The Conversation Operating System

Death Valley National Park, California; photo by the author

One of the first things I did after assuming responsibility for Smartling’s sales team was adopt a sales methodology. Countless options exist; some of the more well known ones are The Challenger Sale, MEDDIC, Solution Selling, and SPIN Selling. I chose the Sandler Selling System, which is rooted in the belief that buyer and seller should invest equally in the sales process, and with which Smartling had prior exposure.

At the time I was laser-focused on how Sandler could help us to win more new customers. When I became responsible for Smartling’s post-sales teams a year later (customer success, account management, professional services, and technical support), I immediately saw Sandler in a different light: it could be the common language used by all of our market-facing teams. We began indoctrinating the post-sales teams in Sandler, too.

As I explained to our professional services team, Sandler wouldn’t help to fix bugs, ship product features, or stop salespeople from selling capabilities that didn’t exist (I may have used more colorful language at the time), but it would ensure that every team at Smartling spoke a common language. Preparing for conversations, handling difficult situations, and controlling outcomes would all be easier because every Smartling participant would be using the same framework to evaluate situations and communicate about them. I called Sandler our “conversation operating system.”

That was nearly three years ago. When I decided to write this blog post about my experience, I searched Google for “conversation operating system” and was surprised to find only 264 results. The first, a LinkedIn article by an executive coach named Amanda Ridings, appears to be the only relevant one, although it doesn’t define the term. So, here’s my definition:

A conversation operating system is a set of guidelines and techniques that guide how an organization’s employees communicate.

The benefits of having this communication commonality are significant, particularly for subscription businesses like Smartling where the customer journey is nonlinear. Creating one for your organization isn’t necessarily hard, but it requires focus and comes together over a period of months, not weeks. Here are the steps we followed:

A conversation operating system begins with a sales methodology, but it goes far beyond it. Identifying the right one for your organization and embedding it deeply can yield meaningful cross-functional results.

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Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.

Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.