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Irv Shapiro leads Ifbyphone with an aligned sense of urgency Featured

8:01pm EDT September 30, 2011
Irv Shapiro leads Ifbyphone with an aligned sense of urgency

Technology and social media has made it a whole lot easier to gather feedback on new products and services that your company may be looking to launch. But if you don’t take a thoughtful approach in how you analyze that feedback, Irv Shapiro says you could get yourself into a big mess.

“The risk you have is the phenomenon of the vocal minority,” says Shapiro, CEO at Ifbyphone. “You get an individual or a couple potential customers that say, ‘This feature is critical. Without this feature, I would never buy your product.’ Yet in essence, they do not represent the majority of the product space. So you have to be very careful to make sure you reach some critical mass.”

The lesson is that openly soliciting feedback from random sources is often not the best approach to see if you’ve got a winner with the product you want to bring to market. A more strategic approach in which you seek out potential partners who also have a product or service that is valued can be a more effective and lucrative way to go.

“In doing partnering, you’re not making a sales call or trying to sell something,” Shapiro says. “What you’re trying to do is communicate opportunity. That’s very different than making a sale. In communicating opportunity, you must be able to do it while sitting in the seat of your potential partner. It’s not, ‘Why is this good for Ifbyphone?’ Why is this good in this particular case for Zendesk?”

Zendesk is a software provider that helps companies engage with their customers. Ifbyphone is a 50-employee voice-based marketing automation platform. Over a period of six to nine months, the companies worked together to see if they could come up with a plan to drive revenue for both organizations.

One of the keys to forming solid partnerships is looking beyond your own wants and needs.

“You have to make sure you have an aligned sense of urgency and that there is a win on both sides of the equation,” Shapiro says. “When we started these discussions, we didn’t have an integration between Ifbyphone and Zendesk. Partnering is about building a shared strategic direction that may involve some engineering on both company’s parts in order to gain access to a larger market to improve the economics of your company.”

The Ifbyphone/Zendesk partnership puts technologies from both companies together to help provide better service to the clients of the two companies.

“Step No. 1 is classic business development,” Shapiro says. “You have your marketing organization look for potential partners. You reach out to those partners and you begin to discuss the dynamics of what the benefits would be for each company.”

Your role is to make sure everyone understands what you’re looking for and what your goals are as the potential partnership is explored.

“You want your partners to have the same goals,” Shapiro says. “Zendesk is growing as fast or faster than Ifbyphone. So you have two high-growth companies that are mutually aligned. If we went to do a partnership with IBM or Microsoft, it would be much harder to find shared mutual interests.”

In searching for a partner, you have to find someone that is not just looking for a quick shot in the arm. You don’t want someone who is eager to open and close business with you and then move on to something else.

“The opportunity has to be bigger than a particular single-point solution,” Shapiro says. “It has to be an opportunity that is strategic to the company. Make sure that you find value and large opportunity for your partner and talk about your partner’s opportunity and not your’s.”

How to reach: Ifbyphone, (877) 334-8301 or public.ifbyphone.com

Don’t say no

Irv Shapiro tries very hard not to reject the ideas of his employees at Ifbyphone about how to grow the business.

“I believe it’s best to avoid ever saying no,” says Shapiro, CEO at the 50-employee voice-based marketing automation platform. “It’s better to ask lots of questions. There’s a famous book called ‘The HP Way.’ I believe Mr. Hewlett used to call it the Three Hat Rule.

“He would walk through a factory and a guy in the machine shop would come up to him and say, ‘Mr. Hewlett, I’m so glad to see you today, I have a fantastic idea.’ He would describe that idea to Mr. Hewlett, and Mr. Hewlett would say, ‘Interesting, very interesting. Let me think about it and get back to you tomorrow.’

“The second day he would come back and Mr. Hewlett would say, ‘John, did you think about this and this and this and this and this? Why don’t you think about it and I’ll stop by tomorrow.’ On the third day when Mr. Hewlett stopped by, the guy might say, ‘I thought about it and it doesn’t fit. Mr. Hewlett would say, ‘Well, that’s all right. Let me know next time you have an idea. I want to talk about your idea.’ That epitomizes ideal CEO behavior.”