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.