10 lessons in 15 days

At the start of April I left my previous position as a sales manager with a business partner, and took a position in sales at ServiceNow. Just a few weeks into my new role I have either been reminded of or have remembered 10 lessons that I wanted to share. Even though I am starting in a new position at a new company, it is not a new role that I am taking on. What is new is where I’m to the business overall and who benefits from the new technology I represent. As a quick introduction, ServiceNow is a service management application platform created in the cloud and delivered as a service. The core message is that we are out to change the way people work. Process and workflows have existed in business forever and haven’t changed much. Unfortunately, neither has the unstructured way we move requests from the initial request to the eventual fulfillment. In this app driven consumer-centric world of technology, this process isn’t keeping pace with what we as business consumers and end users have come to expect. My new role is specifically focused on how I can help IT operations and this is done through three different phases of modernization. First, it is imperative that you can visualize the critical components of your environment. Once you have an overview of your environment you can start to ensure availabiltiy of not just individual components, but of an entire business service stack. With this modernized environment you can then build agility into your delivery and give end users the experience they are craving.

So what have I learned aside from how to mangle the basic value proposition in 15 working days?

  • Respect the message – It’s not easy to develop a corporate product message and it’s not easy to take that message to the field to discuss with your prospects. Technology is complicated and the folks that have to translate these complicated topics into something that is easy to understand and remember have their work cut out. The folks I talk with in IT are inundated with all kinds of different products aiming to solve their daily challenges. A large percentage of the people I talk with don’t even know how to fully quantify their challenges in the first place, so bombarding them with a message about a solution can whiz right over their heads with very little retention. The brilliant minds in marketing know how to drop the right words into the right order to make even the most difficult concepts easy to understand and retain. 15 days in and I’m finally starting to understand what it is that ServiceNow really does. It’s not just about a new widget, new app, or new tool. It’s a about truly doing things differently. Transforming and modernizing the way we work (…speaking of marketing buzzwords). So hat tip to you folks in marketing. You work hard to understand how the technology works, you know how to create a translation of those concepts, and you work tirelessly to create a unified message that your sales team can take back into the field.
  • Always be learning – I have held multiple roles in my career and depending on the nature of the role I’ve had different levels of training. The one piece of advice I always give about training in general is consume as much as you can get your hands on. My official collegiate education was helpful in establishing basic habits and skills. Reading effectively, writing in an persuasive manner, having intelligent and stimulating debate and dialogue, and I even learned how substances move in and out of cell walls. But none of that education prepared me for the conversations I have daily about how a database server outage impacts the application that sits on top of it and the most effective way to monitor that environment to prevent the outage in the first place. So when I am assigned a training course I consume it. Even things that seem irrelevant to my daily job role I am eager to skim for appropriate use at a later date. You never know what knowledge nugget you may need to know to provide relevance to a prospect or client in a meeting this week.
  • You’re being watched – The first thing I did when I started my job was update all of the standard social media tools with the news of my change. I’m sure you’ve all sent the canned “Congrats on the new role! Hope you’re doing well” note on LinkedIn, or liked a Facebook timeline update about a new job. But what I found most intriguing wasn’t the notes themselves but which people took the time to send the responses beyond just the quick like or canned note. In my years in IT I have met and connected with many people. I incorrectly assumed most of these connections have simply become passive names on a list when in reality they are folks that are part of my active community. The lesson here is to remember your audience with every message. You have hundreds and potentionally thousands of people that are consuming your content. I am definitely being watced and that means I bear a responsibility to adhere to the standard I created for myself and leverage integrity, truth, and honesty to ensure my content is valuable and to continue to provide not just empty page filling fluff, but true thought leadership.
  • Seek out the valuable people – Walking into a room full of strangers can be intimidating, but when these strangers are your new coworkers you add the additional challenge of sorting out who’s going to be valuable to you and who could be a liability. I’d advise that you look to the senior members of the team for guidance first. Simple things like who to talk to about getting a badge or access to the building are usually outlined somewhere in your new hire documentation, but the tribal knowledge among your peers can give you additional insight like which garage entrance to use, or when the elevators are busiest. Remember that the newer members of the team also bring value since they have just walked the same path you are heading down. Take advantage of this experience. My favorite question these last few weeks has been “What do you wish someone would have told you the first week you started?” The answers are varied and in every case I have gotten an answer that has become a shortcut for me.
  • I’m dumb and that’s OK – When I came onboard I wanted to immediately show how much I understood about the platform and showcase that I was learning. This meant sending content out through my normal channels as I usually do. Turns out, in my eagerness, I also highlighted how dumb I can be. Simple things like spelling errors, or overtly wrong messaging quickly put my arrogance in check. What I learned is to take my time, be patient and the pieces will come together. I don’t need to prove mastery in the first few weeks. This lesson in humility can help anyone stay focused on what is important and help drive better learning and to build appreciation for the training available to you.
  • Experience only comes with experience – Seems obvious but the more opportunities I have to be involved in a situation or to use a cliche, the more at bats that I get, the more I will learn. Nothing will ever replace the years I have spent in IT working through outages, working through implementations, or just working with my peers and seeing how they handle situations differently than I do. As I have moved into sales those experiences have proven valuable, but I have started gaining a whole new set of experiences. Every client situation is different and for every new conversation I have I become wiser to the fact that I will never be exposed to every possible iteration or scenario. I will learn from the ones I do experience and I will also realize patience is important to helping ensure these experiences bring value to the learning process.
  • Change isn’t scary – It can be a scary proposition to change jobs and in the past this has held me back from what might have been fantastic opportunities. I think we have a tendency to get comfortable in our current situations and that comfort can blind us to the negative aspects or allows us to simply look past them. I am so glad that I had the courage to make this change and realize that change isn’t something to be feared. Life changes everyday for my clients and so a little change in my own life just helps me get that much closer to understanding them on their level. It’s been said that the only constant is change. The quicker we learn to navigate the changes we are going to inevitably face, the faster we can take advantage of the new opportunities they bring us.

