Death of the software salesman?

Will the software salesperson role become extinct? This possibility was raised during a panel session at the Open Source Business Conference.

Panelist Danese Cooper, open source desktop strategist at Intel, said the software salesforce 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.

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. 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.

But Milinkovich defended Oracle, saying he himself was "acquired" by Oracle when Oracle bought TopLink from WebGain in 2002.Panelist Chris DiBona, open source programs manager at Google, said he believes Oracle's JBoss intentions are about serving companies that use JBoss.

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."

Milinkovich was critical of how open source vendors participating in the conference had a business strategy of dual licensing. The big money in open source is when companies build products on top of open source offerings from communities such as Apache or Linux, he said.

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