Uniting people, processes & platforms towards a common goal with Susan Rothwell, CRO at Vericast

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The following was transcribed from a recent interview on The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast. 

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Today we’re going to talk about unifying sales teams and bringing people, processes, and platforms together to achieve a common goal. To help me discuss this topic, I’d like to welcome Susan Rothwell, CRO at Vericast.

[Greg Kihlstrom] Last year, you helped lead the company through a reorganization that aligned these businesses under a brand. And with this reorganization came the need to take all the siloed sales teams and unite them as well. So let’s dive into that a little bit more. Why did you make this decision with the teams at Vericast, and what was the impact to those formerly siloed sales teams?

[Susan Rothwell, CRO at Vericast] I think it’s really interesting to go through what I like to call is an evolution or transformation, right? I mean, we’ve felt that, as an organization, having one brand was really going to help us leverage our customer relationships, as well as all of the different solutions that sat in the different siloed parts of the organization. So the first step was making sure that the team, not just my sales organization but also the company, kind of understood what that mission was, why we were doing it and what the benefits to it were, right, to the company and to the organization.

And that’s a really heavy lift, when you try to do that, right, because people are so used to their worlds. But I think, when you then put that strategy and focus out there, I think the key to success, whenever you’re doing any type of realignment or any type of reorganization, is really, to me, two things, right, first of all really making sure you have not just the strategy but the data and the analytics and the trends and things to really understand, based in data, why you’re doing something. And, number two, make sure you’re engaging people to be a part of the journey and helping lead through the journey, right? Because that’s so important, because that allows people to create ownership. It also gives you, from a leadership perspective, an opportunity to really hear a lot of great thoughts and ideas and, I think, give you a much better perspective on how you need to align, how you need to lead through it, and understanding your teams have a lot of great ideas and experience that just make that transition a lot easier.

Can you give an example of how you use data and business intelligence in enabling what you were just describing?

Yeah, I actually just went through an exercise last week. It’s a practice that continues to evolve. One of the things that I let my teams know is that we will constantly be evolving as a sales organization. Businesses change; the way people engage businesses change; people at your accounts change. So you need to be constantly making sure you understand where the industry or the business is and how we should be aligning to that. So, you know, evolution in how we’re organized, as long as I’m leading the team, will always be a best practice. It’s something that we look at all the time, and not something that people should be afraid of but should lean into.

So we were looking at one of the teams last week, and we were using different pieces of data to lead the conversation. And those pieces included internal data. So we were looking at sales performance, right, how much revenue was a seller doing; how many sales calls; were there sales activities; in accounts, at what level were they reaching; were they in the C-suite in the accounts, right, like what was the hierarchy there? So we look, what was the customer buying from us; what different product lines, you know, had their revenue increased or decreased? So we were looking at that internal piece of it. Then what we did was we appended some information about the client. Were they experiencing changes in their business? Were they opening locations? Were they adding new products or services or things like that? Was there changes in leadership? You know, what were some of their strategies they were focused on? And then the final thing was perhaps is there something going on in the industry, right, that could be driving changes into that business?

And we accumulate all this data, and then what we do is we weigh it, right? We give weights to the data. And what ends up happening is, out of this exercise, which was a little bit of a different experience for us in how we used the data, we ended up looking at our top 200 accounts in one of the segments and realized that we have what were called hidden gems, right? They were accounts that we weren’t really focused on as a key growth account, but when we looked at all that data and the way we weighed it, it was popping to the top, right? And so it ended up creating a strategy to say, you know, here we have 20 of these accounts that really look like they’re potentially in growth mode, and we’re not really aligned from a sales and service perspective to treat them that way and engage them that way. So that’s just an example of, you know, just last week, how we used business intelligence and data to look at our business and perhaps make some different decisions about how we’re engaging our customers.

That’s a great example of how to use that to make some positive change in the organization. What about from the customer perspective? I mean, I could draw some assumptions from that as well that would be positives, but how do you think your customers benefit from this approach to data and business intelligence and really even just aligning sales teams?

Yeah, so I think there’s a couple things. From the data and intelligence that we provide as an organization to our clients, it’s been really critical through the pandemic and the past two years, more so than ever, right? The customer journey has changed. I’ll take an example from a restaurant. They’re one of a key vertical that we engage with. And they don’t know, on a given day, how are you going to engage one of your favorite restaurants? Are you going to go in and have lunch? Are you going to call in and pick up your order? Or are you going to have it delivered? 

