Sunday, August 21, 2005


Software Bakeoffs and the Mistakes made by Vendors

Several years ago when I worked for an Internet startup in Delaware, I witnessed something interesting that I periodically see from time to time. Figured I would share my thinking...

A brilliant IT executive named William who also happened to be very young looking took a seat in the back of a room and listened to a presentation put on by a consulting firm. The presenter seemed slightly perturbed that he disturbed the flow by asking a question in the middle of the session. The presenter continued on and focused in only the questions asked by the well-dressed suit and tie types sitting around the table while ignoring the lesser dressed ones that took spare seats. Towards the end of the presentation, William arose and simply left the room quietly.

The presenter later had asked asked me about whom William was. You should have seen the facial expression when I told him that he was not only an SVP but he controlled the budget they were chasing. There are actually several lessons that can be learned from this dialog:

Maybe vendors should spend more time instead of getting a general "sense" of the audience, should actually not spend time asking for just titles and the responsibilities they represent when they ask everyone to introduce themselves but to also ask for each participant to give a 30 second overview of what they may happen to know about a given topic.

There are times when I have sat in presentations and have only mentioned my name. I may have remained quiet during presentations which could have either signalled that I had no questions to ask because their presentation was a masterpiece or that I didn't ask questions because I was so far over my head that I didn't want to embarass myself. Of course, all of these perspectives are wrong.

On many occasions, enterprise vendors have met with me and never bothered to do any homework. The most amusing of conversations is usually when they attempt to sell me on practices such as service-oriented architectures without knowing that I have written several different books on the subject as well as presented at over fifteen conferences to date on the topic.

Sometimes, those who are passionate about a given technology before showing up to a meeting with a vendor are sometimes asked by their "manager" to not be too aggressive as the manager would like for everyone to participate. In simple terms, lots of folks in the enterprise need to "dumb it down" as the questions they ask may not be of ordinary understanding.

By using my suggestion and putting everyone on the spot, you are not only giving an opportunity for the folks who would have otherwise been forced to "dumb it down" to speak their peace, you are getting an opportunity to figure out who is best positioned to understand your true value proposition.

In thinking back to one of my earlier bosses (Hi Kevin) who had the same attributes as William, I learned this practice earlier in my career. Remember, no matter what you are told about how decisions are made, in all reality all folks have a say. Don't miss the opportunity for the techie who has been forced to temper their enthusiasm to become your internal champion...

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