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David Bernick

I meant to respond to this weeks ago, but was sidetracked. A friend of mine got me thinking and I was reminded of this blog, so I figured I'd come back to it.

I ran the tech of a SaaS for many years that had to serve enterprise customers (particularly very large law firms and their clients -- very large financial firms). We were a VERY new way of doing things for them and there were many hurdles to overcome. A few lessons I picked up from that.

1. The Enterprise Sales Game - SaaS benefits from having really cool self-provisioning abilities. These are good for Enterprises, but they want you to have a sales person and trainer physically onsite for deployment/support even if there IS no actual deployment. They're used to having people they can talk to about sales and about training and about support. They don't just want to send an email. What we found is that even if they client could do EVERYTHING online, they still wanted us to engage them as a traditional IT vendor, as if we were HP.

2. SLAs... And mean it - Even if you know that your uptime is better than their IT guys, they'll want it in writing. This back-and-forth of contracts is a pain for the sales process. If a tech startup deals with an enterprise, it better have the ability to handle SLAs and negotiations. Like the above, self-provisioning is great on the tech end, but nothing in Enterprises is self-provisioning. It also means that the startup needs to have done lots of paperwork -- proof of security audits, security questionnaire, technology questionnaire, etc. The turnaround time for this stuff is quick (a day or two) because enterprise organizations expect this stuff to be done. After all, HP has it done, why not you?

3. 10x better -- totally agree. The startup needs to have at least one feature that no one else has AND it has to be a feature that translates directly into money. We had a type of searching that no one else had that saved them 100x the work. That translated into money. That was a good thing. It was hard to argue with the clear dollars and cents.

4. Once you get one big name, make sure they let you use it -- We got two big cases early on: Oklahoma City Bombing and MS Anti-Trust. We got permission to use that in our material. That was enough to make other enterprise/government organizations start to trust us. If we were good enough for them, we're good enough for anyone else.

5. You're really a 24/7 operation -- Enterprise customers, especially enterprise IT, expect maintenance and such to be done with 0 downtime or during times like Christmas or 4a on Sundays. If you're serving an enterprise IT client, make sure your own staff in ALL your divisions (Customer Service, development, Infrastructure, etc) has some sort of fast-response on-call system. Not just an answering service, but being able to talk to an expert in 5 minutes.

6. SME - Subject Matter Experts in the client's space are important for the sale/customer relationship. We were in the legal space, so we hired lawyers for much of our client interaction. Made the senior management of the client happy because they figured were weren't just IT folks, but actual lawyers. They could trust that. Make sure the customer interacts with people who are true experts in the field, not just customer service people who are experts in your organization.

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