Sales Cycle Theatre – Unlearning the FUD

Jun 11

(Originally posted at - The first in a series of “Unlearning the FUD” posts… kudos to James Governor of Redmonk for the blog subtitle idea)

I’ve used the phrase “Sales Cycle Theatre” a few times in recent months. Most often I am immediately forced to follow it up with a “but you can’t steal it until I blog about it” after I see the big grin and hear a mischievous laugh when explaining the analogy.

Yes, I owe apologies to Bruce Schneier, coiner of the phrase “Security Theatre”, but I’ve come to recognize a similar pattern. The scripted drama we’ve all agreed to perform when traveling by airplane gives most people a sense of familiar, officialized, and codified security. No one likes it, it steals our time, but it’s been accepted as a necessary burden.

The procurement cycle for software licenses from many enterprise vendors has this same feel. No one likes it. It steals our time. But it’s been accepted as a necessary burden. There’s a ritual that most IT managers, enterprise architects, purchasing officers, even the sales people themselves have come to expect – and often simply accept the role they’ve been asked to play. Vendor after vendor, the script is the same.

Act 1

The Courtship

Regardless who initiates contact, there’s lots of playing hard to get at this stage. It’s not cool to be too keen to early. The buyer doesn’t want to give off signals that they’re too eager after the first demo. Never mind the product meets functional or technical requirements… never mind it looks like your end users would like it… play it cool. Don’t pick up the phone on the first ring…wait a day before returning an email, and drop hints via the grapevine that there might be others you’re looking at too. Great way to build the upper hand.

Act 2

In Which Boy Loses Girl

Inevitably, either buyer or seller has to make a bold move to break the impasse. A discussion about purpose, intent, timelines. Where’s this relationship going? I’m ready to make a commitment, I thought you were too. What’s the budget, who’s on the short list, who else needs to give the green light? Should I ask for the deal on one knee? A special discount that is ONLY for you, because I really want to make this work. Sure my in-house legal counsel can review an amendment to the terms and conditions contract. Because I see a future together. This is just the beginning for us. Ultimately, someone has to drop their pants to take it to the next level. Typically the week before fiscal quarter end.

Act 3

Married With Children

The license deal is done. The customer is covered and ready to start prototyping or piloting. Well…within the constraints of the number of seats. Or servers. Or CPUs. Or license restricted use-cases. Commissions are paid, serial numbers are issued, bug reporting IDs are assigned. The real work for the client happens after money changes hands. At last the product can be deployed. But then a year later, and another year after that? With every anniversary year an invoice for 20-25% of the LIST price… not the drop-your-pants price …shows up in the mail. Even if the project is incomplete. Or under used. Or never quite did everything it promised. But the bills are paid, hoping things will get better. Because we made a commitment. To make this thing work. You never take the garbage out any more. You’re letting yourself slide. What happened to that product I thought was the most handsome thing in the market? Would it hurt you to innovate every once in a while, take off a few pounds, update the UI? Make me remember why I fell for you back in the day. But the vendor is eating bon-bons, lying on the couch watching the stock ticker. Knowing you can’t leave them now. You’re locked in. Ring is on the finger and you have responsibilities to your users. All your document is mine. Yeah, you try to go looking for something else. Do you really think there’s something better out there?

If this drama sounds familiar, you might own a product from a legacy proprietary vendor. Not all ECM stories have to end this way.

What if in those early days you didn’t need the middle man to churn up the red tape between buyers and sellers and legal teams? What if you could just go get the software when you were ready for it. What if you could do early stage requirements research at your own pace? What if you made the financial commitment for support and maintenance after you knew the product was a good fit… instead of before.

The concept of ‘security theatre’ struck a nerve with the traveling public because it brought out into the open an unspoken but nagging fear many of us had. That the hoops and loops and endless machinations actually do very little to keep us safe. Take off the shoes. Throw away the bottled water. Turn on your laptop. Turn off your cell phone. We obey because we need to get from point A to point B and don’t know how else to do it.

Sales cycle theatre, unlike its security cousin, can end. Open source helps bring down the curtain. The power to engage with technology is in the hands of the users who need it, at their pace, in line with your specific requirements. The content management platform you need to run your knowledge-economy enterprise is not hidden behind the velvet rope of a vendor who seeks to benefit long before you do. Time to call a charade a charade and get to work.

Update:  Nice to have James Governor use this post as inspiration in his recent Actuate / BIRT “RFP Theatre” talk. Video here: