It's hard to sell scalability

I have written many recent posts on Internet and web-based models, but I still do spend a good portion of my time with companies selling in the enterprise.  After a series of meetings over the last few days with startups and some of my portfolio companies, I wanted to highlight one important fact – it is hard to sell scalability.  In addition, it is important to highlight that you only have one chance to make a first impression.  So what the hell does all of this mean ?

Every interaction with your sales prospect or customer is a chance to impress.  What that means is if your user interface is weak or if your product is hard to install or if during a POC process it takes you 3 days to get set up while it takes a few hours for your competitor, you have most likely lost the sale.  If your product is hard to use or set up, then how is the customer going to believe that your product is more scalable?  So take a word of advice, the companies that tend to do well are the ones that have nailed down the first impression – strong and clear value propostiion, great UI, and easy to use and install.  Leading with scalability is a losing proposition.  If someone offered you the opportunity to buy a Ferrari or a Ford Pinto at a similar price, I am sure most people would opt for the Ferrari.  If I told you later on that the Ferrari had a Ford Pinto engine and the Ford Pinto had a Ferrari engine, I would imagine that most would still go for the looks and the Ferrari.  For many buyers in the IT space, first impressions mean a lot and once a sales prospect falls in love with the Ferrari, it will be hard to keep pounding the table saying that your Ford Pinto will outperform the Ferrari by an order of magnitude.  Many times by then you have probably lost the sale. I am not saying that scalability doesn’t matter because it does.  Every customer expects you to scale and every competitor will say they scale. My only point is that if you can scale like no tomorrow but what the customer sees and touches is subpar, you are going to have a hard time generating sales.

One final point-having awesome sales engineers is key to success for any company selling in the enterprise.  These positions are hard to fill as you are typically looking for someone who is not only technically savvy but also strong in sales as well.  Great SEs help you close sales, make the sales prospect feel comfortable, work out the initial kinks in your technology, and provide great product feedback for your roadmap.

UPDATE: I got a few emails from readers who thought that I meant scale doesn’t matter.  It does, just not as the lead-in for why your product is better than your competitor.  It is hard to see, touch, or feel scale in a sales meeting and what you are left to do is make sure that every sales prospect engages with you in a proof of concept so you can demonstrate scale.  And yes, if you can’t install it easily and if the customer can’t use it easily, then scale does not matter.  You have to show them how your product solves their problem and why it is easy to use.  Sometimes engineers can spend too much time on having the fastest engine and not enough time on designing a beautiful body.  Scale matters but not as your main selling point.

Published by Ed Sim

founder boldstart ventures, over 20 years experience seeding and leading first rounds in enterprise startups, @boldstartvc, googlization of IT, SaaS 3.0, security, smart data; cherish family time + enjoy lacrosse + hockey

2 comments on “It's hard to sell scalability”

  1. Ed, Thanks for a good post on selling software to the enterprise. Would love to see more of it . . .

  2. We also believe ease of use and good looks are important. For example, open source solutions are often considered more robust and scalable than its commercial counterparts (Linux, Apache, MySQL, etc..) but not always as polished, that is why we launched We do it for free for open source apps. We would love to have your portfolio companies like Greenplum as clients too 🙂

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