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When programmers and sales people talk....

Dale Weideman, Power Up Software's desktop publishing product manager, has an interesting theory about why products sometimes fail: Too much open communication between development and marketing departments. In fact, says Weideman (only partly tongue-in-cheek), "it's important never to let programmers and sales people talk to each other."

The problem, says Weideman, is that the two groups tend to communicate very different kinds of messages--and often end up creating more confusion than understanding. "Sales people have to deal every day with lots of products and customers," he says. "If you tell them too many things about one product, they'll garble anything that isn't absolutely simple and clear. But programmers will go on and on about the tiniest details--it's their baby, and they can't help it. And they always want to show off new technology and obscure features that maybe 10% of customers will ever care about."

Sales people can give equally misleading input to programmers, Weideman adds. "The last customer the sales person talks to often ends up representing the opinions of an entire market. If one dealer in Peoria wants multicolor graduated fills added to the program, that suddenly becomes a top priority for development."

Rather than let programmers and sales reps confuse each other, Weideman recommends three rules:

* Put a product manager in charge of communication: "One of the really central jobs of the product manager," says Weideman, is "boiling down the message from development to sales." At the same time, the product manager also has to act as a filter for customer feedback that should get back to the development organization.

* Use the demo to define key mssages: Rather than ask his programmers to explain a product, Weideman creates a demo--"nine minutes long, plus or minus a few seconds"--that focuses on "the three or four things that make a product memorable." When Power Up used a demo to show retailers the major selling points for its Express Publisher package a year ago, he adds, "we noticed a significantly higher level of sales."

* Bring sales people and programmers together socially: Although formal meetings tend to be counter-productive, Weideman believes it's important to bring the two groups together for social occasions. "It's very motivating for programmers to get positive feedback, to hear that people are really using their products. And sales people really feel good about knowing they have a strong engineering department."

Dale Weideman, group product manager/desktop publishing, Power Up Software Corp., 2929 Campus Dr., San Mateo, Calif. 94403; 415/345-5900.
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Date:Oct 31, 1992
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