EPISODE 346: NVIDIA’s Rima Alameddine and Microsoft’s Christine Zmuda Say Elite Sales Performers Are Doing This for Customers Right Now

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on March 31, 2021. It featured sales leaders Christine Zmuda from Microsoft and Rima Alameddine (NVIDIA).]

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RIMA’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Always know that the most important thing is to serve your customers. If you have a plan, with that in mind, if everything you do from your research to your plan to your conversations, everything you do with your customers has the goal of helping your customers be successful, you will do well and your customers will be successful and your business will be successful. The action is keep that in mind as you do your research, your homework, your meetings and you go about your business.”

CHRISTINE’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I’d like to encourage leaders to follow a model, coach and care framework. Model the behavior, employees are looking at you for a pulse check to also see if they have license to actually try things. It’s okay to fail, do they have a license to be their authentic selves at work? How can you demonstrate that? Are you setting up a plan where employees can move as quickly as they need to move? Empower them, that’s the model piece. Coaching is obviously bring your resources, showing them how things have been done but also being open-minded because there’s a lot of great opportunities to learn from anyone in the organization regardless of level. Then that caring piece, we’ve touched on that quite a few points throughout today’s discussion on being empathetic and understanding the individual. What’s their motivation? What are their learning opportunities and how can you support them?”

Fred Diamond: Welcome to the Sales Game Changers Live. I’m excited to bring on our guests, we’ve got Christine Zmuda with Microsoft and Rima Alameddine from NVIDIA, it’s great to see you. Christine, I’ve known you for a long time, did a lot of work together at Microsoft, you both have great distinguished careers and our audience is really interested in how you’re working with your customers right now.

We’re recording today’s show at the end of March and it’s been a year that we’ve been in this new whatever it is you want to call it. I saw a hashtag today, #newnormal2021, it isn’t normal, it is what it is and we’re succeeding. We’re helping sales leaders around the globe take their sales career to the next level. Christine, it’s great to see you, Rima, it’s great to see you as well. Let’s get right to it.

Christine, why don’t you get us started here? How are things going on the sales side of your business? Again, you’re with Microsoft, you’ve been with Microsoft, had a nice, distinguished career. You’re well-recognized as a leader in sales at Microsoft and it’s great to have you here today.

Christine Zmuda: It’s great to be here and it’s wild, a whole year of living and operating and working in this remote fashion. I feel very blessed, Rima and I were talking about this earlier, we both work for companies that are at the forefront of making a difference for customers. That difference is anything from introducing new business models to survive through these pandemic conditions to quite frankly, saving lives with things like vaccine registration, vaccine management. Microsoft was very instrumental in those moments.

Also, just helping customers realize some of the things they may have wanted to accomplish in the past like remote work, that’s certainly changed for everyone. Making sure that they were both effective, efficient and had a way to engage with customers and most importantly, their employees. Mental health and making sure employees felt well-supported throughout this is also something that the technology has really helped with. So I feel blessed to be in the technology industry and really being a part of very important and meaningful work.

Fred Diamond: I also want to acknowledge that every year the IES has our Annual Sales Excellence Awards, this year the award event is going to be virtual on June 3rd. We’re recognizing with our Lifetime Achievement award Toni Townes-Whitley who’s the President of US Regulated Industries at Microsoft. I’m excited about that.

Rima Alameddine, it’s great to see you. NVIDIA, your company is all over the place these days with so many great things that you’ve been doing as well. It’s great to have you today on the Sales Game Changers Live webinar and also the podcast. Same question, give us an update on how things are going for you and your organization.

Rima Alameddine: Thank you, Fred, it’s great to be on the show along with Christine. As you mentioned, 2020 was a tough year for everyone. For our employees, for our customers, for our partners and as Christine mentioned, we were very fortunate to be in tech space and to be helping customers innovate and do things differently.

Although it was a really hard year for everyone from a personal perspective, from a business perspective it actually was a really strong year for us. A lot of customers realized that they need to adopt AI and advanced analytics and some of these newer technologies to help their customers.

