Inside Track: Efficiency drives innovation
President of SalesPad uses emerging technology to increase productivity in every step of career.
Jen Jurgens hadn’t been SalesPad’s vice president of marketing for even a year before stepping into the role of the company’s president, but coming from a diverse career involving the use of new and emerging technologies to optimize efficiency has given her the skills and the perspective to be at the forefront of innovation.
Jurgens earned her undergraduate degree in supply chain management from Michigan State University in 1993. During her studies, she found a way to integrate emerging computer technology into the supply chain process.
“We made a business plan for a pager company,” she said. “The new computer labs at the business school were starting to open up … and no one in my group wanted to actually go and use them to make the charts.”
Embracing the new technology made Jurgens realize how much it increased her productivity in terms of charting, graphing and collecting research. Though she originally took up computers because nobody else wanted them, she became “hooked” by their productivity factor.
She first applied her knowledge of computers and supply chain management at Weller Auto Parts, a local truck parts manufacturer. Alongside owner Paul Weller, Jurgens helped direct inventory management software for driveline components and re-manufactured parts.
The internet was gaining popularity around this time, so Weller began experimenting with the idea of putting truck parts in a searchable format on the web, something that sounds like a given today but, at the time, presented new challenges.
“The initial constraints around getting very complex inventory and interchangeable part numbers onto a searchable database, and then getting truck people to get on the fancy new internet and to use it — it was challenging,” she said.
Jurgens said convincing people to adopt the new system was probably more difficult than developing it.
After leaving Weller Auto Parts and taking with her the skill set she had developed in internet accessible databases, Jurgens went to work for the telecommunications company US Xchange (now US Signal) as the company’s first data product manager.
“One of the reasons the truck parts thing was so hard is because it was slow,” Jurgens said. “And it was slow because we didn’t know anything about broadband internet access, yet.”
Jurgens said the new job was a “natural progression” for her, coming from developing a more efficient system in supply chain management to fine-tuning that system.
“A lot of the techie people in West Michigan somehow had an interaction with US Xchange at one point or another,” she said. “It was just a great innovation center early on.”
But innovation was in bloom during the dot-com days, and many people in the tech industry bounced around between emerging data companies and new web concepts. Jurgens was eventually recruited by Intel and SAP, and moved her out to San Francisco.
Intel had a startup in San Francisco called Pandesic, which was one of the first e-commerce platforms on the market. Jurgens said Pandesic was designed to complement SAP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) databases by plugging into the system’s accounts and linking them to the internet.
“It’s almost every aspect of your company,” she said. “It’s the inventory, it’s purchasing — it’s the core system that most (bigger) companies have.”
Unfortunately, innovation during the dot-com boom involved the struggle of discerning which new technologies would come out as the next “big thing” and which ones were doomed to fail. Jurgens said she attended product launches every night. The tech that enterprises now rely on to store their information had to compete in an environment where new products launched every night.
Like convincing people in the trucking industry to adopt the internet for inventory management, Jurgens was faced with the challenge of convincing enterprise-level companies it was safe and secure to store all of their vital data on the web.
“Where do your servers sit? How do people access it? What do they get with it? How do we make sure its safe? Things that are pretty common now all had to be figured out then,” she said.
But figuring out new technology also came with the consequence of disrupting previous business conventions. Even though these innovations were designed to streamline the way companies operate, it also forced them to redevelop their business strategies around them.
“The technology was all so new, that you’d figure out one aspect of it only to realize, ‘Well, now we’ve just overwhelmed their warehouse with orders, so do we have fulfillment in place?’”
She said her background in supply chain management proved to be the perfect skill set for resolving such problems.
Jurgens returned to Grand Rapids after about a year to take up her first executive position as vice president of marketing business development for Adtegrity.
“I love the work ethic of the Midwest, how everybody here is just real and hardworking,” she said.
Jurgens also bounced around between consulting jobs at various startup companies for a few years before coming on as vice president of sales and marketing for MarketNet. Her work involved lead management technology, which included early predictive analytics and behavioral targeting.
“If you took these steps and bought something, we look at people who look like you who take similar steps and know that they also might be willing to buy something,” Jurgens said. “It’s very common now, but I got to do some of the very first.”
Much of predictive analytics at the time before social media and e-commerce included email marketing and data appending based on information gathered from product registrations.
“When you filled out those product registration cards — back in the day — you would even tell them your hobbies. You would give all this information about yourself … and that went into a database. Now, we tell people that by our behaviors, we tweet about it or we browse it.”
During her tenure at MarketNet, Jurgens was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she didn’t allow the setback to stop her career.
“I actually got through it comparatively easy from what I’ve seen in a lot of women,” she said.
She stayed with MarketNet for the entire year she went through treatment. Afterward, Jurgens decided to give back by offering her time to Susan G. Komen, one of the organizations that helped her identify her breast cancer.
Jurgens served as executive director of the organization, helping merge the databases for the three Susan G. Komen affiliates in Michigan into one entity, Susan G. Komen Michigan.
“It’s funny how, when there’s something that you do, it almost doesn’t matter where you go,” she said. “You’ll continue to do what you’re good at doing.”
After about four years, and not seeing how she could be of any more help, she chose to step down from her position as executive director. She said, because of her work, the organization is now set up for continual fundraising.
After finishing her brief stint in the nonprofit sector, an opportunity opened up at SalesPad. She entered the company as vice president of marketing, helping it launch its new cloud-based product for manufacturing and distribution companies. Reminiscent of her Weller days, Jurgens said it’s difficult to get manufacturers on board with cloud technology.
“All of my background within the telecommunications companies, my work at Pandesic, all of my marketing background around efficiencies — it really came together almost in one company,” she said.
Jurgens moved into the president’s seat after 10 months at SalesPad. She said during her interviews for vice president of marketing, Matt Williams, SalesPad CEO and former president, brought up the possibility of her eventually becoming president of the company.
“We recognized early on that we complement each other. He’s a developer, and so the things that he doesn’t enjoy doing, like speaking in front of large groups and going to lots of meetings, are things I enjoy doing,” she said.
Jurgens said her experience has made her a strong believer in the use of technology as a means for efficiency and improving productivity, but the human element, the fear of change, must be considered when introducing new technology.
“The other thing I’ve learned over these years is it is still about your interaction with people,” she said. “You have to form that trust that you’re not just trying to change something to change it. You are trying to change it to make their lives better. And if you don’t establish that trust, it’s not going to work.”