The rise of enterprise marketing

Building an enterprise software company used to be largely about sales, because enterprise software was sourced and purchased by high-level business people. Those business people needed to be charmed and convinced, an activity that was distasteful to many technologists.

Internet-based delivery (“SaaS”, “cloud”) dramatically lowered installation costs, letting individuals or small groups buy software on discretionary budgets or use basic versions for free. As adoption spread throughout the organization, the value of the software eventually percolated up to high-level business people who could write large checks to get features big companies need, such as administration, security, integration, compliance, and support. This ”bottom-up” approach was pioneered by Salesforce and open source companies like MySql. Recent enterprise success stories also follow this model, e.g. New Relic, Yammer, Twilio, and Github. Many of these companies have processes that would have seemed crazy ten years ago – e.g. sales people only handle inbound inquiries or only call customers who already use their product.

Thus enterprise software went from being about sales (one-to-one) to being about marketing (one-to-many). Marketing requires crafting a compelling message, figuring out the right channels and then optimizing. But the most effective marketing is a compelling product that can be easily tried. As a result, as Benchmark’s Peter Fenton said recently: ”We’re seeing a fundamental shift from sales-driven companies to product-driven companies. The companies that are leading the way there let this consumer and product focus permeate the culture of their companies.”

One of the most visible manifestations of this shift is the refreshingly accessible language on modern enterprise websites. Sales-driven enterprise software companies speak the arcane language of CIOs. Marketing-driven companies talk directly to business users (e.g. Yammer) or developers (e.g. Github).

This is good news all around. Enterprises are more likely to get software that incorporates the advances made over the last decade in consumer software. Startups get a shot at creating this software, and get to do so on a fairly level playing field. The product and marketing focus should also attract a lot more technologists who were turned off by sales. The only losers are incumbents who continue to pursue the old model.