Saturday, 20 June 2015

Job Interview: Where Do you See Yourself in a Year?

For the last few years I've noticed that the sales process with the adoption of technology is broken, there's been too much selling of products that fail to live up to expectation. It's encouraging to see this starting to change.

However, as the model changes, there might be something of a psycological shift needed, one that encourages people to get behind a new way of doing things. In this post I highlight how and why sales people might want to consider sales as a short term contract Vs full time peremanent employment... and maybe even for educators who are advocates of a product/brand to be renumerated the same way as sales reps.

Where do you see yourself in a years' time? Not Here?
One of those cringeworthy questions from the company HR guru, who is trying to assess for motivation and drive... That is if you've been fortunate enough to be shortlisted for an interview in this dispicable economic climate.

Where do you see yourself in 12 months time?

If I have to revert back to sales while continuing to develop my community management skills, my answer will be;

Well, if you've got the right culture, have achieved product market fit and look after your existing customers... I won't expect to be working here!

We'll have reached the early market... developed our marketing materials and presentations to help the early majority choose our service... then make the necessary changes for the laggards. Job done! I'll have sold myself out of a job.

I'll bet if you had a look on LinkedIn at some of the EdTech companies that educators universally love, you'd find they don't emply any sales people.

No Cold Calls
Who says that a company needs to have a team of full time sales people all hammering the phone, putting calls in that no one likes?

The recipient doesn't like them, the sales person doesn't like making them and the Sales Director and CEO will tell sales staff often enough how much a drain on resources they are. So why do we have them? From what I can see there are three reasons;

1) That the company has accured so many overheads that they urgently need sales in order to stay afloat, the companies overheads dictate the rate of growth.

2) That the service has not achieved product market fit or, if it has it is scaling too fast and have issues with operations and the implementation of the service.

3) Product market fit has been achieved and it's time to scale the business.

Your Fired... So are you... And You!
The only option that would be of interest to me out of the list above is the third option, and the product/service is ready to scale. But even in this situation, I would question if sales people were needed.

If you've achieved product market fit and have executed the implementation well, lots of users should be proponents and will assist with sales efforts through word of mouth referrals.
If this is a startup just starting out, they may be unlikely to get these referrals until educators have explored the product/service, nor will they give a recommendation after the first use. It may take 3-6 months before the startup has a suitable number of references and solid case studies.

At this stage some startups may work out, but most won't. Early pilots may not go so well, and the founders may find that the original idea hasn't worked out as well as expected. I have mentioned How2 and Trinket a few times in recent posts, and they found this to be the case.

Iterating your way to product market fit is a messy process, and changing course is an extremely common occurance... That is if the organisation has the right culture and the self awareness and confidence to "pivot." Check out how difficult Trinket found this process to be: How we got from Coursefork to Trinket

If Coursefork had hired a whole bunch of sales people who had experience with selling based on their initial product, the changes the company made could have been even more difficult.

It might have involved the dilemma of letting staff go because they had the wrong kind of experience with the new product, or keeping them in post even though they were not as experienced in the new area of focus.

Geoffrey Moore highlights how and why sales has the highest turnover of staff in startups, and it has nothing to do with the sales department... And everything to do with a distinct lack of product market fit (A High Tech Parable on P42 is worth a read).

The outcome for Sales People if product market fit has not been achieved?

Product Market Fit... Sell! Sell! Sell! Or Educate?
So you've managed to do what few in education have done, you achieve product market fit. Great! Now what? Now you ramp everything up, engage, scale and generally sell your socks off.

But even with great products, sales calls to educators is still a drain on educators time. So what's the answer? What about...Educating educators on the sales process and to;
  • Identify the early adopters 
  • Let them play about with the early product 
  • Get their input to assess if the idea has merit 
  • They can help determine when the product has achieved product market fit, then 
  • Help to roll the product out
There is still very much a need for sales people, but instead of it being a case of

"We would like you to buy XYZ product" It would be as case of,
"I'm calling to see if you'd be interested in helping us develop an idea we've had for ABC"

This is every bit as hard a "sell" as the more traditional method... And just as much can go wrong.
  • Educators may not "get" an idea: The idea may be a real games changer, but there isn't much enthusiasm for it. We've seen with various discontinious innovations being rejected by the incumbents in industries like gaming, music, retail, photography etc.
  • Partnering with the wrong groups: If product market fit is adjacent to what you are doing you may find that your idea does have merit, but you're speaking to people in the wrong departments.
  • Brutally Honest Relationships: It takes a strong relationship to be able to say "This concept isn't working," whether educator or founder, it takes courage to admit to yourself and others that "What we've spent all our time on here isn't working, we should shut it down"
There will be a lull in sales once you've found these early adopters and are working with them to see if the product fulfils a need. What will the sales person have to sell and to whom during this period?

