Sometimes we use too many tools when just having the right one is probably the most important

A few months ago our CEO and board gave me an interesting challenge: build a go-to-market team and launch a company into a new market within a year.  I was wondering what they specifically meant by ‘go-to-market team’ as that has a pretty varied set of definitions depending who you talk to and engage with, our vice president of engineering, Will Eatherton, described go-to-market at Skyport pretty succinctly as ‘everything except engineering’ or as he actually states it ‘everything else’.   (Let’s be blunt — there is a significant gravity to development engineering in any enterprise start-up.  If the product doesn’t work it really does not matter how good of a sales, marketing, or customer support team we build.  Engineering is highly relevant to our success.) At some point I’ll write about the people we are hiring and the organization we are assembling.  Today is about tools…

What we are finding is that there is an entire world of information systems we have to integrate into a functional set of capabilities and data repositories that enable us to be effective in our business.  I’ve had some experience with a few of these tools in my last company, but the sheer number of companies we are getting approached by to use their tool, system, or capability is daunting — I can easily see this causing paralysis in someone as they decide what tools they should implement.

Here is where we are starting from:  a clean slate, no systems selected so far, and we need to launch the company and product in less than eight months and be able to, at a minimum, have the systems in place to accomplish the following business tasks:

  • Capture a lead from the web or in-person event
  • Manage leads and progress them through some nurturing activities to a real customer if they want and to age them out and not annoy them with unwanted emails and invited to webinars if they don’t care about what we do
  • Take a prospect and track the communications, activities, and meetings we have with them.  Mainly for when we assign new sales coverage to an account so we can have continuity, but also to learn about our own sales cycle from the data we have
  • Issue a quote to a prospect, make sure all quotes issued are logged and stored permanently.   Quotes are a good way to track sales pipeline, but also a good demand signal to give to manufacturing
  • Convert a quote and a PO to a Sales Order and book the order into a finance system
  • Support a customer through implementation and pre/post-sales issues, enables customer cases to be handed off from one support engineer to another in a ‘follow the sun’ model. Route cases to the best customer support engineer for the type of challenge the customer is facing.  Escalate cases when certain triggers are hit.  Evaluate how well we are doing supporting our customers throughout all phases of customer support
  • Collaborate on document generation for things like press releases, forecasts, press/analyst slide decks
  • Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing for our website
  • Social Media – am not looking for auto-Tweet capabilities as much as a tool that can measure reach, audience engagement, and identify targets we should engage who we are missing
  • Conference calls and sharing of slides and documents with 3rd parties
  • Video conferencing between sites and users – especially for corporate all-hands meetings
  • Track software/hardware defects, link them to any customer cases, automatically generate release notes so a customer can know what defects are corrected in any given release and what their exposure is to a new release.
  • Track defects and feature requests against a software release schedule so our systems engineers and customer support engineers know what is coming and can set the appropriate customer expectations.
  • Ship products, track licenses and expiry, renew service licenses, pay sales commissions, promote marketing events, calculate taxes, and on and on (I am sure I am forgetting many of the processes here, don’t hate!)

We have quickly come to realize there are several tools for each one of these tasks and workflows.  Some work together, some do not or at least are not as well integrated as they advertise.  There are also other companies who have built a pretty healthy business in the ‘Integration Platform as a Service’ space by connecting together disparate cloud based offerings for the enterprise.   In short, this is daunting for me and I’ve been doing some of this stuff for over twenty years now.

I don’t want this list to be a promotional spot for any company — so am going to avoid for now putting out a list of companies we are looking at.  As we get closer to launch and we’ve down-selected most tools we will put out a list of tools we evaluated.  That being said if there is a tool you think we should be looking at for a particular area drop it into the comments section – I’ll approve it immediately if it is not too shameless of a promotional piece and instead is educational about what the tool is and where we should consider using it.

1) Don’t go ’tool crazy’ and add a new tool for every person who wants to try one out.  Evaluate the tool, do a try and buy, and keep the decision to sign-off on new monthly recurring charges centralized in the business:  this keeps ‘Bob the New Guy’ from signing us up for 3 different content management tools.

2) Unless something is horribly broken and we can get a full refund from the vendor we chose don’t change a decision for 12-18 months.  Yes, the case management tool may not be the most perfect tool in the world, or Vendor X’s SEO tool is a little better than Vendor Y’s according to the marketing manager.  But if we make a decision stick it out for long enough to know what we really need and then make an informed decision if we are going to change.

3) Don’t give out references for vendors you use unless you get something in return.  Usually expressed in a balance of trade conversation or additional discount.

4) Don’t pay list.  I learned this at the heels of my last CEO who taught me that if the sales person wants your business they can find a way to make the numbers work for all parties.

5) Don’t underestimate the value of a well designed pivot table.  Sometimes people want to throw a tool at a problem that is ‘too soon’ for your business.  Commissions accounting for instance – if you need a high end commissions accounting system and have less than $25m in sales I would question the complexity of your compensation plan.  Keep things simple while you still can before scale, regulatory, and large customers with complex MSA’s make it hard on you.

6) Even given the above point don’t skimp on the scalability of a core system of record that is going to be a major data repository in your environment.  I may not need the world’s most scalable SEO tool, but I don’t want to run

7) Don’t forget to plan for how you secure your data. I’m not as concerned about someone hacking a SFDC account with a man in the middle attack between an end-user device and SalesForce as I am someone leaving a RW API Key to the finance systems and to SFDC sitting in an integration platform.  We want to be careful about user account privileges too – don’t let any one person have a level of access that lets them delete corporate data.

For right now the principles applied to selecting a Software/SaaS tool or not is probably more important than the actual tools we have selected and are continuing to evaluate.  That being said if there is something you think we should look into, let us know!

Thank you!