Why your Salesforce ISV should promote ease of use (Trails Podcast episode #9 with Kuldip Hillyer)

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Why your Salesforce ISV should promote ease of use (Trails Podcast episode #9 with Kuldip Hillyer)
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Episode nine: Kuldip Hillyer​​, CEO and Founder of Kugamon

Join us in this episode as we delve into the perspective of Kuldip Hillyer, Founder and CEO of Kugamon, discussing the importance of promoting your Salesforce ISV’s ease of use. Explore his journey, gain insights, and discover valuable tips.

Please introduce yourself and share your story with Salesforce with us

Hi, my name is Kuldip. I'm the CEO and Founder of Kugamon. We have a RevOps solution for Salesforce – CPQ, quote to cash, subscription management, and subscription billing.

I worked for some competing solutions. I got laid off. That was a difficult experience to go through. Luckily, I had savings that I could rely on. I noticed that the companies I had worked for built very clicky and complex solutions. And I realized if I were to build something easier to use, it would be easy to adopt. That's why I focused on ease of use and made our solution less clicky.

How would you define your niche? How do you differentiate from other CPQ offerings in the market?

The first thing we differentiated is being 100% on the Salesforce platform. The second thing was being end-to-end on our Flows. So, we do the entire quote, order, invoice, subscription management, and revenue management Flow from end-to-end. And then lastly, we focus on the small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) mid-market. Putting that together, we realized that was a great opportunity.

Other companies offer CPQ, quote to cash, and subscription management, but not in that combination. They build outside of Salesforce, and they integrate. We're finding that's less of what customers want because of data security. They want data in Salesforce, refining customers or competitors that offer at the higher end with a lot of capabilities. 

The problem with SMB mid-market is they have to have consulting partners. They need to get certified and take all these classes to create a simple quote. So, because we focused on the mid-market SMBs, the end-to-end Flows, and then having the data in Salesforce, it put us in a unique position to build our brand and have a very compelling offering.

Running a native product on AppExchange since 2009, how did you see the partner ecosystem evolve?

I can put this into different time periods. In the beginning, it was fun. There was a lot of:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Strategy meetings
  3. Best practice sharing
  4. Collaborative partners.

I think things started shaking up because you didn't have to pay Salesforce a royalty. We were all learning. Salesforce was learning, partners were learning, and so forth. Then, Salesforce started charging for the platform. As you can imagine, there was a lot of grumbling from older partners. There was another main shift – the shift to Lightning.

That wasn't easy because Lightning was transitioning as well. Salesforce said, "Hey, you got to be in Lightning – that's the future – and we want these apps to be there." But the platform wasn't ready.

Salesforce is now a direct competitor. They bought one of our competitors, Steelbrick, now Salesforce CPQ – Salesforce Revenue Cloud. And I think the shift to Lightning was an existential crisis for us because that allowed us to figure out whether we would recommit to Salesforce or not.

We surveyed our competitors, looked at other partners, and did something no large-scale CPQ tool has done. We went all in, and we're fully native front end and back end. It took us four and a half years to dial our product. None of our competitors have done this because it's complicated and expensive. So, that's been our differentiator on that end.

Did you know that, on average, it takes the following amount of time to launch a Salesforce ISV from the ground up:

  1. Market research and planning: One-two months
  2. Development: Three-six months
  3. Testing and quality assurance: One-two months
  4. AppExchange compliance and approval: One-two months
  5. Beta testing: One-three months
  6. Marketing and go-to-market: Two-four months.

With Salesforce CPQ, I've seen this with other partners where Salesforce acquires their competition. Initially, there's a lot of marketing hype around that space. So, there's a bump in revenue. Then things get hard when you are now toe-to-toe in deals. In the beginning, Salesforce was collaborative, and now, dealing with Salesforce AEs, it's more like, "Hey, don't talk to me, don't talk to my account." It's very adversarial.

Luckily, partners and customers understand that Salesforce's offerings are not for the SMB mid-market. There are many stories of failed implementations in the SMB mid-market that are no longer a challenge. That's how we've found our niche. Our revenue has been growing, we've been closing many deals, and this quarter might be our best. So, I think honing down has been good.

Do you have any advice to share with aspiring founders who intend to build or grow a business on AppExchange?

I'm a sole founder. I'm non-technical and bootstrapped. So, Kugamon has been profitable since day one. I've been very fortunate that Kugamon has been successful in the market. We are one of the main players in the CPQ space. But I've made a lot of mistakes. I've been very fortunate to get things right every now and then.

Regarding advice for ISVs, the biggest thing is to focus on the awareness and evaluation component of the sales funnel. It also helps to get your back-end operations sorted.

Additionally, you see a lot of AI everywhere. You're like, "Oh, you could use AI to incorporate it into your product." But regarding your sales and marketing motions, there's AI, such as sending out emails. However, I would consider AI a means to rethink your workflow and processes. Try to leverage as much automation as possible to simplify your processes.

I've seen companies that have ten or twelve stages in their opportunity pipeline. Do you need that granularity and level of precision to know that a quote's been sent out? If you simplify the elements of your marketing and sales flows and you can add automation to them, they'll give you better analytics and reporting. Look at AI as not necessarily a replacement but a component of optimizing your workflow.

According to a report by Forbes, 74% of companies say that they want to be data-driven, but only 29% are successful at connecting analytics to action. Additionally, companies in the top quartile of data-driven decision-making are 6% more profitable than their competitors.

I think the next thing is understanding what you stand for and being extremely consistent. For Kugamon, we know it's a little triangle. We're focused on SMB mid-market, being native to Salesforce, and having an end-to-end Flow. All the other stuff is built on Lightning and is the sub-level. You must know the main core well so that everything from it has a direct line.

