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Thought leadership selling for enterprise software October 31, 2013

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Enterprise Sales.
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There are two core jobs in enterprise software; you either code it or you sell it. All the other jobs, vital as they are, facilitate those two core tasks. In the great companies there is a culture that synthesizes the best of the coding world and the best of the sales world. In those companies, both techies and hustlers respect each other and know that they depend on each other like mountain climbers roped together.

Sadly that kind of mutual respect culture is all too rare. For the first generation of enterprise software, the sales guys ruled and they often abused that privilege. It is therefore no surprise that in the next generation, characterized by consumerization, many technical founders sought to write the sales guys out of the script.

In the consumer world, there is no selling (door to door salesmen are only in history books), there is marketing and that is tightly integrated with the product (lots of AB testing to find out what gets consumers to hit the buy button).

Marketing has become a science. The creative folks and their hustlers, who we watch with such amusement on MadMen, have been banished to the history books along with door to door salesmen. We now have a perfect quantitive feedback loop of analytics feeding into Marketing Automation feeding back into product management feeding back into analytics….

That would be OK if selling to the enterprise one user at a time – the consumerization story – was all that was needed. It is a venture life-stage issue. You may get early traction, the foot in the door, one user at a time using Freemium. To grow your share of budget you need to engage with the people who manage these enterprises (or sell to an acquirer who can do this but that is a very limited pool of acquirers).

In order to sell the big ticket deals to the Global 2000, you need a qualitative feedback loop integrated with this quantitative feedback loop. That needs flesh and blood humans, there is no way algorithms can do that.

These humans need to practice a form of creative thought-leadership selling that has become a forgotten art. It is an art not a science because you need to interact with a lot of smart, powerful people and no amount of process will replace a talent for convincing people. It is a forgotten art because enterprise software has been in a coma for the last decade. Most of the best minds moved into consumer ventures.

Unfortunately when you find the folks who still know how to do big ticket deals with the Global 2000, many of them are uncomfortable in the new consumerized social media data driven world.

Here is how Forbes describes thought-leadership sales people as the new rain-makers.

The money quote is here:

“Take Salesforce.com as an example. This was an organization that took cloud-based software-as-a-service for customer relationships into the mainstream marketplace. There are several elements to its success, namely a strong product, but it also has an army of thought leaders who specialize in app development, sales lead development, sales management, etc. that helps customers do their jobs better. Salesforce’s model, driven by product success and thought leaders, has led to a familiarity with “the cloud” and a willingness to accept it in a corporate environment. These achievements not only helped the cloud computing industry with adoption rates, but helped make Salesforce a leader in the cloud-based CRM space.”

I think of this more simply as “bloggers who sell or salesmen who blog”. I use “blog” as short-hand for insightful trend analysis about your market (fully recognizing that lots of blogging is empty drivel).

It is no longer good enough to have thought leaders blog and sales people sell. The buyer has to want to meet the sales person. They can get the insights from the blog. Why would they want to spend an hour with a sales guy who will just parrot the same info you just read on the blog?

This is easy when all the selling is done by a founder, which is clearly not scalable and is a tough transition for many ventures. Getting a whole team of thought-leader sales people is harder.

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