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


2012 Looks to be a Tough Year for Innovative Technology Product Sales to Global Business

Oracle Corporation reported earnings after the close of markets on December 20, 2011. You can register and then listen to the Oracle Second Quarter, 2012 Webcast. Your time will be well spent if you opt to listen to this presentation. Within literally the first few minutes of the 37 minute presentation, Safra A. Catz, President and CFO noted that with regard to Oracle’s sales of applications to global business and public sector customers that “. . . in the last few weeks, really for the first time in a while, in some regions we saw an increase in last minute additional approvals required for previously expected deals. As a result, we are putting in place better deal management so that we have the time and the approvals necessary to take this into account [for future deals].”

Kash Rangin, an Analyst from Merrell Lynch picked up on Ms. Catz’s early assertion. He noted that “[t]he only thing that we are scratching our heads about is the applications number . . . [i]s it Financial Services, Public Sector or the [industry] vertical [markets] that are talked about?” Ms. Catz noted that the weakness she had described was in the industry vertical markets. Translate that into global private businesses. Subsequent to further questioning from other analysts on the webcast, she provided this telling indicator: “What we did see was folks where all of a sudden the CEO had to approve [the purchase], or something like that, before it was all set. . . in some cases things literally closed the next day or a few days later once the approval came in. But those [deals], when we do run them right to the end you just run out of time . . .”

Keep in mind that Oracle is one of a handful of top tier purveyors of complex solutions to global business. Further, Oracle has a record of delivering satisfactory value to its customers. Therefore, if a business like Oracle has to note delays in closing sales (deals) and, further, has to note that final approval for these purchases has been escalated up as high as to the CEO of global businesses, then the coming year, or more, of selling enterprise technology solutions to global business has taken on a rather cold tone. I see this vignette as a very clear indicator that delivering measurable, quantifiable value through each and every sale of innovative technology solutions to global business in the coming year, if not longer, must be absolute status quo for any successful selling organization.

Of course, value is a specific quality that must be delivered to specific customers based upon their prescribed understanding of the benefits they seek through solutions. Therefore, substantial effort must be expended to understand the value specific customers are after. As well, successful sales teams will participate with theses customers in the creation of the prescribed solution. I will be happy to elaborate on these points upon request. You may reach me at 631-673-2929.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Crossing the Great Divide: Build Markets for Products Through Geniune Collaboration with Prospects

Where’s the dividing line between sales activity and other activities with customers and prospects that may appear to benefit sales, but, ultimately prove to be detrimental?

In my opinion, successful enterprise sales strategies for today’s markets require a willingness on the part of marketers to participate, wholeheartedly, within a potentially lengthy interaction with customers and prospects. This lengthy interaction may include broken decisions, changing perspectives, internal turf battles, etc as customers and prospects wander in the desert on their way to an oasis of a decision to do something about your product of service. You must be willing to shed 95% of your typical sales behavior, replacing aggressive sales efforts with a collaboration that communicates a complete willingness to participate along with customers and prospects in all of the steps that will be taken as bonafide decisions are formulated over time.

Collaboration may include sponsoring independent studies to provide your customers and prospects with a comfortable authority which will facilitate a decision in favor of your product or service. Keep in mind that these studies, independently authored, may also produce undesired results that refute a decision to implement in your favor. No matter. The point is to genuinely participate in the process which, ultimately, will result in a long term position for your firm for the customer that will be impregnable to competition. After all, no one else would be willing to go there with the client, now would they?

Of course this type of collaboration, to be successful, requires that you maintain an ability to architect products and solutions on the fly, to flexibly change direction as your customers modify their requirements and their needs. Further, you should be comfortable vetting products with customers while the products are still in developments. The closer you can get to an accurate solution for the customer’s needs, the less likely that the customer will find anything remotely close to her needs from any other vendor.

The facts are that 2012 does not look to be an easy year for enterprise product sales. The businesses that will survive the close scrutiny and tight pockets that look to be the customer norm will be those tenacious organizations that will be willing to proceed lamb like for as long as may be required to bring home the order. As well, a great sense of timing will come in handy. Sound like fun, doesn’t it?

