A day in the life of a sales head – Building user persona for CRM

November 21st, 2013
This is the user persona of Sam-the-sales-head, as we imagined him (and validated him). He is the sales head of a mid-sized enterprise that sells equipments & hardware to other companies.  The excerpt is a day in his life as we imagined it for the purpose of developing features and functionalities for our CRM.

‘Sam woke up at 6:30AM to the sounds of his kids getting ready for school. He got up and went straight for the iPad kept by his bed side. He scrolled through his inbox to check if Cersie-the-warm-lead had responded to his proposal. There wasn’t any so he went on to check the rest of his emails.  Seth -the-psychopathic -salesman-CEO was asking him to share the numbers for this month end.  He glanced through the rest of his inbox before writing a quick one liner to his sales-team – “Need numbers for Monday meeting”.

The numbers this quarter weren’t coming along that well! He was counting on Henry-the-hot-lead and Winona-the-warm-lead to convert. He quickly scanned his calendar to plan his day and stepped into the living room just as his kids were finishing their breakfast.

He reached office at 8:30, right in time to spend an hour reviewing his sales dashboards. This was his daily ritual where he would switch off his phone, logoff his email and just spend the hour reviewing sales.

As he logged into the CRM, the activity stream opened up giving him a glimpse of all that had happened yesterday. He was particularly interested to know how many deals closed, how many moved further down the funnel and how many were lost.

Only 7 deals had moved down and none had been closed (won or lost). He looked up the forecast for this week to see which ones are likely to close but the numbers were abysmally low. He checked the forecasts for next 3 weeks and they weren’t that great either.

The data was wrong, he thought! They had been running the adwords campaign for well over 2 months and with an average closure cycle of 3-4 weeks, he expected to see more closures every week that were showing in the forecasts.  “Is our conversion rate really that low?” he thought.

He went on to check his conversion rates, which were in excess of 15% and his pipeline was upwards of $200,000. He went back to the forecasts and then quickly figured what was going on – “The guys aren’t updating the closure date. I need to talk about it”. He sent out a note to his one-downs to update the closure dates before moving back to the pipeline.

So how many will they close by end of the month? The question still loomed in his head. The CRM was telling him an average conversion cycle of 28 days so he went in and looked up his opportunities by no of days. It showed $24000 for the 21 – 28 days and $70000 for the 30+ days.

The pie chart on the right also told him that 42% of deals closed in the 21-28 days cycle and about 11% in the 30+ day cycle. A quick mental calculation told him he was looking at adding about 15k before the month ended.  They had added $65k until now and with just $15k in the probable pipeline, they were way off their target of $120k.

I hope Henry -the-hot-lead and Winona-the-warm-lead closes, he thought to himself and then quickly realized that he may already have added them in his $65k. He opened up the opportunity-list and went in to check the individual opportunities in his pipeline. Both Henry -the-hot-lead and Winona-the-warm-lead were there in the list.

This would be the second consecutive month they’ll lose their targets. Seth -the-psychopathic -salesman-CEO would have one of his classic fits if he heard those numbers. Sam decided to check the individual opportunities in the pipeline. Is there a lead they could close?

He first went to opportunities which were right at the bottom of the funnel. 12 deals were at the demo stage, 9 at the send-proposal-stage, 11 at negotiations-stage, 9 at submit- contract-stage and just 1 in the contract-pending-signature stage.

He looked at the submit-contract-stage and arranged them by “days since last update”. At-least 3 deals were more than a week old.  Lennie-the-laggard-sales-rep had 2 such opportunities and Amar-the-amazing-sales-rep had 1. He was about to send out a notice to all his sales-reps but he noticed that all 3 of the deals had action-items listed against him. He opened them up &  remembered he had to get them approved by Lego-the-legal-advisor.  He had been getting reminders on his email and iPhone but Lego-the-legal-advisor was out for the week.

He checked the other 6 opportunities and sent out messages to his sales-people urging them to update the deals. And just before he rushed for the 9:30AM meeting, he followed all of these deals so that he could monitor their progress.

To be continued…

Sales Funnel 101 – What is a sales funnel and why it continues to be the best way to grow your sales

October 7th, 2013

If you’ve shared the workspace with sales managers (& sales people in general), you’d have probably heard this phrase a lot. How is your sales funnel moving? What’s the conversion rate? What’s the velocity? What is your revenue pipeline?

So here’s your initiation on the most commonly used sales jargon & terminology of the sales people.


What is a sales funnel?

Imagine you want to sell old cars and have 10 cars to sell. You have 4 BMWs and 6 Toyota Camry sedans. So you let your friends know and you also put out a listing on craigslist.

