Six Things I’ve Learned During my Nine and a Half Years at Interactive Intelligence

Nine and a half years is a long time at one company… in the same job. As a result, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way. And while the list of things I’ve learned as chief marketing officer might be longer, I’ve identified six key lessons that I think have been some of the most valuable:

  1. There is no substitute for a visionary CEO. Market conditions are constantly changing. I’ve learned that a good, smart leader can usually get the current conditions right. But the secret to long-term sustained growth is a CEO who is constantly able to see what changes are coming – early enough –to adapt and take advantage of those changes. Interactive Intelligence’s CEO Don Brown is as good as I’ve ever seen at this. Countless times he’d describe a new initiative that he wanted us to pursue, only to be met with blank stares from the rest of the executive team. But time and time again his ideas would turn out to be the exact right move we needed to make. The rest of us simply didn’t get it right away because we didn’t have the forward-looking vision that he does.
  1. The importance of building good partnerships. A company can’t grow beyond a certain size all by itself. It really takes an eco-system of deep relationships to succeed in a big way. We spent a lot of time cultivating relationships that were beneficial to us and to those we associated with. These included resellers, consultants, analysts, technology partners, marketing partners, community relationships, and even cooperation with competitors. You can’t make it on your own.
  1. What got you to where you are might not get you to where you want to go. I tend to rely on past success as a way to reach future success. However, over the years I’ve realized that this way of thinking doesn’t work very well. There are too many variables introduced all around us each day. The people we are dealing with change. Customer needs change. It is inaccurate to think, “It worked for me before so it will work for me again.” We need to adapt and adjust to changing dynamics, which are constant.
  1. Marketers need two core skills – and most don’t have them. I’m a marketer by trade. Like any profession there are multiple skills required of people in my position. That said, there are two that are fundamental that every single marketer should constantly work to perfect, but sadly, the majority aren’t very good at. What are they? A marketer needs to be an exceptional presenter and a great writer. So much of marketing involves these two skills that putting in the time to develop them is well worth the effort. And the good news is that both of these skills can be learned and perfected.
  1. The customer experience really does matter. The theme at our 2012 global customer and partner conference was, “It’s all about the experience!” Each year since, we’ve created variations on that same theme. The “experience” we were talking about was the experience we, and our partners, deliver to our customers. I’m a firm believer that a successful business is built only when the experiences your customers have when they do business with you are positive. And those positive experiences don’t just happen. They take effort, but that effort is worth it. A realization that your customers – not your products, your cash in the bank, or even your employees – are your most valuable assets will drive a remarkable behavior and attitude throughout your organization.
  1. Value people above business. Okay, I admit I might not have learned this at Interactive, but I certainly tried to apply it while there. And this one might sound a little too “motherhood and apple pie,” but I really believe it is true. For the most part, people want to succeed. They want to do a good job. They want to develop their skills. They want to improve. They want to contribute. They want to be a part of something. They want to be recognized for what they accomplish. As we take an interest in the individuals who we work with and help them achieve their goals, we have a chance to affect others in profound ways — and the business benefits as a result.A couple weeks ago I got an email from one of our employees, no longer on my team, that metaphorically read, “Thank you again for taking me in as a beat-up older ballplayer after I had taken some time off to resolve a lifetime health issue. I will always be grateful to you for brining me into your department in a new position, and allowing me to get my swing back.” Do things always work out with every employee? No. There are times when we have to part ways because it’s not a good fit. However, developing the attitude of putting people first is the right way to lead and the right way to succeed in business. I’m not perfect at it by any means, but I’m working on it.

Thanks to all the people at, in, and around Interactive Intelligence and the Interactive Intelligence Foundation for your friendship and for all you’ve taught me.

Joe Staples