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The art of selling SaaS to enterprises

November 1, 2011

Selling Software as a Service (SaaS) is like all sales – it is an art. I remember the theme of art and science that Austen Mulinder introduced to Microsoft when he joined the Enterprise and Partner Group.

You have to master the science to be an artist or the best artist (seller) cannot thrive if he does not play along the basic science rules. Anybody still remember the World Class Selling Formula. Put in a comment with you translation of C A R E.

I do come back to all this thinking especially when I observe how SaaS is being sold in the market. Or should I say how it is tried to be sold?

Let’s cover the science piece first. You need to understand the basics. The basics are simple but still involve work to really master them.

  • Understand the features and the differences to the feature sets on premise
  • Read and understand all the contract documents
  • Especially take an effort to understand the SLAs
  • Get into local data privacy requirements and how you answer theses
  • Understand the price model and transition routes from classic licensing

I have met too many people who have tried selling SaaS but actually never read the contract or understood which contract documents were needed and where these were stored. I do know that the bandwidth from architecture and features through contracting and data privacy up to pricing models is quite broad but that is why you hopefully get paid some good money. I personally have always enjoyed working in tandem with an architect to be able to cover the nitty-gritty technical details while he was happy that I am a deep pool of knowledge when it comes to contracting, privacy rules and pricing. I have yet to meet someone who excels in all areas.

Once you have covered these basics you are in a good shape to start thinking. Yes, thinking and not selling is the next step. The majority of the sales people out there selling cloud services does stop here and goes selling. They sell the science. You can see this in all these pitches talking about technology, talking about features and bit and bytes. And you can see this as well in discussions with them about their competition. I remember a discussion I had with a seller who asked me on their competition and who I would see. I told him I do see three kinds of competition.

  • Do nothing
  • Some obvious cloud competitor
  • A classic hoster/outsourcer

This answer completely surprised him. He said the third group do not offer cloud services why are they competitors. The answer is easy. Look at it from a customer perspective and not a technology and label perspective. The customer has a business need and analyses all options to meet this business need. There is no customer out there going shopping for the cloud. They all look for answers to their business needs. The seller’s mistake was that he took the feature view. He was fooled by the marketing and sales story that focuses on bits and bytes rather than the business need.

They sell what is under the hood rather where the ride could take the customer.

This is now where the art comes into play. And do not get fooled there are many kinds of arts. One art is the art of building relationships which makes the distinction between a good and a great account manager.

Another art and that is the essential one for a successful sale of cloud services, is the art of storytelling. It is all about taking the bits of information you gathered in the science lesson and to transfer these into a story that relates to your customer, to the customer’s business and finally to the customer’s current and future needs. The art is about creating a vision that resonates with customer and instills a need that might not be there yet or by answering a need in a new way.

This approach is not used today. Only very few cloud sellers do create stories that resonate with customers. It starts at the top. Look at Oracle’s discussion of the cloud. It is all about the technology and not at all about the business benefits. Look at the discussions about the cloud in the streams (whether you look at Google+ or LinkedIn or wherever) it is all about features and bits and bytes. Look at the books out in the market, they are all about installing and migrating and configuring. But they are not about the business scenarios cloud computing might help with. Look at the job openings which are all for architects, developers and other technology roles.

Cloud computing today is ruled by scientists.

A trend can hop along for a while on the backs of the specialists but to really become a mainstream topic and not die down as just another technology buzz it needs the artists.

  • The art of translation
  • The art of storytelling
  • The art of thinking beyond bits and bytes

You might want to argue that in any larger organization there are already artists. I agree but these artists usually are not ready yet or never will be ready for the art needed for the cloud. Let’s look at the big companies.

Microsoft’s artists are software business artists and struggle with the concept of cloud.

Google’s artists are consumer and search artists that struggle with the large enterprise story.

Oracle’s artists are technology artists that are probably more scientists than artists in the first place.

IBM has the artists but does not seem to believe in public cloud services so does not let their artists loose.

This is a reality even though you might argue based on exemplary exceptions. The providers have not yet woken up. They need to start getting artists in and they need to realize that an artist is more expensive than the usual scientist. But it will pay especially if you do get your troops organized before your competition does.

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3 Comments
  1. As an independent Cloud consultant, I thank you for your comments on the art of selling SaaS to enterprises. I believe that it is even more important for a customer to have an expert in this field, who is independent of the Cloud sales force, to help guide them through the critical decision making process.

    I believe that independent Cloud agents do provide exceptional value that result in a higher return on investment and a much more satisfied customer. Bottom line: they do not have to try to sell anything and are not being paid based on the size of the contract.

    In addition, when independent agents assist the buyer, the Cloud providers gain an advantage of striking a deal with a customer who is better informed and in most cases end up with a more satisfied customer, who returns for more business as a result.

    Independent consulting is the way to go, if you want to get it right the first time around. Most of us realize that using a professional to help us invest or to buy real estate is actually a very wise decision! The same is true in the Cloud….

  2. Margaret permalink

    The original formula that Austen introduced was that World Class Selling was a function of Character, Attitude, Relationhips and Emotional Intelligence – the 4 artistic elements that facilitated the cultivation of trusted advisor status. What I loved most was the comment that Art and Science were a synthesis. That science should be designed with art in mind, and art executed with discipline.

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