Use your client’s product (and your own)

I was having dinner with a friend who works at a large payments company last night.

One of the things that we discussed was the importance of using your client’s (or prospective client’s) products.

If you’re visiting American Express, use an American Express card when paying. If I were picking the restaurant, I’d have my assistant call to make sure that the restaurant takes AmEx. If not, I’d find another restaurant.

9343380736_b216caaabd_k.jpgIt sounds like something that shouldn’t need to be said, but I run into people who don’t do it all the time. Customizing for clients is a must. A few examples from my career:

  • I was visiting a travel client. Their primary business at the time was selling hotel rooms in Las Vegas. Our admin had booked us a hotel in Vegas using our travel agency. Corporate policy was that we had to use our travel agent. I escalated to use our client’s product. We got a better price at a nicer place. In this case, it would be easy for our client to know that we weren’t using their product.
  • I did business development with car companies. I’d often have to fly to their offices. When I visited Ford, I made sure we rented a Ford. If one wasn’t available at our preferred agency, I was happy to find another one. Another time, I was visiting BMW. Those are a bit harder to find; I managed to find a Mini (part of the BMW family) from Zipcar and drove that. It was not the best ride in a NJ snowstorm, but I made it. It’s possible that the client would never know. On the other hand, you might be driving to lunch or they might see your car keys on your way out.
  • I sold into a large telco in Canada. Our standard pitch deck referenced TV shows and had other U.S.-centric content. I went through the deck and changed the references to things that were more Canadian.

I haven’t had a clothing company as a client, but if I were selling into Gap, I’d wear Banana Republic or Gap clothing.

Not only is this the polite thing to do, you can also pick up nuggets that you can bring up in your conversation. e.g., I loved the smooth acceleration on the car when we drove in; I’ve never seen that feature before, that greatly enhances the experience, etc. Great for relationship building.

Of course, it’s also important to use your own products, whether you’re in business development or product development. (Or, frankly, any role in the company.) You need to be able to sell your product. You can learn the nuances of your own product and bring them into conversation.

David Marcus, former president of PayPal, famously criticized employees for not using PayPal’s payment app even in the company cafeteria. He suggested that those who didn’t want to use the product consider other career options.

My next step would be to remove that option altogether.

There are cases where it doesn’t make sense or isn’t possible. It’d be hard to rent a Tesla to visit Tesla headquarters. (Though I’m sure you’d get a lot of bonus points if you did!) Likewise, management can’t expect the assembly line worker to be driving a Tesla.

In product development roles, you also want some people using the competition. You don’t want all Google employees using only Android phones. A significant number of them should be using iPhones. This would be true even if Google didn’t do cross-platform development.




About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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