Archive for the 'Musings' Category

Lead Nurturing Strategies for Start-ups

This is the most critical and heart-breaking part of acquiring customers. It can sap even the most persistent. But there is no alternative if you want to convert your qualified lead to an invoice. In the first place, consider yourself lucky you have a set of qualified leads. Most start-ups do not enjoy that luxury. Now it’s only about how you grab this opportunity with both hands and push and prod them to a decision.

Having said that let me tell you there is no ‘best’ or ‘sure fire’ way of nurturing leads. You have to feel your way through. But remember, whatever you do be consistent.

What is Lead Nurturing? It is the consistent process of keeping the lead engaged with a series of focused and relevant content that is both informative and educative about your domain and its impact on the prospect’s business.

Please note, this engagement may very well be just one-way. The lead may or may not respond. But you can rest assured that the information you are sharing is being read, assimilated and filed away for future reference. More important, you are in the process establishing high recall for yourself and your company. The idea of lead nurturing is to get you the inside track in a highly competitive environment where there is a surfeit of information and try and evoke a reaction, be it a step towards a decision or start a conversation or just a response, with the kind of content that you present.

What is the kind of information you should share with the prospect? This is something most sales people ask me when we discuss lead nurturing. Having understood the target segment from where the lead has emanated, you need to come up with content that is relevant to the prospect and adds value to the prospects business and decision-making process. The content could be anything like Blogs, Customer Use Cases and Testimonials, New Customer Acquisitions, a New Use Case, White Papers, Company Newsletter, Webinars, new product development or enhancements etc. You could also share links to relevant blogs on other sites which could help to improve the prospect’s knowledge and intellectual property. Share lists of customers in their line of business or located in their part of the woods. This could help as most customers suffer from ‘herd mentality’. If someone from their domain or region or locality has taken that leap of faith with you, then you must be ‘Ok’. So share as many such confidence boosters.

Another innovative way would be to visit their website, understand their business, the processes they could be following and try and build a possible Use Case specific to their business where the benefits from using your product or service could be better highlighted. I find this a very powerful method as nothing will convince the prospect more than transplanting an idea in their environment and making a point.

If you start to think out-of-the-box I am sure you will come up with many more innovative ways of keeping your prospect engaged. Keep ideating and coming up with new ideas of how to keep your prospect engaged. Trust me, pressure of targets brings out the ‘Einstein’ in most sales people.

What is ‘consistent’ engagement? I am often asked how often should one write to the prospect. How consistent is consistent? How often is too often? It all depends on where you had reached in your interactions with the lead. That will help you to judge the level of communication you need to employ with the prospect.

  • If the lead has visited your website and filled a form to download some resource and you have sent a ’Thank you’ and ‘Introduction’ mail to which there has been no response, then in the initial couple of weeks from first contact you should keep sending some information once every week. If there is still no response, then thereafter slow it down to once a month.
  • If the lead has either taken a product walk-through on your site or you have connected and given a product demo and thereafter drops from the radar, then keep pushing a lot of product information and customer use cases. Again keep up the pressure once a week for a month or so and thereafter taper off to once a month. During this time you could also volunteer some special price schemes to elicit some reaction.
  • If the lead disappears after a demo and price discussion then in all probability they are studying competitive products and/or going through the internal process before a decision. This is when you need to share more information on business benefits and ROI. Information that would help the user get the necessary approvals. The follow-up should be intense, probably once every 2-3 days for 3-4 weeks. Follow-up should also include telephone calls.

The above is only to give some directions on the approach you could adopt to take a lead to closure and not necessarily the only way. Your actual interaction with the prospect will determine your line of action.

During all of the above or wherever you may be in the sales process it is important to get the prospect to give some indicative timeline at the very least. Understand his use case and reasons he is even thinking of your product. If you know why he is out shopping, you then have the opportunity to tailor your communication accordingly. All this is part of the lead nurturing process.

But remember, don’t lose wind. Keep up the efforts. Not all will actually close. But such lead nurturing has yielded closure rates as high as 45-60%. That should encourage you to keep pegging away. Results will surely follow.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . For more information please visit www.nodiva.co.in .

