Don’t negotiate on your estimates

My dad made a remark once that if you want to be good in sales, you can’t just believe that the glass is half full. You have to say with a straight face that a half-full glass is better than a completely full glass.

Anyhow, my shop has generally good relationships between the technical team and the sales team. There’s one thing that drives me nuts though: when we discuss priority and they try to negotiate with me on my estimates.

It goes a little like this:

me: I saw your note about creating a new permission-level between employee and administrator, where you want to let the shift supervisor do admin work on just their direct reports. In other words, two different shift supervisors will see two different lists of employees even though their permissions are identical. I figure that’s an 8-point project.

Billy Mays: No way! You just need an entity code to track what department that supervisor is attached to and then only show the people in that department.

Me: Yeah.

the shamwow guy: I don’t see how that is a big change. It’s just one extra column in the database. Just add that entity code into your queries.

Me: It is straightforward. I’m not confused about how to do it. It’s going to take a long time. There are lot of places that I need to alter to use this new approach.

Ron Popeil: are we using an object-oriented approach in the code? I hear you say that you’re going to have to change a lot of places in the code. At ${A MUCH BIGGER SOFTWARE COMPANY}, we used single objects so that we didn’t have to change a lot to alter behavior.

The minute when I start justifying my estimate or explaining why I have to change a lot of things, I’ve lost. They go into “close the deal” mode. There is a primal instinct at work here that outclasses higher brain functions. If sales people didn’t have a highly evolved chase instinct, they would suck at sales. When they see me trying to explain why it’s going to take that long, they will just nag nag nag until I give in.

And that’s what we need them for — that’s how sales works.

So I have found that the way out of this situation IS NOT to go technical and start explaining how code works. They’re NEVER going to say gee, now that you gave me a quick tutorial in web application design, and then you explained how you’ll need to rewrite the permissions decorators to use a new state factory, I guess your estimate makes sense.

Instead, this approach works OK for me:

Me: I think it is a great idea and it won’t require a lot of research and development, but it’s going to take a while. So based on that estimate, should we put into the queue or not?

I don’t address the remark about OOD and I don’t explain why. From a salesman’s perspective, you don’t close deals by acknowledging why the prospect doesn’t need what you’re selling. You close deals by overcoming objections. The salesman’s natural instinct is to see an obstacle and wear it down. So the key is not to feed that. Instead, stonewall them. Over time, they’ll respect you more because of it.

Here’s the bottom line: sales people are not like us. And that is OK. We need them. And we can work together as long as we all follow some rules. Don’t take away their bowl while they eat and never justify anything.

  • medelabackpack

    Yeah well said, no way, don't ever negotiate on your estimates!

    Donna

  • http://bwoj.com/ Brian Wojcik

    Interesting take… I'd say that the software managers whom I've worked with and respect most were more than happy to enter into negotiations with sales and marketing. Like you suggest they didn't allow the discussion to be about how long features would take to implement. They instead took the opportunity to negotiate over feature sets and release dates.

    They would approach things like “Whatever your experience at {BIGGER COMPANY} doesn't matter, my team puts their estimate on that feature at eight points. If you want it to go in the next release, we'll have to slip the date by a month.”

    Of course this only works well if both sides have some level of good faith about realizing that the engineering team has finite limits of people and time to throw at any problem and that ultimately, success for the organization is about engineering delivering a saleable product in a time frame that the sales team can use. Otherwise, it just becomes an ugly and destructive game and nobody wins.

  • http://bwoj.com/ Brian Wojcik

    Interesting take… I'd say that the software managers whom I've worked with and respect most were more than happy to enter into negotiations with sales and marketing. Like you suggest they didn't allow the discussion to be about how long features would take to implement. They instead took the opportunity to negotiate over feature sets and release dates.

    They would approach things like “Whatever your experience at {BIGGER COMPANY} doesn't matter, my team puts their estimate on that feature at eight points. If you want it to go in the next release, we'll have to slip the date by a month.”

