Be very close to the operational reality of the customer in B2B sales to get your customers
Manish Sharma Co Founded Printo in 2006 along with Lalana Zaveri (wife) after they re-located from Mumbai to Bangalore. Manish has a software marketing & product flash sales background. Lalana has both a marketing background from her stint in Xerox both in India as well as in UK and also a manufacturing background prior to that. Manish talks about identifying the need for Printing when he himself found it very difficult to get good quality business cards printed when he came from the US to India a few years ago. He understood that the printing vendors were not that bothered because the value of the transactions were so low and Manish wanted to set up a business where people can get their prints done at a respectable price. Manish also figured out that he can build an economically viable business model as long as he can make people come to him and that was the birth of Printo.
He had seen businesses like Kinko (Now acquired by Fedex) in the document space in the US and he figured out the business model for Printo in India. He still did some market research because this was new to India. Lalana, with her Xerox background, used to sell in the graphics industry and had a good grip on the supply side. Manish recollects that 95% of the people he had spoken to in his customer validation stage said that they did not need such a service and had dissuaded him. Manish was convinced that there was a gap in the market and he felt that it was silly to ask customers if they would need this product in the early stages. He however, kept talking about the problems his buyer personas were facing and gave solutions to find if they liked it instead of asking them if they want a shop that will take care of their printing needs. He also met with a few Mom and Pop store owners who were competitors in other cities and also had day long meetings with companies to understand the supply side. He spoke to lots of his prospective customers and ran a structured survey to 130 people who were in the economic strata that he was looking for and got some portions of his ideas validated. Manish says thatWalkman might not have been invented if Sony would had asked their customers if they wanted to carry their music around. Since the printing business is a high setup cost business (product) where they had to set up stores and also buy the equipment to provide the wholesome experience for the customer to come in and feel it, they just went ahead with their gut feel and invested because the couple believed that this will work and stuck on to their conviction which gave them results.
Since this was unique in the Indian context, they could not have any references to benchmark and offer better quality. Since this had to be a perceived quality of service, they took a bet and began offering what they thought as gold standard in the business. They had to put a shop with a whole range of services and the effort and time to do this is high but felt that this needs to be done in order to get customers to adopt the innovation. After the launch, lot of real time feedback came in which Manish says is golden. The couple took different work timings and kept the shop open as much as possible and listened to customers and made quite a bunch of useful changes to provide better service delivery. The changes that were made was around 30 to 40% of what they began with.
On the Marketing and Sales side, Manish talks about two sides. One was retail side which was in the B2C model and the other one were companies which was in the B2B model. Retail is the now the bigger part of the business. They were nervous for the first two months because they put a board in front of their stores and people did not know what the entire concept was all about . They got the first , second and the third customer walking in and started doing some business and a bulk of the footfall came through word of mouth and the main reason people walked in was also because of the name(Printo). He had kept the name unique and that worked in his favour. They did not do much of marketing but did one press release to begin with but kept the service levels at a very high level which motivated people to come back and give more business and Printo began opening stores in many more locations.
A big part of business in the initial days was the business that came from companies, B2B Model. Even though this was a tough sale where he could not show much of a differentiation to begin with because the business was perceived to be a commodity business and the companies had so many vendors and empanelling one more vendor to do the same job met with a lot of resistance. He still reached out to a lot of senior people and went to meet them. He made sure that he did not meet any junior people and he kept himself to CxOs to begin with. Manish recollects that he took a lot of time to close the deals and his first large deal took him 11 months from the time he began interacting with them because of multiple issues. Since he did not understand the retail business those days, he had to depend on the B2B model to get revenues. After a few meetings and rejections he looked at the entire situation in a different way. Instead of going and talking about him printing their visiting cards which positioned him as a commodity vendor with a high cost, he looked at the issues that the customers were facing while doing this. He re-positioned his services as something that could bring down the cost of transactions and give visibility on the purchase the client was doing from a centralized and a decentralized perspective. He spoke about a platform which had a simple UI and they can give him a national level deal with fixed prices which he can configure the price and the volume in the engine and give them a login credentials that multiple people all over the country can leverage on the prices the corporate office negotiated and begin placing orders and most importantly track it and spoke about productivity. The C-Level suite loved this and moved him a few levels below and asked those people to evaluate Printo.
Manish realized that the influencers and the gate keepers were the team members who sign contracts and they were not the C-Level people but were four levels below them. The influencers did not see the value because their day to day job was to manage the small orders and this solution was threatening their existence. They also had a fantastic rapport with printers and corporate India was also corrupt and he realized that making a sale is a long process and unless the guys in the bottom or middle sees value, the mid-level manager will reject it because they are a part of the transaction cost. Manish also realized that he could not play the price game because his competitors competitor will come down on the price because either they would have got capital cost of zero beyond a point and knows how to grease the palm of some buyers or they also will know the customer buying pattern much better than Printo and would get in as a loss leaders on those products where there were price sensitiveness. Manish decided that he will not do any loss leader. It took a long time to figure out the buying dynamics and make it a science. He reached his prospects in a variety of ways and made cold call to lots of people but did not get appointments easily and he used his network a lot by constantly asking them for email introductions or just got the name and he reached out to the prospects by himself. He never met with the junior people initially but is now meeting only the junior people now after understanding the buying dynamics as he figured out that the top down approach won’t work in his business because the junior managers were the ones who placed orders. Today Printo is empaneled with many large companies which includes Wipro, Infosys, Microsoft to name a few.
On the online platform, he had an active website but he was not selling through the site. Since the site was getting enough traction, they did not spend much on marketing. They focussed on getting the SEO right and they were naturally right on SEO because they knew what the customers were searching for. Manish says that this is a long tail business because if they get the SEO right for business cards, the ROI on that is so poor and hence they have to get a large number of terms right. They also promoted the website amongst their multiple stores and all their stores had mobile audience which moves from one city to another and hence business began flowing from other cities also. Manish says that aggressive acquisition did not suit their DNA and it was a service led model than an acquisition led model. Online business came in four years into the business. At that time , there were quite a few players doing online business. Printo was not the first one to personalize gifts and hence technology was not a differentiator . They just made the platform so simple to use.
Manish recalls his Learnings – Many companies have fantastic value propositions in B2B but are so far abstracted from the operational reality of their prospects. One has to stitch through these propositions from a customers’ operational point of view. One needs to understand what their customers do on a day to day basis. When he gets sales people pitching their products and services to him, he says that even many senior guys also don’t understand his point of view even though they claim that they know. He gets switched off within the first five minutes and even interesting conversationalists have such a big disconnect with the operational aspects of business and they are misreading their customers and wasting lots of both their time. Manish, recollects that he made mistakes in his own business where he thought that B2B is about selling into the CxO level but learnt it the hard way after a long time and is now spending more time with mangers and with junior people and supported them by taking the phone calls at anytime and assuring them that he is behind the delivery of the cards in-spite of having a tracker because their bosses were after them for timely delivery and handholding alone gave them so much of repeat business which he did not realize initially but figured out that his customers operational model worked in a different way.
Printo has around 275 employees with 18 stores and has a production hub in Bommanahalli. They serve about 1,50,000 unique customers and a typical customer uses them about three times an year. They call their awards as the ones they get from their customers in terms of Brickbats and Bouqets. They won the retail best concepts award. They have some small institution round funding from Blume Ventures and bought out the stake from Sequoia a few years ago. Printo is not only a cash profitable business but also a PAT profitable business.