Category: Web 2.0


As an entrepreneur starting a Web 2.0 company, I have often made the mistake of adopting the “build-it-and-they-will-come” attitude toward our offerings. As I mentioned in a previous article, it is seductive to draw comparisons with significant trends (social networking, Web 2.0, SaaS, Enterprise 2.0, Services 2.0 etc) and large success stories (Google, Yahoo, eBay,, and think “If only we could capture 3% of that market …” There are a slew of Web 2.0 entrepreneurs out there today who are thoroughly convinced that their offerings will change the world, but are not seeing any market traction.

I was reading a book called Freakonomics on a flight home and had a moment of clarity. In this book, the authors talk about all human behavior being influenced by three types of incentives; financial, social and moral. They go on to explain several confounding phenomenon just based on this premise.

I started thinking about using just this approach to predict whether Web 2.0 offerings would gain traction. Very simply, think of your offerings as an incentive program. What is in it for the user to get excited about using your offerings? What is his financial incentive to do so? What is his social incentive to do so? And in the case of not-for-profit organizations, what is his moral incentive to do so? If you have compelling answers to do the above questions, you offerings will probably gain traction. If not, starting working on your next idea.

Now I realize that taking a hard look at the value of a company’s offerings is not really a novel idea. But I do think that thinking about Web 2.0 offerings (the audience for which is typically an individual) as an incentive program makes a lot of sense.



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There is a mind-numbing amount of information in the public domain about how Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 will change the world for ever. This article attempts to provide an entrepreneur’s perspective on these trends and distill the key issues with a bit of common sense. The term Web 2.0 was first coined by Tim O’Reilly to denote a new breed of Internet services companies. The key traits of companies in this new breed, according to O’Reilly, were:

  • They were platform plays. E.g. eBay & YouTube
  • They had a social networking component. E.g. MySpace, Skype & Amazon
  • They had community driven content. E.g. Wikipedia & eBay
  • They released users from the software development lifecycle, meaning that users would access Web 2.0 services using a simple web browser. In tech-speak, this is called Software as a Service or Saas

Whether the above differentiators really warrant a new category or not is debatable. One could easily argue that these basic characteristics should have been incorporated into most, well thought-out “Web 1.0” Internet companies that were launched in the mid 1990s and that we are only now coming around to fully understand the implications. Nevertheless, Web 2.0 is a handy way to characterize these companies & somewhat comprehend the implications.

From its consumer underpinnings, Web 2.0 evolved over 2005 – 2006 to take on an enterprise flavor. Terms like Me, Inc., Prosumer and Enterprise 2.0 have been used to describe companies adopting this approach. Examples of companies in this space include, SugarCRM, NetSuite etc. The case that is being made here is that business services can be delivered using a consumer model to professionals, hence the Prosumer go-to-market strategy. According to Philip Lay at TCG Advisors, the cornerstones of Enterprise 2.0 are

  • Software as a Service or SaaS
  • Service Oriented Architecture (SOA, read Web Services) and
  • Open Source Computing (E.g. Ajax)

Philip rightly points out that now (2007) is not the time for us to get overly excited about Enterprise 2.0. We are not going to see Fortune 500 companies jump onto this bandwagon and move all their front & back office applications to an Enterprise 2.0 model in a big way. What we will see is niche solutions being brought to market with this model, focusing on narrow audiences & their key business problems. Over the next decade or so, the broader Enterprise 2.0 market should pick up a good bit of steam.

OK, now for the entrepreneur’s perspective. My thoughts on launching an Enterprise 2.0 start-up:

  • It is seductive to get caught in the jargon / tech-speak and draw analogies with companies with eBay, Google & Amazon. Have been guilty of getting caught in that trap myself on several occasions. Instead of getting carried away with technologies and analogies, focus on pressing business problems that your core audience loses sleep over today
  • Deliver compelling, comprehensive solutions & value propositions to these critical business problems. How will you get your target audience what they need faster, better, & cheaper? SaaS & Web2.0 are just enablers. How will you deliver highly targeted, personalized, context-driven business services to individual professionals? How will you incorporate “mass-customization” into your solutions?
  • Ensure that there is a large market for the solutions you are offering and that you have a scalable plan to get to the finish line



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Sales reps have long struggled with positioning their products and services to deliver the most business value to their customers. Successful sales reps will attest to the immense benefit of robust, professional sales methodologies. Others will confirm the need for deep industry knowledge to deliver business value. And the insightful sales rep will emphasize the need to “think-on-your-feet” to dissect the customer’s business issues and map them to product features. I believe that the key to successful solution selling is the seamless integration of all the above three components; a robust sales methodology, deep industry knowledge and the intelligence to apply the methodology and knowledge to a deal’s unique business context. Let’s now spend a few cycles on each of these components.

A Google search for sales methodology returns over 8 million hits! There is certainly no dearth of sales methodologies out there. Leading sales methodologies include those from Miller-Heiman, Sandler and Porter Henry. A good bit of money is spent by enterprises on training their sales reps on these methodologies. But research conducted by the Society for Sales & Management Training reveals that over 80% of the skills taught in a classroom are not applied by sales reps in the field. With sales reps and their managers juggling numerous deals at the same time to meet their monthly quotas, it is small wonder that these methodologies fall by the wayside. Yet another example of something that looks great on paper, but doesn’t work in real-life.

