Enterprise software sales to enterprises

Enterprise software sales in India is enterprise sales. This has major implications for all of us who are trying to evangelize SAAS as a means of delivery as well as recurring revenue collection.

Enterprise software salesWhat do I mean by “enterprise sales”? It means a sales process which is definitely non-transactional. It means that no matter how you choose to deploy your software, the customer will not buy on the phone or on the web. It means that you can’t win in enterprise software sales by demo over the internet. It means that you need a direct sales team who will need to make face to face calls.

The direct consequences are not limited to the need for a direct sales force. You need to be prepared to customize every time- no matter if the number of users is 5 or 500. The only “Off the shelf” software customers in India buy is MS-Office! For every thing else, there is customization.

Most customization is trivial- but, the catch is that it makes sense only to one customer and none else. There are of course, those customization requests that have significantly enriched our product. That is, they have become part of the mainstream product. Many reports are examples of requests that came from customers. Location tracking of traveling salesmen, service executives etc were customer requests.

The benefit of face to face selling is that you understand the customer business process really well. So, you know if your product is a good fit or will fit only at a stretch. But, I am not convinced face to face selling works for the enterprise software sales on SAAS platform. The upfront cost of acquisition is very high; so, the customer needs to stay with you for 3-4 years for you to break even – for a moderate ticket sale (20 or less licenses).

SAAS is meant to be a friction-less delivery model- but, this assumes that from the time of initial evaluation to adoption to use and re-use, though repeated payment and renewal cycle, it is “low-touch”. But, low touch can lead to low adoption as well- which leads to disengaged customers. Disengaged customers switch and while the switching cost is moderately high for an enterprise software product, the vendor makes a loss if the customer switches early in the adoption cycle.

So, what is the solution? Someday, the realization will dawn on everyone that by being a little flexible and bending your own business process to how the software works – and as it does for many others- you will have a faster and more successful adoption and also cheaper software. Till such time, we vendors and customers will continue to chase the mirage of custom built software paid for with the flexibility of per user per month.

Open letter to Gopal Vittal

Gopal Vittal
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia

Dear Mr Vittal:

I am in receipt of your email that arrived in my inbox yesterday morning. That one where you make out that the Airtel Zero plan is nothing but great for consumers, aimed at reaching the internet free of cost for the vast majority of the people who can’t afford the rates.

I have 3 immediate reactions. Let me go through the gut feel responses first.

1. You need to change your PR agency.

So long after the battle of net-neutrality started in India, so much was said both pro and for the positions, this is the best you can come up with? And, drag Mr Modi’s name into it? If your idea has merit, it should stand on its own legs, should it not?

So, now after Airtel Zero, we will have Vodafone Zero, Idea Zero and so on? Each offering a carved up portion of the internet for free. How absurd is that? And, you want us to believe it is best for consumers that it is that way? We already get a taste of that in our DTH services- with family plan, family + sports, South India plan etc. And believe me, it costs me more and the service is not great.

2. This is a cosy club of folks who have already made it. And to hell with innovation.

Internet is democratic and a level playing field- and it is more than a fact, it is an article of faith. This lack of entry barrier has given rise to once unknowns like Facebook and Google commanding huge valuations.

Imagine if in the early days of Google, Yahoo had subsidised access to it, would people have gone to a “paid search” like Google? Or, if MySpace or Orkut had done a similar thing to Facebook when no one outside of the few college campuses had heard of Facebook? Imagine Google with its huge stockpile of cash subsidising access to Orkut in the early days of Facebook. There would be no Facebook today.

At a personal level, Mr Vittal, I am scared that we could have Microsoft or Oracle or Salesforce or SAP carve up the CRM software space by colluding with the Telecom operators. And, that would really be tragic, would it not be? Because, who would innovate then? Who would keep the biggies on their toes?

3.  It does not benefit consumers, Mr Vittal.

You are telling us that some access, even to a walled garden, created through this walled garden internet of yours, is preferable to having no access at all. Surely, even you can see that is not true. This is not what will create competition, it will lead to cartels. How does that benefit consumers?

And, if your plan and that pushed by Facebook in collaboration with one of your competitors goes through, how soon will it take for the governments to get the idea of creating their own walled garden? Or even political parties?

Please do not do this, Mr Vittal.