So on any given day, their engagement with you as a customer potentially can change. And so that can be very challenging, for them to understand how do they actually engage a customer like you, right, who’s changing their minds? So we use some of our intelligence and our data from that perspective to help our customers and tell them how they should be engaging, how you would respond, what’s the best way to engage a customer that would be switching channels, for example, like you would. So that’s one example. 

Another example is that the very first time we started to talk about even really becoming one organization and combining and integrating the company, it came from one of our largest customers who was telling us that there were too many engagement points from a sales perspective. We had too many people calling on them at different areas, and there wasn’t just one point of contact. And it didn’t allow them to have opportunities to have a master service agreement and engage us in a much more fluid way. And that was really one of the sparks that said, “Hey, you know, we need to be easier to work with and we need to be able to offer our customers more.”

So I think that was a real positive. I think one of the things that our customers are trying to understand is, you know, we were these four siloed organizations and now we’re one company. And what is Vericast, right, and in the rebranding and in the evolution of the company, really bringing forward not so much just our products, which were a display ad, or mail insert or a direct mail or a check program or something like that, but really engaging us at that much higher level of of data and intelligence and using our technology and our platforms. So I think that’s where we have some work to do, just to really change that perspective and leverage that and really help our customers more along those lines instead of just a product- focused organization.

Let’s talk, a little bit, about the internal part of that. I mentioned we were going to talk about the people, process and platforms and how those things work together. So combining siloed teams makes a lot of sense to do, though sometimes in practice there are some team members that might be resistant to change, perhaps, even if they understand the basic reasons why some of these things need to happen. So in your work and your alignment, how did you go about ensuring that the people part of the change happened successfully? And what would some advice be that you’d give to other leaders that are about to embark on similar initiatives?

Yeah, I think, as I said, I think change really just has to become part of your culture, right? And I’m really trying to drive that type of engagement with the sales team and the cross-functional teams as well. You know, I think it comes with a couple of things. You really need to have alignment across the organization. You know, whenever there’s change, it’s not usually just within one segment, say, sales. It will affect client services, or it could affect marketing and things like that. So whenever we’re looking at a change in a go-to-market strategy, you need to make sure there’s alignment across the entire organization, and again, like I said in the beginning, that everybody kind of understands the short-term strategy and then where we’re trying to evolve to, right? Because normally the reason why you change is to stay current but also to evolve into something else which is more aligned to what customers want.

So having some real clear understanding and really communicating that’s key. The biggest key, though, is really having involvement of many levels of the organization, you know, people in the room while the decisions are being made, the conversations are happening, having a voice in the discussion as we’re aligning, so that, again, we’re making sure that we have a very balanced approach; we have a lot of different voices in the decision-making process of actually how we’re going to do this and why. And it’s really important not only at my next level but the leadership levels even below that because they’re really the ones that have to implement and take this organizational change to the sellers. 

So you know, really having a lot of discussion and a lot of involvement and empowerment of those teams is important in the change, and also to realize that, you know what? We might not get it 100 percent right. Most likely, we are not. So we will make a decision. We will move forward with a decision. And for some reason, if it’s not the right decision, it’s OK to change course and make a change, right? We can’t be afraid to evolve and, if we make a mistake, think we can’t fix it. We can always fix it. We can always reverse if we have to. So I think just having some of those fundamentals. So an example of that is one of the teams we were going to integrate right after the pandemic hit and there was a lot of disruption to the business and we were working through a lot of things, and we were on this road to integration. I mean, we had it all mapped out. We were going to put teams together. And one of the leaders said to me, “I just don’t know if this is a good idea to do this right now. It’s rather distracting. We’ve got enough on our plate.” And I thought about it for a couple days, and I went back to him and I said, “Yeah, you’re right. We shouldn’t do this right now. Let’s move it off to the end of the year. We’ll reevaluate it. But, you know, this isn’t probably the time to implement this change.”

So I think there needs to be some agility, right, in this process. And I think, when people see that, and know that they have a voice, that if something’s not right, we’ll fix it, they have an opportunity to relax a little bit about the fact that this change is coming. I also think, though, one of the really important things is, even though we are under one Vericast, and I do have different business units or sales teams that roll up into that, you do need to keep some of the culture and identity of those teams, because they all work a little bit differently. They have different nuances about the way they go to market. And I always say we want to take the best of the best and mash it all together and put it across the organization. But you also want to make sure that you maintain some of the uniqueness that makes those teams really experts and good at what they do, and not mess that up as well. And so there’s got to be a balance of pulling it all together as well as keeping some of that sense of their own culture and their own missions.