    Of course this only works well if both sides have some level of good faith about realizing that the engineering team has finite limits of people and time to throw at any problem and that ultimately, success for the organization is about engineering delivering a saleable product in a time frame that the sales team can use. Otherwise, it just becomes an ugly and destructive game and nobody wins.

  • http://bwoj.com/ Brian Wojcik

    Interesting take… I'd say that the software managers whom I've worked with and respect most were more than happy to enter into negotiations with sales and marketing. Like you suggest they didn't allow the discussion to be about how long features would take to implement. They instead took the opportunity to negotiate over feature sets and release dates.

    They would approach things like “Whatever your experience at {BIGGER COMPANY} doesn't matter, my team puts their estimate on that feature at eight points. If you want it to go in the next release, we'll have to slip the date by a month.”

    Of course this only works well if both sides have some level of good faith about realizing that the engineering team has finite limits of people and time to throw at any problem and that ultimately, success for the organization is about engineering delivering a saleable product in a time frame that the sales team can use. Otherwise, it just becomes an ugly and destructive game and nobody wins.

  • http://www.codesoftly.aaronoliver.com Aaron Oliver

    THANK YOU for acknowledging that it may be necessary for us to get along with People Not Like Us. Too often we brand entire classes as “dumb” or “ignorant”, when really they're just wired to do a different job than us.

  • Ben Finney

    The point, that estimates are not an appropriate target for negotiation, is good and needs to be spread widely. Estimates are like weather forecasts: they're an expression of one's understanding of truth, not a promise or a commitment.

    The flip side of that, though, is that we need to be true to that by *revising* an estimate as requirements change, and more importantly as we get a better understanding of the facts that affect our estimate.

    We also need to treat estimates more like forecasting: as testable predictions, that can be improved by examining the track record and learning how to estimate better. If we want the recipients of these estimates to trust us, we need to commit to improving our skill at estimating.

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    Eye opening post. We must all break free from the barriers of pessimism and try to think broader and understand other people instead of looking down on them.

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    estimates is seperate thing, if u can negotiate u can get perfect estimation and result

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    You just got to be specific with your criteria in negotiating and closing deals base on your perception and strong belief. this way, you will never go astray. Be firm and you'll go a long long way. A good decision makes one succeed in life.

  • automated equipment design

    Negotiating is not that bad especially if it is for a good cause, well it is one of the common way to interact with other people regarding with your business

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    Thanks you for this wonderful information..
    It is really a risk if you are negotiating in your estimates..
    Great post..

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    The flip side of that, though, is that we need to be true to that by *revising* an estimate as requirements change, and more importantly as we get a better understanding of the facts that affect our estimate.

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    I'm agree on this article, I if you are a businessman you should know about the limitation of your products. You also considered that in negotiation there must be fair on each other. And I think negotiation will be successful.

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    I agree.. As you have said in your title, Don't negotiate on your estimate. It is just only an estimate.. Synonyms of prediction.. It means that it is not the exact thing..

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    Do not Boast something if you still don't have something to boast for, well this is really important in sales it is really important that you have a wonderful talent or a good sense of salesmanship, convincing power is really important.

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    I agree with Marketing personas, Estimate is only an approximation of a of a certain thing which is usable even if input data may be incomplete or uncertain..

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    Estimating is not been so sure. Better to be sure. Thanks for that interesting post.

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    Interesting point you have said.. it is better to get the exact data rather than estimates..
    This is applicable on real estate business and in web designing..

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    This makes total sense. Keep your estimates. Your word should be bond…

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    The flip side of that, though, is that we need to be true to that by *revising* an estimate as requirements change, and more importantly as we get a better understanding of the facts that affect our estimate.

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    Very interesting.. I'm starting a sale marketing business also. And this post give me an insight.. Thanks

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    If you don't negotiate, the chance of transaction will reduce:)