Silos-in-the-Enterprise: Good. But Not All They Are Cracked Up to Be.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 2.15.23 PMJust a few years ago, as the next generation of SaaS companies were beginning to scale, the idea of building a Big or Biggish SaaS Company using Silos-in-the-Enterprise was all the rage.   For many it still is.   But there are a lot of flaws to this thinking it’s worth taking a look at.

First, just to get on the same page … a Silo-in-the-Enterprise is a small or smallish group in a BigCo that adopts your product.  Sometimes rogue, outside of procurement or financing using their corporate credit card.  More often these days, officially, but just for one team.  A group at eBay decides to start using your CRM tool.    Part of Google’s HR team starts using your project management tool.  Etc.

I loved all my customers, like children.  And sometimes I loved the Great Logo accounts even most of all, especially in the early and middle days.  And Silos can get you logo accounts, which do matter.  At least until you have enough of them.

But here’s the “problem” with that group at eBay using your SaaS service:

  • It’s a mediocre-to-poor Land-and-Expand strategy.  Great that you got into procurement at eBay.  But do you really think they’ll virally recommend you to the sales team?  The odds are about 1%.
  • Individual silos often pick their own tools.  If you go through IT, the enterprise will likely standardize on a single tool.   But just because you have 10 guys at Facebook using your product … 10 other guys in another group or department may well be using your competitor.
  • They aren’t even always a great internal reference.  Even if one functional group loves you, the other department just may not care.  When I was a Fortune 500 VP, while I deeply respected my peer VPs … in almost all cases, if I went to buy a web service … I’d buy what worked for us.  Not what worked for them.
  • Hard to get much PR bang.  Those 10 users at eBay aren’t going to get legal to sign off on a great testimonial.   Sometimes, but not so often.

Now … having said this … at EchoSign we grew many of our Silos into large, six-figure accounts over time, especially as we scaled from $1m to $10m in ARR.  But then, as we got bigger, and the space grew bigger, more and more of those deals became much larger deals adopted at a higher level, on Day 1.  And the silo deals became appreciated, but less important to the overall pie.

Taken to its logical extreme, I know several VP Sales in post-Scale SaaS companies that Do Not Allow silo-in-the-enterprise sales.  No commission at all on them.  The idea is they want to force the sales reps and team to go straight to the highest level of the org, and buy 1,000 seats to start … not 20.  Because it’s 50x the revenue, for not that much more work, with less competitive risk and churn.

We didn’t do that.  And I wouldn’t do that, myself.  But I do see the theoretical logic in many cases.  At Salesforce today, for example, my guess is today if a deal isn’t worth at least $10-$20 million … it no longer counts as a big deal.  It just has to be true, when they are growing from $5b in ARR to $10b in ARR now.

So what’s my point here?  Am I saying when you are getting your SaaS company off the ground, you should turn down IBM when someone wants to buy 20 seats?  Of course not.  They’re a customer.  A great customer.  You should celebrate that, and make them a big success.

But maybe just understand, your path to $20m and then $40m and then $100m ARR and beyond may not really be built on all those silos.  And whatever you do, don’t assume they’ll magically blossom into larger, pan-enterprise deals.  If nothing else, fly there.  Nurture them.  Figure out how you can really grow the account, proactively, aggressively into a much larger deal.

Because I’m skeptical that on their own, these Silos will connect themselves very often.  After all, they’re Silos.

silo image from here

There are 5 comments

  1. Matt Cameron (@TMattCameron)

    “…whatever you do, don’t assume they’ll magically blossom into larger, pan-enterprise deals” – This is the kicker for me. I see plenty of early stage companies that claim the big logo and then lose the initial sale inertia (and support of a champion) by not having a large account sales process/capability in house. My advice to early stage firms that stumble into a large account is to get coaching from an adviser on land and expand opportunities so that the initial seed blossoms into a true enterprise opportunity.

    I would also say that start-ups use big logos at their peril if they have 10 seats only – A sure road to lost credibility is admitting that you really only have a toe-hold when asked for references.

    1. jasonlkn

      You’ll know it when you see it ;)

      By that I mean, when you have 5-10 in every key segment you are selling into. Once you have 5-10 great references accounts in a category, having 11-20 and beyond is really mostly about the revenue …

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