I’m a digit head. I love learning about new things, exploring technologies, and solving complex tasks so that later I could haughtily look at people who aren’t as tech-savvy as I am. Don’t even get me started on how much I enjoy criticizing the amazing solutions that were created by anyone but me.
I look at any solution through the prism of its beauty, not usefulness. The way I communicate with people and explain my tech choices can piss off even the most patient ones out there.
Throughout my career, I spent some time working on a wage labor basis, meaning I had to find clients myself.
At first, it was easy. Just show your interest in the product and your professional skills. Ask a few smart questions. And the client is going to fall for you. Back in those days, the software development market has only started to form. The demand for people simply capable of doing their job used to be way higher than the market supply. Even the most unbelievably stupid ways of communicating with clients brought positive results.
But over time, things started to change. The market started to fill in. We founded IDAP. I started selling the projects I could only dream of.
And everything would be fine but for one thing — sometimes I made small mistakes, which our managerial staff punished me for kicking my butt off. After that, I used to be left all alone to cry and introspect.
The time to share my experience with young tech-savvy entrepreneurs has come. I’ll tell you how not to get slapped by your “grateful” colleagues, that suffer from your (not so) impressive performance with sales. The experience will be shared in a few short stories that vividly demonstrate the lessons I’ve learned surviving each of them.
Without further ado, let’s get straight to my confession and sorry for the intro being that long.
1. Good-Looking Logo
Back in the times when I was 65 pounds smaller, we invited a client to our office in order to discuss the development of Uber-like application for the taxi service he owned.
Don’t even get me started on why he wanted his own Uber, it wasn’t the case at that very moment since they made me put on a white shirt and look all fancy. Although I didn’t feel fancy at all on the inside, nobody seemed to care.
We sat down around the client, he started to describe all the pain points of his business, namely — the absolutely useless customer support and the fact that users want service to be simple and convenient, and talking on the phone for minutes when you’re in a hurry doesn’t fall into that category. I was busy trying to look as smart as I possibly can and nodding at the client, and taking deep breaths when he got the most emotional.
The sales manager was selling, the operations manager was planning, the project manager was describing possible approaches to development, UI/UX designer quickly sketched wireframes as we were going. They gently cuddled with the client’s ambitions without him even noticing.
And then something terrible happened.
The client took him laptop out and showed us the logo he’d like to see in his application. He was extremely proud of both the logo and himself since it was him who created that pic.
A single glance was enough to realize that this digital nightmare would not only destroy the whole business of our client but turn it into something even homeless people would be afraid to come across. Chances are by installing on a device, this logo would blind its owner for life.
I couldn’t let this happen. After all, the success of our clients is our first priority. At least this was the key point our sales managers were telling me in one way or another for two weeks prior to this conversation.
With all my grace, I interrupted the sales process and having caught the client’s attention, started to whisper in his ear that this logo is undoubtedly great, but would he mind if our designer would change it a bit for better marketability?
— No, I think that this logo fits my app perfectly — answered the client.
I didn’t give up and, as a try to prevent the inevitable, I went on: “Logo is a very important part of the user acquisition process. Our highly-skilled designers will take your idea as a basis to create some new versions for you to choose from. We won’t charge for that a penny because your success is our success.”
— Excuse me, I don’t think you understand how genius this logo actually is. I could even dismiss the whole app development thing. This logo alone is enough to turn me into the next Jeff Bezos, — the client said.
— Excuse me, but your logo looks like shit! — I yelled at him with a shaking voice.
The room went dead silent. The only thing interrupted the silence was the sales manager losing falling unconscious.
The silence persisted and I felt uncomfortable. Everybody was looking daggers at me, and the client’s eyes were about to start watering down. Suddenly, altogether they gently grabbed the client and took him away from the room leaving me all alone if not for the sales manager who was by the way still laying on the floor unconscious.
Feeling glorious about myself, I stood up and proudly walked to the coffee machine to treat myself for the great job.
All of a sudden, I felt someone hitting me on the lower back. The stroke was so strong that it made me feel like the gravity force stopped for a second. The pain got me a moment later. It was the ungrateful sales manager. Getting back to the stroke, I now understand that if it took place more to the right, we’d need to seek surgeon assistance to remove the sales manager leg out of my body, and I’d never be the same man again.
After I stopped hobbling, and we released this project with a whole nother logo, I realized something very important about the communication within the IT sales process:
Don’t insist on something that a client particularly likes being bad. Don’t be too straightforward and harsh when choosing words. Instead, gradually put a worm of doubt to in the client’s head. After you two build mutual trust and respect for each other, the client will listen to you without any aggressive pushing from your side. That way, you have all the chances to get away with necessary project improvements without being physically hurt by your fellow colleagues.
2. Stop Signs
It was one gloomy day when our sales manager stormed in my office looking like the Jaws shark that smells fresh blood. He told me I have an hour to get ready, we’re going to another city to sign a contract. Just a mere formality, but I have to be there because the tech staff from the client’s side want to discuss our future cooperation on that meeting. I tried to talk my way out of this as much as I can, but I didn’t help. My go-to starfish pose I struck in front of the car didn’t help either. They forced me to get in the car and take that damn trip. When we were pulling away, I saw my students pouring whiskey and laughing in the class.
