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The term “sales” often conjures up an image of being pressured into something you don’t need or want, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This week Chris LoSacco and Michael Shane explain how sales can actually be a positive and compassionate experience. They break down Postlight’s consultative selling approach based on open dialogue and tailoring a solution to the client’s needs. Sales shouldn’t be about convincing — it should be about consulting. 


Chris LoSacco: I thought you were going to say, like, a house cat or, like, a rhinoceros. 

Michael Shane: That would have been more… even better.


Chris: Welcome to the Postlight podcast. I am Chris LoSacco, the president of Postlight, and today I am joined by Michael Shane, our head of digital strategy. Hello, Michael.

Michael: Hey Chris, hey everybody, it’s good to be back.

Chris: Glad to have you back.

Michael: Thank you.

Chris: I wanted to have you on, Michael, because I wanted to talk about the most evil part of our business. It’s so funny. We… there’s, like, an allergy to the word “sales” in our company, and I think in many companies.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: And there’s this perception that sales is, like, absolutely the worst and we can’t do anything like it. But, you know, the reality is, sales is absolutely critical. And it is what drives businesses forward, and in fact it is the opposite of evil. It is necessary and important and should be prioritized in so many organizations. Even in ours! Like, the way we think about it… you know, it’s a little bit different than how most people think about it, but the reality is, it’s not evil. It’s actually very, very important and very good.

Michael: It’s definitely not evil. I mean, I think this falls into the category of, it’s not necessarily what you’re doing, it’s how you do it.

Chris: Yes.

Michael: And I think that’s certainly the case with any activity or activities that would fall under the moniker of sales. Right? ‘Cause let’s be honest, sales is a nice short efficient word that is really a placeholder or a way to express something that is much, much more nuanced. Because it’s different for every situation.

Chris: When I hear sales, here’s what I think of. I think of walking into a Banana Republic and wanting to buy a pair of new jeans, and walking upstairs, and someone walks up to me and says “Hey, how are you today? Can I get a room started for you? What do you need? Oh! We just got some new sweaters in!” And I just wanna be like, “Leave me alone!” You know?

Michael: Here’s the thing about Banana Republic – and that analogy, which I think is so great – is one word, hyphenated, comes to mind. Off-the-rack. In that kind of environment, shopping, buying environment, you’re going for off-the-rack, which means the solutions are done, they’re finished, they can’t be changed, you can’t move a pocket, you can’t move a button. It comes in certain sizes at certain price points, and that’s it. And that requires a certain kind of sales behavior, or an approach to sales, but that’s not how you build software. At least, most of the time it’s not how you build software. I should be… caveat that. Sometimes you go straight-up off the shelf, but usually, for the kinds of things that we work on, even when there are off-the-shelf components, which can be a very good decision sometimes, the holistic solution isn’t off-the-rack.

Chris: Right. And so, it requires a very different kind of approach to sales, when you are not taking something, it’s not a bunch of boxes of photoshop that are behind me that I’m like, “Oh, here you go,” walk up to the register and buy this piece of software.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: It’s a very different kind of thing. We have always called it “consultative selling,” you know? It’s a very open, dialogue-based… it’s more of a discussion. I’d be really curious to hear you describe, like, how do you view what your team does at Postlight? Because it’s not sales like most people would think of sales.

Michael: It’s not sales, right? Yeah, nobody on my team has a background in sales, or business development, or whatever you want to call it. Everybody on my team, the strategy team at Postlight, has what we call a practitioner background. So, we have someone who’s got almost a decade of experience as a product manager. We’ve got someone with a deep background in content strategy. We have someone with an MBA, and on and on and on it goes. And so for us, again, sales is a placeholder word for a set of interactions that’s much more complicated than “Oh, you wear a size medium that comes in blue, green and yellow.” Right? That’s not how you get software built collaboratively, successfully.

Chris: Right.

