What are some successful strategies to sell to enterprise customers?

Jim Brisimitzis / July, 2018


Jim Brisimitzis, General Manager of Microsoft for Startups shares his experience working with the developer and startup community. In this video, Jim explains the importance of building trusting relationships in which they will come to you for your expert advice, and you’ll be writing checks all day long.

Video transcript:

What are some successful strategies to sell to enterprise customer?

I’ll preface this with I grew up in Enterprise. My first job was at Nortel Networks, which is the largest enterprise company in Canada at that time being. 30% of the north stock exchange was all tied up in Nortel at that time. Beyond that, I moved on to PeopleSoft, Oracle and then 13 years at Microsoft. I’ve been around enterprise for a long time selling a bunch of products to enterprises myself.

The lessons I’ve learned is that enterprise is constantly being bombarded with IT vendors of every sort and sizes. Saas vendors, on-prem vendors, but really, they’re in existence because if they’re Johnson & Johnson, they’re selling soap. If they are Ford they’re selling cars. If they are Disney, they’re entertaining people. The best enterprise deal that I’ve seen go down are people that are actually helping the enterprise to see the value of what they built as a way to help them in their core business, not just ‘hey, go and solve this problem, or virtualize this, or optimize that’. Those days are long gone.  

The other thing that’s changed quite a bit since my days since selling to an enterprise is a lot of the decisions around IT were with the CIO. A lot of those decisions are actually being moved regardless of whether the CIO is supportive or not they are being moved to the line of business managers. The CMO, the chief security officer, the chief sales guy, the HR people, they’re actually making LB, line-of-business-application decisions on their own departments. They are putting down their credit cards and making those calls without the CIOs intent or even knowledge. We call that shadow IT, and so what Microsoft is doing to transform this spaces is where we’ve traditionally had very strong relationships with the IT organizations of all of our enterprise customers. We are now actually currently hustling to build relationships with the line of business owners as well because they are as influential as the CIO has one been over time.

So my advice to startups is to make sure you definitely have a path to a line of business leaders in any enterprises you are selling into. Don’t be mistaken, the enterprise sales cycle is a long sales cycle. The shortest I’ve seen it is 3 to 6 months. The average is 9 to 12 months and I’ve been on deals that have lasted for 3 years. Those have been the big multimillion dollar projects. Those don’t happen overnight, those take time.

Be comfortable with that and make sure that your burn rate and your financial models allow you to be in existence for that long, but also make sure you’re solving a problem that they need solved and parley that to what they are doing as a core business.

If you’re just selling optimization if you’re just selling analysis, and some other stuff, you’ll get places but you won’t get as far. Big revolutions like virtualizations with VMWare was done such that it helped an IT departments being agile, and helpline of business owners to accomplish more because they are virtualizing rather than racking and stacking physical servers. Those are big transformation opportunities. When you thinking about what you are selling into think about those in the lines as well.

When I carried a sales bag, the place that I tried to get to was that trusted advisor position. Where whoever I was selling into, whoever the sponsor was of the deal, would call me up and say Jim ‘I’m thinking about doing this what do you think?’. When you’ve gotten those calls you’re in because they’re going to buy from you because they trust in you.

To answer your question, I think relationships really matter. There is no one metric that I would say is an indicator of success, except for when they’re calling on you and asked you ‘what do I do in this scenario, can you help me solve this problem’, you’re beyond a vendor relationship with that customer and into their actual business. If you get there you’re writing checks all day long, and the best example of companies that have done that quite successfully is the service implementers, Accenture, BearingPoint, Capgemini, and the IBM global services, the list goes on, the client executives who run the relationships with anyone of these largest customers.

In fact, some of the ones that I’ve been friends with over the years at Oracle and PeopleSoft has been on accounts for 20 to 30 years. They were going to family events they were being invited to strategy conversations. They were just in. Those relationships are what made the difference between what gets sold and what doesn’t. Those relationships also very much influence the direction that a particular customer would go down from a technology perspective.

Number one thing that I’ve always try to do, and we even do that today in our core business with startups is to become that trusted advisor. It’s a coveted place in a relationship where there are no vendor formalities. You’re now in a place where someone is trusting you and they are looking for your advice and they are seeking it out. If you’re there, that’s probably your number one metric that you know you’re going to have a good relationship with this person in the longer term, that’s built on trust. You just don’t go there and then go sideways on a customer it has to be intended to be a positive thing for both sides.



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