We need better road signs and less bumper stickers
Imagine Customer A. Customer A is going on a trip out west. They are a good customer. They plan for changes, they have smart people, they even have a trip manager with tons of experience. They asked all the passengers if they are ready to go on the trip. They asked the driver if he needed anything. They have a big meeting around a campfire to discuss the trip in every single detail. They talk about the weather, road conditions, state of the cart and horses, and terrain to be traveled. They even asked another traveler for advice. Customer A believes they are ready. What else could they have done? So customer A loads up the cart, hitches up the horses and sets out on their journey.
Everything starts out just fine. As the horses lead the cart down the road it is smooth travels and cool breezes. The trip manager cannot understand the driver completely, but that is OK. The driver is a great driver and we can all see that the trip is going well. They all see the road signs telling them how great it is going to be when they get out west. The driver and trip manager notice a big hill up ahead. It doesn't seem to be on any of the trip guides or maps. They grow concerned, but they have already come too far to turn around now. They see some more road signs showing other customers that have already arrived out west and it looks great. As Customer A approaches the hill, they notice the cart is dangerously swaying around. Suddenly, the whole cart comes undone from the horses. The driver and trip manager both see the cart begin to pull away, tumbling and speeding down the hill. They begin to panic as they realize their trip is going to be ruined. As the cart moves, it passes the horses picking up more and more speed. The driver and the trip manager see a sticker on the back of the cart. It is faded and worn but still able to be read. It's Microsoft clippie and his paper clip family nicely waving to everyone. It also has a caption that is barely visible "Don't forgot to do these things before going on your trip". They can’t read the rest of the bumper sticker as the cart flies down the hill ahead of them. The driver and trip manager look at each other and realize they probably didn’t know the right questions to ask before the trip and now they are too far along to do anything about it.
Every customer wants their project to go well. They want well planned and executed strategies. They see themselves adopting our software through a methodical and logical approach. Somewhere along the way, however, everything goes sideways. All too often we are called into help customers in times of desperation. Many of those times we are able to identify issues that could have been solved a lot easier if we had been engaged earlier in the process. We need to find ways to engage our customers in the beginning of their trip. This should be in the interest phase. Before any decisions have been made. Before a product is chosen. When they first start talking about issues they have, and how maybe our products can help them. The key to this approach is not from a "sales" perspective. I believe it should be from a "planning" perspective.
P.S. Customer A will make it out West eventually. The trip will take longer, cost more and end up being much more painful than they originally intended.