Ghost of Software Salesguys Past

We are greatly influenced by our experiences.  As a child, the hand reaches out to a hot stove only once.

The last couple posts have talked about legacy issues; legacy IT systems, legacy education.  Today I’d like to talk about another actor in the Legacy IT Show, the classic software salesman (circa. 2004).

This guy may or may not be selling software, but does the song and dance sound familiar? I’ve sat on both sides of the table. Listening to salesguys pitch software to me as a purchaser, and doing the accounting & finance work in a company selling enterprise software.  Software, as an industry, is still an infant relative to most other industries; and with youth, comes growing pains.  Here’s the story on both sides.

Listening to pitches, sitting through demos, taking notes only to be asked by a Director, “what would it cost if we just built our own?” was crushing.  Or, hearing about how easy a rollout will be (“it’s like lego”) and then, months later, hearing about how it won’t do all that stuff we thought it would do.  Did we send out that cheque yet?

On the sell-side, working with salesmen who could barely operate a computer or use excel well enough to complete an expense report.  There was one colleague who seemed to continually be calling me from the middle of a war zone, god bless ‘em.  The path to hell is paved with good intentions, indeed.

Over the years, I think we were selling more than software. We were selling a dream. And the dream was that somehow this product would magically work and fix all reporting and organizational problems. Presto!

Inevitably, due either to the vagaries of the software development cycle or to a salesguys overly optimistic nature, enterprise software was erroneously peddled as a solution to all life’s problems and the answer to all our prayers.  Coding is an art and the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) didn’t work in a Web 1.0 kind of world.  It’s easy to forget this was all being pulled out of the air, out of imagination.  We can probably lay a bit of blame on the buyer’s side; I mean, we fell fer it!

Vapourware is the term used to describe selling software that’s still in development although, you could say the same for a solution not fit for the intended purpose.  Which gets us back to our salesguy, our classic software salesman.

A lack of technical expertise, in large part, meant they were simply oblivious to whether it would work or not.  The incentive structure certainly didn’t encourage it.  Once the papers were signed, they’re gone (in some respects that’s as it should be, most of these companies were hemorrhaging cash).  So, it’s a tough rap.  You can’t fault the guys.  There was a level of belief there; they wanted to believe the product would work.  They wanted to believe they could be the next Microsoft.  They wanted to believe their stock options would be worth something.  But they could only believe it because they didn’t know how the product worked.  You follow?

It’s just average guys trying to scratch out a living.  That Beamer doesn’t pay for itself!  If you’re willing to pay for it, we’re willing to do it!

We carry these experiences and memories with us.  Failed implementations.  The project that wouldn’t end.  Lack of adoption.  The work-arounds.  The broken promises, heartbreak, loathing.  It’s all still there lying dormant.  Fool me once and that.

Looking at Saas, Cloud BI, open APIs, etc, the question now is… can we let go of this baggage and start to trust that the dream is no longer so distant from reality in the software space?  Are we really in an era where systems can talk to each other?  Can share information?  Can snap together like lego?  Or, is it just Vapourware 2.0?

What do you think?  Yes? No? Let’s hear it.

Post Script. After finishing this post, I went to hear Julian Smith (co-author of Trust Agents) speak and he used the “hot burner” analogy. I’m going to go ahead and call that external validation.

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Filed under: Accounting, Business Intelligence, Industry Insights, SAAS, Software, software as a service, Technology ,

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