Nuts and Bolts of Marketing & selling SaaS products to US customers from India for First Timers

In innumerable brainstorming and “gyan” sessions with friends, mentors and experts, one of the most stressed focus area is getting product market fit as soon as possible and then follow it up with scaling sales.  I think most early to mid stage entrepreneurs are instinctively aware of this but struggling with “Hows”.  So when I saw this playbook promising precisely to explain how, I grabbed a spot. I wasn’t disappointed. Suresh Sambandam is very down to earth and spoke earnestly and in detail about different steps he took while selling the OrangeScape’s product KiSSFLOW. Attendees who themselves run early to mid-stage companies and Kishore Mandyam of Impel CRM chipped in with their stories and inputs. Here is the detailed enough capture of the same.

The relevancy of this session is greatest to Early and Mid-stage entrepreneurs going from $0-5K MRR to $50K MRR selling to US MSB. This session is NOT meant for discovery or product market fit but I have inserted the discussion at the end.

The blog is organised as below Product Market Fit / Pricing as step 0; Followed by Inbound Sales and Marketing and then finally Outbound Sales and discussion on tools.

2014-11-15 16.37.05Product Market Fit

The absolute first step (may be zeroth step) in Sales process is getting the product market fit. You know you have a Product Market Fit with a B2B Mid-Market SaaS product when unknown folks start buying (Inbound sales is picking up traction). Unfortunately in cases that were presented at the session, the discovery process of the product happened organically based on another product that they were building.

However the generic solution for early stage product discovery goes like this.

  • Create a landing page with a “notify when ready”.

  • Create a SEO/Adword campaign for getting early adopters. You need to be very clear about the product category and fine tune your Adwords to exactly match what product aspires to solve. There are usually two approaches to any product i.e Disruptive Innovator or Faster Better Cheaper. So Adwords need to be in line with these

  • Once people signup engage with them and partner with them to fine tune the product.

To put succinctly Bring-> Engage->Convert->Succeed; As you can clearly see from this model, “Marketing Comes Before Product” or as Suresh puts it bring the horse to the water.

Pricing and “Freemium v/s Free Trial”

So which model suits best for a SaaS product? Is there one preferable over another? Very subjective topic but the thumb rule seems to be for SMB / Mid-market SaaS Free Trial is a best method to go.

Models aside, what matters most to the conversion is the post-signup engagement and the price factor. Faster conversions are dependent on many factors but one of the key factors is pricing. If pricing is within the decision-making authority of the midlevel managers, it is easier to convert. The discretionary spending seems to be around about USD 5K. Keeping the price low per user and making minimum unit purchase of say 10 users per bundle works quite great.

Inbound Sales

WebSite – Suresh firmly believes that Website is a core asset for a B2B SaaS company and hence should not be outsourced. He advises to have a minimum team of Web Developer, Creative Designer and Automation Engineer.  This would help perpetual A/B testing in short cycles..

Couple of nifty tricks to make the whole experience frictionless is to have a one click signup. Visitor should be able to experience the main software within few seconds. The other participating companies in the round table have used various  techniques to authenticate emails like SMTP Ping, email pattern matching, etc.

It is also important to closely monitor the users interaction with the website, capture it and feed it back to the Engineers to close the gap and arguments between Sales/Marketing and Engineering. One of the recommended tools in this category is FullStory.


Lot of interesting debates on this; discussion ranged from how get the right keywords for searches and what optimization works and how to track the metrics. Suresh again firmly believes in having a dedicated SEO guy and focus on defined key words. They manage about 28 keywords and track them very meticulously. Some thumb rules and objectives again are

  • Do it Slowly but Steady
  • Don’t alert Google
  • Build Backlinks (Naked and Anchor)
  • Improve Google Crawl Frequency


It is preferable to have one dedicated person with number crunching and finance background. This will help track the cost per signup for search ads

Content Generation:

While it is important to have this come from founders, it is very hard to find time for the founders. One technique employed by KiSSFLOW is to hire fresher from visual communication background who has a grammar nazi attitude and give a very specific target like 2 +2+2+1 per week (2 blogs published 2 interviews done, 2 assured interviews for next week and 1 research post). He also uses 10-80-10 formula for the content itself where beginning 10 and ending 10 percent are reviewed in detail by founders.  One of the other key points stressed was to have self ads in each of the content which leads to signup.

Outbound Sales

Contact DB

Obviously the most critical first step here is having a database of all the companies and the decision makers that you want to reach out. Linkedin Premium works best. This is how Suresh does it. He uses Linkedin DB to create a list of all target companies and then assigns the task of creating the contact details to an online consultant who was discovered on Elance. It usually works out to INR6-INR10 per contact. There are other dbs one can purchase directly from companies such as, Discover, rainking and slew of others.

Once contacts are obtained it is very important to use direct emails as opposed to using mailchimp, constantcontact, etc as most of them will not land in inbox. It also helps to be as personalized as possible.

Sales DNA

It is absolutely essential for the founder to set the tone of sales.  For US be ready to pull night shifts continuously.  Although it is the founders calling, it is good idea to assume the persona that appeals to US clients say Bob and position one as a sales manager. It is also important to make the sales hire to listen to the call handling to build on this.


Not all channels are suitable for SaaS and one needs to do some trial and error to figure out the best channels. The channels include Events, Road Shows, Reselling Partners and Referral/Affiliate partners, may work well but Orangescape has ignored them.

