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October - 2006 - issue > My Toughest Challenge
The Sales Conundrum
Subhash Menon
Saturday, September 30, 2006
The year was 2001 and we were faced with one of the toughest challenges ever. A challenge that threatened to wipe us out from the face of the earth. Simply stated, we were not winning any contracts. And this, despite our best efforts. Let me delve into the details.

After having switched tracks from being a telecom hardware systems integrator to a telecom software product vendor, we had launched our first product “Ranger”, a fraud management system in February 2000 and were risking our entire future on that product. We had high hopes and were working towards winning significant contracts. Given the extensive requirement for the product in developing countries in Africa and Asia, we had generated several leads and were actively participating in a large number of tenders and similar activities.

The going would be great, we reckoned, even if we were to win a small number of those opportunities.

The Problem
This level of heightened activity continued for about a year and at the end of that period, it was clear to us that although we were being short-listed after technical evaluation, we were being rejected at the next stage. In short, we were not winning any contracts. At the end of 12 months, we did not have any overseas customer to talk about. The future looked bleak and the morale was at its nadir. It was at this juncture that we decided to take the bull by the horns and evolve a strategy to address this grave issue.

The Solution
The first step was to identify the cause for this dismal performance. We evaluated every case that we had lost and hit upon the point that we were being rejected by the decision maker as we were an unknown entity to them. The short-list of technically approved vendors would have our name and a couple of other known names like HP and Ericsson, and the committee that decided was always going for the known devils. Once we identified the key cause for failure, we evolved a 3-step process to set this right.

Step 1: We assessed each opportunity using one key parameter. That was familiarity of our company among the decision makers and our ability to create that familiarity. Without familiarity, we were never going to win any contracts. At the end of this step, we had three groups of companies-the first group was where we were quite close to the decision makers and they knew us quite well. The second group was where we had a possibility to improve the awareness about our company. The third group was where we were not known and we could not do anything about it.

Step 2: This was the hardest step. We decided to pull out of every case in the third group and that shrunk our pipeline considerably-almost by 80 percent. As any salesman would know, deciding to drop out of a race is not an easy move. But we believed that such a move was absolutely essential for us to conserve our resources and invest them in the right places - where we stood the best chance of winning. This resulted in a few opportunities (the first and the second groups) that we would focus on.
Step 3: Herein, we approached the whittled down group and created substantial awareness about the company among the senior managers and the decision makers. Focus was the name of the game.

Needless to say, we started seeing returns within a very short span of time. Suddenly, we were winning contracts and the morale went up. The latter had a strong effect and the win ratio increased. We had learnt the importance of focus and have practiced this process ever since. The method is to qualify every sales opportunity rigorously and then to focus on the top tier with all our might and resources at our disposal. This has proved to be a wonderful and successful approach for us. The result vindicates the soundness of our approach. Today, the Subex fraud management system has the highest number of installations (over 150 customers across 70 countries) among all the competing products.

The author is Founder Chairman, Managing Director & CEO of Subex Azure
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