Scaling Sales: A Deep Dive At SaaSx Fifth Edition

As a first time attendee of iSPIRT‘s annual SaaSx conference, I didn’t know what to expect as we drove along the western coast of India towards Mahabalipuram – the venue for SaaSx5. From all the chatter around the event on Twitter, it looked like the who’s who of SaaS leaders in India were attending. Upon arrival, I took my seat with my colleague and looked around. There were only about 100 people in the room, very different from most conferences I’d attended in the past – a lot more exclusive, and a melting pot of SaaS founders building a diverse set of products. It had all the markings of an inspiring day, and it did not disappoint.

Starting with a keynote from the estimable founder of Zoho, Sridhar Vembu, the day was packed with talks and discussions focused on growing one’s SaaS company in the current technology landscape, primarily led by founders of notable SaaS companies of the country. One such event was an unconference on “Setting up and Scaling Sales across Segments and Geographies”, led by Ashwin Ramasamy from PipeCandy.

Picture this: about 80 founders seated in a room, circled around Ashwin who was leading the conversation about setting up and scaling your sales team. Since the flat organizational hierarchy at SignEasy, and the culture of openness at the company provide me with a wonderful vantage point of all functions across our company, including sales, I was eager to listen to the different perspectives that the founders brought to the table. At the start of the discussion, Ashwin graciously asked the audience for talking points they’d like covered, and the discussion began. A plethora of topics were discussed, starting from the very definition of inside sales, leading up to when and why to deploy an inside-sales team. Hiring and putting together the right sales team, including whether it should be in-house or outsourced, was another hot topic of debate with many founders offering their own experiences and perceptions.

The conversation then steered towards outbound sales and the mechanics and economics of that, which contributed to some of the biggest takeaways for me – things that cannot be found in a book and are only learned through experience.

The success rate of outbound sales peaks at 2%, as opposed to the 40-50% success rate you come to expect with inbound sales. This was an interesting insight, as it’s easy to assume your outbound effort is underperforming when it could actually be doing quite well. Also, you should use the interest you’re receiving through the inbound channel to refine your outbound strategy – your inbound interests are a goldmine of information on the kind of industries, company sizes, and job functions your potential customers represent. At SignEasy, we are constantly honing our outbound target by capturing as much information as possible from our inbound requests.

Further, the efficacy of your outbound sales effort is a direct function of the maturity of the market you’re in – for a saturated market with tens of other competitors, outbound usually fails to make a mark because it’s difficult to grab a potential customer’s attention. This is a great rule of thumb to decide if outbound is for you, depending on the market your product serves.

Outbound sales also requires dedicated effort rather than a ‘spray and pray approach’ – a minimum 6-month commitment is crucial to the success of your outbound strategy. Founders should be deeply involved in this initial effort, sending out 500 emails a day for at least 3 months, and tweaking and iterating through them as they get to the most effective email. It’s also important to dedicate yourself to a channel when experimenting, but also experiment and exhaust numerous channels over time to zero in on the most effective ones.

The value of this discussion, and indeed the day, was best expressed by the ferocity with which my colleague and I took notes and wrote down every piece of advice that was being dropped around the room. Being product leads of the SMB business and mobile products respectively, Phalgun and I were amazed at how much we could relate to each point being discussed, having been through and living the journey first-hand ourselves at SignEasy.

SaaSx5 was nothing short of inspiring, and we emerged from it feeling uber-optimistic about SaaS in India, and what the future holds

This blog is authored by Apoorva Tyagi, Product at SignEasy

#DesignThinking: Desirable. Feasible. Viable

We all know quite well the value of Design to business, and Design Thinking to problem solving. But what remains a bit fuzzy for many start-ups, organizations & individuals is the gap between thinking and doing or making it happen.

In this time of volatility and complexity, the role of design to drive meaningful innovation and change is growing and while there are multitude of factors that need to be taken into consideration for a product design that is desirable, feasible & viable the design thinking process can help overcome these product characteristics. 

Yes, great design starts with design thinking! Reminds me of David Kelly from IDEO who puts this together as empathy or being empathetic. In other words focusing on what users value the most and building on top of the ideas they share with every incremental value we deliver to make designs better.

In an effort to bring all designers, engineers, product managers & entrepreneurs together via an informal coalition of like minded design thinkers community to help promote the how-to’s of design thinking, MakeMyTrip in co-ordination with #PNMeetup hosted a day long #DesignThinking event in its premises inviting them to discover the stories, solutions and tools that design thinkers are putting to work, from start ups to multinationals helping them find inspiration and learn how real world solutions are provided using innovation & technology to work to solve complex global challenges. 

