Sales and IT – A language barrier, or is it more?

GeeksAs I was watching Kathleen Sibelius get grilled over the problems with healthcare.gov, I imagined what some of the meetings with IT were like on this big project.  Internal and External IT meeting with people who believe in the ACA, some who don’t, people who hitched their political wagons to it, and various others.  A room full of clashing agendas. No surprise the outcome was not as expected.

This is NOT a political post, but the machinations that went on to get the website live reminded me of meetings I’ve had with IT over the years and how trying they can get.  Sometimes, it’s like there are two separate meetings on the same call/in the same room.  Invariably, the IT people start talking among themselves in a language I don’t speak, although occasionally a word in English comes out that I recognize.  Then, they throw me a choice between various unacceptable alternatives.  By the time the meeting is over, my hair hurts.

As sellers, we frequently deal with IT, both internal and external IT people.  The external IT people are either our company’s vendors, client employees or client vendors.  Though a lot of generalizations, here are punchlists (get it?) for guidance (in stream of consciousness order):

INTERNAL IT

  • SAME! – I played High School football and this is what we yelled when the defense made an interception.  It was short for “SAME TEAM” and was the signal to begin blocking.  Sales and IT are on SAME TEAM – the same signature is on all your paychecks.  When it gets adversarial, refer back to what you need to accomplish for the company and how you need to work together to accomplish the shared mission.
  • LISTEN – The more you listen to IT’s needs and concerns, the more they will listen to yours.  Like my Wife tells me, “I just need you to LISTEN, not to solve the problem.”  Listen with empathy to IT and they are more likely to listen to you and help solve your problem.  You are more likely to discover common ground – the basis of ALL agreement.
  • HEDGE – When you start talking deadlines, you say only “Want To” dates and hold “Need To” dates for negotiation.  The more common ground you have established in the “SAME” bullet above, the more likely you will settle closer to your WANT than your NEED.
  • FAILURE – Sales and IT treat failure differently.  In sales, we tend to internalize the failure and perform extensive, exhaustive and sometimes confidence-draining self analysis.  IT people, on the other hand, tend to be more detached, analytical and linear in their approach to failure.  Failure for them is an opportunity to analyze, discover and, in some ways, job security to remedy the cause of the failure.  It is not a hill for them to die for.  Don’t over-dramatize.  There is no drama in writing code.

EXTERNAL IT

  • This is the easy one.  If your company’s vendor, be respectful, but firm.  You sent the specs, they bid on them and won the job.  They call them “contractors” because there is a contract and you have every right to hold them to it.  If the tech rep misunderstimated (a wonderful Bushism) or the sales rep overpromised – NOT YOUR PROBLEM.  They need to throw whatever resources they need to deliver what was promised on schedule.  If they blow the profit, NOT YOUR PROBLEM.  Easy, right?
  • If you are dealing with client’s internal IT people, this is more difficult.  You need to treat them as you do your client and must assume everything that goes on in your meeting is being reported back to your client.  However, you can’t give away the store.  You’re the contractor here and need to deliver what you promised.  Find a middle ground and if you hit a roadblock, try to get to your client FAST.  YOU need to bring them the offer of a solution.  Their IT will just tell them “the vendor can’t deliver.”  Your client cannot hear that.
  • Dealing with client’s contracted IT people (their software vendor) is in some ways the best of all worlds.  Each of you had made a commitment to your mutual client and wants to deliver on it.  The client likely has little stomach to settle an argument between two contractors.  So, you have a big middle ground to explore – you both need to deliver for the client.  Stay calm and solution, not problem focused.

Final thought:  No matter who you’re working with, skip testing at your own peril but don’t accept over-testing as a delaying tactic.  When in doubt, follow the 70% rule the Marines use.

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”

Will Rogers

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