“Selling” something new to the users – a case of how NOT to do it

selling user adoption

Once upon a time, in a far away land, I was present at a demo that a vendor was giving to the end users of a Document Management System. These are users that had worked with the native client (the end-user application) of the DMS for many years. They knew how to make it sing and dance.

The vendor had worked with this customer for many years, and there was a good relationship. The vendor knew how the customer’s business worked. They knew because they were also the vendor of the Document Management System in use, and had originally worked with the customer to set up the system to match the customer’s requirements.

So, there we were. In a conference room. A representative of the vendor stood up front. As well as that there were 4 other people from the vendor in the audience – a technical guy, a subject matter expert, some from the vendor’s product development, and a client manager.

We waited in anticipation. The vendor was going to show us new technology that would allow the user to access the Document Management System via SharePoint using a web part. Not only could we access the documents, we would be able to interact with the document, and attach it workflows, etc. And all this via SharePoint. This had great potential. It meant that we could create “work areas” customised to the users’ requirements. And the specialised web parts could be configured to returns documents that meet specific criteria.

One thing I need to point out is that the users were not familiar with SharePoint, and certainly not with the concept of web parts. This was new technology for them.

The vendor’s representative coughed. Everyone went quite. Then the representative (who required no introduction as everyone had worked with him at one stage, or another) explained that the technical guy had created a  working system that he would use to introduce the new technology. He hit  a button on his laptop, and the overhead screen in the room flashed to life.

And what did we see. The vendor had created a SharePoint site, and on it were more than 10 web parts. In two columns. Each showing objects from the Document Management System in various forms (one web part showed an inbox showing workflow tasks, another was a single-box search web part, one had an extended search facility showing, one was for browsing a tree structure of folders, others had specific queries behind them.

The vendor carried on talking about what a web part is, and what each web part did, and, the eyes of the users started glazing over. It was too much for them. This was new technology, and a new way of working. What the vendor showed was too much at the same time. The users were confused. And you could tell by the body language that the users were against what  the vendor was telling them.

During the presentation, the vendor would be describing a specific web part and the functionality that it provided.

Several of the more entrenched users (those who had been doing their job since day one, and were damned good at it) would make comments like “This is not how we do it.”, or “We do things differently here.”

I cringed as the presentation died a quick death. The vendor had not planned properly for this audience. Even the managers in the audience were confused by what was being shown. After the everyone had left I approached the vendor, and got into a discussion with him about what had happened. After much analysis, the following was agreed:

  • The vendor hadn’t realized that the technology was so confusing. He works with it every day, and, for him, it was second nature. He had not looked at it from the perspective of his audience.
  • Too much was presented at the same time. The vendor should have chosen three web parts that provide the base functionality that matched what the users do on a daily basis. Then, once that had been explained, the other web parts could have been introduced.
  • There was no “education” done first. The vendor could have started with a explanation of what the new technology was and how SharePoint and web parts worked.

These are all basic things. New ways of doing things, new technologies need to be introduced gently. The users need to be held by the hand as they are shown. And then step by step. The more the users feel comfortable with something he easier it is to take them to the next step, and the more open they are to making suggestions of their own. This allows them to think innovatively.

But what had the vendor done? Strapped everyone in to their stools and bombarded their senses with new, and different concepts? And at all at the same time?

What was disappointing was that the vendor was no stranger to the customer. As I mentioned above the customer company and the vendor company had worked together for years. The vendor knew what the users did.They knew what the users knew.

The vendor left promising to do a better job next time. That they would definitely take the softly, softly approach. And because they did have a relationship with the customer, that was OK. However, know they had the extra burden of having to re-convince an already resistant audience.

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