Although it was tough in many ways, we also helped our customers evolve and advance whether it’s in terms of the solutions they’re offering or in terms of how they’re serving their customers. I’ll give many examples as we move forward in terms of how we help the customers.

Fred Diamond: Rima, let’s get back to you. Priorities, we all pretty much know what the last year was like, it’s like the son of 2020. Of course, people are getting vaccinated but people aren’t really back to the office and a lot of our clients are still challenged with getting their business back in order from where it was. Why don’t you give us a little bit of perspective, as a sales leader, what are some of your priorities right now? Then the same question for Christine.

Rima Alameddine: As far as my priorities, they haven’t changed. My priorities are always to serve my team and our customers. Helping our customers be successful has changed, because depending on where our customers are in terms of what they’re doing, their priorities and initiatives could have changed. What we’re doing is making sure that we’re being relevant to our customers and helping them be successful.

Specifically as what we’re looking at right now, we just started our new year, we are in Q1 right now so it’s making sure that our plans resonate with what’s important to our customers. Making sure that we’re bringing important solutions and helping them be successful. It’s mapping my priorities and making sure my teams have a good plan that specifically resonates and maps to what the customers need right now.

Fred Diamond: I have a quick follow-up and then I’m going to ask Christine for her priorities. You used the word a couple times, relevance. What does that mean right now? Again, we’re doing today’s interview on March 31st, people are going to be listening to this podcast into the future. Define what relevance means for your customers right now from your company. Then Christine, I want you to follow up with that as well.

Rima Alameddine: Great question. To understand what’s relevant, let’s just take a sales executive. It’s important for the sales executive to know what’s happening in that industry, in their customer’s industry, what’s happening from a priority perspective with that customer and then mapping the unique solutions that we bring to the market from NVIDIA to what’s important to the customer. At the end of the day, we’re all successful when we help our customers be successful.

One of the key verticals that I cover is healthcare. Today, the priorities there are making sure that our customers are bringing drugs to the market faster, making sure that they’re reaching customers in the most effective way. Just looking at the solutions out there whether it’s patient monitoring, telemedicine, drug discovery, all these different areas are so relevant to our customers right now. Bringing the solutions that we can uniquely offer to these customers to help them with their priorities is what I meant by saying relevance.

Fred Diamond: Christine, priorities for you. Again, Microsoft, I’m going to guess that everybody watching today’s webinar or listening know something about Microsoft. Priorities from a sales perspective, what are your priorities right now?

Christine Zmuda: I sit in the Microsoft Consulting Americas division, so we’ve got responsibility for LATAM, Canada and the US. As mentioned, our services are in high demand right now so hiring is a big priority. We’re running very hot looking for new talent always, that’s a big part of my life this week and usually every week.

Additionally, we are focused on building and expanding our partner relationships. We’ve always worked very closely with our partners to provide great consulting and software solutions. I think coming forward in then next fiscal year, partners are really going to see a difference in the way that Microsoft consulting shows up in a much intentional way with partners, by solution area and by workload.

Along with that there’ll be even better commercial terms that we’re working through to drive consistent repeatability with our best and our top customers.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you as a follow-up to the partner. Again, you’ve been in the partner space for various parts of your career as well. Of course, you don’t need to disclose anything you’re going to be announcing, but has this been a result of the past year? Almost every time with a company like Microsoft that probably has more partners than any company in the history of technology – hundreds of thousands if not millions around the world over the number of years Microsoft’s been around – has this been driven by the last year? Or is this just every year we reevaluate what our partners need and we come to them with hopefully the most effective plans?

Christine Zmuda: Yes, and our analysis is showing when we partner with our partner ecosystem. We’re seeing 30% faster adoption for our customers, they’re getting more value and that’s our big measure now. We are less incented on services billing, we are more incented on the usage and customer success. To get there faster it’s using the full suite of all the efforts we have and doing it in a way that’s really differentiated for our customers.

Fred Diamond: We have a question coming in here from Jayson. He wants to know what elite sales reps should be doing right now, it’s an interesting question. We’ve started to use the word elite a lot on the Sales Game Changers webinars and podcasts because the sales profession, it’s gotten harder over the last year for a lot of the reasons that we know. For sales reps to distinguish them, I think they really do need to think of them as elite performers.

