It’s not because they’re all pure evil
It’s a legitimate question that people ask all the time:
Why do some software companies make me talk to a salesperson?
I understand people’s frustrations: In the age of self-service software, why do some software companies “refuse” to just LET ME BUY SOFTWARE? While I don’t necessarily recommend this practice for all companies, I have come to understand some of the whys over time, so I thought I’d document some of them here.
#1: That’s how they did it at their last company
Yep, it’s that simple. Sales executives at software companies are hired to replicate the success they’ve had at other companies they’ve worked for, so when they’re brought in, that’s what they do. They often bring in their old team, execute the old playbook, and sometimes even make software companies tons and tons of money. This isn’t particularly good for people who just want to “sign up and buy software,” but it’s good enough strategy-wise that lots of companies continue to adopt it.
#2: They’re not ready for you yet
Building an amazing on-boarding experience for self-service customers is really, really fucking hard. Hard enough that many companies devote a much larger percentage of their engineering and product focus on this part of their funnel than an outsider would normally assume. Getting it right is hard, and so especially for new companies, the solution is simple: slow the process down, vet the customers up front, make sure they’re ready. When a company is ready, they might roll out a self-service option — because there’s high-touch sales now doesn’t mean there will be forever.
#3: That’s how the product is designed
Some software is extremely complex. It may require integration with other services, require a ton of configuration, or mandate a large enough internal change that just “jumping right in” isn’t an option. Some people design their business and products around this from the beginning. It’s not a mistake they’re making — it’s the basis for their business model.
#4: There’s usually an alternative
As an addendum to #3, there are often self-service options when you are annoyed or feeling hamstrung by entering into a sales process with an “enterprisey” software vendor. Companies who do competitive landscape analysis know that some of their customers won’t engage if they have to pick up the phone, and for them, it’s easy — let those customers find the self-service alternative. The fact that for nearly every enterprise solution there’s one that is self-service is one of the reasons why some companies will continue to pursue this course.
#5: Packaging is everything
I tell this to my clients and friends in the business constantly: how you sell is just as important as what you sell. Coming up with your awesome invention, convincing your friends to use it, and getting some modest traffic from link aggregation sites isn’t enough. There are a lot of challenging questions involved in figuring out how to package software when selling it to your customers. For some companies, it will just make the most sense for them to pursue a high-touch sales route, even if it seems weird, arcane, or annoying to us, as outsiders.
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