"Selling" technical ideas to the customer
We all remember how in 2007 the first iPhone made a real revolution in the world of mobile phones - a very convenient, beautiful, full-screen smartphone was introduced. Magazines were full of headlines, what a breakthrough Apple made - it would seem that there was nothing like the iPhone. At the same time, hardly anyone now remembers such a phone as IBM Simon. In fact, it was very similar to the iPhone - its entire front panel was occupied by a touch screen. Just like the iPhone, it had only one mechanical button. Like the iPhone, it had different applications. But, unlike the iPhone, IBM Simon appeared back in 1994, already 13 years before the iPhone! So why do we well remember the appearance of the first iPhone and completely forgot about IBM Simon, which implemented the same ideas, but much earlier? The idea, in fact, was great.
So how do you “pack” and “sell” ideas so that they become “iPhones” rather than “Simons”?
Perhaps many of us have heard or uttered phrases:
- “What we use is out of date five years ago!”
- “It's completely impossible to maintain!”
- “The customer is only interested in the new functionality!”
- "He does not hear us!"
- “I want to go to another project / company!”
Is that familiar? We have cool ideas, we know how to improve the project, but for some reason the customer does not hear us. First, let’s figure out how we “sell” ideas, how we present them to the customer. Usually we present our ideas to the customer like this:
- “We need to implement automated testing!”
- “Urgently need to upgrade to Java 1.8!”
- “In accordance with the eXtream programming methodology, pair programming is indispensable!”
- “It is required to stop the development of new functionality for 3 months to refactor the kernel!”
Let’s now conduct a thought experiment: imagine for a second ourselves at the place of the customer and think about how the customer answers the question of who needs it. To programmers, engineers - that’s it. And who pays for it? Customer. This is the root of the problem! That's why it’s not possible to introduce cool new technology! Because the customer, the one who pays, the one who makes decisions, does not understand why he needs it.
1) Check the idea:
Therefore, first of all, you should check the idea: we need to think about whether the technology that we want to implement in the project benefits the customer. There are, of course, two options: brings or does not bring. Fortunately, new ideas and technologies are being made so that they are made in order to improve something, accelerate, reduce costs somewhere, increase something, etc. Therefore, most likely, if you think about this idea, it is likely to bring benefit to the customer. And if, after conducting a thought experiment, you came to the conclusion that the idea will not bring any benefit to you or the customer, reassurance will come to you, because you are reluctant to carry the water, nobody wants to do what they don’t need. Therefore, in any case, there will be happiness: either an idea is needed, or there is peace and you can look for other ideas that are definitely needed.
2) "Packing" the idea:
Further, if we decide that the customer needs the idea, we need to “pack the idea”: think about how to present it. If we say that we need to “refactor the core because we have a technical debt”, we will not succeed. It is necessary to present so that the customer understands us! The customer, as a rule, thinks in terms of “cost”, “money”, “terms”, etc. Therefore, in order for the customer to understand, the advantages of the ideas that we see must be expressed in the customer’s language. For example, we can say that the implementation of an idea will reduce costs - for example, testing. What else can attract a customer? Launch speed, speed of entering the market, increase in profits, expansion of user audience (and, as a result, increase in profits), etc. There can be a ton of attractive moments for customers! Most often, there are four: increasing profits, reducing costs, accelerating market entry, and improving quality.
So, we translated the idea into the language of the customer. We continue the "packaging". What's next? If we come to the customer with this, then we will most likely not succeed, since the customer has the following questions:
- "How much does it cost, what is the ROI?"
- “What are the risks here?”
- “What are the alternatives?”
- “What is the use?”
The customer will ask about this because he is the one who invests money and must be sure that every penny will be reasonably used, that you thought about everything and took into account everything. Therefore, when you go with your idea to the customer or project manager, you need to have answers to these questions in your head.