Rima, I want you to take that question first and then Christine, I’m interested in your thoughts. Again, Christine, you’ve worked with so many elite sales professionals to get to Microsoft and you’ve introduced me to a bunch of them over the years who’ve been guests on the Sales Game Changers podcasts in then past.

But Rima, first question’s for you. Right now moving forward, what does it take to be an elite sales professional? Because I think the only sales professionals who are going to be around in the long term are going to be elite.

Rima Alameddine: Great question. A number of things, first, it’s extremely important to invest in yourself. Make sure that you understand the solutions your company offers, make sure you understand the unique differentiators that you can bring to your customer. Investing in yourself is really important and that’s a continuous process, you have to continuously be on top of that.

The second area is having a plan, making sure that you understand what’s happening in the industry, your customer’s initiatives, their priorities, their challenges, meaningful solutions you can bring to them to help them be successful. Then as you work with your customers, be curious. Don’t just take things at face value, ask the second and third question, be an active listener and think about how you can help them.

Your goal throughout the whole time is to help your customers, to help figure out what can make them successful, where is the latent pain, where are the solutions that you can bring them to differentiate them, that is really what’s going to be a differentiator and what’s going to make that person an elite sales professional. Because they’re going to really be partnering and serving their customers, and when you do that, the business comes and everyone’s happy.

Fred Diamond: Christine, same question for you. To even have gotten to become a sales professional at Microsoft, to have gotten a job there in sales you have to be elite to begin with, you’re kind of the New York Yankees of technology sales. Today, though, in spring of 2021, what are some things that sales professionals should be doing to be elite?

Christine Zmuda: I think two things and building off of what Rima had said before, this concept of relevance. It’s very easy to sell a solution that’s relevant to one function in a company. The elite sellers actually look at relevance across the whole company organization. Those are the digital transformation type of solutions that touch multiple functions, that change the way these organizations do business.

You have to be naturally curious, you have to also be smart about the KPIs you pick in terms of business outcomes. Being laser-focused on then one or two things you’re trying to solve for instead of a laundry list of KPIs which eventually leads to a lot of solution sprawl. I would say stay focused, be naturally curious, and think about how you connect the business outcomes to the full organization.

Fred Diamond: We have a couple questions coming in about artificial intelligence and of course, both your companies are leaders there. But before I get to some questions about artificial intelligence, we have a question here that comes in from Josephine. She asks, “Rima talked about learning, what should I be learning right now as a sales professional?” Rima, why don’t you start with that and then Christine as well?

We talked about ways to be with customers, but the great elite sales professionals now are continuously learning. That’s a word, continuous learning, that comes up all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast from leaders like you who we have every Wednesday on the show. Rima, if you were to counsel a sales professional right now on what they should be learning, what would you tell them? Christine, same for you.

Rima Alameddine: Multiple things. First, you need to understand your product really well. That’s table stakes, really understanding the solutions that your company is providing. That’s the technical part of it but then there’s also the soft skills part of it, making sure that you’re presenting in a good way, making sure that you’re showing up in a way where you’re explaining things in a clear way so customers can understand that. That’s some of the soft skills that we all need to continue to invest in.

Then there’s the third part which is really learning the industry and learning your customer, and that information is out there, you need to continuously be understanding what the key trends in this industry are that you’re focusing on. Then from a customer perspective, especially if you’re covering a public customer, the information is out there. You just need to go on their website, listen and hear to what they’re telling their ambassadors and what they’re talking about. What are the CEO priorities? What are the areas that they’re focused on?

There’s multiple ways to learn and just quick summary, it’s the solutions that you’re offering, the soft skills, the industry that you cover and what specifically is happening with your customers. Once you have that all figured out, have a plan and then go execute on it in a thoughtful way where you’re really consciously trying to understand and uncover what’s important to that specific customer. Not just going in with a plan that you just want to execute on without adapting it to what you hear from your customer, it needs to be adaptable as you move forward and as you work with your customer.

