A Tech Career Marketing Lesson From Joe The (Fictitious) Plumber

Some years ago my parents finally gave up trying to understand my rather techie explanations of what I did for a living as a computer guy in a bank; it was a challenge to uncouple their belief that I was apparently as much responsible for the ebb and flow of stocks as those harassed traders we now regularly see on TV news.

Nonetheless, my failure to more succinctly explain in plain English what a data internetworking engineer gets up to was really bugging me; not least because I was also running into sound byte issues when faced with defining what a career coach (my big certification goal in 2006) was bringing to the table.

Finally, as these things often do, my unconscious mind provided me with an answer while I was up to my armpits (almost literally!) one evening with a blocked U-bend in our appartment’s toilet.

Ah-ha! I thought to myself, while lamenting why this smart, modest(!) CCIE-certified white-collar IT professional (yada-yada) was struggling mightily with a blue-collar skill he’d never appreciated before:

I’m not a bl$$dy plumber. I’m a DIGITAL plumber

Eureka! That&‘s exactly what I was getting paid for: helping to design, maintain and (occasionally) upgrade the digital equivalent of a multi-building plumbing infrastructure (in fact, multi-country; imagine that with a blocked pipe!!) that the whole crew of staff and clients depended on to do their digital business.

After trying out this digital plumber explanation with some non-tech folks in a somewhat lighthearted manner, I was pleased to see that smiles of recognition did greet my new analogy. And no jargon required!

So what about Joe&?

The Joe the Plumber my post title refers to is not the recently discovered Joe featured in the US Presidential election campaign. No, this Joe really is fictitious and he came to my attention via a crazy Australian dentist.

Gotcha? The dentist in question is none other than Dr. Paddi Lund, who I mentioned before on this blog.
And his marketing tag, that crazy Aussie dentist, has stuck with me ever since I first came across a Mike Basch (co-founder, FedEx) article profiling him and his mix of business, wealth and happiness teachings.

I’ve just recently finished another of his books, Paddi Lund The Absolutely Critical Non-Essentials, in which is featured a short story about a fictitious plumber, Joe Manzini. And I’d like to describe the essence of Joe’s marketing eureka moment and leave you with a challenge for the ongoing marketing of your technology career path.

Just like many truly excellent technology professionals, Joe is very proficient at his craft, has been on lots of courses and is much faster than most of his peers. But few of his existing customers acknowledge this or in fact even seem to care about the awards he’s won and the trade fair talks he’s given. And no new customers frantically ring him up and ask for his services because he’s the best pipe welder in town!

How to get existing customers talking about him and recommending his services to others was something he puzzled over a lot until one evening when he was getting ready to go to the annual Plumbing Banquet. A little old lady’s emergency call for plumbing assistance saw his kind-hearted nature on display and he rushed around to her house and fixed the leaks.

And then over the next few weeks he began to receive calls for assistance from new customers who had been recommended by the little old lady but strangely, although his plumbing work was excellent and fast, they were a bit disappointed that he was not wearing his normal plumbing uniform. This happened several times until he cottoned on to what the little old lady had been telling her friends about his working attire.

And from that moment the business of the sophisticated plumber took off and was a resounding success.

Can you guess what the little old lady was telling her friends about Joe, and what Joe decided to do based on that market feedback?

And could you apply a similar approach in your own tech career whether you work as an employee, consultant or independent business owner?

PS: I’ll tell you Joe’s secret in the next post. The fictitious plumber story is from a chapter on what Paddi calls super critical non-essentials, and speaks to business owners (you are also one even as an employee, whether you realize it or not) looking to excite the jaded palates of prospects/clients who long ago became cynically protective to self-serving advertising.

We’re talking word-of-mouth recommendations here, and this is a big secret to career and professional success in my opinion (and in the crazy Dentist’s too!)