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I don’t miss the jet lag, but I do miss the people

Lessons learned in 2020

I don’t miss the jet lag, but I do miss the people
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By Simon “Ted” Harrison for OpenText

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As the head of Enterprise Sales for a global tech company, I’ve never believed in a client handing over $1 million to someone they’ve never met. My customers should be able to look me in the eye, ask tough questions, and feel they’re investing in a solution and an organization that solves their problems.

That point of view ceased to be possible in March 2020. My team and I could no longer jump on a plane to visit a prospective customer and address the queries that would make or break a deal. I don’t miss the jet lag, but I do miss meeting the people I do business with.

Without being able to meet face-to-face, we had to rethink the whole enterprises sales process—from first enquiry to signing the contract. So, how did we adapt and respond to the global pandemic?

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BETTER DATA MEANS BETTER DECISIONS

This process began with better data, largely in response to what we could see happening in the market. The number of customer interactions dropped off sharply in March as employees and customers came to terms with the new and different world we found ourselves in. But by April, we saw the start of a return to pre-pandemic numbers as organizations came looking for a wide range of cloud-based and -managed service solutions to address their own logistical concerns.

Two things became clear: We needed to help our customers with the challenges they were facing, and we needed to focus on the industries which would see growth despite the economic outlook.

After further segmentation of our key markets, we moved to a model of daily reviews, tracking and quantifying all deals in the pipeline. That discipline was important in allowing us to adjust our sales strategies quickly, ensuring that the resources were focused on the right areas.

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INVESTING IN DIGITAL

One surprising area of activity has been with organizations in industries that we initially labeled “danger sectors.” Many companies looked to better manage costs to ride out the drop in economic activity. Of course, renegotiating—or cancelling—existing contracts was a quick win in this respect.

But what we noticed was an interest and a willingness from these customers to engage more deeply and to propose productivity-oriented solutions, including cloud-based and -managed solutions which allowed them to focus on rebuilding their own markets instead of worrying about their technology back end.

For example, many banks or insurance companies have used the time to decommission siloed legacy systems and shift to secure cloud-based approaches. Organizations that have used this time to review and modernize their infrastructure and digitize processes are finding new, digital ways to deliver services, supplying an immediate benefit to employees and customers and laying solid foundations on which to grow in the future.

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INCREASING ENGAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATION

In terms of the sales cycle, we moved to invest substantially in the earlier parts of the buying process, with the aim to replace some of the normal face-to-face interactions with a digital equivalent. Right at the start of the pandemic, we launched digital customer “zones” to serve as a highly integrated destination for webinars, product demos, customer group meetups, and thought-leadership content.

By refocusing on how our customers and prospects want us to communicate with them, we have been able to supply relevant, timely, and targeted ideas on how OpenText can help them navigate the current work, social, and economic challenges. In the past, we had large customer conferences and meet-ups to facilitate the exchange of ideas. The current situation has forced us to be more creative, to tailor how we interact more to the client, and less based on what we did before.

It’s too easy these days to assume that volume is the best metric—it isn’t. Imagine you are still sitting in a room with your customers and consider the conversations you would be having in person. That needs to remain constant, irrespective of the channel.

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WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Almost a year into the pandemic, I can say that our sales force has succeeded in maintaining its activity and productivity, while helping our customers to retool, to reset and rethink expectations, and to prepare for what we all hope will be a brighter future. Key to our success has been our willingness to rethink the enterprises sales process, use data to adapt our process to global events, and invest in digital to customize communications and increase engagement with our customers.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we’ll continue to approach the enterprise sales process with flexibility and adaptability, enabling us to help our customers better prepare for whatever comes next.

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Simon “Ted” Harrison is the executive vice President of enterprise sales, OpenText.