Lead Generation Strategies for Start-ups

Being a young enterprise, you have a product and you have your first set of paying customers. Now the challenge is to take your product to market, generate volumes and gain market share. What are the strategies and plans that you need to adopt to generate a list of prospective customers whom you could pitch your product to? This is where start-ups usually hit a road block. Most new entrepreneurs are unaware of what to do to put in place a robust and scalable lead generation strategy.

Any good go-to-market strategy should have an ‘Inbound’ and ‘Outbound’ lead generation plan.

Inbound is about helping potential customers find you on the net and Outbound is to proactively search for such prospects and inform them about what you have to offer. No go-to-market plan is complete without a good mix of both strategies. A lot of start-ups just follow the ‘Inbound’ route as it costs less. But fail only because they are not consistent with the actions that need to be taken regularly for driving traffic to their site. So a mix of both will help to ensure a steady flow of ‘qualified’ leads.

So, what is a ‘qualified’ lead? A qualified lead is one who has heard about or found your product and has evinced interest, though there may not be an immediate need for it. Such ‘qualified’ leads help to reduce the selling cycle and improve chances of converting the same to a customer. Most leads may not buy immediately which is why you need to also have a strategy in place to nurture the lead till closure.

Briefly detailed below are some typical actions that could be implemented as part of your lead generation strategy:

Website:

Build an informative, interactive and well-designed website, with as many CTA’s (Calls-to-Action) as possible to enhance the visitors experience about your product and help take an informed decision. The navigation should be simple and quick with the prime objective of keeping the visitors engaged as much as possible thereby extending their stay on your site and improving the chances of converting them to prospective buyers.

Content:

This is the most critical component of your marketing strategy. To provide good content on your site you should first be absolutely clear about who your target audience is. All content created and published should be relevant and valuable to that target audience. This is what will attract such visitors to your site and keep them engaged for the maximum time. It will also ensure repeat visits and help to establish mind-share for your product and thought-leadership. Don’t forget, most prospective buyers do a lot of due diligence before buying anything. You should figure in that process. Content includes Blogs, White Papers, Case Studies, Newsletters etc.

Social Media:

Make sure you have a good digital marketing strategy, which includes promoting your product or service in all social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ etc. These platforms are being increasingly used for lead generation, as people search for information and research what they looking for using these platforms.

Direct and Email Marketing:

This is by far the most popular lead generation strategy followed by most. A well created and targeted mail campaign can help you get in front of people quickly and share relevant information that they may otherwise miss while searching the net. To get the desired results, a typical email campaign should follow a clear plan:

  • Create the database of your target segment
  • The campaign should have a Teaser, Main Mail and Follow-up Mail with 3-4 days gap in-between
  • Cold calling and follow-up calls. Both should be well scripted, with a plan to handle FAQs.
  • A good product training program for the tele-callers

Online Ads:

These could be just display or pay-per-click (PPC) ads on other websites, search engines or popular platforms.

Having put in place a good lead generation program, it is also critical to have well defined internal processes for Lead Allocation to sales and Lead Nurturing. Most leads do not decide immediately. But having evinced some interest in your product they will buy one day. Lead nurturing will significantly improve the chances of converting the lead into a customer.

My next post will discuss what goes into building a good Lead Nurturing Process. In the meanwhile, trust the above helps to either build your lead generation plan or reinforce what you have already implemented.

Hang in there and stay the course! Consistency and determination is the key to success!

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on Mentoring and Advising start-ups. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . For more information please visit www.nodiva.co.in .

 

What is the role of a Product Manager?

When hiring, I have quite often seen people confusing the Product Manager’s role with that of a Product Development Manager. These are two distinctly different roles and it is important to clearly understand these roles to avoid confusion and heartburn.

The product manager is the owner of the product and plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the product and customer needs. His role includes:

Identifying Customer Needs: Understand the existing processes, pain points and the reasons, what it is costing the customer and what would help to establish that customer delight in terms of measurable business benefits.

