Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned a lot about managing my career. I’ve been fortunate to work for some of the biggest and well known brands in the industry; from small bay area startups to Thomson Reuters, Bank of America, Taleo Corporation and now salesforce.com. Throughout that time, I’ve been asked to coach and mentor new hires and peers in their own career development.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to the 5 principles that have guided my career to what I now happily refer to as my #dreamjob at salesforce.com. In writing this article, I hope to create a catalyst for change in your career. In addition to the principles below, I’ve also provided a call to action with Take Action tips. A wise teacher of mine once said “we learn by doing”, and that’s exactly what you must do to drive your personal growth and career success to a new level.
- Build your network now.
- Become a storyteller.
- Love your company’s products.
- Build your brand.
- Take charge of your career.
Build Your Network Now
Social networks can be powerful tools for connecting us to companies, hiring managers and new people – especially when we’re on the hunt for a new job. Some people are focused on how many connections they have, others don’t have enough. I’ve spoken to many senior leaders at my company, and most say that you must network early and often. Networking should be seen as a means to an end – if you take the time to nurture and develop those relationships, then good things may come. This brings me to my 1st principle, Build Your Network Now. Don’t wait until you’re ready for a new role, start networking today. I always advise people to identify and meet at least 5 people in the company, outside of your role and organization every 3 months.
Take action: Pick 5 people that have some level of influence or leadership responsibility and those that are well liked and respected in their organizations. Introduce yourself and tell them that you’re interested in networking with others in the company and if they could spare 15 minutes for a coffee or meet and greet. Don’t forget that in exchange for their time, they’ll also have an opportunity to learn more about another area of the company and you can provide that insight. Ask for permission to reach out to them in future for conversation, guidance or advice about your career. Then, make it a habit, at least once a year if not more, to stay in touch with a face to face meeting. Update them on your career, share the wins you’ve had and ask about their organization. Over time, this person can act as a mentor or become a champion for you when it comes time for that big move you’ve been planning.
Become a Storyteller
I grew up in a storytelling family – no matter how many interruptions someone received, they still managed to finish their stories. I learned that our stories connected family and friends and it’s how we remembered those before us. In business, the power of storytelling is equally undeniable. Storytelling builds trust and it creates a human connection. There’s a popular saying in sales that “people buy from people, not companies.” And good sales people learn to connect meaning to the current situation with stories of lessons learned, customer success or personal triumph. Stories allow our customers to visualize the solution in a whole new way – not just by the $ sign.
Take action: Write a brief personal story to help position the value of the product you’re selling and why it matters. Next, share that story at your next team meeting or with a customer. If that’s too easy, find and learn 3 customer success stories for your company and share them, in a conversational way, at your next team meeting or with a customer.
Love Your Company’s Products
As I look back on the career I’ve had so far and all the cool companies I’ve worked for, there’s one thing that stands out between salesforce.com and all the others. I love the app! The app is nothing like what I’d used before to manage my daily business nor was it like anything that I had sold or supported in the past. Salesforce.com was also the one of the first products that I really “got”, I understood how it could solve pain and challenges that I’d struggled with at other companies and then it clicked when I realized how much more it could do for our customers. The passion that I had for the app, began to show in all of my customer engagements. I became a problem solver with a solution that was flexible, powerful and it worked – it really worked!
Take action: Grab a piece of paper and draw a line down the center from top to bottom. On the left side, write “Pain” and on the right side write “Solution”. In the left column jot down three processes that cause pain for your customers: they are time consuming, manual or require help from IT to complete (think about paper pushing or spreadsheets). In the solution column, write down how your product or solution can address these pains. Take your time. Ask other people or find resources that can help. Finally, share the solution in the form of a story. What you’ve just done is aligned the value of your product with pain and wrapped it in a story. That’s the key to any successful interaction with a customer or a co-worker.
Build Your Brand
About midway through my career I took on the role of Customer Marketing Manager and began a customer reference program that rewarded our customers for their contributions in the form of stories, testimonials, speaking engagements and reference calls. During this time, I started thinking about my own personal brand. Experience had shown me that people are willing to pay more for a brand than a product (just look at the Apple products) so I decided to apply that to me. I approached the idea of my brand as a means to longevity. By having a brand, I’d become more than just a title or role, I’d be all of me.
Over time, I made it a habit to share my passion with people in areas outside of my immediate role. I offered ideas and became a thought leader, I became a go-to person, I took an active role in the mentorship of others and always jumped into my work with both feet. These traits became the foundation of my brand. The 5 principles I’m sharing today are the evolution of my brand. What’s even more exciting is that I leveraged my brand in such a way that I’m now working in a career path that is more fulfilling than ever because so much of what I do, leverages my strengths and passion for helping others. In fact, recently somebody said something that helped me define my brand in a whole new way. It’s become a favorite saying of mine because it’s concise and captures exactly who I am – “I ignite, affirm and sustain the learning in others.” (Lou Russell)
Take action: Write down the skills, characteristics and strengths that you feel best define YOU. On a new page, write down the skills, characteristics and strengths that you think OTHERS would say about you. Don’t be shy – no one else will see this! Circle the items that appear on both lists – this should be the foundation of your brand image. Next, write a vision statement for yourself that mentions the three brand characteristics that most appeal to you.
Take Charge of Your Career
I learned a long time ago that no one cared as much about my career growth as myself. I walked into the workforce believing that if I did a good job, I’d move up in the company. Somehow, this didn’t work as I’d planned because I began to learn that no one really understood how I spent my time all day every day. I worked hard and I served my customers well but at the end of the day did I add value? Yes! But in those early days, out of sight meant out of mind. Fortunately for me, I’m a fast learner and here is what I’d like to recommend:
- While networking talk about your successes and the differences you are making in the company or with your customers.
- Share your career aspirations and professional goals in conversations with your managers and other key influencers in the company.
- Ask for advice on how to measure success.
- Take control of the agenda for your manager 1-on-1 meetings.
- Always included your goals and interests in writing on your year end performance review.
One of the greatest achievements in my career was convincing leadership that a guy with no direct sales experience could build world-class sales programs. The brand I had developed allowed them to see more than just a resume and they recognized that. It turned out to be the best move in my career and it has put me on a path to greater success because I’m now doing something that fully leverages my skills, strengths and passion for the development of others. It is in fact my #dreamjob!
Take action: By reading this article, you’ve been given the tools to take charge of your career. Follow through on the action items I’ve provided, and you will see results. Not overnight, but then again, that’s not the point. Each of the principles I’ve shared takes time, effort and an investment in your development. Now go and get started!
I invite you to share your success with me on this blog but more importantly share it with your manager and other champions and key influencers in your company.