A couple recent conversations and discussion group postings illustrate the problem everyone has with selling and buying. It’s not unique to our industry, but it’s a problem that is as old as time.
The issue is that sales people tend to be overly-optimistic and technical people tend to be overly-pessimistic. This is a pretty wide brushstroke I’m making, here, and I should also point-out that some sales people happen to also be technical people. But a couple specific things came up that brought this all to mind.
First of all, I was in a discussion group where yet one more post seemed to make our modern tools and capabilities sound so wonderful and like such a boon to the world that one might think we’ve really done something for our users. There are still many areas where I think our users have the same problems as they’ve always had. They’re hard problems so no-one ends up solving them but, as a consolation prize, we give them some new tool that also doesn’t solve their problem, but we then act as if we’ve really done something for them. Unfortunately, all we did was some easy thing, buying a new tool and handing it to them. We might not have the ability to solve the hard problem, but I wish we’d sometimes just admit it. If we’d admit it, maybe someday we’d start to address whatever the big problem us. But, it’s the usual thing that “you have to own it, first” before you can solve your problems.
In another conversation with another technical person, both of us are also sales people in that we do sell our services directly to customers. But we primarily remain technical people. In that, have the usual frustration of technical people who also sell things, which is that we commonly lose sales to people who are true sales people. In a sales, where the technical person tries to evaluate the problem to give the customer a lot of information and the clearest view of what it would take to do the work, the true sales person looks more at the possibilities sometimes to the point of ignoring all the negative aspects of the proposed issue. Thus, plenty of us who are more technically-oriented complain that we too often lose a sale to the person who just says “yes” and then that very project runs into the problems we mentions, runs out of money, never finishes, and we remain certain we could have addressed those very problems to make it a success, if we only hadn’t lost the sale. We come across as negative for saying “no” and we know this so we train ourselves to say things like, “this does present some challenges” or other vague things that aren’t a “yes” but are less negative than “no.” Still we lose the sale. Are we giving too much information? Are we being too honest? Are we being too negative? All these issues are subjective. And it varies customer-by-customer.
Should we become really slick and fantastic sales people instead of being so technically-focused? I would say that we can’t really do that. For one, some customers truly appreciate that aspect about us and some actually want the most brutal assessment they can get. And I think it’s a hard thing to switch-off. When we actually get into the project to do the work, at that point, we really do have to be really honest with work abilities timelines and such. If we’ve gotten in the habit of focusing only on the possibilities and making the sale, I don’t think we can switch back to our technical mode so easily.
On the other hand, should customers be more clinical in their assessment of the sales pitches they get? Well, probably. For those who aren’t in the thick of the laboratory informatics industry, can they really know all the right questions to ask to try to trip us all up in order to get the fairest picture of all the sales pitches? I suspect not. Let me add this, too — I’m in the thick of it but when I help customers do their product assessment and listen to the sales pitches, myself, it is really difficult even for me. Each sales pitch focuses on different things, for one. For another, unless you really know the proposed software or services vendor’s situation, you can’t know if any they say is true or not, anyway. Anyone can sit in front of you and tell you how they’re going to do things or what problems they’ll solve, but that’s not the same as actually doing it.
In the end, the only real advice I can give is to tell those purchasing any to steer clear of anyone who uses terms such as “turnkey” or “best practices,” or who suggests they can drop in a solution for you. The larger your project is, the more you need to avoid these people. The largest companies are looking to save money to streamline even more than they already have, but are the most complicated and least likely to get a quick and fast solution.