When the guys at O’Reilly Media asked whether I’d like to talk at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this year, I jumped at the chance. Hell yeah! Then came the dawning of reality…What could I possibly have to say to a room full of the best brains in the business about building web apps, that they wouldn’t know already? Should I talk about collaboration, project management, our new features, Enterprise 2.0? Or would all this be way too boring?
Still the opportunity was way to good to pass up, so after much wailing and gnashing of teeth I decided the only way forward would be to talk about a subject I’m massively passionate about, and one that given the current economic circumstances, bears the greatest chance of being interesting to at least a couple of people!
So I decided to talk about Sales. Yes, the S word. The dirty underbelly of building web apps.
Sales, I hear you cry? That’s so old school! Surely it’s all about building an app that is beautifully designed and does something I really need – then getting it distributed via someone’s platform and….VOILA! Watch the money roll in. Surely no-one actually sells software anymore?! Sales is about people with fat ties and even fatter paycheques, phonecalls and meetings (meetings?! what?!); it’s ugly, dirty, expensive and unscalable. Sales has no place in Web 2.0, especially not in a viral Team collaboration app like Huddle…
Of course this is all bullsh!t. Everything is about sales; whether it be presenting your app to investors, getting new users on board, convincing new people to join your business, selling ad space, working with partners to integrate into their platform, whatever. So bearing this in mind, and learning from Mike Sothon’s excellent BeerMat series (which we relied on heavily when starting Huddle), everyone in the team needs to be able to “sell” – whatever they are doing. To this end, I think we’re really proud at Huddle that some of the best sales ‘events’ that have happened to us have come about not from traditional sales, but from someone talking to someone else (normally over a beer) about something they are really excited about, a new feature, an idea they’ve got for an integration or just even a mutual interest – from which amazing things have grown. Sales isn’t about selling, it’s about passion, knowledge and everyone in the business being totally committed to the same thing.
Beyond this, admittedly, we’re probably more into the realms of B2B applications than consumer apps (apart from selling advertising space that is, which you should definitely always leave to the professionals rather than trying to do yourself).
believe it or not, some of this is actually very true
So what have we learnt from 18 months of ‘properly’ selling Huddle? I’ve tried to summarize some of the hardest (and therefore most valuable) lessons below:
- Sales is hard work. It just is. It takes long hours, lots of knock-backs, courage and lots of energy.
- It’s a numbers game. Simple as that. With enough sales leads, enough marketing budget and enough people calling those leads, anything will sell. And I mean anything. Look at Vista for god’s sake! However a good product will make the sales process a joy; selling a bad one is soul destroying, no matter how much you’re being paid.
- You’re either a natural and you love it, or you’re not. If you have even the slightest concern about calling someone up to sell them something – stay away. It’s not for you. Don’t do it yourself and hire a professional.
- There are very different types of sales people. New business hunters and account managers. If you’re hiring sales people, don’t confuse the two. Really think about your sales process and then ask specifically for proven experience of that type of sale. Many times you’ll hire someone for a new business role who has come from a big software ‘name’ with a huuuuge $ sign next to their target, only to find out that actually this all came from recurring sales. Managing a massive account is very hard, but it’s a completely different skill to new business.
- When you’re hiring a team, get the very best person you can find to lead it, and then they will build the team from there (hopefully in their own self-image!). If in doubt, DON’T go for the expensive, experienced ‘big’ sales guy (or gal). Go for the passionate, energetic, ‘gut feel’ person who really gets it, and gets you. They’ll figure out everthing else, and will fit in with a team of developers much better. We’re so so lucky to have found just such a person at Huddle, he’s called Charlie, and the team who work with him are some of the most passionate and hard working guys I’ve ever met. We’re very lucky to have them.
- Team spirit is massively important. If you love selling, it can be the very best, and the very worst, job in the world – all within a single day. When you’re having a crap week, you need to have people around you having good ones to pull you through and incentivize you to keep pushing. Then when you’ve just closed that killer deal you’ll be doing the same for them. And when you and the team hit your big new target for the month (as, we’re delighted to say we just today did this month) – the A-team theme plays on the stereo, the beers are broken out and everyone is cheering you because you’ve just paid their salary next month. It’s absolutely the best feeling in the world.
- Learning how to sell your product takes much, much longer than you will ever think. We’ve made some massive mistakes over the last year and then, when you hit upon the right way to sell it just clicks – and suddenly you look back and think -why the hell was that so difficult? Why didn’t we think of that all along, it’s so obvious! An example for us was selling Huddle the same over the web as we did direct. Sounds right but just doesn’t work. They’re two very different markets. Selling packages of workspace and space, with unlimited users; this makes sense to tech-savvy early adopters who understand Huddle and want to get up and running quickly – but doesn’t to large Enterprise IT buyers. The biggest thing we did when selling to the Enterprise was switch back to selling traditional per-seat licenses (in a Web 2.0 product – shock horror no!). This makes perfect sense to a corporate IT buyer; it fits into their budgets (this is a REALLY important point) and, even more importantly – is the way you can scale revenues as more people use your software across the company, whilst at the same time not ensuring the IT buyer is not paying for things they don’t want or need.
- Sales doesn’t just happen overnight – even with great people and a great product. You need to bake the business and sales model in from the very start. The whole google/twitter ‘build it and we’ll figure out how to monetize it later’ only happens with consumer apps where you build up a massive userbase first. In B2B apps you can’t do this. So make sure you think about how you’re going to sell your product right from the very beginning.
- An old boss of mine told me ‘make it so easy for the other person to buy, that they can’t say no’. This sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many barriers you accidentally put up to the sale. Stand back and look at it from your buyer’s point of view. What would make it so easy for them to say yes?
So, that’s about it I think. No silver bullets unfortunately but some of the things we’ve learnt over the last year or so. Hope they’re useful! If you want to hear more and are out at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in April, please please come along to the talk – at least then there’ll be two of us!