In India, a customer does not buy a product – they buy a phone number

Product Management

In India, a customer does not buy a product – they buy a phone number

[Editorial notes: Continuing from our earlier thread on ‘why Indians do not buy online’, here is another interesting observation (by Mukund Mohan) on what Indian customers buy’]

The amazing part of selling in India is the ease of access to founders (promoters, they are called here) and Managing directors (CEO). Most have their cell phones listed on their website and many may have it listed on their ads.

Throughout the last few years when I ran relatively small (<20) person sales team, targeting companies with less than $2 Million revenue we found that getting appointments with CEO’s at small companies was extremely easy. A conversion rate of 50% from cold call to face-to-face appointment was not unheard of.

At a price-point which was less than a full-time resource to manage marketing, they found our solution relatively easy to adopt, but they were focused on quick ROI – meaning if they put $1 now, they expected $5 within the first month and an increase every month.

During the first few months, we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to simplify our product. We realized most decision makers & users at these companies were the CEO’s so we wanted to make sure they found our product easy to use. We did 4 sets of focus groups and removed a lot of features from the product, making it so that just one of two options were provided on each page. Navigation was made simple as well, with large buttons and primary colors.

After 2 months, we had an interesting problem. None of the CEO’s actually used the product. Every time they wanted data from our system, they’d just call the sales rep and ask him for information. We showed them how easy it was for them to look up the information on their cell phone, but they’d still call and “chat up” the rep, share more information about their business, their issues, etc.

We then provided a customer service team who would answer these questions so our sales person would be more productive. The sales person still got calls. One sales person left to join an MBA program. Even a year after he’d left, the CEO’s he sold to would call him to ask him for information.

That’s when we realized that Indian customers don’t buy a product or a service. They just buy a phone number – a person’s mobile phone which is their user interface to the product.

Then I got to know about a central number system. Basically its a number that you can give and you can change it to any set of numbers by “routing” the call based on the number. We did not implement it fully, but the first few weeks of using it were a lifesaver for our sales productivity.

What are your thoughts?

[Reproduced from Mukund’s blog.]

[Notes from Pi team: If you want to share your insights vis-à-vis customer behaviour/sales, do connect with us (]

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