Embrace Forms Processing Challenges
This VARâ€™s focus on educating customers about the intricacies of forms processing has doubled its growth rate from 30% to 60% during the past two years.
So, you're ready to give a product demonstration of your forms processing solution. You're worried, though. What happens if something goes wrong during the demo? A scanner glitch or an inaccurately captured data field could spell the end of your credibility with the client. To avoid such mishaps, many VARs still rely on canned demos that don't incorporate their potential clients' actual documents or replicate the clients' true workflows. Indeed, this tactic may minimize the chance of something going wrong, but it also could create more problems for you in the long run — namely the client being skeptical at the end of your presentation that your solution will work for them.
Chris Riley, cofounder of Artsyl Technologies, Inc. believes that a problem arising during a demo can be a good thing. "Being able to fix an issue immediately, right in front of the customer, allows us to show off our technical expertise, our value-add. Not giving canned demos or demos that have already been fully optimized for the client's processes shows the customer that these solutions aren't plug and play; they require the assistance of a VAR like us." Providing this kind of customer education is a tactic that led Artsyl to a 30% sales increase in 2006 and a 60% sales increase in 2007. This year the VAR expects another 60% increase in sales.
Build Credibility Through Education
Artsyl specializes in recognition technologies ranging from OCR (optical character recognition), ICR (intelligent character recognition), and OMR (optical mark recognition) to bar code and speech recognition. "We want to educate our customers on how all of the different pieces of a document imaging solution connect together," says Riley. His company's goal is not only to educate customers on the different pieces of an imaging solution, but to also expose them to all of the possible variables that will affect the success of the solution. "For instance, we help them determine whether or not image cleanup will actually have a negative effect on recognition accuracy in their specific form application," says Riley. "We try to teach them to ask the right questions regarding what they want the solution to do for them, focusing on their particular variables."
Artsyl does provide some formal education through Webinars and lectures. In fact, the VAR writes data capture and OCR education materials specifically for some large companies in the data capture industry. These companies then purchase the materials and present them with their own branding. Riley is even preparing to teach an accredited course at some local community colleges. All of these experiences help build Artsyl's credibility with prospective clients.
Explore Your Customer's Intelligence Level
A common sales tactic employed by most resellers is to present only a best-case-scenario product demo, not taking time to explain variables that might impact the proposed solution. As a result, clients are often enamored by the potential of the solution and make purchasing decisions without skeptically validating the sales pitch. According to Riley's estimates, 30% of organizations that purchase a forms processing solution purchase the wrong solution for their needs, and 50% may purchase the right technology but never use it properly. He relates that these users are plagued by improper integrations and inadequate optimization of recognition capabilities.
Artsyl strives to head off these mistakes early on in the sales process. Like any other reseller, the VAR wants to determine what software the customer is using, the volume of documents to image, any workflow processes in use, and so on. But, the most important question the VAR asks may be the most obvious and often the most overlooked. "We ask the customer, 'What do you really expect from a data capture system, and what do you think your end result is going to look like?'" says Riley. "If a customer tells us they expect to be able to simply run a document through a scanner and have all the data captured without needing to touch or process it in between, we know our educational focus will be important."
According to Riley, many customers don't understand what they can achieve with a forms processing application. Surprisingly, he often encounters customers that expect to achieve 100% recognition accuracy through an OCR engine alone. "This is a key opportunity to provide education on what forms processing and the associated recognition technologies can and cannot do," says Riley. "If another VAR or integrator is promoting the accuracy of OCR, it is critically important that we educate that customer on all the aspects involved in achieving that accuracy."
Don't Be Afraid Of An 'Imperfect' Product Demo
To help educate potential customers, Artsyl salespeople always ask the customer to participate in a demo. As noted earlier, the VAR insists on preparing a demo using a representative sample of the customer's actual documents. "There is a benefit to seeing your own documents going through the process that just makes it click," says Riley. He also explains that using the customer's documents increases the chances of coming across specific data capture issues that could be critical to the overall creation of the solution. These issues give the VAR a chance to show value when explaining how to overcome the challenge.
Artsyl's approach to preparing for a customer demo is probably rare among other VARs in this technology. In particular, the VAR sets a strict 2-hour time limit on demo preparation. "Cutting off demo development time at the 2-hour mark is critically important because it shows us precisely how much additional effort will be needed to create the total solution," says Riley. "It also provides knowledge of where capture is going to be more difficult, and where we will need to tweak the solution if we get the sale."
