Jan (Director Sales & Marketing) is leaving In The Pocket after 7 years. These are 7 things he learned the past 7 years:
Last summer Morgane and I decided to take a ‘mini-retirement’. We felt the need to spend more quality time with our newborn, travel to the cities and countries we fell in love with to build something of our own. We sold our house, pushed the reset button and this Christmas we’re flying to Mexico City to start our adventure.
In true clickbait style, I’m saying goodbye to a company, a family, or a ‘fampany’ as Mills of Ustwo would describe it, that profoundly changed my life. I don’t want to get too sentimental, instead, I’d love to share some things I’ve learned along the way that became part of who I am and how I operate. Some of it relates to sales or client business in the digital space, though a lot of it is applicable to any context.
So here goes: 7 things I learned the past 7 years at In The Pocket, a digital product studio.
1. “It’s the people, stupid!”
The mantra goes: ‘to make things happen, you have to build trust’. We use the trust to protect our family, society, and companies. It’s why we gossip, so we can detect who is trustworthy and who is not. So how do you build this trust thing?
Before In The Pocket, I was trained pretty old-school with the usual ‘pick up the phone, foot in the door’ sales strategies. After a couple of slow days or weeks on the road, you had to adapt your tactics or simply quit the game. I learned selling was not about the product features or raging discounts. The most important thing I had to learn is that you need to set aside your wants and needs. Everyone has their own dreams. If you can figure those out then you can reverse engineer to what you are selling.
Whether you’re in sales, marketing, product or development: building rapport is equally important as building a proof-of-concept. We started to extend the demographics of our target audience with the psychographics. Who is it we’re writing, building or creating for? What do they want to achieve? What keeps them up at night? Are they Skeptical Steve’s or Decisive Danielle’s? You’d be surprised by the multiple layers of needs people have. It takes time and a lot of why’s to get to the bottom of them. And when you’ve reached the real why, that’s when people feel safe, and trust starts to grow.
2. All you need is…grit.
Hiring is tough. I’ve had the honour and pleasure to gather some of brightest and finest in digital. Apart from ‘previous experience’, if I could ask just one question, it would be: Do they show some level of ‘grit’?
Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance for long-term commitments.
Grit determines if one sticks around if the going gets tough. You can find it in various forms, but my rule of thumb is always: are they engaged in something next to work? Maybe they are members of a community, a former scout leader, or champions on the rowing team. Maybe they hosted their own club nights or produced music in a band? It’s not a coincidence we have a lot of those talented gals and guys at In The Pocket.
The common denominator is, they all show some form of passion for something that takes a while to become good at. Especially if you’re just starting up, grit is an essential ingredient to push the boundaries and make it happen.
3. You have to take no for an answer.
If you think about it, we’re constantly negotiating. With our friends about what to do, asking for a raise at work or with a client about the next feature. If books like ‘Getting to yes’, ‘Getting past no’ or ‘Never split the difference’ have taught me anything about negotiation strategies and tactics, it is not about yes. If all you’re getting is ‘ok’, or ‘sure’, and ‘yes, yes’ you should be very suspicious.
I remember the first year before qualifying leads was a thing, I ended up at meetings talking about the advantages of the mobile channel. I’d get a lot of ‘ooh’s’ and ‘thank you, that was very inspiring, we’ll be in touch’. And then…. nothing happened. No call backs or any returns.
Ultimately you want to get to, ‘yes!’, but that ‘aha-moment’ is first in line. Tell me something I don’t know or tell me something I don’t believe and you will get ‘no’. These ‘no’s, I would find out later, are fundamental to uncover needs and avoid future push-backs.
When constructing a new architecture for a client, or negotiating to sell a car, no is your friend who will take you to yes.
And maybe you won’t get to yes, that’s fine. At least you know why. Take the time to dig deeper into this rejection. The past seven years we would spend time discussing our losses and integrated lost analysis in our reporting. Even the most experienced business people forget about this. Most of us are natural pleasers, it feels great… and doesn’t get any business.
4. Authenticity trumps anything
I will never forget my first client meeting at In The Pocket. One of the founders laid down the law after the prospect pretty much bored the hell out of the meeting with a long list of unnegotiable requirements. He did it in such a fashion, it completely blew me away. The fact that you could show some form of emotion in business, was new to me. It was out of passion and dedication, and definitely not your textbook sales meeting.
Contrary to some recent claims, I don’t think we should overwrite our emotions because we are ‘professionals’. It’s uncanny.
