Security's Everyman

Security's Everyman

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Manageing Expectations

I've been dealing with sales people most of my career in technology. When I first got started in the field I had to deliver on the promises that they made to the customer. That or try to explain why what the salesman told him didn't really mean what he thought it meant. Then I moved into a position where I had to start dealing with them as the customer. I learned early on that some would do anything to make a sale. They would say anything, talk to anyone and that the price could always get a little better. Then there are those who were up front with you and who seemed to really have your best interest at heart. They are the ones who aren't afraid to tell you that their product doesn't meet your requirements. They will tell you that they can maybe get special pricing and it isn't tied to you making a decision today. They are the ones who really seek to know your environment so that they can recommend a solution that will honestly work for you.

Alan says that the problem that exists between sales and client is that neither really takes the time to understand the other. While I think that it will be beneficial to all parties for that to happen I don't agree that the problem lies there. I must say that most of the sales people that I've dealt with have been quality sales people who are good at what they do because they do try to understand their clients needs. I also think that whereas I may not truly understand the life of a sales person I do understand that they are dealing with their own set of challenges. I understand that they have to sell if they want to eat and keep their job. How can I best help them? By managing expectations. When I talk with someone about their product I try to be upfront with them if there is not a fit. I also try to be upfront with them as to when I may be ready to make a decision.

If I'm looking at deploying a solution whether it be vulnerability management, database monitoring, AV or anything else I will start gathering information several months in advance. Why? Because I've got several projects that I'm working on and I've got to ensure that the solutions work together and not against each other. Also I may actually do a eval way ahead of time just because it works for me to do it then. What I've noticed is that some sales people take that to mean I'm ready to buy. Even if I tell them that the project is months down the road. I try to manage their expectations so that they aren't investing lots of time in something that isn't going to happen for a while. If they are smart they will step back, stay in touch and be patient. Some have actually gotten upset that I was looking that far out and when I reached out to them closer to time they wouldn't submit a quote.

I've also learned that I need to manage their expectations once I've made my choice. This is something new to me because for the first time in my career I work for a company that has a procurement department. Always in the past when I made my decision I submitted it to Management and if they approved it then the order was placed within a few days. Here things are different. I make my decision, go to Management for approval and then it goes into the abyss call procurement. Once there all sorts of things may happen and then usually it emerges on the other side with a PO attached. That process can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to months but for me it had always been 6 to 8 weeks. Based on this I told a Account Rep that we should have no problem getting a PO cut by a certain date. That was my mistake. The date came and went and the PO was no where to be seen and procurement wasn't talking. The problem is that I had gotten VERY aggressive pricing on this and the Account Rep was new with the company so when the order didn't materialize within the set time frame her boss started to question her judgement in believing my reasons for wanting such aggressive pricing. If she had been not been new then her boss probably would have just said something like "Don't be so gullible next time", but in this case it was more like "Did we really make a good choice in bringing her on?". Of course I felt terrible because all of this was based on my lack of managing expectations. I've since learned that I need to do a better job of this. Actually that is what I was trying to do with the sales person that I'm now unhappy with. Yet in this case she wants to set herself up for failure instead of allowing me to try and help her.

So, yes we could all benefit from understanding each other better but more importantly we can all benefit by being upfront with each other. If I don't want to talk or don't have a need then so be it. If I tell you "Call me later" then that's what I mean. If you tell me your product can do X then it really better be able to do it without me having to jump through hoops. If it can't do it then just say so.

How about this. I know that my blog is read by techies, managers, sales, PR, and others. If we want things to work better than take my advice be honest, manage expectations and work together. Quit putting sales people off just because you don't want to deal with them. Tell them "not now call me in X weeks" or "please don't call me, I'll call you when I'm ready". Then when we do tell sales something they will believe us and not feel like we're giving them the runaround. For those of you in sales if we can call next month then call next month. Don't be pushy, don't try to tell us that you can "help" us speed up procurement. If we tell you that there is no way to get this done by the end of the month quit pressuring us with the latest deal of the moment.

One last thing. @anton_chuvakin made a comment on twitter yesterday that went something like this "XYZ "software suite is the most powerful and comprehensive system... in existence." Some people who do marketing are stupid :-)" I replied back "I had 27 sales people tell me that about their product last week" then Dr. A replied back with "well, all 27 were repeating what 1 marketing person told them :-)" I figure that one marketing person was Rothman. :)

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