General

What The Media Doesn’t Get About Obama Choosing Biden

24 Aug , 2008  

I don’t write about national politics much on this blog, but as soon as Iheard Obama chose Biden for his VP, it was obvious to me why. All the issues themedia raises about Biden’s negatives (he’s old, been in Washington too long, wasan Obama naysayer, etc.) are simply missing the point.

My view on the strategy behind why Biden is Obama’s VP pick: Bidenis basically the democrat version of McCain. Biden’s got the foreign policyexperience, senate experience, he’s outspoken, he has a temper he doesn’t alwayscontrol, has foot-in-mouth disease, has that independent, hard to controlspirit, and is seen as a maverick. Very much like McCain.

Biden neutralizes McCain – Why cross over and vote McCain when you can getthe same thing in Biden. If you’re a Democrat, don’t cross over to McCainbecause you’ve got Biden. If you’re a Republican considering going for Obama,it’s “safer” now because you get most of what you liked about McCain in Biden.(Except the national hero, POW hero factor.) And the knock that Obama’s notready to be President? Well, Obama must be if Biden changed his mind enough tobe Obama’s VP. Biden left that door open in the Democrat debates when he said"[Obama] could be ready".

It’s the neutralize McCain strategy by taking away most of thedifferentiating reasons you’d vote for him. Personally, I believe Hillary wouldhave given Obama the best chance of winning, even though she would have made therun up to the election more like a Bill-ary turkey shoot for theRepublicans.

The media isn’t buying into Obama’s Biden VP pick but I think this is thereal strategy behind it.

General

Power IT Down Day + Call To Action To Create Greener Products

16 Aug , 2008  

Yesterday I recorded a podcast about Power IT Down Day. I'll be postingthe podcast to my Network World Converging On MicrosoftPodcast first part of next week. Power IT Down Day is an initiative set upby Citrix, HP and Intel, to get everyone to fully power down their desktop andlaptop computers, and associated monitor, printers, powered speakers,etc. during the off work hours on August 27th. I say fully power downbecause even hitting the power button on monitors and laptops, for example,doesn't mean they aren't sucking up juice through their standby modes andtransformers. Better yet, power it all down, by hitting the power switch on thepower strip plugged into the wall.

The idea behind Power IT Down Day is to help all of us be aware, and also totry and start some behavior changes, to save electricity consumed by ourindividual computers while we're not working at our desks.  According to mypodcast guest Tom Simmons, area Vice President Federal at Citrix, many areprojecting we could see electric power costs soar in the future similarly to howgas prices skyrocketed this summer. California already suffers rolling brownouts and a lack of power for data centers. The seemingly unlimited low costpower we take for granted today, like the low cost gasoline of the past, couldbecome a scarce and expensive resource in the future.

I'll save some of the specifics behind the program for the coming podcast,but until then please visit http://www.hp.com/go/poweritdown andsign up for the program. Based on the estimated power savings from powered downPCs at participating companies, Citrix, HP and Intel will donate an approximatedsavings amount the Red Cross. (Personally I wish they were donating the money tohelp us build more wind farms, or create hydrogen powered cars and fuelingstations in the U.S.) I think this is a great program and I hope you'llparticipate.

Power IT Down Day is a socially conscious conservation effort: Help users,through their company's participation, understand the impact of needlesslyleaving computers running during off work hours. That's good stuff, and wellworth doing. I hope we change some habits and conserve power as a result. I'vealready started changing some of my power munching habits just after hearingabout the program. But, I think we should tackle something closer to the heartof the problem: designing greener products.

Do monitors, printers, computer motherboards and power supplies, etc., reallyneed to operate in standby mode where they continue to consume power? What's itsave us, 10, 5, 3 or 1 seconds to start up our devices faster? Are we thatpressed for time or that lazy? Why can't laptop power supplies (bricks) have abuilt in sensor that determines when laptop batteries no longer need charging,and then fully turn off the transformer? I'm sure those are just a few of theobvious examples and there are many more that could save even more energy.

