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Open For Business: How Some Sales Processes Don’t Work For OSS

May 11, 2011 No Comments

In a perfect world, the sales process for an open source business would be as simple as answering the phone and taking orders. Unfortunately, reality is seldom perfect, and the open source sales process faces a number of challenges.

Chief among these is that companies have been conditioned to do business in a certain way, and while that standard system works fine when acquiring commercial software, the traditional model breaks down when it comes to open source software. (For the record, I use open source to mean software that is truly open–i.e., where the licensing cost is zero.)

Proof-of-concept is a poor choice

For example, when a company is looking for an enterprise-grade software solution, a commercial software vendor would often agree to a proof-of-concept, or POC. In this scenario, the commercial software company sends an engineer, at their expense, to the prospective client’s site. The engineer installs an evaluation copy of the software and educates the potential buyer on the software’s features, focusing on how it functions in that specific environment.

The software is left up and running for a certain amount of time so that the prospective client can evaluate the product. Then, at the end of the trial period, the license expires and the software stops working unless a permanent license is purchased. Since the licensing cost for the commercial software could be quite large, the vendor has an incentive to perform any number of these POCs–just one sale will more than cover the cost of those that don’t work out.

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