As techies, we have the unique ability to observe and influence the daily work of our fellow employees in other professional disciplines. If your job is supporting software applications used within the Finance organization, for example, you have the opportunity, maybe even the job requirement, to learn the principles of accounting and very possibly gain an understanding of what personal attributes are required to be a successful accountant.
Alternatively, as the title of this column suggests, if you are working on the organization's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, you are being given the opportunity to learn what salespeople do, how they do it, and the types of personal traits that makes them successful.
My goal here is not to change techies into sales people; rather, it's to describe various techniques used by them that can be employed by techies to get their projects funded, promoted and for other business and career purposes. These techniques include the following:
1. Talk benefits, not features: Technical people, including myself, have a tendency to talk about technical features, rather than the benefits that those features provide. The reason is that we are excited about what to do and have the ability to extrapolate as to why these features are of great value. Not all non-technical people have this ability. As a result, describing the benefits, rather than the features, saves them from having to make this extrapolation.
2. Listen first, and then talk: When someone asks about a new technology or project status, they have a particular reason for doing so. The best way to reply is to first understand their reason for asking and what they want to know before answering the question. This will help you frame your answer in a way that is of the greatest value to the person asking.
3. Know when to stop talking: Given the stereotypic nature of our technical roles, professional backgrounds, and detailed orientation, when asked about a technical topic we generally have a wealth of information that can be provided. The problem is that very often, the person asking the question doesn't want all the detail, just a high level summary. The moral of this story is trying to understand and describe the level of detail requested and then to stop talking. If the person wants more detail, they can simply ask an additional question.
4. User empathy: Whether building software, working on the help desk, or performing any other function that touches the business users, try to look at things from their perspective, it will help you understand their needs and enhance their satisfaction in the services you provide.
5. Find user pain points: If you can gain an understanding of your users' pain points, it will allow you to anticipate their needs. This anticipation allows you to be proactive, rather than reactive, in the service you provide. This proactivity will help you be viewed as an internal thought leader and valued member of the overall business team.
6. Importance of packaging: It sounds superficial, but the way both you and the products you produce affect how they are initially perceived. For example, if you received proposals from two vendors, one that looks very professionally done and one stapled on the right (yes the right) with a coffee ring on the back cover, at first glance, which one is of higher quality.
There is a treasure trove of skills, concepts, and techniques that you can learn simply by observing those in other professions. All you need to do is open your eyes and your mind to the strengths and attributes of those around you.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.