Fred Diamond: Christine, I know a lot of younger sales professionals seek you out as a mentor and a coach because of all the success that you’ve had at Microsoft and at your career. If they asked you, “What should I be learning right now?” what would you say to them?

Christine Zmuda: Make sure you resist the urge to treat customers the same and not really understand then maturity of where they are. Either on their technology adoption, curve of their solution, maturity curve. Especially young sellers can fall into this trap of, “Here’s how our product works, let me just demo it, let me just show you the features and functions.”

The elite sellers will actually look and have a way of assessing and compartmentalizing the organization. Where are they in then maturity curve? Are they an early adopter? Are they laggard? Are things preventing them? What are the definitions within those areas which will help them position the right solution at the right time and help guide these organizations to make change at the right speed of time as well?

I would say think about solution maturity, think about where the customer is and then meet them where they are is probably the bests way to do that.

Fred Diamond: I really like what you just said about a lot of junior sales professionals trying to squeeze in the technology that they offer to try to make a fit type of a thing. One thing we’ve heard a lot over the last year is what you just said, which is you need to meet the customer where they are. You may not have the best solution at this moment, but how do you be a resource and how do you be of service to them?

We have some questions coming in about artificial intelligence that I want to get to. Christine, you take this one first. What is trending in customer conversation and specifically, how is artificial intelligence showing up in those customer conversations?

Christine Zmuda: I think every organization is looking at artificial intelligence and how they make better use of their data. We see 80% of the global Fortune 500 piloting, about 20% adopting because it’s not that easy out of the box. You have to think about getting your data, staying in line, being able to make use of those insights, turning them to action.

A couple things that are trending are things like smart software, having software not only tell you things but take action. Simple example of that might be one that everyone is familiar with is a chat bot. You’re used to maybe encountering that on a website, but what if that chat bot not only gave you information, but took the next step and did a task for you? We’re seeing that more and more across business processes.

A lot of talk now too about AI for good, thinking about the ethical use of AI and data. How do you make it form policies? How do you make sure you’re using the insights in a way that’s right for your customers, right for the world? I think that there’s also a real need for organizations to look at their talent in order to take on and support these AI-based solutions. A lot of organizations don’t have data scientists on staff, that’s going to be necessary for this next stage.

Fred Diamond: Rima, how about you? How is artificial intelligence playing into the conversations that you want your team to be having with their customers?

Rima Alameddine: Christine, you touched on all the key areas so I’ll just add to it. Customers today realize that they need to leverage data science to innovate and to make sure that they’re not disrupted. It’s great that most customers realize that today and most of the conversations that we are having today are around how you build the muscle and the capabilities and how you scale it through your organizations.

As Christine said, you can’t do that without having the people so you have to invest in the right talent. You have to make sure that you have the processes within the company to leverage data science and you need to have the technology.

I was recently talking to a CIO of a large enterprise and I loved what he shared with me. He shared with me that the way they are looking at this is yes, they’re building data science within the IT organization but that’s just the first step. What’s really important is how you build these processes and build AI and data science into every function in the organization.

To do that, the leaders across all these different businesses that are part of the bigger enterprise need to be bilingual in terms of understanding how data science can help their business. That’s a big task that we’re on a journey to accomplish. The good news is customers realize that the tools and algorithms have matured, that they have a ton of data and that the technology has also moved in a dramatic way to provide them with these solutions.

Now they need to focus on how they implement it and scale it throughout the organization to really bring business value to their company.

Fred Diamond: One thing that you talked about is how sales professionals are going to need to step up their game to understand these technologies and how they play, and how they interact with your customer. I want to talk about the future of sales moving forward, but we do have one question here from Julianna and she says, “What’s been the biggest surprise?”

So we’ll take one more look in the past before we move to the future. What’s been one of the biggest surprises that’s come out of this from a positive perspective that you may be most proud of? Christine, why don’t you go first? What’s been a positive surprise that’s come out of the last year that has helped you and your organization be successful?

Christine Zmuda: It’s a little off topic to the technologies and some of the business strategies we’ve been talking about, but I’ve seen a whole nother level of empathy in working with both our customers and employees who are now working inside of each other’s homes through video. There’s a whole nother level of understanding and many people working or balancing kids and homeschooling and all of that.

