A few weeks ago we wrote about Five Easy Mistakes Source-to-Pay Tech Buyers Can Avoid in their effort to procure a fit-for-purpose technology solution to help them with their current challenges because the wrong solution can often be worse than having no solution at all.
However, and this is one thing the doctor knows very well, it’s not just buyers that make mistakes. Vendors do too. Lots of them. Lots more than they’ll care to admit, and these mistakes cost them time, money, sleep, and, sometimes, satisfied customers — which is ultimately the most important thing as satisfied customers will renew software subscriptions indefinitely (while unsatisfied customers will try to end the subscription as soon as possible).
Especially newer vendors, and especially those that haven’t built and/or run a company in our space before. And while some mistakes will be unavoidable (innovation doesn’t happen the first time, some things can only be learned the hard way, etc.), most aren’t. (In fact, the vast majority aren’t.) Usually all that is needed is research and insight, which can often be obtained by overworked founders without enough time by engaging the right advisor*.
So, to help these vendors understand overlooked areas where they are likely making mistakes, and where they should at least get an independent review, so that they can bring you better solutions, we’re bringing to them (and you, so you ask the right questions when considering their solution) the most common mistakes the doctor has seen over and over (and over) in his long career as an (independent) industry analyst, blogger, technical solution reviewer, consultant, researcher, CTO, etc.
Lack of market understanding and the real needs of their potential market
The first time the doctor talks to a new company, either for an introduction, review, or due diligence, one of the first things he hears (or will ask if he doesn’t), is why the founders started this company. And the answer he gets the most by far, so much so that he’s lost count of how many times he’s heard it and struggles to point to significant companies where he didn’t, is because XYZ didn’t do this function we needed to be efficient so we figured there was an opportunity. This would be a perfectly logical response if:
- XYZ was a company/product that was designed to serve the function the founders were trying to address
- there weren’t already two dozen products out there that addressed the function already and, at the baseline, did the same thing; literally, the same thing
This becomes especially prevalent during every M&A frenzy where a PE firm decides they need a company that does X, like (accounts) payable(s) during the last frenzy (exacerbated by COVID when PE firms realized/decided that business needed to be conducted entirely online, and decided they all need a virtual collaboration and online payment solution in their network). And the doctor doesn’t want to tell you how many times he heard payments company X was started because bill.com or quickbooks didn’t do basic accounts payable functionality or how few (read: almost none) didn’t do any real research which, in just a few hours, would have uncovered two dozen plus companies with payables capability the founders were sure didn’t exist, and the real opportunity was only in differentiation, specific country/regulatory support, or price-point (as there weren’t a lot of solutions at an affordable price point for smaller mid-size businesses until a few years ago). And even worse, many of these founders thought analysts and potential buyers should be super impressed that they essentially re-invented the software process wheel for a particular function for the twenty-forth time.
So, dear vendor, before you go to market, do your research (or contract someone who can do it properly for you)! And if you don’t understand your real value, contract an analyst that can identify it for you. The market is fickle, unforgiving, and easily swayed by a better presentation (even when from a competitor with lesser technology). Given that the knowledge and resources are out there, there’s no reason NOT to get it right.
Lack of competitive landscape knowledge and the real needs going unserved overall or at an affordable price-point for their target market
Building on our last point, it’s not just knowing what’s out there and what it does, but where your competition is strong and weak, what markets they are going after, what markets you should be going after based on your relative strengths and weaknesses, and what price point that market can easily afford and buy within a reasonable length sales cycle.
the doctor realizes this can be very time consuming, but this is where an implementation consultant or the right analyst can be extremely valuable, as they can quickly provide you with this information based on publicly available knowledge on currently released products based on demos and product reviews they have done, (feedback from) implementations they have been associated with, and (feedback from) integrations that they (or consultants they work with) needed to do, and buyers. A good analyst can do this without sharing any roadmap or non-public details on not-yet released capabilities, and should do that as roadmap and un-released capabilities might never be released, and is not something you should be basing your direction on.
Not knowing your true capitalization needs pre-profitability
While we should applaud companies that can bootstrap, and provide a standing ovation to companies that can raise angel / VC capital early to accelerate development, we should ONLY do so if they make an effort to understand their true cost of development, how long it’s really going to take to make that first sale, how long after that until they will make enough sales to support the minimum headcount they will need to sell and support those customers, and how much cash it’s going to take to get them there and raise it, or at least pre-negotiate follow on raises/loans to get there after the first investment.
Too many good companies fail because
- they don’t take the time to estimate the true cost
- they do, but don’t stick to their guns and when the investors say “final offer” at 70% of the estimated amount, they say “we’ll make it work”
And they try. They make a valiant effort. And as money dwindles, they put in 80 hour work weeks, developing more, faster. They amp-up cold-calling, content generation, reach outs, etc. They make their most heroic efforts. But all for naught. You can rush development, but you can’t rush a sales cycle. People need to realize they need a solution, do their research, qualify you, get a budget, go out to RFP, follow an archaic corporate process, and, then, hopefully, they can buy your product. If you’re lucky, you’re entering the process after they get the budget, but then you are fighting against a favoured “incumbent” that they plan to buy from (once they eliminate you), but usually it’s before, which means, on average, you are waiting six months for them to get a budget in the next cycle. If you’re a few months away from closing the doors, that doesn’t help you.
