April 24, 2013
This edition of sparks explores EMC’s customer engagement strategy. The executive featured in our Q&A is EMC’s Linda Connly, a respected leader in technology channel management.
EMC’s customer engagement strategy is “to deliver a more predictable interaction between EMC and customers, regardless of channel.” It’s a simple concept. Linda gave us some insights on how they are making it a practice.
Inside sales is a strategic asset.
Linda Connly, Senior Vice President of Global Inside Sales, EMC
In recent years, EMC has garnered plenty of positive recognition and press for its forward-thinking customer engagement strategy. What are your goals?
We define customer engagement this way: “always put our customers first and do what is right for the customer.” Our customer engagement strategy covers marketing, global accounts, enterprise sales, two mid-market sales teams, and the channel.
A key goal of the customer engagement strategy is to deliver a more predictable interaction between EMC and our customers, regardless of channel. Another goal is to ensure that our channels serve our customers profitably. We also have a goal of building a presence in the digital world to create better interlock between the customers’ pre-sales experience and their experience with the sales teams.
Tell us about how EMC’s customer engagement strategy has made an impact on your customers’ experience with the channel.
For one, we transformed into a more channel friendly company to drive better customer engagement. This was a significant departure from our heritage of selling multi-million dollar deals to huge customers through an outside, direct sales force. Now, we’re working effectively with multiple channels. Our revenue mix is north of 50% through channels. We have taken a number of steps to drive better relationships with the channel. For example, we changed our compensation on channel transactions to promote services to be sold by the channel partner. We also dedicated specific market segments to the channel in order to improve our reach and leverage.
I understand that your ratings for channel friendliness in CRM Magazine have increased dramatically in the last few years. What are the key reasons that this rating has skyrocketed?
Yes! We’ve been #1 in CRM Magazine for 3-4 years in a row. We have worked exceptionally hard to transform ourselves. There are really five drivers of the transformation. First, we’ve become more predictable to the channel. Second, we have clearly defined and followed rules of engagement with the channel. Third, we’ve invested in driving leads to the channel. Forth, we’ve improved the channel’s profitability associated with selling EMC products. Finally, we’ve effectively addressed sources of channel conflict, such as compensation. Overall, it’s about driving higher levels of trust. It’s about being authentic in how you work with your channel.
What’s a good example of how you built up that trust?
Gregg Ambulos, SVP of Global Channel Sales at EMC, started Partner Advisory Board and Council. It is comprised of about 20-25 of our channel leaders. We hold regular meetings to share our plans, test ideas, and ask for feedback formally. We report back to the board on changes that come from our interactions. We’ve found the only way to grow and improve is to be very open with negative and positive feedback. The feedback can be brutal at times, but it’s a great way to get know what’s working and not working. This collaboration and willingness to learn has really helped us improve.
Let’s switch gears. How did EMC’s inside sales strategy support your customer engagement goals?
In 2003, we launched an inside sales organization, starting with demand generation and lead generation. As the inside sales organization matured, we added sales support to their responsibilities. We then added shadow quota, meaning certain size transactions have a line of delineation between inside sales versus outside sales, but both teams are compensated to promote teamwork and leverage an inside/out selling model. Our inside sales organization is now at the most mature stage, but we continue to innovate to ensure we are operating a world class organization that consistently delivers value to EMC.
We have a three goals for the inside sales organization: one, to create massive demand for EMC; two, to create opportunities that lead to revenue with our channel; and, finally, to develop the next generation of sales leaders in the company.
That is noteworthy. Not all inside sales organizations are sales talent incubators for outside sales.
It is absolutely core to our strategy to feed outside sales with inside sales talent. Our sales leaders are more “plug-and-play” and they know how to work effectively with the channel. We also find that employees are more loyal when we incubate their careers from the inside. Our sales reps stay with us for at least 2-3 years before moving on to the field or they continue their career on the inside. We are fortunate to have high retention rates compared to other inside sales organizations due to our strong employee development programs, our career progression path, and our sales culture.
Can you speak to how you are responding to EMC customers’ self-education trends?
Customers are becoming more savvy and self-educated due to the massive amounts of information online. It is estimated that 60% of the sales cycle is complete before customers engage a manufacturer or partner. They go to web sites, blogs, customer reviews, analyst reports and, as a result, they ask sophisticated and specific questions of sales reps on our first touch. To respond to this self-education trend, we knew EMC had to have a better presence in the digital world.
We piloted an online chat program. Customers can “click to chat” with live agents. Often ready to buy, our customers request competitive information and ask questions about the value proposition or our product specifications. To respond to these inquiries, we equip strong agents with the most up-to-date information and training so that they can handle those requests and redirect the inquiry to the right resource when necessary. The customers really appreciate having high quality, real-time conversations.
Do you encourage development of individual personalities or do the inside sales team members stay tied to the “EMC” brand in social media?
Oh absolutely, we encourage our team members to be individuals. They blog as themselves. One of our most followed online personalities is Madison Mobley. She has a lot of expertise, especially in storage solutions, and she has attracted thousands of followers.
Does EMC have an inside marketing organization?
A while back, I worked with our CMO Jeremy Burton on a transformation to leverage our 700 inside sales people as a channel for marketing. As a first step, we created a global inside marketing function and set out to work closely with marketing. We ran a “backup and recovery” marketing campaign to 30,000 customers in 20 countries. This gave us the ability to blanket the market with a targeted campaign.
What’s your secret sauce in working with the marketing team to ensure the marketing and inside sales teams are as effective as they can be?
Like anything, a great working relationship is about addressing the pain points of the other party and driving alignment.
Our CMO, Jeremy Burton, is a thought-leader in the business. Marketing drives demand and brand awareness. Together, we worked out an approach we thought would drive higher success rates. We agreed that all leads would come to inside sales. To get buy-in to that, we promised Jeremy a 72-hour SLA on every marketing lead. In addition, we offered Inside Sales as a channel to incubate leads and test value propositions. Lastly, we provided the product teams the opportunity to sit ‘on the floor’ to gain input from customers directly, via Inside Sales. This is all very valuable to Jeremy.
Our time is about up. Do you have any parting words of wisdom?
I would reiterate that inside sales is a strategic asset for companies. As customer interactions change, companies need to adjust in order to better serve customers the way they want to be served vs. traditional methods. If companies think of inside sales more broadly and more openly, the opportunities truly are boundless. Inside sales is a constant touch-point with customers. It has the capacity for outreach that is efficient and immediate. Insides sales can be nimble. It can grow and change as markets change. We are using inside sales to help change the way we interact and serve our customers.
 Editor’s note: Join Madison Mobley’s 5,600+ followers at https://twitter.com/Build_A_Cloud