A Call for Ethical IT Selling: Part Two – A Code of Engagement

This is the conclusion of A Call for Ethical IT Selling. You can read part one here.

Thinking back on my previous post, a thought occurred to me: Those of us in the blogosphere, and certainly those of us assisting with governmental IT missions, need to maintain a stricter code of engagement that needs to first and foremost deal with what is needed, not just wanted, from the people that we try to inform. We can do this by applying some of the basics of the journalistic code to all our communications and recommendations:

Standards of Accuracy

  • Facts need to be attributed. If you say there is a 20% increase in X, be able to discuss and defend exactly how that was derived. Don't leave it to your reader or potential client to simply trust you or force them to find answers on their own.
  • Surveys are opinions. Don't represent them as anything else.
  • If you haven't seen it work, never assume that it does. That's the difference between "designed to" or "built to" versus "will do" or "has done."

Slander & Sensationalism

  • Advocacy for a methodology or product is no excuse for arrogance. Solutions and products are "better" depending on the needs of the mission and adherence to the IT mission's requirements. There is almost always an alternative, and even if it's not in your quiver, you should know it and represent it truthfully. When you attempt to influence a decision, do so with facts and not FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
  • It is possible to have complete assurance of your product's supremacy, but recognize that you need to build that case from the ground up. If you have to tear down the competition in order to make your point then you are hiding a deficiency of your own.
  • It is possible to have a strong opinion against a certain methodology or product but still maintain a professional demeanor in communications. You do this by stating that it is your opinion or understanding. That message has to be delivered before the meat of your opinion, otherwise you will cause confusion.

Limitation of Harm

  • Understand that if your advice or evangelism influences an IT project to choose a path less likely to succeed than a more appropriate choice, you may cause tangible harm, including people's careers. You have also aided in the waste of governmental funds and served as an accomplice to all the pains caused by the failure of that project as it ripples through an IT department, agency, or program.
  • In defense of this possibility, never bow to the pressure to sell it first and make it work second. Be sure it will work before you evangelize it. Research it. Train on it. Document it. Then sell it or speak to it.
  • Be clear with those you assist regarding what a product or methodology will deliver. State what needs it will address and not address. Once it's established then open the discussions around the differences between needs and wants. This is where you can offer alternative methodologies, goals, and objectives. The point is to be careful to insure your audience is always on the same page as you are.

I am lucky that I am encouraged to operate in a clear “white space” of advocacy here at DLT. I am expected to be informed on all aspects of technology and the market it serves, even if it’s not in our portfolio. When I communicate with the public at large or a potential customer, I am expected to do so with a tone of a knowledge practice.

I recognize other organizations don’t see the value in engaging the public in such a manner. Instead of building trust, and then a relationship, all emphasis is put on seeing the person / mission / problem as a prospect. However, even when put in that position, it is important to take heart that you can still act within the code of conduct above. Pressure to evangelize can often lead to overselling, overextending, going negative, and flat out lying which leads to lost profits. However, instead of taking the easy way out, I encourage all members of the technology community to apply the guidelines above and deliver truth to our customers’ - our government’s – needs.

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