Selling software in 2012 – it’s complicated

I read with interest the post from Alex Payne entitled “How Not to Sell Software in 2012”

Alex has a ton of respect from the Boundary team and the post created a good discussion on our internal Yammer.

As someone that buys software, I agree with Alex wholeheartedly. I hate the traditional sales models, I hate the feeling of being qualified every step of the way and I want immediate value (instant gratification).

But, as someone that spends a lot of time building and running companies and sales organizations, I understand the vendor predicament and the complexity that goes behind it.

The basic premise for me is to put the customer in control of the buying cycle. There are some steps to do this….

  1. Figure out who our customer is
  2. Figure out how those customers want to buy
  3. Figure our how much value my software derives for my customer
  4. Engage with the customer in the manner in which they want to do business, at the value/model that they want to pay

Isn’t that a beautiful vision? As a customer I get to define how I want the vendor to engage, how I want the vendor to license and how much I want to pay for the software. Then, the vendor can either say yes/no…..sort of like a priceline for software.

But, and here’s the rub, when building a company these things become really difficult to achieve. Every piece of flexibility that you build into the sales model increases the complexity for the vendor significantly and it affects all parts of your business. Hence why most vendors have a single sales process that they follow -rinse and repeat is much easier to teach and scale.

Who your target customer is dictates your sales process. If I want to sell to engineering/operations folks at innovative start-ups, then I need to give them everything via the web. If my target customer is a manager in a medium to large company then they want personal contact, without it they will not buy. And if my target customer could be either (as is true for Boundary and many others), that’s when the dance starts.

I had a situation a couple of years ago with my previous company when a potential customer, Softlayer, came to us and said “just send the software. I don’t want to talk to anyone in your company until you’ve sent us the software and we’ve had a chance to evaluate it on our own”. This came all the way to myself to approve (we normally wanted to offer the customer support during their evaluation process). The answer was simple….send them the software. (As an aside, a week later they called us, told us they loved the software and asked us to meet with them in Dallas, which was the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship for both companies).

Bottom Line: There is no one size fits all. Look at Splunk – incredibly successful but I can’t figure out their pricing and buy from their web site. Look at AppDynamics and New Relic –both in the same space, both being incredibly successful but wildly different sales modes.

My advice to Alex and anyone other buyer is, tell the vendor how you want to do business; listen to their response and if they are not willing to adapt their model to meet your needs, don’t do business with them. As a buyer you always have the power of choice.

My advice to those that sell software is, figure out what your customers want to do that. Don’t be a sheep – do the right thing for your customers.

And finally, in case you are wondering, yes, Boundary will absolutely publish its pricing and be available to buy directly from our web site. But, we will also have a sales/technical team who engages with customers and offers them support in their evaluation and usage of our solution.

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