How Jeff Ogden grew GE revenue by 242% worldwide in 1990

Jeff Ogden of Find New Customers has been in software sales and marketing for a very long time indeed. And my greatest sales success is a story I want to share with you.

About 15 years ago, I had a great success with GE so please let me share how that happened with you.  It’s a heck of a story about how an unlikely man became a star and I hope you learn something from it.Jack Welch

In about 1989. I got a job with Business Objects (now owned by IBM) in New York City as an Account Executive (sales)  My experience in the business intelligence industry was zero, but I worked hard and closed a bunch of deals, including Heineken USA.  (How we finished last in a Proof of Concept and won the deal is another great story.)

Experience is vastly over-rated. I was given the Rookie Star Award for my outstanding sales wins by a new sales rep.

As I listened to conversations in the office,  it became clear that the company was struggling badly with GE and losing revenue each year.  I knew nothing about GE, but I asked “Can I take over GE?” To my surprise, they said Yes.  It seems they were desperate to fix this problem/

At this time, Jack Welch was the CEO of GE and he made a directive that every GE business had to have a management dashboard called a Digital Cockpit. 

If it came from Jack, every GE business needed to do it,  But I had a very big problem.

Did Business Objects have a management dashboard? No we did not,  They were a business intelligence software company only with a product called Web Intelligence.

But how does one sell the Digital Cockpits the customer wants when your company does not sell it?

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and that’s what I did.

Our first deal was GE Capital.  I won the deal like I always did, but we needed to turn our business intelligence product into a Digital Cockpit.

We assembled a team of programmers from Business Objects and a GE team from Tata – led by my good friend Chirag Shah.  I instituted weekly status meetings with the team led by Chirag and Egidio Lavorgna of GE and stayed on top of it to ensure success.

The project was so successful that it grew in GE Capital from 14 users to 144 and GE was very happy with the Digital Cockpit the programmers had built for them.

Now we had a Digital Cockpit product, so I went to Marketing and said “Can we turn this success into a customer specific brochure?”  I was so far ahead of my time, doing content marketing in 1990.  They did create a Digital Cockpit brochure with screen shots of the GE Capital Digital Cockpit. Now I finally had content the customer wanted to see.

I had one other problem. GE is a global company and we need every rep worldwide to sell his or her local GE division.  I asked myself a question. “How can I get a rep like Barbara Betuzzi in Italy to ignore her other named accounts and go sell to GE?”

I decided I had to make GE the easiest company to sell to.  Barbara, like every rep, looks for the easiest deal to win.

That meant educating reps and helping them with conference calls with GE – in the middle of the night.   It worked great and deals kept closing and closing.

However. Business Objects of 1990 had a fatal flaw.  They were in the “Purchase Order Extraction” business only. Happy customers and customer successes?  No! All they cared about was revenue.  Customer service was so bad that I was getting horrible messages from customers.  GE froze all purchases and I had my first bad quarter.

This turned into a very bad cultural mismatch, which is why I left the company.

Before I left, I got a call from my friend Chirag. He said “Jeff, did you know that global GE revenue grew by 242% in the short 12 months you ran it?”  Wow!

What did Business Objects do when I left?  They did what 99% of companies do today.  They turned to their top competitor, Cognos, and hired the rep who managed GE.  However, they failed to look at HOW I ran GE and this man did not last six months.

I had a meeting with the sales leadership of Cognos and they told me “I just want you to know that you are the only Business Objects rep on Earth we could never beat. Not even once!

My advice for everyone is this: Look at your top performers and emulate their processes and not just their experience.

What do you think of this story? I’d love to hear your comments (Not SPAM please) and I appreciate those who share on social media.

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