Thursday, May 25, 2006

Selling SOA to the business - its selling

One of the most common questions about SOA that I get is how to "sell" it to the business. Well the first point here is that selling SOA isn't different to selling anything else and certain things apply.

  1. Look and act professionally
  2. Present clearly
  3. Have a clear message that your audience cares about

Its hard to imagine presentations that are worse than some of the ones I've seen in IT. Some of the low-lights I've seen include

  1. Lots of words on a slide - then just reading them
  2. XML documents on a slide - and reading them
  3. Lots of woeful colour use - clashing colours
  4. Animations that take ages to build
  5. No actual messages - or far too many

And that is just the powerpoints used to explain things, in terms of presentations styles I've seen

  1. Heads down and mumbling
  2. Dressing like the IT geek
  3. Reading from the slides and POINTING and LOOKING at them from a distance
  4. Disappearing into a rat hole talking about things that don't matter
  5. Talking so quickly that they finish in 1/4 of the time
  6. Running over by MULTIPLES of the allocated time
  7. Repeatedly saying "I'll answer that on a slide in a moment"

The point here plays to something that Peter Quinn said at the OASIS event, I paraphrase from memory but it was sort of

"If you want to be taken seriously you need to dress seriously and lose the pony tail and sandals"

Now clearly I'd disagree about the hair comment :) and I guess that Jonathan Schwartz might have an issue too! But the basic point is simple, if you want to sell to the business you need to play the game on their terms and approach it as a proper sales campaign in the same way as anyone else in the business has to sell their ideas. If someone from Marketing, Finance or whatever was asking for strategic investment and changes in the way people work they would be crucified if they presented the way most IT people do. IT people don't get crucified, its worse, they get ignored, patted on the head and told to go away.

So if you are looking at selling SOA to the business start by ignoring the fact that its SOA. Think about how you'd sell ANY idea to your business, think about what they want and how your proposal addresses those problems. You need to link your SOA sales campaign to the challenges of the business as they see them and explain how SOA will help solve their problems.

Then when you get that sorted start crafting the presentation, and I mean craft. Don't just lob it together and remember a few key points

  1. Pictures not words - reading words off slides is rubbish
  2. When you present you are allowed to TALK about things that AREN'T on the slides, the slides should just EMPHASIS certain points
  3. Present to them - Heads up, clear voice and look them in the eye like you believe it.
  4. If they ask a question - answer it, if you have a slide on it soon then answer it briefly saying "and I'll cover what that means in more detail in a second" and if its the next slide say "I'm very glad you asked that because....", "good question.....", "exactly...." IF THEY ARE TALKING THEY ARE ENGAGED AND LISTENING... don't dissuade them.

There are lots of resources out there to help with crafting presentations (here, here, here, etc) so there isn't much of an excuse. And if your company has a training budget I'd strongly advise that you think about taking your part of it to help you present better rather than learning about that new shiny technology. After all if you convince the business that SOA is the way, you should be able to convince them that the new way needs more training.

Selling SOA is selling, remember that needs it needs to fix your client's (the business) problems, not be about you asking for what you want.

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