Wrong Turn at the Roundabout: Let’s Design It, After all the Customer doesn’t always know what she needs

Deborah Gage of The Wall Street Journal published an article on the 2011 rationale for software companies to make the dubious effort of building enterprise “solutions without a problem” — FASTech: Businesses Need Smarter Software, Whether They Know It Or Not.

Here’s the story line: [Software ISV VP of Sales] “We’ve gone down the path of the complex sale and yes, we fully agree with Jeff Thull that lots of these deals end up in a “dry run” (to use Jeff Thull’s method of referring to sales that, for one reason or another, never happen). In fact, we find that when the customer reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t truly know what she’s looking for, or that the systems are not in place within her enterprise to support the implementation of ABC solution; that she will not buy our product.”

Here’s the punch line: [Software ISV VP of Sales, with VP of Product Marketing at his side] “Therefore, we decided to build a version of the product anyways. After all, who knows where the market will go next. Our [half baked] solution might be just the ticket next year.” This decision to build the product anyways ends up costing ISV buckets of money and lots of development time that would be better spent working on useful solutions that customers will ultimately ask for once the dust settles and thoughts coalesce into workable requirements.

Our C level managers of sales and product marketing have made a wrong turn at the roundabout. What they ought to have done, as Jeff Thull makes very clear, is to dropped the sales plan to book the order this year, but make the marketing commitment to partner with the customer through the potentially lengthy process of identifying flawed decisions, assumptions and plans, renovating same and, finally, planning for a reasonable, workable solution that our ISV will end up building for the customer. After all, in all likelihood few, if any competitors of our ISV will be willing to partner with the customer to work this process through to a successful conclusion.

Bottom line: Customer driven product management still makes the only sense for innovative businesses with high expectations about market penetration. Wasting time building gadget software will not pay off over the long haul. Worse yet, decisions to build gadgets are indicative of a lack of patience with markets, the kind of character flaw that can threaten to deep six the best of plans.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved

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