Succeeding at Enterprise Software Sales Still Requires Sales People Who Can Do Something More than Just Present Products

During the 2014 Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, hosted by JP Morgan, Judson Althoff, President of Microsoft, North America made clear the importance of “consultative” skills, rather than product presentation, to the success of sales of Microsoft software to enterprise business.

The North America software business, for Microsoft, per Mr. Althoff’s remarks, produces approximately “$25 billion across 8,000 folks” (quoted from a transcript of Sterling Auty’s interview with Mr. Althoff, which took place during the 2014 JP Morgan Technology, Media and Telecom Conference).

Like any other component of Microsoft, the North America business has been in transition. Presently the sales team works with a set of products “down to three or four Microsofts instead of 22 Microsofts when [Mr. Althoff] started from a product standpoint”. (ibid). Mr. Althoff characterized the world of the “22 Microsofts” as a terrain filled with silos, which often worked at cross purposes. The “One Microsoft” reorganization, in his opinion, which Steve Ballmer articulated over a year ago, is still ongoing and promises to alleviate a lot of the drag which beset the company under the “tyranny” of these product silos.

The sales process, as well, has changed. Mr. Althoff’s remarks described the old selling process, where Microsoft sales personnel would “try to dream up a big data project together [with customers]”. The driver behind this type of effort clearly was what I have referred to in this blog as “solution without a problem” syndrome.

According to Mr. Althoff, this approach has been changed. Now “we try to coach our sales force not to have a singular starting point, and show up with a canned pitch, but rather be much more consultative in our approach to understanding” (ibid) the challenges prospects and customers are facing.

He then went on to emphasize the importance of industry understanding to a successful software sales process: “[i]t varies quite a bit by industry, financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing.” (ibid). This response is entirely inline with comments made by Keith Block during yet another technology day sponsored by an investment bank — this time Piper Jaffray’s Media and Telecommunications Conference, March, 2014. Mr. Block emphasized the almost critical importance of sales personnel maintaining an accurate understanding of the software requirements for specific industries, if they are to succeed.

Bottom line: despite the apparent simplicity of a new set of consumerized IT software products, usually served from the cloud, the enterprise software selling environment is still highly complex. For both Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and, I would argue, Oracle (the past employer of Mr. Block and Mr. Althoff), sales personnel with demonstrated success selling complex products are still the most likely to succeed.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Thoughts on Steve Ballmer’s Planned Departure from Microsoft

On Friday, August 23, 2013, Steve Ballmer, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Microsoft® announced his intention to resign his position within the next 12 months, subsequent to a replacement coming on board.

A lot of pundits expressed opinions on this event. Microsoft’s stock price went up by over 6%. So markets appeared to react positively to Mr. Ballmer’s decision. But from what we’ve read on this topic, we don’t think these pundits and their audiences are focusing on the right drivers forcing this change at the top of one of the largest ISVs in the world.

We think it all comes down to a radically transformed market for office automation solutions across large organizations in the private, public and not for profit sectors.

These markets have turned the corner, once and for all, away from large, internal on premises data centers, proprietary client server applications, and the large staff of internal IT professionals required to support all of this apparatus.

They have a burning need for a new set of ISVs, capable of providing Infrastructure on demand, and application services on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis across a new ubiquitous wide area network represented by the enormous Ethernet networking plant already in place, which is commonly referred to as the Cloud.

In this environment it is exceptionally difficult for Microsoft® and its peers (Oracle®, IBM®, HP®) to figure out how to make money. So new leadership is needed to demonstrate how Microsoft® can proceed further on its own evolution to better service this new market, but in a highly profitable manner.

So we think all the talk of missing out on the iPhone, and iPad, etc, is off target. The profitability of consumer markets pale when compared to enterprise business markets, where ISVs, in the past, could sell literally thousands of seats for proprietary software by simply closing one complex sale.

