Selling new technology to users – how NOT to do it

Selling new technology - how not toImage Source:

Once upon a time, in a far-away land, I was present at a demo that a vendor was giving to the end users of a Document Management System.

The demo didn’t go quite as well as had hoped. Here’s the story…

Introducing …

The Vendor Team

The vendor had worked with this customer for a long time, and there was a good relationship.

The vendor knew how the customer’s business worked. They knew because they were also the vendor of the Document Management System in use, and they had originally worked with the customer to set up the system to match the customer’s requirements.

At the demo, there were the following people in the Vendor Team

  • the Client Manager
  • a Subject Matter Expert
  • a Technical guy who handled support
  • a Developer who wrote the software
clientmanager subject-matter-expert technical-guy Vendor-Developer
Client Manager Subject Matter Expert Technical Guy Developer


The Client Team

On the customer side, there were several seasoned users of the Document Management System. They had been at the company for several years and worked daily with the current system.

They had extensive experience and knew the procedures that had to be followed to do their job better than they knew their own children.

Kate Renee Sara
Kate Bill Sara


The Product Demontration

So, there we were. In a conference room. The Client Manager stood up front.

We waited in anticipation.

The vendor team was going to show us new technology that would allow the user to access the Document Management System via SharePoint using a “web part”.

Not only could we access the documents, we would be able to interact with the document, and attach it workflows, etc. And all this via SharePoint.

This had great potential. It meant that we could create “work areas” customised to the users’ requirements. And the specialised web parts could be configured to returns documents that meet specific criteria.

One thing I need to point out is that the users were not familiar with SharePoint, and certainly not with the concept of web parts. This was new technology for them.

The users were not familiar with SharePoint

The vendor’s representative coughed.

Everyone went quiet. Then the representative (who required no introduction as everyone had worked with him at one stage, or another) explained that the technical guy had created a working system that he would use to introduce the new technology.

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He hit a button on his laptop, and the overhead screen in the room flashed to life.

And what did we see.

The vendor had created a SharePoint site, and on it were more than 10 of these “web parts”.

In two columns.

Each one was showing objects (documents, etc) from the Document Management System in various forms (one web part showed an inbox showing workflow tasks, another was a single-box search web part, one had an extended search facility showing, one was for browsing a tree structure of folders, others had specific queries behind them.

The vendor carried on talking about what a web part was, and what each web part did.

It was a quick death…

And the eyes of the users started glazing over. It was too much for them. This was new technology, and a new way of working.

What the vendor showed was too much at the same time. The users were confused. And you could tell by the body language that the users were against what  the vendor was telling them.

During the presentation, the vendor would be describing a specific web part and the functionality that it provided.

Several of the more entrenched users (those who had been doing their job since day one, and were damned good at it) would make comments like “This is not how we do it.”, or “We do things differently here.”

I cringed as the presentation died a quick death. The vendor had not planned properly for this audience. Even the managers in the audience were confused by what was being shown.

After everyone had left I approached the vendor and got into a discussion with him about what had happened.

What went wrong, and what could have been better?

After much analysis, the following was agreed:

  • The vendor hadn’t realized that the technology was so confusing. He works with it every day, and, for him, it was second nature.
    He had not looked at it from the perspective of his audience.
  • Too much was presented at the same time.
    The vendor should have chosen three web parts that provide the base functionality that matched what the users do on a daily basis. Then, once that had been explained, the other web parts could have been introduced.
  • There was no “education” done first.
    The vendor could have started with an explanation of what the new technology was and how SharePoint and web parts worked.

Selling new technology

These are all basic things. New ways of doing things, new technologies need to be introduced gently. The users need to be held by the hand as they are shown thing, and it has to be at a pedestrian pace. Step by step.

The more the users feel comfortable with something the easier it is to take them to the next step, and the more open they are to making suggestions of their own. This allows them to think innovatively. They can start applying what they are learning to their own situation.

But what had the vendor done? Strapped everyone in to their stools and bombarded their senses with new, and different concepts? And at all at the same time?

What was disappointing was that the vendor was no stranger to the customer. As I mentioned above the customer company and the vendor company had worked together for years. The vendor knew what the users did.They knew what the users knew.

The vendor left promising to do a better job next time. That they would definitely take the softly, softly approach. And because they did have a relationship with the customer, that was OK.

However, know they had the extra burden of having to re-convince an already resistant audience.

Want to learn more?

Below is a selection of resources that I personally feel are relevant to this blog post, and will allow you to get more in-depth knowledge. I do earn a commission if you purchase any of these, and for that I am grateful. Thank you. (Important Disclosure)