I have so many things to be thankful for this year including my family, our investors, customers, partners, contributors, advisers and employees but after spending a few weeks on the road meeting with awesome customers and prospects, I wanted to take a moment on this Thanksgiving to outline what I believe makes for thankful customers.
Security software sales is driven on a paranoid and inefficient game I call the “secret exchange.” If I am shopping for a new solution, I have to give away my name and email address to get access to a piece of marketing fluff that I may be able to discern qualities of the product. I give away a small secret and receive a small secret from some Inside Sales Representative (ISR.) That ISR will call/hound me until he/she can “qualify” my sales opportunity by extracting more secrets including my timeline, the size of deal and budget. In exchange for more of my secrets, I will be graced with a pitch and if I’m lucky a product demonstration. Then I am handed off to a Regional Sales Manager (RSM) that will ask for my “success criteria” of a product trial. Once we produce those secrets, I will receive pricing and hopefully a trial.
Going into the gauntlet of “secret exchange” all I needed to know is 1) can we afford it? and 2) does it work? Between the vendor and the customer, dozens of labor hours from expensive laborers are spent. And in most cases the opportunity doesn’t pan out (less than 30% in most sales organizations.) This makes for a very expensive cost of sale for the vendor and the customer.
In hopes of making WitFoo Customers thankful, we publish our pricing and product demo on our website so prospects can self-qualify. Outside of security software, this is the norm and not the exception. For prospective customers that want to kick our tires, they can accept our trial EULA and download our software without questions asked. If they want to know the details behind how we make our sausage, there is free certification training on our WitFoo Community that explains it all.
The simple act of making critical business information available to our prospective customers saves WitFoo millions of dollars a year in cost of sales by not needing secret gate-keepers and empowers our prospective customers to make a decision that is mutually beneficial at the right time.
We are currently in an expanding market cap that exhibits virtually every unhealthy market behavior that we saw in the 90’s DOT COM bubble. Claims are vague while still being hyperbolic. FUD and unclear claims make it virtually impossible to understand what a product actually does. Crappy investors control the market with focus squarely on a profitable exit with no regard for tangibly solving the market’s actual problems. As a result we see software companies that don’t need raw materials, factories, logistics or any cost of goods sold raising millions of dollars to sell vaporware.
The result of this unhealthy space is every vendor is well-funded to be loud and the cost for a conversation in the market is extremely expensive. Customers are given drones, $200 steaks, conference travel and worse as a sedation from their pain in lieu of a cure. Every week some pseudo-journalism firm offers us a slot in the “The Best Startup/Security Solution/CTO/Executives…” awards for a few thousand dollars. We refuse to pay to play.
Customers are as tired of the parties (and the subsequent hang-overs) as they are at failing at securing their networks. The best way to gain a thankful customer is to deliver on solving their problems. Dazzle them with results. Earn their trust and never lose it. Overachieve. There are reasons that I can always get a seat at the table, I don’t let customers down. We make audacious claims but we go on to deliver on them. Optics are garbage. Speak softly and carry a big stick of meaningful substance.
I once worked as a sales manager in a different security software company and at the beginning of every year I assembled the folks that supported me including inside sales, channel, field marketing, engineering and technology and reselling partners. I asked them to share their quotas, goals and OKR’s with me. We laid them out on the table and endeavored to build a combined strategy that would make everyone successful. It was also my responsibility to make sure that our customers’ trust was protected and validated. We were all radically successful. In fact, we were so successful that we were viciously slandered and maligned by people with less character (and success.)
Everyone needs help. Sacrificing a commission check, job security or growth/promotion potential to protect a business partner or customer is playing a satisfying long-game called devotion. Find driven, healthy customers and partners and do everything you can to make them successful. The world is often very ugly but having some faithful friends, vendors, partners and customers are critical to winning at work without losing your soul. Protecting good people does lead to some deep wounds by the duplicitous and opportunistic but pay lasting, satisfying dividends. I will not share how many photos, recordings, emails, documents and affidavits have made it into my extortion archive from whistle-blowers that betrayed those that have betrayed me or my allies. Be upright and take care of those that you can. It will produce no extortion evidence and will guarantee a seat at every table of those ready to be helped.
Aside from my conscience, the reason I don’t use extortion to accomplish my goals is that is not generally sustainable. Many vendors are currently caught up in a short-term “valuation game” of trying to inflate the value of their equity so the previous investors can cash out. These valuations are rarely attached to successfully solving problems or using healthy market behaviors. Re-sellers that are bad in the long term for both the customer and the vendor are the most common winners of deals. This is because vendors and customers are both using an extremely narrow, short-term view. Vendors and customers rarely go to bat for the healthy and sustainable partner that can make a difference in delivering success.
I will never forget working as a vendor (at a previous company) and preparing an expansion quote for a large retail customer and suggesting the expedient (and useless) partner because it would be much less expensive. The security director at the customer told me he did not care how much more it was. They valued their useful reselling partner and were going to protect the reseller that is devoted to making them successful. It was a lasting rebuke to me and impacted how WitFoo built it’s go to market (GTM) strategy.
Playing the sustainable, long-game means taking care of the others in the process that are also playing the long-game. A focus on mind-bending valuation inflation is a flash in the pan like the 90’s DOT COM bubble was. Only sustainable vendors that are building healthy businesses that value, protect and encourage healthy behaviors will survive this bubble (like Amazon & NetFlix did in theirs.)
Being sustainable helps calm many of the fears that customers have: how long until the vendor fires this great rep? can I use my favorite re-seller? will my feature requests be delivered? will this vendor sell-out to a soulless blue chip?
I am thankful for many thing this year. Most notably, customers that have believed in the WitFoo mission and approaches. I am also thankful for vendors that are doing their level best to earn the thanks of their customers. I hope as we enter the new year, WitFoo continues to find occasion to earn the thanks of our existing and new customers as we endeavor to encourage our vendor peers to do the same.