With the cloud and SaaS, the old sales methodology must be replaced. We congratulate Mr. Ballmer on a tremendous achievement. We watched Microsoft® enter the enterprise business market in the mid 1980s. We knew they’d win the desktop OS battle, but were surprised at how they won the rest of it, including placing SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync with customers who would otherwise be using IBM’s Notes product.

To reiterate, we don’t think it’s as much a matter of transforming Microsoft® into a competitor for Apple® and Google® in the consumer markets as it is a matter of finding a leader who can keep Microsoft® at the top of the list of preferred enterprise ISVs, and highly profitable, albeit for SaaS and cloud services for the enterprise.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Decision Making on IT Implementations at Enterprise Organizations is Often Dysfunctional

We’ve frequently characterized enterprise organizational planning for information technology as a “dysfunctional” process. There are many free resources which can be used to either affirm or refute our characterizations. Blogs that include interviews with IT planners from large organizations are an excellent resource for this type of information. For example, we read with interest Q&A: Jack Israel on FBI Sentinel and federal IT development shortcomings. We think that Mr. Israel’s comments lend substantial credibility to our characterization: “I’ve been in IT development in government for over 10 years. It started at NSA, then 5 years at the FBI, and I finished about a year at DHS. I grew very frustrated working on large IT programs. Because, by and large, I came to believe that these programs just don’t work.”

This type of candid assessment of marketplace realities provides invaluable data. Simply consider how useful these observations ought to be for innovative tech businesses focused on enterprise markets. After all, once Mr. Israel’s observations are carefully digested, these businesses ought to be able to create/modify/replace sales plans as required to better project the length of likely sales cycles. As well, these businesses will have important information on hand that can be used to forecast the number of quality leads that ought to be in process to ensure adequate revenue flow while deals slowly close over time. Further, this type of information should also prove to be very useful for product marketers who need to balance market pricing against sales and marketing costs.

The kind of major IT plan characterized by the FBI’s Sentinel program is usually included in a 5 year plan. As a public organization the FBI provides a Information Technology Strategic Plan FY 2010 – 2015. Obviously 5 years is a very long time to wait to close a deal, therefore, businesses looking to compete in this type of market ought to carefully plan the resources required to go the distance as these plans are conceptualized, break down, regroup and, ideally at some point, come to fruition.

We think Mr. Israel’s point that “. . . [i]t doesn’t matter who you are, because unless you can logically break them down into very small pieces . . .” failure is a likely scenario is quite accurate. As well, this points out an opportunity for businesses who want this type of market to look for opportunities to participate within the “very small pieces” that make up the overall IT plan for the enterprise. In fact, the IT implementations that take place within these pieces can deliver the level of revenue required to fuel a business for the long haul as the larger plan takes shape (or fails to do so).

If your business simply must have a seat at the enterprise IT table you ought to very carefully review the information included in Mr. Israel’s interview, along with the FBI 5 year plan. If you would like some advice on how to proceed, then please contact us. Telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Avoiding the Longer Sales Cycles Characteristic of a Down Economy

Alinean, a company to which we have made reference in earlier posts to this blog talks about the longer sales cycles that have become characteristic of enterprise technology sales in 2012. A number of prominent publicly traded businesses, including Oracle Corporation and Dell Computer have also made reference to longer sales cycles. In the case of Oracle Corporation, mention was made of an order that was finally held up by a CEO of a prospect, for a reason that came to the Oracle sales team as a complete surprise, and at the last steps in the sales process.

How is it possible to avoid these longer sales cycles? In fact, we do not believe that it is possible to, across the board, ensure a prompt cycle for sales that should come in. We, ourselves, have worked over the last year on an order that we quoted in February that should be received sometime in June. We were particularly concerned when a representative from the team purchasing our client’s product mentioned to us last month that we would need to refresh our quote so that the prospect can have at least an additional 30 days to process an order.

We firmly believe that the best route to take to plan for a prompt order is to help a customer to:

  1. Build a compelling case for the need to change, and
  2. Produce an accurate, specific value presentation that clearly demonstrates cost savings that will directly result from a prompt implementation of the changes required
  3. There is absolutely no better way to set the stage for a prompt order.

