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Value of traditional "sales culture" for geeks?

I wanted to pose this question as an anecdotal survey and discussion.

How many of you folks (preferably those who are not W2 perm to someone) have embraced the standard "get out and meet people face to face" mantra for business development?  And has it actually made a bit of difference in your business?

By this I mean the following kinds of activities: Toastmaster's (for training in public speaking and presentation skills); service clubs (Rotary, et al); Chamber Of Commerce and business development groups; etc.

I posit that the people that recommend this kind of activity to folks like us don't understand the value that software adds and how truly difficult it is to convey the message of the value you add to others in the context of real time meetings. This is solitary intellectual work, not real estate or running a auto service station.

My area is pretty blue collar. Even finding college graduate business owners around my area is a chore. These people do not understand *anything* technological unless it's part of mainstream pop culture. I honestly don't expect to find enough comprehending local ears, based on a few forays I've made in this direction, to make *any* difference in my business.

Right now, the "Joel" model seems good. IE: write and self publish on the web and develop shareware or commercial products to showcase your talent. This is basically saying that I don't expect to find customers locally except as a by product of 'virtual' prospecting.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

I am in the group of non W-2.  I am basically a software developer/consultant.

I'm not sure if you're talking working on contract for software development houses, corporations that have in-house development, or if you are talking about selling custom software to a business.

I do mostly the last part.  I think that it is important to remember that you are selling value and not just software development services.  My services are typically targeted as business solutions and the way to get at that solution is using software development hence the name of my company is Solution Innovations.  I really enjoy the business-end of things (almost more or as much as software development).  By focusing on the solution, it helps the business not get tied up on the "technology" involved.  We can make decisions such as web-based or desktop-based depending on needs.  I very rarely mention the technology because it's almost irrelevant.  They just want a means to an end.

By saying business above, I'm mostly saying small-businesses and non-profits since that's where my concentration has been. 

Right now, I do not really use any of the methods that you stated.  I would like to get involved in the chamber of commerce but have not done so.  Most of my work has come through referrals. 

Jonathan A.
Thursday, January 16, 2003

These people do not understand *anything* technological unless it's part of mainstream pop culture

Are you doing ERP? I used to be an independent contractor/consultant but it was more like a short term hourly job. I always thought it would be a good idea to hire a comedian as a front man for your services.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

"I posit that the people that recommend this kind of activity to folks like us don't understand the value that software adds and how truly difficult it is to convey the message of the value you add to others in the context of real time meetings. This is solitary intellectual work, not real estate or running a auto service station."

I am probably reading this wrong.

But are you saying software development is some kind of mystic art that does all kinds of important things that are really too difficult to explain in simple words?

I am think you did not intend to say such a silly thing, but just to be sure:

Product development, as is software, is about nothing more and nothing less than solving real world problems for real world people.
Although finding and creating solutions for these problems can be very challenging, it is not the solution that you have to explain. The added value is in the problem that you solve, and if you can't explain the problem, how are you going to solve it?
And although you will need peace and quiet to work on some of those solutions, the work in general is not solitary, unless you do not care about either the problems your solving, or the people for whom you are solving these.

Exceptions are just that, exceptions.

Practical Geezer
Friday, January 17, 2003

I should add that I respond to the latter part of the paragraph.
I was not advocating rotary clubs or toastmasters, whatever they may be.
And I am not saying that every single worker on a project is working on problem definition and interaction with clients and users. But every single worker should be able to explain the product they're working on from a user's perspective. If they can't, it must be because no-one took the time to motivate them. And that will hurt your team somewhere down the line.

Practical Geezer
Friday, January 17, 2003

I agree.  Those groups probably aren't the best places to network for people who understand both the business and technical side of things.

In my opinion, the best place to go networking is the several technical trade shows (Comdex, NetWorld, etc.)  There's always several business savvy people there that also have a good grasp on the technical aspects.

The trick is to get initially get on the insiders circle with a few of them, and then get them to introduce you to their friends.  And then get those new friends to introduce you to their friends. 

Soon you'll have a pretty good network of people that interest you.  Of course, doing this will take quite a bit of time and energy to build the relationships up to the points where they'll feel comfortable introducing you to their colleagues.

I've also thought about trying Joel's model of writing a web log, but never could keep it up going long enough.  It was easier for me to just talk to people I knew to get referrals, more business, start things up, etc. 

