July 27, 2010
Are Software Sales Slow, or Is That a Tar Pit You’re Standing In?
My circle of professional friends is made up of 40 – 50 something’s, divided between the Route 128 beltway here in Boston, and Silicon Valley just outside of San Francisco.
For the most part, we're all selling software to some of the largest companies in the world. Still in it for the passion of making a small “bit” of code known throughout the universe – or at least on Wall Street.
In his book “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman addressed our generation and the various projects which we worked on throughout the 80’s and 90’s – he referred to the events as “flatteners”.
I don’t suppose we were consciously competent of it at the time, but in retrospect, wow, we did some huge deals, delivered ground breaking go-to-market programs, and launched products that literally change the world and our lives – virtually overnight.I remember my good friend Michael Werner flying in from Redmond; he was coming to Boston to kickoff Microsoft’s first ever worldwide virtual user conference for a small project which he and his team created – they were building a network of programmers and thinking of naming it: “The Microsoft Developer Network” or MSDN -- a channel strategy to seed the world’s coding rock stars with Microsoft Visual Studio platform, hoping to displace Sun, IBM and all others.
I remember him telling me about Bill's latest "vision" on our snowy drive into Boston; of course, being the prophet that I am, I simply replied “…good luck with that one”.
The point I'm making is that in the 90’s, we laid the framework for online, real time communications, globally. We were working for tiny start-ups selling billions and billions of dollars of technology infrastructure and software to the largest companies in the world. It was intense.
I would spend hours in conversations with C-level execs at these companies, looking to gain a leg up on their competition by leveraging innovation. Given the scale of these solutions, cost, budget allocation, complexity, and political risk; the Sales pros had to be there, on site -- relationships were the difference between winning and losing.
The outside sales organization was not just a component of the business, in many cases it WAS the business. All of the momentum, all of the demand, all the incredible competition -- it was so crazy that many of us didn’t see the end coming, until, well, the end.
Fast forward 25 years later and things necessarily have changed. Its a Sales 2.0 world. Yet, there still remain hangers-on: High Tech CEO’s, VP’s of Marketing, Sales Managers, and dare I say, Board Members who refuse, for whatever reason, not to see the hieroglyphics on the wall. Who even today, cling to that cost heavy, inefficient and ineffective “Outside Sales Model”.
I am not suggesting that the need to build relationships with clients is gone; that definitely is not the case. Never will this perish (and if so, I hope I’m out of here when it does – because, that is a lost art; a blog post for another time, and something drastically lacking in all of this Sales 2.0 hipness).
What I am saying, however, is that the frequency, and need of the “schmooze” has greatly diminished, and gone with it, is the requirement for the armies that once ruled the road with nothing but Buicks, massive cell phones, and enormous expense.
Certainly some of the old school prospects still look forward to a big steak, but as decision makers of this past generation retire, they will be replaced by “Gen Y” buyers (Customer 2.0), who will just as easily do a deal via their iPhone and Skype, instead of dinner and a ball game.
Yet, generational shift is only one of two “Sales world flatteners”; in fact, it will probably be the last piece to fall into place.
The other flattener (and ironically the higher hurdle for many first gen sales people) was created by the very infrastructure and evolution that we built our livelihoods on; from LAN, to client server applications, to the internet, which lead to the .com’s, whose failure proved which commerce models worked (and which did not); ultimately bringing us today’s fast, stable, secure SaaS applications and Cloud Service architecture.
In other words, the groundwork laid over 2 decades ago, now makes it possible for any ISV serving the enterprise to build, host, deliver and manage mission critical applications – for cheap!
If you don’t believe me, look at the data warehouse and business intelligence space. I was part of the original Informatica Sales Organization. We were assisting the F500, or in my case Financial 100, with the data they required to run their business.
We were the start up sales team, all 5 of us; telling the story of how you could gain access to the data in your mainframe, transform it on the fly, store it in something called a Relational Database Management System, and while migrating, become Y2K compliant; all for the low, low price of a million-dollars.
Fast forward to the fall of 2009. Here at Glance we had a need to move data from our RDBMS (SQL Server), transform it to meet real time business requirements, and insert it into our Salesforce.com instance; allowing us at any point in time to track the vitality of our business.
For this mission critical application we evaluated the market and choose a tool from a new company in this space called SnapLogic; ironically, (ok, not ironically), whose CEO is Gaurav Dhillon; former founder of, you guessed it, Informatica.
Here's the cool part, we got a demo from a very bright young guy named Vince Ko; no one needed to come and see us, we didn’t have to install anything locally, its SaaS, the implementation was done by SnapLogic experts from 3000 miles away, and oh yeah, we didn’t spend a million. (For proprietary reasons, let’s just say I bought a new bike this summer, and it cost more money than our SnapLogic annual subscription.)
My story is not unique. It is not a one-off-event, instead it is the rapidly accepted norm, the future of selling enterprise software, the alignment of Gen Y and Tech evolution. A shift which will retrospectively be seen as bringing to extinction the top heavy Outside Sales models of our past.
So if you’re an old guy like me, and you're still driving that Buick, or carrying that GI Joe cell phone, do yourself a favor and evolve your ways of thinking fast, before that tar pit beneath your wheels sucks you in for good.
-- Tom Scontras, VP Sales & Marketing, Glance Networks
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