What really matters: There’s nothing without sales (and a market)

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Kovacs_special_1968Entrepeneur Stan Hanks takes offers some worthy advice in this Quora.com thread to a technologist seeking career advice. He writes for high-tech, rather than architectural, engineering and construction businesses, but I think the advice here should be shared throughout any business and professional organization.

1) The most important job in your company is sales.

As a technologist, it’s easy to think that if you don’t show up and do your job, that there’s nothing to sell, but the reality is that in all but about one out of 100,000 cases, they’d just replace you and move on. The guy that’s making the difference, bringing in revenue, fulfilling the company’s reason to exist? Sales.

As a technologist, particularly as a technologist who has to deal with procuring equipment, software, services or anything else where you encounter sales professionals, it’s easy to characterize all sales professionals as clueless asshats. That is in large part because so many of them are just that. Here’s a pro tip: you don’t want to work for a company where your customers think that about your sales professionals, do you? Then do something about it!! Take a sales professional to lunch, get them to pitch you. Tell them why what they’re saying isn’t true. Give them something they can use to help show customers just how your product/service really solves their problem. Keep showing up and helping them out.

It gets you out of your bubble, helps make the company more successful, and is very likely to win friends in the top levels of the company and increase chances of improved compensation and/or bonuses.

2) What the customer wants isn’t important, it’s what the customer is willing to pay for that is.

Back in the 1950s, when Ford Motor Company first became publicly traded and was managed by professional managers and not family members any more, they decided to re-organize to laterally compete against General Motors. The result left them with a “gap”, a missing car line to compete against Oldsmobile/Buick.

Tons of market research, consumer focus groups, personal interviews and more went into designing that replacement car: the Edsel, a failure so catastrophic that the very name is synonymous with failure.

What happened? All the after-the-fact finger-pointing showed conclusively that the car had been built to the specs of the most highly desired features as determined by all the prospective customer surveys. Then someone asked “But did anyone ask what they’d be willing to pay for that?”

Dead. Silence.

Learn from this. Please.

Keep things in perspective. If you are a marketer cranking out proposals, I’d spend some time on the front line with the technical/professional specialists; and if I were an owner/leader of an AEC practice, I’d certainly encourage the technical specialists to spend some time with the marketers and business development people. Of course, the highest and best results occur when you can combine both skills in one job — you are then the rainmaker.

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