I guess this method of just talking to people works better if the product/service one is selling is for large contracts/purchases that takes time to get and are infrequent.  If you're trying to sell a product/service which has a low cost and you're aiming more for volume then something like a weblog would probably help more than going around and talking to people.  Although talking to other businesses will help low cost/high volume products when it comes to forming business venture partnerships.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Customer friendly?  I've seen customer friendly..

I saw a small team from a big consultancy in action; they were examining our business processes or whatnot.  I was just the company's programmer leant to them to do any little stats they wanted by yesterday.

I remember reflecting over a beer about them, and the perfect balance of their skills.

The big guy partner was never seen, but he was spoken of in awe.  If you gave them a tough question, they'd say they'd ask him, and that kind of gave you a warm feeling of certainty.

The leader was extremely competent, although at the same time he had an agenda.

And the young bloke doing the writeup was a comedian and extremely social and really got into us like a weed in a lawn.

You ended up liking and helping them because of the nice guy, trusting them because of the big guy and signing for more investigation because of the cunning guy.  They took us for loads!

smiles now
Friday, January 17, 2003

You call that customer friendly?

I am glad I don't depend on your dictionary :-)

Seems there is a pattern though.

1. Joe does not like X.
2. Joe explains his bad experiences with Y.
3. Joe then concludes that X is not wirth it because of Y.

Usually Y is the opposite of X.
Some might be trying to pass of Y as X, but that does not make it so.
Neither does it therefore prove anything about X.

Practical Geezer
Friday, January 17, 2003

I have to ask:
what is "W2"?

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 17, 2003

"I have to ask:
what is "W2"? "

A W-2 is a tax form here in the United States.  It is a form that you receive each year from an employer stating things such as your earnings, how much you paid in taxes, etc.  It is also submitted to the Internal Renvenue Service.  It is how the IRS keeps up with employee earnings.  You have to include a copy of this form with your tax return each year.

Therefore, being a W-2 earner typically means that you are an employee of a company. 

Jonathan A.
Friday, January 17, 2003

"Toastmaster's (for training in public speaking and presentation skills)"

If this idea terrifies you, you should join. These skills are useful basic life skills. Especially if you have difficulty negotiating with your boss over pay, overtime, or feature requests.

"service clubs (Rotary, et al)"

These are primarily for service. They give you a social outlet entirely outside the politics of work and that is a valuable thing. Any business networking is totally incidental to the point. Don't join to network, just like you shouldn't volunteer at the homeless center in order to meet girls among the other volunteers. sure it's possible but if that's your motivation you're missing the whole point and politicizing something with a hidden agenda that devalues the entire endeavor.

Interacting with people outside your field makes you a better preson and indirectly improves your own work. Sometimes it even does so directly. Last year, I was invited to be a speaker at a Rotary meeting and talk about whatever it is I am really accomplishing with my software in 30 minutes. This led me to realize that I could not meaningfully demonstrate my software to someone outside my field in only 30 minutes. So during the last 6 months part of the updates I have done for the next version have addressed this issue. Now I am ready to demo for Rotary. The software is much better because it's advantages can be now be readily seen by anyone and not just the obvious usual suspucts (current customers). This is a serious advantage and serves to broaden the market.

"Chamber Of Commerce and business development groups"

Good for networking and good to say your consultancy is a member; lets your customers know you are not fly by night.

X. J. Scott
Friday, January 17, 2003

You have to determine whether you are interested in writing software for the local economy or the global economy.

Rotary, Toastmasters, Lions, etc. are primarily service clubs, as another has pointed out.  As such, they are social in nature.  However, traditionally people in these groups have tended to gravitate towards each other for the products and services their businesses needed.  If you run a garage, the barber in your group might come to you to get his car fixed, and you might go to him to have your hair cut.

If you're a computer hardware specialist you might garner lots of business from "cronies" in these organizations just because you belong.  You probably would not have gotten that business otherwise.  If you do one-off business management systems with a primarily local clientele, these organizations can be good for you, too.  I have friends who have used this very approach to build solid businesses, and they've made some lasting friends in the process.

If you're a software developer working on a vertical market app, or doing web development for a firm, etc. etc., then this approach may not get you any business, because your customer base is not the florist in the club, it's medical/dental offices all around the country.  You can't reach your client base by going to a Rotary lunch once a week.

Karl Perry
Friday, January 17, 2003

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