Want the scoop on how to sell into the largest retail lender in the U.S.? Just ask Swathy Vasudevan, former Director of IT at Quicken Loans. She’s an experienced leader in IT, software engineering, and delivery, with experience across a variety of industries like software, connected homes, and most recently FinTech.
She’s also our Emissary of the Month, so we sat down with her to learn more about her 11-year career at Quicken. During her time there, Swathy specialized in software engineering, IT Services and vendor management, so she’s got loads of invaluable advice for salespeople looking to sell tech into large financial services organizations. Here’s what she had to say.
Learning From a Rapid Rise
After spending a few years in IT with companies like Adobe and Whirlpool, Swathy joined Quicken in 2006 as a software QA manager. At that point, the tech team had a little over 100 people (all of whom are pictured, right). By the time she left 10 years later, that number had ballooned to 1,800.
Being part of an organization that grew so rapidly was a valuable learning experience for Swathy, and it allowed her to see firsthand how successful organizations grow—and what it takes to power that growth.
“Technology drove the business at Quicken,” Swathy said. “And in many places, that’s not always the case. Founder and Chairman, Dan Gilbert, put it perfectly: ‘We’re a technology company that happens to do mortgages.'”
“Quicken is always thinking about their future customer, not just the current one,” she added. “They are always innovating and working to find better ways for their clients, and that’s what makes them so unique.”
A Global Product with a Local Heart
As Quicken blossomed, so too did downtown Detroit. When Quicken decided to relocate there from an outlying suburb (Swathy herself even adorned the billboard announcing the site of the company’s new home – see her waving to passersby in the photo further down) to its new downtown location, the area was at a low point economically. Swathy vividly recalls the deserted streets and abandoned homes in 2007 when Quicken Loans announced its move to downtown Detroit. She also saw all the possibilities that relocation could bring—and how a thriving company like Quicken could give back to the community and help rejuvenate the storied urban center.
After relocating, Quicken Loans’ founder funded startups like Rocket Fiber, a local internet provider, to help jumpstart the economy in Detroit. Quicken was also instrumental in creating the QLINE, a streetcar system that helped connect Detroit’s outlying areas to the city’s downtown hub, and gave a boost to the many businesses along Woodward Ave., Detroit’s main thoroughfare.
“I have pictures of the first time we saw the QLINE operational—we were seeing the city come back to life,” Swathy said. “It was fantastic.”
How to Sell Into Quicken
Swathy views her work with Emissary as an opportunity to help both seller and prospect. Her insight helps sales teams close deals at Quicken through a deeper understanding of the org, which in turn ensures that Quicken gets the products and services that are right for them. It’s a win/win.
So what advice does she give to salespeople looking to break into Quicken—or any financial services organization for that matter? For starters, it’s all about the product.
“You have to have a very robust product offering—Quicken expects nothing but the very best, so they expect the same from the vendors they’re working with.”
You need to have a great product to get your foot in the door, so make sure you take the time to make your product the best it can be. That’s part of what makes selling into a financial services company so unique: it’s all about simple solutions to complex problems—that’s where a large part of Quicken’s success came from—so when choosing their own vendors, they’ll likely be looking for solutions that reflect that same guiding principle of simplicity that imbues their own products.
Once you’ve managed to get past the first few hurdles, Swathy stresses that you should approach the new business relationship as the start of a new partnership, rather than a one-time transaction.
“Quicken treats every vendor as a partnership,” she said. “They see the vendor’s product as part of their solution, so that partnership mindset will help a vendor get into a relationship and maintain it.”
“Give them real stuff with substance backed up by a long-term view,” she continued. “Quicken is not a red-tape, bureaucratic environment. There’s empowerment that exists at all levels—even the language you use in your emails will affect whether or not they’ll read or respond. So that’s important to understand before going in.”
Swathy proudly referenced Quicken Loan’s “ISMs” multiple times. The “ISMs” defines their culture. She shared that it has shaped who she is and encourages vendors to understand Quicken’s ISMs – its culture.
