I still have a secluded box with all the papers gathered during my first baby steps in selling. Ravenous for knowledge, I kept all sorts of training notes, photocopied articles and in-field scribbles. Rummaging through it lately, I came across a copy of an essay from my undergraduate days. It required a technology-themed discussion of this famous quote.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1532)
With solution selling in no small part all about change, and managing the reaction to that change, I could see why I’d included such a paper in my archive.
With its emphasis on office automation the scene set was not a pretty one. Several quotes, including a juicy Business Week assassination of technological disasters, found implementation was perilous and failure rates were sky high. All these years later, whither the change? Thankfully the job of the essayist was to provide a blueprint for future success.
Then an argument that gets right to the core of solution selling emerged. It is not change in itself. Failure is all down to resistance to that change. This “universal phenomenon” (John Child) is defined (according to Hirscheim & Newman) as an,
“adverse reaction to a proposed change which may manifest itself in a visible overt fashion … or may be less obvious and covert. It could occur fairly quickly, remain latent for a short period of time and then emerge, or lay dormant for a considerable time only to appear later.”
I felt the shudder of recognition reading that.
Also at this time, it was felt that the prime non-technical cause of failure (ie, apart from poor ease-of-use) was the lack of management support. Specifically top managers being renowned for not using the new tool themselves.
Any of this sound familiar for our current landscape? Whatever the passage of time, I firmly believe that most such automation projects even today still suffer from echoes of these issues.
Several interdependent remedies were proposed. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that incremental implementation although rarely enacted, always trumps the big bang. Such an approach recommended piloting, temporary user design bodies, social structures for new users and explicit feedback/evaluation procedures.
Whilst not perhaps a comprehensive checklist to precipitate success, these are disciplines that I know are absent from a shamefully large number of new system adoptions today.
It is possibly a relief to also know that opening a prospect’s eyes to unnecessary repetition of past pitfalls can harness an enthusiastic buyer into a genuine Champion of your cause.