How to scale Product Demos

In young companies, the core team is doing everything. Development, consulting, sales, administration. While you grow, more people come on board and often you find yourself in a trap: it's always the same 2-3 people doing the demos. The downside: they quickly become a bottleneck. And on top: the demos are mostly too technical for a broader target group (not to speak of an also growing sales and marketing team that needs simple messaging). Let me summarise how we industrialised product demos once we passed the 40-50 people mark:

  1. Focus on selected use cases: software has many features. With every release, there will be additional features. This often leads to an extensive show of each and every feature and you will lose your audience (that is the enterprise buyer). It's smarter to think from the customer's end and present some compelling use cases that generate a WOW effect. 3-5 are sufficient, nobody can remember more. There's room for the feature battle ground in a later phase where the engineers are involved (proof of concept, proof of value).
  2. Don't embarrass customers: this is particularly important for security software that reveals weaknesses in a customer's environment. Show 1 or 2 examples per check and only a few checks. It's tempting to showcase how many issues your tool will find, but if you try to show them all you simply tell the customer: you are doomed, you are lost, you failed - that's what they will remember.
  3. Scaling demos: I stopped doing live demos at a certain point. It's risky because you usually need to dial in to you demo system and such connections can break. Broken connection - no demo - no pitch - you lose. Recording your demo (along the key use cases) has the following advantages: a) in your script you can work on a compelling story, b) you can highlight certain statements with callouts, c) you are getting consistent (no matter who is doing the demo), and finally: everyone can do the demo everywhere, anytime.

A closing idea: if you record new features once available and update your recordings accordingly, you'll get a nice collection of "why cool" videos for internal training, education partners (scaling, scaling, scaling), and also customers.

Strategic Selling vs. "We Needed the Money"

I think a lot when exercising. This morning I reflected my own experience from the very beginning until the end of my active role as founder and my later role in sales. So there will be some historical story telling here.

When we started my company, we were just a few guys with a joint passion for breaking SAP systems. And we had the first assignments literally over night after establishing the company. We pen-tested day for day and month for month and we grew organically. We recruited many people from my "Hacker Contest" courses at the university and grew organically (I will talk about the "pain of growth" later). And then we found out, that it was very difficult keeping heads above water because many project assignments came in late in the year. We couldn't deliver everything while suffering hardly above the line before the first 9-10 months of the year.

That's why we decided to turn the company from a consulting to a software firm (I will also talk about making and executing strategic decisions). Having left SAP after a few years as product manager, I knew what was not in SAP's portfolio. I still have the sheet of paper with ~20 ideas but we opted for what was later known as "CodeProfiler" - a security scanner for SAP's proprietary language ABAP. We funded this with cash flow and our own money and had our first prototype up and running for SAP TechEd late 2008 in Berlin. This attracted the first customers and we could grow the business from there generating a recurring revenue stream as desired.

While we could grow the company further, some things went wrong. Since we were funded by cash, we could often not sell strategically (executing our vision). Sometimes, we had to hunt every EUR in order to move on and we sometimes couldn't do what needed to be done. Here are three key examples:

  • Custom Development: you know the stories where one customer says "I buy your product, if you implement this ..." and we did that a lot in the beginning. While this may secure a deal (it doesn't always), it doesn't help you to build a standard product that is valuable for many customers vs. only one customer. In the worst case you will end up with a highly segmented product where no customer gets the full value. We changed that over time by implementing product management functions and agile development.
  • Consulting without focus: due to our history, we had a strong consulting division. Strong also means that there was high revenue generated. The downside was that many consulting services were not around our products (like getting it up and running, executing scans, working on results, etc.) but dozens of small service offerings somehow related to our topic SAP security. By nature that was difficult to transfer to the field organization since sales must be simple. You can only overcome this situation if you have enough funding for implementing your strategy - by being very focused and also by bringing in growth capital.
  • Too much focus on features: I'd say that we had the best product in our domain over time. However, the best product does not necessarily sell by itself. The market might value your solution - but first of all prospects need to understand WHY they need what you have. Since we sold complex products that are not explanatory like iPhones, a lot of effort needs to be put into the right messaging with a focus on customer value. Over time we succeeded and "CodeProfiler" is still used synonymously with security scanning of SAP ABAP.