Tech’s impact on financial services
Whether you’re an IT leader looking to innovate at a financial services company or an enterprise seller looking to break into one, familiarizing yourself with the idiosyncrasies of the space is necessary before diving in.
“The business processes are so complex in financial services because there’s a lot of responsibility that comes from dealing with people’s money. And if you’re an IT leader working in that world, you need to understand the business and what you’re solving for,” Swathy said. “Risk and compliance are very important, and there’s a lot of sensitivity to rules and constraints. A small oversight could cost millions.”
Swathy pointed to some of Quicken’s biggest achievements, like Rocket Mortgage, as a shining example of how tech can continue to innovate in the financial services industry.
“Think about Rocket Mortgage. Clients wanted a simpler mortgage process and Quicken loans made it happen. [Rocket] simplifies the complex mortgage process and clients could get conditional approval in less than 10 minutes – a process that would normally take up to two weeks. Providing simple solutions to complex processes with optimal tracking, data security and integrity – that’s innovation.”
Swathy sees artificial intelligence as the next step for tech, particularly in the world of financial services, and a potential new area for forward-thinking IT leaders to explore:
“There’s huge potential for A.I. to step in and consume and model data for targeted products and markets – based on customer information and behavior. All of that is possible by combining powerful A.I with data analytics and there’s a lot of potential to leverage this technology to solve clients’ problems.”
Always Be on Belay
Swathy subscribes to the “servant” school of leadership, believing that a leader’s true purpose should be to serve and inspire, rather than control, those they lead. It’s a philosophy that’s carried her in business and brought her to a number of volunteer engagements, too.
Over the years, she has built houses with Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity and even founded her own organization—the Quicken Loans Samosa Club — in addition to participating in other groups focused on supporting women in technology.
“That’s just who I am,” she said. “When I see women struggling with work/life balance, I want to help. When I see people struggling to navigate the corporate world and are not being heard, especially those that move to the U.S. from abroad, I want to help them.”
“You’ve got to have someone pulling you up, and you’ve always got to be pulling someone else up. In the rock climbing world, they call it the “belay principle’, something that Swathy learned from Vertical Lessons. Swathy believes it’s essential to make time to connect with people around you on a regular and consistent basis. Get to know them in deep, intentional, and meaningful ways, and always work towards building permanent bridges so that the overall trend for the team is upward.
Swathy the Emissary
Despite leaving Quicken after 10 years, the organization is still dear to Swathy’s heart, and getting the opportunity to be ableto share all the good ways Quicken operates with others while simultaneously connecting them to the vendors and services that are right for them, was one of the main factors that drew her to working with us.
“The concept that Emissary has is very interesting,” she said. “It allows me to get to know all of these different technology companies and new innovative solutions, and it helps me to keep up with the technology world and what’s going on around me. I see it as an opportunity to provide value all around, both to Quicken and to vendors.”
Even if you’re not looking to sell into Quicken, Swathy has advice that can help any IT vendor looking to open up a new account within the financial services industry. Financial services are inherently complex, so understanding a prospect’s needs and how your solution could solve them is important.
“You also need to know when to turn off the tech speak”, said Swathy.
With so many decision-makers involved in B2B purchasing decisions today, there’ll likely be someone with influence who needs to have your product—and what it means for their business—translated into layman’s terms.
“Business and technology teams are now coming together to solve a need, so being able to take a solution to both the technology team and the vendor partner is key,” she said. “A vendor who can communicate the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of their technology to a non-technical person will immediately increase their impact.”
Swathy Vasudevan, former IT leader at Quicken, is an experienced tech leader with over 10 years of experience in the FinTech industry. She loves helping salespeople sell to Quicken and she loves connecting Quicken with great vendors selling products and services they could really use. Here, she touts the importance of treating your vendor/client relationship as a true partnership and why you should let your product do most of the talking.
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