It’s easy in the tech world to value deeper and deeper expertise on increasingly arcane topics. We build self-images and reputations around expertise on the finer points of technology and sometimes miss the greater gains to be had.
Many of you know that I began my career as a programmer, then became a database administrator before changing course to become a book editor. My job as an editor is to find talented people and convince them to write and share what they know through books. While I’m good at guiding authors along that journey, it is often a struggle to find new authors and new projects.
With that background in mind, let me take you back a dozen years. It’s 2006 or thereabouts, and I’m struggling because I’m not landing enough new projects. One afternoon I’m sitting in a room at church describing my job and its complexities to my then pastor, when he looks at me and says: “You’re in sales”.
I was floored.
He was right.
Those three words – “you’re in sales” – pretty much saved the next dozen years of my career. I made a few changes, began to think differently, put a few sales-focused practices in place, and then for a decade failed to fully explore the import of what had been revealed to me.
Don’t get me wrong – I worked hard. I worked with discipline. I became better at the arcane details of my job. I made myself more productive. I built expertise. My peers respected my mastery of the craft. All those good things delivered value, but I was building marginal gains and missing the game-changing improvements.
All those good things delivered value, but I was building marginal gains and missing the game-changing improvements.
Then it occurred to me that maybe I should explore this “sales thing” more deeply. Credit goes to podcasts. I had discovered podcasts and was looking for some interesting ones to listen to. Something made me think to type in “sales” as a search term. It’s funny sometimes what small threads our successes in life dangle from.
The podcasts led me to an author. The author led me to his book. The book was like a whack upside the head. Sales is a discipline. There are methods that can be mastered and practiced. These methods deliver results.
Then came the conference. Yes, I attended a sales conference. Jonathan the programmer, turned database administrator, turned book editor paid real money to fly to Atlanta and attend a conference with 600 sales professionals from around the country and beyond.
The conference opened with all 600 of us being commanded to rise and recite eleven statements printed on the back of the program booklet. Six hundred people standing in a room and reciting inspirational statements. No one dared not to stand.
It was a surreal experience. No tech conference would ever begin like that.
These sales professionals attacked their conference with a vigor that I never see in the tech world. Not once did I see even one attendee in a session with their laptop open and not paying attention to the speaker. Attendees were engaged, and speakers demanded it of us.
Did I say “their conference?” It was my conference too.
OpenWorld is upon us. In five days as I write this, I will board a plane and fly to San Francisco for a week at the OpenWorld and Code One conferences where I hope to make connections, renew friendships, and find new authors.
Many of you reading this post will also be heading to San Francisco. What are your plans? Will you take your sessions as seriously as my sales colleagues took theirs? Will you spend a few sessions looking outside your discipline? I challenge you to think about doing that. Take a few fliers on sessions that look interesting that you wouldn’t normally attend. Make a connection with someone in a completely different field. See where it leads.
Take a few fliers on sessions that look interesting that you wouldn’t normally attend. Make a connection with someone in a completely different field. See where it leads.
And what of my sales conference? You know I wouldn’t be telling the story if the results weren’t good. I am crushing my numbers this year. I met my target for new book deals in July. I haven’t needed to sign a new author in months. I’m enjoying my best year ever in terms of new book projects because I rose up and looked outside my discipline.
OpenWorld is around the corner. Someone – perhaps you – is paying thousands of dollars for you to attend. Be open to the opportunities. I can’t promise you game-changing results. What I can say is that often the biggest gains and opportunities in my own life have come from stepping outside my usual box, outside my comfort zone, and opening myself to new experiences and new ways of thinking.
One of the first people I met at the sales conference turned out to be an Apress author. It was a bizarre bit of serendipity to run into him during our first break. There we were, a book editor and a technology author both attending a conference on sales. Life can take strange turns. Being open to the bigger picture can sometimes open doors and advance our careers in surprising ways.
Jonathan Gennick is the Apress editor responsible for the IOUG Press, a cooperative publishing arrangement between Apress and IOUG with the aim of providing the very best in content for IOUG members and other Oracle professionals. Learn more at www.ioug.org/iougpress.