Heather Cook was appointed Seismic’s Vice President for Asia Pacific earlier this year after holding executive managament roles at Hootsuite, Marketo, Oracle and Dell.
Cook discussed her hopes for Seismic in the region with B&T, along with the specific opportunities of APAC and ANZ, and her views on leadership and women in the tech sector.
B&T: What is your vision for Seismic?
HC: We are smashing it globally, and our name is a household name, around the world.
However, in APAC it does take a little bit more from an awareness point of view to shout from the rooftops about who we are, and what we can do to help our customers along the way.
Part of my vision is creating awareness on not just who we are, but what we can do for the market, for the buyers, as well as consumers in that process.
Then, looking at doubling or tripling in size and building that footprint here to make sure that we are the top brands globally and we’re a home recognised name.
B&T: What are the specific challenges, but also the specific unique opportunities for potential that come with growing in the APAC region?
HC: I would say that the challenges are opportunities to me. I always look at every challenge as a fantastic opportunity, and when you talk about APAC, and ANZ, there is an immense opportunity just from a global perspective, from a buyer’s perspective.
In this region, consumers are actually some of the early adopters. From a business point of view, I think we take a staggered perspective compared to the rest of the world, but from a consumer perspective we’re actually the first ones to adopt technology.
[In terms of growth] it’s just such an enormous opportunity for awareness, but also really helping brands build relationships with customers helping retain their customers, but also retain their staff.
Create that great working environment [so] that one of their employees says, “fantastic, I love this company, I love working here they really enable me to be successful. And, they enable me to cut out the noise, set me up for success, so I can really focus my time on looking after the customer and having those repeat customers.”
B&T: How do you create that positive work environment?
HC: I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I joined Seismic. In my entire career – I mean I’m from the US, I’ve lived in Dublin, I’ve been in Australia for 14 years and all the teams, all the companies, all the countries – it’s all the same.
It’s all around making sure that you focus on your people. You teach them to focus on your customers and your customers will take care of your company.
I know it sounds really basic, but it really is that simple, and through that process, I really focus a lot of my time and energy on enablement and collaboration. I look at people development, I look at customer experience, and I look at how to simplify processes and remove barriers. Doing all of that through collaboration always results in increased performance, increased culture. It’s a domino effect. So by looking after the enablement piece, it sets the entire company for success and the customer actually feel that positive impact.
B&T: The idea of integrating your work life, with the product you bring to customers is a very interesting one.
HC: And it was very serendipitous one! I was like oh my gosh, this is what I do in every role, whether it be operations, enablement, training, marketing, sales – I’ve kind of done everything in a company, to be able to be a better leader.
I do that through enablement and to know that a company I work for actually, that is their whole mantra – I was just like this is serendipity.
B&T: Going back to the APAC region specifically, what do you think makes the tech sector here so unique?
HC: I think it’s a couple different reasons. One is the diversity. This region has got such a diversity that we can leverage, just like Europe.
It’s such a diverse culture that we can grab different perspectives, grab different experiences and really leverage each other’s strengths to help us to grow [and] improve not just as people, but as a company.
That is something that sets us apart, but also again it’s that innovative, early adopter mentality that APAC has. With that type of innovative mindset and early-adopting mindset from a consumer point of view, it really allows us to kind of – even in, say, Australia is a fantastic pilot country.
So you know, instead of tackling the US or tackling EMEA, we have a small little country that you know you can run pilots very quickly and see if they are successful, or they fall and fail quickly.
To be able to then go, “great now let’s roll that out across the rest of the region and the rest of the world” – I think that’s a very unique opportunity that we have in this region as well.
B&T: What can Australia and New Zealand learn from the global market?
HC: EMEA is a few years behind the US [and] we [in APAC] are a few years behind EMEA from a technology point of view, but I think that’s where we can stand out and that’s our opportunities are.
We can take those small pilots, we can prove them out quickly and then show best practices around the globe.
From a learning perspective, I think we can learn a lot from other regions, other countries, all the same, not just from the US.
