The fate of the future of India as a product nation is in the hands of 20 somethings and 30 somethings. Whether it is sheer luck or sheer brilliance or sheet hard work, or all three I don’t know, but what I do know is that the future of India as a product nation is in good hands.
I attended a Lean Sales Playbook for about 3 and a half hours. I had no idea how the time flew as Pallav Nadhani (fusioncharts.com), Varun Shoor (kayako.com), Paras Chopra (wingify.com) shared from their companies’ experiences. The attendees got a great insight from these three founders on how to make sales and marketing efforts pay. Every talk was littered with “what works and gets customers in the door” versus just some sales and marketing theory.
The insights below are from Pallav, Varun and Paras – however, for purposes of confidentiality it does not state which company has done what specifically. The below insights could have worked at one or multiple of these start up organization:
- The founder is the first sales person
- “Founders must obsess about things that they want their teams to obsess about”. One of the founders believes in Content Marketing and has written 180 articles himself. Another founder is a strong believer in leading sales, and the third in building quality software himself.
Getting your first few customers
- “Marketing is about finding channels that give volumes / returns relative to cost of the channel.”
- What worked for initial sales was to work on “influencers”. Identifying experts on various in-depth forums and working on them as initial customers.
- Product is not different from “sales”. The problem of sales comes only when the products’ value is not known – when the team doesn’t even know if the product should exist or not on this planet. Do customers really require it?
Managing the Sales Funnel
- The start-ups give a lot of focus to containing “churn”.
- Converting site hits is monitored in a very rigorous manner by all founders.
- Once the free trial starts, the impression formed in the first 2 minutes is critical. Customers should not get a whole lot of options. Its a minimal set of 1 or 2 options so that making decisions on how to proceed is a no-brainer.
- Its difficult for the customer to give large commitment at once – so try to get their commitment in small steps … and then get them truly engaged with the product.
- Sales and trial requests are managed rigorously. There are both automated and manual communications that go to potential customers.
- The marketing team has used among other initiatives – SEO, Content Marketing and word of mouth. Content Marketing has been used very effectively. The articles have to be well written and the product has to be pitched subtly so that its value is understood and appreciated.
- For SaaS software, the sales person is more of a “sales enabler” rather than an outright “sales” person. Marketing and the Product do most of the work. “Sales enablers” need to describe product features and not really sell.
- One of the organization’s target market is the CMO organization, even though the person reached most times is an executive or a manager in that organization. A lot of importance is given to reaching the users who will actually use the products – and not just the IT organization.
- Drip marketing is also used effectively. Information of a customer is collected in many ways. E.g., you don’t ask the customer which industry they are from, but collect information on which demos they want to see and try to figure out the industry.
- Offline conferences are more expensive. One of these startups went for it only in their 7th year.
Building a Brand
- Building trust and credibility with customers is crucial. Its critical to have a website that speaks in the language of target customers (in the US and in UK). Websites targeted at Indian customers and those targeted at US customers can be very different. A lot of time is spent in identifying these differences and ensuring the website is culturally accurate.
- All success stories are tracked and converted to case studies. Potential customers are able to view success stories that are relevant to them and are from their industry.
- Ensuring top class support, ensures that the brand continues to grow and strengthen.
- Execution Excellence builds a brand. Even though these are start ups, what really works for them is creation of internal Knowledge Banks. EVERY mistake or gap a customer reports goes back into the Knowledge Bank and everyone gets trained.
Talent and Hiring
- Ensure you are hiring good people, especially in Sales and Marketing. When hiring at senior levels, e.g., a VP of Sales its important to know if he is working out or not right at the word start. Taking 6 months to a year to figure out that he is “not working out” is a huge loss to a start up.
- Get creative about hiring the talent needed. One of these startups have used expats that have returned to India from various countries and do not want to leave their home state. So, the recruitment team ensures that they hire Australian expats to support the Australia customers and UK expats to support the UK customers, etc.
It was enthralling to see the energy and wisdom in this young team.
Even as I left, a list of topics went up on the board. Sales compensation was the top one and there were a few others. Am sure the active discussion lasted for another couple of hours.
I left invigorated and excited. Is there a way for these young, smart product companies and their founders to inspire and spawn a product culture in India? Yes, I think there is and I for one am a believer.