Career Advice

Career Advice

Why Stress is Good for Sales People

Published in the Huffington Post earlier today:

With so much riding on closing the sale, making quota and generating revenue, sales reps are some of the most stressed out members of the
workforce. Yet some stress may actually improve your performance. Recent
research found short bursts of intense stress can improve your
cognitive functions and make you more productive, even boosting your
overall health. While many studies advise workers to reduce their stress
for better health, just a bit can help you to improve sales productivity
and stay focused. But be careful to note what type of stress you’re
experiencing and make sure you don’t overload yourself — the key is to
recognize deadlines are good, but burnout is bad.

Stress Improves Your Brain Power According to New Scientist, a technology and health resource, recent research identified short periods of stress can increase a person’s cognitive functions, resulting in brain power improvements. Researcher Kirstin Aschbacher
of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues
sought out to examine if small intervals of intense stress produces the
same adverse effects as chronic mental strain. However, the researchers
found the opposite to be true, with the short bursts of stress improving
an individual’s concentration and making them better able to handle
future mental strain.

Aschbacher described smaller periods of psychological stress as a way
to make your mental muscles stronger. “It’s like weightlifting, where
we build muscles over time,” Aschbacher said.

In fact, the research highlighted short quantities of stress causes
the body to release the hormone cortisol, which can improve immunity in
small doses. But you mustn’t overdo it because too much stress can
result in excess cortisol, which suppresses your immunity.

As a sales rep you want to be able to use stress to your advantage, as health expert Lisa Evans recently advised in Entrepreneur.
You don’t have to be stressed all the time, but knowing if you are the
kind of rep who works better under a deadline or you need to plan ahead
to be productive can improve your mental functions and your overall

By embracing stress, hormones like cortisol and adrenaline enter the
blood stream for a short amount of time, increasing your memory and
cognitive function. With the flood of hormones in your system, you may
be able to think faster and become sharper. This can be beneficial right
before you enter that client meeting, make the sales pitch or negotiate
the deal.

Most sales reps know that feeling of intensity right before the call,
and the let down afterwards so pay attention to how your body feels.
When you use stress to improve your short-term performance it’s also
important to take some time to recuperate afterward to recharge your
body and de-stress.

Career Advice

10 things I don’t need to know about you

I believe in having an open door. I believe in making it easy for employees to talk to me. And yet, there are some things I just don’t need to know. posted an advice piece on the 10 Things You Should Never Tell Your Boss. They start with “keep personal things personal” and of course “discrimination in the workplace is illegal” so as long as you don’t get too personal – and you work for a good company that does not discriminate – anything should be OK right?

Well, you’d be amazed at the things people tell me that I really don’t need to know. I’m hard to offend, and I only judge people on their performance not their personal habits, but some people over share. Believe it or not, each of these examples is based on a real conversations.

Here are 10 things I don’t need to know about you:

1. The gory details of your shoulder surgery. I’m sorry you had surgery. I hope you’re better. No I don’t need to know at a level of detail that makes my skin crawl.

2. Your politics. My mother told me there are three subjects never to discuss in polite company: politics, religion and sex. I don’t mind knowing your political leanings, but I really don’t need to debate it with you endlessly, please.

3. Your skill dealing drugs. Even if you were very successful selling coke out of the back of your car in college… or in the 90s… or in South America it’s TMI for me. We’re selling solutions to problems. Cocaine is never the solution.

4. How often you have a hangover. Come on – you really think that is something your CEO should know? Which days you felt bad at work because you’d over done it the night before?

5. The amount of time you spend on your second job. I do actually understand that sometimes people have outside responsibilities (provided you’ve cleared it with us) but it’s not a good idea to spend too much time telling me about it. Remember my company comes first!

6. That you don’t believe in my company. This is an intelligence test. I’m open to you not agreeing with me on strategy and tactics but don’t tell me you don’t believe in what we’re doing. If you don’t believe please leave. Now.

7. The blow by blow of your divorce. This is a hard one. I’ve had employees get divorced and tell me nothing (and then it’s hard for me to be supportive), but then I’ve also had employees tell me the blow by blow he-said-she-said which, I confess, is boring. So, here’s a guideline: if we’re out at dinner and telling life stories yes, I’ll listen, otherwise, keep the details of how “she’s crazy” to yourself.

8. Your porn habits. See point #2. Nuff said.

9. How your boyfriend cheated on you. How you came home and found him in your bed with another woman and so you can’t concentrate today and you’re not sure you can handle the customer meeting you’re taking me to. The drama of your love life doesn’t belong in the workplace. If you need a personal day, take the day.

10. (Ladies) How nervous you are, or how scared you are. A man would never tell me that. Why do you need to tell me?

