Point 5: Everyone is in SalesIn my past I did some of the usual sales activities.
- I sold stuff to my neighbors raising money for the Boy Scouts
- I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door in high school
- I participated in alumni phone-a-thons in college
I am an engineer and I work with a lot of engineers. We tend to want to focus on creating things. As you advance in your career, selling becomes an increasingly important aspect of your life, even if you are not carrying a commission. It is often hard to convince engineers that they need to think of selling on a daily basis.
Most of them understand that have to sell yourself to a prospective spouse. They may then forget that they have to keep selling.
The also understand the need to sell to prospective employers. We have all seen great people who are terrible at resumes and interviews.
What's harder to understand is the need to sell your ideas, your proposals, your vision within your company. In a startup like Overture, this also applies to convincing prospective employees, investors and customers.
A good illustration of the importance of everybody being in sales is when you are trying to close a big deal. In these cases there is a lot of selling from all parts of the business:
- The door to the opportunity may be opened by an exec or biz-dev guy
- The quota-carrying salesman may initiate and track the bid process
- The financial team has to assemble data, both on the deal for internal analysis and for the response, as well as in presenting the bidding company as being financially sound
- The product management team has to sell the product functionality and roadmap
- The support team has to sell their capabilities of keeping the products running
- The engineering team has to sell the product design and technology
A common discussion during hiring, planning and reviews is how confident we are in putting a given person in front of a customer. This is really another way of asking: are we confident in their ability to sell? This is usually a point of focus in certain groups and at the senior level. What we forget about is the fact that there are also many unplanned interactions between our customers and our employees.
- Do we prepare them with knowledge of how our customers use our product or service?
- Do we empower them to make things right for the customer?
- Do we ensure that they know how hard it is to win a customer and how easy it is to lose one?
Point 6: Business is About RelationshipsYou might think that this topic is simple and easy, rather than simple and hard. Many folks at a senior level in business are extroverted and like working with people. If you are such a person, you interact easily with your customers and employees every day, and hopefully things are sailing along smoothly. But have you really built the relationships as you should? Have you institutionalized this idea among your team?
I started to really appreciate this principle when we started Overture.
- We were able to raise some early money based on relationships that we had with some angel investors.
- VCs always want you to supply references, but they also dig out their own. Your ability to close a funding round may depend on how good or bad your relationship was with someone you worked or dealt with long ago.
- We were able to recruit some key employees because of the relationships that we had.
- We were able to survive some major product issues at key customers because of the relationships that we had built over time.
- We have been able to get our current customers to provide references for our prospective customers.
The last two points are critical. You will have problems with your customers at some point. What are you doing to prepare?
So, I ask you to think hard about your professional relationships:
- Do you engage with your customers even when they aren't in a buying mode?
- Do you support them when your product or service has issues?
- Do you make the situation right, even when it is very expensive for you?
- Do you get to know your employees and support them when they have issues in their lives?
- Do you foster their professional growth?
Building relationships is simple, but hard.
Point 7: Carpe DiemThis is one of my favorite simple but hard truths. Another variation is "Time is the enemy".
This struck me very hard when my dad passed away. I had the usual coulda/woulda/shoulda remorse, both for myself and for my kids. Why didn't we spend more time with him? Part of it was my fault, but he had his share of the blame. He didn't put an emphasis on family and friends, nor on his favorite hobby of golf. Too much time working and watching TV.
I tried to learn from his and my failure, and resolved to do better. This obviously applies to our personal lives, but it is also critical in the business world:
- Did you make those customer calls today?
- Did you reach out to your old friends or former co-workers to maintain those relationships?
- Did you make an effort to learn something new?
- When was the last time you called your mom or dad (or kids, for those of not-so-young execs)
- Did you express gratitude or recognition for a job well done?
Carpe Diem. Simple, but hard.
Point 8: The Only Constant is ChangeThat's the way one of my former colleagues put it. A current colleague says "if there were no change, that would be a change".
Here's an example of massive change in my industry. My first engineering class as a freshman was learning the FORTRAN programming language using paper punch cards. The cards were read by a big mechanical monstrosity that would then send the job to TUCC. It was a horrible way to learn programming. I decide that I wanted nothing to do with computers, and my motto was "nuke TUCC".
Soon thereafter we got the first PC labs installed. PCs were pitiful little things with 2 drives for 256K floppy disks, a 4.77 MHz processor and 256K of RAM. But they were under your control. I quickly came to see the power of computers because things changed.
As a side note, recall that we started Overture in the First Flight Venture Center or FFVC, which was the former TUCC. Things really do change.
Overture has been around almost 13 years, and we have seen a lot of change. As an example, let's look at the executive level (the CEO and his direct reports). Comparing the current team to that from 5 years ago, there are only two names that are the same, and only one of those people is in the same role. The changes from 5 years ago include a new CEO, new VP of sales, new VP of operations, and a new VP of engineering.
If there was that much change in the last 5 years, what will the next 5 or 10 years look like? Bill Gates said:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.The key is to recognize that change is going to happen, and to prepare for it.
EpilogueThis blog has covered some principles that you probably already knew:
- The key to finishing is getting started
- Be Committed
- Be contrarian
- Expect some failures, but manage them and learn from them
- Everyone is in Sales
- Business is About Relationships
- Carpe Diem
- The Only Constant is Change
All of these ideas are simple to state and understand, but hard to put into daily practice. Hopefully this blog has been a useful reminder to you.
One last reminder: please remember to eat less, exercise more, and keep your eye on the target.