This event was a first step in NCR UX community with series in pipeline with start of an exciting thought-leadership plank in the UX ecosystem in the country towards creating a platform to nurture design thinking & promoting design thinker’s community fostering an ecosystem that promotes delivering great experiential online products. Industry experts from LinkedIn, Mettl & Anagram Research supported the event with inspirational talks on subject and sharing how they practice the same in their respective job functions, startup’s & organizations thereby embracing the process in their day-to-day routine while driving the product vision at their setup. The experts also covered upon bootstrap strategies for startups who cannot afford the UX agencies or a big design team and face design challenges day in day out during their product design journey. Some even illustrated the design thinking approach to problem solving of product features design and helped them uncover the latent needs, behaviors, and desires for their users. 

Altogether,  #Design thinking event saw noteworthy achievement with 40+ design thinkers joining us from NCR and could leverage the platform listening some inspirational talks from speakers and meeting few like minded folks around. Had participant mix from passionate startup entrepreneurs to designers & dev engineers. Audience was glued to program embracing the talks & interactive workshop from functional experts in domain. 

Check out what happened at the First #DesignThinking Workshop on  

Guest Post by Dushyanth Arora, Head, User Experience & Design MakeMyTrip

Notes on Product Management – insights from Slideshare / MMT / ex-Google PM

Avinash Raghava, who is doing a wonderful job of getting product start-ups together all over India, organized a product management roundtable with the help of Aneesh Reddy(CEO, Capillary). They invited Amit Ranjan (Cofounder, Slideshare – acquired by LinkedIn) and Amit Somani (Chief Product Officer, Makemytrip, ex-Google) to share their insights with a small set of entrepreneurs.

Credit for all the good stuff goes to Amit Ranjan, Amit Somani and Aneesh Reddy. Notes are rough. If anything is unclear, feel free to comment.

Here are some quick notes/thoughts from the event:

Who would make a good product manager?
Someone who can do 70% of everything (coding, design, listening to users etc.)

Best way to find a product manager in India is to find someone who did a startup but failed – he/she is likely to know all the various aspects that go into managing a product.

Someone who can lead by influence and manage to juggle all the balls in the air. Should be someone who can say NO.

It’s a very tough position to hire for – you need to have patience – you might go wrong the first few times. Once hired, give them around 5-6 months to get the hang of the whole thing.

What does a product manager do? What is his role about?
A good product manager would understand the requirements from various constituents and write a detailed specification, plan for bugs, testing, urgent requests and then create a product roadmap/deadlines.

A product manager has to identify and write down what metrics will move once the product is launched (e.g launching the mobile app will increase our repeat orders by 9%) – in some cases it is just to ensure that people work on things that matter but overtime it also brings more accountability.

User specs should have – what all do you need, who will use it and why – need to be elaborate it before you give it – need a hypothesis that will it move an X metric. Read thetwo page spec document that Joel Spolsky wrote for a fictional website What time is it? It should also have non-goals – what the product does NOT try to do.

Engineers tend to underestimate the time it’ll take – product manager needs to be able to correctly estimate how long something should take. And you will get better at it with time.

Use the 1/1/1 rule – sit with the engineering team and plan what needs to be accomplished in 1 week, 1 month and 1 six-month period.

People want to see the product roadmap – it is important for the CEO / Product Manager to communicate this to their team mates since a lot of people feel uncomfortable if they don’t have a clear idea of where the product is headed. (Amit Ranjan mentioned that people may even leave if they feel that the founding team does not have a clear vision – but the nature of start-ups is such that it is bound to happen that the product roadmap keeps evolving)

You need to hire coders who have a design sense (that eliminates 70% of work later).

Role of special data or analytics person has become very important (Amit Ranjan said that he could see that products of the future will be decided and influenced by data scientists). It is very important to get such a person on board early. Someone who has crunched SQL and nosql logs etc and can find trends and look up aberrations. Read up on Hal Varian and DJ Patil to understand more about this.

Difference between customer requirements and product requirements – customer requirement only becomes product requirement when more than 3 people require it (it’s a rule of thumb) – (People shared various tricks they use to ensure that the customer requirement is serious – “just wait for a few days and see if they come back with the same request”, “ask them to email it and not take feedback over the phone” etc. – these are situations where there is too much feedback coming your way. In most cases, it is best to make it as easy as possible for people to give you feedback).

