We recently had hugely successful conferences at UK and Australia, where people very openly admired the way we develop software and the way we engage with customers. We, here is Xebia, the organization that I work with.
On my flight back home I was wondering that if people admire a small company like ours so much then what stops them from doing business with smaller organizations? The first thought that comes to mind is the fact that most of the people that we probably interacted with were at least one to two levels below the people who would be making the real decisions. Let us consider the decision making population to be at position X. Now, the people with whom we interacted were x-2 or x-1. These people totally understand our story and know for sure that if they start working with us, not only we would be able to deliver better software but also help them succeed.
The problem comes when the x-1, x-2 want to take the proposal to x. After all as they say that you do not get fired to recommend IBM, but how do you convince x. I tried to ask this question to myself. If I were to buy a new house, would i go with an established developer who is big and has reputation or would I take risk with a smaller one. My first reaction was, of course the big , more established one. After all it might be like investing the whole life’s earnings. On second thoughts, what would convince me to go with a smaller one?
A guarantee that if I am not satisfied then I get my money back. A week by week update on the progress of my house infront of my own eyes by providing site visits and reports. Promptly answering all my questions related to my house. Keeping the process transparent and at no time, I should get the feeling that I am being duped or being taken for a ride. And, better still references from people who have already taken a house from this builder and their beaming faces to show that they have made a wise investment.
Now, if I translate this to the smaller software company. A risk free period where if the client is not satisfied then the engagement is allowed to fail fast. Fail fast meaning that instead of getting into a long term contract we end the engagement withing 3 sprints ( typically 1.5 months) and return all the money to the client. Providing daily updates on the progress and transparently showing all the reports as a glasshouse development project. Ensuring that there are no surprises. Provide case studies and references of all your success stories. Ensuring that you have satisfied customers who are able to vouch for you.
After doing all this once you get the foot inside the door, make the best of each engagement. Small engagements lead to bigger and better ones. Well all the last couple of lines need no special mention.