Translating needs into product functionalities: Work with the development team to help them understand the functional processes and features that would help to address the pain points and establish business benefits.

Testing: Conducting product POC’s and customer trials to help fine tune the product and make it more customer- relevant

Marketing: Developing the customer conviction stories and enumerating the business benefits. These would include product presentations, white papers, case studies etc. to help sales.

Product Pricing: Understand what the customer would be willing to pay, with first understanding the business benefits that the customer would derive from the product and convert these into measurable financial metrics and thereby build the ROI. It is only ROI that would help to determine what the customer would be willing to pay.

Competitive Analysis: Understanding competitive products and help build the competitive barriers. 

Building the product road-map: Constantly interacting with customers to gauge product experience and track changes in requirements to help product development team to manifest the changes in time and stay ahead of the curve.

The Product Development Manager manifests the product definitions into a set of functional features. This person will work very closely with the Product Manager in the development and evolution of the product through its entire life cycle.

Being a crucial role in a product company, the product manager should ideally have deep domain knowledge and a feel for customer’s business processes.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . Please visit www.nodiva.co.in for more information.

Entrepreneurship lessons from the Aam Aadmi Party

How could I resist Snigdha’s hint to opine on startup lessons from AAP’s historic Delhi performance! So here it goes on startupcentral.

Key lessons:

- Great businesses are created by playing into market shifts
- Startups need sharp focus and positioning
- Run a well-designed proof of concept
- The founder is the best salesperson
- Conviction of the founding team

Watch out — this might well be the trillion dollar impact startup all of us have been looking for!

The 5 P’s of great presentations

A quick cheat sheet for you to start making great presentations now.

Plan: For both the audience size as well as their expectations. Pitching your idea to a set of 5 investors is completely different from getting 500 people to vote for your start-up in a large competition. Do your homework to make sure that your intended audience is deriving value from what you have to say.

Attention is the commodity that’s in shortest supply in today’s twitter enabled word. Make sure that you are constantly exchanging value for the audience’s time.

Tip: Start strong, have a solid middle & a memorable ending. If movies can do this for 2 hours, you can do it for 20 minutes.

 

Plain: Too often, people get carried away with using Powerpoint’s features. Remember that any software is just a tool. Simplicity is also the ultimate sophistication. The real impact of a presentation is what the speaker is saying, how they say it & most importantly, what the audience understands.

Tip: Ensure that you follow the 30-20-10 rule. 30 point text in your slide, 20 minutes for the entire presentation & not more than 10 slides. This forces you to use graphics on the slide, keep it short & more importantly – your audience is now listening to what you have to say, not reading (faster than you) from your own slides.

 

Practice: The default behavior for most presenters is to put their thoughts down on a slide & then land up on D-day & throw up content on an unsuspecting audience. The difference between good & great presentations is practice. Think of a presentation like stand up comedy. What looks effortless & spontaneous on stage is actually the result of studied practice & timing.

Tip: For every minute of presentation run time, you should ideally put down 10 minutes of practice. In front of the mirror, with helpless friends & a mock run at the actual venue before the audience arrives are great iterative options.

 

Pause: Since public speaking is ranked second in most surveys as the thing that people fear most (Death being first), some butterflies in your stomach are par for the course before going on stage. A quick sip of water & a few deep breaths should take care of most palpitations. Thinking of the audience as a group of friends that are keen to hear what you have to say helps too.

Tip: Pick a few friendly faces (even if you have to look really hard) spread through out the audience before you get on stage. Keep maintaining eye contact between them by turns. Helps you smile plus the majority of the audience thinks you are looking at them.

 

Passion: After all the preparation in the world, truly great speakers love the idea or concept that they are trying to communicate. If you are passionate about what your are saying, it will shine through. No technique or shortcut can make this up for you.

Tip: Don’t confuse passion with emotion. Being angry is not the same thing as being involved.

 

V C Karthic is an entrepreneur (whose latest crazy idea is this) based out of Mumbai. He works with start-ups & incubators across the country on their presentation & pitching skills. This article appeared earlier in the year in the SINE (IIT-Mumbai) newsletter.

When should a start-up go to an investor?

