SOFTWARE ECONOMICS PART 4
This is one whitepaper in a series of scribbles, all of them about the Very Fine Process of selling. The reason I created these is that, in my opinion, many developers under-estimate their own ability to close a deal in a sales situation. I did translate these papers to the VFP developers. I hope you find them useful.
What do you sell?
As developers with a main interest in VFP we often rant about the lack of marketing efforts from the side of MS on this Very Fine Product. Complaints are that VFP jobs become less and less available over the years and that we feel threatened in our sheer existence by this fact. A second complaint is all about the visibility of VFP among possible customers. Here are my thoughts on this subject.
About three years ago I was working on software for B2B call centres. I took that opportunity to learn more about the art of selling things to people, for my own purpose but also for the purpose to add to my virtues a thorough understanding of this Very Fine Process of Selling solutions.
And a Very Fine Process it is. It requires skills like good listening, asking questions, going in the flow of thoughts of the customer and more. Actually, I believe there is not much of a difference with our job when we have to develop applications. More often then not we have to ask questions, propose solutions, and fit the customer’s wishes into a user friendly user interface.
Also, if you work for a boss you actually did have a sales conversation once. Only we call it then jobhunting. Since you work for a boss you must have been able to convince him/her that you personally are the best solution to a problem. (short of hands).
Let’s face it: “good sales are the motor of our economy!” No sales or low sales are also known as “economical depression”. Therefore if we are able to be just a little bit better in our skills as salespeople the results in terms of closed deals would go up, we would have more work requiring more developers and the basis of our complaints concerning the diminishing number of (VFP related) jobs would be gone. That part is in our own hands.
I come back here to the point where I started this article, “what do you sell?” Do you sell your service as a VFP developer wanting to be helpful to possible customers, trying to close the deal pushing VFP in the customers’ throat? Or do we listen to the problem a customer is facing and are we trying to create a solution that will solve the problem. To my best knowledge, but that IS arbitrary, customers are very seldom interested in what tool you use to solve their problem as long as the solution meets their needs.
If a customer asks what tool you use (and yes, those techie managers sometimes do that) I hope that in all honesty you can tell that, since we live in a hybrid world, we use several tools from which we pick the one that would serve the solution (and thus the customer) best. The visibility of VFP, and I do realize that this sounds like swearing in church, is not important at this point. The importance is to come to a point where the customer wants to close a deal.
Visibility of VFP
In the aforementioned period I worked for call centres I heard of one tool salespeople use to keep track of their sales efforts and results. This tool is named the ‘farmer’s algorithm’. I will not go into the finer specifications of that ‘algorithm’ here, it will be the basis of another article, but just point out one thing that I consider important. Within that system they distinct two types of bosses which are important for you to know about.
The first type is the supporting manager. Typically these people have overall technical knowledge of systems and tools and can judge the technical merits of a given solution. They are, however, tied to budgets and mostly are in charge of a department of a company.
The second type of manager is the one who has little or no technical knowledge but has access to unbudgeted funds. For the latter it is not important at all what technology is used, the Return On Investment expressed in hard money or in increased productivity of employees is far more important. (That increased productivity can sometimes be measured in terms of fewer days on sick-leave, thus saving other costs).
Only when the solution is installed and working as expected you can make clear that this is VFP at work through splash screens and help->about screens. Trust me, if the customer experiences the amazing speed of VFP, s/he will be enthusiastic.
Create solutions you’ll never sell
When I visited the USA the first time I was surprised. I landed on Seattle, on my way to Idaho, and had quite some time for myself before I had to catch the next plane. I found a cappucino bar and thought that, after a 10 hours flight from Amsterdam with some kind of undetermined and fermented cardboard as food, I could use a nice cup of coffee.
I went to the bar and ordered a cappuccino. I was first surprised when my question was answered with another question: “Small, Medium or Large, Sir?” I asked what a medium was and the “cup” the lady showed me was ehhh, quite a bucket already. Astounded I asked her what a BIG one was. Well, what she showed me was nearly the size of a Jacuzzi. So I ordered the small one (still big to European standards). While drinking my coffee I asked her how often people would buy a big cup. She smiled when she said: “Hardly ever Sir, but now they have a choice.” Looking at the standard where she had all the cups stacked I noticed that indeed she only had a few of those jacuzzi sized cups indeed.
I asked what the use was and she said that when she started she only had medium and small cups leading to the sales of small cups mostly. Now that the customer had the choice of a BIG (translate that with ENORMOUS) cup she sold remarkably more medium size cups of coffee. These where not so much more expensive but, considering the sales over a period of time, this lead to substantially more income.
In the context of software sales we can do quite the same
The MOSCOW list is a familiar thing, I suppose. For those who don’t know it, it is a list of “Must Haves” (the absolute and bare minimum) “Should haves” and “Could haves” (can be missed but would be nice if it is possible.) and “Would haves” (mostly non functional requirements, but just gives the product a nice look.) From a developer’s point of view this list is essential. It enables the developer to focus on priorities.
From a salesperson perspective this list is equally important; it enables him or her to give the client an opportunity to make a choice. Something to talk about when the offer is made.
Maybe the expensive solution will never be sold, but its presence will lead to choosing the intermediate solution more often then not whereas presenting the cheap and intermediate solutions as the only possibilities will lead more often to choosing the cheap solution, thus providing you, the developer, with less money.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BOUDEWIJN LUTGERINK
Programming is one of the many hobbies of Boudewijn. He has worked with computers since 1985 and is the author of two books from Sybex. He has a weblog at
PEDRO J GONZALEZ
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