I love selling and I’ve seen it change over the years. Through internet bubbles, up economies and down, people have bought things in varying amounts for varying reasons but they have bought.
The last time I had a job with no tie to a number was 1976 when I was an area host at a local theme park. “Area Host” of course was one of the great euphemisms of my lifetime. I wore a poofy shirt and a bowler and swept up cigarette butts. When I got the job, my parents asked what I would be doing. I clearly remember telling them, “I’m not sure. I think I’ll walk around and make sure that everyone is having a good time.” That turned out to be true. It’s just that I swept up butts and hot dog wrappers and emptied garbage cans while doing it.
I went on to go to college to get a journalism degree which in its own way helped me get into sales because the guy who had the job before me apparently couldn’t write a proposal or a territory plan. I never did use the degree for its intended purpose. I was in sales forever. In that time, one thing I learned was that for all the talk of “sales cycles”, it’s really a buying cycle and the job of the salesperson is to use that buying cycle to his or her best advantage through a combination of skill, timing and hard work. Luck sometimes plays but not often enough to list on its own merit.
Sales is not an easy job and I respect it enough that I could never leave it completely. But as product cycles shrink, customer service is the way to make the organization the thing rather than a feature or function that gives you a fraction of the market window it did a decade ago. It’s selling from the rear. It’s differentiating your product or service in a way that can’t be easily replicated or stolen by a competitor. There is no patent, no one employee, no one good idea that can be had, one way or the other, by your competitor that will relegate you to the dustbin of corporate logos.
We’ve been reading books like Tom Peters’ “In Search of Excellence” for over a quarter of a century and all of those principles are still true. Product innovation is still as important as ever. But everyone is innovating. Selling is important and has been studied, optimized and improved in every conceivable way and while there is still a lot to learn and do, the low hanging fruit as been enjoyed.
Customer service and support and Quality Assurance lead to a stellar customer experience which means better customer retention, better customer references and a higher bar for anyone wanting to eat your lunch. And since it’s not had nearly the focus that sales has had for the last few decades, I challenge you to make the case that your company has turned over every stone to make it the differentiator it can be.
I recently rejoined Toolwire, a company I’d worked for as Vice President of Sales a few years ago. Toolwire is an amazingly innovative experiential learning company. I love everything about it. The people and the products are great and the attitude is unique and infectious. The ability to meld art and science make Toolwire a very special place. In my new role running their Learner Advocacy group, I have the opporunity to shape the experiences of hundreds of thousands of learners as Toolwire quite literally changes the face of online education for our customers. I’ll have the chance to work with a fiecely dedicated team to remake customer support and Quality Assurance as well as establish Usability Labs and Accessibility Labs so that our products can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of physical ability. It’s a unique chance to leverage my years of experience creating customers and take it to the next level by making them customers for life.
I look forward to sharing some of that journey here. It won’t be the main focus of Words Rang True but let’s be honest. If the idea of doing something transformational isn’t interesting to you, Silicon Valley might not be your cup of tea.