Before I came to Puget Systems I worked for a number of small companies and one large one: Microsoft.
While at Microsoft, I worked on three products. The first product was actually a suite of products geared towards ISPs, and it never saw the light of day.
The second product was Office. To put the size of the Office team in perspective (this was 1999), we were scattered among seven buildings on the Redmond campus. Each building held between 750 and 1000 employees. As a product manager, I don't recall speaking to customers who actually used Office. Instead, I spent a lot of my time talking to the people who purchased Office. As you can imagine, we talked a lot about pricing, licensing and upgrades.
My last stop on the product manager tour was with one of the smallest product groups at the time: Microsoft Project. Our entire team fit within one hallway's worth of offices. I believe I was the 5th person added to the marketing team at the time. If Office was the New York Yankees, I'd been traded to the Carolina Mudcats for a bag of balls and a player to be named later.
Coming from Office, I was used to referring to our top customers in terms of company, school district or government entity. But with Project, my colleagues knew the name of actual PEOPLE who used the product. Not only did we know their names, but one of my first projects on the team was to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet two new customers. Such a trip would be unheard of on the Office team, but was typical of how the Project team did business. We earned new customers one at a time.
As a new member of the Project team, I approached my manager and asked him what the goal of my visits should be. He gave me a confused look. "Go make sure they're happy and then listen."
So I got on a plane not exactly sure what I should do besides listen.
For the next week, I had coffee, lunch and many dinners with customers who used Project each day. I spent a day on the golf course with one customer. And I loved it because they told me what they loved about Project and what they didn't. I took notes of everything they shared with me. Sometimes I could help them through a problem, and other times I had to involve an engineer. After each trip I'd return to my group and share the feedback I'd gathered from my visit. No two visits were alike.
These visits were the highlight of my tenure at Microsoft, and they set the stage for the work I do at Puget Systems today. Over a decade ago, I decided I wanted to focus the rest of my career working for smaller companies. Puget Systems has given me a similar opportunity that I had with the Project group. We discuss customers by their names. Of course, we sell computers to a number of large companies, but we can put a name to those companies.
Maybe one day, Puget Systems will put me on a plane to meet some of you.