ANALYSIS: What Next?

By Mike Cohn

Okay, this Y2K thing is more than just around the corner--it's about to sneak up and hit you right in the schnoz. And unless you've been asleep the last three years, you've probably made some decent commission money selling hardware, software, new systems, old systems, bottled water, or whatever else folks need to survive this millennightmare.

But now comes the hard part. What the heck will we sell next? What will we sell once the 12/31/99 boom is over?

Imagine 1Q 2000 with the boss breathing down your neck, barking about 30 percent year-to-year growth. Meanwhile, your customer's working 'round the clock, fixing that last couple hundred Y2K bugs in his phone system. In his payroll system. In his 30 million lines of could-have-sworn-this-tested-clean assembler code. It won't be a pretty picture.

And it gets worse. There's a whole bunch of us sales guys out here in the same mess. For the last three years peddlers have crawled out of the woodwork. Car salesmen in '95 sold remediation tools in '96. Guys working out of their basement in '97 IPOed in '98.

Everybody now wants a slice of the '99 mega-pie, which in about six months is about to shrink to the size of a Hostess cupcake. And if you ask any of these Johnny-come-latelies how they plan to survive next year, they all say the same thing: relationships. I wish I had a nickel for every salesman who says he'll take his pre-2000, Y2K-customer relationships and turn them into big money by selling them e-commerce. Or ERP. Or e-anything that can keep the e-commissions rolling in.

I could use the nickels, because I won't be making my numbers. Not even close. Sure, there will be lots to sell--e-commerce is hotter than Viagra. E-veryone will need it. But who will buy it?

Come 1/1/2000, customers will be broke. Tired. Struggling for a week or forty trying to get beyond month-end, quarter-end, year-end and century-end. After three months of trying to get on your prospect's schedule, your sales call will probably go swimmingly for the first 20 minutes-till the prospect finds out your company's e-experience amounts to one guy who's been to a two-day class and two interns building a Web page for a pet store.

The good times have rolled. Are bad times ahead? Competition will be fierce. Salesmen will be tripping over each other and the schmoozing will be incredible. We'll all be pitching and demoing and cold calling, while the whole custo-world will just want to go home and take a well-deserved nap.

Look, there's still a few more months to go. Let's close out a banner '99. Celebrate. Enjoy it while we can. Make a mint in commissions, and take the check in advance, in case the millennium bugs take a bite out of Helen's hard drive in the home office.

Me? I'm worried. But not desperate. I've found a way out of this mess. While you folks slave away next year, I'm going to have the time of my life. Play golf. Eat prime rib. Go to ball games. I'm going to have a stupendous year … 'cause I'm quitting and becoming a 'customer'. I expect the sales calls to start any day now.

Mike Cohn cowers from Y2K in Atlanta, and is stocking up on canned goods.