Commonly, the requirements gathering process is done hastily or not at all in the rush to get the sale. After all, the faster you can make the sales process go, the faster the money is in the bank — correct?
The more that product customization or creation is required, the more it is important understand the customer’s actual problem. The more time required to build and implement a solution means will not only lead to a failed sale but also to a more disappointed customer and a loss of future revenue.
If you build software, which has long lead times, it is even more important to make sure that what you are building will satisfy the customer’s requirements as changing the final software solution will be nearly impossible and very costly.
Why do we continually misunderstand and sell the wrong solutions and building the wrong software?
Time pressures to make a sale put us under pressure and this stress leads to making quick decisions about whether a product or solution can be sold to a customer. We listen to the customer but interpret everything he says according to the products and solutions that we have.
Often the customer will use words that seem to match exactly the products we have. But then after the sale once we have to implement we often find that either we deliver a poor solution to the customer or a solution is infeasible and we must refund the customers money.
However, behind every word that the customer is using there is an implied usage, and understanding that implied usage is where we fail to gather requirements.
For example, suppose the customer says I need a car. Suppose that you sell used cars:
- the customer asked for a car
- you sell cars
Ergo problem solved!
- What if the customer needs an SUV but you don’t have any?
- What if the customer really needs a truck?
- What if the customer needs a car with many modifications?
- What if the car the customer needs has never been built?
We hear the word car and we think that we know what the customer means. The order-taker sales person will spring into action and sell what he thinks the customer needs. Behind the word car is an implied usage and unless you can ferret out the meaning that the customer has in mind, you are unlikely to sell the correct solution.
If you don’t understand how the customer will to use your solution then you don’t understand the problem.
Comedy of Errors
For products that require customization, the sale will get transferred to professional services that will dig deeper into the customer’s requirements. At this point you discover that the needs of the customer cannot be met. This leads to sales people putting pressure on professional services and product management to ‘find a solution’, after all, losing the sale is not an option.
Sometimes heroic actions by the product management, professional services, and software development teams lead to a successful implementation, but usually not until there has been severe pain at the customer and midnight oil burned in your company. You can eventually be successful but that customer will never buy from you again.
As WIlliam Ralph Inge said, There are no rewards or punishments — only consequences.
The consequence of selling the wrong solution to a customer is:
- Whether you lose the sale or not, the customer loses faith in you
- The sales person is perceived as incompetent in the rest of the organization especially by professional services and software devleopment
- Your cost of sales and implementation is much higher than expected
- Your reputation is damaged
Selling the correct solution to the customer requires that you understand the customer’s problem before you sell the solution.
When customization is required, good sales people engage resources that can capture the customer’s requirements accurately and assess that you can deliver a solution to the customer.
Slowing down to understand the customer requirements and how you will solve his problems is the key. By understanding the customer’s requirements and producing the correct solutions you become a trusted adviser to the customer.