I recently (~3 months ago) joined a start-up company that is launching a new product. The industry we're targeting is very high performance, in fact performance is absolutely critical to the success of product. Our product isn't yet finished but we have a demo.
My boss and the sales team are making visits to prospective clients and making very exaggerated claims about both the performance capabilities of our product and how "finished" it is, stating that it's already in production at numerous facilities.
I understand business is very competitive and sales teams may have to embellish things a little in the early days, perhaps compensating for the delays through the sales pipeline - you can't wait for a product to be finished before you start trying to sell it!
However I am nervous about these claims for several reasons:
- They're unrealistic. We're miles off the figures they're presenting and it may not even be possible to achieve them.
- The sales team genuinely believe these figures, they are unaware how far off we are. I would expect the sales team to be given an executive summary of the facts and where we'll be in a few months time. They then have the freedom to choose what/how to present to clients based on the situation.
- Typically the customers are very tech-savvy and will attempt to reproduce performance figures in-house. Any sales made based on these figures are likely unlikely to complete if customers measure something that's significantly worse.
- We're much further away from a shippable product than the boss seems to believe.
- Reputation. It's a small industry where reputation is important. As the lead developer I will be associated with this product. Rightly or wrongly it will affect my chances of future employment if we mislead potential clients and they discover this.
As soon as we make sufficient progress with a client I will probably become involved to discuss the technical aspects of a particular deployment.
My questions are:
In a direct contact with a prospective customer to what extent must I confirm the exaggerated claims or should I risk destroying sale by being completely truthful? What about if I'm asked a direct question e.g. "how many X/per second have you achieved in testing?"
How could I pre-empt the situation in question 1? I've already made some subtle indications that I'm uncomfortable. If my boss dismisses my concerns are there any other avenues? Am I meddling in the "business" side of things that are outside the remit of a technical team lead?