How to win 50 enterprise clients without a product in less than a year

Feb 14, 2022

The year 2021 has been a crazy year in many aspects. Of course, we were shaped and influenced by the pandemic and its effect on us as a company, as individuals and on our clients. In particular the high amount of uncertainty was something that both, our clients and we as a young startup – that faces high level of uncertainty anyways – had to deal with. Still, we can look back on 2021 with some pride, having won 50 new clients in less than a year. You might ask: How is that possible, what’s the secret? We’d love to share with you some of our findings.

Kineo offers customized AI solutions to mid- and large-size enterprises within the DACH region. Focus of this AI-as-a-Service is validating relevant use cases, checking their feasibility, their complexity and the underlying business value. Eventually, we are developing prototypes in a short amount of time in order to bring a ROI to the respective company. With that being said, Kineo has no specialization in any industry or any machine learning area.

What makes selling development services difficult, in particular in AI?

The fact that you offer individual and customer-specific solutions sounds interesting for companies, but a very important element is missing today:

A concrete, handheld result.

You can’t show beforehand what you will get in the end and what the results are going to be. There is no product to touch. And the fact that we are talking about such new technologies and fields makes understanding the product even more challenging from an outside perspective.  It is incredibly difficult to make such solutions tangible. Especially when you talk to a contact person who has to explain and sell your service again within the organization. Then you have as good as lost.

Almost all service providers face this challenge. It doesn’t matter whether they offer consulting service, development service or any other service.

Kineo has managed to grow from 5 to 55 clients in a year, all with an annual revenue of minimum 50 million each. And this without naming references and without a product – just through cold mailing and calling.

This success is mainly based on a clear sales strategy and Kineo would like to share the main drivers of this success with you.

1. Small Steps

The times of signing large annual contracts for many 100 person days as an unknown service provider are over. The development projects are controlled by a clear ROI (return on invest) and an agile strategy in case something goes in the wrong direction.

Accordingly, Kineo has created an “AI Journey” for every company. The core of this journey is a risk-reduced approach to development projects. In concrete terms, this means that Kineo is initially given an assignment for a week, in which the technological and infrastructural conditions are clarified, the first data sets are evaluated and as many hurdles as possible are cleared. Only when both sides are convinced that the feasibility, the complexity and the business value meet the expectations, the next, larger phase starts – the so-called “Proof-of-Value” phase.

In principle,  this phase is designed in order to develop a prototype. But naming it “Proof-of-Value” it is emphasized that Kineo always has an eye on the value of this application or project and that the value is the all-important factor.

It is only after this phase, when a successful prototype has been developed, that there is usually a “scale” phase, which is somewhat more extensive and expensive. However, without risk for the customer, since the success of the prototype has already been proven.

The main disadvantage of these small steps is the greater effort (planning, offers, etc.) and the longer cycles. It can easily take 9-12 months for a scale phase to start.

2. Building trust

There are so many providers in the field of individual development that you have to do a lot of convincing before you are recognized as a partner for projects. The most efficient way to be acknowledged as an affiliate is to build trust. Trust is created above all when you appear authentic and honest, deal transparently with facts and sometimes make advance payments.

The first project phase (one week) described above is not profitable, in the best case cost neutral. But the aim of the phase is not to be profitable, but to build trust. To show that we are good and passionate in what we do, to show that we can deliver results in a short time.

This strategy is much more successful in the long term than always generating an immediate return in every step we do.

3. Think differently (genuine consulting)

The companies seeking external support have gone through a transformation process. Previously, companies were aware of the challenges they are facing and how to solve them. This resulted in the typical and common demand for e.g. a Java developer with 3 years + experience, etc. Nowadays, companies are not sure which solution is the best. This is due to the fact that technology and digitalization is developing so fast, that the internal IT manager or development manager is not able to manage anymore to be aware of all the possibilities and solutions. They can’t be experts in any field anymore.

This is where “Genuine Consulting” comes into play.

In the past, companies wanted exactly the solution that solved one problem. Today, companies want service providers who openly address when a solution path B or C makes more sense. Service providers who honestly address the problem, look left and right for additional optimization opportunities, and understand the company holistically with all its individual characteristics.

This is why requests for simple “human resource”/staffing have decreased significantly and why the approach of acting as a holistic partner, taking time for the company and genuine consulting is so successful.

All in all, even though there have been many challenges Kineo had to face (and of course the obstacles mentioned above will not necessarily disappear in the future), for us, the way we have approached them proved to be the right and successful way to go. Going forward in small steps, keeping things agile and flexible in order to reduce uncertainty and hence building up trust through genuine, transparent consulting is the Kineo way to success.

What experiences did you make in your company in 2021? Feel free to share your stories with us in the comments or via mail (!

Robert Kaletsch

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