Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Purple Squirrel's Performance Anxiety

Sales meetings come in many forms - educational overviews, service level negotiations, real estate tours. For those of us in technology sales, "Proof of Concept" meeting brings the sort of peril that can take three seasoned professionals and strip them of all their confidence.

Government agencies, unlike private industry, need to justify each step of a purchase process, documenting the many ways that their requirements, which often strain reality require a 50% discount for the pleasure of doing business with them.

Back in the early 00's, Sasser, "Steve," and I presented to the agency developing the project scope and specification for a website spanning all Federal agencies, and bringing information resources together in one spot. The agency compiled a panel of two outside consultants and internal technology specialists to compare and evaluate the companies bidding for the work.

Our instructions were to arrive at the appointed date and time with a virgin laptop (If you knew our company, there was no such thing. "bada bing, I'll be here all week, don't forget to tip your waitress") and await further instructions.

Upon arrival, we had a schedule timed to the minute, with sections charmingly titled -

"install software"
"receive materials"
"build site from scratch"

During the break, the three of us happened to be using the men's room at the same time, and luckily, all had brought all of our bags, jackets, whatever.

"Whaddya think? They're all inside, we could leave now, and just pretend the whole thing never happened."

"That's an option - they don't know our hotels?"

"You leave anything behind in there?"

"No, we're good - let's jet."

Of course, being wusses, we didn't.

Point being, even given a structured evaluation process and intelligent people running that process, the temptation to ask a company to create a Purple Squirrel out of thin air, on a moment's notice, keeps smart people and good products from getting to the market.

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