How I Buy – Stuart Edwards, VP Global Communications, Sungard Availability Services
After a great interaction on our original #HowIBuy article, I ended up chatting with Stuart Edwards on how he buys. What stuck out to me was both his deep understanding of what it takes to drive revenue for Sungard Availability Services, and his brilliant (and very British) wit on the topic.
It’s extremely interesting to see the perspective of a much larger organization selling to CIOs. Many of the #HowIBuy conversations have been with executives at much smaller and earlier stage companies, so the creativity and need to push the envelope that came through in this conversation with Stuart was both interesting and refreshing.
Here is Stuart’s perspective:
Great to be talking Stuart, let’s start off with a bit about Sungard Availability Services to set the context of the kind of organization that you’re part of.
Sungard Availability Services is a leading provider of information availability delivered through managed IT, cloud and recovery services. We pioneered the concept of disaster recovery back in 1978, and since then have evolved our mission critical solutions to encompass cloud, hosting, advanced disaster recovery services and consulting services that support all of the above.
To put our processes in context with respect to size, we’re a big organization, with well over a billion in revenues, and operations across North America, Europe and India.
And within Sungard AS, what is your role and what do you and your team generally spend money on throughout a year?
As the VP of Global Marketing Communications, my purview and spend fall mainly into two buckets; demand generation and digital. Within those buckets there are many smaller components of spend from direct comms, marketing nurture, ad spend, sponsorships and SEM all the way through to data purchases, data quality, marketing research, and creative execution.
Let’s talk a bit about new ideas and how you learn. How do new ideas, tools, and solutions find their way into your organization? How do you and your team learn?
It inevitably varies, and there’s no single route. I do often say that “I tend to get bored easily” which helps as it drives the need for new ideas and new ways to consider what are often very old problems. I don’t spend a lot of time on the guff and fluff of the soothsayers in the analyst world when it comes to marketing thinking. You have to see examples as models that are realistic and achievable without rebuilding your entire GTM each year. I find that much of what the analysts push can be too focused on them wishing to identify trends and doesn’t always translate to the realities of our world. Some ideas can be valuable, but I apply a healthy dose of skepticism, perhaps that’s related to my being British?!
We start with the problem or the opportunity. We will be trying to get a certain message out to a certain market, and so we first look to understand what is happening around that message in the market. Some concepts are very much “in the tornado” to borrow Geoffrey Moore’s phrase and we will sometimes look to ride on those phrases. For example as IT moves from “cloud” to “hybrid” to “Digital Transformation” or whatever the phrase of the moment is.
We are also very cognisant of the competition for attention and not just the competitors in our space – everyone wants to talk to the CIO – and we ask very hard questions of ourselves and our suppliers. How would we want to receive information if we were in the CIO’s position? Who is the CIO trying to win influence with by using our services? When we ask our suppliers to think hard about these questions the conversation often leads down interesting paths, and to novel solutions being developed. As a recent example, a conversation of this manner led to an exploration of how we could use intent data in a certain part of our process to better drive alignment of our proposition to the target needs.
I will take briefings from agencies if I think that there’s a chance that they will push boundaries and explore new ideas…I always live in hope! Sadly at best 9 out of 10 of the pitches are generic and stay at the level of regurgitated existing theory and not anything new or challenging. I don’t believe in setting them up to fail and I will give them all the details of what we are wrestling with in our current process.
Tell us a bit about the internal dynamics of your team. How do initiatives move from an idea to something that you’re working on?
It’s a combination of dynamics, with some initiatives being led by the team, and some broader themes being pushed from the strategy team or executive team. If we are too narrow in our approach, we run the risk that we’ll go down a rat-hole. As a services company, we have a lot that we can offer from point solutions to all-encompassing strategic initiatives, so we want to make sure we’re not missing opportunities and starting the discussion with our prospects or customers at the right place. We will create general themes as a platform for the teams to have some range to jump off from and drive creative thinking and solid planning.
And what about the final decision? How do you think about spend and ROI as part of the decision process?
When it comes to the final decision, a lot depends on how big the purchase is. Within a year we can usually move budget around and sacrifice one initiative to fund another. If it’s very large, the decision might go further up, but generally there’s a good amount of flexibility to go where the opportunity is.
The hardest decisions are for the investments that don’t drive (immediately) measurable metrics. The classic frustration around brand awareness is a great example of this. The challenge is when “things” happen in the market, and they will, you want the market at that moment to think of you. There won’t be a short-term measurable ROI in most cases for this longer term positional work but it pays huge dividends when you’ve built against the market trends correctly.
Finally, let’s talk about sales. What can sales do differently that would serve your needs better?
As a buyer, everyone knows that you’re being tracked when you are out there doing research. However sometimes I just want to research unaided, uninterrupted. There’s a propensity to target too aggressively and too early, and that can run the risk of burning the relationship if it’s too much too soon…nothing worse than a needy telesales person right?!
If I haven’t gotten enough information and you’re forcing me to decide, I’ll always make the decision that the salesperson doesn’t want me to. The “art” of sales has been broadly lost I think. There’s only a few left that do it right, build a large pipe over time and nurture those individuals by adding value and growing trust and support to the point when they become the first person I think of when I need a solution that they deliver..and that trust will travel with them as individuals also.
Wait a second that sounds like the line I wrote further up regarding the way we need to deliver our brand…hang on a second…marketing and sales working in the same way and supporting each other to achieve shared goals and brand success in our chosen market…nah that’ll never work will it? 😉
Thanks Stuart for some great insights into your thought process and how your team approaches buying!