How to Create Repeatability in Enterprise Software Sales in the New World Order

payphone

Image by Kilgub via Flickr

The last 3 blog entries focused on creating repeatability in the enterprise software sales process.  One thing that hasn’t been addressed is the changing landscape in this arena.  I read this post recently and got a chuckle, certainly things are not like this if you are LISTENING:

http://www.infoworld.com/d/adventures-in-it/tech-team-salesman-persistence-isnt-always-virtue-769?page=0,1&source=IFWNLE_nlt_offtherecord_2011-01-18

But it also leads to a bigger issue – depending on where your product is targeted and who your customer (and influencers) are, making use of the phone may be relatively obsolete.

Before you go any further, I strongly recommend you read this blog by VC David Skok to determine where (and how) you should be selling your product:

http://www.forentrepreneurs.com/sales-complexity/

There is a fundamental shift in selling when your product is geared toward software developers.  I will claim that the process identified in the last 3 posts is absolutely still required, but with one major difference.  On the front end of the curve (prospecting) – you really don’t want to be using the phone anymore.  Open source software has enabled one major shift in buying behavior – the upper hand in the buying process has shifted from the vendor to the developer.  Developers now have the ability to “self-select” who and what they work with.  They expect software to be fluid – easily downloadable, no limitations, full exposure to the product internals and documentation.  If they have questions they want to be able to collaborate with a community that can aid them through the process, answer questions, and commiserate.  Frankly, the only option that a sales person has in this process is to choose whether or not you want to be part of the community that this developer is a part of.  Short of that, you will NOT be effective trying to reach this person directly.

So, how do you prospect?  It’s actually gotten simpler, if you and your company can make the shift to enable a new way of thinking.  The goal is to make access to your product as simple and streamlined as possible – open up your product BEYOND your target market.  You want to create as large a funnel as possible to appeal to as wide a market as you can.  This over-extended market will (on its own) self-select where your value is – and once you find the repeatability in this area, you can then start to target the people that have true interest.  It simply isn’t worth your time to convince a developer to try your product – even if you succeed in this effort, your return will be a net loss (per Skok’s blog).  You cannot make money until the developer has shown interest that your product may help them – at which point you enter the prospecting mode – without having to cold call!

Many sales people will say that this is marketing’s job to provide them with leads, and I could not disagree more.  This is a joint effort that requires both sales and marketing to listen and learn to what their constituency is telling them.  Remember, I said that you have to make your product accessible to a wide net – wider than what you can realistically handle.  This can’t go on indefinitely, at some point the focus needs to be on customers that have the highest conversion.  Marketing should focus on going wide, sales needs to figure out how and where to go deep.

The last thing to consider is conversion rate –most successful companies will tell you large scale conversion of developers is in the 1-5% range, and that’s a massive range.  You need to figure out quickly what your success rate is so you know how many people you need self-selecting, and how many of those people move to the evaluation/purchasing stages.  The process in those stages is EXACTLY the same as the traditional enterprise sales  market – you will put the appropriate amount of time into the sale based on the ultimate price, but all of the same dynamics (group selling, handling objections, etc) will be there – even for $10K deals.

The large and established vendors don’t necessarily see this, but practically every startup selling enterprise software will run into this issue – even business-level software.  Developers have become empowered influencers within an organization, and you need to work with them but most importantly not let them push you back to your old habits of pushing them to do things they are not interested or prepared to do.

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