Episode 211: Anthony Tripyear on Driving Alignment to Improve Customer Centricity

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today I’m excited to have Anthony Tripyear from StarTech.com join us. Anthony, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Anthony Tripyear: Thank you. My name is Anthony, I’m 42 years old, I live in the UK with my wife and three-year-old daughter. I have worked in the IT industry pretty much my whole career but my background is actually modern languages. I did a degree in French and German and my first role was working as a translator basically for a large IT reseller in Germany. I used to translate their product catalog into English, did other translation work for them, and then from there I moved into a role in project management and procurement which started to take me internationally and I’ve really worked internationally ever since. I have worked in quite a few different countries for them and set up new offices for them in new markets. Back in 2010 I moved back to the UK, started working at Startech.com in 2014 as sales director and now I’m the director of sales operations and sales enablement. Basically, I’m accountable for our global channel marketing, and how we invest in business development across our network of distributors and channel partners and I manage a team of global sales professionals as well.

Just briefly Startech.com is a Canadian manufacturer of hard-to-find connectivity products. We’ve been around for 35 years. We like to say that we’re the IT professionals trusted source for performance, connectivity, and accessories. Basically, we’re a B2B company, we make Products that connect one device to another, we make docking stations, and we make cables and adapters. We also make racks, we make a whole variety of stuff. We’ve got about 3000 products. About 80% of the Fortune 500 uses our products and one thing that we’re really proud of, we’re on the Deloitte 50 best-managed companies list this year, so we’re a platinum member, this is the 12th successive year that we’ve been on that list as well. That was announced fairly recently and we’re really, really proud of that.

SS: That’s amazing. Well, thank you Anthony for sharing that. Now, in addition to the items that you mentioned just now on LinkedIn, you mentioned that you are also responsible for ensuring the alignment of sales and market development activities. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges of driving this alignment?

AT: That’s a great question. For us specifically, we’re a global business, so we’re in over 20 countries, we’ve got over 3000 products, so we’ve got lots of moving parts. Some of the challenges as I see them are really being relevant to our local markets and developing programs that scale, but also being really where our customer needs us to be. One thing to highlight with us as well is that our sales model is quite different from the majority and that our models are a pull model. It’s very relationship-focused. We sell to a restricted number of distributors, they sell to a large number of resellers who then sell to our end users, and our job really is to enable sales at each stage of the value chain. For us, having really good customer understanding is at the heart of what we do. We’re a customer-centric business. We challenge ourselves to always understand our customers understand the markets in which we operate as well. I think sometimes we’re guilty of thinking we understand our customers, but do we really understand them, and to do that one thing that’s really integral is listening to our sales team. So creating that alignment, listening to our sales team, and getting that feedback from them and from our customers is really important and that’s one of the challenges that we have.

I think one risk that would highlight as well in that is that we often say, ‘think global act local’ and that has long been a part of what we do and our strategy, but I think it’s really tempting for companies to ignore the views of their customers in local markets when they’re focused more on achieving operational efficiency. I think, especially now, when we’re arguably coming out of the pandemic, I think during the pandemic, and even now with some of the product shortages that we’re seeing globally, customers tended to buy what was available rather than what was really best aligned with their needs. I think that’s skewed demand and I think that skewed the future view of demand potentially as well. Moving out of the pandemic we risk not being aligned with our customer’s requirements. I think we’ve got to really challenge ourselves to double down on customer understanding and again, I think that starts with the alignment with sales and that’s one thing that we really, really need to get right, putting the customer at the heart of what we do, aligning with our sales team.

The third and final thing that I’ll just mention there as well, it was a challenge that we have as a global business has a global company strategy that’s consistent and behind which everyone can align themselves and having that really clear and having it across the whole business, but still being able to execute in a way that’s relevant for the local markets, I think that is really essential to what we do.

SS: Absolutely. Now you went through some of the challenges, but how do you go about overcoming those to ensure that sales and market development initiatives are effective and scalable?

AT: That’s a really good question. If I think about what we’ve done with our experience, I mean we’ve basically made it so we’re all trying to achieve the same thing. Alignment, consistency, understanding the customer, I mentioned the strategy that’s really fundamental to what we do is aligning around the strategy. What are we actually trying to accomplish, how we’ve overcome that is really, yeah, just making it really super clear what our company strategy is and making that so simple and easily digestible for everybody that everyone can get behind it. I think about our business, everybody in our business can articulate what our strategy is. It’s really clear, it’s reinforced frequently and it’s very, very clearly communicated. I can’t remember which book it was, it was Patrick Letzion, I think it was the advantage where he wrote about creating clarity and over-communicating clarity and that’s really what we’re trying to do with the strategy is to make sure that is so clear that everybody can line up behind that. Then it has to be consistent as well.

