This was a really exciting conversation for a lot of reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is that my guest, Debbie Dunnam, Corporate Vice President of Inside Sales at Microsoft, walks her talk. Her passion, enthusiasm, leadership, and authenticity shines through. In this post, I’ve summarized key highlights from my conversation with Debbie. Tune in to hear the entire interview!
How did you get started in sales, Debbie?
I always find it fascinating to learn how my guests end up in a career in sales. In Debbie’s case, she started in sales at General Motors selling auto parts to pay her way through college. Debbie then transitioned into technology sales with the help of a friend in the early days of the technology revolution. I can relate to Debbie’s story because I had started in an Inside Sales role in tech in the early 80’s too, and I never looked back.
Digital sales transformation requires a shift in mindset.
From Debbie’s point of view what customers want is an experience that is channel agnostic, extremely consistent and relevant – relevant to them. And, they want the experience to be on their terms, which means simplification, customization, available anytime. Buyers want a trusted partner that can guide them through a process, which means sellers and their managers have to shift from thinking about selling something to thinking about how to build relationships that lead to doing business together.
How do you go about making that mindset a reality in your own organization?
To make this a reality, Debbie said that it is important for sales organizations to do business with this new mindset at the forefront, but it is also important to transform management practices, policies, structure, end-to-end processes and think deeply about how to drive customer engagement that delivers the right kinds of results.
Debbie was quick to point out that the sales transformation also includes other departments like legal, finance, operations or HR, which means that everyone involved must commit to that mindset shift along the journey. Never forgetting that the most crucial part of the shift is your culture.
How should we be thinking about the role that culture plays in this 4th industrial revolution?
In this era of the 4th industrial revolution, it is a time of global economic and technology uncertainty that requires leaders to think much differently. It certainly is not about simply being tech savvy. In order to thrive in this new era, it means bringing everything – people and technology – together.
Debbie cited a Duke School of business study that said, 92% of CEO’s and CFO’s said improving company cultures would increase organizational value. Debbie noted that it was surprising in that this belief wasn’t coming from HR but from CEO’s and CFO’s, clearly demonstrating how important culture is to the business bottom line. Forbes also suggested that culture should be part of every company 2018 budget. Investing in culture must be a key priority for every business.
How do you build a culture of collaboration and trust with a workforce that is geographically dispersed?
Creating a culture of trust is what leads to building a foundation for innovation. That foundation is what leads to the digital sales transformation you seek. It requires real authenticity that leaders need to bring to the table. People in the organization must feel safe in bringing forth their ideas about how to innovate or do things differently. Without trust, your organization will not be able to innovate quickly enough to remain competitive. Debbie strongly believes that leadership is about creating a culture of autonomy, respect, encouragement, and appreciation that are the foundational values of the culture. Every employee should be able to see those values modeled consistently by all leaders they interact with every day.
What about geography?
With 8 sales centers, 22 languages supporting multiple time zones around the world, the team knew they needed to find a way to be sure that everyone in the inside sales organization felt connected and shared a strong sense of purpose. The approach they took was treating everyone like family. This connection and shared sense of purpose are reinforced in every way possible – email, town hall meetings, and Debbie believes in this philosophy so much that when new employees come on board she writes a handwritten note welcoming them to the team.
Through instant messaging, email, Yammer, employees can share good news and congratulate each other. Then in a beautiful accident, a member of the team ended a congratulatory communication with the hashtag #LoveThisTeam. It went viral inside the organization and has become a mantra for the team.
Diversity and inclusion is an increasingly important part of corporate culture today. How does this make a difference in your organization?
Debbie and her leaders have strived to create an environment where all employees feel accountable for constant improvement and empowered to make it happen. They value the business success and innovation that comes from embracing the diversity of thought, talent, and culture.
Inside Debbie’s organization, the team members are not checking the “diversity box”, they are actually embracing diversity each day. Teams from different parts of the world get together regularly to get to know each other personally. The value that comes from better understanding each of their teammates has led to greater success on the job. That value, of course, also translates into financial value for the business, as well as delivers a stronger customer experience because team members are able to better relate to the various customers they serve.
We know that Millennials are now the largest generational employee group and they bring unique perspectives to business. How do you go about inspiring and retaining this very different workforce?
Millennials participate in “reverse mentoring” programs so that everyone can learn from each other. This certainly requires putting biases aside about the different generations. Leveraging the diversity of thinking, ideas, and points of view lead to a more open culture of collaboration and trust. It also leads to a culture that fosters loyalty among team members.
You inspire and retain by appreciating the fact that what millennials want is to feel that they are making a difference, says Debbie. They want to be in meaning and impactful roles. They want to feel that the company is investing in helping them build their skills and career, and Debbie talked about an onboarding program they’ve created to demonstrate from the onset that Microsoft is vested in their success.
It is so important for leaders to be authentic and accountable. The Millennial generation, perhaps more than others, don’t tolerate a lack of integrity in leaders. Debbie says that it is important for leaders to remember that you won’t have all the answers, and don’t assume that younger workers can’t help you.
It was quite motivational and inspiring hearing from Debbie about how she and her team have worked together to build a wildly successful inside sales organization in the span of two short years!!
Listen to the interview HERE.
About Debbie Dunnam
Debbie Dunnam, Corporate Vice President of Inside Sales at Microsoft. Debbie is a proven technology industry leader with a track record of driving innovation, delivering revenue, and building strong, collaborative leadership teams. As an experienced sales, marketing, and operations strategist in some of the world’s foremost technology companies, Dunnam delivers deep insights into how to succeed in fast-paced, global, customer-driven businesses. Dunnam joined Microsoft in 2016 to drive the creation and acceleration of digital sales, enhancing and leveraging rich analytics and data through rapidly evolving omni-channel engagement platforms and models. Her approach to leadership encompasses three key principles of authenticity, diversity and accountability to deliver clarity, generate energy and enable success.
Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn.
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