I’ve been a little outside my comfort zone lately. I’ve been given the opportunity to do business development for my company. This means going out and meeting people. Kind of putting myself out there to sell my company which also means a high possibility for rejection, etc.
Even though it is causing not a little stress, I am really enjoying it. I love being part of building the business instead of sitting in my cube at the customer’s whim. This is much more along what I want to do.
So, being outside one’s comfort zone can be good, sometimes. Who knew?
A friend at work offered a book he thought I would like, Shift by Peter Arnell, a big-time marketing guy in NYC. The book is pretty good, it is more about his struggle to go from over 400 pounds down to circa 150 (awesome feat, imho) but throws in some good life and business tidbits, as well.
His grandfather worked the fish markets in New York and would tell him this quite often, sometimes literally in regards to fishing and others, life. It resonated with me as I become more involved in business development in my company. I am trying to find where the fish are biting and then gently nudge management in that direction.
For a brief moment, I considered sending this drawing to Mr. Arnell and sharing what I said above. Then I read some stories that paint him to be an asshat. My fantasy of him loving my work and showering me with praise and being my new best friend melted into cease and desist orders and screaming into phones. Extreme, I know. He comes across as very charming in his book, very likeable, but that is easy to do in a book (or in a blog with stupid drawings) but a real jerk-wad in real life. Granted, the stories were few (and there were a fair share of positive ones) but why open myself up to that. I have enough asshats yelling at me.
What do you think? Share or keep our little secret?
One of the principals of my company asked me today, “What can [we] do differently?” I immediately started to talk about being more efficient in certain processes. Which is true. There are some things we could do a little smarter that would make life better for those involved.
A quick story. Our company is very small and the business development effort right now consists of one permanent person who is assisted by to of the company officers. I volunteered my help during one proposal effort and I could not believe the amount of gratitude I received for such little effort. It was nice but I did not think I was really doing all that much. I told the BD person, “There are a lot of people in this company with skills that can help. You just need to reach out.”
So, in answer to the question, what can be done differently, my first answer is the company needs to involve more people in the processes of running the company. One person to do it all becomes very overwhelming for that person, likely to cause them to burnout.
A little later I was reading through Seth Grodin’s blog and followed some link’s to this Squidoo page. It got me to thinking more about his question. What I am starting to see, too, is a company that has lost some its identity. In the quest to grow and find new opportunities, I think it has lost sight of how it originally saw itself. What is its definition and strategy?
I did mention this, somewhat, during our conversation. I said the company needs to broaden its horizons and not put all of its eggs in one basket, so to speak. We need to branch out, making our current customer-base one “spoke” in the company wheel. Once we identify who we are, our type of wheel, the spokes should fall into place.
I didn’t want to be one of those who whine about their career but do nothing to change things. I knew I needed to take the initiative to give my career a push.
So, I began working towards my MBA. If I want to transistion to the business side of the company, I should learn about business.
The other thing I did was to speak to my boss, who happened to be a VP in the company. I told him I was going nuts just sitting at my desk surfing the web all day. I wanted more. I told him that I wanted to get into the business operations of the company. This was received very well. They all seemed excited that I wanted to help. That was in November. It took awhile but I finally have been asked to help on a proposal. It’s not much and I have done more in past jobs but I am not going to complain.
I am working towards my MBA in an effort to get me out of hell. At the beginning of marketing class we had to read the article, “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt. This is an incredible article. He talked about defining your company and being customer-oriented rather than product-oriented. Failing to do this causes companies to not grow or fail. I see this all of the time in the contracting world. These small companies do not know who there customer is or how they want to brand themselves.
My first job out of the military was as a program manager for a small contracting company. The president was an engineer who’s specialty was in embedded work in C and C++. His main focus was to do only embedded, C and C++ development. One of its first big clients was for an office doing embedded coding in C and C++. As the company started to grow, it brought in non-engineers to do recruiting, business development and program management. We “outsiders” saw that this was risky. the company was putting all of its eggs in one basket. In this environment, contracts can end without notice and next thing you know, you have a dozen or so people sitting on the bench eating up overhead dollars.
There were other opportunities out there to grow the company if it would expand itself into other areas. The president would not allow it. He did not want to do Java, he did not want to do web page development, or networking, or anything else. His mantra continued to be “Embedded C and C++ development.” Eventually, the scenario from above happened. Contracts ended for one reason or another and we found ourselves with a lot of overhead charging. The customer had decided to not hire contractors to do embedded work but instead hire their own employees for this type of work. The eggs were being tossed out of the basket.
The company’s ten year anniversary was on a Thursday. A lot of “rah rah” and “the future is bright” talk. As a gift, we all received travel coffee mugs with the company logo. The next day, I along with the other program manager and the recruiter were all let go. We were hurting the company financially. The VP for Business Development had left the month prior and the company was not growing, a lot of overhead. As a joke, I tell people now to never take the coffee mug when attending company all-hands meetings. It’s a trap to figure out who should be laid-off.
At its high point, the company employed almost 50 people. It had went from 10 to almost 50 in about 18 months. Now, it is back down to right around 20 with a lot still on overhead. This is all because the company defined itself very narrowly. It did not see itself as an IT company or even a software development company. It was a embedded, C/C++ company. A broader definition would have allowed it to expand into other areas and more easily absorb the overhead costs. It fell into the same trap Mr. Levitt described when talking about railroad companies in the mid 1900s. They defined themselves as railroad companies not transportation companies. This caused problems as other modes of transportation arrived in the 1900s like trucks and airplanes.
I don’t do business development or marketing work – yet. But when I do, my first questions will always be “Who is your customer?” and “How does the company define itself?” Someday.