    Nevertheless, other parties within a complex business can divert an order, or nix an order altogether. We do not presume to render an opinion about the experience recounted in Oracle’s quarterly report. On the other hand, we do note that the recounted experience adds substantial credibility to a complex sales approach for enterprise software. After all, the last minute activity on the part of the CEO came “from left field”. The CEO’s action was neither included in the sales plan, nor handled easily. The only way to orchestrate a successful engagement in such an environment is to plan for a complex set of decision makers.

    If your business is susceptible to long sales cycles please do not hesitate to contact us. We are most interested in opportunities to contribute to more effective sales planning. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

    © IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Selling Enterprise Software in a Down Economy

June of 2012 has opened on a pronounced somber economic note. What impact, if any, does the general economic condition here in the United States have on the job of selling enterprise software.

The method of selling enterprise software, as we have alluded to it here in this blog, remains entirely the same in a down economy. The same principles apply to complex sales as have always applied. What has changed, and will continue to change should the economy continue to worsen (which looks to be the case at least through the remainder of this year) is that fewer prospects will pursue purchases. Prospects who have been proceeding on purchases without a strong foundation of conviction built on the results of a thorough analysis of why products should be purchased will likely drop the pursuit. Therefore, it is crucial for sales teams to identify questionable prospects as early as possible in order to ensure minimal lost time that should be devoted to better opportunities.

We think that an excellent way of accelerating prospect identification is to strictly adhere to the steps that we have identified earlier in this blog. With the first prospect conversation sales teams must be able to answer an important question:

Does this prospect broadly agree with us that our solution may produce significant cost savings or not?

A “maybe” answer to the above question should not be taken as an indicator of anything that would inspire optimism about a likely sale. The answer to this question must be either a “yes”, or a “no”. If the answer is no, then move onto the next prospect right away. There are no fewer prospects in a down economy than there are in a booming economy. In fact, as companies feel the pain of economic contraction, more companies will express an active interest in opportunities to save money and reduce costs. Therefore, down economies will produce more prospects for complex sales campaigns properly built upon specific, quantified financial metrics that demonstrate, irrefutably that substantial cost savings will be produced as the result of purchasing enterprise software.

Time is better spent in a down economy carefully researching prospects feeling the specific pain that a solution is designed to solve than pursuing further engagement with marginally interested prospects. We have considerable current experience in these markets. We welcome opportunities to discuss the needs of innovative technology businesses for better sales team performance. Please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Sales teams must carefully prepare for each contact in a complex sale

Once a gatekeeper has opened an organization for further contact by an enterprise sales team the most sensible approach is to quickly establish contact with the apparent owner of the problem. The reason for this is simple. Contacting the owner of the problem as early as possible within the sales campaign provides the sales team within an opportunity to accelerate the campaign pace, to expeditiously reach a decision as to whether it makes sense, or not, to further pursue the prospect. Why waste time where there is little if any interest in one’s solution to a problem?

On the other hand, if the apparent problem owner acknowledges the problem and, further, invites the sales team to subsequent discussions, then an effective method has been made available to collect as many of the stakeholders as possible in a discussion. By bringing the various stakeholders together in a discussion, it is then possible to deal with them as a group rather than as individual contacts for whom the sales team would otherwise have to individually research and prepare. Even if, at a later time, this group either dissolves or is rearranged, the whole process will be initially streamlined by the organization of these initial contacts into a group by none other than the actual problem owner.

The above scenario represents an ideal. Nevertheless, purely from the standpoint of time management, as well as from an effort to extract high returns from each precious sales opportunity, the same approach can and should be exercised with each additional contact identified in the sales process. Winning the affirmation of a contact that a problem is important, needs resolution, and is entirely worthy of his/her commitment is an activity that ought to take place throughout the sales campaign.