Get2ISTE is an example of this lull between 27th March-30th May 8 people opened an account and 3 were funded. Would the other 5 accounts been fulfilled with a little more sales effort? Would more accounts be created? It may have had a bit of an impact.

However, there is nothing that any sales person would be able to do that would rival educators if they were to employ some of these ideas at ISTE... and if they don't? We have to assume that there is no demand for the idea and it doesn't deserve to grow and/or needs to be tweeked.

Success! Show Me the Money
Let's say that all of the above has happened (as it has done for a handful of companie), what could be done to facilitate more of these kinds of partnerships. What happens when things do work out?

If a concept is proven and starts to scale and money comes in, what if an agreement between educator and startup was reached when the partnership was established? 

This could include issues like renumeration with the school and/or educator, which would be paid when the business started generating revenue. The benefits of this model?
  • Educators would have better products... and less sales calls!
  • The educator would know that their time was valued, and would have some additional revenue for themselves and/or their school
  • There would be a good working relationship, one that could lead to the roles being reversed as the partnership starts to discuss new ideas, and might include helping educators develop their ideas and take them "to market" 
This is Already Happening
All of this is already happening in some form. For example, EdTech incubators work like this and produce superior products to other companies. However, in my opinion it is not a like-for-like comparison, and is unfair on other suppliers.

There are also revenue models where educators are recompensed for their time through programs like Teachers Pay Teachers or perks from being an ambassador for various products.

Products are constantly being discussed on social media. Some EdChats even have talks dedicated to particular products.

What impact do these referrals have on educators adopting these services? 
I would imagine that it's quite high.

What is the rate of commission for these sales? 
Probably non-existent.

What if an educators advocacy was compared with some of the company's sales reps? Probably

Demonstrate a Need?
I don't think that I need to go into too much detail to discuss the need for products to have more input from educators, do I?

Just in case I do, instead of highlighting the shortcomings of suppliers, how about extolling the benefits of working with educators... Check this out: Eduprenurs

Since I've been involved with Get2ISTE I've had a few educators write to me asking if I could help with their class crowdfunding projects, then there is the fact that the #NotAtISTE Twitter steam has a few comments about missing the event due to costs.So the need is there
  • Suppliers needing to get more input to ensure they have achieved product market fit, 
  • Educators and schools could benefit from some additional income
  • Many of these suggestions are already happening to some extent

For Hire... Will Work for 3D Printer
I would like to demonstrate there is a need for this with a specific example and the offer of my services.

Chris Beyerle is an advocate of EdShelf and was a proponent of Alicia Leonard's #SaveEdShelf, if memory serves me correct, he was one of the first to get involved and help spread the word.

Chris is also one of around 900 educators who gives up AT LEAST an hour of his time to moderate South Carolina EdChat each week, Chris is looking for support to crowd fund a 3D Printer for his students.

Did you spot a trend with this cause? Helping EdShelf, moderating an edchat and looking for support for his students?

Not a single aspect of this work is for himself, he's consistently helping others. 

What's the biggest criticism about ineffective EdTech and their founders? 
I would have said that "Being in it for themselves and for the money," would be a top complaint. Sometimes this is justified, sometimes it's extremely unfair as it differs from company to company.

Furthermore, sales people are criticised a great deal for their practices... this is not the sales people's fault, it's the CEO's or the Sales Directors, and often this is due to the stress of trying to keep the business afloat.

I am trying to do what I can to raise awareness of these issues, and affect change as and where I can, and I would be delighted to help Chris out. So here's an idea...

If any suppliers are willing to contribute towards Chris' fund for a 3D printer I will do everything I can to help in any way I can to provide an ROI for any contributions made.

Regardless of what stage the company is at, I'm sure I will be able to think of ways to help out.

What impact will this 3D printer have on Chris' students? If Susan Bearden's example is anything to go by... I think it will inspire a few doctors and scientists of the future: 4th Graders Made Prospetic Hand with 3D Printer, please share this link to help Holy Trinity Academy win an award for collaboration 

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