Today, for the umpteenth time, I had a someone in all seriousness ask “What can’t you do?” or “What can’t your product do?” I absolutely hate this question, not because it isn’t somewhat valid, but because it is completely open-ended. I immediately get frustrated and want to reply with “Well, it can’t whip up a milkshake. It can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. It can’t fix politics. It can’t make julienne fries. It can’t solve world peace. In general, it can’t fix stupid.”
So let me take a second to break down this extremely nebulous question “What can’t you do?” into a few of the ways this can be interpreted:
Meaning #1: “I’m smarter than you so let me see if I can trap you into revealing any ugly warts that exist that salespeople never tell us about.”
Yeah. I’ve been there. I’ve worked with smarty-pants customers who think they know more about migration than what I’ve accumulated in over 15 years of being in this business. This is what this rant is all about.
Here’s the thing… There is no version of any parallel universe where I’m going to say to a customer “Yep. You got me! Our stuff doesn’t work. We are just trying to take your money, then help you kick off a project that is going to take way too long for which you will pay us anyway because otherwise, it makes you look like YOU made a bad choice and are incompetent in your job.” Clearly, that statement doesn’t work for anybody.
So let me tell you the secret about most (reputable) software vendors out there… We all think our product works! Look, I’m a stand-up guy. Maybe I’m old school, but my word and my reputation are important to me! I wouldn’t be working for any company where I didn’t think that the product they were selling provided tangible value or otherwise could make the world better somehow.
So yeah, if you come at me with this intended meaning, then my response is going to be something along the lines of the answer you give when you go to a job interview and they ask “What is your biggest flaw?”. I’m going to be polite and find something minor that really doesn’t impact your decision just to give you an answer! But really, this answer is just as vague as the question you asked! Because, in the end, I go into every deal thinking that we can really help these people! On the rare occasion that I don’t think we can help, I have even been accused of being a “deal-prevention” tool when the solution doesn’t make sense for the customer! Poor sales guys are just trying to make a buck and I’m popping off on a “better way” that doesn’t use our solution right on a sales call! Fortunately… that’s rare.
Meaning #2: “I’m cheap and really just want to milk you for all the free consulting advise you will give me while I hold your PO hostage during the pre-sales cycle.”
Oh man. Now you’ve done it! [Jumps up on soap-box]. Here’s the thing folks. I have mastered the art of migration through pain, suffering and scar tissue, again, throughout the course of the 15+ years I’ve been in IT (after completing my Air Force tour). The knowledge I have didn’t come free or easy but it is extremely valuable! Just like your time is valuable, Mr. Customer, my time is precious. I believe in an honest day’s work for an honest wage. Good people who believe in those traditional values don’t try to squeeze people to get something for nothing.
In my personal life, being the “friendly neighborhood techie” that I am, people come to me to service all manner of computers and electronic devices. When this happens, I very graciously tell them “I’m happy to help you out for free this time, but next time I’m going to charge you $80/hr.” Why do I do this? Do I want a side business? (nope) Do I want to stick it to them? (nope) Am I being greedy? (nope) Do I want them to respect my time? (absolutely!) If I don’t do this, then everybody knows they can take advantage of me. I work hard to apply the same concepts to my current and future customers.
So what does that mean? Well, it means this. If you come at me with this intended meaning, I will handle things accordingly. I’m happy to provide you enough free value to help you understand that I know what I’m talking about, I can be your trusted advisor and you can have faith that when I give you an answer or solution, the result will almost always be successful. But very quickly, and continuously, I will be assessing our relationship.
Ultimately, if you are gaining valuable insight into the methodology of how to execute a migration or architect some high-scale solution or whatever else I’m helping you with, I may quickly get to a point where I will ask you to do a “PAID Pilot” or “PAID Assessment” project. We have some really cool things we can do there, including deducting the cost of the paid engagement from the “real” project. But this guarantees that we aren’t being taken advantage of for our knowledge! We have a team of some of the most experienced ECM and Migration experts on the planet and it would be unfortunate if we allowed our customers to take advantage of that hard earned experience.
Meaning #3: “You’ve told me all about the amazing things your product does, but there is no such thing as a perfect software product, so where are your gaps”.
In most cases, this is what people are asking and when this is the case, I totally understand. I just wish they had articulated the question this way so I can answer properly. For example, my answer here is that “SkySync is a file and folder transfer and synchronization engine. It doesn’t create taxonomy. It doesn’t migrate list or record data. It doesn’t migrate email.” or something along those lines depending on what the customer is really after. By not trying to do “everything” we afford ourselves the opportunity to do what we do EXTREMELY WELL.
That’s a direct answer that benefits both the customer and, believe it or not, even folks at our company who would otherwise have to help right the ship on any misconceptions that customers would otherwise have regarding the intended function of our solution. What we DON’T want is to set bad expectations. Again, I get it. Ask this question the right way and let me help you understand what the intended capabilities of our solutions are so that you, Mr. Customer, are not purchasing an apple when what you really wanted was an orange!
In the end…
I really don’t want to be a smart-ass and reply with a wise-cracking response. As tempting as that would be, it certainly wouldn’t be professional. But please do me the same professional courtesy and make sure you are evaluating your questions, not trying to be intentionally vague, and let’s work together to get you comfortable with the solution!
So yeah… I don’t know if I’ll ever need to write one of these rants again (of course I will), but this topic has been driving me nuts for most of my professional career!
[jumps back down off of soapbox]