Included is some paper, sticky notes, and some pens. Please help my customer understand virtualization.
Read that as tongue-in-cheek, but a position I found myself in last week at an executive briefing. The only difference, MacGyver wasn’t available.
I am sure that all of you can relate to a situation where you were asked to present an abstract concept to an audience. You’ve been prepped, you’ve worked on your material, you’re delivery is solid, you are, for all intents and purposes, ready to knock it out of the park. You show up early to check the equipment, you actively engage the audience members as the come in in an effort to create a personal connection. All eyes on you, and after your introduction, the decision maker simply says: “Well, I don’t really know what virtualization is, who VMware is, and frankly, why I should care.”
Okay, pop quiz – what do you do?
Last week in the SE territory for one of our sales team, the decision maker said just that. He went on to say that he hated slides, the resolution of our projector was too fuzzy for demonstrations and was more of a meat and potatoes meets brass tacks kind of IT breed that was one horse away from being the Clint Eastwood of the modern datacenter. I hope you can begin to see the image of the man across the table for me, and understand that what I worked so hard on had no relevance. Not to mention the shocking realization that there are some IT shops still in operation today that don’t use virtualization, let alone VMware — the shock and horror of it all. I was completely floored, but whole-heartedly believe that when you take on opportunities to connect with people on a human level, you make it about them. And while I can’t share a common framework to help others think nimbly on their feet, I can share with you how I handled this.
Presentations Fail if we only Speak to Abstract Concepts and don’t build Concrete Understandings in our Audiences’ Mind.
I looked around, first finding the exit and then secondly relishing in the fact that my account team was just as horrified as I was. Seconds have passed by — only seconds — as the account team began to address the situation, but the customer’s eyes were on me. ”Hold on.” I said. I powered down the projector and closed the laptop lid. Next to the projector was a box of office supplies that I scanned when I first came into the room. To the decision maker I said: “Sir, NetApp’s overarching goal is to do for storage what virtualization has done for physical servers. This will mean more to you in a minute. Give me your participation and 35 minutes of your life and I promise you’ll walk out knowing what virtualization is, how to explain it to anyone at almost any age with almost any level of education. From there, you’ll understand my claim. Do we have a deal?” What a powerful commitment – the emotional bridge was extended and he took the first step. I pointed out the time on the clock and I said “We start… now!”
From the box of office supplies, I took out 5 sheets of paper, 3 different colored sharpies and 3 different colors of sticky notepads.
To the decision maker, I gave him 3 sheets of paper and three colored pens. To one of his colleagues seated across the table from him, I gave the other 2 sheets of paper. With all attention focused on the decision maker, I said “Please write in the upper left hand corner of the paper the following: Cars, Motorcycles, and Fusion Powered Rocketships.” He complied. I told him that i bet that if I asked him to do so, he could fill up the “Cars” and “Motorcycles” page with loads of content but when it came to “Fusion Powered Rocketships”, the page would likely be largely empty, and he agreed with that. What I have just demonstrated to you is a simple representation of the physical servers in your datacenter. They are purposed for one specific workload and some are over utilized, some are under utilized and others may be just right — more importantly, their resources (in this case space) are finite. The audience took the first step across the bridge. The abstract idea of virtualization is able to take shape in their minds because I am using concrete examples, that everyone can grasp, to explain it.
And Next Came the Ah-Hah
I asked the decision maker if they understood and agreed with it, to which they did (of course I knew the answer). ”Let’s extend this concept then. I’ll ask you now to mark out the words Cars, Motorcycles and Fusion Powered Rocketships.” I explained. ”Can we agree that those three titles are indicative of vehicles?” to which they nodded in agreement. I then gave the decision maker 8 sticky notes and asked him to arrange them in a 2×4 layout on a piece of paper. He complied and when he as finished, about 10 minutes had expired. I asked him to rewrite those 3 types of vehicles on the top of the first 3 sticky note pads and again, he complied. On the top of the remaining 5 sticky notes, I asked him to title them anyway he wanted. 13 minutes in. He looked at me, puzzled at first, as I said “Welcome to virtualization.” “You see, the sticky notes are encapsulated forms of paper that can be stuck on the larger piece of paper. Instead of having one large page dedicated to Cars, we can summarize all that we can about cars on the sticky note, and go on to add additional sticky notes for topics like Motorcycles and Fusion Powered Rockets to the same piece of paper. In virtualization, we call this concept virtual machines. Like sticky notes, virtual machines contain all of the information necessary to smell, act, and seem like a physical server (like the sticky note does for paper).” I check to see if that made sense, to which the decision maker nodded in agreement. Now I know that there more to it than that, but at this point, I had them halfway across the bridge.
I asked the decision maker to explain what differences he saw between the 3 sheets of paper. He responded with “This one is full” — “How right you are, and if I can ask, how would you resolve that?”. Consider this image: the decision maker reaches down and grabs 1 sticky note and moves it from one piece of paper to the next. Are you excited — I was, the concept was becoming concrete in his mind. ”Outstanding. The value of virtual machines, as in the sticky note, is that they are highly portable. In the virtualization world, you’ve just distributed resources within a cluster of hosts. 1 page is full and no other notes can be added; 1 page is blank and you can now start load balancing the sticky notes so that each page has as equal an amount as any other.” I asked him to “load balance” the sticky notes as best he could before we continue.
So there you have it — in roughly 20 minutes, I was able to create a concrete understanding in the customer’s mind that allows me to introduce abstract concepts in way that he can understand them. From there, we spoke about replication by sending sticky notes across the table between sheets of paper. We were able to talk about VMware Site Recovery Manager, High Availability, Fault Tolerance, and more just because of this little exercise.
The Moral of the Story
Even though virtualization is being adopted at exponential rates, not everyone uses it or understands what it is. As someone who has invested your professional career in this space, you are likely an incredibly smart person. It’s because of that that you can get in your own way. Remember to make you presentation about the audience. Make them the hero and help them cross the proverbial bridge that separates you from them.
I would highly recommend that you pick up the book “Made to Stick”, “Resonate”, and “Slide:ology”. All of these have been instrumental for me as I engaged with customers over the years. Share your thoughts and experiences with me on this — would love to hear your success stories.