I have the same beliefs about network security. Educating users onlymarginally helps the problem. The real issue is designing products that arefundamentally more secure or can automatically configure themselves securelyrather than relying on end users to deem what programs should/shouldn't talkthrough a personal firewall, for example. Same with conserving energy. Fix theproblem of creating greener products.

I call on product designers to design products than consume less or noenergy, including periods when they might experience light or almost no use,rather than relying on end users to know and act to conserve energy. If you needhelp understanding how product design decisions impact the "greenness" of aproduct, and want to know how to design greener products, check out a companycalled Sustainable Minds (I'm anadvisor to this company), their Okala methodology and theirgreen product design industryexpert blog. Help us all by starting at the source, creating greenerproducts from the get-go.

And remember to sign up for Power IT Down Day, and most importantly, turn offall that computer equipment when you leave work on August 27th, and every dayfor that matter.

General

Going Green, One Mile At A Time

14 Aug , 2008  

I've been shamed. It happened the other night when Terry Swack, CEO ofSustainable Minds (a green product design information services company), calledme. It wasn't her fault, she just called me on my own dumb behavior. See, I'm anadvisor to Terry's company and a long time friend to Terry and her husband whoare some of the best people on the planet. Here's how being an advisor and beingshamed are related.

Terry called the other night, needingto catch up on how things are with my family. After we both covered theimportant family stuff, Terry asked what kind of vehicle I'm currently driving.Being a green entrepreneur, Terry's naturally curious if I'm stilldriving that gas sucking Chevy Suburban truck around. I wanted to lie. I wantedto lie to her so bad and tell her we had a Toyota Prius, or a Smart Car orsomething. I didn't want to tell her I just turned over 140k miles on the"subhuman" (my nickname for the Suburban). But I had to tell her, so, sheepishlyI said, "Still have the Suburban. Haven't decided with car to replace it with.It's hard finding something that will handle our two big dogs." There we go,blame it on my two helpless, and blameless, animals. The response I got back wasone of those heart stopping, "Mitchell!" responses. I was waiting for a smack onthe back of my head to come flying out of the telephone receiver. Ouch, I feltone step lower than an oil rig being drilled in ANWR.

That experience put a change in motion. No, I haven't pushed the Suburban offthe cliff yet into the gas guzzlers bone yard hall of fame. Not yet anyway, butI ordered a new vehicle. One that gets 80 MPG. Put that in your carbon footprintcalculator and smoke it!

 I have a 150cc SUNL scooter headed my way from the west coast, fresh off theboat from China. Ironic that I'm buying a super gas efficient scooter from acountry whose oil consumption is rising faster than a typhoid patient'sfever.

I did a little local and Internet shopping and you can get a really goodmoped for about half the price on the Internet as compared to buying one from amotorcycle dealer. I paid $1260, all in, for this little baby. And Mary Ellen(my wife) is stoked about it and wants to ride it around too. It's good for aquick jaunt to the grocery store, a stop by the bank, or dropping by to do someerrand. The thing goes 60mph and has on-board storage compartments. If thisworks out, we could have two of them sitting in the garage tout suite.

While I can't say I've gone full out green quite yet, at least it's a step inthe right direction. I'll bet I can claim better fuel savings that most peoplereading this blog. Plus the dirt bikes in the garage that I don't ride much anymore are going up for sale. That's leave more room in the garage for the"subhuman". And maybe it'll spend more time there while I'm zipping around on myscooter instead of driving my lone self around town, sucking down fuel in theSUV.

Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: YouTube Your Customer Case Studies

10 Aug , 2008  

Alan has a post over on his blog showing a customer case study using YouTube.What a great idea. Who wants to read another boring marketing document. This hasreal customers telling their story about how they use StillSecure Safe Access tosecure their network.

