How products spread in companies

In the early days of Salesforce – long before they had their hideous tower in San Francisco – they were small.

They struggled, just like the rest of us. I’m sure getting their customer relationship management (CRM) software adopted inside companies wasn’t easy.

It’s likely they tried many approaches. One approach they did try, that ultimately landed their first large client, was a bottom up approach.

The bottom up approach is allowing your product to be used autonomously by individuals within an organization. It should be easily adoptable. And, priced such they don’t need a purchasing department to approve it.

At least at the start. The contracts and official plans come later.

Then, you allow your product to spread inside the company. With individuals, or individual teams, using it.

This is what Salesforce found. They landed their largest client, because they found individual sales managers using Salesforce within the same organization. They were all using it independently and just for their team.

The teams used it for some time. Then, Salesforce realized this and approached them. This is where the contracts and official plans began.

When Salesforce discovered this situation, they began the conversation of combining all these separate Salesforce accounts into one account. Ultimately, making Salesforce more valuable to the organization. And, turning this client into a great client. At the time, it was their largest client.

Once this method was published, it became fairly famous. Many business to business (B2B) products attempt at spreading in this fashion.

It’s how HubSpot spread within the organization I work for.

This sounds easy. Build a great product that can be used by individuals within an organization and it will spread. Then, you’ll land a big contract.

What’s missing from the story above is the champion.

The spread of your product within an organization begins with a champion. The champion loves your product. Uses it. They are willing to tell everyone else in the business about it. And, they are able to show everyone the impact it is making on the business.

This single champion will slowly turn into two people using it. Then three people. Then two teams. And finally, wider company adoption.

The champion has to have the ability to start using your product on a small scale, build wins, then show those wins to other teams. Eventually, there will be so many teams using the product that the organization has to deal with it.

The organization will deal with it in one of two ways.

  1. They will stop it from being used. This is not favorable to you or the company. To the company, stopping it means disrupting and impacting many people’s jobs.
  2. They invest in your product.

If the product is showing value to the organization, option 2 is the more likely scenario.

This is how products spread within companies.

Not every product can work this way. But, if you can tap into this method and find your champion, it might make getting your product into an organization that much easier.

Who knows, after this works, you too might get your own building in San Francisco.

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