Assumptions Are the Enemy of Good Software Decisions

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Assumptions Are the Enemy of Good Software Decisions

When both parties in the print software sales process make assumptions, poor decisions are made. Money is wasted. Time is squandered. Replace assumptions with clarifying questions so you come to a common understanding of the truth.

An assumption is a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

Unfortunately, we all make assumptions too often. I want to talk about one specific instance where assumptions can be very costly – the print software sales process.

Print software sales people make assumptions like this…

  • their product will solve your challenges
  • all printers have the same challenges
  • their solution can adapt to solve a wide range of challenges
  • they’ve been doing this so long, they don’t need to listen anymore
  • if their product doesn’t solve the challenge, the printer will just live with it or figure out a workaround
  • getting into too much detail slows the sales process down

Printers make assumptions about the print software vendors like this…

  • they sell to printers, they must understand my business
  • their product will work for the way I want to run my print business
  • they will carefully hold our hands through the whole process to make sure we’re successful
  • what they said during the sales process is the literal truth
  • their definition of integration is the same as my definition of integration (LOL)
  • the product will be configurable so I can change anything to suite my needs

I’m wondering, did I touch a nerve with folks with that list? How many of us have been caught making these kinds of assumptions that ended up costing us lots of time and money? Don’t make assumptions, especially during the sales process. This means you must ask a heck of a lot more questions because the only way to stop making assumptions is to get proof. The most common question I ask today is, “I didn’t understand what you said, can you say it another way?” OR “I’m going to repeat back what you said in my own words, will you let me know if I understood you correctly?” If asking these kinds of questions makes you think “I’ll look stupid” get over it, you know when you really look stupid? When you spend six figures on something that doesn’t work for your business! Embrace stupid now and avoid it later!

Here are some examples.

A cut-sheet offset printer was sold a Print MIS that was optimized for flexography because the assumption was made during the sales process that when you print small items that are odd shapes that is more like flexography than offset. I’m guessing this assumption cost the printer north of seven figures and three years of opportunity cost. Ouch.

A long-run offset print business was sold a web-to-print solution whose primary product offering was ad hoc print products (customer uploads a file and selects their options for a job ticket). The web-to-product was built more for the in-plant space where customers are uploading office documents and asking for bound sets. The long-run commercial offset printer had zero need for this functionality. Their purchase was a complete waste of time and money.

What is the antidote to the assumption? The clarifying question.

There just aren’t enough questions asked by either party during the sales process. For the print software vendor, your job is to make sure this customer is the right fit, that means you must learn about their business. I’ve seen printers who have been taken through a long sales cycle and then well into the implementation phase yet the print software vendor is still ignorant about the printer’s business. How can you possibly sell the right solution and then start the implementation if you haven’t asked one question about the printer’s business?

I’ve seen printers make huge financial decisions based on a single scripted demonstration of a product where they asked very few questions. The whole transaction was based on assumptions. Unless you get lucky and the product happens to fit your needs, the only winner in a sales process like this is the individual collecting sales commissions. Don’t even think the software vendor wins because eventually that customer will not be happy. Unhappy customers cause all kinds of trouble that aren’t always easily identifiable by the bean counters. A software vendor can continue to show good financial results until the cancer of unhappy customers starts to kill it from the inside. Morale starts to erode, every additional sale gets harder because word-of-mouth is working against you – it feels like you’re swimming upstream.

Questions are your most important tool in the sales process, spend some time thinking through how to ask good questions. Do not take fluff for an answer. For example, do not ask questions where the print software vendor can simply answer “yes” and move on.

Lame Question

Can your Print MIS integrate with our web-to-print solution?

(this is a yes / no answer)

Better Line of Questioning

Our web-to-print solution is “X”, it has an existing API. Do you have any customers in production with an integration between these two systems? Can I talk to them? Do you have a published API? Does it cost extra to have access to the API? Do you have professional services that do this kind of integration programming? If you do the programming is there annual maintenance charged on it? Do you support your custom code through our maintenance agreement? How do I get a quote for these services? What if I do this integration work on my own? Can I license a Staging Server from you to test integration?

If you want to make better software decisions, you must eliminate the assumption and replace it with a lot of questions that lead you to PROOF!

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