I think this is a really innovative idea and one we'll see more of. Companieswill have to be careful that it doesn't become a slick commercial (those areokay too, just not labeled as case studies.) I think you could go with a videothat has even less polish than the StillSecure video case study.

Kudos to Jayson, Sonya and the team who came up with this idea. I'd like tosee more of these.

Here's the Safe Access customer case study:

Blog

Twitter, The Cigar Bar, Social Networking and Security Bloggers

9 Aug , 2008  

Sometimes I see myself as something of a social anthropologist. I'm reallyfascinated by the social, interpersonal and individual dynamics of how peopleinteract, communicate and work together. I had a great opportunity to observeexactly that through the social networking that occurs among the networksecurity community while at Black Hat thisweek. It truly was fascinating to observe and be a part of.

At conferences such as Black Hat there is always a big push to find out wherethe corporate parties are and make sure you score an invite. Some of them can betough to get into, making getting that ticket, wristband or special invitecard a really coveted item. Wednesday evening one of the better parties wassponsored by Core Security Breach at theCaesars Palace Shadow Bar. The VP of Marketing at Core Breach was kind enough to giveme a ticket to attend. The party was crowded and difficult to move around in butI was able to spend time talking with Rothman, McKeay, Andrew Storm, my buddy Alan and a bunch ofother friends. It was a bit crowded and kind of hard to talk so three of usdecided to head out and go to Casa Fuenteto talk over cigars in a little bit quieter environment. So three of us headeddown to the cigar bar.

When we arrive, we entered Casa Fuente's sizable humidor to pick out a goodsmoke for the evening. I had just picked out a nice cigar when someone tapped meon the shoulder and said, "I'm Ryan Naraine and I've really wanted to meet youMitchell. I'd like to buy you that cigar you've picked out." Whoa. I've probablyread a thousand tweets (Twitter messages)of Ryan's but have never met him before. Ryan is not only a prolific Twittercontent generator, he is also a widely read journalist forZDnet's security blogs. He wantsto meet me? I want to meet him. I feel like I know the guy better than half thepeople I work with on a day-to-day basis because of his Twitter feed and his writing.

Ryan and Tim join us and now the group had grown to five. Sometime soon Ryanand Andrew tweeted we were down at the cigar bar. Pretty quick Rothman andMartin left the Core party and joined us, followed soon after by Hoff, Ryan, JJ and then Mogull. The group grew 2 and sometimes 3 or 4 ata time. Everyone learned from their Twitter community that a new group wasforming at Casa Fuente. Within 45 minutes the group had grown from 3 to 40+people.

If you've been to Casa Fuente in Caesars you know it's not a huge placeso 40+ a very sizable group, enough to take over half the joint. I'm sure ourwaitress was glad to see her night's tip increase by the minute. The group was ahuman example of soap bubble surface tension dynamics at work as one table afteranother gave way its individual space and became part of our group. I felt badfor the guy next to us whose personal space was taken over faster than abiblical grasshopper plague. We invited him to join us multiple times but heresisted our attempts to assimilate him into our collective and eventually leftwhen there wasn't much left to either his space or his cigar.

The group participants ebbed and flowed, moving around to talk with differentpeople. Many of us follow each other's blogs and/or Twitter feeds but haven'tmet in person before. I met many people I've followed and whose blog I read butwouldn't recognize from their tiny Twitter picture or blog portrait. The groupmakeup was very diverse; there were people from a few independent analyst firmsand from Gartner, small and well known product vendors, consultants, four orfive different press outlets, security researchers and every day securitypractitioners. Blogging is probably something commonly shared by a large portionof the group.

I was then and still am fascinated at the dynamics that lead to the formationof this event. It wasn't one of the much sought after corporate events, it was ablogger / social networking impromptu driven event. While there are certainly anumber of vocal and well equipped leaders that could rise up to suchan occasion, this wasn't a "leader situation". No one was the group leader ororganizer, we were just our own self forming group. It didn't hurt of coursethat we had a source of capital, thanks to one person's corporate credit card.(Thanks dude, I don't want to get you in any more trouble by naming youhere.)

