Change in the workplace can be a tough thing. However, sometimes transformation leads to learning opportunities that turn out very well. One of the highlights of my time at Information Access Company (IAC) was the chance to work with the Computer Select team.
Computer Select was launched in the early 1990s when IAC was owned by Ziff-Davis, then well known for their computer industry publications, especially PC Magazine. When IAC was purchased by Thomson and merged with Gale, the Computer Select product and sales teams were placed in the Corporate Division of IAC.
Computer Select was one of the most successful end-user products created by the library-oriented information industry. At its peak, Computer Select had approximately 50,000 clients and revenues of more than $150 Million. The team also was responsible for sales of “Data Sources,” a directory of computer industry distributors and value-added resellers (VARs), and other related content. Total revenue reached a maximum of more than $350M.
According to the PC Magazine Encyclopedia – “Computer Select was “the first CD-ROM subscription service that aggregated articles and abstracts from major computer periodicals. Starting out in the early 1990s, it wound up with more than 175,000 article abstracts and descriptions of products, vendors and computer terms. ‘The Computer Glossary,’ the predecessor of this encyclopedia, was the first dictionary included. Before the Web, and even after it, Computer Select provided an extraordinary resource for IT departments.”
Computer Select included a product-specification guide, a computer industry company directory, and articles from more than 100 computer-related periodicals. The articles were linked to the company directory, so if you were reading about a particular product or service, you could link directly to the contact information for that company. Very cool…
In the late 1990s the IAC Corporate Division launched a new multi-industry product called IAC InSite looking to take advantage of the numerous business databases already produced by IAC. InSite would use the same search and delivery mechanism (originally on CD-ROM, then the Web) as Computer Select but would offer much broader content from six IAC business databases.
One day, at a planning meeting for InSite, the VP of Sales announced the Content Support team, which I ran, would take on broader product support for Insite. This would include working with Sales on planning demos for prospects, answering questions that came up during the sales process, and continuing our regular process of post-sales support. I would take on training the Sales team in product content and applications, as well as providing help on determining target clients and even departments during the prospecting process.
I did not realize at the time this expanded relationship with Sales would change my perspective on Client Services for the remainder of my career.
The VP was familiar with what my team did — speaking with clients about their usage and questions about IAC resources, providing help to construct precise search strategies and select the best content set(s) to meet their need, and offering in-depth expertise about the coverage and underlying structure of the databases. The Sales VP envisioned how these skills could enhance the sales effort as his team moved to broader multi-industry resources.
Today, companies involved in technology or organization-wide product sales, know that having an integrated account team to take care of a wider range of customer needs is a must. But, in the 1990s it took vision to see the potential of having content support work with the Sales teams.
The Content Support team prided itself on their responsiveness, attitude, knowledge and follow-up skills. These best-practice customer service skills were instilled based on reading industry gurus like William H. Davidow, Bro Uttal, and Guy Kawasaki, who stressed the business advantages of excellent customer service.
The work with Sales went beyond my client services background of training and being quick to respond to customer questions. Now, instead of strictly following the “hunter/farmer model” where Sales does the hunting and client services does the cultivation for renewal and upsell, we were involved in constantly looking for prospects who we thought would find the product useful in their day-to-day work.
Based on the prior work of the Computer Select team, we looked for end-user practitioners in addition to our core audience of information intermediaries and libraries. This meant developing a better understanding of who these professionals were, what kinds of job titles they held, what kinds of challenges they were facing, and what departments they worked for.
As I moved forward to eventually working with the IEEE Xplore Digital Library team, I was able to work closely with my sales team colleagues to do the same things. We were constantly looking to find the knowledge workers, their managers and others who would understand how using the best possible information would empower their teams to work more effectively and efficiently.
There is an adage in Criminal Law and Political Science to “follow the money.” The same could be said in terms of Client Services. Be close to the money and you will maximize the effectiveness and recognition of your team’s work and their relationships with clients and the marketplace.
So, I really owe a big thank you to this Sales VP. He taught me many things that helped me as my career moved ahead. Developing an account team approach to Sales and Client Services was really a huge step forward!