B&T: As a woman in tech, what do you think makes the foundation for leadership?
HC: It’s a good question. I actually am very passionate about leadership and diversity.
I mean, I’ve had 33 leaders in my short period of you know 20 years and you know six leaders stand out to me so far as the ones that I’ve learned the most from.
They’ve been supportive, they’ve pushed me, but they’ve held me accountable and they’ve given me the right support and encouragement along the way – and feedback along the way, as well.
I think that’s really what it takes to be a good leader. Three of them were men and three of them are women, so it takes a balance of both genders as well to be that that right support mechanism.
Someone that actually cares about not just your well being but who you are as a person, looks at how they can get the best out of you. Because as a leader I’m not successful unless my people are successful.
If I put my time and energy into making sure that I know them, care about them, I know what their development areas are, I know where their strengths are that I can leverage, and I know where their development areas that I can help provide feedback along the way that guides and [encourages them] – that’s going to hopefully get the best out of them.
So the company, the customers – everyone gets the best out of them.
B7T: What does diversity bring to an organization and as a leader, how do you support diverse staff?
HC: It’s funny you ask what diversity brings to organizations, because there’s a lot of studies out there.
McKinsey research in 2019 found that companies in the top four portion for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have an above average profitability, than in the lower portion.
Then companies with more than 30 per cent of women executives were more likely to outperform the least gender diverse companies by 48 per cent.
These are phenomenal numbers and that’s just from a gender perspective, not even talking about ethnicity.
You look at Boston Consulting and Forbes from a gender perspective, and there’s a 19 per cent increase in higher revenue due to innovation and a 19 per cent overall revenue performance increase.
That’s every team and every department I’ve been on that has that diversity. Not just in the gender, but again in ethnicity as well, you have that increased performance, you have that increase in different perspectives, allowing the company to grow faster and farther.
The second part of the question is what can we do, and why is diversity important.
But looking at numbers as representation doesn’t do much. I mean it’s a start, but a lot of companies just look at how many employees have a diverse background, and in the hiring process, and then they have quotas attached to it.
It’s not like I hire women or I hire someone with a different ethnicity, because I want to tick a box and hit quota, I want the right person for that job. It’s not just a numbers perspective and filling that quota, we need to focus on shared voice.
What that means is: do they have a seat at the table for important strategic decisions, do they have a seat at the table to impact the entire employee population?
I‘ve had a couple interviews that were pretty funny. [Once in an interview with four men] When I walked in the door, the first thing one of them said to me, was “hey we’re doing something about the gender gap” and I said “well fantastic, what are you doing?” and he’s like “we’re hiring a woman in an entry level position.”
I was like: “okay, that’s not really going to change the dynamics of the company, we have to allow everyone to have a share of voice and to be a part of that decision making process to really make a difference.”
I mean the second question was “Hey, let me tell you about a great maternity.”
And I was like, “that’s fantastic” [but] they don’t know if I care, if I can’t have kids, what my personal circumstances are – but that assumption turns me off that company completely.
There’s some great stats out there that say in Australia alone, the number of female CEOs is the lowest [it has been] in the past four years.
So the number of companies with women in senior management roles accountable for like a P&L perspective has declined from 43 to 35.
[Over] the last eight years, you would have thought that number would have increased.
The other thing I have to say around that is, it’s not just numbers or the share of voice, but the way you have to set that up. Do these employees have an equal opportunity for career progression, are there mechanisms in place to make sure that there’s no biases that lock people out of careers and the career ladder, are there mentoring programs in place, are there, networking opportunities in place?
It’s so timely that you asked that is because [last] week alone Geoff Cousins quit the Australian club in protest over the decision not to allow women.
I thought that was phenomenal because this is where a lot of guys have gone that were Members to get that networking opportunity and get that mentorship opportunity.
I think it was pretty funny – there was a couple comments he was saying in his interview, and it was like “Oh, some of the guys are worried about [how] we’ll have to change the way we behave at lunch or [we’ll] have to change our decor.”
