You Can’t Change the Definition of D.N.A. to Sell Your Software

Even MIT Sloan graduates get it wrong from time to time.

My first job in sales as you may know from reading my first article on Medium was with a company called Peoplesoft. After about 4 years, I decided that I wanted to broaden my inventory of sales skills by getting a job at a small company selling software, but a different kind of software than I sold at Peoplesoft.

Anyway, the product was an application designed to help very large companies manage their procurement process. At the time I started with the organizations they had been around for about 10 years, and were still under the impression that they were a start-up. (That was my way of saying, duh)

The market at the time was saturated in that many companies, including big names like Ariba, had ridden the wave of procurement process management software more effectively than the company I now found myself working at.

So, as it is with any new sales job, I was to endure introduction/indoctrination into their ecosystem/cult, and learn about all the reasons why they were the second coming of Apple.

Normally this cult like indoctrination is facilitated by some sort of offsite “David Koresh” style gathering, where the minions sit in the audience, while the cult leaders, and former minions, present their scripts, with the hope that you will be hypnotized into the ability to evangelize their wares.

Well, to know me is to know that I lack the focus and discipline required to be hypnotized. I can’t pay attention long enough for the effects to kick in. Additionally, I am a skeptic from birth. I don’t believe anything just because someone tells me I should, even when that someone went to MIT Sloan.

If I could remember his name, I wouldn’t reveal it here, because really, I am not in the reputation destruction business. What I will tell you is that shortly after I started this new job, several members of the sales team informed me that this dude was literally the Jesus of marketing. Jesus wasn’t their word. It is my word, and I am using it because when this super genius walked by the sales cube farm I swear I heard harps. One time I think I even saw him levitate.

Levitation aside, I was ordered to attend a 1 to 1 session with the marketing Jesus, to learn about his new “pitch”. Apparently it was in this pitch that I to learn how I was going to differentiate us from the competition.

Laughably, I assumed I would learn something about some game changing feature that was a big deal in that we were the only solution that came with this game changing feature.

Nope. Not even close.

What I came to realize, in a very short amount of time, was that the new, go-to-market strategy, was literally, and I am not joking, this marketing god’s Power Point presentation, and, wait for it, his brilliant message. I repeat, his message. Not a message that had been tested on anyone but those who washed his feet. No. Just his assessment of his own brilliance.

That alone is enough to stop this story and get to the lessons learned. Unfortunately, there is way more, and it gets even more pathetic, and really, hilarious.

OK, so, I sit down with him, struggling to calm myself down as I was informed about his strategically differentiating Power Point, and wait for him to proceed. He proceeds.

Slide one is…D.N.A.

Immediately I say to myself, “Brilliant!!” I thought we were going to discuss the architecture of the product. I even said, out loud, in as calm a voice as I could muster, “Hey, that’s cool; we are going to discuss how the architecture of the product is unique?”

Unique architecture, for those who have never sold software, is actually a very strong selling position if the architecture has advantages the customers can enjoy. Unfortunately for me, and for the poor bastard who was to deliver the very first presentation in front of an actual prospect, marketing Jesus didn’t intent D.N.A. to be a discussion about architecture.

This dude came up with his own words that started with a D and an N and an A and leverage the very common D.N.A. acronym to present it to the world.

My immediate and extremely discouraged response was, “If you put up a slide in front of a room full of humans, and there is but one IT person in the room, you can expect that whoever is making the presentation will need to be prepared to discuss the architecture of the product.”

Why?

Simple answer is D.N.A. stands for something. Specifically, it contains the instructions organisms use to exist! Well, so does the architecture of any technological product. Hence, this is why I made my proclamation.

My reward?

He actually had the temerity to look me square in the face that sits on the front of my extremely large head and say, “No, you are not getting it.”

Not only that, apparently his shock and awe at my lack of business acumen distressed him enough that he went off and basically told the board of directors that I was an idiot.

I was summoned to my boss’s office shortly after the presentation, and was informed that pretty much the entire company thought I was a moron. Apparently, the managing members of this company were horrified to think that I just wasn’t smart enough to comprehend the brilliance of this idiot from MIT Sloan.

OK, fast forward literally two weeks. I swear to god (the real god, not MIT Sloan) I am not making this up. It was like a tsunami horn going off in the office. We were all requested to sprint to the conference room for an emergency meeting.

Why?

Someone on the team, all by his lonesome, and with no technical support, went out and delivered this calamitously ill-informed presentation, leading with the D.N.A. bit. There were not one, but THREE IT people in the room, and what did they do, as soon as they saw the D.N.A. bit?

I almost can’t wait to tell you…

THEY ALMOST JUMPED OUT OF THEIR SEATS TO ASK ABOUT THE….ARCHITECTURE!!!

Panic ensued. The presentation flopped, the tsunami horn rang, and there I was, sitting in the back of a conference room, with a look on my face that even the world’s worst poker player could read. And you know what happened as far as I was concerned?

Not a thing. Not one person in that stupid company came up to me and apologized.

An apology is the least I should have expected. They should have promoted me to the CEO position because I was apparently the only person in the entire company who understood the following:

  • Sales people often know how an audience will react because their job is to be in front of audiences.
  • Audiences almost universally don’t care about how smart you are, or what you think something means.
  • It is dangerous to do sales presentations created by marketing geniuses.

I am almost certain that Mr MIT Sloan, as well as anyone who comes from an Ivy League type educational background, is smarter than me.

What most of them lack is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of the people they are speaking to, trying to imagine what they might be thinking. Because in sales and marketing, THAT is all that matters.

If you use metaphors in your messaging you need to imagine what the audience is going to think of those metaphors, and how they are going to react to them. Actually, even if you don’t use metaphors in your messaging, you need to obsess about how your audience might react to what you say.

What you think the connection is isn’t as important as what the audience will see the connection as. The good news is that you don’t have to be a marketing Jesus, or go to the Ivy League to grasp this concept.

All you have to be able to do is empathize with your audience to discover what it is that matters to them, and how it is that they think, or will think about what you have to say.

It is there that you will find the secret to building business relationships, and selling more of whatever it is that you sell.

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Published in Scale Magazine on Medium. Subscribe for sales and marketing writing you’ll actually want to read!

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