Almost immediately after you’ve done this, you start getting calls. 50 people call up out of which, 20 drop out because they were looking for a specific color or a lower price. The next 30 want to come and see the cars, maybe even take a test drive. After the inspections & the test drives, you are left with 10 customers who want to take it further. 5 of them start negotiating on the price while the other 5 just tell you that they’ll let you know if and when they decide.

You are reasonable in your negotiations but after all the negotiations, you end up selling 2 cars.

You go through the entire process again, only this time 30 people call, 10 come for a test drive, 2 negotiate and 1 buys.

What you’ve experienced is a classic sales funnel. Prospective buyers kept dropping out at every stage of the sales process and eventually a few funnelled down to closure.

A sales funnel elegantly captures this phenomenon where you need to go after a great number of prospective buyers to close even a single deal.


Why do (sales) people love the sales funnel so much?

Sales funnel is a simplistic metaphor to drive a sales process. It’s quickly relatable and understandable across the entire organisational hierarchy. So everybody from the CEO, to the tele-caller can understand the sales funnel and therefore relate to it.

It became the language in which the entire organisation communicates about sales. It also therefore helps companies drive down their sales objectives and goals.


Is the sales funnel suited for your business?

A sales funnel works if the selling spans a significant time-span

Selling over-the-counter doesn’t really require you to track your customer over the different stages of the sales funnel. If you running a food-kart or a retail store, you’d notice that customers come in, find or ask for what they need, pay for it and are out of the store. On the contrary, in the car deal, where there were delays in between the time they enquired and they came to try out, you’d need to track the prospects along the different stages

Oh and retail stores have their own sales funnels which is quite different.


It makes sense if you have multiple people involved

If you are selling to enterprises and corporates, chances are there’d be more than one person you’d be dealing with to take the sale forward.

When you are doing a demo of your product, you’d likely to engage with the direct users but when you’ve submitted a contract, its likely going to be with legal department. A sales-funnel takes such relationships into consideration.


What if you don’t have a sales funnel?

You probably do. If there is a repeatable sales process that you are following, you are using a sales funnel, whether you realise it or not. If you don’t and unless you have very few leads, I’d strongly recommend that you build one.

A sales funnel will give you great clarity and insights into how your business can grow. You can analyse the funnel and it’ll tell you where deals get stuck; who are selling; how are they selling and why aren’t others selling? It helps you measure current performance & forecast growth.

A sales funnel doesn’t just streamline your sales, it streamlines your entire business.

7 signs to identify early-adopters and innovators

July 11th, 2013

In crossing the chasm, Geoffrey Moore paints a very clear picture of innovators and early-adopters for the technology world.

The Innovators

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore

As per him, Innovators pursue new technology products aggressively. They are usually the nerds, the techies, the ‘sufferable’ know-it-alls! They own the latest gadgets and they spend their time reading and writing about the latest & the greatest in the tech world! They are conversant about the underlying technologies and can speak to you about the pros and cons of each one of them (Jelly-bean Vs Ice-Cream Sandwich).

The Early Adopters

The early adopters, as per him, are just as much of an enthusiasts! They are, however less techy but more business / functional opportunity driven. They are not interested in whether its Jelly Bean or ICS; they are more interested in the significant value-add / competitive-edge derivable from this tool. How it would change the world or at-least part of the world!

Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) in Moneyball, would be a classic example of early adopter! Saito in Inception could be another!


So how do we identify them? How can we distinguish them from everyone else in the crowd. Here are 7 empirically defined signs that I collated from experiences (mine and other entrepreneurs).

1. They want to hold your product in their hands, experience it, play with it

Shortly after launching the Yavvy iPhone & Android Apps, I used to go about showing it to prospective clients. There have been instances where some of them simply took the phone from my hand and started playing with the app. On other occasions, they almost immediately downloaded the app from the App store. If I look back upon those who did, almost all of those who pulled it out of my hand and started playing with the device were early adopters. They also became our first few customers.


2. They call back

I used to meet a lot of people and tell them about Yavvy. I still do. At a random meeting, at a conference. Most people listen, most also provide advice. Most of those interactions end right there.

The innovators, early adopters usually come back to you. There have been those who have come back to me weeks later, some even months later. But they remembered and they called back to explore. They wanted to know if it could do something specific, if it could help their friends.


3. They own the latest gadgets (This is a myth)

Most blogs and even Moore’s example states this. Unfortunately, no. of gadgets owned is just a bad yardstick to judge early adopters. Some really amazing innovators I met did not own a smartphone! Infact some of our early customers came to us with a very well defined need (manage billing and invoicing from multiple locations). Most of them had no gadgets. Infact quite a few of them were from rural areas! They were just early adopters in their own market.