When the clock runs out at the 2-hour mark, the actual demo is presented to the customer — whether or not all data was accurately captured during the preparation phase. While some might find this to be a risky strategy, Riley would emphatically disagree. "Explaining challenges to a customer is not something we feel threatens a sale," says Riley. "The way we see it, by doing a demo using the customer's own documents and exposing potential issues, we've increased our chances of closing the deal because we don't have to hide anything. They understand we are showing them everything, and that we are doing it so they can see how we are able to overcome those challenges by combining different recognition technologies."
Click here to check out the February 2008 feature on forms processing at BSMinfo.com.
Using this approach, the VAR recently secured a sale with a large government integrator. The project involved invoice processing, and the competing reseller provided a demo using 'typical' invoices. Riley relates that the competitor's canned demo ran smoothly and admits that the customer was impressed. "Any prospect will likely be impressed with this demo because they have not been deeply exposed to forms processing and can easily extrapolate in their heads how the process could work on their documents," says Riley. However, Artsyl discovered that this customer's invoices were not at all typical. In fact, they were detailed and complex telecommunication bills. "We did not achieve 100% accuracy on all the customer's documents during our 2-hour development window, but we were able to use our demo to explain the complexity involved in developing a complete solution," says Riley. The VAR coupled the illustration of the challenges during the demo with examples of similar project types they had successfully accomplished, thus giving the customer a true-to-life, positive end result to examine. "Educating this customer on the complexity involved in data capture and forms processing ultimately won the deal for us," Riley concludes.
Turn Uncaptured Sales Into Future Success
Even when taking what Riley calls 'the honest approach' during the demo, Artsyl occasionally comes away from the table without capturing a sale. Despite this, the demo can still be extremely valuable to the VAR, provided the customer permits Artsyl to retain the document images created. These images become part of Artsyl's Image Lab, the driving force behind the company's research and development initiatives.
Artsyl's Image Lab is a massive database of images — hundreds of thousands of them — which the VAR uses in the development of custom data capture products and solutions. The images run the gamut of healthcare forms, finance forms, invoices, etc. "Our Image Lab helps us to identify challenges presented by several document types, enabling us to create very specific, vertically focused data capture and recognition solutions," says Riley. "For example, being able to closely examine and test several dozen different medical claim forms enabled us to figure out how to process each at an extremely high accuracy rate, even when part of a mixed batch."
The lab also enables Artsyl to pull statistics, such as what file types or resolutions are most commonly used, and to query and examine the accuracy associated with each. "For example, we can illustrate that when you scan a document at 200 dpi [dots per inch] and then increase to 300 dpi, accuracy rates can jump 10% or more," says Riley. In most cases, and especially on more complex forms, scanning at 300 dpi typically yields a 20% to 40% more accurate read rate. "In comparison, jumping from 300 dpi to 400 dpi only increases accuracy another 2% to 7%," says Riley. "Being able to test and validate this information shortens the solution development cycle for future customers and decreases the amount of postsale support that arises from addressing exceptions," says Riley.
Knowledge + Relationship = Upsell Revenue
Artsyl's emphasis on education applies not only to its customers, but its salespeople as well. In fact, technical expertise takes precedence over sales savvy during the hiring process. This permits the VAR to follow a 'no-hand-off' policy that keeps sales staff in constant contact with customers. Customers who call in with technical questions can often be assisted by the salesperson without involving further technical support. Even if an issue requires developer assistance, the salesperson will be aware of the call.
"Staying closely involved with their accounts allows our salespeople to also use the knowledge discovered in the Image Lab to identify upsell opportunities," says Riley. For example, a sales rep who has automated the AP (accounts payable) process for a customer can easily refer to the knowledge gained in the Image Lab to suggest ways to improve accuracy or automate other departments. "Because we take the time from the very beginning to show the issues and solutions involved with capture and recognition technologies, customers feel there is less risk involved, and the sales cycle is much faster," says Riley. Upsell is so important to Artsyl that the commission paid on these opportunities is greater than those paid on the original sale. These upsells account for more than 20% of the VAR's annual revenue, contributing to the VAR's anticipated overall revenue growth of at least 60% again in 2008.