Don’t sell software in India. You are wasting your time if you are selling software in India. Indian customers just don’t want to pay for software. Indian customers take too long to buy and only want discounts.
Sounds familiar? We have all heard tech startup founders, B2B SaaS startup founders and even sales professionals share their frustrations publicly for past 20+ years. I treat these frustrations an opportunity to mentor / advise a young startup and share my learnings / insights into Indian IT / software purchases & my sales ideology.
Here is an interaction I had with a young B2B SaaS founder on this topic recently. Hope this gives you a flavour of how to deal with your own situation, if any. If you need any help, do send me a personal message — it’s my profession to help.
“Don’t sell software in India” screamed a young founder and it caught my eye. The startup has been doing reasonably well in the short time it has been in the market building out a B2B SaaS offering on a bootstrapped model, so I reached out to setup a session to understand the frustrations and challenges.
I started by asking him to define his ICP — Ideal Customer Profile. My objective was to see if their lead-gen targeting was sharp or too broad for an early stage startup. The ICP was not too broad (there were specific elements) but fairly broad in his segment and not sharp enough for productive experiments in PMF.
Next, I asked him to describe his target customer’s pain points. My objective was to assess how deeply the founder understands the business segment he is serving and their need. The answer was a fairly high level (30,000 foot level as the consultants will say) description of the problem and mostly focused on “what’ his product does rather than “why” his product could be used to address the target customer’s pain point.
Finally, I asked him how many customers he had at this stage and how were they acquired. My objective was to see if his focus on his “ICP” was making him ignore any data the market was telling him about the suitability of his product in an adjacent market. He told me that they were using LinkedIn as a primary channel but working on new GTM ideas too. The lead-generation rate from LinkedIn was slow. And oh yes, I did check if the founding team has any quota carrying sales experience previously. They did not.
I finished session 1 (About 50 min) by asking the founder to share the following with me for a follow-on session:
a. Define the ICP specifically — size, category, stage of the business that he was targeting
b. Define the pain points specifically — what business challenges the customer faced and how his product was addressing the same
c. How were his initial customers acquired (GTM channel?) and how many of his initial customers belonged to the ICP and how many outside his ICP (the broad ICP he was using at that time)
The founder reverted back in couple of days and this time, the ICP was fairly well structured — the business domain of the customer, the size in revenue terms (online orders) and team size was sharply defined. The pain points were still presented as “product features” rather than business pain points (early stage founders who have mostly tech background face this challenge fairly regularly) and most interestingly the initial customers had 40% belonging to non-ICP profile but using the product for the “same” problem. Also, the ICP profile customers were also fairly close in using the product (similar to non-ICP usage).
He also shared his LinkedIn collateral and they turned out to be what I expected — a product / startup type messaging rather than a business-need based messaging. It mentioned their reference customers but did not highlight who the referenced customers were (they were small so unknown) and what problem were they solving and how was their experience of using the product. Nothing to provide an “Aha” moment to the recipient.
We setup a follow-on session to discuss and I gave him examples of how they could define the customer pain points in the language of the customer. For example, they could highlight typical patterns of lost sales in the business domain and what impact it has on small businesses whose back-end operations are broken. And then mention how his software solution address the same and what improvements they could deliver. Link the software to a potential revenue increase / reduction in lost sales.
Further, I shared how his communication with the customer could be improved to drive higher engagement and provide better value to the reader. “Assume nothing” is a good line to go by.
Finally, I told him to dig deeper into the customer acquisition channel, purchase duration and life-cycle of the 40% non-ICP customer to understand the pain points they were looking to solve and then look into the product usage metrics to see what modules were being used how often .. this would answer the question — “does the new ICP offer a bigger, faster potential PMF than the one I am targeting”.
With this, the founder went away to try some of the new experiments we discussed. We agreed that if he needed further advice, we could explore a 3 to 6-month consulting role for me to help him fine-tune his marketing/sales engine.
Indian consumers ARE SLOW to adopt and adapt. They ARE frugal with their money and they WILL want to stretch every Rupee of their budget. And they buy only AFTER they are convinced that your product / solution will work for them. So, what should you do to sell to them?
1. The responsibility is on YOU to define a crisp ICP — large enough to run early PMF experiments but small enough to get valuable insights.
2. Knowing the precise pain point (lost sales) is critical to attract their notice. Generic productivity improvements don’t resonate so well in India, especially for some class of customers (late adopters of digital)
3. Articulating the pain and promising a 10X improvement in outcomes will get you faster reaction.
4. Keep an eye open for an adjacent ICP that you have been ignoring — accidental outcomes have produced Nobel winners in history.
5. Once you have 20–50 customers, you will know which ICPs to go after, with what messaging and thru what channel.
Hope this helps. If you need any advice with you own startup, feel free to ping me or book a session with me. The initial 2 sessions are totally FREE (I may use the conversation to share anonymised general ideas with the larger community with your approval).