"How did the sales call go?"“it went fine.”
“How was the demo?”“It was fine”
“How are we doing on the RFP response?”
“It’s all going fine”
As both a former pre-sales leader and former IT executive, the word “fine” sends shivers down my spine. Fine is supposed to be a term of praise relating to excellent quality as in a fine wine, or a fine-looking horse – however, it seems to becoming one of those indeterminate words that can be either good or bad. For those of you who don’t have English as a primary language I apologize for the nuances of the spoken word, because “fine” is downright dangerous in the profession of Sales Engineering. Let’s take a real life example.
“How was the sales call?” I ask.
“It went fine”, replies my SE.
I pause, raise a quizzical eyebrow, and use the power of silence.
After 5 seconds he continues, “Well, they seemed to like what we were saying, although they didn’t ask very many questions and I’m not sure that they 100% got our message.”
“So what are the next steps?” I prompt him.
“Well, we really don’t have any. They said they did not need any further information at this point while they were figuring out their budget. They’re going to get back with us for a demo date.”
“Just so I’m clear, we don’t know any of their business drivers, they really don’t see a fit for our technology solutions, they probably have no budget and there are no next steps that we can drive? That’s your definition of fine?”
I first learnt this lesson when I was teenager out with my girlfriend. I learnt that when she said everything was “fine” it really wasn’t – and after a while I could judge just how fine she was not by counting the number of “f”’s the word started with and the degree of snarl in her voice. We are not that extreme in the business world, yet the next time someone tells you that everything is/was/went/will be fine – push back and ask the next question, as there is way more than meets the eye to a fine SE.