TITLE: Recruiting a Company to the Area AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 19, 2006 2:57 PM DESC: ----- BODY: 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 platform. 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, Siebel, recently purchased by Oracle, and SAP 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 tells me 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. -----