Monday, June 3, 2013

How to propose to your prospective customers!

Seriously guys it is no different from the way you do it with your prospective bride,- on bent knees, candlelight,  ‘Wonderful Tonight’ by Eric Clapton playing in the background, a beaming moon playing peekaboo from behind the clouds, waves crashing, the diamond ring sparkling as you slide it on her finger! The whole nine yards!

I keep saying this, as an entrepreneur, it is not enough if you are hungry. You need to make your market hungry too. Your existing customers should be on tenterhooks, waiting for your new offering, because they know you delight them with your innovation. Your prospects should be restless, waiting for your product, because buying your product is aspirational for them. If as an entrepreneur you don’t do this, you will only build a ‘me too’ company like many others have. No way an Apple.

Let me share what happened to us recently, when we wanted to buy a learning solution platform.  We reached out to those entrepreneurs who were big names in this domain as well as those who were recommended to us by friends. We reached out by mailing them, giving a brief description of what we wanted and asked them to meet us at the earliest.

In an ideal world, what should we expect? That there will be a queue outside our door of service providers, clambering over each other to make sure they bag us. Right? Wrong!

In a world which is sadly complacent, this is what happened :

One service provider decided that meeting customer face to face was passé, very old world. So he sent his demo CD by courier, and our proposal, without even meeting us to understand our requirement in its entirety, to our drop box. My personal intervention saying we were in a hurry and could someone please meet us so that we can take it forward, went ignored.

Finally I threatened that I was dropping this service provider (how can we drop someone who had refused to be picked up in the first place!), and my colleague somehow convinced them to come to our office for a meeting. A full blown discussion happened, we explained exactly what we wanted and what we did not want in explicit terms and we asked for a proposal by the end of the day. When the proposal came (about 48 minutes late, but given our past experience, we did not mind it at all), it had all the elements that we had clearly stated that we did not want, the payment terms were everything that we had said that we will not entertain, and even the time frame did not respect our deadline.

What were we supposed to do? Write a sharp mail saying you guys are deaf or what? Or trash it and move on?
The second service provider came back with a proposal laid out in a fancy format (it was so obvious that this was templatized to meet overseas prospects’ requirements). Just when we thought these guys have got it right, came the bombshell. According to their proposal, the technology was going to cost us much more than our content!! And, here’s the interesting twist in the tale- it was supposed to be open source!

Again, what am I supposed to do? The answer was obvious, do away with platforms, go cloud yourself! 
Which is exactly what we did.

If I was to react just as a prospect, I will simply say, these guys don’t care enough to acquire their customer. But if I put on my mentor hat, I feel miserable. I know that both these guys are start-ups, and there is no way they can afford to be complacent. Yet the hunger to close the deal was missing in both. In fact with one of them, I even offered a percentage of revenue share higher than what they had asked for till they gained confidence in our product, in lieu of a monstrous upfront payment. Yet, they didn’t push themselves to getting the order signed.

When I was discussing this sad state of affairs with a friend of mine, he added an interesting perspective. He said with Indian IT companies, their hunger is only for overseas customers. They will drop prices sometimes below their costs, enter into an SLA with ridiculous and one-sided terms with their clients, much to their own detriment, suffer angst and anxiety abundantly, but will not respect and treat well a domestic customer who’s knocking on their door with cash in hand. Imperial hangover of the corporate kind, eh?

When are entrepreneurs in India going to realise that one, the Indian customer is ready and willing to be seduced and two, that he needs to be wooed too?

*Reprinted from Entrepreneur India. 

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