15 Jul 2014

I spent the last week working from Chicagoland. The alternate homebase allowed me to catch up with many old friends I hadn't seen in years. My last few passes thru Chicago have been quite quick, leaving me only time to clean my teeth and see my folks; I maintained a social velocity sufficient to obscure the subtleties of my surroundings - like, for instance, the weather. It’s bloody cold in Chicago, yo! I know, I know ... “duh” … but remember, it’s July. For as long as I remember Chicago’s been delightful in July. I mean shit, Chicago gets 75 more minutes of daylight than Miami does at the moment, and yet - somehow - can’t manage to shine away from applying a windchill to their “78 degrees.” But that’s not really the point of my story…

One night I managed to catch up with Sam, a SugarCRM partner I hadn’t seen in ages. We gabbed while we grabbed a couple cocktails after work. It was nice because Sam has the same stream-of-consciousness ADD I do, so our conversations flow along fractically without either party losing their grip on the thread. Eventually the conversation pivoted from bikini laden airplane safety videos to aged rum and Sam decided we simply must sample some of his country club’s selection. On the ride over, however, he looks at me and goes: “we need to come up with a back story.” I laughed. “What? The truth won’t fly?” “No, they won’t believe it; too simple.” Not wanting to grind my way thru the Park Ridge rumor mill, I agreed to participate in this charade.

We strolled in with a mostly true story about how I was in from Miami, a fan of rum, and owned a competing firm with which he hoped to merge. The staff ate it up; they rolled out the regal rums to assist in Sam’s company courting efforts. Neither his wife, who joined us at the club and knows me pretty well, nor I could get over the fact that an entire building of clubbers believed this nonsense. But hey, if this foray into “fake it to you make it” represents a preview of potential consulting success, I’ll take it. As the evening wound down, and our cocktails ran dry, I couldn’t help but think about how often success is found, not in telling people the truth, but rather relaying that which they want to hear.

How often are we tempted as salesmen to agree or to spin the story to suit a particular prospects preferences without real regard for reality? And really, who’s to say where the line between truth and tale is anymore? In software especially, between roadmaps, extensions, and customizability, most ideas are plausible if not specifically possible, right? So how do sell well without selling shadily? How can we compete with companies who code to the customer’s whim with a product seeks to fundamentally change the shape of the market?I think it’s as simple as staying true to your story. It’s okay to massage certain ideas into a shape your customers can consume, as long as you're only changing the perspective and not the product. Sam and my story played so well because we would happily collaborate again professionally in the future; our story wasn’t terribly far fetched, [arguably] just ahead of its time, but then again - we weren’t trying to shake up an industry.

So this week, remain grounded in facts. When you’re poised to transform the way prospects do business, you should expect the product to misalign with expectations. Stick to your [honest] story and your product will surely stay sticky in practice.

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Last modified on Thursday, 08 January 2015 20:06
Erin Wilson

I find great amusement in everyday absurdities and am constantly surprised by how my bar-ventures, my travels, and even my food-qusitions relate to the shenanigans that is software sales. I am grateful for the opportunity to leverage the Sapient Salesman as an outlet to share with you my follies, and I hope you can enjoy the schadenfreude.

Website: ebullienterin.com/

Erin Wilson is the author and publisher of the Sapient Salesman

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