I can only encourage every entrepreneur to look for growth capital being able to execute strategically. Keep in mind that finding the right partner for this will be another challenge in your life as a founder and director of your own business.

Thoughts on Value-based Selling

I have worked in or for software companies since the late 90s and found, that messaging is often very self-centered ("we are the best", "see our new 100 features", "see why our new partnership with xyz is so cool"). While this is typical thinking of leaders of software companies, this misses the viewpoint of customers. You don't given an answer to the "WHY" is this valuable for them?

I have offered a service for software companies analyzing their USP and messaging. Here are 3 key findings:

  • Very often, the USP is mixed up. You should focus on either company USPs (why is it beneficial for customers to work with you and no-one else?) and product USPs (why is it important for your customer to use your product and no other solution)? For me, it worked out many times to have thisview on USP clearly separated between company and product.
  • On the messaging, which should build on the USPs, I have observed the self-centered wording mentioned above. Instead of having a constant exchange with customers about what's perceived as value, companies often make something up. They think of USPs but customers don't see that. And if you don't understand what value means for your customers, you can never make them really happy. Examples: customers don't want to have another 100 features (they never use) but something like a dashboard for keeping management in the loop. Keep you customers close and understand their perception of value.
  • I have seen many messaging frameworks. While it is good to have a messaging framework for consistency in communication, most of them are overcomplicated and therefore inapplicable. If they are inapplicable, they are useless. As you can see in many of my articles, I usually use 3-5 statements for making a point (no-one can remember more). Do the same in your messaging framework. 3 key statements for corporate USPs and 3 key statements for the product. Apply the Golden Circle to this. Simplify your messaging.

I have written more about starting with the WHY here (Vision and Mission) and there (the typical trap for technical leaders).

New Year's resolutions

An article with good intentions - end of March?` Well, I've been pretty lax about writing articles here. It's not that I haven't been doing anything - on the contrary: there's a lot going on in all the areas I'm dabbling in here. But: I lost track of blogging a bit, especially because I had no concept what I write where (I've changed that now - all details here, abstracts e.g. on LinkedIn). I want to change that now, just in time for the end of the first quarter.

In my annual review, I found that many things are going well and others need more focus. Here's my sharpened list, first on the business topics I write about here:

  • Successful Business (Coaching): as a former owner and CEO in the cybersecurity environment, my goal is to share my experience, help avoid mistakes and support decision makers in small companies (50-300 people) on their way. In the last 1-2 years it has become very clear to me what is important to me: mutual respect, communication at eye level and a good team. This sounds simple, but it is by no means always the case (then we don't fit together). I've also found that I prefer working with software vendors - because that's what I do best and where I can contribute the most.
  • Successful Business (Consulting): another level is the technical experience I can bring as a long-time (SAP) cybersecurity expert. I stopped diving into the depths of bits and bytes here a long time ago, but rather focus on helping IT decision makers make good decisions. Why does what need to be done? Who can help? What can happen if nothing is done? Etc. Once the "WHY" question is answered, the next steps are much easier to determine.
  • Successful Business (Investment): the third and last dimension in business for me is to invest in ideas. Not with huge sums of money (which I don't have), but helping an idea to the next level with small injections of money. Here, contact with the entrepreneur behind it is important to me. Is it really an entrepreneur? Is he on fire for his idea? If so, let's talk.

I will write about the other main topics of my blog, health and having fun, in the coming weeks.

No surprise at the closing: "Closing Plan

I recently wrote about a few unpleasant experiences at one closing or another. One of the sales tools mentioned there is the sgt. "Closing Plan". It sounds simple, is effective, but is often not used. Maybe I can encourage you to try it at least a few times.

I'll start with an experience here as well. We had a sales colleague who was very successful in his previous company. Accordingly, we had great confidence in his numerous contacts at potential customers, but above all in his skills to design and close a deal. In fact, we had a deal in the high 6-digit range in front of the shotgun, which, however, could not be won at first.

What happened there? The colleague spoke with many departments in order to determine the customer's overall requirements. However, he failed to realize that purchasing, the legal department, etc. also had to be involved. In addition, a multi-stage approval process usually has to be followed even for higher sums. In his old company, there was a team that almost automatically ensured that everything ran synchronously. Unfortunately, that was not the case with us - smaller company, often still in a startup mode. In the end, we didn't lose the deal, but there was a significant delay, which in turn impacted all other dimensions of the company's strategy.

We have therefore introduced the concept of the Closing Plan, especially for larger deals. A Closing Plan means that you plan with your contact person on the customer side what all has to happen until the launch of the product and, if necessary, afterwards. After all, there has to be exactly this common goal: we want to get started in January in order to achieve goal xyz (if this does not exist, there is usually nothing else to do apart from drinking coffee together on a regular basis).

Such backward planning can help both sides to do the necessary things at the right time. This can be, for example, the contract review, onboarding as a supplier beforehand, naming technical contacts, agreeing the purchase price with purchasing, etc. I have also not yet experienced a customer resisting to create a joint closing plan. Depending on the customer, things can work differently, and an open, joint agreement helps everyone to also achieve the goal or to determine if there is a sticking point somewhere. Another positive result is that CRM-based reporting becomes much more reliable when there is not just wishful thinking and hope behind the individual CRM stages, but a solid plan.

Preparing for the close. Or: some, mean buyer tricks

During one of my larger product deals, I experienced a negotiation situation that has remained in my memory for a long time. Once upon a time ...

... the appointment was shortly before Christmas, it was cold and wet outside, so we were dressed "storm-proof". We were made to wait in a very warm hallway. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour. Then at some point the customer's negotiation manager came and said: "my boss can't come and I only have 15 minutes". Our timely inquiries regarding a review of the contractual terms were dismissed with reference to *the* deadline. Only to tell us: their terms and conditions must fit on 2 DINA4 pages, otherwise our lawyers won't look at it. Of course, it was also not allowed to simply change the font size, as a first spontaneous thought suggested. Actually, price and discount had already been pre-negotiated, but then came the final trick of the buyers: they tried to hold a carrot in front of our noses and negotiate corporate discounts right away, even though only part of the company actually wanted to take the first step.

Our sales manager actually wanted to go home after the first two tricks, and in retrospect I admit to myself that this would probably have been the better way. After all, the purchase was to take place in the calendar year on the part of the specialist department, so that a certain counter-pressure could have been built up here.

I myself feel that the above tricks are unfair, because you don't meet the supplier at eye level. This may also be one of the reasons why I have relied on sales professionals and tried to coach them from the background and develop negotiation tactics.

And that leads to the insights I have gained:

  1. The owner/manager should not (immediately) join in the negotiation, otherwise there is no possibility of escalation.
  2. Furthermore, it is advisable to draw up a "closing plan" together with the customer, in which all relevant milestones up to go-live are jointly defined. This then also includes the commercial and legal negotiations, as well as a realistic time schedule.
  3. If all this is not given, a clear NO can also be right at the bottom line. You should not sell at any price (if you can afford it - that is sometimes easier said than done). Often the real negotiation starts only after a NO.

Of course, that's not the end of it. From a current coaching I have collected some more topics, which I will write down in the next weeks and months. Good luck and never give up!

Selling through Partners. 100%.

I have written about Partnerships in Business(the Win:Win:Win triangle) before. I support some management teams of product companies and like to share the idea of selling products through partners only.

A key assumption here is that a product company is not offering consulting services (for many reasons, for example, a) because focus is getting blurred, b) because it could destroy certain partner markets, c) etc.).

Here's my view:

  1. WHY NOT selling through partners? One of the first counter-arguments against selling through partners is: we are quicker if we go direct. We safe money because we don't need to pay their sales team. We can better support the customer in the after-sales phase. Etc.
  2. WHY selling through partners? Direct sales might sound attractive, however, it a) takes time to establish market recognition, b) takes money to pay your own sales force, c) might destroy the partner's opportunity to offer services for your product. Last but not least: if you make your sales team all partner managers and each partner manager can support 2-3 partners, you can easily see the huge leverage effect.
  3. Quick thoughts on how to get started:
    1. Define possible quick wins and focus on them. It could even be an idea to hand over some leads and prospects to partners in order to remove initial "resistance" before the wheel is turning.
    2. Go as a team and bring in your market and technical expertise("direct touch" sales) but never be a competitor to your partner. Instead your partner knows that they can start without risk since they can rely on your support.
    3. Clear rules of customer engagement: how prospects are registered, what that means, and how registrations are extended / ended. By the end of the day this is teamplay and your partner managers should be very close to your partner's sales team.

You walk better if you never walk alone!

100% protection against Covid-19 viruses

In July, I wrote about the idea of killing Covid-19 viruses with appropriate technology. In the meantime, a lot has happened.

As the first electronic respiratory protection that kills viruses 100%, the "Securer" is to be available from autumn 2022. The current status is presented in a recent press release:

"Currently, SecureAir GmbH is looking for technology partners who would like to produce under licence and/or distribute the product or who would like to acquire the complete technology in full as a world market leader."

I held the current state of the product in my hands yesterday. A lot has happened here, it feels very valuable, looks good and all the reviews show that it works.

The "Securer" kills Covid-19 viruses (and many more).

It remains exciting.

We are the best. Why (not)?

At the end of 2021 I was asked to conduct a market analysis of German companies in a certain IT domain. During that project I have screened 200+ websites and corporate data of potential target companies. And one key finding was that many companies fail in telling their visitors what they really do for them.

Let's drill that down.

These days, a companies website is usually not only the first touchpoint of a prospect, it's also the place where people try to find out as much as they can before they really get in touch (note: I write this from B2B perspective). Accordingly, I would expect that the content focuses on the need of the prospect. Need means: how do we deliver value for you? What's your benefit? What's a positive outcome for you if you use our stuff or work with us? etc.? The focus should be on the WHY.

Instead of taking a customers view, many companies focus on their super technology, their great service, or themselves and why they are so great. This is an ego thing only. Even if all of that is true, why should a potential customer care? They don't know you. Accordingly, they wouldn't dive deeper if you don't explain to them the WHY.

While I understand the inner need to speak about great things in and about your company (I felt into that trap many times, too), I like to encourage you to turn the storytelling upside down: First the WHY- this is so much more important than technology, etc.. Then the HOW (the rationale), then the WHAT (the proof).

My 2021 in Review - on Success, Failure, and the big C.

Last year was a special year for me. In summer 2021, I have started this blog around topics that inspire myself and fill my days: business, fitness, and fun stuff. Since that time I had 15.000 visitors on my blog and a lot of personal exchange around "my" topics. Thanks to everyone for this joyful experience.

A few thoughts on each focus topic:

  • I consider myself being successful reinventing myself as an advisor for several companies. I was looking for environments where respect, loyalty, and passion are not only words, but core values for growing a business. I really enjoy each of my assignments and I'm particularly happy having executed an M&A market analysis (I have learned a lot around that and will share some thoughts soon) at the end of the year. It's great to use my own experience for such projects, it's really big to share insights, and being part of something bigger.
  • The fitness side of my life was more disappointing. Year on year I set some personal goals, but I failed on all of them in 2021 due to an injury. My key lesson of life here was and is: if you cannot reach your goals anymore, adjust them, make alternative plans, and execute on that. That's how I found new ways (for example working with fitness ropes and digging into Yoga again) to keep a healthy body (as foundation of a healthy mind).
  • The fun stuff side of life was also very rewarding. For example, I made a lot of new contacts just by driving that nice '66 Mustang convertible. You meet all flavors of society at car meetings and that's another experience that I really like. Everyone shares the same passion for one thing and colour of skin, religion, politics, gender, etc. are not important at all.

The biggest impact on our life is for sure the global pandemic. It has changed every aspect of living on every scale. While I enjoyed business travel so much, that came to a complete hold. I like to go to public music events, that came to a complete hold. I like to meet friends personally, that was at least much more difficult. And I have talked a lot about that also before/during/after my business sessions - mostly on Video these days. I know that the pandemic can bring individuals down and make them depressive. We don't hear and read a lot about that. Even more importantly, I'm grateful for everything that I can give and that I receive on my mission of life.

Have a great and peaceful 2022.