That’s one, secondly, I think that there’s also been a really positive trend and almost like a rallying cry in corporate America to do more to combat racial injustice. That’s something that we feel very strongly about, we’re activated on it, having the conversations and doing things. Microsoft does not only make sure we have diverse talent but also actively working on justice reform and being part of the solution.

I don’t know if we weren’t in pandemic conditions if we would have had that intense focus like everyone’s got to get in on this. Maybe it would have happened but not as fast, so I’m excited about that.

Fred Diamond: Rima, how about you and the positive side? What’s something that’s come out of the last 12 months that you’re most proud of?

Rima Alameddine: I agree with Christine, so I’ll just add a few additional areas. One is we have seen everyone rise to the occasion and it’s just been great seeing how employees, companies, communities, everyone really step out of their zone or where they are to help others. That’s just always so great to see.

I know for example from an NVIDIA perspective, and I know I’ve seen that across the board with our partners, with other companies, everyone has tried to do whatever they can to make a difference and to help. From our perspective, we’ve worked on offering free computing cycles, offering our software for free for researchers that are working on COVID, offering our services like researcher services.

I’ll just give two examples in the healthcare space because I cover that space. We collaborated with the National Institute of Health to develop a COVID CT diagnostic model that’s being used. I know it’s a small part but it’s our small part of helping diagnose using AI, COVID and CT scans.

We also worked with software companies that were looking to do their part in terms of moving things forward. For example, we worked with Scripts which is a software company that was actually working on antiviral research for COVID and we helped them speed up the process of screening one billion molecules on a supercomputer. It used to take months, now it takes only 12 hours.

I’m giving these examples just to show that they’re small examples but they’re going to move this whole field forward in a big way. This has happened across the board whether it’s healthcare or any other verticals. The advances that we’ve actually seen during this year are going to continue to move forward and hopefully are going to be great and help us in every way. Whether it’s in healthcare or in other parts of our business and our lives.

Fred Diamond: Just a quick note for Christine, we’ve been doing a webinar every single day since March 27th of last year, and during the week when a lot of the racial injustice challenges became apparent, we had your good friend Christine Barger on the show right smack in the middle of when that was happening. That was a very powerful emotional show so thank you to introducing us to her when you did.

Before we ask you for some of your final thoughts here, I want to ask some of your predictions maybe on what the future looks like post-COVID for your clients and for the industries that you serve. Christine, why don’t you go first and give us some of your ideas on that?

Christine Zmuda: It’s going to be really interesting because technology is moving at a rapid flip. I think eCommerce in general has moved probably more in the last year than it had in the last 20 years, that’s rapidly advancing. Remote work’s not going away, I think there’s obviously a different spin on live conferences. How do we do them? Do we do them? That has all changed.

I think that customers are also looking for ways to engage not only with their employees but using platforms like Teams to get to their suppliers, distributors. Minds are wide-open now about the possibilities. We’ve also seen regulated industries remove some of the barriers that have prevented them from moving as quickly in the past, because the need is so great to digitally transform. I think we’re at the start of a lot of change and it’s an exciting time to be part of it and watching it all.

Fred Diamond: Rima, how about you? What are some of your predictions for the future post-COVID for sales?

Rima Alameddine: I agree with you, Christine, you’re spot on. With everything bad that came with COVID, there were some really great things that happened also. It gave everyone time to learn, to spend time thinking about how they can be more effective. Our customers and everyone is on back to back meetings every day from the minute they wake up until then end of the day, so it’s caused everyone to need to be sharper, to the point, more crisp in their messaging which is something that will continue.

I really love what Christine said around just even from a regulatory perspective. We’ve had to move faster not only from a business perspective but also in terms of authorizing new drugs or moving with new solutions. That whole pace of change is going to continue, it’s not going to change after this year.