3) We choose the time:
Suppose we “packaged” the idea, came to the customer, explained everything, but the idea does not work. Why? Maybe the time is not right. The appropriate time depends heavily on the project cycle and you, as project participants, are more visible here. Most often, the wrong time is right before the release or immediately after the release. Before the release, we fix bugs, the customer is not up to it. After the release, the customer is engaged in the promotion and planning of the new version, and again he is not up to it. Usuallya good time is a retrospective ; this event is just designed to collect new ideas and think about whether they can be implemented.
4) We are looking for the right person:
So, imagine that we “packaged” the idea, chose the time, came to the customer, but the decision is not made. Why? Perhaps we just came to the wrong person. It is important for us to find exactly the person who has the authority to make a decision on our issue.As you understand, there can be two cases: a person who makes decisions and a person who does not have such authority. Usually everything is simple, but sometimes a person who does not make decisions is simply embarrassed to say that he doesn’t really accept them, and as a result leads you by the nose: you come to him, and he sends you somewhere, etc. To find out if this is the right person is quite simple: if after two or three attempts the person does not say yes or no, but only asks questions, most likely he disguises himself and actually does not solve anything, and we need to look for someone something else.
Sometimes it happens that a decision maker is not available. This is a difficult situation, but not hopeless. In this case, you can try to find a person who is available to you and, at the same time, having access to the decision maker. We can try to understand its priorities and repack the idea so that it solves the tasks of not only the decision maker, but also his. Thus, we make “double packaging” of the idea.
5) We determine the problem:
Many probably know the following rule in engineering: if something works, it’s better not to touch it. Therefore, even if you have some ingenious idea (for example, how to reduce the testing speed by half), but, in principle, everything is fine, the guys are doing it, the product is of good quality and your idea is coming out on time, most likely your idea will leave without special attention. Therefore, it is necessary to create a feeling of a problem with the customer - attention, not the problem itself (it already exists), but its feeling! In other words, we open our eyes to the customer that he has a problem. How to do it? You can, for example, share your pain. You can come to the customer and complain that, for example, we spend a lot of time on manual testing, and yet we could spend all this time developing new components, etc.
After we told the customer about the problem, we should not immediately offer a solution. First, we wait for the customer to be aware of the problem, when it will mature. How long should I wait? The best option is if the customer then comes to us and says that there really is such a problem. All! This means the idea is sold. There remains the idea of a little “repackaging”, and everything is ready. If this does not happen, we ourselves can go to the customer in a week or two and find out from him what he thinks about the situation. If he starts to nod, then you are on the right track.
6) We conduct a demonstration:
Better to see once than hear a hundred times. Well, if we can implement this technology in some small project to show it to the customer: “Look, look how cool it is!” Or hold some kind of demonstration. Or show on the example of another team how it works well. Everything that you can not just hear, but see in action, feel - is good. Therefore, if possible, we arrange a demonstration.
7) We train:
Then we will definitely train. After all, even if we carefully thought through all these steps in our head and go immediately to the customer, most likely, we will get into trouble. After all, everyone thinks differently! And the customer will most likely ask you questions that you did not even suspect. Therefore, it is best to gather colleagues and ask them to criticize your idea. Or play "at the customer": choose some colleague for the role of the customer and try to persuade him to choose your idea. You will be surprised how many interesting comments they will give you. After that, you can rework the presentation of your idea and are more likely to be able to implement this idea.
8) We persevere:
In the real world, an idea is rarely implemented the first time. Usually it takes 2, 3 attempts, sometimes more. Therefore, be persistent - the first time is unlikely to succeed.
So, to competently sell the idea to the customer, we do the following:
- We check the idea - is it really necessary for the customer?
- We “pack” the idea: we express its advantages in the customer’s language.
- Choose the time.
- We are looking for a decision maker.
- We create a feeling of a problem.
- We are training.
- We are demonstrating a solution.
- Did not work out? We show persistence, we repeat everything from the very beginning - and, sooner or later, the customer will hear you.
Posted by Nikolai Malyshev, Delivery Manager DataArt.