While the pandemic’s disruption has been felt across sectors, if one were to look at the rare positives from the crisis, the attention would fall on the growing digital adoption by traditional small businesses. Coupled with the proliferation of channels that can be leveraged to sell more, the rise in internet penetration, the new normal has ushered more and more businesses towards automating parts of their business, including marketing and customer retention. It also brought to the fore, the importance of retention as the new growth avenue. Brands, today, are realising the power of user engagement, and how that can help them trigger more conversions, and bring in revenue even in difficult times, such as Covid-19.
Given that most traditional businesses may not have the right knowhow about the latest in marketing tech, marketing automation startups have become a crucial enabler of growth.
The global market for marketing automation software and SaaS will cross $10 Bn by 2025, registering a 12.7% CAGR between 2019 to 2025. So what has been seen in the past five years or so is just a preview of things to come, even for India where brands are quickly moving to a D2C approach to solve a host of challenges.
In the Indian context, this is allowing brands to reach newer markets and customers, according to WebEngage CEO and cofounder Avlesh Singh. “In the last 5 years, India has offered great credible alternatives to American products around marketing automation and mobile marketing. With the availability of capital, it’s just a matter of time before India’s marketing products become mainstream in the global arena,” Singh said.
Omnichannel customer engagement platforms such as WebEngage have solved a lot of challenges for new and small businesses by giving access to actionable analytical insights and getting the most out of customers.
While in the initial years of its inception, WebEngage was limited in its offerings, today the SaaS startup helps businesses counter these new-age challenges while also mapping their user journey. Recently, it has added to these capabilities with sector-specific solutions, The Startup Program and more.
According to WebEngage cofounder and CTO Ankit Utreja, the company is focussing on its product and onboarding journey with emphasis on simple, engaging and powerful experiences as well as creating awareness for the customer.
WebEngage: Finding The Reason To Pivot
WebEngage, which started as merely a pop-up window and on-site engagement tools, pivoted to a full stack marketing automation model after years of experience, knowledge of the market. This attitude of iterating based on feedback led the team to focus on intelligent engagement and retention of customers amid Covid-19.
“The product that you see today is a pivot on what WebEngage started as nine years ago as we realised that the decisions around engagement should be connected,” WebEngage cofounder Avlesh Singh said.
In order to ensure retention or repeat users, businesses need to understand which channels various sets of customers are responding to and leverage that particular channel to its fullest potential for that particular set. For instance, if a segment of users don’t respond to emails but are more receptive to app-based push notifications, this segment will see push notifications prioritised over emails. This is the more efficient way to market and helps the company allocate marketing dollars intelligently.
Singh claims that WebEngage is the first startup to actually think through all of this and streamline it into a product called Journey Designer. “It’s become hygiene now, everybody has their own variant, but back in 2016, we pivoted from our erstwhile pop-up product, we actually expanded from the pop-up product and are today offering nine channels for effective marketing,” he added.
Though necessary and extremely beneficial for the startup, this pivot was extremely challenging for it too. Apart from the complexity of building and transitioning the platform, the biggest challenge was marketing and selling this pivoted model to businesses over its existing product.
Considering it had run its previous model for over four years with the same team that was to now focus and sell the new model, Singh exclaimed, “Most people don’t realise just how hard the journey is. It’s extremely hard, especially because the team had to not only unlearn a lot of things but also pick up a lot of new insights and knowledge of a market that we were getting into.”
How To Market A Marketing Product
When it comes to expansion of SaaS products, the geographical boundaries do not matter as much, but it’s more about localisation of products for each market. Singh said that physical presence has always been a secondary goal for WebEngage since the early traction for the startup in any geography always happens in a remote way. For instance, it opened its office in Dubai three years after it started doing business in the Middle East.
When it finally makes the decision of venturing into a new market, needless to say, a lot of the strategy has to be tweaked. For WebEngage, if the business was driven by inbound marketing earlier and it is even more so now.
“We are not an outbound first company; we are not feet-on-the-street enterprise sales. Our business has always grown by receiving inbounds. We built the company for nine years in that manner. And that basically helped us face this crisis because fundamentally we didn’t have to change anything,” Singh said.
With a presence in over 35 countries, the startup today serves over 300 enterprise brands across sectors such as edtech, ecommerce, banking and insurance, media and entertainment and more. For its current focus on Latin American markets too, WebEngage is following its tried and tested inbound formula with a strong focus on the local audience. “We need to have a very creative inbound strategy to win the first few customers, our physical presence always follows,” Singh added.
