Friday, November 12, 2010

What kind of pilot are you?

This past summer I co-trained a Sure Step class with Ross Allen from Salesworks.  I learned a lot from the experience, but there was one analogy that Ross used that has really stuck with me.

Those of us who work as application consultants, project managers, and business analysts often complain of being left out of the pre-sales process (the Diagnostic phase in Sure Step).  We complain about salespeople not communicating requirements, minimizing scope inappropriately, or worse.  But have we ever stopped to wonder why salespeople keep us away from their process?  Maybe, if we are willing to look at ourselves critically, we might find that we contribute to the lack of cooperation.

When I ask students in Sure Step classes why they want to be involved in the pre-sales process, inevitably they respond with a variety of reasons-
  • to “inject” reality in the process
  • to advise the prospect of the complexity/risks involved
  • ensure that the prospect understands the danger
But is this appropriate during pre-sales?  ERP implementations inherently have risks and complexities.  Isn’t the point more that we know how to manage these?  Yes, it is complex and there are dangers, but aren’t we the experts?

So, to use Ross’ metaphor, what kind of pilot do you want to be?  Imagine you are boarding a flight.  The weather is  stormy out, and there is some nervousness amongst the passengers (not unlike the customer as they are trying to choose an ERP solution).  Which of the following scenarios would make you feel better?
  1. As the plane taxis to the runway, the pilot gets on the intercom and says “Wow, it looks rough out there.  I have flown in a lot of bad storms, but I think this may just be the worst.  I will try my best, but I really can’t guarantee anything at this point.”
  2. As you are boarding the plane, the salesperson who sold the plane to the airline says “This plane can survive anything, you will be fine!”
  3. As you settle in to your seat, the pilot comes over the intercom and says “Your copilot and I are well prepared to deal with storms like this.  Control is working with us to route around the storms out there, so we can avoid the worst bumps.  So relax, enjoy the flight, and we will get you to your destination safely.”
Okay, so #1 is not comforting…agree?  And brings in to doubt the pilot’s qualifications and professionalism.  And #2 is not who we want to assure us, as he is not the expert in flying the plane (like implementing the software).  But #3 hopefully does provide some level of comfort.  Customers (and airline passengers) don’t always recognize the risks of what they are undertaking.  But with us at the helm, we can help reduce those risks by applying our implementation experience as well as product and industry knowledge.

When Ross first used this metaphor it was an “A-ha” moment for me, and really changed my perspective when I am asked to participate in the pre-sales Diagnostic phase.  Keeping this in mind, as well as the goal of pre-sales (to close the sale!), I think I am a much more effective asset to the sales team.

And this news story from the past week drove home for me how a pilot’s demeanor can affect the experience for the passengers.  This is the sort of pilot I want to be!

So, sit down with your sales folks, and figure out how as a team you can increase prospect confidence in your solution while decreasing risk to both you and the prospect by being a confident pilot.  It’s a win/win.


Steve Chapman said...

I appreciate the analogy as well. I was recently at a project kick off meeting, and one of our consultants seemed Hell-bent on pointing out every possible pitfall in the project.

I was wondering how this guy ever got past the first date with his wife to be.

Christina Phillips said...

Another good analogy, Steve. I think if everyone could take a step back, they would realize that being a team with shared goals would benefit the customer as well as the partner.

Anonymous said...

That is a great analogy.

I would add, though, that I'd hope that the pilot in the third scenario would have the experience and authority to be able to push back, if needed, and say "you know what, we're got going to attempt this - the plane simply wasn't designed to take off in a tornado."

The reason why many of us implementers may be overly cautious is because, when given the mandate to "close the sale," many salespeople put the implenters in exactly that kind of predicament. While promising that the plane can fly in inclement weather, the salesperson neglects a few qualifiers.

The kicker is this - many salespeople don't know that these qualifiers even exist, let alone communicate them to the prospective client. We're not being cautious because we only think in terms of "doom and gloom", but because there may be a real danger that needs to be mitigated.

Christina Phillips said...

Agreed. Ross uses another analogy to describe that scenario as well..."brown bear". They will eat anything. And as a salesperson being a "brown bear" will not get the desired end result-- profitability for the organization AND a satisfied, referenceable account. They is a balance to be found, and I think a lot of organizations resist the need to sit down and find theirs.

Christina Phillips said...

And, one more thought on the topic (can you tell I love this?), is that if we can find a way to bring down the walls between consulting and sales, everyone benefits. Sales benefits from consulting's knowledge and consulting benefits from sales closing the deal :)