I have never been to Davos. The closest I got was running into our senior partner in the queue for coffee at London City Airport at 5.45am one morning. He was on his way to the Swiss junket looking as miserable as everyone else at that hour.
Nonetheless I do have a Davos story. 6 or 7 years ago, I helped organise a discussion between one of the world’s largest mobile operators and the retail division of a global bank. My firm advised both companies and we wanted to explore ideas on how they might co-operate in mobile banking.
The upshot was a small dinner in a room in the bank’s London offices. I brought along a regional sales director from the mobile operator. The global head of retail from the bank attended along with 3 or 4 hangers on.
Everyone there was a committed leader, smart and engaged. We threw around a lot of ideas and it is fair to say the senior guy from the bank was blown away with the outcome. This nearly didn’t happen. Andy - the mobile guy - started talking about their coolest new ideas. The bank did not respond well to this kind of cutting edge stuff. But Andy was a good listener and dialled it back to more routine solutions. Some of these were already being used by the bank’s competitors and that really got the conversation flying.
As a firm we did a little work developing ideas for this potential partnership but nothing ever went anywhere. There were two reasons. First the bank had a rigid and structured procurement process backed up by a strong and influential procurement division. This meant that technology suppliers were not allowed to talk to bank executives. They could only respond to requests for proposal generated by a business need.
This sounds logical but the practical impact is not so good. The most senior person Andy was allowed to talk to after that dinner was four levels down the organisation chart from the regional head of procurement. A role that was another 5 levels below the senior individual who had attended the dinner. No amount of friendly chat could change this.
The enthusiasm for the whole concept finally died at Davos. Andy had reported back after the dinner. So his Group CEO was briefed on the opportunities generated. The bank guy on the other hand had kept it to the people in the room. He did not want anyone in the organisation getting excited until the time was right.
The two Group CEOs met at Davos (as these people do). The MNO guy mentioned this and his bank counterpart knew nothing. This was exactly the kind of uncontrolled situation the bank guy was trying to avoid. Disaster.
Stop trying to sell software the way your Dad did
If you are still here, you are no doubt wondering what this story from my previous corporate life has to do with the world of early stage B2B SaaS. Its simple. The individual concerned was not a bad person and the bank is not a bad business. Yet a great opportunity was killed before it had a chance to breathe.
The opportunity was mashed by two things that are common in the corporate world. Both have been created in response to an endless stream of enterprise sales people. Sent to corporations by big traditional software companies.
The Chairman's View
In B2B SaaS you are asking your customers to take on real business change - a major risk. Plus at early stage they are also taking a smaller risk on the credibility of your business. Driving that proposition straight into the jaws of the procurement/ don’t tell my boss monster is a fool’s errand.
B2B SaaS can and will change the world. Realising this potential means changing the biggest and best companies. Unless you offer something different they will never notice you are there.
Your product and its benefits already meet this test. Why try to push them through the same tired sales channel? With the same commission led suit and tie sales people? Its time to differentiate enterprise sales as well as enterprise SaaS:
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.