paul vidal - pragmatic big data nerd

The importance of specialization in software sales

by paul 1 Comment
The importance of specialization in software sales
“Bust of Adam Smith” by Patric Parc, 1845. (Wikipedia)

After spending some time reflecting on whether or not Data Scientist was a useful role within any organization churning a big amount of data, I stumbled upon this post on LinkedIn: There is Only One Type of Software Engineer.

In short, this post calls for a de-specialization of the role of engineers in order to avoid siloed professionals refusing to take responsibility of a task if it does not exactly match their job description.

While I agree with some of this argument, especially in big organizations where unfortunately the lack of ownership of a task and fear of risk taking can be quite flagrant (which I will try to tackle in a future post), I think that small organizations are in serious lack of specialization, the effect of which are particularly visible in the sales process.

Establishing the premise: specialization scarcity versus tangible gains.

Quick disclaimer: as for every post I write, I am not trying to establish and write the ultimate truth but rather I’m engaging into a conversation, so if I’ll be happy to see my premise challenged. It also applies mostly to my domain of expertise: large software sales for big organization.

In this context, here is what I observed and gathered from the market. The era of all-in-one platforms is over. I debated this in my first article speaking about consolidation, but it is still true. And while some giant companies manage and should attack different segment of the market, they still have clear marketing messages and product names for these different segments.

The problem is for companies that have an extremely innovative product, that could tackle a lot of use-cases. I know we have been struggling with this in my company, although it is getting fixed now, but I also observed this statement for many other companies I read or directly got in contact with. Without clear messaging of what narrow use-case your platform solves, sales struggle to happen.

On the flip side, I hear the opposite statement as soon as the product or marketing message get focused. It becomes the most major growth factor and even drives people to your product instead of having to chase opportunities.

Rationale: why and when I think specialization is working.

“It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people” -Adam Smith

Look, the concept is not new. The argument for specialization is at the core of our modern society, and many philosophers, economists or other sales guru addressed it before me. The goal of this post, and this blog in general is not to debate whether or not capitalism is the most suitable model for our society but rather to give down-to-earth testimonies based on factual experiences.

With this in mind, here is ultimately why I think specialization enable sales: people hate complication. Despite what my inner nerd would like to think, everyone suffers from decision fatigue. We want to have one solution for one problem. This is why you use what’s app to text your Facebook friends instead of using Messenger in most cases. And I think it is particularly relevant for my generation that is driven by immediate selfish satisfaction (yes, I include myself in this) and want a quick response to a problem they have.

Take away: what you and I should reflect upon.

First and foremost, you need to make sure that your sales and marketing message is clear. You should be able to say what your product does, what it solves, what’s the market and who are your competitors. Then you need to be able to specialize your message even more, and drill down to what the person in front of you is looking for. When you’re playing tic-tac-toe against someone, you’re not thinking about every move that could have happened prior to the current move. You’re focusing on what move will give you the best chance to win now considering the current state of the game. It’s the same thing with sales: you’re not trying to sell your product to a range of hypothetical buyers, you’re trying to sell it to a specific person to solve a specific problem. Personalization is the ultimate specialization, thus the ultimate growth factor.

Now comes the hard question: what should I focus on? What is my product’s area of specialization? This is an extremely complicated question, because while people want reality to be simple, it isn’t. One current tendency established by Eric Ries in the Lean Startup is to use customer feedback and adapt your product to their needs: be data driven. While I adhere to this approach, especially when put against visionary decision making from leaders (which often equates to magical thinking), I think it needs be adjusted to account for lack of specialization. Yes, your product/company can pivot in any direction but it needs to settle. I haven’t found the formula to determine when to settle and what is the best specialization, nor do I think anyone has. But the thrill of uncertainty is what drives me everyday.

Comment ( 1 )

  1. Choosing the correct DBMS – Gartner Reprint review – paul vidal
    […] The first thing that jumped out to me, was that Gartner uses the word DBMS Gartner, thus highlights the fact that the dichotomy between traditional relational database management systems and what has been labelled “NoSQL” is fading out. Instead, Gartner advises to “Classify the use cases under consideration and map them to the costs, deployment options and skills requirements of the products evaluated here.”. This is extremely important and a departure from some of the preconceptions I witness amongst my fellow professionals. Often enough, I get confronted with consultants trying to categorize DBMS by capabilities (distribution capabilities, support of languages, etc.). More importantly, these platforms are marketed through those capabilities. As I argued before, and confirmed by this report, end users, consultants and software provides alike should select, recommend and market according to the use-cases at which they excel instead of the capabilities inherent to a specific platform (see previous post: The importance of specialization in software sales). […]

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