Every situation, properly perceived, becomes an opportunity. ~ Helen Schucman
Yesterday I went on a sales call with two of the Borland sales reps for the region. Before hand, we met at a Dunn Brothers coffee shop to get our ducks in a row, talk about the client, etc. The meeting went well – the Borland guys are very knowledgeable, professional, and clearly know what they are doing and what they are talking about. The client could probably benefit from Borland's tools and hopefully there will be a deal done. I learned a lot about sales from the meeting. (Sales is not my strong point.)
The interesting part of the whole day was the epiphany I had while meeting with the Borland guys at the coffee shop. Sales guys are into revenue generating. They need to maximize the revenue that they get per hour of effort spent in getting revenue. That's their job. That's what Borland wants them to do, they are rewarded financially based on that, so naturally, that is what they do. I don't blame them. Opportunity costs are very real, and they have to choose where to expend their efforts.
If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door. ~ Milton Berle
The big thing I learned from the sales guys is that Delphi isn't even on their radar. They aren't given a commission on Delphi sales. That's frustrating. But here's the thing: even if they were given a commission on Delphi sales, I doubt very much that they'd sell much of it at all. Remember opportunity costs? Opportunity costs drive the salesmen to concentrate on the Fortune 100 to the Fortune 500 crowd, and the sad fact that we Delphi developers need to accept is that the market for Delphi amongst these large companies is very small. Those companies have probably already chosen their tools – either Java or Microsoft or some other open source solution – and while a concerted effort to sell Delphi into that market might work, the opportunity costs are just too high to make the effort worth it for a Borland Sales Representative. Delphi's traction is slim in that arena, but the traction for StarTeam, CaliberRM, and Together is very high. (Remember, it's all about revenue per man hour. Dollars per man-hour selling Delphi is pretty low. Dollars per man-hour for CaliberRM, StarTeam, and Together is pretty high. So, as a result, the Borland sales force doesn't sell Delphi and they do sell the enterprise products. This should not be a surprise.)
Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish. ~ Ovid
When we were at our TeamB conference in November, Boz Elloy basically said the same thing. He told us that “Fortune 100/500 companies don't want Delphi. It's a waste of time for us to try to sell it to them”. (My fellow TeamB'er Dave Nottage blogged about that meeting as well. For the record, Boz explicitly gave us permission to publicly discuss the meeting.) Boz drew a diagram with three levels: the “channel”, SMB, and Fortune 500. He basically said that they only try to sell Borland Core into the Fortune 500. (This is why you won't see Delphi having anything to do with Core. Core is Borland's Java platform, based on Eclipse, with perhaps some .Net mixed in, but only in the form of plug-ins to Visual Studio.Net) For the Small/Medium Business market, they offer Borland Developer Studio and the ALM solution. And the “channel” is sites like Programmer's Paradise that simply sell Delphi for Borland. For Borland, Delphi only really exists in the bottom two arenas. It simply doesn't exist in the highest bracket – but not to a level that would make the effort selling there worth it. (So, if you are a Delphi guy, and you hear stuff about “Borland Core”, just ignore it. I has nothing to do with you. Even though every fiber in your body screams out “Why isn't there anything about Delphi on the 'Core' pages!?!”, resist said temptation and simply let it all roll off your back. Core just isn't your deal. Now, when you hear “ALM”, your ears should definitely perk up, but Core? It's nothing to us Delphi guys. Let it go.)
Now, as I said, all this is very frustrating to a Delphi user. But if you step back for a minute, it makes perfect sense. Sales guys need to generate revenue, and so they spend their time doing that. Double the sales force won't alter this equation. It's purely a strange outcome resulting from the structure of Borland's product line. We Delphi dudes can bitch about this (and Lord knows we will), but the key thing is to get past the bitching, accept reality, and try to figure out a way to deal with this unfortunate situation.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. ~ Albert Einstein
Okay, so I'm past the denial and anger stages (and I encourage all of you to get over the hump into acceptance as well), and ready to move on to trying to figure out what can be done to promote and expand Delphi. Every cloud has a silver lining. For every window that is closed, a door opens somewhere. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. (Someone stop me before I break my cliché meter). I really believe that there are any number of effective ways to market and sell Delphi given all of the limitations that we've already talked about.
The first thing to do is to examine the lay of the land. The thing that jumps out at me is this gaping hole that exists in the market. Delphi is sold almost exclusively in the channel. The folks that buy from the channel are, to a large degree, the little guys like us. We buy one, two, five copies for our development shop. If a medium-sized company wants to buy Delphi, they have to go to the channel as well. Unless they run into a Borland Partner that sells product, they won't get any personalized service. Delphi isn't sold into the Fortune 500 companies. But between the real little guys and the real big guys, there is this gaping hole where Delphi is useful and where lots of opportunities lay, but no one appears to be interested in taking advantage of these opportunities. These medium sized companies are ripe for the picking. I presume that many of them have modest development organizations. I presume that many are still evaluating .Net technologies. Many of them are using Visual Basic 6 – a product that has basically been abandoned by Microsoft. They know they need to make a move to newer technologies, but they aren't sure about it all. They aren't pleased with Microsoft, and would be willing to hear about products from a tools vendor that is almost compulsive about backwards compatibility and ensuring that old code can be moved forward. They might be interested in hearing about a company that is continuing to focus on RAD development in the Win32 space.