A number of people were letting Twitter messages fly over the wires toannounce what funny thing happened or ridiculous comment this person or thatmade. I'm sure a few iPhone, Blackberry and camera phone pictures made their wayout too. These were all part of the dynamic that helped the group form and grow,and make it attractive for others to want to come join in. Yes, people Twitteredthere's a party over here but a good bit of what likely attractedpeople to come join the group was that the Twitters communicated there was awhole lot'a friends and fun happening over here.The large group broke upat 11pm when Casa Fuente closed their doors for the evening. Smaller groupsreformed and headed out to different parts but the tweets kept happening so mostpeople knew what was happening and where for the rest of the evening.

I've been reading about some of the differences between formal organizationsand social networking, particularly about self forming groups, in the book HereComes Everybody and this situation was a great example of it. We all worrywhether cell phones, social networking and web 2.0 apps are making personalrelationships impersonal. I think the situation I've described, which is onlyone of what were likely hundreds or thousands of similar examples during theconference, shows how social networking technology lets you build relationshipswith people before you've ever met or talked in person, how it collapsesdistance, enables the dynamic formation of groups, and and continuesrelationships whether people are present together or physically far apart. I'vebeen following the conference through tweets long after leaving theconference. Taking in the whole situation is simply quite marveling to me.

 One thing's for sure; social networking, web 2.0 apps and camera phones havetotallydestroyed the belief What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Iwouldn't put much faith in that saying any longer. (I'll let you find the moreincriminating camera phone pictures from Black Hat yourself, and don't ask about me about the hamster — I can't tell you. But you're welcome to follow him on Twitter.)

Cloud, Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Learning To Create Sustainable Products

9 Aug , 2008  

 Just because many of us are in the tech industry doesn't mean we shouldproceed oblivious to the impact green product design is having on allindustries, including ours. Software delivered through SaaS and virtualizationare two of the more well recognized ways we as technology professionals, productcreators and technology consumers see "green" happening in our industry.Virtualization and SaaS both help reduce the carbon footprint through power andcooling reduction of hosted and virtualized software. Downloadable and hostedsoftware and documentation also reduce the paper, printing, transportation andother eco-unfriendly costs of creating and delivering products.

But the decisions we make in the creation and consumption of technologyproducts impacts our planet's carbon footprint in many other profound and farreaching ways beyond just (and I am in no way minimizing these) saving sometrees or conserving energy costs. Product designers are very often unaware ofhow decisions made early and throughout the product lifecycle can impact thecarbon footprint of the products we create. Certain paints may requirespecial ingredients having a higher carbon footprint manufacturing cost.Software the requires a large number of high speed, energy consuming diskspindles running 24×7 which could be better optimized for peak or infrequentusage. Computer hardware and accessories may have a high environmental impactbecause of their poor recyclability or the products they displace. Even how weorganize or operate our businesses can have a smaller or higher carbon footprintbecause of travel and energy costs.

A new breed of entrepreneurs, called environmental entrepreneurs, haveemerged focusing on creating greener products, services and businesses. I'mfortunate to be an advisor to one of the leading environmental entrepreneurs,Terry Swack, and her third (I believe it's third) "green" company, Sustainable Minds. Terry and theSustainable Minds team launched a series of information services for productdesigners supported by companion decision support software created by thecompany. Here's how Terry describes their offerings:

“These are the first of our information services which deliver newknowledge, processes and strategies for a life cycle-based approach to productdesign, and are the counterpart to our decision support software. Thiscombination is key for design organizations looking to innovate or differentiatethrough delivering more sustainable products or design services.Product designprofessionals can acquire new green skills, increasing their value on the joband having greater impact in organizations. Manufacturers can access new marketswith innovative, environmentally superior products that meet customer needs, andincrease brand value by credibly marketing ‘greenness’. Our aim is to cover theexceptionally broad topic of sustainable design with experts from diverse areaswho drill down to specifics that practitioners will findilluminating.”

I like and believe in the pragmatic approach Sustainable Minds is taking tohelp advise and education product designers, and support the design process withdata and tools. Terry likes to say, "The bottom line is, there is no suchthing as a green product – all products use materials and energy, and createwaste." See what I mean about Terry's pragmatic approach? To help designersthroughout the entire process, the company created Okala, a lifecycle assessmenttool for creating more ecologically sustainable products. She has also assembledsome of the leading experts in creating sustainable products who arecontribution to the Ask the Okala Expertsblog.

I believe we as product creators and designers should be responsible foreducating ourselves about designing more sustainable products. Terry talked atPARC prior to launching Sustainable Minds and thisvideo gives you some good basic information about sustainable design. The Ask the Okala Expertsblog is a blog you can also follow to hear from thought leaders in the space. Iappreciate your checking this information out and sharing it with other friendswho might benefit from this information. I'm learning right from Terry and theSustainable Minds team right along with you.

Security

Shimel Violates Cardinal Rule Of Vegas at Black Hat Conference

6 Aug , 2008  

Well, I have to say that we had a great time last night, "networking" in LasVegas at the Black Hat conference. A whole crew of us checked out the variousvendor bashes, including the Qualys and Fortify parties. You know me, I'm notone of those elitist security vendors, I just hang with the common securitypractitioner, sharing my knowledge and experiences, trying to help the overallcause for better security. But I have to say, something's gotten into AlanShimel. He's just become some kind of unrecognizable person since I saw him last(it was only a few weeks ago when he was visiting Colorado, after all.) I thinkit had to be the high gas prices, maybe that the airlines now charge you for adrink of water, or maybe the bathrooms on his airplane were converted to thecoin operated kind. It has to be something. Here's the situation I'm talkingabout…

First, Alan comes up with some wild, totally off the wall story about meborrowing his shoes to get into some Vegas club because I was wearing "Coloradocountry bumpkin" sandals. Now, I have been working in Boulder, Colorado, a lotrecently so I could see how he might mistake "Colorado Wingtips" for sandals.They go over perfectly fine on the Pearl St. mall in Boulder, after all. But, togo public with such a crazy story on his blog is clearly a violation of thefundamental code of conduct of Vegas. What's come of the well acceptedaxiom, What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?

Is there no trust left among security friends and former co-workers? Mylittle notebook is full of titillating Shimel stories, but do I go public withthem, tossing them around carelessly for all to read? Certainly not, and not onmy blog! Do I talk about Shimel's case of prairie dog mistaken identity andManhattan rodents, or his curiousness about air conditioning and cattle? No!Those are to remain strictly private, something only the intimate details shallbe known among Alan, myself and an unnamed source at the Gartner Group. (No,It's not Rich Mogull.)

Despite Alan's other significant contributions on his blog, flogging thelatest security vendor who writes a fluffy bunny or woefully inaccurate pressrelease, and his building up of the Black Hat Security Bloggers Network, thissituation is still one that must be dealt with, and dealt with swiftly. It isunfortunate to inform everyone of this, but I have petitioned the BlackHat security ethics committee for a formal review of Alan's conduct in thismatter. While their punishment can be very harsh (too graphic to talk about on ablog), I'm sure this matter will be dealt with swiftly and justly. I'm justrelieved to know that caning is still illegal in the U.S. (but, I'm not 100% sureabout Vegas).

In the meantime, please take with a grain of salt any further tall tales byAlan regarding other Black Hat members' actions here in Las Vegas. I wouldn'twant to see additional claims made against what has otherwise been a fine,upstanding contributing member to our security community. I'll will keep you all updated for those who follow me on Twitter.

Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Demo Secrets From The School Of Hard Knocks

2 Aug , 2008  

I thought I'd share some more product demo lessons learned as a follow up to my other two posts Product Bistro: Mitchell's Rules of Demos and Product Bistro: Demo In 5 Clicks Or Less. Doing demos well isn't easy and there's a lot that goes into doing product demos properly. I hope sharing these ideas help you in your quest to help customers.

Use recorded demos. Want to avoid the demo gremlins? Want tobe able to give a demo without scheduling an SE or the demo system? Want a goodscenario-based demo rather than a trip down the product functionality bunny trail?Want good demo data for your demo? Want all your sales people to give the same,consistent demo, emphasizing the proper messaging and value points? Use arecorded demo. It's that easy and it works.

I've helped create Flash demos (see thisexample) using voice overs for the presentation, and also recorded lessformal demos, using products like Camtasia Studio and aPC headset microphone (See this Xobniexample). They work very effectively and sales people love 'em. Send thecustomer a link and they've got a demo. No SE, no scheduling, no bad demos(if the recorded demo is appropriately done), and much, much less risk oftechnical glitches. After using the recorded demo, follow up with an onsite orweb demo to answer specific questions not covered in the standard demo… butonly when necessary. A recorded demo is probably all that's needed in manysituations. And giving a customer login credentials isn't the equivalent of arecorded demo. They are just as likely to have problems or struggle finding whatthey are looking for, so I'd recommend not giving customers their own demologin.

I can't say enough how effective and useful recorded demos can be. They canalso significantly shortening the sales cycle, and free up SEs to handle morecomplex or specific customer issues, rather than presenting general productdemos in every customer situation. They are definitely easy to create so I'dlook into it if you don't already have a recorded demo.

Use a self contained demo. If anything can go wrong in ademo, it will — so, if you are going to give a live demo, leave as little tochance as possible. The less outside factors you have to rely on, the better. Doyou need to use the customer's Internet connection? Then bring your own cables(two, one for backup) and a broadband wireless card in case you fight with thecustomer's proxy, firewall, or VPN connections through their network. If allelse fails, have a demo slide deck you can use in case you can't connect, theserver's down, your laptop decides to croak, something's messed up on the demosystem, or things aren't going well and you need to retrench.

"Boy Scout" Rule of Demos – Be prepared. Bring your ownprojector. Invest in one of the compact projectors you can take on the plane. Ican't tell you how many times I've walked into a customer's conference room onlyto find some ancient projector that's the size of a trombone case, has reallybad faded color, or one that my laptop just won't sync up with correctly. Nowyou spend all your time and focus acting the part of the high school AV guytrying to make some projector work, when you should be focusing on other things.Plus, everyone else in the room is distracted instead of listen to what you haveto say. 

If you are using a web conferencing service to deliver your demo, use your's,not the service the customer sets up. If you are presenting or giving a demo,you set it up. And make sure you use a reliable conferencing service, not onethat's going to cause issues getting the meeting started. Switch to a differentservice if you do have issues until you find one you like and worksreliably.

Demo_travel_cases_2Lastly, carry what I call my "Swiss army knife cable kit". I have two verysmall portable hard drive travel cases I carry in my backpack that have justabout every cable and connector combination you can think of in it. It's lightweight, doesn't take much room, and now I'm prepared for just about anythingshort of using a flashlight to do a shadow puppet demo. (Oops. Better add a flashlight.) Just make sure you takeall your equipment and cables with you when you pack up and leave.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Samefor demos. Make the demo the smoothest and easiest part of yourcustomer meetings by knowing the demo cold. Know what works, and where there arepitfalls or dead ends. Know your product front to back. Anticipate how you'llanswer questions, whether it's worth the time to traverse to the place in theproduct that answers the question or if you'll just tell them verbally. And mostimportantly, be at your best by literally talking through your demo frombeginning to end, working through the rough patches where you stumbleyour words, repeat yourself or forget those salient value points you want tomake sure come across.