In fact, we argue that it is better to abandon campaigns where the above method of

  1. Obtaining Prospect Affirmation of Problems and
  2. Identifying Appropriate Contacts through Direct Internal Referrals

cannot be achieved. A failure to achieve these two milestones should be interpreted by the sales team as a very strong indicator that the prospect truly does not acknowledge presumed problems and, therefore, represents a waste of limited sales time and resources. Why research and prepare custom discussions with individual contacts within a prospect enterprise that does not “feel pain?”

We have extensive experience understanding these indicators. If your sales team is not producing the results that you need for your business to grow, please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Complex Sales Usually Include Multiple Contacts Who Contribute to a Decision to Buy

Multiple conversations with multiple decision-makers is a usual feature of complex sales campaigns. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. For one, simply consider that an individual who presents an opportunity for an initial conversation will not prove, finally, to be a participant in a decision to buy. This first point of contact can be referred to as a gatekeeper, literally an individual who has the power to open an organization for contact by an enterprise sales team. It makes perfect sense to speak with a gatekeeper in place of a more relevant contact as long as the objective of the discussion is to:

  1. Identify roles, or
  2. Confirm assumptions about the prospect

Sales teams should maintain low expectations of the productivity of these conversations if a gatekeeper has not solicited the contact. Often prospect organizations will prohibit employees from sharing the answers to either or both of the above questions. In our experience many of these telephone calls end up with a transfer to a designated contact in the purchasing department who usually knows nothing, whatsoever, about the problem that has been identified.

Earlier in this blog we presented an approach to unsolicited contact that we think is much more productive than the short sketch we have included above. An integrated approach that includes, for example, an email message in advance of a telephone call is usually much more productive. Unsolicited calls to gatekeepers should be placed within 1 – 3 days of an email message. Of course, the text of the email message must include a basis for an unsolicited telephone call or else the campaign will not produce attractive results. There is little point placing unsolicited telephone calls following a position statement, or press release that has been sent to a group of contacts.

Better to use the email message as an invitation to a public presentation of a position statement, or other announcement directly related to one’s software solution. It is usually entirely acceptable to place unsolicited telephone calls to recipients following an email invitation. These calls are expected as a means of simply determining whether or not recipients will choose to accept the invitation or as an opportunity to answer any questions that recipients may have about an offer.

If you are interested in how these unsolicited conversations should be structured to produce useful information, then please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Customer inaction can be a major impediment to complex sales

Very often the outcome of enterprise software sales campaigns is simply customer inertia. In these cases there is no outcome. Customers may profess an interest in learning further about a solution, but fail to move on one, regardless of how well the complex sales campaign has been put together. In our experience, selling efforts for new products, services and/or integrated solutions can, very often, produce this type of “let’s go on with the status quo” result. Of course, offerings that are new to enterprise markets are largely unproven; therefore, it is particularly difficult for enterprise prospects to muster much confidence that a new solution will solve an important problem.

Inactivity is also a frequent result of sales campaigns for solutions to problems that have not fully coalesced in the marketplace for enterprise software. In these cases prospects are incapable of clearly identifying what they need. There is a probable problem (for example the recent Bring Your Own Device, BYOD, phenomenon as a type of activity that can expose an organization’s data to malicious attack), but the specific, quantified cost of the problem is not yet clear. Prospects are still determining the impact of the problem on the bottom line. They are not ready to take action, yet, on a solution.

Finally, customer inaction can result from internal organizational issues. Often, in these cases, teams of contacts (ostensible owners of a process as well as any/all related problems) are finally found to lack the authority to act on a remedy. In fact, decision-making at enterprise businesses with this type organizational issue is proven to be the province of someone else at the organization, someone who the sales team has neglected to contact. Once authority has been properly determined (but at a very late stage in a developing opportunity) to reside elsewhere, the prospect, typically, decides to table any discussion and simply proceed as usual.

IMB Enterprises, Inc. has considerable experience addressing the need for enterprise software sales teams to learn to quickly determine the likelihood of prospect inactivity. Let’s face it, time is an irreplaceable commodity. Therefore, it behooves these software sales teams to spend as little time as possible on opportunities where intertia is the most likely outcome.

