The Emergence of Public Cloud, Hunger for Agility and Machine Learning Key to Zendesk’s Sales Revenue Model

No business, let alone sales and marketing teams, can afford not to be tech-savvy these days. In my opinion, the key to remaining ahead of the tech curve is to continually -assess the tools in your shed, and invest in upgrades.

Zendesk continues to stay ahead in the B2B sales market with cutting-edge reporting and intelligence technologies. In a power-packed interview on Zendesk’s sales and revenue model, Sandie Overtveld, VP Sales- APAC, unties the complex facets of how sales teams could leverage new-age cloud, agility, sales coaching and machine learning technologies to stay on top of their game.

Tell us about your role at Zendesk and about your career journey.

I lead Zendesk’s Asia Pacific & Japan Go-To-Market teams, helping our clients transform their customer service into meaningful customer engagement with beautifully simple solutions. Prior to Zendesk, I was at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services, where I led the Microsoft Dynamics Service Line for Asia Pacific & Japan, as well as Microsoft.

To excel in my role at Zendesk, I tapped into my prior experience at Microsoft, where I worked in various positions across Thailand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom before moving to Singapore in 2009 as the General Manager for Dynamics Business Applications.

How often do you measure the performance of your sales reporting and analytics?

For me, reporting is a daily necessity, so I am constantly measuring our sales performance, as well as assessing sales opportunities and challenges on-the-go. As with any data analytics, it is essential that we integrate and streamline various customer touchpoints to help us collect and collate valuable insights into a common platform. Once the insights are available, our sales teams can access customer information with ease, and then turn these insights into meaningful conversations.

How do you stay on top of your sales goals?

A  driving philosophy behind the design of Zendesk products is that a happy and engaged customer experience team will translate into higher customer satisfaction. That same ethos applies to our sales team as well.

Our goal is to drive remarkable growth across Asia-Pacific within the shortest time possible. This is impossible without the support of a high functioning team, which is why retaining talent is a major key to our success. By instilling a collaborative and transparent work culture, we maintain a high level of employee satisfaction while keeping turnover very low. As a result, my sales teams are motivated to ensure the organization achieves its sales targets and can scale and replicate the success of sales cycles for different verticals to generate new revenue streams.

How big is your team and what drives them to succeed in meeting small-term and long-term sales goals at Zendesk?

There are currently over 150 sales staff members in our Asia Pacific Go-To-Market team and we have been growing consistently by 50% every year for the last five years. When considering the bigger picture, we looked at how we could instill within our employees a strong sense of identity and a customer-centric mindset and achieved this by fostering an engaging work culture through a series of team-building exercises, social gatherings, and corporate events.

In addition to a great team and conducive work environment, we give our talent plenty of room for growth by setting challenging but achievable targets that are incentivized by a variety of activities including sales commissions and happy hours.

How tech-savvy is your Marketing and Sales teams? How do you rate them on a scale of 1-10?

As a SaaS (software-as-a-service) business in the customer-service software space, Zendesk is always on the lookout for talented individuals with an inclination for technology and a keen understanding of pain points faced in customer service. We carry this ethos across every piece of technology we use in our daily roles.

As many of our people travel frequently for work, applications such as Slack for messaging, Zoom for video conferencing, 8×8 for phone calls and data-driven marketing dashboards like Bizible make life easy for everyone.

When it comes to our own products, we believe the beauty of our software lies in its simplicity – which is why we expect a certain degree of technological competence from our talents so they can quickly pick up on how to properly use and demonstrate our products in a highly disruptive business landscape. We also focus on hiring young people who subscribe to a mobile-first mentality to help drive our innovations forward.

Beyond technical knowledge and inclination, we also look at how well these teams can understand our customers’ businesses and position Zendesk as a technological partner of value. We are a customer-oriented business, and these are all essential qualities embodied by our Go-To-Market teams.

No business, let alone sales and marketing teams, can afford not to be tech-savvy these days. In my opinion, the key to remaining ahead of the tech curve is to continually assess the tools in your shed, and invest in upgrades. For that, I give our team a solid nine as I don’t believe you can ever be perfect – there’s always room for improvement.

What are the dynamic elements driving your B2B sales revenue model? How do you execute Engagement Economy Vision, Strategy, Product and Corporate Development at Zendesk?

Simply put, customer expectations are rising and the onus is on companies and their key decision-makers to step up. At Zendesk, the roles of CIO and CMO are currently undergoing massive changes and evolving to become close-knit in order to make decisions quicker, especially since investments are now likely to be in place for only 1-3 years.

The most significant drivers of this change are the emergence of the public cloud, the need for agility and the boom in both collaborative tool-making organizations and machine learning.

As a result of these changes, our sales strategy is two-fold —

  • To support and invest in our high-flying customers while moving upmarket into the enterprise space
  • To foster relationships with our channel partners

Given our 50 percent year-on-year revenue growth for APAC, we are confident this is working.

To what extent do you rely on Sales coaching and training platforms to refine your expertise? Do you provide any sales coaching?

