SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Del Humenik, Chief Revenue Officer at SEMrush

Launching a new product during an uncertain time caused by a global pandemic can serve up new business challenges, but at the same time, it can also teach some important marketing and sales lessons! Del Humenik, Chief Revenue Officer at SEMrush joins us in this interview to share a few thoughts on this while delving into the topic on every sales leader’s mind: ensuring business gains and business continuity despite the Covid-19 influenced downtime.

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Can you tell us a little about yourself Del?

For the last 20 years, my focus has been helping businesses build and execute their growth strategies to reach their full potential. Beginning my career in the print advertising industry, my teams helped leading directory publishers embrace change and transition into digital marketing companies. Drawing on this experience, I helped assemble teams that have led and expanded international sales and client engagement channels of 50 to 2,000 dedicated specialists.

Today, I’m happy to be a part of SEMrush as a Chief Revenue Officer. I’m currently leading efforts to align the growth strategy with present and future needs of marketing services providers.

It would be great to hear about SEMrush’s newest product – Traffic Jet: tell us the idea behind this and what problem it solves for marketing and sales?

When we first started exploring the automated advertising market, we found that there are just a few players capable of automating the whole process of paid traffic acquisition. Some tools only automate bids, whilst others only optimize ads, and you’ll need at least one more to match your ads to likely prospects.

To help businesses fully automate complicated advertising management processes, and save the time and resources for other important tasks, SEMrush has developed Traffic Jet – a place where you can create, manage, and test all your online ads in just a few clicks.

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Could you share some of the experiences/challenges/tips while launching a new product during a challenging economic time (due to the Covid-19) pandemic?

We completed the tool development and testing of Traffic Jet before the pandemic. Our first real challenge was deciding how and when to launch the tool given the uncertain environment. Considering the impacts of both internal and external conditions, we had to adapt quickly to new circumstances. There has never been a product launch during a pandemic, so we needed to learn and adapt as we progressed. There were no books or guidelines written about this pandemic – but if there were, I would have read them!

The main challenge for us was to adapt to the new environment we found both ourselves and our customers in. SEMrush operates across the globe, meaning we are located in numerous offices across various cities so we were accustomed with remote working via video conferencing. However, during a pandemic we are able to see through the lens of people’s personal lives clashing with their business lives, be it a bark from the friendly family pet or shrieks from newborn babies. Just like the rest of the world faced in this situation, we adapted quickly to our new environment and modified our marketing strategy to meet the new normal. Despite difficulties faced whilst working from home, during these challenging times my team still managed to complete 90% of the first month’s goals which is a testament to our strength and unity.

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What have been some of your other biggest business / sales challenges the last few weeks, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and could you please share some tips that helped you and your  team that other tech readers can learn from!

I believe the biggest challenge businesses had and may face in the future is remembering the key tenets of why you have been successful. One crucial element to remember is that success is about putting the customers’ needs first because in order to solve a problem you need to satisfy your clients. We at SEMrush always put our clients and employees first, and I’m not just talking about in theory… I mean in application too.

SEMrush has always offered flexible working hours and remote work opportunities. When the crisis hit, we provided our clients with COVID-19 relief, and we also financially supported employees’ families impacted directly by the virus. To show we stand in solidarity against institutionalised racism, systematic abuse and in an aim to stop deaths in custody – our CEO empowered employees to take action by selecting charitable organisations to support where SEMrush will double up donations. We are encouraged to interact with various team members across the globe, there are health and wellbeing programs offered, we are expected to attend various education courses of our choice – be it learning a language or new skill. There are psychology sessions available for those struggling or simply those who need to have a yarn. And it is not just about the SEMrush staff – we offer so much free content: be it SEMrush tools, courses, certificates, webinars, YouTube guides, blog posts, podcasts – all so people can boost their skills so good marketers can come out of any situation being great.

Given the current pandemic and Covid-19 impact on businesses, what have your observations been in terms of what tech providers need to do to most to focus on developing/providing features that can help global customers during this time?

We have seen several tech businesses provide new or existing features for free to support customer needs and also as marketing tactics to ensure they stay afloat during times of uncertainty. We too continued our free educational tools in order to support marketers across the world.

We observed that social media has become the core communication channel during these times of social distancing. With this in mind, during this challenging period, we at SEMrush opened free access to our social media and lead- generation products. We hope this data will let businesses jump straight into work when they’re ready to start expanding their client base again.

We also noticed that many people trying our product were new to SEO and SEMrush. With that in mind we doubled our onboarding staff and offered free personalized product instruction to all new registered users. We believe that our customers’ success is the foundation of our success.

How according to you, can technology marketers and sales teams capitalize on this so called ‘downtime’ best? What should their focus area be?

There’s no surprise that most entrepreneurs and businesses are struggling in the current environment, but every crisis offers opportunities, and this one is no different.

I think most would agree that this pandemic accelerated the digital curve in two ways. First it forced us to move many functions and operations online. Second it allowed us to learn that we could operate in a different environment. I am not sure we will ever go back ‘to the way it used to be’, and that’s not necessarily all bad.

Every company has times where they decide to turn a challenge into an opportunity. The term ‘down time’ did not really apply to us. We found ourselves busier and challenged to find solutions than ever before.

From a business perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic allows us to observe a new pattern of behavior in the business world: many businesses repurposed and diversified product portfolios with new items to respond to the current pandemic demand. For example, HomeDepot repurposed their production sites to produce thousands of respirator masks in addition to the core product line.

