We’re continuing last week’s panel discussion, where Emissary CEO Allen Mueller discussed the impacts of today’s unprecedented climate on the technology sector with three members of the Emissary community: Cheryl, former SVP of Technology at Salesforce, Jim, former CIO of Microsoft, and Geno, former Senior Director of Technology at Expedia. Here, more insights on the way technology organizations are facing these changes and challenges. Find highlights from the first part of the discussion here.

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Panel Discussion Highlights

Allen:

Cheryl, as businesses start to roll out new initiatives and business models start to pivot now, what guidance would you give to vendors so that they align with these inevitable changes? And then also, how can technology providers raise their hand and help without being seen as too abrasive or aggressive?

Cheryl:

I think we’re sort of all seeing this behind every business, our real life people with real lives, and that’s the comforting thing that’s sort of coming out of this. And I think it’s important that we not assume what our customers are experiencing and how this is impacting them and their business. So I would say my advice is to really ask. It’s to ask and then listen to your customers and prospects. What do they want and need at this time? And attempt to react and respond quickly with a willingness to adjust. Now more than ever, that’s what’s required, and with that level of authenticity, and that is going to require a little bit of additional work. I think before you approach a customer, make sure you’re kind of as accurate as possible in your authentic response.

Allen:

Yeah. And so for those that might be getting a stimulus package it will be interesting to see how this plays out. We know that that money has to be allocated for payroll purposes, but there’s got to be some opportunity for organizations to tap into that as their customers are starting to receive some of that funding, kind of fingers crossed that continues to play out in the way that we have been promised and we’re expecting. But, do you think there’s opportunities for organizations to approach companies who might have gotten that financial support? Even though it’s not earmarked to buying services, it’s earmarked to payroll people, but, is there an opportunity for organizations there, do you believe?

Cheryl:

Yeah, I think there is. I think this has been a massive test for all of us, as individuals, as society, as organizations, and companies. And in this test we’re seeing where our weaknesses lay, and I think that the companies that are going to emerge from this are going to invest and build a resilience in their organizations. In there, it’s going to be really clear where those needs are, so I think that’s where the opportunity is.

I think what we’ve seen, especially during this pandemic in particular, is that having a strong technology backbone has been key to organizational resilience. My advice to tech companies looking to be there is, how do you make it as easy as possible for these organizations to adopt in the here and now? I’m seeing examples of things, for example, of trials being extended from free 30 day to free 90 day. I think these are great strategies because it alleviates some of the pressure that organizations are feeling and as an opportunity to invest in them in the short term that would hopefully kind of pay back many times over in the long term.

Allen:

Geno, do you think there are technologies that can be leveraged to support the recovery across some of the B2C, travel and hospitality industries?

Geno:

Yes, there’s technology that can help with it, but one of the things that will need to happen is more openness and transparency, sharing of data between those providers and the sellers of those products and services. In order for me to be in a position to service these customers or provide these assurances, I need to know more about, maybe about your operations, maybe more about the route specific rooms you’re going to offer these customers or these cars or something. I may need to know more about the insurance policies you have in place for these things to help message that to customers earlier. So it will, a big part of it will be how do we share data across in a way that can be trusted by entities who have not traditionally shared that information before.

Allen:

It’s interesting because the expansion of the service experience is going to need to expand, to your point, and the visibility that they’ll need to provide is going to expand as well. So, that’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but I think that’s going to be a new normal and an expectation, right?

Geno:

Yeah, and the same data and analytics will also be key for companies to understand where they can make some intelligent investments. We’re willing to make investments. We’re willing to create new products and experiences. There’s 10 things that we could possibly go do; how do we choose among the 10 and then once we choose, how do we get a quick read, a quick reliable read on if that’s working or not, and if we need to pivot again to try options B, C, or D…the data and analytics is going to be key for that.

Allen:

Jim, I’d love to get your perspective on this from the B2B space. You know, given your time at Microsoft, I think you’d have an interesting vantage point on how will the biggest B2B players need to pivot to remain on top, once we get into this new normal and what will hopefully emerge from this experience.

