Through its marketplace app, Spini allows individuals to monetise everyday information while providing sales professionals targeted sales leads
We live in an era of targeted marketing where every click of a mouse button, every swipe of a credit card is monitored and analysed by consumer brands in the hope of predicting future sales opportunities. There are, however, several old school networks that lead to valuable information that companies seldom think of pursuing. Think of a young parent circle or a senior citizen’s walking group or a homemaker’s own network of friends and family. Each of these gather and discuss several life events and are privy to individual requirements; Spini, a marketplace app for sales professionals, saw great potential for lead generation amongst these very groups. The Singapore and Chennai-based company, founded by Eddie Chau, Shankar G. and Chong-Kian Soh in 2014, has established a technology platform from the perspective of sales professionals which values the common man’s information and empowers him to monetise the same. “The conversion from lead to sale is easier in a warm introduction and the closure rate is above 70 per cent,” states Shankar G., co-founder and CEO, Spini.
The concept, in itself, did have sceptics asking how it would work and who would pay for information but in a short span of time, Spini has created a base of early adopters with many more willing to get on the app. Its revenue model is based on the commissions charged by lead generators.
So, this is how it works; you know of a friend who is looking to buy a car and you want to help him put the word out. You can access Spini’s app on your smartphone, put up a lead and charge a small commission for doing the same. There are three ways to get involved, the simplest step is to provide a name and number and leave it at that. To get one step closer, you can choose to make the introduction between your friend and the sales professional and as a final step, you can play influencer and commit to help close the deal. “We restrict the sharing of a lead to a maximum of three sales professionals, this way, the buyer does not get bombarded by calls,” says Shankar while adding that it is the prerogative of the lead generator on keeping things exclusive with a single sales professional or sharing the lead with three. The lead generator’s identity is protected as the platform creates a pseudonym for each post and in the event of non-closure of a deal, the generator can share this information with a fresh set of sales professionals. While each of these measures keep the lead generators happy, the sales professional benefits from a narrowing down of competitors on the same deal. Currently, Spini’s app has leads under 23 separate sales categories including real estate, financial products, interiors, automobiles and electronics.
Deciphering sales intelligence
Shankar explains how Spini was born through a combination of research on sales methodology and sheer accident. After his MBA, Shankar worked with TCS for over eight years and moved base to Singapore to work with the company’s Asia Pacific team. “I was lucky, I got good roles and I learnt a lot, especially about sales and market intelligence. I was part of the think tank and got a chance to work with top management,” he says. This is when he researched existing customer relationship management systems and pondered over why large sales pipelines generated significantly smaller sales volumes. Shankar met Chau in Singapore and the duo looked at devising a solution that cuts short the sales process from about 10 steps to four crucial steps; possessing information on who the customer is, what his requirement is, when he is looking to buy and what his budget is. They worked on creating a model which was B2B wherein sales professionals helped one another generate leads and earn commissions. “On my next vacation in India I told my mom that I was going to start up with an idea like this and she needed to be convinced that it was strong enough for me to quit TCS. I figured she might not understand the B2B model so I asked her, ‘do you know anyone who is buying something?’ Her response got me thinking that this model could work in a C2B (customer to business) format,” shares Shankar. He shared his thoughts with Chau and set the ball rolling for Spini to come into existence.
Making good on a lead
The concept, in itself, did have sceptics asking how it would work and who would pay for information but in a short span of time, Spini has created a base of early adopters with many more willing to get on the app. Its revenue model is based on the commissions charged by lead generators. The company levies a flat percentage over and above the commission on each lead to the sales channel. “The higher the commission, the more we earn,” says Shankar while adding that the company does not undertake setting the commission rates. Since those generating a lead are not brokers, they tend to think in money terms and not percentages and accordingly, the company provides a guideline on what lead generators can expect and leaves it to their discretion. “In the beginning, we wanted the market to arrive at a number and in our experience, if you provide name and contact details, the going rate is between Rs. 250 and Rs. 500,” he says. Spini facilitates the payment of commissions through a payment gateway on its app. In fact, the sales professional can proceed to contact a buyer only post payment and the company holds the payment on a lead for three days before releasing the same, to ensure there are zero gaps in authentication.
The verification process is handled by the company’s backend in Chennai. It hires people from diverse backgrounds to ensure language compatibility, given that it has spread its reach to over 10 cities in India, including Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi-NCR. At the moment, it is working on creating community managers who can help verify leads generated in each city. “Recruiting is a major challenge for us and finding the right people is something I spend over 50 per cent of my time on,” admits Shankar. Spini looks to hire those that are familiar with the process of calling and interacting with customers and trains these people on its verification process. “We have a set of mandatory questions that the lead generator must answer but only the person verifying knows which questions these are,” explains Shankar.
Spreading the word
In June 2015, Spini raised its Series-A of US$ 1 million from Walden International. “Walden met us when we were in stealth mode and ever since, they have been interested in working with us,” shares Shankar. The funds were primarily used to strengthen the technology platform and product offering. Today, Shankar is very confident about the product and is looking at raising a second round that will help market Spini. “Our recently launched app has an upgrade for sales professionals which allows them to advertise for sales but only after committing to pay the lead a commission,” says Shankar. The company has also undertaken mall activation and other BTL activities that generated a fantastic response. “Scaling up a physical campaign requires huge sums of money and we do want to replicate these in Chennai and other cities. We are in the process of tying up with a few consumer brands with whom we want to leverage joint activities,” adds Shankar. Over the next 18-24 months, Spini wants to go to newer markets including Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar. “This model will work wherever people are hungry to make money,” jests Shankar.
As the interview draws to a close, Shankar shares that his ambitions for Spini are to generate sales in tune with a fraction of what global brands spend on digital communication in India. ” If we can close 0.5 per cent of what consumer brands spend on digital marketing in India (close to US$1 billion), that’s our revenue target,” he states adding that it is current growing at over 5X. For Spini, the competition is entirely indirect and it has to find a way to make best use of a small window of opportunity in the time cycle before the information it leverages becomes easily available on other platforms.
Founders: Eddie Chau, Shankar G. and Chong-Kian Soh
City: Singapore, Chennai
Industry: Marketplace app that helps monetise sales information
Investors: Walden International with investment of US$ 1 million