In the last two weeks there were some discussions about (enterprise) software sales [1, 2] on hacker news. The main complaint is that software sales are often nontransparent, complicated and highly time consuming.
I think this comment sums the problem up:
As you imply, there are segments in every market. Of course there is a segment of companies with hundreds or even thousands of employees with gigantic budgets. These guys are going to do RFP’s and spend months evaluating the different payroll providers.
Then there is the segment of small guys lik me who have under 10 employees who frankly don’t need anything too complicated. You can say “I am only going to serve large enterprise customers through a complex sales process” and that’s completely fine with me. But don’t pretend to cater to my segment if you are not to adapt your model. —labaraka
The last sentences is probably the most important. Don’t pretend to serve a segment just to be “present” in this segment. If your sales process sucks for this segment then it’s better not to serve this segment at all.
Some big software companies tried to enter the SMB market but most failed. Why? I think that it is really hard to sell for 10-20 years products to big cooperations who want customized modules, pay for consultants and don’t care if a basic module costs $100k and then to try to reduce one’s product, make it easy and create a new sales process for said businesses.
The great thing about this is that there’s always a market for software for SMB even if there are big names out there. Salesforce is such an example. At the time there were big names like Microsoft, SAP or Oracle who fought over market shares for CRM systems but Salesforce decided to gather a different market – a market where people don’t have a multiple millions IT budget or even a IT staff.
But even Salesforce can’t serve the whole tail. Still, there are companies that are overwhelmed by Salesforce’s offer or don’t feel adequately served by them.
In conclusion, as a customer I want to know that somebody cares about my company or my segment. If you are just trying to be present in a segment without really caring, people will go to other companies that care. This will allow entrepreneurs to create companies for different niches that other companies don’t really care about. Care about your customers.
What is it about?
How can you increase your probably of success? John Mullins takes a scientific-like way to explore why startups fail and how it can be fixed. Each major point is illustrated by case studies and a short section “what investors want to know”.
What can I learn?
What are your goals? Before starting you should define your goals. Do you want to build a multi million dollars company or a lifestyle business? Do you want to work 80h/w or rather 25? This is the general framework to later decisions.
Market and Industry: Often these two things are not really understood. Your market exists of your customers. Your Industries are your competitors. Often there are great markets but the industry sucks. A example are restaurants. There are a mass of people who have to eat every day but the industry is gigantic and competitive. There are lots of restaurants or people could cook for themselves. That is, you market should be acceptable and your industry.
Obey the Critical Success Factors: If you have chosen your market and industry, you have to identify the industry’s Critical Success Factors (CSF). What is really important in your industry? For example, you can’t build a successful news site if you don’t have topical and good content.
Choose a great management team: Your management team should be complementary to you. Firstly, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. If you suck at finance look for a smart CFO. If you suck at managing people, look for a smart COO/CEO. You don’t have to do anything for yourself and probably better don’t.
This is a pretty good book. The New Business Road Test is well structured and each chapter includes case studies which support Mullins’ assumptions about starting a successful business. The book is very practical and definitely worth reading if you want to start a business. Recommendation!
What is it about?
Just for the clarity, a Micro ISV is a small software vendor. Bob Walsh writes about the complete process from finding the idea, to founding a company, to actually selling the software.
Search for pain points: Ask people in a industry that interested you, how you can help them. In general, you will find a lot of problems that arise but haven’t be solved yet.
Building your product is easier than selling it: Bob Walsh interviewed a lot of people in this book and most people agreed with this statement. If you are a professional, you know how to solve problems in your area but often founders underestimate the part of marketing and sales.
Niche, Niche, Niche: One interesting observation was that most people built products for the mass market. Today, nearly none of them still exists. The others chose a niche and are still running. Why? If your market is too big, big players becoming your competitors. If you market is small, all your competition is small.
This book was written in 2005 and is a bit outdated. It doesn’t really cover internet marketing besides writing a blog and Google Ads and it’s heavily focused on Windows development. However, the interviews were interesting and stimulating.
What is it about?
How to run a small business? Henry Dubroff and Susan J. Marks talked to a lot of entrepreneurs and asked them what makes their businesses successful.
Empower your employees: You can’t win alone. If you start alone try to outsource non-core functions of your company. A financial adviser said that even he outsources accounting because it’s not a core function of financial advisory. Later, you are going to hire personnel for your company. Don’t hire the first person you interviewed, try to find great people and train them properly.
Build a brand: If you are just a commodity, people will switch their supplier fast. Try to differentiate yourself from your competition. Offer better service, use technology or be innovative. If you built a brand people will recognize you and rather stick with your service/product.
Your customers are your assets: Without customers, there’s no business. Try to get longterm customers because they will provide longterm success.
Build for profitability: Often people neglect that it takes time to get profitable. So, business owner give up too early or the can’t reach break-even because they started with too many liabilities. Start small, test your market and expand.
If you want to start a small business this book is a reliable source for important concepts. It’s not especially exciting or new but it’s extremely solid. I think there are enough people who would definitely increase their success rate if they would read this book.