A long time ago when I was too naive and too technical, I thought that the best product (or technology) always wins. Well… I was wrong. Later I learned that this is one of the top sales myths.
The reality is that having the best product, or the best features, isn’t enough if no one knows about it or understands why it’s better. In many cases, customers don’t care about something as much as an engineering team does. There’s plenty of anecdotes that suggest that becoming “first to mind” with consumers is better than having a list of superior features. The truth is that the first market viable product to become “first to mind” wins.
I wrote a bunch of articles about PLM sales in my blog. Check them out here. My favorites are the PLM cheat sheet and Recommendations for non-BS PLM sales. One of the most difficult topics in PLM sales is ROI. Check out why PLM ROI is hard to sell? ().
The most experienced PLM salespeople I’ve seen always stayed away from selling ROI or finding a business case. They always tried to figure out what specific problem a company wants to sell and made their pitch to solve that problem. If you look at how to do it, check my How to practice PLM extreme listening. PLM sales and implementation are first about people and second about technologies. Some PLM implementations will fail because of the product, but most of them will fail because of bad communication between people. But how to sell PLM to people?
Jos Voskuil’s recommendation is to create a myth. In his PLM ROI Myths article, he suggests that you should not work on a business case, value or even technology. Create a myth that will hold (you can call it a vision) and connect it to the business strategy. Here is his recommendation.
There should never be a business case uniquely for PLM – it should always be in the context of a business strategy requiring new ways of working and new tools. In business, we believe that having a solid business case is the foundation for success. Sometimes an overwhelming set of details and numbers can give the impression that the business case is solid. Consultancy firms are experts in this area to build a business case based on emotion. They know how to combine numbers with a myth. Therefore look at their approach – don’t be too technical / too financial. If the myth will hold, at the end depends on the people and organization, not on the investments in tools and services.
Two of my main experiences (continues Jos Voskuil):
1- Connect your PLM-project to the business strategy. As mentioned before, isolated PLM fails most of the time because business transformation, organizational change, and the targeted outcome are not included. If PLM is not linked to an actual business strategy, it will be considered as a costly IT-project with all its bad connotations. Have a look at my older post: PLM, ROI and disappearing jobs
2- Create a Myth. Perhaps the word Myth is exaggerated – it is about an understandable vision. Myth connects nicely to the observations from behavioral experts that our brain does not decide on numbers but by emotion. Big decisions and big themes in the world or in a company need a myth: “Make our company great again” could be the tagline. In such a case people get aligned without a deep understanding of what is the impact or business case; the myth will do the work – no need for a detailed business case.
I completely agree with the point about business strategy. My biggest disagreement is about the second one – to create a Myth. The idea of creating a Myth is fascinating and I’ve seen this approach used by PLM sales and marketing. After all, a single version of the truth is a myth. As well as full product lifecycle, collaborative process, digital transformation, and many others. At the same time, I found that selling myths is actually a bad practice and can lead to many troubles down to the road. As a manager leading the PLM project, you don’t want to be present at the moment PLM Myths are debunked.
Here is another way to think about the sales process.
My best sales lesson was to imagine a person on the deserted island without water and food and try to sell him a tool that can help him to escape from that island to another island with people, food, hotels, restaurants, and shops. Imagine you can sell him a boat, an air-balloon or a pill. As somebody who wants to escape from the island, you will try to check if one of these tools actually work, then ask about the cost and finally would like to check the process of moving – what will be the experience, speed, and possible side effects. There is a big chance you will skip the details about the type of wood used for a boat or the material air-balloon is made of. You can ask how safe to take a pill and what you will feel when pill will be moving you between the islands.
I hope you got my point about islands. Now think about PLM as a myth that can help you to move between islands. Think about a pill without proof that will make you asleep and when you wake up you will see another island. Will you buy it? I’m not sure.
What is changing in 2020 and why I think future PLM sales will be different.
There are three main elements of changes – SaaS tools, subscription business model and business stories. SaaS creates a mechanism (a tool) that can be used instantaneously and be adopted by organizations fast step by step. It doesn’t mean your organization will change fast. But it will allow you to define adoption stages and make software tools available when you need it. Sometimes, the software will be created and changed as you use it (build the plan while you’re flying it). The subscription model will take your upfront commitment out of the equation. And finally, business stories will define what your organization what to achieve in a very short period of time. These stories are specific and measurable. They have actors and define what does it do. For example – importing all your legacy data, organize data, define a change process mechanism, calculating cost, send data to ERP, etc.
For a very long time, PLM was a myth with a very high price tag sold by known brands. PLM is a journey. So, take a pill and enjoy the journey. We will get you there. Oh, by the way, there is no destination, so enjoy the moment and pay for transportation. Oh… by the way, there is no food during the journey and it is cold. Also, there is no fresh air available. If you’re a long time in the industry, you probably have seen a few of these “journeys”.
The changes I described above will allow rethinking PLM from selling myths to defining tools to move from the place swamped in Excels and legacy databases to a place where you can manufacture products while getting easy access to information and making measurable decisions.
What is my conclusion? We need to move from abstract myths to tools that can deliver measurable results. PLM digital transformation in manufacturing is about moving organizations from the chaos of Excels and emailing documents to a new way of working. But the process is a very granular step by step journey between stations with well-defined behaviors, values, and business cases. It will require a change from all sides involved in this process – customers, software vendors, consultants and service providers. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.