Keep product engineering teams small – Amit Somani mentioned Jeff Bezos Two Pizza rule i.e. if the team cannot be fed by two pizzas alone, it is too big. Read more here.

Try to do daily scrum – gives everyone a sense of what everyone else is doing and ensures that people are making progress

Everything is a 6 page document – another Jeff Bezos funda for getting clarity. So a specification or a product request could be a 6 page long form document which ensures that the person achieves clarity before building anything.

You need to benchmark your product against other products especially in enterprise. When starting a product from scratch this can be a really useful exercise.

Amit Somani suggested a mental trick – before building a product, write a one page press release for the product that comes out upon product launch – what will this press release have? What the key features? The target audience etc. This PR drafting exercise could help you decide what to build, what is critical, and for which audience.

Don’t ignore email as a channel for activation and returning visitors

Product activation – Use banners on your own website – do get them to take action – on landing page – on other parts of the website

Track at your mobile traffic – people at the roundtable reported some crazy growth numbers for mobile internet usage – huge sites are now getting 20% to 60% of their traffic on mobile. Mobile traffic is split 50%-50% on mobile browser (including WAP) and mobile apps. This was a big eye opener for many people.

Tools people recommended

Use Trello (a Joel Spolsky product) to manage your product

Use Zapier business tool to connect various sources of product input (e.g. taking Zendesk tickets and automatically creating Github issues)

Use Clicktale or Inspectlet to record user sessions

Use Morae for recording users’ reactions when they are using your product ((Amit Somani mentioned how they put a live usage recording on a LCD screen in the technology room so that engineers could understand how their products were being used – it lead to a lot “can’t he just click on the button! Why is he scrolling up and down!”). One way to get users for such recordings is to ask interview candidates who come to your office to use your product and see their reactions.

Use a call-outs software when introducing new product features (like Cleartrip / WordPress / Facebook do).

Concluding notes
This was one of the most gyan-heavy sessions that I’ve attended. It was useful to hear things from people who had been there done that. Aneesh (even though he is based out of Bangalore) had taken the lead to do this with Avinash and our hope is that the group meets every 6 weeks to keep the conversation going. We’ll keep you posted.

Feel free to email me at ankur AT Akosha dot com if you’d like me to give more details to you.

On a related note, there was some basic debate about what a “product” is. We didn’t get into it at length because everyone in the room intuitively understood what a “product” was. However, we had internally debated about it – if you are interested, do read –Understanding Product v. Service [ThinkLabs Notes 1].

Reblogged from the Akosha Blog by Ankur Singla

EmployWise: Improving the ROI in employee lifecycle management

Effective employee lifecycle management is acquiring importance from a talent acquisition and retention perspective; from an employee satisfaction angle; as well as from a compliance and regulatory viewpoint. Many organizations, especially SMEs, are discovering to their dismay that the pile of unstructured employee data they have accumulated is a ticking time bomb. They suspect they are paying a price for poor record maintenance and employee management, but are not sure of the exact cost, or its implications.

The impact of poor employee lifecycle management could vary, but often includes an inability to quickly sift through granular employee records and performance metrics with any degree of confidence. This leaves organizations open to violation of immigration norms, wrongful termination charges, industry and local jurisdiction compliance penalties, productivity loss, fraud through inaccurate claims, growing recruitment costs, loss of assets and brand reputation through poor separation processes, etc. The problems become complex when the business grows from single proprietor to multi-unit operators across geographies.

But what’s an SME to do? Human resource management takes years to be codified. Processes around HR management (compensation and benefits, leave, attendance, travel, expenses, reimbursement, performance, hiring, learning and development, separation) and workflow can have gaps and leakages for years without being noticed. Replicating them across units with any degree of accuracy and consistency is a frustratingly uphill mission.

The problem is so large that it has drawn a number of entrepreneurs to try and solve it using technology and automation. With newer business models such as SaaS, pay-as-you-go technologies like cloud and anywhere-anytime access over mobile channels, the solutions are not only looking good, but are increasingly becoming affordable.

Which presents the single biggest problem to entrepreneurs trying to solve the problem: what’s the differentiator? Why should an organization opt for Solution A over Solution B, C, D….Z?

