Outside of tech circles, the word “hacker” conjures up an image of a nerdy kid scheming in his parents’ basement, or someone causing a national security crisis in the latest episode of “Scandal.”
Ask investor Paul Graham, though, and he’d say that it “connotes mastery in the most literal sense: Someone who can make a computer do what he wants — whether the computer wants to or not.” A hacker is someone who does something so clever that he or she somehow beats the system.
The prototypical salesperson is, on almost every count, the polar opposite of a programmer. The two differ in social skills, fashion sense, education, idea of fun, etc. — they seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. But if you look past the stereotypes, you will notice something interesting: Like good programmers, good salespeople are also hackers. They don’t hack computers — they are people and process hackers, doing whatever it takes to get a “yes” from a prospect.
Back in the ’80s, salespeople were the first to hack the daily commute. As road warriors who drove around meeting clients all day, they became the earliest adopters of car phones. Salespeople always knew that remembering every detail about their customers was key to their success, so when PCs became mainstream, they hacked their memory by building their own customer database using Act! software purchased at a local Best Buy — way before the customer relationship management (CRM) software category was invented.
Times have changed, and salespeople’s daily hacks have evolved with them. Rather than rummaging through business cards, they now store and search for them all in one place — scanned using Evernote. When they are trying to get a foot in the door with a potential customer, they look for warm intros through LinkedIn. And when an agreement needs to be executed while away from the office, many salespeople use the SignNow app to sign the contract.
Much of this hacking is most likely happening without the knowledge of IT, but companies need not fear the sales hackers — they are just doing what they were hired to do: Be creative and laser-focused on generating new business. And they are doing so in ways that work best for them. So how can IT or operations managers do the right thing for the company, securing corporate data and intellectual property, while still embracing the sales hacker? Here are a few things to consider:
Amplify what’s working for them: As Graham points out, “good hackers find it unbearable to use bad tools.” Good salespeople are masters of their craft, and know how to arm themselves with the best tools. Listen to their feedback on what is working for them, and figure out a way to amplify that. If the sales team loves SignNow, get the enterprise edition for the company, and get the legal team on board, as well. If they are sending files to customers via Dropbox, get their personal Dropbox accounts to plug into the corporate Dropbox for Business account.
Time is their worst enemy: For salespeople, closing a deal at 11:59 pm on the last day of the quarter versus 12:01 am the next day could make the difference between earning 70 percent of their annual compensation or not. No wonder salespeople ruthlessly prioritize their time to focus on what matters — closing deals. If salespeople are burdened with administrivia, they will resent it and look for ways to hack around it. One common culprit is CRM. Salespeople spend all day communicating with customers via calls, emails or at in-person meetings, and at the end of the day, they are expected to come back home, open their laptop and record all those activities into the CRM system so managers can have visibility. Instead, salespeople are finding ways to automatically log their activities by syncing the tools they use every day — email, calendar and phone — to CRM.
Security and productivity shouldn’t be mutually exclusive: It’s understandable that some view this kind of sales hacking as rogue behavior, especially given the fear of losing control of confidential company information. The reality is that most employees act responsibly, with the same goal in mind as the company — being more productive and closing more deals. A new generation of software makers are creating technology that avoids the false dichotomy between information security and employees’ personal choice when it comes to the tools they use to work. And if your favorite salespeople from your legacy software vendor tell you otherwise, remember, they are just doing what they do best — hacking you.
10x engineers can change the fate of the company and so can the top salespeople. And just like great programmers, these sales hackers value their professional freedom. Empowering them to work the way they want to work is the easiest hack to improve top-line growth.
Chuck Ganapathi is the founder and CEO of Tactile, which is on a mission to make the world a happier place to work, by creating tools to empower individuals and enrich companies. He incubated the idea for Tactile while serving as an entrepreneur in residence at Accel Partners. Previously, Ganapathi was SVP Products at Salesforce.com and was responsible for the company’s flagship Sales Cloud, Chatter and Mobile products. Reach him @chuckganapathi.