SalesTechStar Interview with Nicole Kealey, Chief Strategy Officer at Alida
2020 has been an eventful year, especially more so for the B2B tech marketplace: Nicole Kealey, Chief Strategy Officer at Alida joins us to share a few top trends that shaped this segment through the year while diving into her journey in tech.
Hi Nicole, welcome to SalesTechStar! We’d love to hear about your journey, your time at SAP / Adobe…how have these experiences shaped key leadership skills for you?
I’ve been fortunate to have some great experiences throughout my career. I spent almost 13 years at Adobe, leading their enterprise and B2B go-to-market, and then working at SAP in a variety of roles primarily focused on industry marketing. The lessons I have taken away from these two companies have shaped my leadership skills today.
A key lesson is to recognize and understand that everything a business does needs to be informed by an obsession with customers. At every point in the day, at every meeting and decision, we need to always ask ourselves what our customers need and want from us not only today, but also in 6 months and in 12 months. At Alida, we are very committed to listening to our customers when shaping our leadership decisions so we can help our clients better understand what their customers need from them.
Another important leadership trait I pay particular attention to is in creating diverse and inclusive teams. The more different approaches, points of view, backgrounds and experiences you can bring to the team, the better and more powerful and effective the team. Diversity and inclusion are practices that I have tried to emulate and celebrate in all the teams I have led.
Lastly, as a marketing leader, it is essential to reinforce the fact that marketing is a strategic function. Marketing needs to be more than just the coordination of events or other such tactics (which are important of course, but need to be part of an integrated strategy). In many cases, other areas in an organization are less familiar with the role of marketing and don’t always understand or appreciate the strategic importance of the marketing function. Marketing encompasses setting a go-to-market strategy, identifying target customers or target buyer personas, being able to craft – and validate – messaging that will be relevant to those profiles, and then delivering marketing campaigns that ultimately drive pipeline and revenue.
We’d love to dive into Alida’s journey in 2020; you joined earlier in the year- how did the Covid-19 pandemic force a change in core strategies and plans if at all / what did the team have to do to adjust to the new normal during this time?
2020 has been a fascinating year for sure. I joined Alida in January 2020 as part of a leadership refresh that the Board was in the process of implementing. It included a new CEO, a new President of Products, a new COO, and myself coming in to lead strategy and marketing. This was being done to pivot the company from its traditional roots as a leading provider of digital insight communities to building leadership in Customer Experience Management (CXM). As part of this change, we certainly didn’t want to abandon our 20-year heritage and DNA, but we also knew that we needed to make some bold moves to cement our position as a CXM vendor.
When the pandemic hit, we were still in the middle of our strategic planning process. Realizing that COVID-19 was evidently going to impact every one of our lives in a major way, we had to pivot our plans in several ways. First and foremost, we had to make sure our employees were okay and that they felt safe, supported, and empowered to work productively from home. As a team, we were able to adjust quickly and efficiently to working in a remote and virtual setting. We made it a priority to remain connected to every employee by checking-in on a regular basis to see that they had everything they needed to feel supported. We also instituted Friday afternoon social hours and a series of Zoom-based opportunities to connect with each other.
On the business side of things, we needed to revisit our 2021 and three-year strategies to figure out the projects we wanted to advance and the ones we wanted to slow down. For example, we made a bold decision to accelerate our product innovation agenda and proceed with rebranding the company from Vision Critical to Alida. We worked on and launched our new brand during the pandemic and the results so far have been really astounding. We also had to quickly figure out how to supplement the demand we’d planned to get from third party events, which were now not possible anymore. This kind of balancing exercise was one that we were able to do very quickly and effectively, selecting a few key initiatives that needed to be front and center for the remainder of the year.
As I reflect on the last few months, as challenging as it has been, I’m inspired by some of the silver linings that we were able to benefit from in 2020. Being a technology company allowed us to veer easily. As people were no longer hopping on planes or trains to attend conferences and customer meetings, we were able to get an immense amount of work done in a shorter period of time.