We’re human, we’re flawed and we’re beautiful just the way we are.
‘Consistency is the playground of dull minds’, wrote Yuval Noah Harari. Showing some kind of vulnerability will help you to connect with others. It can open up new layers in your relationships. Now, that doesn’t mean you should start dumping all your emotions on your counterparts. Sure, we wear different masks, the key is to figure out how they are worn best.
We didn’t close the prospect after that first meeting. In fact, it took us another six years to meet them again. But today we understand what held us back and it looks like we’ll become great partners in 2019.
I’m not a fan of the ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ talk. All I know is great culture supports authenticity. It’s when we are most creative, and bring new ideas to the table. There’s a feeling of psychological safety. If failure isn’t frowned upon, others won’t be afraid to try and blunder too.
5. Every crisis is an opportunity
Things will go south at some point. It’s inevitable. Our clients will acknowledge this. There are no excuses, but when fumbling around with new tech, I might have been on the ‘overpromising spectrum’ once and a while. Oops.
Everything starts with positivity, goodwill, and ambition. However, in the middle of creating and building, expectations that were misaligned will surge. You’ve forgotten to factor in maintenance and growth costs. Oops. ‘Assumption is the mother of all fuckups’ said the villain in Under Siege 2, yet we all keep assuming away.
The first time ‘shit hits the fan’ is frightening, to say the least. You feel like everything is going under and there’s no way out. My best piece of advice is to find someone experienced to talk to. There’s a good chance they have been in a similar situation and know a way out.
This is also the time to become creative and show you’re a dedicated professional. If you manage the crisis well, you will have earned your counterpart's respect and learned something about your business that needs to change. A lot of long-term partnerships have been closed after we f*’d up. As a result, we managed to grow both the client and our business when the disasters were remedied.
6. PR is not a strategy
This could as well be one of my tattoo’s. The first years of the mobile revolution were amazing. Every product we shipped was heavily applauded in the press, at award shows and by friends and family. Although this feels great, it’s vital to realise the applause only translates into ‘vanity metrics’, metrics that don’t translate to anything you can use. Sure seeing your face in the papers or on the news feels great and it proves you’re on to something, though in a B2B context, you can’t build just on PR. It doesn’t convert to long-term business.
In the tech space, some believe ‘great products or services don’t need marketing’. Except, it’s not like you can flip on a switch and recruit your first customers.
Running a company without a dedicated marketing team that defines and supports your go-to-market doesn’t work.
Yes, you can bootstrap the first years, and as founders, you need to understand the basics of marketing or at least have someone in the team take on this responsibility. At some point, it is time to get real. Your market will change, your position will become less clear, you’ll start to grow. It’s imperative to keep asking ‘who are we?’, ‘what do we stand for?’, internally and externally. Last year we rebranded to a digital product studio and took the test. We questioned 9 co-workers and got 9 different, yet similar sounding responses. Imagine what a thousand would say.
7. Teach, don’t preach
I’ve made this mistake over and over. Preaching, screaming it from the rooftops: We’re the best, come to us, you need us! Seriously we even had t-shirts made that said: ‘We know mobile’.
Bold, maybe a little arrogant one might say. Plus, it’s not a successful sales strategy.
Last year in training our instructor put it this way: “You’re in the business of selling change. People don’t like to change, it scares them.” So it’s our job to listen carefully and help them to reach their destination, not yours. What we are looking for is a sense of safety and security. If you can provide that, you’re halfway there. Think about your favourite teachers and how they managed to make a lasting impression, that’s who you want to become.
Before I go...
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity Jeroen, Pieterjan & Louis gave me back in 2011. What happened after I joined was exhilarating. Every day we work with companies that are facing huge challenges. Each project translates complex business needs to a promising product and strategy. And the best part, we are able to build on and deploy some of the latest and coolest technologies.
It goes without saying I will deeply miss all of this, but what I will miss the most is undoubtedly our awesome team. If there’s one theme throughout my journey, it’s the connections I made with all of you.
A special thank you to our small but fierce management team. Hannes, Thomas, Christophe, Ellen, and Jeroen. I know I have been the loudest, but I was also the proudest. Thank you for bearing with me and leading the way.
A massive and special thank you to our Sales & Marketing team. Pieter, Olivier, Aydin, Jack, Marie, Charline, Thomas & Joris you shaped me into the person I am today. It’s so great to see you rise and succeed. This is probably the best feeling in the world. I am confident Michael will take you to the next level in your professional careers.
One last time, PUTFP and ABC!