OSS fears trump OSS pains

The truth is that whale-sized companies would love to do business with smaller suppliers. The relationship is more immediate in every way. Small suppliers can deliver goods more quickly than larger ones. It’s much easier to get the CEO of a small supplier on the phone for discussion of the transactions. Small suppliers are more flexible. So why are so many small companies unsuccessful in entering this larger arena? Because they do not fully understand the fears of whale-sized companies, fears that have arisen because of all the factors affecting business during the last few decades. It may be true that you have prepared yourself and your company to respond to the immediate demand for an excellent product. We call this demand the “whale’s pain.” But fear trumps pain every time. If you don’t know how to understand and allay the whale’s fear, you will not be able to make the sale.”
Barbara Weaver Smith and Tom Searcy
, from their book, “Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company

When it comes to OSS customers, most are whales relative to their vendors (ie service providers tend to have larger market cap than the OSS vendors that they partner with).

Barbara and Tom make a fascinating point here – “If you don’t know how to understand and allay the whale’s fear, you will not be able to make the [OSS] sale.” And this is not just the literal sale. Te statement rings true not just for vendor sales teams, but for internal project initiators and implementation teams who are making changes mid-flight.

I’ve seen scenarios where one vendor has been clearly better able to overcome a customer’s pain points, but haven’t been able to overcome their fears, whether that’s been the perception of size, the perception of the ability to deliver or other fears.

OSS projects tend to be complex and costly. There tend to be a lot of unknowns, and with that comes a lot of fear.

When helping customers with their product / vendor selections (or OSS consultancies in general), I try to overcome customer fears with a methodology that steps through the evaluation of pain points, the demonstration of capabilities and the opportunity for customer and vendor to build trust in each other through the interaction process. But a vendor selection can’t overcome all of the unknowns prior to entering into OSS implementation contracts (partnerships), so there are often still residual fears.

Do you agree with Barbara and Tom’s premise? Does fear trump pain every time? Do you have any techniques that you’ve found to be successful in allaying customer fears (and/or pain points) on OSS projects?

To leave you with one last thought – The confused mind says no. How do you remove the confusion from what seem like complex projects in the eyes of your customers / stakeholders / sponsors?

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