As many of you know, I’m a recently certified CCIE. As many of these things happen, it has take a while for my current employer to talk to me about what this means to them and to me moving forward. I’ve heard many stories about CCIEs that have attained their lab only to find themselves out of a job quickly because their employer either doesn’t see the advantage of having a Cisco Expert on staff, or they feel that having a CCIE around will cost too much in the long run and they decide to part ways before the expenses grow too great. In my case, I’m graced with an employer that wants to keep me around for the foreseeable future. However, I’m now tasked with a different challenge.
After some conversations, I’ve been asked to come up with a way to sell myself. No, not like that. Or that. Okay, maybe like that. I’m supposed to find a way to put my skill set front and center and bring in new customers based on things that I can provide that no one else can. This is a somewhat interesting proposition for me. Despite what I might say or do around my Twitter friends, I’m usually a shy and reserved person. I have a hard time being anything other than modest, and I don’t take compliments very well. Now, I have to turn that on its head and find a way to put myself out there for all the world to see.
When I’m in a group of people, such as at Cisco Live, it’s easy for me to put on a fun act. Tattoos nonwithstanding, I get to be funny and entertaining for my friends. I feel comfortable calling attention to myself and generally being goofy. However, in front of people that don’t know me very well, I find myself much more reserved. The hardest job interview I’ve ever had involved the interviewer telling me, “Son, I don’t know anything about you. If you don’t tell me more about yourself, you aren’t going to do very well.” I tend to hang back and speak only when spoken to. I don’t interrupt conversation, even when I see someone is wrong and needs to be corrected. Many times, it’s easy for me to take this role as the silent partner because the people I’m meeting with do the majority of the discussing.
Now, however, I think I’m going to have to be more forward. That doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve tried my hand at sales-type activities before and found they weren’t for me. I’m good at presenting information and answering questions. I suck at closing people. I don’t have the patience or desire to endlessly ask someone to buy something. I tend to take the approach that I’ve presented you with all the information that you need to make up your mind. It’s up to you to buy this widget or not. I think I’m going to need to start finding ways to “close the deal”, even if only from the aspect that I have to convince the people I’m “selling” to that I’m capable of doing the job they want me to do.
This is just a little peak into what happens after you spend years of your life chasing something that identifies you as one of the best in your field. It tends to change your standing in ways you couldn’t possibly understand when you start out on the path. I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the immediate future figuring out exactly how I can sell myself more effectively than I have been. And suggestions would be warmly appreciated.
Don’t sacrifice who you are. People can pick up when you’re not being genuine just like Microsoft can when you put in that key from a keygen (Way bad analogy, but I can’t say genuine now without thinking about it.) There are ways to “sell yourself” without having to give up who you are by nature. You just have to be creative in how you do that.
I am a bit on the opposite end of the spectrum so I find it easy to be outgoing around people I don’t know. My wife, on the other hand, is just like you. She finds her own way to be outgoing that she’s comfortable with. Usually that is by having me with her when we meet new people. So if you have access to a sort of “wing man”, if you will, that you know well and can play off his/her enthusiasm that could help.
I guess my main point is not to force it because that won’t be pleasant or fair for you, your employer, or your client.
First of all, congrats on the accomplishment. Truly praiseworthy.
As for selling yourself, first think back to the ‘old days’ of certification where ‘to be certified’ really meant that someone else validated that what you ALREADY know and do is adequate to meet whatever certification level.
What this means to me is that what you’re ‘selling’ is what you’re already doing: maybe you are an expert in troubleshooting complex network problems, meaning you can save organizations oodles of money by reducing impact of outages; maybe you are really skilled in design and can create a solution that provides the best balance between functionality, flexibility, complexity and costs, meaning again oodles of money in lower CapEx, faster time to market (less opportunity cost), reduced OpEx.
So, find out what matters to your customers (be they internal or external) and show them how you save them money or otherwise help them meet their objectives by being the expert network professional you already are (now just validated by Cisco).
Ping me if you want additional opinions on the ‘sales’ stuff: I’m currently working as a pre-sales engineer/consultant/expert/… and have some opinions on the topic as well.
Again, congrats on the accomplishment.
I would say that you already have the right idea. One of the best quotes I’ve heard in sales is “People don’t want to be sold, people want to buy.” Nobody wants to be closed on a deal. If you have to be closed on a deal then you didn’t present your idea in a way that makes that person want to buy from you. Concentrate on your story of what benefits your bring from your knowledge and experience and the sales part of it will take care of itself.
Congratulations on the accomplishment. However, it sounds like your current company is setting up a win-win for them and a lose-lose for you. The company needs to put no effort at all into it, but expects to see more profit because of your effort. For you to hope to see anything lucrative from the company at all, you have to go out and sell yourself to the customer and bring more profit into the company as a result. To top it off, you will probably then have to sell the company on the fact that your selling yourself is what brought more profit to the company.
The “more shady part” of being CCIE? 😉 From what I saw, people tend to be pushed into positions or roles they don’t like or fit just because they are . Like (pre)sales or management when you truly love to do design or implementation.
Sales can now put something along the lines of ‘recognized expert’ to propagation materials and you can back them up from behind?
It’s a conundrum. It’s actually not your conundrum. Remember that you’re a technical resource. Yes, you’re a technical resource. The things that you bring to a company are technical information, experience and knowledge. You shouldn’t have to sell yourself as such, you should be able to provide a catalog of the skills and abilities your provide and can add to the company’s skills and services catalog.
Where I’m coming from…
I’m a technical resource with social skills. I don’t do sales. I can relate to other technical resources and relate to management and “The Business”. This is one of the strengths I provide to my employer. I provide the ability to sit with a customer and not only relate to what they are trying to do, I can also see a personal and a business process to the technical design and as such, I can design and implement a solution that is technically correct and personally pleasing. No one likes not getting what they want in a compromise.
So, unless you’re going to become a manager (Why did you do a CCIE then?), stick with what you do, offer highly technical abilities, designs and technical analysis with customers who understand that they require higher technical services. Go with someone who has social skills and let them talk to “The Business” whilst they introduce you to their technical people who you can then discuss the issues and problems with.
If you’re a technical person, be a fantastic technical person, be the best technical person you can be and surround yourself with other wonderful and fantastic technical people.
In closing, analyse the “highly technical and specialised” technical services you can provide and add them to your employer’s service catalog.
I know this post is several months old. Maybe you’ve answered your own question by now. As an introvert – and from what you write about yourself you surely seem to be one, too – with a long background in sales, I can tell you that if go with your employer’s desire to turn you into a billable consultant (who has to sell himself), you are going to experience a whole lot of unhappy emotions. Despite having enjoyed outsized success in my career, I remain really (really) ambivalent about sales and selling. While I recognize that it’s essential, and have proven to be pretty good at it, “putting myself out there” remains a day-to-day challenge. Think hard before you let someone else choose your career path for you.
Read more about my life in the sales game at http://www.introvertedexecutive.com.