I think of enterprise software into two broad categories - products or solutions and platform. The simplest definition of platform is you use that to make a solution that you need. While largely I have been a product person I have had significant exposure to enterprise platform sales process. I have worked with many sales leaders, influencers, and buyers. Whether you're a product person or you're in a role where you facilitate sales I hope this post will give you some insights as well as food for thought on challenges associated with sales of disruptive platforms such as Big Data and how you can effectively work with customers and others to mitigate some of these challenges.
I like Mark Suster's sales advice to entrepreneurs through his framework of "why buy anything", why buy mine", and "why buy now." I am going to use the same framework. Platform sales is sales in the end and all the sales rules as well as tips and tricks you know that would still apply. The objective here is to focus on how disruptive enterprise software platform sales is different and what you could do about it.
The first part of this three-post series focuses on "why buy anything."
Companies look for solutions for problems they know exist. Not having a platform is typically not considered a good-enough problem to go and buy something. IT departments also tend to use what they have in terms of tools and technology to solve problems for which they decide to "build" as opposed to "buy." Making your prospects realize they need to buy something is a very important first step in sales process.
Generating organic demand:
Hopefully, you have good marketing people that are generating enough demand and interest in your platform and the category it belongs to. But, unfortunately, even if you have great marketing people it won't be sufficient to generate organic demand for a platform with your prospect. When it comes to platform sales your job is to create organic demand before you can fulfill it. This is hard and it doesn't come naturally to many good sales people that I have known. By and large sales people are good at three things: i) listen: understand what customers want ii) orchestrate: work with a variety of people to demonstrate that their product is the best feature and price fit iii) close: identify right influencers and work with a buyer to close an opportunity. While platform sales does require these three qualities like any other sales creating demand or appetite is the one that a very few sales people have. You have to go beyond what your prospects tell you; you have to assess their latent needs. Your prospects won't tell you they need a disruptive platform simply because they don't know that.
You're assuming a 1-1 marketing role to create this desire. Connect your prospects with (non-sales) thought leaders inside as well as outside of your organization and invite them to industry conferences to educate them on the category to which your platform belongs to. Platform conversations, in most cases, start from unusual places inside your prospect's organization. People who are seen as technology thought leaders or are responsible for "labs" inside their company or people who self-select as nerds or tinkerers are the ones you need to evangelize to and win over. These people typically don't sit in the traditional IT organization that you know of and even if they do they are not the ones who make decisions. These folks are simply passionate people who love working on disruptive technology and have a good handle on some of the challenges their companies are facing.
Dance with the business and the IT:
As counterintuitive as it may sound working with non-IT people to sell technology platform to IT is a good way to go. The "business" is always problem-centric and the IT is always solution-centric. Remember, you're chasing a problem and not a solution. Identify a few folks in a line of business who are willingly to work with you. This is not easy especially if you're a technology-only vendor. Identify their strategic challenges that have legs — money attached to it. Evangelize these challenges with IT to generate interest in disruptive platform that could be a good fit for these challenges.
IT doesn't like disruption regardless of what they tell you. If they are buying your disruptive platform they are not buying something else and they don't use some of the existing platforms or tools they have. There are people who have built their careers building solutions on top of existing tools and technology and they simply don't want to see that go away. You will have to walk this fine line and get these people excited on a new platform that doesn't threaten their jobs and perhaps show them how their personal careers could accelerate if they get on to this emerging technology that a very few people know in the company but something which is seen highly strategic in the market. Don't bypass IT; it won't work. Make them your friends and give them an opportunity to shine in front of business and give them credit for all the work.
Chasing the right IT spend:
Most enterprise software sales people generally know two things about their customers: i) overall IT spend ii) how much of that they spend with you. What they typically don't know is how much a customer spends on similar technology or platforms from that overall IT spend that doesn't come your way. There are two ways to execute a sales opportunity: either you find something to sell for the amount that your customer typically spends with you on annual basis or you go after the larger IT spend and expand your share of the overall pie. It's the latter that is relevant when you're selling platform to your existing customer (and not a prospect).
Platform, in most cases, is a budgeted investment that falls under "innovation" or "modernization" category. If you're just focused on current spending pattern of your customer you may not be able to generate demand for your platform. It is your job to convince your customer to look beyond how they see you as a vendor and be open to invest into a category that they might be reluctant for.
The next post in this series will be about "why buy mine."
Photo courtesy: Stef