End of a Dirt Road
I met one of my future partners while at Andersen Consulting, now Accenture. We started going to lunch and talking about creating a company that would put finding and growing talent first. We surmised that there was a shortage of technical talent, and we could create a company focused on aggregating and developing that talent. I would be the sales and marketing guy, and he would be the financial and technical guy. The only problem was that I had never actually been in direct sales. So, in 2005 I called one of my former colleagues from a previous company, who was now a sales manager for Computron, an enterprise accounting software firm. As luck would have it, he had an opening and hired me into my first commissioned sales position, and I left Accenture. I was as clueless in my first sales meeting at Computron as I was when I showed up at the steakhouse a few years back. I followed my nose, attempted to learn fast, and tried hard not to say anything stupid.
Relationships & Perseverance
I tell you all these connection stories because the themes of relationships—trust, integrity, faith, and perseverance—are woven through the tapestry of my life, and the essence of the book, Connect for Life, is to unlock those concepts and ideas so you can put things together sooner than I did. I didn’t even really put it together at Computron. A friend of mine had a brother-in-law I had met on a few occasions. He was an account executive at Lawson Software, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company. ERP is a fancy term that encompasses accounting, order entry, inventory management, and distribution software. He got me an interview and I got the job at Lawson and left Computron. Almost a year passed before I sold my first deal. I really thought I would be fired because I was competing in downtown Dallas with the likes of SAP, Peoplesoft, JD Edwards, and Oracle. It was the late 1990s, the era of the famous Y2K race where companies were racing the clock to replace their enterprise systems. My boss at Lawson was a great guy and a magnificent salesperson. When I sat down with him after banging my head against the wall and asked him to tell me what I was doing wrong, he would say, “Just keep doing what you are doing.”
One day out of frustration, I called our regional executive and asked him if we could go to lunch. I remember sitting at a little Mexican restaurant in North Dallas asking him if he had any recommendations. He asked me about the deals I had lost so I recanted this deal and that deal, and he finally said to me, “You know John, Lawson runs best at the end of a dirt road.” What the heck was that supposed to mean, I wondered? He went on to tell me that I was competing in the glass towers in Dallas against the top competitors, and those companies were less than interested in low total cost of ownership and easy implementations.
Understand Your Ideal Customer
This lesson was a great one. I figured out that focus on the right solution had to be accompanied by a narrow target market that needed what I was selling. Understanding your “ideal customer” is knowing what industry, size, location, budget, demographic, and psychographic data is. Despite what you see in the marketplace, in the services business, you cannot just “throw things against the wall to see what sticks.” You have to be focused and clear, not only about who your ideal buyer is, but how your solutions solve a particular problem for them. Shaping your offerings to meet those needs and writing the script that all employees will use in their networking or selling is critical to your company’s success. Go find the end of your dirt road!