Lowering the bar to open-source sales

Open source is not easy, but it sure makes the sales process more profitable and engaging. Here's why.

Over the weekend I was surprised to see my interview with Don Marti (now transcribed) hit Slashdot. I posted a link to the podcast a few weeks ago, but I guess more people are interested in reading what Don and I discussed than hearing us discuss it. (Not that I blame them - I'd do the same.)

As mentioned before, we talked about a range of things, but I most enjoyed talking about how open source changes the sales cycle. Until you've lived it, it's hard to comprehend just how powerful - and different - open source is in the software sales process.

In Alfresco's case, making our code available under the GPL has dramatically changed (for the better) the way we interact with our prospects and customers, as I note in the interview:

So our sales cycle of actually talking with the customer ranges from sixty to a hundred and twenty days, or two to four months. On average it's about three months, which is phenomenal compared to a proprietary software company. You go to a proprietary software company and the sales cycles are nine months, eighteen months, if it's a really big deal.

We've just never had that because people have to come to us self-selected saying, "I already know the software works, I might still need a little bit of help configuring it to get it to work exactly how I want it to work, and therefore, Alfresco, I?m contacting you."

But generally speaking, the software has to sell itself. We don't have anybody out knocking on doors trying to drum up business. All leads come to us. And it means the software really has to be good and has to stand on its own. It has to be easy to install, easy to understand. Documentation has to be good. We have to be able to get the customer off the ground without our assistance, and then we come in to provide that extra value to make sure that they get the most out of the software.

[I]t's very different from the proprietary model where you hire an expensive sales force to go out and knock on doors. The customer never gets to touch the software and really see what it can do and whether it will be good for them until they've paid. So all the risk gets shifted onto the buyer, which is, I think, a wrong model.

There isn't a company on the planet that couldn't benefit from this (including Oracle, for one). It's exciting to go to work each day knowing that scads of companies are using your software, then contacting you to get additional value. It's not easy by any stretch, but it's a lot more efficient and productive than the proprietary model.