TITLE: Recruiting a Company to the Area
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: June 19, 2006 2:57 PM
I had a new experience this morning and learned a new
piece of vocabulary to boot. The regional chambers
of commerce are recruiting a "software" company to
the area, and they asked me and the head of career
services here to participate in the initial contact
meeting with company's founder and CFO. I was
expecting a software development company, but it
turns out that the company does CRM consulting for
large corporations, working as a partner with the
corporation that produces the particular software
First, in case you aren't familiar with the term,
CRM stands for "customer relationship management".
It is the customer-facing side of a corporation's
technical infrastructure, as contrasted to ERP --
"enterprise resource planning" -- on the back end.
As far as I know,
recently purchased by Oracle, and
are the big CRM software companies in the US.
With the push on everywhere to squeeze the last
penny out of every part of the business, I expect
that companies like these, and their consulting
partners, are likely to do well in the near future.
In any case, our local economy doesn't participate
in this part of the software-and-services ecosystem
right now, so attracting a firm of this sort would
open up a new local opportunity for our students
and strengthen the IT infrastructure of the region.
"Selling" our CS department to this company turned
out to be pretty easy. They have had great success
with IT students from the Midwest and are eager to
locate in a place that produces that kind of graduate.
I had figured that they might be looking for particular
skills or experiences in our students, but beyond
knowing either Java or C++, and having access to a
course in databases, they asked for nothing. This
was refreshing, considering that some companies seem
to want university programs to do job training for
them. These folks want good students that they can
train. That we can do.
Not having participated in many recruiting meetings
of this sort before, I was prepared to give the standard
pitch: We have great students; they learn new skills
with ease; they become model employees; etc. But the
company founder short-circuited a lot of that by
reminding me that almost every college and university
says the same thing. I adapted my pitch to focus on
harder facts, such as enrollments, graduation rates,
and curriculum. My best chance to "sell" came when
answering their questions, because it was only then
that we get a good sense of what they are looking for.
Not being a big-time consumer or salesman, I have to
remind myself that the things the other guys are saying
are meant to sell them and so need to be examined with
a critical eye. These folks seemed pretty straightforward,
though they did make some claims about the salaries our
graduates earn that seemed calculated to enhance their
position in negotiating with the cities. But again, I
was surprised -- pleasantly -- to find that this company
does not seek financial support until after it
has its operation in place and has reached an initial
employment goal. Rather than trying to extort incentives
out of the city upfront, they contribute first. That
seems like both a great way to do business and a great
way to sell your company to the locals.
During the meeting, it occurred to me just how hard it
is to "sell" the quality of life of our area. Just as
every university says that it produces great students,
every town, city, and metro area touts the fine quality
of life enjoyed by its residents. If we think we offer
more or better -- and in many ways, I think we do --
how can you get that across in a three-hour meeting or
a 10-minute DVD? I lived hear for many years before
I fully appreciated our recreational trail system, which
doubles quite nicely as a commuting mechanism for those
who are so inclined. (Now that I spend 7 or 8 hours a
week running on our roads and trails, I appreciate them!)
This was the first meeting, but things will move fast.
For the next month or so, both sides of the deal will
perform their due diligence, and if things work out a
deal will be in place by fall. I expect that the
university is done with its part, and so the next I
hear -- if anything -- will be a public announcement
of the development. Like the Halting Problem, no
answer doesn't mean that the answer is 'no', though
the longer I wait for an answer the less likely that
the answer will be 'yes'.
Oh, the new vocabulary: value proposition.
Not being tuned in to the latest marketing terminology,
I don't think I'd ever heard this phrase before today,
but our founder used it several times. He was otherwise
light on jargon, at least on jargon that a CS guy would
find unusual, so that was okay. Google
that "a value proposition is a clear statement of the
tangible results a customer gets from using your products
or services". The founder spoke of the company's value
proposition to the community, to the city and state, and
to our graduates. He was clear on what he thinks his
company offers all three of these groups -- also a good
way to sell yourself.
Three-hour business meetings are not usually at the top
of my list of Best Ways to Spend a Beautiful 80-degree
Day, but this was pleasurable. I still have a lot to
learn about the world our students work in.