Aside from these general things I realized, I have also learned a few specific things about IT that are worth noting. My shift from talking about hardware to software solutions meant a shift in the folks I am working with in IT, and the reasons I am talking to them. Problems are different because they come from a different corner of IT and I now bring a broader toolkit with me when I’m seeking challenges to solve.

  • End users are end users – Despite the difference in the solutions I have I have found very little difference between the actual clients I am speaking with now and the clients I have always spoken with. The basic challenges are the same no matter what your role in IT is, and that’s because you are serving end users in all of these roles. Service Desk, Applications, DevOps, Training, you name it. The IT team is trying to deliver a service to their end users and those end users don’t care how daunting of a task IT has. They just want their stuff and they want it now. Pressure to deliver is high and that delivery has to happen with less resources in increasingly complex environments. One of the things that excites me so much about ServiceNow is the opportunity I get to talk to so many more of the folks on the IT team overall. The impact of my solutions reach far into the business.
  • Hardware is dead – That’s actually not fair. Hardware isn’t dead, but IT is changing the way they are consuming their own infrastructure and thinking that a big fancy proprietary storage array, a new custom server platform, or specialized core network is going to have the same impact that changing the entire way services are delivered to end users is fading. A few years back we had a presenter address a group at a sales meeting and he said that in the future the only people that would be buying the hardware products we sold were service providers. We entered the era where cloud is consuming the legacy data center and IT is being forced to keep pace with those changes. I have spent the better part of the last 15 years helping people architect, implement, and operate the same hardware platforms that I am calling dead so part of me is dying with it. But I saw this change coming over the years and I’m glad to finally be embracing it.
  • Everyone listens when you are talking about the business – The last thing I will mention is that I have learned that people care about the business. Broadly this means that ability to do more of whatever it is your company does to make money. That can be sell more services, or make more widgets. People deploy solutions to fix their challenges because they want to spend less money and reduce the risk they are exposed to. When you eagerly march into an account with an intent to deliver a fancy overview of the products you sell, you’ve already lost your audiences attention. You never stood a chance. However, when you can engage in a meaningful dialogue and show these folks that you understand what the challenges are to their ability to do more business cheaper and safer, and that you have a solution that can help them achieve that goal they will pay attention. Talk about their business.

15 days, 10 lessons, 5 minutes, 1 more blog post.

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