In addition, I also look out, and I see products flourishing that don't have any corporate backing (Think Ruby, Python, or Perl). These products are known and used, despite not being hawked by professional salesmen. How do they do it? They use the Internet. They use word of mouth. They use “guerilla marketing” techniques that cost very little and can reap large rewards. I see no reason why Delphi can't benefit in the same way.
Opportunities multiply as they are seized. ~ Sun Tzu
Here's an idea. Offer a free copy of Delphi Personal to any Visual Basic developer that will go on his blog and post a picture of himself holding a sign that says “I'm a VB developer and I want to try Delphi,” or witty variations thereon. If there is no Delphi Personal, send them a trial disk and a t-shirt. Something. Have them email their links to Borland so they can be posted on a webpage at www.borland.com. Get some buzz going on the VB community about Delphi – even if some of them get mad. Remind disgruntled VB developers that Borland has always and steadfastly promoted backwards compatibility and will never abandon them. The transition from VB 6 to Delphi isn't all that much harder than the transition from VB6 to VB.NET, so there has to be plenty of sales to be had in this arena. Give away a copy of Delphi Architect to the guy with the coolest, funniest, or most outrageous picture.
How about an affiliate program? If you click on the link in the upper right corner of this blog and buy a copy of FeedDemon, I get a kickback. Hence, I take every opportunity I can think of to mention the fact that if you click on this link and buy FeedDemon, I get a kickback. Good for me, good for FeedDemon. I'm also constantly hawking Amazon products as well. (Heck, I'd be a NetFlix affiliate, but they turned me down!) Now, wouldn't it be cool if we had a similar program for Delphi? Of course it would. You'd put a link on your blog, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you like to make a little cash selling the product that you love so much? Of course you would! Can you think of a reason why Borland shouldn't have such an affiliate program? I sure can't.
Finally, it would be great if, in addition to an affiliate program, it was fairly easy to become a value-added reseller (VAR) for Delphi. As a guy who's company tried to do this, I can tell you that it was really, really difficult to sell Borland products for Borland. We had to front the cash for all purchases, and deal with a maze of bureaucracy to get product delivered to customers. It sure would be nice if we simply had a vendor ID number that we could use to order product for our customers online. It sure would be nice if Borland recognized and knew the consultants that actively want to sell Borland products. It was way, way to hard for us to sell Borland products, and if it is one thing a company ought to do, is make it easy for your fanatical supporters to sell your products.
If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade. ~ Tom Peters
Delphi has a great opportunity to make a lot of traction in the current market. There is a big transition to .Net going on, and many, many organizations haven't yet made the move. Many, many organizations still want to do Win32 development, and Delphi is really the only path from Win32 to .Net, as well as the only RAD tool still actively supporting Win32. Opportunities are only valuable if they are seized, and as Sun Tzu noted, they multiply when they are seized.
The problem of course, is that Delphi is caught between two worlds. It's stuck somewhere in between the grassroots, individual developer market and the big money, big company enterprise market. Delphi's position inside Borland makes it a bit of a red-headed step child. I think the product needs more autonomy to thrive. (That's why the idea of Delphi being sold and becoming part of a separate company was pretty appealing to me.) Delphi's bright light all too often is left back in the garage, and it needs to be brought out and allowed to illuminate the marketplace. The mistake that Borland makes, I think, is in utterly ignoring this gaping hole. If you go to www.borland.com, the content will vary, but you'll almost always see information about Core and about items of interest to Enterprise-level decision makers. What you won't see is “Small/Medium Businesses Click Here” or something like that. There practically nothing there for them. If Delphi is going to be treated differently than the Core/Java offerings, then there at least ought to be a place on the Borland website where the people that Delphi/BDS/ALM is aimed towards can go and get information. Again, there's that gaping hole. The information may be there, but it isn't utterly obvious how to get to it.
Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises. ~ Demosthenes
If there is one sure thing in the marketplace, it's that gaping holes will be filled with something by someone. Right now, it seems like that gaping hole left by Borland and Delphi is being filled by Visual Studio and Microsoft. Sure, Microsoft has a huge budget to market to these folks, but if ever in the history of free enterprise there was a time when you can go crazy and market a product with little or no cash, it's now. With the advent of the Internet and the shrinking world it creates, all bets are off. The opportunity is out there. What can Borland and the Delphi community do with it?