Winning without Sales? Really?


I recently attended a Products That Count presentation given by Shaun Clowes, former head of product [and, later, head of growth] for Atlassian, a company that created very successful software products for developers and others, including JIRA. The essence of the issue he discussed was, “How do you build a $1bn annual revenue business in the enterprise software space with no salespeople and pricing of $10 for 10 users?” It is an interesting question – one that implies you can build a software product that can sell via word of mouth. The conclusion, of course, being that the company does not need a sales force to sell it or to achieve success.

I love working with sales professionals. Oftentimes, working with the sales team is the best way get an enterprise software product’s economic value into the hands of your potential customers. This is usually the case when you have a very complex whole product experience, one in which many of your organization’s departments have to interact with the customer for them to have a great experience with the product. These products typically require significant effort to install, configure, upgrade, and use in order to reap the most value. Product leaders in companies that work with this type of product tend to pine away for a those that are both cool to use and addictive in  the  experience. With the advent of software as a service based in the public cloud, and the current total focus on user experience, you can now conceive of and experience a product that has neither a manual nor a sales guy to sell or up-sell you.

As Shaun commented in his talk, designing the best product at the lowest sales price is critical to success. Supercharging your customers’ word of mouth recommendations requires helping them answer these questions (from Shaun):

  • Why would I recommend this? – requires a great product
  • How would I convince someone to try it? – requires inexpensive, open pricing and an easy trial
  • Who would I recommend this to? – requires communities of interest(s)

This seems quite easy, but, in truth, it is quite difficult. This is the hard road. Great products must solve a seemingly simple customer pain point. Further, the solution must be very compelling, as well as fun to use and easy to recommend. How can a product team design a product for a zero sales touch land and expand strategy? One of my observations is that the product inherently must have a social or collaborative angle to it. JIRA is easy in that it is a team collaboration tool. It is at the core of the product. Without that use case there is no product. You cannot simply take a product designed for the enterprise sales force and add a social aspect to it. It is ancillary to the core use case. In a way, Atlassian was fortunate to have a product built by developers for developers, with an inherent social component. This made the land and expand easier. What other products are in this same category? Slack (which I now use every day) is another great example. There are probably many others. What about your product?

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