Our first Primary Intelligence office was a cement basement littered with plywood desks shoved into any available corner. I missed those Wild West days of Primary Intelligence – I joined eight years in – but the stories have legend status now. I find the stories inspiring: the hustle, the failed ideas that evolved into great ideas, the people who made it work.
An early employee once described what it was like to walk down into that cramped, cold basement office on his first day of work. I asked, incredulously, “What on earth caused you to stay?” He shrugged and said, “It seemed like a fun adventure.” It certainly has been.
It’s our 15th anniversary and I’m nostalgically recounting the stories of those first few years. The stories explain who Primary Intelligence is. Company culture is sticky and changes in slow drips. Hence, the origin of a company – what happened during the early years – sets the tone for many years. Our origin is our DNA.
Of all the stories, three stand out as the best illustrations of what Primary Intelligence was, what we still are, and where we can go in the next 15 years.
Never Miss a Day (The Power of Discipline)
In the early years of Primary Intelligence, Founder and CEO Ken Allred was the sales team. His background is in sales, so the role was a good fit, but Ken knew to keep the lights on during that first year, he had to get momentum.
Ken’s strategy for sales success was simple: consistency. He would research and connect with 10 new potential buyers every day. Then, he would follow up with the remainder of his growing list of contacts from previous days. “There would be times it would be late at night and I hadn’t had a chance to do my calling yet,” Ken told me. “I would stay up until it was done, no matter what. I wouldn’t let myself miss even a day.” At the end of a year, Ken had reached out to 2,600 contacts multiple times.
It would have been easy and certainly understandable for Ken to miss a day. His day ballooned as he stretched to fulfill the other important roles he took on — product manager, delivery manager, finance, HR, to name a few hats. But, when you think about it, could there have been anything more important than selling? And would it have worked as well if he hadn’t had a process designed for consistent pipeline growth? I don’t think so.
Sales is a numbers game, but it’s also about building good habits. If you can train yourself to always prepare for meetings, take quality notes, introduce yourself with a firm handshake, re-read your emails before sending, and a thousand other small daily habits, you become a disciplined seller. The results follow.
Ken is still just as disciplined, and he’s pushed that level of focus and process into everything we do at Primary Intelligence. He taps into the same “ruthless optimism” today that propelled him to contact those 2,600 contacts the first year, even after countless rejections. Optimism without discipline is foolhardy. Optimism with discipline is genius.
Find the Hot Problem (The Need to Adapt)
Mike Brose stood on a desk in the back corner of the office and began cutting into the metal heating duct above. He needed just a small opening to capture some of the warm air intended for the main house.
The team had tried space heaters, but they were no match for the unforgiving cold cement walls in that first basement Primary Intelligence office. Most people stayed in their coats and gloves all day.
As soon as Mike realized the solution was a simple hole in that heating duct, he jumped into action and made it work. (Mike is currently our Vice President of Sales, and I like to call him The Microwave – things happen quickly when he’s involved.)
We’re still looking for problems to solve and simple solutions. There is a running joke about the number of changes at Primary Intelligence, but I know it’s the secret to our success. We could have found a product that works and stayed the course. Instead, we found a product that works and continue to ask, “How can we do this better?”
Companies must adapt or die. Think about the B2B markets Primary Intelligence sells to: software, hardware, healthcare, finance, and business services. Each industry is many degrees different from where they were 15 years ago, so collecting and delivering Win Loss and Customer Experience data in the same way we did it back in 2000 would be Blockbuster-style crazy. Their goals have changed, and so ours should too.
Get It Done (The Pressure to Excel)
One question greeted Rob Allen on his first day at Primary Intelligence in 2002: “We need to build our own customizable survey tool. Our license for the current third-party tool expires in three months. Can you do it?” Three months later, Rob delivered the first of many software tools he would build for Primary Intelligence in the coming years. (I like to think he delivered it with an end-zone spike or microphone drop, but that’s just the dream.)
When you’re disciplined and adaptable, urgency is a natural companion, and we have it in spades at Primary Intelligence. We’re about pressure and quick action. It is the pressure to succeed, to deliver, and to improve, much like the positive pressure Steven Sinofsky wrote about. “Pressure in the workplace is how we stay on our toes and put forth our best efforts,” he wrote. The same hustle that buzzed through the first basement office is with us today, as we push to build it better and faster than we did before. We act with focused urgency.
What company doesn’t feel that pressure today? The pace of business has changed, according to Entrepreneur magazine, and confirmed by pretty much everyone else. The secret is in transforming that pressure into products and services that meet customer demands.
We look forward to the continued pressure at Primary Intelligence and feel just as poised to meet the challenge today as Rob was 13 years ago. (Rob Allen is currently our Vice President of Technology, and he can confirm the challenges we ask him to tackle haven’t slowed.)