Sumeet Kapur, CEO of EmployWise an employee lifecycle management solution, took the long route to the answer. “Human relationships are very different from handling materials,” says Kapur, “People have names, not product codes. Human beings have memories and you have to treat each one as a segment of one.” EmployWise took this core philosophy and engineered it into their product. An early version of the product was launched in 2004 as Kapur and his team realized that India was turning into a service economy and employee lifecycle management would gain increasing attention. By 2008 EmployWise was officially launched. Today, the 9 modules of the product appear easy to use, can be integrated with existing HR management technologies (SAP, PeopleSoft etc) and giving instant access to best practices in a hosted pay-per-use-per-employee-per-module SaaS model.

At the moment EmployWise uses SMS to stay mobile, making it unnecessary to deploy fancy smart phone apps. In an Indian context, especially in relation to SMEs, this may appear to be a wise strategy – but one that is unlikely to remain a strength for long. Smart phone costs are coming down and SMEs have very compelling reasons to opt for mobile technologies. Mobile banking, communication, inventory management, sales tools, even mobile credit card payments etc are becoming affordable for SMEs over smart phones. Why would they want to remain with clunky SMS for HR? EmployWise must address this quickly if they are to remain relevant in a scenario where smart phones are already dominating.

The advantages of software products such as EmployWise extend to the ability to have one source of truth, they obviate the need for secondary data entry for analysis, empower employees through a self-service model, reduce the HR : employee ration to as much as 1 : 400 and allow companies to benchmark practices with those of their peer group. The last really depends on the density of customers EmployWise has within any given industry. At the moment, the company has 75+ customers – many from technology — and handles 32,000 employee records. The number is adequate to provide reasonable insights, especially in the technology sector where 40 to 60 per cent of the investment is in people – and where managing them well can produce quick ROI.

Project v/s Product

Every Technology driven work is supported by a piece of software and that software may be a very small piece of code written to fulfill requirement like recording expenses of house, artificial intelligence, robotics or weather forecast.

Some daily life impacting processes converted from manual to totally computerized like medical consultations,  online airline ticketing, books and gifts purchase, hotel booking etc are some of the process achieved through software.

These software’s may be broadly categorized in two ways :

1)  Software Project: A project, by definition, is a temporary activity with a starting date, specific goals and conditions, defined responsibilities, a budget, a planning, a fixed end date and multiple parties involved.

2) Software Product: By Dictionary Definition: software product – merchandise consisting of a computer program that is offered for sale

Software Project: We may consider project which consists of finding solution to a particular problem to a particular client. It depends on various products. By using the Hardware, Middleware, Operating system, Languages and Tools only we will develop a project. Here the requirements are gathered from the client and analyzed with that client and start to develop the project. Here the end user is one and complete development is based on the end user needs.

Software Product: Products are developed not for any specific client or one customer. Here the requirements are gathered from market and analyze that with some experts and start to develop the product. After developing the products they try to market it as a solution. Here the end users are more than one. Product development is never ending process and customization is done regularly and continuously.

In business and engineering, New Product Development (NPD) is the term used to describe the complete process of bringing a new product to market. It starts from Idea generation, Product design and deal engineering along with market analysis and business opportunity size.

To give a real life example of popular product v/s project ,some are as below :

From India – Well-known software products

From abroad: Well-known software products

From India – Well-known software projects

From abroad: Well-known software projects

The companies who make these small to big software projects targets for getting a software project delivered to the users’ satisfaction, ontime and on budget. Sometimes someone has to ensure the system lasts for the long term.

The project and the product might start at the same point, but they usually finish at very different points. A project finishes with the last milestone release of the code — and a party. The product finishes with the opposite: the last byte of code being removed from the servers — and a party only if it was really nasty software.

From the above examples, you might question how Gmail or Meramail is a project  v/s MS Exchange. My point of view on this is very simple. Gmail/ meramail  Software is not available for sale / FREE or downloadable even for trial. So I would assume it’s a project built as per the need of the respective company and  is made available to be used as service. On the other hand Gmail App available on IOS and Android phone will be called as product, which is available and downloadable from respective app store.  Like wise you can purchase / download MS Exchange and XgenPlus email software, but cannot download / purchase  Gmail and Meramail software.

You might argue that Gmail is available as SaaS i.e Software as a Service. Sure it is, but it does not fit in the definition and nature of the “product”.  Moreover, if we remove service out of the Gmail, Do we get software product ? The answer is “No”, on the other hand if we provide SaaS on MS Exchange, the story will be different. May be this difference will be well understood if the difference between Product / Services / Software as a Service are understood properly. May be need of an another article 🙂

Post Contributed by Ajay Data, Data Infosys