Prototyping? We invented it. Except we didn't know that was what we were doing. Talk about iterative modelling. We were back and forward to the customer every second day.
But it worked. Our software reflected the needs of our customers in a way that none of your big software company stuff ever does. No fancy systems manager telling the customers how it should work; just the customers telling us how it should follow the way they worked. We developed some good systems. It was fun.
Except it started not to be fun. With up to a dozen people employed, we had to sell the product. At least, I had to try and sell it. The sort of brilliant geeks who worked for me hated leaving their monitors. I was all they had. In any case, I was the most dispensable. Trouble was that I had never sold squat in my life.
I usually took Graham with me in case they had a systems guy on their side. One day we got a call to go up North to do a sales pitch. For some reason most of our customers were always on the other side of the country. Each sales visit cost us $2000 dollars a time. Not clever when you grossly under price your product because you don't know how to sell it.
So Graham and I went North. It seemed like a great potential customer. I had just come off the back of a visit to Manchester that was a complete downer. I had pitched to a manager who had assembled eight of his people into a nice little lecture room. I gave them my best shot. At the end, after two hours of questions, the response came "Thank you. That was one of the best monthly seminars we have had for a long time. We like your software as well. We just wish we had the budget for it in the next year."
As my company was making no money, the $2000 spent on the visit came straight out of my pocket.
Now look, I don't want you sniggering at me. I know that you yanks are the best sales people in the world. I don't joke. You are. The Brits can sell a bit too, so don't take my performance as indicative. I was just a human resources guy who was one of the best industrial relations negotiators of his time. I was just a dumb salesman, that's all
So we went into this customer and he was a nice fellow and gave us a cup of tea and we chatted away and then he invited me to explain my software and how it could help him. By this time, I felt a bit churlish about doing so. After all, he was a nice guy and it was a pity to spoil our blossoming friendship by asking him to buy something.
Still I was excited. He had shown me his current system and ours was exactly the advanced application that he needed. I had a field day telling him all that it could do. Way beyond the capability of the machine code, steam driven thing on his network.
He was nice at the end as well. He was definitely going to discuss it with his people.
In other words I had bombed. I had screwed the whole thing up and I knew it and I admitted this to Graham in the car. I pulled the "How to be Successful in Sales" paperback book out of my pocket. "Look at chapter seven, the sales review section, and tell me what I did wrong". I asked him.
I set off down the motorway for the long drive home as he read to himself what the book said. When we stopped at a motorway café, he told me his conclusion. "According to this", he said "you told him what was wrong with his current system and what was so great about ours, but you never asked him what problems he wanted to solve. It was only luck if you hit any of the issues that were critical to him."
I didn't fire Graham for telling me that, George W, I just felt an idiot and told him so. We never did as badly again.
If you have got this far, you may be wondering how the title relates to all this? Probably not much, but then another kindly email last night reminded me that I don't do diary titles very well either.
But you see, I worry about the dialogue going on here and other boards. They are so damn depressing. Everything is going wrong and everything is going to get much worse. The only relief is when someone on the other side says or does something so outrageous that even our sleeping media wake up for a minute.
Just look at our diaries for the last few days and pass the Glenfidditch or the Southern Comfort. It doesn't matter which, it's not the taste that I'm after.
Our blogs are choked with negativity. Our most recommended diaries are those which seem to feed our misery the greatest.
Yet at some stage the concerns of members of the Democratic Party had better stop looking at the doomsayers and start taking a positive and progressive view of what is and how it can be made better, rather than the awfulness of what could be.
No solution to avoid a downturn in the economy or prevent a future crisis in oil or to make right what has been done in Iraq is going to emerge by 2006. Accept the fact and work within the current boundaries of the possible.
These 2006 elections really are not that far away. The transition from appearing to be just a party of opposition into a party of government must be made, and made now.
It is not that the concerns aren't right nor that they don't need urgent addressing. It is just that there are a few short months left until 2006.
You stuffed the world with the result of your 04 election, we Brits are going to stuff it next by voting Blair back into power in 05. Please, please don't let it happen again in 06! We have to change mode.
So what was the point of the introduction showing what a stupid, dumb idiot I am? It was a bit of honesty that allows you a laugh at my expense in order to persuade you not to go down the same path.
You see, when we start talking of becoming positive, what do we say? We talk of defining our values, of framing issues in a way that we can address them. We are writing diary after diary about what is wrong with their product.
Oh, sure. You know better than any Republican the misery of just getting by, of facing unemployment, or coping with the cost from the sudden sickness of a child. You know because you care and, if you haven't suffered these things yourself, you are more empathetic than others to those who are facing these difficulties.
Yet these aren't the votes you are trying to turn your way. It's those on the margins of the right that you want to get. The tiny number, the 1.8% that you spend millions of dollars to try and reach with your advertisements. These are the ones. The voters who heard something in what the religious right said that resonated with them, the ones that still think the social security plan of George Bush makes some sense and the ones who don't go to church but somehow feel that all this talk of proper values has some meaning for them.
Heck, most of you have better degrees than me so I don't have to spell it out for you. You are currently presenting to the customer at best the great bells and whistles of your product. You are not talking about what you can do to solve the issues and concerns that are really concerning them.
Why did some of these voters that once voted for you, vote for George Bush? Well, start asking them what they are looking for that the Bush product seemed to offer them, not turn them off by enquiring why they supported dumb policies.
Let me have a couple of guesses, although from here I can't possibly know enough to get the right ones. Aren't you the slightest bit concerned about the youth crime and kids carrying guns to school and seeming to have lost respect for everything? The right wing religious nuts addressed it. Addressed it stupidly, but at least they addressed a concern that these voters had. Aren't you a little bit concerned that companies are running out of the ability to fund their pension schemes and benefits are going to suffer? Well George Bush addressed, stupidly but he addressed it. Aren't you a little bit concerned about homeland security? Well.... you know the rest.
If you think I am suggesting meeting these people half way toward Republican policies, I'm not. I just want you stop spending your time telling your customer what is wrong with the product he or she has now. I want you to stop telling your customer how great your values are and how wonderful for them your product would be.
I just want to see diary after diary investigating not Gannon/Guckert but what the concerns and issues are for this 1.8% marginal swing voter. You can't laugh at them, deride them or otherwise be snide about them. They are real people with real concerns who somehow allied themselves to the right rather than to you.
Forget the fact that you would never hire a PR firm to promote your message in the media because of your Democratic ethics and consider which of these values of yours creates a policy that can address these individual anxieties of theirs. Then you can play the Dog Whistle Politics that the brilliant Aussie invented like you were a master of the instrument. Without having to flex one damn knee towards the Republican agenda.
Then we will see positive diaries, diaries full of bright ideas and solutions. I can stop drinking and need not flee to Cheers and Jeers for light relief from the interminable gloom.
The bordellos? I lied about going there. My mum told me never to go into one.