The April sun wasn’t evident at the beach side locale, near the historic town of Mamallapuram, which hold relics of exceptional beauty on its rocks sculpted under the patronage of the Pallava kings. Had it been the early part of last century, in all probability, we could have reached this place in passenger boats sailing through the Buckingham Canal, now condemned to history. It was using this canal route that the national poet Subramanya Bharatiar escaped to Pondicherry to prevent an imminent arrest by the British to endow us with memorable literary gifts in Tamil.
By favourable alignment of choicest factors, Chennai is home to successful SaaS enterprises. To say SaaS is the preserve of Chennai is surely an overstatement. To put it in perspective, it is a worldwide phenomenon and Chennai has made a mark in India. Undoubtedly, the success of Girish Mathrubootham (Freshdesk) has a lot to do with Chennai hailed as the SaaS capital of India, with Suresh Sambandam (KissFlow), Sanjay Parthasarathy (Indix), Krish Subramanian (Chargebee) and Lux (Unmetric) in the elite SaaS league giving an aura to Chennai, not to forget that it was Zoho that made it to the big SaaS league, taking on Salesforce, from Chennai.
Guys if you’re a SaaS company, don’t make the mistake I did i.e missing first two SaaSx and RT’s that iSpirit… https://t.co/lshTmtaLta
— Laxman Papineni (@LaxmanPapineni) April 2, 2016
At SaaSx3 it was a day filled with peer-to-peer learning, some fun, and a super-duper end. Playbook roundtables, One Thing Series, Product Teardown, and a presentation of “superscaling” (my term!) by Girish as the grand finale completed the agenda. Pallav Nadhani of Fusion Charts and Krish Subramanian of Chargebee (in partnership with Suresh Sambandam of KissFlow) engaged select SaaS startups on a roundtable each. iSPIRT’s agenda of peer-to-peer learning and networking, with the intention of forming a vibrant community of product entrepreneurs, took the form of playbook roundtables where the successful entrepreneurs share the secret of their product success with the product startups. The focus of both the roundtables, where I spent some time in each, was on the product. While Krish focused on taking the product from 0 to $1 million, Pallav chose the marketing as a tool for product’s success.
Find out why the customer chooses your product
Krish spent a considerable time in explaining the key to product success – understanding the persona of the buyer. “Product-market fit is constantly evolving,” he said. The process doesn’t stop with customer acquisition and onboarding but continues with retention of the customer, on what is now called the customer success. Acquiring the customer is a tedious process for which several methods and processes come in handy. The important take-away from this session was understanding the customer’s intent to buy the product. Krish liberally quoted from Chargebee’s experience to explain his perspective – their assumption of why the customer bought Chargebee flipped on its head when they saw the real data on why they did. How to find out? It is best to ask – first through a non-intrusive e-mail followed up by conversations and further e-mail exchanges.
— Yash Madhusudan (@YashwantM) April 2, 2016
The whole point of the discussion hovered around the 10% conversion rate – of prospects into buyers. But Suresh clarified that it is a benchmark for large enterprises, but the real numbers that convert is the key rather than the percentage if the customers are SMBs.
Krish said that the choice between free trial vs freemium is loaded in favour of freemium. But what usually happens is that the free trial users pump up the numbers (the customer count) but largely the free trial customers don’t turn buyers. The truth is freemium works well but free trial also works. The real answer is it all depends on the product. What also works is adding a “powered by *product logo*.” This has worked WebEngage and Freshdesk. WebEngage had a “powered by *logo*” on its product design (for a cheaper priced version) so that it gets more prospects into the funnel. If the customer is not paying, at least he can be used as a channel for prospecting. Freshdesk used the “powered by *logo*” on all its customer support e-mails (which is actually generated by Freshdesk) sent by the free user in its forever free product.
Another important aspect touched upon was making the pricing transparent and known, especially if the target customers are SMBs in the case of self-servicing SaaS products. If the customer base is large enterprises, the price conversation can happen offline and it is not necessary to provide price information on the website.
Constantly evaluate your customers and look for influencers
When I entered the conversation, Pallav was focusing on why, how and what of the product. He defined customer cohorts as influencers, buyers and users. Pallav’s proposition was a lot deeper – a good product markets itself. But you also ask deeper questions – even the reason why you (your product) exist to answer the other defining aspects of why the product sells (Pallav’s recommendation: view Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video on why, how, what). The why exists converts simply into what problem is the product solving. But identifying the customer is a continuous evaluation process. Only if you know why you exist can you target the most appropriate buyers for your product so that your solution is aligned to their needs. For targeting customers at the right time, you must understand the customer behaviour a bit deeply. Pallav gave examples of how customer habits can be known from data. His marketing pitch was a bit philosophical quoting Seth Godin, who said, “The valuable forms of marketing are consumed voluntarily” (read Three Changes of Marketing). The network effect is powerful, as Avilesh Singh of WebEngage explained using his product marketing strategy. He said how changing his focus from marketing execs to developers as customers reaped rich dividends.
— Vinod Muthukrishnan (@vinod_cc) April 2, 2016
But, beyond all this, remember the most essential aspect is the product itself, which should be flawless from the customer experience point of view. Then other aspects are built on top of it.