Charlie Chaplin as Dictator Salesman: ‘Take it or Take it.’

“…We Can’t Be Mean Anymore.”

Steve Storch, my CEO, tells me to write a series about my life as Senior Copywriter in the new marketing department at a hardcore sales company. “Try Medium,” he says.

So I write something and send it to him. 
“I like it,” says Steve. “Let’s meet later and talk about a few things in it.”

I agree — immediately — knowing my written opinions rarely stand up to scrutiny of the corporate bailiwick. Trained as a journalist, sans MBA, I chafe at doctoring a tale for company’s sake.

(I didn’t even like business journalism.)

Now I sell up front what others pen on spec and redefine my role — to I do all the good I can, for as many as I can, for as much as I can — like anyone who is serious about growing, writing or raising a family. Ray Bradbury said he was against writing for money. But his net worth totaled 30 million. That’s the power of a good idea.

And right now, my company needs one.

My First Lesson in Leadership

“Wait,” says my CEO… Steve looks up at me from his desk; he is the brain of a company providing for over 120 employees, 10,000 contractors and many thousands of homeowners. Here the butterfly effect is real.

I feel it fluttering at me:

“This is your story,” he says. “Your name is on it — so I don’t need to see it…write whatever you want.” Can you imagine writers given license to write whatever — (even with their corporate “news” desk?)

“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says.

And I’ve just learned something deep about leadership, perhaps even brand building. Never have I been inside a company at the cusp of public exposure with a CEO so unconcerned about what is exposed.

But now it’s on my back.

“Oh, can you tell me what this means…” Smirking, Steve recites a bit of my emailed draft:

“…Where everyone dresses and speaks as they please, and snacks are locked in a closet for some reason — because no client, even when an hour and 13 minutes is spent fixing his life on the phone — will ever come through our door, or carries too much of the organization in his wallet to warrant things need be too nice...”

He looks at me.

“Well, I just mean Networx is very different from my old agency,” I say. “Where we always had to be on for big clients, and so there was a nice eating area and snacks and a certain decorum.”
“What closet is locked with food in it?” asks Steve.
“I heard from someone there’s a closet locked with food in it,” I say. “But I haven’t seen it. India has the key. It’s crazier here than my old agency,” I say. “So maybe you’ve got to lock the place down.”

What Sales People Care About

Networx is a lead generation service for contractors.

Half cubicles. 
Half open seating.
And my new marketing office...[progress.]

We non-sales people are neatly (read increasingly) seated in a conference room with a long table; it’s our oasis from the squawking cacophony of sales and customer service surrounding us — that rough business. As writers, marketers and content managers, we’re concerned about the shapeliness of our funnel.

Sales people just care about the business end.

But here, the sales process is changing from a brutish “one call close” to a one call close that doesn’t make people hate us (that one stopped working.)

“We’re just not burning the bridge,” says Brad, a top sales trainer. Says another: “We can’t be aggressive anymore…We can’t be mean anymore.”

Who is Against Us

You’ve heard of our competitors…Angie’s List.

Now one difference — Networx is a company built on sales, while Angie’s List was grown with investors. To my knowledge, years ago, Networx had nary an investor and began by selling leads to plumbers, but today thanks to a powerful sales process we connect all licensed contractors to homeowners, and are much, much more profitable than Angie’s List, and certainly bigger than the agency I just left.

However, by comparison we’re virtually unknown, and this has its benefits...

Differences Between Agency and In-House

I was previously the senior copywriter at a digital agency, and we were always ready (enough) to grin and bear our clients. The specter of clients cast alternating energy and stiffness over the organization — as if your spine got stapled to a yard stick.

Imagine my thrill at being ushered into the ivory in-house tower. (“The dream” says my sister-in-law, one of the best writers in Ogilvy’s recent memory.)

— Where there is no juggling between the needs of crucial clients and your company vitals.

— Where there is no one telling you to care less about your work, because it has turned us from profit to loss.

— Where everyone dresses and speaks as they please, and snacks are locked in a closet for some reason — because no client, even when an hour and 13 minutes is spent fixing his life on the phone—will ever come through the door, or carries too much of the organization in his wallet to warrant things need be too nice. [Update: key is available.]

The Great Divide — Marketing vs. Sales

Creatives are concerned more with creation than hard results. The middle ground is to care about creation that leads to increased sales and brand awareness.

That’s the power of the self-sufficient company.

We content producers who dwell in its ivory conference room are given free reign to create and experiment to help the sales team. We’re paid for by lots of successful sales. A fact not lost on my new colleagues, like Brad, who doesn’t need me.

“We don’t need marketing,” he says. (He’s kidding.) But Brad has a point. The company grew to millions in revenue with sales alone.

However, it’s not getting bigger without marketing.

Like Chaplin discovers in The Great Dictator — sales cannot rule alone: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor,” he says. “That’s not my business...”