On the other hand, I’ve met such a huge number of “Bankers” who move around with the most cutting edge gadgets and yet, have no idea, nor orientation towards adopting technology.


4.  They are interested, they listen, they participate (in shaping the product)

Once an early adopter decides to invest (could be time or effort or money) in your solution or offering, they usually take significant interest in shaping it. This shows up in their feedback, which is usually more insightful. Even during conversations, they give you time and listen. They participate.

There is a sense of excitement in them, when they talk about your product. Here is a quick snippet about the feedback which our early adopters gave us.


5. They have purpose (to use your product)

7 signs to identify early-adopters

Honestly, if I were to picture it, my friends and family would qualify on the above-mentioned criteria. They do participate, they do come back, they do experience the product and give me feedback.

Yet, none of them is an early adopter. Unless they have a purpose or a very well defined use-case for my product, they will not qualify as early adopters. Unless they have felt the problem that I am trying to solve, they would not qualify as early adopters


6. They don’t get stuck up on references

“Do you have another similar company using this product? In our city?”. Early adopters are able to see beyond this question. They are okay, if the answer is no. Infact, if you have too many references, that might actually be a put-off for them!


7. They don’t need handholding (or very little handholding)

As per Moore, the big difference between early majority and late majority is that they early majority is technically capable of using your product. They can work out most parts without you hand-holding them. Early adopters similarly have the technical and functional bent-of-mind to use your product.

Don’t confuse this with feature discovery. That’s a usability aspect of your product. And if your product is bad at it, you’d just have your user come back to you with questions about how to do this and why doesn’t it do that!


Its a tough job finding great innovators and early adopters to help you shape your product. Tough, but unavoidable. Can you leap-frog to the early majority or late majority directly? That’s a question we’d discuss in another post . “How important are early adopters to the success of your venture”


Zero percent bounce rate on yavvy.com for well over a month

June 22nd, 2013

Zero percent bounce rate in google analytics


And the small notch you see at the end (right side) was done by me! Just went and bounced off a page, to make sure its not broken!

Calendar starts from Sunday and other usability feedback from our users

June 21st, 2013

We’ve had some awesome users who’ve been kind enough to devote time and give us some amazing feedback on our product. And these are not huge changes, just those little tweaks here and there which make all the difference.

For example, Mike pointed out that informational icons on our opportunity view should be visible at all times. We on the contrary had made them appear only on-hover. Just that one change made a huge difference. Another subtle change he suggested was to tell us that calendars in most applications actually start from Sunday. (The calendar we used had started from Monday and I am sure it must have ‘felt’ different).




RB pointed out the concept of driver information and while I can’t elaborate too much, it should add to making the CRM-ERP even more effective. Ashish pointed out to left-to-right readability in a (funnel) flow.

In a nutshell, we’ve been busy! There is still so much that can be done to simplify the CRM-ERP software space. There is still some time before we make it as simple as “facebook”!

Customer Activation on SaaS using self-service signups

April 15th, 2013

I had asked a friend to try our signup process and he came back to tell me that he couldn’t make heads or tails out of what was going on? We had recorded the entire experience and the video was, as I would call such videos, “disturbing”.

The strange thing was that we’d had never been criticized on our UX. Existing users who had been using the system were happy with it. Some wanted cosmetic changes, a link here & there, but they weren’t facing problems in getting things done. In fact, one time when we had silently slipped in a tagging feature, it was picked up almost instantly. Discovery was never a problem for existing users. They knew what to do and how to do it.

However, most of these existing users had been given an initial training by us. So we really hadn’t tested our self-service getting started model. This exercise was all about the self service getting started model.

Nevertheless, here were some users complaining that they weren’t making heads-or-tails about what our application does.  I should also point out that the user group facing these problems was largely new startups who hadn’t really used a CRM before.

Free Trial to paid users

Should we even be doing self-service getting started?

If you are ever asking yourself this question, you should read this post by Joel York. Self Service works very well for low complexity, low price point applications. And as an industry matures, the complexity levels are automatically brought down.

Self service activation is a very very important factor in scaling your SaaS application. Even if you are not there yet, you should continuously keep working on making things self-servicable.

What did not work?

We always had self-service as part of our sales model so it’s not like we hadn’t anticipated this problem. We had a running deck of clickable tips for our first time user. Our new user would see a banner with an arrow, explaining how to move around the page.

Remarkably, all of these users closed this banner without reading it. There was a big NEXT button and a small X on top right hand corner and yet, the user clicked the small X on top. Clearly, the tips had failed for us. To be honest, I still think it is more of a design issue than anything. We would need to work on the design of those tips to make them work.

