Start-Up Series: What starting a business has taught me about Testing – Part 2

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This is the second post of the ‘What Starting a Business has Taught Me About Testing’ and continues where part one left off, exploring what QA can learn from Marketing and Sales. If you’ve not read the first part find it here.  Episode of the Start-Up series will be uploaded every second Tuesday. 

Digitally Marketing Ourselves

One of the first things I did when I established Quast was build a website to introduce us. As a services business, at the time I was probably thinking of it as a necessary precondition when I spoke to customers during more traditional calls and appointments. Over the year it has become more obvious to me that the digital interactions companies are having around their products need to become intrinsic within our own behaviours and professional practice.

Thinking back to my selection of an ATS. Two experienced recruiters I spoke to said to me that “MicroDec had historically been seen as the Rolls Royce of ATS’s for the recruitment industry and you should look at them as part of your search”. When I first looked at their website (http://www.microdec-profile.com/ ) I was surprised to find that they didn’t have a single screen shot or video either explaining what their product did or allowing you to see the real thing in action. With so much choice and so many other companies professionally showcasing their product, this was enough to see me rule them out. It wasn’t just about them not supporting my preferred means of research, it said how much they were thinking about current technology in the evolution of their product and offering. There was practical considerations around simple things like ‘How would I learn this tool?’ when there were no video tutorials visible. Interestingly, even as I’ve re-drafted this blog, as I’ve gone back to the Microdec site and found it has been refreshed. It does now embed a video at the core of the front page introducing what it does. There’s still nothing actually showing the product.

Things are moving fast. The Quast website is only a year old and it’s already dated. We recognise we need to introduce more video and visual content in to the site and we’re working on the content for digital elevator pitches, to introduce our product lines, right now. We’ve also established a YouTube channel, still in its infancy, but something we’re thinking about content for all the time.

But this isn’t just something that applies to company offerings. This is absolutely something we as QA and Test professionals can be bringing in to our everyday work. As test automation sharply increase we are definitely embedding more in to tools and repositories, rather than leaving content in people’s heads. I still think there’s more that we could look at. Each time we introduce our processes, walk through our results, demo a product, hold a department meeting, we’re sharing knowledge. Most of the time we’re limiting that sharing to the immediate audience. There’s always new joiners to the company, people not able to attend the department meeting, or who’d be interested to hear what you do but wouldn’t go as far as scheduling a meeting to hear it. There’s a lot of great tools for easy capture and sharing of material to help us now. It’s not (at least not yet) that we should record all we do. Even a little bit of effort capturing and displaying is not worth it if you’ll never need to talk about it again. But it’s worth looking at what we do, share and talk about repeatedly and think about what recordings we can make available. I read a blog post by James Willett recently around Performance Reviews where he was making this same suggestion as a way to impress your boss at your performance review. This is a good idea that I think you can broaden much further. The work you do ultimately forms part of the quality characteristics of the product your company sells and so your good practice can be a marketable differentiator. There’s no reason why videos produced in a QA department can’t become corporate marketing, explaining the companies diligence and professionalism. This can then become a stimulus for further comments, improvement suggestions and engagement with your customer base and other professionals.

Having a Sales Mindset to Your Own Service

In moving from an in company role to being an external supplier, Sales was the area I felt I had most to learn. I had recognised an amount of your role in a company is about selling what you do, but I’d never put Sales Skills in my development plans.

Developing my sales skills has been about thinking about what I want to do, trying it, looking at the results, and adapting – then repeating this cycle. It has also been about reading and listening. I read a book by Grant Cardone called Sell or Be Sold which had many lessons I’m trying to apply. There are two I’d like to discuss here.

In a chapter called “The Most Important Sale” Cardone really stressed the idea that the first sale you need to make is to yourself. If you don’t absolutely believe in what you are doing and offering then why would anyone else. This really resonated with me. I could excuse it as being humble or self depreciating but I can see that I haven’t always done all I could to assert the excellence of my service. This isn’t about saying you do present yourself as perfect – in Lean Leadership one important trait is to recognise improvement is continuous – but rather it’s being confident you have the best service for the circumstances. Opportunities for improvement are just that, and addressed by continuous improvement .

The other idea I’ve really taken on board is the 10x rule. Effectively this is recognising that you will never hit a 100% sales rate and so you need to always have more possibilities in your sales funnel than you expect to convert.

In company I have again made adjustments reflecting both these things. In terms of selling to myself, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about better explaining our value proposition, and this will go in to our digital content I mentioned before. On a smaller thing, I’m trying to consciously adjust my language to be less apologetic on anything that is still maturing and not yet where I’d want to be. On the 10x pipeline, we’ve introduced a CRM system called Insightly, to more effectively capture our leads and opportunities and then more visibly highlight when we’re needing to add more to the pipeline.

In a QA Team I can also see areas to apply both lessons.

QA and Test can feel undervalued relative to other functions and our peers. I’m sure some of this comes from genuine lack of sponsorship. Equally I’m sure some of it is self fulfilling, and merely by indulging in some ‘poor me’, we act in a way that doesn’t show full confidence in our offering. Even if just as an internal chant to myself I find Cardone’s focus on being absolutely sold on your own product extremely worthwhile.

On the 10x pipeline, I think this is a really good concept to encourage your resilience and always pushing forward. I can think of times when I’ve been singularly focused on just one significant improvement. When I can’t get funding for or agreement to from managers or peers there has been times where I’ve felt a bit lost for what to do next. Having a long list of improvement ideas so you’ve always got something to draw down and work on prevents you feeling blocked. Kanban boards do a good job for capturing and processing lots of different ideas for individual teams, but until now I’ve not really seen that extend to wider, cross team process change. So trying to do that may be the change I make in future roles.

Last Thought

I’d fully expect that what I’ve introduced as revelations to me are absolute givens to others. I’m sure nobody would find every idea new. But hopefully there’s at least one thing in here that makes any reader think for a moment.

My last thought is to head back to the premise of the article: that I’ve learnt more by genuinely being accountable for different functions. Agile and the idea of fluidly playing different roles has already brought this about within the agile team, and with it the idea of T-shaped people. It’s been a bigger leap for me to go right outside technology in to other roles. I’d had that experience before, going and being a call centre agent and taking live calls, or working in a Retail store taking customer sales. But before starting Quast, it had been a long time since I had done that. I wonder how many still have that sort of activity within their annual development plan.

Do let me know what you think. Any ideas, comments, extensions or criticisms are very welcome.

About The Author

Gordon Baisley I’m the Founder and CEO of Quast Ltd.
At Quast, our aim is to bring together the best pool of talent in QA and software testing, and make it available to our clients.

Read more at quast.uk.com

About the Author

GordonBaisley

I'm the Founder and CEO of Quast Ltd. At Quast, our aim is to bring together the best pool of talent in QA and software testing, and make it available to our clients.
Find out more about @gordonbaisley

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