I’m like well, those are hilarious – what are you doing at lunch? Why would you have to change the décor?
It’s the opportunity to network and get that mentorship. Those are the things that have been missing that will take and change the whole landscape of things.
I mean in my last job I was, for the first time in my entire career able to reach gender equity and it was fantastic because I was like, wow I actually have 50 per cent men and women, and every race and colour under the sun.
That wasn’t from a quota perspective, it just happened because we really in check about our biases and unconscious biases.
It’s really trying to make sure that you’re aware and conscious of what’s going on, because I have to say, in my 20 years in the IT world there’s not a lot of women applicants all the time, so that’s a challenge as well.
A woman will see a job and say I have nine out of 10 qualifications, I’m not going to apply, and a man will have three out of 10 and go, I’m going to apply.
We have to change that mindset and whether it’s having more women in IT mentorships and networking opportunities to give them the confidence that you know, you are good, you are amazing in yourself. Go for the job, be bold, be brave.
I mean my last director role that I put in at my last job, the top 30 candidates were three women, and you know the rest men.
I ended up hiring the best person, which ended up being a woman. It wasn’t because she was woman, but she ended up being the best person for the role and again, if she hasn’t applied it, then she would have missed out and we all would have missed out.
B&T: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of the other big challenges in in the market, right now, just in general, is consumerization of B2B buying.
So you know with the spotify, and netflix and the amazons of the world becoming kind of that mainstream experience for the consumer.
B2B customers are expecting that same consumer experience and a lot of companies find that really hard to wrap their head around, and try to pivot with the market and change with the market and with their customers.
They’ve already done their research, they’re already more educated and they’re further down that buying process. They expect new technologies to deliver a better experience at a higher degree of personalization.
It’s the example of new technologies, they want them to create a better experience, based on their last previous interaction. They want the brand to reach out at the right time, with the right message and on the right platform.
So one of the challenges B2B organizations face right now is that pressure to deliver those buyer expectations that are being compared to the consumer market.
How we answer that is by aligning the sales and marketing teams to create connected personalized brand experiences.
There’s three ways kind of we go about it:
One is creating a centralized resource to make it really, really easy and simple for sales teams to provide the right content, at the right time to the right audience. Sales has so much on their plate and they’re being pulled from pillar to post.
If you can simplify that with real time relevant content that the buyer actually cares about the right time, then they can actually focus their time and energy, giving the right experience to the customer.
Number two is engaging the data and using that data and analytics.
I mean everyone’s been capturing data for how long and you’re like, right what is a company doing with my data?
But it’s leveraging that data and those insights to make really smart analytics based in database decisions that positively affect the customer.
That’s what customers want – a lot of them don’t care if you’re collecting data as long as they see that value.
I don’t want to be just a spray and pray advertisement or marketing or communication. I want that personalized touch. I want you to know who I am, based on my trends and what I’ve done.
So using that data and analytics, you can actually view that down to, whether the buyer is interacting with the shared content, down to the granularity of how much time you’re spending on page by page.
And with the interactions predominantly being virtual and on Zoom meetings or Teams, that’s not enough information.
What goes on between those sessions is actually critical and understanding customers and buyers.
Businesses need to find a way to detect that sentiment and use that kind of business intelligence to determine the next batch actions that are tailored and personalized for that next conversation in real time.
Three is using the technology that gives the sellers flexibility to self-serve, customize and personalize.
For example, perfectly formatted presentations and proposals for client in a matter of minutes based on, say, the customers industry, product buying, company size, or even location/
There’s a lot of stuff that comes out of the US and I’m American, so I get most of it, but a lot of APAC are like, I don’t care, why are you talking to me in that language.
And I get it, you need to have that personalized style, but within the guardrails that marketing has from a governance point of view, and that can be achieved with personalization at scale.
It can be powerful in three different ways: it helps ensure a consistent brand experience, it saves times and shortens the response times for customer, which provides a better service. Then it also allows the buyer to get something really tailored and personalized to them to enhance their customer experience.