The biggest marketing goal for WebEngage continues to be building awareness for user retention as a key problem to solve for all businesses — regardless of category. It is looking to build an active community of marketing best standard practitioners across the globe via its flagship initiatives such as EngageMint and EngageCast. “These initiatives, and a few others, are key cogs in the flywheel of marketing that help us build the brand around pillars like user engagement, retention, growth marketing,” added CTO Utreja.
The New Normal Brings A New Work Culture
For the growth and the survival of the startup, both the founders credited their team of over 135 people that are working for the startup, coupled with its office culture.
At a time when companies across sectors were struggling with layoffs and optimising costs, WebEngage claims to have seen growth and bigger scale as the pandemic brought with it the need for better marketing strategies. Considering that it has remote teams working across borders, the new work culture was not hard to navigate, Singh pointed out.
Once past the apprehension of working remotely, the founders noticed high comfort and adoption in teams across verticals. And this gave them the confidence to announce their most recent decision of extending work from home till the end of 2020. Utreja pointed out that the most important thing while hiring any individual is whether one will be able to work with them for a particular assignment for a long duration.
“The definition of ‘culture fit’ is very weird. What does the person understand about WebEngage? What are their expectations from this particular opportunity? And how we see them grow is very important. As long as these two three criteria are clear, hiring becomes easier for us,” — Ankit Utreja, cofounder and CTO, WebEngage.
Coupling their experience of building two ventures along with nine years with WebEngage, the founders believe that they know exactly what kind of people make and break things.
“As you grow, you need a very different kind of skill set. When you are zero and you want to get to one, the required skill sets are different, from one to 10 needs a very different skill set and then 200 needs absolutely different skill sets. Most of the time people generally are not able to grow as the company grows,” added Singh.
The founders said that they ensure that the team leaders are clear of what they require and that it cannot be achieved with processes, softwares, tools, or with their existing team. This, they believe, helps in setting clear goals and when there is a new hire. Additionally, it is the managers who work towards making this person successful and justifying his/her role in the company.
“The basic premise of WebEngage is that we take our time to hire people, but once hired, they are trusted. So once you are in, you’re trusted from day one. We are able to sort of put people in the front, trust them with being able to do some of the most difficult things,” said Singh while also adding that in India trusting new employees with big tasks is not a common culture.
He further added, “Things keep changing, ideas keep changing, markets keep changing, a good team always pulls it off. And we have been very strong believers in that, which is why I keep saying we’re very culture first company.”
Seeing Hope In The Covid-19 Crisis
As Singh rightly pointed out, things keep changing as time progresses, and without doubt, the biggest change today has come with the pandemic. This change has resulted in startups and businesses struggling with survival. Amidst these scenarios, WebEngage decided to launch some initiatives and solutions to help them counter this struggle.
With the focus on helping its clients navigate the process of better engagement to not only retain their existing user base but also attract new ones, it recently launched sector-specific solutions. These solutions aim to help businesses understand how to counter the lags in their specific sectors and thus do more efficient marketing.
While it has released these solutions for edtech and ecommerce till now, it soon plans to release these solutions first for the gaming sector and then the media and entertainment. This way it will cover all the sectors that it caters to.
“The way we have built this has enabled us to go beyond just marketing automation and to specific targeting and removing challenges for our clients,” said Singh talking about the inception of these sector specific solutions.
Considering the fact that each sector has very varied challenges, WebEngage realised that it would have to really narrow down its approach in order to solve for its clients. That’s what changed the game for the company. “Tools and features are just means to an end and you are not buying just tools and features, you are buying solutions to a specific problem and that was our thought process behind the sector-specific solutions. We were already working on this before Covid, so that wasn’t the reason. The only thing Covid-19 affected was the order of the sectors,” Singh elaborated.
Additionally, it also launched The Startup Program for early-stage consumer products and services startups. The programme which acts as a growth accelerator for early-stage B2C startups aims to accelerate their growth and scale-up journey. Though WebEngage focusses on retention, it is a problem that arises in the later stages of a business, but for early-stage startups the issue is both retention and acquisition. Which is why the The Startup Program was conceptualised.
As WebEngage moves ahead in its journey, it wants to become everything that the underserved mid-sized businesses require to run their entire retention stack. Currently, the startup has many big brands as clients and is responsible for almost 30-35% of their total revenue, on an average.
Singh added that there is a big opportunity in becoming a revenue-generation tool for businesses and providing a bundled ecosystem for user retention for these companies. And that is what is the mission of the startup for the next ten years.
“There’s not a single product today which solves the depth and breadth of user retention problems. WebEngage is leading the way in this and will become the first true omnichannel data and engagement platform for midsize and enterprise consumer brands,” Utreja added.