An exclusive interview with IT.Voice,Mr.Nityananda Rao,CEO Actouch Technology,reveals his strategies for business in India .
Nisha Harshwal:- What were the major challenges for your company? How do you fight those challenges?
Mr.Nityananda Rao:-Today many off-the shelf ERPs in the market were designed during 1980 to 2000. Many of them were designed with a focus on Trained Persons or an Accountant or the necessity of Accounting knowledge is a must to use them. So many SMEs didn’t have an alternate and affordable ERP for the last 20+ years. Few Accounting software is sold as ERP as SME’s are not able differentiate what is ERP and what’s offered as an Accounting software?
Things have changed today.
This is where, we identified a Business opportunity and defined few basic tenets around which our product would be serving SMEs like Low cost of ownership, ability to switch the vendor, no need to learn new technology or maintain the software or free upgrade etc.
We developed a cloud ERP Software, AcTouch.com, where SMEs has an option to use the product while we ensure all software upgrades, DB backups and make sure that he runs his business without any problems.
We are one of the very few SaaS product companies, who accept customization and delivers to Customers.
Challenges that we faced are many including Product Development and Customer onboarding.
Product development and Finance
Defining Product Architecture that has scalability to handle up to 50,000 users at a time.
Identify the right technology model that’s scalable with support system. Since we used all Open Source codes, we had to be careful with licensing issues.
Difficulty in raising Money from HNIs as we are not in a 10x growing segment. Many times, we had near death experiences and luckily we survived till now.
Hiring and retaining the right people
Customer on boarding
On the customer front, we had many challenges starting from educating the Business Owners and ensuring them that their data is safe from anyone including Government organizations. It was a huge paradigm shift for them.
We started with Customer education with videos that could help them to read and understand.
We offered trial versions such that customer can try in his comfort and decide.We created the business scenarios that’s similar to customers and simulated their business to give them confidence.
Price points and comparison towards local or standalone applications.
Customer demands to interface to Tally Software or Amazon Seller Central solutions.
90% of our customers are not used to DIY model and they need a constant handholding and train them.
Some of our early adaptors helped us to fine tune our sales process, guided and demanded us with new product features and enhanced our ERP. This approached helped us to get our 100 Paid Customers in 12 months.
Today we are proud that AcTouch.com is transformed into ERP Business Platform where you can interface the ERP features into your favorite backend Accounting software like Tally or collect the order data from your WebPortal or Mobile Apps etc. We have an online interface to Amazon Seller Central to update the stocks and check the orders etc.
Mr.Nityananda Rao:-The model that we adopted to acquire our customer is different. We followed multiple models to acquire the customers.
Feet on the street model.
SEO and Digital Marketing.
One to one Customer visit and discussions.
Today we have 3 to 4 channel partners who help us to sell. However majority of sales happens from Digital marketing and through inbound sales. We also have Sales Offices at Bangalore and Ludhiana to handle customer queries and implementation.
Nisha Harshwal:-. How do you assure your customers excellent service support?
Mr.Nityananda Rao:-As you might be aware, ERP is a RED OCEAN and there are 1000’s of vendors who sell ERPs of all the varieties. We have built product features like Sales, Quotes, Billing, Inventory, Payments and Receipts, Manufacturing module with Planning, Work Order, Bill of materials, Subcontracting, Finance, Interface to marketplaces like Amazon, eBay etc. and all the financial MIS reports. Most of these are developed with Customers as subject matter experts (SME) as we believed in their feedback and simplify the process.
How we are different? We focused on the following and built customer TRUST on us.
Solution in Progress (SIP) – These features list are same like many of the existing ERPs like handling of Invoicing, Billing, Payments, Receipts and Financials etc. However, we focussed on the end users usability and how to simplify the process by studying end users behaviours.
Identified problems – These are the problems that are known in the existing products, but no one spending efforts or money to change it. We focused on this segment to win few customers and that helped us to gain more customers.
Our customer support team including CEO, Product Head and Sales heads are available to customers to discus the issues from 7AM 12 Mid night. This gained Customer confidence as we could able to give a valuable service to the senior management when they needed it.
Nisha Harshwal:-. What is your investment plan to enhance service support infrastructure to cover entire India?
Mr.Nityananda Rao:-We are into an industry where our CAC is huge and the sales cycle can span from 1 day to 1 year. So there is a huge unpredictability to Sales as Indian SMEs never thought that Cloud ERP would help them to save their money and time. Because this reason, the product sales has become a little cyclic in nature. Our customer wants to handhold them throughout the process.
However it is not possible to have a huge sales force. So we are depending on the following mix model to grow now
Digital marketing with contents, SEO, eMailetc
Reference and meet the customers
Today we have our Sales office at Bangalore and Ludhiana and by the end of this year, we are planning to have presence in Mumbai-Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad etc.
We have a Product implementation team at Bangalore and Ludhiana that’s handling the onsite customer needs. However many ERP implementation we handle from our Bangalore team, who are an expert on ERP, it’s business and practices etc. It has been a successful model for us
Nisha Harshwal:- How can your upcoming products for Indian Market?
Mr.Nityananda Rao:-We have built product features like Sales, Quotes, Billing, Inventory, Payments and Receipts, Manufacturing module with Planning, Work Order, Bill of materials, Subcontracting, Finance, Interface to marketplaces and all the financial MIS reports.
We built MobileApps for Sales force, Dealer Management etc. This helped us to get new segments where large customer base with huge dealers networks.
Two months before we launched, free GST Software for indian SMEs and we have many more products launches to simplify the life of SMEs
Nisha Harshwal:- How you create awareness among users to let them make the right choice?
Mr.Nityananda Rao:-First and foremost, Indian SMEs are not like USA and European customers. They don’t want to DIY and try themselves. They need a handholding from presales to post sales. In simple terms they have many options from cheap labor to CA, who will manage their books for a meager Rs. 500 per month.
With this information in mind, we started with a Customer persona and identified all the problems. Based on this we developed the product that suits them. We followed the below process to acquire customers.
Education – Educate the SMEs with simplification of application, the benefits of cloud and giving the confidence on the application and data security
Creating Awareness – Created awareness by allowing the customer to use the application as “Free”, allow customer to have a first hand experience and use it. This reduced some amount of frictions and helped customer to decide on their next steps. We developed application Videos, how to use etc. Knowledge base documents are created with videos and screen layouts. This gave confidence to customer to decide.
Closure of Sales – One of the principles that we adopted from day1 is “never lie to customer”. We still follow this principle. Please note that when a SME customer decides to look into any ERP means, he comes prepared. He will have information about our competitor, their features etc. There are cases being honest we lost business, but in many situations, we won the deals being honest.