James Taylor—who doesn’t play guitar and can’t sing a note—has proven that you don’t have to be a techie to market technology products. But if you hope to hold your job, you’d better learn fast.

That’s exactly what 42-year-old, Australian -born Taylor is doing as president of Internet services at eYak, Inc., a Boston company that integrates voice and Internet.

Taylor knew practically nothing about technology when he joined eYak, other than how to boot up a computer and get on the Internet. But he did know how to market beer and cigarettes, far from critical skills for a technology company.

Business skills are universal
Before joining eYak, Taylor bounced around the globe marketing cigarettes in Australia and Korea and working as category manager for Miller Brewing Company in the United States. After only six months at eYak, he sounds like he’s been marketing technology his entire career.

Ask Taylor what eYak does and he’ll spit back an answer at the speed of light, sounding like a seasoned tech salesman: “We have built the world’s largest conferencing network that offers an impressive range of value-added voice and data services,” he boasts. “We have the ability to voice-enable any Web site and offer instant messaging as well.”

What’s Taylor’s secret and why did eYak’s management go out on a limb with a guy who’s been peddling beer and cigarettes his entire career? That’s a no-brainer for Taylor. He was hired for his “ability to run a business successfully,” he said immodestly.

“I know how to organize a company to be successful and not waste time getting rubber on the road.”

Convinced? Taylor is and so were eYak’s founders. The company’s management knew its strengths and weaknesses. They could design and create the technology, but they couldn’t market it. They needed a seasoned marketing expert and were willing to take a chance on someone who didn’t know the difference between HTML and Java.
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But languages are unique
So how did Taylor master techspeak so quickly? He worked hard at it. Every day, he goes to “technology class,” which amounts to hanging out with engineers and asking endless questions.

Understanding what eYak did was Taylor’s first priority. Then, he had to master the terminology.

“The terms are very important because we all have to speak the same language,” Taylor said. “The language of a technology company is very different from the language of a consumer products company, for example. It doesn’t mean I have to be an expert, but I must understand what the technical terms mean and their impact. You’ll never hear a term like ‘market share’ in a technology company. Instead, you’ll hear jargon like ‘provisioning products to consumers’ and ‘lock down dates.’”

Taylor makes it sound easy, but he admits he was overwhelmed when he joined the company. “I didn’t have to know how to write code, but I did have to understand the challenges of the company in order to market its products,” he said.

Once Taylor became comfortable with the vocabulary, he got down to serious business and developed eYak’s sales and marketing strategies. “Many of the same things I do every day are the same things I did marketing consumer products,” he said. “The language may be different, but the marketing principles are the same.”

Making the switch
It’s no secret that technology companies are desperate for seasoned marketing people, yet many of them are reluctant to hire people outside their niche, according to Taylor. Management at eYak was the exception.

Even if a company is willing to hire someone like Taylor, the transition is not easy and not everyone is willing to make it. What does it take? For starters, driving ambition, guts, and a strong tolerance for risk. “It also takes a sense of adventure,” Taylor added. “And you have to demonstrate skills identifying your flexibility to move into a new area.”

Most importantly, you must have clear goals in terms of the type of technology company you’d like to work for. Finally, like Taylor, you’d better be a fast learner because technology companies are moving 50 times faster than nontechnical ones.
Do you agree with Taylor’s assessment of the business of marketing technology? How do you help your sales and marketing groups become comfortable with technology? Send us an e-mail or begin a discussion below.