The unfortunate fact is that though being in the business of risk investments, most VC’s and Angel investors in India are highly risk-averse. This is why start-ups in India struggle to get off the ground. Past experience has made investors extremely careful with their investment decisions and despite such extreme caution still end up with a dismal success rate of less than 20%. So I guess that makes them even more cautious.

So what will make an investor take that leap of faith with your venture? Put yourself in the shoes of the investor and critically appraise your venture and decide if you will invest money in the venture. It would help to give you a different perspective and help you plan accordingly.

So when do you know you are ready for investments?

Any investor will want to know if your venture will help him get good returns and in how much time. To be able to give some reasonable answers to these reasonable questions, the venture should be able to clearly demonstrate its ability to help the investor take a considered decision. For example:

  1. Is your target segment large enough to ensure sustainable business growth over the next 3-5 years?
  2. Have you validated your product with some customer experience? Even if it is not a paying customer, has your product been tested in real time?
  3. How has it fared? Does it really address a problem? Please remember, a problem is a problem only if a customer recognizes it as a problem. Not because you think so.
  4. Is the customer willing to pay for what he has experienced with your product? This will move your product from a ‘good to have’ to a ‘need to have’ product.
  5. Does your product offer a clear ROI? In other words, does your product or solution help to clearly address an existing problem and have you been able to quantify the benefits that the customer will derive from it? This is what will make the customer take that investment decision.
  6. Do you know your competition? What competitive barriers have you planned to ensure you stay ahead of competition at all times? How have you planned the longevity of your product and your venture?
  7. Have you put in place a credible and actionable business plan?
  8. Do you know how much investment you require and for what?
  9. If you have reasonably good answers to the above set of typical concerns that any investor would have, then I guess you are ready to go looking for investment with reasonable chances of success. Ofcourse, if you also have a set of paying customers who are willing to stand up and talk for your product, then the chances of success are even better.

Moreover, if you actually have a unique product with a set of USP’s that makes yours a ‘me-only’ product and/or if your product or some part of what your product does is patentable because of its uniqueness, then investors would not mind overlooking some of the factors mentioned above. But please remember, just because your product is me-only or patentable it does not necessarily mean you will have a paying customer. I have seen some of these patentable or patent-pending products remain just ‘good-to-have’ and struggling to find a paying customer. However unique, it still has to demonstrate clear ROI before the customer digs into his pocket.

In most cases, I have found that the entrepreneur does not have answers to most of these concerns and therefore, the difficulty in getting investments. The investor is willing to invest. You only have to give him the confidence that his investment will perform for him the way it is expected to.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . For more information please visit www.nodiva.co.in .

Should start-ups pay for Mentoring or Advisory services?

This has been a much debated point in various forums and is a question that plagues start-ups all over the world. Having taken part in numerous such discussions and understood different points of view, I felt that this would be a topic that would interest first-time entrepreneurs in India.

So, should a start-up pay for mentoring services?

In most cases, a mentor is someone who has successfully set-up, run and exited businesses, probably several times, and is now looking to give back to society by sharing his/her experiences with others wanting to do the same. Monetary considerations do not play a big role in such engagements. Some equity stake at some stage may be considered. Therefore, the common refrain is that a mentor should not charge for his services, as the concept of mentoring is to work with and evolve people, be it the CEO/Founder or some of his key people. A mentor works with people to help them understand their environment, evaluate options, identify with issues that affect them professionally and personally and generally act as a sounding board to help the person/s become more effective in, both, their professional and personal life. That is the basic concept of mentoring. It is more person-specific and for the mentor this is an opportunity to share his/her life experiences, successes and failures, and give back to society to help others become more successful.

Ofcourse, in the course of the mentoring he/she could share business ideas and experiences that could have an impact on the business itself. But the primary purpose is to help the individual get more effective and aware. If the start-up gets to be a success, then at that time the CEO/Founder may think of sharing some of that success with the mentor, if it is felt that the mentor played a significant role in the success story.

This is quite clear and I have heard enough people from across the globe expressing similar sentiments. Then why the debate? Why is the mentor still looking for remuneration for his/her services?

