Will the software salesperson role become extinct?
This possibility was raised during a panel session at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon. Panelists from Apache, Eclipse, Intel and Google debated the topic of how to collaborate with open communities to build a business.
At one point, panelist Danese Cooper, open-source desktop strategist at Intel, said the software sales force at large needs mass re-education because it has been trained to sell by creating real or imagined advantages in customers' minds. Salespeople make leaps that do not exist, she said.
Some salespeople involved in companies with dual licensing, which involves free licensing in some circumstances and fee-based in others, have not been totally truthful about who qualifies for the free software, she said. Dual licensing is a popular business model for open-source ventures.
"The sales force is not trying to undermine the company's idea. [But] it's very hard to educate them," Cooper said.
Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich countered with the possibility of no salespeople. "I actually think over time we're going to be observing the death of the software salesman," Milinkovich said.
Sales and marketing account for about 40 percent of investments in software products, he said. If that amount could be cut in half and invested in research and development, software companies would have a much better chance of being innovative and having a distinct commercial advantage, Milinkovich said.
Panel moderator Susan Wu, Apache Software Foundation chief marketing director, said Oracle has a notoriously sales-driven culture but is in the process of buying open-source-related companies. Oracle this week bought Sleepycat Software and is rumored to be thirsting for vendors such as JBoss also. She asked how the dynamic would change with a company like Oracle acquiring open source property.
Panelist Cliff Schmidt, vice president of legal affairs at Apache, responded with a good word for pure open source organizations. "That's the key thing. You can't buy Apache and you can't buy Eclipse," Schmidt said.
But Milinkovich defended Oracle, saying he himself was "acquired" by Oracle when Oracle bought TopLink from WebGain in 2002. Ninety people moved over from WebGain to Oracle as part of the acquisition, according to an Oracle Web page.
"It's a developer-focused organization," internally, Milinkovich said.
He cited market share as a reason for Oracle to buy JBoss. Panelist Chris DiBona, open source programs manager at Google, said he believes Oracle's JBoss intentions are about serving companies that use JBoss.
In the audience was Oracle's Ken Jacobs, executive vice president of product strategy, who complimented Milinkovich and DiBona. "I think both of you articulated very well why Oracle is interested in open source," Jacobs said.
Working with open source organizations presents a challenge for commercial companies, according to Cooper. "You have to deal with other companies' opinions," she said. "That means you can't push an agenda the same way."