4 reasons you should know your website visitors

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There is price. And then there is value. No one will pay the price for your product or service unless they see value in it. So, how do you stand out among competitors and add value to your business?

The first step would be to listen to your ​prospects and ​understand their needs. Let’s say you own a ​shop and a customer enters. What do you do? You let them browse, and if they’re looking for something specific, you can​ step in and assist them. Based on what they are doing in the shop, it’s easy to ascertain whether they are window-shopping or looking for a product, or if something has caught their attention. You can then make a sales pitch accordingly by showing them the range of your offerings, elaborating on features of a particular product or offering them a discount.

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But what if the store is online? How do you study your prospects and customers then? How do you add value to their experience? This is where a website-visitor insights platform comes in. It’s not the same as website analysis, albeit a subset of it. While website analysis gives you data on where the traffic is coming from and which page has the most hits, visitor insights will give you information on the individuals who come to your site.

Here’s how you can use that data: Read more

Salesforce Acquisition: Nobody Rings a Bell at the Top

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Yesterday rumors broke out that Salesforce is entertaining buyout offers and has hired investment bankers to consider “strategic options”. My first thought? What a great time to sell! My second thought: please don’t jinx it – not when someone is coming up on a $50-$60 billion payday at 10x forward sales. The P/E of course is incalculable since there is no E.

Nobody rings a bell at the top of the market. But we gotta admit – Marc Benioff is the best salesman in software the cloud, ever. Now, I am trying hard not to think of ​Steve Case and AOL and Time-Warner, because this time it ​will be different, of course.

In the past few weeks, BlackRock’s chief Larry Fink released a letter addressed to the CEOs of S&P 500 companies talking about the need for a long-term view. That may not be a good idea, because it is no fun to think about write-downs and kitchen-sink quarters. Only spoilsports talk about a hangover when the party is in full swing.

Consolidation

Consolidation is coming to the cloud; we at Zoho recognized that a long time ago. Our entire strategy has been dictated by our desire to stay independent (as I have explained before), even as consolidation alters the landscape around us.  Even CRM, a very significant industry just by itself, doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone product. The proof is that Salesforce (hint: their stock ticker is still CRM) has been on an acquisition rampage over the past few years trying to complement its product portfolio and show growth by acquiring revenue.

But even with the more than $3 Billion spent on acquisitions in the past 3 years, and even with their market cap of $40 billion $50 billion dollars, Salesforce finds itself the target of a takeover.

Why do we expect consolidation? Simple – there are too many companies not making money. Why don’t they make money?​ Again, simple – they spend way too much on sales and marketing. Let’s consider a hypothetical combination of Box and Zendesk – both “Post-IPO Non-profits”  as we call them – you could cut the combined sales and marketing spend by half, and that may just be enough for them to turn a profit. That is the classic case for consolidation; a case that looks ​compelling on a spreadsheet – you know, the tool that Box actually doesn’t know how to build.

If only company cultures were modeled as cells in a spreadsheet, where people stay in their neat little boxes and hairy code-bases magically combine to produce beautiful children.

Take the case of Salesforce acquisitions for the past 3 years – here is the extensive list. How many of them have been integrated even at a single sign-on level, let alone at a product level? In fact, to solve that problem, Salesforce recently acquired a single sign-on company.

Winner’s Curse

​When you escape the jinx, there is still the curse – the winner’s curse. Most acquisitions fail and silently get written down or written off entirely – see for example, Zimbra’s acquisition by Yahoo. Salesforce has written down a bunch in the last few years, after overpaying by hundreds of millions of dollars – at least, the money didn’t come out of their profit!

Jinxes and curses? No, we don’t want these to befall our customers. Since consolidation is coming, if you are a customer of cloud companies, it’s time to get used to being traded around.

Except, of course, if you are a Zoho customer. With us, you will not underwrite any acquisition premiums or bloated sales and marketing costs. You will get a broad suite of deeply integrated products that helps you run your business on the cloud. Private and bootstrapped since our founding – we don’t answer to anyone but you. We never will. We aren’t going anywhere.

Sridhar

​Happy employees make for a happy company

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It’s a lovely Monday morning, but you are feeling gloomy as you enter your office, making a mental list of things that have to be done. You greet your colleagues, who are equally preoccupied, with a nod. Then one of your peers smiles at you, and you find yourself smiling back. That’s all it takes – a smile – to make you smile back and relax for a bit.