Jim:

Actually I’d like to build off a little bit what Geno was saying about the openness and transparency of data, and sharing and the experimentation culture that’s growing and will be part of this new normal. We’ve got to think about: how do we enable that openness and transparency by being better about how we manage the data and the privacy around that? And I think this was a role that the big tech players have to do, but it’s something that’s going to permeate this whole space. 

I’ll use the example right now of this thing that has just been announced that Google and Apple are working on to track people that have the COVID virus and share with you if you’ve had any contact with anybody that’s had the virus, and the way it’s designed to work is supposed to be private, but it anonymizes some of the data. But for it to work you have to share all of the people you’ve been in contact with, out to this cloud service. I think there is a role that can be played that allows an individual and an organization to share what they want to share but not have to share everything to get all the benefits.

Allen:

Do you believe that there are specific business areas where you feel like sales leaders need to step up and be assertive on what they think these companies need to be doing to stay ahead of the curve? Is there a role for sales to help think through this, and what does that look like from your vantage point?

Jim:

I think the role there is the relationship with customers and how we get better connected. This trust that we put in place is actually going to be the enabler for the data sharing to happen. Geno was talking before about how we need to get more open and transparent. The reason that it’s been harder is because that trust hasn’t been there, and we have to have the right things in place. I think the sales leaders can bring that relationship and trust building as part of making this open transparency work better. If we’re the old salespeople that are just trying to sell, then we’re going to fall into this, like government, to be more and more distrusted. But if we’re bringing value and bringing that relationship, I think that can add a lot to completely digitizing between vendors and customers.

Allen:

Cheryl, if you were leading your team, you had been at Thrive Global, which was Arianna Huffington’s wellness company and you were the CTO there, or when you were at Salesforce, what would you be doing to encourage your teams to be thoughtful, to adapt and to plan a head? How would you want to see your teams grow during this time and through this recovery phase?

Cheryl:

It’s an opportunity I think for individuals, and this is what I would have shared for folks on my team, to really evaluate what is important and essential in our lives and then what things we can toss. Whether in our lives at home or at work, which I know often is one and the same, it’s become really clear where maybe you had been investing time and energy in something that you don’t care about or it doesn’t bring you joy or isn’t moving you in a direction you want to move in.

There’s this opportunity to get really crystal clear about what’s important. I think that those who are ready to embrace a growth mindset can use this opportunity to really emerge stronger and more resilient. That’s what I would advise – that and get your sleep, take care of yourself as much as possible because that’s just going to make you stronger day in, day out.

Geno:

Well, I love Cheryl’s answer. I just want to echo that. Taking care of yourself is paramount because if you’re not taking good care of yourself then it’s really difficult for you to take care of your customers. I think that should be first and foremost there. Then I will say, let’s stay focused on doing what’s absolutely best for the customer, which today in this day and time, what’s doing best for our customers may look different than what that looked like eight months ago, 12 months ago.

Given where we are and considering the human element of what we’re dealing with, let’s keep what’s best for our customers. Let’s develop the data driven insights to help us determine which approaches we want to take and then if we’re able to do that now, doing what’s best for the customer ensures that we are taking care of them now, that we give ourselves the best chance of gaining and regaining their trust and business in the future.

Allen:

Yeah. I agree. Let’s end on a positive note here as well. Let’s talk about the top qualities each of you valued and the technology partners that you worked with during your time in leadership. As you reflect on how they would strike the right tone and then how you would encourage to strike the right tone moving forward. What are some of your thoughts about those qualities?

Jim:

We’ve hit on a lot of these that the importance of empathy…of really thinking forward as opposed to being fixed in the way that we’ve thought of things in the past. I think those are going to really help us in going forward, that the world’s going to be a different, much more connected place in the future and we’ve got a huge opportunity to take advantage of that or be left behind if we don’t look forward.

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