Selling to enterprises

February 6, 2010
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For some reason when you are selling information technology, big companies are referred to as “enterprises.” I’m guessing the word was invented by a software vendor who was trying to justify a million-dollar price tag. As a rule of thumb, think of enterprise sales as products/services that cost $100K/year or more.

I am by no means an expert in enterprise sales. Personally, I vastly prefer marketing (one-to-many) versus sales (one-to-one), hence only start companies making consumer or small business products (advertising based or sub-$5000 price tags). But I have been involved in a few enterprise companies over the years. Here’s the main thing I’ve observed. Almost every enterprise startup I’ve seen has a product that would solve a problem their prospective customers have. But that isn’t the key question. The key question is whether

For some reason when you are selling information technology, big companies are referred to as “enterprises.” I’m guessing the word was invented by a software vendor who was trying to justify a million-dollar price tag. As a rule of thumb, think of enterprise sales as products/services that cost $100K/year or more.

I am by no means an expert in enterprise sales. Personally, I vastly prefer marketing (one-to-many) versus sales (one-to-one), hence only start companies making consumer or small business products (advertising based or sub-$5000 price tags). But I have been involved in a few enterprise companies over the years. Here’s the main thing I’ve observed. Almost every enterprise startup I’ve seen has a product that would solve a problem their prospective customers have. But that isn’t the key question. The key question is whether it solves a problem that is one of the prospective customer’s top immediate priorities. Getting an enterprise to cough up $100K+ requires the “buy in” of many people, most of whom would prefer to maintain the status quo. Only if your product is a top priority can you get powerful “champions” to cut through the red tape.

My rule of thumb is that every enterprise (or large business unit within an enterprise) will, at best, buy 1-3 new enterprise products per year.  You can have the greatest hardware/software in the world, but if you aren’t one of their top three priorities, you won’t be able to profitably sell to them.

One final note: enterprise-focused VC’s sometimes refer to products priced between (roughly) $5k and $100K as falling in the “valley of death.” Above $100K, you might be able to make a profit given the cost of sales. Below $5k you might be able to market your product, hence have a very low cost of sales. In between, you need to do sales but it’s hard to do it profitably. Your best bet is a “channel” strategy; however, for innovative new products that is often a lot like trying to push a string.

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