Companies Lie To Themselves

I have a bone to pick. Having worked for a decent amount of enterprise focused software companies now, I’ve determined something that truly bothers me. I think this may be very specific to software (perhaps not though!).

Companies are constantly lying to themselves – and it’s making them worse.

I mean this in particular towards the sales and product teams. I understand why they do it but I disagree with the entire premise. Here’s how it goes.

We’re in a competitive deal. There’s multiple other potential vendor plays. It’s the final stages of the deal and BAM! The champion delivers the email no sales person wants to hear: “We went with another solution”. The org starts freaking out, tries to save it, but ultimately can’t. We send in competitive research to do a post-mortem and figure out what happened. Then, we send out an email to the broader organization, generally saying something like the following:

  • “They weren’t the right market fit size for us”
  • “They didn’t have enough budget and we were too expensive for them”
  • “They aren’t mature enough yet for our solution”

Here’s what I don’t like about the above: none of it comes back on the company. It often times feels like we pass the buck on why things didn’t go well. While statements may be true, there is significant product development feedback in each of those quotes.

In a little bit of a rant, what I hate about it is it creates a culture of “us vs. the customer”. Teams read through the emails and don’t view it from the lens of how we, as a company, can do better. Where we can improve on in the product, whether our pricing structure makes sense, whether our product messaging is hitting the right audience, whether it’s easy enough for users to use our product, and so on. We say things like “well, guess that customer is going to miss out on how awesome we are”.

It’s that bravado that drives me nuts. Part of building software is the relentless effort to improve the offering and capture the largest market share possible. Now, I get that we don’t always want to do that. Sometimes we really don’t want to sell to SMBs because they have budget constraints and really aren’t mature enough. But what I’m trying to hammer home is that the culture of what we do with that information is what drives me nuts.

Extremely high performing organizations look at every loss as a stab wound. They triage it and figure out what moves they made that exposed them. They believe they are at war and feel that making a mistake jeopardizes their god-given mission. They weaponize the loss and turn it into energy to improve.

Bad performing organizations love the smell of their own shit and believe they’re building something akin to a cult where the customers are “lucky to have us”.

Don’t be like the bad performing organizations. Don’t be scared of worrying your employees by sharing what we need to change or improve on. Create best next action items from the loss on how to improve. Instead of building a culture of shelter from that loss, build a culture of weaponizing losses in to gains.