There's a reason why there are mirrors in hotel rooms and its not only foradjusting your tie or fixing your hair. Stand up when you give a demo so youhave better command of the room and visibility of your audience (and visaversa.) And practice standing up, just like you will when giving your demo inperson. Instead of watching reruns of Myth Busters in your hotel room, practiceyour demo for the upcoming customer meeting.

Don't bag dive. Have you ever seen a situation like thishappen? "Hello Customer. Thanks for having us in. Okay, I think the best thingto do is start off by showing you our product…" Bag_dive_2That's called bagdiving. Demos and product literature are the security blanket of selling. When unsure or uncomfortable, people love to bag dive, missing all the upfront dialogue to set the stage for the meeting. I don't want to waste aprospects time until I know how I can laser in on helping them, and I nowknow to communicate that to the customer.  Before you start anything else, set the context andobjective of the meeting, reconfirm needs and problems, understand who's in theaudience and why, etc. (I talk about this a lot more in my other two posts aboutdemos.) So don't go for the security blanket and bag dive right into the demo.Set yourself up for success and leave the bag diving to the competition.

The importance of good demo data. Bad demo data can quicklyderail a great customer meeting, making you and your product look embarrassing.If the data isn't relevant to the scenarios your talking through, or is toofake, you are just creating another obstacle the audience must work through toget to that place where they "get" how you solve their problem.

Use data that's presentable to the customer. I can't tell you how many demosI've been in where I cringed because the demo system had embarrassing orquestionable data in it, causing a "note to self" to fix the demo data rightafter the meeting. Software developers are famous for taking license by usingquestionable or unprofessional looking data in their test systems. They're justhaving fun and don't think that anyone outside their team would ever see thedemo data. Invariably someday they are asked to show software that's underdevelopment, or the test data spills over into the demo data. Again, if it canhappen, it probably will.

A demo account called "moron customer" probably isn't going to show you oryour product in a positive or professional light. Even an account called"developer account" (unless your product is a development tool) might scream tothe customer "this software isn't baked yet, it's still under development". Youdon't want the demo data detracting from the real purpose you are showing apotential customer your product.

Scripts that feed in data or reset data nightly can be a blessing and acurse. Some products need ongoing data pumped into them to show how the productworks (take a security monitoring system for example.) Scripts also help bringthe demo system back to a known state every night, taking out any changessomeone might have made while giving a demo. You often also have to use scriptsto change dates in the data (so it stays relevant). But as always seems tohappen, scripts break, they don't run, or something gets whacked when the demosystem is upgraded. Put your demo system under change control, so everyone knowswhen it's unavailable, and what changes are being made. Test the demo systemafter every upgrade — It is a production system, not a develop box. And loginto the demo system right before every demo to make sure everything's up andrunning. Double check the expected data's in the system. No sense in taking anychances.

Stop selling when the customer is sold. You can undo a lotof really hard work by over selling in a demo. If you had the customer atthe login screen, then stop demoing and close the sale. We all know you'rereally proud of the latest doodad feature that was just added to the product butthat doesn't mean everyone's got to see it. Look for the "you had me at hello"signal from the customer, make sure you've covered all the needs and questionsyou've identified, and wrap things up. It'll save you from a lot of bruisedshins, and your sales person's commission check will thank you for it.

Who owns the demo system? Ah, just who owns the demo system?The SEs? The SE manager? Marketing? Development? IT? Far too often nobody reallyowns the demo system, but a bunch of people work on it. I've come tothe conclusion that whoever is creating the messaging, value points and demoscript for product demos owns the demo system. This might be a product manager,someone in marketing, or a variety of other roles. But the bottom line is oneperson should own it. Support may come many other technical resources but makesure you have a clear owner. And that person or group is also responsible fortraining the rest of the organization on giving demos.

One last point about the demo system. Your product release cycle needs toinclude the creation and updating of demo data, to appropriately demonstrate newcapabilities, and it needs to include upgrading the demo system software andscripts. It should be scheduled as part of the product release process, justlike collateral, training, and PR.

