Vennli’s Software Brings Consumer Decisions Into View

The best way for many businesses to get a sense of what their customers are thinking is to simply ask them. Customer surveys are a tried and true method of taking the market’s pulse. But they’re also stuck in time, says Gary Gigot.

Gigot, co-founder and CEO of software startup Vennli, says survey information quickly becomes dated before it can be of much use. By the time a survey is completed, collected, and analyzed, market conditions can change. What’s more, he says, surveys offer a limited view into customer thinking.

Vennli aims to improve surveys on all of those counts. The South Bend, IN-based startup’s software combines surveying and analytics in a single platform, which then presents data in a simple and viewable form with customer insights. To Gigot, it’s important to not only hear what a business’s customers say, but also to discern why they say it.

“We try to understand why they make a choice,” Gigot explains.

Vennli’s roots are at the University of Notre Dame, where Joe Urbany, a professor of marketing, researched how businesses differentiate themselves from competitors, as well as how they gauge what customers need. He developed an academic model that showed how a business’s growth and competitive advantage stems from effective positioning. His explained his model in a book, and its methods caught on with some businesses, Gigot says. Gigot, a Notre Dame graduate, learned about the model and started talking with Urbany. Although Gigot was a veteran of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Visio, with additional experience in angel investing and venture capital, he had never started a company or served as a chief executive. However, he says he saw an opportunity to use his software background to turn Urbany’s ideas into a company. The pair co-founded Vennli in 2013.

Businesses already have online survey options, such as SurveyMonkey. But Gigot says Vennli aims to go beyond online surveys with its approach to analyzing and presenting information. A Vennli survey starts with a question that a business wants to answer. The software comes up with “choice factors,” which are the elements that a customer takes into account when making a decision. Vennli’s patent-pending algorithm sorts responses and presents them in a “vLens,” a Venn diagram that shows how the business stacks up against its competitors—the factors showing why a customer chooses one company or product over another.

Just as important, Gigot notes, the software also shows whether something that a business thought was relevant is actually unimportant to a customer. That matters, because seeing those results can spare companies from wasting time and money on initiatives that don’t drive business. Unlike traditional surveys, where the questions and responses are snapshots in time, Gigot says Vennli’s software is … Next Page »

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Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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