For example, if you're focused on the SMB mid-market and you're native, that means that your pricing is tailored to that end. In terms of if you should have a freemium model, what would an SMB mid-market type of client want? If you're dealing with Salesforce, what's the onboarding experience? Make sure your brand, messaging, pricing, and core beliefs of your product are unbelievably tight.

In Salesforce’s case, one of their pioneering messages was the idea of "no software." They aimed to differentiate themselves by offering a CRM solution that didn't require traditional on-premises software installations.

Understand why people are buying your brand. Are they buying it because you have 50 features, or are they buying it because of your focus on SMB mid-market? You have to take an outside view and make sure you're consistent.

When people evaluate you, the goal is to focus on improving the conversion. But how do you do that? For us, the most significant aspect is focusing on YouTube. We use it for feature training. We also have videos on customer testimonials and customer reviews.

I know that buyers are searching on YouTube because YouTube is where you learn how to be an Admin. A Developer learns how to solve an Apex or Light Web Component issue. So, YouTube and Salesforce go hand in hand. Salesforce puts its big marketing videos and Dreamforce content on YouTube .But ISVs aren't taking advantage of it.

We got a thousand-user deal from YouTube. A client came in, and in the intro call with us, they told us that they had spent five and a half hours just watching YouTube videos on us. Providing materials on YouTube also helps shorten your sales cycle because when prospects evaluate you while you're doing your demo, they do their own research. So, YouTube helps us close deals – in fact, we closed a deal in eleven days. 

The best thing about YouTube is that there are videos on every one of your topics. Do you need equipment? There are YouTube videos on that. Initially, we took our product training and did a video on every component. What that did was it helped our existing customers with support. We hardly get any support. We get one case a month, and sometimes those cases are like, "We need more users and sales."  

YouTube has that ‘Google juice’ regarding search engine optimization (SEO). YouTube is a massive search engine. So, when people search for things, you'll pop up if you set up your YouTube description correctly and have the right keywords. If people type in "Salesforce CPQ," Kugamon videos will pop up.

Now, in terms of YouTube promotion, I used promotion for ten days. That just gave me a bump in my view count and subscribers. I have over 200 videos, and you don't want to have over 200 videos with two subscribers, for example.

Regarding YouTube search recommendations, it has to be organic. You can get other people's money, but at some point, you have to make money on your own. That is my little trick to film a cool video and promote it through YouTube to give you that little bump. But don't rely on it. When you have happy customers, jump on Riverside, start recording a testimonial, and then pop it out there.

What's cool about YouTube is that once you have a video testimonial, you can create Shorts. Those Shorts are really great in the sales process. So, when clients ask, "Hey, what's the implementation like?" I can give them links to the Shorts that answer their question.

Ideally, that is the flywheel of marketing, where your customers are selling your product. Your focus is on fostering an ecosystem where you have a great product and can deliver on what you're saying. Those customers are your evangelists, answering all your prospects' questions.

Any other advice you can give from your founder experience and experience in running a successful business on AppExchange?

With sales and marketing budgets, there's a big shift now. Before the pandemic, some people relied on emails, PDFs, and eBooks. I'm seeing now that people want to learn. When they reach out to you, they already have an idea about you. You need to reconfirm some of their biases about your product and how it can help them.

With generative AI, people will eventually know that your content is fake. Emails are also not working. So, you'll need to figure out what a better way is. I like YouTube, testimonials, and LinkedIn.

Try to be aware that with putting out all this content, it's okay if you don't get emails at first (from customers in an active buying cycle) because your content is helping, for example, a consultant who just got hired to a project for one of your customers and needs to get up to speed or someone who is researching CPQ for a job interview. When they're asking, "Tell us about your experience with CPQ," and they've done the research, that just adds to goodwill. So, put a lot of content out there.

My second thing is don't worry about competitors. Pretty much all my competitors go through my app. I have trials through Trialforce, which they can download and play with for 30 days. It's on the latest version. I have test drives, YouTube videos on my help site, and documentation. So, I have everything out there. When it comes to a competitor's architecture, vision, and stuff like that, they can't directly copy you, so don't worry about that.

Lastly, I got inspired by Elon Musk. One of the things that I'm noticing in Silicon Valley is this trend called zero-based budgeting. For example, let's say you have a marketing team and need to adjust your budget. Recently, because of the pandemic, I had to cut my budget. I was looking at my spend and how to cut it to deliver what I want and where we want to go. And that's kind of the wrong way to do this. 

That's typically how companies deal with what they are getting rid of and what they are saying no to in order to reduce their spending amount. A different way through this zero-dollar-based budgeting is to start from scratch. If I start from zero, what must I spend to get there? And what's the skill set? You start from zero and spend less because you realize you don't need all this extra stuff for what you want to target.

Here are some quick tips to get up and running with zero-based budgeting:

  1. Understand that all expenses need to be justified and approved for each budgeting period.
  2. Involve key stakeholders and identify and categorize activities.
  3. Start from a clean slate, prioritize expenses, and set clear objectives.
  4. Encourage accountability and implement rolling budgets.
  5. Use technology and train teams.
  6. Conduct regular reviews and celebrate savings and efficiencies.
  7. Communicate effectively and learn from the process.

So, from CEO to CEO, founder to founder, being efficient in your budget helps you because you don't want to be stressed out with high expenses. So, that's my tip to make sure your company is financially fit.

Focus on how you provide ease of use

Thank you for tuning into this episode of Hutte's Trails Podcast.

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