A short selling guide for the IT people


#1

What motivates you to do things?

If you are an IT person, you are probably like me, driven by the curiosity and desire to do things rather than anything else.

Doing what you enjoy, and enjoying what you do is certainly a great way of living. However, it is also a massive talent underutilisation. Pet projects are entertained, but be honest with yourself - how many of them found no use and are archived (in a physical or digital way)?

My number is 99% if not more (I am trying to stay optimistic about that). The worst part is that I would probably continue pilling up half-assed ideas were not it by a stroke of luck - a mix of different events (do not ask) in my life caused me to gauge my attitude towards soft skills, and sales skills in particular.

Here is my short starter pack to all of you, my dear IT fellows with analytical minds, and I trust you will find it useful.

  1. The primary rules of selling anything are provide value and know your customer. Of course, that is not all. Other aspects such as being likeable or assertive matter, too, but without thinking about value and understanding how are you going to improve the life of your customers you will not be able to consciously choose a sound project to do next. I found myself doing fewer projects without any purpose, and much more experimenting with a specific goal in mind.

  2. Therefore, start with imagining your customer profile. What are they trying to accomplish? What is their motivation?

    This is the most critical point. In a corporate world, there are only two goals - higher profits and lower costs, and they are not always measured in money, sometimes it is all about time (getting things done faster) or less tangible outputs (brand awareness). For individuals… it is more complicated, as different people are motivated by different things (if you want to learn more about that, look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

    The description does not have to be very broad. Image similar to the one below will do; you can actually replace it with a simple card like one below:

    @benjystanton proposed a following set of questions to validate if you got a right user need:

    • If you showed it to a user, would they recognise it as their need?
    • Is it written with words real users use?
    • Does it describe the problem rather than the solution?
    • Will it stay the same regardless of changes to technology, policy and existing services?
    • Does it help you organise and prioritise work?
  3. Think about what is needed to accomplish those goals.
    Slide2

    Now, it becomes clear that there are some dependencies between all those actions, so adjust the graph.
    Slide3

    I’m sure you will love that part - recurse until you think you have enough to work with.

    That short exercise gives you an idea what does it take for the customer to get his job done, and he will likely refuse to talk to you anything which is not related to the task he is trying to accomplish.

  4. Identify the difficult parts. As you know, some things are easy to do as everyone is doing them in the same way and are widely practiced. Some things are more difficult, and the scale below can be used as a useful approximation of the difficulties associated with a given component:

    Slide5

    • First time - something is done for the first time. Without any warranties for success. It’s an experiment, and can be a total failure. It’s like you trying to build your own furniture.
    • Custom-built - you have no skills to do it by yourself. You need an expert that designs a solution from scratch, and those solutions are not repeatable. Designing a house interior is an example of such a job. It’s you ordering individually designed furniture (just for you). Note the associated price tag and the level of excitement involved.
    • Product - the name is self-explaining. You know what you want to get; you just need to go to the shop and buy it. It’s you going to a carpenter and choosing what he has already built.
    • Service - nearly the same as service, but you buy something very standardised and repeatable, and pay for what you use. You go to the IKEA. Pay attention here - it is not exciting, easy and relatively cheap, and everyone gets the same experience (furniture).

    With that axis, you can actually mark the level of pain associated with any activity:

  5. Think of what you can and want to do for the customer.
    Hint: If you want an easy sell, make his life less difficult.

    • Can you make wall painting as a service or more efficient?
    • Can you make finding a respectable designer with a taste similar to yours easier? That looks like a business opportunity involving AI!
    • Can you make a design your flat interior as a service by eliminating human factor and using AI only? That’s a serious technological challenge (and a business opportunity).
  6. Pick the best option. Verify with the customer.

“This is how I see your situation. This is how I can help.” - those are the only words you need.

That’s it. The customer will tell you whether your thinking is right or wrong, and whether you have a buy-in or you have to start the process again with something else in mind.

You may also want to start a new iteration based on the ‘design target appearance’ as the need, and dig into what does it take to design a nice flat, and what can and cannot be automated.

At the end, you’ll get the single project that matters most for a given situation, and plenty of ideas that will be ruled out.

Note: This post is based on Wardley Maps, which cover much more than what was outlined here. I’d say, this is the skill every technical person should have!


#2

I’m marking this post as a wiki. Feel free to improve it!