Saturday, December 6, 2008
Putting Socks on an Octopus
For the last three days, I've been out of town, immersed in the high tech corporate environment. The purpose of this trip was to bring the sales team together, discuss our achievements for the year, our goals for finishing out the year and our challenges for generating revenue next year. We also had a training session with a paid consultant and our CEO on a strengths-based performance management system to maximize the effectiveness of our skills ecosystem, and of course we had several social events. The sales team was together for literally every waking hour.
One of the most difficult aspects of this intense contact with my colleagues and with the corporate leadership is that it involves a constant barrage of some of the most obscene mangling of the English language -- an assault to the ears and brain with some of the most ridiculous corporate jargon imaginable.
Some of our newer AEs wanted to discuss the challenges of presenting our value proposition to prospects. Fortunately for them, we have started to emerge from our period of evangelizing to the leads and we've managed to gain some traction in our market sector. Sure, we've got the sausage, but where's the sizzle? Since we are partially an IT security product, use of the FUD factor is always effective, but clients also need reassurance that the product is future-proofed and more conservative customers want assurance that we've got referenceability and we've been vetted in the industry because they don't want to be on the bleeding edge of technology purchases. They need to know they're not pushing the envelope and we need to incentivize them to understand that this isn't a back-of-the-envelope science experiment, that we have reached critical mass in our market penetration and they won't just be kicking dead whales down the beach with a product that has jumped the shark or a company that is circling the drain. Yes, we need them to be confident that our solution has been baked-in and that even within our own environment, we do, indeed eat our own dogfood despite some unexpected cleverly disguised features (bugs) in our firmware and the subsequent turd-polishing that's necessary.
It's frustrating. The sales cycle is long and to most of the new guys, moving the client forward is a pig in a python. But the future looks good and we've got a couple of promising two comma deals in the pipeline.
Much of the future depends on our lighting up the channels. This is a tricky proposition and initially, it's a loss leader because to effectively do this, the VARs need to have deep-pockets and they need to be assured that they won't constantly be crossing sabers with us or with other VARs. Some people thought in the early days that we ought to just stick to our knitting. Some VARs are actively OEM'ing us, and some don't have the bandwidth to dedicate those kind of resources and human capital, but we do want to synergize with them, match jerseys, foster coopertition and jockey for position with other solution providers to show them that in a green-field environment, we are a differentiator and that with a little hand-holding and mindshare, we can help them get beyond the gatekeepers who are drinking the Kool-Aid from other vendors and we can help them to be change agents. Sure, we may be swimming between the islands without ever touching the beach and without a doubt, doing the Kabuki dance with some of these major players is like nailing jelly to the hothouse wall, but net-net is that we have to recontextualize ourselves.
Yes, it's tough and the new guys often felt like they were drinking from the firehose. It takes time to become a SME and it takes time to be able to develop the leave-behinds that will resonate and communicate the special sauce. We are a small company, we have a lot on our plates, we're getting lots of pushback, we don't have the cycles to spend on all of the things we'd like to do and there is no silver bullet or killer app that will guarantee closure. The developers are battling feature creep from the imagineers and often feel like they've been handed a bag of snakes to wrangle. When we had to downsize in 2005 and cut out some business units, nobody was happy about having to shoot the puppy. But we're heavy into transitioning and there will be a lot of triangulating with other departments and outside stakeholders in order to see revenues trending northward next year.
The social events may have been even more painful than the business discussions. The stress puppies come out of the woodwork and the competitive nature of sales people fosters a lot of testiculating. With C-Level employees in attendance, some of my colleagues took the opportunity to use the face time to try and advance their standing through assmosis, feeding ear candy to each executive as fast as they could spew it out. Noodling with the bean counters and with the visionaries may or may not provide the new guy with the juice to advance his agenda.
My head is swimming. I need to steam clean my cerebellum and there's no better way to do that than to jump back into working on the structure of my novel in progress, although doing that is a lot like putting socks on an octopus.
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It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.