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A smile is also a great stress-buster, like laughter, and that’s one reason why you should smile in your office, especially if you are having a stressful day. It’s as important to be happy at your workplace as in your personal life and here’s why: Read more

5 Ways to Know a Company’s Work Culture (Without Asking)

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I’m surprised when my friends tell me they know nothing about the culture of a company they are about to join. ‘It pays well, and I like my job title. That’s all that matters.’ ​Does it, really? These are important factors, for sure, but if you can’t be happy where you work, you won’t stick around for long.

Happiness is subjective, of course. What makes me happy, may not matter to you. I feel happy when I am doing the kind of work that satisfies my creative needs, in a workplace where I can see myself learning and growing as a person and in my career. ​This is greatly influenced by the company’s culture.

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How can you determine what a company’s work culture is before taking the plunge and accepting the job offer?

Read more

What I learned from working remotely with cross-cultural teams

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For about six years now, I’ve been working in a cross-cultural environment. Our teams are split across offices in India and the US, with the majority of our development efforts based out of India.

I work remotely out of New Delhi, whereas most of our India teams work from Chennai. To give you an idea of how far these two places are:

In this unique situation, I’ve had the opportunity to work with teams across different locations and time zones. These differences no longer come in the way of teamwork and collaboration. In fact, they ​help us evolve and adapt our own business apps to make this combination work – no matter where you are and what time zone you’re working in, you’re always connected and in sync with other people.

What could get in the way though, are cultural differences.

It’s usually good practice to mix people from different cultures. Everyone brings in their own cultural perspective to the table, and people get to learn from each other.

But it’s tricky for people from different cultures to work together, especially when they’re not all working at the same time, under the same roof.

Tricky, yes. Impossible, no.

Here are a few things that can make it possible: Read more

The Paradox Of Choice: What Do Jam, Apple & Zoho Have In Common?

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“There are now 9 different kinds of bread being sold at the store? I don’t like having so much choice in life. It’s frustrating!”

When my friend told me this, I thought he was crazy. How can too much choice ever be a bad thing?

Let’s explore.

The paradox of choice states that the more time you spend analyzing your choices, the less happy you are with them. We deal with this paradox everyday.

Psychologists have tried to understand this paradox more.

paradox-of-choiceThe Jam Analysis:

This was a popular experiment by Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University, in 1995. ​Professor Iyengar and her team set up a booth of Wilkin & Sons jam in a market. Every few hours they changed the number of varieties they put on display from 6 to 24 jams.

They found that about 60% of people sampled from the larger selection as compared to only 40% from the smaller selection.

But what about purchases? Only 3% of those who sampled the larger selection of jams made a purchase. In comparison, 30% of those who sampled from the smaller selection made a purchase.

For those interested, this New York Times article covers the research in some detail.

This paradox of choice is something the software industry has also been wrestling with for some time. Apple released a simplified version of its wireless router software that removed many of the advanced menu of choices that users found too confusing.

Another famous example is the “Off” option on the old Windows Vista. From the start menu there were a staggering nine different options to choose from. 2 icons, plus 7 menu items. 9 different options to shut down your computer? That’s bonkers!

Samsung is now on overdrive launching numerous tablets. Since the start of 2014, Samsung has announced 11 models of Android tablets. In addition, ​Samsung still sells 11 different tablets that they launched earlier. For those who haven’t lost count yet, that is a remarkable 22 tablets! I’m probably forgetting a few too. Just imagine how much stronger Samsung, ​and its vaunted support, would be if they focused on just a few products.

Looking internally, ​we at Zoho, too were guilty ​of overburdening and confusing our customers with numerous choices. Zoho projects used to have 8 different pricing plans broken down into monthly, quarterly, half yearly and yearly. That makes it 32, ​yes, 32, different pricing plans!

zprojects-old-pricingWe learned from our mistakes, and reduced the pricing plans down to a simple 4.

So, what’s the solution?

Here’s the thing: choice is useful only when it means something. Flooding consumers with hundreds of variations of the same basic concept, a la Samsung, simply causes confusion and dilutes the brand. There is no exact science that says you should limit your product offerings to 5 or 7 choices. More important is to offer choices that have some unique value in their own way and to make the ​decision-making process effortless and enjoyable.

Too often, products do not have a clear well-established value proposition. Consumers will always pay for what they find valuable. The key is in clearly establishing what the value of the product is.

A good example of this is the way in which Apple markets the iPhone. Their commercials show the product being used in a situation or use case, thus clearly establishing its value.

If you’re struggling with deciding how many choices to offer, a good practice to follow is continuous A/B testing. Launch your product or plan one at a time, gauge the response to it and make a decision accordingly. ​That way, you avoid overburdening your customers with too much, and you give them a simple option with a well-defined value proposition.

P.S: If you’re interested in learning more about the paradox of choice, here is a great TED talk by Barry Schwartz.