Adam talks about the importance of process (and why that gives engineers an advantage), why you shouldn’t talk too much (which I screw up in the interview, giving you a good example of what not to do), how to uncover a solution rather than prescribing it, and more.
Here’s the link to Episode 3 with Adam.
The wine: Aegerter Pinot Noir for Burgundy (the year is 2012). Nice French Pinot, not as fruity as what you might be used to if you drink a lot of California Pinot.
Guest: Jason Cohen, founder, WPEngine, blogger at A Smart Bear (if you don’t read this, you need to, as soon as you finish listening to the podcast).
Jason talks about how you can use your technical background and lack of “sales skills” to your advantage, why so many small companies screw up in sales and double down on their weaknesses while ignoring their strengths, and more.
We had such a good time that I’ve cut the interview into 2 episodes (we might have had a third if we hadn’t run out of wine).
If you’re doing something that upsets your customers and prospects, whether it’s changing prices, revising a service plan, or removing the universal audio port in favor of a proprietary standard, don’t insist on giving yourselves credit for “courage” in front of your customers. Certainly, explain your reason(s), and don’t feel obliged to share everything, but even Apple can’t pull this off properly. (In fairness to Schiller, he was trying to paraphrase Steve Jobs, who put it more eloquently– not just “having courage”, but having “the courage of our convictions” and “being willing to take the heat”.)
Here’s a great drawing from Eric Burke (who’s site seems to be down, or I’d link there.):
Aside from being funny, this says a lot about not just products, but sales. “Your Company’s App” is complicated not because someone wants to make it complicated, but because the requirements are complicated. Sometimes, this is just because some things are complex. Often, it’s because people didn’t have clarity about the mission. Usually, it’s a combination of these factors.
When you’re an engineer doing sales and marketing, it’s easy to get sucked into the technical details. After all, you’re better at this stuff than most of the other folks in sales and marketing. Before you realize it, your sales cycle looks like the “Your Company’s App.” Too many details without clarity. The details are great, but they should come from a clear view of the overall mission.
I see too many proposals that have 10 pages of techno-jargon and no sense of what the prospect wants to accomplish, how they will measure success, or whether the vendor will be able to claim success.
Think of your sales efforts like the Google and Apple products– very simple to understand and achieve the goal, with a lot of hard work behind the scenes.
Of all the uncomfortable sales and marketing activities you suddenly have to handle, networking is probably the least favorite for introverts. Trying to make small talk is painful. You know some people can “work a room” without apparent effort, but that’s not you.
Here are some tips to make the experience more fun and more productive.
Know why you’re there. It’s not just to eat lunch or make sales. (More on that in a moment.) Are you there to find contacts for your pipeline? To hire employees? Meet experts who can help you with key business tasks? Meet people who have expertise you want to gain? Knowing the purpose lets you target the right events. If you’re targeting prospects, visiting with your peers may not be helpful. But if you need expertise and a sounding board, your peers will be more useful than your customers.
Don’t try to sell. The power of the network grows exponentially with its members. If you try to sell everyone you meet, you’ll not only not make (m)any sales, you’ll shut down sales to those peoples’ networks, which is where the real opportunity is.
Meet people, not opportunities. Don’t treat people just as dollar signs. If there was no business involved– say you’re at your kid’s soccer game, talking to other parents– you’ll establish a human connection, not an economic connection. Do the same thing at business networking events. Of course, the central topic of conversation may be business, instead of excessive homework, but talk to people like people. Ask people about themselves. Be interested. Not just “what do you do?”, but “this may be a silly question, but is that like X?” or “Why does someone hire you instead of doing it themselves/using popular alternative/etc?” Ask questions to get a real understand of who they are and how their business works. People love to talk about this stuff, and I always learn more by listening than by talking.
Offer to help. When you make a connection with someone you like, ask who is their ideal customer? If you know someone who is struggling with the problem they solve, offer to introduce them. (Depending on how comfortable you are, you can always ask the person already in your network if they want the introduction. If they do, obviously make the introduction. If not, just explain that the timing or the fit isn’t as good as you thought. The new contact will still appreciate that you tried.) Often, people are not good at describing their ideal customer. I have met people who say “any business” or “anyone with a website”, and stubbornly resist my attempts to get more specific. Unfortunately, these people don’t get introductions, because I am not confident in their ability to help people more than anyone else in the market. But if they say, “we help dentists get more patients from their websites”, then I know who might be a good fit, and I have a good reason to make an introduction to dentists. (The flip side of this is that people will often ask you the same question, and you should be ready with a very crisp answer.) Beyond introductions, if there’s something simple that you can do without cost, offer to do that. (Maybe you can’t optimize the dentist’s website, but you can offer to take a look at it and make some suggestions.) Keep in mind that the people who will be most eager to get your free help may be the least likely to pay you to actually solve their problems. It’s up to you have a way to be helpful that doesn’t take too much time.
Follow up. So many good opportunities die because people get busy. If you’re organized and disciplined about following up, you can get much more out of networking than the people who work the room and collect all the cards and never follow up. I’ve had opportunities materialize years after meeting people, because I stayed in touch with people, because I introduced people, because I tried to be helpful. Don’t think of the goal as “get X business cards at this event”, but instead, “make X introductions over the next 3 months based on people I meet at this event.”
Networking is a long game. Don’t be one of those people who thrusts business cards at everyone they meet and doesn’t make a single actual connection. Be helpful to the network, and let the network work for you. You’ll take a lot of pressure off yourself and a lot of awkwardness out of the events. You’ll have more fun, and, before you know it, get more business.