The road seemed to be long. Bearing in mind my act against the client’s logo, the salesman decided to negotiate the way he’s going to let me know that it’s time for me to shut up. We agreed on him lifting his eyebrows and bugging his eyes out like a baby mesmerized by a construction machinery it sees for the first time in life.
A small disclosure: our sales manager is handsome, tall, fit guy who was young at that time. Well, almost like me. Although I was only young back to those days. The sales manager had big and pronounced eyes with dark voluminous eyelashes that rival those of a supermodel. To notice lifted eyebrows on his face would not be easy for me, to be honest I wasn’t particularly good at physiognomics, and I also prefer not to memorize the sales manager’s face for my personal reasons.
I was scared to admit that even with the diff utility used, I wouldn’t get if it’s him lifting his eyebrows up and popping his eyes out or it’s just the way his face in its normal state. Since the memories of that past fight we call Good-looking Logo in this post were still fresh, I was afraid the salesman would bury me somewhere on our way home if I try to argue with him.
On arrival on the meeting, I immediately disliked software engineers from the client’s team. They looked as so they fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. Keeping calmness and my natural friendliness on, I took my shield and we started to negotiate our interaction with their enterprise management system. The first upsetting for me thing was that they didn’t know what CRUD is. They called RESTful a buzzword. And instead of JSON or XML they used their own binary format to embed data, which was revolutionary to the point no one ever heard of it. I felt heat under my collar and started attacking these morons in every accessible to me way at the time. While I was holding the audience spellbound with my amazing oratory, I also kept looking at the sales manager from time to time. To me, he seemed absolutely satisfied — after all, it was me who destroyed client’s tech team right in the client’s face! This definitely should have granted us a chance to become the no.1 technical partner for the client and make everything right in the first place.
I was feeling somebody lightly touching my leg, which I imagined to be fireflies who came to lighten up my glory. And cicadas were about to join them and start singing their loud song to shed lustre on me as well.
Suddenly, I felt a jabbing pain in my leg. You know, a long time ago I used to do roller-skating tricks. Sometimes I knocked my legs against tubes and borders. That hurt. Some of those could even cut the skin all the way down to the bone. In that very moment, the pain wasn’t like the one with roller-skating, it took all of me by storm and made my mind gone with the wind far far away. How the hell could I know our client also performs the CTO role in his own company?
When I came around, the first thing I saw was sales manager face, distorted by anger. He was staring at me lifting his eyebrows and bugging his eyes out as a stop sign as we agreed earlier. I asked why is doing that, I was keeping silent anyway. After that, for the first time I saw a person performing a dance of a snake struck by lightning that tries to evolve back into dinosaur.
We drove silent on our way home. So, after some time self-reflecting, I made the following conclusions:
- Know your client.
- Never shit on his employees. Even if they are dumb, he’s going to protect them no matter what, because it was him who hired them. And this describes him as a manager.
- Never shit on technical solutions created by the client’s team. Most likely, one way or another, he personally took part in the development process.
- Come up with more easy-to-notice stop signs to use during negotiations.
- Nobody is petting you on the leg. You just don’t see the signs your colleagues are giving you to stop you.
3. The Magician
I grew up, came into my own, and stopped making childish mistakes. The sales staff started to trust me, so there even were times I conducted negotiations myself or paired with COO.
Once upon a time, I came across an effortless task — to present our tech team and describe how we’re going to implement awesome client’s project using the most hyped cutting-edge technologies like decentralized repository, microservices, big data, machine learning, etc. Of course, there’s no need in these for the project. But without the hype you won’t get venture funds, so our client was trying his best thriving for them.
We already signed the contract. Everything should have gone smoothly like clockwork.
We called up and I started to chatter so enthusiastically, that both Fallon and Kimmel would would be jealous of my charm and interpersonal skills. All this time I was feeling an overwhelming itch for smoking.Without tearing my eyes away from the webcam, I took the coals, heated them up, filled the bowl with shisha, placed the bowl on top of the hookah shaft, and started smoking. Meanwhile, I was talking about some important stuff, and on having finished my speech, I exhaled a long stream of smoke right into the webcam to create a mysterious atmosphere and charming illusion of how technologically perfect the client’s product’s gonna be. We had a great conversation for half an hour, till the coals burnt out. In our best mood, we ended the conversation wishing each other a great end of the week and showing confidence in the project to start early.
On the second day they beat me. All the managerial staff was beating the shit out of me.
After a long-term rehab, I found out the following:
- The client refused to work with us regardless of how awesome we are since I demonstrated lack of professionalism in terms of communication and humiliated him with my innocent joke.
- Don’t smoke while conducting negotiations.
- Eating on negotiations isn’t the best idea either.
P.S. These are just a few of all the adventures of mine. It makes me smile looking back at them. I’m sure I won’t make such stupid mistakes again.
P.P.S. The sales manager is on antidepressants and starts to shake when they need me to take part in the negotiation process.