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How Experts Marketplace Sulekha Leveraged Marketing Automation To Fix Retention In Both Demand And Supply

Founded in 2007, when classifieds services were seeing massive traction in India, Chennai-based Sulekha was an early entrant in this space

Sulekha pivoted in 2018 to become a SaaS platform for businesses and a marketplace connecting consumers with small businesses, expert service providers

For Sulekha, marketing automation was crucial as it helped deal with the problem of retention on both the demand and supply side of the marketplace

Inc42 & WebEngage present — “Decoding Hypergrowth” — a series capturing stories of successful businesses, the importance of intelligent engagement, and their approach to creating the same.

The internet democratised the way people exchanged information and goods in India. While earlier newspapers and magazines tightly controlled the private exchange of goods and services through their classifieds pages, which usually was a big expense for individuals, the internet made it easier and often free for people to list these things online. 

And this potential attracted several Indian entrepreneurs and foreign companies towards the online classifieds model in the early days of the internet ecosystem. The likes of Sulekha.com (founded in 2007); OLX, which entered India in 2009; Quikr, which launched in 2008, and others looked to quickly grab market share. Even JustDial focussed more squarely on digital listings for service providers. 

While the classifieds boom lasted for nearly a decade from 2007 to 2016, the proliferation of internet connectivity and the introduction of social media platforms as quasi-classified platforms forced a change in the market. OLX and Quikr struggled to maintain the momentum they had seen in the heyday. Sulekha founder and CEO Satya Prabhakar saw this churning of the market early on. 

Founded in 2007, when classifieds services were seeing massive traction in India, the Chennai-based company was an early entrant in this space. While it started as a local online listings service, once the hyperlocal service era began, something had to change. With hyperlocal service players entering the market, classifieds and listings were no longer sought after. So Sulekha decided to undergo a transformation to preserve its competitive edge.

Watch Vijay Anand, Vice President, Marketing And Operations, Sulekha, Talk About The Company’s Journey And Growth:

Sulekha’s Evolution To Expert Service Provider

After a decade as a classified listings service, Sulekha pivoted in 2018 to become a SaaS platform for businesses and a marketplace connecting consumers with small businesses, expert service providers in India and the US. This move solved a major hurdle as classifieds were no longer a monetisable asset as dedicated platforms took over. Since consumers weren’t willing to pay, the online classified model lost its importance.

However, the service providers and businesses were willing to pay to reach the consumer. But, the needs of these service providers were different. They weren’t interested in creating brand value but wanted a sales funnel as a platform.

What followed changed the fortunes of Sulekha, Anand said. The focus on ‘expert services’ categorised under four buckets — home improvement, home services, coaching and tuition, and business services — paid off. Today, Sulekha has over 200 different subcategories which contain service providers of all kinds from lawyers to plumbers to web designers, career coaches, hobby classes, and beauty parlours. 

With the move to focus on specific expert services as the main domain of operations, Sulekha differentiated itself from other players such as JustDial. It also allowed the company to overcome the setback from the entry of Uber, Ola for local travel business listings or the launch of Swiggy and Zomato, which made restaurant listings redundant. Plus, Sulekha could also claim an edge over C2C classified companies such as OLX or Quikr.

Automating Retention To Solve Demand And Supply

For Sulekha, the path to becoming an established name in the expert services domain wasn’t an easy task as it had to undergo an identity shift, according to Anand. From redesigning and reinventing its product and monetisation model, to bringing clients on board, there were plenty of challenges. It had to reinvent itself after establishing itself in one space for more than a decade. 

For instance, the company increased its sales and marketing team sizes to bring in new experts and to bolster the customer service aspect. However, bringing in clients was just half the battle. The other half was to create a system of engagement for its users to ensure the matchmaking occurs and potential customers don’t leave before matching with service providers. This marketplace model was something the team never had to deal with earlier. 

And this is where Sulekha moved towards marketing automation to manage the needs of this transition. It partnered with marketing automation platform WebEngage to better engage with its large user base, to reduce the drop-off rates at the checkout and retarget these customers to boost conversions. With the help of WebEngage, Sulekha has been able to achieve a monthly conversion rate of 10% with drop-off rates of users. It is not just about the demand side of the equation or the end customers, but also about supply or the service provider end. 

“At the small business end, WebEngage tools helped us market to new merchants, engage with current merchants better, and improved the rate of renewal of subscription. The visual format and strong support provided by its team makes us believe it will be a long-term partnership,” said Vijay Anand, vice president, marketing and operations, Sulekha

Besides India, Sulekha has a strong presence internationally with the company functioning in multiple cities in the US with a strong Indian diaspora. It plans to replicate the same model in other cities globally such as London, Singapore, Sydney, Johannesburg among others. 

But in India, the goal is to go deeper into the market. Going ahead, the company plans to expand its operations domestically to tier 2 and 3 cities where experts and small businesses face the problem of not being able to engage with customers.