Being a half-hearted technical person (no hacker at all) with some genes addicted to too much talking (a.k.a. sales), I worked ten years as a techrep within a sales force. Selling software to people who do software. That was fun. Mostly.
During that time, I found myself being more and more interested in process. Then organizations and how they behave and evolve. Then, finally, in people.
Many might have made the experience of these sales meetings, where usually (depending on the vendor’s company size and how much people they need to keep busy) one to ten so called experts are sitting in front of you and present their so-called solution.
As a customer, why do you attend? Why are you listening at all?
If you stop thinking, it’s simply because you want to. Even if you are there because your manager told you so (you could always pretend to work on something more important). And why do you want to? Because you either feel technically curious about the topic or you might believe that it even can help you.
Why do you think, your manager would attend the meeting?3
Same reasons apply, only that the curiosity might be focused on other aspects of the meeting’s topics. For example productivity, because the better it is, the better she or he will be paid and/or the carreer might get a boost, too.
And after the meeting? “Thank you very much for your presentation. We will come back to you.” (you know what that means) or maybe “I’d like to try what you were telling us”. This is when it gets interesting, because now people want to change something (at least some test machines).
What leads up to the other golden bullet of selling: change is inevitable. I’ve given up counting how often Bob Dylan was cited in meetings I attended.
Yay! Change. Great. So what?
I think most people want to feel safe and secure. Especially in business culture. You consider carefully the personal risk involved in sky diving, but you probably will think even more about your career. This need is reflected on the other side of the table (the vendor’s side). It’s called: staying competent in the absence of knowledge4. The outcome of the dsicussion is Anne’s maybe: Maybe this works for you, dear customer. Maybe partially. Maybe not.
So why the hell maybe? Enter it depends, the diamond-bullet used as answer-everything for all consultants, insultants and all other people that the customer expects help from. Depend on what? On everyone involved. And on you. Being a customer, you’re either in the decision position or supposed to use that stuff they all bubble about.
In the end, the decision is “shall I pay/use it?” Or, how will my world become better if I do so? It is the heart of the maybe: born in everyone of us who are touched by this new technology or solution or product or whatever. I still prefer the term solution, even as overloaded it is already.
You might remember one of your main intersections in life. At one moment: business as usual, just go on. The next moment: wow. A new way. A new idea. Great stuff. A new world opens.
It’s easy if you’re alone. It gets a hellofa complicated if more people are involved. It’s not myself alone anymore. Now the others need their wow, too.
Then the discussions start. Maybe committees are build, news forums start to fill up and reports are written. Then the decision is made. Let’s say we buy it. Why? Let’s again stop thinking: because the ones deciding believe they will do better paying that sack of money than not. Better is quite subjective and based on personal emotion.
I look at it this way: the decision is made quite early in the process, actually. After that decision, the press department called reason takes up the tedious task of formulating the actual why.
This is how I decide:
- I want it, but really can’t explain why.
- I start to look for understandable reasoning so that I can look in the mirror without feeling stupid.
- If there are others involved, they need to understand or at least accept it, too. And finally
- I get it and start using it.
This is a very rough description. There’s so much more about going from want to use to get better. Test and evaluation, for example. Customization is another. Then comes Migration (of old data, code, etc)
Many decisions are not that easy. Sometimes the Personal Reasoning (or PR) finds too many hurdles blocking the way.
“It is too risky”, PR says. “I need to ask someone else to make me feel save. Let’s ask the expert.”
Well, what is an expert? Besides the fact that the expert needs to have the fitting knowledge, some good history and warfare experience (skars are sexy in that type of business), she or he needs to be foremost and always competent. Even if the technology of expertise is just a second old: no way without competence.
Now imagine two experts (some PR really wants to be sure) enter the room.
How do they compete?
How do they get their kick and success?
If they both agree on everything, how can the customer decide which way to go? This is where being stubborn and religious and evangelistic comes into play. Only the competence won’t make the expert’s day. It’s also how sure she or he displays in front of the customers and how she or he sticks to his belief – this can lead to the absence of expertise in the wake of attitude. If you feel like fighting on this battlefield of competence or observe others doing so, fanatism might occur soon. For the folks involved in the fight, the only way out of this is (a) to be honest about your own incompetence, (b) the willingness to learn every day and (c) the acceptance and interest that your opposite is in the same situation like you.
Ah, and forget about attitude, if you can, because everything’s and always relative.
The cure for this socially accepted and expected fanatism lies in repect, time and trust. Give your opposite time to proove. Trust yourself to be adaptable. And after a while, if you still cannot decide, take the more risky path. People say “no risk no fun”. Translated to business this means “no risk (no fun and) no success”.
^: The myth of productivity diserves another post for itself. I find it astonishing that on the one side people rely heavily prefect forecasts and in the same moment believe amazing esoterical explanations about process improvement that promises to increase the forecasts. I will dance on my house’s roof if I find a process manager not raging when I say that you only the people are responsble for this. Process is what is done, not what is written or excel’d somewhere. 2: I don’t know if this really works as English is not my mother language. The title is a sort of wordplay: (a) selling the things “maybe”, “maybe it depends” and “it depends” (choose the one you like) and (b) selling, maybe it depends (on what?:-) Comments helping me shaping that term are greatly appreciated. 3: The topic of a meeting is recursively endless. I myself had bad ones, good ones, hilarious ones and everything in between. Sums up to about … I dunno, maybe 1500 meetings. Sleeping attendees, snoring, yelling, fearsome, maybe all the types that you know. They have one thing in common: no one likes her or his time wasted. I found that fun usually is never a waste. 4: You never know all what your customer knows. And there’s always someone who is more knowledgeable than you in a spefic area. Actually that is good. Your customers are the best trainers you can get – that is, if you let them teach you.