Enterprise software involves selling the right product to the right customer. From the customer’s standpoint you want to make a thoughtful evaluation and you will have many questions for the vendor. These questions could include some general information like features, limitations, pricing, who else is using this product in your territory. You could be interested in how the software meets the regulations and demands of your industry, the market segment you operate in. You might then want a detailed architecture of how the various components will integrate with other software products you have in your company, given that enterprise software often needs to inter-operate with other products. Finally, you might want to buy the product from the vendor directly or one of its partners. These scenarios require software vendors to staff multiple roles by specialty, goal and focus, to serve customers best. This post lists 7 common roles in enterprise sales and what their responsibilities typically entail.
Account development representatives
At the very beginning of a sales cycle software vendors do awareness campaigns, webinars, collect email addresses and phone numbers when downloading a white paper, and so on. It’s not clear yet the customer is interested, if the customer has a project, a budget and a timeline. For this initial contact and validation stage it’s time consuming for the account executives to do the discovery. The software vendor often assigns account development representatives, or business development representatives (BDR), to do this discovery phase. They call the customer, understand and document their interests, their needs, and do the initial qualification. After that qualification, if there is genuine interest from the customer, the account development rep passes the lead to the generalist account exec.
Generalist account executives
Customers typically have an account executive (AE) assigned to their company. Based on the size the customer business there could be many AEs assigned to that account, with one lead AE who coordinates the various activities between subsidiaries. The role of generalist AEs is to be the primary point of contact with the customer for all new projects, while keeping an open ear on how current projects are going, if there are issues with the account. At the end of the day, if the customer is happy new sales will likely be the result. If the customer isn’t happy new sales will be harder. So as much as the generalist AEs are focused on new business and on sales, it’s a necessity for them to be the ultimate customer advocate and get the various teams in the software company to make this happen.
Specialist account executives
When software companies have multiple product lines it becomes difficult for the generalist account executives to focus on all products at the same time. First they do not have the product knowledge and the skills to smell an opportunity that could be filled with one of the “secondary” products, because they are not familiar with them. Also, if these other products cost less it could be dilutive to the generalist AE’s time to focus on what can viewed in that respect, as a small opportunity. In order to keep these newer products growing in parallel the software vendor may staff a separate sales team as part of the product division. In that case the division in the software company may look like a mini-company of its own, with its marketing team, its product team, support team, and its own sales team. Specialist account executives work on standalone sales opportunities, close them with their specialist counterparts, or in other cases support a larger project that’s multi-product. It’s often the job of generalist AEs to coordinate multi-product opportunities and call on their specialist counterparts as needed.
System engineers or consultants (horizontal market experts)
While specialist AEs know their product and market well, and lead product-based opportunities, they and the generalist AEs need technical experts. When it comes down to the architecture of a enterprise software deployment you need to think about performance, features, reliability, interoperability with other systems through application programming interfaces (API). This is where system engineers, sometimes called systems consultants, come in. Their knowledge tends to focus on specific products and technologies, so it’s a horizontal market focus.
Vertical market ie. industry experts
In addition to product specialists each enterprise software product may need to suit the specific needs of the customer’s market. While system engineers are horizontally focused, industry experts focus on customizing the product’s features, functions, how it’s marketed in sites, brochures, events, webinars, based on the specific concerns of an industry. In banking the industry experts will collect a list of customer references from financial services firms who bought the software, to show the customer it is being used in that vertical market. In healthcare the industry team will work with the product team on getting the necessary certifications like HIPAA compliance.
Partner and channel account executives
Software vendors were traditionally sold as physical CDs containing license keys on the box. This made it easy for channel partners, distributors and resellers to extend the sales reach of the vendor’s own staff and collect a profit margin on the resale. Managing these resellers and distributors requires channel account executives whose role is to recruit the partner, train the partner, and manage incoming orders working with the AE teams on the customer account. Channel sales is a deep topic: you have to decide who gets commissions. The channel rep, the generalist AE, the specialist AE, the partner of course. All these players may or may not get compensated for the sale, and this drives the incentives within the company and the customer accounts. In short, if you want the AE teams to see the channel partners as a friend, you will want to provide them with the same commission as they would have made if the deal was sold directly. If you want to encourage more of a direct sales model, you can make it less attractive for the generalist AE to sell through the channel. The incentive will be made towards a direct sales model. Each vendor has its own preferences on the matter.
For every business that once new becomes a recurring payment, like subscriptions, the topic of renewal is central in the revenue stream and the continued growth of that software business. For that reason software vendors assign the generalist representatives the owner role for new and renewal business, or the Head of Sales appoints a team of renewal representatives, whose one job is to reduce attrition. Renewal reps may sit in Sales, in Support, where the customer experience and issue handling occurs, or in its own group. When renewal reps exist this makes the generalist AE the focal point of new opportunities, and new opportunities only. It also makes customer success central to one group, with the outcome of that success being the subscription renewal.