Focus on the People, not the Technology (some satire applied)

Have you had an epiphany lately? Allow me to tell you about mine.

Recently, our European marketing department presented the new campaign that will be rolled out shortly. And one topic that really gobsmacked me had to do with how we approach the selling process, in my particular case business process and application outsourcing (BPS/AS). To get the full effect, allow me to take you back to trade fairs of the 90's, especially the two shows most relevant in my market: #CeBIT and DMS. Both don't exist anymore, even though CeBIT was the biggest IT and technology trade fair on the planet (forget Las Vegas, here comes Hannover!).

As I was working for #Kodak for most of the 90's my CeBIT realm was Hall 1, the "royal class" exhibition hall. IBM was here with a stand as large as two soccer pitches, as was Sun Microsystems, Adobe - all the big names in the business.

And the credo was: "we know what we're talking about and you never will". The signage was chock full of abbreviations, the diagrams on that signage seemingly done up by PhD-students. I worked as an integration engineer for high-volume digital printers at the time, so I had no issues understanding the content. However, the people the messaging was made to address, did. They would tell us that they didn't understand what we were presenting, but we ignored them. Just trust us and sign the contract, dammit!

Over the years, the messaging changed, but not the underlying problem: DMS changed to #ECM, TXT to #XML, but the average back office manager, operations person or lowly clerk still didn't understand it.

Here is my point: to this day, all of us in the business sell the solution or the process or the #TCO. We don't bother thinking about who actually uses the stuff we're trying to pitch. Or why they might benefit. Before people start jamming the comments with "but I sell value-based...", let me try to explain why things haven't really changed in nearly 30 years, and why someone like Steve Jobs built #Apple from a near-bankrupt heap to one of the most valuable companies in the world: people!

People use this stuff. The software, the web service, the AI-based #RPA tool. People like you and me, who are just as annoyed by having to extract tables of data from their cruddy CRM into Excel files and then build pivot tables by hand. People that are using 30% of their capability not because humans only use 30% of their brain (don't believe that lie for a minute!) but because they have to waste 70% of their day trying to bend the different applications to the processes they have to perform.

So at some point, the finance manager or the operations manager or someone else that is sick of hearing daily complaints about how things don't fit together and keep breaking will scour the web for a possible solution. What do they find? Websites upon websites that promise to fix the accounts payable, the HR onboarding, the digital connectivity from the ERP to billing, with marketing text filled with three-letter acronyms and a little "AI" here and litle "AI" there to make sure it sounds modern and sexy.

Then they fill out an online information request form and wait for feedback. This is your chance! Jump on it! Set up an online meeting (this is the time of Covid, after all), make sure their entire department joins and then throw a Powerpoint presentation at them filled with all the buzzword jingles you can think of! Maybe round off the hour with a quick demo that fails horribly, because your internet connection isn't stable. Your chance of getting to the next round? Just as good as that of the next guy or gal that ran things the same way.

Why is there such a gap between what those with the offering present and those with the need really need to hear? Because what we do is complex. To properly sell in the ECM/RPA/BPM solution space, you have to be a bit of an expert (think "nerd") in many of these fields. Frequently, sales people often worked as programmers, project managers or in IT before being let loose on unsuspecting customers. Because a solution that takes your incoming mail, digitally separates out the invoices, extracts the information from them, crossmatches with databases and SAP export files and then passes them on to the booking software is just really darn complex.

Here is my epiphany: the people that have the problem they would like fixed don't care. They don't want to hear about it. They don't want to know that is more sensible to set up a cloud-based cluster with replication into an on-premise data store (because this is one of the few USP's your solution has over the competition), nor that you can use any browser to access the custom-CI GUI. They don't use any browser, they use a particular one. And they don't care where the data lies - that is IT's issue or the CIO's. They just want to be able to press a button to load this month's sales data into the CRM that produces a pretty picture so that they can copy-paste it into their management report.

So if you do get the honor and chance to spend one hour with 12 highly paid Purchase2Pay people, don't flog them with terminology and technology. Understand what they really want and come to the conclusion that your offering damn better be as easy as operating an #iPhone.

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