PS: Here’s what you wrote to us:

Dear CustomerOver the last few days you may have seen a lot of conversation on our toll free platform Airtel Zero. It has been painted as a move that violates net neutrality and we have been very concerned at the incorrect information that has been carried by some quarters in the media as well as in social media. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air and reiterate that we are completely committed to net neutrality. Let me clarify.

    1. Our vision is to have every Indian on the internet. There are millions of Indians who think that the internet is expensive and do not know what it can do for them. We believe that every Indian has the right to be on the internet. We know that if we allow them to experience the joys of the internet they will join the digital revolution.
    1. Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.
    1. Our platform is open to all application developers, content providers and internet sites on an equal basis. The same rate card is offered to all these providers on a totally non discriminatory basis.
    1. There is no difference between this and toll free voice such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrols into the toll free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged. Calls are not blocked or given preferential treatment else our whole business would be jeopardized. Toll free voice helps the business owner engage with their customer. At the same time it provides the customer the benefit of reaching the business for free. Toll free voice is not a product or a tariff plan, it is merely a technology platform. We are simply taking the same concept of toll free voice to the world of data. As a result it is for the application developer and their customer to decide how data charges will be paid for. If the application developer is on the platform they pay for the data and their customer does not. If the developer is not on the platform the customer pays for data as they do now. Companies are free to choose whether they want to be on the platform or not. This does not change access to the content in any way whatsoever. Customers are free to choose which web site they want to visit, whether it is toll free or not. If they visit a toll free site they are not charged for data. If they visit any other site normal data charges apply.
  1. Finally every web site, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll free platform or not. As a company we do not ever block, throttle or provide any differential speeds to any web site. We have never done it and will never do it. We believe customers are the reason we are in business. As a result we will always do what is right for our customers.

There has been a deliberate effort by some quarters to confuse people that we will offer differential speeds or differential access for different sites. This is untrue. After all we earn revenues from data. If there are more customers who are on the Internet the better it is for our business. Our revenues are not dependent on which sites they visit because we charge on the basis of consumption of mega bytes not which site they visited.

In sum our platform is a technology platform and is open to all application developers and their customers. Our platform only provides a choice of how the data that is consumed is paid for by any of the two – the application provider or their customer. Whether any application provider enrolls on the platform or not is entirely their choice. All we have is a technology. We do not have a product or tariff plan that we have launched. We simply have a platform. And every application developer and their customer is free to choose in an entirely neutral way what they want to do.

In conclusion, we stand fully committed to net neutrality to ensure the goals of the Prime Minister`s vision of digital India are met.

Gopal Vittal
Bharti Airtel Ltd.
India & South Asia

Why #NetNeutrality matters to Saleswah CRM

Imagine you are in 2004 and an unknown Harvard student is getting started with an app to rank fellow students on their “Hot or Not” scale. Even he did not know that someday it would be Facebook and would connect more than 1/6th of humanity. He was so small and so inconsequential, that any comparison with MySpace would have been pre-posterous.

Fast forward to 2008- Orkut was the dominant social network then- backed by Google, no less. Where was Facebook? In the horizon, yes. More like a speck of dust than a serious threat.

Today, Orkut is dead. And, MySpace is not dead but, well, do you know someone who is on it?

It would have been easy for Orkut or MySpace- both backed by promoters with deep pockets- to do a deal with the telcos and block access to Facebook. They did not. They played fair and died. Facebook became the big boy of social networking.

Today, Facebook wants to return the favour. It and similar minded companies want to balkanize the internet by creating their walled gardens of access in collusion with ISPs. #AirtelZero.

They must not be allowed to succeed. Fight for #NetNeutrality.

NetNeutrality is the simple concept that irrespective of who you are, the internet will not play the arbiter of access. So, the content providers have to innovate, try harder at marketing to attract traffic and thus to succeed. And, it creates a level playing field for all- so, the next innovation is just round the corner. It allows the startups to hope to ambush the established. And, keeps the big players on their toes- innovating.

NetNeutrality is vital for the internet businesses; it is the soul. Don’t let anyone break it. Please, Log onto http://www.savetheinternet.in to email to TRAI and add your voice to the growing demand for #NetNeutrality.

For those who are shedding tears for the “oh, we are making losses by the bucket” Telcos of India, I am sure they were the same ones who were crying when the computers came in and blew the typewriters and typists away. Some of them are editors of “respected” financial publications too! Here’s one article that demolishes their case.

Big fight over Net Neutrality: How Airtel, Voda and TRAI ….

To understand and learn more, see this informative and fun video by AIB.