We spend a lot of time at work and form deep friendships so sharing your life is natural. And in a social setting like out to dinner after an intense day with customers yes you are going to share, as am I. But think first and don’t drink if it makes you over share!

Career Advice

How you know you are a Road Warrior

Having crossed the country every week for many weeks now I’m reminded of the KPIs of the road warrior…

You can sleep anywhere and everywhere. On a plane, sitting on the floor by the airline gate, sitting upright in a hotel lobby.

You know which seats don’t recline on each flight – without having to check the UA web site.

You know the wine menu at the United Club by heart. And then the bartender at the Chicago United Club greets you by name (yikes).

You’ve see OZ the Great and Powerful, without sound on a small screen above your head, 6 times in 2 weeks.

You can pack for a week in the smallest size of case Tumi makes.

You can run a conference call, on GoToMeeting, from a restaurant, with your cellphone and iPad and order food, eat and make a material financial decision – all in 30 minutes.

You can make even the reddest eyes look good with Visine.

Real food is a rarity – and a treat when you get it. Oatmeal is the breakfast staple because you know you can eat it fast.

Diet Coke. Say again. Diet Coke.

Your own bed is the sweetest, softest place you’ve ever been in when you finally fall into it!

But what are YOUR KPIs? Add a comment on how you know you’re a Road Warrior!

Career Advice, Leadership

Top Five Dos and Don’ts When Employing Interns

Like most Silicon Valley technology companies, we hire interns at FirstRain. Sometimes they are active graduate students looking for work experience and interesting problems to solve while finishing their doctorate, sometimes they are in the final few months of a bachelors and want to try on a job to see if they enjoy it, and sometimes they are full time students working for the Summer. In all cases having them in our company is a huge win for us. So far every one has been an energy source, working hard and doing good work while allowing us to foster potential future employees (we like to hire our interns if they’re good).

But it’s important that being an intern is good for the intern, not just for FirstRain. I’ve got young friends who interned for free (at other companies, not FirstRain!) – long hours where they felt taken advantage of and that doesn’t seem fair. So here’s my (somewhat tongue in cheek) list of the top Dos and Don’ts for employing interns…

Do – hire the very smart ones and load them up with work. It’s a win-win. You get a lot of great work done at reasonable cost, they get to experience that incredible satisfaction of conquering a mountain of work. Yes conquering the mountain is fun in the end, trust me.

Don’t – take them out drinking and flirt with them. A challenge for some of you I know, but a friend of mine did that and even though he thought it was harmless she complained and his career with his company went sideways for 2 years.

Do – give them a plan for the time they are interning with you. What you expect them to learn, why, what you hope they’ll be able to do with it afterwards. This is motivating and gives the work a purpose.

Don’t – sit them all together and just expect them to work it out. One of the things you want them to learn is how to be productive and professional in an office. That means teaming them up with one of your professionals who’ll be there to mentor them.

Do – make the work you have them doing interesting and relevant to their ambitions. A brilliant PhD student in big data analytics – give her your hardest problem and watch her impress you; a creative and smart new graduate in marketing and design – show him your visual brand and all the things you don’t like about it and support him as he tells you all the ways he’ll bury your ideas with his own.

Don’t – expect them to read your mind. If you’re not getting what you want go and talk to them. Could be they are intimidated by you (always hard for me to imagine but I guess the title VP or CEO can be a barrier) and you need to help them get what they need to complete the task you’ve set them.

Do – stretch them. Let them try things they’ve never tried before. For example Facebook is running a summer intern program this year for non computer science students, teaching them how to code. They’re expanding their potential labor pool and introducing a bunch of structured thinkers to a whole new career. A great idea.

Don’t – treat them differently. They are with you because they want experience. Give them experience. Include them in company all hands, let them shadow you in meetings, treat them like employees so they know what it’s like.

Do – feed them. We call it the FirstRain 15. Hey, interns should be able to eat too much great food every day and gain weight too.

Don’t – let them hug you at work when they’re happy. It sets the wrong impression. Even if one of the interns is your kid. Seriously.

Career Advice

Are you ready for some Action!!

One of the most enjoyable things about working at FirstRain is that we spend time every day with Fortune 500
sales and marketing leaders discussing about their challenges,
their objectives and how they’re trying to move the revenue needle for
their companies. And one thing we’ve heard consistently when talking to
these folks is the urgent need they have to increase the productivity of their teams.
As we exit the Great Recession, many companies are facing pitched
competitive battles while having significantly reduced teams—which puts
the onus on a company’s sales and marketing operations or enablement
teams to help every rep be as productive as possible!

