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The allure of building enterprise products

There is no doubt that enterprise software is currently in fashion. In enterprise software there are big problems, bigger data, and bigger budgets where you don’t need to find millions or even thousands of customers to build a business (Workday is estimated to have $500 Million in ‘bookings this year’ on 310 customers).

I see three key things that are currently driving oppertunity in this space:

  • Mobile: Bring Your Own Device thinking, better informed (in most cases) employee expectations have put a lot of pressure on IT departments to provide better tools and access for getting work done
  • User Experience expectations: my long held belief that with the explosion of Facebook the expectations on user experience from everyone changed rapidly. It isn’t just the young people in the office complaining about how insane it is to fill out a form that doesn’t autosave in PeopleSoft.
  • Sales are less scary: It could be the whole ‘start up is sexy’ talk from the governments of the western world that is making larger companies seemingly more open to talk to the smaller company with a great solution sprinkled. Also more is being shared about how to sell to that market.

With the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement we are seeing a real example of consumer products shifting how IT is controlled in the workplace along with an acceptance that employees are tech savvy. Those that worked in IT for more than 5 years will remember a time when the average employee just glazed over if you talked about technology. Now it more common that employees, especially but not exclusively younger ones, are more versed (or believe they are) than the average IT person on many aspects of the tools they use day to day. It was noted in 2007 and tech savvy employees are seen as a necessity now.

Enter Facebook lifting everyone’s User Experience expectations. People could fill out forms with real time error checking and chat windows. Tagging became a known thing to do. Also with mobile, in 2009 Facebook was extremely popular on the Blackberry – “it is somewhat surprising that Blackberry users are the most active mobile Facebook users so far.”  In 2009 you couldn’t argue that Blackberry was pretty much the all of the enterprise mobile market. Facebook likely deserves credit for forcing IT department of the world to answer to a frustrated VP that can’t access their kids stuff because they were on an outdated browser or a firewall limited access or they couldn’t install the Facebook app on their IT controlled Blackberry. Facebook’s relevance to the enterprise crowd even comes out in an article talking about the advantages Workday has: “Workday’s software for filing expenses or approving a hire, on the other hand, is about as easy to use as Facebook.”

Selling to and developing your products for enterprise has certainly become a lot easier with tech savvy employees having the ability to make decisions on the tools they use. Something that solves an individuals problem and can be used in a small team enters the enterprise completely under the radar. Dropbox offers an example of that although it is a great consumer product that using the BYOD tide to break into enterprise.

Generally, the sales process does not have to be scary and there are plenty of people blogging about it. What could work very well is that you take the time to understand how other products are sold into the particular industry you are targeting and iterate on their process. Whatever you do be sure to talk to your customers, build relationships, and accept that it is very unlikely you be able to automate the entire process.

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