The sales staff is one of the traditional elements of enterprise software companies that has been heavily questioned by the new generation of companies in the space. A lot has been written about the new software acquisitions models in the enterprise and how companies today don’t need to rely on traditional sales mechanisms. Companies like Atlassian claim they have acquired tens thousands of customers without a single sales executive and passionately promote that model as the cornerstone of the new generation of enterprise software.
These days, enterprise software sales staffs are associated with the old boys, the Oracles, IBMs and SAPs of the world. Sales guys are not cool, they think about money and not about changing the world and they are expensive. These days, enterprise software can spread viraly, purchased with a credit card on subscription basics. Factoring all this, do we really need sales people in an enterprise software startup?
The answer is: ABSOLUTELY YES!
I have thought about this problem for a long time and tried different models. At this point, I couldn’t be blunter about my opinion on the subject. To achieve scale, an enterprise software startup MUST have a sales staff. What we do need is a different type of sales guys and new and innovative sales models.
Let me try to explain.
While you can certainly establish an enterprise customer based without a sales staff, it’s almost impossible to achieve a decent scale following that model. Selling to large enterprises can be a lengthy and complex process that needs the patience and dedication of a sales executive. When selling to large enterprises, you need to deal with procurement departments that have been trained to get any possible discounts in your software, IT departments that tend to be adverse to changes and new technologies and rigorous compliance and policies that most of us find ridiculous. Having a solid sales staff can and will help to win those large accounts that, otherwise, will require the full attention of the management team.
Having said all that, I do believe that effective enterprise software sales are fundamentally different from the traditional models. Market phenomenon such as globalization and economies of scale, technology movements like software as a service, software distribution models such as app stores, cultural movements such as the “consumerization of the enterprise” are just some of the factors that we can leverage in the new generation of enterprise software sales. As an enterprise software company, there are a few tips that might help you improve the dynamics of your sales organization in this new world.
Leverage Fremium Models
As I mentioned in a previous article, fermium models do work in the enterprise. A fermium model will help you increase your customer population while allowing your sales team to focus their attention on those customers with the potential to convert to a paying model.
Selling to the Buyer
One of the main problems in enterprise software is that the people testing the product are not the ultimate buyers. Involving the decision makers early on in the evalution process will do wonders to expedite your sales.
Make it Simple
I know it sounds cheesy but, as an enterprise software company, you need to obsess to make your software as easy to acquire as possible. A simple and transparent sales model will streamline the software acquisition processes for your customers.
Complimentary to the previous point, part of making a sales process as simple as possible is to provide your customers with all the information they need in order to evaluate the product. Pricing is one of those aspects that a lot of companies tend to only disclose after they have gotten in contact with the potential buyer. That’s completely ridiculous, disclosing your pricing model will make it easy for your customers to evaluate your software and will avoid unnecessary negotiations.
Find a Champion in IT
In any enterprise software sales process, there is a huge difference between sales that require the involvement of the IT department and the ones that don’t. Rightfully so, IT groups tend to be extremely conservative when adopting new technologies and can be very demanding from the software compliance and policy standpoint. However, IT groups can also be your biggest champion if the value proposition is clear enough. If your sales process requires IT involvement, my advice would be to get then involved at the very beginning of the process and find a few champions within the IT organizations that can help you navigate the complexities of the process.