A few years ago, I found myself in the unusual position. I got layed-off when the other companies in the big group I worked for got into financial difficulties and, then, while I was waiting for my notice period to burn down, I accidentally helped our sales guys win a multi-million-pound sale.
In the 2.5 years I'd worked there, I'd never been asked to speak to any customers. But then, during the bidding process for a big deal the representatives of one potential customer asked to hear something about our development processes during their site visit. The sales guys - nervously, I imagine - asked me to do an hour long presentation on Agile (yawn), where they hoped I'd emphasise the maturity of our development practices.
I agreed and they slotted me in from 11-12am, on the last day of the 3 day visit.
Eleven came and ... no customers.
Twelve came, still no customers.
Eventually, I got an email: could I squeeze the potential customers in for 10-15 minutes, at the end of the day, while the customers waited for their airport taxis to arrive?
'Sure', I said, and then I chucked my presentation away, and asked myself, what's the most useful thing I could tell them in 5 minutes?
The answer, it turns out, was the old sales/marketing rule: sell benefits, not features.
The potential customers arrived 5 minutes late, of course, and they were clearly exhausted, worn out from 3 days' of boring demo's and negotiations, and sleeping in hotels, and speaking in English, their 2nd or 3rd language. We were the last of a handful of competitors and I bet they were dying to get home to their own beds.
There were five of them.
I said, 'Do any of you own Macs?'
'You know Apple released their annual OS X upgrade today?'
'It's nice getting all those bug fixes and shiny new features every year. It's one of the reasons I like Apple, compared to Windows, since they only deliver significant upgrades every 3 or 4 or 5 years.'
Five nods but only two smiles (from the Mac guys).
'Well, we've made a lot of changes here over the last two years and nowadays we ship production quality releases of our latest software quarterly. Every 3 months - four times a year - you'll get new features and bug fixes. Our software isn't as sexy as apple's but by that measure I reckon we are 4 times better than apple.'
Their taxi arrived. We shook hands. They left. I went home.
Late the following week I got an unexpectedly nice email from our head sales guy thanking me. Apparently our product's features and our price were similiar to our competitors but our quarterly releases were a huge competitive advantage, and that's what clinched the deal.
I helped straighten out our development processes so that we could deliver quarterly, but it was our development manager who pushed (and pushed and pushed and pushed) the quarterly releases. Hardly anyone thought it was a good idea ... except our customers.
A few thoughts:
- These days I hardly talk about the "features" of Agile because, honestly, Agile has been around for ages and, if you wanna do a better stand up, well, google it, or buy a book. Mostly, I help folk Identify the benefits they want to chase (and, just as important, what they shouldn't chase, yet) and then help them figure out how to go after that. Benefits, not Features.
- There used to be a book floating around called "Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers", but I think it's wrong because, "Cash Cows Make the Best Burgers" and, if you want it to be, Agile is very good at transforming ordinary cows into tasty Cash Cows.
- I moved from that job to something much, much better, but I can't help but feel a little miffed since the margins from that one deal would have paid my salary for somewhere between 50 and 200 years. Maybe I didn't do such a good job of selling my own benefits :)