Michael: So how do we think about these activities? For us, it’s… you know, when you hear the word “sales,” normally that’s about convincing someone to take something from you. And when we work with clients, or people who may become our clients, it’s more about, where might we go together? What kind of journey are we gonna go on? It’s a much longer-term conversation. Because when we decide to build software with someone, and they decide to build software with us, that’s going to be at minimum a months-long relationship. It’s way longer than most people date, you know? I mean, right off the bat, you’re agreeing to a first date, you’re agreeing to a significant relationship. And that, just like any relationship, and I don’t mean to take… this might get weird, if I really continue to stretch this metaphor, but…

Chris: (Laughs)

Michael: …like any relationship, there are moments where you have to challenge each other, and it starts with sort of listening, and open and honest conversation. The first part of our conversation is not, “Well, let us show you these new things that just came in. Have you heard about this new off-the-shelf tool? Let’s talk about this new whiz-bang thing from Salesforce or the Acme Middleware company,” right? What we wanna know is, what’s the challenge that you’re facing? Who are your customers? What keeps you up at night? Who are you… who’s your audience? What do they need? Where are you struggling to connect with them? Where are you not sure how to connect with them, or how to achieve your goals? And it starts with sharing, and we go from there. Because we don’t… in the first conversation, we don’t know what the solution is. And we don’t even know that we necessarily have the solution. And if we don’t, then we’re totally honest about that. 

Chris: I wanna rewind a little bit. This idea that we are putting clients first, and we are saying “We’re gonna come into a conversation, and we’re not even going to talk about, really, what we can do or what we’re going to, what technologies we’re going to use, what design approach we’re going to use.” We do have some opinions, in general, but it would be wrong of us to come to a conversation and say we know exactly what the right tool for the job is when we don’t know what the job is yet. 

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: And what I think is so powerful about this approach, and why it doesn’t feel sales-y at all to do this kind of selling, is because there’s a curiosity to it. There’s a problem-solving nature, even in those early conversations, to say “Let’s unpack why you’re not getting done what you want to get done, and how we can think about it differently.” You know, you mentioned, like, you have to challenge each other, and that’s 100% true in this kind of approach, right? You have to think about not just taking what you’re hearing at face value, and saying “Okay, it’s clear that this is a problem, but is this the root cause or is this a symptom?”

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: I almost feel like, did you ever watch that show House?

Michael: This whole podcast episode will become about that show if we’re not careful.

Chris: (Laughs)

Michael: That’s one of my favorite shows of all time.

Chris: What’s amazing about that show, if we can go on a brief digression…

Michael: Let’s. Please.

Chris: …is that every episode was basically the same. Where someone would come in with a problem…

Michael: Differential diagnosis.

Chris: They’d misdiagnose it.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: And they’d go through the whole steps, and then at the end he’d have a revelation based on something else, and… but it was still so compelling to see him and his team go through the whole rigamarole.

Michael: Fortunately in our line of work, no one ends up on life support before the big revelation.

Chris: That’s very true.

Michael: And we prefer lots of small revelations rather than one big one.

Chris: Yes. Along the way.

Michael: That’s much better for everybody.

Chris: But this idea that you are diagnosing, right? You are not… I think what puts a lot of people off about sales is, “Don’t tell me what I want.” Like, let me decide what I want.

Michael: It’s a two-way street, it’s a conversation. I mean, if we go back to the Banana Republic analogy again, when someone walks into a Banana Republic, usually the reason why is pretty clear. There’s a sale, or they like the way that the pants or the shirts fit, or J. Crew was closed that day or whatever it is. There’s a very specific reason. When someone comes into Postlight, it’s not quite that concrete. And the one thing that is always true, or that at least needs to be true in order for us to be successful, and for our clients to be successful, is that we need to know things that our potential partners don’t know. Right? We need to know things that they don’t know. That’s what makes us good partners. And this is something I talk to my team about all the time. It’s, that’s why it’s so important for us to always work with a wide variety of clients, to see what’s happening in a wide variety of industries, to build different software for different industries. To build similar software across different industries, so that we understand how things change and evolve and how they need to be tailored. And there’s this element of, clients come to us because they don’t know what we know. Now, there’s also a lot that we need to learn from them. Especially, for example, if a client comes to us in an industry where we’ve never done work before. Maybe something in aerospace. There’s going to be a lot that we’re gonna learn from them. But part of our job during the quote-unquote “sales process,” which really does a terrible injustice to both what clients put into the process and what we put into it… part of our job during that process is to very quickly learn everything they’re willing to generously give us, and then apply it to what we know. In my opinion – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and make sure one of my strong opinions weakly held – for much of the software that we build, there’s maybe 10, 20 kinds of problems at the most that need to be solved to help our clients. Business problems, experience problems, measurement problems, whatever they might be. The question is, how do you identify which problem you’ve got, and how does the solution need to be tailored for the given partner or client or industry at hand? And that’s why we can’t do it without our clients. If you walk into a Banana Republic and you know that you wear a 32-30 in pants – 32 waist, 30 length, 30 inseam – and you like green, you can go grab them. Our relationship with clients is completely symbiotic. They don’t know what we know, and we can’t build the right solution without collaborating with them extremely closely. That’s why my team isn’t staffed with sales professionals, and hopefully that’s why, for people that come and talk to us, it doesn’t feel like they’re being sold to. It’s really, we’re on a path of collaborative mutual discovery. Sales, for us, is the discovery process. It’s the… frankly, it’s the discovery process that a lot of other agencies would bill you for, and we don’t.

