably more than triple our customer count again.”
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic web site in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com. He splits his time between Chattanooga and Brooklyn.