The best demo may be the one you never give. Believe it ornot but you don't necessarily need to give a demo in order to sell your product.I've seen it happen many times. The customer has a serious enough need, customerreferences are very strong, the match of customer needs and your capabilitiesare spot on, an employee from a previous company that used your product acts asa testimonial, product reviews or analysts reports speak volumes about thegreatness of your product… those are all good cases where you may not need todemo your product. So keep that in mind. You can seriously shorten thesales cycle when you can make the case for the customer to buy your productwithout having to do a product demo.

General

Book Review: The Dip, Seth Godin

1 Aug , 2008  

I finally got around to reading Seth Godin's book TheDip and I have to say, it's a two thumbs up read. It's actually avery challenging book to read. Not a hard or a long book, but a book that reallychallenges you. Seth's premise, and I agree, is that anything truly worth doing(to you) experiences an initial honeymoon period followed by the dip. The dip iswhere you have to slog it out to go from one of the many, to one of the few, thetop few in what ever market, product, industry, personal talent, skill, job,etc. you are working to be the best at. When you experience the dip, you mightquit because it's too hard, without examining whether you truly want what's onthe other side, or if you shouldn't have gone down this path in the firstplace. We also waste too much time on dead end stuff, diversify or quit whenwhat really achieves success is reaching the pinnacle of superstar, #1 or #2,where you now have something that's scarce rather than easy to acquire.

That's why this book is so challenging. I say to myself, yep, I quit that toosoon, or, that was a dead end I should have quit. But I also see where grindingit out against the dip and really blasting through it has paid off in situationsfor me too. I can think of personal situations, products, ideas, companies,teams, talents… all that could apply to each of these scenarios.

Seth points out that you should either do what it takes to make it throughthe dip, or recognize that your interests or the resources aren't there to makeit through the dip and quit. Quit the wrong stuff and focus on the right stuff.Both of those scenarios are good ones. You either succeed or you don't wastetime at something you won't – again, both are good choices. It's just whenyou really aren't doing what it takes, or don't have the resources to reach theother side of the dip, when you're wasting your time.

I saw this multiple times in the security industry. Each year at RSA I wouldsee new companies flame out, blowing money on a super nice booth and graphics,only never to be seen or heard of the next year. Others worked their way up,from the end rows of 10×10 booths for a few years, into the 10x20s, then 20x20sin years later, etc. They were slogging it out through the dip, with everyresource they had or applying their resources more cautiously so as not to beone of the flame outs. Then there were others that assembled big war chests ofmoney, who propelled themselves to #1 or #2 because they had a large enough warchest to sustain the push for multiple years, and the chops to eventually getthe product right. These latter companies are usually the most difficult ones tocatch. If you can pull far ahead enough of the pack, it's much more difficultfor others to create the inertia and momentum to catch up.

So how does all this apply to me and you? Well for me, I've already talkedabout being able to relate to a number of the situations Seth talks about. Ialso feel like I'm at one of those dips right now, (I say that in a reallypositive way, btw.) The idea of taking products to market by combining the rightproduct strategy, competitive differentiation, social media, and traditionalmarketing I feel is where the forefront of building great products and companiesare at today.

I love what I do, combining product strategy, creating products, bizdev,writing, professional blogging, deeply understanding customers, seeing wheretechnology is headed, and understanding how it plays into the changing medialandscape. Evangelism for what I help create and believe in is what I love todo. But I also feel like there's a lot more to the story to get to the otherside of the dip, and that's what excites me. It's a blast applying what I know,and an even bigger blast figuring it out. It's why I do what I do in strategy,evangelist and CTO type roles.

I think you would get a lot out of reading Seth's book. Your dip isprobably much different than mine, but what Seth's book does is help you realizeor confirm whether you're on the path you should be seeking. Or maybe it's timeto change paths, so you will make it through the dip.