Vast majority of people working on software products contact their customers directly or indirectly. Yes, software developers included. Each time we do it we play a role of salespeople. Of course customers don’t see us making product presentations or negotiating prices. What do they see then?
In my case answer is pretty easy since my attitude was commented several times in the past by my colleagues. I’m too honest and too straightforward. It’s definitely a mixed blessing if that’s a blessing at all.
Talking about business is expected to be like old-school negotiations. Two parties sitting on two ends of the table trying to squeeze others as much as possible using all tricks they know. I hate it. I dream about this kind of discussion:
– We can do it in 4 months. Here’s proposed schedule.
– Are you sure phase 2 has to take so long?
– Yes, since we have to develop integration module for external system. It could be probably a bit shorter if we had experts of that system available but we’ve worked with these guys before and there are always problems with them. If they won’t be an issue this time we should be able to deliver 2 weeks earlier but I wouldn’t bet.
– OK. Another issue is the price. We won’t pay more than $100000. That’s our approved budget.
– Let me think… We’d need to cut some functionality out of scope to make it a win-win. How about messaging module and these complex reports?
– Um… we can let reports go but messaging module must stay. Deal?
Yes, I know, I am dreaming. Anyway I often try to bring this kind of approach to the table. Too often. You shouldn’t be surprised if you’re a customer and I ask you: “We plan to develop this product for you, does it makes any sense for you or is that just a brain dead idea?” I may also state: “This function would make both your and our lives easier, although I don’t believe they’d allow me to do it for free. Would you find some budget for the feature? I promise the price will be good.”
On the side note, if you ever worked as a salesperson with me I know, you already hate me. I guess I must live with that.
This approach may weaken negotiating position of my party. Sometimes it is considered as pretty harsh by customers since you occasionally don’t wrap up the truth with nice marketing blah-blah (“No, we won’t build and deploy complex telecommunication solution in a month”). That isn’t playing by the rules and from time to time people find it hard to deal with it at the beginning.
However the thing I found out is that when a relation with the customer is already built they start to appreciate this attitude. Having an honest source of information on the other side is quite a valuable thing. Even when the guy is sometimes too honest and too straightforward.
It doesn’t mean I’m totally happy with it. It definitely would be better if there were no scary ‘too’ word in the label they stick to my back.
What kind of person are you? What do your customer see when they talk with you?