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February 2012

Road Show Road Kill

I'm doing some consulting these days, and one of my assignments is to help a small managed service provider transition into selling cloud-based services. It's fun work, as it puts me at the intersection of sales and product.

As part of this work, I attended a "road show" put on by one of the (very large) companies whose products/services we currently sell. The focus was on their "cloud" service offerings, and the audience was schmo's like me looking to figure out how to sell these kinds of services… without drowning in a sea of collateral and sales documents available on the company's web site.

I'm well-acquainted with the "road show," at least from the presenter's side. You barnstorm through a bunch of cities, pitching your particular product/service to the audience of customers or salespeople that have been assembled and coerced into staying by the free food and the prize given out at the end of the event. The days are long, the travel numbing, the presentations become increasingly difficult to do with enthusiasm. On the other hand, you're bonding with co-workers and drinks are on the house.

This was one of my first opportunities to experience a road show from the audience side. The free food was fine, a little light on the fruit and vegetable side. The give-away at the end (a video game console) was also fine, though it didn't hold my interest. And some of the presentations were really well done: focused on the needs of the audience, simple but still informative, and delivered with enthusiasm and humor.

But the presentation that stood out, of course, was the one that seemed to break every rule of presenting—in seemingly sequential order.

  • The presenter started with an apology, having to do with not having the usual technical support person available to handle the really tough questions. She may as well have started by saying, "you're not going to get much out of this, but it's not my fault".
    • Don't EVER start with an apology. You immediately take yourself out of the "driver's seat" and undermine your own credibility. Better to wait until you actually have something to apologize for.
  • The presenter's slides had WAY too much information on them. And apparently much of the information wasn't that important, because the presenter made no attempt to communicate it.
    • I've harped about presentations elsewhere, but here's the main point: do you want people listening to you? Or reading your slides? And by the way, are you saying anything interesting that's not already covered on those slides?
  • The presenter said, in so many words, that "Version 1" of the product sucked.
    • NEVER bad-mouth your own product. I've seen presenters do this, thinking it's their way of bonding with the audience. All it does is make the audience wonder, "What kind of a loser would want to work for a company that put out such awful products?"
  • The presenter went on to say (again, I'm paraphrasing), "Eventually, we'll be best in class." So, am I supposed to check back when you actually have something worth selling? It turns out that what she meant to say was that the cloud-based product would eventually offer the same features as the locally-hosted product. But that's not what I heard.
    • It's OK to have a better product later. But don't imply that your product is bad right now.
  • The presenter talked about the product's "agility" and in the next breath discussed six-month (!) release cycles. I'll admit this is more of a nit, as "agile" has special meaning to those in the product development world. And it's true that this product's release cycles are much faster than the locally hosted version's cycles. But most people looking to do "Agile" product development are planning for weekly release cycles, not half-yearly ones.
    • Be careful with your language. You don't want to claim you're something (e.g., "Agile") when the evidence isn't there to support it.
  • The presentation (slides and spoken words) was filled with company-specific jargon and acronyms. Your TLA's are your own. I no more want to adopt them than I want to order a "Venti" sized coffee.
    • Circle every acronym and piece of jargon on your slides and ask yourself, "Do I really need the audience to use this term or know what it means?"

If you don't want this to be you, pay attention to your presentation: its message, focus, and delivery. Or you could make sure I'm not invited to your show.


Remembering the Potato Chip Man

Ken Booker, a truly good man, passed away last week. I'm hardly qualified to write his eulogy, but his life and work are worth sharing.

I would see Ken once, maybe twice, a year. He always had a good word for me, would inquire about my life, and we'd share a laugh. He liked his extended family, but in limited doses. He drove a Lays delivery truck, and worked hard. But he never complained about his work, never talked about "the man" getting him down. He approached his work the way he approached his life: you did what you had to do, and you didn't complain about it.

He married his wife, Sue, at a time when she was emerging from a stormy period of failed relationships. He "inherited" a couple of boys to raise, and eventually had another boy and girl to add to the mix. I never once saw him treat his adopted children any differently than his biological children. Ken wasn't flashy or dramatic. I'm not sure I ever heard him raise his voice. But it was clear that his kids knew the rules, and knew to follow them. As his kids grew up and started their own families, you could see that same sense of calm, no-nonsense fathering in each of them.

When Ken's son Josh passed away, Ken spoke at the funeral about how he and Josh would sit and watch college football together, and how they would go fishing together. I hadn't previously known that about Ken, but I wasn't at all surprised to hear it. Ken found a way to relate to his kids, to communicate his values without being heavy-handed about it.

They say that women seek immortality by bearing children, and that men seek it by creating monuments. Ken's immortality is seen in the way his children act, the way they treat their kids. And I have no doubt that Ken's grandchildren will exhibit the same parenting qualities.

It's common to see children, especially ones that come from families in crisis, grow up and repeat the same behaviors as their parents. Ken, along with Sue and many others, brought stability to his family. He brought clear-eyed values and an appreciation for the things in life that truly matter. He gave that gift to his children, and their children, and to who knows how many generations after that.

Not bad for a guy who made his living delivering snack chips.


Yin and Yang

It's been a tough couple of weeks. We've experienced a number of deaths in the extended family. In a couple of cases, those that passed away had led long and fulfilling lives. In some other cases, death brought relief from suffering and terminal illnesses.

I'm the first one to blather on about death being a part of life and so on. But I'd much rather complain about imagined slights on the train, or rail against those who I believe to be supplying the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, than accept the yin that goes with the yang.

So Death, I acknowledge you. You're a part of life—but just a part.

Now, I'll return to complaining about Stupid People on the Train.


How Not to Get the Sale

This happened to me on Saturday. I had just stepped out of my house and was walking down the street when I saw what I took to be a new neighbor, standing outside of his house, smoking a cigarette. After Jerry and I shook hands and said hello, we had this conversation:

Jerry: Do you need any yard work or gardening done? I could do that and I don’t charge much.

Me: No, I’m renting my house and they already have a gardener.

Jerry: How about hauling or other work? You might need that, being old and everything.

Me (smiling): No Thanks. But ask my neighbors, they own their houses so maybe they could use your help.

Jerry: OK, well let them know, OK?

If you’re going to attempt to sell something to me, make sure your selling point isn’t something I’d find insulting or at the least not true.

And if I offer you help in identifying sales prospects, don’t thank me by asking me to do more work for you.