This drive to provide increasingly powerful solutions to the sales team to raise their revenue productivity is what’s behind our latest release, just announced today (see it here on an expanded set of analytics actions for With this new release, FirstRain users who are accessing FirstRain integrated into their CRM instance can now:

  • Advance their sales cycles more quickly by instantly assigning
    critical FirstRain intelligence into an actionable Task
    for themselves or their team.
  • Easily inject useful context and intelligence into any account view
    by enriching emerging account developments using account Notes.
  • Improve collaboration by instantly sharing impactful developments with their team and colleagues via Chatter or email.

The means we’re making it easy for sales people to instantly convert useful
customer analytics into the activities that increase their team collaboration,
improve their alignment with their customer and so grow their revenue – and their commission.

We put out a press release which quotes me as saying “To be
competitive in today’s market, enterprise sales teams need to not only
deeply understand the customer, their customer’s customer and their
customer’s market, but they must also be able to instantly act on that

…and our early release
customers are already loving it!

CMSWire’s great article on the release today
puts it well, “FirstRain, whose name invokes nourishing precipitation
after a dry spell, is looking to refresh productivity in Salesforce …”

We couldn’t have put it better.

Career Advice, Leadership

2013 Guide To Hiring Engineers (based on the 1943 Guide To Hiring Women)

The following is my spoof, based on an excerpt from the July 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine (see below) sent to me by a friend who knows this stuff both makes me laugh and makes me crazy . 

2013 Guide To Hiring Engineers 

This is written for management of engineers in the workforce during the digital revolution of 2013.

 Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Engineer Employees:

There’s no longer any question whether technology companies should hire software engineers for jobs formerly held by systems analysts and hard core computer scientists. The explosion of the internet and mobile devices and the resulting engineer shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient engineers available and how to use them to best advantage.

Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from Silicon Valley:

1. Pick single engineers. They usually have more time that their unmarried brothers, they’re less likely to want to go home at the end of the day, they enjoy the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to code efficiently.

2. When you do have to use older engineers, try to get ones who have worked outside of engineering at some point in their lives. Older engineers who have never contacted customers have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy about features. It’s always well to impress on older engineers the importance of user friendliness and quality.

3. General experience indicates that “husky” engineers – those who are just a little on the heavy side and who enjoy junk food – are more productive than their hard bodied brothers who may want to spend time in the gym.

4. Retain a physician to give each engineer a special physical examination – one covering concentration and substance issues. This step not only protects your company against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any substance issues which would make him mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Stress at the outset the importance of time, the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on product schedules. Until the point is gotten across, productivity is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the engineer-employee a definite day long schedule of duties so they’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous companies say that engineers make excellent workers when they have their projects cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work for themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the engineer change from one project to another at some time during the day. Engineers are likely to be less morose and generally happier with change.

8. Give every engineer an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for the nerd psychology. An engineer has more confidence and is more efficient if he can keep up on pop culture, play a video game and get a diet coke several times a day.

9. Be tactful when issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Engineers are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way a sales person can. Never ridicule an engineer – it breaks his spirit and cuts his efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around engineers. Even though an engineer’s friends may swear vociferously when playing first shooter games, he’ll grow to dislike a place of business where he hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in chairs, desks and screens so each engineer can have a proper fit to their work style and body type. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping engineers happy.

Career Advice

The origin of the job interview

Behavioral interviewing is a hot topic of discussion at FirstRain today. Putting our candidates for sales and pre-sales positions through simulations and getting them to tell stories to describe their experience…. but so we don’t take ourselves too seriously it’s worth remembering the hilarious Armstrong and Miller sketch The Origin of Job Interviews:

Career Advice

In business Manners Maketh Man

Watching back to back Downton Abbey episodes it is hard to escape the focus on manners and tradition in the English way of life. Form matters. What you wear, how you behave to a lady or to one another, defines you in the eyes of the people around you.

But working in a silicon valley technology company does this matter? Do English manners have a place?

I believe they not only have a  place, but they particularly have a place in business. The small behaviors that indicate respect make a huge difference in how the people around you feel, and the behaviors cut both ways between the genders.

Consider, for example, being late. When you are late for a meeting you are telling the people waiting for you that you think your time is more important than theirs. Of course, sometimes you get held up, but a person who is repeatedly late (as Marissa Meyer is purported to be) is abusing power and disrespecting the people around them. In time, you yourself lose the respect of your team if you can’t, or won’t manage your time. In contrast, when you are on time you respect the other person’s time, as the team at Andreessen Horowitz strives to do.

Many of the behaviors we consider as good manners have a cultural bias in how men should treat women. Holding a door open, standing up when a woman enters the room or paying for a meal but, in today’s business world, these behaviors are as appropriate for a woman as for a man. One of the marvelous side effects of women’s growing equality in the office is that while it would be risky to treat your female office mates with patronizing chivalry, treating everyone politely allows women to display chivalry towards men.

