A Microsoft Global CTO presents a masterclass in cross-selling tech solutions
They are the business leaders that lift others to the furthest reaches of their potential. To brand them as part of the tide that lifts all boats is to diminish their enviable talents; rather, they are the oncoming storms born to clear the way for radical transformation, the power to create meaningful change woven into their DNA. They are force multipliers.
Jair Clarke is one such leader. Currently Global CTO for Commercial Systems in Business Intelligence for Microsoft Customers and Partners Solutions, he’s also been a dynamic change accelerator for Lockheed-Martin, IBM, and Disney.
As a consultant to the U.S. government during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom wars (with a Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information security clearance with a Full Scope Polygraph for counterintelligence) he was called upon to support all the web, applications and databases for those missions. His consulting work for another command included selecting, implementing, and running counter-narcotics technology, and being responsible for all aspects of technology, hardware, and software needed for effective drug interdiction.
Clarke’s fascination with technology blossomed after taking a Computer Information Systems 120 class at the University of Miami, where he played cornerback and special teams for the 2001 national championship football team. With his athletic career coming to an end, and a student’s shoestring budget, he decided to boost his education by reading tech books from cover to cover at a local bookstore.
“I would come back every single day to understand anything from polymorphism to APIs and everything in between to really build up my understanding of technology, products, engineering, and development,” he told BOSS.
“That grit of just not having resources, trying to learn as much as possible, and reading books that I couldn’t afford helped me realize that there’s a whole life cycle to develop a product, to mature a product, adopt a product, and advance it,” Clarke said. “When you combine one product with another, when you combine three or four products, that’s when the complexity really happens.”
Having made that connection, his life as a force multiplier took a wider, global turn.
These days, one key focus for his contributions to Microsoft is the cross-selling of their products and services. “By understanding the level of detail, by really understanding one product and then another and getting into the details and the technology acumen of how things work together, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” he said.
For a company with a single product, sales are binary: will it or won’t it sell. Having multiple products and selling them individually is also binary, as each product exists as an island unto itself. “The force multiplier stands when you look at both products and/or services together and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘I can continue to sell this island, this binary, sold and unsold, and sell this island, sold or unsold, but it’s not an ‘or’ — it’s an ‘and’ now,” Clarke said. “The big word is ‘and.’ Now these things can be combined, and one plus one will actually equal more than two.”
Discovering a way to sell products together to expand their possibilities requires an understanding of forward and backward compatibility. If the products don’t work together natively, an investment in making that happen might be on the table. Conversely, if nativity has little or no impact on product features, revenue, or customer impact, taking a hybrid approach may be the path to take.
“You can want everything to be native, and you can want everything to be a multiplier, but where your company is, and depending on where your customers are on their journey, they may not be ready for it,” he cautioned. “Your company may not be ready to invest at that maturity level. That’s the real importance of that force multiplier, which then dovetails into the customization side.”
The question of how and at what point to customize a product evolves over time. “It’s not binary. You continue to look at what makes sense and how it makes sense when combining products and services,” Clarke said.
Then it’s time to consider adaptability, “meaning how much can you actually flex and increase or reduce features, allow the products to empower the customers in a specific domain, or be more generalized so they can horizontally reach across their broader organization.” They must also be able to customize at scale.
Understanding the priority for the product is necessary for cross-selling, too. “You may have a prioritization list of capabilities and features that you want to deploy but they don’t resonate with your customers or potential customers or your industries,” he explained. “Thoroughly understanding the features and capabilities that your customers are seeking is important because it will incentivize them to pay attention to you.”
Companies with a variety of disparate products may not be able to weave them together to tell a cogent, holistic, and complete story, and doing so is essential to Clarke’s methodology. As the father of a third-grader, he’s well used to explaining ideas, tools, behaviors, and products in a clear, easy to absorb way. “Can I explain a product and a service to my third-grader that they then can describe to an adult? If I’m not able to do that, something’s amiss,” he said.
Clarke used Sir Isaac Newton’s light bending prism experiment to illustrate what force multiplication can do when the art of possibility plays out fully, and products are brought together with clear intent and purpose.
“At the right spatial distance if you shine a light into a side of a triangular glass prism on one side of that prism is a white light. On the other side of that prism at the right spacing and differential you can see the colors of the rainbow,” he said.
“When you look at the partner ecosystem and you look at the company that you lead or work for, both sides are just as beautiful. Each color of the rainbow can represent a capability or a service that you or your partner has that when sold separately has a beautiful hue. When you put them together and look on the other side of that prism, you’ll see the white light. Those colors are combined and aggregated together to form that white light, and that is just as beautiful and just as powerful because now it’s being done together.”