By Gary Kayye, CTS
I love this industry!
Upon graduating from college back in 1987, I was lucky enough to be offered a job at Extron Electronics way back when they were probably less than a 20-person company. Although at first I didn’t feel like I wasn’t doing what I went to college for (Marketing), the people there were great and it was a lot of fun – not to mention frantic, daily, as we were growing exponentially.
In fact, having been properly outfitted with all sorts of “cheat sheets” written by Ginger Dodier (little, literally, pieces of paper that had the top 20 questions and answers written on them for each product). I mean these were little – some of the older people at Extron couldn’t read them, in fact. I am not exactly sure why they were so small, but I think it had to do with making it (technical support of analog and digital interfaces) not look to intimidating. It was.
In the morning, I would come in and answer the phones alongside Ginger (now with Large Screen Display Group) and Catherine Alvarez (now with Crestron). Most of the questions were easy, “what interface do I use to convert the signal from an IBM 3270 PC to analog.” I would simply look at my cheat sheet (in alphabetical order) and find “IBM” then find “3-2-7-0,” got it!
Then, in the afternoons – remember we were a small company – I would go to the shipping department (more like a table in the warehouse) to help pack and ship products.
Next day, same thing. But all along, I was getting a real world marketing lesson that it took me years to realize.
In the office right next to the sales office sat Andrew Edwards, the president of Extron. I would over hear him on the phone talking to people four hours. No, not different people, the same people. He would literally have a conversation with someone for one, two and sometimes even three hours. At that time, it was generally a regional sales person from a projector manufacturer who was trying to sell projectors to connect to computers – a brand new market way back in the late 1980’s. His door was always open, so I could hear most every conversation.
If I had a highly technical question that wasn’t on the cheat sheet and wasn’t something Ginger (who was the most technical person in sales) couldn’t answer, I would go next door to his office and sit and wait for him to pause his conversation to answer my question. Many times I would go in there and he would be talking about country music, a new car the person on the other line had just bought or even about some vacation that that person had just taken. I know they talked about Extron product, too, but that part of the conversation was long gone – 45 minutes, an hour ago.
It was three years later before I realized what marketing was – in technology. Although I was positioned in sales, I was getting the marketing lesson of a lifetime – as were all of us there in that 11’ x 14’ office next to Andrew’s. When we grew past the point of the cheat sheet answering over 90 percent of our technical questions and we had a half-dozen or so people now in sales answering calls as quickly as they would come, I was tasked with writing a sales training program. Something like a giant, structured cheat sheet – in a binder.
That’s when I realized what marketing in technology really was and still is – relationships. As I sat down to write that training manual some 20 years ago, I realized that the key to Extron’s success wasn’t really us in the sales department or me and Jacob back in shipping. It was Andrew’s hours upon hours of conversations with regional sales people.
As the calls kept pouring in, each and every one of them were either a returning customer or a totally new customer driven to Extron as a referral from a Barco sales rep, an Electrohome (remember them?) sales rep, a Sony sales rep, a Mitsubishi sales rep. I’d never met these sales reps that kept referring business to us, but Andrew had. In fact, he’d spent hours marketing to them by befriending them every day – all over the phone.
Sure, we built great products back then and our time to market was nearly perfect, but, ultimately, all that exponential growth I spoke about was through marketing – personalized by Andrew. And, that became our hiring and training springboard. I hired people who love to talk on the phone to their friends – I just asked them to make new friends with people in our market. We didn’t measure calls in time by how quickly we could process a caller, but in how slowly we did. We rewarded sales people who KEPT people on the other end of the line the longest. Who could find out how many kids they had, what car they drove, were they having a good or bad day and what was their favorite food.
It was marketing like they didn’t teach in school: it wasn’t Marketing 101 — it was Marketing One-by-One.
As we, hopefully, speed through these tough economic times, remember, that marketing one-by-one will get you where you want to go and buy you friendships that you will rely on for years. Unfortunately for me, I am getting old enough to have had some of my marketing one-by-one friends pass away (Phil Callahan, Barco Billy) but I have thousands of AV friends out there who I count on to help me do what I do – all from that marketing lesson I learned from Andrew keeping his door open.
By the way, I have fond memories of those cheat sheets we used in the early days of Extron. I wish I had kept one – maybe someone at Extron did. But, I sure owe Ginger a big thanks for making them – I can see, smell and touch them in my mind even today…
Reprinted with permission from Sound & Communications. Founded in 1955, Sound & Communications is the premiere magazine for AV systems integrators, contractors and consultants. To subscribe or read sample articles, go to http://www.soundandcommunications.com