Tag Archives: IBM

Back to the Future: some land, a horse and a plow

The twenty IBM sales recruits sporting three-piece, dark blue suits with sincere tie, long-sleeved-button-down-collar white shirt and wingtip shoes (brogues) had just learned that we had left the letters on the nameplates in front of us undisturbed for three days, two days longer than normal. Bob Oliver from L.A. became Bobo Liver. Boys will be boys.

IBM 403

The “big blue machine in the corner”

The morning’s delivery of doughnuts and various and sundry hot and cold beverages from the nearby bakery in Princeton, New Jersey was sitting on the “big blue machine in the corner”, an IBM 80-column-card-based 403. We were about to learn how the company’s compensation plan worked.

After what was left of the day’s doughnuts had been cleared away, our instructor asked each of us what kind of car we were driving. Anything less than a Mercedes-Benz would have to be upgraded. Keeping up our car payments would be the incentive to exceed quota. But he assured us that with time, we’d be earning more than enough to make the Benz affordable.

None of us bought the Benz, but the message stuck. They wanted us to stay, they wanted us to perform and they wanted us to succeed. That was in 1968: what a difference almost 50 years has made.

The 2015 that Robert Zemeckis envisioned in the 1989 sci-fi movie Back to the Future Part II makes no mention of precarious employment nor of the corporate victory over labour. Neither did IBM in the late 1960s because, back then, no one saw it coming. But it’s here now and it’s impacting on developed and developing countries as this is being written. You can read about the consequences to date in the PEPSO report entitled It’s More than Poverty.

As in most crises or gathering crises of this kind, there’s much discussion about research into the problem, but very little about action. People are at risk and are suffering now. We’re especially concerned about whether parents are factoring this new reality into their plans to invest in post-secondary education for their children, or ignoring it.

As parents in our own right, the position of the Personal Due Diligence Project is that parents must be strategic and pre-emptive in how they approach preparing their children to support themselves. We’ve already begun a survey of parental attitudes about higher education and the extent of their understanding of the implications of just-in-time work.

Not every employer subscribes to this madness. There will be no winners as a result of precarious employment. Driving down the buying power of working people will drive down the demand for the goods and services their employers provide. A farmer looking for ways of conserving money in hard times hit on the idea of cutting back on the quantity of oats he fed to the horse that pulled his wagon. On the day he reduced the quantity to zero, the horse died of starvation.

No one involved with the Personal Due Diligence Project is a Luddite. Far from it. But what we do understand is that machines crave nothing, demand nothing and buy nothing.

As for our governments and business leaders, it wouldn’t surprise us if some bright young bureaucrat came up with the idea of granting unemployed and underemployed Canadians title to 10 acres of land, a horse, some oats and a plow.

Neil Morris
Founder & President
The Personal Due Diligence Project

“Who would rather not be called a salesman?”

Five people in our class of 20 raised their hand in response to that question on our first day of sales training at IBM. Mine was one of them. Not coincidentally, those hands belonged to the 5 youngest IBMers in the room.

Selling, as I would learn over the next 2 weeks, had nothing to do with back-slapping hand-shakers in hound’s-tooth jackets with loud ties, porkpie hats, toothy grins and big expense accounts. This was the era of the IBM 3-piece, dark blue suit, white shirt, conservative tie and wing-tip shoes. (I may be dating myself here.) It was about asking customers and prospects the kinds of questions they wanted to be asked so that they could talk about becoming more effective, more efficient, more profitable—and more successful.

IBM had taught us what our capabilities were. Now we were being taught how to listen, how to present and how to target our solutions. The better we listened, the more relevant and more welcome our solutions, and the greater the likelihood that someone would buy them.

That was and still is consultative selling and relationship building. It worked because everybody won. IBM changed our perspective on selling permanently. It also taught us that business is a 1-to-1, face-to-face transaction and that people do business with people they like. The greater the interest we showed in what our customer needed, the more the customer liked us. And the record shows that nobody did it better than Big Blue.

For all practical purposes, job search and prospecting for business are one and the same. It takes time to build a relationship because it takes time to build credibility. Understanding what your customer needs isn’t about flattery; it’s about genuinely wanting to help make somebody’s life easier and bottom line fatter.

If you believe that you’ve accumulated enough education, knowledge and experience to do that—or will—you’re halfway there. The other half is putting that information where it will do you and your client/future employer/prospect the most good: on his or her desk or his or her screen. Researching and preparing a winning presentation and business case for hiring you will be hard work. But it’ll lay the foundation for future business whether you’re on your own payroll, someone else’s, or on his or her list of approved vendors.

A résumé is neither a proposal nor a business case. It’s a brochure. Unless you do your homework, it’s not likely that anyone is going to see themself or the solution to their problem reflected in it. That will take a carefully thought-out, customized cover letter and addendum that speaks directly to the person to whom you’re trying to peddle your wares. The same applies to your persona on LinkedIn and to any other social media you may be using.

Now for Side “B”.

You could usually count on an IBM business card to generate one audience. From that point on, the sales rep was on his or her own. IBM had competitors, those competitors had solutions, and not every IBM proposal was rewarded with an order. IBM customers had the inalienable right to not package their needs and wants to dovetail neatly with IBM’s offerings and they exercised it. IBM still has competitors.

Job seekers may not be able to find work in their “chosen field”. Customers are under no obligation to help university and other graduates pay off their student loans. The secret to finding work whether as a self-employed consultant or salaried employee is to position yourself to address the employer’s “chosen field” or some consumer or industrial need: the sooner the better. If you’re going to be starting Grade 11 in the fall, now would be an excellent time to start.

There’s been considerable discussion and anxiety about the role and place of the Arts graduate in today’s technological society. My colleague Bruce Stewart has written some excellent posts on the subject. Please read them. He’s also written excellent posts on entrepreneurialism. Please read those, too.

Technology may be at the heart of developed societies, but we can’t get the job done with technology alone. Brilliant, game-changing perspectives and the business and academic opportunities that flow from them aren’t the exclusive purview of technological disciplines. How many times have we heard about intuitive computing that isn’t as intuitive as we thought? Who are the ultimate consumers of technology if not human beings? What else do human beings consume?

Companies may be prepared to concede that seeing their internal operations and markets through the lens of the humanities as well as through the STEM lens might be in their best interest. Young people in North America have been staying away from information technology in droves. Some would like to blame the IT industry for not promoting itself well enough. But is it possible that a society that puts tablet computers, smartphones and the Internet into the hands of children who aren’t old enough to be able to reach the accelerator and brake pedals has grown blasé?

As of this writing, Googling “wearable computing” generated 9.2 million hits. There are already vacancies. Here’s what Apple’s up to right now.

There will always be a market for ideas and a need for someone to sell them. Whether the world beats a path to your door because you’re onto what the Next Big Thing will be, or you know someone who does and you’re excited at the prospect of helping them develop it, you’re going to have to let the world know.

The Next Big Thing could come from the likes of Apple or Google or a garage around the corner. Someone’s going to have to sell it, but they’ll have to sell themself first. Or would you rather not be called a sales rep?

If you have questions or comments, brickbats or bouqets, PDD would love to hear from you.