When Sandy struck the East Coast, Providence was largely spared. But Swipely, a startup based in the Rhode Island city, had a different problem: The storm wiped out its chance to sell its payments service to businesses up and down the Northeast Corridor, where it had focused its salespeople's efforts.
That didn't stop Angus Davis, the company's CEO and cofounder. Swipely had already built tools to automate the time-consuming process of calling on local businesses. It used those to switch gears in real time.
"Within an hour, we had created a list of 1,200 merchants in the Atlanta area," Davis recalls. Software displayed everything from Yelp reviews of the business to local weather conditions. Instead of losing momentum in the post-Sandy chaos, Davis says his company built a "beachhead" in the southeastern U.S.
Less than a year ago, Swipely launched a payments service that replaces a business's existing credit-card processing with a more sophisticated, Internet-linked payments service. (It was a big change from Swipely's initial notion of encouraging consumers to share their purchases with friends.) Nothing changes at the cash register, where clerks swipe cards as usual; Swipely promises to match or beat the fees merchants pay to accept cards. What merchants get in return are online dashboards and marketing tools tied to the transaction data Swipely tracks—a sort of Google Analytics for retail.
It's not a hard sell, since it doesn't cost the businesses more than they're currently paying. But there are a huge number of local businesses to reach. And so Swipely has applied technology not just to its product but to its sales process as well.
Swipely's sales team does most of its sales by telephone, using Salesforce.com and InsideSales.com, two Web-based sales tools common to telesales operations, and data from Infogroup, a local-business directory. But it's added customized tools inspired by the viral features of popular social networks.
A salesperson logs on and sees suggestions for leads to call, in a feature inspired by LinkedIn's "People You May Know" feature. Clicking on a prospective business brings up nearby Swipely merchants the salesperson can cite as references customers.
Swipely uses a tool called Clearslide that tracks how customers interact with presentations during a sales call, down to how much time the salesperson and customer spend looking at each slide.
All that data, matched against deals won or lost, gets fed back into the system, generating rules that direct the sales team's efforts.
"We know the best time of day to call on businesses," Davis says.
As a result, Swipely's business is taking off. In September, it was processing the annual equivalent of $50 million in payments. By December, that number had grown fivefold. Swipely's salesforce has likewise grown, rising from 6 in November to 15 currently, out of 35 employees.
Davis aims to have 50 salespeople by the end of the year.
"We're scrambling just to hire an additional batch of telesales people," he said.
But thanks to Swipely's clever use of technology, those new hires won't have to scramble for customers.
More From Business Insider