Chris: This is how to make sales not feel gross, right? Because you take away the sales part, and you think about the collaboration, and the discovery, and you say, I loved how you put it before, “Where are we going together? And how do we figure that out together?” It is two halves of the same coin. You need some domain knowledge and some domain expertise, and we’re going to bring that to the table. We have top-shelf designers, we have amazing product thinkers, we have engineers who are low-ego and who know how to pick the right tools and bring them to bear to solve a business problem. We’ve got those things. But we don’t have all the domain knowledge that our clients have, especially when you think about a brand-new industry, right, like aerospace. We’d love to have an aerospace client. But, you know, we have some expertise built up over the years in financial services. But in the early days, we weren’t financial experts, right? We don’t have a bunch of ex-traders who are sitting in the ranks of Postlight. But what we did was, we partnered up with them, and we said “Let us learn. Let us understand where the issues are and how we can go after them together, and where are the opportunities.” Right? Where’s the untilled ground that we can go farm together? And then how do we get the most value out of it? How do we structure something that is mutually beneficial? If we do our proposals right, they should feel like no-brainers. Because it should feel like, “Oh. This is something that we’ve figured out together that we have to go do.” It’s self-evident. And I think that’s why, you know, hopefully our sales experiences are night-and-day different than “Oh, you need to buy SAP? Here’s a big SAP installation.”

Michael: It’s not convincing, it’s consulting. And not consulting like capital-C with a big price tag attached and a 300 page deck.

Chris: No, no, no.

Michael: It’s consulting lowercase-c, where it’s, we’re in the room together and we genuinely… we want to figure this out. And sometimes it doesn’t make sense for us to be the ones to create the solution, and we’re honest about that too.

Chris: So, yeah. Let’s talk about that. What if we went through a week-long or a couple weeks long discussion with a prospect, and we decided, you know what? They don’t need a Postlight, they would be perfectly well-served with a WordPress instance or a Salesforce instance or something like that. 

Michael: This literally just happened to me right before the holidays, with someone who had been a Postlight client in the past, and they are at a new venture, a new business, and they got in touch with us and they wanted to talk about getting things up and running. This was sort of in the area of marketing and web presence, they needed a platform to tell their story. But it became clear during our conversations that based on where their business was, who they needed to reach, how they operate, how they’re set up, actually, with a little bit of help, they could probably continue doing what they’re doing now, which is running a pretty spiffy Squarespace site, and that was more than enough for their business. And I was thrilled for us to reach that conclusion, and for us to be confident that it was the right conclusion, and for them to go off and get going on their roadmap for the year. It was just as gratifying as meeting that person the first time a couple of years ago, when we did a big Postlight project for them.

Chris: Sure. I think this concept is alien to a lot of people out there, a lot of sales people out there. Thinking that, “Oh, I’m going to let someone who has a budget and has something to do, I’m going to let them go do it a different way.” Right? “I’m going to let them choose something that is not my choice.” But to us it is success. We want the right outcome for people, and if that outcome means they’re going to do something in a way that is cheaper than we could do it, or better than we could do it, or a more tailored…

Michael: Or just at a scale that’s not something we offer.

Chris: Right. 

Michael: Right.

Chris: We are going to embrace that. And again, I come back to, it’s a very unifying approach to things, and I think it makes the conversations feel much more authentic and much more real. We can give good advice even if the advice is, we’re not the right partner for you.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, look: so often, sales is about trying to figure out which of the outcomes that you can provide… as the selling person, you can force-fit with the person that happens to be sitting in front of you on that Wednesday morning or whatever it is.

Chris: Right.

Michael: And that’s just not what we’re about, ‘cause we don’t go in with a set of pre-form solutions, and we need to sell 20 of them over the quarter in order to get our gold watch at the end of the year or whatever it is. It’s just not how… you know, it’s just not how we’re set up.

