As we continue to communicate virtually resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, I have participated in several product demonstrations around requirements for technical solutions helping the acquisition workforce conduct market research using emerging technologies.
Two of the product demonstrations were in such contrast I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss them.
These product demonstrations were a result of initial meetings with executives. These initial meetings centered around issues helping customers not only conduct market research, but to also find technical solutions to help automate some of the market research processes being conducted for procurements.
Therefore, the demos were follow-up meetings to demonstrate solutions that vendors were marketing as a possible solution to automate market research for a requirement. In essence, it was market research being conducted on the problem; market research.
The first vendor took the information from the first meeting, and customized their product demonstration information not around so much slides, which they had, but more around using their tool, how it works, and how it would meet our needs based again on this initial discussion with the executives. A good example of “Show me, don’t tell me.”
The second vendor used this follow up meeting as an opportunity to not discuss how their solution was able to solve our problems. They instead chose to just focus on their technology and their marketing slide deck. We were all left to figure out how this technology would meet our needs.
The feedback that we received from the executives on both product demonstrations was predictable.
I discussed the situation with a group of colleagues that were composed of both government and industry, and the industry business development managers had some really interesting feedback that I wanted to share and also about how best to conduct these product demonstrations.
Not surprisingly, and what I have written on more than one occasion (here and here), is to make sure that your business development efforts are focused on how your product or service, and in this case your technology, actually meets the needs of the customer. If your role in industry is business development in the federal sector, this is not news. Of course, you need to focus your efforts on how your firm’s solution solves my problem. However, I continue to be amazed at how often this self-evident rule seems to be executed very inconsistently.
Why is that?
Well one item that was of surprise was the way how federal business development personnel are trained. One colleague shared that the training for business development personnel is very similar to how our acquisition workforce is trained, in that there’s more of a focus on compliance then there is to the critical thinking.
I understand this, and this makes sense. You need to have business development personnel talk about the brand, talk about the product, and have a consistent message across the federal sector. However, when does the customization of this message pivot towards solving the specific customer’s problem?
The answer is sometimes it does not. The second product demonstration was, in effect, a waste of everyone’s time. It was just reading off a slide deck and talking specifically about a technology. Not about my problem, not about how their technology solves it, and why I want to do business with them.
Needless to say, it was disappointing, and surprising, as this was not a non-traditional company or a firm with little experience in this sector. Rather, it was a very large, reputable company in the federal sector.
From my perspective it was a wasted opportunity by this company. I was looking forward to a dialogue. I was looking forward to how the technology could be customized to my problem, the types of benefits that it had and to be able to have a good dialogue of back and forth about possibly customization options. Of course these questions were asked, but it had to be forced.
I wanted to discuss requirements, business practices, their current customers and how they are helping their current federal agencies customer solve similar problems. Do they have current contracts of this solution currently on the market? How can I buy the solution?
That conversation never took place.
How do we improve this dialogue such that we have a productive conversation during product demonstrations?
Is it a matter of just not knowing what the requirement is? Are we not explaining what our needs are properly?
Given that we will be virtual for some time given the current COVID-19 pandemic, how can we improve this process so we have more productive an engaging dialogue?