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Wrong Turn at the Roundabout: Let’s Design It, After all the Customer doesn’t always know what she needs

Deborah Gage of The Wall Street Journal published an article on the 2011 rationale for software companies to make the dubious effort of building enterprise “solutions without a problem” — FASTech: Businesses Need Smarter Software, Whether They Know It Or Not.

Here’s the story line: [Software ISV VP of Sales] “We’ve gone down the path of the complex sale and yes, we fully agree with Jeff Thull that lots of these deals end up in a “dry run” (to use Jeff Thull’s method of referring to sales that, for one reason or another, never happen). In fact, we find that when the customer reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t truly know what she’s looking for, or that the systems are not in place within her enterprise to support the implementation of ABC solution; that she will not buy our product.”

Here’s the punch line: [Software ISV VP of Sales, with VP of Product Marketing at his side] “Therefore, we decided to build a version of the product anyways. After all, who knows where the market will go next. Our [half baked] solution might be just the ticket next year.” This decision to build the product anyways ends up costing ISV buckets of money and lots of development time that would be better spent working on useful solutions that customers will ultimately ask for once the dust settles and thoughts coalesce into workable requirements.

Our C level managers of sales and product marketing have made a wrong turn at the roundabout. What they ought to have done, as Jeff Thull makes very clear, is to dropped the sales plan to book the order this year, but make the marketing commitment to partner with the customer through the potentially lengthy process of identifying flawed decisions, assumptions and plans, renovating same and, finally, planning for a reasonable, workable solution that our ISV will end up building for the customer. After all, in all likelihood few, if any competitors of our ISV will be willing to partner with the customer to work this process through to a successful conclusion.

Bottom line: Customer driven product management still makes the only sense for innovative businesses with high expectations about market penetration. Wasting time building gadget software will not pay off over the long haul. Worse yet, decisions to build gadgets are indicative of a lack of patience with markets, the kind of character flaw that can threaten to deep six the best of plans.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


“Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss” Usenet Groups Resurface as Social Media, Web 2.0 Discussion Groups

For those of you who either can’t or would prefer not to reflect back to the late 1980s/early 1990s, let me take a moment to introduce a phenomenon called “UseNet,” literally an enormous, often nested collection of discussion forums which, back then, were accessible via physical and virtual terminals connected to the “Internet.” Remember, there was an Internet before there were web browsers. With regard to Sales & Marketing, these forums were noteworthy in that they provided sales folk peddling people, (AKA “executive search” and/or “contract consulting” experts) with a rich venue to engage technology professionals in meaningful discussion–just the prescription for closing complex sales for staffing requirements, not to mention opening new client relationships.

Fast forward to 2011. A cornerstone feature of prominent Web 2.0/Social Media websites like LinkedIn, FaceBook, Google+ and Twitter is the ability to engage in discussions and in real time. With regard to LinkedIn, this feature is offered via LinkedIn “Groups”. At no cost to the Group Owner, this feature offers “under the radar” marketers and other purveyors of products requiring complex sales strategies a great tool to:

  • constrain market visibility, but nevertheless engage in meaningful product promotion
  • cultivate discussion with prospects, potential product evangelists, etc without digressing into hard core selling
  • learn more about target businesses and presumed decision-makers

LinkedIn Groups is a true “win win” feature. LinkedIn encourages Group Owners to invite any email contacts as well as “first” connections on LinkedIn. They grow their contact base and you use their feature to carefully leverage interactive media to build your business. Of course, do be sure to make your group “members only”. Be sure to check any/all applications to join to ensure that you get the members you’re after.

This same discussion feature is more prominent on FaceBook via the “wall” feature of FaceBook pages. It is nested into Twitter, as well, where followers can engage via the “reply” feature. Google+ has a similar feature to FaceBook, but do exercise care as what you add to your Google+ “stream” may post to the public, getting you much more exposure than I recommend if you’re marketing under the radar. Ditto for Twitter.

In sum, discussion groups provide a great way to generate leads and cultivate relationships with potential partners, prospects and customers. Meaningful dialogue can even end up as a useful means of saving money for your customers, thereby building the value proposition for your products. Check it out.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Two Diamonds in the Rough Field of Enterprise Sales — Centralized Purchasing & Repeat Buy Potential

Enterprise sales possesses at least two brilliant diamonds that rarely fail to attract marketers:

  1. Centralized, Bulk Purchasing, and
  2. Healthy Repeat Buy Potential

Let’s take a look at centralized, bulk purchasing:

As of year end, 2010, IBM Corporation employed 426,751 people. With a centralized Procurement organization and defined product approval processes, IBM can represent a wonderful revenue opportunity.

