(The first in a series of "Unlearning the FUD" posts... kudos to James Governor of Redmonk for the blog subtitle idea)



I've used the phrase “Sales Cycle
Theatre” a few times in recent months. Most often I am immediately
forced to follow it up with a “but you can't steal it until I blog
about it” after I see the big grin and hear a mischievous laugh
when explaining the analogy.


Yes, I owe apologies
to Bruce Schneier
,
coine
r of the phrase “Security
Theatre
”, but I've come to recognize a similar pattern. The
scripted drama we've all agreed to perform when traveling by airplane
gives most people a sense of familiar, officialized, and codified
security. No one likes it, it steals our time, but it's been accepted
as a necessary burden.


The procurement cycle for software
licenses from many enterprise vendors has this same feel. No one
likes it. It steals our time. But it's been accepted as a necessary
burden. There's a ritual that most IT managers, enterprise
architects, purchasing officers, even the sales people themselves
have come to expect – and often simply accept the role they've been
asked to play. Vendor after vendor, the script is the same.


Act 1


The Courtship


Regardless who initiates contact,
there's lots of playing hard to get at this stage. It's not cool to
be too keen to early. The buyer doesn't want to give off signals that
they're too eager after the first demo. Never mind the product meets
functional or technical requirements... never mind it looks like your
end users would like it... play it cool. Don't pick up the phone on
the first ring...wait a day before returning an email, and drop hints
via the grapevine that there might be others you're looking at too.
Great way to build the upper hand.


Act 2


In Which Boy Loses Girl


Inevitably, either buyer or seller has
to make a bold move to break the impasse. A discussion about
purpose, intent, timelines. Where's this relationship going? I'm
ready to make a commitment, I thought you were too. What's the
budget, who's on the short list, who else needs to give the green
light? Should I ask for the deal on one knee? A special discount that
is ONLY for you, because I really want to make this work. Sure my
in-house legal counsel can review an amendment to the terms and
conditions contract. Because I see a future together. This is just
the beginning for us. Ultimately, someone has to drop their pants to
take it to the next level. Typically the week before fiscal quarter
end.


Act 3


Married With Children


The license deal is done. The customer
is covered and ready to start prototyping or piloting. Well...within
the constraints of the number of seats. Or servers. Or CPUs. Or
license restricted use-cases. Commissions are paid, serial numbers
are issued, bug reporting IDs are assigned. The real work for the
client happens after money changes hands. At last the product can be
deployed. But then a year later, and another year after that? With
every anniversary year an invoice for 20-25% of the LIST price... not
the drop-your-pants price ...shows up in the mail. Even if the
project is incomplete. Or under used. Or never quite did everything
it promised. But the bills are paid, hoping things will get better.
Because we made a commitment. To make this thing work. You never
take the garbage out any more. You're letting yourself slide. What
happened to that product I thought was the most handsome thing in the
market? Would it hurt you to innovate every once in a while, take off
a few pounds, update the UI? Make me remember why I fell for you back
in the day. But the vendor is eating bon-bons, lying on the couch
watching the stock ticker. Knowing you can't leave them now. You're
locked in. Ring is on the finger and you have responsibilities to
your users. All your document is mine. Yeah, you try to go looking
for something else. Do you really think there's something better out
there?


If this drama sounds familiar, you
might own a product from a legacy proprietary vendor. Not all ECM
stories have to end this way.


What if in those early days you didn't
need the middle man to churn up the red tape between buyers and
sellers and legal teams? What if you could just go get the software
when you were ready for it. What if you could do early stage
requirements research at your own pace? What if you made the
financial commitment for support and maintenance after you knew the
product was a good fit... instead of before.


The concept of 'security theatre'
struck a nerve with the traveling public because it brought out into
the open an unspoken but nagging fear many of us had. That the hoops
and loops and endless machinations actually do very little to keep us
safe. Take off the shoes. Throw away the bottled water. Turn on your
laptop. Turn off your cell phone. We obey because we need to get from
point A to point B and don't know how else to do it.


Sales cycle theatre, unlike its
security cousin, can end. Open source helps bring down the curtain.
The power to engage with technology is in the hands of the users who
need it, at their pace, in line with your specific requirements. The
content management platform you need to run your knowledge-economy
enterprise is not hidden behind the velvet rope of a vendor who seeks
to benefit long before you do. Time to call a charade a charade and
get to work.