July 2, 2014

Pitfalls for Pollyannas

Q. What’s the primary difference between used car and computer salespeople?
A. A used car salesman KNOWS that he’s lying.

– A joke that was old in 1995

The technology business is difficult, so it’s natural for technology vendors to make mistakes. Many of these fall into two broad categories:

In particular, vendors commonly overestimate their (current and future) competitive positions. This isn’t just for public consumption; often, they fool themselves as well. Popular forms of overestimation include (and these overlap heavily):

The dictum Fake it ’til you make it bears a certain relevance here, all the way down to its Alcoholics Anonymous associations.

*You can’t fix all your bugs at once. You can’t fix all your performance bottlenecks at once either. And the idea that you could do so for all the different software developed in a single tool struck me as beyond ridiculous.

As you’ve probably noticed, I write about these errors frequently. Perhaps my most-tweeted post ever was the one in March, 2013 that said:

Rule 1: Developing a good DBMS requires 5-7 years and tens of millions of dollars.

That’s if things go extremely well.

Rule 2: You aren’t an exception to Rule 1. 

In August of the same year I noted:

I’m not impressed that your future products will in some small ways be superior to what your competitors have had in production for over a year.

And I may, from time to time, show skepticism in vendor-specific posts as well. :)

How serious are these errors? Of course, everybody overrates their own products to some extent; it would be hard to maintain enthusiasm otherwise. Still, the more extreme forms of misjudgment are fraught with danger. Harms I’ve seen many times include but are not limited to:

Other forms of over-optimism can cause similar damage. For example, many marketing people are good at one of:

But few are good in all the areas, and CEOs who overrate their marketing staffs may soon be digging themselves out of deepish doo-doo.*

*Bovine or otherwise as the case may be.

In a sometimes-related problem, some vendors have exaggerated expectations of lead generation. This can lead to the Red Hat fallacy, in which they think that story-telling is unnecessary, and only marketing-funnel mechanics add value. In other cases, it can cause the sales-process problems that naturally follow from a low-quality pipeline.

And finally, there’s partnering. Way too often I hear things like:

Less snarkily, I’d say that too many companies forget some basic facts of partnering, which in my opinion start:

And so, while partners can sometimes be great sources of leads, few software vendors ever made it big through a partners-first strategy.

Comments

2 Responses to “Pitfalls for Pollyannas”

  1. Judging opportunities | Strategic Messaging on July 12th, 2014 4:57 am

    [...] My recent post about kidding oneself, Pitfalls for Pollyannas. [...]

  2. 20th Century DBMS success and failure | Software Memories on July 16th, 2014 12:01 pm

    [...] up losing because of a particularly terrible product release — Sybase System 10 –and delusionally bad development execution in [...]

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