I was recently tagging along with one of our Product Specialists (Nathan Gilroy) on a visit with a prospect. It was the type of customer meeting that has become common place at ConceptShare; the people we were meeting with were sharing a lot of information as they responded to our questions; we were working together to design a creative review & approval process that would meet their current requirements and scale to those of tomorrow. The meeting ended on a particularly high note for me personally. Not because they signed a contract. That should come in Q3 (no pressure Nathan!). It ended on a high note because one of the key stakeholders came up to us afterwards and gave us a compliment that to me was confirmation of our culture and values.
He said: “Thanks for not being sales guys”
I am especially proud of the comment because it came from someone outside of our company and confirmed the culture that our company has had since our company was founded and a culture that we now ferociously protect and instill in everyone as we grow in size.
Go to any company website and they’ll have fluffy statements about being “customer focused” or “customer driven” or “collaborating with our customers”. You get the idea. You have been in sales meetings with those companies. You have been hounded at the end of the quarter by their reps.
When all of a sudden their Focus on the Customer turns to Focus on the Purchase Order.
You won’t find those fluffy statements on our site. To quote an old pair of sneakers we “Just Do It”. We have been living it from Day 1 and almost 5 years later it continues to drive who we are, how we act as a company and most importantly how we interact with our customers.
It started with the tone that two of the company’s founders (Bernie Aho and Chris D’Aoust) set from the start. Always digging into what customers were trying to achieve. Asking how our application was helping them succeed and willing to listen to our customers as they hold us how our application was failing them. Not just listening, but reacting to it. We have lived with some of our customers. I mean actually gone and lived with them at their office/campus for days on end. We do it often. Pulling up a chair and getting a view into their day-to-day work lives. Using that front-row experience to understand how our application could evolve to better serve them. Its not easy and its certainly not inexpensive. But we decided long ago that it was just an investment we had to make to ensure our customers were successful.
That tone set years ago was then and is still to this day a core part of our culture and values. That customer comment reminded me of it. That even as we grow it continues to be part of our DNA. That even a group of people that we just met recognize it, appreciate it and acknowledge it.
It was especially amazing to hear it in the context of a sales meeting.
Our sales culture is something that is especially important to us. Over the past few months our sales team has grown. With more on the way! Like most companies in growth mode most of our customers interact less and less with the founders and others who initially gave life and shape to our culture. The faces and voices that customers see most often now are those of our sales team. With every meeting, phone call and email they represent and broadcast our culture. We rely on them to make sure that people and organizations whose trust and business we want to earn understand who ConceptShare, what drives us and what our values are.
After all most customers are buying the company as much as they are buying whatever set of feature/functionality we have to offer today. On a side note its something we are doing as well. Focusing just as much on finding customers that we want to work with long-term and less on the budget they may have this quarter. More on that in a post next week ‘Functionality, Culture & Change'.
Anyways, back to sales culture. We never want to become one of those companies where our sales culture (and our broader company culture) is defined by the stereotype of the hard-driving, uber-aggressive sales person. You know the type. You have seen them on the silver screen (think Gordon Gekko if you are a child of the 80s). Or maybe you have had the misfortune of having That Sales Guy stalk you at the end of the quarter/year trying to get you to say yes so that he could hit his quota; your requirements taking a back seat. I am sorry if you have.
When the company’s founders (Bernie Aho and Chris D’Aoust) set out to build ConceptShare they didn’t write out a manifesto of what the company stood for. Culture was something that big companies did. The culture they initiated was simply a reflection of who they are. Always asking about what a customer was trying to achieve. How could we help them? How could our product be changed to better meet their needs? Focus first on the customer and the sale takes care of itself.
Now I am not saying that quotas and numbers don’t matter. Nathan who was leading that meeting has the title of Product Specialist. We call our reps Product Specialists because they are in fact experts in how our product works. More importantly they are experts at diving into a company’s creative review and approval process and collaborating with our customers to determine if and how our tool can support their desired process.
BUT Nathan also has a quota and you can be sure that I am tracking it monthly, weekly, daily. We just take a different path on how we make our numbers. Focusing first on the customer and their success. Understanding that our success is inextricably linked to that of our customers.
And that is what the gentleman at that meeting was reacting to. We didn’t focus on their budget OR their number of users OR what other tools they were considering OR any of the other usual points of questioning that That Sales Guy would focus on. We focused on them. We showed genuine interest in understanding their business, their problems and where they wanted to (wrt creative review & approval). They experienced our culture first hand. A culture that is defined by, centered around customer success.
Nothing more. Simple isn’t. Like I said lots of companies talk about. We do it. And it’s a great feeling when someone that we just met comes up to us, without any prompting and says:
Thanks for not being sales guys!
You are welcome. And thanks for noticing.
P.S. I'll be writing more in the coming weeks and months on how we are continuing to put our customers first. And some of our customers will be sharing their experiences as well. Better to hear it from them than from us.