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I once worked with a software company who, upon retaining me, described all the problems that they were having in product development. They needed my help because the software developers were not moving fast enough, not delivering the features the clients wanted, and losing ground to competitors. These are serious problems, but I have faced them before. I frequently help clients improve their product management and their technical development teams. So, I went to work.

Because one of the problems was that the programmers were not delivering the features clients needed, I asked to tag along on a few client calls, and the company sent me with their best salesman. In fact, they told me that this was the best salesman that they had ever worked with, and that he was responsible for most of the company’s revenue, selling client after client.

I carefully observed the first client meeting, which was a rousing success. The client had many specific needs–they seemed quite sophisticated about how this type of technology worked, but luckily the salesman had a positive answer for every requirement. This client was a perfect fit for the product, and the client seemed ready to sign a lucrative agreement.

The second client meeting I observed went swimmingly also. Another client, not as savvy as the first, but with some idea of what they wanted. What they wanted didn’t seem that much like what the first client wanted, but the salesman assured them that the product did it all. Looked like another sale.

I am a little slow, but by the third client, I was starting to get suspicious, because the third client honestly seemed to have little idea of how they would use this technology. Even though I was still new to how the product worked, they seemed to be looking for something very different from the first two clients. Expecting the salesman to explain to them what the product did–and why that really was good for them–I was taken aback when he agreed with them that what they needed was good and that the product did exactly what they wanted.

So, I then met for the first time with the product team so that they could explain to me how the product worked. Before they told me anything, I explained the three client calls I had been on. Even at the first mention of the salesman, they rolled their eyes. I soon found out why.

Maybe you figured this out. The salesman basically promised every client whatever they asked for and then let the development team work out all of his promises. Sometimes they did, but often they did not, leading to all of the complaints about how they were disappointing clients.

I tried to explain what was happening to the not-very-tech-savvy management team, and they wanted none of it. “But he is our best salesman!” they protested. “He has the highest close rate we’ve ever seen.”

It took a while, but I eventually got them to see what was going on. That salesman really couldn’t change his ways, and was eventually let go. The company eventually realized that a really good salesman sells the product they actually have, and that overcoming client objections is actually the whole idea, not just telling them what they want to hear.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, Revealed Context, and SoloSegment. Mike is the author of three books on digital marketing, an instructor at Rutgers Business School and a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He is also a Certified Speaking Professional.

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2 replies to this post
  1. I’ve been on the technical end of this equation far too many times. In my experience it’s very common, and I’ve yet to be in a situation where it was corrected. Executive management sees the revenue line very clearly on the board reports but the customer satisfaction measurements aren’t as apparent, and even when it is noticed the blame is placed squarely on the product team, not the sales team. Mike, you were fortunate that your message was heard and that it resulted in action. My experiences have been significantly different.

  2. I hear ya, Bob. I know there are a lot of stories like this that don’t have happy endings. I told the short version of the story–the long version had several miles of broken toys and lost clients over a few months before they saw the light. And you are right–this was a smart client that saw something that most avert their eyes to avoid. Thanks for your comment.

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