Regular sales coaching is vital and should be conducted regularly across all levels. Here at Zendesk, we invest in the personal and professional development of our staff by providing a well-rounded curriculum comprising both internal and external training. In traditional organizations, sales managers may oversee up to as many as eight direct reports for sales coaching and day-to-day operations, often diluting their attention and focus.

Our teams have adopted a pod model where the span of control is doubled for a sales manager, who can now easily oversee 16 direct reports. The schedules of the strategic account managers are freed from the day-to-day management so that they can focus on conducting performance-based sales coaching.

How do you think young sales professionals should train themselves to master sales automation, reporting, and intelligence tools?

Young professionals looking to fast-track their careers in sales should first undertake a sales graduate program offered by any of the major software players. These programs are tailored specifically to give fresh graduates an insider perspective of the sales function in a technology business, where they will have plenty of opportunities to learn about the selling process, from identifying leads through to the final negotiations, alongside corporate and technical consultation teams.

Aside from that, read as much as you can – books, blogs, anything you feel teaches or inspires you to be a better, more impactful salesperson. For example, I encourage my whole team to read Fred Reichheld’s The Ultimate Question 2.0.

In the book, he explains the power of asking customers one simple question, “Would you recommend us to a friend?” His position is that this question helps you identify detractors who sully your firm’s reputation and readily switch to competitors; promoters who generate profits and sustainable growth; and what the key drivers of each are. The book is also a fantastic resource on the origin and importance of Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and how big brands have been positively impacted by focusing on this metric.

How do you scout targeted accounts using Sales Intelligence suite?

We use them mainly to identify opportunities within industry verticals.

For example, when the Australian government kicked off its fiber broadband project, we quickly identified how we could help our customer MyRepublic, a major broadband service provider, make some waves in this new playing field.

To do this, we took advantage of key learnings gleaned from insights generated by our software’s data analytics to replicate the success of other customers in that space.

Since fiber networks were a commodity at the time, there was an urgent need for differentiation through seamless customer experience, which could then be scaled accordingly to help that customer stay ahead of the competition.

Which types of sales content do you leverage? Out of all marketing collateral, including whitepapers, brochures, ebooks, playbooks, case studies, webinars, research reports, and infographics, which resonates the most with your customers?

Our marketing mix across the region is highly varied,  and necessarily so, given the diversity and varying levels of brand awareness and maturity across our APAC markets.

For example, we have been in Australia for over seven years, in Singapore for around four years, and in India and Japan for just shy of two years. Therefore, we have to take a slightly different approach to build our marketing strategy and sales content for each market.

Omnichannel customer experiences follow an integrated approach for sales and marketing content, taking into account whether the activity is top-, middle- or bottom-of-funnel to determine impact and pipeline generation. Top-of-funnel activities include digital marketing, media relations, white-papers, ebooks, and blog content, while middle-of-funnel includes events such as webinars.

From a tactical standpoint, how often does your organization revisit the sales tech stack?

Every three years, we conduct an in-depth global review of the tools we use at Zendesk in order to remain up to date with the latest tech solutions across our global offices. However, our regional offices review tools on a much more regular basis to ensure local relevance in prospect identification and lead matching. For instance, ZoomInfo is a B2B contact database used by our US team because the contacts are very American.

How does the technology involved impact your customer building/partnership model?

We use our technology for omnichannel support to facilitate conversations with customers that flow seamlessly across channels. As a sales-driven organization, we understand the need for customer service software that is scalable and easy to implement and use.

A simple solution designed to deliver swift results and help grow and scale business operations of all sizes is crucial to supporting customer building and other partnership initiatives. After all, a company’s relationships with its customers, employees, and partners – and how these relationships are tracked – is critical to ensuring that customer needs are at the heart of every decision.

How do you see the technology you use impact the customer acquisition and success rate?

The baseline expectation is now convenience and frictionless transition across multiple customer channels. According to PWC, 73 percent of people say the customer experience is an essential factor when making purchasing decisions. This means a robust omnichannel strategy is crucial in addressing any disconnections, all while retaining the context of the interaction –- be it from human to mobile or from human to desktop. To stay up to date with consumer demands, we use the same technology that we sell to engage with our customers.

In today’s fast-moving business landscape, reliable and actionable customer data is critical for businesses to set themselves apart; with an engaging and effective customer experience, a company will receive greater success.

Do you see sales and marketing technologies unifying or evolving together to deliver higher ROI to CMOs?

Quite often we see business functions utilizing traditional, siloed customer data collection models where information is stored in multiple systems and used in isolation. This often translates to poorly tailored customer experiences, and, ultimately, poor return on investment for the business. An omnichannel strategy supported by intuitive customer service software addresses this by integrating and streamlining various customer touchpoints to help businesses collect valuable customer data on a common platform. Data is now accessible across internal teams, and these insights can be readily turned into meaningful customer engagements to boost retention and help foster new acquisitions.

Tag a person who you would like to feature in our interview —

Guy Kawasaki

Thank you, Sandie, for chatting with us about your sales roadmap at Zendesk!

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