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Aethon finds success with good science and good data

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Aethon Inc., a marketer of robotic transport systems, had the kind of "problem" marketers dream about: a truly breakthrough high-tech product called TUG that automates the distribution of such things as meals, medicines, lab samples and linens in a hospital setting. It had lots of backing too; last fall, it received a healthy $11 million infusion of funding.

But because the technology was so new, Aethon was not on its prospects' radar. It needed to educate them, create awareness, establish the need for TUG and show hospital decision-makers the benefits and savings that could be tallied by using it. In addition, the infusion of capital drove the need to expand quickly.

"We needed to expand the sales department," said Peter Seiff, VP-customer solutions at Aethon. That group would grow significantly in a short time frame. There are currently 22 salespeople, up from five in January 2006.

However, Seiff said, "I had a control and auditing issue." Most of the systems in place involved spreadsheets, Seiff said. Early on, it was relatively easy to keep track of a handful of salespeople who kept in close touch with senior management.

With its intent to scale, as well as bring in regional people working remotely, those methods would not be sufficient to manage the expanded team, prospect pipeline and customer base.

A high-ticket item that is an off-budget purchase requires a lot more than a contact management program to close leads, Seiff said. That's when he began looking for a better solution. "I needed to look at [data] systems to help keep track of sales and marketing, and we looked at all the typical ones. We even looked at doing something internally."

During that time, Aethon stumbled on a company called Landslide Technologies.

What Seiff instantly liked about Landslide was that, rather than simply offering a data management system, it provided training, enabling him to hire salespeople, train them rapidly and get them out into the field.

Landslide's product combines the capacity to define a customized sales process with the ability to provide easy access to sales collateral and documents for each selling step, then generate reports to measure effectiveness.

"Not only is our product complex, but the market we sell to is complex, with many decision-makers," Seiff said. "It's a complicated sale, requiring lots of training."

That training consists of communicating Aethon's selling steps and process to salespeople. For example, Aethon uses medical journal articles and case studies as selling props. All those articles are loaded into Landslide, then distributed to the salesperson at the appropriate part of the cycle in the form of an outline of what needs to be covered.

"We say, 'Here are all the people you need to go to, all the questions you need to ask and all the information you need to get,'" Seiff said. "The problem with hospitals is they know they need to study it, but they don't have the process to do it. We literally sell the process to them. We act as their internal consultants for a couple of weeks. Our [sales] guys go off on this little treasure hunt, and they get each piece of information and fill it in."

With Landslide, Aethon manages to get a 75% close rate. In addition, the sales cycle for TUG has been shortened from seven months to five. The bottom line is robust, too. From January 2005 to January 2006, revenue grew 260%.

"Part of that is having good science, and part of that is having good data," Seiff said.

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