The problem lies with confusing the term ‘mentor’.

The young enterprise is looking for someone to help overcome its inexperience in running a business and putting in place business strategies that will help take the company to the next level and achieve short and long term business objectives. This is the primary objective of the start-up.

But unfortunately we do not have so many success stories to mentor the entire start-up community. Plus, even the one’s looking to mentor start-ups, can handle only that many and no more. So the wannabe ‘mentors’ looking to offer exactly the services that the start-up is looking for are actually Business Advisers. Not mentors. A business adviser in most cases does not come from an entrepreneurial background, but brings years of experience, skills and knowledge to help the business achieve its short and long term business objectives.

Now the million dollar question. Who should a start-up engage with – a mentor or business adviser? In the absence of so many mentors, the start-ups have no choice but to work with Business Advisors, who call themselves mentors, which is a very good thing as most first-time entrepreneurs are looking for the business experience that they lack, since most of them do not come from a commercial or marketing background. Since most are technology start-ups, in most cases the CEO or Founders are from a technology background lacking the background for running a business.

Working with an advisor is extremely critical for a start-up as they will help to significantly improve the chances of success and reduce wastage of time, effort and money by bringing their experience to the table and helping to anticipate all the typical mistakes that start-ups make and provide that objective external view point. Therefore earlier the better. Preferably at the ideation stage itself. Most start-ups have to pivot at some stage because they did not try to establish that product-market fit at the ideation stage itself. They did not ask themselves those critical and mostly uncomfortable questions, probably because it did not occur to them or it could have meant going back to the drawing board. An advisor could be of great help here.

So, should a business adviser be paid for his/her services?

Ofcourse, Yes. Such services have to be paid for because the adviser has invested years gaining that experience and this experience and knowledge has significant value. They are offering their service to monetize that experience and knowledge and is also probably a source of living. This cannot be expected to be offered for free. Ofcourse, there could be multiple engagement models that they could discuss and agree upon, which could also include retainer only, equity only or a mix of retainer and equity. That is left to the comfort level of both parties. Most important, the entrepreneur needs to consider this as an investment and not an expense, as this engagement is expected to have long term impact on the business.

Continuing to look for a mentor, just to avoid such investments, could mean losing precious time and money. Start work with an adviser at the earliest. Every start-up CEO is running around just to generate revenues, atleast enough to pay the bills. The sooner this happens the better it is and one way is to engage with someone who can give you those critical inputs that could pave the way.

As Peter Drucker rightly said, ‘The purpose of business is to acquire new customers’. It is one thing to have a great idea, but an entirely different ball game to get a paying customer for that idea. Getting a paying customer, for a start-up, is easier said than done. This is the challenge for most start-ups and that is why they need Advisers more than they need Mentors. This is my considered opinion.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . Please visit www.nodiva.co.in for more information.

 

Pricing Strategy for Start-ups – Value Based Pricing

Apart from dealing with the unknown factor and building credibility, pricing is one other hurdle that most start-ups find hard to overcome. How much to charge? Am I overcharging or am I leaving money on the table? Questions that plague every entrepreneur.

When it comes to pricing, a simple cost-plus strategy may not work because it’s dependent entirely on your ability to produce cost-effectively. Then how do you fix your margins? Will the final price meet customer approval? At the end of the day the customer will only pay the price which he believes is value to him.

This whole process can be made easy if you have correctly identified what your product does for the customer, ie. What value does it bring to him? Build some metrics around this value and convert the same into actual monetary benefits that the customer will derive from it. You will then be able to convince both, the buyer and the user, who in most cases are not the same person. More often than not, the user, who derives the functional benefits, ends-up not convincing management only because he is not able to convert the benefits into ROI for the company. What will the company get for the investment? This is what the CEO or CFO would be interested in. This conversion of benefits to financial numbers will help to push your product from a ‘Good to have’ to a ‘Need to have’.

Let me try and enumerate this with a Use Case.