So if you can’t get what you need, don’t start. We all know entrepreneurship sounds great. We all know it’s a great experience to have on your resume. But it’s stupid to start something you know has no chance of succeeding. After all, there’s always another opportunity out there where you stand a chance of success. (And that’s it, even if you have enough in a typical case scenario, pandemics can happen, disasters can happen, markets can shift, or a better solution can be released halfway through your development by someone else that had the idea before you and is currently developing it in stealth mode with double your funding and a marketing budget out of the gate.) So, dear vendor, wait until have you a true chance. Otherwise, you’re wasting your contribution and letting down your early adopters when you close your doors (and that hurts us all when they lose faith in smaller companies and go back to ERP).
Overvaluing the tech (and AI)
A good tool is worth good money, and a great tool is worth great money. And if the great tool significantly increases efficiency, identifies meaningful cost avoidance, and delivers a 5X ROI, such a tool can be worth hundreds of thousands (or even millions of dollars if it is used by hundreds, or thousands, of users globally). But good and great is relative to what it does, how many people in the business it’s used by, the value it is delivering, and, ultimately, the budget the business class you are targeting can afford to pay based on the first three factors.
Tech for the sake of tech, while cool, has no value beyond being cool. Even if you have a lot of actual “AI” baked in (and let’s face it, if you do, the “AI” is only solving a very focussed, niche, problem), it’s still valueless unless it delivers value. It doesn’t matter how long you took to build it, how much it cost you (which can be a very poor measure because if you didn’t have a good team, overpaid that team, didn’t have the product or goal well designed when you started, p!ss3d hundreds of thousands away on Class A office space and big parties, it might have cost you tens of millions to build something a smarter, more focussed, cost conscious team could have built for two million), or how unique it is — in business, it needs value.
And before you try to sell it, you need to understand that value from a customer’s viewpoint, otherwise you’re going to have quite a challenge and customers who would otherwise jump on something fairly priced will not buy it even when it could be the best solution for them. (It’s not what the competition is selling it for, it’s what it should be sold for … one of the reasons too many Procurement departments don’t have modern tech is that they can’t get the budget for software priced using traditional enterprise software pricing that only the F500s/G3000s can afford.)
Undervaluing the tech (and AI)
Again, a good tool is worth good money and a great tool is worth great money when it delivers the right efficiency gains, cost avoidance, and value to a business that is losing a lot of money due to inefficiency and lack of insight.
Thus, you also have to be careful NOT to undervalue the tool or slash the price in an effort to get customers in the door quickly or sell to smaller organizations than you should be selling to, especially if the tech was expensive to build and no other organization could build it for less than 80% (or more) of what your organization invested into it and the cost of maintenance/continued development (due to advanced tech or unique capabilities or lots of integrations) is high. The reality is that once you set a price, that doesn’t become the floor, it becomes the ceiling, and if the price is not sustainable, you will go out of business and that will hurt not only you, but any early adopter that buys into you (and, again, that will hurt us all when they lose faith in smaller companies and go back to ERP).
Overestimating the DiY nature of the tech
Easy for you is not easy for a buyer. Remember, you’re the expert in the Tech — you built it, as well as an expert in the inefficiencies in the tech that came before — that’s why you built it, and an expert in the workflows that work well — that’s how you built it. You have the deep knowledge of the tech, the deep knowledge of the best practices, and the deep knowledge to know when a problem is best addressed by the tool, and when it’s not, and how out-of-the-box the support is, and how much has to be customized.
On the other hand, your potential client might be spending most of their time in Gmail and Excel, have never used the previous tool, and have no knowledge of current best practices. The customer may need training on the best practices, the workflows, and the tech, as well as a large reference library to remind themselves on how to use the tool if certain aspects of the process are not done very often (like once a month at most).
If services are needed, customers are not going to respond well to software only, or believe a low-cost when they know they will need the services. Understand the balance, present it appropriately, and sell it appropriately.
Misunderstanding the average customer capability & TQ
Building on the above, in addition to not overestimating the DiY nature of the tech, you should not misunderstand the average customer capability and the Technical Quotient of your target market. As we noted above, not all Procurement departments are advanced in the tech they have access to, and not all Procurement Professionals are adept with / used to modern tech. One has to remember that, for the longest time, Procurement was literally the island of misfit toys, and their understanding of technology and technology-enabled best practices was literally non-existent (as they typically didn’t use technology beyond the fax machine).
Even today, they may not be familiar with much more than basic consumer software for searching, e-reading, e-commerce, email, and gaming. Customized, deep, enterprise software may not be in their experience or repertoire.
Alternatively, if you are selling to a risk management or data analytics departments at big companies, they may have hired data scientists with deep training in mathematics and computer science used to not only using difficult mathematical (like Matlab and Octave) and analytics platforms (Qlik and Tableau), but building their own using open source analytics and data science platforms (like SciKit and Dataiku).
Know your audience and what they are capable of.
Failing to put the relationship first
In consumer software, it’s a transaction. But in enterprise software, it’s a relationship that you need to build, support, and adapt with. If the customer wants a transaction, they’ll use mass-market user-subscription based software or shareware. They’re going to you because they need services and support from a software provider that are experts in the technology and the process, can help them achieve their goals, and will keep the SaaS platform relevant.
* (HINT! HINT! STARTUPS/BEST-OF-BREEDS, STOP ASSUMING YOU KNOW IT ALL AND CAN DO IT ALL IN HOUSE! YOU CAN’T! YOU DON’T HAVE THE BUDGET FOR A FULL TIME EXPERT IN EVERY AREA. BUT YOU CAN OFTEN GET AWAY WITH PART TIME/SHORT TERM CONSULTING / ADVISORY. SO JUST DO IT!)