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Editorial Sample (Excerpt): 2,466% Revenue Growth - How Clarabridge Did It

Another big winner on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies is Clarabridge, a Reston, Va.-based developer of sentiment and text analytics software.

The company's sales were just $390,397; three years later, Clarabridge hit $10 million, good enough for the #101 slot on the Inc. list. CEO and co-founder Sid Banerjee says will see a 40% to 60% uptick over, "and in terms of sales efficiency, we're doing much better than that."

Founded, Clarabridge now has 75 employees (up from the 58 reported to Inc.), plus a team of 25 offshore developers and support staff.

Banerjee's no slouch when it comes to startups. Before starting Clarabridge, he co-founded Claraview, a business intelligence strategy and technology consultancy firm. That one grew to 130+ employees without any outside funding, and was acquired by Teradata in March.

In an earlier stint, he was a VP for both product marketing and worldwide services at MicroStrategy, which Banerje grew to 500+ people. And prior to MicroStrategy, Banerjee was a manager at Ernst & Young and Sprint International.  Banerjee has a B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from M.I.T.

Here are 12 cogent pieces of advice (plus a bonus observation) Banerjee offers to those who'd like to emulate his success:

Tip #1: Use ROI analysis to price your product.

This is especially important in a bad economy, Banerjee says. "We made sure that we could justify our prices through an ROI model. 

"We looked at the problem we could solve -- if you use our product, you can do things faster and cheaper -- and if that equation amounts to break-even in six months and saving money in 12 months, that 's a powerful incentive. You save money and you're more efficient."

Tip #2: Use customer data for your ROI models.

To demonstrate ROI, Clarabridge has put together spreadsheet models drawn from many inputs, always based on customer realities.

"If it's a call center, we look at how many people they have, how long they're answering calls, what are the top issues that create negative feedback, and more," Banerjee says. 

"We are able to quickly analyze those numbers to show the customer these are the issues that could be fixed with education, the words used, a self-help site, or whatever. In the end, we can guarantee that we'll lower your number of calls, and we'll generate higher satisfaction scores.

"Most companies have already figured out that an X percent increase in their satisfaction score translates to a Y percent increase in customer loyalty -- which means more customers buying more products or services.  If we can show that Clarabridge taps into increased satisfaction, we can show that not only will the company costs go down, their revenues will go up."

The sales cycle "tends to be a lot like you'd expect for enterprise sales," Banerjee says: Typically three to six months. 

"There's lot of phone time, and probably an average of five to 10 meetings. In a first or second meeting, we'll define customer requirements to get to the proof point. We'll ask for some data and run it through the Clarabridge platform, and show them that. This kind of information kind of jumps out at them."

Tip #3: Orient your software toward "virtuous value."

That ROI analysis led to another realization, Banerjee says. "We needed to make sure we oriented our software toward virtuous value. We take text in documents and social media content and score it according to sentiment. If you think about [text analysis] as a generic platform, it's hard to put a price on it. We realized you could use it to look at customer comments -- the most compelling solution -- to mine customer feedback about products and services.

"We saw that we could tap into something that's more and more available and also harder and harder for those companies to collect and understand. It took us about 18 months to have a really compelling marketing proposition."

The price tag for the Clarabridge enterprise product "runs from the low six digits to seven figures," Banerjee says. "It depends on how largely deployed our system is."

How often do prospects opt for enterprise deployment at the outset, rather than just one or two sites? "More now than two or three years ago," says Banerjee.

"It's a sign of the maturity of the market: the view of text mining has changed. It's not uncommon when we have a first call, they already know what we do. And it's not uncommon to get an enterprise RFP at the outset. We might have an interim proof point, but then we'll go to an enterprise fairly quickly."