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June 2012

Marrying the Elephant – Timing is (Almost) Everything

As large organizations, elephants have a myriad number of pressures, objectives, priorities and distractions.  And their priorities vary depending on the level of the organization you are working with – with top, middle and line management at times having very different motivations.

When you engage with an elephant pursuing eventual marriage, your ability to get the elephant to engage deeply will vary dramatically based on when you engage with them.

First - you need to do your homework

Have you read and listened to their quarterly financial reports - especially those management comments?  How about listening to recording of the elephant’s management team’s quarterly “prepared remarks” – and Q&A – for investors? Reading and listening to several quarterly reports to investors can provide you plenty of insights on what the elephant finds interesting and valuable today, this quarter, and this year.  You can use this information to steer your efforts to align with the elephant.  Running alongside the elephant is definitely more attractive to the elephant then running in the opposite direction.

You may be in a position where you are ahead of the elephant’s thinking – and at times its about waiting for the elephant to come around to recognizing the value in what you have been developing – whether that be software, a service or an approach.  Different elephants in different industries move at different paces.  Five years back the Cloud was heating up in the ERP industry.  This year the Cloud and Mobile is heating up in the design industry.  Mobile was hot in the consumer space starting two years back – but is only reaching the business world this last year.YearsPassing

Face you can be too early or too late

Over the years I have seen marriages with elephants happen too early when the elephant wasn’t sure how valuable  the marriage would be resulting in “too small” a dowry, the marriage happen too late where again the dowry was again quite small because the bride had lots of competition with similar attributes, and the marriage happening at just the perfect time (for the bride) – when the elephant felt the urgency to get married right now (very much like real people getting a bit older and getting concerned about their biological clock ticking down).

So how do you know when the right time is to push the elephant to propose to you?  Again it’s about listening carefully about what the elephant is saying – publically in quarterly financial reports and presentations, in talks at financial and industry events, at user conferences, and by taking the elephant’s senior management to lunch on occasion.  As I mentioned in prior posts, the elephant’s management team needs to eat, the best of them love talking to people that are close to customers bringing fresh perspectives on where and industry is heading and where the growth opportunities are (and where there is increased competitive risk).

What next? 

We’ve been on this marriage topic for a few weeks now and still have a few more sub-topics to cover including the pros and cons of playing hard to get, the wedding, and post marriage blues (aka buyer’s remorse).  I may take a break from this marriage topic for a week or two or three – coming back to finish off “getting married” next month.  We’ll see how inspired I feel next week.

There is a lot going on in the Cloud and Mobile space I feel can use a bit of discussion. Dancing with the elephant’s desktop or client/server technology is quite different then dancing with the elephant’s web services technology.  How does this impact how you leverage the elephant?   How does this impact how you prepare for a very different form of dance with the elephant (the well understood and carefully structured foxtrot versus the less structured and more improvisational hip-hop)?   

Marrying the Elephant – Should You Live Together Before Marriage?

First – pardon no posts the last two weeks.  I have been participating in our once every two years “DevCamps”.  These two days events are sort of like “Summer Camp for Software Engineers”.  The DevCamps are held near Autodesk technology centers – the AEC DevCamp being held outside of Boston near Autodesk AEC headquarters – and the Manufacturing DevCamp held in Portland near Autodesk’s Manufacturing headquarters.  Being near Autodesk technology centers allows for a number of Autodesk engineers to both teach classes and participate in the DevCamps and for senior Autodesk Exec’s to give keynote presentations.  So the last two weeks have made for a good dose of technology learning, sharing between “campers” and Autodesk, and socializing.

With that, back to the question “should you live together before the marriage”?

Living together could mean a few things – could be pursuing having the elephant resell your products, could be your licensing technology to the elephant that the elephant embeds in their products, could be doing contract development work for some of the elephant’s engineering teams, and could be licensing some technology components

Most developers - without giving it a second thought - believe living together with the elephant is a great step toward eventually getting married.  But like in real relationships, living together first can help or hurt the possibility of eventual marriage.

