Friday, November 21, 2014

Writing Competitive Pitches #EvangelistGuide

Once upon a time people would have discussions with one another and argue the finer points of The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones, beer vs. wine, blended vs. singe malt scotch or is Eric Clapton really God? Should we be in Vietnam or Korea or do we colonize Mars. iPhone vs. Android, Jobs vs. Ford, 72' Dolphins vs. anyone.

But the fun and good times eventually gives way to serious business discussions at work when you are in sales and now you not only need to have a good argument, you also need to know information, not the type you Google search, but real data and details. As much as you can recite every word in your favorite song or poem or The Princess Bride movie, that is how prepared you need to be when you get into these discussions.

Except when you won't. Then you may freeze up and do what I try to train every sales person in the world NOT to do, which is lie to the customer. You make up stuff that even Vizzini would call BS on, but you get away with it, because you think the customer knows less than you.

Your customer is not so stupid. You might be though.

If you can't say "I don't know the answer to that question but I know some one who does and I will get an answer for you by ..." you are not a great sales person.

What does this have to do with writing competitive pitches? Evidently quite a lot based on some I have been reading lately. They are the equivalent of lying. Not Competitive pitches.

I will admit, if you are in a strong and dominant position of your market, you probably do little competitive work because you do not need to.Yet. You will because:

"The thing I worry about is some guy in his garage
inventing something I haven’t thought of."

Bill Gates, Microsoft

For everyone else that is in second, third, fourth or tenth place in their market, you need to do competitive position papers and research. Sales people will think of it as handling objections, but it is more than that, and less at the same time.

What do you need to be in the competitive space? You need to...
  • Be a strong improviser, you never know what will be thrown at you.
  • Have international or at least regional knowledge to understand the nuances of cultural and other influences on people.
  • Know about your products/solutions and the competitions inside and out. Like Sun Tzo (Vito Corleone for you non readers) said, "keep your friends close but your enemies closer"
  • Read, listen, watch as many things as you can on topic, and off topic, so you have more angles to work with when involved in different industries. (Your examples should be just as relevant and helpful as your knowledge)
  • Be fearless.
  • Not be arrogant.
  • Have friends in weird, odd, far out and local places that you can reach out to at random times and days.
  • Have a sense of humor.
  • Think like an executive or an assistant or a CFO or the person on the 4AM support shift.
  • Know you will not win every discussion and that is okay. Really. It is.
  • Think out of the box especially when revisiting clients you already saw. No one likes repeats.
  • Wear a black suit. ( Just kidding)
If you have all of this you can start to work on you first pitch or presentation for a product or solution...or against one. 

Once you get the slides and presentation done, then you can move up to writing white papers or bigger efforts.

Finally you can get to the big leagues and go speak to people in person and do battle. It is a battle, of wits, just like in The Princess Bride. The stakes, not a princess, but potentially millions of dollars on the line.

Wits, not geek speak. If you are involved in development competitive situations, you may have no other way to do this but geek speak, but since I am not a developer, I will let others who know this field better provide some details or links.

Wits means you do not go pointing out "we have a one click interface" or an "open status bar", unless that is all you created. 

You want to aim higher.

Set your goals in alignment with the executive you are meeting with and what they need. CRM, project management, payroll, whatever it is, there are numerous ways to point out your solutions benefits without reverting to geek speak. 

You must speak the executives language, finance to finance, marketing to marketing, sales to sales. Meet them on their terms, not yours. Don't sit in their seat, but if you walk into a conference room, do try to take the seat at the top of the table. Mind games are fun even if meaningless to you at the time.

Take time to think about your answers, especially when presented with unknown data. Ask more probing questions, find the nugget they hide and let the know it is okay to let you see and hear about it from them, in their own words.

Never put down your competition, Microsoft likes to use the term "legacy" on every other companies products, yet mysteriously they never say that about their own which are now quite old as well. You can say our competitors do this or that, but we take a different approach. I know, I sound like the startups pitching to VC's, but they learned fast the need to differentiate themselves from the competition. Which is what you should be doing as well.

If you are the only person writing these types of documents you MUST, I can not stress this enough, you MUST get input form people inside, and outside, your organization in order to provide well thought out documents. The last thing you want is for someone to rip your doc apart, and start some thing like FUD Buster Friday posts to show how bad your work was on the topic.

A follow up post in this #EvangelistGuide series will look at various ways to build a competitive pitch. Until then, if you need someone to help you with your competition, my consulting fees are reasonable and my time is flexible.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Don't Ship Shit! And Other Things learned from the #IBM #NewWayToWork LiveStream

Don't Ship Shit

If you spent the two hours online watching the video and speakers (link to watch the replay) during the IBM event today, you found yourself going back and forth across a spectrum from amazement to amusement.

The new name of the Mail.Next product is IBM Verse, no mention, that I recall, of the server name being changed. I am not going to try to explain the name, Alan Lepofsky did it quite well here.

This mobile/browser based communication portal unleashes the power of Watson to help you automate and analyze your communications. New and expanded UI to include easier file attaching and locations that used to be difficult are now a click away.

The IBM team did a nice job making sure the UX on mobile and browsers are complementary, instead of exclusionary.

When discussing writing and shipping code, the graphic above appeared on screen and it was probably a first, for IBM US at least, of cursing in public live. This is not your parents IBM, rather it is one which is recognizing the need to go beyond us old folks and find a new way with new voices. They brought in college students, designers, researchers, in short everyone they thought might have some ideas for now and the future. The plan is not to ship code that works, but instead serves a purpose by helping people work better, faster and more intelligently while still providing the utilitarian aspects that are required from communications, like accountability.

It is not available yet, beta coming soon, and will most likely first show up as part of the IBM Connections Cloud offering.