Uncertain times are opportunities for innovation and rethinking existing ways to do business. For example, during the launch of Traffic Jet, we observed that some businesses decreased their marketing budget, and at the same time managed to optimize their paid traffic campaigns and still get great results. When money is finite, it is amazing how you find ways to optimize.

I believe that businesses should focus more on the automation process and AI implementation in order to save time and resources for other important and strategic tasks.

In your time in technology sales, how have you seen the role of the tech sales person evolve? How do you feel that the impact of salestech has inspired this change in the way sales teams now approach their role?

Technology sales is evolving for the better. In the beginning people focused on how technology worked and how smart and creative we were. Today our sales people are more focused on what problem we are solving than on how our technology works. Don’t get me wrong, the how is still important, but it comes after the why. Sales engineers have played an important role that allows the salesperson to understand the need and pass implementation off to a true specialist.

Sales technology and CRM management is the rage for sure. As a sales leader I recommend not getting lost in the output, and remember you have a better chance of changing the output in front of your team, than in front of your screen. Data is essential and an important part of performance management. I believe it is better used to help influence a persons’ approach, than to point our variances to trends or norms. I love the call recording technology we employ, it is a great opportunity to find someone doing something right and guide those who have fallen off the tracks.

Technology that allows you to optimize the sales funnel is an essential part of managing a high volume sales channel and offers great insight into sales cycle management.

Given the current pandemic, what do you feel are the top qualities that every sales person and sales leader in tech needs to focus on more today?

I really believe the qualities of a great salesperson and a great company are aligned. Take care of your clients business needs by offering them a way to optimize their time and resources. Take the wasted time and money out of their way so they can creatively address their business, and yes, personal issues that are unique today. Be the partner they need. It is important to realize that your pipeline may not close on the original timeline, but if you are not adjusting to your clients needs…. it will never close. Having experienced recessions before has taught me that people have long memories. They will remember who you were when they needed you the most. Happy meetings and great deals will pale to the impact of genuine client focus.

How do you see the rest of the year play out when it comes to technology sales and marketing and how they will be forced to rethink their tech stack, their objectives and the way they plan to function (given the Covid19 situation).

 There is a lot in this question. It all starts from what we have learned from this current situation. The worst thing we can do is be too eager to go back to the way it was. I hope people are measuring everything in their operations today and are willing to challenge long standing institutional beliefs. How you adapt your strategy is dependent on what you have learned. We have learned that our people can perform well in a work at home environment. This impacted our hiring strategy to be less dependent on geography and has opened many regions to recruiting we thought were out of our reach. Our stack did not have to change because we shifted early to a system that allowed seamless work location options. We implemented a call recording system that allows for transcription and search of common questions and challenges to our approach. People have adjusted to working from home and at times I find it more comfortable and quieter at home than in my office. Sales objectives are too subjective to discuss, so I will just say, if you want to keep the best you need to treat them right all the time.

As a tech sales leader, in a challenging environment due to the Covid19 pandemic: what are some of the ways in which you enable a balanced remote work culture while maintaining motivation levels?!

At SEMrush, we follow the rule “Take good care of your employees so they can take good care of your customers.”

Businesses must ensure a safe and supportive environment for their employees. They should understand the information and resources they need to do their work, while empowering them to succeed and feel productive.

We’ve provided our employees with all the necessary equipment so that they can work from home in the most comfortable way (organized delivery of office chairs and tables on demand, provided with masks and sanitizers). We also organize remote online sports classes, yoga and stretching, health lectures, and provide mental health services for our employees.

Learn to give people a break and understand that not all situations are the same. Motivation is an individual thing and finding that “one thing” is an art more than a science.  Measure performance and stay ahead of negative trends. Engage early to see how you can help your employees. Our initial approach was to create a company that would never want to leave and would recommend to your friends, that is a job you will fight to keep.

As businesses start to reopen, the threat of Covid-19 still remains: what would you share in general with the global workforce because of this?

With the rest of the world, we’ve switched to online and ensured the maximum safety of our employees. We’ve cancelled all business trips and events until the situation stabilizes. As I mentioned before, SEMrush’s structure and workforce were mostly prepared for such changes, and we are still trying to deliver outstanding digital experiences and encourage loyalty.

Your favorite Sales/SalesTech  quote and sales leadership books you’d suggest everyone in tech Sales reads

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors and if you’re going to check him out start with reading ‘Blink’. I am more fond of reading blogs about technology than books. Blogs seem to be more relevant and are less time consuming.

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Why will sales and marketing leaders need to help their teams find new skills in 2021? Find out here on the SalesStar Podcast where leading tech sales executives share their insights!

SEMrush

SEMrush is a SaaS product used by over 6,000,000 marketers worldwide. For the past 11 years, SEMrush has grown into an all-in-one marketing suite consisting of more than 40 tools and reports that help companies market better online. On top of being one of the best keyword research tools worldwide, SEMrush now helps users fix technical website issues, improve the health of their backlink profile, and track local rankings on both mobile and desktop. Marketers can easily spot opportunities they are missing compared to their rivals and get ideas for their SEO, PPC, and content marketing campaigns.

Del is the Chief Revenue Officer at SEMrush and has led the sales expansion internationally by growing sales channels from 50 to 2,000, with the help of a dream team!