Chris: Yeah.

Michael: We’re much more about finding the right solution and building it together.

Chris: So, can we talk a little bit about what our pitches look like? ‘Cause I think it’s interesting, you know, if I think about the assets that we produce, right? Versus a lot of what’s out there today. There isn’t a boilerplate thing that we can just take off the shelf and say, “Oh, you need a WordPress site? Here’s our WordPress proposal.”

Michael: Right. “Here’s our WordPress offering,” ™, trademark, you know, for three low payments of $19.95 you’ll get a WordPress site.

Chris: (Laughs)

Michael: It’s just not… no, it’s not how it works. Every proposal that we write is different, but they share some key things in common. The first and most important thing is that, when we deliver a proposal, which makes it sound extremely formal. But when we tell a client, “Okay, based on all of our conversations, here’s what we’ve heard, here’s what we believe we need to do, here’s how we would do it, here’s how long it would take, here’s what it would cost.” That’s a proposal. The one thing that every proposal shares, that we deliver to a client, ideally, is that nothing in that proposal is a surprise. Absolutely nothing. I can count on… I think in the last two years, there’s been one time, one time, where we put forward a proposal to the client and they were like “Whoa! I’m stunned by what’s in here.” And that sucked, that really hurt. That’s what you want to avoid. So the one thing every proposal has in common, ideally, is that nothing in it is a surprise. And if we’ve really done our jobs well, and we’ve guided the potential partner, the client, our potential new colleagues correctly, and if they’ve showed up open and generous and ready to share and really collaborate, then like I said earlier, the activities and the outcomes that are described in the story that we put forward to them are all self-evident. These are all things that we’ve probably hashed out and edited and sort of sculpted together over the preceding days or weeks…

Chris: Right. With them in the room.

Michael: Yeah. Exactly. The process is transparent, it’s… again, it’s not like at a car dealership where they’re like “I want to buy this red truck,” and the guy says, or the gal says, “Okay, that’ll be $20,000,” and you say “Well, what if it were 18?” and then they say “Gotta go talk to my manager.” Right? And they go back in some room and they have a hot chocolate, or they sit down and they take their lunch break…

Chris: Ugh! I’m getting annoyed just listening to you talk about this.

Michael: I know, right? And why is that annoying? It’s annoying because the process is not transparent.

Chris: Right.

Michael: And you know that something funny is often going on.

Chris: Yes.

Michael: With us, the process is very transparent. Now, in terms of how things are priced and the operating models that projects can go with, that’s a pretty varied and detailed discussion. But the process of arriving at a scope, at a set of outcomes and a timeline and a how we will do it together, that process is totally collaborative and transparent. ‘Cause we don’t want any surprises there, because building software is complicated enough as it is.

Chris: Exactly, exactly.

Michael: Right? Only a total sociopath or a masochist would inject subterfuge…

Chris: (Laughing) More ambiguity.

Michael: Right. Would inject more ambiguity or subterfuge into the early stages of a relationship where you’re going to be building software together. ‘Cause it’s hard enough as it is, right?

Chris: Totally.

Michael: A lot of transparency is really important, because there should be no surprises…

Chris: Yeah.

Michael: …by the time we put a period on the early stages of the story.

Chris: Yes. I hope this is helpful for people to hear. If you compare, if you laid all our proposals out on a very long table, if you printed them all out and put them together, no one of them is the same. Like, no two of them are the same.

Michael: Correct.

Chris: They are all unique. I mean, this is the thing. The pitch is about the client. It is not about us. It is not about… Now, we do have a capabilities deck that describes what we do.

Michael: No, sure, sure.

Chris: That is boilerplate, and you know, we have sent that off to people. But when we are talking about doing, you know, the real selling, it’s not a prepackaged thing that we are dressing up and changing a few words and sending off in an email. It is a artifact of real work. This is why we think about…

Michael: And hopefully value.

Chris: Yes.

Michael: Hopefully value, right? Even if a project doesn’t work out, or we’re not hired, or they go with somebody else, the standard that we set on our team, the strategy team within Postlight, is that if we spend time with the client and we put together a proposal, the content of that proposal should have inherent value.

Chris: Yes.

Michael: It should make the people who are gonna read it and own it when we’re done, whether they hire us or not, it should make those folks smarter, more empowered, more informed about their business, more informed about whatever decisions they try to make. That’s what’s really important. I wanna go back to the thing you were saying about laying the pages on the table, because…

Chris: It’d have to be a very long table.

