Monday, February 16, 2009


When is it OK to appear clueless in front of business customers?

Has anyone else noticed the trend lately that vendors appear less polished when presenting to their clients...

I remember the days of being a consultant, where we would prepare our pitch, the dog and pony show. We would anticipate questions that customers would ask and figure out the answers beforehand. We would also ensure that whenever interacting with clients, we would have a real subject matter expert on hand. Today, this practice seems to be disappearing.

Nowadays, clients are bombarded with sales engineers (oxymoron) whom only know the canned speech and present thinly-veiled, media relations sanitized presentations that lack substance. Whenever a client either out of ignorance or just inquisitiveness manages to take the discussion offtrack, their entire presentation derails.

Indian outsourcing firms don't have enough depth to be smarter than most clients and therefore leverage process as a way to get the client to spoonfeed them information. Software vendors blow up my phone on an almost daily basis with a hook and arrow line that starts with some generic mindless Gartner like statement, proceeded by tongue-twisting name dropping of other recognizable Fortune enterprises and concludes with asking for what challenges I have that their solution could solve for. Don't this seem flawed?

I remember talking to one salesperson and asking a basic question like what do you think our company does? He didn't even know that we sell insurance, investments, etc. Feeling kinda stupid, he proceeded to bring himself back to his script and started to talk about open source. I asked him a question of whether anyone in his company blogs. The silence was deafening. He then proceeded to try again, under the guise of three strikes and your out by mentioning what Gartner had to say about them. Of course, I asked if Forrester, Burton Group, The 451 Group, RedMonk, Nemertes, Entiva and other analyst firms I respect had any opinion. He confided in me and said that he never heard of these firms and commented that he would do some homework on them though. I mentioned that he should ask when having a conversation with potential clients, he should ask which analyst firms they pay attention to the most...

Could you imagine having to tell your mechanic how to do an oil change? Of course not, this would feel silly, yet I bet many clients of infrastructure providers and indian outsourcing firms do this exact thing on a repeatable basis. From the perspective of these firms, if clients are idiotic enough to pay someone to not have a clue then they deserve to be exploited. After all, if I could keep hundreds, if not thousands of folks whom otherwise add zero value in a revenue generation scenario, this is good for business, good for profits and good for the economy.

I find it equally fascinating that the partners in various consulting firms no longer care as they are focused on short-term results. Of course, this comes at the expense of long-term relationships. In business 101, I learned that if you can develop a customer-relationship based on competency, integrity and expediency then selling gets a whole lot easier which begs the question of why are companies making their jobs harder.

So, if I were to ping folks over at MomentumSI for SOA, Cigital for security or Washington Consulting for ECM, should I expect that they solely have knowledgable folks or should clients also expect them to have tools in their toolbox? More importantly, should clients check to see that the tools exist before engaging?

At some level, someone in the blogosphere would be awarded hero status if they crafted a list of ten things to know before presenting a sales pitch to an enterprise customer prospect. In the meantime, if you are an employee of a vendor, please consider updating your 2009 resolutions to include not looking clueless in front of enterprise customers. It would be greatly appreciated...

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