Jeff Stiles

J StilesJeff Stiles leads the global solution marketing, customer insight, programs, and channel marketing teams for small and midsize business solutions at SAP. Jeff has also held key positions at Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Cognos Corporation. He is a  frequent panelist and presenter at corporate and industry events. Jeff holds a B.S. in Business Administration from California State University, Chico, majoring in Finance with a concentration in Economics.

What does focus mean to you and your organization?

To me, focus means prioritizing – almost ruthlessly – to stay engaged with the right  activities and make the right investments.

Where are you putting your focus now?

A In good times, you tend to spread your investment and make more investment at the top of the funnel on things like advertising, awareness, and perception‐based activities. But, in more challenging times, like those we’re facing in 2009, you look at pipeline acceleration and pipeline coverage as your primary targets or KPIs. Right now the measure of success is revenue. The mix of our investments is much closer to the transaction now, which means there are some activities we are simply foregoing to refocus on other things. Focus makes you invest in the basics that build the foundation for growth when it comes, and it will  come.

These are interesting times. How do you think they affect a company’s need and ability to focus?

Times like these give you the opportunity – the liberty, really – to reevaluate overall priorities and make some hard decisions about what you’re not going to do. They force you to refocus on the basics like customer value, which should be part of the DNA – part of the fabric – of everything the company does. If you’re not creating customer value, well, you probably don’t have a long‐term winning proposition.

Also in good times, you have the ability to test and try new things and make some bets. I don’t think we’re going to be in that situation for quite some time. We’re focusing on really practical execution. And that’s not a bad thing.

In many ways, this downturn is a catalyst for transformation within SAP. The lean times are helping us to look across our business and share best practices – to learn from and employ those approaches. I look at this economy as an opportunity to build a highly functioning team that can increase impact on the business. The good news is that, by doing so now, we’ll be prepared for growth when that is possible.

What was your decision process for determining your current focus?

In early October, I was in Russia with our global Small and Mid‐sized Enterprise (SME) field leadership team and the economy was in a freefall. The national stock market in Russia dropped 19 percent in one day. Interest rates for unsecured loans rose by something like 16 percent in one day. It became very apparent that it wasn’t business as usual. Those events forced us to focus on identifying actions and services that could have the maximum impact on generating pipeline and accelerating revenue.

We made a concerted decision right then to reduce the number of outbound marketing campaigns and focus more narrowly on what we could do to help our customers where they need it right now – things like helping them manage their liquidity and cash flow. We identified a whole series of solutions and, six days later, we were in market with something that we call ‘Best Run Now’. The situation forced us to quickly align on not just a sales acceleration program, but essentially, to reorient our whole go‐to‐market approach around packages that address specific business issues. It was the kind of pragmatic step we needed to take and it’s now a big part of what we’re doing in the company overall in terms of our go‐to‐market during 2009.

How do you communicate focus out to your team?

A clear and simple set of priorities is easier for people to focus on. You just can’t say it one time. I have a joint sales and marketing priorities slide that I use and reuse and reuse. It outlines our priorities in terms of where we’re going to 1) initiate investment, 2) continue to invest at a commensurate level with prior years, and 3) refocus our investments.

What are you hoping to drive – besides revenue – with your focused approach?

Reducing our cost per lead and improving conversion rates are also important. We’re introducing new  pipeline acceleration metrics this year because our marketing impact doesn’t just stop with generating leads. We need to help the sales team accelerate leads to a close as well.

How have you herded cats when the senior management team doesn’t agree on a direction and focus?

That’s the hardest part of my job. We’re dealing with 50 plus countries so getting them all to focus on a common set of a few priorities is absolutely critical. First, diplomacy matters. It sounds trite, but helping people get to a compromise is an art and a requirement in business. Getting there based on verifiable and agreed upon facts is also critically important. A large part of focus is agreeing on what needs to be done and the facts that will support any particular decision.

Finally, being explicit really matters. Asking, “What’s the governance structure going to be?” Everybody has a different idea. And, when you’re making decisions across multiple geographies, cultures and organizations, it can get complex really fast. The biggest thing is to have a common view of information so you’re not quibbling over whose facts are right in order to make decisions.

How do you confirm you are delivering value?

Well, if you have the luxury of having a market intelligence function, a customer intelligence function, and a competitive intelligence function, all three of them will tell you things and sometimes they’ll tell you different things. If you don’t have all three, talk to your customers and definitely talk to your sales people.

What’s your best advice for someone leading a business that needs to get focused?

A lot of companies lose their way because they lose focus on what is delivering value to customers. So first, look at your value proposition to the customer. Second look at your position in your market. Your position determines the way you go to market, the way you compete, and how you message to that marketplace. A lot of people don’t think explicitly about that.

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