Pre-Beta Learnings – Part 1

November 14th, 2012

In preparation for our private beta launch, we interviewed 130 professionals who select, purchase, and administer enterprise software solutions. We spoke to a mixture of IT and line of business people ranging from senior executives to hands-on system administrators. The interviews provided key insights to help us refine our approach:

“I wish I knew then what I know now”.
We kept hearing variants of this expression again and again. In a few cases, professionals felt they had made the wrong product selection. The majority did not regret their selection, but would have picked a different implementation approach/partner, not bought all the modules just yet, approached configuration differently, adjusted internal expectations, negotiated differently, or lobbied for more staff etc.

Peers are the most trusted information source but networks are limited.
Most buyers have a healthy skepticism of sales pitches. Some also distrust vendor supplied customer references. A VP of IT at a large company I interviewed said that they worked very hard to try to get references talk about a vendor’s weak spots, but found it very challenging to, in their words, “crack the walls of the dam”. Many buyers tap their personal networks to get more authentic insights. A business applications manager at a mid-sized company said that she never used vendor supplied references. Instead she always asked for a full customer list, determined if she knew someone at one of the companies, then called them without the vendor’s involvement. In most cases, she would only be able to identify one potential contact to call. She also shared that she rarely sourced reliable insights in public forums like LinkedIn, as buyers were unwilling to talk candidly in an open forum for fear of repercussion from vendors. By contrast, when using Yelp to select a restaurant, she checked 10-20 reviews and ran key word searches on wine lists etc.

Analysts yield enormous influence but are not fully serving the market.
The vast majority of companies with less than 10,000 employees expressed that their needs were not met by traditional technology analyst firms. Everyone felt their offerings were too expensive. While some found value in the ‘Magic Quadrant’ or ‘Wave’ in helping them prioritize vendors, many expressed a desire to understand a fuller set of vendors and found reports too academic and “one size fits all”. Moreover, several large companies complained about the slow pace at which analysts covered emerging technologies. Furthermore, the perception that coverage is effectively “pay to play” lingers among vendors and buyers. While most understand that you do not directly pay a top firm for coverage, they strongly believe that paying for time with analysts correlates to a higher probability of positive coverage. A board member of one software company I interviewed shared that he was guiding a focus on developing features that would score highly with a key analyst firm ahead of features requested by customers. While understandable given current market dynamics, it seemed completely backwards to me.