Metrics, Tracking, Tools

Meticulous tracking is critical and many tools are available to manage and measure the process. Some that are being used by the roundtable companies are listed below.

Metrics to track

Metrics to Track

Suresh SambandamTools

These are the various tools used by the KiSSFLOW team and other participant companies who attended the roundtable



Very hard to summarize such a detailed session, but one parting thought stands out. Attention to details followed by automation and customization seems to be the way to go.

‘Customers buy your product does not mean they will use it!’ – Kishore Mandyam, Founder and CEO, PK4 Technologies

ProductNation interviewed Kishore Mandyam, Founder and CEO of PK4 Technologies, the company that owns the Impel CRM offerings. During this interview, Kishore shares some of his experiences in creating a product suited for Indian customers, and discusses his learning from dealing with customers and technological developments. Read on…

What was the motivation to start Impel?

There were a couple of factors that came together in influencing creation of Impel. During 2006-07 timeline, after having successful career and managing different aspects of business around the world, I was looking at what could be the next big challenge to take on. Frequent travels to different parts of the globe also had started to become taxing. The domestic market was showing encouraging signs of robust demand for product based solutions. All these factors influenced in we taking the decision to set up Impel, a product company based out of India.

Impel Home page screen shot

What were your experiences during the initial years of operation and what was the learning? 

As we setup Impel, we converged on the CRM area as our focus to provide solutions, since we understood that many customers in the target segment that we were aiming were not very organized in dealing with Sales leads and customer centric operations. We invested our initial 18 months to build the product and made it available for customers by 2009. Given our previous corporate experience, we initially started leveraging the state of the art marketing and selling techniques and were able to land about 120 customers during the first year of operations.

However, the biggest learning came next year, when we could not retain most of these customers. When we analyzed what went wrong, we discovered that our method of signing in customers using web based sales ensured that customers bought the product – but just purchasing the product did not mean that they would use it. It turned out that most customers had not tried the various features and capabilities of our product offering and hence were skeptical to renew the relationship with us for the next year.

As an organization, how did you respond to this learning and what new measures did you take to overcome these limitations? 

We all gathered back at the drawing board, analyzed the developments and worked on how we could enhance our offering to ensure more usage and hence more engagement from the customers. We further segmented our target customer base, identified the key sub-segments that showed more promise and started working closely with leads from that bucket. During 2011 and 2012 we got very good traction from lifestyle businesses and rural businesses that focused on selling and marketing seeds, solar lamps, pesticides, FMCG and so on. The targeted and focused engagement with this sub-segment yielded very good results for us, and by 2013, we had about 120 to 130 stable customers.

During the same year, based on our experiences thus far, we shifted our focus to engage with mid size companies and fast growing small companies. This shift in focus helped us to increase our profitability and ensured diversification into another segment of customers.

What are your observations on the Indian market based on your dealing with them over these years?

The Indian small and medium companies have many challenges for which they desire solutions. However, they currently are unable to articulate their problems and explain the desired solutions to the vendors who approach them. On the other end, if any vendor is able to identify these gaps in their operations, clearly articulate the pain points and propose a technology based solution that adds value / solves their pain points, the customers will lap it up.

In our own case, we started off with a CRM offering – we wanted to be the Salesforce for India. However, as we listened to our customers, we discovered that they were buying our software to solve a variety of problems around the CRM domain of which we had no initial knowledge of. This interaction made us tweak our offerings based on their feedback.

Secondly, the perception of Indian customers about cloud has drastically changed since the past 5 years. Customers now accept cloud as an alternative and secure medium of deployment. They realize that it provides them certain benefits than the traditional modes of deployment. This development, combined with the rapid acceptance of mobile and smart phones in the Indian ecosystem is creating a market of significant size that are willing to look at mobile and cloud based solutions to solve their challenges.

What are some of the areas which you wish you could have executed better on?

Being a bootstrapped startup, one needs to always prioritize on the areas that need the focus and attention to attain growth. Having said that, as I reflect back, there are a few things that I think we could have executed better. One of them is about the trial process we have to let our prospective customers try out our offerings. We notice that despite our best efforts, we were not able to better engage our prospects in ensuring their conversion.

While the above one was on pre-sales, I also think we needed to do one thing better – on providing better documentation of our product, on the post-sales and support side. I notice that a few startups in India have been very good in this regard – and they have good customer retention and lesser support costs on account of this. I think that if we can simplify the usage of the product to the end user, and support the end user with description of how to use different features of the product; this combination will help in long term sustainability for our company.

Interesting insights! In closing, what are the three things that you would like to share with your fellow entrepreneurs who are targeting the Indian market?

I think we are at very interesting times as regards to targeting the Indian customers with our technology solutions. The first thing I want to let other entrepreneurs know is that the average Indian manager is much more willing to engage and evaluate your technology offerings. This is a very encouraging sign for all entrepreneurs. Secondly, mobility as a technology development is a big disruptive force, especially in the emerging markets. Hence, plan to leverage the power of mobility in all your solutions and that will surely delight your customers. Lastly, Indian customers take really long cycles to decide to buy. Continuously engage with them through marketing and other touch points, even when you may have ruled out immediate purchase in this quarter. If the customer is engaged, he will simply come back to you when he decides to buy and will close the deal in a day!