All too often, I find people who have focused on the detail of something to such a degree that the overall story to which the detail belongs has suffered. I agree that without the detail, there is no story but without the story, there is no detail (who else just thought of the Chicken and Egg scenario?!).

I recently had a brief and friendly discussion with a potential software supplier for a client and, like any good business, they are aware that improvements can be made to help themselves and their customers. This is great news and I hope that improvements make a positive difference for them.

But, there was something that worried me a little that doesn’t fill me with confidence that they will benefit from the changes; they focused on one small and insignificant problem (a detail) whereas the problem I raised was actually about the whole of their sales process (the story). They showed no acknowledgement of an issue with their sales process, quite the opposite in fact, they re-enforced it!

Ask for what you need – and nothing else

Let’s focus on the one point they acknowledged. Among the several points I raised about their sales process, the one they picked up on was about a data capture form on their website which includes a host of different fields. In User Experience / Interaction Design circles, there is a school of thought that you should only capture data that is essential to the process that is being followed at that time – there are many reasons for this which I won’t go into here, but this post explains it well.

Anyway, what I said;

… in order to evaluate the software, I needed to give away a significant amount of valuable personal information …

What they said;

… I did not realize that you felt we required all the information in the download form completed.  The only field needed is an email address but that sure could be made more evident to a user.

This omission is what they drew from my email to them, that there was no way to identify mandatory fields. Yes, great, but why do you need all the other non-mandatory fields on the form in the first place?!

This is simple User Experience (UX) stuff. Well, for an astute or professional person maybe, such as a software vendor. If they are so focused on one detail and can’t see the whole issue, why would I want to buy their software? It is unfair to expect everyone one who runs a business to know everything there is about the internet, but the business also needs to be aware of the exact same thing but from their own perspective; be aware you don’t know everything about the internet and might need a hand from someone who does.

But I can’t see the wood for the trees …

There is another issue at play here, the one where they ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ (wow, three clichés in one post).

Have you ever spent days on an a task or assignment getting the spelling, grammar and punctuation perfect, but have a gut feeling something just is not right? You pass it to someone to proof read who, within minutes, raises one simple and obvious point that fundamentally undermines the whole assignment? Uh oh! Problem! This is the ‘Wood for Trees’ scenario and you have just been shown the path out of the woods … the one that was there all along. Hopefully planned your time beforehand and utilised the proof readers services with enough time to spare before your assignment was due, just in case – you’ve made that mistake before and it hurt.

The supplier above fits into the wood for trees category very well. They appear to be caught up in their own methods and processes (possibly because they have other hefty details to consider like human resource or ‘marketing requirements’), that when some constructive observations are made, they either rule out or completely miss the theme of the points (the moral of the story) and are then left to pick out the most ridiculously small issue that will have little or no impact on them.

In these cases, a business will need an external viewpoint to make sure it is clear what it is they are trying to do and how they can do it. This is one reason why external consultants are an important tool for any business embarking on something new. In fact I’d even go so far as suggesting you need one every couple of years as a matter of course just to make sure you are operating to maximum potential and efficiency and that the business is current and ahead of competitors.

If you find yourself ‘running through the woods with a blindfold’ on (four clichés in one post!), or you are stuck with the whole story because of a few details, then go forth and seek assistance before it is too late – you will be very thankful for it.