Just the urgency that came with COVID that actually has become part of everyone’s lives will continue. I’s going to cause us all to work at that same pace but also make sure that we are crisp with our messaging and with our approach, making sure that we can reach people. Because everyone’s really busy and need messages to be delivered in a way that they can absorb.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final action steps for our watchers today, the viewers of the webinar and for the listeners of the Sales Game Changers podcast, we have a question here from Jordana. Jordana says, “Thank you so much for all the insights, Christine and Rima. How have you both changed as a sales leader in the past few months?” Christine, I’m going to ask you that question first and then you can think about your final action step and Rima, I’ll ask you. And then I’ll ask you, Rima, for your final action step.

So Christine, how have you changed? Again, you’ve been a sales leader for a long time and you have so many things going on. You touch so many aspects of Microsoft’s business, but how have you changed over the past year as a leader?

Christine Zmuda: If I was totally transparent and honest, I’d say I’ve become more empathetic as a leader. I’ve tried to be very in tune with how people are feeling and how they’re managing and also tried to lead by example. As Rima said, this constant meeting to meeting without a lot of breaks, that can be really taxing.

You can do little things like lead by example and show people, “I’m walking on a conference call where I’m not presenting so I’m going to have my camera off during this time, I just want to let you know I’m walking.” So it gives everyone else permission to get some fresh air, to stretch, if you keep that physical/mental connection you’re going to be better at work.

Also, just recognizing and sharing it’s okay not to be okay every day because we’re all going through a lot. If you need a break, I encourage people all the time, take vacation even if you’re not going anywhere. Just get off the screens, take a break. I would say those are a couple things that hopefully are helpful to others.

Fred Diamond: We got a great quote from one of our first episodes back in April of last year. Patrick Devlin of Meridian Knowledge Solutions said, “We’re all in the same storm but we’re on different boats.” So we’re all here together but we have different lives, different spouses, different kids, different parents, things going on.

I’m going to come back to you, Christine and ask you for your final action step. Rima, how about you? How have you changed as a sales leader over the past year?

Rima Alameddine: Some of what Christine said, taking the time to check in with employees, to check in with customers, to check in with everyone. Actually making sure that you’re not jumping right into a conversation but you’re taking that time to ask how people are doing and really truly listening, trying to figure out how you can help them. Being more empathetic to everyone’s situation because it’s been harder for everyone.

It’s always important for a leader to have a clear vision, to talk about it on a regular basis, to help everyone see how the future ties into the expectations and initiatives that we have. But I think now more than ever it’s important to have a positive outlook, to always remind people what we’re doing and the bigger picture and to tie it to the milestones and the steps and the things that we’re doing on a day to day basis.

Fred Diamond: Ladies, I want to thank you so much for the great content. We’re getting some nice comments here, Jordana says, “Thank you so much.” Danielle says, “Thank you, the E word, empathy, comes up all the time.” We actually just did a show last week with the great Howard Brown from ringDNA.

Before we close here, we always end the webinars and the podcasts with action steps so I’m going to change it around. Rima, why don’t you go first? Give us an action step, something people should do right now, don’t waste any time, not in the future, right now, to take their sales career to the next level.

Rima Alameddine: It’s the same as what I said before. Always know that the most important thing is to serve your customers. If you have a plan, with that in mind, if everything you do from your research to your plan to your conversations, everything you do with your customers has the goal of helping your customers be successful, you will do well and your customers will be successful and your business will be successful. The action is keep that in mind as you do your research, your homework, your meetings and you go about your business.

Fred Diamond: Christine, bring us home. Give us a final action step people listening to the podcast or watching the webinar must do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Christine Zmuda: I think Rima handled the customer focus so I’m going to shift a little bit to the employee focus. I’d like to encourage leaders to follow a model coach and care framework. Model the behavior, employees are looking at you for a pulse check to also see if they have license to actually try things. It’s okay to fail, do they have a license to be their authentic selves at work? How can you demonstrate that? Are you setting up a plan where employees can move as quickly as they need to move? Empower them, that’s the model piece.

Coaching is obviously bring your resources, showing them how things have been done but also being open-minded because there’s a lot of great opportunities to learn from anyone in the organization regardless of level. Then that caring piece, we’ve touched on that quite a few points throughout today’s discussion on being empathetic and understanding the individual. What’s their motivation? What are their learning opportunities and how can you support them?

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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