Let’s ask the customer?

To figure out our solution (in true customer development style), we went ahead and started asking the user.

 How can we help you get started on Yavvy?

We got a plethora of ideas, but they were largely around creating videos and manuals. There were some asking for a wizard, but the steps of the wizard were more around their own personal problems and solutions.

Going by the diversity, we’d have to build a wizard to help you select which wizard to use.

How was competition solving it?

They weren’t. We went back to our users and asked them to sign up on other cloud CRMs out there. Some of them were an even bigger disaster. Some (fairly successful CRMs) asked you for mandatory upfront money (setup costs) and assigned you a “specialist” who’ll help you get started (No Self Service at all)

Simpler CRMs were doing a better job on-boarding but did not have the necessary features to keep them interested. “Can it auto assign a new lead?” “No” “Well, then I’ll never use it”. It was as-if everybody was telling us that self-service does not work in feature-rich CRM-ERP applications.

How was the world solving it?

I went about searching applications which were considered easy-to-use. I started referring to my notes where users had said “I use this app called xxxx and I love it”.

Most of these apps were point solutions, doing just one thing! Moqups, a wire-framing tool, simply shows a “Wireframe” with most elements on it. There was text on it but I never read them. You could drag and drop stuff and get started.

Gliffy, which had more options than moqups, was a two-step process. They would ask which diagram and then you can drag and drop stuff and get started.

Basecamp, the project management app provides you with a dummy, prebuilt project that you can play with to see how things work.  Trello, another awesomely simple application had three-list board and a clear link saying “Add Card”. No wizards in either case; the user was brought directly into the same screen that he’ll be using later.

Mailchimp, which had a multistep process, had a wizard. So did Shopify.

Unfortunately, I could only find out what these guys were doing, I really did not have any validation on whether it was working for them or not. So I called up a friend who had no idea what some of the apps did and asked them to try those apps out.  The best of the best were failing. One thing was absolutely clear …

You can’t get a person started on your application if the user does not have a reason or purpose (to use your application) 

And if you extend and extrapolate this idea, the goal of activation is to bring your user to a place where his/her purpose is met. The easiest to use applications are the ones that get you there quickly.

So what should we do to make our self-service signups work

Give your users the simplest, most-attractive UX that gets his work done (in the least no of steps). The solution to getting started is “Instant Gratification”. Can you by the end of the signup process, get your customer’s work done & also give him/her enough reasons to come back to you?

Problem of scale (is not a problem at all)

March 10th, 2013

The problem of scale; to get more customers to use your product and pay you for it, is not a problem at all. It’s just a symptom; of all the other problems your company is facing.
It means there is some deficiency with the product, or with its marketing, or with the messaging, or with the distribution, or the usability, or your service, or your pricing, or with your choice of market, or with your quality or any of the dozen other challenges.

To fix the problem of scale, you just need to fix all of these preceding problems. The keyword here is All! You will need to fix all of these problems. But here’s another catch, most successful businesses, fix only a few of these problems really really well and solve all the others only to an acceptable level.

So how do you prioritise which challenges to overcome

It varies depending upon the stage of your business, but the usual order looks something like this -

  1. Product: The pivotal challenge. Build a product that fulfills a need.
  2. Marketing: Making your customer aware of you. Let me know what specific needs you fulfill, what problems you solve.
  3. Sales: Helping your customers buy. From the moment they show interest, till the time they pay.
  4. Delivery: Delivering the product or the service to them.
  5. Support: Making sure your customers get the benefits they had been promised.
  6. Everything else


Freemium does NOT work for B2B SaaS products when

March 5th, 2013

Competition with a dominant/premium brand is also freemium

When Amazon AWS offers a year of free cloud, users would be happy to hop on to it. When Your-Hosting company offers an year of free cloud, users may not get that excited. Also since Amazon is hosting the same for free, you’d have to offer a significantly sweetened deal to capture even the free order (double the computing power, free server setup etc).

If you are not a brand, freemium may turn out to be far costlier than doing some advertising. When it comes to brands, freemium does help you take share, or atleast that’s what this market research experiment between Lindt and Hersheys Kiss tells you.

Your product needs engagement

A time-sheet needs its users to enter data. Unless the users fill in their time-sheets, they’ll never find the benefits of the product (automated billings, productivity, analytics  et al). Until they find the benefits, they won’t be willing to pay for it.

There is no way the user would want to spend time adding time sheets. One of the reasons why she still might be persuaded to fill up that time sheet is because the company paid for that service. Free products don’t motivate companies to engage with the product. They are used once and then forgotten when a more important work comes the user’s way.