I, myself, dealt directly with IBM from 1994 to 2001, providing this great company with staff augmentation services for a nascent need that would shortly explode across the business–web development services and editorial content development. All told, I placed over 110 individuals at IBM in many key positions relative to the construction of IBM’s early efforts on the web starting in 1994 when “HTML” and “coders” were little known terms with little broad market demand.

I had the great good fortune of running ahead of the market with access to skills that would soon become indispensable for all peers of IBM–web systems and content management. My first set of placements for the creation of the original IBM homepage proved themselves over the first 90 days of my tenure. Soon thereafter, Procurement reached out to us and negotiated a Corporate wide agreement that facilitated “fast track” sales to other groups within the business who could hire quickly, meeting their needs with the right talent by availing of a corporate-wide agreement between my firm as a supplier and Corporate Procurement at IBM.

My experience is merely one of hundreds, if not millions of stories of successful enterprise sales professionals who mastered the technique of enterprise sales for top companies by teaming with the right contacts who possessed the authority and the vision to “buy and ensconce” a product or solution into a corporate standard. These individuals all capitalized on selling a central purchasing authority on their wares.

With regard to the second “diamond,” the repeat buy, I have already touched on it in the example I have just given. Once the corporate standard is in place, that standard will be procured for any/all users with the same need over the term of the purchasing contract. Each subsequent purchase is effectively a repeat buy. If a sales person has managed to achieve an approval on a corporate wide services agreement, then each implementation of the product is a repeat buy and then some as the price tag of implementation will often vary from group to group.

The above two points illustrate but two gems to be found in enterprise sales. Of course, the complex sale is simply a variant on enterprise sales and, therefore, as promising as the examples just given. Stay tuned . . .

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Share Topics and Use Discussion Groups to Further Qualify Prospects as You Work on the Complex Sale

As I noted in an earlier post, the “Share” feature of typical Social Media (like Google+) delivers useful benefits to marketers working on the complex sale. Present appropriate and engaging topics germane to your product or solution to attract the attention of “friends,” colleagues, contacts. The information you receive will deepen your qualification and understanding of the prospect. The fact is that the comments submitted by these individuals will provide rich information about roles, levels of authority and ongoing programs undertaken by specific prospects.

It is often difficult to engage important contacts at prospect businesses through teleprospecting alone, especially when the teleprospecting effort takes place through a direct, “cold call” effort. On the other hand, teleprospecting is an entirely suitable technique to use as a follow up to a posted comment from a contact on a “shared” topic relevant to the complex sale. In this case the person on the other end of the line will often be more receptive to the telephone call and willing to share information. The reasons for his/her receptivity are that the teleprospecting call is not obviously a sales call, and the offline nature of the interaction respects Discussion group etiquette (a carry over from the News Groups that preceeded today’s Social Media discussions) for sub discussions of topics.

These discussions can also serve as a rich “honey pot” for contacts and, therefore, an excellent means of growing address lists. Better use the resources that otherwise would pay for mass email campaigns to fund the cost of creative management of a Google+ or FaceBook (or even LinkedIn) membership. As your address book grows, the summary understanding about individual prospects (critically important to the success of your complex sale) can be expanded and enhanced through a uniform application of teleprospecting for all targeted contacts. The scripts for these telephone calls should be “survey-centric.” Your teleprospectors must keep in mind that they are on a fact finding mission and, by no means chasing a sale.

Be sure to add the collected information to your knowledge base for the prospect. As you review the information look out for indication of the maturity of the prospect business with regard to the objective of your complex sales campaign. Be wary of indicators of an immature understanding. Recognize that an indicator of an immature understanding is a reason to either stop the complex sales campaign, or, at a minimum, realign the campaign along more realistic lines. I have seen too many clients “wander in the desert” through meeting after meeting with promising contacts locked into immature organizations that lack the capacity to proceed as the result of an immature understanding of the rationale for a complex sale.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved