Enterprise sales in the age of Corona
As a cloud technology business, moving to remote-first has not been a big challenge for Arachnys. In fact, a lot of the team have fed back that they are perhaps more effective than they were in our big beautiful London office.
However like almost all parts of the economy, we see challenges in growing our business at the same aggressive rate that we have done for the past several years. In particular we anticipate that a complex enterprise sales process is going to be hard to run in an environment where face-to-face meetings are something you have with your spouse and children if you’re lucky.
Reflecting on the economy more broadly, there are heartbreaking stories coming from all sides. My wife came back from her one daily allotted exercise activity today carrying a huge bunch of hydrangeas that the flower shop on her route was giving away – she tried to pay but the owner forced her to take them. We live in a bustling part of London, and it’s heartbreaking to see all the businesses that have been forced to shut.
Let a thousand flowers Zoom
While some businesses may never recover, it’s inspiring to see all the people who are making businesses work in what at first glance might seem an unforgiving climate. My next door neighbor, a Pilates teacher, is offering internet classes. A psychologist friend who has never used Zoom before is offering drop-in consultations to workers who are stuck at home, some spending serious time for the first time with a partner who they don’t know particularly well. My wife’s company Legl – which offers payments and onboarding solutions to law firms – is accelerating sales as sometimes-stodgy legal service providers realize they are unable to take payment over the phone or cash checks while stuck at home.
Living in the future
One way of looking at the coronapocalypse is that it’s a temporary disruption, indefinite in length, and that life will basically come back to normal afterwards. That is perhaps over-optimistic given that there’s significant uncertainty over how to interpret the relatively poor data we do have (see this Oxford paper for a technical explanation).
Another, which I subscribe to, is that the coronavirus crisis will have a lasting effect even if we don’t spend the next 18 months confined to barracks. It will accelerate a number of trends that are already underway.
One of the challenges that we have set ourselves is to try and live in the future and think: what are the lasting changes that we can make to the way we build our product, communicate with customers and drive value that will not change even if we magically emerge on the other side of this crisis tomorrow?
Being successful in this environment and beyond is forcing us to think hard about the overall customer journey that we facilitate.
When you’re in “enterprise sales” there’s a temptation to think it’s all about being in the room where it happens – wearing the right suit, having the right presentation, saying the magic words. There’s a sense in which you can paper over deficiencies in other parts of the process with heroic communication and charisma.
When your ability to charm is intermediated by a laggy videoconference or – god forbid – a crackly landline where you have no sense of whether the other participants are even paying attention, the weapons that you could previously count on turn to dust when you try to grasp them. You soliloquize for two minutes, only for your main buyer to suddenly speak up and say, “Hi, I’ve just managed to get back on the call, I’m sure I only missed a bit, please just carry on”.
Better tools for communication and collaboration is part of the battle. One thing we have all enjoyed over the past few weeks is the sense of intimacy that comes from both sharing our own domestic challenges and seeing and empathizing with those of our customers. A little video goes a long way in building a sense of genuine connection and empathy.
More important is accommodating the shift – already happening pre-coronavirus but now on fast-forward – towards buyers doing more and more of the pre-contact research process before they even talk to one of your reps. This means a step change in quality, product-alignment and accuracy of marketing and pre-sales resources. It doesn’t necessarily mean sharing every detail – the last thing you want is for your customer to say no before you’ve even had a chance to talk to them – but the arc bends in the direction of transparency and honesty.
We are still in the early stages of applying these principles to our business.
The first stage has been truly understanding where Arachnys fits into our customers’ ecosystems and infrastructure and making sure that we communicate that not just through fancy marketing collateral with arrows pointing suggestively, but actual honest-to-goodness API documentation that technical buyers can use to understand what it looks like to use Arachnys’ data gateway to feed internal systems.
We have focused less on solutions building – which is hard if you’re not sharing a conference room with a helpful customer – and rather exposing more of the internal wiring of how our solutions really work and fit together. Customers can see how they can consume raw data, or they can use our suite of curation tools to winnow that data into information, or they can connect to constantly-updated entity profiles of their customers and counterparties. Crucially, they can actually understand what the different options would look like in terms of integration and additional efficiencies.
We have entered a new era of working remotely, yet still together. While we are currently learning-by-doing with each passing day, this is a chance for Arachnys to be more closely connected to our customers’ needs than ever before. We are excited for the future, whatever it may hold.