Michael: It’s a very long table. But, one, if you’re a person who does work in slides a lot, that is a great way, actually, to work on your story. It’s not good for the environment, but if you use recycled paper, I guess, it’s a great way to physically play with it.

Chris: Yeah.

Michael: But the other thing I wanted to say is that, you know, you said every proposal would look, would be different. And that’s definitely true. I think if you were to step back and look at every proposal we send out over the course of a year on one giant table that defies the laws of physics, the analogy that I, or the metaphor that I think of is, it would be kind of like… Postlight makes mammals. Right? There are so many different kinds of animals and organisms in the world, but every mammal is warm-blooded, every mammal has vertebrae. And so there are some core building blocks, and the way that we think and the way that we approach learning about, understanding, and hopefully eventually solving problems, those things would be consistent from proposal to proposal.

Chris: Mm.

Michael: But the solutions, the stories, what we’ve learned, the research we rely on, how we get from A to B, all of that is totally tailored. And it’s as different as, you know, a cat and a ring-tailed lemur. Right? They’re that different. But a lot of the DNA is the same. ‘Cause like I said, when it comes to different kinds of problems, the number is limited but how you adapt to the specific problem, how you adapt to the environment of the business, by industry, is what determines whether you end up with a house cat or a ring-tailed lemur.

Chris: We build a lot of different kinds of software.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: This idea that at the core of sales is not the thing you’re selling, the core of sales is the customer. I’m not well-read in my business literature, but I guarantee you that is not a new idea, I’m sure many people have talked about that a lot. But so much of what’s out there, when it comes to building software, doesn’t embrace this. Doesn’t embrace the idea that the technology’s not the star. The star is what the business problem is. And then how do you figure out how to bring good design thinking and good technology thinking to bear to solve that problem. That’s what… that effort, that energy is how we think of sales. And that’s why it’s not evil. That’s why it’s not bad, or doesn’t feel anathema, certainly to me. Because when I go into a conversation with a new prospect, I’m going in with excitement and curiosity. I waant to say, “Tell me about what your problem is. And tell me about where… you know, what are the issues that you’re feeling. Where is the pain that you’re feeling on a day-to-day…” There’s so much pain in this world that is caused by bad software.

Michael: (Laughs) Oh my God, yes.

Chris: And I want to soothe that pain. And that’s how I go into conversations with prospects. It totally transforms your posture, the thing you say, the questions you ask. Because it becomes about them. It becomes about, let’s talk about… I’m coming back to what you said again. Let’s talk about where we’re going together. And we’re on the same team already. And I think that’s so powerful when you think about, you know, sales not being sales.

Michael: You said something really really important that I want to go back to, and say again, and emphasize, which is that the technology isn’t the star.

Chris: Yeah.

Michael: And when you said that, it immediately took me back 20 years to my first quote-unquote real job. I was a working professional classical musician at the time, but my first quote-unquote normal job was working for Apple in an Apple store. And this idea of the technology not being the star may sound surprising or counterintuitive to people that are listening to this, but it’s the truth. The way that we were taught to work with people on the floor in front of all this amazing technology was not to immediately come… walk up to them and say “Hey, how’s it going, can I show you this, can I show you that? Why don’t we go over here and look at these new things that just came out?” It wasn’t that. It was, “Tell me about yourself. What is the role of the computer, or the phone, or whatever it might be in your life? What’s the role of music in your life? What’s the role of photography? What kind of business are you?” Right? And it was…

Chris: I’m not surprised at all.

Michael: Exactly. And I had no idea what we were being trained to do at the time, but looking back, in hindsight, I learned about user journeys on the floor of an Apple store in Cleveland, Ohio. You know, for like four years.

Chris: Yeah.

Michael: And then, we had to be experts in the technology, because based on the story they were telling us, then we could apply it to the technology that was around us. We could show them, we could listen to their user journey, identify where are the pain points, where are things not working, where are the opportunities for – in this case, an Apple product – to play a role as the solution? Maybe they think they need a laptop, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s not right.

Chris: Right. Maybe it’s an iPad. Maybe it’s a whatever. Yeah.

