Lean Selling – Convert your High Touch sales process into a Low Touch process
Pallav Nadhani is the Co-Founder of FusionCharts. His entrepreneurial stint began when he was in school at the age of 16. He joined his dad who was running a web development business and worked with him for a few quarters and understood web development and client interaction. He built his first data visualiation component for use in a product around Tally while he was in class 11. After a few months, based on customer feedback, he developed another version with additional features but did not want to name if fxGraph because he did not want his customers to perceive that the earlier version was bad and hence named it FusionCharts.
He wanted to experiment with the product and sell it to make some pocket money. He had an unique problem that no other founder will have in selling – He had a school to attend to and did not have time to sell during the day. He knew that no one will buy the software if they know that this was developed by a 16 year old kid and he had to keep this in secrecy. He also did not want to give this product to someone else because he wanted to make this business a big one and he also did not have the money to afford employees as he could not even afford a domain for $35 and took a subdomain in his dads business. He had only one option – Convert the high-touch sales process to a low-touch sales process where sales must happen without him getting involved. He explored the options of selling online. He figured out how to make the customers experience very unique by enabling a smooth buying process. He began making the documentation, FAQ, demos and began developing a sales process to be in India but to reach out to global customers. The only strategy was to keep customers happy but kept it as a tactical decision. He did not think about hiring sales and marketing people, did not think about organization building but only wanted to sell and constantly innovate on the product and did a bunch of tactical things which turned out to be right. Pallav said that this was not a fore thought but it looks good in hindsight.
Pallav, after naming the product (Fusion Charts) then had to create a logo. He liked a chart that his product created and kept it as the first logo (He says that this was a bug that his product threw as an image) and made a good website with content and made sure that the design and structure was nice and took care of the SEO. Pallav being a technical person was able to do all of these at a next to nothing cost. He knew that his website should convey what is important for them, why should they look at the product and how can they use it and this should happen within 30 seconds at best or the customer will log out and would go into another website. Since the product was visual in nature, the website came up well and it was an instant connect with his customers. The next step was to make the customers try the product in order to gain their trust but they have to try this and be convinced without contacting anyone at Fusion Charts side. The hard work in SEO and web design showed up and the customers began signing up within seven days. This continued for another three years and released more documentation. To come up with a better design for the website, he spent 500$ by hiring an Romanian designer which was a huge amount for him but he decided that first impressions matter. Pallav also tried Offline Marketing after a few years. He did a bunch of Print Ads and Trade shows but figured out that they are not worth if he cannot measure it. Since his customers do not buy his product based on their WANTS but buys it only based on their NEEDS and the needs surfaces only when the customers begin a project. Pallav compares the situation where he cannot come up with a sales promotion for his product unlike a branded shoe that can be sold at a discount. So, they were very cautious about their Marketing spend.
On the content, he knew that most Indian sites had monotonous content and had lots of jargon. He kept a dynamic content which was very useful to the customers and kept the sales engagement as low touch as possible and he was able to get up to10000 customers without having one sales person with him. For any trouble tickets that came as email, he was able to respond within 5 minutes and also ensured that this question and the relevant answer was updated in the web FAQ so that the next customer will not face the same situation. The tele sales queries were also handled either by him or his father. They never went out and sold as the focus was entirely on Marketing. He continued Content Marketing even in 2002 where he wrote articles on Data Visualization and would post it in other sites. Some sites will post it free and some sites even paid him for these articles because those were technical. They began using Google Adwords in 2006 when it was new to the market and would buy those slots and be at the top of category even though it was new. He tried every new age medium such as email newsletters(he wrote his email newsletter engines for him because those tools were not available then), articles contribution, website, Paid Ads, Product Downloads etc and engaged with the users throughout the life cycle of their purchase at multiple touch points to have an emotional lock-in with the product. Pallav says that apart from the Ads Purchases, he incurred zero costs on Marketing as everything else was his time which he could spend outside of his school time in the evenings.
On the Sales process, they expanded their team to 25 people in 2010 and then experimented with a few sales initiatives but got sub optimum results. The teams that sold large deals earlier did not get the monthly sales model through internet and hence the sales teams failed. Pallav also felt that they need to better their understanding of the sales management. Pallav, his brother Sanket and his father sat down and wrote their Sales Bible. This contains their knowledge on customers – Why they buy, How did they find the company in the past, What do they want and How they need to be sold to, When – Where – How to say No to them, When not to oversell , How to handle competitor comparisons, How aggressive can someone go and overlapped this with the Fusion Chart brand they wanted to portray. Armed with this, they began hiring people and assigned only specific licensing models to them to pilot and evolved the Sales Bible along with the sales team. Once the sales bible was tested for consistency over a period of one year, they hired 25 more sales people right after that and Inside Sales @FusionCharts began. The next step of metricizing came in where they realized that they were getting 9000 Inbound leads a month and around 300 of them were hot leads but the sales teams were not addressing more than the 300 hot leads and were losing business because they were not even reaching out to the qualified prospects. There were also closer to 15000 plus customers who could be sold additional services, but they were not even reached out to except the limited interaction with a fraction of those when they had complaints. This was the genesis of an Account Management team. Over the years , they built complex dashboards having relevant information of how their Marketing and Sales teams are performing at each stage of the sales cycle by measuring every touch point of the company with the customer. They have tried multiple things and have failed in many but have succeeded in few and have made a science out of their successes which they pass it on to the sales team to scale.
Pallav reflects on one mistake in his sale process. He did not Qualify his customers which he realized in 2011 when his Director of Sales joined and looked at the Customer Cohorts and found out that they were all over the place. He says that if they had qualified the prospects from beginning , they would have more than tripled their revenue. They have clear qualifying metrics on multiple parameters of the prospects such as Country of Origin, No. of Developers working on the product, What Industries are their prospects it is serving to name a few and have weightage assigned to these multiple parameters to be able to decide where the sales people should be focussing on
In 2008, there was a surprise enquiry from a company in Korea who wanted to resell FusionCharts to a customer but could not find a similar product and they became Channel Partners and began giving some business to them. Seizing this opportunity, they built the partner ecosystem and began signing up with multiple partners in Korea. Between 2008 and 2010 , Korea became the country that gave them the most business after the US. They began recruiting more partners and ramped up 100 channel partners in 50 countries and also put a channel partner team. Pallav says that his channel partners contributes more than 20% of the total revenue and they use partners in countries like China, Korea, Brazil to name a few where they don’t sell directly
Pallav’s advice to early stage entrepreneurs – Never outsource your sales and expect the hired sales person to sell. For a B2B product, do the first ten 10 sales or for a B2C product, do the first 100 sales so that you can understand the characteristics of customers and the qualification cohorts to create, the questions to ask, how to handle gatekeepers and manage feedback of the product to help you codify your sales bible and then hand it over to the hired team to make them scale. Someone from a sales background might not be able to understand the product requirements of the customer in an implicit way in the early days and they were able to expand because Pallav was in all support calls and developed all the products based on customer requirements.
FusionCharts today has around 50 employees with 13 people in sales. Pallav’s entrepreneurial journey was covered by Forbes, Entrepreneur, Business Today, Economic Time and FusionCharts was featured in ET award for Innovation and Business Model and got the CNBC award for the best SME company with global reach to name a couple of the many. They are still Bootstrapped and have 24000 customers globally spread across 120 countries for their product that has over 90 charts and 900 maps.