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Enterprise Software Sales Processes Need To Be Age Appropriate September 12, 2012

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.

I like this Forbes article on the 12 factors to consider when hiring a head pf sales. I have worked for a few different sales managers – the good, the bad and the indifferent. I have also been a sales manager, trying my best to add value rather than get in the way. Finally, I have also helped CEOs of fast-growing enterprise software companies to hire the right sales manager. From my experience this post hits the nail squarely on the head. I have a slight issue with point # 2 about process orientation; it is a point of nuance but an important nuance in my experience. I wholeheartedly agree that enterprise software sales teams need process, but premature process optimization – too much process too early – can be as bad if not worse than too little process.

Everybody wants process – for the other guy!

Techies want to see sales guys follow a process, so that they sell what can be delivered. Sales guys also want techies to follow a process so that they get quality deliveries on time. Both tend to underestimate the amount of art vs science in the other person’s job. That lack of respect can lead to toxic behaviour that damages the business.

I have had the good fortune to work with a few truly superb developers over the years. I tend to enjoy the transition from bleeding edge to leading edge (i.e. from intellectually exciting to money-making), so I have always really enjoyed working with great techies. When you see how the really great developers are not just a bit more productive than the average, not just 2x more productive but 10x or even 100x, you would be crazy to load process onto their creativity.

Working with armies of average developers requires boatloads of process, but that is typically the maintenance type of work that is sent offshore. It is all about where you are in the lifecycle. Early in the lifecycle, you want to give individual creativity full rein. A bit later you have some light processes for small teams – that is what Agile is all about. In the latter stages it is all about metrics and scalable, repeatable processes. You move from artisan to factory worker.

The same is true in sales. By the time the product is a market leader in a big mature market, the sales teams need lots of process. You can visit the sales teams of companies like Oracle and IBM to find out how to do this well. However if you are bringing a new product to market, you need to unleash the creativity of a few great sales people. In reality, these early deals are all done by one of the founders. At some point, in order to scale, the founder who drives sales needs to transition to a professional, scalable sales team. That is one of the hardest transitions that an enterprise software venture goes through, for reasons that I explore in this post. Too little process, or process introduced too late, is damaging. The reverse is also true. Too much process, or process introduced too early is equally damaging.

It is tempting to bring on a lot of process, because the alternative is tough to manage. In fact the job of managing rain-makers, the folks who really make a difference to the enterprise, is one of the toughest challenges in management and one of the last frontiers in enterprise IT. It is like herding cats – yes that is difficult! It is not only the big ticket sales people, the closers with a golden rolodex and a knack for managing multi-million $ annual relationships. The currently-unmanaged rain-makers also include scientists, researchers, designers, traders, investment bankers, emergency response professionals. But this post is only focussed on the folks who bring in the money that makes all the other good stuff possible.

Vivek Ranadive, the great entrepreneur who built Teknekron and later TIBCO, understood this better than most. I have a lot of respect for him as I competed against Teknekron at the time when they were first bringing out systems based on the concept of an Information Bus as I relate in this post. He believed that it was better to find the stars, set out a few clear rules, give them good incentives and then give them a lot of free rein. I am sure TIBCO does not work that way today, it is now a mature company, but that is how they worked when they were building the huge value that you see today.

There is another good Forbes article  that describes this kind of thought-leadership selling. My summary is “you have to capture mindshare before you capture market share”. That may sound like marketing, but the thought-leader sales people are also marketers. They don’t expect brochures and canned messages to deliver. They create the messages based on a thoughtful synthesis of their company’s value proposition and the pain that they hear from the customers and prospects.




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