When a customer walks into a conference room you should stand up, of course. Welcome them into the room. Offer to fetch a cup of coffee or glass of water. When you are walking through a door it’s polite to hold the door open for the next person, whether they are a man or a woman. If you go out for a meal the most senior person should pay, or the vendor should pay, or if you are with business peers offer to pay. Anything else is just crass.

And one of the areas that I (as essentially English) wish more people would pay attention to is manners at the table. When you wait for the other people at the table to start eating you respect that you are sharing a meal with them. When you carefully watch their pace to make sure you finish your plate just after them you ensure that no one else feels embarrassed to be finishing last. Common courtesy.

Saying thank you, sending a small thank you note (or email) when someone has spent time with you, or done a favor for you, goes a really long way in establishing relationship.

In the end, it does not matter what role you are in, or whether you are male or female, treating the people around you with respect – through your manners – makes a positive impression, and will earn you respect. Behaving badly, disrespecting others with your behavior may not change whether you are the boss or not, it may not change whether someone buys from you or not, but it does change what people privately think about you, and over time, whether they want to work with you or not.

William of Wykeham used Manners Makyth Man as the motto for the colleges he founded 650 years ago. And the value of manners is as true today as it was then, especially in business.

Career Advice

Why hiring smart is not enough

Warren Buffet once said “In looking for people to hire, look for three
qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have
the first one, the other two will kill you.”Clearly integrity is the first requirement when hiring. But right behind it, and just as critical, is intelligence, but intelligence comes with it’s own baggage.

Obviously intelligence is essential when hiring into a fast growing company. Intelligence enables quick problem solving and brilliant, innovative ideas. Intelligence allows people to work autonomously when they need to cut through to the solution and many smart people can work faster and still get to a great result. Smarter employees take less time to train, less time to positively impact your business.

But smart people can also have a hard time learning. Chris Argyris‘ article in the HBR, written in 1991, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” outlines the basic dilemma and ways to think about solving it. (It’s a must-read in my opinion) The dilemma is that the smartest people in the organization, who are assumed to be the best at learning, may actually not be very good at it.

“Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at
what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have
rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So
whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become
defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and
everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down
precisely at the moment they need it the most”

Brittle behavior, defensiveness and blaming kill a team’s ability to solve complex problems together. When you are changing quickly and learning a market (which is a continuous process when growing fast) it’s important that everyone on the team can learn from the facts that are emerging, and when things don’t turn out exactly as planned (which they never do) don’t blame, just get on with finding the next solution.

And the key to not blaming is to be able to be introspective and look inside first – What are my assumptions and beliefs that are holding me back from learning from this situation (and so contribute to learning as a team)? Very smart people who do this naturally learn fast in complex business situations. Very smart people who are arrogant about their intellect typically don’t. Struggling early (in school, in your first job); and/or experiencing failure is humbling. It makes you go inside, and with practice people develop the ability to check their internal assumptions first, before blaming someone else.

It’s tricky, but you can figure this out in a candidate interview. Chris Argyris’s article points out that: “One of the paradoxes of human behavior,
however, is that the master program people actually use is rarely the one they
think they use. Ask people in an interview or questionnaire to articulate the
rules they use to govern their actions, and they will give you what I call
their “espoused” theory of action. But observe these same people’s behavior,
and you will quickly see that this espoused theory has very little to do with
how they actually behave.”

The way you can determine a smart person’s real behavior, not their theory of who they are, and whether their default reaction is defensiveness or blame is to spend time with them on their failures. Can they describe to you a time they failed? What did it feel like, what lead up to it, what would they do differently, what areas of growth are they still working on improving that hurt them then as well as now? When I look back on the bad hires I’ve made (and I’ve made plenty), for many of them I can think back to the interview and I missed the introspection step.

I’m still always surprised when I ask the question “so tell me about a time you failed and what you did that contributed to the failure”, shortly followed by “and what is the area you still need to improve, where you keep screwing up and you’re working to fix it” that very smart people cannot, or will not, answer in a meaningful way. Or give all the reasons why it wasn’t their fault. Conversely, it’s powerful when a candidate can tell me what they are working on (in personal development) and how they are looking for a team of complementary skills, or an environment where they can grow and learn.

Note, this is not about EQ. Being charming in an interview and being the person I’d like to hang out with in a bar is not the same thing as being good at learning with a team.

So the first step is to test if the candidate is smart, and smart enough for the job you have. Technical tests, or emulations of real life situations (eg. for sales) are necessary to find the high IQ candidates. But it is also important to make sure you are hiring someone who can learn as your business changes and learn from circumstance without becoming defensive.

To quote my father (not always a good idea on a blog, but sometimes worth the risk) “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”