If you would like to hear how we generally address each of the above examples of prospect inertia, then please contact us. You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Dell first quarter 2013 conference call shows importance of complex sales experts to successful execution of business strategy

First, we need to acknowledge that we own stock in Dell. We need, as well, to notify our readers that the purpose of this post is not to influence opinion about Dell as an investment; rather, the purpose of the post is to illustrate the importance of complex sales experts to this publicly traded business. Clearly, anyone listening to the Dell first quarter conference call for fiscal year 2013 cannot help but note the comments that part of the poor quarterly results can be attributed to poor sales performance. Listening further, it is clearly apparent that the challenges of focusing on integrated solutions, rather than individual products, together with a need to engage with a complex set of contacts within a prospect business were beyond the scope of a portion of the sales team at this global, public business. As the Dell spokespersons on the call acknowledged, the identified remedy was to add, specifically, sales “experts” who represented a better likelihood of delivering on the business strategy.

As Dell apparently sees it, the carrot at the end of the stick is the enterprise market for integrated computing solutions. It should be noted that, as we see it, the piece of the enterprise market that Dell is after is differentiated from the typical turf sought after by IBM Services, Accenture or the like. Dell is after the Small to Mid Size Business (SMB) market for enterprise integrated solutions. Nevertheless, management makes no attempt to deny the fact that sales teams could not successfully deliver the volume of business from this market that had been forecasted and, therefore, the quarter included a substantial miss.

Once again, our purpose here is merely to illustrate with the above example the growing importance of specific expertise with complex sales for integrated solutions to technology businesses after the enterprise market. We don’t think that it is possible to sell integrated solutions to enterprise customers without a complete dedication to the type of complex sales method that we have illustrated elsewhere in this blog. Only through an extensive series of engagements with contacts that produces meaningful information that points to areas of need for specialized, highly integrated technology solutions can sales volume be confidently forecasted, not to mention delivered.

Of course, we are particularly interested in early stage technology businesses looking to enter enterprise markets. If you understand the imperative of including personnel with deep levels of expertise with complex sales into your team, then we would like to speak with you. Please telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Customers Benefit from a Detailed Qualification Process for a Complex Sale

A customer stands to benefit the most from a qualification process for a complex purchase. This claim makes sense when one considers that the purpose of qualifying a complex purchase is to verify the assumed benefits of moving forward on it and, further, to actually establish the metrics (typically in cost savings) that will result from the purchase in advance of proceeding on it. Therefore, at worst, this process provides the customer with an insurance policy that a considered purchase is justified. At best, it affords the customer an ample opportunity to plan the most profitable approach possible to implementing the contemplated solution, an approach that very often exceeds the customer’s earlier expectations.

Gaining the participation of customers in this analytical process should be a given, correct? In contrast, in our experience it is rarely, if ever, a given. Rather, customers with whom we have interacted through this type of activity are usually engaged at an inopportune time. Generally, the customer is either contacted late in a complex process to purchase a product, or a sales person permits the conversation with the customer to go off track, into a ditch of price quotes, presentations and competitive comparisons with little to no understanding of a customer’s unique environment, needs and intentions. No wonder the return on time invested in these sales campaigns is generally low and unprofitable.

The missing piece, as we see it, is hopping over the first step, which ought to be a successful campaign to gain the agreement of a decision-maker that there is a high probability that one’s product constitutes an attractive opportunity for the business to capture an important sought after value that can be quantified. In order not to hop over this step, a sales team must identify several pieces in the puzzle, including

  1. A prospect with a verified need for the type of solution they offer, and
  2. A key decision-maker within the prospect with the influence to collect any/all of the individuals within the business who will play a role in either purchasing the solution or implementing it

The reality is that the decision-maker identified in step (2), above, will actually provide all of the motivation required to ensure that other contacts will genuinely participate in the qualification process.

Sales teams that try to skip over these steps will, more often than not, come up high and dry, without a sale and lots of wasted time. If you need your organization to move more progressively on sales opportunities we welcome your contact. Please telephone Ira Michael “Mike” Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved