Atlantic Crossing Digital Consulting

Firing the sales force when the product is the problem

In the last blog post we discussed how frustrating it is for founders and investors when the first, and maybe even the second and the third push for commercialization of a software product fail. Frustrating that finding decent salespeople can be so difficult!

That observation would undoubtedly be true if the company in question was selling beer, or even a spreadsheet. The target customer has a good grasp, not only of what he or she is looking for in a product, but also of what the competitive landscape is. So if the pricing and terms are right, the sale is pretty much up to the salesperson in charge.

But that scenario is often far form the one found in smaller, innovative software development companies. They typically try to solve a problem that either hasn’t been solved before, or is currently worked around in some way. So the product may truly have “no competitors” – which most often means that the competition is “some other way of doing things.”

Great – must be an easy sale for a capable salesperson: the answer to all the prospects' prayers, and no competition. How hard could it be to find sales resources good enough for that challenge?

In reality, the challenge is often enormous. First, the salesperson most educate the prospect on the not-yet-established fact that he indeed has a problem/challenge/task that can be met in a new way. Then he must convince the prospect that it is worth solving. Then that the software company’s product will actually perform the way claimed, and that the company will still be around some years down the road. Only then, and finally, may the salesperson close the deal if the price and terms are right.

And, all these parts of the overall challenge assume that it indeed IS a great product – otherwise, forget it…

So what are we really asking for in a “good enough” salesperson?

  1. Domain expertise in the prospect’s business to formulate and relate the challenge.
  2. Financial insight to demonstrate ROI if the problem is solved.
  3. Technical insight to understand how the product category solves the challenge.
  4. Product knowledge of the specific product to apply the relevant features, those that benefit the prospect in question, and only those, to the discussion.
  5. The visionary or “evangelical” personality skills to install confidence in the prospect.
  6. The “normal” sales skills to close a deal.

These salespeople do exist, but it’s pretty evident that they don’t grow on trees. And that they probably command a high price in the market. All still assuming that the software development company has a truly great product.

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