But the “no sales people” mantra isn’t what I’m here to take on. It’s the second belief system that is even more engrained and even more wrong. Many young startups are being advised not to have a professional services business and in my opinion this is a big mistake.
“One of the Biggest Mistakes Enterprise Startups Make” by Mark Suster.
When I first joined Microsoft ten years ago and started to build software in the Office group, I spent some time learning about how we actually sold the software to enterprise customers. I setup some coffees with “Field Sales Managers”, “Technical Account Managers”, and even got to listen in on a few sales calls with big enterprise customers.
My eyes couldn’t have been opened wider; the complexity of sales channels, SKU’s, and VAR’s made me quickly realize and appreciate the importance of a dedicated sales group. At the same time, I was concerned by how far removed I was as engineer from the actual customer – how do you balance out the complexity of selling to various, complex customers while not slowing down development?
Thankfully Office has a long history of rich and consistent interactions with its big customers. One of my favorite activities was participating in an internal conference each year where some of our biggest enterprise customers came to Microsoft campus for a few days. It was part networking event and part product demo fair, with the goal of getting critical feedback from our customers about what we were building in Office while we were still coding. It was incredibly helpful as an engineer to learn about the unique technology challenges they faced inside their companies (i.e. amazingly complex deployment topologies, geopolitical issues that dictated purchasing policy, governmental regulations, etc.).
I learned quickly that building and selling products to enterprise customers was complex, but more importantly that the best enterprise products are developed via great relationships between the product team and the individuals that will use it.