What are some of the changing trends in enterprise sales today that you see creating a shift in typical sales processes/strategies?
There are three changing trends in enterprise sales today that I would like to touch on:
- Methods of selling: Looking at how traditional technology selling and marketing has evolved, around 15 years ago marketers and salespeople were extremely focused on feature-selling, or even solution-selling. Today we are entering the phase of value-based selling. This focuses on the value of the solution and how the solution is going to deliver business outcomes to the client organization rather than just saying we can increase revenue by how much and when. Determining how we are going to quantify the value of the outcomes that our solution can enable is going to be important.
- Expanded customer base: A change which I am quite personally excited about is we are no longer just selling to IT. As critical as IT is and needs to continue to be to any technology investment decision, it’s become increasingly important to include business buyers in that decision. From a marketing perspective, it’s essential to have both technical and business-value messaging to address the different buying centers within an organization. This will ensure that you stay relevant to your customers.
- Subscriptions: In our world of software as a service (SaaS), where our clients renew their subscription to our platform every 3 or 5 years, the barriers to entry and exit are different than in an on-premise software environment. It’s imperative that we focus on customer success, loyalty and satisfaction because a client can leave more easily than they could in the past.
In the last few months; how have you seen sales and marketing leaders respond to the global pandemic innovatively; can you talk about some interesting campaigns / strategies (what brands did) that you came across?
Organizations, in the last few months, have come to realize now more than ever that it’s essential to keep a pulse on what their customers need from them by receiving feedback and insights from them on a regular, and rapid, basis. Companies that were doing this already were able to pivot exceptionally well once the pandemic hit.
For instance, a major clothing manufacturer and retailer in the United States, early in the pandemic asked their customers what they wanted. In a matter of hours, their customers informed them to do two things: take care of their employees, and start making masks. They immediately made changes to their business to demonstrate to their customers that they were listening to their feedback and were acting on it. The customer response was really positive. As a result of their agility in listening and responding to how the world changed and how their customers’ needs changed, this retailer was able to seize new opportunities and create customer loyalty.
In what ways are you seeing the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic drive a change in typical technology sales and marketing and B2B processes?
There are several ways the pandemic has driven a change in these processes, namely:
Acceleration of digital transformation: Organizations need to figure out how better to service their stakeholders through digital channels. At the end of the day, this is great as people now have more options in choosing how they want to interact with a product or a service. Companies are also beginning to understand the strategic importance of having timely customer insights. As things are changing from one minute to the next, data that we have on what our customers wanted in April is no longer relevant in October. There needs to be continuous effort to stay on top of those customers’ needs and wants.
Building relationships: Going digital also poses its challenges. It’s certainly more difficult to build new relationships virtually with employees, new and prospective customers, and partners. We no longer have that water cooler time to get to know individuals on a more personal level. We now have to rely on tools like Zoom to create and maintain connections.
Accessibility: It’s been interesting to see that going 100% virtual has created more accessible opportunities for a greater portion of the population, whether these opportunities are in sales, employment in or in generating revenue. People in different geographic locations now have a level playing field to contend with others who were previously at an advantage. You no longer have to be in major metropolitan cities to be relevant. It’s now much easier to access and engage with each other virtually.
Consumption of information: There is an interesting pattern on how people are now actively consuming information, leading to a rise in learning and education. They are interested in learning and building their skills, whether it’s through virtual events or digital content mediums. From a sales and marketing standpoint, this can be counter-intuitive. Just because an individual wants to learn about your solutions doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready to buy it today. As marketers, we need to understand that it’s still a great deal if someone is interested in learning about our technology or solution. It’s important to learn how to read the signals and respond in kind when a person is interested in just educating themselves for the time being.
How do you see sales and marketing playing out (in terms of a shift in role and changes in salestech / martech adoption) in 2021?
In my opinion, 2021 is going to be similar to what we are seeing in 2020. We are unlikely to witness ourselves going back to a physical, in-person world in any major way. Digital and virtual environments will continue to reign and we will need to think of ways to keep our teams, customers, prospects and various stakeholders engaged in that virtual existence.
