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Management Software business

Follow the paper trail

Everyone has heard the phrase “follow the money”. There’s a reason for this – it leaves a trail to the truth. Similarly, business processes reveal themselves and who is involved when you follow the paper.

Yep, I’m referring to software estimates. Software people are generally terrible at creating estimates. Or at least, creating accurate estimates.
Software people know this, of course. You’ll hear “double or triple it and add four” as a joke. Except it’s not a joke when you’re paying the bill.

Do you have a process?

Software people need a process for creating estimates – but most don’t have one. Typical result: Estimates that are often inaccurate.

“Do you have a consistent process for creating estimates?” is a good question to ask someone you’re considering for such work.

Estimates created using a consistent process may still be wrong. A process lends a consistency to them. Over time, an attentive team will notice the consistent inaccuracy and work to fix it.

When we don’t have a process for coming up with an estimate, our estimates will lack consistency. A consistent process should create consistent estimates, even if they’re inaccurate. That consistency allows us to learn over time how to adjust them to make them more realistic.

Customers “lie”

Bad estimates have other roots.

I say “lie” because you hear this from software people, but that isn’t what they mean. They mean that what customers tell them isn’t what they need, but the customer doesn’t know that.

Customers unwilling to provide a detailed description of the problem cause bad estimates. Being unable to describe what you need produces the same result.

The right software people can make this process easy. Those who do this make it clear they understand the importance of this part of the process.

Signs of trouble

A bad process sends signals. Someone makes assumptions. Things get glossed over or ignored with comments like “Oh, don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it later.” There’s a resistance to digging into the details.

Would you hire a drill press operator who says “Oh, I know where the holes belong”?

Would you hire a loan officer who says “I can tell who pays their bills by looking at them”?

I doubt it.

If they won’t take the time to immerse themselves, they won’t understand the work you do. They won’t know what questions to ask. They won’t “find out where the bodies are buried.” (ie: essential knowledge)

A bad process results in more work after project completion.

We’re not talking about good ideas discovered. I mean the original work isn’t what you needed.

If I’m McDonald’s software guy and all I know is that they sell burgers, what I create will have gaps.

What’s a good process look like?

I like to follow the paper, or in today’s world, the paper’s surrogate.

When the phone rings, a piece of paper appears.

When a customer walks in the door, a piece of paper appears.

When you get a lead or a sale online, more paper appears.

Of course, there might not be an actual piece of paper, but there will be something. It might be a new record in your CRM. An email. A text message. An order on your system that needs pick and pack. A PO appears.

Something provokes the next action you and your staff take – and it leaves a trail.

Do they follow the paper trail?

Your software people should be asking about these things. They should be following the paper trail – at least those pertinent to the project. They should be asking about things tangential to the assets and processes involved.

Everything touches something else – including things we may not consider important.

Describing the reality of your business workflow requires following the trail. In businesses with no paper, something leaves a trail.

Following it will help you explain the roles your new software must fill. It will show the gaps that software must bridge. It will tell the software people things you don’t know to tell them.

Whose responsibility is this?

It’s yours. And sure, to some extent, it’s theirs.

If their actions don’t make it clear they’re the right team, you have to be strong enough to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is the wrong people on the bus.

Photo by Richard Burlton on Unsplash

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Does your staff *really* know enough to sell your product, even to early adopters?

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/TrainingYourSalesStaff.mp3]

iPod Touch Unlock
Creative Commons License photo credit: DeclanTM

Yesterday, I was in a box store (cuz no one here in Columbia Falls carries the items I needed) and sauntered by an iPod Touch on a whim.

We’ve talked a few times about the productivity that some custom iPhone applications would have for your business. You might not know that there are no Montana cell carriers that can offer the iPhone (yet), so the iPod Touch is a reasonable alternative if cell-driven applications aren’t important to you. 

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t entirely a whim:)

As you might expect, a salesperson walked up to me and asked if I had any questions. Trouble was, I actually did:)

I suspect that I’m not your typical user of tools like this and I don’t think he was prepared for my not-too-mainstream questions. 

I asked about syncing the iPod Touch’s contacts and calendars list with my Outlook. He wasn’t sure if that worked or not, but he thought it might. 

As you might imagine, I don’t spend $300 on “I think it might”. 

Next, I asked if it does do syncing with Outlook, does it require iTunes to make that sync happen.  He wasn’t sure. 

Note: I’ve since found out that both of those questions are true. It does sync to Outlook and it does use iTunes to make that happen.

Are you ready to service the early adopters?

The problem: If you’ve read Freakonomics or Crossing the Chasm (written for software companies, but applicable to all businesses IMO), you know that the early adopter types are instrumental in exposing new products like iPhones and iPods (and new services) to a much larger group of potential customers. 

If your staff isn’t prepared to deal with the not-always-mainstream questions that these early adopters have, it’s likely that they will lose the sale. 

These days, many people walk into the store with model numbers, prices and specs in their phone or on a note. They know what their choices are. Reviews and every other possible piece of info is available to them BEFORE they arrive at the store. 

What this means is that when the prospective buyer enters the store, it’s less about selling them the item and far more about helping them choose *which* item fits them best. 

You don’t know what you’re missing

The scary thing is that you’ll never know about the customers you lost because a question like this didn’t get answered.

All it takes to make this a really expensive problem for you is something like this:

One owner of a business (or the owner’s tech guru) walks into your store and asks the same type of questions (and perhaps more). You have no idea that their business has 100 salespeople and technicians in the field. You have no idea that they want to find out if the iPod Touch would work for their remote staff as a custom business application they’ve discussed for deployment on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Depending on which model they were going to buy, that’s a $30,000 or $40,000 sale. 

This sort of thing happens far more often than you’d expect. 

Training your sales staff is expensive, but not training them is even more costly. Even if two or three of your staff are “ultra-trained” and can be the resource for the remaining staff, that would be an improvement.