You’re on the right show to talk about agility! I love that you mentioned that you’re not always going to get it right all the time, but you’re not going to get it so wrong that you can’t fix it and improve and iterate, and stuff like that. And even if you feel like it’s going well, you might not be doing as well as you could be. And so there’s reasons to experiment, whether things are going good or bad, so to speak. What role does data play in this? You talked about not wanting to undo good cultures that are parts of teams, yet aligning teams a little bit more together. How do you factor in the data part of that as well, where a team may be working well from a people and process perspective, but, as they would say, the numbers don’t lie. How do you work that numbers discussion in and still maintain those great things that you already mentioned?

Yeah, so obviously we’re in sales. So it’s always about measuring everything, right? For sure, we measure everything. But I think where, if I understand your question right, where the data kind of meshes together is when we look at some of the business analytics and the business intelligence that we have. You know, where are there opportunities, as one Vericast, as one organization, for us to leverage the different business units and really give people some opportunity when we do that, right? 

So, for example, we have a lot of retailers that are part of our customer base. And some of our retailers sit in our financial team and some of the retailers sit in our retail team. And so we’ve brought together what we call business teams, customer business teams, where there’s seven or eight customers that, you know, the different parts of our businesses touch, and they sit still within their own organizations, but we use the data from the different sales teams to just see how can we continually push and get the customer to adopt more of our solutions and more of our data. So there’s ways to use it in a siloed way but also bring it together into one unified organization. Because there are still sales teams that call on clients in different areas. So one might call from a financial institution area and one might call from a marketing area. One might call from a procurement area, right? So there’s ways to leverage that across Vericast within the different sales silos as well.

You’ve mentioned several different metrics of success, but I’m wondering if there are, beyond revenue and specific sales targets, how do you measure or come to understand that a team is aligned or that multiple teams are aligned? What kind of measures of success do you have to just make sure that things are moving in that right direction?

Yeah, so we have different dashboards that we look at from a sales enablement perspective, right? And the reason why I say they’re different is because the teams still are within their organizations. I don’t think that they all are doing the same things and need to be measured the same way. So there’s different characteristics of sales success that we’re measuring by team, that we look at. And those include your basic sales metrics, but some of them are different, so if we have a new business team, they’re going to be measured a little differently than maybe a seller that’s got a base business and we’re looking at retention and growth within current businesses versus, you know, new logo activity and things like that. 

But from an overall company perspective, and this is where I was talking about making sure that you have what I call cross-functional alignment, you know, we’ve got a plan this year, and the plan is very specific, in certain things that we’re trying to do, from launching new products, increasing our technology, retaining our current customer base, growing that base, new logos. And we have a KPI scorecard that we keep, that really holds everybody accountable, not just the sales organization but, you know, are the other teams doing what they need to do to make sure that this plan that we have, this go-to-market plan, is executing on time, is hitting the milestones we need to hit in order to ultimately hit the profit and the revenue goals?

About the Guest

Susan Rothwell is Chief Revenue Officer at Vericast.

Suan is leading the transformation of Vericast business. She is a talented Executive Leader in identifying and capitalizing on emerging market trends and revenue opportunities. An exceptional record of achievements, including company transformation, M&A, and integration expertise. Strategic and analytical approach to solving problems, bringing in customers, and accomplishing profit targets, and creatively marketing and selling Digital, Data, and Off-Line marketing solutions. Excels at developing programs that are the basis of a performance culture and the development of key talent.

About the Host, Greg Kihlström

Greg Kihlstrom is a best selling author, speaker, and entrepreneur and host ofThe Agile Brand podcast. He has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations oncustomer experience, employee experience, and digital transformation initiatives, both before and after selling his award-winning digital experience agency, Carousel30, in 2017. Currently, he is Principal and Chief Strategist atGK5A. He has worked with some of the world’s top brands, including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, GEICO, Marriott, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and VMware. He currently serves on the University of Richmond’s Customer Experience Advisory Board, was the founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee, and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Mentorship Advisory Board. Greg is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified, and holds a certification in Business Agility from ICP-BAF.


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