In a previous post, I talked about the issues with sales intelligence tools out there that attempt to provide a sales rep with industry knowledge. The major failings with the sales intelligence offerings in the market today are that they are too coarse (categorized only by industry sector) & not personalized, and they do not focus much on sell-side insights. All these result in the sales rep having to plough through a mountain of information to identify the industry knowledge that would be applicable to each of his deals. Not an ideal situation when time is one of the sale rep’s scarcest resources.

Even if a sales rep has the bandwidth to apply a sales methodology and has identified the industry knowledge relevant to a deal, he has one more challenge to tackle - the deal’s business context. Some clarification here. A sales methodology, by its very nature, is generic and will need to be morphed to be relevant to a deal. Examples of issues that could influence how the methodology is applied in a deal include whether the sales rep’s organization already has an existing relationship with the customer, the types of external / internal competition that the sale rep will face, dynamics in the customer’s organization structure etc. It takes significant effort to determine how to apply a generic sales methodology in a specific deal. Similarly, just having access to the relevant industry knowledge is not sufficient. The sales rep still has to figure out how to apply the industry knowledge to develop a compelling value proposition, draw the customer’s attention and then map his product / service features to the value proposition. Understanding the business context of a deal and then figuring how to apply a generic sales methodology and industry knowledge requires intelligence, the ability to “think-on-your-feet.”

So where does all this rambling lead us? To my contention, that for sales methodologies & industry intelligence to be useful, they need to be tempered with the unique business context of each sales opportunity. And what better framework to develop such a personalized solution than Web 2.0? We think this a good idea and have been working on it for a while. Check out the SalesQB Diary category, if you are interested in our progress ...


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11:48:11 am, Categories: Sales & Marketing, Business Trends, Web 2.0  

When you talk about a sales rep’s network, the first image that comes to mind is that of a rolodex. We have all heard of the anecdotal sales rep that goes through his rolodex to sell his current employer’s solutions, switches to another employer, goes through his rolodex again and continue the cycle. No one doubts the importance of a sales rep’s ability to generate leads by leveraging his network. But solution selling introduces some twists.

A recent special HBR issue on Sales talks about four different social networks that sales reps need to develop to effectively sell solutions. The social network described above is only the first of the four social networks that are crucial to the sales rep’s success. Here are the remaining three.

Once the sales rep has identified a prospect using his first social network, he will need to develop a complete picture of the decision makers (org structure, personalities, preferences etc) in the account who will be influencing the deal. Herein comes the second social network. Leveraging his network of other sales reps who target this account, his coach in the account and account-specific research, the sales rep will need to identify the decision makers and the roles they will be playing in the deal.

Next, in today’s market of ever-more-sophisticated business solutions, the sales rep will need to network with the appropriate decision makers and vendor partners to develop a solution. In B2B sales, the chances that the sale rep will have all the products / services to deliver the complete business solution are very slim. Most enterprise projects involve 2 – 3 vendors, each bringing specialized products / skills to the table. So, the sales rep will need to jointly envision the business solution with vendor partners and position it in the account for a win-win-win (customer, himself and partner). This is the sales rep's third social network.

The fourth social network kicks in when the rep is trying to close the deal. At this stage, the sales rep needs to sell on the basis on business cases, ROIs and references. He will need to pull in past customers, industry analysts and champions within the account to convince the executive sponsor about the value of the deal.

Needless to say, it would be incredibly short-sighted for sales reps to focus on just the first of the above four social networks. In the B2B sales, the latter three networks are just as important. We never said solution selling was going to be easy, did we?


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09:35:00 am, Categories: Sales & Marketing, Business Trends, Web 2.0  

Numerous sales intelligence tools are touting their wares in the market today. Some provide news feeds on specific accounts, others provide industry reports and yet others scour the Internet using crawlers to put together massive information repositories. Sales reps are just as impacted by information overload as the rest of us are.

Ray Lane, in his article on the new software landscape talks about how Web 2.0 vendors are providing personalized services to niche markets. I believe some of the “laws” that Ray describes could very well be adapted to the sales intelligence market.

What are some of the issues in sales intelligence today? CRM / SFA tools are of very little value. Industry reports give sales reps buy-side knowledge, when what they really need is sell-side insights. And the tools out there tend to be sector oriented (2 – 3 digits of the SAIC / NAICS), and thus too generic.

Assume that your sales rep has generated his lead, made the cold call, secured the appointment and is sitting in front of the decision maker. Now what? How does he build credibility, identify the customer’s pain points, and position his solution? All of the above need one crucial component – relevant, contextual industry and business knowledge. The sales rep needs to know the top 3 business issues that the customer is facing today that he has some prayer of addressing with his offerings. He needs to know the trends in the customer’s industry that the guy he is sitting across from is worried about. He needs to have a well-thought out value proposition that helps him position his wares with each of the decision makers influencing the deal.

Getting to this level of sophisticated sales intelligence will take about half a day’s worth of research, for each call, which probably explains why most sales reps don’t go prepared to sales calls! My contention is that this type of sales intelligence is not unique to a sales rep, company or industry. Given the product that a sales rep is attempting to sell and the customer’s industry (4 – 5 digits of the SAIC / NAICS, a bit more granular), delivering the type of sales intelligence described above as a personalized service is very viable and will take a sales rep about 80% of the way to becoming a sophisticated “solution” sales rep. Sure there are other dimensions (customer’s org structure / politics, relationships, competition, budget cycles, customer’s specific travails) that will impact the outcome of the deal. But I will pick 90% over 0% any day …


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