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Showing posts with label sales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sales. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Disruptive Enterprise Platform Sales: Why Buy Anything, Buy Mine, Buy Now - Part III


This is the third and the last post in the three-post series on challenges associated with sales of disruptive platforms such as Big Data and how you can effectively work with your prospects and others to mitigate them. If you missed the previous posts the first post was about “why buy anything” and the second post was about “why buy mine." This post is about “why buy now."

Platform sales is often times perceived as a solution looking for a problem a.k.a hammer looking for a nail. In most cases your prospects don’t have a real urgency to buy your platform making it difficult for you to make them commit on an opportunity. There are a few things that you could do to deal with this situation:

Specific business case

It’s typical for vendors to create a business case positioning their solutions to their prospects. These business cases include details such as solution summary, pricing, ROI etc. If you’re a platform vendor not only you have to create this basic business case but you will also have to go beyond that. It’s relatively hard to quantify ROI of a platform since it doesn’t solve a specific problem but it could solve many problems. It is extremely difficult to quantify the impact of lost opportunities. If your prospect doesn’t buy anything do they lose money on lost opportunities? Traditional NPV kind of analysis goes for a toss for such situations.

As a vendor not only you will have to articulate the problems (scenarios/use cases) that you identified leading up to this step but you might also have to include more scenarios that were not specifically discussed during the evaluation phase. Getting a validation from the business on expected return on their investment while fulfilling their vision is crucial since your numbers will most likely get challenged when your prospect creates its own business case to secure necessary investment to buy your platform.

Leveraging the excitement

What seemed like a problem when you worked with a variety of people inside your prospect’s organization may not seem like a problem in a few weeks or months. It’s very important in platform sales cycle not to lose momentum. Find a champion of your pilot keep socializing the potential of your platform inside your prospect’s organization as much as you can while you work on commercials of your opportunity. People should be talking about your disruptive platform and wanting to work with you. Cease that moment to close it.

Knowing who will sign the check

Platform sales are convoluted. People who helped you so far may not necessarily help you with the last step—not that they don’t want to but they may not be the buyers who will sign the check. It’s not uncommon in enterprise software sales to have influencers who are not the final buyers but the buyers do have somewhat defined procurement process for standard solutions. When it comes to buying a platform many buyers don’t quite understand why they should be spending money on disruptive platform that may or may not necessarily solve a specific problem.

To complicate this further, for disruptive technology, it typically tends to get cheaper as it becomes more mature. This gives your prospect one more reason to wait and not buy your platform now. As I mentioned in the previous post your focus should never be on pricing (unless of course you are the best and cheapest vendor by a wide margin) but on immediate returns, no lost opportunities, and helping your prospect gain competitive differentiation in their industry.

Despite of working with your prospect for a while helping them define problems and piloting your platform to prove out the value proposition, you might get asked again to do things all over again. There are two ways to mitigate this situation: a) involve buyers early on in the sales process and not at the very end so that they are part of the journey b) work aggressively with your influencers to establish appropriate communication channels with the buyers so that it’s the influencer’s voice they hear and not yours.

Happy selling!

Photo Courtesy: Wierts Sebastien  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Disruptive Enterprise Platform Sales: Why Buy Anything, Buy Mine, Buy Now - Part II


This is the second post in the three-post series on challenges associated with sales of disruptive platforms such as Big Data and how you can effectively work with your prospects and others to mitigate them. If you missed the first post in the series it was about “why buy anything.” This post is about “why buy mine."

Convincing  your prospects they need to buy a platform is just a first step in the sales process. You need to work with them to convince them to buy not just any platform but your platform.

Asking the right questions - empathy for business

This is the next logical step after you have managed to generate organic demand in your prospect’s organization a.k.a “why buy anything” as I mentioned in the Part I. Unlike applications, platforms don’t answer a specific set of questions (functional requirements). You can’t really position and demonstrate the power of your platform unless you truly understand what questions your prospect needs you to answer. Understanding your prospect’s questions would mean working closely with them to understand their business and their latent needs. Your prospect may or may not tell you what they might want to do with your platform. You will need to do it for them. You will have to orchestrate those strategic conversations that have investment legs and understand problems that are not solvable by standard off-the-shelf solutions your prospect may have access to.

Answering the right questions - seeing is believing

One of the key benefits of SaaS solutions is your prospect’s ability to test drive your software before they buy it. Platforms, on-premise or SaaS, need to follow the same approach. There are two ways to do this: you either give your prospect access to your platform and let them test drive it or you work with your prospect and be involved in guiding them through how a pilot can answer their questions and track their progress. While the latter approach is a hi-touch sale I would advise you to practice it if it fits your cost structure. More on why it is necessary to stay involved during the pilot in the next and the last post (Part III) in this series.