So, again, we’re a global business being consistent is what’s allowing us to scale. If we’re developing programs for France or Japan or North America, we’ve got the same approach in that we’re aligned behind the same strategy and we understand how we deliver value to customers, aligning KPIs as well, so we’re all pulling in the same direction and aligning around accountabilities. One thing that I think is really, really important is that we try to execute in a way that’s really relevant for our customers and relevant for our local market. So our strategy is consistent, but the way in which we execute that strategy locally is nuanced. We’ve got global sales teams who are market experts, we’ve invested in local resources, we’ve empowered them and I think that’s really the key to this is having that sort of empowering and trusting leadership and having clear accountabilities so everybody knows what they’re accountable for and effectively what their sandbox is.

So people are clear on what their accountabilities are, they’re clear on the sandbox that they’re playing in and they can then they can go off and execute then they know exactly what they’re able to do. They can execute our strategy locally in a way that’s relevant for their customers and relevant for the market and that’s what makes it effective and that’s what makes our strategy scalable, but that’s also what’s making the job enjoyable as well is that it’s really clear what we’re accountable for, but we’re given the freedom to execute on that and that’s what’s really helped us. I think as well that if we’ve got that in region resource and we engage people in the region when we’re building go-to-market plans when we’re looking at how we execute locally on strategy, then that’s instrumental and that’s instrumental has been able to execute effectively.

SS: Phenomenal. Now, who are some of the key stakeholders, Anthony, that you partner with to drive this alignment, and what are your best practices for building collaborative relationships with those stakeholders?

AT: This is an interesting one. I report to the president, so I align with him on pretty much everything. The strategy comes from him and I basically build functional plans and find ways of executing that strategy. Until we’re in alignment, nothing much can happen in my world, because I need that direction, so I have to align with my boss basically there. Then I mentioned earlier, this concept of the sandbox and that’s really important. So for me personally, I know really well what I’m accountable for and what I’m not accountable for. I’ve got a great picture of who gets a say when it comes to what I do. Basically when I’m executing, who gets a seat on the table and who has an opinion and who has input into that and I think that’s really often overlooked having those clear accountabilities and knowing the area for which you’re accountable your sandbox, I think that’s really empowering and that’s quite often overlooked. I think that’s really important when building a collaborative relationship with internal stakeholders and of people with whom you collaborate. It’s understanding where your own accountability starts and finishes, but also knowing what the accountabilities of others are.

I have to align with a whole bunch of people to do my job and build those functional plans and that includes my colleagues in sales, so sales VP, my peers in marketing, product management, digital merchandising, and then other key people across the business, but then equally important I have my direct reports in full alignment and also the people and culture play a big part in what I do as well.

There’s a whole bunch of sort of cross-functional alignment that has to be managed and this is something that I think is really key because and again, on a practical note, for me personally, I’ve been working remotely for the best part of 10 years, so my head offices in Canada, many of my colleagues have sort of thrown around the globe, so I’m used to doing all this in a remote environment and I think that kind of remote to a hybrid workplace is something that many people are new to. My tip for this is really simple actually, but it’s just that you need to be really proactive. I think as a remote worker or someone who’s got an international team or if you’ve got a bunch of colleagues that all sit together in one room in an office somewhere and you’re the one remote person or if everybody’s remote, I think you really need to go out of your way to be visible. I think to do this collaboratively with our stakeholders, you need to approach them, go to them and solicit input, ask questions, and find out what’s important to them as well, as what’s important to their business. How can you add value to their business? Most people are usually really happy to give you their time, especially when you’re asking for their opinion on something or you’re inviting them to talk about what’s important to them but take some time to understand that and understand their KPIs and their motivations, but also take time to understand how you can impact them and their business positively as well.

When building that collaborative relationship, I think it’s incumbent on you to go out of your way to really engage with people in a meaningful way, but then what also is equally critical to that is closing the loop. Once you’ve got that you’ve built your plan, you’re adding value, then show them that you’re adding value as well by demonstrating how the input from your stakeholders actually influenced your approach. Tell them how they helped you and show how your approach with their input is now adding value to them. I think there’s a definite approach that needs to be taken when trying to drive that kind of alignment and I think it needs dedicated effort, especially in the current environment where many people are remote.

SS: Absolutely, absolutely. Now let’s actually trickle down a little bit. From your experience, how does this alignment also help to improve the experience for your reps, and from your perspective, how can it help make them more efficient and effective in the roles?

AT: Our reps work according to the functional plans that we are constructing. So the better those plans are, the more effective they can be as well. They are aligned with our strategy, the strategy is really the North Star for them, they understand their accountability, so they understand their sandbox and what they’re empowered to do. You put all that together and it kind of gives them a lot of the tools that they need to really be empowered when they go ahead and execute in the market. I mentioned earlier our business is very relationship focused. So for our reps in particular for they to have a very clear view of what they are accountable for, and what others are accountable for, which enables them to focus on key relationships with their partners, and add value to them, but then they are the ones that engage subject matter experts where necessary. So I always say that our reps are kind of like the conductor of an orchestra, so when looking at the relationship with a partner, they’re the ones who are really orchestrating that. They set the pace, they engage other departments, other teams, they facilitate expert-to-expert communication, they delegate, but they’re the ones that are holding the baton, they’re the ones that are empowered to really, like I said, orchestrate that relationship, again, because they’re very clear on what their role is and they are very clear on what the role of others is.

