Simon Terry

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Scaling enterprise sales

Selling to enterprise clients is the new black. However, enterprise sales rarely comes easily.  The challenges highlight where businesses need to innovate to engage enterprise customers.  

With the successes of organisations like Workday, Amazon Web Services, Yammer, Salesforce.com and others in selling to enterprises, many entrepreneurs are looking to generate revenue for their start-up by selling to enterprises.  Over recent years I have spoken to many people, keen to sell services to large organisations.  Like all good entrepreneurs they are keen to move fast and scale their businesses.  However, few have invested time and effort in how they will scale their distribution to enterprises.

David Sacks CEO and co-founder of Yammer gave a recent talk to Khosla Ventures that highlighted the challenges of enterprise sales:

  • Enterprise sales aren’t viral.  You might be able to win enterprise users with a click, but money takes sales effort.
  • You need a sales team to get the sale and you can waste a lot of time and money with a poor performing sales team.
  • You need to know your buyer or you can waste a lot of time navigating organisations and dealing with many parties
  • You need to shape your buyer’s perceptions
  • The enterprise rarely has one mind and you may find conflicting agendas, decision rights, etc.  It is not uncommon to have technical, finance, legal and other gatekeepers who need to be satisified before a check is cut by the buyer.

Sacks called for start-ups to put as much effort into innovating distribution as they do their product. Any business to business sales business should do the same.

These lesson reflect what any business to business organisation has known for years.  Enterprise sales is a demanding body contact sport where the rules and the opposing players keep changing.  So how do you do it better than the average depends on how your design your innovative sales model to leverage these insights:

  • Be ready to be right first time.  Enterprise buyers are time poor. If you don’t have your questions or your pitch clear, then don’t expect them to wait for you to sort it out.  These are first impression sales so you want to create and maintain a positive momentum from the get-go.  Plenty of great ideas died at the doorstep because the sales person wasn’t ready to sell.  Make sure your team is capable of delivering the message.  Spray and pray can do more damage to your reputation.  In many cases, there are few buyers of your solution and unlike consumers they rarely forgive.  In a social era, enterprise buyers increasingly know each other and collaborate on insights into vendors.
  • Collaboration is better than going alone.  Leverage internal change agents and partners who can help you understand the organisation, the agendas and find the buyer. Invest time in research before you act. There is enormous power in having someone inside the organisation who can work the system for you and supply you with the right information to go forward. Too many perfect fits fail because meetings don’t get followed up.  Just like internal change agents, partners who have already done the leg work on that or similar organisations are ways to accelerate your efforts.
  • Understand the buyer’s needs.  What your product does is irrelevant.  How much the users love it is irrelevant.  Your feature differences to competitors are irrelevant.  Your analyst ratings are irrelevant.  Don’t confuse the tool with the result.  What matters most to corporate customers is the problem that they are trying to solve today. Make sure your pitch is meeting their strategic needs.
  • Help the organisation understand value by solving their need exceptionally well.  The decision criteria in organisations can be as bewildering as the choice of solutions that the organisation faces.  One thing is clear to every company the amount of money that they are being asked to put out the door.  The better job you do demonstrating real value is a multiple of that specific cost, the easier your sales job is.  We are not talking promises or soft benefits.  We are talking demonstration of real hard value.  If it can’t be demonstrated by a pilot or experiment in the organisation then you will need to invest in case studies with role model global organisations that everyone else wants to copy.
  • Manage a pipeline of sales opportunities:  Enterprise sales take time.  Providing continuity of management over time is important to maximise your chances and minimise waste.  Managing a pipeline enables you to assess continuously where each deal is at, assess prospects of success, kill bad deals quickly and shepherd customers through from suspect to prospect to opportunity to purchase decision to order and then through to implementation.  
  • Plan for and design for servicing of the account to realise value. Winning a licence fee or a service fee is well and good. However, unlike consumers you can rarely leave a enterprise client to its own devices to make the value from your product.  The multiple agendas mean that there will be changes, new questions and always new agendas. If you want to retain and grow their business given all you invested in a sale, treat sales and service as a continuum.  You will need to plan to support your customers to grow the use of your product and leverage that to grow your revenues.

As Sacks argues, you need to innovate in your distribution model. Enterprise sales don’t just happen. If you want to scale, enterprise sales you will need some new magic. My advice is to focus your distribution model innovation on the key issues because a better solution to these issues combining service design and sales will deliver big advantages down the track.


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