I have had the good fortune to work for a very long time with one of the tech industries very successful entrepreneurs. I’ve collected a number of quotes over those years, but perhaps one of the most fundamental ones is “Everyone is in sales”. Sir Terry Mathews pointed this out to me one day when I was much younger and trying to stay focused on the latest shinny new and wonderful thing that I had to design.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this quote and it is true on many different levels. Every person in a company has connections, attends social events and has friends that may benefit from the companies products. When Newbridge Networks was just a handful of people, we were developing accounts around the world and customers believed the Newbridge story because they heard the same story from everyone they talked to.
Terry had regular all staff updates where he would say “This is not to leave the building” and for the most part that is what happened. When a customer needed a bit extra to close a sale however, that little bit of insider info seemed to do the trick. The fact that it was verifiable from multiple sources, made it just that much better.
Organizations that believe in their people will empower everyone to tell the story. If your sales team insists on strictly controlling information,trouble is brewing. A friend described this scenario as one where “The fan is running and the shit will be along any minute now.” Customers want open communication that they can verify from a number of different sources.
I’m not suggesting that every designer should spend a portion of every day talking to customers, but I have realized that talking to customers tends to short circuit the misinformation tree and deliver better products. I think that you will find connecting customers with development creates all-round benefits as long as everyone has the story straight. If you work in development ask sales people for customer contact info and make some new friends. If they think that’s a bad idea or dodge the question, perhaps it’s time for a change?