So, being empowered in that way really helps to drive execution and it gives them the freedom to also execute in a way that’s relevant to their partners and customers that is relevant to their markets. It helps them to take the strategy and nuance it in a way that makes it relevant for the people that they’re dealing with. They can find ways of adding value that is very specific to their partners because they’ve got a very well-grounded understanding of what’s important to them. One of the things to touch on is that being aligned at my level and when creating functional plans means that our reps have the tools that they need to execute in the field. From a product perspective, they understand very well what products are being promoted to, which partners, what the USPs of those products are from a marketing standpoint, they’ve got the tools that they need to engage with their partners, and they’ve got supporting material and collateral, from a commercial standpoint they understand terms and have a very clear about budgets. They’ve got everything they need in their kit bag to go ahead and execute effectively.

I mean reps are our customer market experts and they’re really essential to our success. I said earlier if they’re engaged when we’re building the functional plans and if they’re aligned as an in-region resource, they become really instrumental. Then we can execute locally and we can execute in a way that adds the most value to our customers and also makes their job more enjoyable as well.

SS: Absolutely. On the other side, how does that alignment help improve the customer experience?

AT: Basically everything that we do starts with the customer. We have an understanding of needs that are customer-based, really not product based. We focus on the customer, we focus on how we can add value to our customer beyond the product, so that’s core to what we do and core to how we execute because it directly impacts the customer. The other thing is we’re a B2B company, so we operate a customer segmentation model so that we can understand how we can best serve the needs of each customer group. Having that foundation of customer understanding helps us to do that, and that in turn improves the customer experience. I mentioned a little earlier that alignment and a really well understanding of our customer allow us to tailor the approach locally when we’re delivering global programs, so how we execute in a way that’s relevant to our target customer, and without that everything else falls down basically. It has a very direct and very big impact on our customers.

SS: Absolutely. Now, last question for you, Anthony, what is the business impact that you’ve seen when it comes to alignment between sales and market development and how do you go about tracking this progress?

AT: It allows us to align behind one vision. Having a consistent and coherent strategy allows us to execute effectively. We can articulate the value that we had really clearly at each stage of the value chain, basically, because we’ve got a really good understanding of what’s important to our customers. One example that I’m thinking of is a couple of years ago we entered a new market segment. First, it was really uncharted territory. We were basically being told that we needed to be in that area for our customers. We did our research and entered into that segment and we partnered with an exciting new partner. We spent a lot of time understanding their business and trying to understand the market. We started off with them and things were going pretty well on paper, but knowing their business and knowing our shared wall with their business, we knew that we were just scratching the surface. We engage really well with them at some levels, but we found it really hard to engage with their marketing, for example, so we focused our sales team on building a relationship in different areas of the business. We found there was a product marketing team, so our sales team made contact with them. They got in contact with that team and they facilitated and were introduced to our product information team. So those two experts were talking to each other.

Through that, they understood how we were trying to make it easy for them in a way that we do for other partners, but we’re actually making their lives more difficult in the process. Having that alignment with sales and product information facilitated that conversation and we understood more clearly what was important to them. Then we were able to engage our channel marketing team and market development teams to specifically develop a program in collaboration with the partner in an area of the business we just didn’t have access to previously and that directly involved that team. Having KPIs aligned, strategy aligned, and customer understanding aligned again is instrumental to us executing properly on that.

Aligning around expectations allowed us to free up the budget for that project and also understanding what was important in a very specific way for that partner helped us to positively impact their KPIs. It was one of those really nice moments where you can plot very easily on a graph where at what point we did that basic revenue doubled pretty much overnight and has carried on to developing incredibly well. It’s like with each door that we’ve opened in that way, marketing, inventory, product, logistics, you can see basically like a step change in the business that we do with that partner. That all started out with our sales team being aligned so for us that was a massive success story and just again having everybody pulling in the same direction and having that alignment really enabled that to happen. From a market development perspective, we track pretty normal stuff I suppose. Revenue, customer accounts, that kind of thing, but we’re a customer-centric business like I said, so we try to venture beyond just purely product-based metrics. We measure customer satisfaction daily. We measure customer loyalty and you know, through getting to the root of what customer loyalty is we can basically segment more effectively and serve those customers even better and further our customer understanding.

One thing I found really interesting and I mentioned having that alignment and having KPIs that are aligned as well and aligned to outcomes, I was chatting with a colleague this morning and he was telling me about a friend of his who works for the Mercedes F1 racing team and moved there a few years ago. He mentioned that everybody involved in that business, we’re talking about mechanics, test drivers, engineers, IT technicians, catering staff, everybody who’s involved in that business, everyone has the same KPI and that is where their lead driver finishes in each race. So like they might have other KPIs as well, but absolutely everybody in that business shares that one KPI. I think that’s kind of what we’re really trying to do here as well, is really align behind the needs of the customer, understand the customer, and be able to execute in a way that’s going to add value and be relevant to them locally.

SS: I’ve loved this conversation. Thank you so much.

AT: Thank you.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know we’d love to hear from you.

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