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People Only Buy To Get Promoted - The Key To Enterprise Sales

I have been fortunate to have many good sales mentors in my career but the best hands down was Joe Roebuck. Joe headed sales at Sun Microsystems for 17 years and was on my board at Persistence Software for 5 years.

Joe also gave me the most important insight about how to sell enterprise software:

People only buy to get promoted.

The enterprise software version of this pithy statement would be something like: enterprise buyers will only buy your shiny object if they see it leading directly to recognition, acclaim and promotion or at least a raise.

There is a lifetime of sales knowledge encapsulated in that quote. Here is how I interpret it:

  • Status quo is easy: enterprise software is a business in which innovative upstarts try to unseat incumbents. The easy purchase decision in enterprise software is always to go with the incumbent. 
  • Shiny objects are risky: Enterprise buyers always have a choice between safe status quo vendors and an array of risky but alluring new vendors
  • Career advancement is why buyers take risks: if a buyer does not get a personal benefit - attention, a raise, a promotion - the risk quite literally does not outweigh the reward
  • Advancing customer careers is how companies win: most sales people think only through the customer signature and maybe the initial implementation. Making a customer successful is a longer-term venture and extends at least to the buyer’s next HR review cycle.

There is no more passionate evangelist than a successful buyer and it only takes a few really happy buyers for the market herd instinct to kick in.  For example, VMworld pulls in 10,000 attendees a year, all of whom believe that VMware products are advancing their career.

Buyers know that product features don't guarantee success. Just because a product is objectively better doesn’t mean it will be successfully implemented, integrated and maintained by the vendor.  A key success in sales it to structure a deal in such a way that the company has incentive to stay focused on the success of the deal over time.

It is interesting that people always say of incumbents like IBM, “nobody gets fired for buying IBM.” The flip side of that is the only reason a buyer would make a riskier choice would be for the opportunity to be promoted, aka the opposite of being fired.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Christopher Keene

Christopher Keene is Chairman and CEO of WaveMaker (formerly ActiveGrid). He was the founder, in 1991, of Persistence Software, a San Mateo, CA-based company that created a new approach for managing data in high-transaction banking and communications systems. Persistence Software investors included Cisco, Intel, Reuters and Sun Microsystems. The company went public in 1999 on the NASDAQ exchange and was sold in 2004 to Progress software.

After leaving Persistence Software in 2005, Chris spent a year in France as chairman of Reportive Software, a Paris-based maker of business-intelligence tools, and as an adjunct professor and entrepreneur-in-residence at INSEAD, a leading graduate business school.

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