YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- For some people, it just comes naturally. They have a friendly smile, a delightful sense of humor and make you feel that you’re the only person in the room when they talk to you.
These charismatic people have an advantage over their competition when it comes to careers in sales where the ability to quickly develop strong interpersonal relationships is vital. So what about the people who need some practice?
The tool they’ve been waiting for might have arrived, thanks to Mike Helm.
“Imagine if when I phoned, your television turned on. And every time I said something over the phone the TV backed it up with beautiful visuals,” he says.
Now also imagine that your end of the conversation, jokes and all, was written down for you and the script could change depending on how the conversation went.
That’s the premise of Dittotalk, software that looks to combine “the personal touch of a one-to-one phone call with the visual medium of the Internet to create a whole new class of effective distance communications technology,” Helm says.
It was his less-than-satisfying experience with a salesman that gave him the idea.
It was eight years ago when he was still awake and watching TV at 2:30 in the morning. A commercial asking for donations to help starving children came on and stirred him to respond.
Eager to help, he called the number, but found himself listening to someone trying to up-sell and give more than the commercial asked.
“The commercial had me but the telephone conversation was awkward,” he remembers. “All I could think was, ‘There’s a better way.’ ”
So Helm began to look for a product that did what he wanted. When he didn’t find it, he created Dittotalk: “I want to use the technology for things that will touch my heart and have a bigger impact on the world.”
A typical sales call using Dittotalk would go something like this:
A salesman (or saleswoman) logs onto Dittotalk and accesses a custom program designed to sell exactly what he or she is selling. He calls a lead and asks the lead to go to the website, no login required.
Then, a script prompts the salesman on exactly how and what to ask. The lead answers by clicking the response on the screen, which the salesman can also see. Based on the answer, the program instructs the salesman what to say next.
It encourages the delivery of a consistent pitch tailored to whomever he’s selling. Meanwhile, the lead should be comfortable listening as he answers questions in a game show format.
“Most businesses let their salespeople practice on their client base,” Helm says. “And they fail.”
Training a sales force and taking on such challenges are all too familiar to the president of Dittotalk, Mike Boccia, who became aware of the product when he worked for Transamerica Financial Advisors.
“My job was to recruit and train other financial advisers,” he says. “But in that industry it’s hard to do that because you have to teach someone how to do a presentation and how to interact with the customer.”
Boccia was left with choosing between two options he says, neither one appealing. He could train a new person by performing the presentation for them. “After a few times [the trainee] would try it and I’d critique him and it’s just an antiquated way to do things,” he found. Or, for a more consistent result, the company could produce a sales video to send to clients – with no assurance that they’d watch it.
“It was either high-tech or high-touch and there was no middle ground,” he says. “When I saw Dittotalk, I thought, ‘This is the perfect middle ground.’ ” Boccia realized that not only did Dittotalk allow a salesman to perform perfectly on the first try, it also eliminated many of the early failures some experience, which leads to discouragement, even quitting.
Today, Boccia’s main concern is keeping up with the constant flow of ideas and innovations that pour out of Helm. “We call him ‘The Wizard up in the tower,’ ” says Boccia, referring to the tall structure Helm calls home.
“This just happened,” Helm relates. “This whole ‘Ohio’ thing.”
Familiar with the Youngstown Business Incubator, Boccia knew it would be the perfect place to house their business. In November, he convinced Helm, then living in Costa Rica, to come here and pitch Dittotalk to Jim Cossler, the YBI CEO.
“I told him my idea and he said, ‘You’re in.’ I said, ‘Cool. What am I in?’ ”
Helm relocated his family to Youngstown and in January launched the first product for Veema, a company based in Arizona. It sells health supplements and weight-loss drinks.
Today Dittotalk employs six and is on the verge of taking what Helm calls “the next step.”
“We’re selling our product as is, creating the revenue stream and then with that we’re going to do outrageously exciting things,” he declares.
Helm imagines a scenario where a father in another country can bond with his children over an interactive story. The inventor ponders how he would share an idea or joke with someone who speaks a different language and then immediately shares it with someone who speaks yet another language.
Helm hopes to soon turn Dittotalk into a nonprofit organization and use it to offer services such as mentoring, tutoring and home schooling.
“We’re going to teach English around the world with this,” he says confidently.
Boccia also sees the possibilities of the technology and eagerly looks forward to the day it will be used for “the meaningful stuff,” he says. “Stuff that will literally change the world.”
PICTURED: Michael Helm showed his invention to Mike Boccia, who convinced him to pitch his idea to the YBI’s Jim Cossler.
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to our twice-monthly print edition and to our free daily email headlines.