Strange love between Sales and Technology – Part 1

April 5, 2013

Or how in Exotel, Sales learnt to embrace Technology.

Allow me to start off with a disclaimer. Most earlier posts in Exotel were written by people who knew what they were doing. This post is more an account of a tech-centric approach to handling Sales in a relatively new industry. It’s the story of how we brought down the sales cycle from 90 days to 3 days.

Before we talk of the technologies involved, I thought it will be a good idea to set some context. Technology is not the panacea to the world problems.

Tech is not the panacea

Technology ain’t no panacea

It worked for us after getting a clear understanding of the following:

Clearly define where your job begins and where it ends.

Where does marketing end and sales begin? There were too many definitions out there, and honestly, most of them didn’t make sense to us. We went ahead and defined our own terms. Interest Generation involves precisely that- generating interest ad getting the clients to sign up for the free trial. Conversion involves starting off with a signed-up customer and get the person to buy the product.

In other words, Interest Generation is introducing the client to the product, and Conversion seeks to convert the product to revenues. This definition made the most sense to us, and we stuck to this. In the post, we talk about Conversion.

Identify your customer type

This was the toughest nut to crack. Every investor (be it Anil from Mumbai Angels or Karthik from Blume), or sales advisor (Mukund Mohan) and mentor (Sharad Sharma) spoke of the product-market fit. Very early in the game, we thought we would figure this PMF (Product-market-fit) beast and the 3 to 20 member teams, receiving more than 50 calls per day, in the B2C space. Alright, that’s cool, we said. We have the product-market-fit, and then we clicked our heels together, but we weren’t in Oz yet.

That is because there was one crucial bit that we were missing – the PMF should work well with your (our) channel of delivery. In clear terms, channel of delivery is the predominant channel on which your consumers communicate with your company. I have taken the liberty to redefine some of the standard terminology to reflect our needs.

Strategic Conversion

The likes of HP-Intel collaboration(Do we have an Indian example?). This involves multi-million-dollar strategic partnerships and we are not touching that with a ten-meter long pole 🙂

Consultative conversion

This constitutes the bulk of B2B conversions in India. Standard enterprise sales along the lines of tel-cos, medial representatives, etc. Businesses typically adopts a tele-sales ;inside sales + feet on the street (FOS) model for conversion, and the delivery channel is largely offline.

To the extent that LTV exceeds your CAC, you have a viable business. We walked this path for six months, before realizing the unit economics did not add up, and we moved to a transactional conversion model. That, and at the current stage of Exotel, scaling conversion by hiring person after person, and scaling linearly did not appeal to us. I wonder how our competitors work this out to build a sustainable business.

Transactional conversion

In India, customers lead to long sales cycles, they said. They make you meet them multiple times, negotiating ad-infinitum and expect perks, they said. Transactional conversion won’t work, they said.

While this might be true for Consultative conversion, it’s not necessarily true for Transactional conversion. These are merely the effects. The cause is deeper than that.

The equation for a good sale is to match customer’s investment, in terms of time and effort. With consultative conversion, “consultation” is manual effort. You can’t automate it.

OTOH, in transactional conversion, technology offers a lot of scope in matching and complementing customer’s investment in your product. Part – II of this blog post will be about how technology help us complement our customer’s investment in Exotel and reduce our SaaS sales cycle from 90 days to 3 days, that post is out early next week.



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