Learnings From Losing The Contract

Earlier this quarter I had an opportunity to contend for a contract product management role associated with a company that provides software to marketing professionals and intermediaries (e.g., in the agency space). At risk of oversimplifying, the software that this company provides is somewhat new in its packaged form - the technology could be consider offspring technology (new product introduction) developed via consulting projects with big brands.

Now in my experience, the sales process for consulting projects is quite different from (interim or indefinite length) management contracts. Whereas the former situation often requires a pitch deck and a proposed engagement methodology, the latter situation tends to be more like a series of job interviews that provide the company a means to evaluate work background, problem solving methods, and personality and managerial fit of the individual.

On the balance, the interviews went pretty well (As far as I could tell, there were 3-4 folks into the final interviews). We had good discussions, with a lot of focus being spent on my perspectives and experiences with the product development process. We facilitated the discussion by breaking the discussion (impromptu) into the various phases of product development, ranging from ideation to opportunity screening and business case to design, testing, and rollout. We also talking about different methods and deliverables that were produced during each phase and different dynamics related to steering and organizational structure.

I got a bit blindsided about 80%-90% of the way in my final interview, however.

I was asked a question something to the effect of "what part of the product development process excites you the most?"I answered something to the effect of, "The part that excites me the most is interfacing with people, gluing people together, and facilitating people. I am not really the kind of person that gets the most enjoyment out of working as a solo person in the backoffice."

Unfortunately for me, the primary decision-maker indicated to me that he was thankful that I had characterized things that way. He indicated that he was looking for someone that enjoys working working in a solo mode. He said that perhaps I would be a better fit for the consulting organization and would be happy to refer me to the head of operations.

Unaware of any contract opportunities in the consulting area, my sales instinct was to express being open, but not to entertain the redirect so directly and immediately. Frankly, if one is trying to zero-in, my general recommendation is not to get redirected on the first, soft push.

So I tried to backpedal. I tried to explain that in expressing my strengthes in facilitating people that I did not mean to diminish my ability in keeping my head down and working on solo activities.

To no avail. At that point, I could read the subtle body language that the contract was already lost.

So where did things go wrong?

In my mind, the things that I lost focus on were the real job requirements. I focused too much on trying to highlight my strengths without focusing enough on fortifying around the unwritten job requirements. While I may have met the job requirements on paper, I probably did not do enough due diligence to figure out what type of contract product manager the company really wanted. As such, I was unable to frame my background in the proper light. Contract lost. Lesson learned.

Update 09/09/09: A link readers may also be interested in - Venture capitalist Fred Wilson posts on "Failure" as a badge of honor (at least in the U.S.)

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