Remember the big mound in Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Or the baseball field in Field of Dreams? Too many startups think along those lines, assuming that if they build their solution, customers will somehow come.
But not Dan Reich, an experienced entrepreneur with a string of successful startups under his belt. He maintains that however great your product is, you must first be very clear about your target customers and bring your solutions to them where, and how, they live and work.
Reich’s current venture is Troops, a business-to-business startup where, as cofounder and CEO, he is very clear about his latest customers. They work in large and enterprise-level organizations and spend their time in Microsoft Teams, the preferred interface into their world of communications and collaboration. They take advantage of everything their Microsoft 365 apps and services offer. They focus on generating revenue for their organizations, and yet they face a common problem that Troops, with what it calls “Software at your Service,” has stepped up to solve.
Reimagining a paradox
Reich realized how important it is for any business to manage information, keep everyone effective and engaged, plan and track activity, and turn deep knowledge of its customers into productive business initiatives. “Over the years, I’ve also come to appreciate how hard that is to do in practice,” he says. Staff who busily get things done and follow their schedules also generate a wealth of potentially valuable information around those activities. Companies want that information logged, tracked, shared, and archived, which often involves a collection of tools—like customer relationship management (CRM) apps—procedures, and databases. “I remember my manager telling me, ‘Dan, if your team doesn’t update all status in the CRM by 5 PM, they’re fired.’ I thought, ‘How insane. But reasonable, too.’ It’s a paradox!”
A paradox and, to some, a waste of time to have to leave their Teams environment, open browser tabs, access apps, fill in forms, check meeting attendees, and review notes, no matter how necessary the information collected may be. “I’d guess many of us have had 10, 20, or even 30 different browser tabs open, switching among various point solutions that all look and feel incredibly different. It’s just painful,” says Reich. “Yet, we also have Teams open, which is where we’re spending the majority of our time getting our work done and collaborating with colleagues.
Reich wondered what this process would look like if it could be completely reimagined without the need for staff to take time away from core duties to interact directly with that piecemeal chaos of applications and services. “Probably a lot more like a conversation among humans, an exchange of information within familiar workflows, as opposed to this tedious round of form filling and box checking,” he concluded.
To avoid those frustrations and inefficiencies, Troops brings information, as Reich says, “…at the right time to the right place in a way that’s actionable and digestible, so that people can just get on with their jobs.” It’s all about connecting those back-end systems of record with the collaboration environment in which people choose to work. Troops retrieves and saves information, prompts for action, and automates workflows. It interacts with calendars, directories, messages, and file stores for pertinent, actionable information, which Troops delivers when and where it’s most useful.
Troops empowers teamwork, bringing people together in valuable exchanges and helping them avoid the need for those end-of-day logistical chores mandated by Reich’s former boss.
Reich explains his collaboration with Microsoft and Microsoft Teams. “As we were building the business, we saw this other amazing company, Microsoft, doing fascinating work in the space, involving Microsoft Dynamics 365 and, more specifically, Teams. It was perfect and only a matter of time before we would spread our wings and work with Microsoft and the Teams environment, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Today, Troops solutions provide broad support for software environments of all flavors and complexities. “But the use cases are really all the same,” says Reich. “We’re helping companies accelerate growth by bringing all that business-critical information out of back-office systems, whether Salesforce or Dynamics 365 or Jira or HubSpot or Zendesk, and right into the Teams environment.
Results from the ability to do so much right from within Teams are visible in the bottom line. Troops customers see improved key analytics such as reduced sales cycles, increased win rates, and more successful lead conversions. Payments company Square used Troops to improve its quarterly forecast accuracy by 20 percent. Dynamic Yield (part of McDonald’s) saw a 20 percent increase in its average deal size and a 30 percent win rate improvement through its use of Troops. Reich summarizes it, “Whatever the process is, we bring clear improvements as a function of bringing the business process itself into Teams.
Simple adoption and administration
A favorite aspect of Teams among large companies is logistical rather than technical—their employees find Teams easy to learn and adopt, without being cajoled into using it. Once employees see what Teams can do, they demand it. All this is true of Troops, too. Reich and his colleagues found that once potential customers learned about what Troops could bring in terms of both productivity and user experience, they began to demand it. And it’s particularly powerful in helping power today’s shift toward hybrid in-office and remote work practices. It’s quick and easy to deploy, with templated features that can be readily configured, reconfigured, and customized. No need to hire experts or divert developers to the task. Business units and people in diverse roles with all levels of technical expertise (or none) can quickly build, manage, and begin using their new enhanced workflows.
That’s key,” says Reich. “The ability to configure and customize with a no-code interface helps especially bigger companies become more agile and responsive. They look more like startups, iterating at a much faster pace than they could before. That’s because of how simple and intuitive it is to use Troops to build and roll out these workloads into Teams.
Working with Microsoft
Troops gains business advantages in working with Microsoft and a further opportunity to benefit from Reich’s experience. Too often, Reich says, startups neglect the importance of scale, of building a growth mindset from day one. “Another thing that excites us about working with Teams in particular is that the Microsoft reach is unparalleled,” he says. “Unlike with some of the other technology options out there, the Teams user base spans customers, commercial people, salespeople, and businesspeople. They do one-stop shopping with Microsoft, and we’re able to work with multiple Microsoft products that they’re invested in, giving us more breadth for our solution than we could otherwise bring to those customers.
To help meet customers where they are, Reich takes advantage of Microsoft Azure Marketplace, where Troops is a transactable offer with exposure to prequalified Microsoft customers that are looking for solutions and ready to buy. “It’s wildly exciting for a small startup to think about being able to reduce sales cycles and get in front of these larger enterprises,” says Reich. He summarizes the value provided by his relationship with Microsoft by saying, “When you add up all the pieces, working with Microsoft is a great opportunity for a startup not just because of the product benefits but also the commercial dimensions and distribution that you get from that relationship.
Reich sees the push toward unified but highly customizable user experiences becoming more dominant and widespread. According to him, in the future, every business process will look like conversational exchanges and include actionable messages that drive all categories of work and all workflows. Personalized with intuitive, no-code interfaces, these environments will help companies improve efficiency while enhancing the user experience.
He concludes, “All those individual, monolithic solutions will fade into the background, and you’ll see a bigger focus on the workflows themselves and a more agile, employee-centered, and productive workplace. We’re breaking down silos and truly democratizing the flow of information across even the most complex, geographically dispersed organizations.