When we started the company in 2009 and launched the first version of our SAAS product in 2010, we started selling ERP to schools with feet on street sales team. It was hard with no results. Some principals even said "I will pay you for not selling this to me, please disappear!" It was tough selling ERP which is a known fact to any seller in the education industry. The sales cycle can get as long as 6 8 months.Since being a startup we couldn't increase our expenses, so we started looking for a better model for selling ERP. And as they say ‘Necessity is the mother of all inventions’, we found that using inbound marketing model, we could make the schools and resellers approach us for the product. This also reduced the sales cycle to 1 2 months. We even started closing deals within a days time.
Introduction to inbound marketing (For those who are new to this term)
When we go and sell a product/service to customers they feel that they are being sold something which they don't actually require and they don’t want to buy. The institutions were working efficiently without implementing any ERP and this made them reluctant to implement an ERP software all of a sudden. But there will be few, who would be looking out for a solution, and when you approach these institutes, you can provide them with the best out of your least value. Thus degrading your product value; and if you have committed any services then you are doomed.
Now with inbound marketing the same customer will pay a higher amount visiting our store/website which costs him more (Total cost cost of visiting our physical office or hiring us to give them demo).
As Steve Jobs said “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” This is very true for any ERP solution.
In Inbound marketing strategy people visit your site (come to your website/store) when they are really looking out for solution/business and they find you, therefore make sure that the website and your online presence are so strong that they turn into leads/prospects. Such customers then don't bargain (but you can't stop the Indian customers! Beware). But the demerit is that you will lose the customers who don't fit in your product model. You will have to say 'NO' to some customers in order to have a scalable model. It means that, only those customers will purchase your product who are a perfect fit to your product model and hence less churn out. Thus the Life Time Value (LTV) of the customer will increase and a solid revenue model evolves. To say, this strategy has got its own merit and demerit but for a startup if this works then it’s great.
Inbound Strategy 1: Giving the basic product as free & open source
For us the inbound marketing has worked so well that, our open source version of the product gets around 150-200 downloads per day. Our product has amassed more than 65,000 downloads over period of 3 years. For an ERP this is a huge achievement. The opensource version is marketed by the eminent personalities in opensource community. To add to this prestigious institutes in India, IIM and IIT (one each) is now powered by Fedena. This wouldn't have happened if we were to go and sell to the premier institutes. A specific percentage of these free downloads got converted as paid customers.
Inbound Strategy 2: Interviewing happy customers and publishing in blog
We constantly interviewed our happy customers and published the interviews in official product blog. The new prospects reading these interviews got convinced about the product quality and converted as paying customers.
Inbound Strategy 3: Applying to various award competitions and winning the awards increased credibility & conversion
Never leave a startup competition unparticipated. When we hear of an award winning product we come to value the product’s credibility. This really is a strong point in making the sale.
Inbound Strategy 4: Free demo with full documentation.
Our competitors were hiding demo of the product. You might have felt that once you are in a website and if you don’t find the demo of the product to test the product instantly and freely you are not going to try that product. But on the same time if you provide the access for a free demo, people try the product instantly and once he enters data into the trial version and if he likes the system he signs up and gets converted
Inbound Strategy 5: Celebrating even small success in social media
We were never shy to celebrate even the small success in Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Now internet marketing is all about content driven marketing. The likes, comments,shares are valued more than other normal content marketing. Because here the users are rating the relevance of the content you posted and the web spiders rank those highly which get better ranking for your website. Implies the domain authority of your website increase when people talks about your product. Also it enables to spread your product infromation to all your fans and related ecosystem easily and effectively.
About the Author:
Abdulla Hisham is the cofounder and MD of Foradian technologies. Hisham drives the marketing and business development initiatives of Foradian. Foradian’s product Fedena was one of the winner of Edustars 2012. Checkout their product at www.fedena.com.