The Love/Hate Relationship
Sales is always a touchy area. Your business cannot do without great sales people. Development agencies cannot do without them. They do not necessarily join teams early on, but sooner or later, they will be in the meeting rooms across businesses trying to generate and convert leads and increase revenue. They do an ugly work of sorts. They are usually considered bothersome when they call, and yet we love them to call if we are not the customer. We have this strange relationship with the professionals in the field. All sales people will know they are rejected far more times than they succeed. Their work is important, but it does not take much for an over zealous sales person to blow a whole digital transformation project up. When rejection is so much part of what a person does, being overzealous is always a risk.
Two Sides of Selling in Digital Projects
If there is one thing that can drain you energy and that of the team you hire is wrong expectations. Sales people are great at getting you excited, and getting your expectations in order is not their main concern most of the time. This may come to cost you and your own team a lot down the road. In digital development teams in particular sales people are selling to two parties at all times. They are selling the development team to you and they are selling you as a client to the development team. They have a difficult time to accept no for an answer from either side. They will talk with you. Understand what would make you say yes and the more inexperienced and overzealous ones will try to frame an offer around that. They will then approach the development team and make sure they take the project on. With some help for up in the hierarchy where revenue driven people work, the development team will be working on a project they are not sure they can deliver, for a client who was promised it in an unrealistic time frame. That doesn't sound right, right? It itches everyone the wrong way, and yet the process is very common. It is important to understand and work around the pattern when you encounter it to make sure your expectations are met.
When Sales Are in Charge
Web development projects are complex. When developers and designers work on them they juggle client requirements, technical aspects, security, performance, usability, accessibility and time. Most teams want to deliver the best they can in the shortest time possible. That said, organizational dynamics will always influence the outcome of your project. When sales people are in charge they tend to dictate unrealistic deadline, and push development teams to cut corners they would not normally cut. If they are not involved in decision making or in the initial proposal they will be pressured constantly around the promises made to you. Your project will suffer in ways that might not immediately visible. First to go will be proper software architecture and testing. Why? You as the client cannot immediately see them. They are hidden in the engine that makes your project work. It saves time now and starts accumulating what developers refer to as technical debt. Unfortunately, nothing is free. It will be usually followed by total disregard for accessibility. Accessibility is what makes the web possible for people with visual or other impairments. The ability for screen readers to understand you website. Who has time to think about that with that stubborn deadline coming up next week, right? Then comes security. If your project is of any considerable size you should have a third party run a security audit. Good development agencies will have third party independent security reviews as part of the project quote depending on the project scale. Stubborn deadlines negotiated by sales teams tend to not concern themselves with the boring details on security. We have seen plain text passwords stored in projects for big Fortune 500 companies with their own dedicated teams on board. We have seen publicly accessible channels that control device power state just because no one had time to even handle authentication. Imagine now the implications this approach has when financial and health information is concerned. It can cost you quite a bit. We have seen this patterns be most prominent in sales led development teams. As necessary as sales people are, they should never dictate development terms. They should work together to create proposals with realistic expectations and deliverables for the customer.
Talk to the whole team
Always ask to talk to the team that will deliver your project early on. Developers, unlike sales people, tend to be cautious when promising deadlines. They want to deliver good, secure, accessible projects and they want you to succeed. They are proud of the work they do and they will try to push themselves to solve the challenges you have. Aim for an open communication early on. Setup weekly meetings with everyone involved. It is an opportunity to be updated on how the project is going. Discuss what challenges if any were faced during the week, if anything is pending a solution. Prioritize your core feature list. Most projects will have one or two core features and plenty of secondary nice to haves. Make sure you keep your focus. Successful digital transformation projects are by their very nature a shared leadership endeavor. Keep your customer needs front and center so each project adds real value to your business. Make it clear you care about code quality, security and accessibility. Take your project as far as it can go without cutting dangerous corners.