You only have one chance to make a first impression

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend time with the CTO of a major financial services company with a $1 billion IT budget.  In these meetings I like to learn about the major priorities and where the open opportunities for early stage companies exist.  The good news was that the company was very open to working with entrepeneurial ventures.  Priority number 1 for the organization was to standardize on a common architecture and infrastructure.  When the company deploys a new app, the developers should only have to worry about coding the business rules and not about what infrastructure to deploy and how to manage the application.  At the end of the day, like most large institutions, this company was focused on increasing capacity utilization and moving to an on-demand model where new applications can tap into a pool of resources, where these resources are monitored closely for performance, and where these applications can have real service-level agreements and chargebacks tied to them.  The company said it was still early in the process and that alot of the big vendors still do not address the needs.

The other major initiative was security.  We spent a fair amount of time talking about best-of-breed versus the single vendor approach.  While the company had a bias towards single vendor for most infrastructure buys, it certainly was an advocate of best-of-breed for security.  We talked about how a monoculture was not as immune to disease and attacks as a heterogenous environment.  What this means is not only layering security but also deploying 2 different security products at each layer to avoid company or product-specific attacks.  This is a big deal at lots of companies which is why, despite the intense roll-up activity in the security space, that new vendors will constantly have the opportunity to sell.

As always, I had the opportunity to find out where a few of my companies were in the sales process.  The big takeaway for me was that "you only have one chance to make a first impression."  What does that mean?  Well, in today’s environment, enterprises have the upper hand.  This means that most enterprise sales end up in a proof of concept (POC) or bake-off against other competitors.  So the first impression you make in the POC is the installation.  If it is hard to install, forget about it.  The logical conclusion your sales prospect will draw is that it is a hard to use product.  So while you spend time building some great features and making your product more scalable, do not forget to spend time, lots of in the areas that customers touch and see.  This means making the install process as easy as possible (this is where appliances can help in many cases) and making your GUI intuitive and easy to use.  If you can’t get this right, you will lose most deals or at least be fighting an uphill battle in a competitive bakeoff no matter how scalable or feature-rich your product is. I tried to get my company a second chance, but the impression was already made.

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