Company ABC has built a Process Automation solution to enable the customer to bring in business process efficiency. Business processes could include internal processes like on-boarding an employee, financial approvals, HR approvals etc. or external processes like sales process, dealer management, vendor management etc. Through process automation the solution promises to bring about repeatability, scalability, on time and within budget performance.

There is Prospect X who is in the business of setting-up retail outlets for retail chains, which is a repetitive process requiring a high level of planning to ensure that all stakeholders deliver on time. They follow a set process which involves interaction between various groups including real estate agents, interior designers, interior execution company and warehouse for finished goods to reach the store before opening.

The big pain point here is that the outlets are never opened on time. This obviously results in incurring dead rent (rent paid beyond the target opening date, which is not budgeted) and loss of revenue for the period of delay.

The process automation solution of Company ABC promises on-time performance by ensuring that each stakeholder completes his/her task on time through a process of pre-emptive alerts, reminders and escalations. Any task that needs to be completed in a particular timeframe is captured in the process map as well as the name of the person responsible to complete the task.  The moment the details are entered a task mail is sent by the system to the concerned person and this mail will remain in the ‘Inbox’ until the task has been completed, ensuring the person does not forget. Based on pre-set criteria, the system will also send alerts and reminders to the person’s mobile to make sure the person does not forget the task. In case the person still misses the deadline, an automatic escalation mail will be sent to his superior. Alerts and reminders are meant to ensure the person does not forget and escalations are expected to instil the fear that the boss will know of any slip-ups and be made accountable. Over time people are expected to fall in line and tasks completed on time at very stage in the process.

The team at Company ABC went about first understanding the typical process that Prospect X followed for each store opening, the delays at each stage of the process, typical reasons and bottlenecks. They also got a feel for the expense incurred for each store opening towards dead rent and the average revenue loss due to the delays.

This way they could safely presume a 10% reduction in delay per store using their solution and knowing the store roll-out plan of the customer for the year, they were able to quickly compute the savings that the customer can expect in Year 1.

Company ABC then fixed a price derived from the savings and were able to convince Prospect X to invest by projecting the ROI. The price gave value to the customer as well as good margins to the vendor.

So it is important to understand the value that your product brings to the customer and convert it to tangible and measurable benefits, based on which you could then arrive at a price that the customer would bite. You would have then created the ‘NEED’ for your product.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . Please visit www.nodiva.co.in for more information.

Finding ‘Product-to-Market Fit’ starts at ideation

In the course of interacting with so many start-ups I have found one common factor. Problem with articulating the problem statement. If you have understood the problem completely then defining it in two sentences should not be a problem at all. But therein lies the problem!

A problem is a problem only if it is recognized as a problem and this is where I find most entrepreneurs getting confused. You may think there is a problem, but does the prospective customer think it is a problem? Is it actually a problem for him or a way of life?

Typically, any product or service helps to:

  • Alleviate a pain point
  • Enhance a pleasure point
  • Achieve an aspiration

There is also a fourth type of product or service that helps to improve business benefits by disrupting existing practices and processes. Here articulation is very critical because you are seeking to change status quo. You need to understand what is the change, why the change and how the change will benefit the customer.

So what does your product do? As an entrepreneur you need to clearly identify what is it that your product or service will bring to the table for the customer. What is it that will make the customer put money on the table? At the end of the day, any idea is a great idea only if it has a happy customer!

Start with the customer. You have an idea but let the idea take shape from the customer’s perspective. For example, you want to start an online store. Here the questions that need to be answered before you even start manifesting the idea are:

  1. What category of products do you want to cater to?
  2. Do these category of products require ‘touch & feel’ before buying or just a description will be enough for someone to buy?
  3. Why the need for an online store for these products?
  4. Are there brick and mortar stores for these products?
  5. How will you compete with these stores?
  6. What will you offer that will make the customer buy from your online store?
  7. What is your customer profile for those products? – geographic, demographic, psychographic etc.
  8. Will this profile of customers actually buy online?
  9. Do they have access to internet?
  10. What will you do to ensure repeat visits and purchases? Repeat visitors and customers are the lifeline of any online store, as continually getting new customers will mean having deep pockets for marketing.

