In the mid-1990s, Xerox was trying to recreate the glory of its own history for the digital age. Desktop computers, networked offices, the Internet —all would change how companies created, stored, and shared information. Mass emails were replacing hard-copy memos. Electronic files trumped filing cabinets. And printing documents from a PC to a digital printer was easier than waling to a copy machine to make duplicates. These trends had dangerous implications for a company built on selling bulky boxes.
I was young enough, and maybe naïve enough, that I didn’t fear upheaval and its side effects. Markets, like people, mature. I got that. I’d thought about it with my customers back at the deli. Those high school kids that hung out playing video games would grow older and infirm one day, and like the elderly folks I also served, they’d want their products delivered. If I refused to do so, I’d lose their business. Twenty years later, a similar phenomenon was happening with business customers: companies were maturing, changing how they wanted information delivered. Vendors such as Xerox risked losing their business if they didn’t accommodate their customers’ new preferences.
Our chief executive, Paul Allaire, recognized the market shifts and in the early 1900s, Xerox rebranded itself the Document Company. The tagline reflected our shifting perspective, at least theoretically. Xerox’s value to its customers was not in the quality of our machines, but in the quality if the documents that ran through our machines.
This more solution-oriented approach to the market — Xerox can help you figure out how to make better documents —resembles how I’d always approached sales. In New York and Puerto Rico, I’d trained reps to empathise and problem solve. But now that I was in Chicago overseeing a hundred people, I couldn’t meet, travel with, or train every single rep. I had to figure out how to scale my consultative style. To do so, I rolled out a district wide technique I titled The Great Document Hunt.
The Great Document Hunt began with a rep asking a customer, or a prospect, a question. “Which of you company’s documents most control your success? A contract? A new business proposal? Product manuals? The employee directory?” The point of The Great Document Hunt was to work with office managers or, ideally, CEOs to find their organisations most meaningful materials, and then examine how those documents flowed through the company, from creation to revision to dissemination. A Xerox “consultant” would isolate points of that process that siphoned off too much time and money and figure out how Xerox’s document management system could productivity gains.
The activity itself wasn’t all that intriguing. What got people’s attention was how we framed it? As a hunt. A game. A mystery. And everyone loves a good mystery. It was a refreshing starter for our reps, and the conversations differentiated Xerox, elevating a dull administrative process into something stimulating. “Which five documents define your company? Express your values? Help you win accounts, sell more stuff, connect to your customers, determine your success? Let’s hunt them down!” The essence of The Great Document Hunt was energy and empathy. And it scaled.
The reps had fun with it. At daily wrap-up meetings, instead of announcing how many units reps had sold, our people tallied how many critical documents they’d unearthed. Even the media were piqued. In November 1994 USA Today ran a cheeky front-page headline next to my photo: “In Chicago, It’s Always Document Hunting Season.”
The hunt was the Chicago district’s most creative tactic in a portfolio of more traditional marketing techniques —direct mail pieces, telemarketing, database management, business symposiums — which, combined, turned relationships into sales throughout the district. By the end of 1994, my district was among the country’s leading revenue contributors.
Yet even as the district’s performance began to improve, something was bothering about the overall business environment, and Xerox’s place in it. As focused as I could be in any given moment, I took time to stand on the balls of my feet to peer above what was happening in front of me. Something new was always on the way.