Mailchimp offered freemium 8 years after they launched. By then, they had solved the problems of engagement. They knew how to get a user started. Here is the story on how they went about

Your product is still in development

We told one of our early adopters that we’ll develop reports for free. It was a nightmare. They wanted reports in exactly the same format (landscape, not Portrait) and with exactly the same set of data as their last product. We had hoped we’ll sit with them and get insights into the reporting needs of a company; they clearly did not think like that.

If you are developing your product, you’d want good, honest, thought-through feedback. You’d want feedback on what features are important enough for your customer to pay for. What features would add significant value without adding clutter. Freemium may throw you totally off because it comes without accountability.

You are NOT well funded

Free users also need support. They hook into the same support channel that your paid customers do. So now when they call up, you tell them to either pay up or get lost. Ouch! You just lost that awesome customer you wanted to convert from a free to a paid plan. He ain’t never coming back.

Similarly free users also need performance. That essentially means you’d need to plug in more servers, manage more database migrations when you do a new product release.

All of that costs money and it’s not getting you any revenues in the short term.

Its NOT a new product or a new market

DropBox was a product that people did not think they need. There was a need to build awareness, which meant huge advertising spends. They instead used freemium and a referral channel to generate buzz and therefore usage.

While you may think that your product also requires similar awareness to be built, I’d suggest caution. A new product for a new market is rare and usually fraught with significant challenges; something that requires significant investments. Latent needs are difficult to sell.

Why we changed our menus (especially the way they look)

February 19th, 2013

We are fairly proud of the half-and-half buttons on Yavvy. I had never seen anything like that before and everybody who I have demonstrated it to had liked them. The other benefit was that it helped us keep our menus short and largely de-cluttered.




Unfortunately, they weren’t working for the new signups. Newly signed up user look at menus as a map, something that should help them reach some place they want to. Our small menus weren’t working because our users did not have familiarity with our application. We used to get queries like – “How do I add a contact?” and we’d reply saying – “Go to Account and click on Add Contact”. We figured out everybody wanted “Contact” on the menu itself.

But as we expanded on the whole idea of building familiarity, we realized that users are probably the most comfortable with a Facebook kind of menu. Why don’t we just build something like that? Let the UX look a lot like FB. Pride kept us from doing that. We were proud of the UX we had built, it’s not a clone, it’s not a me-too.  We had made the ERP sexy and we did it our way!

So here we were swinging on both sides of the pendulum, looking to add familiarity while trying to retain novelty. We thought and thought and designed and tested; and then we redesigned it again and then tested it again.

The end-result: We got a menu that looked a little like Google Plus. We’ve kept the half-and-half in a cold storage. Maybe we’ll bring it back from the half-dead later.

5 essential characteristics of awesome salesmen

January 31st, 2013

To put it simply, an Awesome Salesman makes successful pitches to any client even on his worst day. But what is the secret behind his successful pitches? What does he know that Less-Awesome Salesmen do not?

What separates him from the rest is that he has a great understanding of the following:

He understands his product

The product is what the salesman is selling, championing, living and breathing. The Awesome Salesman knows all the benefits, costs, hazards, uses and misuses of the product so well that he can talk about it in his sleep. He knows where the product comes from, who makes it and what goes into making it. This thorough knowledge of the product is the source of confidence behind the salesman’s pitch.

He understands his customer

The prospect is the person or business that could need the salesman’s product, either in the present or in the future. The Awesome Salesman knows when, where, how and how much the customer could use his product. In simpler words, the salesman should know the context of the customer’s usage: the place, time, frequency, manner and quantity of usage. The knowledge of these parameters allows him to better relate to the customer.

He understands his company

The Awesome Salesman knows what business his company is doing, and also that this would be the same business he is doing. He embodies the company’s brand, its image,what it means to customers, its values and mission. That gives him credibility in the customer’s eyes

He understands relationships

The Awesome Salesman is a relationship manager and a point-of-contact for his customers. He brings them news of his company and products to keep their interest and business alive and kicking. He lets the customers know that they matter to his business.

He understands how to communicate

This is the most critical of them all. The Awesome Salesman knows what, how, when and whom to say the right words and use the appropriate mannerisms to sell his product, discover his customers’ needs and habits, and leverage his company’s brand correctly and efficiently. His communication skills and his knowledge of the above join forces to make that flawless pitch.


awesome salesman - 5 characteristics


This guest post by Afzal Hussain, a student at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. We present you this post as part of the “World View” series on our blog. This is a business-schooler’s world view of what makes an awesome salesmen.