At some level, most software companies navigate a relationship progression with prospective customers that includes the following elements:

  1. Discovery. A hypothetical developer discovers and downloads the trial version of a vendor's solution. The developer's initial objectives are a) to learn about the class of solution under review, and b) to evaluate the vendor's implementation to determine whether it is a candidate for further consideration. During this process, the developer often seeks out additional learning material, such as white papers, webcasts and podcasts, to enhance his/her understanding of the solution domain. For a variety of reasons, many promising opportunities never progress past the Discovery stage.
  2. Evaluation. Assuming a positive experience in 1 above, the developer often performs a POC to prototype one or more components of the contemplated application. The POC may or may not also include performance benchmarking. Companies typically don't allocate a lot of time for POCs, so the developer will often reach out to the vendor's SE team for assistance in creating the prototype. This is where a traditional sales cycle starts, with the prospect typically becoming qualified on criteria such as project, budget, timeframe and economic buyer.
  3. Negotiation. This is the traditional process of constructing initial economic relationships.  In volume markets, where initial ASPs are often quite low, there may not actually be much to negotiate.  Properly priced entry-level deals usually close quickly, creating a "land and expand" platform for strategic account relationships.
  4. Upselling. This is the traditional process of expanding economic relationships into referenceable, strategic accounts.

At a glance, progressive engagement seems like a fancy term for what everyone already knows as the sales cycle.  So why call it something different and spend a lot of time talking about it?  Here are a few things to consider.  First, pipelinethe funnel illustration (left) reveals a cold reality – the overwhelming majority of interaction in volume markets takes place (mostly anonymously) in the Discovery stage.  Poor execution at that stage can mean crushingly high customer acquisition costs and misdirfected marketing spends.  Second, initial ASPs in volume markets are typically quite low – often well south of US$10k.  It is, therefore, essential to implement a low-friction, high-bandwidth market engine that efficiently and consistently converts anonymous interactions to trusted relationships.  During Discovery, self-service is king. 

Finally, every component of your business strategy – from products to services to demand generation to website content and functionality – must include capabilities to progressively and continuously engage your market audiences.  At each decision point along the path, you must offer "no brainer" incentives to coax your audience forward.  Easy to say, very hard to do unless progressive engagement best practices are wired into your organization's DNA.