What are some of the biggest takeaways that strategy leaders should keep in mind as they look ahead to pick up business pace and plan for 2021?
As a strategy leader, you need to first ask yourself how to make the business essential for your customers. With our constantly changing environment, it’s critical for companies to understand what their customers’ needs and wants right now are for them to deliver the most benefit to them. How organizations prove their essentiality to their customers is going to separate the ones who succeed from the ones who fail. To be successful, it’s crucial to listen to what your customers are saying they need and figure out how to meet those needs in a rapid manner.
Secondly, you must be resilient. You need to be able to create processes and themes that will help your organization to handle challenges. Now is the time to embrace the fact that transformation is part of our new normal and ensure that your organization can absorb these changes. As an example, retailers who were quickly able to adopt curbside pick-up or providers who were able to dispense more affordable experiences for patients suffering financial hardships during the pandemic, were the ones who managed to survive. At the end of the day, it comes down to finding ways to continue meeting your customers’ needs even if you can’t do it the way you were doing it before.
Lastly, you need to be agile. Never before 2020 have we seen the extent to which our entire planet can change from one day to the next. Leaders often don’t struggle because they made the right decisions, but because they don’t make decisions fast enough. We shouldn’t focus on making the perfect decisions. Instead, we should be proactive and act fast. If we don’t get it perfect, we can always rotate and evolve. This is the time for us to take risks even though we feel that it may add more uncertainty. Whether it’s shaping your products, marketing campaigns or customer journeys, it’s time for organizations to act now because their competition won’t wait for them.
Five (sales/marketing) management best practices you’d share with every tech business leader?
My top five marketing management best practices are:
- Remember that everything starts and ends with the customer, always
It’s important to know your customers, understand that their needs are changing and stay on top of engaging with them regularly. Make the changes required to be relevant, essential, and credible to your customers.
- Be empathetic and authentic
At the end of the day, we are all humans trying to get by just like anyone else. Remember that while we all have business responsibilities and obligations, we also have other personal things going on that need our attention. Be aware of the needs of your employees, colleagues and customers and treat each other with empathy and respect.
- Stay consistent to your customers
As much as you might need to pivot half way through the quarter to a different market segment, geographic region or a way of doing business, find those things that are going to remain consistent with your brand. Be consistent in the experiences you deliver to your customers. Celebrate your company’s foundational elements so your customers can feel that are still dealing with the same but more agile organization.
- Look at an integrated go-to-market
This applies to both sales and marketing. It’s no longer enough to just make sure you have a great paid media strategy, an amazing event strategy or a good business development and inside sales process. You need to ensure that all these things are working together in an integrated way to help you deliver value to your customers and meet your organization’s business objectives.
- Embrace digital
This is a new world and digital is now the reigning king. If you haven’t embraced digital, you need to do it immediately. It’s going to become more essential for us to be able to acquire customers, gain their loyalty and conduct ongoing business using digital means.
- Remember that everything starts and ends with the customer, always
Read More: Getting your Firmographics Right!
A parting thought on your biggest marketing/sales/ leadership goof-up and the learning that came from it!
This is one that’s recent and relevant to the journey we have been on at Alida this year. As I mentioned before, we rebranded the company in September 2020. Before we launched our new brand, there was a fairly significant period of time, around 10 or 12 weeks, where our brand was kept confidential except to a very small number of executives and leaders on the marketing team. I was on a Zoom conference call with some external participants and went to share my screen. Lo and behold, it opened to a confidential document on my extended monitor screen that had our Alida name and logo all over it. I ended up showing people something that they shouldn’t have seen for several weeks! Thankfully, I was able to pivot quickly. Come to think of it, who hasn’t had a Zoom moment this year? I’m just glad this one was fairly innocuous.
Improving Marketing and Sales Alignment, Adjusting to the New Normal and Scaling Business Growth Despite Covid-19, catch more in these conversations with experts from JotForm, Xactly, Demandbase!