Michael: We listen to the user journey, we identify where the pain is, where the opportunities for solutions are. And on the fly, for every person, we had to come up with a solution story using the technology around us. And be able to demonstrate it. And that was the… I don’t know how it is now, but that was the training that I got almost 20 years ago now at an Apple store, and it in many ways set a very powerful tone for my whole professional career in technology. Because it wasn’t about, “Let me sell you this laptop ‘cause that’s going to do good things for me.” Right?

Chris: Right. I want more commission so I’m… yeah.

Michael: There was no commission at the Apple store in those days, and I’m… I can’t confirm ‘cause I don’t work there, but I’d be stunned if anybody at Apple retail was working on commission now. It’s much more about, tell me about yourself. Bring me into your world. And then, based on the things that I know that you probably don’t know, I’ll bring you along with me. I will guide you, and together we’ll find the right solution. And one person leaves empowered, and the other person leaves feeling pretty good.

Chris: Right, exactly, right. You don’t feel awful about yourself, you know, putting a bunch of stuff that someone doesn’t need in their hands because you want to make 10% more or whatever for the month. There’s one more topic I wanted to cover with you, which is… so, a lot of our business comes from referrals. Right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: It’s extensions of existing work, it’s expansions of existing work, it is someone who has heard about us who wants to bring us in.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: And I’m curious if we can spend a minute talking about how we nurture that, right? Because we don’t have a capital-S sales “Please make sure you go sign three new projects with your client” engagement lead. But it does happen that a lot of our clients have more work for us. And so I wanna talk about that, I want to talk about finding opportunity and finding new sales in a way that is not… sales. (Laughs)

Michael: Well, look, first of all nothing succeeds like success. Right? And there’s not a lot of convincing involved when you do a great job. My team probably gets sick of hearing it, ‘cause I… I don’t know, I may not have a very big repertoire of sayings. But I often remind us that, look, no one’s on an operating table at Postlight, there’s no bullets flying, there’s no lives at stake. We work on really important, really consequential software. But no lives are at stake here. That said, careers are at stake. And we have a huge responsibility that we have to take very seriously, because usually, on the end of a project, on the other end of those invoices, someone else’s butt is on the line. We build a relationship with someone, and together we arrive at a solution that we think is right, and they sign on the dotted line. If it’s a massive success, hopefully that person gets promoted, and this experience becomes the next step in their career story. But if we individually or collectively screw it up, I mean, that could have a massive impact on someone personally and professionally, and that’s something that we can never forget. And we have to wake up in the mirror, in the morning and look in the mirror and remember it every day. And I think that’s a big part of why so many of our clients are with us for a long time, and for more than one career-defining launch. Because they trust us. And because we show them every day that we take the responsibility extremely seriously, regardless of the fact that no lives are at stake here. Which helps us separate our thoughts and our feelings on a day-to-day basis and make good decisions. Careers can be at stake. 

Chris: Right.

Michael: And our clients care deeply about the things that they’re building with their colleagues, for their colleagues, for their customers. And we need to care also, and we can’t forget that they’re… no matter how many times we’ve delivered, no matter how great our track record is, no matter how many case studies we have, building software is risky business.

Chris: Yes.

Michael: It’s risky, it’s complicated, it’s ambiguous, it’s nearly aleatoric in how crazy it can be. Murphy is always just lurking around the corner, and Murphy will jump out and punch you in the face whenever Murphy gets a chance to do that, right? And it’s important for us not to forget that and to go in with a lot of humility, and to take the responsibility really seriously, and hopefully that’s… our clients feel that, even if it’s implicit in the work that we do. Even if it’s not overtly sort of talked about. Hopefully they feel that, because at the end of the day that is the most important thing. And that’s why… that’s the only reason someone will work with you more than once.

Chris: Right. Get your client promoted. Get your customer promoted. That’s a very, very…

Michael: It’s a good shorthand.

Chris: It’s a good shorthand, it’s a very strong guiding axiom for the responsibility that you’re talking about here.

Michael: Yeah. And if you really… at first, that may sound a little bit glib, but it’s not. Because if you think about what it takes to quote-unquote get promoted, that’s not a transaction. It’s not transactional.

Chris: No.

Michael: That is sustained success over a long period of time. Especially with, you know, many of our clients who are already pretty senior people with a lot of responsibility. Getting a promotion – which again, like the word sales, is really a proxy term for something much more nuanced and complicated – it’s a months-long process that actually contains a string of successes, and a reputation and a reliability that has been built over time. And we play a role in that, or at least we should, and we do when we’re doing our very best work. That’s the standard.