Proving unique differentiation

Once your prospect starts the evaluation process whether to buy your platform or not your platform will be compared with your competitive products as part of their due diligence efforts. This is where you want to avoid an apple-to-apple comparison and focus on unique differentiation.

Even though enterprise platform deals are rarely won on price alone don’t try to sell something that solves a problem your competitors can solve at the same or cheaper price. Don’t compete on price unless you are significantly cheaper than your competitor. The best way to position your platform is to demonstrate a few unique features of your platform that are absolutely important to solve the core problems of your prospect and are not just nice-to-have features.

Care deeply for what your prospects truly care about and prove you’re unique.

The next and the last post in this series will be about “why buy now.”

Photo courtesy: Flickr 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Disruptive Enterprise Platform Sales: Why Buy Anything, Buy Mine, Buy Now - Part I


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

Monday, March 28, 2011

Selling To Enterprise - Power Struggle Between IT And Line Of Business

During my several interactions with - CIOs, senior IT leaders, and Line of Business (LoB) heads - I have firsthand observed the power struggle between LoB and IT and a slow but continuous tarnish in their relationship due to cloud and SaaS offerings. IT and LoB work for the same company but they build their little and in some cases huge empires within a company. Even if the end goal of a company is to leverage technology to gain competitive advantage, they all have orthogonal goals that appear to be conflicting from the outside. In a negotiation, it's imperative to recognize that both parties never want the same thing. It's about getting to a deal that's a win-win situation. Regardless of the kind of ISV you represent and who the buyer is, I suggest you make the both - IT as well as LoB - work in your favor.

The ISVs that typically face these challenges fall into one of these three categories: 1) On-premise vendors that sell into IT find it difficult to compete against SaaS vendors selling similar solutions to LoBs 2) SaaS vendors that primarily sell into LoBs find it difficult to get pass IT 3) On-premise vendors aspiring to sell on-premise as well as their new SaaS solutions to LoBs find lack of relationship with LoBs challenging. Not only the ISVs need to understand which category they belong to, but they also need to understand the conflicting goals between LoB and IT and have a strategy and a solution to overcome that. It's not black and white and there's no prescriptive approach. It does vary across customers, their IT maturity, industries, and regions.

The LoB is always about time to value. They want a solution today and they want it now. This is the reason SaaS has a compelling value proposition - nothing to install, no software to purchase, and relatively shorter implementation cycle - to serve the LoBs. On the other hand, IT wants governance, risk management, and integration. They see SaaS solutions as silo one-off solutions popping up everywhere in the company, keeping the CIO up in the night. IT sees technology and LoB sees solutions. This is also a function of how IT operates. I have seen many different variations of the same thing. If you have a clear value proposition for LoB, do cater to them, but don't bypass IT. It's tempting, but don't do it, instead make them your friends. Bypassing IT might help in the short-term but eventually you will run into issues.

I would recommend a few things:

Help IT scale: If you believe that IT wants control and hence wants to do everything on their own, you're most likely wrong. It turns out that IT doesn't mind at all if business can perform certain functions in a self-service way, as long as the IT is ensured that they have underlying control over data and (on-premise) infrastructure. The private clouds are flourishing for very same reasons. This is great news for on-premise vendors that are struggling to sell into IT with dwindling budgets. Focus your innovation on simplifying IT landscapes and making on-premise deployments more self-service for LoBs. For SaaS vendors, this is where you win over the on-premise vendors by providing instant value to an LoB and giving IT control over data security, governance, and integration.

Don't compete based on price alone: I have heard many times that compete based on price and you will win, regardless of whether IT or LoB is a buyer. Competing based on price could be a good thing, but it's not everything. Personally, I have observed quite a few bake-off situations and learned that price alone does not determine the final outcome. The IT as well as LoB do look for things beyond a vendor offering a cheap solution. If you're expensive, you need to have an end-to-end value proposition that is far better than your competitor and if you're cheap, you have to be cheaper by a magnitude to the second cheapest competitor for a customer not to ignore you. Also, the on-premise and SaaS offerings have not-to-easy price comparison since they have different CapEX/OpEx models resulting into potentially different TCO for a customer.

Follow the money trail: IT and LoB have their own budgets. Traditionally, on average, IT spends 80% of their budget on "keeping the lights on". The rest is spent on "innovation" or "strategic projects". While this is a broad generalization, this could vary from customer to customer. The most progressive CIO that I have so far worked with has the exact opposite number - 80% on innovation. As a vendor, not only you need to understand who has the power to write a check, but which bucket has the most money left with the least hoops to jump through. In some cases, IT has chargeback (to business) models and LoB-sponsored projects. Follow the money trail and understand the aspirations on both sides and position your solution accordingly. If there's no pain, there's no gain. Spend time on finding the biggest pain-point and a budget to fix it instead of educating a customer that they may have a problem.

Happy selling!
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