Enterprises Are Made of People

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether, like Soylent Green, corporations are made of people.

While the political implications of this are outside the scope of this blog, I think it’s important for enterprise entrepreneurs to understand that their customers are indeed made of people.

It sounds like an obvious concept.  Duh – enterprise customers have employees.  You meet them in dimly lit conference rooms after flying on a 2-stop redeye flight.  You take them out to the local Applebees for lunch.  You talk to them on conference calls amidst bad audio quality, people accidentally subjecting the entire call to hold music and folks saying “sorry – I was on mute.”  You get emails from them – some happy, some not-so-happy.

And obviously some enterprise products like Box, LogMeIn and Yammer can indeed be adopted by end-users.

Yet when enterprise startups think about their sales process, they often forget that they are selling to people.  They talk about the company’s “decision-making process,” like the organization is one fully-aligned entity that moves in lock step.  They try to find all of the rational reasons why the customer should buy the product, regurgitating three-letter acronyms that they’ve heard from analysts, like ROI (Return on Investment) and TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).  And then they get frustrated when the result doesn’t go the rational way it should have gone in their minds.

The now-controversial author Jonah Lehrer wrote an excellent book called How We Decide (before he got caught for plagiarism).  In it, he highlights how we as people have a flawed view of decision making.  We believe humans make decisions by conquering their emotions and using logic to make well-reasoned choices.  In fact, Lehrer uses brain research and real-world examples to show how our decision making is much more intuitive and non-linear than we might think.

In a similar way, organizations aren’t pre-programmed robots in the way they buy.  Companies are collections of individuals who each have their own unique idiosyncrasies.

What does that mean for a startup in terms of enterprise sales?  Here are 5 important takeaways:

  1. Understand the motivation of each individual involved in the buying process.  In a typical sales cycle, you might have an influencer, a decision-maker, an approver and other roles.  What does each person want in their job / career as relates to your product?  If you don’t understand the individual motivations, you don’t understand the customer.
  2. Categorize each individual’s motivation into fear, greed or love.  Most human actions can be bucketed into one of these three drivers.  A buyer might “fear” bad things that might happen if she doesn’t implement a new system (e.g., downtime if she doesn’t put in place your high availability architecture).  Or she might alternatively fear change and be averse to anything new.  A buyer might have “greed” (not in a bad way) by aspiring to get promoted or to get recognition internally for working on an important project.  Or she might hope that the skills gained from this project would make her more marketable in the future.  Alternatively, the buyer could have fallen in “love” with the vision of your company and at a distance, almost feel like she is part of your team (a great situation when it happens).
  3. Determine what to do given this motivation.  If the motivation is hurting you (e.g., buyer fears making a change), how do you help the buyer feel better about the risks?  If your buyer sees a career opportunity in learning your technology, make sure to highlight the growth in your company and the popularity of your technology – like a movement that can’t be stopped.  If your buyer feels like she is part of your virtual team, make her feel included in roadmap input, customer events and even in unique aspects of your culture.
  4. Make it fun.  The best people understand these motivations and then make personal connections to highlight and celebrate the motivations.  A very ambitious and bold sales rep with whom I worked previously would bring lottery tickets to every customer meeting, sending the signal not-so-subtly that the customer was, as an individual, going to win the lottery career-wise by choosing our solution.  He would even open meetings by saying “which one of you is going to get promoted for choosing our solution?”  Some enterprise jobs can be pretty monotonous, so customers often appreciate an honest and fun attitude.
  5. Keep it personal.  Remember throughout the process that you’re working with people and don’t make the mistake of expecting everyone to be aligned.  Sometimes you have to help the customer get aligned or at least help them understand where disagreements come from.

While every sales process is different and every domain or vertical has its own unique nuances, I’ve always found individual-focused selling to be critical.

Nick Mehta

As a huge sports fan, Nick thinks of his job as being like that of a head coach. His role is to help bring the right people together on the team and put them in the best position to win for our customers, partners, employees and their families. He’s a big believer in the Golden Rule and we try to apply it as much as we can to bring more compassion to our interactions with others. And he talks way too fast and overuses the word awesome like it’s going out of style. Before coming to Gainsight, Nick was the CEO of awesome leading Software-as-a-Service E-Discovery provider LiveOffice through its acquisition by Symantec and prior to that was a Vice President at VERITAS Software and Symantec Corporation.