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  • John Chambers, PhD

Sellers, Marketers, Makers -- Innovation's Ancestry

“In many cases there are times when an invention is technologically possible –- and in which it may indeed appear necessary, as the telescope may have -- but without a market the idea will not sell, and in the absence of the technical and social infrastructure to support it, the invention will not survive.” [emphasis added]

James Burke, Connections (1978)

His aim was historical research; but our lens focuses on the firm -- the place you dwell (mentally and physically) for about 40% of your life. And even in the remaining 60%, you're interacting with the output of millions of firms throughout humanity's journey.

You are part of history, and you influence it.

The Connections book and TV series, while dated in some respects, is still an inspiration, especially for your own professional toolbox.

It reminds us of collaborative necessity, shared insight.

With an archaeologists' precision, and an artist's flights of fancy, Burke traced the evolution of 'stuff,' from the ancient to the more recent. Inventions, modes of movement, and gadgets were the offspring of innovation.

But Connections tells us they were often not instigated in a linear path.

So is it with your enterprise.

If there is an innovation lab in your firm, it is powerless and limited within its four walls and isolated meetings. But if that innovation lab is both environment and way of life, then it is a corporate strength and differentiator among competition.

Your fountainhead hasn't the luxury of millennia to incubate and finally spark. You provoke it with the three major pillars of progress -- sellers, marketers, and makers.

Are they formally collaborating?

Do their operating models depend on each other?


The market that Burke mentions requires the perception of a night owl and the senses of a blood hound -- an observant translator and visionary.

Who sees the potential and the upside?

Who sees the gaps in a prospect's operation and needs of an ROI more than any others?

The Sales team.

This does not diminish the visionary capabilities of the marketers and makers. It actually champions them, and calls for their support.

Each of us must be inspired, to see the customer value as the Sales team does.

The landscape of the market – the connection between gain and product or service requires explicitness.

The standard sales cycle of Value prop – Pain Point Discovery – Opportunity Cost – Investment and Adoption – and the Customer's Return is fluidly discussed by the Sales professionals.

Or ought to be!

And it's a cycle that the technology leader, engineer and product manager better have in their pockets too.

As an SME and advisor for technology implementation, I had once partnered with the company's Sales leader. He was tenacious, focused, and disarming in his empathetic approach. He joked one evening that he had only one talent – the gift of gab. All I can say is that was one marvelous talent.

His gift of gab was a lightning bolt of perception and observation. And thoroughness.

To navigate the landscape of prospects, to recognize the opportunities is to seed the market. It is to speak the customer's journey as a story, a day in the life. And that sales leader unfolded his stories into compelling excitement and customer optimism.

The great quality guru W. Edwards Deming said, "We have to present to [the customer] something that he needs, in a way that he can use it. Study his needs, get ahead of him. The customer invents nothing. The customer does not contribute to design of product or the design of the service. He takes what he gets... No customer ever asked for the electric light, the pneumatic tire, the VCR, or the CD. All customer expectations are only what you and your competitor have led him to expect. He knows nothing else."

This insight is borne of critical observation and a toolbox of knowledge.

The best sellers are those who understand the strength of the product being marketed, and how that product becomes part of a customer's journey.

For anyone who says, the sales guys have no scientific talent, I suggest you check that opinion. They guide the opportunity.


Attention spans are low. Marketing, especially the digital kind, is table stakes. Omnichannel navigation is paramount in understanding the customer's walkabouts and customer's presence. The great marketers know where the customer travels, how long the customer browses and walks, and how little time the customer spends in window shopping -- physical or virtual.

They need Sales, and Sales needs them.

When a product or service is operationalized, and customers are using them, feedback metrics are not simply dumped into a bucket, so that technologists can fix defects and sales leaders can dance around omissions.

The feedback metrics paint the backdrop for collaborative engagement among Sales, Marketing, and Technology.

Marketers refine their messaging, with finely tuned emotional IQ, and adapt to the nuances of a dynamic environment.

The face of the company is crafted by the Marketers' branding, with genius in both objective and subjective measurements of prospective audiences. And they do it fast. Marketing isn't about creating a phrase like "Just do it" and kicking back for the next decades.

Ongoing marketing activity requires constant involvement in the experiences of the sales hunters, and the product developers.

This is a joint strategy. They depend on collaboration.

Formal collaboration.


In other exchanges, Burke has made some provocative statements about the drivers of humanity, insisting it was virtually the sole accountability of scientists and technologists to forge the future, to advance humanity. I'll attend to that in another piece, but can abbreviate my response as a vehement "No." And I spent most of my career in technology development.

The products and services the customer's expect are those that improve their lives and livelihood. No great insight there.

Yet the development of those products depend on sellers and marketers who understand the landscape of society and opportunity.

And the creators of product and service are heroic, no doubt.

But it is not a singular heroism. Innovation is a market success, nourished by many minds and hands, including the artists and critics and managers.

If collaboration among your marketing, sales and engineering teams are top-down directives or, worse, simply a monthly status meeting of what's happening, then knowledge-sharing and innovation-fostering are limited, empty motions. The wise, "gift of gab" visionaries and the brand-making designers might as well be shouting into the wind.

Your collaboration activity and success is an embedded part of processes and daily operations. Not just a "lunch and learn" gathering.

Collaboration is not a status meeting; it is a corporate value. The firm's best technologists understand the customer needs and the market.

A Triumvirate of Innovation

As we started this piece, inventions will die without the informal institutions of customer markets and consumer access.

And the inventions will die without firm collaboration.

In the most dynamic and growing companies, there is a mandate for not just communication and open dialog across aisles.

Rather, there is an expectation that Technologists know the sales target, that Sales knows the marketing campaigns, that Marketing knows the technology roadmap.

And I mean 'really know.'

Unfortunately, the understanding of what another department does is still elusive in many firms.

Oftentimes, manufacturing organizations have a skewed view of what Sourcing does, beyond getting an SOW signed.

HR is pejoratively seen as just ensuring staff reviews are completed and the company isn't sued.

Finance is called purse-holders, whose reluctance in freeing up investment dollars "inhibits us from advancing our product sets."

All the above are wrong by their shallowness.

The reasons for the misunderstandings lie in a non-collaborative culture, where no formal and consistent and constant knowledge-sharing is executed.

The value chain leaks innovation, by its nature.

This is a good thing!

It’s everywhere, slicing up lines of departmental separation and exposing ideas in every corner of your company.

Out in the marketplace, your company's innovation success is the joint power of three forces moving in concert, not simply awaiting the output or input from each other. Success is embedding day-to-day operations in a knowledge-sharing strategy, in collaboration, give and take, inspiring and supporting.

The sellers, the marketers, the makers.

They are ancestors of humanity's future.

And they excel in collaborative innovation, as a way of life.


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