These are some of the questions that need to be dealt with in detail before you start devoting any more time to the idea. This is applicable for every type of product or service.

Most important question to be answered is ‘How will the customer benefit and why?’ Your product or service should evolve only from the customer’s perspective. Only then will you have a product that will have a customer. Once you have your first set of paying customers, because you have done your homework well, then the product or service can actually go through the product-to-market fit using real time experience.

Unfortunately most entrepreneurs start this process after having manifested their idea into a product or service and then go through the pain of having to revamp their offering almost completely or actually revisit the original idea itself.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . Please visit www.nodiva.co.in for more information.

For Start-ups Processes are critical for growth

You have got your first set of paying customers and have validated all your assumptions and now feel you would like to initiate actions for serious go-to-market. Every young enterprise looks forward to this day when they would be able to scale and grow their revenues. The entire focus is on revenues. But do you know what the pre-requisite is to ensure a predictable growth?

PROCESS.

This is something that is completely forgotten or one is not even aware of. It is only process that can bring in predictability and repeatability. Repeatability helps you to manage growth without much pain. What kinds of processes are required to manage growth? To understand this you need to know what growth entails.

Growth is not just about revenues. Revenue is the outcome of growth. To enable revenue growth you need to grow your team, which means hiring more people, who will need to be inducted into the organization and trained. Broadly, the team will comprise of sales, support, administration and management. You need to have a system, a process, to ensure successful induction of these people into the organization in the shortest period of time. A timeline for hiring, for induction and training has to be in place so that the new hires can get productive at the earliest. All this can only be achieved if you have processes in place.

You have a team, now how do you ensure predictable business? To generate business you need to have a target list, information on that target list and get in front of that target list to articulate on your product or service. This means you need to have processes for lead generation, lead management, a sales process which will include data capture, reporting and customer handling, pre-sales for technical support (if your product or service requires it) and last but not the least, post-sales support. The last one is mostly an after-thought, after the sale is made. This could prove to be disastrous for a start-up as every happy customer goes a long way in building your credibility. So planning for a happy customer is imperative. Customers smile only when they have been delivered what was promised …. on time. The answer to this is Process.

In the early days when you were the salesman, CEO, HR, Finance Mgr etc. you could manage it. Somehow. But when you start having more people, start servicing more locations and start to deal with multiple customer touch-points, the problems start to emerge. Managing this volume of work and resultant data becomes a huge issue and could prove to be disastrous in the long run. Most start-ups end-up losing a lot of ground only because of their inability to handle this growth. This is where processes come into play. Each component of the sales process right from lead generation to post-sale support needs to have a clearly defined and documented set of processes.

Internal processes need to be built to ensure optimal output with the smallest team possible. Don’t forget, the motto is still to conserve cash for use where it is most required. So smaller the team the better it is. But this same team would be able to handle scaling only with clear cut processes. Such processes are also required to bring in operational and fiscal discipline.

But the most important are the sales and support processes. Being customer-facing, these need to be tightly aligned with the customer’s requirements to ensure predictable business and a satisfied customer. Having already acquired a small set of early adopters, you would have understood what it takes to progress the customer from first meeting to closure. Breaking this into small stages, understanding the customer requirement at each stage and putting in pace proactive actions would help to bring in some predictability into the sales cycle and ensure steady progress of the sales process. This also includes having a well-defined process for pre-sales activities like product demos, presentations, proposal preparation, custom demos etc. All this will ensure low cost and time for customer acquisition.

As I mentioned, it is important to have processes for post-sale support. This starts with the customer on-boarding process, once the sale has been made. Starting from familiarization with customer environment to product delivery and smooth and successful implementation in the shortest time, a clear cut process for each of these activities will ensure a good beginning to a long term customer relationship. A happy customer not only helps to build credibility but can also be a source of future revenues thereby extending the LTV (Life Time Value) of the customer.

It is important that these processes are well thought through, documented and put into practice right from the beginning so that when you are ready to scale it would be a no-brainer and would not seem daunting.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on Mentoring and Advising start-ups. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . For more information please visit www.nodiva.co.in .