With all due respect to the Cs in every bank tech company, show me a salesman who brings in the business, and I'll show you the person who is going to propel our industry into one very sweet higher level. I have met only 9 tech sales reps in 35 years who left a lasting impression on me, so don't expect a smashing 2008 unless the new breed of salesman is going to hit the streets soon.The industry pundits have been calling bank tech a "commodity business," implying that every vendor's systems look alike. That isn't entirely true, but if I wanted to pick an argument about vendor comparisons, I'd choose this one. The salesman representing a good vendor can make the difference between winning and losing. Here are some unforgettable true stories about a few salesmen (you can add women today) who made the difference, and the stories still apply today. Just change the names. I chose the name of Larry in each case to preserve the modesty of the winners and to portray Bob Newhart's sitcom where the name Larry prevailed.
#1 Larry sold big iron, but not for IBM. In 1961, Larry worked for Honeywell, the company that wanted to be different by building a computer that delivered more. For example, while the rest of the pack was using half inch magnetic tape, Honeywell used three quarter inch tape. Oops you say. Well, the wider tape transferred more data in less time than the other drives, but also added a large measure of reliability. While Met Life was at Honeywell's showplace data center in Wellesley Hills, MA for a demonstration, the MIS Director (a dated title in between DP Manager and CIO) was smart enough to ask, "Why create something that's incompatible with the rest of the world?" Honeywell had two other major innovations that the other computer companies didn't have, an English language programming tool before anyone had ever dreamed of COBOL, and the ability to do multiprocessing long before that capability hit the scene. The challenge that innovation faces is how to present engineering marvels as a business benefit, not just as a raw technology. That's where Larry comes in. He gave a dissertation on Orthotronic Control (a term the Honeywell marketing guys coined) that described a process whereby bad data on a tape was automatically corrected by the system thus sending data forward without stopping the process to manually correct the bits. Is this hitting at the core of what insurance companies need? Larry did such a magnificent job that no other person dared challenge the demonstration, which made my job easier. Met Life turned out to be a huge customer. After the demo, I told Larry his performance was greater than Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. He didn't expect the compliment because in the land of brain trusts (Harvard/MIT) salesmen were considered one notch above clowns. The Met Life guys took the Eastern Shuttle back to NYC. Larry wanted to celebrate so he asked me to join him for dinner at Locke Ober's. I said, "Get real, Larry. You just achieved a techno conquest today but when a Jew and a Greek show up at Locke Ober's on a busy Friday night there won't be a table available at this Boston Brahman establishment unless your name is Lodge, Winthrop or Peabody." An hour later, I was sipping lobster bisque at Locke Ober's while Larry was "holding court" about his next big challenge, and the maitre d' couldn't do enough for him.
Here are the attributes that put Larry at the top of his profession:
- Chutzpah. Larry acted like the CEO of Honeywell. He convinced Met Life that they were number one and he could marshall all the corporate resources to deliver what they needed. I almost believed that he convinced the maitre d' he was JFK's cousin.
- Intelligence. Larry wasn't a glad hander. He succeeded by knowing all the answers. Larry must have spent hours doing his homework.
- Larry dressed well. Even in 2008, it's important to look the part. In New Hampshire voters were saying Mitt Romney looked presidential even though they didn't choose him. If Larry had dressed like a slob, he would never have earned the opportunity to describe Orthotronic Control. How valuable was that?
- Larry was always ahead of the curve, looking for the next big deal.
- Leadership. Larry had to make two sales, one to Met Life and the other to Honeywell. Both mattered even though a complainer would say it was unfair. Larry never complained.
- Larry had the right mother. Everyone liked Larry, but not because he was a pushover. People love a winner.