Technical, sales: The conundrum

I still don't really understand SMPT and mail servers -- but with some offshore help, was able to solve a problem that consumed probably 20 hours of management time.
I still don’t really understand SMPT and mail servers — but with some offshore help, was able to solve a problem that consumed probably 20 hours of management time.

I’m in the midst of a vexing technical challenge. We use a third-party “cloud” service provider to manage our publication management software. The problem: For some reason, the management software cannot properly connect with our email SMPT server, meaning that it cannot generate electronic invoices. We had just started using the system for this purpose — and it seemed to work fine initially. Then, suddenly, it stopped.

In our organization, I’ve evolved to be the IT specialist. This is a rather unfair categorization — like I have never taken network administration training and in any case I’m supposed to be the company president/owner. However, informally, staff always come to me with the IT problems and I can often troubleshoot things, and eventually fix them.

This problem is proving more challenging than most, despite my use of various fall-back measures, including seeking outside technical support. Of course I’m truly careful about my budget on this work: I’ve learned that I can get high quality support offshore through the internet (from for absurdly low fees. But even my offshore person is having trouble. We’re going back and forth, trying this and that, still to no avail.

Now, imagine a salesperson approaching me with a “great offer” for some new service unrelated to the problem at hand. If somehow this individual got through to me (and that wouldn’t be too hard — my email and phone and name are quite visible if you look)  — do you think the rep would receive a warm and friendly reception. Some chance!

How about a rep approaching me to say he could solve my specific problem? Well, there would be other problems here. Assuming the person didn’t know me from before, my first reaction would be: “How can this person know so much about my current situation?”

I’d be spooked and wonder if there is a security breach. There could only be two other explanations for the salesperson’s interpretive success: He had some blind luck in suggesting the answer to a matter that just happened to meet my needs right now, or he had done some legitimate research, possibly by talking with my employees or someone I trust.

In the latter circumstance, considering my very real need, if the salesperson proposed a solution based on a fee some orders in magnitude greater than the offshore vendors, I might well say “yes” to his services.

But wait. There are a lot of “ifs” between the salesperson’s desire to win new business and my desire to do business with the sales representative. In fact, the odds of this combination happening are next to zero.

Would effective marketing solve the problem?  Say, the company employing the technical salesperson wrote a white paper outlining circumstances similar to mine, indicating a clear understanding of the problem. There are two problems here. First, if the white paper gives away the answer, I would simply solve it myself for free. (And indeed one of my processes in working through technical problems is to conduct Google searches with the relevant technical terms.) If the marketing material provided clues but not the answer, maybe I’d purchase the deal — if I was satisfied that the organization could really solve the problem, and offered a true satisfaction guarantee. But that’s hard unless the organization can see into my circumstances. An unlikely answer.

As you can see, there are no easy answers here. Yet I would indeed be willing to “let go” of this challenge for someone to take it over and solve it for me. The barrier to using this service would be (a) the satisfaction that I won’t pay just for trying — that I will pay for results and (b) the overall cost of trying/solving the problem isn’t as great as just finding another totally different answer. (In our case, we would simply process the invoices manually. A chore, but not too bad, because we are talking dozens, not hundreds of invoices.)

This dialogue exposes some of the needle-in-the-haystack challenges in sales and business development in any industry, but is certainly relevant to the AEC community. Generally, you won’t get far unless you have sufficient trust and credentials, through proven relationships, experience, and effective marketing. And even then, it isn’t a certain thing.

P.S.  As I was writing this post, my offshore consultant appears to have solved the problem. The fee: About $10.00 US.

If you would like guidance on some low-cost problem solving ideas, please email me at

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