Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sent from mobile phone. Please excuse any typos.

No, I won’t.  No excuses.

We are highly paid professionals.  We are the ones the decision makers trust.  We are the front-line representatives of multimillion dollar organizations, asking our customers to invest with us.

Our communications must be clear and void of careless mistakes.

Instead of making preemptive excuses or bragging that you can send email from your iPad, include your contact information in your signature line, so your customers can effortlessly reach out to you.

That’s what it’s for.

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Have you seen the documentary Helvetica? It starts as a history of the font, then turns into a thought provoking discussion on graphic design.

Graphic design matters- it is the aesthetic.

  • It sets the tone
  • It turns utility into usability
  • It is fashion sense

Look around.  When you’re aware of good and bad graphic design you’ll notice:

  • The way people dress
  • Magazine layouts
  • Signs on local businesses

Can you see graphic design (or lack of it) now?

Turn your attention to our domain, enterprise software. Graphic design seems an afterthought, limited to trim-work. Look at the solutions you present.* They are:

  • online forms
  • with rows and columns of fields, justified left and right
  • and a “Save”  button with cryptic messages about what we did wrong

An opportunity?

Enterprise applications are going mobile.  Decent graphic design is built into platforms (It’s pretty hard to screw up an iPad user interface).

In a world of free creative tools, anyone can take a picture, anyone can record an album, anyone can self-publish a book. In the hands of graphic design professionals, working alongside architectural and process designers, enterprise software can be inherently appealing and useful. Even beautiful.

Our audiences are sensitive to the aesthetic.  It means usability, which means adoption which means return on investment which means value.  Decision makers will choose the more pleasing option over the more functional if they can see themselves using the pleasing option.

Heck, look at the presentations of your solutions. We torture our audiences with PowerPoints of mind-numbing length and detail when we should be conveying a story, an emotion, an insight, a difference.

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Consider the comfort of your passengers

When I was first learning to drive, my mother advised me to consider the comfort of my passengers as I sped up, slowed down, and took the corners.

The same applies to presentations and software demonstrations:

  • “Can everyone hear me okay?”
  • If online, “I want to make sure I’m sharing my computer full screen.”
  • Set your screen resolutions low, to 1024×768.  It seems odd to go low resolution in a world of 24 inch monitors and hi-definition projectors, but your software has to look big, bold, and simple.  Showing all fifty fields doesn’t gain you any credibility.
  • Pay special attention to your mouse, moving it slowly and with purpose.  Drag it in a straight line,  very slowly circling key areas you want to highlight.  Let your pointer sit if it has nothing to do.  Don’t talk with your mouse the same way you talk with your hands.  No shakes, no jumps, no bruises.

No-one should spill their coffee when you’re behind the wheel.  They’re out for a scenic drive, so be their chauffeur through your solutions.

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Some Notes on a Fresh Outlook

I was once a Product Manager and dealt with 150-200 actionable emails a day.  In the Pre-Sales role the volume tends to be lower and much of it is essentially instant messaging. The challenge of handling, organizing, and cleaning up the mailbox remains.

As a Product Manger, I would do email in batches.  I’d stay off the email server for half the business day, then dedicate an hour to downloading and manually processing messages into folders for Today, Tomorrow, and Next Week.  Then I’d tackle the Todays and Tomorrows as a priority.  Next Week was a black hole where emails went to wander, lonely and forgotten.  I figured if it was important, people would ping me again.  They usually did.

In my Pre-Sales role, the trick is keeping the number of folders simple and taking advantage of the email folder’s search box.

I have offline folders for Opportunity, Product, Corporate and another for Travel.*

 Anything Opportunity related- sales team notifications, strategy emails, messages from the customer, documents, etc. get stuffed there.  I can find anything I want with a keyword search using names of people involved, the customer name, or something unique about the situation, e.g. “Smith, Marketing, MegaBigCo” and voila, it’s one of the resulting items that has been filtered out.

 Product gets any interesting Product Management announcements, hints and tips, customer reference stories, presentations, answers to technical questions shared by the Pre-Sales community.  Again, finding content is judicious keyword searching.

 Corporate gets the occasional organizational announcements and anything else that looks like business news.

Travel is an online folder to hold all my travel reservations and receipts, and is conveniently accessible from my smart-phone when I land and wonder what hotel I’m staying at, or what time my return flight departure is.

Hard drive space is cheap; searching and indexing are impressively fast and effective; I hate over-organizing with color coding, multiple levels of sub-folders, flags and follow ups and categorization.  The tags you need to find information are already in the documents.  Use them.

What we could all really use is the discipline to hit the delete key more often and risk not having that one email at our disposal the instant we really need it.

What if we could get over the fear of losing what we think is an important email?  Just delete each message once we’re done with it? I know, I know, many emails are reference material.  But what a dream-to begin and end each day with no email.

*Actually, I have another offline folder I call Praise. Any feedback from reps or people I’ve helped gets stuffed there. It’s surprising how many “thank you!” or “awesome job!” emails pile up through the course of the year.

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I made them up

I had a list of questions I expected in the demo and knew I wouldn’t be able to answer; questions about configuration of this and that, system architecture, product road-map, etc.

I shared the list during the dry run, asking who would take ownership for each in the meeting proper. This vetting of the list helped make sure we had the right people in the meeting, and that answering the questions was quick, helpful, and professional.

Someone asked where the questions came from. “I made them up.” Hilarity ensued. “Seriously. I think these are the questions they’ll have.”

We’re so programmed to solve problems, to score well on the test, that these were presumed a list of requirements- yet another homework assignment* – from the customer.  And by answering formal questions with the best answers, we’ll be picked.


This list of questions was ours.  It was necessary.  It was the result of thinking about the customer’s situation and what they’ll want to know, how they’ll perceive the solutions, how they’ll attempt to grasp our something different from what they have today.

The questions aren’t requirements. The questions are the poking and prodding the customer will do to understand our message.

*We sent some of the questions on to a new resource. He replied asking when the answers were due.

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Letting go?

We all work in teams.

Teams imply collaboration

Collaboration implies more than one person responsible for execution.

A challenge creeps into this cooperative approach, this division of labor, even when those in the team execute according to expectations. Their execution and vision isn’t the same as yours. It’s of a different quality. The writing – the messaging you’re trying to craft- obviously came from a committee. The audience can see this. It impacts the presentation of ideas.


How far can you push before the whole project crumbles? Do you let go and face the audience knowing it isn’t the best? Do you go all Steve-Jobs-it-must-be-insanely-great on the team?

Tough call.

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