All great business leadership has three dimensions to it, according John Oechsle, President and CEO of Swiftpage, the providers of ACT! customer relationship management (CRM) software for small business. Oechsle joins me on this week’s episode of Business of Story to share his insights on how to create flourishing professional services firms.
ACT! software is designed to collect and manage customer service data for solopreneurs and small companies up to 50 employees. Swiftpage wants to be known as the #1 small business solution provider in the CRM space. However, after its world was shaken in 2012 due to a company divestiture, Oechsle and his management team pulled together last-minute funding to buy ACT! and Saleslogix and bring them into the Swiftpage family.
This feat underscored Oechsle’s philosophy to the three dimensions of business leadership.
The 3 Dimensions to Business Leadership
Employees and stakeholders need a business purpose and vision that they can believe in and be part of, and that can only be imparted through powerful storytelling.
A leader has to have “taken the hill” before and have the ability to share their personal battle wins and wounds through the stories they tell to create credibility among their troops.
Business is all about building trust in your people so that everyone has a role in the mission and journey.
Oechsle has used this approach to leadership during a storied career in growing professional services firms through market development and acquisition. Most recently, his greatest challenge was to bring together these three diverse cultures in Swiftpage, ACT! and Saleslogix to insure the growth of the Swiftpage organization.
“It’s essential to have everyone pulling in the same direction, and I’ve found that the only way to do that is to share the company’s purpose, vision and journey through the stories you tell,” said Oechsle.
It starts with a defined purpose; “why do we get up every morning and do what we do?” The purpose is propelled forward by a compelling vision that defines where the organization is going. And to stay on the correct path, Oechsle talks about needing a compass in the way of brand values.
I have found that the brand story Oechsle and his team have created about the Swiftpage organization is compelling because it emphasizes the human element that is so often missed in the business-to-business landscape.
The journey is found in connecting the purpose with the vision.
- Swiftpage’s purpose: “We fuel small business growth”
- Vision: “The world will define us as the #1 small business solution provider.”
- Compass: “Living the exclamation!”
Oechsle defines “living the exclamation” as team members who have four distinct qualities and live into them every day. They seek talent who liv ether exclamation by being:
- Fast paced
- Want to be a winner
He calls these kinds of people, “Swifties,” and they are the foundation of Swiftpage Nation.
“We’re one team, on one journey, to live the exclamation,” he said.
The company makes the Swifty story tangible in its “Fearless Challenge,” where employees are encouraged to do something that “scares the hell out of them,” according to Oechsle.
“Listen, don’t tell me you’re afraid of tuna fish and you ate a tuna fish sandwich. That’s not too fearless. But tell me that you can’t get up in front of 300 people and give a presentation and then do it. Tell me that you’re scared to death of heights and then jump out of an airplane, do that kind of stuff,” and that’s how you win the Swiftpage Fearless Challenge.
Some of the Swifties who took him up on his challenge have exhibited feats of inner strength that included:
- The fear of playing the guitar and singing in an open mic session: A Swiftpage employee performed in front of the entire company
- The fear of getting out of their comfort zone and trying new adventures: One employee tried flyboarding at Lake Pleasant, another rode the lightrail for 30 days and made himself talk to strangers and collect business cards from them, while another attended a six-week improve class.
- Fear of heights: Employees went paragliding.
- Fear of “making it”: Employees completed half marathons, the Colorado’s Triple Bypass bicycle ride (120 miles, 10,000 feet in elevation gain in one day), hiking the Grand Canyon, and enduring the Ultra-Ragnar.
The quarterly winner receives a Swifty orange Fearless Fleece as a trophy for their feat. I got mine, and am now an official member of the Switpage Nation. Here’s what John recognized me for:
“People want to feel like they’re part of something, which is why we created Swiftpage Nation. Not just the employees, which are the Swifties, but all of our partners and our customers. They’re not just buying software. They’re now part of Swiftpage Nation, and they feel like they’re part of something special,” Oechsle said.
You too can join the Swiftpage Nation story by listening to John and me on this edition of the Business of Story podcast. You’ll also learn the three universal challenges that face all of us solopreneurs and small business owners, why automation is no substitute for one-on-one communication and creating client intimacy, and how stories keep things simple and focused in professional services firms.
By the way, what do you fear and are you up to the Fearless Challenge?
Let me know below.