20th #PlayBookRT at Chennai: Sales war stories from 2 SaaS start-ups

An interesting discussion on the theme of ‘Sales’ happened last weekend at Chennai (Orangescape office) as part of the iSpirt round table. Shashank N D from Practo and Girish Rowjee from Greytip gave engaging presentations on their journey and the ~20 participants responded enthusiastically with several interruptions (read questions :)). [Note: A similar discussion in Bengaluru was covered earlier here]

Sales Stage - PractoShashank wooed the audience by starting off with his story on the origins of Practo – when his dad had to undergo a knee operation and wanted to get 2nd opinion from another doctor abroad, he couldn’t send out the medical records electronically. Thus began a singular journey of using emerging technologies such as cloud and mobile to enhance patient experience.

Here are some key ‘Sales’ takeaways from his presentation:

  • Golden Rule: Never build something without making a sale. Practo always got a buy-in from existing or potential customers before actually building new features. This was true even in their early stages.


Selling and Coding should be the only activities.

    • Practo benefitted heavily from referrals. They did Zero cold calling and focused on delighting existing customers. The doctors who became customers of Practo were so happy with the product that they were happy to evangelize it amongst their peers
    • It is important that the founders bring on the early adopters. At Practo, the founders got the first 50 customers and in the process achieved Product/Market fit (took about an year). While this number may vary for each company, it is important to note that dedicated sales or marketing should be brought on only after this stage.
    • Shashank also talked about evolution of the sales team over the years. While founders are the best sales persons in the initial stage, it is important to bring P-salesmen (P for Passionate) at the next stage followed by R-salesmen (R for regular) for mass adoption.
    • While product-market fit was the focus during the first phase of going from 0 to 50 customers, the next phase focussed on sales culture. Bringing on P-salespeople, providing free trials for instant gratification of customers, value based selling etc were the highlights
    • Zero discount policy: Practo followed a strict no-discount policy. This actually helped them reduce bargaining behaviour and enabled them to be seen as high-value. But in the ensuing discussion on this topic, most agreed that this is based on the type of product, target market etc. Selling to large customers may not be possible without discounts.
    • ‘Instant Gratification’ was a key customer psychology aspect that Practo focussed on during its sales cycle. Practo provides a feature where the doctor will be able to send an SMS alert to the patient within 30 seconds. This feature became a star-attraction of the product and improved sales
    • Practo was one of the first companies in India to sell a SaaS product offline. Some blogs even mentioned that this was start-up graveyard but it eventually did work for Practo.
    • As a matter of principle, Practo did not focus on doctors/hospitals that did not have computer infrastructure. This gave focus to their sales process. Also, they did not target general physicians and focused on specialists such as dentists, dermatologists etc. Thus targeting really helped them
    • To set up appointments, Practo initially had their own salespeople calling as well as had an inside sales team (with many women!). But what eventually worked for them was to create territories and assigning salespeople to specific territories. Salesmen were then made responsible market intelligence, cold calling etc. Usually the salesperson has to wait at the hospital to meet the doctor in person (like a medical rep) for the first time. But subsequent meetings were all setup through follow-up calls and prior appointments.
    • Medical reps couldn’t deliver as salespeople. They did not have the mind-set to challenge the doctors. At Practo, the smarter and tech-savvy sales guys were more successful as they were about to demonstrate the value of the product/technology to the doctors.
    • After various experiments, Practo had a clear separation of hunting salesmen and farming salesmen. Also most sales guys sell one product.
    • It is important to incentivize salespeople to get maximum yields from them. They have now established something called ‘flyers club’ where top 3 performers can go to a destination of their choice on an annual basis
    • All new salespeople undergo a 1 week training program and are instilled the Practo way of sales. But they have observed that it takes nearly 3 months for them to reach an efficient state.
    • There was an interesting discussion on a question on reselling partners. Majority of the participants concluded that resellers cannot solve your sales problems. What they can do is to magnify your sales success story. Resellers also bring in warm leads and act as influencers.

Shashank from PractoInterestingly and rather ironically, the session concluded with a note that start-ups should not target other start-ups as customers except as early adopters or reference case studies!!

Product Management related takeaways from Practo:

  • Practo spent inordinate number of hours with doctors. The idea was to understand user behaviour, just seeing them go about doing their work, how they interact with the software etc.
  • Practo had an interesting philosophy for feature prioritization – their order of importance was product vision, customers, employees and finally investors! Thus even when customers gave multiple feature requests, only those that aligned with the vision got implemented
  • Practo has lot of focus on analysing product usage, customer data etc. They built in-house tools (eg: epicentre) to monitor usage. Even during early stages when they had just 3 developers, one of them was purely focused on tools. Shashank calls it their ‘secret sauce’ for success.
  • They had a 30% conversion rate for face-to-face trial to paying customer.

IMG_2567The presentation on Practo was followed by a short session on Girish’s entrepreneurial journey with a few nuggets on sales related topics. Unlike Practo, Greytip did not have field salesmen and they went the online sales route for their payroll management software. It took them 2 years to realize that this model will not work well in India – not because of any issues on their side – but the market just did not buy without salesmen. Girish added that many of the emails that they send out are never read by the payroll in-charge. In fact, Greytip realized that CEOs may be more interested in such payroll software but the payroll head did not have the vision or mind-set to think of such possibilities. Thus began a journey of attempting to educate the target segment and build credibility in the process. Greytip also built relationships with payroll processors. Since the competition in payroll processing was cut-throat, their pricing was in fact determined by the market.

IMG_2568The following links were highly recommended during the discussion:


Guest Post Contributed by Karthik V, a software product enthusiast with degrees from IIT & IIM