Woody Sessoms, SVP of Global Service Provider, Cisco Systems, Inc.
Gary Tubridy: Hi. I’m here with Woody Sessoms, SVP of Global Service Provider at Cisco. Woody, welcome to the Chief Sales Executive Forum.
Woody Sessoms: Well, thank you, Gary. It’s an honor to be here.
GT: I’m very happy to have you here. Why don’t we start off with just a quick rundown on Cisco and the portion of Cisco that you’re associated with.
WS: Sure, sure. So Cisco is roughly a $50-billion company. We’ve historically been known as a telecommunications company, but we have multi-billion dollar businesses in collaboration, around security and data center and the Internet of things. So we’re a very diversified high-tech company. My roles and responsibility, I run now the Global Service Provider Unit worldwide, responsible for sales, and so I handle some of the largest companies in the world, some of the oldest, most distinguished companies in the world in tech, but also, I’ve got all the new disruptive companies as well, the Web titans. So it’s telcos, it’s cable, it’s media, and it’s gamers.
GT: The customers within the customer, so it used to be that Cisco salespeople would call on IT and telecom types, and that’s kind of changed a little bit. You’re solving problems for executives. Can you tell me a little bit more about who you’re serving within those customers?
WS: Well, you know, it’s interesting, we’re serving executives, and it’s usually around one of three things. They’re either trying to take cost and complexity out of their business so they can save to invest. So there’s an automation play. There’s a cost-out play and, obviously, the executives that are interested in that. There’s executives who are trying to differentiate their business and drive sustainable competitive differentiation in the marketplace. There are leaders of sales, leaders of marketing, the CEO, the COO. And then we have the de-risking side, the security side, where what they’re trying to do there is basically protect their brand and de-risk their business. So, you know, we have to be able to express our value proposition in a term that delivers compelling value for whoever the executive buying center is today.
GT: And that’s a lot of different functions.
WS: It is.
GT: So you’ve had to transform your sales organization to be able to go from delivering kind of techie messages to techie people to business messages to business leaders.
WS: You do. I mean, we still have to do the technical selling. But you also have to have financial acumen. You have to have vertical expertise. And so, you know, I very simply say for every offer that you have, it better be able to understand how customers make money, how do they save money, and how do they protect themselves or de-risk themselves.
GT: Yeah. Have you changed your relationship with your marketing department to be able to develop and use some of these compelling messages that get delivered to these functional executives?
WS: So we have a formal meeting every 30 days where we just talk about what are we doing in Global Service Provider in terms of the brand, in terms of activities that generate leads and volumes. What are we doing — because I also have a $5 billion channel that is associated with Service Provider, so what are we doing to move the channel, which is a huge leverage point for us. What are we doing with analytics? Every single touch that we have with the customer, how do we harness some type of information and use that as a competitive differentiator.
GT: And I think this fits into that puzzle. You have to take your cues from lots of different people and iterate back. It’s a different world.
WS: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I was applauding you. I spent some time on Alexander Group’s website last night, and I was fascinated with the depth of work that you have been doing there. So, probably, I could learn more from you. And as I told you, we have so many invaluable insights that we’ve yet to understand how to mine. And how do you do things and look at a discrete customer and the interactions that you have there, and then how do you take the metadata and use that as a real north star in terms of, okay, here’s where the market is moving to.
GT: Yeah. Part of the deal is making complex things simple for your customers.
WS: You know that is the one thing that I would tell you that I see in our marketplace at Cisco, not just Service Provider, simplicity sells now, simplicity wins. I grew up in technology where there was margin in mystery and complexity and their buying center loved all that. That has completely changed 180 degrees today. It’s all about simplicity and how light a touch and footprint can technology have within the customer’s environment. It’s all about the end-user. It’s all about the application. It’s all about the outcome.
GT: You mentioned in your discussion in front of the whole audience that there is a principle that never goes out of fashion. It’s called trust. And I’ll refer to something you just said here, and that is sometimes it doesn’t go as planned. And when that happens, if you and the customer have a trusting relationship, you can kind of make it right, maybe even learn from that, huh?
WS: You know, if customers trust that you have their best interest at heart, if they trust that you understand their organization, if you understand their people, their capabilities, their culture, if they trust that you’ll do whatever it takes not to let them fail, then they’ll forgive you. And the other thing that I find, Gary, is they’ll pull for you. So all companies are getting disruptive. All companies sometimes have the best; sometimes we’re not quite there. But I can tell you if a customer trusts you they’ll pull for you and they’ll help you get there. And it’s that interdependence. It’s the interdependence that I think is key for all of us to survive and thrive in the new world.
GT: Yeah. What are you working on for 2017?
WS: You know, we’re trying to really make sure that we’re putting the right resources and applying them to the right opportunities with the customer so that we can move as they are moving, and that we can draft each other and pull each other along, and do that in a mutually beneficial way and a way that differentiates everybody in the marketplace. So we’re spending a lot of time thinking about innovation. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about what are the sustainable, competitive value points that we could deliver on behalf of the customer.
GT: Woody, thank you for joining us at the forum. We really appreciate it. Best of luck in 2017.
WS: Well, as a salesperson, Gary, very much appreciate your leadership and the Alexander Group’s leadership. This is a tough world, so thank you.
GT: Thank you, Woody.