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Head over Heart

I was asked by a consultant from one of the major analysts whether a consultancy should have excellent sales capability and average delivery or average sales and excellent delivery. Many consultancies follow the advice of this analyst and strive for excellent sales capability at the expense of delivery...

Some years ago, I was evaluating a number of suppliers to deliver a $100M dollar transformation program. As part of the evaluation, we asked the candidate suppliers to make recommendations on the ERP modules that we would require to meet our business needs.

Unknown to the suppliers, we had pretty much already decided on the footprint but were open to change. Our process had included defining the new business operating model, training the architecture team, working with the ERP supplier to define the solution, and using independent third parties to review the solution.

Each delivery supplier was asked to present their recommendations to us. They were also asked to provide additional details where we had options or concerns in our solution.

Prior to the presentations, my team had read the supplier proposals in detail and had picked out the wooly thinking, weak arguments, poor clarity, and inconsistencies and had questions to get resolutions in these areas. The suppliers were instructed that their teams must be able to answer questions in all the key areas that we had notified them on.

The different suppliers produced broadly two types of team. Some consultancies produced teams of "sales" consultants who were very slick, well presented, had good graphics, delivered high impact presentations with a simple clear storyline. They took questions at the end. We also had presentations from other consultancies that were less well structured, presentational skills were weaker, and the suits were just that little bit less sharp. They allowed questions during the presentation. These presentations were from the people who would deliver the solution - the people we would work with.

The "sales" consultants despite their presentational skills were a singular failure. They lacked credibility with me and my team. We would not be working with them and we would not want to work with them. They were too slick, too "professional", they were not "people like us", they were alien. Worst of all, under questioning, they fell apart because they were sales consultants with weak delivery experience. They gave dishonest answers that toed the company line rather than genuine professional and balanced answers based on experience. We were being sold to.

The other consultants performed much better. Because they allowed questions as we went along, we were able to engage in a closer way. The storyline evolved to some extent and was shared, we were given a small taste of working together. The consultants were more adaptable and demonstrated their delivery experience which gave us confidence. We were collaborating.

It was interesting to observe the reaction of some of my senior management colleagues - confusion. They had been sold to and liked the pitch from the sales consultants but had seen what had been exposed was a lack of delivery experience. Should they go with the track record of the major name with slick PowerPoint or with clearly demonstrated delivery experience?

This is classic heart vs head decision driven by the different approaches of the consultancies. What was clear in the subsequent debate is that as a client we wanted delivery excellence not sales excellence and the head won out over the heart. But it was a close run thing.

The only reason that rational decision making prevailed was due to intensive and detailed preparation by the architecture team followed by assertive reasoning. If we hadn't done this then we and the business that paid us would have been lumbered with picking up the pieces of a poor solution delivered poorly.

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Reader Comments (1)

This echos some simple but powerful advice a sales person once gave me, "Deliver while you sell, sell while you deliver." The separating these inseparable functions, sales and delivery, causes untold misery for both customers and vendors.

November 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLouis F. Springer

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