The Key To This Marketing Startup? Getting Personal

What’s it like running an up-and-coming startup?

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According to Nilesh Patel, one of the founders of Bangalore-based LeadSquared, it’s nothing too special. On a typical workday, Nilesh wakes up, eats breakfast, listens to music and takes his children to the bus stop for school. For a person involved with networking, he seems a little sheepish about the amount of time he spends on his smartphone catching up on what’s happened the day before. Then, it’s off to the office for a busy day – making sales, doing demos and being available for staff questions.

When I observe that’s hardly an easy day, he laughs.

"I don’t have much fun. I’m at work all the time," he tells me.

Capture and nurture

LeadSquared, an automated software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer acquisition platform founded in the summer of 2012, is holding its own in an economy saturated with marketing firms. The software rating website G2 Crowd gave the three year-old company a "high performer" award this summer in the marketing automation category.

The startup has big plans, seeking to pull in US$1.5 million for the 2015-16 period and showing no signs of slowing down.

"I can see us considerably tripling every year for the next three years from where we are, with or without funding," Nilesh said.

SaaS is a model through which software is centrally hosted and licensed, meaning a client – usually a business – can purchase a subscription and then access the software’s services on-demand. LeadSquared’s marketing services are split into four parts: "capturing" clients, "nurturing" clients, driving sales, and market analytics.

One example is a customer called Byju’s Classes. While the test preparation startup didn’t need help capturing clients, or "leads," – they already did that through online and offline channels – they wanted LeadSquared to help them organize their leads in one place and to help keep track of them, or reduce "leakage." LeadSquared then helped them efficiently nurture those, assigning leads to relevant sales representatives and identifying which clients were most likely to close deals. Those clients received emails and phone calls encouraging the deals. Finally, LeadSquared kept track of sales and marketing performances through analytics.

Marketing is a field constantly changing to support the newest networking technology. Nilesh and his fellow founders began the new startup with this in mind, designing the software as a one-stop marketing and sales instrument, focusing on businesses that develop personal relationships with their customers and concentrating the service on India.

LeadSquared joins other automated marketing companies such as Hubspot, Marketo, and Pardot in offering lead capture services, insights into potential customer activity, and user analytics.

Getting personal

Much of LeadSquared’s design has resulted from Proteans, an outsourced project development firm started in 2003 by Nilesh, Sudhakar Gorti, and Prashant Singh, all of whom now manage LeadSquared. Proteans was making US$10 million in sales before Symphony Teleca, an American development firm, bought it in 2010.

During his work at Proteans, Nilesh noticed that the businesses they worked with either had no marketing system or were using software that was lacking; they were gathering leads on potential clients but losing them before they could make sales. That’s the dreaded "leakage."

LeadSquared was the product of 15 months of research from the founding team in marketing and lead generation. The goal? Fix the problem they’d observed in their previous work, creating one set of software to deal with both customer acquisition and sales. As every marketing manager knows, it’s not enough to attract people in – they need to want to stay. The key to that – and part of LeadSquared’s philosophy – is a personal relationship.

"One of the things we figured out was how to generate leads using telephone and email," Nilesh says of their time building Proteans.

The involvement of the phone in a tech startup seems odd now that networking devices can allow relationships to take place without hearing one another. However, in the context of marketing, phone relationships make sense. If clients and future sales are going to be tracked down via algorithms and machines, what’s left to set a company apart is its relationship with clients.

According to Nilesh, what LeadSquared emphasizes, besides a streamlining of lead generation and sales, is a personal touch. Though LeadSquared’s services can work in several different industries, its focus is vertical, or specialized—mostly B2C enterprises—and 70 percent of its clients sell to consumers as opposed to other businesses.

Location, location, location

"The common thread across [most of our clients] is that they all [first] sell to consumers and [second, set the bar] high. These businesses can engage the customers in a phone conversation," he explains.

It’s no surprise, then, that the team specializes in its backyard, India, the source of 70 percent of LeadSquared’s revenue.

"In India, there’s more of a hi-tech market, so you have to help the customer on board and explain things in detail. They need to be extremely satisfied," Nilesh said.

LeadSquared’s remaining client base is in North America, where, the co-founder notes, customers are more willing to experiment with marketing software. The continent is the origin of 15 percent of the company’s revenue. Remaining business takes place in Southeast Asia and in Brazil – which came as a bit of a surprise.

"Maybe it’s just luck for us, because we’re getting customers from Brazil automatically," Nilesh laughs. "We’re trying to figure out [where] they are coming from. I don’t know the answer to that."

It’s usually a sign of success when a company starts pulling in an audience different from that of its target demographic. In this case, the audience just happens to be on a completely different continent.

Has your startup used this kind of marketing service? How did it go? Let us know in the comments.