As in real life, there are difficult trying times during relationships – and often early in relationships when you are still learning about each other.  What happens when things get difficult and you are married?  You hopefully work hard and long to resolve these difficulties – including compromising, listening carefully, getting outside help and more.  What occurs when things get difficult but you are not married and living together?  Though not easy, it’s not all that hard to say “I am leaving, see you later”.

So what does that mean as a software developer dancing with an elephant pursuing marriage?  If the proposed benefits of the proposition are going to take significant time to bear fruit, are going to likely take a bit of hard work, will likely require directions changes as you learn – and are anything but straight forward and predictable (how frequently is technology straight forward and predictable?) – living together is likely not enough commitment.  You really want to get married – and avoid living together first.

Unlike marriage or living together, a formal business relationship that is less than a merger/acquisition doesn’t “really” tell you how committed the elephant is to the relationship.  Living together is something the elephant’s middle management can at times sell without full engagement (real commitment) by “all of the elephant”.  Senior execs, sales and marketing teams, core technology engineering teams, and more can all have different views on the relationship.  You can find yourself feeling less able to influence and leverage the elephant after signing the agreement that creates a more formal business relationship.  Sound crazy?  Frequently a formal agreement makes you the responsibility of just one of the elephant’s team - and other teams will tend to avoid you because they don’t understand this “more than a typical partner” but “less than a part of the elephant” relationship.  When the elephant has thousands of employee’s, just a bit of misunderstanding goes a long way preventing development of a deeper relationship.  It’s a commitment by the elephant, at its highest levels of management, which gets the whole elephant aligned and supporting the marriage.  At least most of the time (another story for another day why some marriages break down before the honeymoon is over).  Annoyed

Does this mean you should never live together before marriage?  It doesn’t – but you need to carefully consider the pros and cons of living together before marriage.  There are just as many downsides as upsides.  And the downside is mostly about how hard and uncertain your goals – the harder and more uncertain the more you want to marry and not settle for what can often turn into “half committed” living together.

Later this week we’ll be looking at “Timing” – as a match made in heaven is always about a match at the right time.  But is the right time up to you or the elephant?

Marrying the Elephant – The First Date Part 2

In the last post, we looked at who to ask out on a first date. 

But how do you get that first date?

It’s simple.  Its no different then when you were a teenager.

Call ThemMarriage dinner toast

Ask them for an hour of their time over breakfast, lunch or dinner.  They have to eat don’t they?  Away from their desk over food insures you have their attention – and they are in an “open” environment conducive to broader and longer term thinking.  It really is that simple. Call them.

Be Direct

Tell them what you have to offer.  Tell them what your solution/technology is about.  Tell them how it can deliver the elephant potential high growth, ROI and competitive advantage. 

Know Their Needs

If you are meeting with an Exec VP or the President of an elephant, do you know what they are focused on and/or struggling with?  For a large “public” elephant, it’s quite easy to figure this out.  Read their annual and quarterly reports.  Listen to quarterly discussions with the financial community – which are frequently recorded and available for your listening on the elephant’s web site.  Look for and view videos of talks the senior Execs have given during the last year.  You’ll quickly see the common threads – what their goals and challenges are.  This enables you to position your solutions as helping them reach their goals.  If your solutions do not address their goals and challenges, it may be time to rethink your desire to be acquired – or at least the time frame.

And Listen - Listen carefully and deeply

Are they receptive to what you are saying?  Are they engaged as evidenced by their asking many questions?  Do you see and hear hesitations, facial expressions and body language that indicate doubts?  If you listen carefully – both with your ears and eyes – you’ll know if they are receptive to what you are saying, if they believe what you are saying – or not. Did you not get this right on that first date when you were a teenager?  Now you are older and wider - its time to get it right.

Close the First Date

Be sure to not end the first date without getting and agreed on “next steps”.  The next step could be a follow-up meeting or a meeting with one of their staff – such as for a demo and deeper review of the opportunity.  If they try to avoid taking the “nest step” – don’t be bashful.  Ask them why – as it likely because they don’t agree with you on something important – like the size of the opportunity, the importance of the opportunity, or the uniqueness of what you have to offer.  Better to find that out right away so you can plan your next steps confidently – and not be left guessing.

Next post we'll get into the tricky question on if you should live together before getting married.  How beautiful/handsome are you in the morning after a hard night out?