Chris: I just want to add one more thing to what you’re saying, which is framing this for the entire team. So we have a process that we calle QORE, Q-O-R-E, which we have talked about on the show before, we wrote a white paper about it. So the O stands for opportunity. The way we do this, when we talk with our teams in our QORE sessions, we don’t say to them “What other new projects could we be doing?” You know? “Please go make another sale in this client, we want to expand, we want to be working with, you know, X group or Y group.” What we say to the team is, what other problems are there? What other challenges do you see, either with the team that you’re working directly with on the client side, or with adjacent teams? And does it make sense for us to talk to somebody about those challenges?

Michael: Right. Even if, for example, the challenges aren’t particularly a good fit for us. How often does one doctor see something on a result and refer you to another doctor? Right? The point is, they have a duty of care. Again, we’re not doctors, we’re not saving lives, I don’t want anybody to think that we are highfalutin’, right? But it’s a useful analogy. Does someone who has a duty of care refer you to someone else who is better positioned to deliver it? But if you can recognize a problem…

Chris: Right.

Michael: …you have a responsibility to help your partner see it and understand it as well.

Chris: Well, and this is the superpower about recognizing problems, is that designers and engineers and product managers love it, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: If you told an engineer you have to do sales, they’re gonna be like, you know, “Screw you, I’m outta here.” Most engineers, it’s anathema.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: They just hate… they don’t want to ever touch the thing. But if you tell them where is their inefficiency in a process that is connected to yours, oh my God. Absolutely. They’re like, “Oh, they need to clean up, you know, their whole DevOps pipeline is screwed up, or the security penetration testing is completely off.” And it’s like, these things that are tangential or adjacent, that are not directly related to what you’re working on but are still problematic can become the sources of new business for you. Not because you want to make another sale, but because there is a real challenge that your team has noticed and brought to you, and there’s a way to orient, you know, what a project team is working on, such that they have that peripheral vision, so that they can surface those things and bring them up, and then an engagement lead can have a conversation in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It doesn’t feel arbitrary, right? It’s not like, “Hey, what else can you bring me?” It’s like, “Hey, I’m hearing some chatter from the team about this pretty painful thing, should we talk about how we can make it better?”

Michael: And the key point here is that the team… the reason we can do this is because the team can see across industries. You used the example of a really clogged up DevOps pipeline, right? Well, if you’re a killer engineer who works at Postlight and you’ve done DevOps in fifteen different industries, or with fifteen different clients, it doesn’t matter whether it’s manufacturing or e-commerce or media and publishing or financial services. A messed up DevOps pipeline is a messed up DevOps pipeline.

Chris: That’s right.

Michael: And we can see that. Sometimes when you’re in-house, when you’re the client, and you’re so hyper focused on your industry and the threats and the opportunities that are in your world, of course you don’t necessarily have time to sort of… to pull up. To bring the hot air balloon a little bit higher and look across industries and see, well, what is actually the state of the art? Or, what are the other new solutions that are out there?

Chris: Yes.

Michael: And, you know, to bring it full-circle a little bit, that’s where we come in. Because our teams do see across industries, and then, with your help, or with the help of our… whoever the relevant partner is, the solution can be fine-tuned. Right?

Chris: That’s right.

Michael: Right? Depending on the industry. Maybe in industry X, the DevOps approach needs to be slightly tweaked, or for company Y, because of this internal process it needs to be tweaked in this way. But going back to what I said about how there really only being 20 different kinds of problems that we encounter with clients, I think it’s… for me it’s a fundamental… it’s a fundamental truth.

Chris: Yep.

Michael: You have to stay totally humble and open. Because we can’t do it by ourselves.

Chris: I’m leaving this conversation feeling like sales is not evil. Thank you so much, Michael, for coming on.

Michael: Yeah. My pleasure.

Chris: If you’re listening to this and you were thinking, “I have a problem that I want to talk through, I don’t wanna be sold anything, I just want advice. I just want… there’s this thing that is in the back of my head, it doesn’t feel right, I’m not happy with my design, I don’t think my engineering team is where it needs to be,” these are the kinds of things we would love to talk to you about. Please reach out. Michael and I see these emails, we share them with our team, we want people to talk to us and we want to give out good guidance for how you can do it better. This is the stuff that we love. Thank you for listening. Michael, thank you for coming on.

Michael: My pleasure.

Chris: We will talk to you all soon.

Michael: Thanks, everybody.

Chris: Bye.