Thursday, November 12, 2009

Google and Microsoft got you down?

Lotus beats the competition everytime
When a CEO lets you know they want to discuss alternatives, while you are building them a new Domino 8.5.1 server, you know this discussion is not going to start off well. Sales people might know where I am going, but having trained sales and technical people on this type of discussions, few EVER do it in reality. Some of the bloggers on Planet Lotus do this regularly, but not enough of us do in the corporate world sometimes.

You will hear all about how "easy" it is to "just work" with Google or that everything "works with Exchange", "Outlook is much faster", "everyone uses x" among other nuggets of generalities. There might be a list a mile long or only 2-3 items but either way, what will you do when faced with this test of your integrity and defense of your workhorse Domino infrastructure?

Before you get all defensive, remember, it's your job to teach, train and help the client/customer/employee/executive. If they are asking these questions then you at least have a good relationship and don't do anything to change it. Otherwise you would have been told "we are moving to X" next month.

But if they are asking these questions, you also have not been doing your job as well as possible and this can happen too. To be fair, you may not always get the CEO's time to "train" them but I will tackle this issue in a related post today or tomorrow.

So what do you do? Show up for the meeting or call or online conference, take a minute to ask about work/family/sports whatever just to relax yourself, then ask if the executive can elaborate on their thoughts for you so you can better assist them in their efforts and then SHUT UP. Seriously, let the person talk, however long they need to, because you should be TAKING NOTES on everything they say. Oh and let them know you are taking notes or working off an email or list they sent you already.

You can and should ask them to repeat something or ask for clarity but DO NOT under any circumstances try to defend or reply to anything they are saying.

When they are finished, thank them for bringing all of this to your attention. If there is a major point or thread that all else flows from, you must hit it first. If you don't see any logic, start with what you do understand or know about, then work your way backwards to items you may not have the details.

Many times the real issues stem from one thing and if you can address it first the rest does flow very well. In this case, an issue which had to do with an application was at fault. There were also issues about a lack of awareness or training about some newer benefits in the 8.0.2 and 8.5 and 8.5.1. Not entirely our fault as we have been waiting for them to commit to new hardware for a while and we just sat on it for a little too long.

After addressing the application issue, which really was more a configuration problem than an issue, we go to the discussion about everything from Traveler and it's benefits to iCal and backing up phone contacts among other items. It wasn't easy, the boss had read online forums complaining about this and that, Traveler was a heavy client he didn't want to use, (never heard that one yet) he was using Google to synch corporate details(we discussed security as well as why IBM Mobile Connect might be of interest) because "no one used Notes for calendaring". This of course is never true, and usually means they do not use it but nonetheless one must work out each point. He had no idea he could easily send and reply to Outlook users or Gmail users and have it all work well. He had never tried is my guess.

Keep in mind you may have to be honest and open about what does or doesn't work in your environment, but also be positive that it can be resolved if it doesn't work. Sometimes the promise of fixing it works really well. (See anything Microsoft has claimed for the last 20 years that is always coming in the next release) If you can't be honest with your client, boss, then you will not get any place with them.

Ask more questions, ask how they tried or what was wrong. Let them know you understand the issue and then when you think you have finished, ask them what else to cover or anything they still have questions about. If you have been asking and following your notes there really should not be anything major left to discuss.

So when all is said and done let them know what you will do for them and also what they need to do for you. Without buy in from them, you may be wasting your time. If you say you may need their help to troubleshoot some issues, and they don't say they will help, then you missed a step, possibly the honest answers part, go back and find the problem. You may not get a second chance.

If your job responsibilities included anything that was mentioned during the initial monologue from the boss, apologize for having not provided them the information appropriately and ask what the best way to keep them updated is. You may be pleasantly surprised to get 15 minutes a week with them because of this or at least sending them an email once a week with new ideas that will be read.

In the end, this post can't tell you what to say or how to say it for every possible discussion nor would I want to as it also would help the competition :-)

I can only provide you with the basics, the rest is up to you. If you don't feel comfortable in these discussions, ask me to help you or ask someone else you trust, because that's what we are here for, to help you and in some cases even save your job because of discussions just like this one I had today.

If you have a sales force that doesn't know how, that is doesn't WANT to discuss the competition with the client, let me know! We have ways of making them talk, or walk, but at least you will know when it happens and can protect your business before it gets too late.