An electrical engineer by training, Alex Andrianopoulos finds his technical background particularly relevant these days to his current role as VP of marketing for Pasadena, Calif.-based Guidance Software, which sells enterprise software solutions to respond to today’s cyber threats.
“One of my top priorities, if not the top priority at Guidance, is to instill a data-driven culture across everything we do,” says Andrianopoulos, who has spent 22 years in leadership roles in the enterprise software industry, 15 of those years in marketing. “The olden days of marketing are truly olden, and instead we are in a new era of marketing. We now have available technology that provides us with a lot of objective and unfettered feedback.”
The existence of high-quality data means that it’s easier than ever before for the CMO to justify marketing expenditures to the CEO or CFO, because you’re going to them with numbers, instead of beliefs, explains Andrianopoulos. “The bottom line is that becoming a data-driven organization enables you to understand how well you’re doing, and it helps equip you with the appropriate tools, the appropriate arsenal of why you need to be in- vesting even more in marketing.”
What does it mean to have a data-driven culture? It’s not just about collecting endless streams of information that can easily overwhelm a marketing department, says Andrianopoulos. It’s important for marketing organizations to think of the company’s ultimate goals. “Be sure to understand why you are tracking what you are tracking,” he cautions.
Creating a data-driven culture isn’t enough. For 2015, Andrianopoulos is also focusing on instilling a culture of learning, where there’s an emphasis on understanding past results and improving upon them. That includes observing and adopting the best practices of your industry peers. “I like to tell my team that plagiarism is not a bad thing. If you see a great idea that another marketing organization has used out there, don’t shy away from it just because somebody else did it,” he says.
As vice president of global sales operations for the $2.8 billion ON Semiconductor Corp., in Phoenix, Arizona, Kimberly Appleton has learned there are three sides to every story: “What sales said happened, what the BU said happened, and what really happened. Sales ops has to find the truth,” she explains.
Appleton has seen the role of sales operations morph over her eight years in the semiconductor industry from being just a support function into a strategic sales enabler, she says. “We’re being challenged to be more innovative to gain the edge from a sales perspective in a very mature industry.” These days, her team has to get real-time in- formation into the salespeople’s hands for quick decision making, says Appleton, who earned an engineering degree at the University of Southern California and got her first job at IBM as an associate engineer, before returning to school for her MBA in management and marketing at St. Edwards University in Austin.
To better manage the flow of “big data”, Appleton has implemented modern intelligence tools, which can organize data from disparate sources. “I believe they’re game changing, because in lieu of that you’re going to have an army of Excel experts that pull data out in Excel and pivot the heck out of it. It’s not a sustainable business model.” Planning ahead, at least four or five months before the end of the fiscal year is an essential part of her job. “One of the key challenges is the sales incentive plan, which falls under my camp. You have to really do the analysis: Does your plan drive or reward the right behaviors? Sometimes you can get complacent and in go-mode and not take the time to say: “’Gosh, do my metrics still align with the corporate objective, has the corporate objective changed?’”
In September 2011, Matthew Boice accepted his new CEO’s challenge to take on the role of “air traffic controller,” but his job had nothing to do with actual airplanes. As the new vice president of sales operations at TEN: The Enthusiast Network, a 63-year-old media company in Bonita Springs, Fla., which was in the throes of renaming, rebranding and restructuring itself, Boice oversaw the reorganization of the company’s entire sales force. The catch: he had to do so while retaining some 3,000 customers and minimizing employee turnover.
In the past three-and-half years, Boice and his team have succeeded on both fronts, hanging onto 99 percent of customers and keeping employee turnover down to a very respectable 5 percent. Nevertheless, the transition has been complex
“I’ve got a big old spreadsheet with a lot of names and a lot of accounts on it right now,” jokes Boice, who previously served as VP of sales operations for one of a company division focused on the automotive market. Holding onto customers post- rebranding has required a good deal of travel, with management and sales reps doing four-legged calls. “We probably visited about 200 or so customers, or about 10-20% of our customer base
We talked to them about why we were doing what we were doing,” says Boice. Now that the sales team is settling in under the reorganization, what has Boice learned from the experience? “Don’t be paranoid and concerned about the impression you’re giving to new management. Take the task and own it and do your job; try not to second- guess yourself. Know that mistakes are going to happen, and if you’re fortunate enough to have the right executive staff as we have, that’s very open on suggestions to changes, you’re going to be fine,” says Boice.
During his four-day boot camps to onboard new salespeople at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Jive Soft- ware, Patrick Merritt, director of sales enablement for this $100 million maker of communications and collaboration software, always asks participants this question: “How many of you learned how to ride a bicycle by reading a book?”
While the answer may seem obvious, it drives home the point that great salespeople aren’t just born that way. “You learn by getting out and doing it,” says Merritt, who joined Jive in Portland, Ore., as director of sales enablement in October 2012 and has helped hire and onboard hundreds of new salespeople.
During the fourth day of their onboarding boot camp, participants spend most of their time on sales simulation exer- cises. “We run them through making a phone call; we run them through doing an initial meeting face-to-face. In this role play, they come in and describe Jive and how it is going to help this organization.”
Salespeople aren’t just speaking in the abstract about the virtues of Jive’s software. “One of the unique things about our solution is that we run the company on the software they sell,” says Merritt.
So part of the purpose of the boot camp is to teach sales reps how to use Jive’s collaborative tools. “It becomes our day to day tool with interacting with the entire organization.”
It can take eight or nine months to fully onboard a new sales rep, but the boot camp gives Merritt and other sales executives a chance to really see the new players in action and identify potential problems early on. “We have a pretty high success rate at the end of the week to be able to flag if that person is going to make it or not,” Merritt says.
Leading the Sales Team As CEO
This month, our cover story profiles Jack Lynch, the CEO of Renaissance Learning, the educational analytics company that counts Google Inc. among its investors and was acquired last year by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman for $1.1 billion. You’ll get a close-up look at how Lynch has worked to transform Renaissance’s sales operation and improve market penetration.